M’Cheyne, Robert Murray


b Edinburgh 1813, d Dundee, Forfarshire 1843. Edinburgh High Sch; Univ of Edinburgh. An early enthusiast for the arts, especially poetry and music, and for sport, notably gymnastics, he retained all these interests as an adult. His elder brother David, the most evangelically-minded of a churchgoing family, died in 1831; his death had a profound effect on Robert (then aged 18) who dated his conversion from that day. 10 weeks later he was accepted to study divinity under Prof Thomas Chalmers who became his mentor. RMM joined the Missionary Assn, met Alexander Duff (the first Ch of Scotland missionary) and did voluntary work in some of Edinburgh’s neediest neighbourhoods. He served a short assistantship at Larbert nr Falkirk before embarking on the pastorate of St Peter’s Dundee in 1836, in a fast-expanding industrial area. At first this seemed an unlikely appointment for a cultured and well-to-do middle-class academic whose health was not good. But he was innovative from the start, building a leadership team, making evangelism a priority and aiming for attractive music and good singing, starting psalmody classes to that end.

His preaching was in plain speech, rich in illustration, and his sermons could last for 20 minutes or 90. He opened a church library, was an active visitor in the parish, and the building seating over 1000 was often filled for Thursday evening Bible-studies. The heart of this ministry was his own rich and disciplined prayer-life, and his daily calendar for reading the Bible in a year (the OT once, NT and Pss twice) is still in wide use. He was specially concerned for the Jewish people, and in 1839 spent 6 months in Palestine with 3 other CofS ministers including Andrew Bonar, whose account coauthored with RMM (his only published book) became a bestseller. One fruit of the visit was a hymn beginning, ‘How pleasant is thy deep blue wave,/ O sea of Galilee…’. In his absence, revival came to St Peter’s while it was in the temporary care of Wm Chalmers Burns. M’Cheyne returned to find a church building packed every night, hundreds being converted (his own cautious estimate was 700), and the town a centre of national but not always welcome attention in the press. For the remaining 4 years of his life, he travelled to other Scottish towns to encourage genuine spiritual renewal. In 1843 he was appointed a commissioner to the General Assembly which was to lead to the Disruption and the foundation of the Free Ch of Scotland, but while parish visiting he contracted typhus and died at the age of 29. The funeral service drew some 6000 mourners. In 1844 his friend Andrew Bonar wrote The Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a book which became a spiritual classic and is still in print more than 160 years later. Other biographies came from J C Smith (1910) and Alexander Smellie (1913). RMM’s verse runs to a little over 50 poems and hymns, 2 of the latter coming into wide use among evangelicals. No.973.

Hymns and songs by M’Cheyne, Robert Murray

Number Hymn Name
973 When this passing world is done