Full disclosure: I had never read any sermons by Robert Murray McCheyne before Christian Focus Publications was kind enough to send me a copy of seven sermons by McCheyne called The Believer’s Joy (Get it here or get it for Kindle here). McCheyne was a pastor in Scotland in the 1830’s and 40’s. He passed away at the age of 29. By almost all accounts, however, he displayed a maturity and had a ministry that far exceeded his age. In short, McCheyne was a leader. Even better, he was a theologically minded leader, which means at Theologian of the Boss, we want to learn more about him and be mentored by him. The Believer’s Joy gives us just such an opportunity.
Reading Robert Murray McCheyne’s sermons is a lot like having a multi-course meal. Robert starts with an initial text, makes some opening comments and then proceeds to set up some observations. You could call that the appetizer. Then McCheyne proceeds to break the practical importance of the text in the life of a believer. You could call that the main course. Finally, McCheyne closes with some exhortations to both believers and nonbelievers—a sort of dessert, if you will.
Now for anyone reading, what I just described might be considered rather uninspired. Most sermons follow a similar setup as the above: an introduction, the body, and the conclusion. However, it is the not the structure of this spiritual feast that stands out—it are the subtle nuances found in each sermon that make them a “meal” to remember.
By reading this collection of seven sermons, I learned several things about Robert Murray McCheyne.
1.McCheyne preached in a way that was both academic and accessible.
It is clear that McCheyne, though young, was intimately familiar with the Scriptures. He often breaks down the historical background of the text, the context of a passage or alludes to other parts of the Scripture. Nevertheless, his style is not complicated. It is not overly laden with imagery or stodgy language. His sermons are approachable and easy to read and comprehend. Sinclair Ferguson encourages us in the forward to read the sermons out loud. I would highly recommend that because you will note cadences of poetic form in McCheyne’s sermon. It flows easily.
2. McCheyne preached in a way that merged exposition with systematic theology.
In the sermon that the book is entitled after, The Believer’s Joy, he begins by breaking down the text of Romans 5:11. However, McCheyne then pivots to talking about all the ways that the believer joys in God and it amounts into an exploration of God’s divine attributes: His omniscience, might, justice and the past, present and future dimensions of God’s love. What is beautiful is that McCheyne saw that Romans 5 introduces the beauty of God’s attributes and then he in turn breaks each attribute down systematically. There are few preachers who can do this well, yet McCheyne is an expert in doing so.
3.McCheyne preached in a way that dissected the human soul, laying it bare.
Whenever I read Robert Murray McCheyne’s sermons I am exposed. He can simultaneous cause me to rejoice in so great a Savior and mourn at my lack of zeal for him—all in the same sentence! McCheyne often reminds the listener to not let their head knowledge about God replace a genuine love for God. Being able to quote the catechism and to be able to understand the mysteries of election and human responsibility is all well and good, but do you love God? Ouch! But McCheyne is unrelenting in pushing us to question ourselves because he knows that only when we see the truth will we repent. However, the forgiveness and grace of God is sufficient to cover over our sin. He reminds us constantly of the death of Jesus and how it has provided peace with God. He calls us, in light of this truth, to surrender ourselves fully to God.
These are just a few of the things I learned while working through each sermon of in this great little volume. It is not that I agree with every exegetical decision McCheyne makes (I disagree with how he understood Revelation 3 and the historical background of Laodicea). But every sermon I found practical and convicting. I found myself pausing and asking God to make me stronger in my faith, to trust Him more. I found myself spontaneously thanking God for what He has done for me in the death and resurrection of Christ. And I found myself rejoicing that McCheyne’s life, though short, pointed to the joy that is found in God alone.
*Though I was sent a review copy of this book, I was not forced to give this book a positive review, and my opinions in this article are my own. This post contains affiliate links.*
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.