Albert Benjamin Simpson was born on December 15, 1843, to parents of Scottish descent. He grew to be one of the most respected Christian figures in American evangelicalism. A much sought after speaker and pastor, Simpson founded a major evangelical denomination, published over 70 books, edited a weekly magazine for nearly 40 years, and wrote many gospel songs and poems.
However, the first few years of his life were spent in relative simplicity on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where his father, an elder in the Presbyterian church, worked as a shipbuilder and eventually became involved in the export/import industry. To avoid an approaching business depression, the family moved to Ontario where the younger Simpson accepted Christ as his Savior at age fifteen and was subsequently “called by God to preach” the Gospel of Christ.
After graduating from Knox College in Toronto in 1865, Simpson accepted his first pastorate at Knox Church in Hamilton, one of Canada’s largest and most influential congregations.
After eight years at the church, God led Simpson to Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. “God was answering his heart’s yearning for ‘better things,'” writes A. W. Tozer in Wingspread, a book that chronicles Simpson’s life. He was also providing Simpson, whose health was suffering, with a break from the harsh Canadian climate.
Simpson realized that God was using his weakness to move him into a closer and deeper love for Jesus Christ. His dependence on God became natural as did his communion with the Savior.
William MacArthur, a friend and co-worker, said Simpson once told him: “I am no good unless I can get alone with God.” MacArthur added: “His practice was to hush his spirit, and literally cease to think, then in the silence of his soul, he listened for the ‘still small voice’ [of God].”
Simpson discovered he was also developing a deep compassion for the lost. A desire to evangelize began to consume him. In his biographical article on Simpson, Daniel Evearitt wrote: “I discovered that those who knew [Simpson] paint a picture of a dynamic but humble worker for God who inspired others to total commitment to God’s service and Kingdom. They portray him as a loving, caring, patient man.”
Paul Rader, former pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago and Simpson’s long time associate, said: “He was the greatest heart preacher I ever listened to. He preached out of his own rich dealings with God.”
In Louisville, God gave Simpson a vision for a city-wide revival. The result was astounding. “The city was moved to its depths and hundreds were converted. At the close of the campaign, large numbers were received in to the churches,” writes Tozer.
“[Simpson] had become—though he did not yet realize it full—an evangelist to the masses . . . From here on he belongs no more to one church, but to all who need him, not to his parish only, but to all the lost world.”
A time came when “in the privacy of his own room,” Simpson yielded himself to God in total surrender. “Not knowing,” he said, “but it would be death in the most literal sense.” He later referred to this time as a death to self—the old man and the self-asserting ego.
From that point on, Simpson said he began to live “a consecrated, crucified, and Christ-devoted life.” God’s call to the unevangelized was now a full-blown part of his life.
Simpson went on to pastor the New York 13th Street Presbyterian Church. However in 1881, he resigned and began to hold independent evangelistic meetings in New York City. A year later, the Gospel Tabernacle was built, and Simpson began to turn his vision toward establishing an organization for missions.
Simpson helped to form and head up two evangelization societies—The Christian Alliance and The Evangelical Missionary Alliance. As thousands joined these two groups, Simpson sensed a need for the two to become one. In 1897, they became The Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Serving as pastor until 1918, Simpson continued to seek ways to reach the hurting and unsaved. Tozer writes: “For thirty years he continued to lead the society which he had formed, and never for the least division of a moment did he forget or permit the society to forget the purpose for which it was brought into being . . . ‘It is to hold up Jesus in His fullness, the same yesterday, and today, and forever!’
“. . . He sought to provide a fellowship only, and looked with suspicion upon anything like rigid organization. He wanted the Alliance to be a spiritual association of believers who hungered to know the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ, working concertedly for the speedy evangelization of the world.”
On October 28, 1919, Simpson slipped into a coma from which he never recovered. Family members recall that his final words were spoken to God in prayer for all the missionaries he had helped to send throughout the world.
To the end, Simpson remained devoted first to his beloved Savior and then to all who would dare to take the gospel message to a lost and dying world. A. B. Simpson—a man of vision and faith.