Did M’Cheyne really say…? (Part One)

Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s most famous quote is some variation of:

“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness”

(J. I. Packer, Ajith Fernando, Robert E. Coleman, Kevin DeYoung, Don Carson)
(also cited in commentaries by Dale Ralph Davis (2 Sam; 1 Kings) and Philip Ryken (Exodus))

“The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

(mcheyne.info, Jason Helopoulos)

“The greatest need of my people is my own holiness”

(John Piper)

The only problem is – did he actually say it? None of those listed above actually reference it – and I can’t find anyone that does. Nor can I find it in any of M’Cheyne’s writings or in the biographies of him by Bonar or Smellie.

In his 1994 book The Sacred Anointing, Tony Sargent references “Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960)” but doesn’t give a page number, though he does for his other notes. It’s as if he thinks it must be in the book somewhere but can’t find it!

I contacted mccheyne.info, but they don’t have a source for the quote.

The earliest use of the quote I can find is Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness (1992 – at least it’s in the second edition in 2009 and I assume it was also in the first edition). It also occurs in a Keller sermon from 1993 and a Faith & Mission article by Stephen J. Lawson in 1995.

As I’ll show in the next post, while M’Cheyne does talk much about holiness, the quote doesn’t seem to appear in his writings or in any books from the time.

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