Publishing Update: A Legacy of Preaching

Hot off the press today is volume two of Zondervan’s A Legacy of Preaching, which is subtitled, “Enlightenment to the Present Day: The Life, Theology, and Method of History’s Great Preachers.”

I wrote the chapter on Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching. My primary editor, Benjamin Forrest, was a joy to work with; I’m pleased with the chapter’s final form. I hope you’ll grab a copy! All the other chapters I’ve seen are edifying and informative.

Publisher’s Description

A Legacy of Preaching, Volume Two–Enlightenment to the Present Day explores the history and development of preaching through a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from the perspective of movements and eras, each contributor tells the story of a particular preacher in history, allowing these preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us through their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching.

Each chapter introduces readers to a key figure in the history of preaching, followed by an analysis of the theological views that shaped their preaching, their methodology of sermon preparation and delivery, and an appraisal of the significant contributions they have made to the history of preaching. This diverse collection of familiar and lesser-known individuals provides a detailed and fascinating look at what it has meant to communicate the gospel over the past two thousand years. By looking at how the gospel has been communicated over time and across different cultures, pastors, scholars, and homiletics students can enrich their own understanding and practice of preaching for application today.

Volume Two covers the period from the Enlightenment to the present day and profiles thirty-one preachers including Charles Haddon Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Karl Barth, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and more.

Volume One, available separately, covers the period from the apostles to the Puritans and profiles thirty preachers including Paul, Origen of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and more.

Covering a broad range of preaching over the centuries, the two-volume A Legacy of Preaching reference set is the definitive reference for experienced preachers who wish to deeper their own preaching as well as aspiring students who want to learn from the masters of the past.

For the Raising Up of Holy Men

Andrew Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne is a bonafide spiritual classic.

Consider the following commendations and comments from some of God’s great men:

  • “This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. The memoir of such a man ought surely to be in the hands of every Christian and certainly every preacher of the Gospel.” — C. H. Spurgeon
  • “That wonderful classic.” — W. Robertson Nicoll
  • “I am constantly hearing of the great good that book has been the means of doing.” — Alexander Whyte
  • “That converting and sanctifying biography.” — Bishop Handley Moule
  • Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s biography written by his friend Andrew Bonar is one of my most treasured possessions and has been a companion throughout almost all of my Christian life. M’Cheyne died when he was twenty-nine, but his life story has been for me personally a model of grace, and his ministry pattern a model for service. It is a book every young Christian man should read—more than once.” — Sinclair B. Ferguson

For my own experience, nothing outside of Scripture has done me so much spiritual good as Bonar’s Memoir.

Something of a Backstory

After M’Cheyne’s death in 1843, his close friends were eager to commission a story of his life and ministry. Because he was M’Cheyne’s closest friend and possessed the required gifts to tell the tale, Bonar was chosen to write the memoir. The Great Disruption of 1843 distracted him for a time—from May through September of that year. When Bonar finally put pen to paper, he wrote with determination, finishing the manuscript only three months later. The result was a volume of 648 pages, 166 of which are Bonar’s original biography. The remainder of the work contains M’Cheyne’s letters, sermon, and miscellaneous treatises.

Once it released, the book sailed off the shelves. The Jewish Herald said the Memoir “commanded a sale almost unprecedented in the annals of religious biography.” Andrew Palmer, who wrote a doctoral thesis on Bonar, says, “Though Bonar could have made a great deal of money from the publication of the Memoir, he received only a very moderate sum, and the copyright was originally secured by the remaining members of M’Cheyne’s family.”

One Author’s Experience

One of the more fascinating observations in my studies on M’Cheyne was Andrew Bonar’s experience in writing the Memoir. Here’s what we find in Bonar’s Diary and Letters about his work on the Memoir and its subsequent reception:

  • April 1843: “I am urged to have my Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne ready by the end of the year.”
  • September 30, 1843: “Beginning to write Robert M’Cheyne’s Memoir. This fills up all my leisure time.”
  • December 23, 1843: “Finished my Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne yesterday morning. Praise, praise to the Lord. I have been praying, “Guide me with Thine eye’ I may soon be gone”; but I am glad that the Lord has permitted me to finish this record of His beloved servant. Yet it humbles me. My heart often sinks in me. Just to-night I saw my soul full of nothing but self, and all that comes forth seems a black stream of selfishness.”
  • March 4, 1843: “The Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne is now just about to appear. O that it may be blessed!”
  • March 23, 1843: “It was on this day of the week last year, about sunset, that a messenger came and told me of Robert M’Cheyne’s illness. It makes the day very solemn. I have grown little indeed by that providence, though it seemed sent to us for that intention. Several of us are to observe Monday as a season of special prayer and fasting to ask a blessing on the Memoir and the raising up of many holy men.”
  • January 4, 1845: “Looking back on last year I feel how awfully little has been done for God. My soul has grown very little. My ministry this year has been little blessed. The Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne and my Tract on Baptism seem to me the chief way in which the Lord has been using me this year to any extent.”
  • March 27, 1845: “Received a letter to-day telling me of the blessed effects of Robert M’Cheyne’s Memoir on one in London, in which he refers to the anniversary of his death—the 25th, a day I did not forget. Many tokens have I received of the Lord’s blessing that book. It roused me to thanksgiving, and I began to think that, if I oftener thanked God at the moment, I might oftener hear of His blessing upon my labours. He lets us know in order that we may give praise.”
  • December 18, 1846: “I see that the prayers of so many friends who pray for me are, no doubt, the cause of my getting peculiar help in writing the Memoir and then, the [Commentary on] Leviticus, I have often felt things in study so plainly given me, not at all like the products of my own skill, that this is the way in which I account for them. The Lord sends them because of people praying for me.”
  • May 1, 1853: “After my Communion I heard of blessing upon the Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne in the case of one in Edinburgh.”
  • December 31, 1856: “Encouraged by hearing of a soul awakened through reading Mr. M’Cheyne’s Memoir in
  • November 17, 1860: “Got to-night from Holland a Dutch translation of M’Cheyne’s Memoir. Praise the Lord, O my soul, that thus good is done in foreign lands by that book.”
  • December 31, 1864: “It is now evening, and just at the close of the most memorable year since the death of Robert M’Cheyne (Bonar’s wife died on October 15th). I shall remember this year, in the ages to come, as the year I came in a special sense into the valley of Baca. My heart still fails me as often as I realize my loss. But, Lord, make my beloved wife’s removal as blessed to me as was the death of Robert M’Cheyne to the public through means of his Memoir.”
  • July 13, 1876: “A minister from America cheered me greatly by telling me how M’Cheyne’s Memoir has been used there.”
  • August 2, 1884: “Have heard lately oi two cases in which the Memoir of Robert M’Cheyne has been blessed: one here, another in England.”
  • July 21, 1891: “Heard to-day that Mr. Sinclair, minister of Kenmore, who translated the Memoir of M’Cheyne into Gaelic, received more than one letter telling that it had been blessed to the reader.”

Lessons Learned

It’s striking to see the place the Memoir occupied in Bonar’s life. For nearly a half-century, words of the book and thoughts about the book were close to his mind.

In reading through Bonar’s notes, two simple spiritual lessons came to my mind. First, how often God works through biography. You don’t have to be an expert in church history to know how a religious portrait launched many mighty men and women into Christ’s service. The nineteenth century was an era in which biographies flourished. Our age has so shunned history that many have lost the desire to learn not just from, but also about the old saints. If the trend continues, it will mean poverty in our piety. We need another generations of pastors and scholars whom the Spirit fuels and fills to right Christ-exalting biography.

Second, the great books fly on the wings of prayer. Bonar comments about how a day of fasting and prayer was set aside before the Memoir went out for sale. Prayer for the book didn’t stop; it continued throughout the years. What we need today are books that have prayerful authors and prayerful readers. Let us pray down God’s blessing on the great books. Let us yearn for God to glorify His name and His Son through the expansion of edifying works throughout the world.

A Subtle and Dangerous Snare

If we are ever to see a revival in our nation, it will begin with a revival of real gospel ministry. Pastoral paradigms built on pragmatism must fall, and in their place, we will see a renewed passion for prayer and piety. The kind of preaching that the Spirit blesses (and the heraldic ministry that ushers in revival) is that which is saturated in prayer and comes from the mouth of a man consumed with holy love for Christ. Before he ever considers strategic vision, administrative planning, and staffing structure, God’s man must be a man of God—in doctrine and devotion.

Should God grant me many years in ministry, I want to see this kind of renewal visit our ministers. But such a renewal comes with a perennial peril.

Learning a Vital Lesson

As I’ve studied Robert Murray M’Cheyne over the last few years, one of the more noticeable lessons his life teaches is the full-orbed nature of pastoral piety. We need to understand this totality of holiness in two ways. First, for M’Cheyne, piety begins with love for Christ. It then flowers into every area of spirituality: devotion to prayer, God’s Word, the Lord’s Day, evangelism, friendship in the church, dependence on the Spirit, and “unfeigned humility.” Secondly, we must see that an earnest pursuit of piety is a dangerous one. We can make much of godliness—it’s necessity and nature—that people overestimate our actual holiness. It’s one thing to be a holy man, but it’s entirely different to be known, even famed, for holiness.

M’Cheyne was such a minister.

The Snare Exposed

M’Cheyne once wrote, “I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more usefulness.” Nothing communicates M’Cheyne’s longing more than his Reformation.

Written in late 1842 or early 1843, it is his ten-page resolution for personal holiness. In the first section, he concentrated on “Personal Reformation,” saying,

I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.

M’Cheyne proceeded to delineate a scheme for personal holiness that would enable him to live in increasing communion with Christ. The plan included strategies for confessing sin, reading Scripture, applying Christ to the conscience, being filled with the Spirit, growing in humility, fleeing temptation, meditating on heaven, as well as studying specific Christological subjects.

His devotion to Christ was so renown that almost every epigram after his death referred to him as “the saintly ministry” or “the godly pastor” of St. Peter’s. His friend and biographer, Andrew Bonar, made an astute observation on a common pitfall in pastoral piety:

An experienced servant of God has said, that, while popularity is a snare that few are not caught by, a more subtle and dangerous snare is to be famed for holiness. The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness. If any were exposed to this snare in his day, Mr. M’Cheyne was the person. Yet nothing was more certain than that, to the very last, he was ever discovering, and successfully resisting, the deceitful tendencies of his own heart, and a tempting devil. Two things he seems never to have ceased from—the cultivation of personal holiness, and the most anxious efforts to save souls.

Examine Yourself

Ever since I first read it, these two sentences in the quote above have been a constant warning: “The fame of being a godly man is a great a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in order to get a name for holiness.”

I’m not known as a holy man. But I recognize how easy it is to devote oneself to the means of grace and forget that your real motivation is selfish to the core: “I make much of such devotion so people will make much of my devotion.” Thus, the pastor’s pursuit is only in service of self, not the Savior. The Spirit won’t revive His church with such a man.

Pastors then must be wary of their motives in pursuing piety. They must resist the praise of men, and live only for the smiles of God. They must recognize how the devil schemes, even in our noble endeavors, and live for Christ’s honor alone.

True holiness is noticeable. Vital godliness leaves a mark. Paul’s teaching to Timothy demands it: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15–16).

So, yes, let’s pursue personal holiness with extraordinary vigor. But test your motives. Make sure they aren’t, at the root, just a scheme “to get a name for holiness.”

The Dissertation is Done

March 16, 2018 was a most momentous day. I turned thirty-four years old. I also received the best birthday present I could’ve hoped for—a “passed” dissertation. My thirty or so years of non-stop education has (finally) reached its conclusion. People tell me I’m supposed to be an expert, seeing that I’ve completed four degrees. I’m learning, however, that the title of “novice” is much more appropriate than “Doctor.”

Reading, Researching, and Writing

I began my Ph.D. studies at The Institution in January of 2015. From the start, my research interest was Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I initially planned to study “The M’Cheyne School” of ministers in the Free Church of Scotland. But the more I read and researched the more I realized how a thorough study of M’Cheyne’s piety was needed. His brief life has left a long legacy. His story continues to influence countless people over two hundred years after his birth. His pithy quotes on doctrine and spirituality saturate books on all manner of subjects from all kinds of Protestant traditions.

In the spring of 2016, I recognized how the prevailing narrative around M’Cheyne’s life is somewhat miscast. He’s commonly portrayed as a model of personal holiness. Said another way, his devotion to the means of grace is what most captivates Christians. Therefore, the existing studies on M’Cheyne focus on how he pursued the means of grace. I believed a more foundational question needed asking and answering: “Why did M’Cheyne pursue holiness with such singular passion?”

So, I got to work.

The fruit of my research is a dissertation titled “A Communion of Love: The Animating Principle Behind the Christocentric Spirituality of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.” The title encapsulates my thesis, which states, “The primary objective of this dissertation is to demonstrate the crucial place that love for Christ occupies in M’Cheyne’s spirituality.” Over the course of ten chapters, I argue that M’Cheyne’s theology centered on knowing God’s love in Christ and that his piety was little more than the return of love to Christ. His holiness shined brightly because he loved Christ so deeply.

Nervous and Anxious

I began writing the dissertation in July of 2017. I submitted it to my examining committee seven months later on Valentine’s Day. The readers were all men whom I’ve looked up to for many years: Drs. Stephen Yuille, Tom Nettles, Michael Haykin, and Sinclair Ferguson. Each man has proved himself an eminent scholar throughout the process and, even more importantly, a model of godliness.

When I left for Louisville on March 15th to defend the dissertation, I went with a feeling I’ve rarely experienced—nervousness. Outside of being in situations with heights (we are not close friends), I don’t know if I’ve ever been nervous about something. But I was a bundle of nerves as I entered the Haldeman Room at 8:00 a.m. on the 16th. Gratefully, the committee was quite encouraging, and the defense went better than I’d anticipated. It was one of the happiest days of my life (which my family says you can see in my smile below).

Mastered By, Not Mastering

Someone told me last week, “You’re the M’Cheyne expert now!” I’m not even close. My studies have only proved how far I have to go to be even a small reflection of M’Cheyne’s faithfulness.

I believe M’Cheyne is an unusually compelling example for pastors. I long to see a revival of his ministerial model, one built on an adoration of Christ that promotes humble piety and zealous soul-winning. In the coming years, I hope to publish a few different works on M’Cheyne, all aimed at retrieving his simple, yet powerful pattern for gospel ministers.

He’s Surely Right

In his Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew Bonar details how M’Cheyne seasoned every conversation with the salt of eternity. Bonar then gives an aside about gospel ministry. His subject is one I’ve thought about often in recent days—as I so often fall short in this area. Bonar says it more eloquently and convictingly than I ever could:

Whatever be said in the pulpit, men will not much regard, though they may feel it at the time, if the minister does not say the same in private, with equal earnestness, in speaking with his people face to face; and it must be in our moment of most familiar intercourse with them, that we are thus to put the seal to all we say in public. Familiar moments are the times when the things that are most closely twined round the heart are brought out to view; and shall we forbear, by tacit consent, to introduce the Lord that bought us into such happy hours? We must not only speak faithfully to our people in our sermons, but live faithfully for them too. Perhaps it may be found, that the reason why many, who preach the gospel fully and in all earnestness, are not owned of God in the conversion of souls, is to be found in their defective exhibition of grace in these easy moments of life.

“Unsurpassed Even By Spurgeon”

Yesterday, as I tinkered around the New College Library in Edinburgh, I came across a lecture Sinclair Ferguson gave on William Chalmers Burns.

Burns is a notable figure for anyone studying 19th-century evangelicalism, but I wish every Christian knew his story. His life is a burning testimony that the gospel is God’s power for salvation. A humble, fiery Spirit burned within his soul, and there are lessons worth learning if we’d listen.

And Dr. Ferguson’s lecture is a most excellent place to start.

If you’re interested in reading more about Burns, here are two works you might consider:

With Authority and Tenderness

Ambassadorsfor Christ

I count it a supreme blessing to study Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Never does a day go by without finding conviction or comfort in his works.

I read his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20–21 this morning, where Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In meditating on ministers being ambassadors for Christ, M’Cheyne says,

Learn from this, how we should preach, and how you should hear. We do not come in our own name, but in Christ’s. We are to do as the disciples did when they received the bread from Christ. We are to receive our message from him and give it unto you; so, in one sense, it is immaterial to us whether you receive the truth or not. Observe, we are to speak with authority. Many of you are not pleased at what we say; you say we might have spoken less severely; you quarrel at our words; but ah! if you look into your own heart, you would see, that it is not us you quarrel with, it is with Christ. Observe, still farther, that we are ambassadors; we must speak tenderly. God is love. Christ is love. I am afraid it is here we err, and show that the vessel is earthly. When Christ came into the world, it was a message of love he brought.

On which side might you err? Maybe your zealous proclamations are so loud that no hearer sense your soul is taken in love to Christ. Or perhaps, your graceful preaching is never forceful enough to break through a hardened heart. Oh, let us pray for the fullness of authority and tenderness in preaching!

Chalmers Still Speaks

47896I’ve spent today wading through the voluminous works by or about Thomas Chalmers, trying to understand his influence on Robert Murray M’Cheyne. As David Yeaworth says, “In Chalmers, more than any other person, M’Cheyne found the mold for his ecclesiastical and religious thought, and a worthy pattern for his own ministerial life.”

If evangelicals know anything today about Chalmers, it’s probably his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Few may know he was arguably the most famous British preacher at the time, a brilliant mathematician who theorized on everything from astronomy to politics to economics to social reform, and an evangelical who longed to see Christ proclaimed in slums of Scotland and far away nations.

What is remarkable is how he wielded his immense intellect to serve the church. Consider the following encouragement and warning about preaching:

By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching is the personal piety of the preacher himself . . . How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, find it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.

Put simply: in your preaching, are you exalting yourself or the Savior?

M’Cheyne’s Favorite Book on Pastoral Ministry

9780851510873I’ve said before that Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry is the best book available on pastoral ministry. I believe no other work can compare in substance, depth, and conviction.

It thus smiled when I read a letter from M’Cheyne to Andrew Bonar during preparations for the Church’s “Mission of Inquiry to the Jews.” M’Cheyne starts by urging Bonar to join the team. Eventually M’Cheyne comes to ponder aloud what books he should bring on the trip. He says, “As to books, I am quite at a loss.” But he was certain as to a few essentials:

My Hebrew Bible, Greek Testament, etc., and perhaps Bridge’s (sic) Christian Ministry for general purposes,—I mean, for keeping us in mind of our ministerial work.”

I think he’s exactly right. If you have your Bible and The Christian Ministry always within reach, you’ll find fresh fire for faithful ministry.


Preparation for Ministry


Most of my time is spent these days working on the life and piety of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I’m convinced he provides a unique template for gospel ministry.

In the Memoir and Remains, Andrew Bonar strings together a series of diary entries in the years before M’Cheyne licensure for gospel ministry in the Church of Scotland. He’d have us think of these as preparatory years. Upon M’Cheyne’s licensure, Bonar comments:

His soul was prepared for the awful work of the ministry by much prayer, and much study of the word of God; by affliction in his person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the depth of corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the Savior’s fullness of grace.

I tend to think Bonar’s comments a handy summary of M’Cheyne’s program for piety. I also believe it represents a model for us in ministry.

God has called some of you to the ministry. You are only waiting for a place to minister Christ’s gospel. How are you preparing your soul in the meantime? If you’re in seminary, don’t fall into the trap of believing research papers, reading, and exams are sufficient preparation. These tools are vital–they just aren’t sufficient. It’s “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Gospel ministry is no different. Afflictions and temptations aren’t hurdles to future ministry. When used rightly, they are friends to faithful pastoring.

Some of you are currently pastors. You may have interns or members in your midst sensing God’s call. How are you helping them to prepare for shepherding souls? Exhort them to prayer and Bible reading. Assist them in probing the depths of their sin and the unsearchable riches of Christ, so they may declare “the Savior’s fullness of grace.”