Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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His candor, and uprightness, and Christian generosity, were felt by
all his brethren; and his opinion, though the opinion of so young a
man, was regarded with more than common respect. In regard to the
great public questions that were then shaking the Church of Scotland,
his views were decided and unhesitating. No policy, in his view, could
be more ruinous to true Christianity, or more fitted to blight vital
godliness, than that of Moderatism. He wrote once to a friend in
Ireland: "You don't know what Moderatism is. It is a plant that our
heavenly Father never planted, and I trust it is now to be rooted up."
The great question of the Church's independence of the Civil Power in
all matters spiritual, and the right of the Christian people to judge
if the pastor appointed over them had the Shepherd's voice, he
invariably held to be part of Scripture truth, which, therefore, must
be preached and carried into practice, at all hazards. In like manner
he rejoiced exceedingly in the settlements of faithful ministers. The
appointments of Mr. Baxter to Hilltown, Mr. Lewis to St. David's, and
Mr. Miller to Wallacetown at a later period, are all noticed by him
with expressions of thankfulness and joy; and it occasioned the same
feelings if he heard of the destitution of any parish in any part of
the country supplied. He writes, _Sept. 20, 1838_: "Present at A.B.'s
ordination at Collace with great joy. Blessed be God for the gift of
this pastor. Give testimony to the word of thy grace."

Busy at home, he nevertheless always had a keenly evangelistic spirit.
He might have written much and have gained a name by his writings; but
he laid everything aside when put in comparison with preaching the
everlasting gospel. He scarcely ever refused an invitation to preach
on a week-day; and travelling from place to place did not interrupt
his fellowship with God. His occasional visits during these years were
much blessed. At Blairgowrie and Collace his visits were longed for as
times of special refreshment; nor was it less so at Kirriemuir, when
he visited Mr. Cormick, or at Abernyte in the days when Mr. Hamilton
(now of Regent Square, London), and afterwards Mr. Manson, were
laboring in that vineyard. It would be difficult even to enumerate the
places which he watered at Communion seasons; and in some of these it
was testified of him, that not the words he spoke, but the _holy
manner_ in which he spoke, was the chief means of arresting souls.

Occasionally two or three of us, whose lot was cast within convenient
distance, and whose souls panted for the same water-brooks, used to
meet together to spend a whole day in confession of ministerial and
personal sins, with prayer for grace, guiding ourselves by the reading
of the word. At such times we used to meet in the evening with the
flock of the pastor in whose house the meeting had been held through
the day, and there unitedly pray for the Holy Spirit being poured down
upon the people. The first time we held such a meeting, there were
tokens of blessing observed by several of us; and the week after he
wrote: "Has there been any fruit of the happy day we spent with you? I
thought I saw some the Sabbath after, here. In due season we shall
reap if we faint not; only be thou strong, and of a good courage." The
incident that encouraged him is recorded in his diary. An elderly
person came to tell him how the river of joy and peace in believing
had that Sabbath most singularly flowed through her soul, so that she
blessed God that she ever came to St. Peter's. He adds "_N.B._ - This
seems a fruit of our prayer-meeting, begun last Wednesday at
Collace, - one drop of the shower."

It should have been remarked ere now, that during all his ministry he
was careful to use not only the direct means appointed for the
conversion of souls, but those also that appear more indirect, such as
the key of discipline. In regard to the Lord's Supper, his little
tract explains his views. He believed that to keep back those whose
profession was a credible profession, even while the pastor might have
strong doubts as to their fitness in his own mind, was not the rule
laid down for us in the New Testament. At the same time, he as
steadily maintained that no unconverted person _ought to come_ to the
Lord's Table; and on this point "they should judge themselves if they
would not be judged."

When communicants came to be admitted for the first time, or when
parents that had been communicants before came for baptism to their
children, it was his custom to ask them solemnly if their souls were
saved. His dealing was blessed to the conversion of not a few young
persons who were coming carelessly forward to the Communion; and
himself records the blessing that attended his faithful Healing with a
parent coming to speak with him about the baptism of his child. The
man said that he had been taking a thought, and believed himself in
the right way - that he felt his disposition better, for he could
forgive injuries. Mr. M'Cheyne showed him that nevertheless he was
ignorant of God's righteousness. The man laid it to heart; and when
Mr. M'Cheyne said that he thought it would be better to defer the
baptism, at once offered to come again and speak on the matter. On a
subsequent visit, he seemed really to have seen his error, and to have
cast away his own righteousness. When his child was baptized, it was
joy to the pastor's heart to have the good hope that the man had
received salvation.

In connection with the superstitious feeling of the most depraved as
to baptism, he related an affecting occurrence. A careless parent one
evening entered his house, and asked him to come with him to baptize a
dying child. He knew that neither this man nor his wife ever entered
the door of a church; but he rose and went with him to the miserable
dwelling. There an infant lay, apparently dying; and many of the
female neighbors, equally depraved with the parents, stood round. He
came forward to where the child was, and spoke to the parents of their
ungodly state and fearful guilt before God, and concluded by showing
them that, in such circumstances, he would consider it sinful in him
to administer baptism to their infant. They said, "He might at least
do it for the sake of the poor child." He told them that it was not
baptism that saved a soul, and that out of true concern for themselves
he must not do as they wished. The friends around the bed then joined
the parents in upbraiding him as having no pity on the poor infant's
soul! He stood among them still, and showed them that it was they who
had been thus cruel to their child; and then lifted up his voice in
solemn warning, and left the house amid their ignorant reproaches.

Nor did he make light of the kirk-session's power to rebuke and deal
with an offender. Once from the pulpit, at an ordination of elders, he
gave the following testimony upon this head: "When I first entered
upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of
the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and
almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so
precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care,
and strength, to labor in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline
were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something
like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it
nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether.
But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man
teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and
undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from
that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if
preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now
feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God, - that two keys are
committed to us by Christ: the one the key of doctrine, by means of
which we unlock the treasures of the Bible; the other the key of
discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances
of the faith. Both are Christ's gift, and neither is to be resigned
without sin."

There was still another means of enforcing what he preached, in the
use of which he has excelled all his brethren, namely, the holy
consistency of his daily walk. Aware that one idle word, one needless
contention, one covetous act, may destroy in our people the effect of
many a solemn expostulation and earnest warning, he was peculiarly
circumspect in his every-day walk. He wished to be always in the
presence of God. If he travelled, he labored to enjoy God by the way,
as well as to do good to others by dropping a word in season. In
riding or walking, he seized opportunities of giving a useful tract;
and, on principle, he preferred giving it to the person directly,
rather than casting it on the road. The former way, he said, was more
open - there was no stealth in it; and we ought to be as clear as
crystal in speaking or acting for Jesus. In writing a note, however
short, he sought to season it with salt. If he passed a night in a
strange place, he tried to bear the place specially on his soul at the
mercy-seat; and if compelled to take some rest from his too exhausting
toils, his recreations were little else than a change of occupation,
from one mode of glorifying God to another.[12] His beautiful hymn, _I
am a debtor_, was written in May 1837, at a leisure hour.

[12] Baxter's words are not less than the truth: "Recreation to a
minister must be as whetting is with the mower, that is, only to
be used so far as is necessary for his work. May a physician in
the plague-time take any more relaxation or recreation than is
necessary for his life, when so many are expecting his help in a
case of life and death?" "Will you stand by and see sinners
grasping under the pangs of death, and say, God doth not require
me to make myself a drudge to save them? Is this the voice of
ministerial or Christian compassion, or rather of _sensual
laziness and diabolical cruelty_?" - _Ref. Past_. 6:6

Whatever be said in the pulpit, men will not much regard, though they
may feel it at the time, if the minister does not say the same in
private with equal earnestness, in speaking with his people face to
face; and it must be in our moments of most familiar intercourse with
them, that we are thus to put the seal to all we say in public.
Familiar moments are the times when the things that are most closely
twined round the heart are brought out to view; and shall we forbear,
by tacit consent, to introduce the Lord that bought us into such happy
hours? We must not only speak faithfully to our people in our sermons,
but live faithfully for them too. Perhaps it may be found, that the
reason why many who preach the gospel fully and in all earnestness are
not owned of God in the conversion of souls, is to be found in their
defective exhibition of grace in these easy moments of life. "Them
that honor me, I will honor," I Samuel 2:30. It was noticed long ago
that men will give you leave to _preach against_ their sins as much as
you will, if so be you will but be easy with them when you have done,
and talk as they do, and live as they live. How much otherwise it was
with Mr. M'Cheyne, all who knew him are witnesses.

His visits to friends were times when he sought to do good to their
souls; and never was he satisfied unless he could guide the
conversation to bear upon the things of eternity. When he could not do
so, he generally remained silent. And yet his demeanor was easy and
pleasant to all, exhibiting at once meekness of faith and delicacy of
feeling. There was in his character a high refinement that came out in
poetry and true politeness; and there was something in his graces that
reminded one of his own remark, when explaining _the spices_ of Song
4:16, when he said that "some believers were a garden that had
fruit-trees, and so were useful; but we ought also to have _spices_,
and so be attractive." Wishing to convey his grateful feelings to a
fellow-laborer in Dundee, he sent him a Hebrew Bible, with these few
lines prefixed: -

Anoint mine eyes,
O holy dove!
That I may prize
This book of love.

Unstop mine ear,
Made deaf by sin,
That I may hear
Thy voice within.

Break my hard heart,
Jesus, my Lord;
In the inmost part
Hide thy sweet word.

It was on a similar occasion, in 1838, that he wrote the lines, _Thy
word is a lamp unto my feet_. At another time, sitting under a shady
tree, and casting his eye on the hospitable dwelling in which he found
a pleasant retreat, his grateful feelings flowed out to his kind
friend in the lines that follow: -


Long may peace within this dwelling
Have its resting-place;
Angel shields all harm repelling, -
God, their God of grace.

May the dove-like Spirit guide them
To the upright land!
May the Saviour-shepherd fed them
From his gentle hand!

Never was there one more beloved as a friend, and seldom any whose
death could cause so many to feel as if no other friend could ever
occupy his room. Some, too, can say that so much did they learn from
his holy walk, "that it is probable a day never passes wherein they
have not some advantage from his friendship."[13]

[13] [Greek: Egô men dê katanoôn tou andros tên te sophian kai
tên gennaiotêta oute mê memnêsthai dynamai autou, oute memnêmenos
mê ouk epainein. Ei de tis tôn aretês ephiemenôn ôphelimôterô
tini Sôkratous synegeneto ekeinon egô ton andra
axiomakariototaton nomizô.]

I find written on the leaf of one of his note-books, a short
memorandum: "_Rules worth remembering._ - When visiting in a family,
whether ministerially or otherwise, speak particularly to _the
strangers_ about eternal things. Perhaps God has brought you together
just to save that soul." And then he refers to some instances which
occurred to himself, in which God seemed to honor a word spoken in
this incidental way.

In this spirit he was enabled for nearly three years to give his
strength to his Master's service. Sickness sometimes laid him aside,
and taught him what he had to suffer; but he rose from it to go forth
again to his joyful labors. Often, after a toilsome day, there were
inquirers waiting for him, so that he had to begin work afresh in a
new form. But this was his delight; it was a kind of interruption
which he allowed even on a Saturday, in the midst of his studies. He
was led to resolve not to postpone any inquirers till a future time,
by finding that having done so on one occasion at a pressing moment,
the individuals never returned; and so alive was he to the
responsibilities of his office, that he ever after feared to lose such
an opportunity of speaking with souls at a time when they were aroused
to concern. Busy one evening with some extra-parochial work, he was
asked if any person should be admitted to see him that night.
"Surely - what do we live for?" was his immediate reply. It was his
manner, too, on a Saturday afternoon, to visit one or two of his sick
who seemed near the point of death, with the view of being thus
stirred up to a more direct application of the truth to his flock on
the morrow, as dying men on the edge of eternity.

We have already observed that in his doctrine there was nothing that
differed from the views of truth laid down in the standards of our
church. He saw no inconsistency in preaching an electing God, who
"calleth whom He will," and a salvation free to "whosoever will;" nor
in declaring the absolute sovereignty of God, and yet the unimpaired
responsibility of man. He preached Christ as a gift laid down by the
Father for every sinner freely to take. In the beginning of his
ministry, as he preached the fulness of the glad tidings, and urged on
his people that there was enough in the glad tidings to bring direct
and immediate assurance to every one who really believed them, some of
his flock were startled. For he ever preached, that, while it is true
that there are believers, like Heman or Asaph, who do not enjoy full
assurance of the love of God, yet certainly no true believer should
remain satisfied in the absence of this blessed peace. Not a few had
hitherto been accustomed to take for granted that they might be
Christians, though they knew of no change, and had never thought of
enjoying the knowledge of the love of God as their present portion.
They heard that others, who were reckoned believers, had doubts; so
they had come to consider fears and doubts as the very marks of a
believing soul. The consequence had been, that in past days many
concluded themselves to be Christians because they seemed to be in the
very state of mind of which those who were reputed to be believers
spoke, viz. doubt and alarm. Alas! in _their_ case there could be
nothing else, for they had only a name to live.

Some one wrote to him, putting several questions concerning
conversion, assurance, and faith, which had been stirred up by his
ministry. The import of the questions may be gathered from his reply,
which was as follows: -

"1. _I doubt if there are many saints who live and die without a
comfortable sense of forgiveness and acceptance with God._ The saints
of whom the Bible speaks seem to have enjoyed it richly both in life
and death. See the murderers of our Lord, Acts 2:41; the Ethiopian,
Acts 8:39; the jailor, Acts 16:35. David also felt it, sinful man
though he was, Romans 4:6. Paul also prayed that the Romans might have
it, Romans 15:13. I fear this objection is generally made by those
who are living in sin, and do not wish to know the dangerous road they
are on.

"2. _A sense of forgiveness does not proceed from marks seen in
yourself, but from a discovery of the beauty, worth, and freeness of
Christ,_ Psalm 34:5. We look _out_ for peace, not _in_. At the same
time, there is also an assurance rising from what we see in ourselves;
the seal of the Spirit, love to the brethren, etc., are the chief

"3. _Feeling a body of sin is a mark that we are like Paul, and that
we are Christ's,_ Rom. 7; Gal. 5:17. Paul was cheerful with a body of
sin; and so ought we to be. So was David, and all the saints.

"4. _I do not think there is any difference between those converted
within these few years and those who were Christians before._ Many of
those converted since I came are, I fear, very unholy. I fear this
more than anything. I fear there is too much talk and too little
reality. Still there are many good figs, - many of whom I am persuaded
better things, and things that accompany salvation. The answer to your
question I fear is this, that many used to be taken for Christians
before, who had only a name to live, and were dead. I think there is
more discrimination now. But take care and be not proud, for that goes
before a fall. Take care of censorious judging of others, as if all
must be converted in the same way.

"God moves in a mysterious way. He hath mercy on whom He will have
mercy. To Him alone be glory."

He thus stated his views on another occasion. Referring to Song 6:3,
"My beloved is mine," following "My beloved is gone down into his
garden," he said, "This is the faith of assurance, - a complete,
unhesitating embracing of Christ as my righteousness and my strength
and my all. A common mistake is, that this clear conviction that
Christ is mine is an attainment far on in the divine life, and that it
springs from evidences seen in my heart. When I see myself a new
creature, Christ on the throne in my heart, love to the brethren,
etc., it is often thought that I may begin then to say, 'My Beloved is
mine.' How different this passage! The moment Jesus comes down into
the garden to the beds of spices, - the moment He reveals himself, the
soul cries out, 'My Beloved is mine!' So saith Thomas, John 20:27, 28.
The moment Jesus came in and revealed his wounds, Thomas cried out,
'My Lord and my God.' He did not look to see if he was believing, or
if the graces of love and humility were reigning; but all he saw and
thought of was Jesus and Him crucified and risen." At a subsequent
period, when preaching on Matt. 11:28, "Come unto me," he said, "I
suppose it is almost impossible to explain what it is to come to
Jesus, it is so simple. If you ask a sick person who had been healed,
what it was to come and be healed, he could hardly tell you. As far as
the Lord has given me light in this matter, and looking at what my own
heart does in like circumstances, I do not feel that there is anything
more in coming to Jesus, than just believing what God says about his
Son to be true. I believe that many people keep themselves in darkness
by expecting something more than this. Some of you will ask, 'Is there
no _appropriating_ of Christ? no _putting out the hand of faith_? no
touching the hem of his garment?' I quite grant, beloved, there is
such a thing, but I do think it is inseparable from believing the
record. If the Lord persuades you of the glory and power of Emmanuel,
I feel persuaded that you cannot but choose Him. It is like opening
the shutters of a dark room; the sun that moment shines in. So, the
eye that is opened to the testimony of God, receives Christ that

In the case of a faithful ministry, success is the rule; want of it
the exception. For it is written: "In doing this thou shalt both save
thyself and them that hear thee," I Tim. 4:16. Mr. M'Cheyne expected
it, and the Lord exceeded all his hopes.

It was not yet common for persons in anxiety to go to their pastor for
advice; but soon it became an almost weekly occurrence. While it was
yet rare, two of his young people wrote a joint note, asking liberty
to come and speak with him, "for we are anxious about our souls."
Among those who came, there were those who had striven against the
truth; persons who used to run out of hearing when the Bible was
read, - throw down a tract if the name of God was in it, - go quickly to
sleep after a Sabbath's pleasure in order to drown the fear of
dropping into hell. There were many whose whole previous life had been
but a threadbare profession. There were some open sinners, too. In
short, the Lord glorified himself by the variety of those whom his
grace subdued, and the variety of means by which his grace reached
its object.

One could tell him that the reading of the chapter in the church, with
a few remarks, had been the time of her awakening. Another had been
struck to the heart by some expression he used in his first prayer
before sermon one Sabbath morning. But most were arrested in the
preaching of the word. An interesting case was that of one who was
aroused to concern during his sermon on _Unto whom coming as unto a
living stone_. As he spoke of the Father taking the gem out of his
bosom, and laying it down for a foundation-stone, she felt in her
soul, "I know nothing of this precious stone; I am surely not
converted." This led her to come and speak with him. She was not under
deep conviction; but before going away, he said, "You are a poor, vile
worm; it is a wonder the earth does not open and swallow you up."
These words were blessed to produce a very awful sense of sin. She
came a second time with the arrows of the Almighty drinking up her
spirit. For three months she remained in this state, till having once
more come to him for counsel, the living voice of Jesus gave life to
her soul while he was speaking of Christ's words, "If thou knewest the
gift of God," etc., and she went away rejoicing. Some awakened souls
told him that since they were brought under concern, very many
sermons, which they had heard from him before and completely
forgotten, had been brought back to mind. He used to remark that this
might show what the resurrection day would awaken in the souls of
gospel hearers.

In dealing with souls he used to speak very plainly. One came to him
who assented to his statements of the gospel, and yet refused to be
comforted, always looking upon _coming to Christ_ as something in
addition to really believing the record God has given of his Son. He
took John 3:16, 17: "For God so loved the world, that," etc. The woman
said that "God did not care for her." Upon this he at once convicted
her of making God a liar; and, as she went away in deep distress, his
prayer was, "Lord, give her light!"

To another person, who spoke of having times of great joy, he showed
that these were times for worshipping God in the spirit. "You would

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 8 of 17)