It was Saturday, the nineteenth of November, 1836, when a funeral took place at King's College Chapel in Cambridge. The remains of a self-effacing servant of God, were interred in the ground, awaiting the voice of the Son of God when He shall call the dead out of their graves at the Last Day. There the aged pastor of souls had indicated in his will that his bones should rest: he had "loved the habitation of this house of God," the scene of his incessant labours and loving toil in the Gospel of Christ.
"I am going to my Father's;" he said to friends nearby his sick-bed, "and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the troubles I have been at to arrive where I am."
His friend and biographer, William Carus, asked him what he was thinking at that moment.
The pastor replied: "I don't think now; I am enjoying."
And a few minutes later: "I am in a dear Father's hand; all is secure. When I look to him I see nothing but faithfulness - and immutability - and truth; and I have the sweetest peace."
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:
In Memory of
Many since his demise have yearned to imitate this rare servant of Christ and have found inspiration in the way he conducted himself as herald and steward of God's mysteries. But it is only those who, like him, show a consistent loyalty to Holy Writ, can truly claim that they follow in his footsteps. His recorded conversations with Wesley, his correspondence, and most of all his sermons and Bible teaching give him credit to be known as a great evangelical spokesman, or rather, as he desired to be known, a herald of Him who is "all in all."
Born at Reading on the twenty-fourth of September, 1759, Simeon is not thus cut from our life. 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.
Simeon influences us, though long departed, by his godly, sober and challenging life. Through sheer dint of courage in Simeon's soul, God worked a change of climate in town and university as he won over the rebels who resisted his preaching.
His vision for Christ was wide and clear; he worked comfortably within the parochial system; he discovered its advantages, used it and reached the souls committed to his charge. At the same time he kept his eyes lifted up to the fields beyond.
He saw the potential in the young men around him; he invested time and energy in them, took pastoral care of them, trained them for missionary service, and gave them continuing support. Henry Martyn is just one instance.
Simeon's primary task was, however, the faithful and anointed preaching of the Word, as it stands, without diminution, without diluting it, without changing it. This was the ambition of his life, not to be found corrupting the Word, but before God speaking the truth in Christ. He allowed nothing to supplant this primary task: constantly he addressed the congregation; often, before the University, he appeared on his Master's behalf, expounding His unsearchable riches, exposing the rottenness of man's heart, pleading with men to turn and live. His all-encompassing scope in preaching was, in his own words, "to humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, to promote holiness."
Family and school
In his childhood Simeon was sent to Eton, and at nineteen he went up with a scholarship to King's College in Cambridge. There he succeeded to a Fellowship, which he held till his death.
At the age of twenty-three he was ordained Deacon, and next year a Priest. In 1782 Simeon was made Minister of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cambridge. In this pastorate he lived and expressed the love of Christ to society around him, for decade after decade, in spite of countless vicissitudes. There he endured evil gossiping; there he received good reports; there he met burdens and difficulties; and there he saw the grace of God triumphing.
His disinterested and single-minded devotion to "one thing," pursing a line which he saw and followed distinctly, caused him to spend most of his seventy-seven years influencing others rather than being influenced by the prevalent trends of the day. His mind was alert, vigorous and imaginative; he observed; he applied the remedy of the gospel, being wholly persuaded in it being "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16). He loved his neighbour and was therefore willing not only to give them the gospel but his very own soul too (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8).
But his early life, of which a few fragmentary recollections are preserved, was a life full of muscle and agility. He was said to be an excellent horseman, brave and dextrous. In his acts and habits he was described an unconventional, quite a rare thing among schoolboys.
An old school-fellow tells us that Simeon's habits "became peculiarly strict from that period." Though ridiculed by his mates, he used to keep a box of money for the poor, so that, whenever his conscience pricked him of wrong, he would alleviate his guilt by giving alms. Though meaning well, such activities expose Simeon to be still "under law," and ignorant of justifying grace which later he made known with such zest and ability.
In England, when Simeon was still a youth, the Christian faith shone feebly, both in the University as well as in the town. Though Methodism was making itself felt, the waves of the revival had as yet left Cambridge untouched. And though religion was in every nook and cranny, beneath the surface of common orthodoxy moved the current of free thought, whether Socinian, Deistic, or even Atheistic. As the poet Gray expressed it, belief in God was shunned as something for the ignorant. "No very great wit, he believed in a God."
The Lord's Supper: "Must I attend?"
In God's wise providence, something quite casual and commonplace served as a prick for Simeon to realise his lost estate, his company with the devil, and his misery outside of Christ and outside of God's covenant.
Three days after his arrival in Cambridge, Simeon was told by the Provost that within a few weeks, Holy Communion was to be administered in the Chapel, and that he must communicate on that day.
"'What,' said I, 'must I attend?' On being informed that I must, the thought rushed into my mind that Satan himself was as fit to attend as I; and that if I must attend, I must prepare for my attendance there." Whereas others might have brushed the notice aside, Simeon's soul was exercised to consider his own ways. He purchased William Law's illustrious book, The Whole Duty of Man, and began to look into it with diligence. He saw himself for what he truly was, a man destitute of grace and mercy. Enabled by the Spirit of supplication, he cried out 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."
His Spirit-wrought conversion was not without its pangs: personal guilt loomed large before him. He records: "I continued with unabated earnestness to search out and mourn over the numberless iniquities of my former life; and so greatly was my mind oppressed with the weight of them that I frequently looked upon the dogs with envy; wishing, if it were possible, that I could be blessed with their mortality, and they be cursed with my immortality in my stead. I set myself immediately to undo all my former sins, as far as I could; and did it in some instances which required great self-denial;...it gives me reason to hope that my repentance was genuine."
His ordeal was not all despair; the barrenness of his heart paved the way to Christ, to "be found in Him." During Passion Week he was reading Bishop Wilson's book on the Lord's Supper, in which the concept of the transference of guilt was explained. The author referred to the Jewish sacrifices typifying the Ultimate Sacrifice of the Cross. Simeon exults: "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."
Repentance and forgiveness of sins being granted to him, Simeon thus was introduced into the Body of Christ, and particularly within the Anglican Communion. The Liturgy and organisation of Anglicanism were never felt to be shackling to his spirit. His diary contains the following confession: "I prayed to the Lord 'with strong crying and tears.' This is a proof to me that the deadness and formality experienced in the worship of the Church arise far more form the low estate of our graces than from any defect in our Liturgy. If only we had our hearts deeply penitent and contrite, I know from my experience at this hour that no prayers in the world could be better suited to our wants or more delightful to ours souls."
The factor, then, that counts, is the revelation to one's soul of the atoning Sacrifice of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Only thus a man can find peace with God and a lasting reconciliation. From now onwards Simeon know that he belonged to the fold of Christ; his allegiance to the Anglican Church never blinded him to the reality of the mystical Body which transcends denominationalism and man-made barriers and distinctions.
With the unalterable personal conviction that he was redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, he retraced his way home for the Long Vacation. Within his breast he entertained a strong desire to impart to others the experience of forgiveness and justification before a Thrice-Holy God. He managed to organise family worship with the cordial approval of his brother Richard. His father, expressing neither approbation nor displeasure, was aware of Charles' endeavours in the new-found Faith.
Simeon's life, now in communion with his God and Deliverer, grew exceedingly and matured. He early grasped the secret of spiritual persistency, keeping close watch upon his personal habits with a view of walking coram Deo.
In May, 1782, Simeon was ordained Deacon in Ely Cathedral. It was Trinity Sunday. Being under the canonical age of twenty-three, he must have obtained a faculty. It must be noted that he was still an undergraduate.
Though officially recognised Simeon had no settled pastoral work. He made attempts to find an incumbent under whom he could proceed with the desired ministry. Very soon a half century of gospel ministry began, marked by spiritual earnestness, directness, and power. The church was filled with hearers who came either out of curiosity, out of malice, or out of hunger for the Word.
He preached his first sermon as a "substitute," but the crowds soon learned that the anointed preacher was no ordinary clergy-man. The overflowed from pews and aisles even to his very feet close to the desk.
At that time Trinity Parish contained about 1,500 people. "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 desire was granted; his appointment was heartily greeted by his growing circle of God-fearing men.
His influence was not limited to the pulpit; Simeon made it a point to be approachable, to meet individuals and see how he could encourage them in their walk with the Lord. Allusions to the organisation of the work can be gathered from Simeon's pastoral annals. As his acceptance in the parish grew so did the "Society," which later divided into six groups of earnest and committed Christians, seeking to win others with the Gospel of Christ.
At the University
His parochial labours were never laid aside or counted of little value. But Simeon's vision embraced Cambridge University too. There his influence gradually began to be felt; there he moved powerfully and caused the Gospel of grace to find ready acceptance both in Church and far beyond the borders of England.
Being conscientious and disciplined, both as Dean and as Vice-Provost Simeon was never careless of his duties. His activity in his College brought him much joy in the Lord. There he had already begun to find acceptance as a catechist and guide among the undergraduates. As the students drew near to discovered a man whose sermons, in substance and delivery, attracted, if not their soul, at least their curiosity, which kept them in good attendance. The divine message reached many souls; their initial mockery or open contradiction melted as wax exposed to the rays of the sun.
If it be inquired what was the secret, it is not difficult to find adequate reasons. Triviality and light-heartedness, so common in the modern pulpit, were unknown to Simeon. He never tried to impress with mere rhetoric. His aim was to lay the Scripture bare before the conscience of his hearers; his desire was to bring the message to bear upon their will, to cause them to act.
His doctrine was not some peripheral issue that makes one to lose sight of the forest because of the trees. His great and irreplaceable subject was Jesus Christ: the Lord of all, the Redeemer, the Shepherd and Sanctifier of His covenant people. Christ was the centre and circumference for man in his present sinful condition. His hearers, for all their erudition and scholarship, were still at enmity with God and in urgent need of reconciliation. Beyond a shadow of a doubt he knew that the Gospel was the only soul-satisfying and enduring remedy. For him the Gospel was the proclamation of Christ, the Prophet greater than Moses, the Priest better than Aaron, the King higher than David. He was not satisfied if the Gospel was not embraced from the heart, by a vital faith in the Resurrected Saviour. It was not enough to preach it; he wanted men to taste its power. He called men for pardon, and holiness, and heaven. And those who showed their true colours and engaged themselves in the service of Christ were constantly reminded to live and die to their Lord, not to themselves.
In this great enterprise, though, Simeon was level-headed enough not to despise social intercourse, physical recreation, and intellectual labour and delight. Disciplined as he was, being a herald of the Most High, he never fell victim to a mistaken asceticism. He enjoyed living; he himself set an example not only of godliness, faith, love, and patience, but also of the old English politeness.
Nevertheless, his commitment to Christ was a stumbling-block to many. He was personally slandered as a bad man who had a high profession of goodness. Simeon considered such a treatment as bearing "the offence of the Cross." The average University student of his day had been deprived of the pure apostolic message, but besides opposition, it also gave occasion to much soul-searching. With firm authority, mellowed by love, Simeon sought to implement discipline as he progressed in the ministry. The despisers were challenged to realise that their opposition was not so much against their pastor but against the Master who sent him. He reminded them of such statements as this: "He that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me" (Matthew 10:16).
But the same Scriptures he brought to the attention of the students proved to be a source of comfort to him too: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men....And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake....Fear them not therefore....He that receiveth you receiveth me...." (Matthew 10:16,22,26,40).
His confrontations with the undergraduates, as he sought to do them good, were numerous. After rebuking one of them, he recalled later on: "To my surprise I saw him there again the following Sunday, but with a more modest countenance; and from that time he continued to come, till it pleased God to open his eyes and to lead him into the full knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, and in a year or two afterwards he became a preacher of that faith which once he had despised." The youth's name was John Sargent, the biographer of Henry Martyn, and one of Simeon's closest friends.
Open insults, attempts at outrage, mockery: all this came into the fray. But the coldness and half-expressed contempt of men of his own standing hurt him much more. It was a heavy load for Simeon: he had to bear the social estrangement that resulted from his outspokenness for his Master.
Those trying years were not without the application of heavenly balm to his soul. As he meditated on Scripture, one day he was relieved to be reminded of a man whose unspeakable blessing it was to suffer with Christ. "The first text," he writes, "that caught my eye was this: 'They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear His cross.' You know Simon is the same name as Simeon. What a word of instruction was here - what a blessed hint for my encouragement! To have the cross laid upon me, that I might bear it after Jesus - what a privilege! It was enough. Now I could leap and sing for joy as one whom Jesus was honouring with a participation of His sufferings."
Indeed there is hardly any preacher who does not experience depressing periods, dark times when everything seems to be going against him. But the God of all comfort knows how to soothe and train His servants for greater service (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3ff.).
Enlarged field of service
Opposition and contempt began to dwindle only some ten years after their initial appearance. But all in all, Cambridge and its environs began to realise the sincerity and godliness of their maligned preacher. In spite of his eccentricities the people had to admit that Simeon meant well and there was nothing like madness in his comportment. His philantropy showed unmistakably when at one time bread was scarce: he himself rode out into the country to convince the bakers that they should sell their bread at half the price to the poor.
Serving at tables is commendable and is in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel; and yet Simeon never lost his burden to give to the people, rich and poor, the true Bread that comes down from heaven.
His sermons attracted attention as the time went by, both by scoffers as well as by earnest seekers.
On one occasion great excitement prevailed as Simeon was scheduled to preach at St. Mary's. Some meant to cause disturbance, but as soon as Simeon began to deliver his message, his serious and commanding manner extinguished all opposition. He was heard to the end with the most respectful and close attention. Those who came to mock stayed to pray. Not only were they seriously affected but they were surprised at the content of the message: its power and unction.
To provide the people with food in due season, healthy for their soul, is never easy. Simeon learned to rise up early, though he had to discipline himself to abide by this time-table. He acquired such a habit against his natural disposition, and in order to win the victory he punished himself every time he woke up after the appointed time by giving a half-crown to his servant.
He preached earnestly and prayed earnestly. Besides, Simeon began to teach others according to the principle laid down in 2 Timothy 2:2: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." He invited into his rooms the undergraduate friends who entertained the godly ambition of being trained for the gospel ministry. Joyfully he gave them instruction, well-ordered and practical.
He taught them that the herald of the Gospel must never becloud his text, or treat it capriciously, or wander at will from it. Rather, "Let it speak."
To this end the sermon, according to Simeon, must always be pointed, having a definite unity in its theme and message. It must be delivered from the heart to the heart, the preacher himself experiencing its truth before attempting to offer it to others. But the heat must balance the light of the sermon: it must be grasped by the average intelligent mind of the congregation, and above all delivered in an interesting way.
He meant to make out of his students intelligent and intelligible preachers. Imbibing biblical truth in the privacy of their study, they were meant to know their great and awesome responsibility in speaking on behalf of the King of kings. Their approach was never to be flabby or trite: it was mandated to them that they should be arresting and reward attention.
The sermon is essentially different from a treatise or an essay read out from the pulpit, or an oration in the manner of the Greek orators. No, it is rather a setting forth of God's authoritative Word by a commissioned messenger in an assembly of living people. According to these ideals, Simeon emulated to train his younger men in the proper sort of preparation, and enlightened their minds so as to deliver the message in a Spirit-filled manner. He always insisted that utmost care in exegesis should be given to the text, the arrangement of the sermon must be lucid, and the appeal straight to the heart. He advised them that their material should be responsibly thought out, but as to the actual wording it was left to the moment of delivery.
Naturalness of speech was to be desired, according to the topic under consideration. This counsel was must against the traditions of English preaching. There was a pulpit voice and a pulpit manner that were quite different from the man's voice and manner in ordinary life, giving the impression of artificiality and false decorum. Simeon would have none of it. He was not reluctant, for the gospel's sake, to contradict established traditions.
Adages for the preacher
Apart from the all-important unction of the Spirit that assisted his preaching, Simeon was endowed with heavenly wisdom that guided his efforts in the expansion of Christ's kingdom. Some of his maxims are well-worth quoting.
Insisting of the primacy of audibility and articulation, he used to say, "Bite your words," thus warning against the common mistake of slurring consonants and final syllables.
"Avoid a continuous solemnity; it should be as music, and not like a funeral procession."
In his all-embracing aim to penetrate to the soul, to render it willing to do God's will, he had no words of praise for a decorative style. He said to a consulting companion: "Poetry is beautiful in itself but if you will come from the mount of God, you will find prose better suited for telling men about their golden calf." He discouraged theatricality and all sorts of gimmicks in the use of language.
"To great familiarity," he said on another occasion, "does not become the pulpit, but a monotonous, isochronous solemnity is even worse."
"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."
A wise balance was aimed at concerning the preacher's manner in the pulpit. "Speak exactly as you would if you were conversing with an ages and pious superior. This will keep you from undue formality and from improper familiarity."
The Huguenot scholar, Jean Claude, had already taught these truths in a previous generation; it was a delight to Simeon that his methods were not original to him, but were advertised (even beyond the shores of Britain) by other servants of Christ.
Simeon's Works, published in 1832, fill twenty-one large volumes; it was the literary achievement of his whole life. They are known to us as the Horae Homileticae. They contain discourses in full, but most are summaries of sermons, or well-ordered outlines for the preacher.
Hours and hours of toil and labour have produced this veritable treasure, full of scholarship and intellectual endeavour. And yet Simeon never substituted the important for the indispensable: "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."
On fire with theology
Eyewitnesses left us records of the impressions of Charles Simeon. One of them, Mr. Carus, gives us the following description: "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 were almost 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."
The spiritual force of his preaching, the thrill of the spoken message awakened in the sleepy soul, was often remembered by his friends. If preaching is indeed the impartation of truth through personality (Phillips Brooks), then preaching is wonderfully seen in Simeon's ministry. A sermon must be in accordance with Bible truth; for Simeon (and other well-known preachers) it is also an action.
No truth neglected
Simeon preached what the Bible contains, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible, as he prayerfully and humbly sought to understand it. He would not easily fit himself to a school or a strict system of theology. If questioned, he would certainly have answered that his system was biblical, as loyal as he could to God's self-revelation.
He assented wholeheartedly to the Articles of the Church of England; but he did this because he was convinced that they faithfully encapsulated the truth of divine revelation.
His biblicism emerges at every point in his life and correspondence. He writes: "I love the simplicity of the Scriptures; and 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. Were this the habit of all divines, there would soon be an end of most of the controversies that have agitated and divided the Church of Christ."
It is proper to allow Simeon to speak for himself concerning this important matter. "The author is disposed to think that the Scripture system is of a broader and more comprehensive character than some very dogmatical theologians are inclined to allow; and that, as wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve one common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man's salvation. The author feels it impossible to avow too distinctly that it is an invariable rule with him to endeavour to give to every portion of the Word of God its full and proper force, without considering what scheme it favours, or whose system it is likely to advance. Of this he is sure, that there is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world who equally approves of the whole of Scripture...who, if he had been in the company of St Paul whilst he was writing his Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter one or other of his expressions.
"But the author would not wish one of them altered; he finds as much satisfaction in one class of passages as in another; and employs the one, he believes, as freely as the other...." (Horae Homileticae, Preface).
Touring Great Britain
As Simeon's fame grew, other congregations yearned to hear him. He engaged in several journeys in Scotland, touring many cities and ministering to both Anglicans and Presbyterians. The moderates turned a cold shoulder to him, but the evangelical party of the Church of Scotland was enthusiastic to benefit from his services.
God's blessings, sometimes unexpected, awaited him. Alexander Stewart, an unconverted minister, came in contact with him and Simeon proved instrumental in bringing him to an experiential knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. Stewart expressed his gratitude by mail: "Ever since the few happy hours in which I was blessed with your company, I have daily thought, with pleasure and gratitude, of the Lord's loving-kindness to me, in sending two of his chosen servants, so unexpectedly and so seasonably, to speak to me the words of life" (as quoted in Alexander Halden, The Lives of Robert and James Haldane, p.140).
Relevant for today
Charles Simeon's life can motivate the reader in many aspects. A few salient points are brought out below:
Simeon was just one who received the torch of truth, maintained its bright light, and passed it on to succeeding generations. "Within the Church of England the revival strengthened the Protestant element that had been there since the Reformation. Those who were committed to it were known as Evangelicals. In general they were Calvinistic in theology. They stressed conversion, strict morals, a life of active service to others, and simplicity in worship. Prominent among them was John Newton...The tradition was reinforced and continued by Charles Simeon (1759-1836) who, born in the same year as Wilberforce, was a member of King's College, Cambridge, and for more than fifty years was in Trinity Church in that city and as preacher and pastor had a profound influence in the university....The list of prominent Evangelicals might be greatly lengthened. Evangelicals were a minority in the Church of England, but their influence was striking" (Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol.II, p. 1030).
By training others (teaching and motivating them), Simeon teaches us to extend our influence to people otherwise beyond our reach. As Christ trained the Twelve, so Simeon, following in the Master's footsteps, prepared others for service. "David Brown, a protégé of Charles Simeon of Cambridge, conducted an orphanage in Calcutta. Another protégé of Simeon, Henry Martyn (1781-1812), senior wrangler at Cambridge and fellow of St. John's College, arrived in India in 1806 as a chaplain of the East India Company, exclaiming in his diary: 'Now let me burn out for God'" (Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol.II, p.1033,1034). India had a peculiar attraction for Simeon; he referred to it as "my diocese" and "my province." But being tied to his local ministry, he assisted others to go where he could not go. Using his connections with the East India Trading Company, Simeon was able to recommend candidates to them to serve as Anglican chaplains in India, such as the two mentioned above.
Simeon held fast to the God-ordained method of bringing the gospel to others. He believed in the primacy of preaching. For Christ's sake he desired to excel in fulfilling this task honourably, and counselled other budding preachers how to avoid the common pitfalls and aim for excellency in preaching.
Though a devout and faithful Anglican, Simeon's love for fellow-Christians extended beyond the borders of his denomination. Here we find a wideness, an open-mindedness wholly in line with the spirit of the Gospel. "Let me not be misunderstood, as though I meant to suggest anything disrespectful of the dissenters; for I honour all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, of whatever Church they be, and I wish them, from my heart, every blessing that their souls can desire" (Sermon: The Excellency of the Liturgy).
Simeon was a man of prayer and eminent in holiness. The righteousness of Christ prevailed in him; the conversations of heaven pleased him beyond words. "What might be hoped for, if all who have undertaken the sacred office of the ministry fulfilled their engagements in the way we have described? What if all prayed the prayers instead of reading them, and laboured out of the pulpit as well as in it?...Only let us be faithful to our engagements, and...our wilderness will rejoice and blossom as the rose" (Sermon: The Excellency of the Liturgy, italics in original).
Simeon was bold for Christ, never giving in to man's standards. He was not a man-pleaser. He was humble in himself, yet confident in his Lord. He knew what the apostle meant when he asserted that "if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). He valiantly endured the boycotts against him, and the opposition against his fiery and animated preaching, so unusual to his hearers. When Henry Venn met the young Simeon, he set him on the right course (from which he never deviated) by assuring him: "Thou are called to be a man of war from thy youth."
Though it seems improbable we can influence our generation if we are faithful in using the open doors set before us. Simeon convinces us of what a man of God can accomplish in influencing church and society. "Evangelical societies made it their business to supply evangelical ordinands and endow evangelical parishes where they might serve. The most important trust was that begun by John Thornton and taken over by the Rev. Charles Simeon. When Simeon died the Simeon Trust had the right to nominate the clergy to twenty-one Anglican positions. These were mainly in large towns such as Bradford and Derby. By 1820, one in twenty of the Anglican clergy were evangelical; by 1830 it was one in eight" (Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity, p.513).
Lord Macaulay had sufficient opportunities to be acquainted with Simeon and his work. He writes to his sister: "As to Simeon, if you knew what his authority and influence were, and how they extended from Cambridge to the most remote corners of England, you would allow that his real sway over the Church was far greater than that of any Primate" (Life of Lord Macaulay, I. 67, note).
Simeon's life proves once again that weakness in body promotes, rather than diminishes, spiritual strength. Early in 1807 Simeon awakened to the fact of how his health was failing him. For twenty-five years he had been labouring, caring nothing about himself, in spite of Thornton's warnings. His voice became so frail that only with difficulty could he deliver his sermons. According to his own testimony, immediately afterwards he found himself "more like one dead than alive." Conversations could be maintained only in a whisper. For thirteen years he endured this "thorn in the flesh," until at sixty years of age he was restored, suddenly and without evident cause. He attributed his physical revival to a distinct divine providence. He records how he had been fond of dreaming, earlier in life, that he would lead an active life up to sixty, and then enjoy a tranquil retirement. But now, with such a mighty restoration, he seemed to hear his Master saying: "I laid you aside, because you entertained with satisfaction the thought of resting from your labour; but now you have arrived at the very period when you had promised yourself that satisfaction, and have determined instead to spend your strength for me to the latest hour of your life, I have doubled, trebled, quadrupled your strength, that you may execute your desire on a more extended plan."
In his concluding reflections on the life of Simeon, Moule seeks to establish his true worth, his significance as a man of God, and what he held to be really indispensable: "Simeon's conception of the scale and relations of the great Christian truths was to a remarkable degree faithful, not only to the Reformation theology, but to that of the New Testament....He venerated order and authority. But he always also believed, and said, with living conviction, that the supreme religious necessity is that the individual should know God in Christ; that without the blood of the Atonement there is no remission; that without the effectual work of the heavenly Spirit there is no divine life and love in man; and that humble reliance on God in His Word, that is to say faith, is the immediate way to receive remission and new life. I dare to say that he was true to the Prophets and Apostles in not only saying these things but placing them in the foreground of his teaching" (Moule, H., Charles Simeon, p.168,169, italics mine).
Simeon's last sermon was preached at Trinity Church on Sunday, eighteenth September, 1836. A brief quotation from it will serve as a fitting conclusion to the consideration of Simeon's life.
"It is not sufficient for any man to run well for a season only. We must endure to the end, if ever we would be saved. Whatever your attainments may be, and whatever you may have done or suffered in the service of your God, you must forget the things that are behind, till you have actually fulfilled your course and obtained the crown." His whole life lent weight to his words.
1. Simeon, Charles: Horae Homileticae, sermons and correspondence.
2. Moule, Handley: Charles Simeon - biography of a sane saint (Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1965).
3. Clifford, Nigel: Christian Preachers (Evangelical Press of Wales, 1994).
4. Latourette, Kenneth Scott: A History of Christianity, Volume II).
5. Dowley, Tim (Organizing Editor): Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. USA, 1987).
6. Halden, Alexander: The Lives of Robert and James Haldane.
7. Sheldon, Henry, C.: History of the Christian Church, Vol.4 (Hendrickson, 1988).
8. Quotations from The Holy Bible: Authorized Version.