We have all heard the critique, “He cannot see the forest for the trees!” It is not that trees are bad; in fact, they can be beautiful. It is just that if someone’s view is too narrow, they may miss either what they ought to see or, at least, miss out on so much more. We all know, of course, that each of us is prone to this malady.
The fourfold Gospel was formulated to address a similar condition. A. B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, was active in the mainstream of late nineteenth-century evangelical life and thought. He praised, supported, and participated in its major emphases and trends. Regarding Revivalism, he championed its emphasis on the necessity of being “born again” and was, himself, a strident and successful evangelist. In relation to the Holiness Movement, he lauded its emphasis on the need for holy living and Spirit-empowerment for service. The greatest majority of his preaching and teaching addressed this issue. Concerning Divine Healing, Simpson supported its emphasis on the goodness of bodily existence, experienced healing himself, and operated retreat centres where people could come and seek healing from God. Finally, in regard to the growing interest in premillennial eschatology—the idea that the imminent return of Jesus will usher in the Heavenly Kingdom—Simpson encouraged his listeners and readers to work tirelessly in mission that they may actually bring this reality nearer.
While a participant in and champion of each of these four trends—Revivalism, the Holiness Movement, the Divine Healing Movement, and Premillennialism—Simpson did not accept everything about their underlying theologies and practices uncritically. For example, in regard to the Holiness Movement, Simpson identified what he saw as the shortcomings of the two leading options of the day: the Wesleyan perspective and that of Keswick. With respect to the Divine Healing Movement, he was sure to critique the theological and practical errors of many of the supposed “faith healers.” While Simpson’s critiques of these various theological trends may be found in a number of areas, his single greatest criticism of the theology and practice of late nineteenth-century Evangelicalism came in one particular area.
There was a tendency among the popular interpretations and practices of the four movements mentioned above to commodity, objectify, or “thing-ify” the grace of God. That is, there existed within each of these movements a tendency among its adherents to seek to gain—in some way or another—something from God. In Revivalism, the desire was for a thing called regeneration. In the Holiness Movement, the desire was for empowerment. Within the Divine Healing Movement, it was a longing for healing, health, or vitality. For the Premillennialists, the object of hope was the Rapture, Heaven, or the like.
Simpson, however, sought to remind his audience that none of these things actually existed; that is, they had no independent existence. Instead, he noted that each of these “things” is nothing other than names that we give to the consequences or the manifestations of the primary blessing of God’s saving work: the indwelling of the all-sufficient Jesus Christ, Himself! This means that, not only, is Christ our Savior—Christ is our Salvation. To be “born again” is nothing other than to have the very life and vitality of the indwelling and resurrected Christ, Himself, overflowing in the believer. It is not that Christ brings along with him a compound called “vitality” that He, then, applies to us; He, Himself, is that vitality. The same holds true for the other aspects of the fourfold Gospel. None of these “blessings” exists other than as a name for the consequences or manifestations of the presence of Christ, Himself, living and moving within the believer. Simpson would note, then, that it is idolatrous and, therefore, rather un-Christian to seek for something, whether that “thing” be called regeneration, sanctification, healing, or the millennium.
In a somewhat prophetic tone—prophetic to the Evangelicalism of which he was part—the fourfold Gospel proclaims that it is the indwelling Christ Himself, alone, who regenerates; it is the indwelling Christ Himself, alone, who sanctifies; it is the indwelling Christ Himself, alone, who is life; it is the indwelling Christ, alone, for whom we should long.
Therefore, Simpson’s major contribution to the Evangelicalism of his era is his reminder to these various movements and their adherents that their proper focus must never be on commodities or things that one imagines may be received from God. Instead, he reminded late-nineteenth century Evangelicals that the proper subject of their longing and the sole provision for the Christian life is nothing other and nothing less than Jesus Christ, Himself. It is Christ Himself, not Christ and regeneration. It is Christ Himself, not Christ and power or holiness. It is Christ Himself, not Christ and healing. It is Christ Himself, not Christ and a kingdom. Jesus not only delivers the blessings of the atonement, Jesus Christ, Himself, is the blessing of the atonement!
Christ is not merely the “instrument” of our salvation—it is not just that He brings us something other than Himself that saves us—He is, Himself, the “content” of our salvation. Christ, and Christ alone is, at one and the same time, both the Giver and the Gift of salvation. While nineteenth-century evangelicalism was sure to remember the first, it was prone to forget the second. For Simpson, the only gift—the only salvation—that exists is that of the Giver Himself.
The world has seen momentous change in the 132 years since the founding of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The world that you and I inhabit would be alien to our grandparents and our great-grandparents. So very much has happened; so very much has changed. Yet, it is said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. After 132 years, in spite of all of the change, people are still people. That has not changed. After 132 years, people—even sincere believers within the Church, even people within the Alliance—are still prone to idolatry, to chasing after objects, commodities, or products. Even the sincerest of people are liable to misdirect their longings, their desires, and, consequently, their worship.
Therefore, should someone ask, “After 132 years, is the message of the fourfold Gospel still relevant?” my answer would be, “As the fourfold Gospel is rightly understood and rightly centred on the indwelling person Jesus Christ, Himself, ‘Yes! Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!’” (Revelation. 22:20).
Bernie is the Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Ambrose University. He serves as the District Superintendent of the Canadian Midwest District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, as well as, Chair of the Alliance World Fellowship’s International Commission for Theological Education. Bernie is married to Colleen and has two wonderful sons: Dave, married to Hannah, and Ken.