Historicism.com

Recovering the classic, Protestant interpretation of Bible prophecy.

The Missionary Eschatology of A.B. Simpson*

Franklin Arthur Pyles
Accessed March 2015 at https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies [page source as of August 2017]




READ IT FOR YOURSELF: A.B. Simpson's classic book on Bible prophecy!
One never attends the annual American Council or the Canadian Biennial Assembly of the Christian and Missionary Alliance without singing stirring hymns about the second coming of Christ. Any visitor would assume that such a display of strong feeling reflects a deeply held doctrinal position which is crucial to the life of the church. But is this so?

More and more people think that the Alliance emphasis on the soon return of Jesus to reign personally on this earth is not really part of the gospel, but simply one of several possible interpretations of obscure biblical texts. However, this was not the case for A.B. Simpson. For him, eschatology was the fountain from which was to issue the work of the church in his day. But, as we shall see, the Alliance has not only moved on to an eschatological emphasis quite different from that personally held by her founder, she has also lost the connection between this doctrine and the missionary mandate.

Overview

Let us first take an overview of Simpson's basic position. The inner spiritual struggle that he experienced in Louisville, climaxed with his being filled with the Holy Spirit. He tells us that at approximately the same time he became convinced that the pre-millennial teaching concerning the Lord's return was correct.1 Pre-millennialism says that Jesus Christ will visibly return to earth and establish a kingdom over which he will personally rule for a thousand years. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, this teaching rapidly grew in popularity as it was proclaimed in Bible conferences across England and the United States.

A particular stream of pre-millennialism is an interpretive system called dispensationalism. Dividing the Bible into seven epochs, it is claimed that God's saving activity is organized differently in each. Thus, the word dispensation is akin to the word management. One of the teachings of dispensationalism is that the present age will end with a terrible seven-year manifestation of the wrath of God upon the whole earth. However, the true church will not partake of this tribulation, for immediately prior to it, Christ will have secretly come and taken the saints away to heaven. This coming, it is taught, may occur at any moment.

Certainly, this school of thought influenced Simpson. He was in close contact with its leadership as can be seen by his speaking in 1892 at a convention at the Congregational Church pastored by C.I. Scofield of Scofield Bible fame.2 Nevertheless, as shall be demonstrated, he never fully accepted dispensationalism. Although he believed that the church would escape the tribulation, he did not think it possible to say how long this period would be. As well, he did not believe that the coming of the Lord could occur at any moment.

One Bible teacher with whom he had almost perfect agreement on the doctrine of last things was the Baptist theologian and holiness preacher, A.J. Gordon. Gordon interpreted the Book of Revelation using a method called historicism. According to historicism, the visions given to John prophesied the future of the church. However, most of those prophesied events have already occurred. Simpson and Gordon were of one mind in their firm adherence to historicism.

On one issue, Simpson disagreed with Gordon and agreed with the dispensationalists, that is, on the relation of the second coming to the tribulation. Gordon thought that the tribulation would happen and the church would live through it.3 Simpson, however, was certain that the saints would be raptured into heaven by Christ before the Great Tribulation began on earth. He based his belief in a pre-tribulational rapture on Luke 21:28, "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh," and Luke 21:36, "Watch that you may escape."

Before we look more closely at the implications of these verses for the time of the Lord's coming, it is necessary to address Simpson's apparently temporary adherence to a view known as "partial rapture." This view links the attitude of "watching" (Luke 21:36) to sanctification and eschatology by claiming that only those believers who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit will be caught up in the rapture.

In his sermon on the wise and foolish virgins, reprinted in the two-volume set titled The Holy Spirit, Simpson says that those Christians who have not been filled with the Holy Spirit will be left behind by the returning Bridegroom, presumably to undergo the tribulation. It is easy to understand why he might get caught up in such a theory. It strongly links the second coming to personal holiness, by stressing that the hope of seeing Jesus is a motivation to purity (I John 3:2,3) as well as to seeking the fullness of the Spirit. However, it is certain that "partial rapture" was a fleeting fancy in Simpson's thinking, for after this one reference to it, he never mentions it again.4 But, he always stressed that the second coming is a motivation to holiness. He loved to tell A.J. Gordon's story of how his daughters knew he would return on the train sometime during a given week, but they did not know on which particular day. So every day that week, they dressed in their finest and waited at the station, hoping each time that this train would bring their father.

This story aptly drives home the implications for both holiness and imminency of the word "watch" in Luke 21:36. The church is to wait eagerly in her best garments, garments of holiness. She is to watch, for while the exact time of his coming is unknown, there are signs that tell us it will be very soon. For Simpson, it was almost as if the church was standing on the station platform on the last day of the week. The very fact that trains have arrived and departed on previous days only serves to strengthen hope, for they are, as it were, the signs that have already occurred. Thus, for Simpson, imminency means precisely this: Christ will appear when the last sign has been fulfilled, and there is only one last sign to wait for.

Here we turn the key that unlocks both his doctrine of last things and his view of the mission of the church. We are not to watch passively for the last sign, as the daughters at the station. We are to bring it about, for the awaited last sign is the preaching of the gospel to every tribe and nation. Thus, all of the Bible's diverse prophetic teachings were held together in Simpson's mind by their relation to the missionary task. Every single point of his end-time thinking had a definite impact on his plan to preach the gospel across the world. And, at the same time, his missionary theology guided his eschatology, for if a point of prophecy had no impact on missionary strategy, he had little concern for it.

An examination of Simpson's eschatology in more detail will reveal how each point served and was served by his missionary theology.

Historicism

Simpson's conversion to pre-millennialism did not result in a complete acceptance of the dispensational format because he viewed its futurist method of prophetic interpretation as a mistake. Instead, he vigorously advanced historicism, which, as we have noted above, believes that the visions of the Book of Revelation denote events that have already occurred and which can be identified in church history. Thus, historicism radically differs from the futurist school which, in its interpretation of the Book of Revelation, considers the seven churches of chapters two and three to be a portrayal of seven periods of church history, while the remainder of the book, after chapter 4:1, is thought to deal with the future Great Tribulation and subsequent events.

Simpson's historicism would most likely have been learned as an intimate part of his Presbyterian upbringing. An example is his commitment to viewing the Pope as the Antichrist, a view that is incorporated into the Westminster Confession. Referring to a prophecy conference address by A.J. Gordon5 in which Gordon forcefully denied that the Antichrist is an individual, arguing instead that the Antichrist is none other than the papacy as it has existed throughout church history, Simpson says,

...in Dr. Gordon's address especially, the full and able presentation of the historical rather than the futurist view of the Antichrist, the only view we are persuaded consistent with Scripture, the face of ecclesiastical history, and the true testimony of the church of Christ respecting the vital issues and real perils of today.6

As we have already seen, the soon return of Christ dominated Simpson's view of the Bible. For him, the historicist interpretive method strengthened this conclusion, for the more Scriptural prophesies that have been fulfilled, the fewer remain to be fulfilled before the Lord returns. Thus, the view that the papacy at all its stages in history is the Antichrist, relieved him of any necessity to anticipate Antichrist in the future. This sign then, is past.

Hand in hand with his literalist-historicist model is Simpson's penchant for date-setting. For him, the papacy, as the Antichrist, corresponds to the little horn (Daniel 7) and the beast of Revelation 13. To the decrees of Emperor Phocas in A.D. 607-610 establishing the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, he adds 1260 years, the days of the beast.7 This brings us to 1867-70, when, as a result of the Franco-Prussian war, the Pope was virtually put under house arrest by Italian patriots. Of that event, Simpson says, "the Pope fell forever from his throne, and the little horn, as a political system, ceased to exist."8 Thus, he believed he had already witnessed the end of the Antichrist.

The destruction of the little horn was not the only prophetic countdown Simpson was listening to. There is also the little horn of Dan. 8:9-12, which "was to rise in the East, out of the subdivisions of the Greek Empire, and become the most prominent figure in the subsequent history of the Jewish people."9 This, Simpson says, is Islam, and the Bible predicts not only the rise, but also the time of the fall of this world religion.10 The significant date is A.D. 637, when "Omar captured Jerusalem and set up the Mosque of Omar on the site of Solomon's Temple. The place of the sanctuary was indeed cast down and the old Bishop went out of the city crying, 'The Abomination of desolation is set up.'"11 Although his calculations on the dates are again confusing, this much is certain--he expected the Ottoman empire to collapse and for that event to signify the end of the little horn of the East, the False Prophet. When World War I did indeed bring its end, Simpson wrote, "We are in the time of the end, we are in the border zone. We are on the edge of everlasting things."12

However, while believing that the chronology, as he projected it, was both correct and significant, he realized that God might be operating in a different fashion. In 1910, he wrote, "God does not count time by chronology, but by spiritual conditions, and a single year may count as much for the Lord's appearing as a century."13 In 1914, he cautioned that, although it was a special year in the prophetic calendar, there might still be years left. And, in 1917, he says,14

Behold, I come quickly [or swiftly is perhaps better], at the same time there is evident provision for a long procession of fulfillments of providential developments and political and spiritual preparations.15

Such a view is compatible with his date-setting because he did not hold to an absolute distinction between dispensations, but rather, an overlapping of ages. Drawing from Romans 8:23, he points out that the leaf is contained in the bud which the tree has had all winter.16 Every age contains the bud of certain evil characteristics that will become a full leaf in the end. As well, certain blessings that properly belong to the millennium can, to an extent, be appropriated by the believer now, especially healing and holiness.

Because of these hedges, Simpson is saved from plunging into the abyss of predictions concerning the exact year of the Lord's return. In fact, Simpson criticizes the Millerites (forerunners of the Seventh-Day Adventists) for this very thing.17

But why did he involve himself in date-setting at all? Because these studies convinced him that the return of the Lord was very soon. Again and again he recites current events and comments on them in relation to prophecy. He was, as it were, a man who read holding the morning newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. But, his historicist perspective protected him from foolish attempts at forecasting the next event in international relations, economic cycles and what-not, on the basis of a supposed correlation with prophetic Scriptures. For example, only after an event such as the British capture of Jerusalem had occurred, was he willing to comment on what he considered to be its significance, not before.18

This brings us to the place where we can understand that, in Simpson's thinking, historicism and imminency went hand in hand. Futurism, in his opinion, effectively denied imminency by reason of the sheer number of things yet to happen. If we are yet to see a ten-nation confederation that corresponds to the ten toes of the image in Daniel, the rise of the little horns of the East and West, and the introduction of an individual who is the Antichrist to the world, then there are yet these many things that must occur before Christ can come, in which case the second advent is not imminent by any stretch of the imagination. Thus, it is not only in Simpson's writings, but in those of the writers he published that one sees a consistent promoting of the historicist's view that the ten-nation league has come and gone; the papacy as an institution is the Antichrist, the little horn of the West, the great apostasy, but it is now fading away; Islam is the false prophet, the little horn of the East, and it is being destroyed before their very eyes in the destruction of the Ottoman empire; and the Jews are even now returning to the land.

Imminency

However, while Simpson used the word imminent, he did not think the Lord could come at any moment. He was quite clear on this, writing in 1894:

We cannot truthfully say that we are expecting the instant return of the Lord Jesus, but rather, that we are looking for it as an imminent event, that is, as one that is impending and rapidly approaching.19

The key here is his correlation of the terms "imminent," "impending," and "rapidly approaching." Because of his historicist view, he could say that most of the signs of the Lord's return were already past. Only two remained to be fulfilled: the restoration of the Jews, and the mandate of Matthew 24:14--"For this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached to the whole world as a witness and then shall the end come." He was certain that the Jews were being restored to Palestine and would soon re-emerge as a national state. Subsequent events have shown him to be correct in this, even though the State of Israel was established at a later date than his calculations led him to believe. That left the missionary task as the one sign yet to be accomplished. Once a testimony had been established in every tribe and nation, this last sign would be complete, and the church would then expect the Lord's return at any moment. To this end, he and the people who, with him, founded the missionary society, committed themselves to "bring back the King" by fulfilling the missionary mandate.

Millennial Reign

Implicit in this program is the conviction that the second coming of Jesus Christ will occur prior to the inauguration of this kingdom; in other words, pre-millennialism. Simpson understood the Bible to teach three truths about this kingdom which form three pillars that uphold pre-millennial teachings. These are: the personal reign of Christ, the establishment of justice, and the total evangelization of the world. Let us examine each of these along with their implications.

Of great importance in Simpson's interpretation is the implicit relationship between a kingdom and the King.20 To him it is a truism that a kingdom can only be established by, and ruled over by, an actual King. Thus, the personal rule of Jesus Christ on this earth forms the first and central pillar of this millennial theology.

Implicit in this affirmation of the necessity of a personal rule is his polemic against post-millennialism. Simpson asks, what kind of kingdom does post-millennialism offer, with no King? He seems to imply that post-millennialism strips the word kingdom of its majesty, offering instead a vague vision of a worldwide church.

Furthermore, he contends that a coming of Christ that is anterior to the victory removes the anticipation of a personal encounter with the returning Lord as an effective motivating force in the life of the individual and the church. In post-millennialism, only those who live at the close of the golden age can hope to see Christ return and all know that we are not now living in the last days of a peaceful millennium.

Instead of looking for Christ, multitudes are looking for the millennium, the conversion of the world, the regeneration of the nations....His charge was, "Watch not for the millennium, but for the Lord."21

Simpson's point is that if the millennium must come and go before the second advent, then we would know for a certainty that the Lord is not coming in our lifetime, nor in the lifetime of our children. Why then should we be commanded to "Watch!"?

If it were true that 1000 years of spiritual blessings and universal righteousness must certainly precede His personal coming, then, how irrelevant, how absurd, that command to watch for His coming as an ever impending event?22

Thus, for Simpson, while post-millennialism speaks of a personal return of Christ, it destroys whatever impact that return might have on the daily Christian walk. In practical effect, the personal return is nullified.

Post-millennialism was rejected because Simpson felt that the vision of the church converting the whole world was impossible and impractical. The spread of the truth of Christianity to the whole world is obviously something that requires time, more than a lifetime, and thus no one living could reasonably expect to see even the inauguration of such a kingdom.

So long as our theology puts it far distant as a condition of the world at large which is to come about through the gradual spread of truth and righteousness, we can scarcely expect to live to see that consummation.23

Simpson's argument is very unconvincing here since post-millennialism says that this is precisely where we are called to have faith in the sovereign ability of God to send great revival to the church and for her to be so Spirit-empowered that she will rise up and sweep across the world bringing in a great missionary harvest and inaugurating the golden age with the conversion of the nations.

In the "Queries" column of the Weekly, a response to this very issue was once requested. The answer given was that pre-millennialism does not deny the power of the Spirit to convert the world, it is simply that such a thing is not part of God's program as revealed in the New Testament.24 But, one is left to wonder, why, if Simpson really believed this, he continued to assert that it was unrealistic to say that the church could see the conversion of the world in this dispensation.

Simpson rejected not only any post-millennialism, but any understanding of prophecy that denied Christ's personal reign. He relates that the Scottish school of theology in which he was raised, considered that Christ's coming meant:

His manifestation to the Soul of the believer by the Spirit, his coming at death to the saint, and his coming spiritually by the spread of the gospel.25

This interpretation may be a variant of either post-millennialism or a-millennialism. The spiritualization of the personal appearing eliminates the basic difference between those two views, leaving only the post-millennial claim that the church will evangelize the world, and the a-millennial denial of such a total victory is a point of divergence. While Simpson's deep reaction to post-millennialism might lead us to believe that he somehow identified it with the teachings of his youth, we must not think that he was unaware of the a-millennial alternative. Although he never mentions it by name, he was as firm in his rejection of it as he was in his rejection of post-millennialism.

His focus was on a-millennialism as it appears in Roman Catholic doctrine. In this strand, the Kingdom of God began with the ascension and is now active in the Church. Simpson rejected this for three reasons.

First, a-millennialism made the kingdom "of this world" in contradiction to the words of Jesus that "my kingdom is not of this world."26 The fact that the same verse could be used as an objection to pre-millennialism did not seem to deter him.

Secondly, he saw the church as called to engage in warfare to prepare for the King's coming. The kingdom parables of Matthew 13 were, for him, a positive proof that the church is not the kingdom, but labours for the kingdom. In an analysis that cuts against both traditional post-millennialism and a-millennialism, he says that these parables teach that "much of the work of the church would apparently be a failure," but that after the angels have separated the wheat from the tares, "then shall the righteous shine."27

His final objection to this brand of millennial interpretation is that it confines the reign of Christ to the spiritual, whereas he saw it as being historical, and therefore having social implications. He affirms that wherever you find "goodness, and love, and peace, and purity, there you have the Kingdom." Yes, "the holy heart and the unselfish life are the sign manuals that you belong to the Kingdom." But after each admission, Simpson emphatically asks the rhetorical question, "But, is that all?"

Is right forever to the on the scaffold and wrong forever on the throne, and goodness and patience only manifested through the tears and sorrows of the oppressed?28

And Simpson was indeed very sensitive to the issue of economic oppression. He speaks out directly against the injustices visited on the working man29 and attacks "modern business methods... hoarding, having and holding, immense wealth, luxury, and the oppression of working people."30

Go to the sweat shops of our manufacturing cities, see the poor, attenuated women and children that are toiling for a pittance in suffocating workrooms with long hours of half-remunerated toil, and read the sickening story that has sometime come to us of struggling girls that have been told to their face that they cannot expect to earn a living merely by honest toil, but must also expect to sell themselves as well as labor of their hands to eke out a sufficient livelihood to help those who are so often dependent on them.31

At times, Simpson switches to the second person, showing that he knew of working people sitting before him as he preached, and he speaks to them of going home and seeing their little family hungry and ill-clothed and of shedding tears.32

What is the answer? The only satisfying answer, says Simpson, is the advent of a King who will restore to the poor all that was lost.33

That day will bring the righting of our wrongs. That day will pay us the long-deferred hire. That day will put us in our right place and displace the sons of pride.34

Thus, in contrast to a-millennialism, we see that the second pillar of Simpson's pre-millennial view is justice. We must be patient for the return of the King.

Perhaps his thinking on the relation of the future kingdom and justice could be summarized in this way. A-millennialism with its spiritualization of all things contains no cry for justice. Post-millennialism, with its unrealistic expectations, proposes an impractical program for justice (in places, Simpson speaks directly against the socialist programs of his contemporary post-millennialists). Only pre-millennialism has a final answer to injustice: the coming of the King who will, in this world, set all things to right. Without the pre-millennial hope we are, in Simpson's opinion, left only with the words of Solomon:

So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun, and beheld the tears of such that were oppressed, and they have no comforter.35

Regrettably, Simpson, who began his New York ministry with a strong practical ministry to the poor, gradually turned his back on philanthropy. In so doing, he was following the lead of some pre-millennialists as well as reacting to the rising social-gospel.

This abandonment of any attempt to have an impact on society, including even the early promotion of the temperance movement, left Simpson with evangelism as the sole kingdom activity, but not evangelism in the sense that as one by one people are converted, their lives will change, and thus gradually the world will change. He would identify that with the rejected post-millennarian view. For him, the relation between evangelism and the kingdom is this: God has decreed that a witness be established throughout the whole world and then the end will come.

Evangelism is the third pillar of Simpson's millennial view. Through the witness of the church in this age, a people of God will be gathered out of the Gentiles, some from every tribe and nation. The task of evangelism is to give to everyone at least one chance to hear the gospel and to see some from every group converted. Rightly understood, Simpson tells us, this commission saves us from discouragement with the actual results of missions and gives a simple and practical aim within reach of the church.36

However, the story does not end with the second coming of Christ. The world is to be converted, but not by the church in this dispensation. This great missionary harvest will be brought in by the converted Jews during the time of the millennium.37 In this way, the nations will be converted and a rule of peace will cover the earth.

This conviction, that the church was to establish a testimony, but the millennial Jews would carry forward the work of converting the world, guided the early missionary strategy of the Alliance. Men and women were hastily sent overseas with a minimum of training, sometimes as little as six months, because of the felt urgency of the hour. It was not expected that a national church would rise up, but only that a few would be converted as a testimony. Hence, indigenous principles were not used. Yet despite many mistakes, national churches did begin to emerge, and Alliance missionary methodology began to run on tracks other than those laid by Simpson's eschatology.

Simpson was convinced that the completion of this missionary mandate was the key to the return of the Lord. The clues given by dates were important, but that timetable would be hurried or delayed in accordance with the obedience of the church.

The Lord has left to us in some degree the determination of the time of His coming. There is a sense in which our chronology may be condensed into briefer limits by intense activity....There is such a thing as accelerated as well as retarded time and we may accelerate the time of the Lord's return by meeting the spiritual conditions and preparing the way.38

Thus, eschatology was the life blood of Simpson's missionary theology. That the imminent return, not in the sense of "any moment," but in the sense of an event that could be soon, could be within this generation, if the church obeys, was the wellspring of his missionary motivation. His fascination with the "signs of the times," his playing with date-setting and his support of Zionism, all are colours on the spectrum of the truth of the soon return of Christ, shining through the prism of the missionary task.

Conclusion

The Christian and Missionary Alliance has stood in a certain tension with the eschatology of its founder since his death. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this tension than the refusal of the society's book publishing house to reprint any of Simpson's four books on that doctrine. Yet, the society claims to stand now, as it did then, on the assertion that part of the gospel is that Jesus is the coming King. What are the causes of this ambivalent attitude and how might a solution be formulated?

The central tension is between imminency and practical theology. For Simpson, these two concerns interlocked. However, they so interlock for very few today. The reason for this is that Simpson's rather elastic definition of imminency has been rejected by many in favor of the "any moment" version. But, any moment imminency cuts the nerve of missionary motivation as it should arise out of Matthew 24:14, for it leaves no relation between the church's obedience and Christ's appearing.

As well as this tension caused by redefinition, there is the problem of the overall shift in missionary strategy caused by the church-growth movement and the recent hidden-peoples movement. Simpson and his contemporaries thought that the number of language groups to be reached was relatively small. Missions researchers now know that there are a vast number of languages, and some estimate there are 17,000 distinct people groups without a Christian church.

Neither the Alliance nor any other missionary agency could be satisfied with merely winning a few converts from each of these groups as "a testimony." We now realize that people are not truly having a gospel communicated to them until it is being communicated by a church indigenous to their culture. To this end, the contemporary goal of missions is to establish churches and for these churches to grow until every idol is cast down and the cross is lifted over the people.

But is this pre-millennialism? Perhaps, but at first it sounds suspiciously like the old post-millennial goal of converting the world. Hence, there lies before the Christian and Missionary Alliance a theological task: once again to develop a missionary-eschatology. In the next few paragraphs, I will endeavour to propose a profile for such an eschatology.

The statement of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 is quite clear and should continue as the foundation for our missionary work. We must once again realize that imminency is compatible with the fact that there is yet something to do. Even as the apostle John prayed, "even so come, Lord Jesus," we must be active in prayer and obedience in order to hasten the day of His appearing. To that end, we, along with evangelical churches around the world, must double and redouble our efforts at sending missionaries, especially targeting the yet-unreached people groups. In this way, imminency will cease to be a slogan and will again be a pulse beat for our churches.

Simpson's view that the conversion of the world is too great a task for the church and must await the millennial work of the Jews is self-contradictory. If it is too great a task now, why will it be any less difficult then? The presence of Jesus on this earth would not, in and of itself, reduce the stubborn pride of men's hearts. Without at all denying that there is a future work for converted Israel (Romans 11:12), it must be said that the church has been commanded and empowered by the risen Lord and the descended Spirit to preach the gospel to all the world, to disciple and to baptize the nations.

Here, Simpson's concept of "the overlapping of the ages" comes to our aid. We tend to think of the beginning of the millennium as a clear-cut moment, the moment of Christ's return. This is certainly true. But, there is a sense in which the reign of Christ is manifested in the church now. Wherever the church pushes forward its boundaries, the darkness and terror of Satan's kingdom is pushed backward. Simpson is right--this will not be done completely by the church, but awaits its consummation when Christ returns. But this inability to complete the task before He appears is not because of an inherent weakness of the Holy Spirit and the church, it is simply a decree of God. This is seen in Psalm 2:8, "I will give you the nations as your inheritance," and Philippians 2: 10,11, "Every knee shall bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." These verses indicate that the worldwide recognition of Jesus as the Messiah will be a result of the Parousia. That the church is now doing kingdom work provides us with an eschatological foundation for building churches, for we are indeed building for the future, even the future millennium. At the same time, it provides us with a standpoint from which we can act as citizens in the world, even though our true citizenship is in heaven. It must be said with sorrow that many evangelicals in the generations that followed Simpson not only rejected any action to alleviate the oppression of the poor, they took the side of the rich and denied the existence of oppression.

A truly missionary church must be ready to proclaim clearly that it is the Bible, not Marxism, that not only condemns the exploitation of the poor, but provides whole societies a way of escape from the grinding wheel of economic privation. The Bible teaches that the individual has worth because he or she is made in God's image; work is a God-honoring activity; all buying and selling is to be done in fairness, including the buying and selling of labour; and it also gives many other teachings on the family and society. Whenever a people have accepted these teachings as a whole, they have risen above the poverty that binds them. This is not simply because they, as individuals, one at a time, change their ways. The church itself, as a viable community, becomes an agent to change the structures of society that promote oppression.

This total message must be seen as a part of the gospel of the kingdom, for it is an extension of the call to practical holiness in light of the second coming. Again, Simpson was right. Justice is an integral part of the millennial kingdom, and it is the failure of either post-millennialism or a-millennialism to provide for justice that causes us to insist that there must be a personal rule of our King. But, we must understand that we are no more allowed to await passively His appearing to establish justice than we are to wait for the trumpet to sound before we seriously begin the task of converting the world.

The current divorce between our missionary practice and our eschatology can be overcome by again asserting the strengths of pre-millennialism: a real kingdom will soon be inaugurated on this earth by the personal presence of Jesus Christ. But, even now, the church prepares for and, to an extent, can share the victory and blessings of the kingdom. To that end, she purifies herself and presses ahead with the task of evangelizing, discipling and modeling the life of a spiritual community that functions on the basis of love. The church can know that every day that she lives in such obedience, she hastens the return of the king.


Go deeper with classic works on Bible prophecy by A.B. Simpson, A.J. Gordon, H. Grattan Guinness, and more!

* From Birth of a Vision, ed by David F. Hartzfeld and Charles Nienkirchen (His Dominion Supplement No. 1), pp. 29-47.

1. A.B. Simpson, "How I was Led to Believe in Pre-Millennarianism," Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly 7, no. 19 (November 13, 1891): 298-299 (hereafter cited at CAMW).

2. Simpson, Christian Alliance Weekly, 8, no. 24 (June 10, 1892): 370.

3. However, he did not believe that the tribulation is the 70th week of Daniel, and therefore, he denied that we could know its length. His exegesis of Daniel's weeks from Daniel 9 is as follows: "The decrees" is that issued by Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. In 7 weeks (49 years), the walls were rebuild in troublous times. In 62 more weeks (434 years), we are brought to the Messiah, in A.D. 26. Because of an error in dating Christ's birth, Simpson says that makes Christ 30 years old. "He shall confirm the covenant." Simpson says the "pronoun refers to Christ who is the subject of the whole prophecy." Christ confirms the covenant by calling Israel to himself and the apostles continue to preach to Israel for about three and a half years after the crucifixion. "In the midst of the week shall cause sacrifices and oblation to cease." "After three and one-half years of public ministry, in the midst of the final week, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, was offered on the cross...and that caused other sacrifices to cease." The other half of the week was spent by the apostles offering the covenant to Israel until the martyrdom of Stephen.

Simpson, "The Seventy Weeks of Daniel," The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 27, no. 22 (June 1, 1907): 254, 255. This view is virtually identical with that set forth by A.J. Gordon in his book, Ecce Venit. See also the works of H. Grattan Guiness.

4. Simpson, "Just one thing they lacked, but it was enough to prevent their entering in," Holy Spirit, or Power From on High Part II (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1924), p. 31. Again, "but it will be too late to enter into the joys of the marriage and escape the sorrows of the great tribulation," p. 33.

5. This address by A.J. Gordon was subsequently printed in The Word, Work and World (November 1886): 296-309 (hereafter cited as WWW).

6. Simpson, WWW 7 (October 1886): 251.

7. Simpson, The Coming One (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Company, 1912), p. 83. Simpson here specifically says he is using solar years (365 days) for the calculations.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p. 102

10. Simpson, The Coming One, p. 102-109; Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 153-164.

11. Simpson, The Coming One, p. 108.

12. Simpson, "The Fall of Jerusalem in the Light of Prophecy," The Alliance Weekly, 49, no. 20 (February 16, 1918): 307 (hereafter cited as AW).

13. Simpson, The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 35, no.5 (October 29, 1910): 72 (hereafter cited at CMA).

14. Simpson, AW, 42, no. 13 (December 26, 1914): 193.

15. Simpson, "Were the Apostles and Early Christians Disappointed and Mistaken in Their Expectation of the Lord's Immediate Return?," AW, 47, no.25 (November 24, 1917): 386.

16. Simpson, "Overlapping of the Coming Age," AW, 49, no. 16, p. 242.

17. Simpson, WWW, 1, no. 1, p. 3.

18. Simpson, AW, 49, no. 12, p. 177.

19. Simpson, "Editorials," The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly, 12, no. 20 (May 18, 1894): 527 (hereafter cited as CAFMW).

20. Ibid., "How I Was Led to Believe in Pre-Millennarianism."

21. Simpson, "That Blessed Hope," WWW, 1, no. 4 (May 1882): 166.

22. Ibid., Also, see "Looking For and Hastening Forward," CMA, 20, no. 23 (June 8, 1898): 533.

23. Ibid., "Looking for and Hastening Forward," 533.

24. Simpson, "Queries," CAFMW, 12, no.21, p. 577. It is possible that this column was not written by A.B. Simpson himself.

25. Ibid., "How I was Led to Believe in Pre-Millennarianism."

26. Simpson, "Thy Kingdom Come," AW, 43, no. 4 (October 24, 1914): 51.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Simpson, "Our Attitude Towards the Lord's Coming," Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly, 40, no. 16 (october 20, 1893): 244.

30. Simpson, "The Practical Hope of the Lord's Coming," CMA, 34, no. 19 (August 6, 1910): 305.

31. Ibid., p. 306.

32. Simpson, "The Practical Value and Influence of the Doctrine of the Lord's Coming," CAMW, 9, no. 15, 16 (October 7, 14, 1910): 305.

33. Simpson, "Times of Salvation; Times of Refreshing; Times of Restitution," CMA, 34, no. 22 (August 27, 1910).

34. Ibid., "The Practical Hope of the Lord's Coming," p. 306.

35. Ibid.

36. Simpson, "Christ our Coming Lord," CAMW (July 15, 1892): 42.

37. Simpson, "Editorials," CMA, 28, no. 3 (January 15, 1897): 60. See also The Coming One, p. 64.

38. Simpson, "The Scriptural Principles of Missions," CMA, 24, no. 24 (June 24, 1905): 398.


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Historicism.com is owned and operated by me, Joe Haynes, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I serve as a pastor in a church plant in Victoria since 2013. My wife, Heather, and I have five kids. In 2011, I completed a Master of Arts in Christian Studies from Northwest Baptist Seminary at the Associated Canadian Theological Seminaries of Trinity Western University. Feel free to visit my blog at Keruxai.com.
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