David Robertson, pastor of St. Peter's Church, the church where McCheyne served has written a sensitive and fresh account of the life and ministry of McCheyne. Robertson begins his work by looking at McCheyne's upbringing; of particular note is his comment about McCheyne's family background. "...unlike many of the children he was to minster to, he had a childhood of school and leisure" (18). Some of McCheyne's favorite hobbies were horseback riding, gymnastics, and reading. His father and mother were insistent that their children engage in activities of the mind as well as the body. Family life growing up in the McCheyne house was one of order and discipline, where Adam (his father) had a keen eye for overseeing the education of his children (21-22). Yet, even in a rather strict environment Robert was not given over to immorality. His family was religious but not profoundly transformed by the gospel.
Robert had an early gift for learning, Robertson indicates that he memorized the Greek alphabet by age four. Beginning at Edinburgh University at age 14, McCheyne began to love Latin, which would serve him well as he went to Divinity school. One interesting point in chapter two is Robertson's succinct discussion of the role of education in the university. He notes that education was 'truly comprehensive' at the university level, not deemed to provide a specific vocational training. Considering this fact, graduation was not wholly encouraged as much as providing an overall training in logic, languages, arts and humanities (28-29).
The death of his elder brother David was earth shattering for Robert. David's death was a turning point in the life and religious outlook for Robert. David, being an earnest evangelical bore witness to his faith to Robert through letters. Robertson writes, "It had required a catylclysmic event to shake the 18 year old McCheyne out of his comfort zone and show him his need" (40). McCheyne's conversion was not showy and overly dramatic but it was real to him. No longer did McCheyne marvel at just the duties and system of religion but looked upon Christ as his Savior.
Having been licensed to preach in 1835, Robert began ministering at Larbert. In Larbert, McCheyne began to do pastoral visitiation, open study classes, and preaching. He decidedly preached for an average of 35 minutes 'because he thought the people could not stand much more' (61). McCheyne focuse his preaching efforts at opening up the Word of God and applying the message to their lives. In 1836, Robert moved to St. Peter's in Dundee as their primary minister. Through the growth of prayer meetings, youth studies and activites, and parish visitiations, McCheyne left an indelible mark on his people. Yet, McCheyne's style was not pompous and over the top, but his preach was simple and yet profound. He even began to teach the people to sing well in the summer (104-106). The people received the message and teaching well, many devoting their lives in the service of Christ. Many cariacture Scottish Calvinists 'as dry as dust, lifeless and cold legalistic theology' but 'for McCheyne his love for Jesus was his lifeline - he needed to know the presence of Christ and he often did' (128). His hope in Jesus and the consequent faith that he had provided him a wellspring of joy, a strength even in those great times of depression and melancholy that he went through.
This book is a great look at the life and ministry of Robert Murray McCheyne. Robertson goes on to plot the ministry of McCheyne at Dundee, the uprising in the Church of Scotland and the split that caused the Free Church to form. Overall, the book was an encouraging and edifying of a portrait won over by Christ and devoted to ministering the gospel to all people. Many people will just know McCheyne for his daily Bible reading plan, but Robertson has openend up his life to readers, from the haunting depression that followed him to the souls that were changed through his messages. This is a great resource for pastors, leaders, lay people, and those interested in the church's witness to the gospel in lives of its ministers.
Thanks to Christian Focus Publications for the review copy.