XX. LEADER AND FRIEND
THERE have been many great leaders, but leader- friends have been few. The crowning glory of A. B. Simpson's leadership was that he was a friend of people. He loved people, and he loved mankind.
After what has been written it seems to be needless to speak of his leadership. His life story is more eloquent than words. Yet there are features that may be outlined to make the picture more complete.
A. B. Simpson was an apostle. No, he was not a thirteenth apostle, nor a fiftieth. There were twelve apostles, chosen by Jesus Christ as witnesses to his life, death, and resurrection, and there will not be another. Neither do we mean that he was in an apostolic succession, commissioned by people, who, with their predecessors back to the Twelve, had been themselves successively commissioned. Such people do not claim to be apostles. But there were apostles before the Twelve and after them. Barnabas is called an apostle in the Lystra story. And "There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John." Our verb "sent" does not do justice to the word John the Apostle used of John the Baptist. It is the verbal form of apostle and means sent on a commission. An apostle is a commissioner from the court of Heaven. Such a man was A. B. Simpson.
Only a person divinely commissioned could have done what Dr. Simpson accomplished. False apostles have for a time made mighty works, but they did it by the skilful use of human agencies, if not by preternatural power. This man did not employ the means people use to achieve leadership. He neither exalted himself nor would he allow others to exalt him. He did not exploit the public. The tricks of the advertiser he despised. He did not lay stress on organization; in fact, he determinedly opposed the introduction of much machinery. In his dedicatory address of the Madison Avenue Tabernacle he said: I am afraid of human greatness; I am afraid of the triumphs of human praise; I am glad to have the work of God beginning in lowliness." But he believed that God had sent him on a definite mission and for a specific ministry and lived and loved and labored in the unconquerable courage and invincible strength of a true apostle."
A. B. Simpson was a pathfinder. Like Abram "He went out not knowing where he went." Many so-called leaders follow the beaten path. The really great leaders blaze a new trail. Columbus crossed the uncharted sea. LaSalle and Mackenzie opened a continent. Lincoln led in the liberation of a race. Here we have a person whose life work seemed to be to push on alone where his fellows had seen nothing to explore, and where the multitude would not follow. He dared to ask his fashionable Louisville congregation to follow him from a comfortable church home to a theatre that they might together reach the masses. Single-handed he launched the first pictorial missionary magazine. Alone he stepped out in the great metropolis to find a way to the hardened hearts of multitudes. With a Gideon's band he attempted to take unevangelized continents for Christ. He revived methods untried or forgotten since the days of the apostles. He found a way through the clash of creeds to Christ Himself, restoring mysticism to Pauline purity, saving sanctification from the plane of self-perfection, placing healing on terms of abiding in and intimate fellowship with Christ, and giving a new note of strenuous service to the song of welcome to the Coming King. These were "The Old Paths" but overgrown with the theological weeds of centuries.
As a leader he was unique. One of his fellow-workers has written: "Neither he nor his work can be explained upon scientific principles. The organization itself is the simplest and, I may say, the most fragile possible. It holds together by a mysterious, invisible bond. Its members are neither received into nor cast out from its fellowship. They simply are or they are not. The methods of finance are the same." Dr. C. I. Scofield adds this word, "With this seasoned and mature gift was united a power of detail and of organization that made him unique among the great Christian leaders of the day." His successor, Rev. Paul Rader, says "No one ever held an organization with as light a hand as did Dr. Simpson."
He had his own way of enlisting and training workers. He never asked anyone to join his organization nor held out inducements to attract them. He knew that the path that he was marking out was too rugged for any but such as had caught his own vision. But when he met one after his own heart, great was his delight. At the first convention in Binghamton, N. Y., he met Rev. W. T. MacArthur. At midnight Mrs. Simpson called from the window beneath which the two preachers were walking up and down. Mr. Simpson replied, "Yes, dear, I'll be up soon, but I've caught a rare bird this time." Few indeed were the conventions which he held, especially in the early days, where new workers were not enlisted. The city of Toronto alone gave him Dr. R. H. Glover, now the Foreign Secretary, Rev. Robert Jaffray, whose persistent faith planted a mission in Indo-China, and many other missionaries and home workers. When a young student in that city said to him after one of his powerful appeals, "Dr. Simpson, if you have a hard place, please send me to it," he secured another recruit by simply replying, "My dear boy, we have lots of hard places." No one ever knew better than he how to awaken the heroism in young hearts.
When they were enlisted, this leader put recruits to the test. It has been the practice of the Society to turn missionary candidates loose in some untried home field or before some half-closed door. If they stood the test and proved that they were not only soul winners but good soldiers of Jesus Christ who could endure hardness. Dr. Simpson and the Board believed that they would succeed on the foreign field. Many of these young men and women have looked into a penniless purse and an empty cupboard, and sung the nursery rhyme about "Old Mother Hubbard" to the tune of "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."
A business man, who has been one of his great admirers, said recently, "Dr. Simpson had many followers but few disciples." The missionary to whom this was said replied that there were three hundred men and women on the foreign field who were his disciples indeed and that his spiritual following in mission lands were numbered by thousands. This is borne out by the testimony of Dr. George F. Pentecost, who, just before he finished his course, wrote "I have met some of his missionaries in various parts of the pagan world and they all seem animated by his spirit." We need not go to the distant shores to find his disciples. Dr. George H. Sandison, of The Christian Herald, who knew him and his work intimately, said "He preached the full Gospel in simple yet effective language and gathered about him as his aids people who were like-minded, and who followed his methods with success."
The test of leadership is time. Long ago, Gamaliel said, "Let these people alone." He knew that time would tell the story. A prominent minister of New York suggested at one of the October conventions that, as there was no one like Dr. Simpson to continue the leadership of the movement, a large endowment fund should be raised to insure the perpetuation of the work. Dr. Simpson said nothing and did nothing. He believed with Gamaliel that if the work was of God, nothing could overthrow it. How he rejoiced during the last months of his life when he had no active part in leadership at the reports of largely increased missionary offerings and marvelous progress on the foreign field. The fact that the year that has passed since he was laid at rest has been the most prosperous in the history of the work gives its own witness.
Some have concluded that because a great work had developed around the personality of Dr. Simpson, he must have been autocratic. Those who really knew him smile at the suggestion. Rev. A. E. Funk, who has been longer and more closely associated with him than any other people now living, says, "He trusted those in charge of the different institutions and left them free to exercise their own gifts"; and to this statement every person who has been intimate with him will subscribe. When some one asked a leading member of the Board if it was true that Dr. Simpson dominated everything, he replied somewhat indignantly, "Nothing is ever passed in the Board without full discussion and an open vote. But," he added, and herein he showed his own quality of greatness, "if he sat in my place, and I were president, he would still be the controlling factor,"
This suggests that his leadership was most manifest when he was surrounded, as he so often was in public, by the great people of his day. He never suffered by comparison. At one of the Old Orchard Conventions, the platform was particularly strong. When it was over, some one remarked that though the messages had been in unusual power, Dr. Simpson's series of addresses was the great feature of the convention.
His associates loved Dr. Simpson. He did not preserve much of his correspondence, but a Christmas letter from Dr. Henry Wilson, written in 1907 very shortly before his death, found among Dr. Simpson's papers, shows the tender attachment between these two great persons.
"My dear Mr, Simpson:"
"Only a brief, true-hearted word of love, sweetening and deepening the years and the coming and going of these holy seasons -- love born from above for yourself personally, to whom I owe more than I can ever express; love for Mrs. Simpson in these days of heavy burden- bearing, and for all the family; and praise for the privilege of having with you a part in the work dearer to us than life. More than ever"
"Yours in Christ,"
Few people were more intimately associated with Dr, Simpson than Dr. F, W. Farr, who says: "An apostolic man has passed from earth to heaven. His mighty faith, his flaming zeal, his tireless devotion, his abounding labors, place him among the great leaders of the Christian Church. His enduring monument is seen in the multitudes of transformed and consecrated lives the world around and in the splendid heroism of devoted missionaries in every land. Measured by the standards of eternity, his was a great and noble life."
Paul Rader was only voicing his own experience when he said of Dr. Simpson's disciples, "They did not follow him. He was abandoned to God, and they saw that he walked with his Lord. They, too, in this abandonment, found the joy of this faith life in the all faithful One."
Dr. S. D. Gordon, author of "Quiet Talks," speaks of hynm in his own distinctive manner: "Gentle, cultured, scholarly. Spirit-filled, he left the smoother rhythm of the regular pastorate for the very difficult special ministry in answer to the Master's call, and that ministry was blessed immeasurably to tens of thousands of communions of the United States and Canada and reached out in the far corners of the earth. The memory of it and of him will be fragrant down here until he returns with his Lord in the air for the blessed new order of things which will likely be very soon."
Mr. Wm. E. Blackstone, in expressing his deep regret that failing strength and great pressure in his own work of world-evangelization, prevented him from writing a chapter of this biography, said "I cannot express to you what a joy it would be to me if I could write a suitable chapter for this book. I loved Dr. Simpson, I loved his Life and ministry, and the work which he has so greatly promoted both in spiritual life and in advanced foreign mission work." At the Memorial Service Mr. Charles G. Trumbull, Editor of The Sunday School Times, revealed one of the secrets of the regard felt for Dr. Simpson. "I had a very real need in my own life, and talked with Dr. Simpson at Old Orchard about it. He listened with all love, and sympathy, and understanding, and explained to me the meaning of the committal of things to God. Then we knelt and he prayed. And I can never forget, even in eternity, his prayer for me that day as he talked with God, talked to God for me. A person at that time with heavy responsibilities for multitudes of persons in every part of this earth, with the names of many, many missionaries in his mind and on his heart for his prayer stewardship, loved ones in the home circle, loved ones here in the Gospel Tabernacle, and, with uncounted obligations in every direction, was just for that moment talking to God as though he had no other responsibility except this one person who had come to him for help. And as he prayed, his whole being was simply vibrating with the spiritual consciousness of his fellowship with God at that moment for the need of a brother. He was laying hold of God because I had laid hold of him for that very need. And, oh, can you understand the blessing that God poured out at that time into my life just because dear Dr. Simpson gave himself wholly, unreservedly to that intercession for one person at the throne of God?"
There were other secrets. Evangelist Charles Inglis, who has preached on three continents, says, "He was the most gracious person I ever knew." A State Superintendent of the Alliance, Rev. I. Patterson, writes, "One of the greatest secrets of his successful life and ministry was his humility." Mrs. A. A. Kirk, for many years Superintendent of Women in the Missionary Institute, found that *'He was always most courteous and humble in times of ministry, quickly acknowledging the gifts of others." A home worker. Rev. H. E. Cottrell, recalled with what diffidence he "went to the hotel to meet Dr. Simpson, but he put me at ease at once. He reminded me of the Psalmist's words, 'Your gentleness has made me great'."
Rev, E. M. Burgess, a cultured and gifted leader of Alliance work among the colored people, sent this special message: "During the October Convention of 1915, while there at his invitation to sing, I heard him publicly express his deep love for our people, especially in the homeland, and of the South in particular, and urged the people to pray that the time would speedily come when the Lord would thrust forth Rev. E. M. Collett, Dr. C. S. Morris, and myself as an evangelistic party to tour the country, spreading the full Gospel message among our people. This utterance received a very hearty and fervent assent. On behalf of our people, and at the request of some of the leaders of our Branches, please record the fact of Dr. Simpson's great and sincere love for our people and the inestimable loss his home-going has meant to us." If the great people who knew him loved Dr. Simpson, the average person and the poor and unlettered held him in equal esteem. Not only in his own congregation, but wherever he went in conventions, the very attitude of the people manifested their love and devotion. In the next chapter Dr. Turnbull will tell of the regard with which he was held by his students. His missionaries held him in tenderest affection. His God-speed and his warm hand-clasp and word of welcome cheered the recruit and heartened the returning veteran. When on some far-away field a weary missionary received a personal letter written in his own careful handwriting, tears would fall that so great and busy a person at so great a distance had time and thought for the lonely messenger of the Cross, The children loved him. Dr. Shaw has told us of the effect upon him when, as a boy, the hand of the young Hamilton pastor was laid upon his head. But what would many of the younger generation tell of the effect of Dr. Simpson's patriarchal hand, his fatherly smile, and his companionable word. Truly, he was a Friend of People. One might almost think that he had been in the mind of our American poet when he wrote:
"Let me live in a house by the side of the road, And be a friend to people."
Here is Dr. Simpson's own explanation of his influence. "If I have ever done anyone any good, it was not I, but Christ in me."
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.
Insights of the past for the present
Life of A.B. Simpson - C&MA
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.