Monday, May 17

Thankful for M'Cheyne

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was born in Edinburgh on this day in 1813. He would ultimately become one of the most remarkable servants of Christ ever to walk upon this poor fallen sod--and one of the strongest influences on my own life and work. I have read the classic account of his life by Andrew Bonar (Banner of Truth) three different times--always to great benefit. I've just recently read the new biography Constrained by His Love, by L.J. Van Valen (Christian Focus). I've read two collections of his sermons and followed his rather rigorous Read through the Bible plan twice. I never cease to be amazed at the impact of his ministry across all the years and all the miles--especially in light of the mercurial brevity of his life.

M'Cheyne was the youngest child in a family of five. His father was a prosperous lawyer and a man of some social importance. Their spacious home, with its gardens, commanded a glorious view from the heights of Edinburgh across to the shores of Fife. After passing successfully though the High School, he entered the Arts Faculty of the University of Edinburgh in autumn 1827. There he turned his attention to elocution and poetry as well as the pleasures of society. But he was the subject of his elder brother's fervent prayers, and the early death of this brother in 1831 was a stroke which was used to awaken Robert from his spiritual stupor. He began to be serious, and to sit under the evangelical ministry of Thomas Chalmers.

In the winter of 1831, he entered the Divinity Hall of the University to study under the great man. Under the leadership Chalmers--as well as men like David Welsh and John Duncan--an awakening swept across the whole of the Scottish Reformed world. And M'Cheyne was at the center of this amazing spiritual storm. He was a diligent student and after the completion of his studies was licensed by the presbytery of Annan on in 1835 and became an assistant to John Bonar in Larbert and Dunipace. His piety and eloquent preaching commended him the next year to his own parish and so he was ordained minister of St. Peter's at the busy port of Dundee, in 1836.

It was a new church built in a sadly neglected district containing some 4,000 souls. M'Cheyne poured himself into the work--often sleeping only three hours a night and never taking leisure at all. He visited, prayed, and preached like few had ever seen before in all of the rich Christian history of Scotland--and as a result won the hearts of even the most confirmed skeptics and doubters in the parish.

Though he had so quickly achieved a measure of success, he was deeply concerned to deepen his ministry by continual study. Few ministers had ever maintained such an unwavering passion for the advantages of study, preaching, and discipleship. Though always conscious that souls were perishing every day, he never fell into the error of thinking that a his main pastoral work consisted of mere outward activity--and as a result he devoted himself even more to the work of intercession.

By the end of 1838 the course of his furious ministry was suddenly interrupted by serious illness--probably the effect of his unstinting labors. His doctors ultimately insisted on a total cessation of work. Accordingly, M'Cheyne with deep regret returned to his parents home in Edinburgh, to rest until he could resume his ministry. This separation from his people occasioned some of the richest pastoral letters in all of church history.

Though his condition had hardly improved, he returned to his flock a year later and a tremendous revival broke out almost immediately. Aware that his time was short, he threw himself into a renewed hectic schedule. To the very end, he was relentless in pursuit of holiness and the proclamation of the doctrines of grace. At last, in the spring of 1843--the year of the great Disruption that saw the creation of the Free Church of Scotland under Dr. Chalmers--he succumbed to his lingering illness.

His death was the cause of grievous mourning all throughout the nation. It was said that the brief ministry of Robert Murray M'Cheyne--just seven-and-a-half years--had stamped an indelible impress on Scotland, and though he died in just his twenty-ninth year, more was wrought by him that will last for eternity than most ever accomplish in a lifetime.

As my own testimony attests, even today, though dead, he yet speaketh. For that, I am ever so thankful.

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