XVII. A PAULINE MYSTIC
SOMEONE with a true conception of mysticism and an intimate knowledge of A. B. Simpson has called him "the last of the great mystics." From first to last his life is a mystery if viewed from rationalistic ground. A mystic by hereditary temperament, a Celtic facility for seeing the invisible struggled for the mastery of his youthful soul against the cold logic of ultra Calvinism. Who can read the self revelation he has given in his reminiscences of his conversion without sympathetic pangs? There came a day after years of soul agony when the veil was rent, and he was ushered into the followship of the true mystics of the ages, thenceforth, like Moses, to "endure as seeing him who is invisible."
Some of Dr. Simpson's friends express dissent when he is referred to as a mystic, evidently because of very general misconceptions of what mysticism is. These are very clearly summarized by Professor W. K. Fleming in Mysticism in Christianity. "We find three accusations quite commonly brought against mysticism -- that it deals in unsafe and presumptuous speculation; or that it encourages a sort of extravagant, unhealthy, hysterical self hypnotism; or that it is merely quasi-spiritual feeling, vague, dreamy, and unpractical."
The same writer replies that mysticism is not equivalent merely to Symbolism; that it has nothing whatever to do with occult pursuits, magic, and the like, although some have lost their way and floundered into this particular morass; that it has no connection with miracle working and the like; that although mystics have frequently had visions, mysticism is not a dreaming of dreams nor dreaminess at all; and indeed that mystics have more commonly than not been known as very practical men and women.
What then is mysticism? Ewald says "it is the craving to be united with God." Professor Seth Pringle-Pattison sees that, to the mystic, "God ceases to be an object and becomes an experience." Professor Hamack writes that "Mysticism is rationalism applied to a sphere above reason"; and Dean Inge, who perhaps is the clearest exponent of this subject, makes Harnack's statement read "Mysticism is reason applied to a sphere above rationalism." This fairly well defines the subject in general, but stops far short of Pauline mysticism.
Some writers have attempted to classify mystics into extreme mystics, who disregard everything but their revelations; super-rational mystics who, regarding ordinary Christian experience as merely preliminary to mystical communion, are indifferent to the externals of doctrine, worship, and sacraments; and rational mystics who would agree with Dean Inge. If such a classification were complete, such people as Dr. Simpson would necessarily be included in the last class.
Within the orthodox fold a distinction is sometimes made between the mystical and the evangelical method, the mystic reaching truth through internal experience of Christ, while the evangelical attains it by historic fact -- "The Christ picture presented to the mind by Gospel history," Dr. Simpson was both truly mystical and thoroughly evangelical. So were the Apostles and many of the Fathers, and so are some of the great people of our day. Therefore we need a better classification, and recognizing this, we may safely say that A. B. Simpson was one of the school of evangelical mystics.
Some have charged mystics with pessimism, forgetting that every prophet to a sterile age and a backslidden people is of necessity pessimistic concerning his times and his compatriots. So were the Hebrew prophets regarded, "Which of the prophets have not your fathers stoned?" asked Jesus of His own generation. But the prophet and the mystic are eventually optimists. They see their own times clearly because they have seen all time, and eternity, and God Himself. The mystic mounts up as a seer on wings like eagles; runs the race of a person without being weary; and walks the rugged, thorny pathway of earth without fainting because he waits upon the Lord. The Pauline mystic is always mightier than the materialist and more practical, for people must always dream dreams before they blaze new trails and see visions before they are strong to do exploits.
There was a medieval mysticism which shut people up in the cloister, and there is still an abnormal mysticism of certain Christian sects. But there remains today a pure mysticism which was the very breath and life of Biblical Judaism, and which is the secret of the real power of the Church. Without this mysticism there never would have been a reformation or a revival. It was a revelation that saved Noah; a voice that called Abraham; a burning bush that transformed Moses; a vision that inspired Isaiah; a call that strengthened Jeremiah; and a visitation of the Son of God that recreated Saul of Tarsus. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Edwards, and Finney were scholars and philosophers, but it was a knowledge of the mysteries of God that made them mightier than prelacies, thrones, and universities.
It was time for another mystic to appear. Mists hung in our valleys of experience, and clouds enveloped our mountains of vision. We were threatened with a creedless Church, a Christless education, and a powerless religion. People were waiting for some one to lead them directly to God, and A. B. Simpson was God's person for the hour.
The word mysterion, which is used in the New Testament of divine mysteries, is derived from mystes, meaning one who was initiated into divine things. But while the Greek mystic was initiated into the secret circle of the oracle and must keep his mouth shut -- as the root meaning of the verbal form indicates -- the Christian mystic was given a glorious revelation of things which he was to declare. Paul and John indeed heard and saw some things which they could not disclose, but the mysteries of divine grace were given to them on the terms stated by Jesus, "What I tell you in the darkness speak in the light, and what you hear in the ear proclaim upon the housetops."
These mysteries include the whole heritage of the revelation manifested to the patriarchs and to the prophets of Israel, and which was more perfectly revealed in and through Christ and to His apostles. Those clearly specified in the New Testament are the Mystery of God, of God's Wisdom, of Christ, of the Incarnation, of the Gospel, of Faith, of Christ in You, of the Body of Christ, of the Fellow-Heirship of the Gentiles, of Our Inheritance in Christ, of Iniquity, of the Rapture, of Israel, of the Kingdom, and of Its Capture from Satan.
Pauline mysticism included all of these and to him all of them were essential; yet it is on those mysteries which pertain to Christ Himself, whom he had hated, that he loved to dwell. He never recovered from the marvel that to him, the persecutor, Christ should appear in person and make him the recipient of some of these mysteries.
When we speak of A. B. Simpson as a Pauline mystic we mean that he followed Paul in his comprehension and declaration of the divine mysteries. With the history of Christian mysticism and its errors he was conversant, but he escaped the pitfalls in this path by overleaping them and going- directly to Jesus and John and Paul for his teaching. And herein he was an evangelical mystic. The same safeguard enabled him to pass unscathed through a veritable vortex of current mysticism. He was continually beset both by interviews and through correspondence by extremists and faddists. Some of the leaders of modern movements would have plucked out their right eye to make him a disciple. But he kept his own course, and that always held right onward to the fullness of Christ.
He was Pauline in his emphasis. Perhaps no modern teacher had so well-rounded a theology or was so safe a guide in all the mysteries of revelation. But, while he dealt simply and fearlessly with every revealed mystery, he dwelt most upon the great mystery which had been specially revealed to Paul -- "Christ in you, the hope of glory," whom he, like Paul, preached, "warning every one and teaching every one in all wisdom; that we may present every one perfect in Christ."
He was Pauline in his simplicity. It is only those who try to peer through a curtain who speak in riddles of what they see. Those who have been behind the veil come forth to tell in simple terms what has been revealed to them. A child can follow him in this passage from his great sermon, "Himself." "That word, mystery, means secret. It is the great secret. And I can tell you today, no, I can give you -- if you will take it from Him, not from me -- a secret which has been to me, O, so wonderful! A good many years ago I came to Him burdened with guilt and fear; I took that simple secret, and it took away all my fear and sin. Years passed on, and I found sin overcame me and my temptations were too strong for me. I came to Him a second time, and He whispered to me, 'Christ in you,' and I had victory, rest, and such sweet blessing ever since; for more than twelve years it has been so precious."
This central truth of Paul's message needed to be restated and revived in the Church. As conservative a teacher as Dr. MacLaren, of Manchester, said that "This great truth, the Indwelling Christ, is practically lost to the Church. To me this truth, Christ in me and I in Christ, is the very heart of Christianity, for which Christ for us is the preface and introduction. You may call it mysticism if you like. There is no grasp of the deepest things in religion without that which the irreligious mind thinks it has disposed of by the cheap and easy sneer that it is mystical." No one since the days of Paul has done more to make this vital truth of Christian life real and practical in the Church than A. B. Simpson. Had he done nothing else and nothing more, he still would live as one of the greatest people of the age.
Paul's mysticism was crystallized in the phrase, "Christ in you the hope of glory." This became the very heart of A. B. Simpson's message.
"This is my wonderful story; Christ to my heart has come; Jesus, the King of glory, Finds in my heart a home."
Inseparable from this in Jesus' teaching and in the Pauline doctrine is the other mystery, "in Christ." The two are one in Dr. Simpson's experience and expression. He thus concludes the hymn quoted,
"Now in His bosom confiding, This my glad song shall be, I am in Jesus abiding; Jesus abides in me."
This mystic union with Christ appears in every phase of his teaching. Salvation is not the outcome of faith in a mere historic fact, but identification with Christ in His very death.
"I am crucified with Jesus, And the Christ has set me free; I have risen again with Jesus, And He lives and reigns in me.
Mystery hid from ancient ages But at length to faith made plain, Christ in me, the Hope of Glory; Tell it o'er and o'er again."
Perhaps none of the mystics since John and Paul have approached him in his daring assumption of the rights of redemption, and nowhere has he made so bold in his utterance as in his hymn, "Even as He." If it were not true, it would be blasphemy; but some one printed it on a leaflet and sent it broadcast with a Scripture reference to every line, the application of which was indisputable. It begins,
"Oh, what a wonderful place Jesus has given to me! Saved by His glorious grace, I may be even as He.
When with my Lord I appear, Like Him I know I shall be; But while I walk with Him here,
I may be even as He."
And so the hymn sweeps on through all of the experiences through which our living Head passed, from the cradle to the coronation, claiming everywhere our right of identification with Plim.
To him the coming of the Lord was not so much an event as a Person, an eternal and inseparable union with Christ.
"Some sweet hour our mortal frame Shall His glorious image wear; Some sweet hour our worthless name All His majesty shall share."
Naturally we have turned to Dr. Simpson's poems, because poetry is both the gift and the expression of mysticism. His prose writings, however, are quite as rich. After his life crisis, it seemed impossible for him to preach a sermon or write an article which was not permeated with the mysteries of the Gospel.
The effect upon his ministry is revealed in a confession which he makes in The Fullness of Jesus. "1 am always ashamed to say it, but it is true, that in the years that I did not know Christ as an indwelling Spirit in my heart, I never had a single Christian come to speak to me about their spiritual life. I was a pastor for ten years before this, and in all those ten years I seldom had a Christian come to me and say, 'Dear pastor, I want you to tell me how to enter into a deeper Christian life.' I had sinners come because I knew something about forgiveness, and so I could preach to them. But the very moment that God came into my heart and gave me this indwelling Christ, the hungry Christians began to come to me; and from that time, for years, hundreds have come to be helped to find the Lord as a personal indwelling Life and power."
So, too, he found in this the secret of Christian unity. He writes in Words of Comfort for Tried Ones: "It is as we are united to Him that we are attached to each other, and all Christian unity depends upon oneness with the Lord. The secret of Christian union is not platforms, creeds, or even cooperative work, but it is one life, one heart, one spirit, in the fellowship and love of Jesus Christ."
He escaped controversy and became a great reconciling force in theology by holding to this mystical treatment of the great issues. His most widely circulated and most God-honored tract, "Himself," was an impromptu address given at the Bethshan Conference in 1885 on an afternoon when the most conflicting theories of sanctification had been assertively proclaimed. Referring to it years afterwards, he said, "We were delighted to find at the close of the services that all parties could unite in this testimony and around this common center."
He discovered that power is not committed to us, but communicated through this mystic union, and states this simply in The Sweetest Christian Life. "Let us carefully note that this power is all centered in a Person, namely, the living Christ. It is not so much power communicated to him to be at his own control and disposal as a dynamo or battery might be; but the power remains in the Person of Christ and is only shared by him while he is in direct union and communion with the Lord Himself."
To him it was the secret of the overcoming life. Thousands have read this passage from his book of morning devotions, Days of Heaven upon Earth. "A precious secret of Christian life is to have Jesus dwelling within and conquering things that we never could overcome. It is the only secret of power in your life and mine. People cannot understand it, nor will the world believe it, but it is true that God will come and dwell within us, and be the power and the purity and the victory and the joy of our life."
He saw the weakness in Thomas A. Kempis' presentation, Imitation of Christ, and we find him writing: "It is Christ Himself who comes to imitate Himself in us and reproduce His own life in the lives of His followers. This is the mystery of the Gospel. This is the secret of the Lord. This is the power that sanctifies, that fills, that keeps the consecrated heart. This is the only way that we can be like Christ."
He also felt keenly the lack in some of the schools of holiness, as this terse statement shows. "Even the teachers of holiness are in danger of substituting it for Him, a clean heart for the divine nature. The mystery of godliness is Christ in you the hope of glory. The end of all experience is union with God." Nevertheless, he goes far beyond these teachers, for he says, "Redemption is not the restoration of fallen human race, but the new creation of a redeemed family under the headship of the second Adam, on an infinitely higher plane than even unfallen humanity could ever have reached alone. We are first born of Christ, and then united to Him, just as Eve was formed out of her husband and then wedded to Him. So the redeemed soul is formed out of the Savior and then united to Him in an everlasting bond of love and unity, more intimate than any human relationship can ever express."
Nor would he give ground to those teachers who make the terms of intimate union used in the New Testament mere figures. "This is not a beautiful figure of speech, but it is a real visitation of God. I wonder if we know what this means. Does it seem an awful thing to have God visit us? My idea of it used to be that it would kill a person. It would be more than he could stand. And yet it is represented in God's Word as an actual visitation. Christ is not to be an outside influence which moves on our emotions and feelings and elevates us into a sublime idea of God, but the real presence of Christ has come within us to remain, and He brings with Him all His resources of help and love and mighty power,"
No one who knows Dr. Simpson's life would accuse him of holding the errors of Quietism. Yet in one of his most widely scattered leaflets, The Power of Stillness, he confesses that from the Quietists he learned a truth which was one of the secrets of his life. "A score of years ago a friend placed in my hand a little book which led me to one of the turning points in my life. It was an old medieval message, and it had but one thought and it was this, that God was waiting in the depth of my being to talk with me if I would only get still enough to hear Him,"
"I thought that this would be a very easy matter, so I began to get still. But I had no sooner commenced than a perfect pandemonium of voices reached my ears, a thousand clamoring notes from without and within, until I could hear nothing but their noise and their din. Some of them were my own questions, some of them my own cares, some of them my own prayers. Others were the suggestions of the tempter and the voices of the world's turmoil. Never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought; and in every direction I was pulled, and pushed, and greeted with noisy acclamations and unspeakable unrest. It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them, but God said, 'Be still and know that I am God.' Then came the conflict of thoughts for the following day, and its duties and cares, but God said, 'Be still'"
"And as I listened and slowly learned to obey and shut my ears to every sound, I found that after a while, when the other voices ceased or I ceased to hear them, there was a still, small voice in the depth of my spirit. As I listened, it became to me the power of prayer and the voice of wisdom and the call of duty, and I did not need to think so hard, or pray so hard, or trust so hard, but that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart was God's prayer in my secret soul and God's answer to all my questions."
He had also learned that the secret of maintaining this union with Christ is the Mystery of Faith. "It means staying in God. When the dear Lord led me into this place, I entered it without any feeling whatever, and simply trusted Him for everything. But after several months I found there was a great change in my feelings. Then I immediately turned around and trusted the change and became happy and buoyant because I was changed. It completely rooted up my faith. I had taken up the little plant of trust from the soil God meant it to live in and planted it in a hot bed of my own preparing, and, of course, it died. Ah, how many trust in their own feelings or their own altered circumstances! This is not abiding in Christ."
Such a life was the ideal which he held before him for his spiritual children. To an extent that perhaps he never dared to hope his desire has been realized not only in his own congregation and the numberless persons who crowded the great conventions, but also far away in heathen lands. There has arisen a church, an elect of God from among all nations, whose enlightened eyes have seen things invisible and whose hearts burn with something of Paul's passion to declare the mystery of the Gospel, even though it should lead them, as it did the apostle, to prison and to bonds.
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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