Charles Simeon at Cambridge

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

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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.

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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

James Alexander Haldane Establishes Congregationalism in Scotland

James Alexander Haldane died on February 8, 1851. James, along with his older brother Robert, left an indelible mark upon Christianity in Scotland.

Born in Dundee on July 14, 1768, orphaned at the age of 6, and educated at Edinburgh University, young James joined the navy at the age of seventeen, as a midshipman aboard the East India Company’s “Duke of Montrose”.

After four voyages to India and China, he was appointed Captain of “The Melville Castle”, in 1793. The ship’s sailing was delayed, however, leaving James time for more reflective pursuits.

It was during this period that “he commenced to read the Scriptures from a sense of propriety rather than any concern about his soul” (Cyclopaedia of Modern Religious Biographies, page 241).

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He sought out a Dr David Bogue, a pastor in the vicinity of Portsmouth, and requested that he might partake of the Lord’s Supper. Dr Bogue was one of the founders of the London Missionary Society and he pressed upon Haldane the claims of Christ upon his life.

Haldane quit the navy before The Melville Castle sailed, choosing to take up a religious life instead of his captaincy. That was 1794.

Sometime in the next two or three years he found the salvation for which so long he had sought. He left the established Church of Scotland when the General Assembly of 1796 refused to promote aggressive evangelisation.

At that time he became acquainted with Charles Simeon of Cambridge. In his company Haldane toured Scotland 1797, distributing tracts and trying to awaken spiritual interest. In May 1797 he preached his first sermon, at Gilmerton near Edinburgh, with encouraging success.

That same year he and brother Robert founded The Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home, which gave the impetus for the development of the Congregational Churches. James was ordained as a Congregational minister in Edinburgh.

James Haldane married twice in Edinburgh, in 1793 and, his first wife having died, again in 1822.

In 1799 James was ordained pastor of a large independent congregation in Edinburgh. That group was the first to be known as a Congregational Church in Scotland.

After his brother inherited the family wealth, he built a church or Tabernacle, for James’ Congregational church in Edinburgh in 1801. From 1801 until his death James Haldane preached prodigiously and “counted it his privilege for nearly 50 years to preach the Gospel …” in the Tabernacle, Edinburgh’s largest church. In 1808 James and his famous brother Robert “embraced Baptist principles” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 447).

James Haldane contributed to current theological discussions with articles on church order, refutations of heresy and exploration of various Bible books and doctrines.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

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

Charles Simeon The Rejected Preacher Who Prevailed

This is the day that … Charles Simeon was born in 1759.

The place was Reading, England, and the aristocratic home in which young Charles was reared was one of ‘affluence’.

It was during his education at Kings College, Cambridge that he was wonderfully converted through the reading of a sermon on the subject of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16).

As he read about propitiatory sacrifice in the Old Testament, he thought, “What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lie my sins on his head?” He immediately laid his sins “upon the sacred head of Jesus.”

Despite the fact that “he found no Christian fellowship at the university” young Simeon’s Bible became his constant companion. Three years later, in 1782, he was ordained as a Church of England deacon and appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge the following year.

And there it was he ministered over the next 50 years.

“Highly unpopular at first on account of his message and manner, scorned and abused for many years, he carried on regardless of men’s opinions, until in the end he became perhaps the best known and best respected name in Cambridge” (C. Simeon, by H.E. Hopkins).

Opposition there certainly was!

“The pew holders locked the doors of their pews to prevent visitors from using them. So Simeon placed benches in the aisles, but the church officers threw the benches into the church yard. Simeon started a Sunday evening service to reach needy sinners, but the officers locked the church doors!” (Victorious Christians, by W. Wiersbe, page 62).

“When I was an object of much contempt and derision in the university,” he later wrote, “I strolled forth one day, buffeted and afflicted, with my little Testament in my hand … The first text which caught my eye was this: ‘They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.'”

He invited students to his home on Sundays and Friday evenings for “conversation parties” to teach them how to preach. By the time he died, it is estimated that one-third of all the Anglican ministers in the country had sat under his teaching at one time or another.

One Anglican historian writes that Charles Simeon introduced the singing of hymns into Anglican services … for which the Prayer Book makes no provision (apart from Psalms, Canticles and Veni Creator). “In singing hymns evangelicals (like Simeon) were no doubt acting illegally, as, it would seem, we all are today” (Through the Ages, by F.E. Barker, page 277).

Before his death on 13 November, 1836, he also played a major role in establishing the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, and the London Jews Society. He has been described as “the most famous evangelical clergyman” the Church of England ever produced (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 625).

He remained a bachelor his whole life, and his entire ministry was at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge—even today a focal point of evangelicalism in England.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.