XII. THE MISSIONARY VISION
IT is evident that Albert B. Simpson, like Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, had been separated from his birth to a missionary ministry. His mother had dedicated him to this high calling. When he was a few weeks old, he was baptized by the Rev. John Geddie, who was on the eve of departure to Aneityum, in the South Sea Islands, as the first Canadian missionary, and who consecrated the child to missionary service. In sending out this pioneer, the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island laid the foundations of the great foreign missionary work of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. And what a foundation! The epitaph on Geddie's tomb on the island of Aneityum reads: "When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians; when he left in 1872, there were no heathens." In the passion of that consecration prayer this missionary apostle begat a son in his own likeness.
The prayer made an indelible impression on John Geddie's memory. When on furlough twenty-one years afterward, he sought out James Simpson and inquired for the boy whom he had dedicated. On being informed that he was preaching in Hamilton, licensed but not yet ordained, Mr. Geddie immediately visited the young minister and informed him that in his baptism he had been devoted to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Another great missionary hero deeply affected his life. His sister says, "When Albert was about nine years of age, he read the life of Rev. John Williams, the martyr missionary of Erromanga, and was so impressed with it that he devoted himself to the work of the Lord, and he never swerved from his determination."
It may have been John Geddie who aroused the parents to a world vision of the Church's work, but whatever the cause, the Simpson home had a missionary atmosphere. If the mother consecrated the babe to telling out the story, the father did not fail to lead the family to the throne of grace for their friend in Aneityum and his fellows on the outposts of service. For he had a deep interest in missions. One of Mr. Simpson's classmates, who was stationed in the Presbytery of Chatham, testifies that James Simpson, the representative elder of his congregation, was one of the missionary forces in the presbytery.
The call of a waiting world, which had come to the lad, was not lost in college; and when Albert Simpson graduated, he still desired to offer himself to the Church for its foreign service. These claims and the calls from important home centers were weighed, and, after consultation with his betrothed, the invitation to Knox Church, Hamilton, was accepted. A marked increase in missionary interest was noted in that congregation during his ministry.
It was while pastor in Louisville that the crisis came which turned the whole course of A. B. Simpson's life. Part of that upheaval affected his relation to foreign missions. He had gone to the Believers' Conference at Watkins' Glen in 1878, for rest, refreshing, and physical recuperation. Mingled with the teaching of the deep things of God, for which his heart was hungering, there was a strong missionary note for which his mind and spirit had been undergoing a long course of preparation. He left the conference deeply stirred, and went west to visit friends near Chicago for further rest and waiting on God. There the burden of a Christless world was rolled upon him by the Spirit of God. In a sermon preached in August, 1894, on The Macedonian Cry, he tells how the vision came to him.
"Never shall I forget how, eighteen years ago, I was awakened one night from sleep, trembling with a strange and solemn sense of God's overshadowing power, and on my soul was burning the remembrance of a strange dream through which I had that moment come. It seemed to me that I was sitting in a vast auditorium, and millions of people were there sitting around me. All the Christians in the world seemed to be there, and on the platform was a great multitude of faces and forms. They seemed to be mostly Chinese. They were not speaking, but in mute anguish were wringing their hands, and their faces wore an expression that I can never forget. I had not been thinking or speaking of the Chinese or the heathen world, but as I awoke with that vision on my mind, I did tremble with the Holy Spirit, and I threw myself on my knees, and every fibre of my being answered, 'Yes, Lord, I will go.'"
"I tried for months to find an open door, but the way was closed, and years afterward God showed me that He had laid the question on my heart, and until He allowed me to go forth, if I ever did, I was to labor for the world and the perishing heathen just the same as if I were permitted to go among them."
When Mr. Simpson decided to turn his back on the inviting prospect of an ever widening ministry at home and "depart far away to the Gentiles," he immediately wrote to Mrs. Simpson, telling her of his decision, and asking her to unite with him in this new consecration and to be ready to go with their children to China as soon as the way opened. The missionary vision had not yet come to Mrs. Simpson. She had been willing to leave her loved Canada at the call of the people of the sunny South. But China! Her practical nature, her mother instinct, and perhaps her womanly ambition for her brilliant husband all answered No. Looking back on it all now, she herself tells the story. "I was not then ready for such a sacrifice. I wrote to him that it was all right -- he might go to China himself -- I would remain at home and support and care for the children. I knew that would settle him for a while."
He did not lose his vision. Not for others, but as his heart's deepest expression he wrote,
"To the regions beyond I must go, where the story has never been told; To the millions that never have heard of His love, I must tell the sweet story of old."
Yet in the light of what has transpire, no one can now believe that the Spirit of God had planned a place for him in China. The Lord of the Harvest had larger designs, a mightier ministry for this man whose life He had been molding from his birth. First of all, however, his heart must go to the ends of the earth to be chained there in endless bondage to the cry of the unevangelized millions of heathen lands, of the Moslem world, aye, and of the scattered and peeled sons of Israel. Hence his enthralled heart was ever singing his own plaintive song:
"A hundred thousand souls a day
Are passing one by one away,
In Christless guilt and gloom.
Without one ray of hope or light,
With future dark as endless night,
They're passing to their doom."
Mrs. Simpson is our authority for saying that it was this cry from heathen lands, rather than the call of the metropolis with its unevangelized multitudes, that decided him to accept a pulpit in New York. He wanted to be at the centre, in touch with the lines radiating to the ends of the earth. Moreover he had a well matured plan for an illustrated Missionary Monthly, and with that unerring instinct which so often led him to the right trail, he knew that such an enterprise should be launched in New York.
It was a daring proposal. He was laughed at alike by publishers and missionary leaders. They did not know that a new force had appeared, who, like every leader, was a decade or two ahead of his times. He pursued his purpose, and though he broke physically and mentally under the strain, The Gospel in All Lands was established, and in other hands remained for years the pioneer and pattern of illustrated missionary periodicals.
There was a charm about his presentation of the missionary claim that appealed alike to young and old. He was so in love with his Master's plan for the redemption of the world that he never failed to make it appear fascinating and arresting. Dr. Harlan P. Beach, Professor of Missions in Yale University, said: "Do not forget to mention as one of his great achievements the institution of a pictorial review. Dr. Simpson was the first to make the missionary story beautiful and attractive." No keener judgment was ever passed upon his ministry.
The great battle cry of the Student Volunteer Movement has been The Evangelization of the World in This Generation. John R. Mott said truly, "No other generation but ours can evangelize the present generation," and years ago Robert E. Speer boldly defended the evident premillennial viewpoint of the watchword. Both of these aspects, responsibility and immediacy, were marked in Dr. Simpson's conception of our relation to missions. In one of his too little read books, The Christ of the Forty Days, he states this with his usual incisiveness. "It is a very simple and a very awful responsibility, and looking in the face of every one of us, the Master simply asks, 'Are you going to do what I tell you, or not?' There is no possibility of evasion. He simply says, 'Go,' and we must go or disobey." And again -- "Unless I am sure I am doing more at home to send the Gospel abroad than I can do abroad, I am bound to go; and if He wants me, I am ready to go whenever He calls and makes it plain. This and this alone is the attitude of fidelity on the part of each of us to this sacred word of our departing Lord." To him the immediacy of the need arose, not merely from our responsibility to the people of our own generation, but, even more, from the plan of God for the working out of the salvation of all mankind. He believed that God is visiting the nations, "to take out of them a people for His name," and that,
"After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen; That the residue of people may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old." (Acts 15:16-18.)
This links missions inseparably with the second coming of our Lord. It was this point of approach that made Dr. Simpson's teaching of the Second Coming so wholesome and practical, and missionary work a service of love to our coming King.
His great missionary text was Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come." He firmly believed that this is the business of the Church during this dispensation and a necessary preparation for the coming of the Lord. In an early number of Word, Work and World, he wrote: "The last great missionary movement therefore will be a universal proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Is this the ordinary Gospel Message? Or is it a special proclamation of the Advent and the reign of Jesus? Young translates it, 'this Gospel of the reign.' It is the midnight cry, 'Behold the bridegroom comes, go out to meet him.' Already it is beginning to sound over Christian nations. But it is a cry which the heathen must hear, and which will awake the slumbering nations as no other call."
This affected his ideal for the Church. He expressed it forcefully in a paragraph already quoted from his address at the opening of the new church edifice in Louisville. His heart was gladdened as he saw his ideal becoming a reality in the Gospel Tabernacle. That work was born with a missionary passion. When it was a year old, it formed a missionary society, and, in its second year, it sent five of its members to the Congo. When it moved to the Madison Avenue Tabernacle, the pastor was able to say in his opening sermon, "I am glad this church has some members today in India, though it is a little church of only four or five years' birth. I am glad it has some members in Central Africa today, some in England, and some in almost every state in the Union. Oh, I trust the day will come when we shall count them by thousands in foreign lands. I believe the greatest purpose of God in sending us here, next to preparation for His coming, is to send the Gospel everywhere."
No leader ever saw his ideal embodied in a movement more perfectly than Dr. Simpson's missionary passion has been reproduced in his followers. The Alliance Branches may sometimes have neglected to provide adequately for their superintendents, but they have never failed when the missionary offering was called for. The leaders themselves may be straitened, but no personal need ever prevents an Alliance worker from pressing the missionary appeal. The pledges received at the local annual conventions are even more of a marvel to the public which observes them than the first great offerings were at Old Orchard and New York City. The only explanation that can be offered is that which Dr. Simpson gave to a reporter of the Syracuse Herald: 'Put this down," he said, "our people love to give." "Yes," said the reporter, "I have it. What more?" "That is all," replied Dr. Simpson. And when the reporter witnessed the manner in which the offering was made, he had to admit that, strangely enough, the people seemed to love it.
It was no desire to lead a movement that induced Dr. Simpson to organize the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Here is his own statement of the principles which should guide in such an undertaking. "No new society should be organized to do what is already being done by some other society. If there is some new principle to be worked out, some new method to be proved, some new agency to be employed, or some wholly unoccupied region to be reached, it is all right to attempt it, provided the movement is wisely planned and carried out by experienced and consecrated people. But simply to repeat what is being done somewhere else, or to start a new society because Hudson Taylor, Dr. Guinness, Andrew Murray, or somebody else has started a society, will simply prove like the echo of the parrot's voice as it tries to repeat the empty sound that has fallen upon its ear."
The foregoing is the negative, but here is a positive word with reference to The Evangelical Missionary Alliance, as the society organized was first named. "The Evangelical Missionary Alliance has been formed as a humble and united effort on the part of consecrated Christians, in all parts of the land and world, to send the Gospel in its simplicity and fullness, by the most spiritual and consecrated instrumentalities, and the most economical, practical, and effectual methods, to the most needy, neglected, and open fields of the heathen world."
There was no "at home and abroad" in Dr. Simpson's conception of missions. When he lifted up his eyes on the fields, they were everywhere white to the harvest. To him the multitudes of New York and our great American continent were as sheep without a shepherd, just as were the vaster multitudes in the deeper darkness of heathen lands. He was never happier or more effective than when doing the work of an evangelist, and in the last year of his life, when unequal to public ministry, he would be found at the altar tenderly winning and mightily interceding for souls. The missionary conventions under his direction always gave a large place to evangelism. His ideal for the Missionary Institute was that it should be a training school for effective witnesses in our own land and in the regions beyond. He expected the same spirit of sacrifice from those who remained at home, whether in definitely appointed Christian work or as witnesses at their daily tasks, as is manifested in our missionaries, and the crowning glory of his leadership was that this ideal was attained. The whole Alliance echoes his song,
"We all are debtors to our race;
We all are bound to one another;
The gifts and blessings of His grace
Were given you to give your brother;
We owe to every child of sin
One chance, at least, for hope of heaven;
Oh, by the love that brought us in.
Let help and hope to them be given."
"No more noble monument to the beloved founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, and its leader through the more than thirty years of world-wide service, could possibly be erected than that already reared in heathen lands, bearing evidence to the fact that Dr. Simpson was true to God, true to the vision which God gave him of missionary work in many lands, and true to the message of the fullness of Christ which was to be proclaimed." In these words Rev. Alfred C. Snead, Assistant Foreign Secretary, expressed the thought in many minds as they reviewed the life of this person of God. Dr. Glover, with his graphic pen, will sketch this monument. One day we shall all see it. Faces brown and black, yellow and white, are being built into it -- living stones, chosen and chiseled after the Master Builder's pattern. Some one of Dr. Simpson's spiritual children may find the last stone in some yet closed field, and then the King Himself will come.
The Life of A. B. Simpson is the Official Authorised Edition by A. E. THOMPSON, M. A. with Special Chapters by Paul Rader James M. Gray, D. D. Kenneth Mackenzie, J. Gregory Mantle, D. D. F. H. Senft, B. A. R. H. Glover, M. D. W. M. Turnbull, D. D. Published by Christian Alliance Publishing Co. 318 West 39TH St., New York in 1920. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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