XIX. A MODERN PROPHET
WHEN we speak of a modern prophet, some will take it as an epithet applied to eulogy, an exaggeration of a preacher's gifts for the sake of effect. Others will question our point of view, for there is a very wide spread notion that there are no prophets today. The popular idea is that prophets lived in Bible times and predicted coming events. On the other hand the rationalistic wing of the modern school regards the prophet as a statesman and reformer dealing with the social, political, ethical and religious problems of his time, and that there is no essential difference between the prophets of the Bible and people of this type today. Both of these views are imperfect and misleading.
The Bible is very definite as to the nature of the prophetic office. God said to Abimelech concerning Abraham, "He is a prophet and he shall pray for you, and you shall live" (Gen. 207). When Moses complained about his slowness of speech, God said, "Aaron shall be your spokesman to the people; and it shall transpire that he shall be to you a mouth and you shall be to him as God." Before he spoke to Pharaoh, Jehovah said to Moses, "See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet."
These earliest references show that there are three parties to prophecy -- God, human and a mediator who can speak to each party for the other. Thus we find Haggai the prophet describing himself as "Jehovah's messenger in Jehovah's message" -- a definition of a prophet than which no simpler can be given. The subject matter of the message may be disregarded, for it matters not whether the message concerns the physical or the spiritual in a person or whether it regards the present or the future. The all-important factors are that the prophet be in actual communication with God, and that he has been given a message to communicate.
The office was continued in the New Testament dispensation. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that when Christ ascended on high, He gave gifts to people; "and he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of ministering, to the building up of the body of Christ." Until the Body, the Church, is complete, these gifts will continue.
"Desire earnestly to prophesy" Paul says to the Corinthians. "He that prophesies speaks to people to edification, and exhortation, and consolation." The teacher teaching the Word of God, the evangelist telling out the glad tidings of salvation, the pastor shepherding the flock are not necessarily prophets; for the prophet, whether as a teacher he edifies, as an evangelist he exhorts, or as a pastor he consoles his people, has come out of the inner chamber of God's presence with a specific message for a special occasion. Any one who has received this gift of prophecy may properly be called a modern prophet.
It was this mystical element in Dr. Simpson's later ministry, this prophetic office to which he was called, that made him more than a great pulpiteer, evangelist, and pastor -- he was all these in his early ministry. Now he was lifted into the circle of those to whom are committed the oracles of God.
The biographer of Lucius B. Compton, the mountain evangelist, says that many have gone miles to hear Compton only to be greatly disappointed; but that when God had a message to give to people, and had chosen Lucius B. Compton to declare it, no one was ever disappointed. This is his way of saying that God had taken an ignorant, stammering, mountain boy and at times made him a prophet. In Mr. Simpson's case God chose one whom he had already equipped with many of the spiritual gifts and graces. And furthermore his spiritual communion with God was so continuous that he seldom if ever appeared in the pulpit without a message which hearers recognized as from God.
Strange as it may seem, Balaam the soothsayer was on at least one occasion a prophet of Jehovah. But no one of any age ever exercises the prophetic gift as the sphere of his ministry who has not made a definite and complete surrender to God. Dr. Simpson clearly recognized this. "I have," he says, "often seen sermons in print that were excellent in conception, in division, in language, in illustration, and in logic, but lacking in spiritual aroma. They were cold and intellectual. When I find souls surrendered to God, I feel communion with them in what they say. The fact of their abandonment to God produces spiritual feeling, and no person can counterfeit it. Preaching without spiritual aroma is like a rose without fragrance. We can only get the perfume by getting more of Christ."
Surrender is initial but is not in itself sufficient. The prophet must walk with God. One of the Bible synonyms was "the person of God." Rev. W. T. MacArthur said of Dr. Simpson in his memorial message; "If God was his method of life, the same was true of his service. How often have I heard him say, I am no good unless I can get alone with God.' His practice was to hush his spirit and literally cease to think. Then in the silence of his soul he listened for 'the still, small voice.' It was thus he received his messages. Jotting down the divisions and the headings of his subjects, he was prepared either to go into his pulpit and extemporize or into his study and write." Another intimate ministerial friend says, "His immediate leaning upon the Lord for his message was a delightful study to me."
How dependent upon the Holy Spirit this master of the art of sermon building became and continued to the end of his life is shown by a conversation with Rev. R. R. Brown shortly before his ministry ended. "One day while relating some experiences in connection with the Lord's dealing with us concerning our messages, he said that he was passing through a new experience. For some time the Lord had been withholding the message he was to give, oftentimes until he entered the meeting or a few hours before at the longest. He continued his study and research but contrary to his habits the Holy Spirit had been teaching him new lessons of waiting and trusting for the message."
In an informal address to the class in homiletics in the Missionary Institute, when he had been fifty-one years in the ministry, he told them that he had spent his birthday on the hill-top seeking some new enduement for service and had received a renewed call both to studious preparation and prayerful reception of his messages.
In his conception of preaching, such studious preparation and prayerful reception of the message were not contradictory terms. Dean Turnbull has written -- "He was a scholar of profound and varied learning, who could countenance no mental shallowness or inadequate standards in teaching. He believed that the minister of God should be not only spiritually equipped but also as well developed intellectually as opportunity would permit. His faith in God's ability to quicken the mind and to thoroughly equip those who would not be considered qualified according to ordinary educational standards has been amply justified by the achievements of many seemingly unpromising youths who were trained in his school."
So he believed in the mastery of the art of public discourse. Indeed his addresses have been analyzed by teachers of the psychology of oratory as models of the perfection of that art. We quote again from Dean Turnbull, "Tower of expression was always recognized by this master teacher as being vitally important for ministers of the Gospel. He encouraged the acquirement of good English and unaffected oratory. His delight in the budding eloquence of each group of graduates was unbounded. He used to say that the human voice was the rarest of instruments at God's disposal when once its powers were fully realized and yielded to the Master."
In an Editorial in Wonderful Word Rev. W. Leon Tucker gave this apt description of one of the outstanding qualities of his preaching: "He was a minstrel -- a spiritual minstrel; preaching was melodious and musical when it fell from his lips. His voice was a wonderful vehicle for his message. It was full, resonant, and triumphant. The very sway of his body was poetic and passionate. He was like a reed shaken by the wind of the Holy Ghost. While multitudes were going broader, he was always going deeper. He was a poet preacher. His poems belong to the first rank of Christian poetry. Rhyme and rhythm were part of his refined nature."
It was the prophetic aspect of his ministry that left the deepest impression. Henry W. Frost, Director of the China Inland Mission, testifies to this. "In my young manhood I attended Dr. Simpson's services. The dew of youth was on his brow, and the unction of the Holy One was peculiarly with him. It was no wonder that great blessings followed his ministry and that I was a sharer in it. I can never be other than grateful for the lessons learned at that time in his ministry." "The person and his message," Rev. W. H. Chandler says, "won my heart to a deeper life in the Lord. For years I had been interested in the experience of holiness; but when I learned that the indwelling Christ was the secret of holiness, my heart found rest." That great English preacher, F. B. Meyer, D.D., who ministered with him both in America and England, says: "He leaves a trail of light which will linger long as an inspiration and appeal." Dr. C. I. Scofield, who was even nearer to him, wrote this tribute: "It has been my privilege to know with some measure of intimacy the greater preachers and people of God of the present time. Among these, and with no disparagement to any, I count Dr. A. B. Simpson the foremost in power to reach the depths of the human soul. And his message was so bathed in love that it was always redolent of the personality of Him whom having not seen we love." Pastor F. E. Marsh gives this testimony: "It was my happy privilege to be Associate Pastor with him of the Gospel Tabernacle. His home-going is a personal loss. The impress of his character as a person of God is unique. His ministry was unparalleled. He was not only clear in testimony, but there was a tenderness in tone and sympathy in expression which went to the heart."
Dr. Simpson was a prophet to the prophets. Even in his early days he left deep impressions upon his fellow- ministers, as is shown by the testimony of Dr. W. H. Hincks of Toronto, given some years ago before the Guelph Methodist Conference where he stated that he was very thankful for religious impressions that came to him while sitting under the ministry of Rev. A. B. Simpson of Knox Church, Hamilton. In his later years he became pre-eminently a preacher's preacher. Referring to Dr. Simpson in one of his addresses, Dr. T. DeWitt Talmadge said that he had recently attended a meeting in a New York City Church, with a dingy auditorium and a very ordinary looking crowd of people, with nothing aesthetic or emotional in the service; but that before the minister had been preaching three minutes he felt that his head and shoulders had been lifted into heaven. One day when Dwight L. Moody was in New York, he said to his friend. Dr. A. T. Pierson, "Pierson, I have just been down to hear A. B. Simpson preach. No one gets at my heart like that man."
Paul Rader, who has had the distinguished honor of being the successor both of Moody and Simpson, thus speaks of him: "He was the greatest heart preacher I ever listened to. He preached out of his own rich dealings with God. The Word was ever new and fresh in his own experience and messages. I thank God with all my heart for what his Life and messages have been to me and to multitudes of others."
Dr. Wilbert W. White of the Bible Teachers' Training School, New York City, sent this message to the Memorial Service: "For years I read with personal profit the messages of Dr. Simpson. Many of them are filed away for future reference. Only the other day, in the study of Habakkuk, I came across a refreshing suggestion of his concerning the outlook of faith, the patience of faith, and the joy of faith." Dr. Marquis, of the same school, said at the Sunday Memorial service in the Tabernacle: "Not only was Dr. Simpson a man of God, he was a great preacher, the greatest whose voice has been heard in New York City in twenty-five years. And more, he was an artist in the way of treating the truth. His voice, manner, gestures, his marshaling of facts -- they were the method of one who was an expert in the art of expounding God's Word to the people. What made his natural gifts and his spiritual gifts as an interpreter of the truth effective, were, of course, his deeply spiritual life, his profound conviction of the truth, his passion for souls, and his great faith in God."
William Dayton Roberts, D.D., of Temple Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, said after one of his visits, "We shall not hear another such message until he returns to this city."
It was said of the Great Teacher that "the common people heard him gladly." In this Dr. Simpson was like his Master. His closest friend and associate, Dr. Henry Wilson, himself a philosopher, said: "There are other great preachers who are clear without being so deep. But Dr. Simpson is both deep and clear, leading the profoundest thinkers into the deepest things of God, and at the same time so clear and simple as to be easily understood by even the uneducated."
This quality impressed others. The Atlanta Constitution made this comment: "His style of preaching is childlike in its simplicity, and he avoids anything like redundancy. He is fond of simple words and short sentences, and yet he makes them serve as vehicles for profound thought and sublime theology. A large number of children were scattered about in the congregation yesterday morning, and the eloquent divine seemed to have no difficulty in holding their individual attention."
Rev. Edward B. Shaw, D. D., who was one of the boys in Dr. Simpson's congregation in Hamilton, tells this story: "Waiting for a train in a little village in Massachusetts, I got into conversation with a flagman. There was no mistaking that he was Irish. 'Did you ever hear a preacher named Simpson?' said he; 'Yes,' I said, 'I have known him many years.' 'And how do you like him?' he asked. 'Very much,' said I, 'he is a great preacher.' 'Sure,' he said, 'I could sit on the point of a picket fence twenty-four hours and listen to that man.' "
His ideal of preaching is shown in a story he told of the celebrated philosopher David Hume: "Some one took David Hume to hear one of the most popular preachers of the time, and when asked afterwards whether he liked it, replied, 'That man preached as if he did not believe a word of it.' He went to hear John Brown, a devoted Scotch preacher, on the same afternoon and came away saying, 'That man preaches as though he got the sentence straight from heaven, as if Jesus was standing at his elbow, and as though he said, 'Lord, what will I say next?' That was the testimony of an secular to a man that preached as the oracle of God, the voice of God, the messenger of divine revelation."
Dr. Lowe Fletcher, who has known Dr. Simpson since his association with him in Louisville forty-four years ago, closes a short life sketch with a paragraph which expresses beautifully the thought which is in many a heart:
"The story of Dr. Simpson's life work cannot be told in simple words, and not until the men and. women saved through his ministry come one by one from the dark Soudan, the thickets of Tibet, the shores of the Congo and Euphrates, and from the remotest places of earth, and sit down with him in the Kingdom of God, will there be an opportunity for even an approximate estimate of the far reaches of his earthly ministry."
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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