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Matthew Simpson


THE bishopric of the Methodist Episcopal Church involves for the discharge of its multifarious duties such an in finitude of labor, such constant and active exercise of all a man's powers, physical, intellectual and moral, that it seems wonderful that any of the bishops can ever find a moment's opportunity to get out of the rut of official duty. There are Conferences to be presided over, on both sides of the continent, causes to be heard and decided (for the bishops are each in their way appellate judges), the missionary affairs, involving an expenditure of one or two millions, to be superintended, and the other great interests of the denomination looked after, and rightfully or wrongfully, every itinerant who has just the charge he did not want, and every church which has just the pastor they did not ask for, feels that the bishop has been led astray by some enemy of theirs. But if this is ordinarily the case, how much more onerous have been the duties of the bishops for the last few years, when owing to the death of several of their number, and the failing health of others, the work which eight men could not accomplish, and for which sixteen would not have been too many, was laid upon the shoulders of four, none of them very vigorous. How a man so overworked can find time for any literary or philanthropic labor outside of his official duties passes our comprehension. Yet Bishop Simpson has, during the past ten or twelve years, accomplished an amount of work outside of his episcopal duties which most men would consider sufficient to entitle them to a retiring pension.

MATTHEW SIMPSON was born in Cadiz, Ohio, June 21st, 1810. While he was yet an infant his father died, and his mother, an accomplished and highly educated woman of great piety and judgment, undertook to educate him for the ministry. She early grounded him in the English branches, and finding him an apt and ready scholar, with a remarkable facility for acquiring the languages, encouraged him to commence the study of German when he was but eight years of age. He mastered the language so readily that the following year he read the Bible through in German. He subsequently studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as some of the modern languages. He also became a proficient in physical and philosophical studies. In 1829, he graduated from Madison College, though he had attended but very few terms there. The same year he joined the Methodist Church, but seemed averse to preparing himself for the ministry, which had been the goal of his mother's hopes. He preferred, on the contrary, the medical profession, and after a very thorough course of medical study, graduated M. D. in 1833. 

But though he entered upon the practice of his profession with zeal and the best prospect of success, his mother's prayers and entreaties still followed him, and almost without being conscious of it, he found himself drawn toward the ministry. At first he contented himself with exercising his gifts according to the custom of his church as a local preacher; but presently he began to devote himself to theological studies. In 1835, he was admitted to deacon's orders, and in 1837, entered the itineracy. But while he possessed rare abilities as a preacher, his thorough and extensive scholarship caused his services to be in demand for the collegiate institutions of his church. In 1839, he was called to the Presidency of Indiana Asbury University, and in 1841, transferred to the Vice-Presidency of Alleghany College and the Professorship of Natural Sciences there. He remained in this position till 1851, but from 1848 took upon him the added duties of editor of the Western (now the Pittsburg) Christian Advocate, which he conducted with marked ability till his elevation to the bishopric in 1852. He was, when elected, the youngest of the bishops, and though all have been abundant in their labors, and several have gone down to their graves from overwork, it is no disparagement to the others to say that Bishop Simpson has been the hardest worker in the episcopate. Blessed with a vigorous constitution, great powers of endurance, and a remarkable aptitude for the rapid dispatch of business, he had not until the last year shown any symptoms of exhaustion under his multitudinous labors. But of late his physicians have insisted that absolute rest was necessary to the preservation of his valuable life.

From 1852 to 1860, as the junior bishop, his duties were perhaps no more arduous than those of his colleagues, though as a pulpit orator of rare eloquence and power, he was constantly called upon to preach or deliver addresses on subjects not connected strictly with his episcopal duties, and sometimes not with Methodism itself.

But after the commencement of the war, how the man did work! While neglecting none of his official duties, he seemed the very embodiment of patriotism, and like a fire on the prairies, he set everything around him aflame with his zeal. He was an intimate friend and often the wise and judicious counsellor of President Lincoln; from East to West he preached and lectured on the duty of the people to uphold our Government, and rendered more efficient aid than almost any other man to the Christian and Sanitary Commissions. His eloquence in pleading the cause of our country and its wounded heroes was unsurpassed, and after his appeals, so full of pathos, so touching in their simple beauty, his audiences with eyes streaming with tears, were ready to empty their purses into the collectors' plates, only lamenting that they were not larger and fuller.

Other clergymen of all denominations labored zealously, and accomplished great things for the country in its hour of extreme need; but I think only one, or perhaps two others* equalled Bishop Simpson in the vast extent of their beneficent influence over the nation. Certainly no one surpassed him in this regard.

Since the war, though overtasked with his episcopal duties from the unprecedented mortality among his colleagues, Bishop Simpson has not lost his interest in his country. Often, amid the utmost weariness and physical exhaustion, he has lifted up his voice in warning of national errors or in the encouragement of the nation's faith, and it is largely due to his powerful influence that the great denomination of which he has been so earnest and faithful a leader has kept step so truly and uniformly to the music of the Union.

We can spare our politicians; a hundred of them might die and our country and the world be none the worse; but a stanch, earnest, true-hearted patriot like Bishop Simpson cannot be spared. May it please God long to preserve his life to benefit our nation and the world.

* Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and possibly Bishop Rosecrans (Roman Catholic) of Ohio.


Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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