XVI. A MAN OF ACTION
ALBERT B. SIMPSON always lived a strenuous life. When he was fourteen, he was taking a man's place on a Canadian farm. His high school course was cut short by a serious breakdown from over study. The pace he set for himself in both of his early pastorates resulted in enforced periods of rest which he could not be induced to complete. When at length he was renewed in mind and body by the impartation of Divine life, he devoted his new found energies to the service of his Lord with a consecration which has rarely been equaled. Believing implicitly that this supernatural life had no limit within the sphere of duty and opportunity, he never stopped to measure his strength against the task before him.
He was an ambitious person and might have attained greatness in more than one sphere in life, but after the great crisis all of his aspirations were concentrated into those three passions which overmastered the apostle Paul and led him to declare, -- "I am ambitious to be quiet"; "I am ambitious whether at home or absent to be well pleasing to him"; "I am ambitious to preach the Gospel where Christ has not been named." Because A. B. Simpson attained the first mentioned ambition to a degree that few have known, and lived in the repose of God, he was able to sustain an activity that amazed his friends and silenced the charge that his teaching led to passivity.
Returning to his pulpit in Louisville after a long, enforced absence in 1879, he preached on the text "This one thing I do." The following paragraph from his discourse shows that in those dark days he had learned Paul's secret of service. "The last thing in Paul's watchword was work, -- not I dream, I purpose, or even I will do, but I do. He has already begun. Paul gave no countenance to that abuse of God's rich grace which encourages easy indolence and the kind of rest that does nothing because God will do all. In Paul we see a perfect example of the fine balance and proportion of character which has the most sensitive feeling, the most intense spirituality, the most devout emotion, and the most unquestioning faith, side by side with the most practical common sense." Words could not more accurately describe Dr. Simpson's own manner of life from that day forward.
Speaking at Bethshan in 1885, he said, "I have been permitted by God to work -- I say this to His honor and thousands could bear witness to it -- and I have worked about four times as hard as I ever did in my life. In those four years I have not had one hour away from work and have not had one single summer vacation."
For the next twelve years he continued to live in the heart of New York City in the midst of manifold ministries and constant distractions. Yet he seemed to thrive on overwork, and added burdens only increased his evident vitality.
During all the years which he lived at Nyack he rarely failed to board the 6:18 A. M. train for New York City. The hour on the train was given to a rapid glance over the events of the day and to study or editorial work. Sometimes his secretary was called to his assistance on the journey. The day in New York was spent in his little office where he accomplished almost unbelievable tasks and in interviews, in committees, and in public meetings. He was busy again on the homeward journey and, after dinner, spent hours in his study before he finally gave himself to a time of prayerful relaxation as preparation for the few hours of sleep which he allowed himself.
It is needless to recount the many activities which have been described in previous pages -- his pulpit and platform work, his pastoral duties, his ministry for the sick, his lectures in the Institute, his convention tours, his correspondence, his editorial labors, his preparation of books, his production of hymns, and his executive responsibilities. For him there was no such possibility as leisure. Yet he was never flurried, even when hurrying at the last minute to keep an appointment or to catch a train. A party of friends was at the dock to bid him farewell when he was starting on his tour around the world. They sang and prayed and waited. The deck hands were loosening the tacklings when he appeared, sped up the moving gangway, turned, waved his hand and, with that ever ready wit that saved many a situation, shouted -- "Goodbye; God bless you all! I'll be twenty-four hours ahead of you when I get around the world."
Yet he was never too busy to meet a special call. He had to protect himself from needless interruptions, as does every busy person; but when he responded, it was with rare graciousness, and few ever knew at what cost his time was given to them.
He had learned the secret of concentrating every power on the person or thing to which for the moment he gave himself, and the rarer art of a quiet dependence upon God to carry him through the hard places. To him work and communion were not antagonists but handmaidens. He expresses this in his own poetic way.
"I used to be very fond of gardening. I could work in the garden and yet smell the roses; they did not keep me from my husbandry; I had my sweet flowers every second; they did not hinder the work a bit. So you can be busy all the time, and have the breath of heaven; it will not hinder you. It is like working in a perfumed room, every sense exhilarated. It is something deeper than prayer -- communion."
Dr. Simpson never sought nor expected an easy life. In one of his last public addresses he stated that "In the beginning of the life of faith God gave me a vision which to me was a symbol of the kind of life to which He had called me. In this dream a little sail boat was passing down a rapid stream, tossed by the winds and driven by the rapids. Every moment it seemed as if it must be dashed upon the rocks and crushed, yet it was preserved in some mysterious way and carried through all perils. Upon the sails of the little ship was plainly painted the name of the vessel in one Latin word, Angustia, meaning Hard Places. Through this simple dream, the Lord seemed to fortify me for the trials and testings that were ahead, and to prepare me for a life's voyage which was to be far from a smooth one, but through which God's grace would always carry me in triumph."
What was given in a vision was confirmed through the Word. In the well marked Bible which he used in his great life crisis in Louisville he heavily underscored Jer. 39:18, "Your life shall be for a prey to you because you has put your trust in me, says the Lord." On the margin he wrote the date, January 1st, 1879, and thereafter he regarded this as one of his life texts.
When he left home for his convention tours, long or short, he carried with him work that would have overwhelmed an ordinary person, even in his office, and was always followed by numerous telegrams and piles of forwarded mail. The local demands upon him at every point were insistent; and, though he gave himself unstintedly to public service and private interviews, he usually found it necessary to resort to hotel accommodation to conserve time and strength. This was sometimes misunderstood, but here and there at least his motives were appreciated, as is shown in this incident referred to in a letter from Rev. Samuel H. Wilkinson, of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews.
"The following may seem trivial, but it reveals character. During Dr. Simpson's stay in England I invited him to take part in the Brentwood Convention. He promised to do so but stipulated that he should be accommodated at an hotel instead of in a private house because, to use his own expression, the 'social instinct' was strong in him, and he lost time and strength in conversation. I apprised him when he was to speak and named a suitable train from London. I met it on the evening he was expected and each train thereafter until almost the time of the gathering, when, leaving another to meet him at the station, I went myself to the Town Hall to apologize for Dr. Simpson's delayed arrival. But I found him there waiting for me! 'I thought,' he said, 'that I would just come down earlier in the afternoon than I was expected and sit awhile in the hotel for repose of mind.' And the incident clings even more than his splendid addresses, as an indication of the simplicity of greatness."
More of Dr. Simpson's time and energy than even intimate friends realized was spent in business affairs. In the beginning of his walk of faith he resolved that he would lead a self-supporting Life. He had a large family, and the financial demands upon him as its head were constant.
His first step in this direction was taken in response to the demand for a Fourfold Gospel literature. He decided to be his own printer, and gradually built up a plant which not only produced the books and papers which he published but later included contract work in its output. In 1912 he sold his publishing business to The Christian and Missionary Alliance, but retained his printing house, which he continued till he gave up all business affairs in 1918.
When the Missionary Institute and Berachah Home were moved to Nyack, a tract of land was purchased by a company composed of several people who had in view the establishment of an Alliance center. Their expectations in regard to a settlement on the Hillside were not fulfilled as few families made it their home. To relieve the company of its embarrassments Dr. Simpson, who was its President, took over a large part of the lands, and this added greatly to his burdens.
Dr. Simpson also engaged in other business enterprises in New York City, not all of which were profitable. Owing to his busy life, he was obliged to commit the management to others, and his optimistic attitude toward these ventures was not always justified. Had business been his calling, some think he would have become one of the large financiers. Certainly his mind was cast in a mould that would have seemed to promise success in large undertakings.
But A. B. Simpson was called to be a prophet and not a business man. In the work which his Master appointed him and in which, in consequence, the Holy Spirit directed him, he had phenomenal success. Those who have had opportunity to know something of his affairs can also trace the loving hand of an Almighty Helper in his business life. Of this he was himself very conscious, and jottings in vest pocket note-books prove that he not only prayed but also returned thanks for God's help in his business difficulties. There is no question that his business was the great burden that finally proved too heavy for him. He would have surrendered it in his later years; but while his own strength endured, he could see no way of deliverance. When he could no longer conduct it, he acknowledged to intimate associates that he had been mistaken in entering into business and that he should have kept himself free, as did the apostles, to give himself to "prayer and to the ministry of the word."
During the Annual Council of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in May, 1918, Dr. Simpson conferred with several of his brethren in regard to his business affairs. He now felt that, as some of these interests had been closely associated with his public ministry, it would be fitting for him to entrust their settlement to the Society. It was found that there were legal difficulties in the way of such action, and after careful consideration he made a complete assignment to Mr. Franklin L. Groff, one of the oldest and most trusted entrepreneurs in the Tabernacle and in the Alliance, who formed a Company made up of prominent members of these organizations, to administer this trust. Through careful management of these affairs under proper legal advice, this company has been enabled by favorable disposition of his holdings, and by special supplementary gifts and pledges from friends, to provide for the liquidation of all obligations.
Dr. Simpson never accepted a salary from the Gospel Tabernacle nor even the small living allowance granted to missionaries and executive officers of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, and often refused even his traveling expenses to conventions. Regarding this relationship to his congregation, he more than once said to an associate pastor that it might be a very good school of faith for the pastor but that it was very bad discipline for the flock. When he finally relinquished his business, the Board of The Christian and Missionary Alliance gave him an ample living allowance and continues to provide similarly for Mrs. Simpson.
How fully his intense life was appreciated by men and women of every estate, and especially by the great people of action, was shown by the tributes paid to him on the platform, in the press, and in personal letters when he was called home. Several, including his old associate Dr. F. W. Farr, were reminded of the fiery prophet of Gilead and exclaimed as did Elisha -- "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" Mr. W. R. Moody, of Northfield, was most impressed by "the faithfulness of his Christian stewardship," and adds, "Untiring in his labors, unsparing of his time, he wore himself out in the service of his Master." Dr. Geo. H. Sandison, Editor of The Christian Herald, wrote: "I can think of no one in this age who has done more effective, self-denying service for Christ and His Gospel than Albert B. Simpson." "His missionary zeal was astounding," said his old friend. Dr. George F. Pentecost; and with this agrees another associate of other days. Dean Arthur C. Peck, who testifies that "his labors were apostolic in both spirit and scope. No one ever made more abundantly and successfully among the heathen." He was "fully absorbed in the missionary enterprise and devoted all his energies to hasten the coming of the King," is the impression left upon Rev. J. M. Pike, Editor of the Way of Faith. "I remember," said Pastor P. W. Philpott at the Memorial Service, "reading a letter from a boy to his mother during the days of war, in which he said, 'You know it is not how long a person lives that counts; it is what he puts into life while he is living.' And if that is true. Dr. Simpson has lived about three times longer than any other person of his age, for he surely put into the last thirty years three times as much as the ordinary minister."
There must have been some great secret hidden from ordinary ken, some springs of action and fountains of energy that accounted for such a life. Here he reveals one of them. "There is no service which God expects of us for which He has not made the fullest provision in the infinite resources of His grace. We cannot dare too much if it be in dependence upon Him, for He has given us all His fullness, and sends no one warring upon his own charges." The following quotation suggests another secret. "The power to serve God is no natural talent or acquired experience, but Christ's own life and power in us through the Holy Ghost. And no one can serve God without the Spirit." And yet another is disclosed in a stanza from one of his poems:
"I dwell with the King for His work,
And the work, it is His and not mine;
He plans and prepares it for me
And fills me with power divine.
So duty is changed to delight.
And prayer into praise as I sing;
I dwell with my King for His work
And work in the strength of my King."
Further, Dr. Simpson's attitude to life was that of the Son of man who "came not to be ministered to but to minister." "What," he says, "would we think of Jesus if we ever found Him looking for His own pleasure or consulting His own comfort?" And yet again, he had felt the pulse of the times for he says: "Everything around us is intensely alive; life is earnest; death is earnest; sin is earnest; people are earnest; business is earnest; knowledge is earnest; the age is earnest; God forgive us if we alone are trifling in the white heat of this crisis time," This conception moved him to write one of his most stirring poems:
"No time for trifling in this life of mine;
Not this the path the blessed Master trod,
But strenuous toil; each hour and power employed
Always and all for God.
Time swiftly flies; eternity is near,
And soon my dust may lie beneath the sod.
How dare I waste my life or cease to be
Always and all for God!
I catch the meaning of this solemn age;
With life's vast issues all my soul is awed.
Life was not given for trifling; it must be
Always and all for God.
I hear the footfalls of God's mighty hosts
Whom God is sending all the earth abroad;
Like them let me be busy for His cause.
Always and all for God."
There was to him a motive power in "The Blessed Hope." He sings "Let us live in the light of His coming," and in the following stanza he reveals his sense of responsibility:
"Hasting on the coming of the Master,
Let us speed the days that linger still;
Time is counted yonder, not by numbers,
But conditions which we may fulfill.
If we bring the "other sheep" to Jesus,
If we send the Gospel everywhere,
We may hasten forward His appearing,
And His blessed coming help prepare."
Not the least of these secrets was a right apprehension of God. One night, after he had been meditating on the ways of some modern "Quietists," he fell asleep and dreamed that he saw an office immensely larger than any he had ever conceived. God was in the midst of it and radiating from Him were visible electric waves which reached the uttermost parts of the earth, everywhere creating intense activity but without confusion or strain. The impression left upon him when he awoke of God's omnipresence and omnipotence was lasting. Thereafter, even more than before, he was encouraged to "Attempt great things for God."
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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