As any of us endeavor to serve the Lord in ministry, we long to see the fruit of our labors. We want to see souls saved, prodigals return, and lives sanctified as the Lord uses us in one place or another. What are we to think if we don't see the fruit? We often hear, "Well, I'm just planting seeds...or, I'm just watering." These are very biblical ideas and are often the case, but where is the encouragement for those who serve the Lord and don't see the desired results? This is where Robert Murray McCheyne comes into the picture.
McCheyne began his ministry at St. Peter's Church at Dundee in 1836. This Scottish preacher was known to be a powerful man of God both in and out of the pulpit. He saw the spiritual condition of his congregation, and he began praying for God to send revival to His church. At the end of 1838, after just over two years of ministry, a heart condition forced McCheyne to get rest and stop preaching for a time. During these days, he saw the Lord's purpose as sanctifying his own heart through suffering in illness, and he continued to fervently pray for revival. Three months after he stopped preaching, W.C. Burns agreed to preach in McCheyne's place while he healed. Out of a concern for his own flock, McCheyne wrote the following words in a letter to Rev. Burns:
"Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people.
Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth. Be easy to access, apt to teach, and the Lord will teach you and bless you in all you do and say. You will not find many companions. Be the more with God. My dear people are anxiously waiting for you. The prayerful are praying for you. Be of good courage; there remaineth much of the land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with thee to deliver thee. Study Isaiah 6, and Jeremiah 1, and the sending of Moses, and Psalm 51:12, 13, and John 15:26, 27, and the connection in Luke 1:15, 16.
I shall hope to hear from you when I am away [in Israel]. Your accounts of my people will be a good word to make my heart glad. I am often sore cast down; but the eternal God is my refuge. Now farewell; the Lord make you a faithful steward."
In McCheyne's first two years, he did not see the revival and sanctification of his congregation as he had hoped. However, he did not lose heart. He believed that, under the sovereign hand of God, he had been afflicted with sickness for his own good as well as for the good of St. Peter's Church. Instead of believing that he had failed, he believed that the Gospel could still find success in the faithfulness of his successor and in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, with an eye toward real kingdom growth, McCheyne sought to encourage and equip Rev. Burns for the task at hand, reminding him of what he would need to know as a pastor in that congregation.
Why did he do all of this? Because the glory of God revealed in Christ Jesus was McCheyne's greatest joy. What if pastors actually did this today? What if they would set their pride aside and leave some instructions for the next man to fill his place? What if the guy taking his place could set his pride aside and submit himself to some encouragement and instruction? We may be living in a different church atmosphere right now...there might be a greater sense of partnering in the Gospel. There might not be such egotism in the pulpit. I would have to freely confess...I needed that kind of encouragement and instruction coming to my current place of ministry, but it's quite possible that my pride would have prevented my accepting such words. I fear I am not alone in that foolish pride...God, keep us humble.
So, what happened in St. Peter's Church? Was there "fruit after the field changed hands"? Read part 2 and find out.