Strangers are often struck with the appearance of the old city of Edinburgh. Its lofty edifices—house upon house—nod across narrow passages, or overhang precipitous flights of stairs, down to the "Back of the Canongate," or up to the Castle Hill. Nor are its associations less striking. How many remarkable men have left there the memorials of their birth, their actions, or their death!—graven, perhaps, upon its massy monuments, or linked, by traditionary lore, with its antiquated habitations. How many noble minds have been first illuminated with light from heaven, in the High School, the College, or the Kirk of the Scottish metropolis!
Among these, and in no mean rank, was Robert Murray M'Cheyne. He was born and educated there; and there also his soul received the gift of heavenly life—there he was born from above.
He first saw the light of this world on the twenty-first of May 1813. He had not completed his ninth year, when he entered the High School; and, during the usual course of six years, he prosecuted his studies with great credit and advantage.
In November 1827, he became a member of the Edinburgh University. Here he manifested a versatile genius, and gave early proof of poetic talent. In various classes he gained many academic prizes; one of which was adjudged to him for his poem, "On the Covenanters."
Not only were his moral character and conduct correct, but he was exemplary in his outward attention to the forms of devotion. Many who knew him regarded him as a Christian in reality; but he was as yet a stranger to the renewing power of grace. He cherished a pure morality, but lived in heart a Pharisee."
He had occasional fears and misgivings as to his spiritual condition: but, like many others in possession of youth and health, he banished his salutary doubts for the present.
He was the youngest child of his father's family. His eldest brother, David, was eight or nine years older than himself. David M'Cheyne was a Christian of rare excellence and high mental attainments. Especially tender in his fraternal attachment, he cared much, and prayed more, for his younger brothers. He had been admitted Writer to the Signet, but his hopeful professional career was early arrested, and his mind overclouded by a deep and settled melancholy. Many months of mental suffering wasted his bodily vigour; but the gloom was at last dispelled, and his face brightened with the joy of God's salvation. He died July 8, 1831.
David's affliction and death left a visible and lasting effect on Robert's mind. His affectionate sympathies, which were strong towards his brother, were intensely moved, and his natural vivacity took a more sober turn. Now he began to feel his need of mercy as a sinner. "It was," says he, "the first overwhelming blow to my worldliness." The impression made by this blow was never effaced, and he often referred to it in after years. On one occasion, he writes:—
"This day eleven years ago, I lost my loved and loving brother, and began to seek a brother who cannot die."
His mind gradually yielded to those convictions of sin which eventually led him to the sinner's Friend. As the day dawns, the shadows flee away. The light of God's Word enabled him to perceive his real condition. He saw the entire corruption of his nature, the enmity of the carnal mind to the things of God, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin. The world, the flesh, and Satan, had fast held his soul in captivity, and now he felt the worthlessness of his own vain endeavours to please God. By degrees he came to see the necessity of a change of heart, and at length found the sovereign remedy for a guilty conscience in the precious, atoning blood of his divine Saviour. Neither suddenly aroused from the slumber of sin, nor terrified by the dread of hell, he was gently drawn to trust in him who died to deliver us from the wrath to come.
Often, during this transition period, as he had indulged in scenes of pleasure such as the world calls harmless gaiety his awakened conscience condemned him. Brief notes among his daily memoranda tell of the struggle in his soul. Under various dates, he wrote:—
"I hope never to play cards again."
"Absented myself from the dance; upbraidings ill to bear. But I must try to bear the cross."
"My heart has not peace. Why? Sin lieth at the door."
"This bitter root of worldliness has betrayed me this night so grossly, that I regard it as God's way to make me loathe and forsake it for ever. I would vow; but it is much more like a weakly worm to pray. Sit in the dust, O my soul." [Note: A more correct view of the matter is found in James 1:13,14—"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man; but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." Yet God can turn the weapons of the adversary against himself, for the deliverance of the lawful captive; and so it was with M'Cheyne.]
The beginning of his faith—his heart's repose and confidence in Christ crucified—was very weak and tender; but it was genuine. Hence it gradually banished fear, obtained the victory over the world, and apprehended the free gift of God's righteousness imputed to the sinner "who believeth in Jesus."
The death of his brother David, not only aroused him to a concern for his soul, but so impressed him with a sense of eternal things, as to determine him to seek a preparation for the ministry of the Gospel, that he might be a herald of salvation to others. His design was to go to the heathen abroad; but he soon found a wide field of missionary labour among the heathen of his native town. By reading the memoirs of David Brainerd, Henry Martyn, and other servants of Christ, he fanned the newly-kindled flame; and devoted himself unreservedly to the work of the Lord.
In the winter of 1831, he entered upon a course of study in the Divinity Hall, under Dr. Chalmers. Four years were thus occupied with great diligence and success. Increasing in the knowledge of God, he grew also in grace; and, with an ear open to the counsels of the wise, he learned to "walk circumspectly—redeeming the time."
Amongst his intimate associates and fellow-students at the University, were Horatius Bonar, Andrew A. Bonar (his biographer), Alexander Somerville, and others, whose praise is in all the Churches. Several of them often met together for the study of the Scriptures, and, from this inexhaustible mine, they obtained rich gems of thought and precious stores of spiritual wisdom.
At various periods during his College course he left on record his thoughts in reference to the ministry of the Gospel. Thus he writes:—
"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 labour.
"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 (sacred) office? Fellow-workers with God! Heralds of His Son! Evangelists! Chosen out of the chosen—as it were the very pick of the flocks, who are to shine 'as the stars for ever and ever!' O 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!'"
As time ran on, his spiritual joys flowed more richly and more freely. The Lord's day, when he joined with some other earnest young men in visiting and teaching the poor at their own dwellings, was especially his delight. First he accompanied his friend, A. A. Bonar, in his district on the Castle Hill. Afterwards he entered on a district of his own, down in the wynds and closes of the Canongate. Nor were these early labours amid "the heathenism of his native city," without good fruit. In the spring of 1834, several souls were given him as the seal and first-fruits of his ministry; and thus he himself was encouraged and strengthened in the work of the Lord.
His notes during that year are brief, but interesting:—
"February 23 (Lord's day).—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.'"
"February 25.—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! I know not how to thank God sufficiently for this incipient work. Lord, perfect that which thou hast begun!"
"March 3.—Accompanied A. B. in one of his rounds through some of the most miserable habitations I ever beheld. Such scenes I never dreamed of before. Ah! why am I such a stranger to the poor in 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? ... 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?"
"May 21.—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?"
"August 14.—Partial fast, and seeking God's face by prayer. O for more love! Then will come more peace."
That same evening, he wrote his own experience in a versification of the Saviour's parable, in Luke 13:6-9—The Barren Fig Tree. It ends thus:—
"How many years hast thou, my heart,
Acted the Barren Fig Tree's part?—
Leafy, and fresh, and fair,
Enjoying heavenly dews of grace,
And sunny smiles from God's own face—
But where the fruit? Ah, where?
"How often must the Lord have pray'd,
That still my day might be delay'd
Till all due means were tried!
Afflictions, mercies, health, and pain—
How long shall these be all in vain
To teach this heart of pride?
"Learn, O my soul, what God demands
Is not a faith like barren sands,
But fruit of heavenly hue;
By this we prove that Christ we know—
If in his holy steps we go:
Faith works by love, if true."
In November, he was laid aside for a short time by an attack of fever; a disorder to which he was somewhat predisposed. But now "the sure and solid confidence of his soul" found sweet expression in that well-known hymn, "Jehovah Tsidkenu—The Lord our Righteousness."
"I once was a stranger to grace and to God;
I knew not my danger and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
"When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me; I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see;
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
"My terrors all vanish'd before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banish'd, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain life-giving and free;
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me."
November 24, he wrote these lines:—
"He tenderly binds up the broken in heart,
The spirit bow'd 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."
In March 1835, he finished his course at the University. Last days are always solemn days to a reflecting mind: they were so to him. He says on this occasion—"Life itself is vanishing fast. Make haste for eternity!"
Life has its stages: where one ends another begins. College days of preparation over, he soon commenced his course of ministerial labour. On the 1st of July 1835, he delivered three probationary discourses, and passed an examination before the Presbytery of Annan; after which he was "solemnly licensed to preach the Gospel." In the evening of that day he wrote:—
"Bless the Lord, O my soul! What I have so long desired, Thou at length givest me,—me, who scarcely dare 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."
Larbert, Dunipace, the Carron Iron Works, the Collieries, and down to the shore of the Frith of Forth—all were comprised in the extensive and populous parish in which the Rev. John Bonar lived and laboured. Larbert gave name to the parish, and there also stood the church. It "was one of the places where, in other days, that holy man of God, Robert Bruce, had toiled and prayed." To meet the wants of the out-lying villages, Mr. Bonar had built a second church, and employed an assistant at Dunipace.
Amongst the miners and iron-founders of the district, there was a general indifference to religious truth, and much positive infidelity. Men of this class are often very intelligent on other subjects, but are too much exposed to the baneful influence of sceptical books and popular political orators. By the false pretense of science, they are led to listen, to read, to doubt, till they are bewildered and entangled in the subtle mazes of Rationalism.
To this sphere of service, now vacant, the co-operation of Robert M'Cheyne was invited. In accepting the invitation, he says:—
"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."
It was his part to preach at Dunipace and Larbert alternately, and to visit the people at their dwellings during the week. His heart was in the work, and his hand was not slack. Both in fellowship with Mr. Bonar, and alone in his own chamber, he was much engaged in prayer or praise on account of his people.
Before the close of the year he was found, as a child of God, again under the discipline of the Father's rod. How he was exercised under this sickness may be gathered from his own words:—
"Paul asked," says he, "'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' It was answered, 'I will show him how 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?"
In his notes to Mr. Bonar, he thus laments his inability to help him among the poor and the sick:—
"I fear I shall not be able to bear the responsibility of leaving you to labour alone, bearing unaided the burden of 6000 souls...Poor A. D. and C. H.—I often think of them. I can do no more for their good, except pray for them. Tell them that I do this without ceasing." And again "My prayers follow you, especially to the sick beds of A. D. and C. H."
At length, however, he resumed his labours, and changed his residence to the pleasant vale of Carron.
The tone of his ministry soon became very solemn and striking. He learned the necessity of getting the heart prepared for preaching. Hence there was, usually, much power in his sermons. In the beginning of the year 1836, he wrote:—
"February 21.—Preached twice at 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."
A fortnight after, he writes:—
"March 5.—Preached with very much comfort, owing to my remedying the error of the 21st February. Therefore the heart and the mouth were full. 'Enlarge my heart, and I shall run' said David. Enlarge my heart, and I shall preach!"
Like Jabez, he prayed, and "God granted him that which he requested." This may be verified by a few of his own brief notes:—
"May 21 (1836).—My birthday; I have lived twenty-three years. Blessed be my Rock! Though I am but a child in knowledge of my Bible and of Thee, yet use me for what a child can do, or a child can suffer."
"June 11.—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 that gives Him all the praise, and me none? Lord, search 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? 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!"
"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."
"July 31 (He had preached on Judas betraying Christ).—Much more tenderness than ever I felt before. O 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!"
The ministry of Mr. M'Cheyne at Larbert, was but the higher course of preparation for a more productive field of labour. He was tried by temptations, chastened under discipline, exercised by deep self-examination, and led to follow Christ closely. He learned, also, to discriminate wisely between the various forms of religious profession, and to meet each case with suitable admonition.
Being at length chosen, with one voice, to be the pastor of the new church, St. Peter's, Dundee, and writing, not long after, to his successor at Larbert, he says:
"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. Tell me of M. C., if she is really a believer, and grows. A. K.—has the light visited her? M. T. I have 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 awkwardnesses of time?"
After sixteen months of rural ministry, he bade a solemn adieu to Dunipace and Larbert, and took his journey to Dundee. Stopping at the house of a friend on the way, three passages of Scripture were seasonably and powerfully impressed upon his mind:—1. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee. (Isa. 26:3) 2. "Give thyself wholly to (these things)." (1 Tim. 4:15) 3. "Here am I, send me." (Isa. 6:8) The last was the spontaneous expression of a willing mind, chastened and purified for the holy service of the thrice holy Jehovah. The second, a Divine admonition for his guidance in the work. The first an assurance—a pledge of the security and blessedness of a soul confiding in the faithfulness of God. All together they were the keynote and chords which vibrated, so powerfully and harmoniously, throughout his ministry at Dundee.
Mr. M'Cheyne was ordained pastor of the flock at St. Peter's, Dundee, on the 24th of November 1836. He began his ministry here as one sent and anointed "to preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Isa. 61:1,2.) These words were the subject of his first pastoral discourse; and on each anniversary of the day, he chose again the same passage, in solemn remembrance of the charge committed to his hand.
It was in reference to this text that he wrote—"May it be prophetic of the object of my coming here!" He afterwards learned that, by means of this, the opening of his message at Dundee, some souls were awakened; an earnest of a work that seemed to spread and deepen year by year.
He had entered on "a wide field for parochial labour." It was a new parish, detached from St. John's, and contained a large and neglected population. Deadness and indifference to religion prevailed on every side. The spiritual prospect was anything but encouraging, "Idolatry and hardness of heart" were the prominent characteristics of the place, Isaiah's words were but too applicable—"The prophets prophecy lies, and the people love to have it so."
But he was not discouraged. He came prepared for difficulties, and aimed at surmounting them. It was like breaking up new ground—much labour and small returns; but he had a heart for the work, and before long it prospered in his hand. "Perhaps," said he, "the Lord will make this wilderness of chimney-tops green and beautiful as the garden of the Lord—a field which the Lord hath blessed." And so it came to pass.
Not long had he been there when he was strongly tempted to remove to another—a small and pleasant parish, where the labour was much less, and the emolument much greater. He weighed these considerations, but weightier reasons decided his course, and he remained. He remarks, in a letter to his father, on this occasion:—
"I am set down among nearly 4000 people; 1100 have taken seats in my church. I bring my message, such as it is, within the reach of that great company every Lord's Day. I dare not leave 3000 or 4000 for 300 people. Had this been offered me before, I would heartily have embraced it. How I should have delighted to feed so precious a little flock—to watch over every family, every heart!—
'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."
On another similar occasion, he again promptly declined, saying:—
"My Master has placed me here with his own hand; and I never will, directly or indirectly, seek to be removed."
To a nature fired with poetry and love of praise, there would occur many temptations, strong and peculiar. He was assailed with them in his parish, in his study, and even in the pulpit. Constant vigilance was required to discern the snare; and constant fellowship with God was the safeguard of his soul. Possessed of an extraordinary gift in preaching, he often felt "strong as a giant when in the church, but like a willow-wand when all was over." Sore conflicts and deep joy chequered his whole ministry, more especially towards its close.
Preaching the Gospel was his great delight. Seldom indeed did he refuse an invitation to preach during the weekdays at any place within reach. His occasional visits were much blessed, and will be long remembered.
He was an earnest advocate for the extension of pastoral labour, and the erection of new churches. At this period, there was a general and painful agitation throughout the Church of Scotland on this subject. The honour of Christ and the love of souls were the great rules by which he lived—his chart and compass amidst the storm. "Many a time," writes M'Cheyne to a friend, "when I thought myself a dying man, the souls of the perishing thousands in my own parish have lain heavy on my heart." Once, when deeply occupied with the subject of church extension, he wrote these lines:—
"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,
And there shall be a garden all in flower."
Connected with church extension was the important subject of Church discipline. The customary exercise of this power in the Scottish Kirk-Session, appeared to him as necessary an ordinance for removing offenses as the preaching of the Gospel for the gathering in of believers. It became, therefore, a matter of conscience with him, in that time of agitation, to sustain this power within the bosom of the Church, with all his might. He had formerly imagined that his "great and almost only work was to pray and preach." As he once said from his pulpit:—
"I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength to labour 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. But it pleased God, who teaches His servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of souls. From that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I now feel very deeply persuaded that both (preaching and discipline) are of God. Both are Christ's gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin."
But apart from controversy, he sought, by holy diligence and circumspection, to enforce and exemplify the truths he taught. Mr. Bonar, in his Memoir of M'Cheyne, bears the following testimony on this point:—
"He wished to be always in the presence of God. If he traveled, he laboured to enjoy God by the way, as well as to do good to others. He seized opportunities of giving a useful tract; on principle giving it to the person directly, rather than casting it on the road. The former, 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."
The sweet as well as the salutary always guided him in the choice and manner of his instructions. It was his own remark, that "some believers were a garden that had fruit-trees, and so were useful; but we ought also to have spices, and so be attractive."
Some of his hearers were startled in the beginning of his ministry when they heard him proclaim a free forgiveness to every sinner that believeth, and a full assurance of salvation to every believer. He was often questioned on the subjects of conversion, faith, and assurance; and many of his replies are worth remembering. Besides those to whom he first addressed them, others, perhaps, may find in his remarks an answer to their own anxious doubts or inquiries:—
"I doubt," says he, "if there are many saints who live and die without a comfortable sense of forgiveness and acceptance with God."
Again—"A sense of forgiveness does not proceed from marks seen in yourself, but from a discovery of the beauty, worth, and freeness of Christ. 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, and love to the brethren.
"This is the faith of assurance—a complete, unhesitating embracing of Christ as my righteousness, my strength, my all. A common mistake is—that the clear conviction that Christ is mine is an attainment far on in the Divine life. How different this passage! (Song of Solomon 6:2,3.) The moment Jesus comes down into the garden—the moment he reveals himself, the soul cries out, 'My Beloved is mine!' So saith Thomas. (John 20:27, 28.) The moment Jesus revealed his wounds, Thomas cried out, 'My Lord and my God!'
"I suppose it is almost impossible to explain what it is to come to Jesus, it is so simple. I do not feel that there is anything more in (it) than just believing what God says about His Son to be true. If the Lord persuade you of the glory and power of Immanuel, 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."
Two years of indefatigable labour at Dundee, and then his health gave way. Nothing short of perfect repose could afford any hope of restoration; he was, therefore, constrained to retire for a season from public service. Under his father's roof, in Edinburgh, he found a quiet retreat; and there he received new lessons in resignation and patience from his heavenly Father's hand.
Absence from his flock neither lessened his regards for his people, nor checked his hopes or his prayers for their welfare. In a letter dated January 18, 1838, he says:—
"I sometimes think that a great blessing may come to my people in my absence. Often God does not bless us in the midst of our labours, lest we say, My hand and my eloquence have done it. He removes us into silence, and then pours down a blessing so that all who see it cry out, 'It is the Lord!' May it really be so with my dear people!"
And so it proved to be, even beyond his warmest expectations. But his absence was lengthened also, by events which clearly indicated the finger of God.
While slowly recovering his strength at Edinburgh, he was asked by Dr. Candlish what would he think of aiding the mission to the Jews by going abroad to make personal inquiries into their condition. The project thus "suddenly suggested" was highly approved by his medical friends, as likely to restore his physical energies; and he felt it to be the call of Providence to go. It was in harmony with his early longing, to be a missionary of the cross where Christ had not been named before. He felt also that the Jewish nation had peculiar claims of priority in Christian effort; for "the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation—to the Jew first."
The company consisted of Dr. Black, of Aberdeen, Dr. Keith, Mr. M'Cheyne, and Mr. Andrew A. Bonar. Their missionary preparations were soon completed, and the prayerful interest of the Churches was deeply stirred in their behalf.
On the 12th of April 1839, they sailed from Dover, and traversed France, Italy, Greece, and Egypt, on their way to the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
Myriads of warriors, armed with carnal weapons, have been led on, beneath the banner of the red cross, to Jerusalem. Myriads have perished in the vain attempt to lay the crescent of the Muslim prostrate before the crucifix. And myriads more, in successive crusades, have followed and perished in the same fruitless enterprise.
Hundreds still go, from year to year, as pilgrims to the Holy Land. Some hope to cancel the sins of their whole life by the merit (alas, how vain!) of their prayers at the empty tomb, as they suppose, of Christ! Others seek only rest for their bones in the sacred dust of the Holy City.
Not less devout and earnest were our Christian pilgrims in their mission of inquiry to the Jews. With the zeal of crusaders, but with a nobler aim, M'Cheyne and his companions sought the shores of the land of Israel. They were both pilgrims and crusaders. They went as pioneers of the Gospel, and their weapons were spiritual, "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;" not as in the "battle of the warrior—with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood." And they sought a door of entrance to preach among the Jews, as Paul had done among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Many interesting incidents are recorded in the "Narrative" of their missionary journey. [Note: See "Narrative of a Mission to the Jews," Nisbet and Co.]. In every city on their route they sought out the Jews; they yearned over them, prayed for them, reasoned with them, as they resisted, or discussed, or listened to the Gospel message. Sometimes the Jews themselves became inquirers after Him whom their fathers rejected. Everywhere they verified the saying of a Jew at Boulogne—"If you wish to gain a Jew, treat him as a brother." But in some places they encountered the most determined opposition. In one instance, at Leghorn, their books were seized, and they were sentenced to perpetual banishment from Tuscany! Little, indeed, did they regard such a sentence; they were intent upon their journey eastwards. They were singing, "Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem."
M'Cheyne, though one of the younger members of the deputation, thoroughly sustained his part in the undertaking, and thoroughly enjoyed the service. His remarks and his letters while on the way are evidently the fruit of a chastened soul—golden grains from a sheaf already ripening for the garner. From Genoa he writes:—
"A foreign land draws us nearer to God. He is the only one whom we know here; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, make me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting. The whole world lieth in wickedness; its judgments are fast hastening; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
Amid the classic scenery of Italy and Greece he says:—
"We tried to recollect the studies of our boyhood. But what is classic learning now? 'I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.'"
On their way to Palestine, through the desert, he observed:—
"It is a strange life we lead in the wilderness. Round and round there is a complete circle of sand; above, a blue sky without a cloud, and a scorching sun. When evening came, the sun went down as it does in the ocean, and the stars came riding forth in their glory. We used to pitch (our tents) all alone, with none but our poor ignorant Bedouins, and our all-knowing, all-loving God beside us. When morning came, we have found ourselves shelterless (the tents struck), before being fully dressed. What a type of the tent of our body!
"No rain, not a cloud; the wells often like that of Marah, and far between. I now understood well the murmurings of Israel. I feel that our journey proved and tried my own heart very much.
M'Cheyne and his companions at length reached the central point of attraction—"the city where David dwelt." Here he writes:—
"The last day's journey to Jerusalem was the finest I ever had in all my life. For four hours we were ascending the rocky pass upon our patient camels. It was like the finest of our Highland scenes, only the trees and flowers, and the voice of the turtle, told us that it was Immanuel's land.
"We stood at the turning of the road where Jesus came near and beheld the city, and wept over it. And if we had had more of the mind that was in Jesus, we should have wept also."
In remembrance of the Pool of Siloam, he wrote the following beautiful lines:—
"Beneath Moriah's rocky side,
A gentle fountain springs;
Silent and soft its waters glide,
Like the peace the Spirit brings.
"The thirsty Arab stoops to drink
Of the cool and quiet wave;
And the thirsty spirit stops to think
Of Him who came to save.
"Siloam is the fountain's name,
It means—One sent from God;
And thus the holy Saviour's fame
It gently spreads abroad.
"O grant that I, like this sweet well,
May Jesus' image bear;
And spend my life, my all, to tell
How full His mercies are!"
He spent about ten days in what he calls "the most wonderful spot in all this world—where Jesus lived, and walked, and prayed, and died, and will come again." He was astonished at the desolation that reigned on every side. "Zion is ploughed like a field. Jerusalem is, indeed, heaps. The quantities of rubbish would amaze you—in one place higher than the walls." And, as if to render the scene more dismal, the plague was there.
Two Jewish rabbis once met on the same spot. One wept aloud as he saw a fox run among the ruins, but the other laughed with joy. Each surprised at the emotions of his brother, asked the reason why. "I weep," said the one, "as the prophet wept, 'Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.'" "I laugh for the same reason," said the other; "for He, the Holy One, who has so fulfilled His just judgments, will as faithfully perform His mercies also, as He promised to our fathers, to Abraham, and his seed for ever!"
Traversing the land northwards to Mount Lebanon, the two elder brethren took their journey homeward, through Hungary and Germany. M'Cheyne and Bonar prolonged their tour to Phoenicia and Galilee, returning again to Beyrout, at the foot of Lebanon. Here, on the point of departure, M'Cheyne was seized with fever, and was brought to the gates of death. During the voyage to Smyrna, the fever increased to such a height that he could "only once, for a moment, lift his languid eye, as he lay on deck, to catch a distant sight of Patmos." At the village of Bouja, near Smyrna, he was tenderly nursed at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis; he used afterwards to say, it was his second birth-place.
On recovering his health, he pursued his journey through Austria and Prussia, in company with his friend Bonar and Mr. E. Calman, a converted Jew. Gathering, as they went, new facts and statistics relative to the Jewish people, they at length returned to England on the 6th of November 1839, after an absence of about seven months.
Several valuable results arose out of this mission of inquiry. First, a large amount of actual intercourse with Jews, in many of the lands of their sojourning, as well as in the land of Israel, where, most of all, they know the heart of a stranger. Secondly, much interesting and important information, as to the nation in general; their social condition, their religious views, and their hopes of future restoration. Thirdly, the formation of various missionary stations, where schools for Jewish children have been established, and many souls led to Jesus, the true Messiah. Last, not least, the awakening of a new interest among Christians at home, on behalf of this branch of Christian missionary labour. Hence it has been more worthily sustained, and many of the sons of Jacob have been led to "come and walk in the light of the Lord."
"Revival at Dundee!" These words reached the ears of M'Cheyne at Hamburgh, on his way home; and his soul was set longing to hear more. While he was lying sick at Smyrna, Kilsyth and Dundee had been visited with a powerful and general awakening. Many souls had been convinced of sin, had sought and found pardon through the blood of Christ, and had joined the fellowship of the Church.
Mr. William C. Burns, son of the minister of Kilsyth, had undertaken the charge of St. Peter's, much to the satisfaction of Mr. M'Cheyne, during his sickness and absence abroad. In a letter to Mr. Burns, he says:—
"You are given in answer to prayer, and these gifts are, I believe, always, without exception blessed. I hope you may be a thousand times more (useful) than ever I was. Perhaps there are many souls that would never have been saved under my ministry who may be touched under yours. God has taken this method of bringing you into my place. His name is Wonderful!"
This was a memorable year. The hardest hearts melted like wax before the flame; the most stubborn trembled, and bowed the knee to Jesus. Cries of contrition and tears of repentance accompanied the hearing of the Gospel; and a hundred anxious souls at once would press around the preacher to ask the important question, "What shall we do?" Meetings were held daily for many weeks. "The whole town was moved. Many doubted; the ungodly raged; but the Word of God grew, and mightily prevailed."
Sincerely rejoicing in the work of the Lord, Mr. M'Cheyne again joined his people at Dundee. Thanksgiving and praise filled all hearts, not only for his restoration to his flock, but for the abundant blessings they had received. Nor was the success of Mr. Burns either envied or forgotten. At the close of that memorable year, M'Cheyne thus addresses him:—
"I shall never be able to thank you for all your labours among the precious souls committed to me. What is worse, I can never thank God fully for His kindness and grace, which every day appears to me more remarkable. He has answered prayer to me in all that has happened, in a way which I have never told any one."
Of the multitudes aroused to a concern for their salvation, some, after a while, drew back; and some became even more careless and hardened than before. This cannot be matter of surprise, nor is it a valid objection against revivals in general. It has been well said that the proportion of real conversions in a revival, may be as large as the proportion of autumnal fruit, compared with the blossoms of spring. The parable of the sower teaches us that not all the seed sown will bring forth fruit to perfection. It is a solemn thought; but it may be salutary, if prayerfully pondered in the reader's heart.
Year after year rolled on. M'Cheyne was still at his post, rejoicing when souls were won for the Saviour's glory—warning those who obeyed not the Gospel. He had now entered on the last year of his earthly course, and, as if conscious of this, he sought to fulfil his ministry at Dundee, with all diligence. Time pressed. More and more he felt its solemn brevity, and laboured, laboured hard to redeem it. He knew that souls were perishing in their sins, whilst he also knew of a sovereign remedy, and longed to apply it. Thus he writes:—
"As I was walking in the fields, the thought came with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell! Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I might make all hear; or a frame like iron, that I might visit every one, and say, Escape for thy life! Ah, sinners! you little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation at my door."
The latest entry in his diary is dated January 6, 1843:—
"Heard of an awakened soul finding rest—true rest, I trust. Two new cases of awakening; both very deep and touching. At the very time when I was beginning to give up in despair, God gives me tokens of His presence returning."
His letters during this period are full of the fervent breathings of his soul after heavenly things:—
"I often pray, Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made!" "Often, often I would like to depart and be with Christ—to mount to Pisgah's top, and take a farewell look of the Church below—to leave my body, and be present with the Lord. Ah, it is far better!"
While looking and longing for glory, he was the more anxious to leave no part of his work undone. He wrote one day to a friend, "I do not expect to live long. I expect a sudden call some day—perhaps soon—and therefore I speak plainly." He ended one of his sermons with these impressive words—"Changes are coming: every eye before me shall soon be dim in death. Another pastor shall feed this flock; another singer lead the psalm; another flock fill this fold!" At Collace, he preached on 1 Cor. 9:27, "A castaway,' and with such solemn power, that it was said to be "like a blast of the trumpet that will awaken the dead." He was verifying his own remark, "The oil of the lamp in the temple burned away in giving light; so should we."
After his return from Palestine, he had extended his labours beyond his own parish; preaching at many places both in Scotland and England. His faithful and impressive exhortations will not soon be forgotten.
His last evangelistic tour was in the districts of Deer and Ellon. In the course of three weeks, he preached or spoke, at twenty-four different places. A deep thirst for the pure Word of life was excited amongst his hearers.
His failing health and his extended engagements made it necessary for him now to obtain an assistant in his parochial duties. Mr. Gatherer was, accordingly, chosen for this work; and he laboured faithfully with him to the end.
That end was rapidly approaching. On the 1st of March 1843, Mr. M'Cheyne returned from his last tour; much exhausted in body, but full of the energy of the Spirit. His last days were crowned with the beauty of holiness—it struck every one who saw or heard him.
On the 12th, he preached twice at St. Peter's, and, in the evening, at Broughton-Ferry. These were his last sermons, and were not without blessing. The next two days brought his pastoral labours to a close. He felt the first chill grasp of fever; quietly arranged some necessary matters; and then lay down upon what proved to be his dying bed.
A fortnight of severe suffering and frequent delirium followed; and on Saturday, March 25, 1843, ere he had reached his thirtieth year, he obtained his wish—"Absent from the body—present with the Lord."
We cannot better conclude his history than by citing a few of his last expressions. To his servant he said, "My soul is escaped out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and I am escaped." On receiving some refreshment, he gave thanks "for strength in time of weakness—for light in time of darkness—for joy in time of sorrow—for comforting us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those that are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." On the Lord's day, when one wished he had been able to preach, he said, "I am preaching the sermon God would have me do."
During his delirium, he said, "Mind the text," quoting 1 Cor. 15:58, and dwelling with emphasis on these words—"Forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." As though addressing his people, he exclaimed, "You must be awakened in time, or you will be awakened in everlasting torment!" Then he broke out in prayer for his people—
"This parish, Lord! this people; this whole place!" Again—"Do it thyself, Lord, for thy weak servant!" And afterwards—"Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me!"
His last motion was to lift his hands in benediction. "Not a groan or a sigh, and his soul was at rest."
From Bright Examples: Short Sketches of Christian Life. Dublin; London: Dublin Tract Repository, [18--]
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