If you could learn from one person in church history, who would it be? I would argue that every minister of the gospel must become familiar with Robert Murray M’Cheyne. On March 20th, 1832, after reading part of the Life of Jonathan Edwards, Robert Murray M’Cheyne penned these words: “How feeble my spark of Christianity appears beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.” Like Edwards, M’Cheyne was a man who maintained a close fellowship with his Creator and Redeemer. As a result, though he has been with the Lord for some time, his life and ministry still speak today.
Passion About Holiness
To begin, M’Cheyne makes it clear that every minister must be a man who is passionate about holiness. This concept of personal holiness should not be new to us. Throughout the Bible, we see that our calling as a Christian and pastor is a calling to personal holiness: “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Pet. 1:15 – 16).
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was convinced that personal holiness and ministerial success were intimately connected. Are you aware of this connection? Pastor, do you know that your personal holiness influences your ministry? M’Cheyne writes,
But do not forget the culture of the inner man – I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword – his instrument – I trust a chosen vessel unto him to bear his name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.
M’Cheyne shows us that the minister who is greatly used by God is the one who exhibits the greatest likeness to Jesus Christ. The minister who diligently pursues holiness in his life is ready to be used by God. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:21 – “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” Pastor, do you know that your calling is a calling to a life of holiness? We need to be daily reminded of this and pursue holiness diligently through the ordinary means of grace that God has given us (the word, sacraments, and prayer).
One of the most outstanding qualities given to Robert Murray M’Cheyne was his personal holiness. Andrew Bonar said, “it was testified of him that not the words he spoke, but the holy manner in which he spoke, was the chief means of arresting souls.” Today, the idea of personal holiness is often neglected in many churches across our land. M’Cheyne does well to remind us that our congregations need our own personal holiness.
Persistent in Prayer
Secondly, though prayer is one of the greatest privileges of the Christian life, it is often the most neglected. M’Cheyne teaches us that ministers must be persistent in prayer. Robert Murray M’Cheyne saw prayer not as a “mere discipline or duty to be fulfilled – it was a delight to be savored… He saw prayer as the end itself, the very heart of a believer’s communion with God on earth.” However, though prayer is a great privilege, it is also a great duty. M’Cheyne believed that “a minister’s duty is not so much public as private… if a minister is to thrive in his own soul, and be successful in his work, he must be the half of his time on his knees.”
The temptation for every minister is to rely on his strength to fulfill his duty. However, this is a grievous error. Our Lord Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). M’Cheyne confronts this error and shows us that the minister must be a man who goes forward on their knees. On one occasion, M’Cheyne said to his church, “Who knows how many souls would be saved if you would make serious use of daily weeping and praying before God over your unconverted friends and over the unconverted world.” What would our churches look like if we seriously gave ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word? Like M’Cheyne, every minister must be persistent in the prayer closet.
Persevere in Evangelism
Thirdly, we learn that a passion for God overflows in a deep love for the lost. Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s love for souls was the sprung from the outflow of his love for God. M’Cheyne wrote the following statement in his journal: “I have never risen a morning without thinking how I could bring more souls to Christ.” Horatius Bonar rightfully notes that “our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from the fullness of our personal joy in Him, and the nearness of our personal communion with him.” When we see the beauty and glory of Christ in the Scriptures, how can we not joyfully tell about him to others?
Therefore, if we desire to persevere in evangelism, we must begin with God himself. The fuel for evangelism is found in beholding the beauty of the Lord. If we long to be more evangelistically minded, then we must have a growing communion with our Triune God. Our perseverance in evangelism springs chiefly from our deep love for Christ and his Word. If we are to grow in our love for the lost, we must first grow in our love for Christ. Most importantly, if we are to speak for eternity, M’Cheyne reminds us that we must cultivate our own spirit. “A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin.”
To conclude this essay, we have seen that Robert Murray M’Cheyne never ceased from the cultivation of personal holiness, and the most anxious efforts to save souls.As Robert Murray M’Cheyne reflected upon his ministry, he said the following: “I feel persuaded that if I could follow the Lord more fully myself, my ministry would be used to make a deeper impression than it has yet done.” What would it look like if God were to raise-up another generation of men like Robert Murray M’Cheyne in our day? Christian, today you are called to be passionate about holiness, persistent in prayer, and persevere in evangelism.
These lessons were largely drawn from The Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. To read more about Robert Murray M’Cheyne, please visit Banner of Truth.
Beaty, David P. An All-Surpassing Fellowship. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2014.
Bonar, Andrew. Robert Murray M’Cheyne. 2012. Reprint. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2014.
Bonar, Andrew. Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. 1966. Reprint. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973.
Jeffery, Peter. Preachers Who Made a Difference. New York: Evangelical Press, 2004.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
M’Cheyne, Robert Murray. From the Preacher’s Heart. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1995.
Murray, Iain. A Scottish Christian Heritage. 2006. Reprint. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2014.
 David P., Beaty. An All-Surpassing Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2014), 12.
 David P., Beaty. An All-Surpassing Fellowship, 65.
 David P., Beaty. An All-Surpassing Fellowship, 127.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid, 118.
 Ibid., 120.
 Ibid., 139.
 Andrew, Bonar. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 144-145.
 Ibid., 229,
 Ibid., 218.