ST PETER'S CHURCH
M'Cheyne was inducted to the new charge of St Peter’s, Dundee in November 1836. St Peter’s was built as part of the Church of Scotland extension programme initiated by Chalmers, and was situated in a rapidly expanding industrial area of Dundee. At one level M'Cheyne did not appear to be suited for such work. He was from a prosperous middle class background with little experience of the industrial working class, his health was not great, and in many ways he seemed more suited to a rural parish. And yet his training under Chalmers and his experience in Edinburgh and in Larbert had prepared him for his new charge.
McCheyne’s ministry in St Peter’s was innovative and radical. Starting with a clean slate he was able to build around himself a group of leaders and initiate new work which was largely unhindered by a more traditional perspective. He saw the prime need of the area as evangelism and he acted accordingly. He was concerned that the services should be as attractive as possible and did his utmost to ensure that the singing was melodious and enthusiastic. He started psalmody classes and sometimes even led the singing himself. His preaching was simple. He sought deliberately to keep his speech plain and to use plenty of word pictures. Sermons varied in length from 20 minutes to one and half-hours. He preached with authority and had a great deal of application and winsomeness. McCheyne was keen on preaching from the Old Testament, especially the Song of Solomon, although the majority of his extant sermons are from the New Testament. He also engaged in an assiduous programme of pastoral and evangelistic visitation. Notes were kept of all his pastoral visits – with dates, descriptions and a record of the passage of Scripture read. As well as making full use of his elders and deacons he instituted a group of tract distributors and established a system of deaconesses whose job was to help with the visitation.
Under McCheyne, St Peter’s became an active Church with a large programme. As well as the usual Sunday services there was a Bible study on Thursday evening. This was a less formal meeting which was held in an often full Church (St Peter’s was able to seat 1,100 people). Smaller classes were taught by both the elders and McCheyne throughout the week. A Church library was started to encourage reading and learning. McCheyne’s success is often attributed to his devotional life. He made prayer, meditation and self-discipline key aspects of his work throughout his life. His usual daily pattern was to rise at 6:30 am and spend two hours in private prayer and meditation (including an hour devoted to the Jews). From 8:30-10 am he had breakfast and family prayers. On Sundays his practice was to spend six hours in prayer and devotional reading. McCheyne felt so strongly about private and family worship that he devised a yearly calendar for his people to enable them to read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice. This calendar is still available and widely used today.
St. Peter’s Free Church in Dundee is one of Scotland’s best known churches. It is the church of Robert Murray McCheyne, visited by hundreds of Christians from all over the world each year.
In disrepair, it was on the point of being turned into housing when the Free Church bought it. For the past 17 years, there has been continual growth, with people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. The congregation is a youthful one with the vast majority being under 40 years old.
Today over a century and a half after M'Cheyne's earthly life, the church where he so often preached is once again a centre for Gospel witness to the city of Dundee. It is now St Peter's Free Church of Scotland with its own website since June 2001, which includes a brief biographical article about Robert Murray McCheyne. The minister is David A Robertson. His article "A book that changed me", which appeared in Evangelical Times in June1995, describes how his life was changed by reading The Annals of the Disruption
“The re-establishment of an evangelical witness at St. Peter’s, Dundee, in these recent years has been a tremendous encouragement and a spiritual blessing to many in Dundee and far beyond. The vision the church has for the development of its strategic witness is worthy of the widest possible support.” Derek Prime, former Pastor, Charlotte Chapel Baptist Church, Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland has its own web-site which includes many fine articles, including M'Cheyne's expositions on the Seven Churches in Asia.
Anyone wishing to visit Dundee as a tourist may like to go first to the web-site for Angus and Dundee tourist information.