Charles Simeon: Pulpit Aristocrat

by Bernard R. DeRemer

Charles SimeonCharles Simeon (1759-1836) pastored Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, England for 54 years.

Through much of his ministry, he faced "constant opposition, persecution, and harassment." However, he highly regarded his calling and determined to do his best to be faithful.

Born at Reading, England, he grew up in a wealthy family, accustomed to affluence. He entered King's College, Cambridge, in 1779, where he was not an outstanding student; he always managed "to enjoy a good time."

Through his young adulthood, he fasted, prayed, and read religious books, but only as external religion; he remained unconverted. Finally, he came under conviction and at last found the full assurance of salvation one Easter Sunday morning. Then he "attended chapel, shared in the communion service, and felt a nearness to the Savior."

Quick to share his newfound faith, he attempted to witness to his family on numerous occasions despite their resistance. He kept growing and living faithfully. In fact, his evangelical zeal made him enemies-he still had much to learn about humility and service.

Simeon was appointed minister at Holy Trinity Church in 1783, in spite of opposition from those who did not appreciate his passion and doctrine. The church building would hold about 900, but early in his ministry, most members stayed home in protest. It was indeed a difficult time.

He took his ordination vows seriously and did all in his power to be faithful. One of his assistants was Henry Martyn, who later became one of the first missionaries to India.

God blessed Simeon's ministry and the church soon began to prosper. He rose at 4 a.m. each day to devote hours to prayer and Bible study. He said, "My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to trust in what I think may be there."

In Simeon's day, the great doctrinal controversy centered around John Wesley, an Arminian, and George Whitefield, a Calvinist. Simeon met with Wesley in 1784. After a long and friendly discussion, Simeon concluded that "instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those wherein we agree."

Always burdened to help others preach the Word, Simeon published a book of 100 "skeletons" of expository sermons. Later this was increased to 500 outlines. Eventually his little book of sermon skeletons grew into a large set of books containing 2,536 outlines covering the entire Bible. Critics called them a valley of dry bones, but Spurgeon recommended them: "Be a prophet and they will live!"

As he grew in grace and his ministry, Simeon had to battle his aristocratic nature and learn love and humility. "In his early years he was demanding and autocratic, but the Holy Spirit prevailed and he learned to minister in love."

Simeon appointed Evangelicals assigned to the various churches and used his wealth to "buy up" benefices and give them to qualified men. In those days in the Anglican Church, the place and ministry of various churches were actually owned by wealthy patrons and the right to appoint the pastor could actually be purchased. Simeon set up a patronage trust to oversee this special ministry, and as a result, godly Evangelicals were put into many churches, much to the regret of the opposition.

Simeon traveled widely in Great Britain, preaching wherever doors were opened. He was burdened for missions and helped found the Church Missionary Society. He was also burdened for the Jews and founded a chapel in Amsterdam for witness to Jews there.

He died honored and full of days. The town closed all its shops for his funeral, and the university cancelled all lectures. Nearly 2,000 attended, paying tribute to a man who remained true to a difficult ministry for 54 years. The "aristocrat in the pulpit" was truly an ambassador from God.


Victorious Christians You Should Know, by Warren W. Wiersbe; excerpts used by permission.

Bernard R. DeRemer has chronicled the lives of dozens of God's choice leaders,
across recent centuries, in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps.

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