Chapter 1 SEE PART 2
Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne
His Youth and Preparation for the Ministry
Many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord. Luke 1:14,15
In the midst of the restless activity of such a day as ours, we feel it would be useful for ministers of Christ to trace the steps of one who during the last years of his short life walked calmly in almost unbroken fellowship with the Father and the Son.
The date of his birth was May 21, 1813. About that time, as is now evident to us who can look back on the past, the Great Head had a purpose of blessing for the Church of Scotland. Eminent men of God appeared to plead the cause of Christ. The Cross was lifted up boldly in the midst of church courts that had long been ashamed of the gospel of Christ. More spirituality and deeper seriousness began to prevail among the youth of our divinity halls. In the midst of such events, whereby the Lord was secretly preparing a rich blessing for souls all over our land, the subject 6f this Memoir was born. “Many were to rejoice at his birth,” for he was one of the blessings that were beginning to be dropped down upon Scotland, though none then knew that one was born whom hundreds would look up to as their spiritual father.
The place of his birth was Edinburgh, where his parents resided. He was the youngest child of the family, and was called Robert Murray, after the name of some of his kindred.
From his infancy his sweet and affectionate temper was remarked by all who knew him. His mind was quick in its attainments; he was easily taught the common lessons of youth, and some of his individual gifts began to appear early.
At the age of four, while recovering from some illness, he selected as his recreation the study of the Greek alphabet, and was able to name all the letters, and to write them in a rude way on a slate. A year later, he made rapid progress in the English class, and at an early period became somewhat eminent among his classmates for his melodious voice and powers of recitation. There were at that time catechetical exercises held in the Ton Church, in the interval between sermons; and some friends remember the interest often excited in the hearers by his correct and sweet recitation of the Psalms and passages of Scripture. But as yet he knew not the Lord, and he lived to himself, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
In October 1821 he entered the high school, where he continued his literary studies during the usual period of six years. He maintained a high place in his classes, and in the Rector’s class distinguished himself by eminence in geography and recitation. It was during the last year of his attendance at the high school that he first ventured on poetical composition, the subject being, “Greece, but living Greece no more.” The lines are characterized chiefly by enthusiasm for liberty and Grecian heroism, for in those days his soul had never soared to a higher region. His companions spoke of him as one who had even then peculiarities that drew attention: of a light, tall form-full of elasticity and vigor-ambitious, yet noble in his dispositions, disdaining traits such as meanness or deceit. Some would have been tempted to regard him as exhibiting many traits of a Christian character; but his susceptible mind had not, at that time, a relish for any higher joy than the refined gaieties of society, and for such pleasures as the song and the dance could yield. He himself regarded these as days of ungodliness days in which he cherished a pure morality, but lived in heart a Pharisee. I have heard him say that there was a correctness and propriety in his demeanor at times of devotion, and in public worship, which some, who did not know his heart, were ready to put to the account of real feeling. And this experience of his own heart made him look with jealousy on the mere outward signs of devotion in dealing with souls. He had learned in his own case how much a soul, unawakened to a sense of guilt, may have satisfaction in performing, from the proud consciousness of integrity toward man, and a sentimental devotedness of mind that chastens the feelings without changing the heart.
He took great delight in rural scenery. Most of his summer vacations used to be spent in Dumfriesshire, and his friends in the parish of Ruthwell and its vicinity retain a vivid remembrance of his youthful days. His poetic temperament led him to visit whatever scenes were fitted to stir the soul. At all periods of his life, also, he had a love of enterprise. During the summer months he occasionally made excursions with his brother, or some intimate friend, to visit the lakes and hills of our highlands, cherishing thereby, unawares, a fondness for travel, that was most useful to him in later years. In one of these excursions, a somewhat romantic occurrence befell the travelers, such as we might rather have expected to meet with in the records of his Eastern journey. He and his friends had set out on foot to explore, at their leisure, Dunkeld, and the highlands in its vicinity. They spent a day at Dunkeld, and about sunset set out again with the view of crossing the hills to Strathardle. A dense mist spread over the hills soon after they began to climb. They pressed on, but lost the trail that might have guided them safely to the glen. They did not know how to direct their steps to any dwelling. Night came on, and they had no resource but to bed down in the heath, with no other covering than the clothes they wore. They felt hungry and cold; and, awaking at midnight, the awful stillness of the lonely mountains spread a strange fear over them. But, drawing close together, they again lay down to rest, and slept soundly until the cry of some wild birds and the morning dawn aroused them.
Entering Edinburgh University in November 1827, he gained some prize in all the classes he attended. In private he studied the modern languages; and gymnastic exercises at that time gave him unbounded delight. He used his pencil with much success, and then it was that his hand was prepared for sketching the scenes of the Holy Land. He had a very considerable knowledge of music, and sang correctly and beautifully. This, too, was a gift that was used to the glory ofthe Lord years later, wonderfully enlivening his private devotions, and enabling him to lead the song of praise in the congregation wherever occasion required. Poetry also was a never-failing recreation; and his taste in this department drew the attention of Professor Wilson, who awarded him the prize in the moral philosophy class for a poem, “On the Covenanters. ”
In the winter of 1831 he began his studies in the Divinity Hall under Dr. Chalmers, and the study of church history under Dr. Welsh. It may be naturally asked, What led him to wish to preach salvation to his fellow sinners? Could he say, like Robert Bruce, “I was first called to my grace, before I obeyed my calling to the ministry?” Few questions are more interesting than this; and our answer to it will open up some of the wonderful ways of Him “whose path is in the great waters, and whose footsteps are not known” (Ps. 77:19); for the same event that awakened his soul to a true sense of sin and misery, led him to the ministry.
During his attendance at the literary and philosophical classes he felt occasional impressions, none of them perhaps of much depth. There can be no doubt that he looked upon the death of his eldest brother, David, as the event that awoke him from the sleep of nature, and brought the first beam of divine light into his soul. By that providence the Lord was calling one soul to enjoy the treasurers of grace, while He took the other into the possession of glory.
In his brother, who was his senior by eight or nine years, the light of divine grace shone before men with rare and solemn loveliness. His classical attainments were very high; and, after the usual preliminary studies, he had been admitted Writer to the Signet. One distinguishing quality of his character was his sensitive truthfulness. A shadow would flit across his brow if any incident were related wherein there was the slightest exaggeration; or even when nothing but truth was spoken, if the speaker only seemed to take up a false or exaggerated view. He must not merely speak the whole truth himself, but he must have the hearer also to apprehend the whole truth. He spent much of his leisure hours in attending to the younger members of the family. Tender and affectionate, his grieved look when they upset him by resisting his advice, had (it is said) something in it so persuasive that it never failed in the end to prevail on those with whom his words had not succeeded. His youngest brother, at the time when he lived according to the course of this world, was the subject of many of his fervent prayers. But a deep melancholy, in a great degree the effect of bodily ailments, settled on David’s soul. Many weary months he spent in deep despair, until the trouble of his soul wasted away his body. But the light broke in before his death; joy from the face of a fully reconciled Father above lighted up his face; and the peace of his last days was the sweet consolation left to his afflicted friends, when July 8, 1831, he fell asleep in Jesus.
The death of this brother, with all its circumstances, was used by the Holy Spirit to produce a deep impression on Robert’s soul. In many respects-even in the gifts of a poetic mind-there had been a congeniality between him and David. The vivacity of Robert’s ever active and lively mind was the chief point of difference. This vivacity admirably fitted him for public life; it needed only to be chastened and solemnized, and the event that had now occurred wrought this effect. A few months before, the happy family circle had been broken up by the departure of the second brother for India, in the Bengal Medical Service; but when, in the course of the summer, David was removed from them forever, there were impressions left that could never be effaced, at least from the mind of Robert. Naturally of an intensely affectionate disposition, this sorrow moved his whole soul. His quiet hours seem to have often been spent in thoughts of him who was now gone to glory. Some of his written lines remain in which his poetic mind has most touchingly, and with uncommon vigor, painted him whom he had lost-lines all the more interesting because the delineation of character and form that they contain cannot fail to call up to those who knew him the image of the author himself. Some time after his brother’s death he had tried to preserve the features of his well-remembered form, by attempting a portrait from memory; but throwing aside the pencil in despair, he took up the pen, and poured out the fullness of his heart.
ON PAINTING THE MINIATURE LIKENESS OF ONE DEPARTED
Alas! not perfect yet-another touch,
And still another, and another still,
Till those dull lips breathe life, and yonder eye
Lose its lack lustre hue, and be lit up
With the warm glance of living feeling. No-
It never can be! Ah, poor, powerless art!
Most vaunting, yet most impotent, thou seek’st
To trace the thousand, thousand shades and lights
That glowed conspicuous on the blessed face
Of him thou fain wouldst imitate-to bind
Down to the fragile canvas the wild play
Of thought and mild affection, which were wont
To dwell in the serious eye, and play around The placid mouth. Thou seek’st to give again
That which the burning soul, inhabiting
Its clay-built tenement, alone can give
To leave on cold dead matter the impress
Of living mind-to bid a line, a shade,
Speak forth, not words, but the soft intercourse
Which the immortal spirit, while on earth
It tabernacles, breathes from every pore
Thoughts not converted into words, and hopes,
And fears, and hidden joys, and griefs, unborn
Into the world of sound, but beaming forth
In that expression which no words, or work
Of cunning artist, can express. In vain,
Alas! in vain!
Come hither, Painter; come,
Take up once more thine instruments-thy brush
And palette-if thy haughty art be, as thou say’st,
Omnipotent, and if thy hand can dare
To wield creative power. Renew thy toil,
And let my memory, vivified by love,
Which Death’s cold separation has but warmed
And rendered sacred dictate to thy skill,
And guide thy pencil. From the jetty hair
Take off that gaudy lustre that but mocks
The true original; and let the dry,
Soft, gentle-turning locks, appear instead.
What though to fashion’s garish eye they seem
Untutored and ungainly? still to me,
Than folly’s foppish head-gear, lovelier far
Are they, because bespeaking mental toil,
Labor assiduous, through the golden days
(Golden if so improved) of guileless youth,
Unwearied mining in the precious stores
Of classic lore-and better, nobler still,
In God’s own holy writ. And scatter here
And there a thread of grey, to mark the grief
That prematurely checked the bounding flow
Of the warm current in his veins, and shed
An early twilight o’er so bright a dawn.
No wrinkle sits upon that brow!-and thus
It ever was. The angry strife and cares
Of avaricious miser did not leave
Their base memorial on so fair a page.
The eyebrows next draw closer down, and throw
A softening shade o’er the mild orbs below.
Let the full eyelid, drooping, half conceal
The back-retiring eye; and point to earth
The long brown lashes that bespeak a soul
Like his who said, “I am not worthy, Lord!”
From underneath these lowly turning lids,
Let not shine forth the gaily sparkling light
Which dazzles oft, and oft deceives; nor yet
The dull unmeaning lustre that can gaze
Alike on all the world.
But paint an eye In those half-hidden, steady light I read
A truth-inquiring mind; a fancy, too,
That could array in sweet poetic garb
The truth he found; while on his artless harp
He touched the gentlest feelings, which the blaze
Of winter’s hearth warms in the homely heart.
And oh! recall the look of faith sincere,
With which that eye would scrutinize the page
That tells us of offended God appeased
By awful sacrifice upon the cross
Of Calvary-that bids us leave a world
Immersed in darkness and in death, and seek
A better country. Ah! how oft that eye
Would turn on me, with pity’s tenderest look.
And, only half-upbraiding, bid me flee
From the vain idols of my boyish heart!
It was about the same time, while still feeling the sadness of this bereavement that he wrote the poem entitled
THE RIGHTEOUS PERISHETH AND NO MAN LAYETH IT TO HEART.
A grave I know Where earthly show is not–
a mound whose gentle round sustains the load
of a fresh sod.
Its shape is rude, and weeds intrude their yellow flowers–
In gayer bowers Unknown. The grass, a tufted mass,
Is rank and strong, unsmoothed and long.
No rosebud there embalms the air: No lily chaste adorns the waste,
Nor daisy’s head bedecks the bed.
No myrtles wave above that grave;
No heather-bell is there to tell of gentle friend
who sought to lend a sweeter sleep to him who deep
beneath the ground repose has found.
No stone of woe is there to show the name, or tell
how passing well he loved his God, and how he trod
the humble road that leads through sorrow unknown in life,
and far from strife, he lived: and though the magic flow
of genius played around his head, and he could weave
“The song at eve” and touch the heart, with gentlest art;
or care beguile, and draw the smile of peace from those
who wept their woes yet when the love of Christ ablve
to guilty men was shown him–then he left the joys of worldly noise,
and humbly laid his drooping head upon the cross;
And thought the loss of all that earth contained–of mirth,
of loves and fame, and pleasures’ name–no sacrifice
to win the prize, which Christ secured, when He endured for us the load–
The wrathe of God! With many a tear, and many a fear, with many a sigh
and heart-wrung cry to a bright morrow he sought the breath:
But which can give the power to live–Whose word alone
Can melt the stone, Bid tumult cease, and all be peace!
He sought not now to wreathe his brow with laurel bough.
He sought no more to gather store of earthly lore,
Nor vainly strove to share the love of heaven above,
With aught below that earth can show the smile forsook
His cheek–his look was cold and sad;
And even the glad return of morn, when the ripe corn waves o’er
And simple swains with joy prepare the toil to share of harvest, brought
no lively thought to him.
And spring adorns the sunny morns with opening flowers;
O’er lawn and mead; its virgin head the snowdrop steeps in dew, and peeps
the crocus forth,
Nor dreads the north.
But even the spring of timid faith, where intervenes no darkening cloud
of sin to shroud the gazer’s view.
Thus sadly flew the merry spring; and gaily sing the birds their loves
in summer groves.
But not for him their notes they trim. His ear is cold–his tale is told.
Above his grave the grass may wave–
The crowd pass by without a sigh above the spot. They knew him not–
they could not know; and even though, why should they shed above the dead
who slumbers here a single tear? I cannot weep, thought in my sleep I
sometimes clasp with love’s fond grasp his gentle hand, and see him stand
beside my bed, and lean his head upon my breast, and bid me rest
nor night nor day till I can say that I have found the holy ground
In which there lies the Pearl of Price–
No smile can bring to him, whose eye sought in the sky for brighter scenes.
Till all the ties the sould that bind, and all the lies the sould that blind,
Nothing could more fully prove the deep impression that the event made than these verses. But it was not a transient regret, nor was it the “sorrow of the world.” Robert was in his eighteenth year when his brother died; and if this was not the year of his new birth, at least it was the year when the first streaks of dawn appeared in his soul. From that day on his friends observed a change. His poetry was pervaded with serious thought, and all his pursuits began to be followed out in another spirit. He engaged in the labors of a Sabbath school, and began to seek God to his soul, in the diligent reading of the Word, and attendance on a faithful ministry.
How important this period of his life appeared in his own view, may be gathered from his allusions to it when, a year later, he wrote in his diary: “On this morning last year came the first overwhelming blow to my worldliness; how blessed to me, Thou, 0 God, only knowest, who hast made it so.” Every year he marked this day as one to be remembered, and occasionally its recollections seem to have come in like a flood. In a letter to a friend (July 8, 1842), upon a matter entirely local, he concludes by a postscript: “This day eleven years ago, my holy brother David entered into his rest, aged 26.” And on that same day, writing a note to one of his flock in Dundee (who had asked him to furnish a preface to a work printed in 1740, Letters on Spiritual Subjects), he commends the book, and adds: “Pray for me, that I may be made holier and wiser, less like myself, and more like my heavenly Master; that I may not regard my life, if so be I may finish my course with joy. This day eleven years ago, I lost my loved and loving brother, and began to seek a Brother who cannot die.”
It was to companions who could sympathize with his feelings that he unburdened himself. At that period it was not common for inquiring souls to carry their burden to their pastor. A conventional reserve about these subjects prevailed even among active believers. It almost seemed as if they wereashamed of the Son of Man. This reserve appeared to him very sinful; and he felt it to be so great an evil that for years after that he was careful to encourage anxious souls to converse with him freely. The nature of his experience, however, we have some means of knowing. On one occasion, a few of us who had studied together were reviewing the Lord’s dealings with our souls, and how He had brought us to Himself all at nearly the same time, though without any special instrumentality. He stated that there was nothing sudden in his case, and that he was led to Christ through deep and ever abiding, but not awful or distracting, convictions. In this we see the Lord’s sovereignty. In bringing a soul to the Savior, the Holy Spirit invariably leads it to very deep consciousness of sin; but then He causes this consciousness of sin to be more distressing and intolerable to some than to others. But in one point does the experience of all believing sinners agree, and that was when their soul was presented as nothing but an abyss of sin, it was then that the grace of God that brings salvation appeared.
The Holy Spirit carried on His work in the subject of this Memoir, by continuing to deepen in Robert the conviction of his ungodliness, and the pollution of his whole nature. And all his life long, he viewed original sin, not as an excuse for his actual sins, but as an aggravation of them all. In this view he was of the mind of David, taught by the unerring Spirit of Truth. (See Ps. 51:4, 5.)
At first light dawned slowly; so slowly, that for a considerable time he still relished an occasional plunge into scenes of revelry. Even after entering the Divinity Hall, he could be persuaded to indulge in lighter pursuits, at least during the two first years of his attendance; but it was with growing alarm. When hurried away by such worldly joys, I find him writing thus: “Sept. 14-May there be a few such records as this in my biography.” Then, “Dec. 9-A thorn in my side-much torment.” As the unholiness of his pleasures became more apparent, he writes: “March 10, 1832-I hope never to play cards again.” “March 25-Never visit on a Sunday evening again.” “April 10-Absented myself from the dance; upbraidings ill to bear. But I must try to bear the cross.” It seems to be inreference to the receding tide, which thus for a season repeatedly drew him back to the world, that on July 8, 1836, he records: “This morning five years ago, my dear brother David died, and my heart for the first time knew true bereavement. Truly it was all well. Let me be dumb, for Thou didst it: and it was good for me that I was afflicted. I know not that any providence was ever more abused by man than that was by me; and yet, Lord, what mountains Thou comest over! none was ever more blessed to me.” To us who can look at the results, it appears probable that the Lord permitted him thus to try many broken cisterns, and to taste the wormwood of many earthly streams, in order that later, by the side of the fountain of living waters, he might point to the world he had forever left, and testify to the surpassing preciousness of what he had now found.
Mr. Alexander Somerville (later minister of Anderston Church, Glasgow) was his familiar friend and companion in the wanton scenes of his youth. And since he, too, about this time, tasted the powers of the world to come, they united their efforts for each other’s welfare. They met together for the study of the Bible, and also dug into the Septuagint Greek and the Hebrew original. But more often still they met for prayer and solemn converse; and carrying on all their studies in the same spirit, watched each other’s steps in the narrow way.
He thought he profited very much during this period, by investigating the subject of election and the free grace of God. But it was the reading of The Sum of Saving Knowledge, generally appended to our Confession of Faith, that brought him to a clear understanding of the way of acceptance with God. Those who are acquainted with its admirable statements of truth, will see how well fitted it was to direct an inquiring soul. I find him some years later recording: “March 11, 1834-Read in the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection!” It will be observed that he never considered his soul saved, notwithstanding all his convictions and views of sins, until he really went into the Holiestof all on the warrant of the Redeemer’s work; for assuredly a sinner is still under wrath until he has actually availed himself of the way to the Father opened up by Jesus. All his knowledge of his sinfulness, and all his sad feeling of his own need and danger, cannot place him one step farther from the lake of fire. It is “he that comes to Christ” who is saved.
Before this period he had felt a tendency toward the ministry from his brother David, who used to speak of the ministry as the most blessed work on earth, and often expressed the greatest delight in the hope that his younger brother might one day become a minister of Christ. And now, with altered views-with an eye that could gaze on heaven and hell, and a heart that felt the love of a reconciled God-he sought to become a herald of salvation.
He had begun to keep a record of his studies, and the manner in which his time slipped away, some months before his brother’s death. For a considerable time this record contained almost nothing but the bare incidents of the diary, and on Sabbaths the texts of the sermons he had heard. There is one gleam of serious thought-but it is the only one-during that period. On the occasion of Dr. Andrew Thomson’s funeral, he recorded the deep and universal grief that pervaded the town, and then subjoins: “Pleasing to see so much public feeling excited on the decease of so worthy a man. How much are the times changed within these eighteen centuries, since the time when Joseph besought the body in secret, and when he and Nicodemus were the only ones found to bear the body to the tomb!”
It is in the end of the year that evidences of a change appear. From that period and ever onward his dry register of everyday incidents is varied with such passages as the following:”Nov. 12-Reading H. Martyn’s Memoirs. Would I could imitate him, giving up father, mother, country, house, health, life, all-for Christ. And yet, what hinders? Lord, purify me, and give me strength to dedicate myself, my all, to Thee!””Dec. 4-Reading Legh Richmond’s Life. ‘Poenitentia profunda, non sine lacrymis. Nunquam me ipsum, tam vilem, tam inutilem, tam pauperim, et praecipue tam ingratum, adhue, vidi. Sint lacrymae dedicationis meae pignora!’ ” [“Deeppenitence, not unmixed with tears. I never before saw myself so vile, so useless, so poor, and, above all, so ungrateful. May these tears be the pledges of my self-dedication!”] There was frequently during this period of his life a sentence in Latin occurring like the above in the midst of other matter, apparently with the view of giving freer expression to his feelings regarding himself.
“Dec. 9-Heard a street-preacher: foreign voice. Seems really in earnest. He quoted the striking passage, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come, and let him that heareth say, Come!’ From this he seems to derive his authority. Let me learn from this man to be in earnest for the truth, and to despise the scoffing of the world.”
Dec. 18-After spending an evening too lightly, he writes: “My heart must break off from all these things. What right have I to steal and abuse my Master’s time? ‘Redeem it,’ He is crying to me.”
“Dec. 25-My mind not yet calmly fixed on the Rock of Ages.”
“Jan. 12, 1832-Cor non pacem habet. Quare? Peccatum apud fores manet. [“My heart has not peace. Why? Sin lieth at my door.’]
“Jan. 25-A lovely day. Eighty-four cases of cholera at Musselburgh, How it creeps nearer and nearer like a snake! Who will be the first victim here? Let Thine everlasting arms be around us, and we shall be safe.”
“Jan. 29, Sabbath-Afternoon heard Mr. Bruce (then minister of the New North Church, Edinburgh) on Malachi 1:1-6. It constitutes the very gravamen of the charge against the unrenewed man, that he has affection for his earthly parent, and reverence for his earthly master, but none for God! Most noble discourse.”
“Feb. 2-Not a trait worth remembering! And yet these fourand-twenty hours must be accounted for.”
“Feb. 5, Sabbath-In the afternoon, having heard the late Mr. Martin of St. George’s,1 he writes, on returning home:
(1) He says of him on another occasion, June 8, 1834: “A man greatly beloved of whom the world was not worthy.” “An apostolic man.” His owncalm deep holiness, resembled in many respects Mr. Martin’s daily walk.
“O quam humilem, sed quam diligentissimum; quam dejectum, sed quam vigilem, quam die noctuque precantem, decet me esse quum tales viros aspicio. Juva, Pater, Fili, et Spiritus!” [‘Oh! how humble, yet how diligent, how lowly, yet how watchful, how prayerful night and day it becomes me to be, when I see such men. Help, Father, Son, and Spirit!”]
From this date he seems to have sat, along with his friend Mr. Somerville, almost entirely under Mr. Bruce’s ministry. He took copious notes of his lectures and sermons, which still remain among his papers.
“Feb. 28-Sober conversation. Fain would I turn to the most interesting of all subjects. Cowardly backwardness: ‘For whosoever is ashamed of me and my words,’ etc.”
At this time, hearing, concerning a friend of the family, that she had said, “That she was determined to keep by the world,” he penned the following lines on her melancholy decision:
She has chosen the world,
And its paltry crowd;
She has chosen the world,
And an endless shroud!
She has chosen the world
With its misnamed pleasures;
She has chosen the world,
Before heaven’s own treasures.
She hath launched her boat
On life’s giddy sea,
And her all is afloat
But Bethlehem’s star Is not in her view; And her aim is far
From the harbor true.
When the storm descends
From an angry sky,
Ah! where from the winds
Shall the vessel fly?
Away, then-oh, fly
From the joys of earth!
Her smile is a lie–
There’s a sting in her mirth.
When stars are concealed,
And rudder gone, And heaven is sealed
To the wandering one
The whirlpool opes
For the gallant prize;
And, with all her hopes,
To the deep she hies!
But who may tell
Of the place of woe,
Where the wicked dwell,
Where the worldlings go?
For the human heart
Can ne’er conceive
What joys are the part
Of them who believe;
Nor can justly think
Of the cup of death,
Which all must drink
Who despise the faith.
Come, leave the dream
Of this transient night,
And bask in the beams
Of an endless light.
“March 6-Wild wind and rain all day long. Hebrew class Psalms. New beauty in the original every time I read Dr. Welsh-lecture on Pliny’s letter about the Christians of Bithynia. Professor Jameson on quartz. Dr. Chalmers grappling with Hume’s arguments. Evening-Notes, and little else. Mind and body dull.” This is a specimen of his record of daily study.
March 20-After a few sentences in Latin, concluding with “In meam animam veni, Domine Deus omnipotens,” he writes, “Leaning on a staff of my own devising, it betrayed me, and broke under me. It was not Thy staff. Resolving to be a god, Thou showedst me that I was but a man. But my own staff being broken, why may I not lay hold of Thine?-Read part of the Life of Jonathan Edwards. How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.”
“April 8-Have found much rest in Him who bore all our burdens for us.”
“April 26-To-night I ventured to break the ice of unchristian silence. Why should not selfishness be buried beneath the Atlantic in matters so sacred?”
May 6, Saturday evening-This was the evening previous to the Communion; and in prospect of again declaring himself the Lord’s at His table, he enters into a brief review of his state. He had partaken of the ordinance in May of the year before for the first time; but he was then living at ease, and did not see the solemn nature of the step he took. He now sits down and reviews the past:
“What a mass of corruption have I been! How great a portion of my life have I spent wholly without God in the world, given up to sense and the perishing things around me! Naturally of a feeling and sentimental disposition, how much of my religion has been, and to this day is, tinged with these colors of
earth! Restrained from open vice by educational views and the fear of man, how much ungodliness has reigned within me! How often has it broken through all restraints, and come out in the shape of lust and anger, mad ambitions, and unhallowed words! Though my vice was always refined, yet how subtile and how awfully prevalent it was! How complete a test was the Sabbath-spent in weariness, as much of it as was given to God’s service! How I polluted it by my hypocrisies, my self-conceits, my worldly thoughts, and worldly friends! How formally and unheedingly the Bible was read-how little was read-so little that even now I have not read it all! How unboundedly was the wild impulse of the heart obeyed! How much more was the creature loved than the Creator!-O great God, that didst suffer me to live whilst I so dishonored Thee, Thou knowest the whole; and it was thy hand alone that could awaken me from the death in which I was, and was contented to be. Gladly would I have escaped from the Shepherd that sought me as I strayed; but He took me up in his arms and carried me back; and yet He took me not for anything that was in me. I was no more fit for his service than the Australian, and no more worthy to be called and chosen. Yet why should I doubt? not that God is unwilling, not that He is unable-of both I am assured. But perhaps my old sins are too fearful, and my unbelief too glaring? Nay; I come to Christ, not although I am a sinner, but just because I am a sinner, even the chief.” He then adds, “And though sentiment and constitutional enthusiasm may have a great effect on me, still I believe that my soul is in sincerity desirous and earnest about having all its concerns at rest with God and Christ that his kingdom occupies the most part of all my thoughts, and even of my long-polluted affections. Not unto me, not unto me, be the shadow of praise or of merit ascribed, but let all glory be given to thy most holy name! As surely as Thou didst make the mouth with which I pray, so surely dost Thou prompt every prayer of faith which I utter. Thou has made me all that I am, and given me all that I have.”
Next day, after communicating, he writes: “I well remember when I was an enemy, and especially abhorred this ordinance as binding me down; but if I be bound to Christ in heart, I shall not dread any bands that can draw me close to Him.” Evening-“Much peace. Look back, my soul, and view the mind that belonged to thee but twelve months ago. My soul, thy place is in the dust!”
“May 19-Thought with more comfort than usual of being a witness for Jesus in a foreign land.”
“June 4-Walking with A. Somerville by Craigleith. Conversing on missions. If I am to go to the heathen to speak of the unsearchable riches of Christ, this one thing must be given me, to be out of the reach of the baneful influence of esteem or contempt. If worldly motives go with me, I shall never convert a soul, and shall lose my own in the labor.”
“June 22-Variety of studies. Septuagint translation of Exodus and Vulgate. Bought Edwards’ works. Drawing-Truly there was nothing in me that should have induced Him to choose me. I was but as the other brands upon whom the fire is already kindled, which shall burn for evermore! And as soon could the billet leap from the hearth and become a green tree, as my soul could have sprung to newness of life.”
June 25-In reference to the office of the holy ministry; “How apt are we to lose our hours in the vainest babblings, as do the world! How can this be with those chosen for the mighty office? fellow-workers with God? heralds of His Son? evangelists? men set apart to the work, chosen out of the chosen, as it were the very pick of the flocks, who are to shine as the stars forever and ever? Alas, alas! my soul, where shalt thou appear? 0 Lord God, I am a little child! But Thou wilt send an angel with a live coal from off the altar, and touch my unclean lips, and put a tongue within my dry mouth, so that I shall say with Isaiah, ‘Here am I, send me.’ ” Then, after reading a little of Edwards’ works: “Oh that heart and understanding may grow together, like brother and sister, leaning on one another!”
“June 27-Life of David Brainerd. Most wonderful man! What conflicts, what depressions, desertions, strength, advancement, victories, within thy torn bosom! I cannot express what I think when I think of thee. To-night, more set upon missionary enterprise than ever.”
“June 28-Oh for Brainerd’s humility and sin-loathing dispositions!”
“June 30-Much carelessness, sin, and sorrow. ‘Oh wretched man than I am, who shall deliver me from this body
of sin and death?’ Enter thou, my soul, into the rock, and hide thee in the dust for fear of the Lord and the glory of his
majesty.” And then he writes a few verses, of which the following are some stanzas:
I will arise and seek my God,
And, bowed down beneath my load,
Lay all my sins before Him;
Then He will wash my soul from sin,
And put a new heart me within,
And teach me to adore Him.
0 ye that fain would find the joy
The only one that wants alloy
Which never is deceiving;
Come to the Well of Life with me,
And drink, as it is proffered, free,
The gospel draught receiving.
I come to Christ, because I know
The very worst are called to go;
And when in faith I find Him,
I’ll walk in Him, and lean on Him,
Because I cannot move a limb
Until He say, “Unbind him.”
“July 3-This last bitter root of worldliness that has so often betrayed me has this night so grossly, that I cannot but regard it as God’s chosen way to make me loathe and forsake it forever. I would vow; but it is much more like a weakly worm to pray. Sit in the dust, 0 my soul!” I believe he was enabled to keep his resolution. Only once, in the end of this
year, was he again led back to revelry; but it was the last time.
“July 7, Saturday-After finishing my usual studies, tried to fast a little, with much prayer and earnest seeking of God’s face, remembering what occurred this night last year.” (Alluding to his brother’s death.)
“July 22-Had this evening a more complete understanding of that self-emptying and abasement with which it is necessary to come to Christ-a denying of self, trampling it under foot-a recognizing of the complete righteousness and justice of God, that could do nothing else with us but condemn us utterly, and thrust us down to lowest hell-a feeling that, even in hell, we should rejoice in his sovereignty, and say that all was rightly done.”
“Aug. 15-Little done, and as little suffered. Awfully important question, Am I redeeming the time?”
“Aug. 18-Heard of the death of James Somerville by fever, induced by cholera. 0 God, Thy ways and thoughts are not as ours! He had preached his first sermon. I saw him last on Friday, 27th July, at the College gate; shook hands, and little thought I was to see him no more on earth.”
“Sept. 2, Sabbath evening-Reading. Too much engrossed, and too little devotional. Preparation for a fall. Warning. We may be too engrossed with the shell even of heavenly things.”
“Sept. 9-Oh for true, unfeigned humility! I know I have cause to be humble; and yet I do not know one-half of that cause. I know I am proud; and yet I do not know the half of that pride.”
“Sept. 30-Somewhat straitened by loose Sabbath observance. Best way is to be explicit and manly.”
“Nov. 1-More abundant longings for the work of the ministry. Oh that Christ would but count me faithful, that a dispensation of the gospel might be committed to me!” And then he adds, “Much peace. Peaceful, because believing.”
Dec. 2-Before, he used to spend much of the Sabbath evening in extending his notes of Mr. Bruce’s sermons, but now, “Determined to be brief with these, for the sake of a more practical, meditative, resting, sabbatical evening.”
“Dec. 11-Mind quite unfitted for devotion. Prayerless prayer.”
“Dec. 31-God has in this past year introduced me to the preparation of the ministry-I bless Him for that. He has helped me to give up much of my shame to name His name, and be on His side, especially before particular friends-I bless Him for that. He has taken conclusively away friends that might have been a snare-must have been a stumbling block I bless Him for that. He has introduced me to one Christian friend, and sealed more and more my amity with another-I bless Him for that.”
Jan. 27, 1833-On this day it had been the custom of his brother David to write a “Carmen Natale” on their father’s birthday. Robert took up the domestic song this year; and in doing so, makes some beautiful and tender allusions.
Ah! where is the harp that was strung to thy praise,
So oft and so sweetly in happier days?
When the tears that we shed were the tears of our joy,
And the pleasures of home were unmixed with alloy?
The harp is now mute-its last breathings are spoken
And the cord, though ’twas threefold, is now, alas, broken!
Yet why should we murmur, short-sighted and vain,
Since death to that loved one was undying gain?
Ah, fools! shall we grieve that he left this poor scene,
To dwell in the realms that are ever serene?
Through he sparkled the gem in our circle of love,
He is even more prized in the circles above.
And though sweetly he sung of his father on earth,
When this day would inspire him with tenderest mirth,
Yet a holier tone to his harp is now given,
As he sings to his unborn Father in heaven.
Feb. 3-Writing to a medical friend of his brother William’s, he says “I remember long ago a remark you once made to William, which has somehow or other stuck in my head, viz. that medical men ought to make a distinct study of the Bible,purely for the sake of administering conviction and consolation to their patients. I think you also said that you had actually begun with that view. Such a determination, though formed in youth, is one which I trust riper years will not make you blush to own.”
“Feb. 11-Somewhat overcome. Let me see: there is a creeping defect here. Humble purpose-like reading of the word omitted. What plant can be unwatered and not wither?”
“Feb. 16-Walk to Corstorphine Hill. Exquisite clear view blue water, and brown fields, and green firs. Many thoughts on the follies of my youth. How many, 0 Lord, may they be? Summed up in one-ungodliness!”
“Feb. 21-Am I as willing as ever to preach to the lost heathen?”
“March 8-Biblical criticism. This must not supersede heartwork. How apt it is!”
“March 12-Oh for activity, activity, activity!”
“March 29-Today my second session (at the Divinity Hall) ends. I am now in the middle of my career. God hold me on with a steady pace!”
“March 31-The bull tosses in the net! How should the Christian imitate the anxieties of the worldling!”
April 17-He heard of the death of one whom many friends had esteemed much and lamented deeply. This led him to touch the strings of his harp again, in a measure somewhat irregular, yet sad and sweet.
WE ALL Do FADE AS A LEAF
So dying-like and frail,
That every bitter gale Of winter seemed to blow
Only to lay her low!
She lived to show how He,
Who stills the stormy sea,
Can overrule the winter’s power,
And keep alive the tiniest flower–
Can bear the young lamb in His arms
And shelter it from death’s alarms.
When spring, with brightest flowers,
Was freshening all the bowers.
The linnet sung her choicest lay,
When her sweet voice was hushed for aye
The snowdrop rose above the ground
When she beneath her pillow found,
Both cold, and white, and fair,—
She, fairest of the fair,
She died to teach us all
The loveliest must fall.
A curse is written on the brow
Of beauty; and the lover’s vow
Cannot retain the flitting breath,
Nor save from all-devouring death.
The spirit left the earth;
And he who gave her birth
Has called her to his dread abode,
To meet her Saviour and her God.
She lives, to tell how blest
Is the everlasting rest
Of those who, in the Lamb’s blood laved,
Are chosen, sanctified, and saved!
How fearful is their doom
Who drop into the tomb
Without a covert from the ire
Of Him who is consuming fire!
SHE SHALL LIVE—
The grave shall yield his prize,
When, from the rending skies,
Christ shall with shouting angels come
To wake the slumberers of the tomb.
And many more shall rise
Before our longing eyes.
Oh! may we all together meet,
Embracing the Redeemer’s feet!
“May 20-General Assembly. The motion regarding Chapels of Ease lost by 106 to 103. Every shock of the ram is heavier and stronger, till all shall give way.”
“June 4-Evening almost lost. Music will not sanctify, though it make feminine the heart.”
“June 22-Omissions make way for commissions. Could I but take effective warning! A world’s wealth would not makeup for that saying, ‘If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father.’ But how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”
“June 30-Self-examination. Why is a missionary life so often an object of my thoughts? Is it simply for the love I bear to souls? Then, why do I not show it more where I am? Souls
are as precious here as in Burma. Does the romance of the business not weigh anything with me?-the interest and esteem I would carry with me?-the nice journals and letters I should write and receive? Why would I so much rather go to the East than to the West Indies? Am I wholly deceiving my own heart? and have I not a spark of true missionary zeal? Lord, give me to understand and imitate the spirit of those unearthly words of Thy dear Son: ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.’ ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.’ Gloria in excelsis Deo!”
“Aug. 13-Clear conviction of sin is the only true origin of dependence on another’s righteousness, and therefore (strange to say!) of the Christian’s peace of mind and cheerfulness.
“Sept. 8-Reading Adams’ Private Thoughts. Oh for his heart-searching humility! Ah me! on what mountains of pride must I be wandering, when all I do is tinctured with the very sins this man so deplores; yet where are my wailings, where my tears, over my love of praise?”
“Nov. 14-Composition-a pleasant kind of labor. I fear the love of applause or effect goes a great way. May God keep me from preaching myself instead of Christ crucified.”
“Jan. 15, 1834-Heard of the death of J. S., off the Cape of Good Hope. 0 God! how Thou breakest into families! Must not the disease be dangerous, when a tender-hearted surgeon cuts deep into the flesh? How much more when God is the operator, ‘who afflicteth not from his heart [Inn], nor grieveth the children of men!’ Lam. 3:33.”
“Feb. 23, Sabbath-Rose early to seek God, and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company? The rains are over and gone. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
Feb. 24-He writes a letter to one who, he feared, was only sentimental, and not really under a sense of sin. “Is it possible, think you, for a person to be conceited of his miseries? May there not be a deep leaven of pride in telling how desolate and how unfeeling we are?-in brooding over our unearthly pains?-in our being excluded from the unsympathetic world?-in our being the invalids of Christ’s hospital?” He had himself been taught by the Spirit that it is more humbling for us to take what grace offers, than to bewail our wants and worthlessness.
Two days later, he records, with thankful astonishment, that for the first time in his life he had been blessed to awaken a soul. All who find Christ for themselves are impelled, by the holy necessity of constraining love, to seek the salvation of others. Andrew found his brother Peter, and Philip found his friend Nathanael. So it was in the case before us. Robert no sooner knew Christ’s righteousness as his own covering, than he longed to see others clothed in the same spotless robe. And it is peculiarly interesting to read the feelings of one who was yet to be blessed in plucking so many brands from the fire, when, for the first time, he saw the Lord graciously employing him in this more than angelic work. We have his own testimony. “Feb. 26-After sermon. The precious tidings that a soul has been melted down by the grace of the Saviour. How blessed an answer to prayer, if it be really so! ‘Can these dry bones live? Lord, Thou knowest.’ What a blessed thing it is to see the first grievings of the awakened spirit, when it cries, ‘I cannot see myself a sinner; I cannot pray, for my vile heart wanders!’ It has refreshed me more than a thousand sermons. I know not how to thank and admire God sufficiently for this incipient work. Lord, perfect that which Thou hast begun!” A few days after: “Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast shown me this marvellous working, though I was but an adoring spectator rather than an instrument.”
It is scarcely less interesting, in the case of one so gifted for the work of visiting the needy, and so singularly skilled in ministering the word by the bedside of the dying, to find a record of the occasion when the Lord led him forth to take his first survey of this field of labor. There existed at that time, among some of the students attending the Divinity Hall, a society, the sole object of which was to stir each other up to set apart an hour or two every week for visiting the needy in the most neglected portions of the town. Our rule was, not to subtract anything from our times of study, but to devote to this work an occasional hour in the intervals between different classes, or an hour that might otherwise have been given to recreation. All of us felt the work to be trying to the flesh at the outset; but none ever regretted persevering in it. One Saturday forenoon, at the close of the usual prayer meeting, which met in Dr. Chalmers’ vestry, we went up together to a district in the Castle Hill. It was Robert’s first near view of the heathenism of his native city, and the effect was enduring.
“March 3-Accompanied A. B. in one of his rounds through some of the most miserable habitations I ever beheld. Such scenes I never before dreamed of. Ah! why am I such a stranger to the poor of my native town? I have passed their doors thousands of times; I have admired the huge black piles of building, with their lofty chimneys breaking the sun’s rays-why have I never ventured within? How dwelleth the love of God in me? How cordial is the welcome even of the poorest and most loathsome to the voice of Christian sympathy! What imbedded masses of human beings are huddled together, unvisited by friend or minister! ‘No man careth for our souls’ is written over every forehead. Awake, my soul! Why should I give hours and days any longer to the vain world, when there is such a world of misery at my very door? Lord, put thine own strength in me; confirm every good resolution; forgive my past long life of uselessness and folly.”
He then became one of the society’s most steady members, cultivating a district in the Canongate, teaching a Sabbath school, and distributing the Monthly Visitor, along with Mr. Somerville. His experience there was to give him insight into the sinner’s depravity in all its forms. His first visit in his district is thus noticed: “March 24-Visited two families with tolerable success. God grant a blessing may go with us! Began in fear and weakness, and in much trembling. May the power be of God.” Soon after, he narrates the following scene: “Entered the house of—. Heard her swearing as I came up the stair. Found her storming at three little grandchildren, whom her daughter had left with her. She is a seared, hardhearted wretch. Read Ezekiel 33. Interrupted by the entrance of her second daughter, furiously demanding her marriage lines. Became more discreet. Promised to come back-never came. Her father-in-law entered, a hideous spectacle of an
aged drunkard, demanding money. Left the house with warnings. ” Another case he particularly mentions of a sick woman, who, though careless before, suddenly seemed to float into a sea of joy, without being able to give any scriptural account of the change. She continued, I believe, to her death in this state; but he feared it was a subtle delusion of Satan as an angel of light. One soul, however, was, to all appearance, brought truly to the Rock of Ages during his and his friend’s prayerful visitations. These were first-fruits.
He continues his diary, though often considerable intervals occur in the register of his spiritual state.
“May 9-How kindly has God thwarted me in every instance where I sought to enslave myself! I will learn at least to glory in disappointments.”
“May 10-At the Communion. Felt less use for the minister than ever. Let the Master of the feast alone speak to my heart.” He felt at such times, as many of the Lord’s people have always done, that it is not the addresses of the ministers in serving the table, but the Supper itself, that ought to “satiate their souls with fatness.”
May 21-It is affecting to us to read the following entry: “This day I attained my twenty-first year. Oh! how long and how worthlessly I have lived, Thou only knowest. Neff died in his thirty-first year; when shall I?”
May 29-He this day wrote very faithfully, yet very kindly, to one who seemed to him not a believer, and who nevertheless appropriated to herself the promises of God. “If you are wholly unassured of your being a believer, is it not a contradiction in terms to say, that you are sure the believers’ promises belong to you? Are you an assured believer? If so, rejoice in your heirship; and yet rejoice with trembling; for that is the very character of God’s heirs. But are you unassured nay, wholly unassured? then what mad presumption to say to your soul, that these promises, being in the Bible, must belong indiscriminately to all! It is too gross a contradiction for you to compass, except in word.” He then shows that Christ’s free offer must be accepted by the sinner, and so the promises become his. “This sinner complies with the call or offer, ‘Come unto me;’ and thereafter, but not before, can claim the annexed promise as his: ‘I will give thee rest.'”
“Aug. 14-Partial fast, and seeking God’s face by prayer. This day thirty years, my late dear brother was born. Oh for more love, and then will come more peace!” That same evening he wrote the hymn, The Barren Fig-tree.
“Oct. 17-Private meditation exchanged for conversation. Here is the root of the evil-forsake God, and He forsakes us.”
One evening this month he had been reading Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted. Deeply impressed with the affectionate and awfully solemn urgency of the man of God, he wrote;
Though Baxter’s lips have long in silence hung,
And death long hushed that sinner-wakening tongue,
Yet still, though dead, he speaks aloud to all,
And from the grave still issues forth his “Call:”
Like some loud angel-voice from Zion hill,
The mighty echo rolls and rumbles still.
Oh grant that we, when sleeping in the dust,
May thus speak forth the wisdom of the just!
Mr. McCheyne was peculiarly subject to attacks of fever, and by one of these was he laid down on a sick bed on November 15. However, this attack was of short duration. On the 21st he writes: “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Learned more and more of the value of Jehovah Tzidkenu. ” He had, three days before, written his well-known hymn, I once was a stranger, etc., entitled Jehovah Tzidkenu, the Watchword of the Reformers. It was the fruit of a slight illness which had tried his soul, by setting it more immediately in view of the judgment seat of Christ; and the hymn which he so sweetly sung reveals the sure and solid confidence of his soul. In reference to that same illness, he seems to have penned the following lines. November 24th:
He tenderly binds up the broken in heart,
The soul bowed down He will raise:
For mourning, the ointment of joy will impart:
For heaviness, garments of praise.
Ah, come, then, and sing to the praise of our God,
Who giveth and taketh away;
Who first by his kindness, and then by his rod,
Would teach us, poor sinners, to pray.
For in the assembly of Jesus’ first-born,
Who anthems of gratitude raise,
Each heart has by great tribulation been torn,
Each voice turned from wailing to praise.
“Nov. 9-Heard of Edward Irving’s death. I look back upon him with awe, as on the saints and martyrs of old. A holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors. He is now with his God and Saviour, whom he wronged so much, yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely. How should we lean for wisdom, not on ourselves, but on the God of all grace!”
“Nov. 21-If nothing else will do to sever me from my sins, Lord send me such sore and trying calamities as shall awake me from earthly slumbers. It must always be best to be alive to Thee, whatever be the quickening instrument. I tremble as I write, for oh! on every hand do I see too likely occasions for sore afflictions.”
“Feb. 15, 1835-To-morrow I undergo my trials before the Presbytery. May God give me courage in the hour of need. What should I fear? If God see meet to put me into the ministry, who shall keep me back? If I be not meet, why should I be thrust forward? To Thy service I desire to dedicate myself over and over again.”
“March 1-Bodily service. What change is there in the heart! Wild, earthly affections there are here; strong, coarse passions; bands both of iron and silk. But I thank Thee, 0 my God, that they make me cry. ‘Oh wretched man!’ Bodily weakness, too, depresses me.”
“March 29-College finished on Friday last. My last appearance there. Life itself is vanishing fast. Make haste for eternity. ”
In such records as these, we read God’s dealings with his soul up to the time when he was licensed to preach the gospel. His preparatory discipline, both of heart and of intellect, had been directed by the great Head of the church in a way that remarkably qualified him for the work he was to perform in the vineyard.
His soul was prepared for the awesome work of the ministry by much prayer, and much study of the Word of God; by affliction in his person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the depth of corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the Savior’s fullness of grace. He learned experimentally to ask, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:5). During the four years that followed his awakening, he was often under the many waters, but was always raised again by the same divine hand that had drawn him out at the beginning; until at last, though still often violently tossed, the vessel was able steadily to keep the summit of the wave. It appears that he learned the way of salvation experimentally, before he knew it accurately by theory and system; and thus no doubt it was that his whole ministry was little more than a giving out of his own inward life.
The Visiting Society noticed above was much blessed to the culture of his soul, and not less so the Missionary Association and the Prayer Meeting connected with it. None were more regular at the hour of prayer than he, and none more frequently led up our praises to the throne. He was for some time Secretary to the Association, and interested himself deeply in details of missionary labors. Indeed, to the last day of his life, his thoughts often turned to foreign lands; and one of the last notes he wrote was to the Secretary of the Association in Edinburgh, expressing his unabated interest in their success.
During the first years of his college course, his studies did not absorb his whole attention; but no sooner was the change on his soul begun, than his studies shared in the results. A deeper sense of responsibility led him to occupy his talents for the service of Him who bestowed them. There have been few who, along with a devotedness of spirit that sought to be always directly engaged in the Lord’s work, have nevertheless
retained such continued and undecaying esteem for the advantages of study. While attending the usual literary and philosophical classes, he found time to turn his attention to geology and natural history. And often in his days of most successful preaching, when, next to his own soul, his parish and his flock were his only care, he has been known to express a regret that he had not laid up in former days more stores of all useful knowledge; for he found himself able to use the jewels of the Egyptians in the service of Christ. His previous studies would sometimes flash into his mind some happy illustration of divine truth, at the very moment when he was most solemnly applying the glorious gospel to the most ignorant and vile.
His own words will best show his estimate of study, and at the same time the prayerful manner in which he felt it should be carried on. “Do get on with your studies,” he wrote to a young student in 1840. “Remember you are now forming the character of your future ministry in great measure, if God spare you. If you acquire slovenly or sleepy habits of study now, you will never get the better of it. Do everything in its own time. Do everything in earnest; if it is worth doing, then do it with all your might. Above all, keep much in the presence of God. Never see the face of man till you have seen his face who is our life, our all. Pray for others; pray for your teachers, fellow-students,” etc. To another he wrote: “Beware of the atmosphere of the classics. It is pernicious indeed; and you need much of the south wind breathing over the Scriptures to counteract it. True, we ought to know them; but only as chemists handle poisons-to discover their qualities, not to infect their blood with them.” And again: “Pray that the Holy Spirit would not only make you a believing and holy lad, but make you wise in your studies also. A ray of divine light in the soul sometimes clears up a mathematical problem wonderfully. The smile of God calms the spirit, and the left hand of Jesus holds up the fainting head, and His Holy Spirit quickens the affection, so that even natural studies go on a million times more easily and comfortably.”
Before entering the Divinity Hall, he had attended a private class for the study of Hebrew; and having afterward attended the two sessions of Dr. Brunton’s college class, he made much progress in that language. He could consult the Hebrew original of the Old Testament with as much ease as most of our ministers are able to consult the Greek of the New.
It was about the time of his first year’s attendance at the Hall that I began to know him as an intimate friend. During the summer vacations-that we might redeem the time-some of us who remained in town, when most of our fellow students were gone to the country, used to meet once every week in the forenoon, for the purpose of investigating some point of systematic divinity, and stating to each other the amount and result of our private reading. At another time we met in a similar way, until we had overtaken the chief points of the popish controversy. Advancement in our acquaintance with the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures also brought us together; and one summer the study of unfulfilled prophecy assembled a few of us once a week, at an early morning hour, when, though our views differed much on particular points, we never failed to get food to our souls in the Scriptures we explored. But no society of this kind was more useful and pleasant to us than one which, from its object, received the name of exegetical. It met during the session of the theological classes every Saturday morning at half-past six. The study of biblical criticism, and whatever might cast light on the Word of God, was our aim; and these meetings were kept up regularly during four sessions. Mr. McCheyne spoke of himself as indebted to this society for much of that discipline of mind on Jewish literature and Scripture geography which was found to be so useful in the Mission of Inquiry to the Jews in later days.
But these helps in study were all the while no more than supplementary. The regular systematic studies of the Hall furnished the main provision for his mental culture. Under Dr. Chalmers for Divinity, and under Dr. Welsh for Church History, a course of four years afforded no ordinary advantages for enlarging the understanding. New fields of thought were opened up daily. His notes and his diary testify that he endeavored to retain what he heard, and that he used to read as much of the books recommended by the professors as his time enabled him to overtake. Many years after, he thankfully called to mind lessons that had been taught in these classes. Riding one day with Mr. Hamilton (now of Regent Square,
London) from Abernyte to Dundee, they were led to speak of the best mode of dividing a sermon. “I used,” said he, “to despise Dr. Welsh’s rules at the time I heard him; but now I feel I must use them, for nothing is more needful for making a sermon memorable and impressive than a logical arrangement. ”
His intellectual powers were of a high order: clear and dimtinct apprehension of his subject, and felicitous illustration, characterized him among all his companions. To an eager desire for wide acquaintance with truth in all its departments, and a memory strong and accurate in retaining what he found, there was added a remarkable candor in examining what claimed to be the truth. He also had an ingenious and enterprising mind-a mind that could carry out what was suggested, when it did not strike out new light for itself. He possessed great powers of analysis; often his judgment discovered singular discrimination. His imagination seldom sought out an object of grandeur; for, as a friend has truly said of him, “he had a kind and quiet eye, which found out the living and beautiful in nature, rather than the majestic and sublime.”
He might have risen to high eminence in the circles of taste and literature, but denied himself all such hopes, that he might win souls. With such peculiar talents as he possessed, his ministry might have, in any circumstances, attracted many; but these attractions were all made subsidiary to the single desire of awakening the dead in trespasses and sins. Nor would he have expected to be blessed to the salvation of souls unless he had himself been a monument of sovereign grace. In his esteem, “to be in Christ before being in the ministry” was a thing indispensable. He often pointed to those solemn words of Jeremiah (23:21,22): “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.”
It was with faith already in his heart that he went forward to the holy office of the ministry, receiving from his Lord the rod by which he was to do signs, and which, when it had opened rocks and made waters gush out, he never failed to replace on the ark from which it was taken, giving glory to God! He did not know the way by which God was leading him; but even then he was under the guidance of the pillar-cloud. At this very period he wrote the hymn, “They Sing the Song of Moses.” His course was then about to begin; but now that it has ended, we can look back and plainly see that the faith he expressed in it was not in vain.
His Labors in the Vineyard Before Ordination
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.(Psalm 126:6)
While he was still undergoing a student’s usual examinations before the Presbytery, in the spring and summer of 1835, several applications were made to him by ministers in the church, who desired to secure his services for their part of the vineyard. He was especially urged to consider the field of labor at Larbert and Dunipace, near Stirling, under Mr. John Bonar, the pastor of these united parishes. This circumstance led him (as is often done in such cases) to ask the Presbytery of Edinburgh, under whose superintendence he had carried on his studies, to transfer the remainder of his public trials to another Presbytery, where there would be less pressure of business to occasion delay. This request being readily granted, his connection with Dumfriesshire led him to the Presbytery of Annan, who licensed him to preach the gospel on July 1, 1835. His feelings at the moment are recorded in a record of his own in the evening of that day: “Preached three probationary discourses in Annan Church, and, after an examination in Hebrew, was solemnly licensed to preach the gospel by Mr. Monylaws, the moderator. ‘Bless the Lord, 0 my soul; and all that is within me, be stirred up to praise and magnify his holy name!’ What I have so long desired as the highest honor of man, Thou at length givest me-me who dare scarcely use the words of Paul: ‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ Felt somewhat solemnized, though unable to feel my unworthiness as I ought. Be clothed with humility. ”
An event occurred the week before that cast a solemnizing influence on him, and on a fellow traveler and brother in the gospel, who was licensed by another Presbytery that same day. This event was the lamented death of the Rev. John Brown Patterson of Falkirk-one whom the Lord had gifted with preeminent eloquence and learning, and who was using all for his Lord, when he was struck down by fever. He had spoken much before his death of the awesomeness of a pastor’s charge, and his early death sent home the lesson to many, with the warning that the pastor’s account of souls might be suddenly required of him.
On the following Sabbath, Mr. McCheyne preached for the first time in Ruthwell Church, near Dumfries, on “The Pool of Bethesda”; and in the afternoon on “The Strait Gate.” He writes that evening in his diary: “Found it a more awfully solemn thing than I had imagined to announce Christ authoritatively; yet a glorious privilege!” The week after (Saturday, July 11): “Lord, put me into Thy service when and where Thou pleasest. In Thy hand all my qualities will be put to their appropriate end. Let me, then, have no anxieties.” Next day, also, after preaching in St. John’s Church, Leith: “Remembered, before going into the pulpit, the confession which says,(1) ‘We have been more anxious about the messenger than the message.'” In preaching that day, he states, “It came across me in the pulpit, that if spared to be a minister, I might enjoy sweet flashes of communion with God in that situation. The mind is entirely wrought up to speak for God. It is possible, then, that more vivid acts of faith may be gone through then, than in quieter and sleepier moments.”
It was not till November 7 that he began his labors at Larbert. In the interval he preached in various places, and many began to perceive the peculiar sweetness of the word in his’He here refers to the Full and Candid Acknowledgment of Sin, for Students and Ministers, drawn up by the Commission of Assembly in 1651, and often reprinted since. In accepting the invitation to labor in the parish proposed, he wrote: “It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plans with regard to myself, well assured as I am, that the place where the Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.”
The parish to which he had come was very large, containing six thousand souls. The parish church is at Larbert; but through the exertions of Mr. Bonar, many years ago, a second church was erected for the people of Dunipace. Mr. Hanna, later minister of Skirling, had preceded McCheyne in the duties of assistant in his field of labor; and Mr. McCheyne now entered on it with a fully devoted and zealous heart, although in a weak state of health. As assistant, it was his part to preach every alternate Sabbath at Larbert and Dunipace, and during the week to visit among the population of both these districts, according as he felt himself enabled in body and soul. There was a marked difference between the two districts in their general features of character; but equal labor was bestowed on both by the minister and his assistant; and often their prayer ascended that the windows of heaven might be opened over the two sanctuaries. Souls have been saved there. Often, however, did the faithful pastor mingle his tears with those of his younger fellow soldier, complaining, “Lord, who hath believed our report?” There was much sowing in faith; nor was this sowing abandoned even when the returns seemed most inadequate.
Mr. McCheyne had great delight in remembering that Larbert was one of the places where, in other days, that holy man of God, Robert Bruce, had labored and prayed. Writing some time later from the Holy Land, he expressed the wish, “May the Spirit be poured upon Larbert as in Bruce’s days.” But more than all associations, the souls of the people, whose salvation he longed for, were ever present to his mind. A letter to Mr. Bonar, in 1837, from Dundee, shows us his yearnings over them. “What an interest I feel in Larbert and Dunipace! It is like the land of my birth. Will the Sun of Righteousness ever rise upon it, making its hills and valleys bright with the light of the knowledge of Jesus?”
No sooner was he settled here, than he began his work.
With him, the beginning of all labor invariably consisted in the preparation of his own soul. The forerunner of each day’s visitations was a calm season of private devotion during morning hours. The walls of his chamber were witnesses of his prayerfulness I believe of his tears as well as of his cries. The pleasant sound of psalms often issued from his room at an early hour. Then followed the reading of the word for his own sanctification; and few have so fully realized the blessing of the first psalm. His leaf did not wither, for his roots were in the waters. It was here, too, that he began to study so closely the works of Jonathan Edwards considering them a mine to be worked, and if worked, sure to repay the toil. Along with this author, the Letters of Samuel Rutherford were often in his hand. Books of general knowledge he occasionally perused; but now it was done with the steady purpose of finding in them some illustration of spiritual truth. He rose from reading Insect Architecture, with the observation. “God reigns in a community of ants and ichneumons, as visibly as among living men or mighty seraphim!”
His desire to grow in acquaintance with Scripture was very intense; and both Old and New Testament were his regular study. He loved to range over the wide revelation of God. “He would be a sorry student of this world,” he said to a friend, “who should forever confine his gaze to the fruitful fields and well-watered gardens of this cultivated earth. He could have no true idea of what the world was, unless he had stood upon the rocks of our mountains, and seen the bleak muirs and mosses of our barren land; unless he had paced the quarterdeck when the vessel was out of sight of land, and seen the waste of waters without any shore upon the horizon. Just so, he would be a sorry student of the Bible who would not know all that God has inspired; who would not examine into the most barren chapters to collect the good for which they were intended; who would not strive to understand all the bloody battles which are chronicled, that he might find ‘bread out of the eater, and honey out of the lion.'” (June 1836)
His anxiety to have every possible help to, holiness led him to notice the disadvantages of those who are not daily stirred up by the fellowship of more advanced believers. “I have found,by some experience, that in the country here my watch does not go so well as it used to do in town. By small and gradual changes I find it either gains or loses, and I am surprised to find myself different in time from all the world, and, what is worse, from the sun. The simple explanation is, that in town I met with a steeple in every street, and a good-going clock upon it; and so any aberrations in my watch were soon noticed and easily corrected. And just so I sometimes think it may be with that inner watch, whose hands point not to time but to eternity. By gradual and slow changes the wheels of my soul lag behind, or the springs of passions become too powerful; and I have no living timepiece with which I may compare, and by which I may amend my going. You will say that I may always have the sun: And so it should be; but we have many clouds which obscure the sun from our weak eyes.” (Letter to Rev. H. Bonar, Kelso)
From the first he fed others by what he himself was feeding on. His preaching was in a manner the development of his soul’s experience. It was a giving out of the inward life. He loved to come up from the pastures wherein the Chief Shepherd had met him-to lead the flock entrusted to his care to the spots where he found nourishment.
In the field of his labor he found enough of work to overwhelm his spirit. The several coal mines and the Carron Ironworks furnish a population who are, for the most part, either sunk in deep indifference to the truth, or are opposed to it in the spirit of infidelity. Mr. McCheyne at once saw that the pastor whom he had come to aid, whatever was the measure of his health, and zeal, and perseverance, had duties laid on him that were altogether beyond the power of man to overtake. During the trial period of a few weeks, the field appeared more boundless, and the mass of souls more impenetrable, than he had ever conceived.
It was probably, in some degree, his experience at this time that gave him such deep sympathy with the Church Extension Scheme, as a truly noble and Christian effort for bringing the glad tidings to the doors of a population who must otherwise remain neglected, and were themselves willing so to live and die. He conveyed his impressions on this subject toa friend abroad, in the following terms: “There is a soul – destroying cruelty in the cold-hearted opposition which is made to the multiplication of ministers in such neglected and overgrown districts as these. If one of our Royal Commissioners would but consent to undergo the bodily fatigue that a minister ought to undergo in visiting merely the sick and dying of Larbert (let alone the visitation of the whole, and preparation for the pulpit), and that for one month, I would engage that if he be able to rise out of his bed by the end of it, he would change his voice and manner at the Commission Board.”
A few busy weeks passed in which he was occupied from morning to night in such cares and toils, when another part of the discipline he was to undergo was sent. At the end of December, strong oppression of the heart and an irritating cough caused some of his friends to fear that his lungs were affected; and for some weeks he was laid aside from public duty. On examination, it was found that though there was a dullness in the right lung, yet the material of the lungs was not affected. For a time, however, the air vessels were so clogged and irritated, that if he had continued to preach, disease would have quickly ensued. But this also was soon removed, and, under cautious management, he resumed his work.
This temporary illness served to call forth this extreme sensitiveness of his soul to the responsibilities of his office. At its beginning-having gone to Edinburgh “in so sweet a sunshine morning that God seemed to have chosen it for him”he wrote to Mr. Bonar: “If I am not recovered before the third Sabbath, I fear I shall not be able to bear upon my conscience the responsibility of leaving you any longer to labor alone, bearing unaided the burden of 6,000 souls. No, my dear sir, I must read the will of God aright in his providence, and give way, when He bids me, to fresh and abler workmen. I hope and pray that it may be His will to restore me again to you and your parish, with a heart tutored by sickness, to speak more and more as dying to dying.” Then, mentioning two of the sick: “Poor A. D. and C. H., I often think of them. I cando no more for their good, except pray for them. Tell them that I do this without ceasing.”
The days when a holy pastor, who knows the blood-sprinkled way to the Father, is laid aside, are probably as much a proof of the kindness of God to His flock as days of health and activity. He is occupied, during this season of retirement, in discovering the plagues of his heart, and in going in, like Moses, to plead with God face to face for his flock, and for his own soul. Mr. McCheyne believed that God had this end in view with him; and that the Lord should thus deal with him at his entrance into the vineyard made him ponder these dealings more. He wrote, “Paul asked, ‘What wilt Thou have me to do?’ and it was answered, ‘I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ Thus it may be with me. I have been too anxious to do great things. The lust of praise has ever been my besetting sin; and what more befitting school could be found for me than that of suffering alone, away from the eye and ear of man?” Writing again to Mr. Bonar, he tells him: “I feel distinctly that the whole of my labor during this season of sickness and pain should be in the way of prayer and intercession. And yet, so strongly does Satan work in our deceitful hearts, I scarcely remember a season wherein I have been more averse to these duties. I try to ‘build myself up in my most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keeping myself in the love of God, and looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus unto eternal life.’ That text of Jude has peculiar beauties for me at this season. If it be good to come under the love of God once, surely it is good to keep ourselves there. And yet how reluctant we are! I cannot doubt that boldness is offered me to enter into the holiest of all; I cannot doubt my right and title to enter continually by the new and bloodly way; I cannot doubt that when I do enter in, I stand not only forgiven, but accepted in the Beloved; I cannot doubt that when I do enter in, the Spirit is willing and ready to descend like a dove, to dwell in my bosom as a Spirit of prayer and peace, enabling me to ‘pray in the Holy Ghost;’ and that Jesus is ready to rise up as my intercessor with the Father, praying for me though not for the world; and that the prayer-hearing God is ready to bend His ear to requests which He delights to hear and answer. I cannot doubt that thus to dwell in God is the true blessedness of my nature; and yet, strange unaccountable creature! I am too often unwilling to enter in. I go about and about the sanctuary, and I sometimes press in through the rent veil, and see the blessedness of dwelling there to be far better than that of the tents of wickedness; yet it is certain that I do not dwell within.”-“My prayers follow you, especially to the sick-beds of A. D. and C. H. I hope they still survive, and that Christ may yet be glorified in them.”
On resuming his labors, he found a residence in Carronvale. From this pleasant spot he used to ride out to his work. But pleasant as the spot was, and being partially recovered, he was not satisfied; he lamented that he was unable to overtake what a stronger laborer would have accomplished. He often cast a regretful look at the coal mines; and remembering them still at a later period, he reproached himself with neglect, though most unjustly. “The places which I left utterly unbroken in upon are Kinnaird and Milton. Both of these rise up against my conscience, particularly the last, through which I have ridden so often.” It was not the comfort, but the positive usefulness of the ministry, that he envied; and he judged a place by its possibility to promote this great end. He said of a neighboring parish, which he had occasion to visit: “The manse is altogether too sweet; other men could hardly live there without saying, ‘This is my rest.’ I don’t think ministers’ manses should ever be so beautiful.”
A simple incident was overruled to promote the ease and fluency of his pulpit ministrations. From the beginning of his ministry he reprobated the custom of reading sermons, believing that to do so exceedingly weakens the freedom and natural fervor of the messenger in delivering his message. Neither did he recite what he had written. But his custom was to impress on his memory the substance of what he had beforehand carefully written, and then to speak as he found liberty. One morning, as he rode rapidly along to Dunipace, his written sermons were dropped on the wayside. This accident prevented him from having the opportunity of preparing in his usual manner; but he was enabled to preach with more than usual freedom. For the first time in his life; hediscovered that he possessed the gift of extemporaneous composition, and learned, to his own surprise, that he had more composure of mind and command of language than he had believed. This discovery, however, did not in the least degree diminish his diligent preparation. Indeed, the only use he made of the incident at the time it occurred, was to draw a lesson of dependence on God’s own immediate blessing rather than on the satisfactory preparation made. “One thing always fills the cup of my consolation, that God may work by the meanest and poorest words, as well as by the most polished and ornate-yea, perhaps more readily, that the glory may be all His own.”
His hands were again full, distributing the bread of life in fellowship with Mr. Bonar. The progress of his own soul, meanwhile, may be traced in some of the few entries that occur in his diary during this period:
“Feb. 21, 1836, Sabbath-Blessed be the Lord for another day of the Son of man. Resumed my diary, long broken off; not because I do not feel the disadvantages of it-making you assume feelings and express rather what you wish to be than what you are-but because the advantages seem greater. It ensures sober reflection on the events of the day as seen in God’s eye. Preached twice in Larbert, on the righteousness of God, Rom. 1:16. In the morning was more engaged in preparing the head than the heart. This has been frequently my error, and I have always felt the evil of it, especially in prayer. Reform it, then, 0 Lord.”
“Feb. 27-Preached in Dunipace with more heart than ever I remember to have done, on Rom. 5:10, owing to the gospel nature of the subject and prayerful preparation. Audience smaller than usual! How happy and strange is the feeling when God give the soul composure to stand and plead for Him! Oh that it were altogether for Him I plead, not for myself!”
“March 5-Preached in Larbert with very much comfort, owing chiefly to my remedying the error of 21st Feb. Therefore the heart and the mouth were full. ‘Enlarge my heart, and I shall run,’ said David. ‘Enlarge my heart, and I shall preach.’ “In this last remark we see the germ of his remarkably solemn ministry. His heart was filled, and his lips then spokewhat he felt within his heart. He did not give out merely living water, but living water drawn at the springs that he had himself drank of; and is not this a true gospel ministry? Some venture to try what they consider a more intellectual method of addressing the conscience; but before a minister attempts this mode, he ought to see that he is one who is able to afford more deep and anxious preparation of heart than other men. Since the intellectual part of the discourse is not that which is most likely to be an arrow in the conscience, those pastors who are intellectual men must bestow tenfold more prayerfulness on their work, if they would have either their own or their people’s souls affected under their word. If we are ever to preach with compassion for the perishing, we must ourselves be moved by those same views of sin and righteousness that moved the human soul of Jesus. (See Ps. 38 and 55.)
About this time he occasionally contributed papers to the Christian Herald: one of these was On Sudden Conversions, showing that Scripture led us to expect such. During this month he seems to have written the Lines on Mungo Park, one of the pieces that attracted the notice of Professor Wilson. But whatever he engaged in, his aim was to honor his Master. I find him, after hearing a sermon by another, remarking (April 3), “Some things powerful; but I thirst to hear more of Christ.”
On Sabbath 16, he writes: “Preached with some tenderness of heart. Oh, why should I not weep, as Jesus did over Jerusalem? Evening-Instructing two delightful Sabbath schools. Much bodily weariness. Gracious kindness of God in giving rest to the weary.”
“April 13-Went to Stirling to hear Dr. Duff once more upon his system. With greater warmth and energy than ever. He kindles as he goes. Felt almost constrained to go the whole length of his system with him. If it were only to raise up an audience, it would be defensible; but when it is to raise up teachers, it is more than defensible. I am now made willing, if God shall open the way, to go to India. Here am I; send me!”
The missionary feeling in his soul continued all his life. The Lord had really made him willing; and this preparedness to go anywhere completed his preparation for unselfish, self-denied work at home. Must there not be somewhat of this missionary tendency in all true ministers? Is any one truly the Lord’s messenger who is not quite willing to go when and where the Lord calls? Is it justifiable in any to put aside a call from the north, on the ground that he wishes one from the south? We must be found in the position of Isaiah, if we are to be really sent of God.
“April 24-Oh that this day’s labor may be blessed! and not mine alone, but all thy faithful servants all over the world, till thy Sabbath come.
“April 26-Visiting in Carron-shore. Well received everywhere. Truly a pleasant labor. Cheered me much. Preached to them afterwards from Proverbs 1.”
“May 8-Communion in Larbert. Served as an elder and help to the faithful. Partook with some glimpses of faith and joy. Served by a faithful old minister (Mr. Dempster of Denny), one taught of God. This morning stood by the dying-evening, stood by the dead, poor J. F having died last night. I laid my hand on her cold forehead, and tried to shut her eyes. Lord, give me strength for living to Thee!-strength also for a dying hour.”
“May 15-This day an annular eclipse of the sun. Kept both the services together in order to be in time. Truly a beautiful sight to see the shining edge of the sun all round the dark disc of the moon. Lord, one day Thy hand shall put out those candles; for there shall be no need of the sun to lighten the happy land: the Lamb is the light thereof; a sun that cannot be eclipsed-that cannot go down.”
“May 17-Visited thirteen families, and addressed them all in the evening in the school, on Jeremiah 1:4, ‘Going and weeping.’ Experienced some enlargement of soul; said some plain things; and had some desire for their salvation, that God might be praised.”
“May 21-Preparation for the Sabbath. My birthday. I have lived twenty-three years. Blessed be my Rock. Though I am a child in knowledge of my Bible and of Thee, yet use me for what a child can do, or a child can suffer. How few sufferings I have had in the year that is past, except in my own body.Oh that as my day is my strength may be! Give me strength for a suffering and for a dying hour!”
“May 22-0 Lord, when Thou workest, all discouragements vanish; when Thou art away, anything is a discouragement. Blessed be God for such a day-one of a thousand! Oh! why not always this? Watch and pray.”
Being in Edinburgh this month, during the sitting of the General Assembly, he used the opportunity of revisiting some of his former charge in the Canongate. “J. S., a far-off inquirer, but surely God is leading. His hand draws out these tears. Interesting visits to L., near death, and still in the same mind. I cannot but hope that some faith is here. Saw Mrs. M.; many tears: felt much, though I am still doubtful, and in the dark. Thou knowest, Lord!”
“June 11-Yesterday up in Dunipace. It would seem as if I were afraid to name the name of Christ. Saw many worldly people greatly needing a word in season, yet could not get up my heart to speak. What I did failed almost completely. I am not worthy, Lord! Today sought to prepare my heart for the coming Sabbath. After the example of Boston, whose life I have been reading, examined my heart with prayer and fasting. 1. Does my heart really close with the offer of salvation by Jesus? Is it my choice to be saved in the way which gives Him all the praise, and me none? Do I not only see it to be the Bible way of salvation, but does it cordially approve itself to my heart as delightful? Lord search me and try me, for I cannot but answer, Yes, yes. 2. Is it the desire of my heart to be made altogether holy? Is there any sin I wish to retain? Is sin a grief to me, the sudden risings and overcomings thereof especially? Lord, Thou knowest all things-Thou knowest that I hate all sin, and desire to be made altogether like Thee. It is the sweetest word in the Bible: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ Oh, then, that I might lie low in the dust-the lower the better-that Jesus’ righteousness and Jesus’ strength alone be admired! Felt much deadness, and much grief that I cannot grieve for this deadness. Towards evening revived. Got a calm spirit through psalmody and prayer.”
“June 12, Sabbath-Today a sinner preached Jesus, the same Jesus who has done all things for him and that so lately!A day of much help, of some earnest looking-up of the heart to that alone quickening power, of much temptation to flattery and pride. Oh for breathing gales of spiritual life! Evening-Somewhat helped to lay Jesus before little children in His beauty and excellency. Much fatigue, yet some peace. Surely a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand.”
“June 15-Day of visiting (rather a happy one) in Carronshore. Large meeting in the evening. Felt very happy after it, though mourning for bitter speaking of the gospel. Surely it is a gentle message, and should be spoken with angelic tenderness, especially by such a needy sinner.”
Of this bitterness in preaching, he had little indeed in after days; yet so sensible was he of its being quite natural to all of us, that oftentimes he made it the subject of conversation, and used to grieve over himself if he had spoken with anything less than solemn compassion. I remember on one occasion, when we met, he asked what my last Sabbath’s subject had been. It had been “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” On hearing this awesome text, he asked, “Were you able to preach it with tenderness?” Certain it is that the tone of reproach and upbraiding is widely different from the voice of solemn warning. It is not saying hard things that pierces the consciences of our people; it is the voice of divine love heard amid the thunder. The sharpest point of the two-edged sword is not death, but life; and against self-righteous souls this latter ought to be more used than the former. For such souls can hear us tell of the open gates of hell and the unquenchable fire far more unconcernedly than of the gates of heaven wide open for their immediate return. When we preach that the glad tidings were intended to impart immediate assurance of eternal life to every sinner that believes them, we strike deeper upon the proud enmity of the world to God, then when we show the eternal curse and the second death.
“June 19, Sabbath-Wet morning. Preached at Dunipace to a small audience, on Parable of the Tares. I thank God for that blessed parable.-In both discourses I can look back on many hateful thoughts of pride, and self-admiration, and love of praise, stealing the heart out of the service.
“June 22-Carron-shore. My last. Some tears; yet I fearsome like the messenger, not the message; and I fear I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honor, but let thine be exalted forever.”
“June 26 True Sabbath-day. Golden sky. Full church, and more liveliness than sometimes. Shall I call the liveliness of this day a gale of the Spirit, or was all natural? I know that all was not of grace; the self-admiration, the vanity, the desire of honor, the bitterness-these were all breaths of earth or hell. But was there no grace? Lord, Thou knowest. I dare not wrong Thee by saying-No! Larbert Sabbath school with the same liveliness and joy. Domestic work with the same. Praised be God! Oh that the savor of it may last through the week! By this may I test if it be all of nature, or much of grace. Alas! how I tremble for my Monday mornings-those seasons of lifelessness. Lord, bless the seeds sown this day in the hearts of my friends, by the hand of my friends, and all over the world-hasten the harvest!”
“July 3-After a week of working and hurried preparation, a Sabbath of mingled peace and pain. Called, morning before preaching, to see Mrs. E., dying. Preached on the Jailor, discomposedly, with some glimpses of the genuine truth as it is in Jesus. Felt there was much mingling of experience. At times the congregation was lightened up from their dull flatness, and then they sunk again into lethargy. 0 Lord, make me hang on Thee to open their hearts, Thou opener of Lydia’s heart. I fear Thou wilt not bless my preaching, until I am brought thus to hang on Thee. Oh keep not back a blessing for my sin! Afternoon-On the Highway of the Redeemed, with more ease and comfort. Felt the truth sometimes boiling up from my heart into my words. Some glimpses of tenderness, yet much less of that spirit than the last two Sabbaths. Again saw the dying woman. Oh when will I plead, with my tears and inward yearnings, over sinners! Oh, compassionate Lord, give me to know what manner of spirit I am of! give me thy gentle Spirit, that neither strives nor cries. Much weariness, want of prayerfulness, and want of cleaving to Christ.” Tuesday the 5th being the anniversary of his licence to preach the gospel, he writes: “Eventful week; one year I have preached Jesus, have I? or myself? I have often preached myself also, but Jesus I have preached.”
About this time he again felt the hand of affliction, though it did not continue long. Yet it was plain to him now that personal trouble was to be one of the ingredients of that experience which helped to give a peculiar tone to his ministry.
“July 8-Since Tuesday have been laid up with illness. Set by once more for a season to feel my unprofitableness and cure my pride. When shall this self-choosing temper be healed? `Lord, I will preach, run, visit, wrestle,’ said I. ‘No, thou shalt lie in thy bed and suffer,’ said the Lord. Today missed some fine opportunities of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw I would have spoken as much for my own honor as His, and therefore shut my mouth. I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake-until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this! Tonight some glimpses of humbling, and therefore some wrestling in social prayer. But my prayers are scarcely to be called prayer.” Then, in the evening: “This day my brother has been five years absent from the body and present with the Lord, and knows more and loves more than all earthly saints together. Till the day break and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved!”
“July 10-I fear I am growing more earthly in some things. Today I felt a difficulty in bringing in spiritual conversation immediately after preaching, when my bosom should be burning. Excused myself from dining out from other than the grand reason; though checked and corrected myself. Evening-Insensibly slid into worldly conversation. Let these things be corrected in me, 0 Lord, by the heart being more filled with love to Jesus, and more ejaculatory prayer.”
“July 17, Sabbath-Oh that I may remember my own word this day: that the hour of communion is the hour for the foxes-the little foxes-to spoil the wine. Two things that defile this day in looking back, are love of praise running through all, and consenting to listen to worldly talk at all. Oh that these may keep me humble and be my burden, leading me to the cross. Then, Satan, thou wilt be outwitted!”
“July 19-Died, this day, W McCheyne, my German cousin, Relief minister, Kelso. Oh how I repent of our vain controversies on Establishments when we last met, and that we spoke so little of Jesus! Oh that we had spoken more one to another! Lord, teach me to be always speaking as dying to dying.”
“July 24-Dunipace Communion-Heard Mr. Purves of Jedburgh preach, ‘Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.’ The only way to come to ordinances, and to draw from the well, is to come with the matter of acceptance settled, believing God’s anger to be turned away. Truly a precious view of the freeness of the gospel very refreshing. My soul needs to be roused much to apprehend this truth.”
Above (July 3) he spoke of “mingling experience with the genuine truth as it is in Jesus.” It is to this that he refers again in the last paragraph. His deep acquaintance with the human heart and passions often led him to dwell at greater length, not only on those topics whereby the sinner might be brought to discover his guilt, but also on marks that would evidence a change, that on “the glad tidings.” And yet he ever felt that these blessed tidings, addressed to souls in the very gall of bitterness, were the true theme of the minister of Christ; and never did he preach other than a full salvation ready for the chief of sinners. From the very first, also, he carefully avoided the error of those who rather speculate or doctrinize about the gospel, than preach the gospel itself. Is not the true idea of preaching that of one, like Ahimaaz, coming with all important tidings, and intent on making these tidings known? Occupied with the facts he has to tell, he has no heart to speculate on mere abstractions; nay, he is apt to forget what language he employs, excepting so far as the very grandeur of the tidings gives a glow of eloquence to his words. The glorious fact, “By this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, ” is the burden of every sermon. The crier is sent to the openings of the gate by his Lord, to herald forth this one infinitely important truth through the whole creation under heaven.
He seems invariably to have applied for his personal benefit what he gave out to his people. We have already noticed howhe used to feed on the Word, not in order to prepare himself for his people, but for personal edification. To do so was a fundamental rule with him; and all pastors will feel that, if they are to prosper in their own souls, they must so use the word-sternly refusing to admit the idea of feeding others, until satiated themselves. And for similar ends it is needful that we let the truth we hear preached sink down into our own souls. We, as well as our people, must drink in the falling shower. Mr. McCheyne did so. It is common to find him speaking thus: “July 31, Sabbath-Afternoon, on Judas betraying Christ; much more tenderness than ever I felt before. Oh that I might abide in the bosom of Him who washed Judas’ feet, and dipped His hand in the same dish with him, and warned him, and grieved over him-that I might catch the infection of His love, of His tenderness, so wonderful, so unfathomable.
Coming home on a Sabbath evening (Aug. 7th) from Torwood Sabbath school, a person met him who suggested an opportunity of usefulness. There were two families of gypsies encamped at Torwood, within his reach. He was weary with a long day’s labor; but instantly, as was his custom on such a call, set off to find them. By the side of their wood-fire, he opened the parable of the Lost Sheep, and pressed it on their souls in simple terms. He then knelt down in prayer for them, and left them somewhat impressed, and very grateful.
At this time a youthful parishioner, for whose soul he felt much anxiety, left his father’s roof. Ever watchful for souls, he seized this opportunity of laying before him more fully the things belonging to his peace.
“Larbert, August 8, 1836 “My dear G.-. You will be surprised to hear from me. I have often wished to be better acquainted with you; but in these sad parishes we cannot manage to know and be intimate with every one we would desire. And now you have left your father’s roof and our charge; still my desires go after you, as well as the kind thoughts of many others; and since I cannot now speak to you, I take this way of expressing my thoughts to you. I do not know in what light you look upon me, whether as a grave and moroseminister, or as one who might be a companion and friend; but really, it is so short a while since I was just like you, when I enjoyed the games which you now enjoy, and read the books which you now read, that I never can think of myself as anything more than a boy. This is one great reason why I write to you. The same youthful blood flows in my veins that flows in yours, the same fancies and buoyant passions dance in my bosom as in yours; so that when I would persuade you to come with me to the same Saviour, and to walk the rest of your life ‘led by the Spirit of God,’ I am not persuading you to anything beyond your years. I am not like a grey-headed grandfather-then you might answer all I say by telling me that you are a boy. No; I am almost as much a boy as you are; as fond of happiness and of life as you are; as fond of scampering over the hills, and seeing all that is to be seen, as you are.
“Another thing that persuades me to write you, my dear boy, is, that I have felt in my own experience the want of having a friend to direct and counsel me. I had a kind brother as you have, who taught me many things. He gave me a Bible, and persuaded me to read it; he tried to train me as a gardener trains the apple-tree upon the wall; but all in vain. I thought myself far wiser than he, and would always take my own way; and many a time, I well remember, I have seen him reading his Bible, or shutting his closet door to pray, when I have been dressing to go to some frolic, or some dance of folly. Well, this dear friend and brother died; and though his death made a greater impression upon me than ever his life had done, still I found the misery of being friendless. I do not mean that I had no relations and worldly friends, for I had many; but I had no friend who cared for my soul. I had none to direct me to the Saviour-none to awaken my slumbering conscience-none to tell me about the blood of Jesus washing away all sin-none to tell me of the Spirit who is so willing to change the heart, and give the victory over passions. I had no minister to take me by the hand, and say, ‘Come with me, and we will do thee good.’ Yes, I had one friend and minister, but that was Jesus Himself, and He led me in a way that makes me give Him, and Him only, all the praise. Now, though Jesus may do this again, yet the more common way with Him is to use earthly guides. Now, if I could supply the place of such a guide to you, I should be happy. To be a finger-post is all that I want to be-pointing out the way. This is what I so much wanted myself; this is what you need not want, unless you wish.
“Tell me, dear G., would you work less pleasantly through the day-would you walk the streets with a more doleful step-would you eat your meat with less gladness of heart-would you sleep less tranquilly at night-if you had the forgiveness of sins, that is, if all your wicked thoughts and deeds-lies, thefts, and Sabbath breakings were all blotted out of God’s book of remembrance? Would this make you less happy, do you think? You dare not say it would. But would the forgiveness of sins not make you more happy than you are? Perhaps you will tell me that you are very happy as you are. I quite believe you. I know that I was very happy when I was unforgiven. I know that I had great pleasure in many sins-in Sabbath-breaking, for instance. Many a delightful walk I have had-speaking my own words, thinking my own thoughts, and seeking my own pleasure on God’s holy day. I fancy few boys were ever happier in an unconverted state than I was. No sorrow clouded my brow-no tears filled my eyes, unless over some nice story-book; so that I know that you say quite true, when you say that you are happy as you are. But ah! is not this just the saddest thing of all, that you should be happy whilst you are a child of wrath-that you should smile, and eat, and drink, and be merry, and sleep sound, when this very night you may be in hell? Happy while unforgiven! a terrible happiness. It is like the Hindoo widow who sits upon the funeral pile with her dead husband, and sings songs of joy when they are setting fire to the wood with which she is to be burned. Yes, you may be quite happy in this way, till you die, my boy; but when you look back from hell, you will say, it was a miserable kind of happiness. Now,do you think it would not give you more happiness to be forgiven,-to be able to put on Jesus, and say, ‘God’s anger is turned away?’ Would not you be happier at work, and happier in the house, and happier in your bed? I can assure you from all that ever I have felt of it, the pleasures of being forgiven are as superior to the pleasures of an unforgiven man, as heaven is higher than hell. The peace of being forgiven reminds me of the calm, blue sky, which no earthly clamors can disturb. It lightens all labor, sweetens every morsel of bread, and makes a sick-bed all soft and downy; yea, it takes away the scowl of death. Now, forgiveness may be yours now. It is not given to those who are good. It is not given to any because they are less wicked than others. It is given only to those who, feeling that their sins have brought a curse on them which they cannot lift off, ‘look unto Jesus,’ as bearing all away.
“Now, my dear boy, I have no wish to weary you. If you are anything like what I was, you will have yawned many a time already over this letter. However, if the Lord deal graciously with you, and touch your young heart, as I pray He may, with a desire to be forgiven, and to be made a child of God, perhaps you will not take ill what I have written to you in much haste. As this is the first time you have been away from home, perhaps you have not learned to write letters yet; but if you have, I would like to hear from you, how you come on-what convictions you feel, if you feel any-what difficulties, what parts of the Bible puzzle you, and then I would do my best to unravel them. You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more, to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a psalm also; or, if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, ‘0 Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,’ etc. Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. ‘This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray. In prayer confess your sins by name going over those of the past day, one by one. Pray for your friends by name-father, mother, etc. etc. If you love them, surely you will pray for their souls. I know well that there are prayers constantly ascending for you from your own house; and will you not pray for them back again? Do this regularly. If you pray sincerely for others, it will make you pray for yourself.
“But I must be done. Good-bye, dear G. Remember me to your brother kindly, and believe me your sincere friend,
It is the shepherd’s duty (Ezek. 34:4), in visiting his flock, to discriminate; “strengthening the diseased, healing that which was sick, binding up that which was broken, bringing again that which was driven away, seeking that which was lost.” This Mr. McCheyne tried to do. In a later letter to Mr. Somerville of Anderston, in reference to the people of these parishes, whom he had had means of knowing, he wrote, “Take more heed to the saints than ever I did. Speak a word in season to S.M. S.H. will drink in simple truth, but tell him to be humble-minded. Cause L.H. to learn in silence; speak not of religion to her, but speak to her case always. Teach A.M. to look simply at Jesus. J.A. warn and teach. Get worldliness from the B.’s, if you can. Mrs. G. awake or keep awake. Speak faithfully to the B.’s. Tell me of M.C., if she is really a believer, and grows. A.K., has the light visited her? M.T. I have had some doubts of. M.G. lies sore upon my conscience; I did no good to that woman: she always managed to speak of things about the truth. Speak boldly. What matter in eternity the slight awkwardness’ 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 awesome sense of the work that lay before him. Hewould 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 Godwould 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. 2:8-17.2 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 up until now spent his strength in vain.
As he was now to leave this parish, 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 dear 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 area.
His last sermons to the people of Larbert and Dunipace were on Hosea 14:1, “0 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 especially for each other on Saturday evening, with a reference to our engagements in the ministry the 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. McCheyne 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 pray?”
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 ministrations.
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 toward Dundee, and took up his abode in the spot where the Lord was so marvelously to visit him in his ministry.
First Years of Labor in Dundee
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, before he left the manse, three passages of Scripture occupied his mind. 1. “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 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]” (1 Tim. 4:15). May that word (he prayed) sink deep into my heart. 3. “Here am I, send me” (Isa. 6:8). “‘To go, or to stay-to be here till death, or to visit foreign shores, whatsoever, wheresoever, whensoever Thou pleaseast.” 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 afterward cherished the most cordial friendship toward 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. He preached in the afternoon on 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 learned later; 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. In the evening of that day, Mr. Bonar again preached on “These Times of Refreshing.” “A nobel 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.”
There was a rapid growth in his soul, perceptible to al lwho knew him well, from this time. Even his pulpit preparations, he used to say, became easier fromthis date. He had earnestly sought that the day of his ordination might be a time of new grace; he expected it woudl be so; and there was a peculiar work to be done by his hands, for which the Holy Spirit speedily prepared 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 sould was kept; and his habits in these respects continued with him to the last. Jeremy Taylor recommends: “If though
meanest to enlarge they 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. McCheyne 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 enlargtement 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, althought 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 stire 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,” he said to a friend, “tell me the meaning of Scriptures.” To another, in expressing his value fo rthe 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, immediately begin 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 inhim you found–what you rarely meet with–a man of high poetic imagination and deep devotion, who nevertheless was engagted unceasingly in the busiest and most laborious activities of his office.
His friend 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 implised–“I wish to be alone.” But he further aimed at enjoying God all the day. And referring on one occasion to those blank house which so often are a believer’s burden–hours during which the sould is dry and barren–he observed, “They are proofs of how little we are filled with the presence of God, how little we are branch like (Zec4:12; John 15:5) in our faith.”
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 tonight. 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 1 Thessalonians, the whole; enriching to my own mind. How true is Psalm 1 ! yet observedin 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 refreshed.”
“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 (Exod. 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 impenetrable 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 fullness of Jesus, when he gasped a little and died.”
In one of his first visits to the sick, the narrative of theLord’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 deathbed 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 recognized 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. McCheyne 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; 3 yet there is a wide difference in the kind of visits that 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, everyday 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. 2 Corinthians 13:7. Mr. McCheyne 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.”
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 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 roadside, he smiled and said, “Well, how I envy a country minister; for he can get acquainted with all his people, and have some insight, into their real character.” Many of us thought that he afterward erred, in the abundant frequency of his evangelistic labors at a time when he was still bound to a particular flock.
He had an evening class every week for the young people of his congregation. The Catechism and the Bible were his textbooks, while he freely introduced all manner of useful illustrations. He thought himself bound to prepare diligently for his classes, that he might give accurate and simple explanations, and unite what was interesting with the most solemn and awakening views. But it was his class for young communicants that engaged his deepest care, and wherein he saw most success. He began a class of this kind previous to his first Communion, and continued to form it again some weeks before every similar occasion. His tract, published in 1840. “This do in remembrance of Me,” may be considered as exhibiting the substance of his solemn examination on these occasions.
He usually noted down his first impressions of his communicants, and compared these notes with what he afterward saw in them. Thus: “M. K., sprightly and lightsome, yet sensible; she saw plainly that the converted alone should come to the Table, but stumbled at the question, If she were converted? Yet she claimed being awakened and brought to Christ.” Another: “Very staid, intelligent-like person, with a steady kind of anxiety, but, I fear, no feeling of helplessness. Thought that sorrow and prayer would obtain forgiveness. Told her plainly what I thought of her case.” Another: “Knows she was once Christless; now she reads, and prays, and is anxious. I doubt not there is some anxiety, yet I fear it may be only a self-reformation to recommend herself to God and to man. Told her plainly.” “A.M., I fear much for him. Gave him a token with much anxiety; warned him very much.” “C.P does not seem to have any work of anxiety. He reads prayer-books, etc. Does not pray in secret. Seems not very intelligent.”
He sought to encourage Sabbath schools in all the districts of his parish. The hymn, “Oil for the Lamp,” was written to impress the parable on a class of Sabbath scholars in 1841. Some of his sweet, simple tracts were written for these schools. “Reasons Why Children Should Fly to Christ” was the first, written at the New Year 1839; and “The Lambs of the Flock” was another at a later period. His heart felt for the young. One evening, after visiting some of his Sabbath schools, he writes: “Had considerable joy in teaching the children. Oh for real heart-work among them!” He could accommodate himself to their capacities; and he did not consider it vain to use his talents in order to attract their attention, for he regarded the soul of a child as infinitely precious. Ever watchful for opportunities, on the blank leaf of a book which he had sent to a little boy of his congregation, he wrote these simple lines:
Peace be to thee, gentle boy! Many years of health and joy! Love your Bible more than play, Grow in wisdom every day. Like the lark on hovering wing, Early rise, and mount and sing; Like the dove that found no rest Till it flew to Noah’s breast, Rest not in this world of sin,Till the Saviour take thee in.
He had a high standard in his mind as to the moral qualifications of those who should teach the young. When a female teacher was sought to conduct an evening school in his parish for the sake of the mill girls, he wrote to one interested in the cause: “The qualifications she should possess for sewing and knitting you will understand far better than I. She should be able to keep up in her scholars the fluencey of reading, and the knowledge of the Bible and Catechism which they may have already acquired. She should be able to teach them to sing the praises of God with feeling and melody. But, far above all, she should be a Christian woman, not in name only but in deed and in truth-one whose heart has been touched by the Spirit of God, and who can love the souls of little children. Any teacher who wanted this last qualification, I would look upon as a curse rather than a blessing-a centre of blasting and coldness and death, instead of a centre from which life and warmth and heavenly influence might emanate.”
It was very soon after his ordination that he began his weekly prayer meeting in the church. He had heard how meetings of this kind had been blessed in other places, and never had he any cause to regret having set apart the Thursday evening for this holy purpose. One of its first effects was to quicken those who had already believed; they were often refreshed on these occasions even more than on the Sabbath. Some of the most solemn seasons of his ministry were at those meetings. At their commencement, he wrote to me an account of his manner of conducting them: “I give my people a Scripture to be hidden in the heart-generally a promise of the Spirit or the wonderful effects of his outpouring.(4) I give them the heads of a sermon upon it for about twenty minutes. Prayer goes before and follows. Then I read some history of Revivals, and comment in passing. I think the people are very interested in it: a number of people come from all parts of the town. But oh! I need much the living Spirit to my own soul; I want my life to be hid with Christ In God. At present there is too much hurry, and bustle, and outward working, to allowthe calm working of the Spirit on the heart. I seldom get time to meditate, like Isaac, at evening-tide, except when I am tired; but the dew comes down when all nature is at rest-when every leaf is still.”An example of the happy freedom and familiar illustrations that his people felt to be peculiar to these meetings, may be found in the notes taken by one of his hearers, of “Expositions of the Epistles to the Seven Churches,” given during the year 1838. He had himself great delight in the Thursday evening meetings. “They will doubtless be remembered in eternity with songs of praise,” he said on one occasion; and at another time, observing the tender frame of a soul that was often manifested at these seasons, he said, “There is a stillness to the last word-not as on Sabbaths, a rushing down at the end of the prayer, as if glad to get out of God’s presence.” So many believing and so many inquiring souls used to attend, and so few of the worldlings, that you seemed to breathe the atmosphere of heaven.
But it was his Sabbath day’s services that brought multitudes together, and were soon felt throughout the town. He was ever so ready to assist his brethren so much engaged in every good work, and also so often interrupted by inquiries, that it might be thought he had no time for careful preparation, and might be excused for the absence of it. But, in truth, he never preached without careful attention bestowed on his subject. He might, indeed, have little time-often the hours of a Saturday was all the time he could manage-but his daily study of the Scriptures stored his mind, and formed a continual preparation. Much of his Sabbath services was a drawing out of what he had carried in during busy days of the week.
His voice was remarkably clear-his manner attractive by its mild dignity. His form itself drew the eye. (5) He spoke from the pulpit as one earnestly occupied with the souls before him. He made them feel sympathy with what he spoke, for his own eye and heart were on them. He was, at the same time, able to bring out illustrations at once simple and felicitous, often with poetic skill and elegance. He wished to use Saxon words, for the sake of being understood by the most illiterate in his audience. And while his style was singularly clear, this clearness itself was so much the consequence of his being able thoroughly to analyze and explain his subject, that all his hearers alike reaped the benefit.
He went about his community work with awesome reverence. So evident was this, that I remember a countryman in my parish observed to me: “Before he opened his lips, as he came along the passage, there was something about him that sorely affected me.” In the vestry there was never any idle conversation; all was preparation of heart in approaching God; and a short prayer preceded his entering the pulpit. Surely in going forth to speak for God, a man may well be overawed! Surely in putting forth his hand to sow the seed of the kingdom, a man may even tremble! And surely we should aim at nothing less than to pour forth the truth on our people through the channel of our own living and deeply affected souls.
After announcing the subject of his discourse, he generally used to show the position it occupied in the context, and then proceed to bring out the doctrines of the text, in the manner of our old divines. This done, he divided his subject; and herein he was eminently skillful. “The heads of his sermons,” said a friend, “were not the milestones that tell you how near you are to your journey’s end, but they were nails which fixed and fastened all he said. Divisions are often dry; but not so his divisions-they were so textual and so feeling, and they brought out the spirit of a passage so surprisingly.
It was his wish to arrive closer to the primitive mode of expounding Scripture in his sermons. Therefore, when one asked him if he was never afraid of running short of sermons some day, he replied, “No; I am just an interpreter of Scripture in my sermons; and when the Bible runs dry, then I shall.” And in the same spirit he carefully avoided the too common mode of accommodating texts-fastening a doctrine on the words, not drawing it from the obvious connection of the passage. He endeavored at all times to preach the mind of the Spirit in a passage; for he feared that to do otherwise would be to grieve the Spirit who had written it. InterpretaLion was thus a solemn matter to him. And yet, adhering scrupulously to this sure principle, he felt himself in no way restrained from using, for every day’s necessitites, all parts of the Old Testament as much as the New. His manner was first to ascertain the primary sense and application, and so proceed to handle it for present use. Thus, on Isaiah 26:16-19, he began: “This passage, I believe, refers literally to the conversion of God’s ancient people.” He regarded the prophecies as history yet to be, and drew lessons from them accordingly as he would have done from the past. Every spiritual gift being in the hands of Jesus, if he found Moses or Paul in the possession of precious things, he immediately was led to follow them into the presence of that same Lord who gave them all their grace.
There is a wide difference between preaching doctrine and preaching Christ. Mr. McCheyne preached all the doctrines of Scripture as understood by our Confession of Faith, dwelling on ruin by the Fall, and recovery by the Mediator. “The things of the human heart, and the things of the Divine Mind,” were in substance his constant theme. From personal experience of deep temptation, he could lay open the secrets of the heart, so that he once said, “He supposed the reason why some of the worst sinners in Dundee had come to hear him was, because his heart exhibited so much likeness to theirs.” Still it was not doctrine alone that he preached; it was Christ, from whom all doctrine shoots forth as rays from a center. He sought to hang every vessel and battle on Him. “It is strange,” he wrote after preaching on Revelation 1:15: “It is strange how sweet and precious it is to preach directly about Christ, compared with all other subjects of preaching.” And he often expressed a dislike of the phrase “giving attention to religion,” because it seemed to substitute doctrine, and a devout way of thinking, for Christ himself.
It is difficult to convey to those who never knew him a correct idea of the sweetness and holy unction of his preaching. Some of his sermons, printed from his own manuscripts (although almost all are first copies), may convey a correct idea of his style and mode of preaching doctrine. But there are no notes that give any true idea of his affectionate appeals to theheart and searching applications. These he seldom wrote; they were poured forth at the moment when his heart filled with his subject; for his rule was to set before his hearers a body of truth first-and there always was a vast amount of Bible truth in his discourses-and then urge home the application. His exhortations flowed from his doctrine, and thus had both variety and power. He was systematic in this; for he observed: “Appeals to the careless, etc., come with power on the back of some massy truth. See how Paul does (Acts. 13:40), ‘Beware, therefore, lest,’ etc., and (Hebrews 2:1), ‘Therefore we should,’ etc.”
He was sometimes a little unguarded in his statements, when his heart was deeply moved and his feelings stirred, and sometimes he was too long in his addresses; but this also arose from the fullness of his soul. “Another word,” he thought, “may be blessed, though the last has made no impression.”
Many will remember forever the blessed Communion Sabbaths that were enjoyed in St. Peter’s. From the very first these Communion seasons were remarkably owned of God. The awe of His presence used to be upon His people, and the house filled with the odor of the ointment, when his name was poured forth (Song of Sol. 1:3). But on common Sabbaths also many soon began to journey long distances to attend St. Peter’s-many from country parishes, who would return home with their hearts burning, as they talked of what they had heard that day.
Mr. McCheyne knew the snare of popularity, and naturally was one that would have been fascinated by it; but the Lord kept him.
He was sometimes extraordinarily helped in his preaching; but at other times, though not perceived by his hearers, his soul felt as if left to its own resources. The cry of Rowland Hill was constantly on his lips, “Master, help!” and often is it written at the close of his sermon. Much affliction, also, was a thorn in the flesh to him. He described himself as often “strong as a giant when in the church, but like a willow-wand when all was over.” But certainly, above all, his abiding sense of the divine favor was his safeguard. He began his ministry in Dundee with this sunshine on his way. “As yet I have been keptnot only in the light of his reconciled countenance, but very much under the guiding eye of our providing God. Indeed, as I remember good old Swartz used to say, ‘I could not have imagined that He could have been so gracious to us.'” I believe that while he had some deeper conflicts, he had also far deeper joy after his return from Palestine than in the early part of his ministry, though from the very beginning of it he enjoyed the sense of the love of God that “keeps the heart and mind.” (Phil. 4:7) This was the true secret of his holy walk, and of his calm humility. But for this, his ambition would have become the only principle of many an action; but now the sweeter love of God constrained him, and the natural ambition of his spirit could be discerned only as suggesting to him the idea of making attempts that others would have declined.
What monotony there is in the ministry of many! Duty presses on the heels of duty in an endless circle. But it is not so when the Spirit is quickening both the pastor and his flock. Then there is all the variety of life. It was so here. The Lord began to work by his means almost from the first day he came. There was always one or another stricken, and going apart to weep alone.
The flocking of souls to his ministry, and the deep interest excited, drew the attention of many, and raised the wish in some quarters to have him as their pastor. He had not been engaged many months in his laborious work when he was invited to move to the parish of Skirling, near Biggar. It was an offer that presented great advantages above his own field of labor as to worldly gain, and in respect of the prospect it held out of comparative ease and comfort; for the parish was small and the salary great. But as it is required of a bishop, that he be “not greedy of filthy lucre,” nay, that he be “one who has no love of money” (1 Tim. 3:3) at all, so was it true that in him these qualifications eminently shone. His remarks in a letter to his father contain the honest expression of his feelings: “I am set down among nearly 4000 people; 1100 people have taken seats in my church. I bring my message, such as it is, within the reach of that great company every Sabbath-day. I dare not leave 3000 or 4000,for 300 people. Had this been offered me before, I would have seen it a direct intimation from God, and would heartily have embraced it. How I should have delighted to feed so precious a little flock-to watch over every family-to know every heart-‘to allure to brighter worlds and lead the way!’ But God has not so ordered it. He has set me down among the noisy mechanics and political weavers of this godless town. He will make the money sufficient. He that paid His taxes from a fish’s mouth, will supply all my need.” He had already expressed the hope, “Perhaps the Lord will make His wilderness of chimney-tops to be green and beautiful as the garden of the Lord, a field which the Lord hath blessed!”
His health was delicate; and the harassing care and endless fatigue incident to his position, in a town like Dundee, seemed unsuitable to his spirit. This belief led to another attempt to remove him to a country area. In the summer of this same year (1837) he was strongly urged to preach as a candidate for the vacant parish of St. Martin’s, near Perth, and was assured of the appointment if he would only come forward. But he declined again: “My Master has placed me here with His own hand; and I never will, directly or indirectly, seek to be removed.”
There were circumstances in this latter case that made the call on him appear urgent in several points of view. In coming to a resolution, he mentions one interesting element in the decision, in a letter to me, dated August 8. “I was much troubled about being asked to go to a neighboring parish at present vacant, and made it a matter of prayer; and I mention it now because of the wonderful answer to prayer which I think I received from God. I prayed that in order to settle my own mind completely about staying, He would awaken some of my people. I agreed that that should be a sign He would wish me to stay. The next morning I think, or at least the second morning, there came to me two young persons I had never seen before, in great distress. What brought this to my mind was, that they came to me yesterday, and their distress is greatly increased. Indeed I never saw any people in such anguish about their soul. I cannot but regard this as a real answer to prayer. I have also several other persons in deep distress, andI feel that I am quite helpless in comforting them. I would fain be like Noah, who put out his hand and took in the weary dove; but God makes me stand by and feel that I am a child. Will God never cast the scenes of our labor near each other? We are in His hand; let Him do as seemeth Him good. Pray for me, for my people, for my own soul, that I be not a cast away.”
Few godly pastors can be willing to change the scene of their labors, unless it is plain that the cloudy pillar is pointing them away. It is perilous for men to choose for themselves; and too often has it happened that the minister who, on slight grounds, moved away from his former watchtower, has had reason to mourn over the disappointment of his hopes in his larger and wider parish. But while this is admitted, probably it may appear unwarrantable in Mr. McCheyne to have prayed for a sign of the Lord’s will. It is to be observed, however, that he decided the point of duty on other grounds; and it was only with the view of obtaining an additional confirmation by the occurrences of providence, that he prayed in this manner, in submission to the will of the Lord. He never held it right to decide the path of duty by any such signs or tokens; he believed that the written Word supplied sufficient data for guiding the believing soul; and such providential occurrences as happened in this case he regarded as important only as far as they might be answers to prayer. Indeed, he himself has left us a glance of his views on this point in a fragment, which (for it is not dated) may have been written about this time. He had been thinking on Gideon’s Fleece.
When God called Gideon forth to fight”Go, save thou Israel in thy might,” The faithful warrior sought a sign That God would on his labors shine.
The man who, at thy dread command,
Lifted the shield and deadly brand.
• do thy strange and fearful work
Thy work of blood and vengeance, Lord!
Might need assurance doubly tried,
• prove Thou wouldst his steps betide.
But when the message which we bring
Is one to make the dumb man sing;
• bid the blind man wash and see,
The lame to leap with ecstasy;
• raise the soul that’s bowed down,
• wipe away the tears and frown
• sprinkle all the heart within From the accusing voice of sinThen, such a sign my call to prove, To preach my Saviour’s dying love, I cannot, dare not, hope to find.
At the close of the same year 1837, he agreed to become Secretary to the Association for Church Extension in the country of Forfar. The Church Extension Scheme, though much misrepresented and much misunderstood, had in view as its genuine, sincere endeavor, to bring to overgrown parishes the advantage of a faithful minister, placed over such a number of souls as he could really visit. Mr. McCheyne cheerfully and diligently forwarded these objects to the utmost of his power. “It is the cause of God.” he said, “and therefore I am willing to spend and be spent for it.” It compelled him to ride much from place to place; but riding was an exercise of which he was fond, and which was favorable to his health. As an example-“Dec. 4, 1838. Travelled to Montrose. Spoke along with Mr. Guthrie at a Church Extension meeting; eight or nine hundred present. Tried to do something in the Saviour’s cause, both directly and indirectly. Next day at Forfar. Spoke in the same cause.”
How heartily he entered into this program may be seen from the following extract. In a letter of late date to Mr. Roxburgh, he says: “Every day I live, I feel more and more persuaded that it is the cause of God and his kingdom in Scotland in our day. Many a time, when I thought myself a dying man, the souls of the perishing thousands in my own parish, who never enter any house of God, have lain heavy on my heart. Many a time have I prayed that the eyes of our enemies might be opened, and that God would open the hearts of our rulers, to feel that their highest duty and greatest glory is to support the ministers of Christ, and to send these to every perishingIsoul in Scotland.” He felt that their misery was all the greater, and their need the deeper, that such neglected souls had no wish for help, and would never ask for it themselves. Nor was it that he imagined that, if churches were built and ministers endowed, this would of itself be sufficient to reclaim the multitudes of perishing men. But he sought and expected that the Lord would send faithful men into His vineyard. These new churches were to be like cisterns-ready to catch the shower when it should fall, just as his own did in the day of the Lord’s power.
His views on this subject were summed up in the following lines, written one day as he sat in company with some of hiszealous brethren who were deeply engaged in the program: Give me a man of God the truth to preach, A house of prayer within convenient reach,Seat-rents the poorest of the poor can pay, A spot so small one pastor can survey:
Give these-and give the Spirit’s genial shower, Scotland shall be a garden all in flower!
Another public duty to which, during all the years of his ministry, he gave constant attention, was attendance at the meetings of presbytery. 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 compared to preaching the everlasting gospel. He scarcely ever refused an invitation to preach on a weekday; and traveling 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 afterward Mr. Manson, were laboring in that vineyard. It would be difficult even to enumerate the places where he watered at Communion seasons; and in some of these it was stated 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 believinghad 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 mentioned before 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 who had been communicants before came for baptism for their children, it was his custom to ask them solemnly if their souls were saved. His dealing with them was blessed to the conversion of a number of young persons who were coming carelessly forward to the Communion; and and he records the blessing that attended his faithful dealing with a parent coming to speak with him about the baptism of his child. The man said that he had been thinking and believed himself in the right way-that he felt his disposition better, for he could forgive others. Mr. McCheyne showed him that nevertheless he was ignorant of God’s righteousness. The man laid it to heart; and when Mr. McCheyne said that he thought it would be better to defer the baptism, the man 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 thatneither 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 around. 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 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 church session’s power to rebuke and deal with an offender. Once from the pulpit, at an ordination of elders, he gave the following testimony: “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 orshut 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 uniquely circumspect in his everyday walk. He wished to be always in the presence of God. If he traveled, he labored to enjoy God along the way, as well as to do good to others by dropping a word in season. In riding or walking, he seized opportunities to give 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 especially on his soul at the mercy seat; and if compelled to take some rest from his too exhausting toils, his relaxation was little else than a change of occupation, from one mode of glorifying God to another. (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) His beautiful hymn, “I Am a Debtor,” was written in May 1837, at a leisure hour.
Whatever is said in the pulpit, men will not regard much 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 closest intercourse with them, that we are thus to put the seal to all we say in public. Close moments are the times when the things that are most closely twined around the heart are brought out to view; and shall we, by tacit consent, 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 used 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 honour me, I will honour” (1 Sam. 2:30). It was noticed long ago that men will allow you to preach against their sins as much as you will, if you will be easy with them when you have finished, and talk as they do, and live as they live. How much different it was with Mr. M’Cheyne, as all who knew him can testify.
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 dwell on 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 of Solomon 4:16, when he said that “some believers were a garden that had fruit-trees, and so were useful; but we ought also to 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:
PEACE TO THIS HOUSE
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 feed 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.”
I find written on the leaf of one of his notebooks, 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 that happened to him, 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 that he allowed even on a Saturday, in the midst of his studies. He was led to resolve not to postpone any inquirers until 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 fullness 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 always 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 up to now 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 considered 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.
Someone wrote to him, asking him 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. 1 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 marks.
3. “Feeling a body of sin is a mark that we are like Paul, and that we are Christ’s, Romans 7; Galatians 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 of Solomon 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 Matthew 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 moment.”
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, (1 Tim. 4:16). Mr. McCheyne 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 permission 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 the sermon one Sabbath morning. But most were moved by 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 awesome 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 conviction, 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 worshiping God in the spirit. “You would come to a king when you were full dressed; so come to God, and abide in His presence as long as you can.”
Sometimes he would send away souls, of whom he entertained good hope, with a text suited to their state. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Or he would say, “I hear of you that God has opened your heart; but remember not to trust to man’s opinion. Remember an all-seeing Christ will be the judge at the great day.” To another he said, “I have long hoped you were really under the wings of the Saviour; if it be so, abide there; do not be like Demas.”
To a prayer meeting, consisting of a few young men who had been awakened to flee from wrath, he gave this advice: “Guard against all ambition to excel one another in expression. Remember the most spiritual prayer is `a groan which cannot be uttered,’ Rom. 8:26; or a cry of ‘Abba, Father,’ Gal. 4:6.”
There is very little recorded in his diary during these years, but what does exist will be read with deepest interest.
“March 28, 1838, Thursday-I think of making this more a journal of my people, and the success or otherwise of my ministry. The first success among my people was at the time of my first Sacrament: then it appeared. My first sermon, on Isa. 61:1, was blessed to-and some others. That on Ezek. 22:14, ‘Can thine heart endure,’ etc., was blessed to awaken M. L. That on Song 5:2, ‘Open to me,’ etc., the Sabbath after the Sacrament, was blessed to another. These were happy days. M.D. was awakened by coming to the communicants’ class. Another by the action sermon. At the words, ‘I know thee, Judas,’ she trembled, and would have risen from the table. These were glad days when one and another were awakened. The people looked very stirred and anxious, every day coming to hear the words of eternal life-some inquiring in private every week. Now there is little of this. About fifteen cases came to my knowledge the first Sacrament, and two awakened who seem to have gone back. About eleven last Sacrament-four of these young men. Several Christians seemed quickened to greater joy, and greater love one to another. Now it appears to me there is much falling off-few seem awakened; few weep as they used to do.”
“April 1, Sacrament day-Sweet season we have had. Never was more straitened and unfurnished in myself, and yet much helped. Kept in perfect peace, my mind being stayed on Thee. Preached on ‘My God, my God,’ etc., Psalm 22:1. Not fully prepared, yet found some peace in it. Fenced the tables from ‘Christ’s eyes of flame.’ Little helped in serving the tables. Much peace in communion. Happy to be one with Christ! I, a vile worm; He, the Lord my righteousness. Mr. Cumming of Dumbarney served some tables; Mr. Somerville of Anderston served three, and preached in the evening on ‘Thou art all fair, my love.’ Very full and refreshing. All sweet, sweet services. Come, thou north wind, and blow, thou south, upon this garden! May this time be greatly blessed! It is my third communion; it may be my last. My Lord may come, or I may be sitting at another table soon. Moody, Candlish, and Mellis, were a good preparation for this day; and the sweet word from Cumming yesterday, ‘When the poor and needy seek water,’ etc. Lord, grant some awakening this day-to some bringing peace-comfort to mourners-fullness to believers-an advance in holiness in me and my children! III John 4. Lord, wean me from my sins, from my cares, and from this passing world. May Christ be all in all to me.”
“Admitted about twenty-five young communicants; kept two back, and one or two stayed back. Some of them evidently brought to Christ. May the Lord be their God, their comforter, their all! May the morrow bring still richer things to us, that we may say as of tonight, ‘Thou hast kept the good wine until now.
Toward the close of this same year some of his notices are as follows:
“Oct. 7, Evening-In the Gaelic Chapel, on ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ with more seeming power on the people than for a while. I never remember of compelling souls to come in to Christ so much as in that discourse.”
“Oct. 8-A person of the name of-came; I hope really awakened by last night’s work; rather, by Thee. I do not know, however, whether grace is begun or not.”
“Oct. 14-Preached on ‘Forgiving injuries.’ Afternoon-on the Second Coming: ‘Let your loins be girded about,’ etc. Felt its power myself more than ever before, how the sudden coming of the Saviour constrains to a holy walk, separate from sin. Evening-Preached it over in the Ferry.”
“Oct. 21-Met young communicants in the evening. Good hope of all but one.”
“Oct. 22-A Jew preached in my church, Mr. Frey, to a crowded house. Felt much moved in hearing an Israelite after the flesh.”
“Oct. 23-Preached to sailors aboard the ‘Dr. Carey,’ in the docks. About 200, very attentive and impressed like. On ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ May the seed sown on the waters be found after many days.”
“Nov. 1, Fast-day-Afternoon-Mr. C. on ‘The thief on the Cross.’ A most awakening and engaging sermon, enough to make sinners fly like a cloud, and as doves to their windows. The offers of Christ were let down very low so that those low of stature may take hold.”
“Nov. 5-Mr.-died this morning at seven o’clock. Oh that I may take warning, lest, after preaching to others, I myself be a castaway! Love of popularity is said to have been his besetting sin.”
“Dec. 2-Errol Communion. Heard Mr. Grierson preach on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Served two tables. Evening preached to a large congregation, on `Unto you, 0 men, I call,’ etc. The free invitation of the Saviour. May some find Him this day!”
In addition to the other blessings that the Lord sent by His means to the place where he labored, it was obvious to all that the tone of Christians was raised as much by his holy walk as by his heavenly ministry. Yet during these pleasant days he had much reproach to bear. He was the object of supercilious contempt to formal cold-hearted ministers, and of bitter hatred to many of the ungodly. At this day there are both ministers and professing Christians of whom Jesus would say, “The world cannot hate you” (John 7:7), for the world cannot hate itself; but it was not so with Mr. McCheyne. Very deep was the enmity borne to him by some-all the deeper, because the only cause of it was his likeness to his Master. But nothing turned him aside. He was full of ardor, yet ever gentle, and meek, and generous; full of zeal, yet never ruffled by his zeal; and not only his strength of “first love” (Rev. 2:4), but even its warm glow, seemed in him to suffer no decay.
Thus he spent the first years of his ministry in Dundee. The town began to feel that they had a unique man of God in the midst of them, for he lived as a true son of Levi. “My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with me in peace and equity; and did turn many away from iniquity” (Mal. 2:5, 6).