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The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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of _things about the truth_. Speak boldly. What matter in eternity the
slight awkwardnesses of time!"

It was about this time that the managers and congregation of the new
church, St. Peter's, Dundee, invited him to preach as one of the
candidates; and, in the end of August, chose him to be their pastor,
with one accord. He accepted the call under an awful sense of the
work that lay before him. He would rather, he said, have made choice
for himself of such a rural parish as Dunipace; but the Lord seemed to
desire it otherwise. "His ways are in the sea." More than once, at a
later period, he would say, "We might have thought that God would have
sent a strong man to such a parish as mine, and not a feeble reed."

The first day he preached in St. Peter's as a candidate (August 14th)
is thus recorded: "Forenoon - Mind not altogether in a preaching frame;
on the Sower. Afternoon - With more encouragement and help of the
Spirit; on the voice of the Beloved, in Cant. 2:8-17.[6] In the
Evening - With all my heart; on _Ruth_. Lord, keep me humble."
Returning from St. Peter's the second time, he observed in his class
of girls at Dunipace more than usual anxiety. One of them seemed to be
thoroughly awakened that evening. "Thanks be to Thee, Lord, for
anything," he writes that evening; for as yet he had sown without
seeing fruit. It seems to have been part of the Lord's dealing with
him, thus to teach him to persevere in duty and in faith, even where
there was no obvious success. The arrow that was yet to wound hundreds
was then receiving its point; but it lay in the quiver for a time. The
Lord seemed to be touching his own heart, and melting it by what he
spoke to others, rather than touching or melting the hearts of those
he spoke to. But from the day of his preaching in St. Peter's, tokens
of success began. His first day there, especially the evening sermon
on Ruth, was blessed to two souls in Dundee; and now he sees souls
begin to melt under his last words in the parish where he thought he
had hitherto spent his strength in vain.

[6] See this characteristic sermon in the Remains.

As he was now to leave this sphere, he sought out, with deep anxiety,
a laborer who would help their overburdened pastor, in true love to
the people's souls. He believed he had found such a laborer in Mr.
Somerville, his friend who had shared his every thought and feeling in
former days, and who, with a sharp sickle in his hand, was now
advancing toward the harvest field. "I see plainly," he wrote to Mr.
Bonar, "that my poor attempts at labor in your clear parish will soon
be eclipsed. But if at length the iron front of unbelief give way, if
the hard faces become furrowed with the tears of anxiety and of
faith, under whatever ministry, you will rejoice, and I will rejoice,
and the angels, and the Father and God of angels, will rejoice." It
was in this spirit that he closed his short ten months of labor in
this region.

His last sermons to the people of Larbert and Dunipace were on Hosea
14:1, "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God;" and Jeremiah 8:20,
"Harvest is past." In the evening he writes, "Lord, I feel bowed down
because of the little I have done for them which Thou mightest have
blessed! My bowels yearn over them, and all the more that I have done
so little. Indeed, I might have done ten times as much as I have done.
I might have been in every house; I might have spoken always as a
minister. Lord, canst Thou bless partial, unequal efforts?"

I believe it was about this time that some of us first of all began
our custom of praying specially for each other on Saturday evening,
with a reference to our engagements in the ministry next day. This
concert for prayer we have never since seen cause to discontinue. It
has from time to time been widened in its circle; and as yet his has
been the only voice that has been silenced of all that thus began to
go in on each other's behalf before the Lord. Mr. M'Cheyne never
failed to remember this time of prayer: "Larbert and Dunipace are
always on my heart, especially on the Saturday evenings, when I pray
for a glorious Sabbath!" On one occasion, in Dundee, he was asked if
the accumulation of business in his parish never led him to neglect
the season of prayer on a busy Saturday. His reply was, that he was
not aware that it ever did. "What would my people do if I were not to

So steady was he in Sabbath preparations, from the first day to the
last time he was with them, that though at prayer-meetings, or similar
occasions, he did not think it needful to have much laid up before
coming to address his people; yet, anxious to give them on the Sabbath
what had cost him somewhat, he never, without an urgent reason, went
before them without much previous meditation and prayer. His principle
on this subject was embodied in a remark he made to some of us who
were conversing on the matter. Being asked his view of diligent
preparation for the pulpit, he reminded us of Exodus 27:20: "_Beaten
oil - beaten oil for the lamps of the sanctuary_" And yet his
prayerfulness was greater still. Indeed, he could not neglect
fellowship with God before entering the congregation. He needed to be
bathed in the love of God. His ministry was so much a bringing out of
views that had first sanctified his own soul, that the healthiness of
his soul was absolutely needful to the vigor and power of his

During these ten months the Lord had done much for him, but it was
chiefly in the way of discipline for a future ministry. He had been
taught a minister's heart; he had been tried in the furnace; he had
tasted deep personal sorrow, little of which has been recorded; he had
felt the fiery darts of temptation; he had been exercised in
self-examination and in much prayer; he had proved how flinty is the
rock, and had learned that in lifting the rod by which it was to be
smitten, success lay in Him alone who enabled him to lift it up. And
thus prepared of God for the peculiar work that awaited him, he had
turned his face towards Dundee, and took up his abode in the spot
where the Lord was so marvelously to visit him in his ministry.



"_Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what
manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord
with all humility of mind, and with many tears and
temptations_" - Acts 20:18, 19.

The day on which he was ordained pastor of a flock, was a day of much
anxiety to his soul. He had journeyed by Perth to spend the night
preceding under the roof of his kind friend Mr. Grierson, in the manse
of Errol. Next morning, ere he left the manse, three passages of
Scripture occupied his mind. 1. "_Thou shall keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee_." - Isaiah
26:3. This verse was seasonable; for, as he sat meditating on the
solemn duties of the day, his heart trembled. 2. "_Give thyself wholly
to these things"_ - I Tim. 4:15. May that word (he prayed) sink deep
into my heart. 3. "_Here am I, send me_" - Isaiah 6:8. "To go, or to
stay, - to be here till death, or to visit foreign shores, whatsoever,
wheresoever, whensoever Thou pleasest." He rose from his knees with
the prayer, "Lord, may thy grace come with the laying on of the hands
of the Presbytery."

He was ordained on November 24, 1836. The service was conducted by Mr.
Roxburgh of St. John's, through whose exertions the new church had
been erected, and who ever afterwards cherished the most cordial
friendship towards him. On the Sabbath following he was introduced to
his flock by Mr. John Bonar of Larbert, with whom he had labored as a
son in the gospel. Himself preached in the afternoon upon Isaiah
61:1-3, "_The Spirit of the Lord is upon me_" etc.; of which he
writes, "May it be prophetic of the object of my coming here!" And
truly it was so. That very sermon - the first preached by him as a
pastor - was the means of awakening souls, as he afterwards learned;
and ever onward the impressions left by his words seemed to spread
and deepen among his people. To keep up the remembrance of this solemn
day, he used in all the subsequent years of his ministry to preach
from this same text on the anniversary of his ordination.[7] In the
evening of that day, Mr. Bonar again preached on "_These times of
refreshing._" "A noble sermon, showing the marks of such times. Ah!
when shall we have them here? Lord bless this word, to help their
coming! Put thy blessing upon this day! Felt given over to God, as one
bought with a price."

[7] The _Acceptable Year of the Lord_ was one of these
Anniversary Sermons, preached November 1840.

There was a rapid growth in his soul, perceptible to all who knew him
well, from this time. Even his pulpit preparations, he used to say,
became easier from this date. He had earnestly sought that the day of
his ordination might be a time of new grace; he expected it would be
so; and there was a peculiar work to be done by his hands, for which
the Holy Spirit did speedily prepare him.

His diary does not contain much of his feelings during his residence
in Dundee. His incessant labors left him little time, except what he
scrupulously spent in the direct exercises of devotion. But what we
have seen of his manner of study and self-examination at Larbert, is
sufficient to show in what a constant state of cultivation his soul
was kept; and his habits in these respects continued with him to the
last. Jeremy Taylor recommends: "If thou meanest to enlarge thy
religion, do it rather by enlarging thine ordinary devotions than thy
extraordinary." This advice describes very accurately the plan of
spiritual life on which Mr. M'Cheyne acted. He did occasionally set
apart seasons for special prayer and fasting, occupying the time so
set apart exclusively in devotion. But the real secret of his soul's
prosperity lay in the daily enlargement of his heart in fellowship
with his God. And the river deepened as it flowed on to eternity; so
that he at least reached the feature of a holy pastor which Paul
pointed out to Timothy (4:15): "His profiting did appear to all."

In his own house everything was fitted to make you feel that the
service of God was a cheerful service, while he sought that every
arrangement of the family should bear upon eternity. His morning
hours were set apart for the nourishment of his own soul; not,
however, with the view of laying up a stock of grace for the rest of
the day, - for manna will corrupt if laid by, - but rather with the view
of "giving the eye the habit of looking upward all the day, and
drawing down gleams from the reconciled countenance." He was sparing
in the hours devoted to sleep, and resolutely secured time for
devotion before breakfast, although often wearied and exhausted when
he laid himself to rest. "A soldier of the cross," was his remark,
"must endure hardness." Often he sang a psalm of praise, as soon as he
arose, to stir up his soul. Three chapters of the word was his usual
morning portion. This he thought little enough, for he delighted
exceedingly in the Scriptures: they were better to him than thousands of
gold or silver. "When you write," said he to a friend, "tell me the
meaning of Scriptures." To another, in expressing his value for the
word, he said, "One gem from that ocean is worth all the pebbles of
earthly streams."

His chief season of relaxation seemed to be breakfast-time. He would
come down with a happy countenance and a full soul; and after the
sweet season of family prayer, forthwith commence forming plans for
the day. When he was well, nothing seemed to afford him such true
delight as to have his hands full of work. Indeed, it was often
remarked that in him you found - what you rarely meet with - a man of
high poetic imagination and deep devotion, who nevertheless was
engaged unceasingly in the busiest and most laborious activities of
his office.

His friends could observe how much his soul was engrossed during his
times of study of devotion. If interrupted on such occasions, though
he never seemed ruffled, yet there was a kind of gravity and silence
that implied - "I wish to be alone." But he further aimed at enjoying
God _all the day_. And referring on one occasion to those blank hours
which so often are a believer's burden, - hours during which the soul
is dry and barren, - he observed, "They are proofs of how little we are
_filled_ with the presence of God, how little we are _branchlike_[8]
in our faith."

[8] Compare Zechariah 4:12 with John 15:5.

This careful attention to the frame of his spirit did not hinder his
preparation for his people; on the contrary, it kept alive his deep
conscientiousness, and kept his warm compassion ever yearning. When
asked to observe a Saturday as a day of fasting and prayer, along with
some others who had a special object in view, he replied, "Saturday is
an awkward day for ministers; for though I love to seek help from on
high, I love also diligently to set my thoughts in order for the
Sabbath. I sometimes fear that you fail in this latter duty."

During his first years in Dundee, he often rode out in an afternoon to
the ruined church of Invergowrie, to enjoy an hour's perfect solitude;
for he felt meditation and prayer to be the very sinews of his work.
Such notices, also, as the following, show his systematic pursuit of
personal holiness: -

"_April 9, 1837_, Evening. - A very pleasant quietness. Study of the
Epistle to the Hebrews. Came to a more intelligent view of the first
six chapters than ever before. Much refreshed by John Newton;
instructed by Edwards. Help and freedom in prayer. Lord, what a happy
season is a Sabbath evening! What will heaven be!"

"_April 16_, Sabbath evening. - Much prayer and peace. Reading the
Bible only."

"_June 2._ - Much peace and rest to-night. Much broken under a sense of
my exceeding wickedness, which no eye can see but thine. Much
persuasion of the sufficiency of Christ, and of the constancy of his
love. Oh how sweet to work all day for God, and then to lie down at
night under his smiles!"

"_June 17, 1838._ - At Dumbarney communion. Much sin and coldness two
days before. Lay low at his feet; found peace only in Jesus."

"_Sept. 25._ - Spent last week at Blairgowrie; I hope not in vain. Much
sin, weakness, and uselessness; much delight in the word also, while
opening it up at family prayer. May God make the word fire. Opened I
Thessalonians, the whole; enriching to my own mind. How true is Psalm
1! yet observed in my heart a strange proneness to be entangled with
the affairs of this life; not strange because I am good, but because I
have been so often taught that bitterness is the end of it."

"_Sept. 27._ - Devoted chief part of Friday to fasting. Humbled and

"Sept. 30, Sabbath. - Very happy in my work. Too little prayer in the
morning. Must try to get early to bed on Saturday, that I may 'rise a
great while before day.'" These early hours of prayer on Sabbath he
endeavored to have all his life; not for study, but for prayer. He
never labored at his sermons on a Sabbath. That day he kept for its
original end, the _refreshment of his soul_. (Exodus 31:17.)

The parish of St. Peter's, to which he had come, was large and very
destitute. It is situated at the west end of the town, and included
some part of the adjacent country. The church was built in connection
with the Church Extension Scheme. The parish was a _quoard sacra_
parish, detached from St. John's. It contains a population of 4,000
souls, very many of whom never crossed the threshold of any sanctuary.
His congregation amounted at the very outset, to about 1,100 hearers,
one-third of whom came from distant parts of the town.

Here was a wide field for parochial labor. It was also a very dead
region - few, even of those who were living Christians, breathing their
life on others; for the surrounding mass of impenetrate heathenism had
cast its sad influence even over them. His first impressions of Dundee
were severe. "A city given to idolatry and hardness of heart. I fear
there is much of what Isaiah speaks of: 'The prophets prophesy lies,
and the people love to have it so.'"

His first months of labor were very trying. He was not strong in
bodily health, and that winter a fatal influenza prevailed for two or
three months, so that most of his time in his parish was spent in
visiting the sick and dying. In such cases he was always ready. "Did I
tell you of the boy I was asked to see on Sabbath evening, just when I
got myself comfortably seated at home? I went, and was speaking to him
of the freeness and fulness of Jesus, when he gasped a little and

In one of his first visits to the sick, the narrative of the Lord's
singular dealings with one of his parishioners greatly encouraged him
to carry the glad tidings to the distressed under every disadvantage.
Four years before, a young woman had been seized with cholera, and was
deprived of the use of speech for a whole year. The Bible was read to
her, and men of God used to speak and pray with her. At the end of the
year her tongue was loosed, and the first words heard from her lips
were praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord had done for her soul.
It was in her chamber he was now standing, hearing from her own lips
what the Lord had wrought.

On another occasion during the first year of his ministry, he
witnessed the death-bed conversion of a man who, till within a few
days of his end, almost denied that there was a God. This solid
conversion, as he believed it to be, stirred him up to speak with all
hopefulness, as well as earnestness, to the dying.

But it was, above all, to the children of God that his visitations
seemed blessed. His voice, and his very eye, spoke tenderness; for
personal affliction had taught him to feel sympathy with the
sorrowing. Though the following be an extract from a letter, yet it
will be recognised by many as exhibiting his mode of dealing with
God's afflicted ones in his visitations: "There is a sweet word in
Exodus (3:7), which was pointed out to me the other day by a poor
bereaved child of God: 'I know their sorrows.' Study that; it fills
the soul. Another word like it is in Psalm 103:14: 'He knoweth our
frame.' May your own soul, and that of your dear friends, be fed by
these things. A dark hour makes Jesus bright. Another sweet word:
'They knew not that it was Jesus.'"

I find some specimens of his sick visits among his papers, noted down
at a time when his work had not grown upon his hands. "_January 25,
1837_ - Visited Mt. M'Bain, a young woman of twenty-four, long ill of
decline. Better or worse these ten years past. Spoke of '_The one
thing needful_' plainly. She sat quiet. _February 14_ - Had heard she
was better - found her near dying. Spoke plainly and tenderly to her,
commending Christ. Used many texts. She put out her hand kindly on
leaving. 15th - Still dying like; spoke as yesterday. She never opened
her eyes. 16th - Showed her the dreadfulness of wrath; freeness of
Christ; the majesty, justice, truth of God. Poor M. is fast going the
way whence she shall not return. Many neighbors also always gather in.
17th - Read Psalm 22; showed the sufferings of Christ; how sufficient
an atonement; how feeling a High Priest. She breathed loud, and
groaned through pain. Died this evening at seven. I hardly ever heard
her speak anything; and I will hope that thou art with Christ in
glory, till I go and see. 20th - Prayed at her funeral. Saw her laid in
St. Peter's churchyard, _the first laid there_, by her own desire, in
the fresh mould where never man was laid. May it be a token that she
is with Him who was laid in a new tomb."

He records another case: "_January 4, 1837_ - Sent for to Mrs. S - - .
Very ill; asthmatic. Spoke on '_No condemnation to them that are in
Christ_.' She said, 'But am I in Christ?' seemingly very anxious. Said
she had often been so, and had let it go by. 5th - Still living; spoke
to her of Christ, and of full salvation. (Myself confined in the house
till the 16th.) - Much worse. Not anxious to hear, yet far from rest.
Dark, uneasy eye. Asked me, 'What is it to believe?' Spoke to her on
'_God, who made light shine out of darkness._' She seemed to take up
nothing. Lord, help! 17th - Still worse; wearing away. No smile; no
sign of inward peace. Spoke of '_Remember me._' Went over the whole
gospel in the form of personal address. She drowsy. 18th - Quieter.
'_My Lord and my God_.' She spoke at intervals. More cheerful; anxious
that I should not go without prayer. Has much knowledge; complete
command of the Bible. 19th - Spoke on '_Convincing of sin and
righteousness._' Rather more heart to hear. 20th - Psalm 51. Her look
and her words were lightsome. 23d - Faintish and restless; no sign of
peace. '_I am the way_,' and Psalm 25. 24th - Still silent and little
sign of anything. 26th - Psalm 40, '_The fearful pit._' Very plain.
Could not get anything out of her. February 1 - Died at twelve noon; no
visible mark of light, or comfort, or hope. The day shall declare it."

One other case: "_February 5, 1839._ - Called suddenly in the evening.
Found him near death. Careless family. Many round him. Spoke of the
freeness and sufficiency of Jesus. '_Come unto me_,' etc., and '_The
wrath of God revealed from heaven_.' Told him he was going where he
would see Christ! asked him if He would be his Saviour? He seemed to
answer; his father said, 'He is saying, Yes.' But it was the throe of
death. One or two indescribable gasps, and he died! I sat silent, and
let God preach. 7th - Spoke of the '_Widow of Nain_,' and '_Behold I
stand at the door._'"

Attendance at funerals was often to him a season of much exercise.
Should it not be to all ministers a time for solemn inquiry? Was I
faithful with this soul? Could this soul have learned salvation from
me every time I saw him? And did I pray as fervently as I spoke? And
if we have tender pity for souls, we will sometimes feel as Mr.
M'Cheyne records: "_September 24._ - Buried A.M. Felt bitterly the
word, 'If any man draw back.' etc. Never had more bitter feelings at
any funeral."

All who make any pretension to the office of shepherds visit their
flocks;[9] yet there is a wide difference in the kind of visits which
shepherds give. One does it formally, to discharge his duty and to
quiet conscience; another makes it his delight. And of those who make
it their delight, one goes forth on the regular plan of addressing all
in somewhat of the same style; while another speaks freely, according
as the wounds of his sheep come to view. On all occasions, this
difficult and trying work must be gone about with a full heart, if it
is to be gone about successfully at all. There is little in it to
excite, for there is not the presence of numbers, and the few you see
at a time are in their calmest, every-day mood. Hence there is need of
being full of grace, and need of feeling as though God did visit every
hearer by your means. Our object is not to get duty done, but to get
souls saved. II Cor. 13:7. Mr. M'Cheyne used to go forth in this
spirit, and often after visiting from house to house for several
hours, he would return to some room in the place in the evening, and
preach to the gathered families. "_September 26, 1838._ - Good
visiting-day. Twelve families; many of them go nowhere. It is a great
thing to be well furnished by meditation and prayer before setting
out; it makes you a far more full and faithful witness. Preached in
A.F.'s house on Job, '_I know that my Redeemer liveth._' Very sweet
and precious to myself."

[9] Baxter (_Reformed Pastor_) says, "I dare prognosticate from
knowledge of the nature of true grace, that all godly ministers
will make conscience of this duty, and address themselves to it,
unless they be, by some extraordinary accident, disabled."

Partly from his state of health, and partly from the vast accumulation
of other labors, and the calls made on him for evangelizing elsewhere,
he was never able to overtake the visitation of the whole district
assigned him. He was blessed to attract and reclaim very many of the
most degraded; and by Sabbath schools and a regular eldership, to take
superintendence of the population to a great extent. Still he himself
often said that his parish had never fully shared in the advantages
that attend an aggressive system of parochial labor. Once when
spending a day in the rural parish of Collace, as we went in the
afternoon from door to door, and spoke to the children whom we met on
the road-side, he smiled and said, "Well, how I envy a country

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 6 of 17)