Christ in the Tabernacle: An Old Testament Portrayal of the Christ of the New Testament, by A.B. Simpson. Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread Publishers, 2009. 98 pages.
Albert Benjamin Simpson was a prominent American pastor near the close of the 19th century. He founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance, established a publishing house and pastored several congregations. Simpson was held in high regard by such men as Dwight Moody and C.I. Scofield.
What you see is what you get. That compliment could aptly be applied to this book by Albert Benjamin Simpson. The title makes clear the author’s intent and objective—to demonstrate how the tabernacle of the Old Testament presents the Christ of the New. Originally delivered as a series of sermons, the eight chapters of the book examine different aspects of the tabernacle with the first serving as a sort of overview. In fact, the very first sentences of the book do a good job of conveying the author’s purpose. “The Tabernacle is the greatest of all the Old Testament types of Christ. It was all one great object lesson of spiritual truth. In its wonderful furniture, its priesthood and its worship we see with a vividness that we find nowhere else the glory and grace of Jesus and the privileges of His redeemed people” (7-8). Following that statement Simpson provides a brief description of the tabernacle, an outline of its history and a list of connections with Christ.
Chapter two deals with the historical event of God’s presence filling the temple. This allows Simpson to discuss the connection between the tabernacle, Christ and the church. Essentially he draws out the different ways in which aspects of the tabernacle connected people to God. He then speaks of how each item pictures the connections New Testament believers have to God and Christ. The following passage is typical of Simpson’s style: “That inner chamber just beyond the open court is only for God’s priests. How, then, dare we intrude? Thank God, we are all admitted to the place of priesthood if we will accept by faith ‘him that loved us…’” (20).
The remaining six chapters walk through some of the significant furnishings of the Tabernacle. These items are as follows: the altar of sacrifice with its blood, the basin for washing, the golden lampstand, the showbread, the altar of incense, and the Holy of Holies. Each chapter begins with an Old Testament quotation about the particular item. The main focus of each chapter, however, is on how that item depicts some aspect of the work of Christ or our lives as Christians or both.
As stated earlier, the contents of this book were originally presented as a series of sermons. This is fairly obvious even if you miss the note at the beginning of the book. This style brings with it several strengths and several weaknesses. There are two negatives that stem from the original structure. First is that aside from the focus on the tabernacle, there is not a strong development between chapters. Each chapter largely stands on its own as a self-contained whole. Second, there is also a noticeable amount of repetition. It isn’t so much as to ruin the book, but it is there and can be tiring (ex. 15, 20, 37-50).
The format is, of course, secondary to the content. On that count the book seemed of varying quality. Some chapters were very well done overall. The third chapter about the altar of sacrifice offered a good overview of the place of blood in both the tabernacle worship and the Christian life. In many of the chapters there were also isolated observations that were worthwhile. As an example, Simpson observed, “[The altar’s] place at the entrance to the Tabernacle teaches us that Christ’s sacrifice, of which it is the type, stands at the very entrance of all our access to and communion with God” (28). In the closing chapter, his treatment of the mercy seat (92-93) was noteworthy.
However, there were also several chapters that were weak overall. Two that stood out were his chapter on the wash basin (37-50) and the incense (73-87). Part of the weakness of these chapters is found in the fact that he might press the details farther than they can really go (ex. 82, 83). The bigger problem, however, is how these chapters reveal areas where Simpson is off on his theology. He betrays a lack of understanding of the means of grace. For instance, in the chapter on the wash basin he says more about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet than baptism. And his one paragraph that touches on baptism has almost more to say about John’s baptism (38). His discussion of sanctification (44-46) leaves the impression that Simpson taught that it is possible to achieve Christian perfection in this life. He also at times dabbles in the language of decision theology (55, 96) either by accident or design. And even though he has some helpful comments on the application of prayer (80) he is completely mistaken about its place. For example he states, “Prayer is the greatest of our ministries. It is much greater than preaching. It is the best thing we can do for God…It is the Holy Spirit claimed by prayer who is the secret of success” (79). Such statements reveal just how completely Simpson failed to grasp the means of grace.
So, is it worth a pastor’s time to pick up this book? It would be a worthwhile resource in preparing a Bible class series on the tabernacle because it is short, making it accessible to a busy pastor, and does offer enough application, thoughts, and insights to repay the time spent reading. If a class on the tabernacle isn’t in your plans, save yourself the time and just reread Hebrews.