“A Basket of Fragments” is not the most arresting book title that you may have ever encountered, but do not underestimate what you are holding in your hands. These are Christ-preoccupied sermons by one of the great preachers, and Christians, of the church’s history. Chances are, you’ve picked up this book because you know at least something of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (variously “McCheyne”), who was a young, brief flame in the 19th century spiritual awakening in Scotland. Perhaps you are a preacher or ministerial student who heard about him through a conference speaker or a seminary lecture, or you read Andrew Bonar’s “Memoir and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne” and you decided that you wanted to read M’Cheyne for yourself. Or maybe you are a Christian looking for good devotional reading and you were led to M’Cheyne. Whatever the case you have come to green pastures and still waters.
The last two decades have seen a renewal of interest in M’Cheyne. In 2002, Christian Focus published an English translation of L. J. Van Valen’s “Constrained by Love: A New Biography on Robert Murray McCheyne.” Not long thereafter (2004), my friend David Robertson wrote “Awakening: The Life and Ministry of Robert Murray McCheyne” (also by Christian Focus). Another friend, Jordan Stone, has just written an outstanding work “A Communion of Love: The Christ-Centered Spirituality of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Wipf & Stock, 2018). You will see and hear M’Cheyne quoted by J.I. Packer, Ajith Fernando, Alistair Begg, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, Don Carson, Tim Keller and many other current evangelical leaders. Why?
Actually, I think you will discover the answer to that question in reading the contents of this book. M’Cheyne, like Samuel Rutherford before him, was animated by the love of Christ. As Jordan Stone says: “He [M’Cheyne] fixed his eyes on Christ with uncommon passion. His life’s ambition was to encourage every man, woman, boy, and girl to look upon Christ” (A Communion of Love, 2). You pick up this emphasis and hallmark in the very first sermon in this book, in its very first paragraph. M’Cheyne pleads: “it is really the case that the only object in the world that can give peace to your soul is ‘Christ, and Him crucified.’” Then he warns: “Those of you who are not awakened are in a great mistake in this matter; you think you have to find out something good in yourselves; . . . you are seeking rest in the creature.” Then he proclaims: “if anything will give you peace it is the getting a sight of His glory, ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’. It is just beholding His glory” (A Basket of Fragments, 9-10). This is vintage M’Cheyne.
M’Cheyne radiated this passion. It was not a pose but a living reality for him. It still comes through in his preaching. I think this is one reason that these messages still speak. They are both true to the Scriptures and they reflect the heart of a man who pursued holiness by pursuing communion with God through Christ. M’Cheyne is often quoted to the effect: “My people’s greatest need is my own holiness.” Apparently, he never said this, but the statement does capture something of his own convictions. Famously, he wrote: “In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (Memoir and Remains, 282). Of course, they key is always God and his grace, but what M’Cheyne is pointing out is that a minister who is filled by God and his grace, a minister who treasures Christ above all, a minister who counts all things but loss in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, is the most powerful instrument for proclaiming those truths. As Chaucer said of the poor parson in his prologue to “The Canterbury Tales”: “He practiced first, then he preached.” M’Cheyne knew and loved Christ, and then declared him, and yearned for others to know and love him.
So, whether you are a Christian looking for rich, biblical, Gospel-filled, Christ-exalting devotional reading, or a pastor or ministry leader looking for help in preaching and teaching the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone more powerfully, passionately and persuasively, this book is your friend. Because the preacher of these messages was a friend of God, by the grace of Christ, and wanted sinners from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to be brought into a communion of love with the Triune God, by looking in faith to Jesus.