Discovering Charles Simeon

image

“A firebrand of an Evangelical was thrust upon them instead.”

Arthur Pollard, Introduction to Let Wisdom Judge

When Charles Simeon, in 1782, became the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, he was a disappointment to his parishioners, who wanted a popular lecturer at the University instead. In the introduction to Let Wisdom Judge (University Addresses and Sermon Outlines by Charles Simeon, Inter-Varsity Press, 1959) Arthur Pollard wrote, “The parishioners had wanted the afternoon-lecturer, Hammond, as their new vicar. They were disappointed in their desire; and, instead, a firebrand of an Evangelical was thrust upon them instead” (Let Wisdom Judge, p.10). I know little about Charles Simeon but what I have made time to glean from this hardcover book has been rewarding.

When Simeon first began preaching at Holy Trinity, it seems his Evangelicalism was met with disdain at first. “Pew wardens tried more than once to lock him out of his own church” and pew-holders (those who rented their pews) locked the pew doors and refused to hear him preach. Simeon took appropriate measures to make sure the doors to the church were unlocked and those who wished to hear him could do so. Those who did want to hear him preach were unable to use the pews (out of respect to the absentee parishioners who were renting them, I assume) but delighted to stand in the aisles instead. Soon the aisles were full and soon enough those defiant pew wardens and pew holders were won over. Church doors, the doors to oak pews, and the hearts of many were opened. It’s this very fact that grabs my own interest in Charles Simeon.

Humility abounds by bringing forth the ‘riches of Christ’

Contrary to a common assumption today, Simeon did not capture the hearts and minds of Cambridge folk by entertaining them with fancy soliloquies or by flattering the hearers’ ears. From what I’m learning about this giant of the faith, he preached an unpretentious gospel, and he believed and acted like his calling was a great honor which did not puff up but humbled and incited worship of his Redeemer. Simeon gave an address at Cambridge in 1824, entitled “The Richness and Fullness of the Gospel.” In the introductory remarks he said, “Yet, methinks, instead of calling this a duty, I would rather describe [bringing forth the “riches of Christ” as revealed in the gospel] as a ‘grace given,'” citing his texts, 1 Timothy 1:11 and Ephesians 3:8. He went on,

For no higher honor can be conferred on mortal man than to be sent forth by God to minister unto his fellow-sinners ‘the glorious gospel of the blessed God’. Let it not be thought, however, that this high commission has any tendency to generate pride in the hearts of those who have received it. On the contrary, it will operate to rather to humble and abase the soul under a sense of its own unworthiness and insufficiency (Let Wisdom Judge, Ch. 9, p. 126)

As a layman, I am personally challenged by men like Simeon, who, I will admit, I just only very recently “discovered”. His love for Christ, the Bible, Christians and other sinners shines through his printed university addresses. I look forward to reading more by this saint, who was indeed a “Bible Christian”. Even though I am not a pastor or elder (which I am sure many of his addresses in Let Wisdom Judge were meant to reach) I am more than superficially spurred to drink deeply from scripture and know who and what I was before God drew me in His own good pleasure. O how great a debtor I ever shall happily be!

Advertisements

A Few Thoughts on Psalm 51

Signpost

I was a blind man stumbling
But now I see
-Burlap to Cashmere

I love maps. I like to see where I am in the context of the country around me. The sobering fact is that I am not the center of the map no more than the earth is in the center of the universe. More often than I’d care to share, I do act as if I believe that I am the center of everything. Referring to Tozer¹, I forget to think rightly of myself because I have shifted from rightly thinking about God. I don’t believe I am a god just as I don’t believe other people are little gods and goddesses running around, but in the course of it all, there still is in this body of flesh, sinful from birth², that which rails against the sanctifying work of Christ. Once I was a slave to sin, but now, happily and joyfully, I am a slave of God³.

The most wonderful thing about knowing what you truly are is knowing that any kindness and mercy received from the God of the whole universe is how low He condescends to lift you out of the mire and how badly you needed His rescuing.

Looking at King David, who in Psalm 51 goes weeping before God in light of his adultery and ordering the murder of the husband of the woman with whom he committed the adultery, there is a picture of one who knew rightly of what he was, a transgressor, a sinner, a rebel. To be those three things, requires one to transgress, sin, and rebel against someone. In Psalm 51:4, David, wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (ESV). David repents, knowing he sinned and who he ultimately sinned against. In verses 12-13, the contrition leads to David requesting restoration with God. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” I personally ache with the sweetness of the gospel which permeates this whole passage. Sin, conviction of sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The most wonderful thing about knowing what you truly are is knowing that any kindness and mercy received from the God of the whole universe is how low He condescends to lift you out of the mire and how badly you needed His rescuing. With John Newton, the converted slave ship captain, who once nearly perished in a gale, I can say with conviction and gratitude: “I once was lost, but now am found– was blind, but now I see.” Thinking rightly of God, by default, is thinking of one’s self in the right light. It’s like looking at a map with a flashlight in the dark to see the work of the cartographer’s hand and a compass to know by which direction you must go. I love maps.


¹ The Knowledge of the Holy, Ch. 1: Why We Must Think Rightly About God (A.W. Tozer)

² Psalm 51:5

³ Romans 6:20-23

Pilot Peak Selfie

image

Work often takes me to or near historically significant landmarks, such as Pilot Peak in Elko County, Nevada. The natural thing to do is to whip out the ol’ phone and snap a selfie. What else? Pilot Peak was an important landmark for 19th century emigrants heading west to California; the ill-famed Donner Party knew that clean, drinkable water could be found at a spring near it’s base. If they had not taken the long shortcut called Hastings Cutoff they might have successfully traversed the Sierras. (But that’s another subject in itself…)

Landmarks are splendid things, and if you are like the Donner Party and have taken an awesomely long shortcut like, say, across the Salt Lake Desert, where everything is flat for a hundred miles, you probably are relieved, too, whenever something ahead of you gives you bearing and direction. As an aside, the Donner Party probably could have taken some interesting selfies.