Mysticism and contemplation in the life and teaching of Albert Benjamin Simpson

Clyde McLean Glass, Marquette University


Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919), the founder of the conservative evangelical denomination called the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was raised in a Canadian Presbyterian home, trained for ministry at the Presbyterian Knox College Toronto, Ontario, and served for fifteen years as a Presbyterian minister in several prestigious American churches, including New York's Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church. Although Simpson's own spirituality was rooted in the theology of the Protestant Reformation and in the disciplines of Puritanism, he was also characterized, as this dissertation examines, by a dependence on Protestant and Catholic mystical and contemplative writings, particularly those of the Quietists (e.g., Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717) and Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)). Simpson himself claimed that his reading of mystical writings caused "one of the turning points" of his life. He did not adopt all that was included in the mystics' teachings, and clearly remained a man of action in his ministry after this turning point, but his life and teaching evidenced an integration of active and contemplative dimensions of the Christian life. The focus of this dissertation, then, is upon Simpson's mystical and contemplative perspectives as evidenced in his teaching and practice, particularly from 1881 to 1919. The purpose of this historical-critical study of A. B. Simpson is thus to determine the role of mysticism and contemplative practices in his spirituality. This study shows that Simpson appropriated mystical and contemplative practices for his personal piety, and encouraged these practices in the lives of his people through his modeling, preaching and writing. For Simpson, the guidance which believers received through contemplation, while needing to be evaluated in light of Scripture, was seen as personal direction from God. Simpson did not encourage an extreme reclusion or passivity in the contemplative life, but rather viewed active ministry as a natural fruit of contemplation and mystical union with Christ. This study concludes that Simpson, while by no means abandoning the authority of Scripture and the Church, viewed mystical and contemplative experiences as a prominent religious authority in his life. The mystical spirituality which Simpson thus modeled and presented is best defined as "contemplation in action."

Recommended Citation

Glass, Clyde McLean, "Mysticism and contemplation in the life and teaching of Albert Benjamin Simpson" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9811385.