VII. THE LIFE CRISIS
THE life of A. B. Simpson can never be interpreted correctly if the great crisis through which he passed, after he had been in the ministry for more than ten years, is not thoroughly understood. This was not only the beginning of his larger life and ministry, but it also changed his whole view of the Christian life and deeply colored all his after teaching. Moreover, it led him into the rugged, lonely path which they must tread who wholly follow the Lord. "I have lived a lonely life" was one of his last personal remarks to the Nyack students. He tasted, as few have done, at once of the bitterness of separation from friends and former associates who did not follow with him in his new-found path, and of the sweetness of fellowship with those who were one with him in spirit and aim.
Addressing a sympathetic audience in London, he said, "Well do I remember when first the Holy Ghost came into my heart, how lonely I felt, how far I was removed from my old Christian associates -- they could not understand me; but when I found one or two who did understand me, how dear they became to me! They were more than brothers, more than sisters. We could get closer because we could get deeper and higher in God's way. Then I remember how, when I got a little further and found that this blessed Jesus is a living Christ, that not only is His spirit for my spirit, but His body for my body, touching mine into life, and holding and quickening it with His own resurrection life -- then again I felt so lonesome. My old friends seemed to leave me, and for months I seemed to be alone, separated from hundreds and thousands of ministers and people I ^ad loved and worked with all my life. But when one and two and three began to come and join this little band, oh, how much deeper was the bond of love!"
On the same occasion he gave this simple statement regarding three experiences which mark the great epochs in his life. "Some twenty-seven years ago, I floundered for ten months in the waters of despondency, and I got out of them just by believing in Jesus as my Savior. About twelve years ago I got into another deep experience of conviction, and I got out of that by believing in Jesus as my Sanctifier. After years of teaching from and waiting on Him, the Lord Jesus Christ showed me four years ago that it was His blessed will to be my complete Savior for body as well as soul."
The first of these experiences has been narrated in Dr. Simpson's reminiscences. He entered into a deep and abiding sense of "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." He lived and ministered in this precious revelation, preaching justification as taught in the fifth chapter of Romans, with great power and unction. Of the truth declared in the sixth chapter he had then no personal experience, while of the heights and depths of the eighth chapter he had but glimpses. His personal experience was the conflict so vividly described in the seventh chapter of that epistle.
In a sermon to his first congregation in Hamilton on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination, he made humble reference to this condition. "Fifty years ago the one who addresses you this evening was ordained in this sacred place. He was a young, ambitious minister of twenty-one and had not yet learned the humbling lessons which God in faithful love is pleased to teach us as fast as we are willing to learn. He was sincere and earnest up to the light that he had received, but even after the nine years of active ministry in Hamilton he had not yet learned the deeper lessons of spiritual life and power which God was pleased to open to him after taking him from this place. There is a remarkable passage in Isaiah telling us that when the Spirit is poured out from on high, the wilderness shall become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be counted for a forest. When that experience came to him, the field of his former ministry, which had been so fruitful, suddenly appeared barren and withered, and he felt that his true ministry had scarcely yet begun."
The second great crisis began early in his Louisville ministry. Contact with those Spirit-filled evangelists. Whittle and Bliss, awakened him to his lack of spiritual power for life and service and led him to seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
He has left us this clear-cut testimony about this crisis. I look back with unutterable gratitude to the lonely and sorrowful night when, mistaken in many things and imperfect in all, and not knowing but that it would be death in the most literal sense before the morning light, my heart's first full consecration was made, and with unreserved surrender I first could say,
'Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow You; Destitute, despised, forsaken. You from hence my All shall be.'
Never, perhaps, has my heart known quite such a thrill of joy as when the following Sabbath morning I gave out those lines and sung them with all my heart. And if God has been pleased to make my life in any measure a little temple for His indwelling and for His glory, and if He ever shall be pleased to use me in any fuller measure, it has been because of that hour, and it will be still in the measure in which that hour is made the key-note of a consecrated, crucified, and Christ-devoted life."
His experience, as well as his close study of the Word, convinced him that many refuse the workings of the Holy Spirit as He seeks to lead them through such a crisis into the fullness of God. The pathos of it moved him when he wrote,
"They came to the gates of Canaan, But they never entered in; They came to the very threshold, But they perished in their sin."
All this was to him both a new theory and a new experience. I used to think," he says, "that we were sanctified at last in order to get to heaven -- that the very last thing God did for the soul was to sanctify it, and that then He took it right home; and I will confess that at that time I was a good deal afraid of being sanctified for fear I should die very soon afterward. But the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that we are sanctified in order to serve Him here."
Step by step he learned the true meaning of a sanctified life. Commenting on Psalm no, he says, "Consecration must come first and then sanctification. We can consecrate ourselves as freewill offerings; then God sanctifies us and clothes us with the beauties of His holiness. The consecration is ours; the sanctification is His."
In a brief exposition of the Fourfold Gospel he writes of the definiteness of this crisis in unequivocal terms. "We also believe, and this is the emphatic point in our testimony, that this experience of Christ our Sanctifier marks a definite and distinct crisis in the history of a soul. We do not grow into it, but we cross a definite line of demarcation as clear as when the hosts of Joshua crossed the Jordan and were over in the promised land and set up a great heap of stones so that they never could forget that crisis hour."
Dr. Simpson regarded the Holy Spirit as the divine agent in this blessed experience of sanctification. "Therefore the baptism of the Holy Spirit is simultaneous with our union with the Lord Jesus; the Spirit does not act apart from Christ, but it is His to take of the things of Christ and show them to us."
In the Fullness of Jesus he states this in another way. "The indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the human spirit is quite distinct from the work of regeneration. In Ezekiel 36:26 they are most clearly distinguished. The one is described as the taking away of 'the hard and stony heart and giving the heart of flesh'; of the other it is said: I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments and do them.' The one is like the building of the house, the other the owner moving in and making it his own personal residence."
In a passage from The Christ of the Forty Days we read: "There is a great difference between our receiving power from the Holy Ghost and our receiving the Holy Ghost as our power. In the latter case we are as insignificant and insufficient as ever, and it is the person who dwells within us who possesses and exercises all the gifts and powers of our ministry, and only as we abide in Him and He works in us are we able to exercise this power!'"
He learned, too, that "what men and women need to know to-day is not sanctification as a state, but Christ"
"Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word; Once His gift I wanted,
Now, the Giver own; Once I sought for healing.
Now Himself alone."
This became so clear to him that he never preached perfection but a perfect Christ abiding in the sanctified believer. He taught that "sanctification is divine holiness, not human self improvement, nor perfection. It is the inflow into a person's being of the life and purity of God's own perfection and the working out of God's own will."
Dr. Simpson believed that this is "complete, but not completed; perfect, but not perfected. He states this admirably in Wholly Sanctified. "He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, and the true attitude of the consecrated heart is that of a constant yielding and constant receiving. This last view of sanctification gives boundless scope to our spiritual progress. It is here that the gradual phase of sanctification comes in. Commencing with a complete separation from evil and dedication to God, it now advances into all the fullness of Christ, and grows up to the measure of the stature of perfect manhood in Him, until every part of our being and every part of our life is filled with God and becomes a channel to receive, and a medium to reflect His grace and glory."
A close study of Dr. Simpson's life in Louisville reveals that the fullness of these great truths did not burst upon him suddenly. The great crisis moment came in 1874, but it was not until the summer of 1881 that he entered into "the rest that remains for the people of God," thenceforth to live and work in continual consciousness of the all-sufficiency of Christ for spirit, soul, and body.
It was a stern school through which the Lord led him. He recalls that "In a crisis hour of his spiritual experience while asking counsel from an old, experienced friend, I was shocked to receive this answer, 'All you need in order to bring you into the blessing you are seeking, and to make your life a power for God, is to be annihilated.' The fact is the shock of that message almost annihilated me for the time, but before God's faithful discipline was through, I had learned in some adequate measure, as I have been learning ever since, the great truth, I am not sufficient to think anything of myself." Herein he was finding companionship with Moses, for in Divine Emblems he writes, "When God gets him there, reduced to the smallest of proportions, the weakest of all people that ever lived. He says, 'You are ready for work; now, Moses, I am going to take that rod and with it break the arms of Pharaoh and open the way for My people, and bring waters from the desert rock, and make you an instrument of power'."
Another incident, which he sometimes referred to, shows how he entered into another phase of this life. "Many years ago, the life of the great Hildebrand became an inspiration to me, especially when I learned that he had chosen a patron saint as the guardian of his life, and attributed all his success to the care of St. Peter, to whom he had devoted his life. Blessed be God, there is a greater than he! and when I read the story, I said, 'I, too, shall choose a patron saint.' But it was none other than the blessed Son of God; and thanks to His dear name, whatever I have known of strength for soul and body, of blessing in the Master's service, it has been through His care and friendship. In some little measure I can say,"
"Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You,
How I've proved You o'er and o'er,
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
Oh, for grace to trust You more."
How intense was his spiritual longing in those days and how wonderfully the Spirit of God guided him to the great central truth of which he was to become a special exponent is shown in the following narrative. "Once in my early ministry I travelled a thousand miles to go to one of Mr. Moody's conventions of ministers in Chicago, I reached there about six o'clock in the evening and went up to the early meeting. I did not hear Mr. Moody say anything, but one plain, earnest preacher got up with his face all shining. He said, 'I came up here expecting Mr. Moody to help me. But last night I saw Jesus, and I got such a look at Jesus that I am never going to need anything again as long as I live.' And he wound up with a long Hallelujah. Something struck hard my heart. 'All you need is Jesus; you go to Him.' I took the train back home that night. I did not wait for the convention. I went to my office in the church vestry, and I waited there on my face at His blessed feet until He came, and thank God, He enabled me in some measure to say,"
I have seen Jesus, and my heart is dead to all beside; I have seen Jesus, and my wants are all supplied; I have seen Jesus, and my heart is satisfied, Satisfied with Jesus."
One of the lessons came through his failure to lead his loved flock with him in these new-found pastures. They had gloried in his evangelical preaching and had taken the unprecedented action of following him from their comfortable church home to a public hall in order to reach the unchurched masses. But they halted half way on the path of sacrifice and ended in erecting a magnificent modern church loaded with debt, thus defeating his purpose. Nor had they any sympathy with his strong stand in declining to accept a salary as long as they refused to discharge the mortgage. It weighed upon his sensitive spirit, and this even more than his unceasing labors resulted in a collapse so serious that for a time it seemed that his ministry was ended. Then it was that a larger ministry unfolded before him, and "the uttermost part of the earth" became his objective.
The third great crisis to which he refers followed another collapse when he was so broken that the help of people was unavailing. Then he found that one of the provisions of redemption is "that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body," and that by this same redemption right "we have the mind of Christ." How this came about he himself will now tell us.
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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