“It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likenesses to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” These words are from Scottish pastor and evangelist Robert Murray McCheyne (b. May 21, 1813) and today is the 200th anniversary of his birth.
I first came to know of McCheyne when I heard John Stott talk about his own Bible reading habits, which he said he learned from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Both men often used McCheyne’s calendar of readings which takes you through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year and the Old Testament once. Stott’s point was that one of the most necessary disciplines of the minister is to be personally immersed in the Word of God. McCheyne’s calendar, said Stott, is one of the best schedules to that end (The M’Cheyne Bible reading plan) even though the plan was originally conceived by McCheyne for a combination of personal and family devotions.
If you use McCheyne’s reading calendar, also check out D.A. Carson’s helpful two volume daily companion based on these (For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word).
McCheyne’s lived a short life with a big impact.
Early on, his own brother’s death deeply affected him and moved him to seek “a brother who cannot die.” That personal spiritual revolution set him on a course for a lifetime of ministry.
McCheyne was educated at the University of Edinburgh. While studying theology there he was taught and mentored by Professor Thomas Chalmers. He was also deeply influenced in his pastoral vision by the writings of Jonathan Edwards and Richard Baxter.
In 1836 he was ordained to the charge of St. Peter’s of Dundee. There he engaged in a regular discipline of pastoral and evangelistic visitation, as well as preaching, (and this despite his own frequent ill health).
There was an intensity yet a winsomeness about his ministry. He urged other ministers to–“Speak to your people as on the brink of eternity.”
McCheyne was enamoured with the person and work of Christ. He wrote, “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.”
Again, he wrote, “How many millions of dazzling pearls and gems are at this moment hidden in the deep recesses of the ocean caves. Likewise, unfathomable oceans of grace are in Christ for you. Dive and dive again—you will never come to the bottom of these depths!”
As you might suppose, his own ministry was deepened by his rigorous discipline of daily Bible reading, study and meditation. McCheyne said, “Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care.” He added, “never see the face of man till you have seen his face who is our life, our all.”
McCheyne was a major participant in Scottish revivals of 1839-1843. Over 700 people were “savingly influenced” at St. Peter’s during this period.
Besides parish work, he preached throughout Scotland, engaged in outreach among the poor coal-miners at Larbert, near Stirling, and promoted missionary work to the Jews of Palestine in 1839.
Robert Murray McCheyne only lived to be 29 years old when he died from typhus.
He seemed to have a sense of his own mortality. He told his people “Life itself is vanishing fast. Make haste for eternity.” And was known for telling people “live so as to be missed.”
Few pastors have had such a deep yet short impact. But when he died he was remembered, and is still remembered, for his godliness and Spirit anointed ministry.
Though McCheyne did not write much himself, his life story was told by Andrew Bonar in the book Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne (1862), which is still regarded as a devotional and spiritual classic.
If you have not read it, get to know this Scottish saint by reading and contemplating God’s work in and through him. And while you are at it, think about using his Bible reading schedule as well.