V THE FIRST PASTORATE
WHEN I was a young minister of twenty-one, and just leaving my theological seminary, I had the choice of two fields of labor; one an extremely easy one, in a delightful town, with a refined, affectionate, and prosperous church, just large enough to be an ideal field for one who wished to spend a few years in quiet preparation for future usefulness; the other, a large, absorbing city church, with many hundreds of members and overwhelming and heavy burdens, which were sure to demand the utmost possible care, labor and responsibility. All my friends, teachers and counselors advised me to take the easier place. But an impulse, which I now believe to have been, at least indirectly, from God, even though there must have been some human ambition in it, led me to feel that if I took the easier place, I should probably rise to meet it and no more; and if I took the harder, I should not rest short of all its requirements. I found it even so. My early ministry was developed, and the habit of venturing on difficult undertakings was largely established, by the grace of God, through the necessities of this difficult position." Such are Mr. Simpson's own reflections on his entry into pastoral work."
Mr. Simpson graduated from Knox College in April, 1865. In June the Synod authorized the Presbytery of Toronto to take him and several other candidates on public probationary trial for license.
It may surprise young preachers of our day to know that the Minutes show that this old-time Presbytery subjected these college graduates to a searching examination in Biblical Hebrew and Greek, Theology, Church History, and Church Government, as well as personal religion. Moreover Mr. Simpson's examination included a discourse on II Timothy 1:10, read before the Presbytery, and the following papers submitted for criticism: a Latin thesis, an filius dei ah etcrno sit genitis a Pater; an excursus on Romans 7; a popular sermon on Romans 1:16, and a lecture on Matthew 4:1-11. After this procedure the candidates were licensed as ministers of the Canada Presbyterian Church.
But the end was not yet. Mr. Simpson had been urged by the church in Dundas, which he had supplied after graduation, to become its pastor. This he declined. On August 15th a call was presented to him through the Presbytery to Knox Church, Hamilton. Upon his acceptance of it, he was ordered to appear in two weeks with an array of sermons and papers similar to those which he had presented for license, but he was excused from the scholastic examination which had been given by the Presbytery of Toronto. September 12, 1865, was set as the day for his ordination and induction.
That was a momentous week in the life of A. B. Simpson. On Sunday, September 11, he preached his first sermon as the accepted pastor of Knox Church. On Monday, at two P. M., the Presbytery met in Knox Church for his ordination. Rev. R. N. Grant, a classmate, preached; Dr. Ormiston addressed the minister; Mr. Stark addressed the congregation; and the Moderator, Dr. Inglis, offered the ordination prayer as he was set apart to the ministry by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery. On Tuesday he was married in Toronto to Margaret Henry, daughter of John Henry, by their pastor, Dr. Jennings, and Rev. William Gregg, of Cooke's Church, afterwards Professor of Church History in Knox College. The honeymoon was spent in a trip down the St. Lawrence, and a few days later a hearty welcome to the Manse was given the young pastor and his bride.
Knox Church had been organized after the disruption in 1844 when the Free Church element left St. Andrews, which remained in the "Auld Kirk." A handsome stone edifice, with a seating capacity of 1200, was erected in 1846. Its first pastor, Mr. Gale, accepted a professorship in Knox College, as did also one of his successors. Rev. G. Paxton Young. Mr, Simpson's immediate predecessor was Rev. Robert Irving, D.D., a brilliant preacher. There were people of great ability in the neighboring pulpits, including Dr. Ormiston, who was called a little later to New York City; Dr. David Inglis, afterward professor in Knox College and later a pastor in Brooklyn, New York, and Dr. John Potts, who became the greatest leader in the Methodist Church of Canada.
To maintain the traditions of such a pulpit was no easy matter for a young man of twenty-one, yet the Hamilton Spectator only voiced the judgment of all who knew this young pastor when, in reviewing the history of Knox Church, it stated that "He was second to none in point of eloquence and ability and success in his ministry." Dr. William T. McMullen, of Woodstock, Ontario, one of the few now living who graduated from Knox College before Mr. Simpson entered, sees him in the larger relation in the Canadian Church. "I was intimately acquainted with Rev. A. B. Simpson, D.D., during his pastorate in Knox Church, Hamilton, which I judge must be about fifty years ago. He stood out at that time as one of the most brilliant young ministers of our Church in Canada. He was endowed with intellect of a very high order, and he preached the Gospel of the great salvation with a gracefulness of manner, a fervor, and a power exceedingly impressive." His great compatriot, Dr. R. P. Mackay, Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, gives him a higher tribute. "I can recall when I began my ministry, a young man in Hamilton who was spoken of as 'the eloquent young preacher.' He went to New York, and afterwards I only knew him by reports. Any person who has been able to accomplish so much must have been endowed with special gifts. The quality of his work is the best testimony as to the depth of his spiritual life. Such people do not belong to any one section, but are the gift of God to the Church of Christ."
In those days few Presbyterian ministers engaged in special evangelistic campaigns, however earnest they might be as preachers of the Gospel. Dr. Wardrobe, of Guelph, Ontario, was one of the exceptions. An incident which he recalled in his later years is illuminating. "I had just returned to Ontario from a pastorate in the Maritime provinces, and, being in Hamilton for a day, I decided to call upon a young preacher there and ask him, as the most likely person I could think of, to come and assist me in a series of revival meetings. With much dignity he replied, 'I believe in the regular work of the ministry.' What was my surprise, therefore, to learn not many years later that my young friend Simpson had left the 'regular work of the ministry' to give himself to the evangelization of the neglected masses of the American metropolis."
No greater evidence of success could be given than the place the minister won in the lives of individuals and in the memory of the congregation. In the Memorial Service in the Gospel Tabernacle, New York, Dr. Edward B. Shaw, of Monroe, N. Y., told of the lasting impression made upon him as a little boy in Hamilton, when, at the close of the first sermon he ever heard him preach, Dr. Simpson laid his hand in tender blessing on his head. He added that his mother so esteemed the young minister that she still inquires, 'Have you seen my pastor lately?' When I ask which pastor she means, her reply isIhave only one pastor'."
Pastoral visitation was his delight, and so ardently did he pursue this and other service that we find the following minute under date of July 13, 1869. "That whereas our beloved pastor is suffering in health from the effects of close application to his ministerial duties, and feeling that cessation from work and change of scene may, by the divine blessing, prove beneficial to him, the Session urgently requests him to rest for a period of two months and during that period to seek such scenes as may refresh his mind and be conducive to the restoration of his health." Mr. Simpson agreed to accept only one month of holiday.
Two years later he was granted four months' leave of absence for a visit to Europe, a trip he enjoyed to the full. His lecture on his observations abroad was brilliant and popular, but contrasts strangely with his accounts of his tours after the great awakening came into his life.
There are in it two passages which were almost prophetic of his later life. Here is one. "And here let us tread softly -- we enter John Knox's house; we gaze on the interior as it was in the sixteenth century; we sit in his veritable study and very chair; and we inhale a fresh breath of his heroic spirit, so much needed in these weak times." How deeply the young Canadian preacher was to drink of that spirit he little dreamed that day.
He seemed to be moved even more deeply by his visit to the tomb of Sir Walter Scott. All of his own eloquence was fired by the memory of this noble Scotchman. Scott's struggle to meet enormous financial losses with his pen had caught the imagination and moved the heart that was later to pour itself out in books of more lasting value than Wavcrley and Marmion. He quotes: "I will dig in the mine of my imaginations for diamonds, or what may sell for diamonds, to meet all my engagements." What could better portray the closing days of his own life than this tender picture he gives us of Scott? "But, alas, nature sank in the unequal struggle, and the productions which the world enjoys today are the life-blood of a brave man's heart. His sun was largest at its setting; and though it went down among many clouds, it was a glorious sunset for a glorious soul, and sank, we trust, to shine in other climes in cloudless light."
A visitor to the Manse on any Monday morning would have found the pastor occupied in the study with a group of fellow ministers. It was "blue Monday" in more senses than one, for some of them were addicted to the use of the weed. Sermons were discussed, and that facility for formulating outlines which amazed Dr. Simpson's students in later years was called into play in criticism of the past and prospective efforts of his friends.
Children's voices would be heard ringing through the house, for three sturdy boys and one little daughter came to bless their Canadian home. The firstborn was Albert Henry, who was truly converted to God at an early age, but fell under temptation in New York City. His parents' prayers finally prevailed, and his last days were spent in devotedly assisting in his father's business affairs. "During his last illness, which continued over a year, the work of grace in his heart and life was most deeply marked and beautifully manifest. The crucible of suffering was used by the Heavenly Refiner to purify, soften, and sweeten his spirit, and at last the very light of heaven shone through the pale and suffering face and lighted up the crumbling temple with the glory of the life beyond." He entered into rest in the thirtieth year of his age.
The second child, Melville Jennings, was taken seriously ill with membranous croup when only three and one-half years old while Mrs. Simpson was mourning the loss of her father in the old family home in Toronto. As his father carried him in his arms, just before his departure, he said, "Take me to Mamma," and when his mother appeared, he repeated to them the verse that she had taught him, "Abide in me and I in you." Mrs. Simpson says that this was the first message that ever sank deeply into her heart and that it prepared the way for the experience into which she entered years afterward.
The third boy, James Gordon Hamilton, was born on the 31st of August, 1870. Of him his father wrote: "In his early boyhood he gave his heart to the Lord and passed through a very distinct religious experience. In later years the temptations of city life frequently overcame him, and at times he wandered far from God. But it is a great comfort to his bereaved family and will be a source of joy to all his friends to know that in the last years of his life he was brought back by a very clear religious experience to his early faith, and after much suffering, borne with Christian patience, he entered into rest at the age of thirty-seven with unclouded confidence in the Savior he had learned so tenderly to love and trust."
The fourth child, Mabel, was also born in Hamilton. On Feb. ii, 1891, she was united in marriage to Mr. Hugh S. Brennen, a prominent business man of Hamilton, and a member of Knox Church. Both Mr. and Mrs. Brennen were devoted Christians, and their home life was ideal. Mr. Brennen was called home suddenly in 1912, leaving his wife and two daughters to prove the all-sufficiency of the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The family circle was enlarged by the birth of another daughter, Margaret May, in Louisville, and of the youngest boy, Howard Home, in New York City.
In 1894, when the congregation of Knox Church opened their Sunday School building, one of the finest at that time in Canada, it happened to be the twenty-ninth anniversary of Dr. Simpson's ordination, and he was asked to dedicate the building and to deliver several other addresses. The church could not hold the crowds that thronged to hear him. He made this reference to the occasion in The Alliance Weekly: "It was a most precious token of our Father's love, after a generation of service, that we should be able to come back to our earliest friends, and find their hearts open, not only to us, but to all the truth we brought them and, indeed, longing for a deeper fullness of the Holy Spirit for their own life and work."
On September 12th, 1905, the fortieth anniversary of his ordination, he revisited his first flock and was moved to write the following ordination hymn:
"Ordain me to Your service, Lord;
Baptize me with Your power divine, And help me for my future days To make my will entirely Your.
For twice a score of years Your hand Has led Your child along the way; Oh, how Your patient love has borne! Oh, how Your grace has crowned each day!
And if Your mercy yet can trust A feeble worm to serve You still. Ordain Your child anew this day To better know and do Your will.
Correct my thoughts and let my life
Speak louder than the words I say; And give to me this joy supreme To know I please my Lord always.
Give me the very mind of Christ;
Teach me to pray with power divine; Baptize my lips with heavenly fire, And let my messages be Your.
And may the years You still may give Exalt my Lord and make Him known. Till every land shall hear His Word And He can come to claim His own."
The most memorable visit was ten years later when he and Mrs. Simpson were asked to celebrate their Jubilee with this beloved church which still delighted to honor him, though for thirty-five years he had not been in the Presbyterian ministry. He preached with unusual fervency, taking for the morning sermon the text used for his inaugural discourse fifty years before. In the evening he gave a clear statement of the truth and experience into which God had led him. On Monday a reception was given to Dr. and Mrs. Simpson, and the address which he then delivered showed that during his forty years' absence he had neither lost his love for Canada nor his facility as a lecturer.
Church Minutes are usually dry reading, but Knox Church Session Minutes throw some strong sidelights on the results of his ministry. A great advance was made in the prayer life of the congregation by the institution of a social weekly prayer meeting in each elder's district, and later by establishing a united meeting for prayer at the close of the Wednesday evening lecture. The Session also voted to discountenance the custom of holding funerals on the Sabbath. They departed so far from tradition as to grant the Sunday School permission to install a melodeon. Not the least interesting item is the resignation of an elder under discipline for intoxication.
A minute passed in response to questions from the General Assembly reveal how much progress has since been made in missionary interest. The Session resolved: "That the missionary revenue of the church may be increased by the formation and vigorous operation of Missionary Associations in all the congregations of the Church, by the frequent diffusion of missionary intelligence, and by the establishment and successful working of a bona fide Foreign Mission in some heathen land, and we recommend China as at the present time the most promising opening for a new missionary enterprise."
The results of the nine years of ministry in Hamilton were extraordinary. No less than 750 members were received into church fellowship; a church debt of $8,000 was paid; contributions aggregating' $50,000 were made, and during the last year the then unusual sum of $870 was given to missions, and $5,000 to other benevolences.
One of the Canadian delegates to the great Evangelical Alliance Conference in New York City in 1873 was A. B. Simpson. He was invited to preach for Dr. Burchard, in Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church. In the audience were delegates from Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky., who, on their return home, recommended this young Canadian to their congregation, which was without a pastor.
When the Presbytery of Hamilton met on December 3rd, 1873, there were before it calls to the pastor of Knox Church from Chalmers Church, Quebec, and Chestnut Street Church, Louisville, and a telegram had been received stating that commissioners were on their way with a call from Knox Church, Ottawa. Representatives of the Session and the congregation of Knox Church were heard, who stated that with great reluctance they had agreed to release their beloved pastor if he himself should see his way clear to leave his charge. After several presbyters had spoken most appreciatively of his ministry it was agreed to grant the translation and to dissolve Mr. Simpson's pastoral connection with Knox Church on the twentieth day of December.
It was an affecting scene when the pastor bade farewell to his flock. The Ladies' Aid Association, which he had organized, presented him with an address giving both him and Mrs. Simpson valuable tokens of remembrance. In his reply he gave thanks to God for His marvelous blessing on the work and to the people for their love and cooperation. The press, which had recognized his gifts by frequently publishing his addresses, expressed the regret felt in the city at the loss of such a brilliant preacher. Before the year ended the family were speeding to their new home in the sunny South.
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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