Review of "Burns and McCheyne" by James Alexander Stewart

William Chalmers Burns, Robert Murray McCheyne, Biographical Sketches by James Alexander Stewart, Asheville, NC: Revival Literature, undated, 106 pp.
This book is a combined edition of William Chalmers Burns, A Man With Passion for Souls and Robert Murray McCheyne, Scholar — Saint, Seer – Soulwinner each apparently published in 1963.
In recent years I’ve read a number of biographies of Christian pastors and theologians. Many of them have been, in my opinion, too hagiographical. I must include this book in that list. While stories of Christian piety may be great examples to follow, without noting any of the less fortunate characteristics of the subject (or subjects in the present case) it is difficult to get much of a rounded picture of who they were. In books on Peter Marshall, Bob Childress, and now William Chalmers Burns and Robert Murray McCheyne the hagiographic approach has left me with little to distinguish one man from the other. You’d almost think it was the world’s one greatest preacher and holy man who resurfaced from time to time in various places.
Nevertheless, there are some good things that can be gained by reading this short study. Biographies of Burns and McCheyne fit well together as they were close acquaintances in 19th century Scotland.
William Chalmers Burns (1815 – 1868) was a preacher in Scotland and then a missionary in Canada and China. He was an instrument of God in the large Kilsyth revival in Scotland and apparently became a very popular preacher with as many as ten thousand listening to him at one time.
Perhaps my favorite note about Burns in the book was on page 51 when the author Stewart noted that “once in his early days the Presbytery of Aberdeen took him to task for his exuberance signatures, (for he used to sign his letters with the following: YOURS IN THE BELOVED, YOURS IN EMMANUEL, YOURS EVER IN JESUS, OUR GLORIOUS HOPE).” Stewart continues, “While he admitted to them, there was a risk of the pen outrunning the soul, he protested, too, that no language more conventional, unless it trembled with life, could ever satisfy him.” (p. 51)
There isn’t much else notable in the book on Burns except that he spent his later years on the missionary field in China and came into contact with Hudson Taylor.
The second half of the book is on Robert Murray McCheyne (1813 – 1843) who, despite his death at an early age, had a profound impact through his brief ministry and through the biography written of him by his colleague Andrew Bonar. Of interest is that McCheyne and Bonar with two other ministers travelled to Palestine on a mission of inquiry to the Jews. McCheyne dies shortly before the Disruption of 1843. Without having chosen sides then in disruption, his reputation remained favorable in both the Free Church and the Church of Scotland. Burns goes along with the Disruption, but in that he leaves Scotland for missionary work he probably didn’t have a great influence on the Free Church. Quotes from McCheyne’s sermons make up a large part of the section of the book on him.
Stewart concludes noting that in his own time 120 years later, “The Presbyterian Church in Scotland as a whole has departed from the gospel preached by McCheyne.”
Ultimately, reading the wikipedia articles on these two men proves to be a quicker and more thought-provoking undertaking than reading this book.

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