XXI. A CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR
By Walter M. Turnbull, D.D. Dean of The Missionary Training Institute, Nyack, N. Y.
THE Spirit-guided tongue and pen of Dr. Simpson have been freely recognized by the spiritually minded in all sections of the Christian Church as the potent instruments of a modern prophet who was divinely commissioned to impress upon a generation grown callous and materialistic the reality of the supernatural working of the Lord Jesus Christ in the spirits, minds and bodies of present-day believers. Yet he himself considered that his highest and most fruitful service consisted in imparting divine truth and life through systematic training of the young and open-hearted. The schools he founded were not by-products of his ministry, but were conceived as an integral part of his commission. Simultaneously with the dawning of his great vision of truth, and the beginning of his larger service beyond the borders of the accustomed, came the impulse to duplicate himself by giving special attention to the instruction of the plastic minds among his followers. Thus he strove to revivify not only the message but also the method of Scripture. His prophetic calling was never better exhibited than in the founding of his modern "school of the prophets," nor were his God-given wisdom and foresight anywhere more clearly shown than in the principles and aims which he adopted in connection with his training work.
Mr. Simpson took up the responsibilities of young manhood as a public-school teacher in a Canadian country district. He was always a serious and thorough student and had the advantage of an excellent education. Through constant application he gained a depth and range of knowledge that placed him among the world's great thinkers. In understanding of the Scriptures he was peerless, and his early ministry gave him experience as to methods successful and otherwise in the conduct of religious affairs. It is not surprising, therefore, to find, when the heaven-born passion for the lost led him forth from his settled pastorate to evangelize the unchurched masses of New York City and to reach out toward the dark corners of the heathen world, that he should have early turned toward training others as a means of accelerating the accomplishment of his task. His first converts caught fire from him and were eager to go as missionaries or to win souls at home. They flocked round him for advice and help. Thus in the year 1882 the first training class, composed of new and zealous followers, met on the stage of a theater on 23rd Street, New York, using rough benches and hastily improvised tables as their equipment. The history of the years that have followed may be conveniently divided into three periods.
During the first eight years, from 1882 to 1890, the school was moved from place to place like the tent in the wilderness, but the pillar of fire always attended. On Monday, October 1st, 1883, it was formally organized, and a new rented home on Eighth Avenue was opened as the Missionary Training College for Home and Foreign missionaries and evangelists. Between forty and fifty students were in attendance. The course comprised one year of study, including English, Christian Evidences Bible Study and Interpretation, Church History and Christian Life and Work, As the first prospectus announced, the work was most thorough and solid. The plan was to present a complete outline of Bible study in the year, beside other kindred subjects of which the Word of God is the center. The students who gathered had the common qualification that they had given up all for Christ, and His work meant all to them.
Among the notable people who lectured or gave addresses in the first session were Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, Dr. George F. Pentecost, Dr. Charles F. Deems, Dr. A. J. Gordon, Dr. Thomas C. Easton and Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie. The last named is still connected with the school as a highly esteemed special lecturer.
The following is the first statement of character and purpose: "This work originated in the felt need for a simple, spiritual, and scriptural method of training for Christian work the large class of persons who desire to become prepared for thorough and efficient service for the Master, without a long, elaborate college course. It aims, through the divine blessing, to lead its students to simple and deeply spiritual experiences of Christ, and to recognize the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Ghost as the supreme and all-essential qualification and enduement for all Christian ministry; and to give to them a thorough instruction in the Word of God, and a practical and experimental training in the various forms of evangelistic and Christian work; besides such other theological and literary studies as are included in a liberal course of education,"
Dr. Simpson was the pioneer in the field of Bible Training School work in America, although in Great Britain the East London Institute founded by Dr. H, Gratton Guinness is some years older. Dr. Simpson blazed the way for similar institutions whose number is constantly increasing. His firm grasp upon the essentials of Christian training is exhibited in the fact that the course which he planned nearly forty years ago has needed little revision to meet the requirements of successive generations of students, and has become the basis for the curricula of similar schools everywhere. Its value has been proven by experience. It has stood the acid test of years.
The first Commencement was held in May, 1884, and shortly afterward five of the graduates sailed for Africa as the vanguard of hundreds of Alliance missionaries who have gone forth into the virgin missionary fields of the world. Thus the strong current of missionary fervor, which has ever dominated Dr. Simpson's work in all its phases, found its initial expression. The third temporary home of the school was opened a year later on West 20th Street, and a fourth in 1886 on 49th Street, but in May, 1887, through the apostolic gift of Mr. and Mrs. O. S. Schultz, who had first given themselves and now gave their possessions to the Lord for this work, a new and commodious building was purchased on West 55th Street, where the school continued until the Gospel Tabernacle was erected.
In 1885, the standard course was lengthened to cover three years, and the syllabus included three departments. In the Literary Department were the following: English Language and Literature, Rhetoric and Public Speaking, Logic, Mental and Moral Philosophy, Natural Science, Ancient and Modern History, Geography, with special reference to Bible Lands and Mission Fields. In the Theological Department were included: Christian Evidences, Bible Exposition, New Testament Greek, Systematic Theology, Church History, History and Biography of Christian Work, Pastoral Theology. The Practical Department comprised: Christian Experience, with special reference to the Enduement of Power, Exercises in Sermon Outlines and Bible Readings, Evangelistic Work and the Conducting of Religious Services, Personal Work for Souls, Foreign Missions, Sunday School Work, Vocal Music.
The second period, from 1890 to 1897, covers the years during which the Training College was located at 690 Eighth Avenue, where a substantial building was erected in connection with the Gospel Tabernacle. From this time the work developed rapidly. Many who are now laboring for Christ in the homeland and mission fields received their preparation in the old Training School at "690." In 1894 the name was changed to the New York Training Institute. The high price of land in New York, and the distractions to student life in the city, led to the choice of a rural site when a larger building became necessary.
For the past twenty-three years, from 1897 to the present time, the Missionary Institute has been located at South Nyack, New York. The cornerstone of the main Institute building was laid on April 17th, and the opening exercises were held October 24th, 1897.
In 1905 the Nyack Seminary, which afterwards was called Wilson Memorial Academy in honor of Dr. Henry Wilson, was founded to provide Christian education of High School standing for boys and girls. It was discontinued in 1917. In 1913 the large Administration Building was erected. So rapidly has the Missionary Institute grown that there are now five commodious buildings in use for school and dormitory purposes.
Dr. Simpson's educational ideals were expressed not only in the Nyack work, but also in regional schools which were modeled after the original pattern. Toccoa Falls Institute in Georgia and the Alliance Training Home in St. Paul are rapidly growing institutions with the same aims and methods. The Pacific Bible School was also similar in character. Boydton Institute in Virginia, for colored students, is now operating upon the same principles. In South China, Central China, West China, Indo-China, Gujarat in India, Berar in India, the Congo, and Palestine are offspring Bible Schools of far-reaching influence, manned by those who caught the vision of divine possibility in such enterprises from their great leader. These are some of the material monuments of Dr. Simpson's persevering labors.
The character of the educational ministry of Dr. Simpson may be judged by the splendid company of spiritual teachers who were attracted to share this service. For several years Dr. F. W. Farr served as Vice-President, and gave all his time and large abilities to the administration of the School and to teaching. Rev. A. E. Funk was Secretary throughout most of the School's history in New York and Nyack. Principal W. C. Stevens for many years devoted his thoroughly trained powers to the successful development of the school. The saintly and gifted Dr. George P. Pardington poured out the richness of his consecrated scholarship for a score of years, and crowned his ministry by a wise year of leadership during which the school came to the full measure of its usefulness. Among the worthy list of teachers and special lecturers, besides those previously mentioned and those of more recent date, are found the names of Dr. James M. Gray, Dr. Henry Wilson, Dr. J. H. Oerter, Rev. George N. Meade, Rev. Robert Roden, Rev. W. H. Walker, Rev. Stephen Merritt, Rev. D. Y. Schultz, Dr. John Robertson, Rev. Henry Varley, Dr. F. L. Chapell, Dr. C. I. Scofield. Dr. George B. Peck, Mr. S. H. Hadley, Rev. A. L. Mershon, Rev. J. D. WilHams, Mrs. C. DeP. Field and Miss May Agnew.
The words of Dr, Simpson in his last convention address at Nyack express his convictions as an educator:
"Just as God called Elijah to stand for a living God, so God is calling His witnesses today to stand for a living God, a living Christ, a supernatural faith. We stand for a supernatural Book, for a supernatural life, and for a supernatural work dependent entirely upon the Master and the power of the Spirit."
"This makes necessary our Training School. It is not enough that we should grasp these mighty truths, but we must commit them to others who will be able to teach others also, and provide as the Master did through His own disciples, for the perpetuation of these principles and their propagation throughout the whole world."
"How we thank God for the product already of our Nyack School! Between three and four thousand consecrated lives have gone forth from this place, over one thousand of whom have already reached the foreign field as missionaries. A large number are actively engaged in the work of other churches and other societies where they are spreading abroad these holy principles until our people today are being used of God directly and indirectly, in under-currents that have not been traced in any organized work, to influence men and women in all branches of the Church of Christ. Perhaps this has been our richest and most productive service."
Although Dr. Simpson was a strikingly handsome and attractive figure, was possessed of a resonant, captivating voice, and was gifted with social graces that gave him advantage in any company, it was always to be noticed that the affection of his students seemed to be drawn to his Master even more than to himself. It is difficult to recall his ways and methods in the class room because of the overpowering sense of the Lord's presence that abides in the memory as the aroma of his teaching ministry. Yet there are many hundreds scattered throughout the world, wherever need is greatest, who will treasure as their most valued recollection the picture of the simple chapel at New York or Nyack filled with a company of eager young students. The teacher's chair is empty, for all have come early at Dr. Simpson's hour. A happy chorus is started with exuberance of spirit, and the zest of it makes young blood tingle. Another chorus, perhaps a trifle boisterous, but suddenly a hush falls, for down the aisle comes the dignified form of Dr. Simpson. The massive head upon the broad shoulders is bowed as one who enters a holy place. The chorus dies away; he quietly takes his chair, opens his Bible, and smiles in delightful comradeship upon his class. "Will you not sing another chorus?" he asks. "Song is a little of heaven loaned to earth." He is one of us, young as the youngest. One feels that he knows every thought and desire of the most wayward heart, yet his face and voice betray the fact that he has been caught up into the third Heaven and has seen things unlawful to utter. He comes to our level, but brings the glory of the Presence with him. We can only sing, "My Jesus, I love You, I know You are mine," or some similar hymn of adoration. Then follows the prayer as he talks about us to Christ Jesus at his side. We breathe softly, and listen for each word as it is uttered. It would not surprise us much to hear an audible answer because the Lord seems so near. In such moments our petty sorrows and the little selfish plans wither and are gone. Deep in the soul is born a desire to please in all things, not Dr. Simpson, but that Living One whose voice whispers to us and whose hand we feel upon our hearts. As the Scriptures are expounded, the same Presence lingers and many a splendid point of truth is not only intellectually grasped, but is personally applied as some convicted one takes a practical step of obedience and whispers, "Lord, I will."
The simplicity and orderliness of Dr. Simpson's class room teaching prevented one from fully realizing its profundity. Only in retrospect, could one ever attempt to appraise his incomparable gifts. Without doubt, he was one of the master teachers of his generation. His breadth and comprehensiveness of view were phenomenal. He combined deep spiritual intuition with such forceful yet simple presentation that the greatest truths were caught by even the unlettered. People of wide learning and deep Christian experience could sit in his classes by the side of the intellectual babe, sharing equally in the richness of truth that fell with such graciousness from his lips. So kindly and affectionate was his manner, that the most timid found more confidence, and yet so princely was his bearing that no idle questions ever wasted the precious moments of his hour. Wholesomeness of spirit radiated from his presence and proved a powerful preventative of morbidness or fanaticism. His books give some inkling of his power, but they are, of necessity, limited in exhibiting that marvelous realism that made his teaching period a visit to the Mount of Transfiguration. He gripped every mind that was open. In any department of the educational world, he would have been an outstanding success. His virile personality, quick sympathy, and crystal clearness would have won him fame; but when to all his natural talents were added the Spirit's gift of prophesying and teaching, it is not to be wondered that he holds the supreme place in the minds of all who were ever favored to sit at his feet. The secret of his strength is found in a few lines from his own pen:
"How best can I my Father glorify? Nothing can be added to His majesty; But I can let His glory through me shine, And shed on all around His light divine."
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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