Charles Simeon

Charles Simeon 1759-1836

Charles Simeon was born in 1759 at a time when the Wesleys and Whitfield were still alive. He lived for 77 years and therefore witnessed both the American and French revolutions. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing being born into wealth, sent to Eton and then onto Cambridge. He was converted at University because of his own meticulous preparation for an unexpected compulsory Lord’s Supper. He felt the need to prepare himself for this significant occasion and ended up troubled by his own unworthiness. But then a breakthrough came, in his own words, ‘In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect – “That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, ‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour.

He became Minister of Holy Trinity, Cambridge in 1782 and stayed there for 54 years.

1. A passion for expository preaching

He has been described as the Father of modern homiletics. Which simply means he taught everyone how to preach. He was not a great preacher at the start of his ministry but he learnt through experience. He summarised his approach this way, ‘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.’ At the time this was revolutionary. Ministers were preaching their doctrinal system and not the thrust of the passage before them. He changed that. The result of this was that it transformed not only the way preachers handled the Bible but also the way the congregations read their Bibles at home.

2. A strategy for ministry training

Simeon became a powerful influence within the Anglican Denomination at a time when Evangelicalism was not welcome. At the time he began his ministry at HTC there were estimated to be no more than a couple of dozen Evangelicals in the entire Anglican Denomination. By the time he died in 1836 some 54 years later 1/3rd of the Anglican pulpits were filled with evangelicals. It is not exaggeration to claim that he was the single biggest contributory factor. Typically a student would come to Cambridge, would go to HTC, get converted, become passionate for the gospel and then think about full time Bible teaching, they would get ordained, the Bishops wouldn’t let them go anywhere influential so he sent them to various back waters. They would preach the gospel and the sons of the local landed gentry would get converted and go to Cambridge in order to be influenced by Simeon and then get ordained. There are several reasons for his success. he stayed in a sensible place to reach potential ministers for a very long time he held informal ministry discussions every week at his home at which students were invited to ask any question about Christian faith and doctrine he held preaching workshops in order to teach people how to read the Bible and how to put together a sermon that people would find helpful he held houseparties for the clergy he had sent to be ordained to encourage them in unpromising situations

3. A model of extraordinary perseverance

From the moment of his appointment onward he suffered greatly at the hands of many. Fellow Cambridge lecturers rebuffed him and ostracised him for his theological convictions. They organised a compulsory Greek class to coincide with his influential Sunday afternoon classes to prevent students from attending. Students came to HTC in order to ridicule and stir up trouble, he frequently faced physical intimidation and verbal abuse His own congregation did not want him there, he was appointed by the Bishop not chosen by them. They boycotted his morning meeting but locked the pews so that the newcomers had to stand in the aisles, they locked the church so that he had to cancel his evening meeting, his pastoral visitation met only with closed doors and unanswered calls This lasted for 12 years! At the age of 71 he was asked by a close friend how he had survived the persecution and opposition that had come his way. He replied, ‘My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory’

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