Category Archives: Robert Murray M’Cheyne

The Lord Humbles Those He Loves

A Broken Staff, A Broken Heart, and A Broken Man

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor of the early 19th century, was known eminently for his personal holiness. His lifestyle so clearly matched the message that he preached that his congregation was known to sometimes begin sobbing before he ever entered the pulpit. They deeply loved their pastor and were much affected by his gospel preaching since they knew that he greatly loved Christ, as well as them.  His love for Christ can be seen in this instruction he gave his congregation: “For every look at self, take ten looks [nay, a thousand looks] at Christ.”  His reputation for holiness and his influence was so widespread that he effected the spiritual revival of numerous individuals.  He was credited by other contemporaries as having “left an indelible influence upon Scotland.”

According to Andrew Bonar, a fellow pastor, M’Cheyne’s preaching was, in large measure, the primary means by which the Holy Spirit stirred up the grace of God in Scotland.  His renowned holiness seemed to be a catalyst used by the Holy Spirit to initiate the Great Scottish Revival and compel a number of other young men into ministry. Often after preaching, M’Cheyne would kneel privately as though he were taking the crown off of his head in order to humbly lay it at the feet of the King to whom it rightly belonged. Such a gesture demonstrated his pursuit of pride-crushing humility. At other times, the Lord had to humble him through hardship. M’Cheyne struggled much with poor health and eventually died at the age of 29, partly because of poor health and mostly due to unrelenting labor for the cause of Christ. While he may have ridden his body too hard, he made it to the finish line and was used by God to spur others on in running after the same Prize.

In his diary (March 20, 1832), he wrote the following entry regarding a measure of dark providence. While we do not know the exact circumstance, it seems to have been a great disappointment which the Lord used to humble and refine him. The measure of heart-break must have been significant. He had apparently put his trust in something other than the Lord, and like all things, it had proven inadequate for bearing the weight of such a burden. Nothing built “of man” can bear the burden that should only be laid upon the Lord.

March 20, 1832: “Leaning on a staff of my own devising, it betrayed me and broke under me. It was not Thy staff. Resolving to be a god Thou shewdest me that I was but a man.  But my own staff being broken, why may I not lay hold of Thine?” [1]

As Jonathan Edwards had observed in Charity and Its Fruits, “Longsuffering produces humility.”  So does heartache and disappointment. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Waiting patiently upon the Lord reveals a dependence upon His love and providence. It is never easy, but it is always good. The Lord broke the “staff of [M’Cheyne’s] own making” so that he might fully and finally lean on Christ. In doing so, He provided what M’Cheyne needed even though it wasn’t at first what he wanted. How sweet and gracious is the God we serve, that He is willing to crush our idols in order to strengthen and sustain us. Such pruning leads to bearing holiness, the sweet fruit ripened by hardship. Even behind His “frowning providence, there is a hidden smile.” Praise God that He doesn’t leave us as we are, leaning upon our own weak and crooked staff, when His is strong for holding and straight for guiding. We are truly blessed beyond anything that we could ask or imagine.

Lord, my heart is Yours… may You break my staff a thousand times, if that’s what it takes to make me lean on You. Thank you for loving me enough to break my heart in order to make it whole, and wholly Yours.


[1] Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth).

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