When I was a child, I became intensely interested in a luxuriant apple tree that was growing on my father's farm, and I asked to have this little tree given to me for my own. I took great care in cultivating it. My brother also had an apple tree which he got from a nursery. It was so small compared to mine that I scoffed at it. After several years I saw the first blossom on my tree. But it did not amount to anything that year. But the next year there were one or two dozen blossoms, and three or four of them became apples. Oh, how I watched them, trying to keep the birds away and the boys from stealing them. My brother did not have any apples that year, and I laughed. Finally the time for my apples to ripen came. They seemed to stay green and had no color. After the cold weather began I harvested them. I was sure they would do better next year. There were a lot next year, but the same kind, however. They would not ripen. But my brother had a few beautiful large apples, and you should have seen the look of inexpressible triumph on his face as he handed me one. I had the tree, all right, but he had the fruit. My tree could not bring forth good fruit. I never forgot that lesson of my childhood--the wasted years, the wasted hopes upon the thing that was worthless in its essential nature.
When I was a young pastor, I had no acquaintance with sorrow. I was superficial and shallow like all young men; and I used to go to sorrowing mothers and friends with words of sympathy which were honestly meant, and yet which I felt did not touch one responsive chord. I tried to do my duty, but, oh how empty and useless it was. But when sorrow came to my own life, how it changed everything. I could go then with a full heart. I did not speak many words, but a silent grasp of the hand expressed my heartfelt sympathy and I knew there was comfort in it.
I shall never forget the first time death entered my family circle. [Simpson's first son, Melville, died at the age of four.] I had held the little one in my arms for two nights, his mother having fled in agony and collapse from the room, choking with croup. I saw that little life panting in the arms of death and I felt myself helpless to hold him back or help him. It was our first bereavement. At last we summoned from a distant city our old family physician. I remember as I waited for him at the station, I walked up and down the platform under the cold winter sky as I looked up into the heavens, and shall never forget the thought that came to me; how can I let that spirit that has never gone from my reach, never been trusted alone, how can I let him wander out into that vast immensity; how can he ever find his way, and those heavens seem so cold and infinite? Oh, that I could go with him or keep him longer. Then it seemed to me, and I never lost the vision, that two great arms of love reached down through the sky, and Jesus whispered to me, "Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me." And I saw Him there taking that little spirit from my arms and guarding and guiding better than I.
I went back with a lightened heart and looked upon his shining face as at last he passed through the gates with one little message, as I asked him where he was going--"To heaven, papa." And from that hour the passing of these lambs has never been sad to me. I have never had a regret or heart pang, because the Forerunner is there to take care of them. You will have no trials of faith but will fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient. I never had a deep trial, but as soon as I got out of the river, I found some poor pilgrim on the bank whom I was able to help by that very experience.
Never shall I forget, eighteen years ago, I was awakened one night from sleep, trembling with a strange and solemn sense of God's overshadowing power, and on my soul was burning the remembrance of a strange dream through which I had that moment come. It seemed to me that I was sitting in a vast auditorium, and millions of people were there sitting around me. All the Christians in the world seemed to be there, and on the platform was a great multitude of faces and forms. They seemed to be mostly Chinese. They were not speaking, but in mute anguish were wringing their hands, and their faces wore an expression that I can never forget. I had not been thinking of the Chinese or the heathen world; but as I awoke with that vision on my mind, I did tremble with the Holy Spirit, and I threw myself on my knees and every fiber of my being answered, "Yes, Lord, I will go."
In the beginning of this life of faith God gave me a vision which to me was a symbol of the kind of life to which He had called me. In this dream a little sail boat was passing down a rapid stream, tossed by the winds and driven by the rapids. Every moment it seemed as if it must be dashed upon the rocks and crushed, yet it was preserved in some mysterious way and carried through all perils. Upon the sails of the little ship was plainly painted the name of the vessel in one Latin word, Angustiae, meaning "Hard Places." Through this simple dream the Lord seemed to fortify me for the trials and testings that were ahead, and to prepare me for a life's voyage which was to be far from a smooth one, but through which God's grace would always carry me in triumph.
I remember travelling a thousand miles once to attend Mr. Moody's conference in Chicago. On the evening I arrived I went to the big tent, and, not making myself known, sat down quietly. It was a testimony meeting. One minister rose, and, with broken voice and tears running down his cheeks, said, "Friends, I came here to get something from the meeting; but God took me out alone with Him, and I have had such a sight of Jesus that I will never need anybody or anything again." His words smote my heart. I took the train the next morning for home. As I entered my office, the face of Jesus was awaiting me there to receive me; and there came such a flood of His presence and grace and His glory that it seemed I could say, "I have had such a vision of Jesus that it seems as if I could never fear again." Yes, I have failed many times, but it has been because I took my eyes off Jesus; but we need not fail if we see Him.
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 Saint Peter to whom he had devoted his life. Blessed be God, there is a greater and a better 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. 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.
A dear friend once sent me a picture from Rome, with a prayer that it might be fulfilled in me. It was a photograph of the old painting of John leaning on Jesus' breast. As I studied it, I noticed that I could not see the face of John at all. The form of his head was visible, but his face was buried in the bosom of Jesus, and the master's face was beaming over him and covering him with its light and love.
Yes, that was John. He was lost in Christ. His personal consciousness was merged in his Master's person, and he had found that the true secret of the death of self is the love of Jesus. I go back in memory to the time when He first came to me in this way and taught me to trust His presence and lean in prayer upon Him every moment. I came to realize it quietly, for there was nothing startling about it. Day after day the consciousness became clearer that God was here. I did not have to mount up to the sky to find Him. I never whispered to Him but He answered, "Here am I." Oh, how precious it is to be overshadowed thus by the cloud of His presence!
Once at Clifton Springs, N.Y., dear George Muller was there. I was broken down in health. I knew George Muller years before, and I went to him and said, "I would like you to pray for me." He prayed. As I went out from his presence, there came to me this humbling thought: "Why did you not ask Jesus to pray for you? He is better than Muller, and He is nearer. Don't you think there was a little thought in your mind that that was discrediting to your Master?" I knew there was, and I received such a blessing out of George Muller's prayer that I never asked him again!
Years ago a friend placed in my hand a little book which became one of the turning points in my life. It was "True Peace." It was an old medieval message, and it had but one thought--that God was waiting in the depth of my being to talk with me if I would only get still enough to hear Him. I thought this would be a very easy matter, so I began to get still. But I had no sooner commenced than a perfect pandemonium of voices reached my ears, a thousand clamoring notes from without and within, until I could hear nothing but their noise and din. Some of them were my own voice, some of them were my own questions, some of them my own cares, some of them my own prayers. Others were suggestions of the tempter and the voices of the world's turmoil. Never before did there seem to be so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought; and in every direction I was pulled and pushed and greeted with noisy acclamations and unspeakable unrest. It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them, but God said, "Be still, and know that I am God." Then came the conflict of thoughts for the morrow and its duties and cares; but God said, "Be still." And then there came the very prayers which my restless heart wanted to press upon Him; but God said, "Be still."
As I listened and slowly learned to obey, and shut my ears to every sound, I found that after a while when the other voices ceased, or I ceased to hear them, there was a still small voice in the depth of my spirit. As I listened, it became to me the power of prayer, the voice of wisdom, and call of duty; and I did not need to think so hard, or pray so hard, or trust so hard, but that the "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit in my heart was God's prayer in my secret soul, and God's answer to all my questions.
Standing once on the shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River, and watching the rushing current as it flowed rapidly down to the gulf, I was surprised one day to notice that sticks and straw near the shore were moving in the opposite direction. At first I could not account for it but soon perceived that it was only the eddy. And I also saw that the things which seem to be so much against us are only the eddies near the shore. God's great river of love is carrying, not driftwood that yields to every current, but the precious ship of life on His eternal purposes of love.
I am reminded of a woman whom I once met in the course of a pastoral visit, and to whom I tried to tell of the love of God to poor sinners. She met me with the blank and amazing statement that she did not comprehend what love meant. She had never seen nor felt any such thing. Her life had been a fight for existence, her hand against everyone, everyone else against her. She was perfectly sincere and responsive but utterly helpless to understand the gospel. I ceased preaching to her and invited one or two of the tactful women of my church to institute a school of love for her benefit, by showing her such delicate attentions as won her heart, and awakened the lost sense of love. One day she said to me with considerable feeling, "I think I understand now what love means, and I will be glad to have you tell me something about the love of God." She became a humble and devoted Christian, but she had to receive first the new faculty of love. The reason that many do not enter into the blessed ministry of the cross and the atonement is because our hearts and lives are too selfish to comprehend that sacrifice. If we would live out more fully the spirit of atonement, we would have fewer doubts about the doctrine.
One night I was called to see a colored woman who was dying close by where we were holding tent meetings. Entering her room and kneeling by her bedside, I talked to her a while about Christ, and then learned from her lips that she had been a terrible sinner, living a life of shame herself and dragging others down with her. At first she could scarcely believe that Christ would save such a sinner as she, but I told her about the Lamb of God and begged her to lay her hand upon His head and just roll over on Him all her burden of sin. The vivid picture seemed to appeal to the strong imagination which is peculiar to this race, and after a while she reached out her hand as though to put it on some invisible head. Then she began to confess and confess and confess until it seemed as if she would never end. Year after year she went over her sinful life telling it all out as though I were not there, rolling the burden over on Jesus as though it was an infinite relief.
As she rolled it out, her bosom heaved and sighed like the rolling of the sea, and her voice rose and fell in strange cadences of agony and comfort. Several times I tried to stop her and finish with a word of prayer for my meeting was waiting for me. But she said, "No, hold on; I'm not through yet." So I let the meeting go as the burdened soul unloaded its burden at the cross. It must have been more than an hour before she seemed at last to be emptied of her awful load, and began to shout her gratitude and thanks to the Saviour who had taken it all away. As we softly sang, "There is a fountain filled with blood," it seemed as though a white and spotless Lamb was standing by that bed, and a black hand was passing over to Him a still blacker stream of lifelong sin; and it seemed as though that precious blood had washed it all away, and that the once guilty woman was whiter than the driven snow.
And let me tell you now of another experience I had ministering to one on his deathbed. This time it was a lad raised in a good home, but with no religious teaching. His life was wasting away and no spiritual comforter had ministered beside his bedside. A friend of the family asked me to come. A few questions were asked, and it was soon apparent that the lad had no conception of the Bible or the Saviour, but felt that he was all right because he had tried to live a good life. How could I explain to him his need of Jesus Christ? Suddenly there flashed into my mind a simple illustration. By the bed was a beautiful canary which had such an attractive song, and I said, "What a pretty bird, and what a sweet song!" "Oh yes," he said, "I love to hear it; it is my constant companion." "But you cannot talk to it," I continued, "nor can you make it understand your thoughts." "Of course not," he replied, "it is only a bird." Then I made my application. I told him if he were to die and pass into the presence of God in heaven, he would be unable to understand the conversation, the songs, or the joy. He would be a stranger and out of place. He would not be happy because he was not a member of God's family.
This seemed to bring a flash of light to the mind of the lad, and he saw eternity with a new understanding. Even if he had not done anything wrong, he did not have a spiritual nature and would not be at home in heaven. "What shall I do? They tell me I cannot live," he cried, "and I see that I am not prepared to die. How shall I receive this new nature that I have never known?" Then we told him that Jesus Christ came into this world just for the purpose of giving us a new birth, a new heart, a new nature that could know Him, love Him, enjoy Him, and enable us to become His very own children. We further encouraged him to pray asking God to give him this new life in Christ. And never shall we forget that simple prayer, the tears slowly trickling down that wan face. A new light "that never shone on earth or sky" came over his face and we know that God had met him, and that the miracle of grace had been performed. It was all so simple and brief, but it was real. The next morning he was gone.
And now a missionary story. Some years ago I went to the Far East on an important missionary commission to arrange many matters of importance in connection with the work of evangelization. After a few weeks in India, in which God signally blessed and helped me in all my plans, something happened which called for a very different kind of testimony. Through the carelessness of some friends who had failed to send on my baggage I had to go on without it. There were many valuable papers in those trunks and most of my personal effects. Far from home and among strangers, perhaps it was only natural that I should for a moment feel utterly depressed and be tempted to be tried with the careless friends who were responsible for this serious disappointment.
Then the Lord spoke. Never will I forget how the Spirit met me with this question, "Are you going to fail in that which is more important than all your work, your own personal victory? Or are you going to trust Me and triumph through My grace and take all this from My hand?" It was a keen but decisive struggle, and in a few minutes the Holy Spirit gave me strength to commit it all to God and to go on my way in peace. Hastily purchasing a few necessary articles of apparel in Calcutta, I sailed away to Burma and left the trunks with God. A strange peace filled my heart, even though I was told I would never see those trunks again, and presently I finished my visit and left for Rangoon with a happy heart.
In a meeting with thirty or forty missionaries, I was led to tell them among other things of the peculiar test which had come to me, and how much it meant to hold my victory through Christ. At the close of that meeting missionaries came to me privately and told how much harder they had found it in a heathen land to keep sweet before the natives under trial than even to learn a foreign language and preach the gospel to the heathen. With tears they asked for prayer and took the Lord Jesus for victory.
I sailed away from Rangoon, and as my ship left the harbor another ship came in with my trunks aboard--but too late for me to get them. The same thing happened in Singapore a little later, and still later in Canton; and it was not until I had been in Shanghai for two weeks that another ship brought the belated trunks to my hands at last. My friends said, "You will be fortunate if you find anything but the leather." But the Lord had travelled with those trunks every mile of the way and been captain and baggage master, and everything was beautifully right. There was not an ant to be seen inside, and every old familiar article seemed to look into my face and say, "Praise the Lord!" It may seem a trifle to some, but that incident, like others since, meant to me quite as much real service as the writing of tracts on the life of victory and the preaching of sermons about entire consecration.
And speaking of losing things, I remember once having lost a ten dollar gold piece which I had in my pocket. I was going along one night in a hurry toward my home; and as I got to the corner of the street, I took out my keys to find the right one before reaching the door, to save time, and out dropped the gold piece. I discovered my loss, and knowing about where I lost it, I returned to look for it. I looked hard, but it was gone. Then I trusted it to the Lord and asked Him to bring it back in His own way.
Just the next week a dear friend called on me and told me how marvelously God was caring for her home. She said her husband had been out of work, and that on the last Saturday night he was walking along the street, and at a certain corner found a ten dollar gold piece. I did not tell her who lost it, but I thanked Him for letting her husband find it. Now every time I lose a little money, I just say, "Lord, pass it on to the right one and make it a blessing to some needy heart." God is in these little things, and we may trust His providence and care and know that He is always thinking of us.
I recall on one occasion how our steamer arrived in New York towards evening, and all hearts were beating high with the thought of soon being at home when suddenly our steamer grounded on the bar off Sandy Hook. The engines toiled and strained to lift her off, and the crew tugged with all their might; but at last they had to give up all thought of getting in that night, and anchored where they were.
The next morning I rose early and was looking across the bay towards home when I felt the vessel give a little movement as she rose from off the bar and floated upon the water. What had lifted her? God had done her, and we were free. This is how God works, when we cease our toilings and rest solely in Him. And it certainly worked this way with my brother. Let me tell you of him.
He was very rigid and conservative in his ideas of religious experience, and looked upon all demonstrations of feeling as sentimental and unscriptural. He was much disgusted with many of the manifestations of spiritual power and earnestness connected with the early days of our own work. At length his health broke down, and he was manifestly drawing near to a crisis. The writer endeavored in vain to bring him to that place of tender spiritual feeling where he could take Christ as his Healer or even as his Comforter. My efforts only met with recoil. Then the case was committed to God in believing prayer, and I waited.
Several months later a letter came from that brother telling of a marvelous
change. The day before, while reading a verse in his Bible, a flood of light
had burst upon his soul. For hours he could only pray and praise and wonder.
Yes, he too had become a fanatic--if this were fanaticism--and God had done
exceeding abundantly above all that he could ask or think. His cold, intellectual
nature was submerged in a baptism of love, which never ceased to pour its
fulness through his being until when, a few weeks later, he swept through
the gates of glory shouting the praises of his Redeemer.
I have been asked by some of my Christian friends to put in permanent form the story of the things which the Lord has done for me. There is perhaps a sense in which each of us is a "living epistle, known and read of all men," but the most sacred story of every life is the hidden record which lies back of our words and actions. If there is anything in this story which can be used to help the children of God, I am willing to overcome the natural reticence which has made it always a pain even to publish my photograph, and let God use the testimony in any way in which it may please and glorify Him.
The first recollection of my childhood is the picture of my mother, as I often heard her in the dark and lonely night, weeping and wailing in her room, in her loneliness and sorrow, and I still remember how I used to get up and kneel beside my little bed even before I knew God for myself, and pray to Him to comfort her. The cause of her grief I afterwards better understood. She was a sensitive and high-spirited woman, who had come of a good family in the little island where I was born, and where her father was one of the public men of the island a honored member of the legislature, and she had a great number of friends. In their earlier married life my father had been engaged in the shipbuilding business, but had suffered a financial blow in one of the terrible panics that had struck the island, and had been obliged to close his business, saving but a few hundred dollars out of it, and had determined to seek his fortune in what was then the far west, that is, the most western portion of the province of Ontario, Canada. With little knowledge of the country, he had purchased a farm in one of the dreariest regions that could be imagined, and had taken his sensitive wife and his little family of four children into this wilderness. Before reaching our home the youngest child had been torn from its mother's arms by sickness and death, largely the result of the trying journey of that day when there were no railroads or steamboats, and our journey of fifteen hundred miles had been slowly and painfully made on canal boats and stages. Burying her precious babe in a little town some distance from our home destination, my brokenhearted mother at length reached the dreary log cabin which was to be her future home.
Our nearest neighbor was a godly Scotch Highlander, who used to come and see us and pray with us in Gaelic, but could not speak one word of English. There was not another Christian friend within a circuit of miles. In that lonely cabin and that desolate wilderness, separated for the rest of her life from all the friends she held so dear, and from the social conditions to which she had been accustomed, was it a wonder, with her intense and passionate nature, which had not yet learned to know God in all His fulness as her all-sufficient portion, that she should often spend her nights in weeping and wailing, and perhaps in passionate upbraidings, because of her cruel lot, and that her little boy should find his first religious experience come to him in trying to grope his way to the heart of Him, who alone could help her.
My next reminiscence has also a tinge of religion about it. I had lost a boy's chief treasure, an old jack-knife, with which I was playing, and I still remember an impulse 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 lifelong 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 truly converted. No one had ever spoken to me about my soul and I only knew God in a groping, far away sense, but I can now see that God was discounting my future and treating me in advance as if I were already His child, because He knew I would be His child later. This explains why God does so many things even in answer to prayer for persons who do not yet fully know Him. 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 favourable to early conversion as they are today in many Christian homes. My father was a good Presbyterian of the old school and the belief in the Shorter Catechism and the doctrine of foreordination, and all the conventional rules of a well ordered Puritan household. He was himself a devout Christian and most respected for his intelligent mind, his consistent life, and his strong practical sense. I can still remember his rising long before daylight and with his lighted candle sitting down in the cheerless sitting room to read his Bible and tarry long at his morning devotions, and the picture filled my soul with a kind of sacred awe. On the Sabbath days we were brought up according to the strictest Puritan formula. When we did not go in the family wagon to church, which was in a town miles distant, we were all assembled in the family circle and sat for hours while father, mother, or one of the children read in turn from some good old book, that was beyond our understanding. It gives me a chill to this day to see a cover of these old books, such as Boston's Fourfold State, Baxter's Saints' Rest, Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, for it was with these that my youthful soul was disciplined. The only seasons of relief came when it happened to be our turn to read. Then we felt immense and prided the young orator so as to forget the weariness of the volume. Then in the afternoon we had all to stand in a row and answer the questions of the Shorter Catechism. There were about one hundred and fifty in all, and our rule was to take half each Sunday and finish the next Sunday, and then start over again, and so year after year as the younger children grew up and joined the circle.
One of the few whippings which I got in my childhood was because one sunny Sabbath I ventured to slip out of the house and was seen by my father scampering around the yard in the joy of my ungodly liberty. I was speedily brought back and with great solemnity told that I would get my whipping next morning before breakfast, for it was not considered quite the thing to break the Sabbath by even a whipping. I believe I got the whipping that was coming to me the next morning, but I still remember how my older brother, who had a much wider experience and wiser head than I took me aside that day and told me that if ever I was again condemned to a whipping he knew a way of getting out of it. And then he told me with great secrecy to get up the next morning before daylight, about the time my father was accustomed to rise, to light the candle and go and sit down in a corner of the sitting room with the Bible before me and show proper spirit of penitence and seriousness, and he was quite sure my father would take the hint and let me off. I am sorry to say that I was enough of a hypocrite to practice this trick, and sure enough, one morning, when a whipping was coming to me, I stole out of my bed, and sitting down with a very demure and solemn face to practice my pretended devotions, I can still see in my imagination my quiet and silent father casting side glances at me from under his spectacles, as though to make quite sure that I was in earnest, and 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 that I regret the somewhat stern mode in which my early life was shaped. It taught me a spirit of reverence and discipline for which I often have had cause to thank God since. It threw over my youthful spirit a natural horror for evil things which often afterwards safeguarded me when thrown amid the temptations of the world. And the religious knowledge, which was crammed into my mind even without understanding it, furnished me with forms of doctrine and statements of truth which afterwards became illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and proved to be 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 more liberal age threw its influence over our home, but I cannot say that the change was a beneficial one. I believe that the true principle of family training is a blending of thorough discipline with much loving, true Christian liberty.
My first definite religious crisis came at about the age of fourteen. Prior to this I had for a good while earnestly desired to study for the ministry. I think that this was rather a conviction of duty than a spiritual impulse. I knew that my parents had dedicated my elder brother, four years my senior, to the ministry. Indeed, they had done this before he was born, and he was always looked upon as the chosen one for this high honor. I may have occasion later to show the sorrow which this brought into his life. The desire and resolve grew up in my heart without the kindly cheerings of my parents. I still remember how my carnal heart rebelled against the ministry because of the restraints it would put upon me. Naturally I wanted to get many things which I felt a preacher ought not to have. One thing particularly I had a great fascination for, that was to shoot and hunt game, but then, I reasoned, if I were a minister it would not be the thing for me to be going hunting, and for a time my little soul waged a big battle over this. During the conflict I remember I had saved up a little money, from funds that I had earned by special work, and one day I stole off to the town and invested the whole of it in a shooting gun, and for a few days I had the time of my life. I used to steal out to the woods, concealing as best I could this forbidden idol and then smuggling it back to hide it in the garret. One day, however, my mother found it and there was a scene. Her own brother had lost his life through the accidental discharge of his gun, and I knew and should have remembered, that guns were things proscribed in our family. It was the day of judgment for me when that wicked weapon was brought down from its hiding place, my mother standing at a safe distance, wringing her hands and pouring out the vials of her wrath while I sat confounded and crushed. The next day my sentence was to march back to the town and take that gun to the place from whence it came, and with deep humiliation return it to the man from whom I had wickedly bought it, and see, not only the gun, but the good money that I had paid for it go too. That tragedy settled the question of the ministry. Soon after I quite decided to give up these side issues and prepare myself, if I could only find an open way, to be a minister of the Gospel. But as yet, the matter had not 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 how my elder brother had long been destined to the ministry, and the time had now come when he should begin his studies and go in special training. My father added that he had a little money, rescued from the wrecked business of many years before, which was now slowly coming in, and which would be sufficient to give an education to one of his boys, but not to both, and therefore, he quietly concluded, that it would be my duty to give place to my brother, while I would stay at home and help them on the farm, and he would go to college. I can still feel the lump that rose in my throat as I stammered out my consent to my brother's being educated at the family expense, for I could clearly see that he had been foreordained to be a minister, at least by my father and mother, if not by the Lord; but I ventured to plead that they would consent to my getting my own education if I could. I asked no money, no help, but only my father's blessing and consent, and I still remember the quiet, trembling tones with which he at last yielded and said, "God bless you my boy, even if I cannot help you."
So the struggle began and I shall never cease to thank God that it was a hard one. Someone 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 was ever a greater blessing to me than the hard places which began with me nearly half a century ago, and have never yet ceased. For the first few months we took lessons in Greek, Latin and Higher Mathematics from our kind pastor who was a good scholar and anxious to help us in our purpose. I had already had a good, common school education. Then I secured a certificate by dint of hard work as a common school teacher, and at the early age of fifteen I found myself teaching a school of about forty boys and girls, one quarter of whom were grown men and women, while I looked even younger than my years. How much I would have given in those days for a few stray whiskers, or anything that would have made me look older. I often wonder how I ever was able to hold in control those rough country fellows, any one of whom could have thrashed me with his little finger, but I can now see that it was the hand of the Lord, and that He was pleased to give me a power and control that did not consist in brawn or bone. Of course, my object in teaching school was to earn money for my first session at college, and along with my duties as a teacher I was studying between times every spare moment to prepare myself for the opening examination of my college course.
But the strain of all this terrific work upon a young and yet undeveloped brain and body was impossible to sustain long, and one night there came a fearful crash, in which it seemed to me the very heavens were falling. After retiring to my bed I suddenly seemed to see a strange light blazing before my eyes and then my nerves gave way and I sprang from my bed, trembling and almost fainting, and immediately fell into a congestive chill of great violence that almost took my life. To add to the horror of that night there was a man in the house where I was boarding, suffering from delirium tremens and his horrible agonies, shrieks and curses seemed to add to my own distress the very horrors of hell itself. Next morning I was forced to ask for a leave of absence, and returned to my father's house a physical wreck. The physician told me I must not look at a book for a year, that my whole system had collapsed and that I was in the greatest danger. Then began a period of mental and physical agony which no language can describe. I seemed possessed with the idea that at three o'clock on some day I was to die and every day as that hour drew near I became prostrated with a dreadful nervousness, watching in agonized suspense till it was passed, wondering that I was still alive. One day as the hour came near there fell upon me that awful sense of approaching death which could not be gainsaid. Fainting and terrified I called my father to my bed side, telling him I was dying. Worst of all I had no hope and no Christ. My whole religious training had left me without any Gospel. I had a God of great severity and a theology which provided in some mysterious way for that great change called regeneration or the new birth. O how I was waiting for that change to come to me and it had not yet come. O how my father prayed for me that day, and I fondly cried in utter despair for God to spare me just long enough to be saved. After a sense of sinking into bottomless depth constantly, rest came and the crisis was over for another day. I looked up at the clock and it was past three. It seemed to me then that God was just going to spare me for one day, and that I must strive and pray that day for salvation as a doomed man, who never would have another chance. O how I prayed and besought others to pray and almost feared to go to sleep that night lest I should lose a moment from this intense and tremendous search for God and eternal life. But the day passed and still I was not saved. It now seems strange that there was no voice there to tell me the simple way of faith, but I suppose it was the result of the old stern theology that looked upon salvation as the work of God's sovereign work with which we have but little to do. Day after day passed. My life hanging on a thread, but I seemed encouraged with the idea that God would spare me long enough to find salvation if I only continued to seek it with all my heart. But how often since then has it been my delight to tell poor sinners that they do not need as the old lines say,
To knock and weep, and watch and wait,
for God is waiting and wondering we do not open the gate and enter in. Since then God has given to me these lines,
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 thee.
At length, one day I stumbled, in the library of my minister, upon an old Scotch book, called Marshall's Gospel Mystery of Salvation, and as I turned over the leaves I came to a sentence which opened my eyes, and at the same time opened for me the gates of life eternal. In substance it was this, "The first good work you will ever perform is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Until you do this all your works, prayers, tears and resolves are vain. This very moment it is your privilege and your duty, and the very first duty above all others, to kneel down and take the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, and tell Him you believe according to His word, that He then saves you here and now. Believe this in spite of your doubts and fears and you will immediately pass into eternal life, will be justified from all your sins and receive a new heart and all the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit." Light, why this was supernal light to me, and I threw myself on my knees and at once, looking up in the face of the Lord in spite of all my doubts and fears I said, "Lord Jesus, Thou has said, that him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. Thou knowest how long and how earnestly I have wanted to come, but I did not know how. Now I come the best I can and I believe because Thou hast commanded me to believe that Thou dost receive me, that Thou dost save me, and from this moment I am Thy child, forgiven and saved, simply because I have taken Thee at Thy word, and I now dare to look up in the face of God and say, Abba, Father, Thou art mine."
In that moment there came to my heart the assurance that always comes to the believing soul, "he that believeth hath the witness in himself." I had been seeking the witness without believing, but from the moment I dared to believe, the Spirit answered to the word and told me I was born of God.
The months that followed my conversion were very full of spiritual blessing. The promises of God burst upon my soul with a new and marvelous light, and words that had been empty sounds became divine revelations to my soul, and every one seemed especially for me. There was, perhaps, in my temperament a vein of imagination and it clothed the glowing promises of Isaiah and Jeremiah with a strange and glorious radiance and I can still remember the ecstasy with which I used to read, "I have sworn that I will never be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." When I heard through Christian's talking of their failures and fears, I wondered if a time should 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 into the old life the Lord would take me at once to heaven. I remember one day especially, of which I still have the record, when I was about fifteen years of age, a day which I had wholly devoted to fasting and prayer, with a view to entering into a personal covenant with God in a very solemn and formal way. [The convenant is dated January 19, 1861, see Reading 2.1. Simpson was 17 at the time.] I had been reading Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul and had determined to follow his suggestions to young Christians to enter into such a covenant, and I wrote out at considerable length a detailed transcription, in which I gave myself wholly to God and to Him for every promised blessing, and especially for the grace and power to use my life for His service and glory. I remember a certain special blessing, which I included in my requests and specifications, and I have often wondered since how literally God has fulfilled them in me in His gracious providence through my life. Before the close of the day I signed and sealed this covenant just as literally as I would have done a human agreement and laid it away.
Two incidents of my Grammar school career are very vivid in my recollection. One was a providential escape from drowning. I had gone with one of my school mates to gather wild grapes on the banks of the river. After a while I was tempted by my companion to go in swimming, an art which I had never attempted and which the slightest reflection would have made me avoid. In a few moments the water had got beyond my depth, and with a sense of agony, which I never shall forget I found myself choking painfully under the surface. In that moment, I still recollect, how the whole of my life came before me in a vision and I can well understand the story told by drowning persons whose past histories seem photographed in an instant before their minds in the act of losing consciousness. I remember even seeing, as clearly as if I had read it from the printed page, the notice in the local paper, telling of my accidental drowning. But God mercifully saved me. My companion was not able to rescue me, but his shouts were heard by some men in a little boat a hundred yards away, and they pulled me out and lay me on the river bank when black in the face and about to sink for the last time. As I came back to consciousness afterwards, it seemed to me that a million years had passed since I was last on earth. I am sure that experience greatly deepened my spiritual earnestness.
The other incident was less grave. I was usually very ambitious to win all the prizes possible, and it was my good fortune to secure a very large and handsomely bound book, a sort of cyclopedia. My chum, who had been defeated in the examination, had set his heart on getting that book from me, and finally succeeded by arousing my cupidity to get possession of an old violin belonging to him, and on which he used to practice his wiles on my too responsive heart, until, at last, I consented to exchange my splendid prize for his old fiddle. I took it home afterwards and made night hideous during the following summer, and myself a general nuisance, without ever succeeding in playing anything worth listening to. But there was a latent vein of music somewhere in my nature, which the strange sounds that I was able to extort from the catgut seemed to satisfy if they did not edify anybody else.
My childhood and youth were strangely sheltered and guarded by divine providence. I recall with a sacred awe and thankfulness the many times in which my life was preserved. I have already referred to my narrow escape from death by drowning. On another occasion, while climbing up on the scaffolding of a building in the course of erection, I stepped upon a loose board and slipped and fell. Instinctively throwing out my hands I caught hold of timber and held desperately for some time, calling for assistance. When just about to let go through exhaustion, my father, who was some distance away, rushed to my aid and caught me just before I fell. The fall would have either maimed or killed me. Another time I was thrown headlong over my horse's head, as he stumbled and falling under me, and when I came to consciousness I found him bending over me, with his nose close to my face, as though he would have spoken and encouraged me. Many times was I delivered from danger, and I believe God was keeping my life for Himself in some gracious way. Especially do I praise Him for the longsuffering kindness in which He bore the backslidings of my youth, and the spirit of selfish ambition which to so great an extent controlled my life.
At length the time came for me to leave home and commence my college course in Knox College and the University of Toronto. A special course had been arranged for students for the ministry, by which they took certain classes in Knox College and certain lectures in the University. It would be of little interest to recite the ordinary experiences of a college student, and it is only necessary to sketch a few of the special pictures that come back to memory from these early years. My deep religious impressions still continued and they kept me from the temptations of city life. There was a sort of horror associated with the saloon, or a house of infamy, which put an effectual barrier across my sensitive heart, and such things never appealed to me. But I was thrown with a roommate in the first year of my college course, whose influence over my heart was most disastrous. He was a much older man and although a theological student and a very bright and attractive fellow was a man of convivial tastes and habits. It was his favourite custom once or twice a week to have what he called an oyster supper in our room, and to invite one or two of his friends, who happened to be medical students, and whose habits were worse than his. On these occasions both beer and whiskey would be brought in, and the orgie would go on until very late at night with laugh and song and story, and many a jest that was neither pure nor reverent. I had not firmness nor experience sufficient to suppress these entertainments, and I was compelled to be a witness and in some measure a partaker, although, the coarse amusement was always distasteful to all my spiritual life. My roommate was cynical and utterly unspiritual. At the same time he had a fine literary taste and was fond of poetry, which he was always reading or repeating. There was a certain attraction about him, and altogether his influence over me was bad. I did not cease to pray, or to walk in some measure with God, but the sweetness and preciousness of my early piety was already withered. I am sorry to say that I did not recover my lost blessing until I had been the minister of the Gospel for more than ten years. I do not mean to imply that I went into open sin or turned away from God, but my religious life was chiefly that of duty, with little joy or fellowship, and my motives were intensely ambitious and worldly. In a word my heart was unsanctified and I had not yet learned the secret of the indwelling Christ and the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
At the same time there must have been a strong current of faith, and a real habit of prayer in my college life, for God did many things for me, which were directly supernatural and to me at the time very wonderful. My careful savings had only been sufficient to take me through the first year of college, and for the following years my way was unprovided. But there was a system of scholarships or bursaries consisting of considerable amounts of money, which were given to the successful student in a competitive examination. I set my heart on winning some of these scholarships, not merely for the honor, but for the pecuniary value, which would be almost sufficient to meet what was lacking in my living expenses.
One of them required the writing of an essay on the subject of baptism, and after much hard study, and I am glad to say very much prayer, I wrote an essay proving to my own satisfaction that children ought to be baptized, and that baptism should be by sprinkling and not by immersion. Through God's great goodness I won the prize, but in later years I had to take back all the arguments and doctrinal opinions, which I so stoutly maintained in my youthful wisdom. My next venture was for a much larger prize, amounting to $120 and for which an essay was to be written on the difficult historical and philosophical subject, "The Preparation of the World for the First Coming of Christ and the Setting up of His Kingdom." While I studied hard and long for the materials of this paper, I deferred the final composition until the very last moment. I am afraid that my mind has always had a habit of working in this way, namely, of leaving its supreme efforts until the cumulative force of constant thought and recollection has crystallized the subject into its most intense form. And so I found myself within two days of the final moment for giving in the papers and the entire article yet to be written out in its final form from the crude first copy, which had been prepared. The task proved to be a longer and harder one than I dreamed, and when the last day had ended and the paper had to be given in by the following morning at nine o'clock, there was still seven or eight hours work to be done. Of course, the night that followed was a sleepless one. Toiling at my desk and literally tearing along like a race horse for the goal, I wrote and wrote and wrote, until my hand grew almost paralyzed, and I had to get another to write for me while I dictated. But soon my brain began to fail me and I found myself literally falling asleep in my chair. Then I did something for the first and last time in my life, which I can understand professional men doing until they fall under the power of the most dangerous opiates. I sent out to a drug store for something that would keep me awake for six or seven hours at any cost, and as I sipped it through the night my brain was held to its tremendous task; and as the light broke on the winter morning that followed the last sentences were finished and the paper folded and sealed and sent by a special messenger to my professor, while I threw myself on my bed and slept as if I would never wake. Some weeks passed during which I prayed much for my strenuously prepared paper. I found there were about a dozen competitors, many of them students in advanced years of the course. Naturally there seemed little hope of my success, but something told me that God was going to see me through. At length the morning came when it was announced that the name of the successful candidate should be declared. But I could not stay in the class room, I was too much excited to stand the strain, and I slipped away into the college yard to a lonely place where I threw myself on my knees and had the matter out with God, and before I rose from my knees, I dared to believe somehow that God had heard my prayer and given me my prize, which was so essential to the continuance of my study. Then I spilled back into the class room and sat down in my place. I instantly noticed that every eye was turned on me with a strange expression which I could not understand. Nothing was said about the prize during the lecture hour. It had all been said just before I came in. But at the close my professor called me to his room and congratulated me on my success, and I learned for the first time that, while I was out praying in the yard, he had told the class that the prize had come to me. This explained their strange glances at me as I went in. I mention this instance especially to show how God all through my life has taught me, at least has been trying to make me understand, that before any great blessing could come to me I must first believe for it in blind and naked faith. I am quite sure that the blessing of believing for that prize was more to me than its great pecuniary value, which enabled me to continue my study for the next two years.
During the summer vacation, after my second year, as I was a theological student, I was sent out to preach in mission churches and stations. In this way I also earned a little money, besides gaining a much more valuable experience in practical work. But I remember well the look of surprise with which the grave men of the congregations, where I preached, would gaze at me as I entered the pulpit. I was extremely young and looked so much younger than I really was, that I do not wonder now that they looked aghast at the child that was presuming to preach to them from the high pulpit, where he stood in fear and trembling.
0The greatest trials of all these days was my preaching for the first time in the church in which I had been brought up, and in the presence of my father and my mother. In some way the Lord helped me to get through, but I never once dared to meet their eyes. In those days preaching was an awful business, for we knew nothing of trusting the Lord for utterance. The manuscript was written in full and the preacher committed it to memory and recited it verbatim. On this occasion I walked the woods for days beforehand, repeating to the trees and squirrels the periods and paragraphs which I had so carefully composed. The misfortune sometimes was that the forgetting of a word would blot out from the frightened brain of the poor preacher all the matter that followed. One of the most pathetic stories of Professor Wilson Tales, is that of the student minister, a poor wight, who like me had presumed to preach before his minister and parents, and then I am happy to say, unlike me, had stuck in the middle of his discourse and after trying vainly to recall his sentences and murmuring over and over again, "My brethren, my brethren," finally stuck his fingers in his hair and tearing, like one half mad, fled from the pulpit in the church and was never seen in those parts again.
My social and religious surroundings were not of the helpful kind. The church and college life with which I was associated, was not deeply spiritual, but cold and conventional. There was no teaching about the deeper work of the Holy Spirit and the life of consecration, and I rose no higher than the level about me. When I entered later upon my regular ministry, I knew but little of the Holy Ghost and the life of faith and holiness, and while conscientious and orthodox in my pastoral work and preaching, and really earnest in my spirit, yet I fear, I was seeking to build up a successful church, very much in the same spirit as my people were trying to build up a successful business.
|1843||Dec 15||Born on Prince Edward Island|
|1844||Baptized and dedicated to missions by Rev. John Geddie, first Canadian Presbyterian foreign missionary|
|1847||Moved to Ontario, near Chatham|
|1852||Read Rev. John Williams' missionary biography, consecrated his life to God's work|
|1861||Jan 19||"Solemn Covenant" dedicating himself to God|
|1861||Oct||Entered Knox College|
|1862||Prize essay, "Infant Baptism"|
|1863||Prize essay, "Second Coming of our Lord"|
|1864||Prize for proficiency in classics|
|1864||Graduation from Knox College - High Honours|
|1865||Sept 10||Inaugural sermon, Knox Church, Hamilton, Ontario|
|1865||Sept 13||Marriage to Margaret Henry|
|1866||June 27||Birth of Albert Henry|
|1868||Birth of Melville Jennings|
|1870||Aug 31||Birth of James Gordon|
|1871||Trip to England and Europe|
|1871||Death of Melville Jennings at age 3|
|1872||Nov 17||Birth of Mable Jane|
|1873||Oct||Attends Evangelical Alliance Convention in New York, Preaches in 13th Street Presbyterian Church|
|1873||Dec||Resigns his Hamilton charge|
|1874||Jan||Begins ministry at Chestnut Street Presbyterian, Louisville, Kentucky|
|1874||Crisis of sanctification|
|1874||Whittle-Bliss evangelistic meetings|
|1875||Begin construction of Broadway Tabernacle|
|1876||Simpson's missionary call|
|1878||April||Birth of Margaret May|
|1879||Nov||Resigns his Louisville charge|
|1879||Mrs. Simpson disagrees with decision to move to New York|
|1879||Dec 9||Installed as Pastor, 13th Street Presbyterian, New York|
|1880||Feb||Published first issue of Gospel in All Lands|
|1880||Birth of Howard Home|
|1881||Relinquishes Gospel in All Lands to Methodist publisher, Eugene R. Smith|
|1881||July||Simpson experiences healing|
|1881||Oct||Baptized by immersion|
|1881||Nov 7||Resigns his New York charge|
|1881||Nov 20||Begins independent ministry in New York|
|1882||Jan||First issue of new publication, The Word, the Work and the World|
|1882||Feb 10||Gospel Tabernacle organized as a church|
|1882||Home for "fallen women" opened|
|1882||Informal Missionary Training classes begin|
|1883||The Missionary Union for the Evangelization of the World is organized|
|1883||May 16||Berachah Home for healing opened|
|1883||Oct 1||Missionary Training College is officially opened|
|1884||Sept||First fall Convention|
|1884||Nov||Five missionaries sail for Africa|
|1885||Rescue missions organized|
|1885||June||Bethshan Conference, London, England on Deeper Life and Healing, Simpson delivers "Himself" sermon|
|1885||Oct||John Salmon meets Simpson in Buffalo, Salmon experiences healing and becomes early promoter of Alliance in Canada|
|1886||Aug||Convention at Old Orchard, Maine - emphasis on missions leads to call for a new organization to promote Deeper Life and missions.|
|1886||Berachah Orphanage opened|
|1887||Jan - June||Draft constitutions of the Christian Alliance and Evangelical Missionary Alliance are circulated.|
|1887||July 31||Convention at Old Orchard, Maine. Organization of the Christian Alliance and Evangelical Missionary Alliance.|
|1887||William Cassidy of Toronto, first missionary of the Alliance to be ordained and sent out.|
|1889||Oct 29||Incorporation of the International Missionary Alliance|
|1891||15 missionaries are overseas
Simpson calls for 100 new missionaries to advance the cause
First public offerings for missions, first use of the pledge
|1891||Young Men's Crusade organized|
|1891||Junior Missionary Alliance organized|
|1891||Door of Hope mission (for girls) organized|
|1891||Hymns of the Christian Life published|
|1893||Jan||Simpson tours mission fields|
|1895||Approximately 300 Alliance missionaries overseas.|
|1896||Death of Albert Henry|
|1897||April 2||Christian and Missionary Alliance formed by a merger of the Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance|
|1897||Berachah Healing Home and Missionary Training Institute moved to Nyack, New York|
|1902||July 1||First issue of Living Truths monthly|
|1906||May 25-28||Conference for Prayer and Counsel: Respecting uniformity in the testimony and teaching of the Alliance|
|1907||Death of James Gordon|
|1910||Jan||Simpson's second tour of mission fields|
|1912||May||Constitution revised, new organizational structure, reversion clause|
|1919||Oct 29||Simpson dies|