XXIV. DOCTOR SIMPSON AND MODERN MOVEMENTS
By Kenneth Mackenzie President of the Inland South American Union.
TWO significant facts mark the workings of God in the periodical awakenings of His Church -- first, the agents employed are not conscious that their work is to be widely known and felt; second, such awakenings are ever coincidental with counter movements. These facts are conspicuous in the life and labors of our beloved brother, A. B. Simpson.
He could not know, when he surrendered the comforts of a stated parish for the exigencies of a life of faith, that he was to become the founder and executive of one of the greatest missionary organizations of modern times. Nor yet did he realize that God had called him to rescue from "peril of perdition" many souls who were likely to drift in the tide of unbelief which was at that time rising.
Those of us who recall the days of the early seventies, need no reminder that the subtle and sinister insinuations of Christian Science were beginning to quicken the curiosity of the unstable. God had raised up Dr. Cullis to be the apostle of spiritual healing, at that time popularly called "Faith Cure," and his extensive operations in that field had won for him the unique compliment embraced in the address of a letter from England designed for him, "The Man in America who Believes God." In justice to Dr. Cullis, we must testify that his influence over the life of Albert B. Simpson was not inconsequential at the very time when the step of faith was to be taken. Dr. Cullis, however, did not live to prove God in withstanding the new metaphysical, pseudo-Christian movement. That was given to Dr. Simpson.
We did not find him, however, ranting against the cult. He rather employed the positive method. To help people to resist error, one must give them truth. He therefore entered the arena armed with the real Gospel of healing, affirming and testifying both in teaching and experience that "Yesterday, today, forever, Jesus is the same." We bless God that he taught the great essential of faith, that not healing but God Himself is the true quest of life. His immortal poem
"Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord"
stands as a perpetual reminder of his keen vision of God's purpose. It were not amiss to say that in the beginning of his healing ministry, faith in the promises was the all essential and culminating pre-requisite. But he came to the place, as he grew in the life of his Lord, where he was convinced that the Cross of Calvary is significantly related to our physical need. As sin was the precursor, aye, the parent of sickness, the conquest made for us by our Lord in His sacrificial death must reach the physical as well as the spiritual needs of mankind. Not a few have dissented from this position, but he could not do otherwise than teach it, once the conviction possessed his ardent soul.
And he had yet another step to take, which I think had not been discerned by his predecessors or contemporaries.
It was that physical life is guaranteed to the believer through the exalted resurrection body of our Lord Jesus, the Head of the Church. From this postulate arose a new interpretation of physical ills and weaknesses. If by one stroke of faith they were not removed and full recovery to health conferred, it was that the life of Jesus should be made manifest in our mortal flesh, by our willingness to bear in our bodies the dying of Jesus, In other words, God might not take away the sickness, but leave it to be overflowed and overmastered by the abounding life of our Lord. As a consequence, our beloved brother reached to the sublimity of faith in the achievement of standing with God who calls those things that be not as though they were! And out of weakness, always present, the saint of God could glory in his infirmities that the power of Christ might rest upon him. I recall two significant instances in which he illustrated this experience.
At a Friday meeting, many years ago, he was manifestly battling with a high fever; we felt that if he dared to fall from his standard of faith, he could be ill in bed. But as he ministered, the evidence of the outpouring of the divine life was so apparent to us who watched him with loving solicitude, that we were moved to rejoice with him in his victory. When the first convention was held in Nyack, September, 1897, it was wonderful to see him, climbing the high ascent from the lower levels with the elasticity of youth. It seemed as though nothing could weary him.
This epoch in his ministry had a far-reaching influence. Doctrines, as he always had, he still strongly presented, but he accentuated the declaration of the truth of God by the all-absorbing plea that the Lord Jesus should have sovereignty in the life of the believer. The one unique text which has for many years hung on the walls of the Tabernacle, and which most clearly and unctuously defined his mind and heart was "Jesus Only."
As I write these words, I have before me a Christmas card received from a kindly friend, a very noble person, which offers a strong contrast to Dr. Simpson's enriched experience. This card, after the conventional Christmas greeting, contains the words in his own hand, "And I attest that the Christ-birth comes but once in an incarnation; and blessed is he who gives it the fullest measure of devotion as divine knowledge and not as personality." I am certified that Dr. Simpson had even then seen this seductive Buddhistic pantheism so guilefully adopting New Testament history and nomenclature that many professing Christians cannot detect the fraud.
This specious system of reasoning, imported from India, denies the existence of sin, save as it gives to that horrible thing its own fantastic interpretation, and consequently has no vital place for the Cross of Calvary. The resurrection of our Lord is comprehended in a cryptic and meaningless sense. If we read the two Epistles to the Corinthians correctly, we come to the conviction that St. Paul met this very thing in that proud city as well as in Colosse, and that it wrung from his heart the devout confession "I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified."
So far as this "divine knowledge" affects the physical person, and is marked by a wide exploitation of the healing prerogatives, it makes the inestimable boon of health to proceed, not from God as a person, but from the divine which is the inherent right of all people. The covenant rights of the New Testament, purchased through the blood of our Lord, vitalized by His exaltation to the right hand of God, is repudiated; and when the processes are filtered, the resultant solution is not the Giver of health, but health itself. The power is within. The behest to Jew or Gentile, Christian or heathen, is "tap the inexhaustible veins of indwelling potentiality and you will be rich,"
Another vital truth for which Dr. Simpson firmly stood was that the fullness of redemption could not be until the Lord Jesus should come in His glory and perfect the work He had begun on the Cross. The creed of these cults is that the present life is the only life, the present world the only world. Reincarnation may bring people back, but it is to the same order of existence, consequently, there is no anticipation of the life to come. There is no preparation "to depart and be with Christ," no thrill of expectation in our manifestation as the children of God. The exultant hope of the New Testament has no throb of expectancy.
Related to what has been defined, we have to note next, Dr. Simpson's rational popularizing of the doctrine of our Lord's second coming. Through jubilant song and clear exposition this discarded doctrine has come to be received by thousands who had never even heard of it in their churches. And myriads of souls have gone forth from the services in the Tabernacle or at conventions, inspired and energized by the Blessed Hope. The unpopularity of Second Adventism needed the rich and mellow presentation of the New Testament truth of our Lord's return to encourage the weak and confirm the strong. No one in his day and generation did so much to make the appearing of our Lord vital and entrancing as did Albert B. Simpson. And the glory of it is that he did not make it an obtrusive hobby. It was a part of the rounded whole of the entire truth.
And this leads us to consider the wisdom and tact with which he conducted the work. In every such movement radicalism is pregnantly threatening. His critics called him "a. faith-curist." But healing was only a part of his ministry. If they failed to see it, they erred for want of knowledge. So while he was accused of being a fanatic in preaching the coming of the Lord, his judges were ignorant of the sweet reasonableness with which he presented it. Many peole has gone to his meetings for the purpose of discovering preconceived confirmations of extravagance, only to leave disarmed and humbled by the winsomeness of the man and the indisputableness of his teaching. We may clearly discern from this that extremists found no congenial soil in which to propagate their special plants. The most skilful and tender diplomacy was at times needed to curb some outlandish idiosyncrasy which would have imperiled the undertaking. But he was equal to it for he was so splendidly poised himself. It is a rare gift, and essentially divine, to turn such corners as he had to, ever and again in all the long years of his memorable leadership. Of course, he could not expect to square with every fad and fancy that entered his doors. He had to be firm and he was, but he was always gentle and considerate.
When he began his life of faith and his ministry to the common people, the taint of Modernism was newly affecting the minds of the clergy and poisoning the faith of the people in the inspiration of the Word of God. Many a distracted soul sought refuge from the speculations of the pulpit and "the assured results" of the critics, by a visit to his services. I have known more than one perplexed minister, uneasily feeling the pressure of clerical essays in the religious publications of the day, to quietly steal into the meetings at the Tabernacle and get tone for purer preaching and more devoted service. Probably no one, save Spurgeon, did so much for the hard-working and truth-loving clergyman as he, through the published sermons which he gave to the world each week. And as for those whose faith was becoming unsettled in the churches, whether or not they could hear his voice, his teachings on the printed page brought renewed assurance in the "Impregnable Rock of the Holy Scriptures."
We remark once more, that he did this effective work, not by direct assault upon the enemies' lines, but by the gentle persuasion of affirmative teaching. To him, one "Thus says the Lord" was worth a volume of arguments. And the glory of it all is, that while now the stream of Criticism is receding; while one of the stalwart chiefs has confessed, "There can be no solution of the present unrest until there is a return to positions which have been forsaken," Dr. Simpson may look into the face of his Lord in that great day with the enriched remembrance that he forsook nothing. He intensified that which he had believed; he deepened foundations; he strengthened existing confidences and dispelled by the certainty of his message every question of the truth. He lived to see some of the fruits of this steadfastness; and coming years will justify his fidelity and consistency.
Believing as he did in the Biblical presentation of the future life, and placing upon the statements of the Scriptures a logical meaning, the tide of so-called Spiritualism but energized him to breast the wave with courage and decision. Here again he met a popular tendency by a positive and kindly presentation of God's Word. I cannot recall any studious refutation of this fallacy from his pen. He had only to make his affirmation of truth and leave it with God. But he gave to those, whom he deemed fitted for the task, the opportunity to present defined expositions to the readers of The Alliance Weekly and the books published under his supervision. The testimony to the effectual influence of such literature has been abounding and most gratifying. Whole families have been saved from this now universal deception. Thank God, the imprimatur which he set upon standards of faith and conduct, by which the Alliance should be established, was fixed and permanent.
While it would be abhorrent to him, as it is indeed to me, to classify in this chapter a certain movement within the Alliance circles, I cannot refrain from recording the agony through which he passed when so many of his most trusted and valued friends and workers withdrew from him because he did not go with them to the limit which was their ideal. He could not say of them, as did St. John, ''They went out from us, but they were not of us," for they were. Their presence and prayers, their sympathy and service had been a bulwark to him in times of stress and strain. But he had to see them go from him and trust God with the consummation, whatever that might be. If there be some who contend that he missed the golden hour of his ministry, equally certified are they who believe that consistency to the standards he had set demanded that he should hold firmly to what had been revealed to him as God's purpose for the great body of which he was the trusted custodian."
His great heart suffered hours of pain when he found the insinuating perversion of truth, widely known as Millennial Dawnism, eating into the ranks of the Alliance people. There is so much that is plausible in that teaching, so much that accords with the criterion of faith as set forth in the Alliance doctrines, that he was troubled to know how to meet it. The disciples of that school were at conventions, soliciting private conversations, handing out literature at the close of meetings. But he saw most keenly that persuasion must come through the Holy Spirit. Our brother W. C. Stevens' admirable treatise amply covered the ground of disputation, and the matter could rest with God. But I am sure the weak places in that system, without being indicated, were met and overcome in strong appeal from pen and pulpit. Any propaganda that could adulterate the Deity of our Lord Jesus, that could put fanciful interpretations upon the doctrine of the future life, that could deny a place in the present age to missions, must demand a brave resistance.
The trend of all these movements is to draw people to themselves and away from the Church of the Living God. I can well recall how this problem came to Mr. Simpson at a period of the life of the Alliance when methods were still in solution awaiting crystallization. He labored to help the churches; "come-outism" was offensive to him; he longed to send the people back to their prayer meetings with the fresh witness of their full salvation. But he came to see that he must house and care for those who had received his testimony whom the churches would not tolerate. Consequently, there grew the need of a Tabernacle and an ecclesiastical organization.
In contrast to the worldly-minded policy and mercenary motives of some modern movements which alienate converts from the Christian bodies in which they were born and reared, our brother ever unselfishly advised the people:
who came to him to "go tell how great things the Lord has done." The mighty dollar never spread a glamour over his eyes. Whatever came to him was as from the Lord. The greatness of the giver, the largeness of the gift never intoxicated him. Sophie's early sacrifices were as dear to his heart as the liberal contributions of those who gave of their abundance. And the motive is not far to find. He was God's servant; in God's care he rested; success or failure were inconsequential so long as God had His way. If he could send one man or woman into some church where the light received should touch a torch or fan a flame, he was filled with joy. Only that the Lord Jesus might be glorified, did he labor and pray. If he could have set the whole of Christendom aglow with clear perspective of truth and compelling unction to do the work of God, he would have been content to sink out of sight. How he charms us as we recount this devotion!
And there remains yet this to be said in contrariety of these modern fads. Wealth they seek and get in volumes, for the spread of their special propaganda. The vast sums that are laid on their altars put to shame the beggarly offerings of evangelical Christendom. The reason is not far too seek. The Church of the Living God does not take its religion wholeheartedly. These people, who were once in the churches, do. They think they have something which the Church never could give them, and they prove their joy in the possession by an abundant reciprocation. From the standpoint of consistency, external to the un-Christian character of the systems, we must admit that they have the right on their side. But their attachment is not to God and to His work. They see only the bringing into many other lives of the new and alluring vision which has so thrillingly opened to them. As we contemplate Dr. Simpson's dedication to God and feel his pulse-beat of longing for "one sinner that repents" as we stand with him and hear his passionate appeal for the "regions beyond," how magnificently he looms up as God's servant doing the will of God from the heart, seeking nothing, wanting nothing but His Lord's gratification of soul-travail in the saving of a lost humanity for whom He laid down His life.
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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