Yesterday’s post concerned separating the sacred from the secular in light of Matthew 7:6, casting pearls before swine.
Tomorrow’s post will look at Charles Simeon’s exposition of that verse.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
However, it will have more meaning if we find out who this English clergyman was.
Simeon was born in 1759 into an aristocratic family in Reading, Berkshire, in the Home Counties. At that time, London was probably several hours away by carriage. Today, it takes under an hour to reach Reading by train.
The Simeons were Anglicans but of the modernised Church of England in the decades that followed the non-violent Glorious Revolution of 1688. Clergy were no longer firebrands, perhaps necessary to avoid the impression that they wanted to continue religious persecution that had reigned in previous centuries. Moderation was the order of the day in pulpit preaching and spiritual guidance.
Simeon went to Eton, not far from Reading. In his spare time, he absorbed himself in sport, horses and fashion, typical for a young man of means.
In 1779, he went up to Cambridge to study at King’s College. As was the rule in nearly all the established denominations, receiving Communion was mandatory on Easter Day in order for churchgoers to remain in good standing. Cambridge and Oxford stipulated that students — all men at that time — had to receive Communion at least three times before they were able to graduate. Easter Sunday was likewise mandatory. We can see that Communion was still an infrequent practice, not as it is today.
When Simeon arrived at King’s College in January, he was told he would have to receive Communion within three weeks’ time. Most students of that era did not care. They went and received the Sacrament as if it were fulfilling a requirement, not as a means of grace.
Simeon, on the other hand, felt he had to prepare for receiving the Sacrament. He considered himself unfit:
Satan himself was as fit to attend [the sacrament] as I.
Without a moment’s loss of time, I bought the old Whole Duty of Man, (the only religious book that I had ever heard of) and began to read it with great diligence; at the same time calling my ways to remembrance, and crying to God for mercy; and so earnest was I in these exercises, that within the three weeks I made myself quite ill with reading, fasting, and prayer…
After that Communion service, Simeon still felt unfit to receive the Sacrament and set about preparing for Easter Sunday. He read more books in tandem with studying the Bible. By the middle of Holy Week, divine grace and the Holy Spirit enabled him to understand Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice and the need for repentance. An insatiable hope welled up in him. He devoted four hours daily to prayer, rising at 4 a.m. to meet this commitment.
This was highly unusual in Anglicans of the time. Members and clergy of the Church of England were suspicious of the enthusiasm of the Wesley brothers’ missions, which led to the subsequent formation of the Methodist Church, and the Great Awakening which peaked in 1740. Even before Simeon went up to Cambridge, one professor complained of:
certain Enthusiasts in that Society, who talked of regeneration, inspiration, and drawing nigh unto God.
Simeon decided to read Theology at King’s College. He was made a fellow of College and was ordained in 1782, aged 23. Meanwhile, his brothers, John and Edward, entered law (later politics) and finance, respectively.
Charles Simeon was an early ‘evangelical’ low church Anglican clergyman. It is important to be aware of the fact that he was not an independent Evangelical in the way we understand the term today. He was still part of the Church of England. In our time, N T Wright is another clergyman who fits the same description. He is not an independent Evangelical but an Anglican.
Simeon was assigned to Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge. His enthusiasm soon put him at odds with his churchwardens and church members. They had wanted another priest — their assistant curate Mr Hammond — and made that abundantly clear from the moment he arrived.
The congregation bristled at Simeon’s evangelical preaching. Some stopped attending Holy Trinity, leaving the church half empty on Sundays, alarming at the time. Simeon tendered his resignation to the Bishop of Peterborough, but he refused it.
The churchwardens tried desperately to stop Simeon. Simeon’s struggle continued for 12 years. The churchwardens and trustees locked the church to which he had no key. Once he had a key, they locked the box pews, so that anyone attending had to stand. Simeon rented chairs, but they were removed. Other men were brought in to give Sunday afternoon lectures, without Simeon’s permission. College students attended services only to attack him verbally when he was preaching. Some threw bricks through the church windows when he was preaching. On the streets of Cambridge, they harassed him with false rumours about his reputation.
The Simeon Trust site explains the situation:
like most church congregations at the time, they wanted a preacher who would entertain, instead of one who issued serious exhortations to repent and believe, as Simeon did.
Church at this time was a little different than today: the job of priest/curate/rector was often a patronage position, given as a political or social favor, and the churchwardens or vestry really controlled the church.
One day, a student from Clare College walked with Simeon for a quarter of an hour, which surprised him such that he recorded it in his journal.
Simeon carved a Gospel verse into the pulpit. It was visible only to him and subsequent preachers:
the words a group of Greeks spoke to Philip when he and the other disciples were with Christ in Jerusalem before His death:”Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21)
Amazingly, even though his time at Holy Trinity was dogged by trials, he stayed on for over 50 years.
Eventually, he began to gather his flock by persevering in his work. Those attending his services were not only members of his congregation but also students. He also introduced a Sunday evening service, unheard of at the time.
He also attracted Theology students, future pastors, by giving classes in constructing good sermons. He felt encouraged to do this once he read An Essay on the Composition of a Sermon by the French Reformed minister Jean Claude. His methods were the same as Claude’s.
Through those classes — ‘conversation parties’ — which he held at his home on Friday and Sunday evenings, a group of evangelical young men began to grow. They were known as ‘Simeonites’, or ‘Sims’.
By the time Simeon died, one-third of Anglican clergy active at the time, had studied under him.
Even then, Simeon still faced opposition. When he was 71 and someone asked how he persevered, he said:
My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.
He preached his last sermon two weeks before his death on November 1836, aged 77. He never married. He had a brief, final conversation with friends at his bedside:
… he said, “Do you know the text that greatly comforts me just now?” Friends asked him which. He replied, “I find infinite consolation in the fact that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth!” That surprised them until he explained, “Why, if, out of nothing God can bring all the wonder of the world, He may yet make something out of me!”
After he died, half of Cambridge University paid their respects to him.
Simeon left a considerable spiritual legacy. Would that we had one today in the Church of England.
He published the lessons from his ‘conversation parties’ and sermon outlines as Horae Homileticae to help future pastors with their preaching.
In 1827, a devout ‘Sim’, William Leeke, and his fellow students from Queen’s College established a Sunday School in Jesus Lane for the children living in the vicinity. On its first Sunday, 220 children showed up.
Another Sim, Henry Martyn, became a well known missionary and Bible translator.
Simeon helped to appoint evangelical chaplains to India, even when the East India Company forbade them.
In 1817, he received an inheritance with which he immediately created the Simeon Trust — which still exists today — which helps to purchase the right to appoint the priest-in-charge of certain Anglican parishes. St Peter’s in Colchester, Essex, is one of them. This was to do away with the patronage system:
Simeon realized that, while there was no shortage of solid Evangelical priests, the patronage system of parish appointments not only made it difficult for Evangelicals to secure parish appointments, but meant that continuity was not guaranteed: a congregation with a good preacher that left would not necessarily receive a good replacement.
Simeon helped to found the Church Missionary Society in 1799 and the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ) in 1809.
Today, despite the opposition to Simeon when he was vicar there, Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge continues to be a beacon for Anglican evangelicalism.
The Simeon Trust no longer appears to be active in Britain. It is mainly in the United States these days with different locations overseas. It offers workshops throughout the year, which are hosted by Protestant churches of various denominations.
Tomorrow: Charles Simeon’s exposition of Matthew 7:6