A few years ago, I purchased an antiquated copy of Andrew Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. M’Cheyne was a Scottish minister who died at the unripened age of 30. In the assessment of his biographer, M’Cheyne was considered to have had an “indelible influence upon Scotland.” His ministry was seen by many as a precursor to the great revivals that took Scotland by storm. The profound impact of his ministry has been linked to the unusual degree of personal holiness that he possessed. His deep conviction of sin and his growing dependence on the cross of Christ resulted in a lifestyle that was clearly set apart for the work of God. He was perceived as pure and blameless before those who knew him best, and as a result they were deeply moved by his preaching of the gospel.
One particular paragraph in the Memoirs stood out to me. The following advice was written in a letter penned from M’Cheyne to a young friend training for overseas ministry.
“I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
As I have undergone formal training for ministry, I have sought very hard to remember the cultivation of my heart. It is so easy to get caught up in theological pursuits, language studies, and ministry experiences while neglecting the formation of my own heart. The truth is, I can no more fashion my heart than I can make myself fly through the air. But the Spirit of God can accomplish the work of giving me a Christ-like heart. Without the Spirit of God softening my heart and working the grace of obedience into my life, there will be no Christ-likeness in me. As I continue to put my faith in the work of Christ and daily repent of my sin, I am able to humbly rest in the arms of Jesus as the Spirit of God conforms me to His likeness.
While the Spirit accomplishes the work of transforming our hearts, He does not do so apart from means. His primary means of transformation is the word of God. As we study and apply the truth of Scripture, we grow to know and reflect the image of Christ. Through prayer, we humbly and confidently ask the Father to accomplish this work in our lives. Through applying the gospel in our studies, relationships, careers, life experiences, and ministry opportunities we begin to cultivate the heart of Christ within ourselves. We even find that God uses suffering to grow us in godliness. He may use suffering to soften us and strengthen our affections as each painful blow tenderizes our hearts toward Him. Through suffering, He fashions within us a heart of humility and dependence, and despite the difficulty of our experience He fortifies our faith and love for Him.
When we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, we learn to depend on His grace to sustain and guide us. We also learn to treasure Christ above all as the ultimate Object of our affection. That can be a painful lesson to learn. I have often had to ask the Lord to “break my heart a thousand times over if that’s what it takes to rid me of these idols and make it belong to Him.” He continues to answer that prayer. And while it hurts whenever He “breaks” me, He never fails to remake me. His grace is sufficient and His love is ever faithful to those who put their trust in Christ. May we never neglect the culture of our hearts as we seek to be made more and more into the image of Christ. May we rely on the power of the Spirit and trust the promises of God as we seek to apply the realities of the gospel to our lives. The gospel alone shall be our means of guarding and growing our hearts in grace.
Blessings in Christ, Gabriel