Robert Murray M’Cheyne
Journal Entries on Fasting and Prayer
Introduction: Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) was a pastor in the Church of Scotland from 1835-1843. Born in Edinburgh, he was educated at the university there, where he was taught by Thomas Chalmers. He first seved as an assistant pastor in the parish of Larbert and Dunipace under John Bonar. Later he became associated with St. Peter’s church in Dundee where he served until his early death, at the age of 29, from typhus. Later, his friend, Andrew Bonar, edited his biography and published it as the Memoir and Remains of Rev. Robet Murray M’Cheyne. M'Cheyne was a preacher, a pastor, a poet, and wrote many letters. He was also a man of deep piety and a man of prayer. He never married. At one point he traveled to Palestine to inquire as to the conditions of the Jews. While he was away, William Chalmers Burns filled in at Dundee, and brought revival. Instead of being jealous or territorial, M’Cheyne rejoiced in what God was doing. His writings are filled with thoughts of Jesus. As one who frequently resorted to prayer and fasting, it is appropriate to include some of his journal entries fasting. (Information taken from Wiki)
Journal Entries on Fasting
"June 11.—Yesterday up in Dunipace. It would seem as if I were afraid to name the name of Christ. Saw many worldly people greatly needing a word in season, yet could not get up my heart to speak. What I did failed almost completely. I am not worthy, Lord! Today sought to prepare my heart for the coming Sabbath. After the example of Boston, whose life I have been reading, examined my heart with prayer and fasting. 1. Does my heart really close with the offer of salvation by Jesus? Is it my choice to be saved in the way which gives Him all the praise, and me none? Do I not only see it to be the Bible way of salvation, but does it cordially approve itself to my heart as delightful? Lord, search me and try me, for I cannot but answer, Yes, yes. 2. Is it the desire of my heart to be made altogether holy? Is there any sin I wish to retain? Is sin a grief to me, the sudden risings and overcomings thereof especially! Lord, Thou knowest all things— Thou knowest that I hate all sin, and desire to be made altogether like Thee. It is the sweetest word in the Bible: 'Sin shall not have dominion over you.' Oh, then, that I might lie low in the dust,—the lower the better,—that Jesus' righteousness and Jesus' strength alone be admired! Felt much deadness, and much grief that I cannot grieve for this deadness. Towards evening revived. Got a calm spirit through psalmody and prayer."
''June 12, Sabbath.—Today a sinner preached Jesus, the same Jesus who has done all things for him, and that so lately! A day of much help, of some earnest looking-up of the heart to that alone quickening power, of much temptation to flattery and pride. Oh for breathing gales of spiritual life! Evening—Somewhat helped to lay Jesus before little children in his beauty and excellency. Much fatigue, yet some peace. Surely a day in thy courts is better than a thousand."
"Sept. 27.—Devoted chief part of Friday to fasting. Humbled and refreshed."
“Sept. 30, Sabbath.—Very happy in my work. Too little prayer in the morning. Must try to get early to bed on Saturday, that I may ' rise a great while before day.'" These early hours of prayer on Sabbath he endeavoured to have all his life; not for study, but for prayer. He never laboured at his sermons on a Sabbath. That day he kept for its original end, the refreshment of his soul. (Exodus xxxi. 17.)
His diary does not contain much of his feelings during his residence in Dundee. His incessant labours left him little time, except what he scrupulously spent in the direct exercises of devotion. But what we have seen of his manner of study and self examination at Larbert, is sufficient to show in what a constant state of cultivation his soul was kept; and his habits in these respects continued with him to the last. Jeremy Taylor recommends: “If thou meanest to enlarge thy religion, do it rather by enlarging thine ordinary devotions than thy extraordinary." This advice describes very accurately the plan of spiritual life on which Mr M'Cheyne acted. He did occasionally set apart seasons for special prayer and fasting, occupying the time He set apart exclusively in devotion. But the real secret of his soul's prosperity lay in the daily enlargement of his heart in fellowship with his God. And the river deepened as it flowed on to eternity; so that he at least reached that feature of a holy pastor which Paul pointed out to Timothy (iv. 15): “His profiting did appear to all."
In his own house everything was fitted to make you feel that the service of God was a cheerful service, while he sought that every arrangement of the family should bear upon eternity. His morning hours were set apart for the nourishment of his own soul; not, however, with the view of laying up a stock of grace for the rest of the day, —for manna will corrupt if laid by, — but rather with the view of “giving the eye the habit of looking upward all the day, and drawing down gleams from the reconciled countenance." He was sparing in the hours devoted to sleep, and resolutely secured time for devotion before breakfast, although often wearied and exhausted when he laid himself to rest. “A soldier of the cross," was his remark, “must endure hardness." Often he sang a psalm of praise, as soon as he arose, to stir up his soul. Three chapters of the word was his usual morning portion. This he thought little enough, for he delighted exceedingly in the Scriptures; thcy were better to him than thousands of gold or silver. “When you write," said he to a friend, “tell me the meaning of Scriptures." To another, in expressing his value for the word, he said, "One gem from that ocean is worth all the pebbles of earthly streams."
His chief season of relaxation seemed to be breakfast-time. He would come down with a happy countenance and a full soul; and after the sweet season of family prayer, forthwith commence forming plans for the day. When he was well, nothing seemed to afford him such true delight as to have his hands full of work. Indeed, it was often remarked that in him you found—what you rarely meet with—a man of high poetic imagination and deep devotion, who nevertheless was engaged unceasingly in the busiest and most laborious activities of his office.
His friends could observe how much his soul was engrossed during his times of study and devotion. If interrupted on such occasions, though he never seemed ruffled, yet there was a kind of gravity and silence that implied—“I wish to be alone." But he further aimed at enjoying God all the day. And referring on one occasion to those blank hours which so often are a believer's burden, —hours during which the soul is dry and barren,—he observed, “They are proofs of how little we are filled with the presence of God, how little we are branchlike in our faith."
This careful attention to the frame of his spirit did not hinder his preparation for his people; on the contrary, it kept alive his deep conscientiousness, and kept his warm compassion ever yearning. When asked to observe a Saturday as a day of fasting and prayer, along with some others who had a special object in view, he replied, “Saturday is an awkward day for ministers; for though I love to seek help from on high, I love also diligently to set my thoughts in order for the Sabbath. I sometimes fear that you fail in this latter duty.''
During his first years in Dundee, he often rode out in an afternoon to the ruined church of Invergowrie, to enjoy an hour's perfect solitude; for he felt meditation and prayer to be the very sinews of his work. Such notices, also, as the following, show his systematic pursuit of personal holiness:—
"April 9, 1837—Evening.—A very pleasant quietness. Study of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Came to a more intelligent view of the first six chapters than ever before. Much refreshed by John Newton; instructed by Edwards. Help and freedom in prayer. Lord, what a happy season is a Sabbath evening! What will Heaven be!"
"April 16—Sabbath Evening.—Much prayer and peace. Reading the Bible only."
"June 2.—Much peace and rest tonight. Much broken under a sense of my exceeding wickedness, which no eye can see but thine. Much persuasion of the sufficiency of Christ.
Soon after his return from his mission to the Jews, a ministerial prayer-meeting was formed among some of the brethren in Dundee. Mr M'Chcyne took part in it, along with Mr Lewis of St David's, Mr Baxter of Hilltown, Mr P. L. Miller, afterwards of Wallacetown, and others. Feeling deep concern for the salvation of the souls under their care, they met every Monday forenoon, to pray together for their flocks and their own souls. The time of the meeting was limited to an hour and a half, in order that all who attended might form their pastoral arrangements for the day, without fear of being hindered; and, in addition to prayer, those present conversed on some selected topic, vitally connected with their duties as ministers of Christ. Mr M'Cheyne was never absent from this prayer-meeting unless through absolute necessity, and the brethren scarcely remember any occasion on which some important remark did not drop from his lips. He himself reaped great profit from it. He notes, Dec. 8: “This has been a deeply interesting week. On Monday our ministerial prayer-meeting was set agoing in St David's vestry. The hearts of all seem really in earnest in it. The Lord answers prayer; may it be a great blessing to our souls and to our flocks." Another time: “Meeting in St David's vestry. The subject of fasting was spoken upon. Felt exceedingly in my own spirit how little we feel real grief on account of sin before God, or we would often lose our appetite for food. When parents lose a child, they often do not taste a bit from morning to night, out of pure grief. Should we not mourn as for an only child? How little of the spirit of grace and supplication we have then!" On Dec. 30: “Pleasant meeting of ministers. Many delightful texts on ' Arguments to be used with God in prayer.' How little I have used these! Should we not study prayer more? "
Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne, (New York, Robert Carter, 1849).