Weekly Update 33 – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

I’m currently in the middle of preparing to write up my chapter on the credal history of the free offer of the gospel in Reformed churches, with particular reference to the Westminster Standards.  This involves a lot of fairly dry reading.  So instead of posting on that I’m going to share a few gems from a minister who faithfully preached Christ and him crucified – Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843).  M’Cheyne was one of the greatest of the Reformed preachers of the 19th century and is an example of the preaching which has been heard in the Scottish church in all her best times.  May it please the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest field who are animated with the same Spirit!

When [Christ] wept over Jerusalem… there was much that was human in it.  The feet were human that stood upon Mount Olivet.  The eyes were human eyes that looked down upon the dazzling city.  The tears were human tears that fell upon the ground.  But oh, there was the tenderness of God beating beneath that mantle!  Look and live, sinners.  Look and live.  Behold your God!  He that has seen a weeping Christ has seen the Father.  This is God manifest in the flesh.  Some of you fear that the Father does not wish you to come to Christ and be saved.  But see here, God is manifest in the flesh.  He that has seen Christ has seen the Father.  See here the heart of the Father and the heart of the Son laid bare.  Oh, why should you doubt?  Every one of these tears trickles from the heart of God.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoirs and Remains, Banner of Truth, p472

M’Cheyne’s point here is that we can’t simply write off Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem as pertaining only to his human nature.  It tells us something about God.  This is in line with Calvin who believes that in his lament over Jerusalem Christ is speaking as God.  His thoughts are also echoed by Dabney who writes, “Christ [is] the manifestation to us of the divine nature…. It is our happiness to believe that when we see Jesus weeping over lost Jerusalem, we “have seen the Father;” we have received an insight into the divine benevolence and pity. And therefore this wondrous incident has been so dear to the hearts of God’s people in all ages.”

Oh for the… [tenderness/mercy] of Jesus Christ in every minister, that we might long after all! … And here I would observe what appears to me a fault in the preaching of [today].  Most ministers are accustomed to set Christ before the people.  They lay down the gospel clearly and beautifully, but they do not urge men to enter in.  Now God says, ‘Exhort’ – beseech men – persuade men; not only point to the open door, but compel them to come in.  Oh, to be more merciful to souls, that we would lay hands on men and draw them in to the Lord Jesus…  How anxious was Jesus Christ in this!  When he came near and beheld the city he wept over it.  How earnest was Paul! ‘Remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears!’
Ibid, p402-404.

I think M’Cheyne hits on something absolutely crucial to the true nature of biblical preaching here.  What he is saying is that to declare facts is simply not enough.  True preaching is patterned after the tears of Christ and Paul.  There must be earnest beseeching and persuading to truly enter into the biblical concept of preaching.

Next week I’d like to post something on Rev 22:17 from James Durham and a member of the Westminster Assembly, William Greenhill.

PS These quotes originally came from David Gay’s book on the free offer: The Gospel Offer is Free, Biggleswade: Brachus, 2004.

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10 Responses to “Weekly Update 33 – Robert Murray M’Cheyne”

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    “This involves a lot of fairly dry reading. ”

    A credal history of the free offer dry reading? You’ve got to be joking! I cannot see how that would be dry reading; although, the Scottish are rather dry people; just look at their comedians! However, I like the dryness of the Scots (and the Brits), as well as the dryness of history. I, for one, would be willing to endure an arid credal history of the free offer of the gospel. Do consider posting something on it.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    Most things are dry in comparison to the sermons of M’Cheyne – even the minutes of the Westminster Assembly 🙂

    Seriously though, I was referring in a bit of a cryptic way to some of the secondary literature on the creedal views of the free offer. For instance, there was an article in the Calvin Theological Journal a few years ago that looked at the free offer and Dort and claimed Dort didn’t hold to the free offer in a meaningful sense i.e. it basically said Dort and Hoeksema were perfectly aligned. Then on Westminster we have Schaff saying that the WCoF 7:3, with its affirmation of a free offer, is an “Amyraldian” statement. And to complete the circle we have David Lachman in his (generally excellent) book on the Marrow Controversy stating that Dort held more clearly to the free offer than Westminster. So we can either have Dort denying the free offer, Westminster affirming it to the extent of being Amyraldian, or Westminster affirming it sparingly while Dort goes all out for the free offer. Now while all the confusion makes a good case that a thesis on this topic is needed, I don’t find reading sloppy historical theology (they can’t all be right!) particularly enjoyable.

    Seeing there is some popular demand 🙂 once I have written the chapter up I’ll put some extracts on here – probably won’t be until late January.

    Every blessing

    Donald John

  3. Steven Carr Says:

    Great look forward to it.

    Let guess was the person who wrote the Calvin Theological Journal Article David Engelsma? I think it was he who wrote a history of the Free Offer. I used to own it, but I think I sold it or burned it; I can’t remember. Anyway, it was the same old drivel that is spewed out of the Protestant Reformed Seminary. You know, the whole “the world was in the grips of Arminiansim with its free offer, common grace, and covenant of works; then, in 1924, the light shown in darkness and we became true Calvinists” spiel.

    Schaff has to be taken with a grain of salt; since he was immersed in the Mercersberg Theology. The man I would trust the most here is David Lachman.

    Well, if one thing is for sure, I am glad that you are doing the dirty work of sorting out the mess and not me. 🙂

    God bless

  4. thomasgoodwin Says:

    Men beside a fire as M’Cheyne drew some truths from the flames: “You’re not an ordinary man” …

    M’Cheyne: “Yes, just an ordinary man”.

    You have above M’Cheyne’s sin, breaking the 9th commandment. He certainly was not an ordinary man!!!

    I mentioned M’Cheyne in my last sermon and now so many people want to know more about him.

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Steve

    Yes, Schaff is helpful for some things but not for astuteness of theological judgement. Lachman is an excellent historian but I think slightly wrong on the point I mentioned here. The CTJ article was actually by a Professor at Calvin Seminary. The PRC took it and posted it on their website somewhere. It is not good. The flaws in the article were pointed out by a submission to the 2004 URC Synod. I’ve reproduced the response below as I think it is helpful.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

    Some of our Protestant Reformed brothers have made much of a recent essay in which R. Blacketer has argued that the first point [of the famous three points of the 1924 Syond], in teaching the universal well-meant offer of the gospel, “misinterpreted the confessions and prominent Reformed theologians.” See idem, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation.” Calvin Theological Journal 35 (2000), 37-65. To make his case he argues, among other things, that among the Reformed orthodox theologians, oblato did not really mean offer but rather “to present.” He seems to be implying that the Reformed had no idea that there was any divine intention behind the general presentation of the Gospel. This is a very strained argument since the word oblato was used to mean “to offer” with intention. Caspar Olevian used this term and its cognates frequently to mean precise “to offer with intention”. See De substantia foederis gratuiti inter Deum et electos (Geneva, 1585), 2.29; 2.30-31; 2.48. His usage was not unique. Blacketer errs, in part, by using a modern dictionary of Classical Latin to determine the meaning of the word. The meaning of oblato must be determined by its immediate context and its actual use in Reformed theology. Blacketer’s essay also suffers from the fact that he fails anywhere to make the Reformed distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology which is fundamental to this entire discussion. We know that, relative to the divine decree, that God has elected and reprobated some from all eternity. Whom God has elected or reprobated, however, is strictly a matter of archetypal theology. The fact of the decree does not preclude God from revealing himself as sincerely desiring the salvation of all. His self-revelation is ectypal theology and it is with this that we have to do.

  6. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Mark

    It must be encouraging to have a congregation who want to know more about M’Cheyne!

    He was indeed no ordinary man!

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  7. Flynn Says:

    Hey Donald,

    Have you seen the latest on Puritanboard? James Kennedy and others have been cited against the free offer.

    Btw, did you happen to get my email on my Twisse-Durham question?

    Thanks
    David

  8. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi David

    David – could you refer me to the relevant thread on the PB? Is it James Kennedy the recent American theologian or the 19th C John Kennedy from Scotland? While Kennedy (19th C) from memory does (wrongly) criticise the Marrowmen it is wrong to say he denied the free offer. Again polemic context is key to understanding some of what he said. Some friends have sent me good quotes from him in the past but I can’t locate them at the moment. They even included the word “desire”.

    I had replied to your email on Durham – it must have got lost somewhere. I have forwarded my reply on again.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  9. Greg MacDonald Says:

    Re: DJ’s post at 21st Dec 2:48
    I think that I may have sent some such quotes to you once upon a time DJ. If not here is a good one from John Kennedy preaching on Ps 31v5

    “It is the desire of his heart, and the cause of his glory, as it is the promise of his word, that everlasting salvation in himself, should be yours…”

    Greg

  10. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Greg

    That is the one I was thinking of! There may have been some others on common love – or were they in Rev Silversides book?

    Every blessing
    DJ

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