II. PERSONAL REMINISCENCES
AT the urgent request of friends, Dr. Simpson began an autobiography and wrote a few pages, sketching in his racy style some of the events of his early years. His disinclination to speak of himself, which was a noteworthy characteristic, overcame him, and he left us only what follows in this chapter and a few paragraphs which appear in the story of his college days.
"The earliest recollection of my childhood is the picture of my mother as I often heard her in the dark and lonely nights weeping in her room; and I still remember how I used to rise and kneel beside my little bed, even before I knew God for myself, and pray for Him to comfort her. The cause of her grief I afterwards better understood. In that lonely cabin, separated from the social traditions to which she had been accustomed and from all the friends she held so dear, it was little wonder that she should often spend her nights in weeping, and that her little boy should find his first religious experiences in trying to grope his way to the heart of Him. who alone could help her."
Iwould not leave the impression that my beloved mother was not a sincere and earnest Christian, but she had not yet learned of that deep peace, which came to my own heart later in life, and which alone can make us independent of our surroundings and conditions. She was of a sensitive and highly poetic temperament. Her favorite reading was old English poets. She delighted in Milton, Pollock, Thompson, Kirke, White, and others of that highly imaginative school, and I am sure that I have inherited a certain amount of inspiration from her lofty nature.
"My next reminiscence has also a tinge of religion about it. I had lost a boy's chief treasure -- a jack-knife, and I still remember the impulse that came to me to kneel down and pray about it. Soon afterwards I was delighted to find it. The incident made a profound impression upon my young heart and gave me a life-long conviction, which has since borne fruit innumerable times, that it is our privilege to take everything to God in prayer. I do not mean to convey the idea that I was at this time already converted. I only knew God in a broken, far-away sense; but I can see now that God was then discounting my future, and treating me in advance as if I were already His child, because He knew that I would come to Plim later and accept Him as my personal Savior and Father. This perhaps explains why God does so many things in answer to prayer for persons who do not yet know Him fully. He is treating them on the principle of faith, and calling 'the things that are not as though they were.'"
"The truth is the influences around my childhood were not as favorable to early conversion as they are today in many Christian homes. My father was a good Presbyterian elder of the old school, and believed in the Shorter Catechism, the doctrine of foreordination, and all the conventional principles of a well ordered Puritan household. He was himself a devout Christian and most regular in all his religious habits. He was an influential officer in the Church and much respected for his knowledge of the Scriptures, his consistent life, his sound judgment, and his strong, practical common sense. I can still see him rising long before daylight, sitting down with his lighted candle in the family room, tarrying long at his morning devotions, and the picture filled my childish soul with a kind of sacred awe. We were brought up according to the strictest Puritan formulas. When we did not go to church on Sunday in the family wagon, a distance of nine miles, we were all assembled in the sitting room, and for hours father, mother, or one of the older children read in turn from some good old book that was far beyond my understanding. It gives me a chill to this day to see the cover of one of those old books, such as Boston's Fourfold State, Baxter's Saints' Rest, or Dodderidge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, for it was with these, and such as these, that my youthful soul was disciplined. The only seasons of relief came when it happened to be my turn to read. Then my heart would swell with pleasure, and I fear with self-conscious pride, and for a time I would forget the weariness of the volume. In the afternoon we all had to stand in a row and answer questions from the Shorter Catechism. There were about one hundred and fifty questions in all. Our rule was to take several each Sunday till they were finished, and then start over again and keep it up from year to year as the younger children grew up and joined the circle."
"My good father believed in the efficacy of the rod, and I understood this so well that I succeeded in escaping most dispensations of that kind. One of the few whippings, however, which I remember, came one Sabbath afternoon when the sun was shining and the weather was delightful. I ventured to slip out of the house, and was unfortunately seen by my father scampering 'round the yard in the joy of my ungodly liberty. I was speedily called back and told with great solemnity that I would get my whipping the next morning after breakfast, for it was not considered quite the thing to break the Sabbath even by a whipping. I got the whipping that was coming to me all right the next morning. But I still remember how my elder brother, who had a much wider experience and a deeper mind than I, took me aside that day and told me that if I was ever condemned to a whipping, he knew a way of getting out of it. Then he told me with great secrecy that if such an occasion should arise, to get up that morning before daylight, a little before my father was accustomed to rise, light the candle, and go and sit in a corner of the sitting-room with the big Bible before me, showing a proper spirit of penitence and seriousness. He had found by experience that my father would take the hint and let him off. I am sorry to say that my heart was as yet sufficiently unsanctified to take the hint, and sure enough one morning when a whipping was coming to me, I stole out of my bed and sat down with a very demure and solemn face to practice my pretended devotions. I can still see my quiet and silent father sitting at the table and casting side glances at me from under his spectacles as though to make quite sure that I was truly in earnest. After finishing his devotions, he quietly slipped away to his work, and nothing more was said about the chastisement."
"Looking back on these early influences, I cannot say I wholly regret the somewhat stern mould in which my early life was shaped. It taught me a spirit of reverence and wholesome discipline for which I have often had cause to thank God, the absence of which is perhaps the greatest loss of the rising generation today. It threw over my youthful spirit a natural horror of evil things which often safeguarded me afterwards when thrown as a young man amid the temptations of the world. The religious knowledge, which was crammed into my mind even without my understanding it, furnished me with forms of doctrine and statements of truth which afterwards became illuminated by the Holy Spirit and realized in my own experience, and thus became ultimately the precious vessels for holding the treasures of divine knowledge. In our later family history these severe restraints were withdrawn from the younger members as a new age threw its more relaxing influence over our home; but I cannot say that the change proved a beneficial one. I believe that the true principle of family training is a blending of thorough discipline with true Christian liberty and love."
"My childhood and youth were strangely sheltered and guarded by divine providence. I recall with sacred awe many times when my life was almost miraculously preserved. On one occasion, while climbing up on the scaffolding of a building in course of erection, I stepped upon a loose board which tipped over and plunged me into space. Instinctively throwing out my hands, I caught a piece of timber, one of the flooring joists, and desperately held on, crying for assistance. When exhausted and about to fall, a workman caught me just in time. The fall would certainly have killed me or maimed me for life."
"At another time I was thrown headlong over my horse's head as he stumbled and fell under me. When I came back to consciousness, I found him bending over me with his nose touching my face, almost as if he wanted to speak to me and encourage me. At another time I was kicked into unconsciousness by a dangerous horse, and still remember the awful struggle to recover my breath as I thought myself dying."
"Once I had a remarkable escape from drowning. I had gone with one of my schoolmates in the High School to gather wild grapes on the banks of the river. After a while my companion tempted me to go in swimming, an art about which I knew nothing. In a few moments I got beyond my depth, and with an agony I shall always remember, I found myself choking under the surface. In that moment the whole of my life came before me as if in a vision, and I can well understand the stories told by drowning persons of the photograph that seems to come to their minds in the last moment of consciousness. I remember seeing as clearly as if I had read it from the printed page, the notice in the local newspaper telling of my drowning and the grief and sorrow of my friends. Somehow God mercifully saved me. My companion was too frightened to help me, but his shouts attracted some people in a little boat a short distance away, and they pulled me out just as I was sinking for the last time, and laid me on the river bank. As I came back to consciousness a while afterwards, it seemed to me that years had passed since I was last on earth. I am sure that experience greatly deepened my spiritual earnestness."
"But, like other boys, I often passed from the sublime to the ridiculous as this little incident will show. It was my good fortune to secure as a first prize in the High School an extremely handsome book which my chum, who had failed in the examination, had set his heart upon getting. He finally succeeded in tempting me by an old violin, with which he used to practice on my responsive heart, until at last I was persuaded to exchange my splendid prize for his old fiddle. The following summer I took it home and made night hideous and myself a general nuisance. I had never really succeeded in playing anything worth while, but there must have been somewhere in my nature a latent vein of music, and still to me the strains of the violin have a subtle inspirational power with which nothing else in music can be compared."
"My first definite religious crisis came at about the age of fourteen. Prior to this I had for a good while been planning to study for the ministry. I am afraid that this came to me in the first instance rather as a conviction of duty than a spontaneous Christian impulse. There grew up in my young heart a great conflict about my future life; naturally I rebelled against the ministry because of the restraints which it would put upon many pleasures. One irresistible desire was to have a gun and to shoot and hunt; and I reasoned that if I were a minister, it would never do for me to indulge in such pastimes."
"I was cured of this in a somewhat tragic way. I had saved up a little money, earned through special jobs and carefully laid aside, and one day I stole off to the town and invested it in a shot gun. For a few days I had the time of my life. I used to steal out to the woods with my forbidden idol and then with my sister's help smuggle it back to the garret. One day, however, my mother found it, and there was a never-to-be-forgotten scene. Her own brother had lost his life through the accidental discharge of a gun, and I knew and should have remembered that such things were proscribed in our family. It was a day of judgment for me; and when that wicked weapon was brought from its hiding place, I stood crushed and confounded as I was sentenced to the deep humiliation of returning it to the man from whom I bought it, losing not only my gun but my money too."
"That tragedy settled the question of the ministry. I soon after decided to give up all side issues and prepare myself if I could only find a way to preach the Gospel. But as yet the matter had not even been mooted in the family. One day, however, my father in his quiet, grave way, with my mother sitting by, called my elder brother and myself into his presence and began to explain that the former had long been destined to the ministry and that the time had now come when he should begin his studies and prepare to go to college. I should say that at this time we both had an excellent common school education. My father added that he had a little money, rescued from the wrecked business of many years before, now slowly coming in, which would be sufficient to give an education to one but not both of his boys. He quietly concluded that it would be my duty to stay at home on the farm while my brother went to college. I can still feel the lump that rose in my throat as I stammered out my acquiescence. Then I ventured with broken words and stammering tongue to plead that they would consent to my getting an education if I could work it out without asking anything from them but their approval and blessing. I had a little scheme of my own to teach school and earn the money for my education. But even this I did not dare to divulge, for I was but a lad of less than fourteen. I remember the quiet trembling tones with which my father received my request and said, 'God bless you, my boy.'"
"So the struggle began, and I shall never cease to thank God that it was a hard one. Some one has said, 'Many people succeed because success is thrust upon them,' but the most successful lives are those that began without a penny. Nothing under God has ever been a greater blessing to me than the hard places that began with me more than half a century ago, and have not yet ended."
"For the first few months my brother and I took lessons in Latin, Greek and higher mathematics from a retired minister and then from our kind pastor, who was a good scholar and ready to help us in our purpose. Later I pursued my studies in Chatham High School, but the strain was too great, and I went back to my father's house a physical wreck. Then came a fearful crash in which it seemed to me the very heavens were falling. After retiring one night suddenly a star appeared to blaze before my eyes; and as I gazed, my nerves gave way. I sprang from my bed trembling and almost fainting with a sense of impending death, and then fell into a congestive chill of great violence that lasted all night and almost took my life. A physician told me that I must not look at a book for a whole year for my nervous system had collapsed, and I was in the greatest danger. There followed a period of mental and physical agony which no language can describe. I was possessed with the idea that at a certain hour I was to die; and every day as that hour drew near, I became prostrated with dreadful nervousness, watching in agonized suspense till the hour passed, and wondering that I was still alive."
"One day the situation became so acute that nothing could gainsay it. Terrified and sinking, I called my father to my bedside and asked him to pray for me, for I felt I was dying. Worst of all I had no personal hope in Christ. My whole religious training had left me without any conception of the sweet and simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. The God I knew was a being of great severity, and my theology provided in some mysterious way for a wonderful change called the new birth or regeneration, which only God could give to the soul. How I longed and waited for that change to come, but it had not yet arrived. Oh, how my father prayed for me that day, and how I cried in utter despair for God to spare me just long enough to be saved! After that dreadful sense of sinking at last a little rest came, and the crisis was over for another day. I looked at the clock, and the hour had passed. I believed that God was going to spare me just one day more, and that I must strive and pray for salvation that whole day as a doomed man. How I prayed and asked others to pray, and almost feared to go to sleep that night lest I should lose a moment from my search for God and eternal life; but the day passed, and I was not saved. It now seems strange that there was no voice there to tell me the simple way of believing in the promise and accepting the salvation fully provided and freely offered. How often since then it has been my delight to tell poor sinners that"
"We do not need at Mercy's gate to knock and weep, and watch and wait; For Mercy's gifts are offered free, And she has waited long for you."
"After that, as day after day passed, I rallied a little, and my life seemed to hang upon a thread, for I had the hope that God would spare me long enough to find salvation if I only continued to seek it with all my heart. At length one day, in the library of my old minister and teacher, I stumbled upon an old musty volume called Marshall's Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. As I turned the leaves, my eyes fell upon a sentence which opened for me the gates of life eternal. It is this in substance: 'The first good work you will ever perform is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Until you do this, all your works, prayers, tears, and good resolutions are vain. To believe on the Lord Jesus is just to believe that He saves you according to His Word, that He receives and saves you here and now, for He has said 'Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.' The moment you do this, you will pass into eternal life, you will be justified | from all your sins, and receive a new heart and all the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.'"
"To my poor bewildered soul this was like the light from heaven that fell upon Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus. I immediately fell upon my knees, and looking up to the Lord, I said, 'Lord Jesus, You have said Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out. You know how long and earnestly I have tried to come, but I did not know how. Now I come the best I can, and I dare to believe that You do receive me and save me, and that I am now Your child, forgiven and saved simply because I have taken You at Your word. Abba Father, You are mine, and I am Your.'"
"It is needless to say that I had a fight of faith with the great Adversary before 1 was able to get out all these words and dared to make this confession of my faith; but I had no sooner made it and set my seal to it than there came to my heart that divine assurance that always comes to the believing soul, for 'He that believes has the witness in himself.' I had been seeking the witness without believing, but from the moment that I dared to believe the Word, 1 had the assurance that"
'The Spirit answers to the blood And tells me I am born of God.'
"After my health was restored, I secured a certificate as a common school teacher, and at the early age of sixteen I began teaching a public school of forty pupils. One-quarter of the pupils were grown up men and women while I looked even younger than my years and would have given anything for a few whiskers or something that would have made me look older. I often wonder how I was able to hold in control these rough country fellows, but I can see that it was the hand of the Lord, and He was pleased to give me a power that did not consist in brawn or muscle. My object in teaching was to earn money for my first cycle of college, and along with my teaching I was studying hard every spare moment between times to prepare for the first examination of my college course."
"The months that followed my conversion were full of spiritual blessing. The promises of God burst upon my soul with a new and marvelous light, and words that had been empty before became divine revelations, and every one seemed specially meant for me. I think I had inherited from my mother a vein of imagination, and it clothed the glowing promises of Isaiah and Jeremiah with a glory that no language could express. With unspeakable ecstasy I read and marked,Ihave sworn that I will never be wroth with you, nor rebuke you; for the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, says the Lord that has mercy on you.' When I heard other Christians talking of their failures and fears, I wondered if a time would ever come when I should lose this supreme joy of a soul in its earliest love; and I remember how I used to pray that rather than let me go back to the old life, the Lord would take me at once to heaven."
"One of the memorable incidents of my early Christian life, of which I still have the old and almost faded manuscript, was my covenant with God. While I was teaching school, I had been reading Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, in which he recommends young Christians to enter into a written covenant with God. I determined to follow this suggestion and set apart a whole day to fasting and prayer to this purpose. I wrote out at great length a detailed transaction in which I gave myself entirely to God and took Him for every promised blessing, and especially to use my life for His service and glory. There was a certain special blessing, partly temporal and partly spiritual, which I included in my specifications. I have since often wondered how literally God had fulfilled this to me in His wonderful and gracious providences throughout my fife, and I can truly say after more than two generations that not one word has failed of all in which He caused me to hope. Before the close of the day I signed and sealed this covenant just as formally as I would have done with a human contract and have kept it until this day."
"A SOLEMN COVENANT: The Dedication of Myself to God
"O everlasting and almighty God, Ruler of the universe, You who made this world and me, Your creature upon it. You who are in every place beholding the evil and the good, You see me at this time and know all my thoughts. I know and feel that my inmost thoughts are all familiar to You, and You know what motives have induced me to come to You at this time. I appeal to You, O Searcher of hearts, so far as I know my own heart, it is not a worldly motive that has brought me before You now. But my 'heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,' and I would not pretend to trust to it; but You know that I have a desire to dedicate myself to You for time and eternity. I would come before You as a sinner, lost and ruined by the fall, and by my actual transgressions, yea, as the vilest of all Your creatures. When I look back on my past life, I am filled with shame and confusion. I am rude and ignorant, and in Your sight a beast. You, O Lord, did make Adam holy and happy, and gave him ability to maintain his state. The penalty of his disobedience was death, but he disobeyed Your holy law and incurred that penalty, and I, as a descendant from him, have inherited this depravity and this penalty. I acknowledge the justness of Your sentence, O Lord, and would bow in submission before You."
"How can You, O Lord, condescend to look on me, a vile creature? For it is infinite condescension to notice me. But truly. Your loving kindness is infinite and from everlasting. You, O Lord, did send Your son in our image, with a body such as mine and a reasonable soul. In Him were united all the perfections of the Godhead with the humility of our sinful nature. He is the Mediator of the New Covenant, and through Him we all have access to You by the same Spirit. Through Jesus, the only Mediator, I would come to You, O Lord, and trusting in His merits and mediation, I would boldly approach Your throne of grace. I feel my own insignificance, O Lord, but do You strengthen me by Your Spirit. I would now approach You in order to covenant with You for life everlasting. You in Your Word has told us that it is Your Will that all who believe in Your Son might have everlasting life and You will raise him up at the last day. You has given us a New Covenant and has sealed that covenant in Your blood, O Jesus, on the Cross."
"I now declare before You and before my conscience, and bear witness, O you heavens, and all the inhabitants thereof, and you earth, which my God has made, that I accept of the conditions of this covenant and close with its terms. These are that I believe on Jesus and accept of salvation through Him, my Prophet, Priest, and King, as made to me of God wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption and complete salvation. You, O Lord, has made me willing to come to You. You has subdued my rebellious heart by Your love. So now take it and use it for Your glory. Whatever rebellious thoughts may arise therein, do You overcome them and bring into subjection everything that opposes itself to Your authority. I yield myself to You as one alive from the dead, for time and eternity. Take me and use me entirely for Your glory."
"Ratify now in Heaven, O my Father, this Covenant. Remember it, O Lord, when You bring me to the Jordan. Remember it, O Lord, in that day when You come with all the angels and saints to judge the world, and may I be at Your right hand then and in heaven with You forever. Write down in heaven that I have become Your, Your only, and Your forever. Remember me, O Lord, in the hour of temptation, and let me never depart from this covenant. I feel, O Lord, my own weakness and do not make this in my own strength, else I must fail. But in Your strength, O Captain of my salvation, I shall be strong and more than conqueror through Him who loved me."
"I have now, O Lord, as You has said in Your Word, covenanted with You, not for worldly honors or fame but for everlasting life, and I know that You are true and shall never break Your holy Word, Give to me now all the blessings of the New Covenant and especially the Holy Spirit in great abundance, which is the earnest of my inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. May a double portion of Your Spirit rest upon me, and then I shall go and proclaim to transgressors Your ways and Your laws to the people. Sanctify me wholly and make me fit for heaven. Give me all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
"I am now a soldier of the Cross and a follower of the Lamb, and my motto from from now onis *I have one King, even Jesus.' Support and strengthen me, O my Captain, and be mine forever."
"Place me in what circumstances You may desire; but if it be Your holy will, I desire that You 'give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient, lest I be poor and steal, or lest I be rich and say. Who is the Lord?' But Your will be done. Now give me Your Spirit and Your protection in my heart at all times, and then I shall drink of the rivers of salvation, lie down by still waters, and be infinitely happy in the favor of my God. "
"Saturday, January 19, 1861."
Written across this covenant are the following renewals; one of which was made during his third year in College and the other during his second pastorate.
"September 1, 1863. Backslidden. Restored. Yet too cold. Lord. I still wish to continue this. Pardon the past and strengthen me for the future, for Jesus' sake. Amen."
"Louisville, Ky., April 18, 1878. Renew this covenant and dedication amid much temptation and believe that my Father accepts me anew and gives me more than I have dared to ask or think, for Jesus' sake. He has kept His part. My one desire now is power, light, love, souls, Christ's indwelling, and my church's salvation."
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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