Too Sick But to Pray
(Taken from the M'Cheyne Memoir)
Accordingly, in company with our faithful Hebrew friend, Erasmus Caiman, we embarked; but as we lay off Cyprus, the fever increased to such a height, that he (Robert) lost his memory for some hours, and was racked with excessive pain in his head. When the vessel sailed, he revived considerably, but during three days no medical aid could be obtained. He scarcely ever spoke ; and only once did he for a moment, on a Saturday night, lift his languid eye, as he lay on deck ending the breeze, to catch a distant sight of Patmos We watched him with agonizing anxiety till we reached Smyrna and the village of Bouja. Though three miles off; yet for the sake of medical aid he rode to this village upon a mule after sunset, ready to drop every moment with pain and burning fever. But here the Lord had prepared for him the best and kindest help. The tender and parental care of Mr and Mrs Lewis, in whose house he found a home, was never mentioned by him but with deepest gratitude ; and the sight of the flowering jessamine, or the mention of the deep' green cypress, would invariably call up in his mind assjciations of Bouja and its inmates. He used to say it was his second birth-place.
During that time, like most of God's people who have been in sickness, he felt that a single passage of the Word of God was more truly food to his fainting soul than anything besides. One day his spirit revived, and his eye glistened, when I spoke of the Saviour's sympathy, adducing as the very words of Jesus, Psalm xli. 1—" Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble," &c. It seemed so applicable to his own case, as a minister of the glad tidings ; for often had he " considered the poor," carrying a cup of cold water to a disciple. Another passage, written for the children of God in their distress, was spoken to him when he seemed nearly insensible—" Call upon me in the day of trouble." This word of God was as the drop of honey to Jonathan.
He himself thus spoke of his illness to his friends at home: —" I left the foot of Lebanon when I could hardly see, or hear, or speak, or remember ; I felt my faculties going, one by one, and I had every reason to expect that I would soon be with my God. It is a sore trial to be alone and dying, in a foreign land, and it has made me feel, in a way that I never knew before, the necessity of having unfeigned faith in Jesus and in God. Sentiments, natural feelings, glowing fancies of divine things, will not support the soul in such an hour. There is much self-delusion in our estimation of ourselves when we are untried and in the midst of Christian friends, whose warm feelings give a glow to ours, which they do not possess in themselves." Even then he had his people in his heart. '; When I got better, I used to creep out in the evenings about sunset. I often remembered you all then. I could not write, as my eyes and head were much affected ; I could read but very little ; I could speak very little, for I had hardly any voice; and so I had all my time to lay my people before God, and pray for a blessing on them. About the last evening I was there, we all went to the vintage, and I joined in gathering the grapes." To Mr Somerville he wrote :—" My mind was very weak when I was at the worst, and therefore the things of eternity were often dim. I had no fear to die, for Christ had died. Still I prayed for recovery, if it was the Lord's will. You remember you told me to be humble among your last advices. You see God is teaching me the same thing. I fear I am not thoroughly humbled. I feel the pride of my heart, and bewail it." To his kind medical friend DrGibson, in Dundee, he wrote:—" I really believed that my Master had called me home, and that I would sleep beneath the dark green cypresses of Bouja till the Lord shall come, and they that sleep in Jesus come with him ; and my most earnest prayer was for my dear flock, that God would give them a pastor after his own heart."
When we met, after an eight days' separation, on board the vessel at Constantinople, he mentioned as one of the most interesting incidents of the week, that one evening, while walking with Mr Lewis, they met a young Greek and his wife, both of whom were believed to be really converted souls. It created a thrill in his bosom to meet with these almost solitary representatives of the once-faithful and much-tried native Church of Smyrna.
Meanwhile there were movements at home that proved the Lord to be he who " alone doeth wondrous things." The cry of his servant in Asia was not forgotten ; the eye of the Lord turned towards his people. It was during the time of Mr M'Cheyne's sore sickness, that his flock in Dundee were receiving blessing from the opened windows of heaven. Their pastor was lying at the gate of death, in utter helplessness. But the Lord had done this on very purpose; for he meant to show that he needed not the help of any : he could send forth new labourers, and work by new instruments, when it pleased him. We little knew that during the days when we were waiting at the foot of Lebanon for a vessel to carry us to Smyrna, the arm of the Lord had begun to be revealed in Scotland. On the 23d of July the great Revival at Kilsyth took place.
Mr W. C. Burns, the same who was supplying Mr M'Cheyne's place in his absence, was on that day preaching to his father's flock; and while pressing upon them immediate acceptance of Christ with deep solemnity, the whole of the vast assembly were overpowered. The Holy Spirit seemed to come down as a rushing mighty wind, and to fill the place. Very many were that day struck to the heart; the sanctuary was filled with distressed and enquiring souls. All Scotland heard the glad news that the sky was no longer as brass— that the rain had begun to fall. The Spirit in mighty power began to work from that day forward in many places of the land.