Robert Murray M Cheyne1
To our knowledge this piece has appeared only in The Scottish Christian Herald (Vol. 1, 1836).
Who hath heard such a thing? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Isaiah 66:8
THERE exists in some truly religious minds a rooted antipathy to anything like suddenness in conversion. Men are, in this case, sometimes apt to judge only from their own experience; and because they, and all whom they know in the Lord, were brought to the saving reception of the truth by steps slow and almost imperceptible, they think that every one else must be brought in something of the same way. In opposition to this narrow way of judging, let us take the testimony of analogy, of Scripture, and of experience, and we shall find that God does by no means confine Himself to slow and progressive methods of bringing souls to the knowledge of the Saviour.
1. All analogy shows, that a total change of mind may occur very suddenly. In solving a mathematical problem, every student knows that often when the mind has pored over the diagram in vain for a whole night, and nothing but perplexity has been the result, the introduction of one small truth into the mind casts a flood of light over the whole. The truth of the proposition flashes across his mind with the rapidity of lightning, and yet he may require much time and pains, or he may even find it impossible to go slowly over the different steps by which he was led to the truth. But if this be true in mathematics, it is much more true in those cases where the affections as well as the intellect are engaged. In all cases of prejudice, where the understanding is blinded and turned aside by the heart, it often requires but a slight shifting of the affections to rectify the judgement and enlighten the whole mind. Now this shifting of the affections may take place in the twinkling of an eye. How often have the prejudices that for half a century had been building themselves up in a person’s mind against medicine and medical men, been swept away in the first half hour of a dangerous illness; so that the judgment has been thoroughly changed simply by the awakening of fear.
2. Now, Scripture shows plainly that there may be, and often is, the same suddenness in the turning of a soul to God. Many of the invitations of the Word are made upon the understanding that conversion may be sudden. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” “Turn you at my reproof. Behold I will pour out my Spirit upon you.” “Behold now is the accepted time. Behold now is the day of salvation.” The Bible would never invite men to turn now, and this very day, if immediate conversion were a thing impossible.
Again, we have many Scripture examples of men being brought suddenly from darkness into marvellous light. In one day, 3000 souls, among whom were many who had helped to crucify the Lord of Glory, and many who had mocked the holy apostles but a few minutes before, saying, “These men are full of new wine,” were thoroughly and lastingly converted. And again, the heathen jailor of Philippi, in the same night in which he had drawn his sword and would have killed himself, “rejoiced, believing with all his house.” In both these cases, though the supernatural power of the Spirit of God was manifested in a way that may well shut the mouths of cavillers, there was no miraculous agency employed. It was the simple preaching of the Word that was the instrument of conversion.
3. The experience of faithful ministers has treasured up many memorable testimonies of the truth we are maintaining. The following example, from the labours of that blessed missionary and man of God, David Brainerd, is peculiarly striking. He had been labouring for more than a year among the American Indians of Pennsylvania and Susquehannah without success. This damped the spirits of the ardent Missionary, and led him to seek new hearers among the Indians of Crossweeksung, in New Jersey. In June 1745, he began his labours among them, and was not long without singular and precious fruits of his ministry. The following account is in his own words, and is dated 5th August in the same year.
“In the afternoon I preached to the Indians; their number was about sixty-five persons, men, women and children. I discoursed from Luke 14:16-23 [the parable of the great supper], and was favoured with uncommon freedom in my discourse. There was much visible concern among them while I was discoursing publicly, but afterwards, when I spoke to one and another more particularly, whom I perceived under much concern, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly like a rushing mighty wind’, and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it. “I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure, bears down and sweeps before it whatever is in its way.
“Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarce one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and some little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. And it was apparent these children (some of them at least) were not merely frighted with seeing the general concern, but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it. The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow. A principal man among the Indians, who before was most secure and self-righteous, and thought his state good because he knew more than the generality of the Indians had formerly done, and who, with a great degree of confidence the day before, told me he had been a Christian more than ten years, was now brought under solemn concern for his soul, and wept bitterly. Another man advanced in years, who had been a murderer, a powwow (or witch doctor) and a notorious drunkard, was likewise brought now to cry for mercy with many tears, and to complain much that he could be no more concerned when he saw his danger so very great.
“They were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors, and numbers could neither go nor stand. Their concern was so great, each one for himself, that none seemed to take any notice of those about them, but each prayed freely for himself. And, I am led to think, they were to their own apprehension as much retired as if they had been individually by themselves in the thickest forest; or, I believe rather, that they thought nothing about any but themselves and their own states, and so were every one praying apart, although all together. “It seemed to me there was now an exact fulfilment of that prophecy, Zechariah 12:10-12, for there was now a great mourning, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon;’ and each seemed to mourn apart.’ Methought this had a near resemblance to the day of God’s power mentioned Joshua 10:14, for I must say, I never saw any day like it in all respects; it was a day wherein I am persuaded the Lord did much to destroy the kingdom of darkness among this people.
“This concern, in general, was most rational and just; those who had been awakened any considerable time, complained more especially of the badness of their hearts; and those newly awakened of the badness of their lives and actions past; and all were afraid of the anger of God, and of everlasting misery as the desert of their sins. Some of the white people, who came out of curiosity to hear what this babbler would say’ to the poor ignorant Indians, were much awakened and some appeared to be wounded with a view of their perishing state.
“Those who had lately obtained relief, were filled with comfort at this season; they appeared calm and composed, and seemed to rejoice in Christ Jesus; and some of them took their distressed friends by the hand, telling them of the goodness of Christ, and the comfort that is to be enjoyed in Him, and thence invited them to come and give up their hearts to Him.”
1. Rev. Robert Murray M Cheyne, born in 1813, was one of the most saintly ministers of his day. Licensed to preach the gospel in 1835, he became the minister of the new charge of St Peter’s in Dundee in 1836. His preaching was blessed to many. In 1839 he visited Palestine, along two other ministers, and their experiences were published in the Narrative of a Mission of Enquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland, in 1839. He died on 25th March, 1843, about two months before his thirtieth birthday, and less than two months before the Disruption, for which he had been preparing his congregation.