Yesterday on my Sabbath day I read a little book by the early 19th Century Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne, The Deeper Life. He died at the young age of 29, but he brought many souls to Christ in his short life and his words continue do so nearly two centuries later. His simple reading plan for going through the Bible in a year is so effective that it is still being used today, but what especially drew me to him was his vision of a holy and happy life in Christ.
I love to read the old spiritual books like McCheyne’s! The Classics of Christian Devotion bring us a perspective and passion for Christ that we desperately need today. For instance, they help us to enthrall our minds with Jesus, which is the secret to a life of joy and power to do good.
To captivate our minds with Christ begins with being unhurried in his presence. On my Sabbath I had hours to read and re-read McCheyne’s classic book. He writes: “I want my life to be hid with Christ in God. At present there is too much hurry and bustle, and outward working, to allow the calm working of the Spirit on the heart. I seldom get time to meditate, like Isaac, at eveningtide, except when I am tired. But the dew comes down when all nature is at rest, when every leaf is still.” (p. 50).
McCheyne wrote in an agricultural, pre-electricity society! How much more do we need to hear his words in our clamorous and cluttered world! Oh, that we’d make more space to rest and wait for the dew of heaven to fall on us!
The Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It is in the moment of stillness, whether alone or in community with other Christ-lovers, that we can behold the Lord with our hearts. And it is in delighting in the beauty and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ that we move toward becoming more like him, more loving of the people around us. Jesus shows us a life that is holy and happy, a life that works well and is blessed to be a blessing — even in hard times. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to provide for us to grow into the fullness of his divinely abundant and eternal life.
Like McCheyne, “I always feel it a blessed thing when the Savior takes me aside from the crowd, as he took the blind man out of the town, and removes the veil, and clears away obscuring mists, and by his word and Spirit leads to deeper peace and a holier walk” (p. 46).
McCheyne’s message on the life of holiness and peace in Christ blew into my soul “like the clean sea breeze of the centuries past”, to use C.S. Lewis’ phrase, and I want to share it with you in these excepts from The Deeper Life, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and David P. Setran. (Their little book is a much condensed version of the writings of Andrew Bonar who compiled the sermons and letters of McCheyne to write Memoir and Remains of the Reverend Robert Murray McCheyne and Additional Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne, both in 1881.)
Study the Life of Christ
I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do the most for God’s glory and the good of people, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world…
My only safety is to know, feel, and confess my helplessness, that I may hang upon the arm of Omnipotence… [So] I ought to study Christ’s omnipotence… [This is my] main defense [against temptation to sin:] casting myself into the arms of Christ like a helpless child, and beseeching Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
I ought to study Christ as a living Savior more — as a Shepherd, carrying the sheep He finds, as a King, reigning in and over the souls He has redeemed, as a Captain, fighting with those who fight with me (Ps. 35) — as one who has engaged to bring me through all temptations and trials, however impossible to flesh and blood…
I ought to study Christ as an Intercessor. He prayed most for Peter, who was to be most tempted. I am on his breastplate. If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; He is praying for me!
I ought to study the [Spirit of Christ as my] Comforter more — His Godhead, His love, His Almightiness. I have found by experience that nothing sanctifies me so much as meditating on the Comforter (John 14:16)… I ought never to forget that my body is dwelt in by the third Person of the Godhead. The very thought of this should make me tremble to sin (1 Cor. 6:12-20). I ought never to forget that sin grieves the Holy Spirit — vexes and quenches Him. If I would be filled with the Spirit, I feel I must read the Bible more, pray more, and watch more. [To watch is to be in quiet prayer in order to anticipate temptations that are likely to come and to take heart from Christ to overcome sin.] (The Deeper Life by Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 11, 16-18)
Free of Sin, Full of Joy
I ought to get a high esteem of the happiness of [gaining entire likeness to Christ]. I am persuaded that God’s happiness is inseparably linked in with His holiness. Holiness and happiness are like light and heat. God never tasted one of the pleasures of sin.
Christ had a body such as I have, yet He never tasted one of the pleasures of sin. The redeemed through all eternity, will never taste pleasures of sin; yet their happiness is complete. It would be my greatest happiness to be from this moment entirely like them. Every sin is something away from my greatest enjoyment. The devil strives night and day to make me forget this or disbelieve it. He says, “Why should you not enjoy this pleasure as much as Solomon or David? You may go to heaven also.” I am persuaded that this is a lie — my true happiness is to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11)…
Whatever I see to be sin, I ought from this hour to set my whole soul against it, using all scriptural methods to mortify it — as [meditation on] the Scriptures, special prayer for the Spirit, fasting, watching.
I ought to mark strictly the occasions when I have fallen, and avoid the occasion as much as the sin itself.
Satan often tempts me to go as near to temptations as possible without committing the sin… I ought to flee all temptation, according to Prov. 4:15: “Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” Entire conformity to Christ — for the whole law to be written on my heart — I ought stately and solemnly to give my heart to God, to surrender my all into His everlasting arms, according to the prayer (Ps. 31:5), “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” I ought to beseech Him not to let any iniquity, secret or presumptuous, have dominion over me, and to fill me with every grace that is in Christ, in the highest degree that is possible for a redeemed sinner to receive it, and at all times, till death.
I ought to meditate often on heaven as a world of holiness, where all are holy, where the joy is holy joy, the work holy work; so that without personal holiness I can never be there…
I am persuaded that nothing is thriving in my soul unless it is growing. “Grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). “Lord increase our faith” (Luke 17:5)… I ought to strive for more purity, humility, meekness, patience under suffering, love. “Make me Christ-like in all things,” should be my constant prayer. “Fill me with the Holy Spirit.” (The Deeper Life by Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 18-20)
The Sweetest Pleasures are in Christ
Oh, you that are lambs, seek to be gathered with the arm of the Savior, and carried in His gentle bosom. Come to trust under the Savior’s wings. Yet there is room… It is far happier to be in Christ than to be out of Christ.
[To be in Christ] satisfies the heart. I never will deny that there are pleasures to be found out of Christ. The song and the dance, and the exciting game, are most engaging to young hearts…
[But] think again. Are there not infinitely sweeter pleasures to be had in Christ? Our Lord said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13-14). “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV). To be forgiven, to be at peace with God, to have Him for a father, to have Him loving us and smiling on us, to have the Holy Spirit coming into our hearts, and making us holy, this is worth a whole eternity of your [worldly] pleasures. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). Oh to be satisfied with favor, and full with the blessing of the Lord! Your daily bread becomes sweeter. You eat your meat “with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God” (Acts 2:46, KJV). Your foot is more light and bounding, for it bears a ransomed body. Your sleep is sweeter at night, “For so He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2, NKJV). The sun shines more lovingly, and the earth wears a pleasanter smile, because you can say, “My Father made them all.”
[To be in Christ] makes you glad all your days. The pleasures of sin are only for a season; they do not last (Heb. 11:25). But to be brought to Christ is like the dawning of an eternal day; it spreads the serenity of heaven over all the days of our pilgrimage. In suffering days, what will the world do for you? (The Deeper Life by Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 39-41)
Only Christ Brings Peace and Joy in Suffering and Death
“Like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart” (Prov. 25:20). Believe me there are days at hand when you will “say of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What [does it accomplish]?” (Eccl. 2:2, KJV). But if you fly to Jesus Christ now, He will cheer you in the days of darkness. When the winds are contrary and the waves are high, Jesus will draw near, and say, “It is I: do not be afraid” (John 6:20) That voice stills the heart in the stormiest hour. When the world reproaches you and casts out your name as evil — when the doors are shut — Jesus will come in, and say, “Peace be to you” (John 20:26). Who can tell the sweetness and the peace which Jesus gives in such an hour?
One little girl that was early brought to Christ felt this when long confined to a sick-bed. “I am not weary of my bed,” she said, “for my bed is green and all that I meet with is perfumed with love to me. The time, night and day, is made sweet to me by the Lord. When it is evening, it is pleasant; and when it is morning, I am refreshed.”
Last of all, in a dying day, what will the world do for you? The dance and the song, and the merry companion, will then lose all their power to cheer you. [You will not want more joking or entertainment then.] Oh, that you were wise, that you would understand this, and consider your latter end! (Deuteronomy 32:29) But that is the very time when the soul of one in Christ rejoices with a joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).
Jesus can make a dying bed softer than downy pillows are. You remember, when Stephen came to die, his gentle breast battered with cruel stones; but he kneeled down and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). John Newton tells us a Christian girl who, on her dying day, said, “If this be dying, it is a pleasant thing to die.” Another little Christian, of eight years of age, came home ill of the malady of which he died. His mother asked him if he were afraid to die. “No,” said he, “I wish to die, if it be God’s will: that sweet word, ‘Sleep in Jesus,’ makes me happy when I think on the grave.”
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19), if you would live happy and die happy, come now to the Savior. The door of the ark is wide open. Enter now or it may be never…
You cannot love trouble for its own sake; bitter must always be bitter, and pain must always be pain. God knows you cannot love trouble. Yet for the blessings that it brings… Does trouble work patience in you? Does it lead you to cling closer to the Lord Jesus — to hide deeper in the rock? Does it make you be still and know that He is God? (Ps. 46:10) Does it make you lie passive in His hand, and know no will but His?
Thus does patience work experience — an experience of acquaintance with Jesus. Does it bring you a fuller taste of His sweetness, so that you know whom you have believed? And does this experience give you further hope of glory — another anchor cast within the veil [deep in the sea, out of sight but attached to the rock]? And does this hope give you a heart that cannot be ashamed, because you are convinced that God has loved you, and will love you to the end? Ah! then you have got the improvement through trouble. (The Deeper Life by Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 41-42, 46-47)
Trust in Christ Alone
Observe it is said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5). When you believe in Jesus for righteousness, you must cast away all your own claims for pardon. Your own righteousness must be filthy rags in your eyes (Isaiah 64:6). You must come empty, that you may go away full of Jesus. And just so, when you trust in Jesus for strength, you must cast away all your natural notions of your own strength…
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” [When you look] to Jesus on the cross [He gives you] peace of conscience. Look to Him now upon the throne, and that will give you purity of heart. I know of but one way in which a branch can be made a leafy, healthy, fruit-bearing branch; and that is by being grated into the vine and abiding there (John 15:1-8). And just so I know of but one way in which a believer can be made a holy, happy, and fruitful child of God; and that is by believing in Jesus, abiding in Him, walking in Him, being “rooted and built up in Him” (Col. 2:7).
Whoever, then, would live a life of persevering holiness, let them keep their eye fixed on the Savior. As long as Peter looked only to the Savior, he walked upon the sea in safety, to go to Jesus… As long as you look believingly to the Savior, who loved you, and gave Himself for you, so long you may tread the waters of life’s troubled sea, and the soles of your feet shall not be wet…
Look to Christ; for the glorious Son of God so loved lost souls, that He took on Him a body and died for us — bore our curse, obeyed the law in our place. Look to Him and live…
Seek to be made holier every dray; pray, strive, wrestle for the Spirit, to make you like God. Be as much as you can with God. I declare to you that I had rather be one hour with God, than a thousand [elsewhere]. All other joys are but streams; God is the fountain: “All my springs are in You” (Ps. 87:7)…
I trust you feel real desire after complete holiness. This is the truest mark of being born again. It is a mark that He has [provided for us] the inheritance of the saints in [the kingdom of] light (Col. 1:12). If a nobleman were to adopt a beggar boy, he would not only feed and clothe him, but educate him, and fit him to move in the sphere of [responsibility and opportunity]… So may you be made [ready] for glory…
Seek… personal holiness. It is for this that the grace of God has appeared to you. For this Jesus died; for this He chose you; for this He converted you — to make you holy people, living epistles of Christ (2 Cor. 3:2), monuments of what God can do in a sinner’s heart. You know what true holiness is. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Let Him dwell in you, and so all His features will shine in your hearts and faces. Oh, to be like Jesus! This is heaven, wherever it be. (The Deeper Life by Robert Murray McCheyne, pp. 47-49, 51)
More Soul Shepherding
You can go deeper in your appreciation for Christ Jesus. Forgiveness, unfailing love, and the power to become like the Lord are available to you!
Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross by Bill Gaultiere is 68-pages of heart-warming appreciation for Christ and inspiration to learn to live your daily life with his attitude of love for God and people.
Unforsaken is great for personal devotions, small groups, and retreats.