Heart Cry Of A Burdened Pastor
From a letter of Robert Murray McCheyne to his congregation when he was away from them for a time in 1839.
To all of you, my dear flock, who are dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, your pastor wishes grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ….
For two years I have testified to you the gospel of the grace of God. I came to you in “weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”; and if the case of the children of God, and of backsliding souls, has often lain heavy at my heart. I can truly say that your dreadful condition “settled like wine upon the lees,” when you are about to be “turned upside down, as a man turneth a dish and wipeth it,” has been a continued anxiety to me. Sometimes when I have had glimpses of the reality of eternal things, it has been an insupportable agony to my spirit.
I know well that this is a jest to you – that you care not whether ministers go or stay; and if you get a short sermon on the Lord’s day that will soothe and not prick your conscience, that is all you care for. Still, it may be the Lord, who opened Manasseh’s heart, will open yours while I go over solemnly, in the sight of God, what appears to be the chief reasons why, after my two years’ ministry among you, there are still many, perishing souls.
One Cause Is Your Minister
One cause is to be sought in your minister. In Malachi 2:6 you will find a sweet description of a faithful and successful minister: “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with Me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.” This is what we should have done, but the furnace brings out the dross, and afflictions discover defects unknown before.
O, that I could say with Paul – “that I have been with you at all seasons serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably, we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (1 Thes, 2:10).
I am indeed amazed that the ministry of such a worm as I am should ever have been blessed among you at all; and I do this day bewail before God every sin in my heart and life that has kept back the light from your poor dark souls. O, you that can pray, pray that I may come back a holy minister – a shepherd not to lead the flock by the voice only, but to walk before them in the way of life.
Looking back over my pulpit work, alas! I see innumerable deficiencies. I always prayed that I might “not keep back any thing that was profitable” – that I might not shun to declare the whole counsel of God – “that I might decrease and Christ increase.” Still, alas! alas! how dimly I have seen and set before you the “truth as it is in Jesus.” How coldly have I pleaded with you to “save yourselves from this untoward generation!”
How many things I have known among you “besides Christ and Him crucified!” How often have I preached myself, and not the Saviour! How little I have “expounded to you in all the Scriptures the things concerning Jesus!”
One error more has been in my private labors among you. How much fruitless intercourse have I had with you! I have not been like a shepherd crying after the lost sheep, nor like a physician among dying men, nor like a servant bidding you to the marriage nor like one plucking brands from the burning! How often have I gone to your houses to try and win your souls, and you have put me off with a little worldly talk, and the words of salvation have died upon my lips! I dared not tell you were perishing – I dared not to show you plainly of the Saviour. How often I have sat at some of your tables, and my heart yearned for your souls, yet a false shame kept me silent! How often I have gone home crying bitterly, “Free me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.”
Causes Among the Saved
I turn now to the causes in you, dear children of God. You also have hindered in great measure God’s work in the parish. First by your lack of holiness. “Ye are the light of the world.” I have often told you that a work of revival in any place almost always begins with the children of God. God pours water first on “him that is thirsty” and then on the “dry ground” (Isa. 44:3).
But how little has “the word of the Lord sounded out” from you! I do not mean that you should have been loud talkers about religious things. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin” (Prov. 10:19) and “The talk of the lips leadeth to penury” (Prov. 14:23). But you should have been living epistles, “known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2).
You know that a lighted lamp is a very small thing, and it burns calmly and without noise – yet “it giveth light to all that are within the house.” So if you had day-by-day the blood of Christ on your conscience – walking a forgiven and adopted child of God – having a calm peace in your bosom, and a heavenly hope in your eye – having the Holy Spirit filling you with a sweet, tender, chaste, compassionate, forgiving love to all the world – O! had you shone thus for two years back, how many of your friends and neighbors that are going down to hell might have been saying this day, “Thy people shall be my people, and Thy God my God.”
Think, my beloved friends, that every act of unholiness, of conformity to the world, of selfishness, of whispering and backbiting, is hindering the work of God in the parish and ruining souls eternally. And what shall I say to those of you who, instead of emitting the sweet winning light of holiness, have given out only rays of darkness. “I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works or else I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thee repent” (Rev. 2:5).
Second, you have hindered God’s work by your lack of prayer. When God gives grace to souls, it is in answer to the prayers of His children. You will see this on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2. Ezekiel 37:9 shows that in answer to the prayer of a single child of God, God will give grace to a whole valley of dry and prayerless bones. Where God puts it into the heart of His children to pray, it is certain that He is going to pour down His Spirit in abundance.
Now where have been your prayers, O children of God? The salvation of those around you depends on your asking and yet ”Hitherto ye have asked nothing” in Christ’s name. Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers, keep not silence, and give Him no rest. Alas! You have given God much rest – you have allowed His hand to remain unplucked out of His bosom.
It is said of John Welsh, a minister of Ayr, that he used always to sleep with a plaid upon his bed, that he might wrap it around him when he arose in the night to pray. He used to spend whole nights in wrestling with God for Zion and for purity of the Church of Scotland. He wondered how Christians could lie all night in bed without rising to pray. O, we have few Welshes now. Therefore our church is so dim and our land a barren wilderness.
Dear Christians, I often think it strange that ever we should be in heaven and so many in hell through our soul-destroying carelessness. The good Lord pardon the past, and stir you up in the future. I learn that you are more stirred up to pray since I left, both in secret and unitedly. God grant that it be so. Continue in it, dear children. Do not let it slip again. Plead and wrestle with God, showing Him that the cause is His own, and that it is all for His own glory to arise and have mercy on Zion.
Causes in the Unsaved
Last of all, think of the causes in yourselves, O unconverted souls! Be sure of this, that you will only have yourselves to blame if you awake in hell. You will not be able to plead God’s secret decrees, nor the sins of your minister, nor the carelessness of your godly neighbors – you will be speechless. If you die, it is because you will die; and if you will die, then you must die.
Think, first, on your carelessness about ordinances. They are the channels through which God pours His Spirit. The Bible – prayer – the house of God – these are the golden pipes through which the golden oil is poured. How many of you utterly neglect the Bible! You know not the blessedness of the man spoken of in the first Psalm. How many of you restrain prayer before God! How many of you have dead, useless prayers, learned by rote!
And O! how you despise the house of God! Alas! that the church shall rise against you in judgment. It was a door of the ark brought near to you. Two years and more its gates have been wide open to you, and yet how you have slighted it! Already I seem to hear your loud wailing when you mourn at the last and say, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof, and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers!” (Prov. 5:12-13).
Think, second, how you have been mockers. It has been too common for you to make a mock of eternal things, and of godly people. When there have been anxious souls seeking the way to be saved, and they could not conceal their tears, you have called them hypocrites. When some have got a new heart and have changed their way of life, you have spoken scoffingly of them and tried to bring them into contempt.
Alas! poor soul, look within. You have hardened your heart into an adamant stone. Look at Proverbs 17:5: “He that mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker.” And again, Isaiah 28:22: “Now therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong.”
To sum up all: The great cause that I leave you hard is that you “despise the Son of God.” You see no beauty in Him that you should desire Him. You lightly esteem the rock of your salvation. You have not had a soul-piercing look at a pierced Saviour. You have not seen the infinite load of sins that weigh down His blessed head. You have not seen how open His arms are to receive – how often He would have gathered you.
You have not heard that sweet word whispered by the Spirit, “Behold Me, behold Me,” which, when a man once hears, he leaves all and follows. You have trampled under foot the blood of the Son of God. Farewell, dear, dear souls. God knows that my whole heart prays that you may be saved.
Perhaps there are some of you who never would bend under my ministry, who will melt like wax before the fire under the word of the dear young minister who is to speak to you in my absence. May the Lord give him hundreds for my tens! I will often pray for you and sometimes write to you when I am far away….
Dear Children of God, I now cast you on Him who cast you on me when I was ordained over you. He said to me, “Feed My sheep” – “Feed My lambs” – “Feed My sheep.” Now when He sends me away, I would humbly return His own words to Him, saying, “O Shepherd of Israel – feed my sheep – feed my lambs – feed my sheep.”
Little children, love one another. Keep yourselves from idols. Bear me ever on your hearts. Pray that when I have preached to others, I may not be a castaway. Pray that I may save some.
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Heb. 13:20-21).