The Shadow of a Godly Pastor: Oh How We Need An Anointed Ministry Today!

Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843), Presbyterian minister and missionary

Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), Presbyterian minister and missionary

Our people need to sit beneath the shadow of a godly pastor.

“So that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (Acts 5.15 ESV).

I was preaching at a conference some time ago when I heard something that gripped me and gave me a vision for the kind of pastors I pray God will grow in our seminary. The church where the conference was being conducted was without a pastor. The pulpit was “empty” as we say. The elders talked with me about the kind of pastor they wanted. They asked me to seek such a candidate for them in my various contacts. As the leaders discussed among themselves the kind of minister they should pray for and seek, one of the elders warned the others:

“Just remember: the man that comes here will influence your wives and sons and daughters, your grandchildren, and in fact this entire community for years and years to come.”

And it was then that I thought, “That is what we really do at our seminary. We prepare and hope to send out pastors, and other Christian leaders, but especially preachers of the Gospel. They go out and are called and preach the Word of the Lord in a certain place; to a certain people; and in a certain period. And between the place, the people, and for a period, the life of the pastor—not just his sermons, mind you—but his entire life, leaves an impression that changes generations of human beings long after he is gone.”

In the days of the Apostles, we are told that people brought their loved ones to get near even the shadow of Peter. The anointing of one preacher was so powerful that even his shadow was enough to bring transformation. Such is the power of a godly preacher.

When I was leaving seminary to go into the ministry, I read the Memoir and Remains of Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the godly young pastor of Dundee. Andrew Bonar, his friend and biographer, reminded the reader that his late ministerial colleague was referred to as “the saintly M’Cheyne” because the anointing of the resurrected Christ, so undeniably present in his soul, was so powerfully displayed in his life. Such anointing surely came because M’Cheyne (1813-1843) sought Christ above all, in health and in the much sickness he endured. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” said the author to the Hebrews. M’Cheyne obviously did. He sought Christ in His Word daily. His Communion with the Savior was intense. Heaven came down to earth in his meditations and the man was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and each day. M’Cheyne, though only in his middle twenties at the time, became so “Bibline” (to use Charles H. Spurgeon‘s wonderful word) that his very presence seem to shine with the Christ of the Scriptures he devoured. It was said that people walking on one side of the street were affected by M’Cheyne walking on the other side of the street. I have no doubt that is true.

I remember when the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, preached in my pulpit at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. After the message people lined up to greet the Archbishop. I had never seen such a line in all of my years of ministry except in pictures of people in line to seek to see John Paul II. I stood next to his grace and greeted each person, as the host pastor, after they greeted this godly Christian leader. In many cases people were overcome with emotion. I asked one lady why she was weeping so. “…Because the man has the anointing of God.” She seemed ready to say more and so I nodded my head for her to continue,

“Well, Pastor, I came to hear about his persecution under Idi Amin, and he talked about Christ’s suffering for me. I came to hear a story about an amazing life lived and he told me about the life of Jesus lived for me. When he talked about his life he told me about my life. I just felt that I have been in the presence of a man consumed with Jesus Himself.”

I heard the same response from several people, including from some of our own elders and deacons and godly women in the Church. I told my wife, later, that the Archbishop’s preaching and life bore witness to the fact that there was a fire in this man’s life that was taken from the very altar of God in heaven. People were, to borrow to story of why Benjamin Franklin, a sceptic would go to hear George Whitfield preach, “…because I have never seen a man burn alive.” Henry Luke burned alive when he preached that day. I shall never forget the experience of  that moment. I would later be with him in Cape Town, South Africa for the closing worship service of the Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. He was no less on fire. I do not mean to say that this man preaches with a loud voice or with a particularly noticeable emotional zeal. Quite the contrary. There is a serenity in his presentation that is calming as much as exciting. Yet the fire of holiness burns and is fueled by something and Someone unseen. I knew heard Henry Luke preach Jesus Christ to my heart in my pulpit and when I was in Cape Town, and I was convicted of my shallowness in Christian living. I count him, today, as a friend. Yet, like Andrew Bonar, I have come to realize that my friend is someone with the anointing from Another World at work in his life, and through his life to others, in this world. This sounds a bit charismatic to Presbyterian and Reformed or to Baptist sensibilities (not to mention Anglican ones). “Isn’t this where Lloyd-Jones went off a bit?” someone thinks, as they read these words. Yet I would respond with a question: Have we in our quest for theological precision ignored our desire for a personal encounter with the living God? Have we focused on critiquing the world around us instead of seeking the Word from above us? If we are His, have we stopped seeking to keep in step with the One within us? Have we stopped believing in that special anointing from on high?

Have we in our quest for theological precision ignored our desire for a personal encounter with the living God? Have we focused on critiquing the world around us instead of seeking the Word from above us? If we are His, have we stopped seeking to keep in step with the One within us? Have we stopped believing in that special anointing from on high?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne had this special anointing. Many, especially very young children, Bonar reminded us, were converted to Jesus because of the evangelistic ministry of the frail, young pastor from Dundee—”frail,” yes! Sometimes when he could not get up out of the bed, because of his frequent and growing consumption, he would hand-write his sermon and have one of his elders read it to the congregation at St. Peters, Dundee. The people knew that his young man lived and breathed Jesus Christ. Their young, sickly pastor spent and was spent in the proclamation of the Gospel and no hospital bed could stop that preaching! Nay, Christ’s power was perfected in the weakness of the disease that would ultimately take the young Scot preacher from this world. So powerful was his ministry that when he died at the age of twenty-nine and a service was held at his church, people lined up outside to pay their respect to the young man who forever changed their lives and the community of Dundee, and even the nation of Great Britain. And I cannot deny that the sickly preacher boy changed another preacher, years ago, who now writes these words. For I have stood, not in a que to meet him, or in a line to attend his service of burial, but before his grave at St. Peter‘s. I stood there with my wife, our infant son in her arms. I stood there and wept and pleaded for just a thread from his mantle. We prayed to God for anointing. We prayed for that we would know the power from on high that this young man knew. We prayed that such power would flow through our family and through the lives of our parishioners (at the time we had none).

Such is the power of a godly preacher, that earthly limitations, and the passing of time, cannot remove his shadow of holiness.

One man of God consumed by the love of Christ. One woman of God committed to live for Jesus. One place. One moment in time. God’s power on just one person is all that it takes to change generations upon generations. How we need such an anointing today. Oh that the shadow of the Almighty might fall on us today!

As a pastor who serves a seminary, I must tell you: this is the revival that I am praying for: a revival of the anointing from on high on our faculty, our staff, our board, and our students—especially our students, who shall soon stand with M’Cheyne and Orombi and countless other anonymous but equally powerful preachers through time to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. 

May you, too, dear reader, be consumed by this fire from heaven and may you burn alive with its divine truth and with His divine presence. May the flames from the very altar of God light up the lives of those who hear His Word through your life until we are all caught up to be with Him in the air. Perhaps, then, the Lord will allow us to sing M’Cheyne’s most famous hymn:

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart.
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.




  1. […] Baird Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina. This article first appeared in Dr. Milton’s blog, and is used with his […]