Tuesday’s excerpted his commentary and advice on Matthew 7:6 — casting pearls before swine.
Today’s post provides more information about the ministry of this pioneer of Anglican ‘evangelicalism’, often criticised by his congregation and Cambridge University students, among whom he ministered.
In 1979, to mark the bicentenary of Simeon’s conversion at King’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Max Warren — formerly General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and then a Residentiary Canon of Westminster Abbey — wrote a considered essay of this clergyman. Unfortunately, Warren died before he could read it to a group of Anglicans who were to draw conclusions about the lessons of Simeon’s ministry.
Warren’s great-grandfather knew Simeon. This ancestor wrote a memoir which included two letters Simeon had written to him. Warren’s great-grandmother, the man’s wife, kept a diary. She died in 1836, the same year Simeon left this mortal coil. Therefore, Simeon’s life and times no doubt touched him more personally than most.
The PDF of Warren’s paper is available here. A summary follows with page numbers cited.
We can learn much from the way Simeon ministered to people, not only in Cambridge but also around England.
Charles Simeon’s worldview was shaped in part by the French Revolution. He was ordained by the time it took place between 1789 and 1795. He was concerned about possible similar threats to Britain, namely the establishment, including the established Church of England.
He was also a lifelong conservative in his thinking.
He would have been aware that, when he was converted in 1779, that 7,358 out of 11,194 Anglican parishes in England had no clergyman (p. 1).
The nature of conversion
For Simeon, conversion was connected with commitment.
He insisted that that commitment increase over time, particularly for himself but also for others.
He deeply believed that no one could truly be regemerated unless he were experiencing ‘brokenness of heart’ brought about by the profound realisation — ‘self-loathing and abhorrence’ — of one’s own wretched sinful nature.
Only then could the sorrowful — and repentant — convert begin to appreciate the work of sanctifying grace from the most holy God (p. 9).
As I wrote on Monday, Simeon never married.
As he was ostracised for his enthusiastic, evangelical views and preaching, he was a lonely man for many years.
However, this solitude also made him more aware of what clergy faced when they were opposed. This is why he held ‘conversation parties’ with Cambridge students studying for ordination. He wanted them to know what and how to preach when. He also impressed upon these young men that the Bible was both an ‘establishing’ and a ‘converting’ book. Furthermore, they had to practise what they preached. They also had to understand that they were not doing the regenerative work upon their congregation, it was the Holy Spirit. (p. 5)
Even those who ended up not being ordained and who were assigned to far reaches of the British Empire benefited from Simeon’s advice on how to communicate with people. (p. 8)
Solitude also gave him the idea of including clergy wives in lectures for their husbands. (p. 6) The more they knew and understood their husbands’ work, the better they could discuss it with them and support them emotionally.
Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge
Simeon was the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 54 years. That was his one and only assignment.
His outlook on ministry was to maintain a balance between being a pastor and an evangelist. He also held to Martin Luther’s dictum of knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (p. 3)
Holy Trinity — then and now — was a congregation of students but also townspeople who will speak their minds about church. It was also — even in Warren’s time as its vicar — the largest in the Diocese of Ely. (p. 3)
Holy Trinity might not have liked Simeon’s sermons and, when they weren’t angry with him, tune them out but they could not easily tune out the way he delivered the liturgy. He actually prayed — not read — the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. This was new. Most clergy muttered the prayers.
Warren wrote that it was the actual praying of the liturgy which eventually won over his cantankerous and, sometimes violent, congregation. (p. 3)
Outside of church
Simeon also started informal groups, hosting them outside of church. He sometimes hired a room in another parish to accommodate them.
He did this so he could get to know his congregation and also so that they would not see him as being ‘ten feet above contradiction’.
He was also careful to assemble a group of 12 stewards who would manage the parish’s finances and assess the need for charity and relief.
He was a pioneer in involving laity. His Visiting Society volunteers paid visits on poorer townspeople, giving them spiritual instruction as well as food to eat.
He, too, was known for his visits to ill and dying parishoners.
He took the food donation idea further during the bread famine of 1788 and 1789, when he contributed a subscription so that bread could be fairly distributed to the poor in villages around Cambridge. He was known for making his rounds on horseback and stopping in at village bakeries. (p. 4)
Travel in England
Simeon made it his mission to travel to towns and cities around England to spread the Gospel.
If he was rejected by his own congregation, the rest of the country received him warmly. Remember that he had to get around by horse and carriage on long, bumpy rides. There was no railway network in place.
In 1798, he recorded that he gave 75 addresses between May 18 and August 19. He spoke to a total of 87,310 people.
The only other evangelist likely to have spoken to more on a tour was Dwight L Moody — 75 years later. (p. 11)
Simeon was very concerned about the growth of the Anglican church in the Empire.
His missionary initiatives helped to expand the Church in India, New Zealand and Australia.
Charles Simeon was a man who bucked the trend in style and substance. Although discouraged and lonely, he pressed on with the Lord’s work. He encouraged seminarians and young clergymen to do so, too.
He pioneered the way for an evangelical strand in the Anglican Church. It still exists, but less so.
Perhaps it is time for Anglican clergy and seminaries to stop worrying about social justice and put more effort into winning souls for Christ and the life beyond.