David P. Beaty. An All-Surpassing Fellowship: Learning from Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Communion with God. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. 164 pp. $15.00.
Would you like a stimulus to jump-start your urgency for evangelism and fervency for personal communion with God? If so, then you should check out An All-Surpassing Fellowship, David Beaty’s concise biography on Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s life. This 150 pager will whet your appetite on the above subjects as you glimpse the life of one of the most remarkable young men to pastor in Scotland during the Mid-Nineteenth century.
Plagued with chronic health problems, while ultimately dying at the youthful age of twenty-nine, Robert Murray M’Cheyne lived each day as his last. Earnestness characterizes this man’s disposition. With a deep urgency to evangelize, M’Cheyne sincerely agonized over the lost souls of his sheep at St. Peter’s Church in Dundee. He is known to have said to those who were bothered by this urgency, “You will not thank us in eternity for rocking your cradle and lulling you asleep over the pit of hell” (91). Earnest, somber, and serious indeed describe M’Cheyne.
It may come as a surprise to you, but the subject of this biography was no celebrity pastor. He was no traveling itinerant revivalist or evangelist like George Whitefield or Billy Graham. In fact, M’Cheyne actually pastored in the shadow of his peer, W. C. Burns, who was more like the above. Yet, M’Cheyne did so without envy, resentment, or any of the other unbecoming characteristics that might typify one in those circumstances (45).
Beaty says this about him, “M’Cheyne’s influence did not come about because of the revival that shook both the church he pastored and his country of Scotland. Nor has it continued primarily because of his biblical, evangelistic sermons. Rather, M’Cheyne’s enduring influence flows from the depth and vibrancy of his walk with God” (2).
Without getting into too much detail and stealing the thunder of An All-Surpassing Fellowship, I will say that much credit may rightly be given to Andrew Bonar who wrote and edited an account of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s life. In this work, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, we have a very personal account of M’Cheyne’s earnestness, eternal perspective, and spiritual communion with God.
To some degree, An All-Surpassing Fellowship is a synopsis and commentary of Bonar’s work, while integrating all the other extant writings about M’Cheyne and honing in on M’Cheyne’s spiritual life. An All-Surpassing Fellowship consists of three parts. Part one is the life of M’Cheyne broken into five chapters. Part two zooms into M’Cheyne’s communion with God in another five chapters. Finally, part three comments and exegetes what today’s pastor may learn from M’Cheyne’s communion with God, likewise in five chapters.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
In a previous review, I emphasized the significance of reading pastoral biographies for your heart and ministry. Allow me to reiterate this point. Reading a few biographies a year, or at least one, will expand your appreciation for your calling, give you encouraging glimpses of history, and possibly help you discover a kindred spirit – one from which you might continue to learn. It’s not uncommon to read a biography and then go on to read from the works or sermons of that person. I’ve done this a number of times.
Knowing that not all biographical sketches resonate with all people, having access to a concise primer on an individual, one such as An All-Surpassing Fellowship by David Beaty, helps readers discern whether they might wish to dig much deeper on this person.
Rather than attempting to be another exhaustive account like Bonar’s, which is both biography and a collection of quotes and writings from both M’Cheyne’s diary and sermons, Beaty studies a particular facet of M’Cheyne’s life that in turn serves as a lesson for pastoral ministry. This is the noteworthy component of An All-Surpassing Fellowship.
It’s been said that a pastor’s private life is as important if not more important than his public life. M’Cheyne’s story demonstrates how this is the case. You see, pastors can turn anything into idolatry: prayer, bible study, evangelism, and preaching preparation may be counted among those idols. All of which, may be used as a formula for a successful fruitful ministry rather than the instruments of fellowship with God. We should soberly listen to Beaty’s comment concerning M’Cheyne’s devotional life: “People seek discipline in their devotional lives for varied reasons. Some want more biblical knowledge. Others seek peace for the day ahead. But for M’Cheyne, it was love of God that compelled him to spend time with his Lord” (56). This should drive our fellowship with him as well.
I feel like I read a lot of excellent books. Quite honestly, I am picky about what I read and review. My goal is to put the best writing, most compelling story, and spiritually engaging books in front of my eyes and others. That said, the most thought provoking and introspective writing I’ve read since I began reviewing on this site may very well have come from M’Cheyne’s hand as it has been packaged by Beaty.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
An All-Surpassing Fellowship compels pastors to consider the urgency of evangelism and the fleeting nature of life.