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Looking at the Life of Charles Simeon
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Looking at the Life of Charles Simeon

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One of 12 Faithful Men

The Salvation & Struggles that Shaped a Living Legacy

Charles Simeon was the pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England as well as a fellow at King’s College Cambridge, from 1783 to 1836. Simeon was a well known

  • As a model Bible expositor
  • As an advocate for overseas missions and Bible distribution
  • As an innovator in local church ministry, particularly small group and youth ministry
  • As a visionary, creating a trust to secure and supply pulpits with faithful Bible preachers as well as training young men to ably fill those pulpits, even long after he died

In reflecting on Simeon’s life, Lord Macaulay famously stated that Simeon’s sway in the Church was greater than that of any high-ranking church official. And even today, Simeon’s influence remains vital among pastors around the world including a number of ministries that bear his name. The Lord especially shaped Simeon to make a great gospel impact by two events. One occurred over a short period of time while the other lasted much longer.

The shorter of the two events took place upon Simeon’s matriculation to Cambridge when he learned that in three weeks’ time he would be expected to attend the college communion service. The nineteen-year-old was mortified since, as he put it, “…the thought rushed through my mind that Satan himself was as fit to attend as I.” So, in an attempt to soothe his disquieted soul, Simeon began voraciously reading religious literature. He started with, The Whole Duty of Man (“the only religious book that I had ever heard of,” Simeon later recalled) and soon thereafter joined the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (“because I thought the books of that society would be the most useful of any I could procure…”). While Whole Duty steadied Simeon to receive the February communion, it was a title by Bishop Thomas Wilson, A Short and Plain Instruction…of the Lord’s Supper, that God used to bring the eighteen-year-old to a full and final faith in Christ. Wilson helped Simeon to see that just as the sins of God’s Old Testament people were transferred to the head of a sacrificial animal, so the sins of his New Testament people, and Simeon in particular, had been entirely conveyed onto Christ. The brilliance of this good news started rising like the sun in Simeon’s heart so that, as he put it, “…on the Wednesday (of Holy Week, I) began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; and on the Sunday morning, Easter Day…, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, ‘Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” From that day forward, the wonder of Simeon’s conversion never left him. He entirely lived his life in the shadow of the cross and the power of the empty tomb.

The longer of the two events that God used to shape Simeon featured a mighty struggle during which the young pastor was painfully opposed and even shunned. After a successful summer of preaching to a packed congregation across town, the Bishop of Ely appointed Simeon as minister of Holy Trinity Church against the wishes of her leaders. Over the next twelve years, Simeon was continually rejected by his vestry, once arrived at church to find that the locks on the doors had been changed, dealt with a variety of in-service disturbances (even a drunken one!), and on one occasion was Providentially saved from being physically accosted.

The intense opposition to Simeon’s leadership lasted twelve long years before it finally abated and stopped.

A 21st-century pastor who becomes acquainted with Simeon’s dramatic conversion and difficult opening chapter of ministry will find encouragement in at least three things. The way Simeon

  • Held onto the word and prayer, shaping his overall response to opposition
  • Held onto an attitude of humility, shaping his response to those by whom he was opposed
  • Held onto his ministry, shaping the lives of men and women who were willing to sit under his care

In these ways and more, Charles Simeon can be a great encouragement to 21st-century pastors, wherever they are in the world.

Charles SimeonRandall Gruendyke (D.Min., Beeson Divinity School) is Pastor of Ministry Leadership at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, CA. He has served in pastoral ministry for over thirty years including eleven years on the staff at College Church in Wheaton, IL, and twelve years as Campus Pastor at Taylor University in Upland, IN where he established The Charles Simeon Sermons to encourage excellence in Bible exposition. Randall contributed to, Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes and along with his wife, Nancy, has three grown daughters. You can follow Randall (as Charles Simeon, of course) on Facebook and Twitter.

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