It’s customary on this first day of a new year for many Christians to find fresh challenge from Jonathan Edwards’ famous Resolutions. If you’ve never read them before, go ahead and read them now. You may just find your heart strangely warmed.
There is another model of resolve I think pastors, in particular, should attend to on this day of beginnings: Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Personal Reformation.
Pursuing Him Until The End
In the last year of his life (M’Cheyne died at 29) M’Cheyne, as Bonar says, “wrote down, for his own use, an examination into things that ought to be amended or changed” in his life and ministry. M’Cheyne introduces his document in this way,
It is the duty of ministers in this day to begin the reformation of religion and manners with themselves, families, etc. with confession of past sin, earnest prayer for direction, grace and full purpose of heart.
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 is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain in this world.
The document has two parts: 1) Personal Reformation, and 2) Reformation in Secret Prayer. The whole thing is only nine pages and worth reading often. On the small chance you can’t get to the original whole, I’ve reproduced his main points below along with some delectable nuggets of counsel and conviction.
1. To maintain a conscience void of offense. I am persuaded that I ought to confess my sins more. I think I ought to confess sin the moment I see it to be sin; whether I am in company, or in study, or even preaching, the soul ought to cast a glance of abhorrence at the sin. If I go on with the duty, leaving the sin unconfessed, I go on with a burdened conscience, and add sin to sin.
I ought to confess the sins of my confessions—their imperfections, sinful aims, self-righteous tendency, etc.—and to look to Christ as having confessed my sins perfectly over His own sacrifice.
- I ought to go to Christ for the forgiveness of each sin.
- I ought never think a sin too small to need immediate application to the blood of Christ.
- I must not only wash in Christ’s blood, but clothe me in Christ’s obedience.
2. To be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am persuaded that I ought to study more my own weakness. I ought to have a number of Scriptures ready to be meditated on to convince me that I am a helpless worm. I am tempted to think that I am now an established Christian—that I have overcome this or that lust so long—that I have got into the habit of the opposite grace—so that there is no fear; I may venture very near temptation—nearer than other men. This is a lie of Satan. I might as well speak of gunpowder getting by habit a power of resisting fire, so as not to catch the spark.
- I ought to labor for the deepest sense of my utter weakness and helplessness that ever a sinner was brought to feel.
It is right to tremble, and to make every sin of every professor a lesson of my own helplessness; but it should lead me the more to Christ. . . . If I were more deeply convinced of my utter helplessness, I think I would not be so alarmed when I hear of the falls of other men.
- I ought to study Christ as a living Savior more.
- I ought to study Christ as an Intercessor.
- I ought to study the Comforter more.
- I ought never to forget that sin grieves the Holy Spirit—vexes and quenches Him. If I would be filled with the Spirit, I feel I must read the Bible more, pray more, and watch more.
3. To gain entire likeness to Christ. I ought to get a high esteem of the happiness of it. I am persuaded that God’s happiness is inseparably linked in with His holiness. Holiness and happiness are like light and heat.
- I ought not to delay in parting with sins.
- Whatever I see to be sin, I ought from this hour to set my whole soul against it, using all scriptural methods to mortify it—as the Scriptures, special prayer for the Spirit, fasting, and watching.
- I ought to mark strictly the occasions when I have fallen, and avoid the occasion as much as the sin itself.
- I ought to flee all temptation.
- I ought constantly to pour out my heart to God, praying for entire conformity to Christ.
- I ought statedly and solemnly to give my heart to God.
- I ought to meditate often on heaven as a world of holiness.
Reformation in Secret Prayer
I ought not to omit any of the parts of prayer—confession, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession.
I ought to pray before seeing any one. I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see His face first—to get my soul near Him before it is near another. . . . In general, it is best to have at least on hour alone with God, before engaging in anything else.
I ought daily to intercede for my own family, connections, relatives, and friends.
I ought to daily intercede briefly for the whole town.
I ought to have a scheme of prayer, also the names of missionaries marked on the map.
I ought to intercede at large for the above on Saturday morning and evening from seven to eight.
I ought to pray in everything.
I ought to pray far more for our Church, for our leading ministers by name, and for my own clear guidance in the right way, that I may not be led aside, or driven aside, from following Christ.
I ought to spend the best hours of the day in communion with God. It is my noblest and most fruitful employment, and is not to be thrust into any corner.
I ought not to give up the good old habit of prayer before going to bed.
I ought to read three chapters of the Bible in secret every day, at least.
I ought on Sabbath morning to look over all the chapters read through the week, and especially the verses marked.
A Life Being Completed
M’Cheyne apparently didn’t complete his rumination on piety and prayer. I’ve often thought, “How true this is of all God’s people!” Is it not true that our pursuit of communion with God and conformity to His Son is always in progress this side of heaven?
May you grow this year in appreciation of the M’Cheyne School mantra: “It’s not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Christ.”