|RPM, Volume 19, Number 52 December 24 to December 30, 2017|
Charles Simeon was born near Reading on September 24 1759. He came from a wealthy background. As a boy of nine he was sent to Eton, and was baptised in the parish church there on 24 October of that year. At nineteen he went up with a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge and succeeded in due course to a Fellowship, which he held to his death. He never married. He was ordained Deacon in 1782 and Priest in 1783. In 1792, he was made Minister or Perpetual Curate of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cambridge, a beniface [a position or post granted to an ecclesiastic that guarantees a fixed amount of property or income] which was originally a Vicarage of the Abbey of Dereham, and of which, after the suppression of the Abbey, and until the year 1867, the bishop appointed the minister.
This article is indebted to H.C.G. Moule's Christian classic Charles Simeon, which serves as the primary source background reading for the content of this article. It quotes extensively from the definitive work (as it is for me) in order to give an honest appraissal of the man. The present article is dedicated to the reconstruction of the life, works and ideas of the English clergyman as presented in Moule's work on the subject.
This article is structured as follows; it will consider his conversion, his auspicious beginnings, his congregation, his sufferings, his achievements,
When invited to take communion on his arrival at King's he realised how unprepared he was. He read "The Whole Duty of Man". At Easter 1779 he experienced the power of the atonement personally – "sought to lay my sins on the sacred head of Jesus". He rejoiced over the peace that came to him. Henry Venn, when he was rector of Yelling, helped mentor him. Although all Cambridge students were required to receive communion at least three times in order to graduate, few took the requirement seriously.
Simeon however was different: after learning of his upcoming participation in this rite, Simeon wrote in his diary that "Satan himself was as fit to attend as I; and that if I must attend, [to receive Holy Communion], I must prepare for my attendance there." He tells us,
Without a moment's loss of time, I bought the old Whole Duty of Man, (the only religious book that I had ever heard of) began to read it with great diligence; at the same time calling my ways to remembrance, and crying to God for mercy; and so earnest was I in these exercises, that within the three weeks I made myself quite ill with reading, fasting, and prayer…"
He started a weekly prayer meetings and Bible class, parish group meetings and parish visitation. He reached students through a Friday conversation party. His influence over the clergy was to be global. He used his own money to purchase advowsons (livings), still important today through the Simeon Trust.
The vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, died in October 1782 just as Charles Simeon was about to leave the university to live in his father's home. Simeon had often walked by the church, he tells us, and said to himself, "How should I rejoice if God were to give me that church, that I might preach the Gospel there and be a herald for Him in the University." His dream came true when Bishop York appointed him "curate-in-charge" (being only ordained a deacon at the time). His wealthy father had nudged the Bishop, and the pastor at St Edwards, where Simeon preached that summer, and gave him an endorsement. He preached his first sermon there on 10th November 1782.
But the parishioners did not want Simeon. They wanted the assistant curate, Mr Hammond. "Simeon was willing to step down but the Bishop told him that even if he did decline the appointment he would not appoint Hammond. So Simeon stayed . . . for fifty-four years! And very gradually he overcame the opposition". The congregation at Holy Trinity so completely rejected him that seat-holders locked their pews and did not attend, leaving only the aisles for worshippers.
Simeon experienced pastoral disappointments and discouragements on an regular basis. In 1786 Henry Venn wrote to Rowland Hill: "He is rightly esteemed, and exceedingly despised". He was treated shamefully, and today the majority of pastors would have taken flight. But no, not Simeon. He possessed great resolve, fortitude and grace in dealing with these issues.
Simeon was one of the foremost preachers of his age and one of the outstanding characters of the Evangelical Revival. He pioneered the idea of teaching homiletics [preaching] to ordinands [candidates for the ministry] and was a major figure in the development of biblical preaching in the Anglican church. He published his sermon outlines in the twenty-one volume Horae Homileticae, a work of inestimable value and influence. It was published originally in 1832 for the benefit of younger pastors seeking practical improvement at the task of sermon creation, Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of its author, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.
Sir Richard Temple claimed that: "He was probably the greatest parish minister that ever adorned the Church of England though he has been dead many years (his influence) still radiates".
Bennett tells us "His biblical preaching filled his church others abhorred". But his biblical preaching filled his church and in time he was called to give thirty university sermons. His aim, he said, was to win souls, and to that end he itinerated in other parishes until advised against; but made four preaching tours in Scotland by invitation of leading Presbyterians.
He was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society. Simeon was highly influential in the growth of the evangelical movement in the Anglican Church.
Simeon exhorts his students to "Seek to speak always in your natural voice. You are generally told to speak up; I say rather speak down. It is by the strength not by the elevation of your voice that you are to be heard. Speak exactly as you would if you were conversing with an aged and pious superior. This will keep you from undue formality and from improper familiarity." "But the whole state of your own soul before God must be the first point to be considered; for if you yourself are not in a truly spiritual frame of mind, and actually living upon the truths which you preach or read to others, you will officiate to very little purpose."
His style of delivery, which to the last was remarkably lively and impressive, in his earlier days was earnest and impassioned in no ordinary degree. The intense fervour of his feelings he cared not to conceal or restrain; his whole soul was in his subject, and he spoke and acted exactly as he felt. Occasionally indeed his gestures and looks often appeared grotesque from the earnestness and fearlessness of his attempts to illustrate or enforce his thoughts in detail; but his action was altogether unstudied, sometimes remarkably striking and commanding, and always sincere and serious."
Mr. Carus describes Simeon as a preacher. Another of his old friends, Canon Abner Brown, gives us a similar recollection: "A single remark of Wilberforce's in reference to a specific occasion accurately describes him as at all times; "Simeon is in earnest." One could hardly help noticing a peculiar look of earnest reality at all times stamped upon his countenance. His distinct articulation, unlaboured utterance, and accurate pronunciation.
We read in the book "The great nonconformist preacher of our time, Mr. Spurgeon, certainly a master of his art, has said that the pastor who would keep his church full must first 'preach the Gospel,' and then preach it with three adverbs in his mind — earnestly, interestingly, fully." In substance this was Simeon's prescription also, and most certainly his practice.
A small print, published just after his death, represents him in the pulpit, as if in the act of exposition. It is thought a good likeness by those who remember his last days. The face is full of a glad animation, and the gesture easy and graceful.
As a preacher he was a master of being to fix the hearers' upon the message, and not the speaker. His reverential air, his deep unfeigned sincerity, his impassioned reality, his unflagging energy, satisfied the hearers that he deeply felt, and meant to the fullest extent, what he was saying." "The correctness of the diction, the frequent eloquence of the style, the honest sincerity, the thoughtful originality, soon compelled even a stranger to forget the peculiarities of manner or gesture, and to listen with deep, often with breathless attention as to an ambassador from God delivering a powerful and loving message to each hearer individually. Who ever heard a dry sermon from Simeon's lips, or had to listen to a dull remark in conversation with him?
His English, as shown in his University sermons, where his style is, so to speak, seen at full length, is accurate and strong, a good specimen of the art of preaching.
Simeon reminded students that at every turn the pastoral sermon is not to be either a treatise out of place, or an oration developed from the mere starting-point of a text, but a 'setting forth of God's Word'. He exhorted his disciples to adopt the right sort of preparation and also to develop the most effective delivery; to insist upon care in exposition, clearness of arrangement, and directness of appeal. As to the actual words, he advised them to prepare their material fully and carefully, but to leave the wording to the moment of delivery. There is much to profit the ardent enquirer of homiletics in this book.
Although abhorred by some "his biblical preaching filled his church, and in time he was called to give thirty university sermons. His aim, he said, was to win souls, and to that end he itinerated in other parishes until advised against; but made four preaching tours in Scotland by invitation of leading Presbyterians. However, for years the congregation not only refused to listen to Simeon's sermons, but locked their pews so that any visitors would not have a place to sit. When Simeon rented chairs at his own expense and placed them in the aisles, the churchwardens threw them out. One faculty member deliberately scheduled Sunday Greek sessions so his students would not have an opportunity to hear Simeon preach. Students hurled bricks through windows in on his worship services and lectures. Simeon had carved on the inside of the church pulpit, where only the preacher could see, the words a group of Greeks spoke to Philip when he and the other disciples were with Christ in Jerusalem before His death: "Sir, we would see Jesus." (John 12:21) Although constantly wondering if he should leave, Simeon remained at Holy Trinity for over fifty years.
In the words of HCG Moule:-
[In] that pastorate he lived and laboured for just fifty-four years, [italics mine] through many vicissitudes of good report and evil, amidst serious and complicated difficulties, and with results which were felt far and wide. He died November 13, 1836, in his rooms in King's College, and was buried six days later in the great vault beneath the pavement of the antechapel. The book further states "I remember on another occasion in Edinburgh, after having finished an impressive discourse, his standing up with impassioned gesture and stopping a merry jig which was commencing from the organ." He had been preaching in an Episcopalian Chapel on the eternal covenant. As the lively concluding voluntary began, he started from his knees and exclaimed, "No music! Let the people retire in silence and think upon the Covenant!" Perhaps the interruption was ill-judged; but indeed there are voluntaries, [A piece for solo organ, often improvised, played before, during, or after a religious service] and even hymns, which seem only too certain to drive away the impressions of the sermon. To Simeon, the work of the pulpit was inexpressibly important, and he could not politely conceal his sense of this. On another occasion, in Scotland, when "God had been much with him" as he preached, the minister of the church, just after the sermon, in the vestry, began to ask him about his travels. " Speak to me of heaven. Sir," he answered, " and I can talk with you, but do not speak to me about earth at this moment, for I cannot talk about it." He was quite precious [not arrogant]. He was conscious of his holy calling whatever the situation. He saw himself as having a high responsibility and duty to preach the gospel. There is a subtle difference between the two. A duty refers to spiritual commitment, whereas a responsibility refers to the other side of the coin. In other words impact.
Simeon was committed to competent and effective preaching of the highest quality. He believed in systematic Bible teaching and sound doctrine for the building up, and discipling, of his congregation. Pastors today have all the resources but at their disposal, unfortunately little of the passion of Simeon. He described the threefold object of all his preaching as: "To humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, to promote holiness." He believed: "The majesty and Glory of the Saviour's atonement ... [should be] ... the central object of every minister's preaching." Simeon believed that "quality" time devoted to sermon preparation was essential and spent a minimum of twelve hours "many twice that time: and some several days" on sermon preparation. He once remarked about the preacher's approach to preparation: "Let him get his text into him in his study, and then get into his text in the pulpit." On another occasion he explained: "I love the simplicity of the scriptures … I wish to receive and inculcate every truth precisely in the way and to the extent that it is set forth in the inspired volume … My endeavour is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding."
His own self-assessment made on his death bed when he slowly smote his chest three times and said:
I am, I know, the chief of sinners; and I hope for nothing but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus to life eternal; and I shall be, if not the greatest monument of God's mercy in heaven, yet the very next to it; for I know none greater … I look, as the chief of sinners, for the mercy of God in Christ Jesus to life eternal, and I lie adoring the Sovereignty of God in choosing such a one—and the mercy you of God in pardoning such a one—and the patience of God in bearing with such a one—and the faithfulness of God in perfecting his work and performing all his promises to such a one.
When he began his ministry there were not more than 20 people present and yet there was something like 500 who attended his funeral. An amazing achievement given the opposition he faced throughout his ministry.
We have much to praise God for in the life of Simeon, said John Stott in his review of Moule's book Charles Simeon: Pastor of Generation. He announced that "We urgently need a new generation of Simeons." And I wholeheartedly agree with him. We immediate require good and faithful servants to revive the glorious ministry of God ordained ministry. May it be so. Pray that it will be so.
His counsel was always wise. Further, Simeon was totally committed to the service of God and man. With him, theology and practice were always united. He believed in practical Christianity – in action rather than words – and was consciously aware of the needs of the poor. Simeon shared the motto, along with other Evangelicals: 'Every hour and every shilling for God'. Simeon was an affluent man (more through thrift and careful management than inherited wealth) and often took advantage of that fact. As a young man he allocated a third of his income to good causes and, in later years, gave away the Ł5000 profit from his Horae Homileticae.
Several troublemakers, who were so persistent in voicing their hostility and disagreements towards Simeon's ministry, eventually found themselves in jail. Simeon, in that distinctive way of his, ensured they were not released until they had made a contribution to the poor of the parish.
Charles Smyth wrote of Simeon: "I doubt whether the genius of that man as an ecclesiastical statesman has ever achieved sufficient recognition." His system of ministry was "Lay aside system and fly to the Bible; receive its words with simple submission, without an eye to any system. Be Bible Christians, and not system Christians he would counsel".
His life had been well-spent; he was prepared to die. And the opposition that insensibly faced him in his early years of ministry was turned, due to the exercise of patience and perseverance, to a mellow friendship with the public who knew him and profited from the mighty gospel that issues from his lips.
In recognition of their loss, the congregation erected a memorial tablet and affixed it to the chancel wall, close to his intimate friends Martyn and Thomason. It read:
And I'm certain that to these words will be added the words of his Lord. His master said to him, `Excellent! You are a good and trustworthy servant (CJB - The Complete Jewish Bible).
Simeon was modest about his achievements. God "can and does work by the meanest instruments, I am a living witness; but my sphere has been small, a mere nothing in comparison to others. Yet have I lived to see the triumph of my own principles throughout the land." Lord Macaulay made it clear that: "As to Simeon, if you knew what his authority and influence were, and how they extended from Cambridge to the remote comers of England [and you could also add India], you would allow that his real sway in the church was far greater than that of any primate" (Munden).
Simeon was a great preacher, an outstanding preacher, He belongs to that "cloud of witnesses" who passed on the torch of faith to their own and to succeeding generations. Whether we recognise it or not, we benefit from his faithful service: he is a source and root of much that is best in present-day evangelicalism both in the Church of England, which he loved, and outsides its confines. He was not ashamed to call himself a loyal son of that Church; he laboured for its blessing and increase and made good use of its assets, the Prayer-Book first and foremost.
Oh for someone today like Simeon to arrive on the providential absence today. One with similar outstanding talents.
1. Book: H.C.G. Moule' Charles Simeon, (London: InterVarsity, 1944.
3. Banner of Truth: Article;
4. Article: Charles Simeon: Through the eyes of an American Lutheran; Rudolph W Heinze; Churchman
5. Article: Umbrellas, Great-Coats and Polished Shoes, and the Spirituality of Charles Simeon; Alan Munden; Churchman 113/2 1999.
6. Article: Charles Simeon: Serving God in His Generation: Paul Mizzi. www. tecmalta.org. Accessed August 3,2016
7. Article: Are the Priorities and Concerns of Charles Simeon Relevant for Today? Churchman 114/2 2000. Paul A Carr
8. R Heinze Church History Lecture at Oak Hill Theological College 31st November 1995
9. Carus Memoirs pp 841-2
10. Brown Recollections p 180
11. HCG Moule ibid
12. A W Brown Recollections of the Conversation Parties of the Rev Charles Simeon (London: Hamilton, Adams and Co 1863) p 17
13. Book; Simeon and Church Order; Charles Smyth;
14. Article: A short Bibliographical sketch of Charles Simeon Kimbrough.
15. Charles Simeon Trust and University of Chicago. About Charles Simeon. Web address www.simeontrust.org, accessed August 3 2016.
16. Article; Charles Simeon: His Trials and Patience in the Ministry; John no. 321, June 1990, Piper J Banner of Truth
17. Book; H Evan Hopkins Charles Simeon Preacher Extraordinary Bramcote: Grove Books 5 1979)
18. Book: Horae Homileticae, Simeon C, 21 volumes. 1832.
19. Article: Charles Simeon: Prince of Evangelicals: Churchman, 102/2. 1988; Arthur Bennett.
20. Bennett. Ibid.
21. Moule. Ibid
22. www.Tecmalts.org. Ibid.
23. Moule. Ibid
24. www.temalta.org. Ibid.
26. Article: Umbrellas, Great-Coats and Polished Shoes, and the Spirituality of Charles Simeon; Alan Munden; Churchman 113/2 1999.
27. Article: Are the Priorities and Concerns of Charles Simeon for Today? Churchman 114/2 2000. Paul A Carr.
28. Book: C Smyth "Simeon and Church Order" (Cambridge University Press, 1940)11.
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