Photograph of St. Peter's, courtesy of Ewan MacNeilage
TO THE REV. W. C. BURNS
On his agreeing to undertake the charge of St Peter’s, during Mr M‘C.’s absence in Palestine
EDINBURGH Hill Street, March 22, 1839.
Greeting and thankfulness:
MR DEAR FRIEND,—For I trust I may now reckon you among the number in the truest sense,—I haste to send you a line in answer to your last. I am glad you have made up your mind to begin your spiritual charge over my flock on the first week of April. The Committee have resolved that I leave this on Wednesday next, so that you will not hear from me again till I am away.
Notes: Here is the right of a pastor, of a shepherd: a concern for the people independent of a concern for himself. Too often pastors take pleasure in their work because the congregation likes him. M’Cheyne cares that someone will care for the people, even without him.
First Charge: The pastor cannot convey to others what he does not have in himself. MCheyne gives four specific elements of this charge. Now, even though this is instruction given to a pastor, it is appropriate for all Christians to live in this way: a clear conscience, communion, sanctification, Bible.
Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul.
- A) Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb.
- B) Keep up close communion with God.
- C) Study likeness to Him in all things.
- D) Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people.
Second Charge: There is a distinction between preaching and lectures. Too often what passes for “expository preaching” is actually just stringing together commentaries with illustrations and something called “application” which is really just “do this”.
Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth.
Third Charge: How live with the congregation. Allow the congregation to be with you easily: don’t hole up in your study to the exclusion of never knowing the people. This is necessary to be a good pastor, and necessary to be a good preacher. A pastor is more than a preaching machine. Moreover, a man preaches better when he knows the people to whom he preaches.
This charge contains a line which many pastors sadly know. There is an odd thing which happens often between the pastor and the congregation. The pastorate can easily become a lonely place (this is often very bad for the pastor’s wife). There is much to be said and done to help protect pastors and their wives.
Be easy of access, apt to teach, and the Lord teach you and bless you in all you do and say.
You will not find many companions.
Be the more with God.
My dear people are anxiously waiting for you. The prayerful are praying for you.
Fourth Charge: Your strength is in the Lord:
Be of good courage; there remaineth much of the land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with thee to deliver thee. Study Isaiah 6, and Jer. 1, and the sending of Moses, and Ps. 51:12, 13, and John 15:26, 27, and the connection in Luke 1:15, 16.
I shall hope to hear from you when I am away. Your accounts of my people will be a good word to make my heart glad. I am often sore cast down; but the eternal God is my refuge. Now farewell; the Lord make you a faithful steward.—Ever yours, etc
Robert Murray McCheyne and Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 180–181.