Albert Benjamin Simpson: 1843 - 1919
Albert Benjamin Simpson was born to James and Jane Simpson on Prince Edward Island on a cold December day in 1843. As a young boy, Simpson had to overcome serious health problems to obtain an education; nevertheless, he eventually graduated from Knox College, Toronto, in 1865. He became a Presbyterian minister and served congregations in Ontario, Kentucky, and New York. He and his wife, Margaret, had six children.
While in New York, Simpson’s overwhelming burden to preach the gospel led him to resign from his pastoral position and devote his efforts to reach the masses. Subsequently, he founded a mission organization, a college, established a publishing house, and authored more than seventy books, many hymns, and gospel songs. After spending several hours in prayer for missionaries, as was his habit, he greeted the Lord in glory at the age of seventy-six, having lived twice as long as doctors predicted.
Two prayer verses reflect Simpson’s intrinsic heart and aim of his Christian service and calling:
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 alway…
And may the years Thou still mayest give
Exalt my Lord and make Him known,
Till every land shall hear His Word
And He can come to claim His own.
O Restless Heart of Mine
Simpson, Albert Benjamin. Songs of the Spirit. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1920, p. 66.
O restless heart of mine,
Wilt thou not learn at length,
In quietness and confidence
Shall be your strength?
Our worries wear away
The fibers of the soul,
While trust and rest our spirit hold
In sweet control.
Stillness is strength, the tides
Of ocean calmly flow,
While petty torrents rage and fret,
As on they go.
Quiet my spirit, Lord,
Thy confidence bestow;
So shall my soul be still and strong,
Come weal or woe.
Trusting Thy love and power,
My heart can sweetly rest,
Knowing that Thou canst only send
That which is best.
So, restless heart of mine,
Be still and learn at length,
In quietness and confidence
Shall be thy strength.
Simpson, Albert Benjamin. Songs of the Spirit. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1920, p. 64-65.
I have not wealth or noble birth,
I have not acres broad,
I have not wisdom, strength, or worth,
But I have God.
My life was once so stained with sin,
He cleansed me with His blood,
And now it is not I that live,
But in me—God.
Poor sorrowing heart, whose bleeding feet
The thorny path have trod,
Thou hast no light, nor hope, nor friend,
But thou hast God.
Poor sick one, sinking to the grave
Beneath affliction’s rod,
Thy ills no human hand can heal,
No hand but God.
Poor tempted heart, thy angry foes
Rage ‘round thee like a flood;
Their hate is far too strong for thee
But not for God.
Poor stricken one, thy loved ones lie
Beneath the grave’s cold sod,
Left in thy loneliness by all,
Yes, all but God.
Soon must thou pass, and pass alone
Death’s sullen, swollen flood,
All other friends are left behind,
All else but God.
Poor earth-bound soul, whose portion here
Is but an earthly clod.
Thy wealth is dross, thy soul is lost,
Without thy God.
Simpson, Albert Benjamin. Songs of the Spirit. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1920, p. 24.
Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word;
Once His gifts I wanted,
Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
No Himself alone.
Once ‘twas painful trying,
Now ‘tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation,
Now the uttermost;
Once ‘twas ceaseless holding,
Now He holds me fast;
Once ‘twas constant drifting,
Now my anchor’s cast.
Once ‘twas busy planning,
Now ‘tis trustful prayer;
Once ‘twas anxious caring,\
Now He has the care;
Once ‘twas what I wanted,
Now what Jesus says;
Once ‘twas constant asking,
Now ‘tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working,
His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him,
Now He uses me;
Once the power I wanted,
Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored,
Now for Him alone.
Once I hoped in Jesus,
Now I know He’s mine;
Once my lamps were dying,
Now they brightly shine;
Once for death I waited,
Now His coming hail,
And my hopes are anchored,
Safe within the veil.
A Cry in the Wilderness: Institutionalizing Christianity
During the second half of the nineteenth century, North America was the battleground of differing "gospels" among the professing community. Within a number of denominations, the practice of the Christian faith was becoming institutionalized, its purity diluted with modernism. Many clergymen, seminary theologians, and authors seemed eager even to capitulate on the Bible's authority and accuracy. In part, this compromise was due to the struggle to accommodate both Darwinism and the rise of science as a Western religion.
Diminishing Basic Orthodoxy
To fill a void they had helped to make, these leaders encouraged their followers to find purpose in the social gospel of behavioral modification and humanitarian works. All of these factors reduced the emphasis on Christ's redemption by grace, thus diminishing basic orthodoxy.
Reaction to this spiritual decline was seen in a powerful burst of gospel activity by many nonsectarian evangelists, including D. L. Moody and R. A. Torrey. A. B. Simpson also spent his lifetime in fervent gospel preaching and in seeking to unite denominations for worldwide evangelization while learning to depend on the Lord for everything.
"If the Lord So Wills": A Mother's Request
It was on the fifteenth of December, a cold winter day in 1843 in Bayview on Prince Edward Island that Albert Benjamin was born, the fourth of nine children, to James and Jane Simpson. Albert's mother requested of the Lord "that the boy might be a minister or missionary," cautiously adding, "If the Lord so wills, and he lives to grow up and is so inclined."
Jane Simpson was sensitive, imaginative, and poetic. Her creative talents were passed on to young Albert, who experienced "her aspirations, her soaring imagination." She immersed him in the noblest literature and poetry. She also trained him to take everything to God in prayer. His father, James, was a "Presbyterian elder of the old school." He believed in all the "principles of a well-ordered Puritan household" and "the efficacy of the rod."
Of his early influences, Simpson wrote, "I cannot say I wholly regret the somewhat stern mould in which my early life was shaped," for 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."
A Heart for Ministry
Young Albert wanted to become a minister of the gospel. However, funds were limited, so his father quietly informed Albert that it would be his duty to stay at home on the farm while his elder brother went to college to enter the ministry.
At the tender age of nearly fourteen, he stated,
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 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.
To enter the ministry, Simpson had to become a candidate for examination by the presbytery, so he was tutored in Greek, Latin, and advanced mathematics. Later, he traveled to study at Chatham High School, nine miles from his home on foot or horseback.
Desperate for Salvation: Predisposed toward Despair
Because Albert was of a weakened constitution, the strain of his studies caused him to become a "physical wreck." Simpson's physical distress "predisposed him toward despair," worsened because he was not regenerated!
He explained, "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."
This narrow and extreme view of an austere God caused "the accumulated terrors of a multitude of books and sermons on total depravity and the damnation of the non-elect [to] roar out upon him like a lion from the thicket and throw him into mortal panic for his dying soul," stirring him to seek salvation with all his heart.
Opening the Gates of Life Eternal
While glancing through the library of his former minister and tutor, Simpson came across "an old musty volume called Marshall's Gospel Mystery of Sanctification." As he scanned its pages, a sentence, "which opened ... the gates of life eternal," caught his eye:
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 cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
"I Come the Best I Can"
He fell to his knees and cried out to the Lord Jesus to save him:
I come the best I can, and I dare to believe that Thou dost receive me and save me, and that I am now Thy child, forgiven and saved simply because I have taken Thee at Thy word.
A Solemn Covenant with the Lord
Afterward, Simpson felt he had the "supreme joy of a soul in its earliest love." In response to this joy, he wrote and formally sealed his "Solemn Covenant" with the Lord-one he would keep with him and renew at pivotal times in his life-which included this telling line:
I yield myself unto Thee as one alive from the dead, for time and eternity. Take me and use me entirely for Thy glory.
A Life of Service
Beginning Ministry: Working Out His Education
At age seventeen, Simpson earned a teacher's certificate and taught in county schools until he entered Knox College in Toronto. True to his plan to "work out" his education, he put himself through college by tutoring, preaching, and winning scholarships.
Although unquestionably redeemed through faith in Christ, he said, "My religious life was chiefly that of duty, with little joy or fellowship.... I had not yet learned the secret of the indwelling Christ." After graduating in 1865, Simpson began to serve for nine years as a pastor in Hamilton, Ontario.
Margaret Henry—A Woman of Dignity
That same year, he married Margaret Henry, the daughter of a family who had received Simpson in hospitality as a young seminary student. She had "all the quiet dignity and resourcefulness" to support Dr. Simpson throughout a long and eventful life, bearing all the sorrows and joys of true servants of God.
"Take Me to Mamma"
A few years into their marriage, Albert and Margaret suffered the great loss of their little toddler Melville. His last poignant words in the arms of his father were, "Take me to Mamma." Once in her arms, the little one quoted the Scriptures, "Abide in Me and I in you," as his mother had taught him, and then he died.
Mrs. Simpson said later that "this was the first message that ever sank deeply into her heart" and that the words of her dying child prepared her for an ever-deepening experience of abiding in Christ.
The Second Chapter of Ministry: Preaching "Jesus Only"
In January 1874, Simpson's second chapter of ministry began in Louisville, Kentucky, and he gave this pledge to the congregation of the Chestnut Street Church: "In coming among you, I am not ashamed to own this as the aim of my ministry and ... my future preaching-Jesus only."
The Bended Knee Prevails
Even though it was almost ten years after the Civil War ended, Louisville's churches were still beset with smoldering hostility between Northern and Southern sympathizers. Seen as a neutral Canadian, Simpson invited all of Louisville's church leaders to his home with a goal of reconciliation and revival.
Knowing that the bended knee is the most prevailing denial of self, he insisted that they first engage in prayer. God softened their hearts, and as repenting commenced, a tearful reconciliation began among all but one stubborn attendant. Afterward, revival swept over Louisville, and hundreds were saved.
A Heart of Concern for All: Destitute in Prosperity
Simpson exhibited the personal heart of pastoring the flock of God. Very late at night during a fierce storm, a prominent gentleman heard a knock at his door. He invited the unanticipated visitor within to dry off by the fire in the study. Simpson spoke to him from an open heart to express his great concern for his host's eternal destiny-a topic to which the host had given little prior consideration. Deeply touched by Simpson's loving concern to seek him amid the raging tempest and now convicted of his heart's condition, the host turned to the Lord.
Destitute in Poverty
Simpson visited everyone in need of the Savior, regardless of their social status. He describes one poor woman:
I found in the outskirts of the city one of our neglected poor so ignorant of human love that she could not comprehend at first what I meant when I told her of the love of God. She had been neglected, abused, and wronged so long that her hand was against every man, and every man's hand was against her.
As Simpson shared the love of God to her, she responded, "Nobody ever loved me, and I don't even know what love means." Simpson reacted with this challenge:
I went home that night to my proud and wealthy church, and I told them I wanted them to make a poor sister understand the meaning of love. And so they began one by one to visit her, to give her little tokens of their interest and regard; until at last one day, months later, as I sat in her humble room, she looked up in my face and said with much feeling, "Now I think I understand what love means, and can accept the love of God."
Increasing Light: From Vast Uneasiness to Utter Abandonment
Major D. W. Whittle and P.P. Bliss, the invited speaker and singer in the revival, deeply affected Dr. Simpson through their depth of experience and joy in Christ. As Simpson listened night after night to the preaching and singing, "a vast uneasiness came over his heart; the hyphenated self-qualities [of] self-love, self-confidence, self-seeking, all that Adam-begotten brood of illegitimate soul children which inhabited his life, began to make him sick utterly."
Driven to his room to pray, Simpson yielded himself to the Lord in utter abandonment. The world and all its offerings and the self with all its private interests died to him that night.
"To Be Annihilated"
Still greatly desiring even more power in his Christian service, Simpson later sought counsel from "an old, experienced friend," who shared with him this faithful word: "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."
Simpson later reflected, "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 ... that I am not sufficient to think anything of myself."
"Another Man Is Living in Me"
This counsel led to Simpson's life-altering realization that "dying with Christ" simply released the indwelling Christ to be his life lived out day by day! Simpson joyfully declared to others, "Another man is living in me, and I count His blessed life as mine; I have died with Him to all my own life; I have risen to all His life Divine." Oh, it is so sweet to live with Christ!
Simpson clearly saw the critical distinction between the work of regeneration and the Holy Spirit's indwelling the human spirit: "The one is like the building of the house; the other the owner moving in and making it his own personal residence."
Becoming Useful in God's Kingdom
Simpson was learning from the One who indwelled him of a deeper Christian life. He realized that "the consecration is ours; the sanctification is His." His discovery continued as he realized that the key to usefulness in God's kingdom was not found in his natural ability, but only in "the Person who dwells within us." He saw that, "Sanctification is divine holiness, not human self improvement, nor perfection."
Evangelizing the World: A Heart Big with Love
Simpson did not consider his spiritual life with Christ as the end, but rather as the means to minister Christ to individuals, cities, and ultimately to nations. In fact, "the inward pressure" to evangelize worldwide was "being born out of a heart big with love for God and the perishing world."
In 1879, when the Thirteenth Street Church in New York City urged him to come, he felt God had given the opportunity to carry out his burden in that gateway to the world. Well known for his powerful speaking, Simpson was greatly used in bringing the gospel to both this upscale congregation in New York and the abused and neglected of society.
A short time later, more than a hundred poor Italian immigrants were won to Christ through Simpson's preaching on the streets of the poor quarters of the city. Sadly, the church leaders pointed out that the new converts were not "social equals" and might feel more "at home" among their "own kind."
Released to the Masses
Although Simpson had served for two happy years at Thirteenth Street Church "with this noble people," he realized that "it would be difficult for them to adjust themselves to the radical and aggressive measures to which God was leading [him]. What they wanted was a conventional parish for respectable Christians. What their young pastor wanted was a multitude of publicans and sinners." After a week of fervent prayer, he asked to be released "for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to the masses." He preached his final sermon there on November 7, 1881.
A Gracious Parting
Resigning meant giving up a comfortable salary with which to support his family of six children, a decision that astonished the church leaders. Visiting the parsonage the next day, they "offered their condolences" to his wife, saying they felt they "had come to his funeral." Nevertheless, Simpson obeyed the Lord in such a gracious manner that "the parting was most friendly." He later explained, "It is pleasant to look back to a crisis of so much importance passed without any strain whatever."
"Take the Bible to the Whole World": "Day of Small Things"
Simpson immediately started evangelical meetings; at his first, he announced his intentions to evangelize the city and called for all those interested in helping to join him for prayer. The first prayer meeting was attended by only seven. They opened their Bibles to "who hath despised the day of small things?" Then, knowing their need of the Holy Spirit for the work, they knelt and thanked God that they were few, poor, and weak.
Simpson was consumed by the worldwide pursuit of millions of souls to be saved by and for Jesus Christ. His vision was that the world should be fully evangelized, including every heathen land, "and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14).
Many Kindred Workers
Simpson's motto was, "Take the whole Bible to the whole world." To that end, in 1882, he started Nyack Missionary College in New York City, with the goal of training missionaries. Consequently, hundreds of kindred missionaries of the gospel were raised up through his labors, and vast multitudes came to Christ.
In the following years, mission work, orphanages, conventions, and training centers were a part of their labors. Within eight years, a six-story building was raised, which included a bookstore, a missionary training center, and a large meeting hall used to evangelize the masses.
Simpson was also engaged in inspiring all Christians to evangelize, and he felt a vehicle was needed to coordinate their finances, prayers, and gospel efforts for missions. Thus, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) was founded.
Permitted by God to Labor
Following the Apostle Paul's pattern, Simpson was obedient to his commission to carry the gospel to the multitudes, and he did so with relentless labor. He was careful to not err as some, who do nothing "because God will do all." Simpson professed, "I have been permitted by God to work-I say this to His honor." However, his work for Christ was accomplished by his communion with Christ:
I used to be very fond of gardening. I could work in the garden and yet smell the roses.... They did not hinder the work a bit. So you can be busy all the time, and have the breath of heaven; it will not hinder you.... It is something deeper than prayer-[it is] communion.
Simpson had learned how to live by resurrection life and how to maintain a moment-by-moment contact with the Lord. His "inbreathing of the very fullness of God" became his "daily renewal of life."
Indeed, after spending several hours of fervent prayer for missionaries in Jamaica and abroad, he greeted the Lord in glory the following morning, Wednesday, October 29, 1919, at the age of seventy-six, having lived twice as long as doctors predicted.