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Recollections of Robert Murray M‘Cheyne – Part 2

Category Articles
Date August 24, 2016

1On a Sabbath, 12 March 1843, he met his people for the last time. He felt weak, though his hearers were not aware of it. On the followingTuesday, some ministerial duty called him out. Feeling very ill on his way home, he asked a friend to fulfil an engagement for him on the next day; he also asked his doctor to follow him home. On reaching his house he arranged his affairs, and then lay down on that bed from which he was never to rise. It was soon ascertained that he had caught an infection when visiting some people sick of the fever, and it was not long till the violence of the illness disturbed a mind which had been unusually serene. At the start of his trouble he seemed depressed and once asked to be left alone for half an hour. When the attendant returned, he looked relieved and happy and said, with a smile, ‘My soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of a fowler’. From then on, till his mind began to wander, he was in perfect peace.

During the last painful days of unconsciousness, he imagined he was engaged in his beloved work of preaching, and at other times prayed in a most touching manner, and at great length, for his people. His people were also praying for him; and on the Friday evening of the following week, when it became known that his life was in danger, a weeping multitude assembled in St Peter’s and with difficulty were dissuaded from continuing all night in supplication for him. Next morning he seemed a little revived, but it was only the gleam before the candle goes out. At a quarter-past nine he expired, and all that day nothing was to be heard in the houses around but lamentation and great mourning. A friend in that neighbourhood writes, ‘In passing along the road, you saw everyone’s face swollen with weeping’. Last Thursday, his remains were laid in St Peter’s burying ground, their proper resting place till the heavens pass away.

If asked to mention the source of his abundant labours, as well as the secret of his holy, happy and successful life, we would answer, ‘His faith was wonderful’. Being rationally convinced on all those points about which reason can form conclusions, and led by the Spirit into those assurances which lie beyond the attainment of mere reason, he surrendered himself fully to the power of these ascertained realities. The redemption which has already been achieved, and the glory which is yet to be unveiled, were as familiar to his daily convictions as the events of personal history. And he reposed with as undoubting confidence on the revealed love of the Father, Son and Spirit as ever he rested on the long-tried affection of his dearest earthly relations. With the simplicity of a little child he had received the kingdom of heaven and, strengthened mightily by experience and the Spirit’s indwelling, he held fast what he had received.

A striking characteristic of his piety was absorbing love to the Lord Jesus. This was his ruling passion. It lightened all his labours and made the reproaches which for Christ’s sake sometimes fell on him unspeakably precious, for they identified him more and more with his suffering Lord. He cared for no question unless his Master cared for it, and his main anxiety was to know the mind of Christ. He once told a friend: ‘I bless God every morning I awake that I live in witnessing times’. And in a letter of six months ago he says, ‘I fear lest the enemy should so contrive his measures in Scotland as to divide the godly. May God make our way plain! It is comparatively easy to suffer when we see clearly that we are suffering members of Jesus.’

His public actions flowed directly from this most heavenly ingredient in his character – his love and gratitude to the Divine Redeemer. In this he much resembled Samuel Rutherford, whose Letters were almost daily his delight. Like Rutherford, his adoring contemplations naturally gathered round them the imagery and language of the Song of Solomon. Indeed he had preached so often on that beautiful book that at last he had scarcely left himself a single text of its ‘good matter’ which he had not discoursed on already.

It was very noticeable that, though his deepest and finest feelings clothed themselves in fitting words with scarcely any effort, he despaired of transferring to other minds the emotions which were overfilling his own when he was speaking about the glory or grace of the Saviour. After describing those excellences which often made the careless wistful, and made disciples marvel, he left the theme with evident regret that, where he saw so much, he could say so little.

So rapidly did he advance in scriptural and experimental acquaintance with Christ that it was like one friend learning more of the mind of another. We do not doubt that, when his hidden life is revealed, it will be found that his progressive holiness and usefulness coincided with those new aspects of endearment or majesty which, from time to time, he beheld in the face of Immanuel – just as the authority of his ‘gracious words’ and the impressive sanctity of his demeanour were a reflection of Him who spoke as no man ever spoke, and lived as no man ever lived. In his case the words had palpable meaning: ‘Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord’.

More than anyone whom we have ever known, he had learned to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amidst all his humility, and it was very deep, he had a prevailing consciousness that he was one of those who belong to Christ. It was from Him, his living Head, that he sought strength for the discharge of duty, and through Him, his Righteousness, he sought the acceptance of his performances. The effect was to impart habitual tranquillity and composure to his spirit. He committed his ways to the Lord and was sure that they would be brought to pass; and though his engagements were often numerous and pressing, he was enabled to go through them without hurry or disturbance. We can discern traces of this uniform self-possession in a matter so minute as his handwriting. His most rapid notes show no symptoms of haste or bustle, but end in the same neat and regular style in which they began; and this quietness of spirit accompanied him into the most arduous labours and critical emergencies. His effort was to do all in the Surety; and he proved that promise, ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them’.

He gave himself to prayer. Like his blessed Master, he often rose up a great while before it was day, and spent the time in prayer and singing psalms and hymns and the devotional reading of that Word which dwelt so richly in him. His walks and rides and journeys were sanctified by prayer. The last time he was leaving London we accompanied him to the railway station. He chose a place in an empty carriage, hoping to employ the day in his beloved exercise; but the arrival of other passengers invaded his solitude. There was nothing which he liked so much as to go out into a solitary place and pray; the ruined chapel of Invergowrie and many other quiet spots around Dundee, were the much-loved places where he often enjoyed sweet communion with God. Seldom have we known one so specific and yet reverent in his prayers, nor one whose confessions of sin united such self-loathing with such filial love. And now that ‘Moses, My servant, is dead,’ perhaps the heaviest loss to his brethren, his people and the land is the loss of his intercessions.

He was continually about his Master’s business. He used to seal his letters with a sun going down behind the mountains, and the motto over it, ‘The night cometh’. He felt that the time was short and studiously sought to deepen this impression on his mind. To solemnise his spirit for the Sabbath’s services, he would visit some of his sick or dying hearers on the Saturday afternoon; as he once expressed it to the writer, ‘Before preaching I like to look over the verge [of life]’. Having in himself a monitor that his own sun would go down early, he worked while it was day, and his avidity to improve every opportunity frequently brought on attacks of dangerous illness.

The autumn after his return from Palestine many of his hearers were anxious and, on the Sabbath before the labouring people among them set out for the harvest work in the country, he could not desist from addressing them and praying with them. In one way or other, from morning to midnight, with scarcely a moment’s interval, he was exhorting, warning and comforting them. The consequence was an attack of fever, which brought him very low. It was not only in preaching that he was thus faithful and importunate. He was instant in every season. In the houses of his people, and when he met them by the wayside, he would speak a kind, earnest word about their souls, and his words were like nails. They went in with such force that they usually fastened in a sure place.

An instance came to our knowledge long ago. In the course of a ride one day, he was observing the operations of the workmen in a quarry. When passing the engine-house, he stopped for a moment to look at it. The engine-man had just opened the furnace door to feed it with fresh fuel; when gazing at the bright white glow within, M‘Cheyne said to the man in his own mild way, Does that fire mind you of anything? He said no more but passed on his way. The man had been very careless but could not get rid of this solemn question. To him it was the Spirit’s arrow. He had no rest till he found his way to St Peter’s Church, where he became a constant attendant, and we would hope that he has now fled from the wrath to come.

His speech was seasoned with salt, and so were his letters. This was truly noted in the discriminating, affectionate tribute to his memory which recently appeared in the Dundee Warder: ‘Every note from his hand had a lasting interest about it; for his mind was so full of Christ that, even in writing about the most ordinary affairs, he contrived, by some natural turn, to introduce the glorious subject that was always uppermost with him’. It was always enlivening to hear from him. It was like climbing a hill and, when weary or lagging, hearing the voice of a friend who had got far up on the sunny heights calling to you to arise and come away. The very subscriptions usually told where his treasure was: ‘Grace be with you, as Samuel Rutherford would have prayed’; ‘Ever yours till we meet above’; ‘Ever yours till glory dawn, Robert M M‘Cheyne’.

The tenderness of his conscience, the truthfulness of his character; his deadness to the world; his deep humility and exalted devotion; his consuming love to Christ and the painful solicitude with which he eyed everything affecting His honour, the fidelity with which he denied himself and told others of their faults or danger; his meekness in bearing wrong and his unwearied industry in doing good; the mildness which tempered his unyielding firmness; and the jealousy for the Lord of hosts which commanded, but did not supplant, the yearnings of a most affectionate heart – these rendered him altogether one of the loveliest specimens of the Spirit’s workmanship.

He is gone, and in his grave has been buried the sermon which, for the last six years, his mere presence has preached to Dundee. That countenance, so kindly earnest; those gleams of holy joy flitting over its deeper lines of sadness; that pilgrim look which showed plainly that he sought a city; the serene self-possession of one who walked by faith and the musing gait, such as we might suppose the meditative Isaac had; that aspect of compassion in such unison with the remonstrating and entreating tones of his melodious voice; that entire appearance as of one who had been with Jesus and who would never be right at home till he should also be where Christ is: all these come back on one’s memory with a vividness which annihilates the interval since last we saw them, and with an air of immortality around them which promises that ere long we shall see them again.

To enjoy his friendship was a rare privilege in this world of defect and sin. And now that those blessed hours of personal converse are ended, we can recall many texts of which his daily walk was the easy interpretation. Anyone may have a clearer conception of what is meant by a hidden life and a living sacrifice, and may better understand the kind of life which Enoch led, who has lived a day with Robert Murray M‘Cheyne.


  1. This is the final part of a piece taken, with editing, from Hamilton’s Works, vol 4. It is dated 3 April 1843, shortly after M‘Cheyne’s death. The first part appeared last month.

Taken with permission from the Free Presbyterian Magazine, March 2016.

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