Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843) was the minister of St. Peter's Church Dundee from 1836 to 1843. He died before the age of thirty, yet he left a spiritual legacy that has impacted the lives of many. His short life was marked by his communion with the Lord, his commitment to a life of holiness, and his compassion for lost souls. M'Cheyne often prayed, "Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made." For M'Cheyne, such prayers for holiness went hand in hand with a personal resolve to diligently watch over his soul. He wrote out a plan for how he would guard his heart and cultivate his relationship with the Lord. He entitled his plan, "Reformation."
The church needs to heed the call of the Lord Jesus to "watch and pray". M'Cheyne is a good guide for how Christians can be alert and watchful.
He stated his conviction: "I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God's glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ's blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world."
M'Cheyne's three commitments:
1. To maintain a conscience void of offence:
- I ought to confess my sins more.
- I ought to confess sin the moment I see it to be sin.
- I ought to take all methods for seeing the vileness of my sins.
- I ought to look at my sins in the light of the holy law, in the light of God's countenance, in the light of the cross, in the light of the judgment seat, in the light of hell, in the light of eternity.
- I ought to make use of all bodily affliction, domestic trial, frowns of providence...as calls from God to confess sin.
- I ought to confess the sins of my confessions; their imperfections, sinful aims, self-righteous tendency, etc.
- I ought to go to Christ for the forgiveness of each sin.
- I ought to see that in Christ's bloodshedding there is an infinite over-payment for all my sins.
- I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go...and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded they are all lies, direct from hell.
- I am sure there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin, but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God's way of peace and holiness.
- I must never think a sin too small to need immediate application to the blood of Christ.
- I must never think my sins too great, too aggravated, too presumptous...to hinder me from fleeing to Christ.
- I must not only wash in Christ's blood, but clothe me in Christ's obedience.
- For every sin of omission in self, I may find a divinely perfect obedience ready for me in Christ.
- For every wound in Christ, I may find not only a stripe or a wound in Christ, but also a perfect rednering of the opposite obedience in my place.
2. To be filled with the Holy Spirit
- 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 am tempted to think that there are some sins for which I have no natural taste, such as strong drink, profane language, etc. so that I need not fear temptation to such sins.
- This is a lie, a proud, presumptous lie.
- The seeds of all sin are in my heart, and perhaps all the more dangerously that I do not see them.
- I ought to pray and labor for the deepest sense of my utter weakness and helplessness that ever a sinner was brought to feel.
- I am helpess in respect of every lust that ever was, or ever will be, in the human heart.
- There is nothing in me keeping me back from the grossest and vilest sin.
- My only safety is to know, feel, and confess my helplessness, that I may hang upon the arm of Omnipotence.
- I ought to study those sins in which I am most helpless.
- I ought to study Christ's omnipotence more.
- I ought to study Christ as a living Savior more
- ...as a Shepherd, carrying the Sheep he finds.
- ...as a King, reigning in and over the souls He has redeemed.
- ...as a Captain, fighting with those who fight with me.
- ...as one who has engage to bring me through all temptations and trials, however impossible to flesh and blood.
- ...as an Intercessor
- "If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million of enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; He is praying for me."
- I ought to study the Comforter more.
- I ought never to forget that sin grieves the Holy Spirit.
- "If I would be filled with the Spirit, I must read the Bible more, pray more, and watch more."
3. To gain entire likeness to Christ.
- I ought to get a high esteem of the happiness of it.
- I am persuaded that God's happiness is inseparably linked in with his holiness.
- Every sin is something away from my greatest enjoyment.
- I ought not delay parting with sins.
- I ought to mark strictly the occasions when I have fallen and avoid the occasion as much as the sin itself.
- I ought to flee all temptations.
- I ought to constantly pour out my heart to God, praying for entire conformity to Christ.
- I ought to meditate often on heaven as a world of holiness.
M'Cheyne closes this section of his reformation with the words: "I am persuaded that nothing is thriving in my soul unless it is growing. "Grow in grace." "Lord, increase our faith." "Forgetting the things that are behind"...I am persuaded that I ought to be inquiring at God and man what grace I want, and how I may become more like Christ...I ought to strive for more purity, humility, meekness, patience under suffering, love. "Make me Christ-like in all things," should be my constant prayer. "Fill me with the Holy Spirit."
Many today would label M'Cheyne as being overly introspective and perhaps pessimistic. But M'Cheyne was simply applying the doctrine of salvation to the Christian life. He was aware of the human tendency to turn inward into a form of morbid introspection. For M'Cheyne, self-examination was only the first step. He wrote in a letter, "Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely." The goal of M'Cheyne's and our watchfulness is greater communion and enjoyment of Christ.
For a biography on Robert Murray M'Cheyne, see John Piper, "He Kissed the Rose and Felt the Thorn" available on Desiring God.
The classic biography on Robert Murray M'Cheyne is Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne, edited by Andrew A. Bonar.