Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Must Be Precise

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor who lived from 1813 to 1843, stated the following, "The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness."

The above is an example of a quote gone wrong. What it is lacking is precision.

Since M'Cheyne was a pastor in the traditional sense, when he says "my people," I can only assume that he is referring to the people of the church where he was employed.

In this relatively famous quote, at least among pastors, M'Cheyne says that his people's greatest need is his own personal holiness.

Really? Is that truly their greatest need? I can easily think of ten things that his people needed more than his holiness:

1. God the Father
2. God the Son
3. God the Holy Spirit
4. Salvation
5. Sanctification
6. An attitude of servanthood
7. Scriptural knowledge
8. A loving church family
9. A holy hatred of their own sin
10. Their own personal holiness

M'Cheyne's quote lacks precision. I'm sure that if asked he would have said that the people of the church needed God far more than him. Since he was a solid Christian, there can be no doubt of this. However, his quote suggests otherwise.

How could the quote have been both better and more accurate? Here's my suggestion: "The greatest need of my people from me is my personal holiness." Simply by adding the two words "from me" we take a seemingly heretical statement and turn it into something that can at least be argued to be accurate.

As we write and speak, let's be careful. Precision is important.


Aussie John said...


"my people"?

The greatest need of God's people is to see members of the Body of Christ actually being what they claim to be, especially those recognized as more mature in the faith.

The first five are already their present possession if they are truly God's people. God's people are holy in Christ, justified, sanctified and being sanctified.

Six to nine are a part of growth, and maturity,if the first five are truly present.

If the first nine are present, number ten is already there.

As John Piper said in one of his sermons:
"Sanctification" comes from two Latin words: "sanctus" which means holy, and "ficare" which means make. So to sanctify means to make holy."

Eric said...


The stunning thing about M'Cheyne's quote is just how self-centered it sounds. I admit to not knowing the context in which he said it so I don't want to be too hard on him. However, whenever a pastor uses the term "my people" it always makes me shudder a bit.

The people in the church were M'Cheyne pastored certainly benefited from his holiness. However, they all needed daily holiness themselves to go along with their positional holiness before God.

This quote is another example of a pastor who, despite seemingly good intentions, thought too highly of his own importance.