29 Years of Age (Part 1)

In December 1842, the pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, Scotland, wrote a letter to his flock. In it, he wrote:

My dear flock, the approach of another year stirs up within me new desires for your salvation and for the growth of those who are saved. “God is my record how greatly I long after you all and the bowels of Jesus Christ.” What the coming year is to bring forth, who can tell? There is plainly a weight lying upon the spirits of all good men and a looking for some strange work of judgment upon this land. Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles and to the mercy seat if we are to stand in this evil day. Then we shall be able to say, like David, “The proud have held me greatly in derision, yet have I not declined from Thy law. Princes have persecuted me without cause but my heart stands in awe of Thy Word.” It has been long on my mind to prepare a scheme of Scripture reading so that the whole might be read once by you in the year and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.

The pastor in question was Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He was a Scot, born in 1813, and as a young man he showed significant aptitude for education and for writing and poetry. At the age of fourteen, he went off to the University of Edinburgh to study the arts and humanities. In 1831, two things happened. In June, he wrote in his diary, “Bought Edwards’ works.” That’s a reference to Jonathan Edwards; he had purchased the then-two-volume collection of Edwards’ writings. On July 8, his older brother died. His older brother was, as one biographer says, “of significant evangelistic zeal.” This event had a significant impact on Robert, and sometime during that summer, as he was reading Edwards and suffered the impact of his brother’s death, he was converted.

He went on to study divinity at Edinburgh and came under the influence of Thomas Chalmers. Chalmers was a very significant figure—he was a leader in the Church of Scotland and then in 1843 became a leader and the first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. M’Cheyne actually planted the church in Dundee at the behest of Chalmers. Chalmers recognized that this mostly industrial city was without a gospel witness and therefore sent the very bright and well-educated young M’Cheyne to be plant a church there.

M’Cheyne at one point took six months to go on a journey to Israel along with a few others, including Horatius Bonar, the songwriter and fellow Scotsman. They sent back reports of their journey, which were devoured in the newspapers. Their report were collected into a book, The Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews. It was very popular.

In the spring of 1843, M’Cheyne developed typhus after visiting some parishioners and died. He was twenty-seven days shy of his thirtieth birthday. But there’s a lot more to the story of this twenty-nine-year-old man, so we will return to learn more about Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

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