In 1839, pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne was away from his church in Dundee, Scotland, for eight months. My dream and prayer for Bethlehem is that during my eight months away, we will experience something like his church, St. Peter’s, did in the time of her pastor’s absence.
M’Cheyne went on a mission trip to Israel at the beginning of April 1839. His words about being away express my conviction exactly. Before he left he wrote,
I sometimes think, that a great blessing may come to my people in my absence. Often God does not bless us when we are in the midst of our labours, lest we shall say, “My hand and my eloquence have done it.” He removes us into silence, and then pours “down a blessing so that there is not room to receive it;” so that all that see it cry out, “It is the Lord!” (Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1966], p. 85)
Amazingly this is what happened. Mr. William C. Burns, the son of the minister at Kilsyth, filled the pulpit at St. Peter’s while M’Cheyne was away. M’Cheyne wrote to him,
I hope you may be a thousand times more blessed among them than I ever was. Perhaps there are many souls that would never have been saved under my ministry, who may be touched under yours; and God has taken this method of bringing you into my place. His name is Wonderful. (p. 89)
In August 1839, it happened. M’Cheyne was seriously ill in Bouja, near Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). He would die just four years later at the age of 29. But for now he was praying earnestly for revival in his home church in Dundee. Andrew Bonar, M’Cheyne’s biographer writes,
It was during the time of Mr. M’Cheyne’s sore sickness that his flock in Dundee were receiving blessing from the opened windows of heaven. Their pastor was lying at the gate of death, in utter helplessness. But the Lord had done this on very purpose; for He meant to show that He needed not the help of any: He could send forth new labourers and work by new instruments. When it pleased Him. (p. 108)
The revival began in Kilsyth and then spread to Dundee on August 8, 1839.
Two days after, the Spirit began to work in St. Peter’s, at the time of the prayer-meeting in the church, in a way similar to Kilsyth. Day after day the people met for prayer and hearing the word; and the time of the apostles seemed returned, when “the Lord added to the Church daily of such as should be saved.” (p. 109)
Would there be jealousy or envy that the Lord had given the great harvest under a substitute preacher? No. Bonar writes,
Mr. M’Cheyne had received from the Lord a holy disinterestedness that suppressed every feeling of envy. Many wondered at the single-heartedness he was enabled to exhibit. He could sincerely say, “I have no desire but the salvation of my people, by whatever instrument.” (p. 116)
Dear Bethlehem, I love you very much. I would happily trade my life for yours. God’s ways are not our ways. But, as they say in Mark 7:37, “Jesus does all things well.” That is what I know will happen while I am gone.
Would you pray with me for a great awakening that results in hundreds coming to Christ, marriages being reconciled and renewed, wayward children coming home, long-standing slavery to sin being conquered, spiritual dullness being replaced by vibrant joy, weak faith being replaced by bold witness, disinterest in prayer being replaced by fervent intercession, boring Bible reading being replaced by passion for God’s word, and lukewarm worship being replaced by zeal for the greatness of God’s glory?
I will pray for you every day to this end . . . and more. Lord, open the heavens while I am gone.