XXV. THE SANENESS OF A. B. SIMPSON
By James M. Gray, D.D, Dean of the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago
I FEEL the need of apology for using the word "saneness" as descriptive of a person of Dr. Simpson's character and standing, and yet it is employed deliberately and much as his co-laborer. Dr. Turnbull, has employed it in speaking of the Nyack Institute which Dr. Simpson founded. He said its attitude is one "that lifts the mind out of morbidness or fanaticism into sane and normal relations to God and man."
There were those who did not know Dr. Simpson other than as his critics and the press sometimes represented him, and who considered him visionary, impractical, a hobbyist, a maker of extravagant claims, an egotist, and some other things not so capable of refined mention. "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" (Matthew 10:25).
The constructive work in which he was ever engaged, the enduring evidence of which he left behind him, would seem a sufficient refutation of such implications or assumptions, and yet a personal testimony may not be out of place from one who knew him for years, and from different angles, though not privileged to be a member of the inner circle of his friendships.
My knowledge of him began while he was still pastor of the Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church, New York, the successor of the distinguished Dr. Burchard, who had the name of defeating James G. Blaine for the presidency by his famous bon mot, "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion."
When Dr. Simpson resigned that pastorate and withdrew from the Presbytery in order to preach the Gospel to the non-churchgoers of the great city, I was one of the foolish on-lookers curious to see how long he would hold out, and what his next "crotchet" might be. Dr. Kenneth Mackenzie is right when he says, "it seemed as though he had wrecked high possibility for a venture that could only end in disaster"; and also that "satire, censure, and condemnation were freely offered him."
As his Old Orchard experience had preceded this step by some months, he was already, if I mistake not, coupling the ministry of Divine healing with his Gospel preaching, which of course added to the curiosity and the "pitying" interest with which his downfall was awaited. But God seemed able to make him stand.
And indeed the discovery of this was a cause of joy to the writer when, some time afterward, he himself was passing through a not dissimilar spiritual crisis. It was in Boston where, settled over a church in close proximity to that of the late A. J. Gordon of blessed memory, he thus had an opportunity to study at close range another example of a Spirit-filled man. Dr. Gordon also preached the Fourfold Gospel, and his life quite as much as his teaching aided in the interpretation and the understanding of that in the career of Dr. Simpson which seemed so different from other people and particularly other ministers.
But by and by I came to know Dr. Simpson himself at conferences, in business matters, in his school work, in private homes, by sick beds, in the intimacy of Christian counsel and the fellowship of prayer. Thus learning what manner of man he was, it no longer seemed the marvel that The Christian and Missionary Alliance should expand as it had done, that the Gospel Tabernacle should be such an attraction to God's saints, that the Old Orchard convention should be a Mecca for half the world, that the Nyack Institute should have achieved so much, or that the product of his pen should have filled so many volumes and brought strength and refreshment to so many souls.
His saneness, if I may use the word, impressed me all the more because I had expected something different. A friend writes of him that he had the happy faculty of devoting himself to a caller seeking counsel as though he had nothing else to do, perhaps leaving the crowding duties of his busy hours to pay attention to him. And I recall the way he grew on me when I saw him more than once, temporarily leaving the platform of a convention where he had been presiding and perhaps delivering a powerful address, to talk to some one about a detail such as the publication of a book, a lecture schedule, the entertainment of a guest or the payment of a sum of money, as though it were of all things that in which he had the deepest interest.
"Rich in saving common sense, And, as the greatest only are, In his simplicity sublime."
The characteristic impressed me in casual conversation. One was not compelled to be on his guard with Dr. Simpson. As to his piety and consecration there was no question, and he always seemed more than ordinarily engrossed with the things that are not seen, and yet he never appeared to be expecting anything out of the ordinary in you; that is to say, he did not by any show of sanctity allure you into a show of cant. He could get down to your spiritual level without unkindly humiliating you by the contrast. A real gift and an exhibition of true grace.
The same must have been noticed by any with whom he happened to differ on a question of Scripture interpretation. The hobbyist or egotist conceals it with difficulty in such cases, but Dr. Simpson, master of exegesis and exposition as he was, while maintaining his opinion if it seemed worth while to do so, escaped the folly of letting you suppose that he had ceased to be a learner.
My thesis found a new illustration when I went to lecture periodically at the Missionary Institute at Nyack years ago. Its beautiful situation, though very different in feature from that of Northfield, stamped its selection as that of a person with the practical sense of D. L. Moody; while its buildings and equipment, though limited in comparison with the older and wealthier institution, showed a capacity for affairs not commonly associated with a visionary.
The days spent there, going and coming at different seasons, afforded an introduction not only to students and teachers, but to the officials conducting the business of the school, which commanded esteem for the administrative ability, to say nothing of the grace and unction of the leader and director of it all. Looking back upon those days I am able to appreciate another remark of Dr. Turnbull, that Dr. Simpson "breathed a spirit of happy confidence that was simply contagious."
An amusing personal incident of that time did its share also to help me see the "humanness" of Dr. Simpson and open a window into his soul.
Racing down the mountain side one day in haste to catch a train, I stumbled over a sharp rock and tore my nether garment almost from the belt to the hem. The devastation seemed too serious for repair and to travel to Boston in that predicament was unthinkable; and yet my exchequer was too low to pay my fare to Boston including a sleeper, and also to purchase a new garment. How was the situation to be met?
Happily, Dr. Simpson had preceded me to the train, and looking him up in a forward car where he was immersed in Bible and note-book, I presented myself to his quizzical gaze.
He made me a loan, the widow's mite if I remember, but which alas! was rendered useless by the event. For on arriving at New York, I became aware for the first time that it was a legal holiday, Washington's birthday, and that no stores were open, not even a tailor's shop.
What an abasing walk I had that day, and how sorely tried my patriotism was, as I meandered through Twenty-third Street from the ferry to Broadway, and then north, partly on Broadway and partly on Fourth Avenue, to the Grand Central Station, looking for a hospitable bushelman; and not until the very end of the journey was one found.
The curtain falls on the happening there, but the recital of it afterwards to Dr. Simpson drew me to him in a new way as I realized that his gravity was the kind that could stand the test of humor.
Doubtless it is too early to predict which of the facets of Dr. Simpson's life will project its gleam farthest into the coming years, but it is natural to suppose that it may be his witness to Divine healing.
The thrilling story of his own healing has never lost its effect upon me since the time I first heard it, and the many instances coming to me of his exercise of the gift of the prayer of faith in the healing of others have been a source of praise and wonder.
This is not to say that I was ever able to see quite eye to eye with him in his exposition of the doctrine; but this circumstance is mentioned merely because it gives its own value to my testimony as to the reasonableness with which he presented his views upon it to other people.
I say nothing now of that which he has written on the subject, which speaks for itself, but only of that which I have seen in or heard from him as together we have sat by the side of an ailing or a dying saint.
Perhaps the saint was one who was unable to grasp the higher round of faith's ladder which he himself had scaled, but this did not seduce him into speaking disparagingly of human physicians in such a case nor in making light of medicines. He recognized the place of medical science in the economy of things, and regarded it as un-Christlike to denounce or oppose it in its true place. But patiently, lucidly, sympathetically he set forth the Bible teaching about healing as he understood it, making any mention of himself with modesty, and then in prayer going only as far as the inquirer could go even if a disappointing pause was made before the end.
His attitude seemed to be that expressed in his simple verse, written without satire, I feel sure:
"God has His best things for the few Who dare to stand the test;
He has a second choice for those Who will not have the best."
Whether you agreed with him or not, somehow you felt that he dealt in that "sound speech that can not be condemned" (Titus 2:8), the understatement which strengthens argument.
Some time since there was placed in my hands for review a book entitled, "Counterfeit Miracles," written by an American theologian of distinction, who devoted a chapter of some forty pages to "Faith-Healing." He paid his respects to several witnesses thereto, including three or four of my personal friends now departed to be with their Lord, but when he came to the subject of this chapter he simply said:
"Perhaps Dr. A. B. Simpson, of New York, who has been since 1887 the president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, founded in that year at Old Orchard, Maine, has been blamelessly in the public eye as a healer of the sick through faith for as long a period as any of our recent American healers. The fame of others has been, if more splendid, at the same time less pure and less lasting."
"Blamelessly" and "pure" were particularly well chosen.
The word for which I apologized in my title was early suggested to me as descriptive of Dr. Simpson when, years ago, I commenced reading after him, especially in the "Answers to Questions" column of The Alliance Weekly or its predecessor. If ever one needed the Spirit "of power, and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7), it is when he undertakes the editorship of such a department in a religious journal,
"What is the 'Abomination of Desolation'?" "Was Adam created with sinful tendencies?' "Please tell me what Bahaism is." "How does Christian Science differ from Divine healing?" "Will infants be saved?" "Is the Church the body or the bride of Christ?" "Should Christians vote?" "May a Christian join a lodge?" "Why did God punish Pharaoh when he hardened his heart?" "Do you teach eradication?" "Do you believe in conscious and eternal punishment?" "Please explain what is meant by 'Baptized for the dead'." "Please explain I Peter 3:19 and Heb. 6:4-6." "Give us your opinion of women preaching." "Will the Church pass through the tribulation?" "How shall I answer a Seventh Day Adventist?" "Is war justifiable?"
I am bound to say that so far as I am able to judge, Dr. Simpson passed this test triumphantly, and purchased for himself "a good degree and great boldness in the faith" (I Tim. 3:13).
May I enlarge upon that last-named question about war?
Dr. Simpson was a premillenialist, and when the United States went to war with Germany, New Theology preachers thought they saw an opportunity to discredit such, stating that they were pacifists, who were weakening the Government's hands.
Of course this was not true. Postmillennialism is essentially pacifism because it claims that the world is growing better all the while, the corollary of which is that military armaments are to be discouraged. The writer pointed this out in a magazine article, in the course of which he said that the earliest and ablest arguments from the Christian standpoint in defense of our Government's action which he had heard, had come from premillennialists.
A. B. Simpson was one of these. The title of his sermon is not recalled, but it is remembered with what martial eloquence he described Abram's battle against the confederate kings, and how it was approved in the court of heaven by the fact that he received the blessing of Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God.
As I read it, I thought of Mary Queen of Scots, who feared John Knox's prayers more than an army of 10,000 people, and I believed it no hyperbole to say that the Kaiser might have been similarly disturbed had he heard the clarion note of this person of God which was sounded up and down our land and around the world.
Some were giving forth a very uncertain sound about that time, and others were clearly unpatriotic and wrong, but when he spoke with the authority of the Bible he knew so well and the strong influence of a life hid with Christ in God, it brought boldness and steadiness to many. Had he coveted a decoration for his breast it was as truly merited as in the case of others whose patriotism had taken a different form.
And speaking of patriotism and the Christian saneness of which it is sometimes an exhibition, the last word that I dare claim space to write concerns that little book of Dr. Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospels, a classic of its kind, which should never be out of print, and which this generation at least should not allow to be forgotten. Whether it be the chapter on Evolution or Creation, or that on Higher Criticism and the Authority of the Bible, or that on Socialism and the Kingdom and Coming of Christ, it is patriotism of a high order and saneness that the whole world needs.
Our accomplished President has recently coined a new phrase about the spiritual leadership of the world. His meaning may require some clarifying for the mind of the average politician, but the spiritual leadership of the world which The Old Faith and the New Gospels advocates is that which shall remain when the democracies of the present shall have forever run their course. He who reads it with enlightenment of mind and heart to believe it, will set his seal to the testimony of this witness that A. B. Simpson was a person "of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom."
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.