Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1992—Volume 5:1
A Voice from the Past:
Look and Live*
Robert Murray McCheyne1
I do not even know your name, but I think I know something of the state of your soul. Your friend has been with me, and told me a little of your mind; and I write a few lines just to bid you to look to Jesus and live. Look at Num 21:9, and you will see your disease and your remedy. You have been bitten by the great serpent. The poison of sin is through and through your whole heart, but Christ has been lifted up on the cross that you may look and live. Now, do not look so long and so harassingly at your own heart and feelings. What will you find there but the bite of the serpent? You were shapen in iniquity, and the whole of your natural life has been spent in sin. The more God opens your eyes, the more you will feel that you are lost in yourself. This is your disease.
Now for the remedy. Look to Christ; for the glorious Son of God so loved lost souls, that He took on Him a body and died for us—bore our curse, and obeyed the law in our place. Look to Him and live. You need no preparation, you need no endeavors, you need no duties, you need no strivings, you only need to look and live. Look at John 17:3. The way to be saved is to know God's heart and the heart of Jesus. To be awakened, you need to know your own heart. Look in at your own heart, if you wish to know your lost condition. See the pollution that is there—forgetfulness of God, deadness, insensibility to His love. If you are judged as you are in yourself, you will be lost. To be saved, you need to know the heart of God and of Christ. The four Gospels are a narrative of the heart of Christ. They show His compassion to sinners, and His glorious work in their stead. If you only knew that heart as it is, you would lay your weary head with John on His bosom. Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ's heart. "For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ!"
Look at Rom 15:13. That is my prayer for you. You are looking for peace in striving, or peace in duties, or peace in reforming your mind; but ah! look at His Word. "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." All your peace is to be found in believing God's Word about His Son. If for a moment you forget your own case altogether, and meditate on the glorious way of salvation by Christ for us, does your bosom never glow with a ray of peace? Keep that peace; it is joy in believing. Look as straight to Christ as you sometimes do at the rising or setting sun. Look direct to Christ.
You fear that your convictions of sin have not been deep enough. This is no reason for keeping away from Christ. You will never get a truly broken heart till you are really in Christ. (See Ezek 36:25-31.) Observe the order: First, God sprinkles clean water on the soul. This represents our being washed in the blood of Christ. Then He gives "a new heart also." Third, He gives a piercing remembrance of past sins. Now, may the Lord give you all these! May you be brought as you are to the blood of the Lamb! Washed and justified, may He change your heart-give you a tender heart, and His Holy Spirit within your heart; and thus may He give you a broken heart for your past sins.
Look at Rom 5:19. By the sin of Adam, many were made sinners. We had no hand in Adam's sin, and yet the guilt of it comes upon us. We did not put out our hand to the apple, and yet the sin and misery have been laid at our door. In the same way, "by the obedience of Christ, many are made righteous." Christ is the glorious One who stood for many. His perfect garment is sufficient to cover you. You had no hand in His obedience. You were not alive when He came into the world and lived and died; and yet, in the perfect obedience, you may stand before God righteous. This is all my covering in the sight of a holy God. I feel infinitely ungodly in myself in God's eye, like a serpent or a toad; and yet, when I stand in Christ alone, I feel that God sees no sin in me, and loves me freely. The same righteousness is free to you. It will be as white and clean on your soul as on mine. Oh, do not sleep another night without it! Only consent to stand in Christ, not in your poor self.
I must not weary you. One word more. Look at Rev 22:17. Sweet, sweet words! "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." The last invitation in the Bible, and the freest—Christ's parting word to a world of sinners! Anyone that pleases may take this glorious way of salvation. Can you refuse it? I am sure you cannot. Dear friend, be persuaded by a fellow worm not to put off another moment. Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.
You are sitting, like Hagar, within reach of the well.2 May the Lord open your eyes, and show you all that is in Christ! I pray for you, that you may spiritually see Jesus and be glad—that you may go to Him and find rest.
*This letter, written on March 20, 1840, is taken from Memoirs of McCheyne, ed. by Andrew A. Bonar (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1947, rep. 1976), 91-93. Our title was chosen from the words we have italicized in the first paragraph.
1Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843), a Scottish minister beloved by both Reformed and dispensational believers, was educated at the University of Edinburgh. The death of an older brother caused him to look for "a brother who cannot die," whom he found in the Lord Jesus. At his own church, St. Peter's in Dundee, McCheyne, in spite of frequent sickness, maintained a rigorous regimen of prayer, Bible study, visitation, and sermon preparation. His sermons are still in print and valuable. McCheyne had an interest in reaching Jews, and in 1839 he traveled to Palestine and started a Church of Scotland mission to God's ancient people. His godly influence and ministry, watered by many tears, spread from St. Peter's to all Scotland, and through the memoirs from which this excerpt is taken, throughout conservative Protestantism worldwide. He died before he reached his thirtieth birthday, having done more good in a short life than most Christian leaders have done in twice his age-span. For an example of his poetic talent, see "Jehovah Tsidkenu" in this issue under "A Hymn of Grace." Ed.
2See Gen 21:19. Ed.