Lecture Twelve

Simpson and Alliance Eschatology

Our work so far has focused primarily on Simpson and his contribution to the Alliance thought. There has been a conscious attempt to remain close to particular aspects of Simpson's thinking, particularly on sanctification. I have even suggested that we have tried too hard to be close to Simpson and haven't done the kind of re-thinking and new work we need. Our recent look at healing has revealed something of a mixed appropriation of Simpson's thinking. The twentieth century Alliance has backed away from his idea of no human means or no medical science in authentic divine healing. At the same time there were some theological and pastoral resources in Simpson's understanding of healing that we need to reclaim.

When it comes to eschatology, the Alliance has pretty much ignored Simpson's contribution entirely. There are some good reasons for this which I won't treat in detail as the article by Franklin Pyles does an excellent job of explaining this matter. Yet, we need to understand the eschatological flow and movement at the centre of Simpson's theology. The Fourfold Gospel is eschatologically oriented. Salvation, sanctification, and healing all look forward to the coming of the King when they will be completed in us and in the world. All the benefits of Christ's atoning we now enjoy anticipate the return of Christ.

Despite the importance of eschatology to Simpson's thinking, the denominational press, Christian Publications (CP), has for years declined to publish any of Simpson's eschatological works. The speculative character of these and their close ties to events now long in the past make them a bit of an embarrassment. Within the last decade CP has published a new edition of the Christ in the Bible series. This was originally compiled during Simpson's lifetime and includes his commentaries, sermons, and studies on each book of the Bible. I was interested to see what CP would do with the book of Revelation since it had been so long since any of this stuff had been in print. When the last volume of Christ in the Bible series came out in 1994, it included a commentary on Revelation. However, CP felt compelled to preface their publication of Revelation with an extended explanation from the publisher. I have reprinted this for you in the "Readings." If you haven't already done so read this now.  I think it's kind of fun.

The material I have set for you to read in Section 13 of the "Readings" avoids the kind of thing CP was concerned about. Here Simpson suggests that the coming of the King is not to fire speculation, but to inspire holy living. The theme is readiness to meet the King which I find to be the central scriptural teaching related to the second coming of Christ. This readiness is directly connected to sanctification. As we are looking forward, as we're hoping in the return of the King, our goal, our incentive is to be prepared. Being prepared means to be as much like Him as possible when we meet Him. Waiting for the second coming in Simpson's view is something which is motivational, something which motivates us to holiness, to sanctification, to be more like Christ and to be active, that is doing the work which Christ left us to do. In, through and around all of the difficulties in Simpson's eschatological writing, which relate to speculations he made regarding what relates to what and who is who and when the return might come, there remains this clearly scriptural theme of preparedness or readiness to meet the King. This is because Simpson's understanding of salvation, sanctification, and healing are all tied to this dynamic of anticipation, of looking forward to the return of the King. The indwelling Christ is completed in the King's return. We will then know fully this Jesus with whom we have had this loving and intimate relationship.

The hope in the second coming was meeting Jesus.  The way to bring this closer, in Simpson's view, was involvement in world missions. The majority of Simpson's writing on the coming of the King was directly tied to missions and this has been the part the denomination has continued to endorse. Perhaps you have run into the Alliance theme of "Bringing back the King." The idea is that our involvement in preaching the gospel to all nations is directly related to the return of Christ.

To make things clear here we probably need to review two of the popular millennial views during Simpson's time. Simpson's article, "The Lord's Coming and Missions," is a justification for a pre-millennial as opposed to a post-millennial motivation for missions.

Postmillennialism was the most influential teaching of Christ's return in the late 19th century. This view held that the world would be evangelized through the efforts of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Under the leadership and direction of the Church, the Kingdom would be set up and once the Kingdom is established, the King will return and reign. Thus postmillennialism provided a powerful motivation for missions. It is primarily through missions that the Kingdom was to be built. Many missionaries and financial backers of the 19th century missionary movement understood themselves to be preparing this world for the reign of Christ. This was a powerful and convincing view of the world at a time when people believed the world was getting better.

But what happens when the evidence that the world is getting better is less than convincing? These days it's really hard to get people to believe that the world is getting better and that the Kingdom of God could come at any time because of how close to the Kingdom the world actually is. Into the twentieth century, this view was harder to sustain because of the violence and injustice which was so evident. However, even in Simpson's day the gilded age had a nasty underside which made many people question the optimism of postmillennial. The premillennialism alternative suggested that no human effort can bring the Kingdom. This would have to be an act of the returning Christ himself vanquishing evil and establishing justice. The major problem premillennialism has, is that it does not motivate human effort of any kind, for in the end it will all be destroyed anyway. It has also tended to have an escapist element which delights in all the horrible things which it expects will come on the earth in the last days, but teaches that the righteous would be taken away and not have to endure any of it. Michael Tymchak's article, "Ethics and the Coming King," explores some of the less savoury implication of premillennial eschatology and provides an important scriptural corrective.

Clearly, Simpson's premillennialism avoided the worst of premillennial fatalism. He argued that it was premillennialism and not postmillennialism which provided the true motivation for missions. The key to understanding Simpson on missions and premillennialism is Matthew 24:14: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations: and then shall the end come."

For Simpson this meant that Jesus could not return until the "gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations." But beyond that, he believed that preaching to the whole world would actually cause the end to come. This was the great motivation Simpson found in premillennialism. The work of missions could actually "bring back the King." This motivation provided an urgency to Simpson's missions activity. In "The Lord's Coming and Missions" Simpson writes:

Not only does this give us a practicable plan, but it also gives us a powerful motive and incentive. We know that our missionary work is not in vain, but, in addition to the blessing it is to bring to the souls we lead to Christ, best of all it is to bring Christ Himself back again. It puts in our hands the key to the bridal chamber and the lever that will hasten His return. What a glorious privilege. What a mighty incentive. Do we long to see Him in His glory and to meet our loved ones once more? Then we shall work with re-doubled energy to spread the Gospel, to tell the story, to evangelize the world and to "prepare the way of the Lord."

Now, who is in charge of when Christ returns? We have very clear scriptural teaching that this is something which the Father determines, but Simpson's language here almost seems like he believes it is up to us. "It puts in our hands the key to the Bridal Chamber and the lever which will hasten his return." It's as if Jesus is just waiting up there on the edge of heaven for us to turn the key or pull the lever and then he just drops out of heaven.

Is this what Matt. 24:14 is teaching? I would suggest that Simpson over interprets this verse. What the verse says is that when one thing happens, something else will happen as well. There is not necessarily a causal connection implied. The promise is that the preaching of the church will be effective and will reach the ends of the earth before Christ returns.

Simpson was brought up in the optimistic spirit of 19th century postmillennialism. What he really liked about postmillennialism was its motivation for missions. It was up to the church to do something which, when complete, Christ would honor with His presence. When Simpson became a premillennialist, he had to give up this idea that human effort really made any difference. Simpson's interpretation of Matt. 24:14 managed to bring a little bit of that postmillennialism motivation into his premillennialism thinking. This idea that human effort has role to play in supernatural events is really very foreign to premillennialism. The emphasis remains on Christ as the one who will bring about justice and the final consummation of His redemptive work. But Simpson wanted a little piece of that powerful postmillennial motivation to really inspire people to missions. He was able to capture the urgency of the task and the need to be involved in missions with this causal interpretation of Matthew 24:14. Perhaps his missiology was pressing his exegesis a little far here.

Like many in his day, Simpson was convinced that completion of the missionary task as expressed in Matt. 24:14 was within reach. But how was the early Alliance to preach the gospel to the whole world? It seems that Simpson understood "a witness to all nations" to refer to the political boundaries in his day. If we were to say "the Gospel needs to be preached in every country in the world, and then the end will come," that seems like a pretty manageable task. There can't be that many countries. However, if we take the current view among missiologists which interprets "the testimony to all the nations" as every people group, there are somewhere around 15,000 people groups yet to hear the message. With this view, it seems like a lot more daunting a task.

And Simpson also believed that what was required was a witness in every nation, not the need to convert whole nations. This was the "practicable plan" for missions which the scriptures taught. The following pulls together Simpson's expression of this from "The Lord's Coming and Missions."

It gives us a definite and practicable plan of work. It does not send us out in some vague way to sweep in wholesale all earth's multitudes. But it teaches us that God's plan in the present age is "to visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name."

And He is not doing this with the expectation of gathering them all into His kingdom, but rather of gathering out of them "a people for His name.

Knowing this to be God's present plan, our work is very clear and specific. We know that He has some people in every nation whom His Providence and Spirit are preparing to accept the Gospel, and our business is to find them and bring them to Him. We cast our nets into the great sea, but we do not gather all the fish that are in the sea, and when we shall have gathered all who are willing to accept the Gospel message, this commission is ended.

Now this is an extremely encouraging and practicable plan. If we were sent to convert whole nations we might well be discouraged. The Master did not do this; the early Church did not do this; the modern Church has not done this, even in Christian lands, during the past century.

But if, on the contrary, we are seeking "the other sheep whom He must bring," there is no failure; there is no discouragement. We are gathering first fruits; He Himself will gather the full harvest. We are "sampling" the race. We are seeking and finding the "little flock," the chosen bride, the hidden ones who are to unite from every land and tribe and tongue to sing the millennial chorus that is to welcome the coming King.

Simpson was great at motivating people to get involved. He thought that if the church really got going, this task could be finished in a matter of years because there weren't that many nations. His understanding was that we didn't have to have a church established, we didn't have to have everyone evangelized. We need to call out from every nation representatives who will be part of the Kingdom, rather than evangelizing everyone. It was a reasonable and manageable task Simpson was calling his audience to join.

Can you see a potential problem with this kind of motivation to get a witness to all nations quickly so we can hasten the return?

There is a danger of hit and run missions. This was part of the interest Simpson had right from the beginning in self-supporting missions. The idea was get the Gospel message in, get a few converts and then get out. We also see the danger of this approach in the Dahms article which sees evangelism as the real work of the Church and any kind of social action as potential distractions. It seems to me however, that this approach works against everything else Simpson teaches. If you are going to lead people into the fullness of the grace of Christ, it takes some time. Simpson was critical of evangelism in North America which did not lead people to a full salvation.  It seems unlikely he would think this a good idea in missions. Although some of his rhetoric would indicate a hit and run approach to missions as we look at the history of Alliance missions, I think we see a commitment early on to church planting. The task of bringing self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating churches in which the issues of discipleship are adequately dealt with requires long term commitments. Motivation for mission needs to come out of an engagement with the grace of the indwelling Christ and not to bring in the millennium.

I have suggested that there are problems with Simpson's idea that we can bring back the King by our efforts and that we can do this because God doesn't want to evangelize the whole world but only a few token converts. These aspects of Simpson's eschatology along with his tendency to set dates for the return of Christ can thankfully be left in the past. A premillennial eschatology has a tendency to be world denying and fatalistic as Michael Tymchak points out, but it need not be. One of the world affirming and positive aspects of premillennialism is its affirmation that this is the world which Christ has saved and in the end he will return here to rule. It is in this world that justice and peace will be known and as God's people in the present we are to represent the coming age. This means that missions needs to include work for justice and peace as well as evangelism, not because we think we can solve all the world's problems but because this is what it means to be the people of God.

What I want to take away from Simpson's eschatology is his clear sense that we are living out of the resources of the coming age. Sanctification and healing are foretastes of the full salvation which we will experience when the King returns. Therefore the deeper life is a very intentional movement toward the future, the goal of which is Jesus. We need to be preparing for the return of the King by becoming like the King, by doing the work which Christ left for us to do. This is our motivation to be involved in mission. We are to show the world in rebellion against God what it means to live under the rule of God. In preaching and modeling this we are involved in evangelization which presents the Gospel in its fullness. As Tymchak argues, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment have to go hand in hand and we really can't fulfill the Great Commission unless we are fulfilling the Great Commandment as well.

Kenneth L. Draper, 1998.