Discovering Charles Simeon

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“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!

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