Charles Simeon (1759-1836), a Faithful Pastor
For the last three articles we have considered marks of a faithful, exemplary pastor from I Thessalonians 2:1-12. Today I want to share the story of a wonderful illustration of just such a man from church history. His story has encouraged and inspired me to never give up. His name? Charles Simeon.
Born into wealth in 1759 in Reading, England, Simeon was brought up in the Anglican church and entered Cambridge. He was religious but unconverted. He looked back on that time and said, “Satan himself was as fit to attend Holy Communion as I!”
Satan himself was as fit to attend Holy Communion as I!
At the age of 20, he stumbled upon a simple phrase that stopped him cold: “The Jews knew what they did when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” He was converted on the spot as his eyes were opened to the transfer of his sin and guilt to the head of Christ.
His conversion did not excite his church-going family. They resisted his witnessing attempts. Nor did he find fellowship at King’s College on the campus of Cambridge, for love for Christ was rare there.
Some three years after his conversion, he became a deacon and started preaching. Large crowds gathered to hear the 23 year old with a bold and clear gospel message. Due to the crowds, the church clerk lost his reserved seat in church. When the regular pastor returned after his summer break the clerk joyfully announced: “I am so glad you are come! Now we shall have some room!”
In 1783 at the age of twenty-four, Simeon was appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, despite much opposition from the church itself. Neither his zeal, youth nor doctrine were appreciated. The people simply didn’t want a man to stand up, armed with the gospel, and expound the Scriptures that called them to repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ. They wanted something else.
On his first Sunday, in a building that held 900, most members stayed home in protest. So, he preached to the visitors.
In those days the pews were rented and had little doors on the ends with locks. So the pew renters simply stayed home and would not rent them out to anyone else, hoping he would soon grow discouraged and quit.
So Simeon put benches in the aisles for the visitors. The church officers responded by throwing the benches into the church yard.
So he started a Sunday evening service. The church officers locked the doors to keep him and his listeners out. So, for the next five years, he basically preached to the walls.
For a total of twenty-five years, he endured opposition, persecution and harassment mostly alone. He never married.
Along the way, Simeon started sermon classes for local ministerial students who weren’t being trained to preach. He knew England’s only hope was expository preaching. These “Simeonites” or “Sims” became objects of scorn themselves.
One local faculty member at the nearby college deliberately scheduled his Greek sessions on Sunday mornings so his students would not have an opportunity to hear Simeon preach. These same seminary students hurled bricks through the church windows during his worship services and lectures. And yet Simeon preached on, cleaned up the glass and loved his enemies.
A godly man, Charles rose at 4:00 each morning to devote himself to prayer and study of the Bible. He learned to preach by preaching. He made this famous statement:
“My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to trust in what I think might be there.”
If ever a pastor was God-tested and approved to be armed with the pure gospel and then eager to please God not man, it was Charles Simeon.
He left a legacy in that one of his first assistants, Henry Martyn, would become one of the first missionaries to India. William Leeke, a zealous “Sim,” and a number of other Cambridge students set up a Sunday school for children living nearby. Two hundred and twenty children showed up for the first session!
He had this advice for preachers: “Be a Bible Christian and not a system Christian.” He collected and published his sermon outlines to help other preachers to preach the Word.
Be a Bible Christian and not a system Christian.
He left a legacy in his never quit attitude, eventually winning over many who held him in contempt through his integrity and steadfast clutch on the gospel. To help him stay focused on what matters, he carved into his pulpit where only the preacher could see it the words of John 12:21, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Taking his personal call and ministerial vow seriously, he stayed in one place preaching God’s Word for 54 years until his death at the age of 77!
At his funeral, hundreds turned out to pay their respects.
Even though it was a market day, the town closed all the shops for his funeral and the university canceled all lectures. Nearly two thousand people, including the robed academic community, paid tribute to the man who had remained true to the Word. (Warren Wiersbe)
His legacy lives on today. The Charles Simeon Trust was founded in 2001 with a vision “to promote the growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by training up the next generation of Biblical expositors.” They hold workshops on expository preaching in over forty locations every year, including one recently in Austin, Texas.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight