Before we can understand the significance of the Fourfold Gospel, we have to understand the significance of Simpson and his career. Simpson was a denominational founder although I'm not sure he would have been particularly proud of that. It is interesting that as he neared his death the Alliance, which was by then very definitely moving toward becoming a denomination, wanted a different Simpson. It seemed a major missions movement which was growing into a denomination needed a founder who was something of theological heavyweight, who could provide the credibility for the great new structure that was being developed. One manifestation of this was increasing tendency late in his life to call Simpson "Dr. Simpson" and adding the designation D.D. to his name.
Tozer explains this with the following paragraph toward the end of Wingspread:
His extreme modesty led him to refuse the degree of Doctor of Divinity offered him by a southern college in recognition of his scholarship and outstanding accomplishments. His reason was simply that he did not want any honor "that would exalt him in any measure above the lowliest of his brethren." His friend, Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie who was responsible for this story, seemed to feel that this was a mistake on Simpson's part. He believed that a degree might have given him certain useful prestige before a religious world which sets much store by such things. On that subject, I do not risk an opinion. But he could not escape a degree. The grateful Christian public, by a kind of spiritual instinct, conferred a degree upon him, which, in spite of his reluctance, he carried to the end of his days.
A.W. Tozer. Wingspread. (Harrisburg:
Christian Publications, Inc., 1943),
Although Tozer is unwilling to risk an opinion he consistently avoids reference to "Dr. Simpson" in favour of "Mr." This issue in also addressed in the centennial history of the Alliance prepared by Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, Samuel Stoesz, refer to Simpson as Mr. or Rev. until the beginning of chapter three where the paragraph which follows appears.
Others in the religious public noted what Simpson was doing and readily came forward with encouragement and praise. One southern college offered him a Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition for his scholarship and outstanding achievements. Simpson declined, explaining he wanted no honor "that would elevate him in any measure above the lowest of his brethren".
Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, Samuel Stoesz. All for Jesus. (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, Inc., 1986), p. 65.
With this explanation and against what they admit to have been Simpson's express wish, they conform to the Alliance tradition of conferring a honourary doctorate upon him and refer to him as Dr. Simpson for the remainder of the book.
In line with this there is a tendency, particularly evident in A.E. Thompson's official biography, to make Simpson into a great founder, a great thinker, a great theological innovator which goes somewhat beyond a critical evaluation of his thought. I don't think it is something that Simpson would have appreciated. In posthumously attempting to make Simpson into a ideal he didn't aspire to in his life, Thompson and others which to give credibility to message of the Fourfold gospel. The danger here is that when we look critically at the contribution of Simpson, it falls sort of myth created for him. This could, and I think has, led to a disillusionment which causes us to miss his real contribution.
Depending on who you read, very different portraits of emerge. If you read A.E. Thompson, you will get a view of Simpson as a man of insight and innovation virtually every dimension of life. In Wingspread by A.W. Tozer, the focus is on the mystical side of Simpson, what Tozer refers to as spiritual altitude. The language and allusions of Wingspread present Simpson as character of Biblical proportions. For another perspective Charles Nienkircken's A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement, presents Simpson as a proto-Pentecostal who contributed much to Pentecostalism and would have joined if only he had been successful at speaking in tongues. There is some truth in each of these portraits but my perspective suggests that we get closer to real Simpson, when we consider Simpson as a pastor. This is what he felt called by God to be and even as the apparatus of a denomination began to grow around him this is how he continued to think about his role. He considered those to whom he ministered through his writing and publishing as his "paper parish." He continued to pastor the Gospel Tabernacle throughout his career pastor was the role he accepted unequivocally during his life. I would suggest that if we understand him in this way we have the best chance of understanding his contribution.
This is not to say that Simpson left us no distinctive body of theological work. The true value of this contribution is brought into focus by seeing his theology as essentially pastoral rather than systematic. Let me suggest what I think the difference is. The work of a systematic theologian is to take all of God's revelation to us and develop it carefully from beginning to end. Beginning with the character of God, the nature of the Trinity and creation right through to the eschaton, all that God has revealed about himself is organized in a clearly argued and consistent way. Systematic theologians want to bring together all of God's truth in a way we, as humans, can understand. This doesn't necessarily correspond exactly with the way everything is, but it is the best that we can do with our limited resources. We need systematic theologians. We need them to work out in a consistent and coherent manner what it is God is doing in the world. This kind of theological work helps us to know who it is we worship, understand why God is worthy of our worship and what he requires of us as his people.
But when you look at Simpson's rather extensive literary output it is clearly not that of a systematician. Simpson did not carefully work out a doctrine of the Trinity. You can find everything Simpson felt it was important to say on creation in about four pages in his commentary on Genesis. The life and work of Jesus Christ was central to everything Simpson said and did, yet he doesn't develop his own distinctive doctrine of the incarnation or the atonement. What then does the rather large body of Simpson's work deal with? His hymns, his sermons and books share an emphasis on the way that human persons experience salvation in our lives. It was here that Simpson expended his energies and it is here we need to look for his contribution. Simpson did not concentrate on the systematic theological task of putting everything together so that everything made sense and you could understand who God is and what God is about. He focused on the equally important pastoral task of helping individual Christians know how to experience the fullness of the grace of God. It is to this that we need to look for the interpretive key in our reading of Simpson.
Most of you will now have read enough of Simpson to recognize that there are some problems with his material. From time to time I have students who read Simpson and miss the heart and the insight of the man because they get so hung up on his exegesis. They come to me and say "he's using scripture this way, in this particular case, which is completely illegitimate. How can we believe anything this guy ever wrote?"
Well, you need to be a little bit charitable. You need to recognize that evangelical exegesis in the 19th century was done differently than in the late 20th century but that, at all times and in all places, God by His Spirit allows some, even by (what might now be considered) bad exegesis, to understand a little bit about what's going on and how God wants to work in our lives. We don't want to necessarily endorse Simpson's theological method nor in every case his exegesis but we do want to see if we can read his heart, see if we can really understand his insight into the Christian life and what we might take away from that effort.
The problem is, if we try and make Simpson into something he was not, some kind of infallible theologian, Biblical scholar and omniscient denominational founder, we are in danger of missing what he really does offer. If we take the A.E. Thompson Simpson, we end up either with a less than fully adequate theological framework, which we make ourselves believe because we figure that's what it means to be Alliance, or we reject Simpson altogether and decide its better to start over from scratch. I don't think either of these approaches is very helpful. If we read Simpson as a pastor, we can look for the best of what Simpson had to tell us about the pastoral task of finding the work of God in churches and in ourselves. We need to be attentive to the way he was able to focus attention on real spiritual needs in a way that allowed people to respond to the Spirit's prompting. People went away from Simpson's meetings with a new understanding of what Jesus required of them and what they could do to live in Christ and have Christ live in them. As you read Simpson, try and use this as your interpretive key. And try to give him a charitable reading. If there is something which you are having trouble with as you read, set it aside, for the time being, and look for something for the heart of what is being said. In particular, look at what Simpson has to say about the way we live out our Christian life and how it is that Jesus lives in us. This is where you are likely to find the Simpson that still has something to teach us today.
The "Fourfold Gospel" was the slogan Simpson used summarized his pastoral message. In Alliance circles we have become accustomed to this sort of language but it does have a peculiar sound. When Simpson says there is a Fourfold Gospel, does he mean there are four separate gospel messages? Four parts to the message? Four blessings? And if this is the case, how many of these do you really need? Is it OK if have two of the fourfold or do you need 75%--three out of four to really be safe? What was it Simpson really meant to communicate here?
For course there is one Gospel and that's what Simpson wanted to emphasize. There is one Gospel and that's salvation in Jesus Christ. Why the fourfold then? He wanted to suggest that there were some aspects to this Gospel which may need particular emphasis. Simpson's writing he used phrases like present truth, living truth, and neglected truths to describe the distinctive emphases of the Alliance. The Fourfold Gospel was suggested that there certain particular truths which the Holy Spirit wants to bring to life at a particular time. In Simpson's mind the Fourfold Gospel represented present truth or living truth, or neglected truths which were important for the church at that particular time. The Fourfold Gospel was not to be a new Gospel. It was not even a summary of the Gospel for all time but according to Simpson, was what the church needed to hear to bring renewal. So what we need to do is look at the Fourfold Gospel and see if these are still present truths. Maybe we need four different ones. Does the fourfold Gospel really capture something essential to the life of the believer in the 1990s? If we want to recapture the innovative insight of Simpson that's where we need to go.
But prior to that we need to really understand what Simpson saying to the Church a hundred years ago. His message as we know so well was Christ our Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. But the point of this formulation was not even to focus on the for separate points but on the one. For Simpson there was one Gospel. But too often the way we recite the Fourfold Gospel as Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King, the emphasis is on the second half of the formula. Simpson was really trying to emphasize the unity of message not four parts. For Simpson what was important was that it is Christ who is our Saviour, Christ who is our Sanctifier, Christ who is our Healer and Christ who is the Coming King. The focus was to be on Jesus. Yet as this slogan has become familiar, the tendency has been to focus on Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King as distinctively Alliance when in fact Simpson was saying it is Christ who is the focus. These other things are benefits, blessings or aspects of the truth that is in Jesus Christ. The focus is to be on the person of Jesus rather than the blessing that comes to us through him. David Schroeder, President of Nyack College, has recently written a wonder reminder to us of the original emphasis of the Fourfold Gospel entitled, "The Centrality of Christ in the Fourfold Gospel." This is reprinted for you as Reading 8.1.
If we are to conclude that Simpson really has one message, why the emphasis on the fourfolds at all. Simpson wanted to emphasize what he sometimes called is a full salvation. What Simpson was seeing, and seeks to correct in his call to the Fourfold Gospel was a tendency, in late the Nineteenth century, for evangelism to sell a kind of cheap grace. Moody is famous for his lifeboat analogy of salvation. Well, Simpson was convinced that we are not called to salvation to simply get out of hell. We are called to salvation to live in the fullness of Jesus Christ. One of the things that the message of a Fourfold Gospel or call to a full salvation did was to express God's intention in saving us. God is not just interested in getting us into the lifeboat and to live out our lives waiting for Christ to return. Christ wants to give us the fullness of life right here and now; a full salvation. In contrast to this, Simpson sometimes talks about a "half salvation." In the important hymn Himself the second verse reads:
Once twas painful trying; now tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation; now the uttermost.
What on earth is a "half salvation?" Simpson's idea here is that there are people who are "half saved". There are people who have received some of God's saving grace and said, "that's enough of that." This is the idea of cheap grace, kind of minimalist approach to salvation which is concerned with how little salvation is enough. Many times when I am teaching the doctrine of salvation this is what concerns my students the most. "How little of God do I need to be okay, to get into heaven, to escape from hell?" But that's not the Biblical emphasis. No where do the Scriptures tell us of how little salvation is required to make it in or how little of God's grace you need to get across the line so you are going to be okay. The whole teaching and emphasis of Scripture is this fullness of God's grace that are available to us so that we have a resurrection life, a whole new quality of life in the here and now.
Simpson also suggests that maybe we're not giving people the teaching that they need. Maybe it's our fault. Are we telling people: "Look the Gospel is pretty easy. All you have to do is pray this prayer, then you are into heaven. Everything is dealt with and now you can carry on. Go for it." Maybe we are not giving people the teaching they need to really understand God's call upon their lives. Maybe we are making salvation too simple. So this is the messages Simpson had: "You are not saved in the fullest sense until you've received all that God has and all that God has includes sanctification, healing and a hope in His second coming."
The fourfold Gospel is his way of encapsulating, sloganeering his understanding of the fullness of God's saving work. The atonement is the focus of what God has done in the world. This is the center of Simpson's thinking. All the benefits that we have through are through Jesus Christ and Simpson's concern was that the church should experience the fullness of the atoning work of Jesus right now. I think what we need to remember in this is that Simpson really had two audiences in mind as he developed his pastoral call to the fullness in Jesus. He had a focus on the one hand on evangelism. He like Moody and others wanted to lead people into the Kingdom of God. But he also had a message to the evangelical church to recapture that vibrancy and that life that they had experienced earlier. Simpson preached evangelistic messages but a much larger portion of his teaching and preaching called back people who were Christians and had a Christian heritage to a new encounter with Jesus, a new encounter with the grace of God.
Thus Simpson uses "salvation" in two quite different ways. Sometimes when he is talking about salvation he means that initial reception of the grace of God after which we still need to receive more. Sometimes he uses salvation as the whole story of God's redeeming us which will not be complete until Christ returns. In the Fourfold Gospel, "salvation" tends to mean the beginning of Christ's saving work in our lives, our justification, the first entry into all of the blessings we have in Jesus. Other times, for example in Himself, "salvation" indicates the whole package, all of the blessings. When he is talking about a "half salvation," he really means some little bit of all of the great and glorious things God wants to do in our lives. So a full salvation, according to Simpson, needs to include not only escaping hell but moving deeper in the riches of God's grace in sanctification, in knowing Christ as our healer and expecting him as our coming King.
I think this is what Simpson means by the fourfold Gospel. He says that each human being is to experience the full benefits, the full effects, the full blessings, of the atonement of Jesus Christ. What God really wants for us is not to see how little of God's grace we can get away with but how much of God's grace we can appropriate, how much of God's grace we can bring to life in our lives. So what that means is in justification we come into the first benefits of salvation, the sacrifice of Christ's death is credited to us. This is the beginning of our appropriation of the atonement. This is what Simpson means when he talks about salvation as one of the "fourfolds."
But Simpson's message to the church in his day was that's not the whole story. Let's not stop here let's go deeper. In Simpson's vocabulary going deeper as defined as sanctification. It is in sanctification that we are renewed in our inner being and we are indwelt by our living Lord. The sinful nature dies with Christ and we are raised with Him to new life. This is resurrection life empowered in us by the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. This begins somewhere at some time but doesn't end. It has a progressive aspect which keeps growing and taking us deeper into God as long was we are on this earth. Sanctification finds its completion in glorification when the we participate in the fullness of salvation to the fullest when "Christ's great Kingdom shall come to earth."
Divine healing is another experience of the resurrection life. We have an experience of the resurrection life in sanctification, another experience of the resurrection life is available to us in this life in divine healing as the physical benefits of the resurrection. Although sin and death' and the sickness and weakness that accompany death, are still active, they have been conquered. In Simpson's view of healing we draw on the reality of our resurrection bodies in advance as Christ indwells us.
Finally, we are to be preparing ourselves for the coming king when the return of Christ will usher in the full benefits of the atonement which we now only glimpse. Simpson's theology is rooted in eschatology in that everything is focused on the meeting of the church with the glorified returning King. The Coming King is really the focus of everything in Simpson's thinking. His doctrine of healing is that we participate in advance in our glorified bodies. His doctrine of sanctification is we participate in advance in our renewed spiritual lives. Everything is looking forward to what is to come. Because of some of the speculations in his eschatological writings we tend to ignore Simpson's eschatology. This is unfortunate because this really cuts the heart out of a real anticipation of the future in the present. Simpson believed that we live future reality right now and this provides the dynamic quality to his understanding of the saving work of Christ in our lives.
So we've done two things here at once. On the one hand, we had an overview of the fourfold Gospel and on the other integrated into this understanding of the fourfold Gospel into an understanding of salvation. For Simpson, salvation has this extensive quality that we're not fully saved until all of what he calls the Fourfold Gospel is worked into our lives. I suppose, we are not even fully saved until the eschaton when we are completely renewed by our experience of when we meet Him we will be like Him. The fourfold Gospel was not meant to be a doctrinal standard or theological formula, it was meant to be something which points us forward, which focuses us on participating in the atoning work of Christ, appropriating the grace of God in our lives so that we can experience all of the benefits which Christ bought for us by the atonement.
What are we to make of this idea that Simpson was pastor and that his theological contribution was a pastoral one? What can this version of Simpson tell us about how to Alliance in the very different context we are facing in ministry today?
Simpson understanding of salvation was able to identify for many people the lack they were experiencing in their spiritual lives. His idea of being "half saved" seemed to name their sense that there was something they were missing but couldn't quite get a handle hand. Further, Simpson's call to go deeper into God and more fully experience his grace, to participate in the eschatological future in the present, gave people a vision of where they wanted to go. Finally his ability to explain sanctification and healing as ways of going deeper into God allowed people to experience a intimacy with Christ as their indwelling Lord which truly satisfied their spiritual longing. This was the source of that sense of freedom and spiritual vitality which is so evident as we read the early history of the Alliance.
If there is to be a distinctive Alliance message in the
contemporary context it must find its roots in these origin of
the Fourfold Gospel. Can we find ways of describing for our
generation the nature of the spiritual lack so many are feeling?
What are the neglected or present truths which will bring clarity
to the spiritual morass we see around us? Can we describe the
fullness of the riches of Jesus in a way which is compelling? Are
there resources we can draw from Simpson which will help us
identify where the spiritual sources of power and the spiritual
dangers are? How can we explain the reality of Christ indwelling
us while we are hid with Christ in God as the way out of the
spiritual despondency so many are experiencing in the Church and
in the world? This is the pastoral challenge Simpson presents to
those of us who continue on the path he has tread before us.
© Kenneth L. Draper, 1997.