Robert M’Cheyne was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in May, 1813, the youngest child in a family of five. His father was a prosperous lawyer and a man of social importance. They lived well in a large home with a fine view of the shores of Fife.
He was a good student through High School and entered the Arts Faculty of the University in Fall of 1827. His father said of his son, “he was of a lively turn and, during the first two or three years of his attendance at the University, he turned his attention to elocution and poetry and the pleasures of society.” M’Cheyne became an eager participant in the city’s fashionable entertainments, and scenes of gaiety – card playing, dancing, music – which occupied his leisure time.
Robert had been in the prayers of his elder brother. The early death of this brother in 1831 due to a stroke became a catalyst to awaken Robert…”the first overwhelming blow to my worldliness.” He began to be serious, and to sit under an evangelical ministry. In the winter of 1831 after following his desire to go into the ministry, he did enter the Divinity Hall of the University. Under the leadership of men like Chalmers and Welsh there was a change in the spiritual life at the College and proved to also whip up the Church of Scotland.
The last entry of his student days is “March 29, 1835. College finished on Friday last. My last appearance there. Life is vanishing fast, make haste for eternity.”
M’Cheyne was licensed by the presbytery of Annan on July 1st, 1835 and became “a preacher of the Gospel an honour to which I cannot name an equal.”
He was ordained minister of St. Peter’s, Dundee, I November, 1836. It was a new church built in a neglected area of “some 4,000 souls. A city given to idolatry and hardness of heart,” was his first impression. “He has set me down among the noisy mechanics and political wavers of this godless town,” M’Cheyne wrote.
When Robert M’Cheyne spoke to his parishioners, the words were urgent: “The most, I fear, in all congregations, are sailing easily down the stream into an undone eternity, unconverted and unawakened.” …
“God help me to speak to you plainly! The longest lifetime is short enough. It is all that is given you to be converted in. In a very little, it will be all over; and all that is here is changing – the very hills are crumbling down – the loveliest face is withering away – the finest garments rot and decay. Every day that passes is bringing you nearer to the judgment-seat. Not one of you is standing still. You may sleep; but the tide is going on bringing you nearer death, judgment, and eternity.”
M’Cheyne was able to walk with continual awareness of God’s truths – “I think I can say, I have never risen a morning without thinking how I could bring more souls to Christ.” “As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell.”
But late in 1838, he fell ill to violent palpitations of the heart to which his medical advisers insisted on a total cessation of work. Accordingly M’Cheyne, with deep regret, returned to his parents home in Edinburgh, to rest until he could resume his ministry.
In the spring of 1839, it was proposed in Edinburgh that he should accompany a group of ministers who were going to visit Palestine…to inquire into the state of Israel. The voyage and climate, it was thought, might be beneficial for him. He accepted, traveling to Jerusalem and Galilee over a six-month period. And M’Cheyne was interested in the Jews, in Israel.
As the party began the return towards home through Asia Minor, M’Cheyne turned dangerously ill. While in Smyrna, he thought he was dying, but would be able to return to Scotland and live a bit longer.
While “far from Scotland, the spiritual prosperity of M’Cheyne’s people in Dundee was uppermost in his heart. After surveying the barren spot in Galilee where Capernaum once stood, he wrote to them, “If you tread the glorious Gospel of the grace of God under your feet, your souls will perish; and I fear Dundee will one day be a howling wilderness like Capernaum.” “Ah! would my flock from thee might learn, How days of grace will flee; How all an offered Christ who spurn, shall mourn at last, like thee.”
William Chalmers Burns – a young man of twenty-four – was supplying in M’Cheyne’s place at Dundee in his absence. It was under his preaching on July 23, 1838 that the great Revival at Kilsyth took place. “All Scotland heard the glad news that the sky was no longer brass. The Spirit in mighty power began to work from that day forward in many places of the land.”
The truth pierced hearts in an overwhelming manner – “tears were streaming from the eyes of many, and some fell on the ground groaning, and weeping, and crying for mercy.” Services were held every night for many weeks – often lasting till late hours. The whole town was moved. The fear of God fell upon the ungodly. Anxious multitudes filled the churches. This revival was to continue through the remaining years of M’Cheyne’s life.
It was M’Cheyne’s constant aim to avoid any hurry which prevents “the calm working of the Spirit on the heart. The dew comes down when all nature is at rest – when every leaf is still. A calm hour with God is worth a whole lifetime with man.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne died on Saturday, March 25th, 1843.
“Over six thousand people attended the funeral and immediately after M’Cheyne’s death, Andrew Bonar, a close friend and colleague, wrote ‘The Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne.’ We have finished our outlines of the life of one who declared he was ‘just a common man.’ But our impression must surely be that such a ministry is very uncommon in our times.” Andrew Bonar
A brief life indeed…Robert M’Cheyne. Only thirty years old.
The M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan is one used across many different avenues @ https://www.mcheyne.info/mcheyne-reading-plan/
He wrote many books: “A Basket of Fragments,” “Pastoral Letters,” “Songs of Zion,” “More Precious Than Gold,” “Familiar Letters,” “The Seven Churches of Asia,” “The Believer’s Joy,” “God Makes a Path,” and more. Many others have written books using his work, creating devotionals. The biography that is most familiar is by Andrew A. Bonar, a close friend, “Memoir and Remains of Robert M’Cheyne.”
“Oh! brethren, be wise. ‘Why stand ye all the day idle?’ In a little moment it will be all over. A little while and the day of grace will be over – preaching, praying will be done. A little while, and we shall stand before the great white throne – a little while, and the wicked shall not be; we shall see them going away into everlasting punishment. A little while, and the work of eternity shall be begun. We shall be like Him – we shall see Him day and night in His temple – we shall sing the new song, without sin and without weariness, for ever and ever.”
May we learn from those in the past and see the way a little clearer, Lord.
Quotes are from quote fancy
Black & white sketch of M’Cheyne @ Faith for Living
Picture with signature – https://biblereadingpodcast.com/readingplan/