Most of you are probably well aware of my appreciation for the nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. (He’s the only non-living guy represented in our four daughters’ names!) Perhaps best known for his Bible Reading Schedule (see #6 in this list), M’Cheyne served as pastor for St. Peters, Dundee, from 1836 until his death in 1843, shortly before his 30th birthday.
Though his life was quite brief–already five years shorter than mine–his impact has been profound. His memoir, penned by his friend Andrew Bonar and consisting largely of M’Cheyne’s journal entries, is easily one of the five most affecting books I’ve read. His glorious view of God, his dedication for service, his loathing of his own sinfulness, and his confidence in our Savior have provided countless opportunities for self-examination and brokenness, looking away to Christ and joy.
Bonar’s memoir is currently printed by Banner of Truth, a publication that includes letters, sermons, hymns, and other writings of M’Cheyne. I’ve been working through letters that he wrote to his congregation during a period when his health kept him at home. He was a mere 25 years old at the time, but his words have a powerful impact.
His Fourth Pastoral Letter is subtitled “God the answerer of prayer,” a topic he addresses under four headings. Beginning today and over the next four days, I plan to offer (with minor edits) M’Cheyne’s thoughts for your contemplation. It is sure to stir your thinking, as there will likely be statements with which you may disagree. My hope, however, is that it stirs your prayers to the all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise God.
Edinburgh, February 20, 1839
To all of you, my dear flock, who are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blame before Him in love, your pastor again wishes grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many sweet providences happening to us every day, if we would but notice them. In the texts which ministers choose, what remarkable providences God often brings about! I have often felt this, and never more than now. Some of you may remember that the last chapter of the Bible which I read to you in the church was 1 Kings 19, where we are told of Elijah going away into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights to the mount of God, where he was taught that it is not by the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, that God converts souls, but by the still small voice of the gospel. May not this have been graciously intended to prepare us for what has happened?
Another providence some of you may have noticed. For several Thursday evenings before I left you I was engaged in explaining and enforcing the sweet duty of believing prayer. Has not God since taught us the use of these things? “Trials make the promise sweet”–“Trials give new life to prayer.” Perhaps some of you were only receiving the information into the head; is not God now impressing it on our hearts, and driving us to practice these things which we learned?
I do not now remember all the points I was led to speak upon to you, but one, I think, was entirely omitted–I mean the subject of answers to prayer. God left it for us to meditated on now. Oh, there is nothing that I would have you to be more sure of than this, that “God hears and answers prayer.” There never was, and never will be, a believing prayer left unanswered. Meditate on this, and you will say: “I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplication” (Ps 116.1).