The Purifying Power of Delight in Christ

The Purifying Power of Delight in Christ

Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) left us with one quote that has become quite famous, and for good reason. It goes like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” The quote is short, sticky, and it helps to both keep our focus on Christ and protect us from the trap of over-introspection with our own sins.

The line is taken from a letter published in Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne [(Edinburgh, 1894), 293]. Here’s a little more of the context:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . .

When taken by itself the quote seems to suggests that McCheyne was simply content to turn a blind eye to his own weaknesses. Such an interpretation is far from the truth. If we keep reading we find what McCheyne writes later in the same paragraph.

. . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.

Here is the punchline to the entire thought. The excellency of Christ is both the brilliant contrast to the sin in our hearts, and the remedy to the sin we find there. McCheyne was well aware that we battle indwelling sin by filling our hearts with “the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.” Communion with Christ is the key to sanctification. This is the expulsive power of a new affection. This is to be changed from one degree of glory to another by beholding the brilliance of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In these words McCheyne reminds us that for every look at your own sin, take ten looks at the beauty of Christ, because as you delight in Christ you are expelling sin and pursuing sanctification.


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Tony Reinke is a content strategist and staff writer for Desiring God and the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011) and John Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (2015). He hosts the Ask Pastor John and Authors on the Line podcasts, and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and their three children. He also blogs at tonyreinke.com.