Quite possibly the best sermon on Sanctification ever preached.

This sermon was preached by Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) in 1835. A minister in the Church of Scotland,  he was powerfully used by God in his short season. Andrew Bonar once wrote about McCheyne: “He cared for no question unless his Master cared for it; and his main anxiety was to know the mind of Christ.” J.D. Douglas, “Mccheyne, R.M.,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 440.

Aware that McCheyne wrote and preached to an audience whose English is quite removed from our own today, I’ve done my best to modify the text to make it more readable to contemporary eyes and ears. Others will have to judge whether I’ve done that without doing any violence to McCheyne’s thoughts. I have labored to make his words plainer, while retaining as much of the music of his style as I could. I obviously failed in some places. I will be happy to provide you with a PDF of the original should you write to me for it.

As short a summary as I am able to offer for what you are about to read is this: That in the battle for sanctification in the Believer’s life, the means God has provided for us is not His Law, but His Spirit. And His Spirit expressly opening to our hearts and minds, the unfathomable riches of the love for Christ for His redeemed. Dwell there, and sin will lose its grip. Or to quote McCheyne himself: “Love begets love.” And, “no man was ever frightened into love, and, therefore, no man was ever frightened into holiness.”

I commend this short but powerful and much needed to sermon to you all.

In Christ’s love: Reid



“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;” —2 Cor. 5:14. (ESV)

Of all the features of St. Paul’s character, untiring activity was the most striking. From his early history, where we see his energy in attacking the early Church, to when he was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and so harmful, it is quite obvious this was the prominent characteristic of his natural mind. But when it pleased the Lord Jesus Christ to make known in Paul His long-suffering, and to make him a pattern to those who would believe on Jesus afterward, it is beautiful and very instructive to see how the natural features of this daringly bad man became not only sanctified, but invigorated and enlarged. It is so true that those who are in Christ are a new creation: “Old things pass away, and all things become new”, and as a result Christians can be “Troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”

This was an accurate picture of the life of the converted Paul. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, and the fearful situation of all who were yet in their sins, Paul made it the business of his life to persuade men; working hard that if by any means, he might drive  the truth home to their consciences. “For (he says) whether we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or whether we are sober, it is for you.”—Verse 13. Whether the world thinks we are wise or crazy, the cause of God and of human souls is the cause that engages all the energies of our being.

Who, then, isn’t curious to find out the secret spring of all these supernatural labors? Who wouldn’t want to hear from Paul’s own lips what the mighty principle that impelled him was. What drove him and kept him through so many toils and dangers? What magic spell had taken possession of this mighty mind, or what unseen planetary influence, drew him on through all discouragements, with unceasing power?  How is it he was indifferent to both the world’s dread laugh, and the fear of man, which brings a trap; disregarding the sneer of the skeptical Athenian, the frown of the luxurious Corinthian, and the rage of the narrow-minded Jew? What does the apostle say about this himself? We have his own explanation of the mystery in the words of this text: “The love of Christ controls us.”

That this verse is referring to Christ’s love to man, and not our love to the Savior is quite obvious from the explanation which follows, where his dying for all is pointed to as the revelation of his love. It was the observing of that strange compassion of the Savior, moving him to die for his enemies, to bear the complete weight of God’s wrath for all our sins, to taste death for every man. It was this view which gave him the impulse in every labor, which made all suffering light to him, and every commandment a joy instead of grievous. He ran with patience the race that was set before him. Why? Because, looking unto Jesus, he lived as a man crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him. How? By looking to the cross of Christ. Just as the sun exerts a constant gravitational pull on the planets which circle round it, so did the Sun of Righteousness, which had indeed arisen on Paul with a brightness above that of noon-day. Seeing the love of Christ for what it was exerted on Paul’s mind a continual and an almighty energy, constraining him to live no longer for himself, but for the Jesus who died for him and rose again. And notice that it was no temporary, or intermittent energy that exerted such power over his heart and life. Rather, it was a constant and continued attraction. For Paul doesn’t say that the love of Christ controlled him in the past; or that it will constrain him sometime in the future; or that it does so only in special times of excitement, in seasons of prayer, or peculiar devotion. Instead he simply said, that the love of Christ controlled him. It is the ever-present, ever-abiding, ever-moving power, which forms the main-spring of all his working. Take that away, and his energies are gone, and Paul is as weak as other men.

Is there anyone here with me today whose heart isn’t longing to possess just such a master-principle? Aren’t there any number of you who have arrived at that most interesting of all the stages of conversion in which you are panting after a power to make you new? Yes, you have entered in at the straight gate of believing. You have seen that there is no peace to the unjustified; and therefore you have put on Christ for your righteousness; and you already feel something of the joy and peace of believing. You can look back on your past life, spent without God and Christ and the Holy Spirit in the world; and you can see yourself a condemned outcast. You can say of yourself: “Even if I washed my hands in snow water, yet even my own clothes would still know my hidden uncleanness.” But you can look back at all of your shame and self-reproach and yet without dismay or despair. Why? Because your eye has been lifted believingly on him who was made sin for us. And you are persuaded that, as it pleased God to count all your iniquities to the Savior, so he is willing, and has always been willing, to count all the Savior’s righteousness to you. Without despair, did I say? No! So much more – with joy and singing.  For if, indeed, you believe with all your heart, then you have come to the blessedness of the person to whom God imputes righteousness without works; which David describes, saying: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not count sin.” (Ps. 32:1-2) This is the peace of the justified man.

But is this peace a state of perfect blessedness? Is there nothing left to be desired? I am speaking to those of you, who already know what it is to be justified by believing. Let me ask you – what is it that still hangs like a cloud, that represses the free exulting of the spirit? Why do we sometimes hesitate to fully join in the song of thanksgiving; “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgives all your iniquities!” If we really have received absolutely full payment for all our sins, why should it ever be the case that we cry out with the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, O my soul: and why are you disquieted within me?” Ah! my friends there is not a man among you, who has really believed, who has not felt the disquieting thought I am speaking about.

There may be some of you who have felt it so painfully, that like a thick dark cloud it has kept the sweet light of the Gospel peace from shining in the reconciled countenance upon the soul. The thought is this: “I am a justified man; but, woe! I am not a sanctified man. I can look at my past life without despair; but how can I look forward to what is to come?”

There is not a more picturesque moral landscape in the universe than such a soul presents. Forgiven all trespasses that are past, you look inward with a clearness and an impartiality you never knew before, and there you still see long fostered affections for sin, which, like ancient rivers, have worn a deep channel into the heart. And you experience periodic returns of passion, sometimes irresistible and overwhelming, like the tides of the ocean. You are shocked at how there are still perversities of temper and of habit, crooked and unyielding, like the gnarled branches of a stunted oak. Ah! what a scene is here, what anticipations of the future! Will it always be this way? What forebodings of a powerless struggle against the tyranny of lust! against the old ways of acting, and of speaking, and of thinking! Were it not that the hope of the glory of God is one of the most basic promised rights of the justified man, who would be surprised if this view of terror were to drive a man back, like the dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to wallow again in the mire?

Now it is the Christian in this precise situation I want to address. The who is crying out morning and night, “How shall I be made new? what good does the forgiveness of my past sins do me, if I’m not delivered from the love of sin?” It is to that person that I would now, with all earnestness and affection, point out the example of Paul, and the secret power which was at work in him: “The love of Christ” (says Paul) “controls us.”

So it is Paul can say, we too, are men of like passions with yourselves; that same sight which you view with dismay within you, was in exactly the same way revealed to us in all its discouraging power. Ever and always, the same hideous view of our own hearts is opened up to us. But we have an encouragement which never fails. The love of the bleeding Savior controls us. The Spirit is given to all that believe; and that almighty Holy Spirit has one argument that moves us continually—THE LOVE OF CHRIST.

My aim right now, brethren, is to show how this argument, in the hand of the Spirit, moves the believer to live unto God. To show you how so simple a truth as the love of Christ to man, continually presented to the mind by the Holy Ghost, will enable any man to live a life of Gospel holiness. And if there be one person here today whose great question is: “How will I be saved from sin and how will I walk as a child of God should?”  You are the one above of all others, whose ear and heart I am anxious to engage.

  1. The love of Christ to man controls the believer to live a holy life, because that truth takes away all his dread and hatred of God.

Before Adam sinned, God was everything to him; and everything was good and desirable to him, but only in so far as it had to do with God. Every vein of his body, so fearfully and wonderfully made, every leaf that rustled in the trees of Paradise, every new sun that dawned, rejoicing like a strong man to run his race – refreshed him with godly thoughts and admiring praise for his God. And it was only for that reason that he could delight to look on them. The flowers that appeared on the earth, the singing of the birds, and the voice of the turtle heard throughout the happy land, the fig tree putting out her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes giving a good smell; all these combined to bring in to him at every pore a rich and varied tribute of pleasantness. And why? Because every blessing of nature was one more token of how much God loved him and desired to bless him. The same way you may have seen a child on earth devoted to its earthly parent; pleased with everything when he is present, and valuing every gift just as it shows more of the tenderness of that parent’s heart. So was it with the genuine child of God. In God he lived, and moved, and had his being. Even if the sun had stopped shining, it could not have been as devastating to his life as hiding the face of God from him and taking away the light of his soul. But still Adam fell. And the fine gold became dim, the system of his thoughts and likings was reversed. Instead of enjoying God in everything, and everything in God, everything now seemed hateful and disagreeable to him, because it reminded him of God. A holy God who must judge sin.

When man sinned, then he feared God, and hated the God he feared. So he fled to all sin in trying to run from Him whom he hated. So just as you may have seen a child who has grievously transgressed against a loving parent, doing all it can to hide that parent from its view; hurrying from his presence, and plunging into other thoughts and occupations, just to rid itself of the thought of his justly offended father—in the very same way when fallen Adam heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, that voice which, before he sinned, was heavenly music in his ears—then did Adam and his wife hide themselves from the presence of the Lord, among the trees of the garden. In the very same way every natural man runs from the voice and presence of the Lord. Not to try and hide among the trees of Paradise, but to bury himself in cares, and business and pleasures and revellings. Any retreat is better, than facing God; any activity is more tolerable, as long as God is put out of the mimd.

Now I am quite sure that many of you may hear this charge against the natural man with incredulous indifference, if not with indignation. You do not feel that you hate God, or dread his presence; and, therefore, you say it cannot be true. But, brethren, when God says your heart, is “desperately wicked,” in fact, unsearchably wicked, who can know it? when God claims for himself the privilege of knowing and trying the heart; is it not presumptuous – such ignorant beings as we are, to say that that is not true, with respect to our hearts, which God affirms to be true, merely because we are not conscious of it? God says that “the carnal mind is at war against God,” that the very grain and substance of an unconverted mind is hatred against God, absolute, implacable hatred against him in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It is quite true that we do not feel this hatred within us; but that is only a sign of the depth of our sin and of our danger. We have choked up the avenues of self-examination so much, there are so many turnings and windings, before we can arrive at the true motives of our actions; that our dread and hatred of God, which first moved man to sin, and which are still the grand impelling forces whereby Satan goads on the children of disobedience; these are wholly concealed from our view. And you cannot persuade a natural man that they are really there. But the Bible testifies, that out of these two deadly roots—dread of God and hatred of God—grows up the thick forest of sins with which the earth is blackened and overspread. And if there be one among you, brethren, who has been awakened by God to know what is in his heart, I call that man this day to witness, that his bitter cry, in the view of all his sins, has ever been: “Against you, you only have I sinned.”

If, then, dread of God, and hatred of God, is the cause of all our sins, how else can we be cured of loving sin, but by taking away the cause? How do you most completely kill the worst weeds? Is it not by striking at their roots? In the love of Christ to man, then—in that strange, unspeakable gift of God, when he laid down his life for his enemies, when he died as the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; do not you see an object which, if really believed by the sinner, takes away all his dread and all his hatred of God? The root of sin itself is destroyed.

In His bearing the full penalty for all our sins, we see the curse carried away, we see God reconciled to us. Why should we fear any more? Not fearing, why should we hate God any more? Not hating God, then what attractiveness is left in sin any more? Putting on the righteousness of Christ, we are again restored to where Adam was, with God as our friend. Sin can’t buy us anything anymore; and, when we see that, we don’t care to sin anymore.

In the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul seems to write of the believer sinning, as if it is just plain absurd. “How shall we, that are dead to sin;” that is, we who now being one with Christ are considered as having also died with Him; “how shall we live any longer therein?” And again he says very boldly: “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” It is impossible in the nature of things—“for you are not under the law, but under grace;” you are no longer under the curse of a broken law, dreading and hating God; you are under grace; under a system of peace and friendship with God.

Now someone might be ready to object that if what I’ve just said is true, if it takes nothing more than being brought into peace with God to bring us into living a holy life, how is it that believers still sin? My answer is, it is indeed too true that believers do sin; but it is just as true that unbelief is the cause of their sinning. If you and I were to live with our eye so closely on Christ bearing the full weight and penalty for all our sins, freely offering to all the full weight of His righteousness in exchange for all our sins; and if this constant view of the love of Christ was maintained within us, if we looked with a straightforward eye; the peace of God which passes all understanding; the peace that rests on nothing in us, but upon the completeness that is in Christ, then, brethren, I do say, that, frail and helpless as we are, we should never sin; we should not have the slightest object in sinning.

But, ah! my friends, this is not the way with us. How often in the day is the love of Christ quite out of our view! How often is it obscured to us! Sometimes even hid from us by God himself, to teach us what we are deep down. How often are we left without a concrete sense of the completeness of his offering, the perfectness of his righteousness, and without the will or the confidence to claim all that we have in him! Is it any surprise then that where there is so much unbelief – dread and hatred of God should creep in again, and sin should often display its poisonous head? The matter is very plain, brethren, if only we had spiritual eyes to see it.

If we live a life of faith on the Son of God, then we shall assuredly live a life of holiness. I do not say we ought to like that as though we are required to do so; but I say, we WILL, as a matter of necessary consequence. It is the natural result of seeing Christ’s love for us for what it truly is.  To the same degree we fail to live a life of faith, that is just how far we will still live a life of unholiness. It is through faith that God purifies the heart; and there is no other way.

Is there one of you, then, brethren, desirous of being made new, of being delivered from the slavery of sinful habits and affections? We can point you to no other remedy but the love of Christ. Behold, think about, examine, meditate on how he loved you! See afresh what he bore for you. Put your finger, as it were, into the prints of the nails, and thrust your hand into his side; and stop being faithless, but believing. Under a sense of your sin, flee to the Savior of sinners. As the timid dove flies to hide itself in the crevices of the rock, so you, flee to hide yourself in the wounds of your Savior; and when you have found him, like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; when you sit under his shadow, with great delight; you will find that he has slain all the division between you and God; that he has accomplished all your warfare. God is now for you. Planted together with Christ in the likeness of his death, you will also be in the likeness of his resurrection. Dead unto sin, you will be alive unto God.

  1. The love of Christ to man controls the believer to live a holy life; because that truth not only takes away our fear and hatred, but stirs up our love to Him.

When we are brought to see the reconciled face of God in peace, that is a great privilege. But how can we look upon that face, reconciling and reconciled, and not love him who has loved us so much to accomplish that reconciliation! Love begets love. We can hardly keep from esteeming those on earth who really love us, however worthless they may be. But, ah! my friends, when we are convinced that God loves us, and convinced of how willing He was to give up of his Son for us all, how can we help but love him, in whom are all excellences—everything suited to call forth love out of us?

I have already shown you that the Gospel is a restorative scheme; it brings us back to the same state of friendship with God which Adam enjoyed, and thus takes away the desire of sin. But now I wish to show you, that the Gospel does far more than restore us to the state from which we fell. If rightly and consistently embraced by us, it brings us into a state far better than Adam’s. It constrains us by giving us a far more powerful motive. Adam didn’t have our advantage of having this strong love of God to man shed abroad in his heart. Therefore he didn’t have this constraining power to make him live to God. But our eyes have seen this great sight. Before us Christ hath been clearly and plainly set forth as crucified in our place. We really believe his love has brought us into peace, through pardon; and because we are pardoned and at peace with God, the Holy Ghost is given to us. Why was the Spirit given to us? Why, just to shed abroad this truth over our hearts, to show us more and more of this love of God to us, that we may be drawn to love him who hath so loved us, and to live to him who died for us and rose again.

It is truly admirable to see how the Bible way of making us holy is suited to our nature. Had God proposed to frighten us into a holy life, how powerless that would be! Men have always had the idea, that if one came back from the dead to tell us of the reality of the doleful regions where the lost dwell in endless misery – the spirits of the damned – that that would constrain us to live a holy life. But, doesn’t this just show how ignorant we are of our mysterious nature? Suppose God should this very hour unveil before our eyes the secrets of Hell where hope never comes; more, suppose, if it were possible, that you were actually made to feel for a season the real pains of the lake of living agony, and the worm that never dies; and then that you were brought back again to the earth, and placed in your old situation, among your old friends and companions; do you really think that there would be any chance of your walking with God as a child? I don’t doubt you would be frightened out of your positive sins; the cup of godless pleasure would drop from your hand; you would shudder to swear and curse, you would tremble at lying, because you had seen and felt something of the torment which awaits the drunkard, the swearer, and the liar, in the world beyond the grave. But do you really think that you would live to God, any more than you did; that you would serve him better than before? It is quite true you might be driven to be more charitable; maybe even give all your goods to feed the poor, and your body to be burned. You might live strictly and soberly, fearful of breaking one of the commandments all the rest of your days: but this would not be living to God; you would not love him one whit more. Ah! brethren, you are sadly blinded to your curiously formed hearts, if you do not know that love cannot be forced; no man was ever frightened into love, and, therefore, no man was ever frightened into holiness.

But thrice blessed be God, he has invented a way more powerful than hell and all its terrors; an argument far more powerful than even a sight of the torments of Hell. He hath devised a way of drawing us to holiness. By showing us the love of his Son, THIS is how he calls forth our love. He knew our frame, he remembered that we were dust, he knew all the peculiarities of our treacherous hearts; and, therefore, he suited his way of sanctifying, to the creature to be sanctified. And thus, the Spirit does not make use of terror to sanctify us, but of love: “The love of Christ constrains us.” He draws us by “the cords of love, by the bands of a man.”

What parent does not know that the true way to gain the obedience of a child, is to gain the affections of the child? Do you think God, who gave us this wisdom, doesn’t know that Himself? Do you think he would set about obtaining the obedience of his children, without first of all gaining their affections? To gain our affections, brethren, which by nature search over the face of the world to be satisfied, God has sent his son into the world to bear the curse of our sins. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be made rich.”

And oh! if there is but one of you who will consent this day, under a sense of undoneness, to flee for refuge to the Savior, to find in him the forgiveness of all sins that are past, I know well, that from this day forth you will be like that poor woman which was a sinner, which stood at Christ’s feet behind him, weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head; and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Forgiven much, you will love much; loving much, you will live to the service of Him whom you love.

This is the grand master-principle of which we spoke; this is the secret spring of all the holiness of the saints.

The life of holiness is not what the world falsely represents it to be, a life of preciseness and painfullness, in which a man crosses every affection of his nature. There is no such thing as self-denial in the “works-salvation” sense of that word in the religion of the Bible. The system of restrictions and self-crossings is the very system which Satan hath set up as a counterfeit of God’s way of sanctifying. This is how Satan frightens away thousands from Gospel peace and Gospel holiness. He makes it seem as if in order to be a sanctified man one would have to cross every desire of his being and do everything that is disagreeable and uncomfortable to him. My friends, our text distinctly shows you that it is not so. We are constrained to holiness by the love of Christ. The love of him who loved us is the only cord by which we are bound to the service of God. The scourge of our affections is the only scourge that drives us to duty. Sweet bands and gentle scourges! Who would not be under their power?

And, finally, brethren, if Christ’s love to us is the tool which the Holy Ghost makes use of, at the very first, to draw us to the service of Christ, it is by means of the same tool that he draws us to persevere even unto the end. So that if you are visited with seasons of coldness and indifference, if you begin to be weary, or lag behind in the service of God, behold! here is the remedy: Look again to the bleeding Savior. That Sun of Righteousness is the grand attractive center, around which all his saints move swiftly, and in smooth harmonious concert,“not without song.”

As long as the believing eye is fixed upon his love, the path of the believer is easy and unimpeded; for that love always constrains. Vary from simply believing in Christ and His love, and the path becomes impracticable and the life of holiness a weariness.

Whosoever, then, would live a life of persevering holiness, let him keep his eye fixed on the Savior. As long as Peter looked only to the Savior, he walked upon the sea in safety, to go to Jesus; but when he looked around, and saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried, “Lord, save me!” It be the same with you. As long as you look believingly to the Savior, who loved you. and gave himself for you, that’s how long you may tread the waters of life’s troubled sea, and keep the soles of your feet dry. But venture to look around upon the winds and waves that threaten you on every hand, and, like Peter, you will begin to sink, and cry, “Lord, save me!”

How justly, then, may we address to you the Savior’s rebuke to Peter: “O you of little faith, what caused you to doubt?” Look again to the love of the Savior, and behold that love which constrains you to live no more to yourself, but to him that died for you and rose again.

College Church, August 30, 1835


Adapted from : Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 179–187.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s