A Biography of Charles Simeon (1759–1836)

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Charles Simeon, the youngest son of Richard and Elizabeth Hutton, was born on September 24, 1759, in Reading, Berkshire.[1] Simeon’s father was a practicing attorney, while his mother, however, died soon after his birth. Simeon studied with his brothers, John and Edward, at Eton, who later became prominent in their fields respectively in the legal profession and financial industry. Their eldest brother, Richard, who aided their father in managing their household and family possession, died when Charles was twenty-two years old.

Education: Eton and Cambridge

Simeon arrived at Royal College of Eton, in 1767, two years later after John and Edward joined the school.[2] He studied at this institution for almost twelve years. Eton offers a concentration on the classics, a standard Latin grammar, a basic music theory (plainsong, a form of repetitive chanting), and is able to speak and write scholastically. This rigorous training is fit to qualify to apply at King’s College, Cambridge as King’s Scholar.

Despite the impressive training that Eton can offer, this institution was known to be harsh and strict, which includes flogging students, treating them as servants, and other degrading disciplines. Even Simeon uttered a description of Eton as “so profligate a place, that he told me he should be tempted even to murder his own son sooner than let him see there what he had seen.”[3]

In 1773, Simeon became a King’s Scholar, achieving the qualifications to be one. At the age of nineteen, he was admitted to King’s College, Cambridge, on January 29, 1779.

Conversion and Spiritual Growth

Providentially, Simeon’s conversion was significantly caused by the thought of having his first Lord’s Supper at King’s chapel. The event was announced to take place three weeks after the day he arrived at King’s. Simeon felt the need to prepare his soul for this coming event. He struggled with his faith, wretchedness, and some possible attacks of Satan in his heart. Even after this first communion, Simeon’s spiritual distress continued until Easter in 1779.

Through this experience, he had an appetite to read works of Christian ministers like The Whole Duty of Man[4] and Thomas Wilson on the Lord’s Supper.[5] These religious books helped him realize the “most important issue was the well-being and salvation of his soul through a right relationship with God,” Derek Prime noted.

His assurance of conversion was slowly progressing until Easter-day on April 4, 1779. Simeon wrote, “On Wednesday [I] began to have a hope of mercy; on Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on Sunday morning, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, ‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’”[6]

Going further, Simeon attended St. Giles’ Church in Reading ministered by William Bromley Cadogan. Simeon found it profitable to listen to Cadogan’s preaching than to attend King’s College Chapel. Alas, on Simeon’s spiritual growth, he learned that assurance is a privilege rather than a necessity.

Early Ministry at St. Edward’s Church

After his ordination on May 26, 1782, Simeon’s first ministry was at St. Edward’s Church, which was ministered by Christopher Atkinson. It was at this church where he preached a series on the Ten Commandments. Providentially, the parishioners saw the evidence of the church’s growth through Simeon’s sermons and his deep pastoral heart.

One time he was passing by a house after the Lord’s day service. He encountered a couple having a loud argument. Simeon saw the door was open, he entered the house, talked, and rebuked them (since it was Sunday), and knelt to pray for them.

Sadly, his ministry at this parish was cut short because of the news about the death of his eldest brother, Richard, in October 1782. Simeon’s father appealed for him to stay with him at their place in Reading.

Pastoral Ministry at Holy Trinity Church

The plan to return to their place did not take place. When he was prepared for Reading, Simeon heard that the minister at Holy Trinity Church near the Great St. Mary’s and King’s College chapel had died. It was at this church where “heavenly doctor” Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) served as the Lecturer in 1610 until 1616, later as a holy vicar in 1633–1635.

Simeon requested his father to write a letter to Bishop Ely for the vacant ministerial office. On November 9, 1782, he was officially appointed to become the minister of Holy Trinity Church. Simeon responded, “truly the judgments of God are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out.”[7] Howbeit, his appointment was not openly received by the congregation.

For twelve years, as appointed Lecturer of Holy Trinity Church, Simeon encountered ministerial adversities, spiritual battles, and church issues. In his first five years, the congregation did not accept Simeon’s pastoral authority. The church recognized John Hammond, the curate of the former minister of the church, as their lecturer. Yet, even after Hammond vacated this lectureship, another son of a parishioner competed for the office for another seven years (or lesser).

Though Simeon was then appointed Lecturer, the church did not provide financial support to him. In addition to the disappointments, the churchwardens locked the doors of the parish, threw the chairs when Simeon brought some, and even parishioners locked their pews so no one can use them. This internal persecution towards Simeon forced him to rent another hall in a neighboring parish.

Despite the persecutions, Simeon embraced these circumstances as an essential part of pastoral formation. Providentially, those who attended his service grew in numbers and in spiritual maturity. Adding to this service, he visited other parishes on weekdays to preach, which he finds “refreshing to his soul” plus it was also beneficial for his pastoral equipping in doing sermons.

Sermon Classes and Societies

Slowly progressing, Simeon could minister to the Holy Trinity Church hall gracefully, beginning in 1790, only with permission from the churchwardens. By God’s grace, it was in 1794 that Simeon’s lectureship at Holy Trinity Church was accepted without opposition. Indeed, Charles Simeon’s pastoral ministry during his first years was a faithful embodiment of the first part of 2 Timothy 2:24, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive.” To that verse, he prayed for the “double blessing” of those who attended the church service. His patience was rewarded.

Simeon later started to attract undergraduates from the university through his tea meetings (informal forums), societies (modern-day small groups), and sermon classes. In the 1810s this growth was evident: starting from six societies to thirty, the overflowing students attending his tea forums and sermon classes.

Furthermore, on the golden anniversary of his lectureship at Holy Trinity, in 1832, in awe, he wrote to a friend, “Who would have ever thought that I should have to behold such a day as this? My parish, sweetly harmonious!”[8] To add, Prime noted that his church in that year was enlarged to hold 1, 1000 people.[9]

Heart for Missions

Other than these societies and classes, Simeon was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society that sent missionaries to India, established in 1799, six years after the arrival of William Carey in Calcutta, India. Another society, in 1809, was the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People, that reached out to Jews in the British Isles for Christ. Simeon, also, had a strong ministry connection in Scotland beginning his first visit in 1796 up until 1819.

Furthermore, Simeon, through one of his friends and his brother’s left assets, set up a trust fund that offered the living or financial assistance to several ministers whose parishes were not under the Church of England’s funds. Some of the pioneer trustees were Daniel Wilson, William Wilberforce, and John Newton.

Written and Spiritual Legacy

Truly, Simeon was a significant, full-of-passion minister of the Word, not just at his local parish, but even in many countries. Nevertheless, Simeon’s grandest contribution was his lifetime work of Horae Homileticae, twenty-one large volumes of commentary, or an outlined-expositional (known as skeleton), of the whole Bible.[10] On the day of its completion, he said, “I have this day received the last five volumes, and see the work complete — the ship launched. This last was the only thing for which I wished to live, so to speak, and I now sing my Nunc dimittis.”[11]

This commentary is still being used by many modern-day ministers. One of these ministers, a prominent preacher, is Paul Washer. He recommends this set, especially if one is a preacher.[12]

Simeon’s prominence was through his principle of balance, which is similar to Sibbes’ moderation. One event still talked about nowadays was his dialogue with John Wesley about Calvinism and Arminianism, which can be seen in the works of Andrew Fuller, J. I. Packer, and Timothy George.[13]

Completely, Simeon saw the glimpse of glorification, man’s ultimate hope, rejoicing with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” He said, “Of the reality of this I am as sure as if I were there this moment.”[14]

Using the words of Prime, “On Sunday, 13 November 1836, at about two o’clock in the afternoon, at the exact moment the bell of St Mary’s was tolling for the university sermon, which Simeon had been scheduled to preach, he entered his eternal rest.”[15]

Overall, Simeon had been the Lecturer (Vicar or Pastor) of the Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge for fifty-four (54) years.


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References:

[1] Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A., with a Selection from His Writings and Correspondence, ed. The Rev. William Carus (American edn., ed. Chas. P. Mcllavaine; NY: Robert Carter, 1847). In the original edition, it was written that Simeon was born in 1758. 1759 is the correct birthyear.

[2] Eton was a prominent school during that time. It produced influential businessmen, nineteen British Prime Ministers, thousands of Armed services, renowned bishops, and archbishops.

[3] Derek Prime, Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence (2011; repr., Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2016), 17. Cf. Memories of Charles Simeon, 16-17.

[4] Anonymously written but widely attributed to Richard Allestree (1619-1681).

[5] Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor, and Man, A Short and Plain Instruction for the Better Understanding of the Lord’s Supper with the Necessary Preparation Required for the Benefit of Young Communicants, and of such as Have Not Well Considered this Holy Ordinance, Thirty-Second Edition (1786; repr., St. Paul’s Church Yard, London: F. and C. Rivington, 1807). Simeon used the twenty-second edition.

[6] Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 5-6.

[7] Prime, Charles Simeon, 45-46. Cf. Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 26.

[8] Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 413.

[9] Prime, Charles Simeon, 61.

[10] Read J. I. Packer, “Expository Preaching: Charles Simeon and Ourselves,” in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes, Leland Ryken and Todd A. Wilson (2007; repr., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 140-155.

[11] Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 417. Luke 2:29-32.

[12] Paul Washer, “Tour of Paul Washer’s Library,” HeartCry Missionary Society, Uploaded on YouTube, January 5, 2021, https://youtu.be/KWGhe01BTLI. See also John Piper, “Humility Was His Secret Strength: Charles Simeon (1759–1836),” Desiring God, November 13, 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/humility-was-his-secret-strength.

[13] Andrew Fuller’s Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation; J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and Sovereignty of God (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012); TimothyGeorge’s Amazing Grace: God’s Pursuit, Our Response, 2nd edition(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). See also, Packer’s Among God’s Giants (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1991), 138.

[14] Memoirs of Charles Simeon, 479.

[15] Prime, Charles Simeon, 228.

Photo: “Trinity Church, Exterior,” ref: P/22090; series: Memorials of Cambridge; rareoldprints.com/p/22090

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Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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