Subscribe now

McCheyne’s Dundee

By Bruce McLennan
September 2018 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-60178-590-9
  • Pages: 184
  • Price: 14.34
Buy this book »

Book Review

Many Christians have heard of Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-43). His reputation endures as a holy and prayerful man who was greatly used by God before his early death.

McCheyne’s Dundee examines the final years of his life when he ministered at St Peter’s Church, Dundee. It addresses the question, ‘How could such a short period of service have such a powerful impact?’

McLennan paints a vivid picture of 19th century Dundee: a poverty-stricken mill town, suffering from poor public health and inadequate housing for its fast-growing population. In this environment McCheyne spent many hours visiting his parishioners — especially the sick and dying — to speak to them about their souls. Such visitation precipitated his own death from typhus.

An examination of his preaching highlights the urgency in his pleading with the many ignorant and unbelieving members of his congregation. After revival came to the town, he gave increasingly blunt warnings to those who remained unsaved. He also used communion seasons as an opportunity to speak to would-be communicants about their spiritual state. He was ready to turn them down if he was not satisfied that they were truly converted, but a number went on to profess faith as a result of his gentle dealings with them.

The section on McCheyne’s love for children is particularly touching. It describes how he wrote tracts specifically for the young, visited them at home and often preached directly to them within his sermons. Evidence is presented to show the affection with which many children responded; McCheyne always rejoiced when he saw evidence of their simple faith.

McLennan relates the events of the revival from McCheyne’s point of view. Abroad when it began, he returned to a dramatically different situation, with large church buildings packed out daily, unmanageable demands for spiritual counselling and numerous prayer meetings springing up across the town. But rather than feeling jealous that another man’s labours were blessed during his absence, he praised God for showing saving grace to so many people. Quotations from some of the converts’ private letters — written decades later — show that their new-found faith was lasting.

Underlying all of the above was McCheyne’s serious devotional life. His personal notebooks reveal how he prioritised prayer for his own holiness and for God’s blessing on his ministry.

This publication’s greatest strength is that, as well as making use of previous biographies, it draws on many primary sources like journals, letters, testimonies, sermons and minutes from presbytery meetings. That said, its approach is thematic rather than chronological, which can make for slightly jerky reading when it jumps from topic to topic.

The reader will benefit from having first read one of the classic McCheyne biographies by Andrew Bonar or Alexander Smellie. But McCheyne’s Dundee is recommended reading for those who want a more in-depth study of the distinctive methods and emphases of his remarkable ministry.

Matthew Cox

Bethersden, Kent

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Why Should I Trust the Bible?

We should trust the Bible, says Timothy Paul Jones, because it is ‘grounded in the words of a man who died and rose again’ (p.111). Jones’s basic presupposition is this: ‘If we live in a world where it is possible…

See all book reviews
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Who Am I? Human Identity and the Gospel in a Confusing World
Thomas Fretwell

In today’s secular society, religion is often regarded as without rational or scientific basis, and therefore irrelevant to life in the modern world and all areas of public engagement. If that is our social context, then it is no wonder…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
The Pastor’s Life: Practical Wisdom from the Puritans
Matthew D Haste & Shane W Parker

This book highlights ‘some of the many lessons that today’s pastors can learn from the Puritans’ (p.151). As such it is aimed at pastors, but the lessons are really for anyone who is a Christian leader. The opening chapter provides…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
5 Minutes in Church History: An Introduction to the Stories of God’s Faithfulness in the History of the Church
Stephen J Nichols

What a breath of fresh air this book is! Stephen Nichols has given us 40 vignettes from church history that are brief enough to be digested over a bowl of cereal. The book doesn’t aim to be a beginner’s guide…