If you have read much of my blog, or heard any of my sermons, you know that one of my role-models in the Christian life is Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the young Scottish pastor of the early 19th Century. Much of M’Cheyne’s work was directed toward bringing renewal and reformation to the Church, having been pained by the spiritual deadness of many of the parishes he visited. If you read just a sample of his sermons, you find a great passion for Christ, and an earnest plea for Christians to fly to Jesus.
As you read his memoirs, you find that he was often of poor health, and sadly died at the young age of 29. His good friend and fellow pastor Andrew Bonar collected his memoirs, letters and sermons, without which the memory of M’Cheyne would have been completely lost. I often turn to these memoirs when I have a couple of moments to spare, and happened to come across one of the letters that M’Cheyne wrote to a member of his parish on finding Gods blessings in the midst of sickness. I thought this highly relevant to our day, and thought to share it with you here.
How cares and troubles sanctify
March 31, 1840.
I may not see you for a little, as I am not strong; and therefore I send you a line in answer to your letter. I like to hear from you, and especially when God is revealing himself to your soul. All His doings are wonderful. It is, indeed, amazing how He makes use of affliction to make us feel His love more. Your house is, I trust, in some measure like that house in Bethany of which it is said, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” They had different degrees of grace. One had more faith, and another more love, still Jesus loved them all. Martha was more inclined to be worldly than Mary, yet Jesus loved them both. It is a happy house when Jesus loves all that dwell in it. Surely it is next door to heaven.
The message of Martha and Mary to Christ (John 11:3) teaches you to carry all your temporal as well as your spiritual troubles to his feet. Leave them there. Carry one another’s case to Jesus. Is it not a wonderful grace in God to have given you peace in Christ, before laying you down on your long sick-bed? It would have been a wearisome lie if you had been an enemy to God, and then it would have been over hell. Do you feel Rom. 5:3 to be true in your experience? You cannot love trouble for its own sake; bitter must always be bitter, and pain must always be pain. God knows you cannot love trouble. Yet for the blessings that it brings, He can make you pray for it. Does trouble work patience in you? Does it lead you to cling closer to the Lord Jesus—to hide deeper in the rock? Does it make you “be still and know that He is God?” Does it make you lie passive in his hand, and know no will but his? Thus does patience work experience—an experimental acquaintance with Jesus. Does it bring you a fuller taste of his sweetness, so that you know whom you have believed? And does this experience give you a further hope of glory—an other anchor cast within the veil? And does this hope give you a heart that cannot be ashamed, because convinced that God has loved you, and will love you to the end? Ah! then you have got the improvement of trouble, if it has led you thus. Pray for me still, that I may get the good of all God’s dealings with me. Lean all on Jesus. Pray for a time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, that many more may be saved. I hope the Lord’s work is not done in this place yet.
Ever your affectionate pastor, etc**
First of all, I am humbled by the pastoral skill demonstrated here. In this time of social-distancing, I am making every effort to call and check in with my congregation. But M’Cheyne’s letters are truly amazing in how he can draw out spiritual truths and apply them to his readers.
Secondly, I find his pastoral instruction so helpful, even for today. While we are not to love the coronavirus for it’s own sake, we can see how this time of uncertainly teaches us to cling closer to the Lord, to hide deeper in him, and brings us “into a fuller taste of his sweetness.” For that we can truly be grateful.
Heed the advise of Pastor M’Cheyne, “lean on Jesus,” and “pray for an outpouring of Gods Spirit.” If we do nothing other than those two things in this Coronavirus season, this time will not be lost to us.
Grace and Peace!
** McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.