Home > Christian Authors, church history > Challies’ Reading Challenge: Biography, Robert Murray McCheyne

Challies’ Reading Challenge: Biography, Robert Murray McCheyne


biography-mccheyneContinuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I have now completed four of the books – classic novel, history, book about theology, and a biography  —  with two more in progress (a children’s book, The Hobbit; and Christian Living, J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character).  Of the four completed so far, I have most enjoyed the biography – Andrew Bonar’s classic that tells us of someone who might well have been forgotten, the life of an ordinary pastor who died at age 29 (lived May 1813 to April 1843).   As John Piper observed in this article, a tribute to McCheyne’s life,  Robert Murray McCheyne is one of church history’s amazing young people greatly used of God in their short lives:

It is amazing to me how God has raised up extraordinary young people with great impact and then cut them off in their youth, and then has preserved their impact with a book for decades to come, and centuries.

This biography was published about two years after McCheyne’s death, a compilation of McCheyne’s own personal journal and letters, combined with narrative from his friend Andrew Bonar.  The story is told chronologically, with brief information about McCheyne’s parents and upbringing, but really beginning the story at age 18, when he was saved, and continuing with the events of his life, including excerpts from McCheyne’s writings each year.  Illness and early death were more common in those days.  McCheyne’s oldest brother, David, died at 26, when Robert was 18; his brother was a godly man who had prayed for Robert, who up until that time had been worldly, interested only in the social life of a teenager.  David’s death had a profound impact on Robert, and was used of God to bring the younger McCheyne to salvation.

As Bonar relates, his friend was ill frequently throughout those short years that Bonar knew him.  McCheyne himself sometimes even expressed the thought, that he would not live as long as others.  The missionary trip to Palestine in 1839, which included McCheyne, Andrew Bonar and a few others, was done in part because of McCheyne’s health; and though he had one serious illness and almost died during that trip, overall the trip did restore McCheyne to better health, for a while at least.  When McCheyne took ill with the typhoid from which he died in the spring of 1843, Bonar again noted that McCheyne had often been ill before – and thus it surprised him and all his friends, they did not realize the danger and his soon death, until the last few days.

Along with biographical material, much of the biography is devotional, with many great quotes from McCheyne, such as the following excerpts from his journals and letters:

I am tempted to think that I am now an established Christian,–that I have overcome this or that lust so long,–that I have got into the habit of the opposite grace,–so that there is no fear; I may venture very near the temptation—nearer than other men. This is a lie of Satan. I might as well speak of gunpowder getting by habit a power of resisting fire, so as not to catch the spark. As long as powder is wet, it resists the spark; but when it becomes dry, it is ready to explode at the first touch. As long as the Spirit dwells in my heart He deadens me to sin, so that, if lawfully called through temptation, I may reckon upon God carrying me through. But when the Spirit leaves me, I am like dry gunpowder. Oh for a sense of this!”

and

One thing we may learn from these men of science, namely, to be as careful in marking the changes and progress of our own spirit, as they are in marking the changes of the weather. An hour should never pass without our looking up to God for forgiveness and peace. This is the noblest science, to know how to live in hourly communion with God in Christ.

McCheyne was ever focused outwardly on evangelism and doing the Lord’s work, while inwardly growing and studying in personal holiness.   The section on the trip to Palestine was especially interesting, for the descriptions of the Holy Land at that time as well as the simple background of how people traveled over 150 years ago – how long the journey actually took, and the physical hardships contrasted with the ease of traveling in our modern world:  extreme heat unknown in Scotland (and no air-conditioning), travel by camel (including an interesting description of how to mount and ride camels) and the ever-present fear of disease and death.  I had heard about this missionary trip, and after reading  about it in McCheyne’s biography, I am interested to read the actual published work about it (available online here  ), which Bonar also later mentions – the time that he and McCheyne set aside from their busy schedule, to complete the book for publication.  From McCheyne’s letters during the trip, here is one interesting description:

A foreign land draws us nearer God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to Him as to one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes 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. The marble palaces, among which I have been wandering to-night, shall soon sink like a millstone in the waters of God’s righteous anger; but he doeth the will of God abideth forever.” — Robert Murray McCheyne, 1839 — trip to Palestine.

Another topic presented in this book is a revival that began during their absence, and continued after their return at the end of 1839.  What little I had previously read about actual revivals was more historical observation, that evangelical Christianity up until about 1860 had a different view or mindset in reference to revival; revivals were more frequent, and more expected, but that the general trend changed starting in the 1860s—and Charles Spurgeon lived during this transition time, when modernism and liberalism began to take hold in the Christian church.  The presentation in McCheyne’s biography reflects this earlier time, and Bonar provided good insights into the actual revival and its impact, and the ending results afterward:

That many, who promised fair, drew back and walked no more with Jesus, is true. Out of about 800 souls who, during the months of the Revival, conversed with different ministers in apparent anxiety, no wonder surely if many proved to have been impressed only for a time…. The proportion of real conversions might resemble the proportion of blossoms in spring and fruit in autumn. Nor can anything be more unreasonable than to doubt the truth of all, because of the deceit of some. The world itself does not so act in judging of its own. The world reckons upon the possibility of being mistaken in many cases, and yet does not cease to believe that there is honesty and truth to be found.

McCheyne had a tremendously positive impact on the people around him – the many people who loved him, both at his own church as well as others who continually wanted him to come and speak at their churches, and his friends including Andrew Bonar.  This book provides a great introduction to this great young Christian man and his impact within the Christian church, and now his continued impact throughout history since his time.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: