Why Such a Small Harvest?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s final letter to his congregation before setting off for Israel contained an impassioned list of the reasons why he thought that so many of of his flock remained unconverted. I am not sure if he was referring to those under his care whom he considered unconverted, or simply all those in the parish in which he worked. I rather think that his vision would not have been so narrow as to limit his thinking to his congregation

I read the letter a couple of days ago and it has come at an opportune time for me as I work here in Solihull. While I would not dare compare myself with a man like M’Cheyne it has been a matter of growing concern to me at the slow progress we are making here. Of course, there is much to be thankful for. There are many signs of grace. Yet I have hoped and prayed for more.

It has been while thinking over the question ‘Why?’ that M’Cheyne’s letter has stimulated my thinking. Let me list the reasons he gives and make a few comments on the way. (These are not quotations, just my summary and commentary.)

One cause is to be sought in your minister.

Failure of the minister to be holy, failure to lay before the people Christ crucified. What minister is without this thought!

But after considering this, he turns to the problems with his people:

Your want of holiness
M’Cheyne saw the need for the people to be “living epistles”. In saying this he was notspurring them to be “loud talkers”. He simply wanted them to be holy in daily life – actions, speech, thought. The followers of Christ are the light of the world. It is easy to lose our “first love”, Christ, and thereby become ineffective.

Your want prayer
M’Cheyne wrote,

When God gives grace to souls, it is in answer to the prayers of his children. … Where God puts it into the hearts of his children to pray, it is certain that He is going to pour down his Spirit in abundance. Now, where have been your prayers, O children of God.

He was calling his people to plead and wrestle with God for the things he has promised. I wish that we would see more of that in Solihull!

Lastly, ever the evangelist, M’Cheyne turns to the unconverted themselves and pleads with them to consider their own death and the certainty of hell. He points out two concerns:

You are careless about the ordinances
That is, the Bible, prayer and church. They have not taken advantage of the gifts offered.

You have been mockers
By this he meant making light of eternal things. How easy this is to do! M’Cheyne points out that this is evidence of a heart hardened against God.


you despise the Son of God
This rather summarises all that has been said about the unconverted till now. They are not attracted to him, don’t think much of him, have not listened to the Spirit calling and as a result do not follow Christ. In doing so they trample Jesus Christ underfoot.

These are sobering words, I think. He has not missed anyone! Pastor, converted, unconverted. All are accountable for their lives before God.

Why Such a Small Harvest?