What an exchange!
John McLaren was the minister of the United Presbyterian congregation of Burnbank in the Cowcaddens area of Glasgow. He was its first minister and in the five years of his ministry the congregation experienced remarkable growth. Sadly, on the 21st of June 1859, after an illness of several months, McLaren died. He was just a few weeks short of his thirty-third birthday.
In early February of that year he wrote what was to be his last letter to his friend, fellow minister, and future biographer, Peter Leys. Death was much on his mind. It occasioned both the humblest reflections on himself and the most exalted thoughts of Christ’s perfect righteousness. The following excerpts movingly illustrate how great is the comfort that righteousness can afford to a believer when its comfort is most needed.
“It occurred to me”, he writes, “that if God in His all-wise providence were to cut me off about this time, in the course of a few months hence my life would be about the same length as that of our blessed Lord, though the part of it occupied with the ministry would be somewhat longer. This was profoundly abasing, and yet affords ground, after all – indeed, the one ground – for sweet consolation…My thirty-three years’ life, what is it? A garment ragged and filthy, it cannot cover my nakedness; instead of that, it excites God’s abhorrence. Its rags and filthiness appear all the more in contrast with that wondrous life of Jesus. It was a perfect garment. Instead of rents and rags it had not even a seam from top to bottom, – no filthiness, but white and spotless. And that blessed Saviour comes near to me, and offers to take my thirty-three years and annihilate them, so that they shall be as if they had never been, and give me His own thirty-three years’ marvellous life instead; to take my ragged and filthy garment off my back and bury it in eternal forgetfulness, and clothe me from top to toe with His own fair robe. All my life of sin He will wash away with His blood, and cover me with His perfect obedience. How perfect! – complete in every point in which mine has failed.”
He continues, “Were I to die soon I would have to say, ‘O Lord, I have not done thy work, the work thou gavest me to do! I have done none of it; I have not even begun, or at most there are but a few miserable initiatory fragments, so miserable that I am ashamed of them; I dare not offer them to thee; I have to ask thee only to forgive them.’ But oh! Jesus at the close of His short life could say, ‘It is finished,’ ‘I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.’ And now this life is offered to me instead of my own – my own to be blotted out – that to be counted to me instead! so that God shall look upon me as if I had lived it myself, and I may myself, amid my affliction, so regard it. I have tried to realise all this, to believe it, to drop my own with eternal, utter loathing, and joyfully ‘wrap me up in Christ.’ I trust, too, that at the core, such is the exercise of my heart.”