Charles Simeon was born in Reading, England, on September 24, 1759, and educated at Eton, then at King’s College, Cambridge. It was during those student days he found it compulsory, under penalty of expulsion, to attend the Lord’s Supper three times during the year!!
Not a Christian at the time, nevertheless the Spirit of God moved upon his conscience. In order to better understand this spiritual requirement Simeon first read the Whole Duty of Man, and disciplined himself with forced disciplines of fasting, prayer and study. After three weeks he was sick from his efforts, but not spiritually renewed.
What followed was an acute awareness of his own sinfulness, such that he recounted being “so greatly oppressed with the weight of them, that I frequently looked upon the dogs with envy”. The next step in his journey was to purchase Bishop Wilson’s The Lord’s Supper – through which he found himself “much interested” in the story of the Scapegoat (Leviticus 16).
Simeon records the process of revelation: “What! may I transfer all my guilt to another? From that moment on I sought to lay my sins on the sacred head of Jesus, and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; and on the Thursday that hope increased; and on Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday 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.” Memoirs, p9
Get a Free Church History Post every day by Subscribing at http://chrisfieldblog.com
And so it was that Charles Simeon was converted in the early part of his first year at University, on Easter Sunday, April 4, in the year 1779, at the age of 20.
That personal encounter, however, set Simeon up for lonely challenges. Cambridge was opposed to revivalism and had expelled students in preceding years for their religious fervour. Simeon spent three lonely years, without finding like faith among his fellows, recording of them “for 3 years I knew not any religious person” on the campus.
Simeon applied himself to the study of theology, determined to fulfil what he believed to be his calling to ministry. At the very end of his studies, shortly after his ordination, Simeon was given a unique opportunity. The vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, which Simeon frequently walked past, died. The Bishop promoted Simeon (a Deacon) to the role of ‘Curate in charge’ and Simeon became minister of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, where he remained for 54 years.
However Simeon found a new challenge upon his appointment, as the parishioners did not want his brand of evangelical preaching. The parishioners wanted the former assistant to become minister, so they locked their pews and even locked the building so Simeon could not use it for his various evangelistic activities. When Simeon put benches in the aisles the church wardens threw them out. As he battled with discouragement he even wrote out his resignation at one point.
But Simeon prevailed and won over those who opposed him, taking the influence of his ministry far beyond the bounds of Cambridge. His Sunday evening “conversation parties” at the vicarage, attracted Cambridge students as he taught them to preach. This ministry continued throughout his days and by this death it is estimated that about a third of all Anglican ministers had come under his teaching at some point.
Simeon also had to press past health challenges which limited him for a dozen years. At the age of 60 he suddenly regained his vigour and the Lord impressed him that the plans of retirement from that age were to be laid aside and he was to continue in the strength of the Lord without the life of ease he had promised himself. Simeon accepted that challenge and preached for another 17 years, until two months before his death on November 12, 1836.
Simeon’s lasting legacy is his writings, and notably his twenty-one volume Horae Homiletica; a collection of expanded sermon outlines from all sixty six books of the Bible.
People impacted by the godly preaching of this evangelical Anglican include Henry Martyn, who abandoned his plans for a career in law and went to the mission fields of India and Persia. British statesman William Wilberforce was also influenced by Simeon.
Simeon also had great impact through the Church Missionary Society which he established in England as well as through the University and College Christian Fellowship. He also helped found evangelistic organizations like the London Jews Society, the Religious Tract Society, and the British & Foreign Bible Society.
Simeon remained single and spent his life as the Lord’s servant, totally dedicated to the ministry to which he was called.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history