Relentless Spirituality examines the role that spiritual disciplines played in the life and ministry of A.B. Simpson and provides a behind-the-scenes look into vital elements of his spiritual formation, growth and development. This book is written for men and women who want to grow in their faith and to be encouraged by the example of a man who walked with God.
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Embracing the Spiritual Disciplines of A.B. Simpson
By Gary Keisling
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2004 Gary Keisling
All rights reserved.
TEACH ME, LORD!
The Spirit and the Disciplines of Living
"Live for the life to come. Live in the light of eternity. Live for the powers of the age to come."
These words are not a pious, sermonic exhortation to God's people concerning the things they ought to do. Rather, they declare A.B. Simpson's challenge to the Church to follow his lead in focusing life's course upon the pursuit of the eternal. Accepting this challenge calls for the courage to make a bold, definitive decision. It is a decision to embrace spiritual disciplines and to make all things subordinate to the value of knowing God intimately and continuously growing in Christ's grace.
The Apostle Paul's rousing words, "train yourself to be godly" (1 Timothy 4:7), challenged Timothy to make this formative decision. Simply responding to life's circumstances and events is an inadequate and unacceptable strategy for spiritual development. Scripture implores us to be wise and faithful stewards of the grace we have received. As faithful stewards we have a responsibility to establish an intentional course leading to our own personal spiritual development and the spiritual growth of Christ's body, the Church (see Ephesians 4:12–13).
Paul's admonition to Timothy flowed out of the conscious decision he had already made to "consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:8). Nothing was more important to Paul than knowing Jesus Christ. Paul had established the ultimate priority in his life. This settled priority authenticated the validity of his exhortations to pursue the things leading to godliness. The words "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1) are an open invitation to join Paul in pursuing the formation of Christ's character and life within our own lives.
This was an invitation Albert Benjamin Simpson could not refuse. He wholeheartedly accepted Paul's invitation. Simpson made a conscious and deliberate decision to forsake anything that had the potential to jeopardize the pursuit of his spiritual formation, service to Christ and a life leading to godliness. Throughout his life, in the midst of various and often difficult circumstances, Simpson made decisions which continuously reaffirmed his commitment to follow in Paul's steps. It is out of a life of obedient submission to Christ that A.B. Simpson invited others to "live in the light of eternity." His invitation expressed the longing of his heart for every believer to enter into the joyous satisfaction of the fullness of Christ.
To this end, Simpson understood and embraced the role of discipline in his own life. He extolled the importance of voluntarily embracing practices and habits that enhance spiritual development and lead to godliness. Simpson did so without any fear of reverting to some form of legalism. He knew the disciplines were a gift of God's grace that he voluntarily embraced in cooperation with the Spirit's working to form Christ's character within his own being.
A.B. Simpson's writings are seasoned with statements underscoring the value he placed on practicing the spiritual disciplines. Their flavoring is a reflection of the practices he embraced in his life with Christ. These statements give us a glimpse into Simpson's heart. We discover that he was a man who was not afraid to bare his soul, letting us see the longing desire of his heart in a way that dispels any notions of spiritual superiority. He openly said, "I had to learn to take my spiritual life from Jesus every moment." These are the words of a man growing in godliness. They reveal an openness, an enticing vulnerability inviting, even compelling, us to join him in pursuing activities of spiritual formation leading us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Moment-by-moment, day-by-day we must learn what it means to take our life from Jesus. Simpson called this his "daily supply." His unpublished poem "Breathing Out and Breathing In" describes his attempt to cultivate a conscious awareness of Christ's presence living within.
Jesus, breathe Thy Spirit on me,
Teach me how to breathe Thee in,
Help me pour into Thy bosom
All my life of self and sin.
I am breathing out my own life,
That I may be filled with Thine;
Letting go my strength and weakness,
Breathing in Thy life divine.
Breathing out my sinful nature,
Thou has borne it all for me;
Breathing in Thy cleansing fullness
Finding all my life in Thee.
I am breathing out my sorrow
On Thy kind and gentle breast;
Breathing in Thy joy and comfort,
Breathing in Thy peace and rest.
I am breathing out my sickness,
Thou hast borne its burden too;
I am breathing in Thy healing,
Ever promised, ever new.
I am breathing out my longings
In Thy listening, loving ear;
I am breathing in Thy answers,
Stilling every doubt and fear.
I am breathing every moment,
Drawing all my life from Thee;
Breath by breath I live upon Thee,
Blessed Spirit, breathe in me.
I am breathing out my sorrow,
Breathing out my sin;
I am breathing, breathing, breathing
All Thy fullness in.
Simpson never considered the conscious awareness of Christ's presence and reliance upon Him for the "daily supply" as an end in itself. Without dismissing the significance of this "daily supply" in the believer's consecration and edification, it is more than this. It is the essential source and qualifying criterion for empowering God's children for service and ministry in advancing Christ's kingdom. Simpson understood the crucial correlation between spiritual character and effectiveness in ministry. This relationship is too important to ignore or dismiss as inconsequential. Simpson realized that evangelistic effectiveness was proportional to the quality of the spiritual life and experience of those who preached, labored and prayed for the salvation of men and women to become members of God's kingdom.
His vision and determination to reach the lost could not be compromised by spiritual indifference or lethargy within the Church. He denounced what he perceived to be a low level of spirituality in the Church by saying, "The blight of the Church today is spiritual starvation. People are famishing on rationalism, socialism, sensationalism, on lifeless bonds and bank notes and unwholesome pleasures." Simpson did not make statements such as this in a derogatory or condemnatory manner. They were made within the context of an appeal to pursue the things leading to godliness and the advancement of Christ's kingdom.
To A.B. Simpson, the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the sanctification of God's children were inseparable. The vitality of one's spiritual life, the journey and progress in spiritual formation, have profound ramifications for the individual, the congregation and the harvest waiting to be reaped. He would most certainly concur with R. Kent Hughes' assertion that
Whether or not we have disciplined ourselves will make a huge difference in this life. We are all members of one another, and we are each elevated or depressed by the inner lives of one another. Some of us affect others like a joyous tide, lifting them upward, but some of us are like an undertow to the Body of Christ.
It is the upward redeeming influence Simpson sought to exert for Christ. This is affirmed by the role of sanctification within his own life and as a distinctive doctrinal characteristic of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Simpson's pursuit of godliness in his own life compelled him to take the gospel of Christ to the unreached people of the world.
Evangelization and sanctification are not objectives Simpson sought to accomplish on his own. They were activities he pursued in obedient dependence upon Christ and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. He understood the Father's concern for the lost and the spiritual development of His children.
A.B. Simpson recognized that the Father's love for His children compelled the Spirit to actively seek ways to further the believer's spiritual formation through the circumstances and events of life. Commenting on Jacob's spiritual formation, Simpson notes:
When Jacob yielded himself up to the Presence in the submission of perfect trust, then came the fullness of God's working and God's victorious love. We too must learn that the secret of our deepest desires after God is His overruling grace.
Simpson sees God playing an active role within the believer's life, cultivating the desire for continued spiritual development that ultimately culminates in the maturity and character of the fullness of Christ. It also culminates in action, seeking to reach others with the Father's love and grace through Jesus Christ.
Since Jacob's severest trials came after his consecration at Peniel (see Genesis 32:22–32), Simpson fully expected the same to be true for others. It was true in his own spiritual development. After he completely yielded himself to Christ, Simpson perceived spiritual realities in a new light. The surrendered heart has the spiritual sensitivity to perceive and recognize the Father's interactive involvement in life's circumstances and events that are designed to further our development in Christlikeness. Consequently, it may seem as though God has a greater level of interactive involvement in our spiritual formation following our own personal surrender and consecration to Christ.
Simpson expresses this personal realization of God's longing desire for his own spiritual formation by writing:
The Holy Spirit is not leading us to develop our goodness, strength and love, but to discover our insufficiency and make room for a new manifestation of Christ's sufficiency and grace. In this holy discipline the Spirit uses all the circumstances of our life as the framework in which to constantly manifest and exhibit the face of Jesus Christ and the fullness of His grace. Trials and temptations only furnish new channels, needs and opportunities for the Master to live out His life within us. As the potter turns the wheel and at the same time molds the clay, so God's providences are the whole of life and the Holy Spirit the molding hand of the potter.
The lesson embedded upon Jeremiah's heart and mind while he stood watching the potter work the clay, listening to God's voice (see Jeremiah 18), was ablaze within Simpson's soul. An attitude and posture of trusting submission to God's sovereign working, even in the face of mysteries he did not yet understand, governed his understanding of God's interactive involvement in his own spiritual formation. It prompted him to write these words of counsel:
The first thing you need in order to be of any use anywhere is to be thoroughly broken, completely subjected and utterly crucified in the very core and center of your will. Then you will accept discipline and learn to yield and obey so that He can use you as a flexible and perfectly adjusted instrument. Henceforth you will only do what God wills and choose only what God chooses.
These words underscore the premium Simpson placed on the surrendered life, a life lived in complete submission to the will of the Father. Some of life's most valuable lessons are learned in the hard places and through experiences we would not choose. Consequently, Simpson invites us to join him in living in trustful, obedient submission to God. He cautions against the possibility of missing "the discipline of life and the victories of faith if we do not watch for God in all the hard places that come to us day by day." He writes,
Look at the hard places in our lives not as discouragements, but as challenges, things that God has permitted that He may overcome them. And that we may be lifted through the conflict to a higher place of victorious strength and blessing.
A.B. Simpson recognized that God had more in mind than his own spiritual formation. While recognizing the importance of his development in Christ, Simpson looked beyond himself to see the purpose God sought to accomplish through him. That purpose was the spiritual development of others. He writes,
After God has pressed into a life by the long and hard process of trial and discipline, the influences of His grace and the power of His transforming Spirit, then He loves to take out of that life the same power and expend it on others. Power can never be lost; so if we receive of God's fullness we can no more help giving it out than the sun stop shining.
Simpson never viewed the spiritual formation and growth God sought to bring into his life with an attitude of self-indulgence or spiritual favor. He repudiated the notion of sacrifice, even self-sacrifice, where it was needless, and declared it wrong. Consequently, it is reasonable to assert that Simpson would have drawn the same conclusion concerning any spiritual discipline that was practiced in a similar fashion.
Simpson understood the Father's involvement in shaping his spiritual character as a sacred trust, equipping and rendering him effective in service to Christ and the advancement of His kingdom within the Church and throughout the world. He affirmed that there may be occasions when God lovingly imposes restraints upon us in order to bring us into conformity with the good the Creator has for us. Simpson viewed the restraints God imposes as a loving limitation that directs us into spiritually beneficial avenues.
Leading people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and into the depths of the Christ-life are two primary objectives Simpson connected with spiritual discipline. This is why he could view difficult circumstances in light of the opportunities for spiritual formation that came through those experiences. "How can we become more than conquerors? We can get out of the conflict a spiritual discipline that will greatly strengthen our faith and establish our spiritual character."
This exhortation reveals Simpson's commitment to practice personally the spiritual disciplines. It affirms his conscious and deliberate decision to pursue the things leading to godliness simultaneously and in cooperation with the Spirit's working to mold and shape his spiritual character. Expressing this in the first-person plural pronoun "we" reveals his concern for the spiritual formation of other believers.
The realization that he had a sacred responsibility to bring others into the fullness of the Christ-life never escaped Simpson's attention. His concern for the spiritual formation of others permeates his writings. Simpson's works are authentic spiritual theology. They do not present abstract theology, but expound biblical truth with a view to the spiritual formation of the readers. His sermons, books, poetry and hymns are concerned with the spiritual transformation of people. Simpson's spiritual purpose was to guide people into the fullness of the Christ-life, and then into the full expression of Christ's life in the world.
In The Christ Life Simpson outlined practical steps Christians can take in furthering their own spiritual formation. He developed them in a way that underscores the conscious, deliberate and active role believers play in furthering their own spiritual development. These steps are an autobiographical testimony to an aspect of the process A.B. Simpson pursued in his own spiritual formation.
[Life in Him] must be a momentary life, not a current that flows on through its own momentum; but a succession of little acts and habits ... so that if you shall renew this fellowship every moment, you shall always abide in Him.... [T]his abiding must be established by a succession of definite acts of will, and of real, fixed, steadfast trust in Christ. It does not come as a spontaneous and irresistible impulse that carries you whether you will or not, but you have to begin by an act of trust, and must repeat it until it becomes a habit.
Excerpted from Relentless Spirituality by Gary Keisling. Copyright © 2004 Gary Keisling. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART I: THE SPIRIT, DISCIPLINE AND SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES,
1 Teach Me, Lord! The Spirit and the Disciplines of Living,
PART II: DISCIPLINES OF ENGAGEMENT,
2 Learning to Trust The Place of Submission in Life with Christ,
3 My Heart to His Prayer as a Way of Life,
PART III: DISCIPLINES OF ABSTINENCE,
4 Giving Your Life Away The Gift of Sacrifice,
5 Letting Go of Things That Slow You Down Living with Simplicity,
6 Enjoying God's Presence The Blessing of Solitude,
7 Living for the Lord's Pleasure Practicing Secrecy,
8 It's All About God The Ultimate Discipline: Worship,
A Final Comment,
Appendix A: A Solemn Covenant: The Dedication of Myself to God,
Appendix B: A Short Biography of A.B. Simpson,
Appendix C: Spiritual Disciplines and The Christian and Missionary Alliance,