Church History Index
Robert Murray McCheyne
History has been simply defined as His story. From the creation of the world to the present, time is a tapestry of divine Providence. Our sovereign God, Who rules and reigns in the affairs of men, has been pleased to raise up men and women of destiny who have impacted their generation for Christ.
Because of our great interest in church history and particularly, the spiritual awakenings that our merciful Father predetermined in generations past, we have taken the opportunity to visit the homes, churches and graves of men and women of whom the world is not worthy. Without exception, we always come away with a greater sense of the majesty of God Who delights in using weak men and women, like us, to glorify Himself.
For the Love of Church History,
Don and Cindy Currin
While in a conference in Florence, Italy, in the spring of 2014, I was privileged to tour a few of the sites from the life and ministry of Savonarola. Interestingly, in God’s providence, I was introduced to this preacher through S. M. Houghton’s Sketches from Church History only a few months before.
Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was an Italian political reformer. Although Martin Luther considered him a pioneer of the Reformation, Savonarola’s ministry was more characterized by moral than theological reform.
Known for his blood earnestness and fearless proclamation of truth, Savonarola denounced the moral decadence in the lives of his fellow countrymen and the unbiblical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. His faithful preaching on repentance led to the conversion of many and a great revival in the city of Florence.
On one occasion, Pope Alexander Borgia sought to silence him by using bribery. He offered to make him a cardinal in the Catholic Church. Savonarola answered, “I do not desire any other crown than the crown of a martyr.”
In May of 1498 Savonarola was executed by burning in the central square of Florence. A Catholic bishop said, “I separate thee from the church militant and triumphant.” To which Savonarola retorted, “Militant, not triumphant, for you have no power to separate me from the church triumphant to which I go.”
On the Monday of June 21, 1630, a young man named John Livingston had been asked to speak following a Sabbath of Communion. Alexander Smellie in his book The Men of the Covenant conveys the account of the minister and the events of that sacred hour:
With some friends he had spent the night before in laying fast hold upon the promise and grace of Heaven. When the midsummer morning broke, the preacher wanted to escape from the responsibilities in front of him. Alone in the fields, between eight and nine, he felt such misgivings, such a burden of unworthiness, such dread of the multitude and expectation of the people, that he was consulting himself to have stolen away; but he “durst not so far distrust God, and so went to sermon, and got good assistance.” Good assistance indeed; for, after he had spoken for an hour and a half from the text, Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean, and was thinking that now he must close, he was constrained by the Lord Himself to continue. “I was led on about a hour’s time in a strain of exhortation and warning, with such liberty and melting of heart as I never had the like in public all my life.” No fewer than five hundred men and women, some of them ladies of high estate, and others poor wastrels and beggars, traced the dawn of the undying life to John Livinston’s words that day.
In spite of the increased decadence of our godless society, the wave of man-centered, seeker-sensitive campaigns and the lethal apathy among professing believers, may it be the good pleasure of an exalted Savior to make His presence known in another revival such as the Kirk O’ Shotts.
Robert Murray McCheyne was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 21, 1813. While he never knew the exact time of his conversion, he possessed an unwavering assurance of salvation.In pursuit of holiness from the very beginning of his spiritual pilgrimage, he experienced an insatiable hunger for more of Christ. He was referred to as the “saintly McCheyne” long after his death because of His devotion to his Redeemer. The young minister commented on one occasion, “it is not great talents that God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus.’
Andrew Bonar, his beloved friend and biographer, said that McCheyne “made every talent he possessed subsidiary to the single desire of awakening those who were dead in trespasses and sins”. While a burning zeal compelled him to faithfully speak to men about Christ, he never forfeited the tender composure of his Savior when making gospel appeals. On one occasion, he inquired from a fellow minister what he had preached the previous Sunday to his congregation. The seasoned gospel minister replied, “I preached from Psalm 9:17, the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God.” Without hesitation, McCheyne inquired, “Did you preach it gently?”
Uniquely gifted with artistic skill to sketch objects and people with lifelike precision, he would often draw a setting sun on his letters or envelopes with the words “the night cometh when no man can work” from John 9:4.
Following McCheyne’s death at age 29, it was said that you could scarce find a person in Dundee, Scotland, who did not have a swollen face and red eyes from weeping over the departure of the beloved minister. His life was a praise to the very Savior who sculptured His character after His own likeness.