XVIII. A MAN OF PRAYER
SOME one who wished to discover the secret of the Life of Bengel hid himself in his study to see and hear him pray. After hours of work upon his Commentary the saintly student rose, looked upward, and said, "Lord Jesus Christ, things stand with us on the old terms."
If we are to know Dr. Simpson, we must reverently approach his prayer closet. We may be as greatly surprised as was Bengel's friend, for every mystic has learned the simplicity and the continuity of prayer.
Prayer is one of the mysteries. In his discussion of the supernatural in Present Truth Dr. Simpson says, "There is no wonder more supernatural and divine in the life of the believer than the mystery and the ministry of prayer... wonder of wonders! Mystery of mysteries! Miracle of miracles! The hand of the child touching the arm of the Father and moving the wheels of the universe. Beloved, this is your supernatural place and mine, and over its gates we read the inspiring invitation, "Thus says Jehovah, call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not."
This promise, given to Jeremiah, was Dr. Simpson's great life text, and became the foundation of that daring faith which was the secret of his mighty ministry. It led him to exhort us to "see that our highest ministry and power is to deal with God for people" and to believe that "our highest form of service is the ministry of prayer.."
Dr. Simpson had solved the secret of service when he learned the mystery of prayer. In prayer he received a vision of God's will. Through further prayer he ascertained God's plans for the carrying out of His will. Still praying, he was empowered to execute those plans. More prayer brought the supply of every need for the work. Continuing still in prayer, he was able to carry through what he had begun. Praying always, a spirit of praise and adoration welled up in his heart, and God received all the glory for everything that was accomplished.
To Dr. Simpson prayer was not an exercise or a ritual, but a life. In the introduction to The Life of Prayer he exclaims: "The Life of Prayer! Great and sacred theme! It leads us into the Holy of Holies and the secret place of the Most High. It is the very life of the Christian, and it touches the very life of God Himself."
This life of prayer was to him a phase of the Spirit- filled life. We find him writing, "The Holy Ghost is the source and substance of all that prayer can ask, and a gift that carries with it the pledge of all other gifts and blessings. In the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke "the Holy Spirit" and "all good things" are synonymous. He that has the Holy Spirit shall have all good things." And again we read, "Praying in the Holy Ghost means simply this: When the Holy Ghost comes in. He comes as a living person and takes charge of the whole life, planning for us, watching over us, fitting into every need for every moment, for there is not a moment when He is not trying to pray in us some prayer,"
Though he knew that faith is essential in true prayer and emphasized this, he also knew that "we will not have much of the divine element of holy faith in us unless we feed it day by day with prayer. We must live a life of constant prayer." He often quoted Montgomery's lines
"Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air;"
Prayer, as Dr. Simpson came to understand it, was one of the expressions of union with Christ. He liked to refer to Dr. Robert E. Speer's remark to a friend that normal Christian living is the attitude of mind and heart that reverts immediately to consciousness of Christ when released from absorbing affairs. In one of the issues of the Tabernacle Sermons where the indwelling of Christ is vividly presented, this personal experience is given: "I go back in memory this morning to the time when He first came to me in this way and taught me to trust His presence and lean in prayer upon Him every moment. I came to realize it quietly, for there was nothing startling about it. Day after day the consciousness became clearer that God was here. I did not have to mount up to the sky to find Him. I never whispered to Him but He answered, 'Here am I.' Oh, how precious it is to be overshadowed thus by the cloud of His presence."
So to him prayer was a habit of life, a free companionship with an almighty, omniscient, omnipresent Friend. In one of his books for daily devotion, he gave us this counsel: "An important help in the life of prayer is the habit of bringing everything to God, moment by moment, as it comes to us in life." He had found that the command "Pray without ceasing" meant that we were to make request "for such things as we need in our common life from day to day. This is, after all, the real secret of constant prayer. In no other way can we intelligently pray without ceasing without stepping aside from the path of daily duty and neglecting the callings of life and the obligations of our various situations. There are very few that can spend an entire day and none that can devote every day and every hour to abstract devotion and internal communion with God about things quite removed from the ordinary things of life; and, even if this could be done, it would simply develop monasticism, which has never been a wholesome type of Christian experience. It needs the coloring of actual life to give vitality, reality, and practical force to our communion with God."
His confidence in prayer was rooted in his knowledge of the immeasurable reaches of redemption, and because of this he could not only ask boldly himself but lead others to ask and receive. When a young lady came to his office to ask him to pray for her, he finally solved her perplexities by saying, "Suppose a friend were to deposit $100 at Macy's and say 'I want you to get whatever you wish', but you were to say, 'Mr. Macy, I would not dare to buy a hundred dollars' worth'. Would he not say, 'The money is paid and is to your credit; you are very foolish if you do not get the benefit of it.' That is the way we go to God. We have nothing to present to Him as a claim, but on the books of God to our credit, the infinite righteousness of Christ has been deposited, and God comes and says: In his name ask my help as far as that credit will go.' You have not any right, but He has the right, and He gives it to you. 'Oh,' said the young lady, 'I see it. Why, I think I could ask God for anything now'."
Some say that we should ask once for a thing and leave it with God. Not so Dr. Simpson. "What did Paul do? The right thing. He prayed and prayed and prayed. So should you. It is all right to pray and to pray again and to pray yet again and to pray until God answers you. Paul prayed until God answered him. He said, 'Paul, I have to disappoint you. I am not going to take this thorn away'." How sanely he presented this in one of his Friday meeting talks. "Probably this is the best rule about prayer, to pray until we understand the mind of the Lord about it, and get sufficient light, direction, and comfort to satisfy our hearts. There is such a thing as vain repetition, and there is such a thing as supplication and continuance in prayer. The Spirit must guide rightly in each case, but a heaven-taught heart will pray until it cannot pray any more. As soon as the assurance comes, we should stop praying, and from now oneverything should be praise."
Deeper than his own consciousness there was in Dr. Simpson's life what he calls "wordless prayer." He speaks of this in Days of Heaven. "In the consecrated believer the Holy Spirit is pre-eminently a Spirit of prayer. If our whole being is committed to Him, and our thoughts are at His bidding. He will occupy every moment in communion and occupy everything as it comes, and we shall pray it out in our spiritual consciousness before we act it out in our lives. We shall, therefore, find ourselves taking up the burdens of life and praying them out in a wordless prayer which we ourselves often cannot understand, but which is simply the unfolding of His thought and will within us, and which will be followed by the unfolding of His providence concerning us."
This unbroken fellowship was maintained by definite communion and intercession. It was Dr. Simpson's habit to spend a time, after he had laid his work aside each night, in unhindered, conscious fellowship with Christ. He called it his love life, and it was as real to him as the interchange of thought and feeling between the most devoted lovers. It was his daily renewal of life, his rest before sleep, his outgiving of worship and adoration, and his inbreathing of the very fullness of God. When for a little time this fellowship, unbroken for years, was clouded, he was like a weaned child, and those who had the privilege of intimacy with him in the last months of his life can never forget his satisfaction when his wearied brain found abiding rest in the restored consciousness of the continuous presence of his Lord.
Such was his life of fellowship. But his closet prayer was more than communion. "Perhaps," he says, "the highest ministry of prayer is for others." He knew the meaning of a "burden" of prayer. He carried his congregation, his world-wide constituency, but most of all his missionaries in his heart. Sometimes when an overwhelming burden was upon him for some far-away missionary it would be explained by a cable calling for prayer for this very person. The various departments of the many sided work, his private business concerns, his family and personal friends called for continual intercession.
How pressing were those demands for prayer no one but he and his Lord ever knew, for he treated his prayer life as confidential business with God. In his vest pocket diary were found memos of these needs, sometimes for his children, at other times for his associates, and often for financial demands. An ejaculatory prayer such as "You know, Lord," usually followed. Very frequently on the same date, or soon after, was written some such grateful acknowledgment as "Praise God, need met!"
His testings of faith were often severe. In a record of the early days in New York he frankly acknowledged that, "The pastor receives no salary whatever, nor a single penny from the ordinary revenues of the church. From the first he placed all he had at God's service and trusted Him alone for himself and family. He has no private means whatever, but the wants of his family are daily supplied by the providential care of God. Often when there was nothing left and when no mortal dreamed of their need, God has prompted some heart to call or send exactly the amount required."
An incident recalled by Mrs. Simpson bears out his statement. "We had moved from the comfortable Manse on Thirty-second Street to a little four-room apartment. One morning we had nothing for breakfast but oatmeal. Not being able to trust the Lord as my husband was doing, I went out and for the first time in my life ordered supplies for which I could not pay. For some days Mr. Simpson received very little money. Sometimes he would come in with a small piece of meat or some other necessity. One morning 1 received a letter from a lady in Philadelphia, whom I did not know, containing a check for one hundred and fifty dollars. I hurried over to the church office to have Mr. Simpson cash it at a neighboring bank, and then made the rounds of the stores to pay the bills. That was the first and last time I ever bought anything for which I could not pay."
This life of intercession was the secret of his successful public ministry. No one knew this so well as he, for in The King's Business he says: "I have noticed that those who claim and expect souls for God have them given to them; and, for myself, I never dare to preach to the unsaved without first claiming alone with God the real birth of souls, and receiving the assurance of His quickening and new-creating life distinctly for this end. If I fail to do this, I am usually disappointed in the results of the meeting."
His private prayer life also explains the power that Dr. Simpson had in public prayer and in intercession with individuals. Who can forget the prayers he offered in his pulpit or the petitions which he poured forth as he knelt beside some needy soul? Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie aptly expresses our feeling: "My memory recalls most vividly his unction in prayer. Though I hated to have to encroach upon him for this ministry, I never came away from his presence without a deepened sense of the nearness of the Lord. No one can describe that power which he so charmingly expressed as he poured out his soul in unselfish importunity for others. It would be sacrilegious to try. But thousands have known it and blessed God for it."
Mrs. A. A. Kirk, who for some years was associated with Dr. Simpson in the Missionary Institute, recalls that on the occasion of her first meeting with him he prayed "Oh, Lord, may she be the mother of a thousand," and that undreamed of enlargement of ministry came to her. She is but one of hundreds who look back to a moment when a Spirit-inspired prayer breathed through him by the Spirit of God opened the gates into a life of ministry in the power of the Highest.
On one occasion Dr. Simpson was holding a convention in the Scranton Valley. A child was dying of diphtheria in one of the Alliance families, and threats were being made against the parents and Rev. W. T. MacArthur. After the evening meeting Mr. MacArthur told Mr. Simpson of the circumstances and asked him to go to see the child. Together they knelt at the little bedside. 'It seemed," says Mr. MacArthur, "as if a great giant had stooped his shoulders under an insuperable burden. But it presently began to give way, and we were all lifted up into the very presence of God. Then he said, 'Now, Mac, you pray.' But there was nothing to pray for. We all knew that the child was healed, and when the physician came in the morning, his mouth was stopped."
How aptly he would turn everything into fuel for the fires of prayer is shown by an illustration in his first missionary magazine The Gospel in All Lands. "1 will kill you," said a gentleman on the deck of a vessel, as he held a pistol to the head of a workman by his side, "I will kill you on the spot if you stop those bellows for a single second; my brother is down in that diving-bell; that tube must supply him with the air he breathes every moment, and you hold his breath in your hands. Be steady." Then he compared this to "holding in our hands by believing prayer the vital breath of men and women who have gone down into the engulfing waves of heathenism, while we close the tube, drop the bellows, and forget their desperate need." He also used it in one of his most pathetic missionary hymns, the first verse of which reads
"Down amid the depths of heathen darkness
There are heroes true and brave;
Shrinking not from death, or toil, or danger.
They have gone to help and save.
But we hear them crying, 'Do not leave us
Mid these dreadful depths to drown;
Let us feel your arms of pray'r around us;
Hold the ropes as we go down'."
Many of his sweetest hymns were born in prayer and lift us as his own heart was lifted into the very presence of God in intercession, aspiration, adoration and praise. Some have even felt that they must cease to pray as they followed him into the heights and depths of his passionate prayer life. Who of us was not humbled when he first read
"O Love that gave itself for me, Help me to love and live like You, And kindle in this heart of mine The passion fire of love divine.
Set all my ransomed powers on fire; Give me the love that nothing can tire, And kindle in this heart of mine The living fire of zeal divine.
O Holy Ghost, for You I cry; Baptize with power from on high, And kindle in this heart of mine The living fire of power divine.
Help me to pray till all my soul shall move and bend at Your control. And kindle in this heart of mine, The living fire of power divine.
With such a leader the Alliance could not but be a prayer movement. It was born in the soul agony of a person who had seen a vision and had paid the price of his dream. It has been nourished on prayer. His desire to keep it simple and always dependent upon the Lord was a passion. When he could no longer preach or use his pen, he prayed night and day for his spiritual children and for the great purpose into which they had been called. While we pray as he prayed, we shall continue to carry on the work which God gave him to do and which is left for us to finish.
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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