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 Issues | Church History | Charles Simeon


Charles Simeon by Max Warren


In reference to a zealous enthusiast for a society in which he was also intimately concerned, Simeon, in one of his letters, has this delightful comment :

“I wish Mr. B- may not run too fast. But it is difficult to embark in a good cause, and to proceed with all the moderation requisite for its ultimate success. I would run as fast as he : but I want to win the race ; and therefore proceed at this part of the course somewhat slower than he. A warm advocate will call this lukewarmness; to me it appears, in existing circumstances, wisdom and prudence.”

“I want to win the race” - that clear perception of the goal in view, that quality of moral concentration which could subordinate everything to the chosen end, all that combined with a unique opportunity matched Charles Simeon to his hour, made him a statesman.

His statesmanship, however, was essentially apostolic. If in the sequel it proved, also, to be statesmanship in an ecclesiastical, and even in a “party”, sense that was essentially accidental. Simeon was a man consumed with one overmastering purpose and that was to glorify God and win men to His Gospel. He was essentially an opportunist in the New Testament sense of one who buys up his opportunities. His statesmanship was seen in the way in which each several opportunity was made to minister to the same grand design, the solution to each problem with which he was faced being consistent with the others, the whole enterprise of his life being framed upon the same clear principles.

These principles may be briefly summarized as first, the realized holiness of God; second, the enjoyment of God’s forgiveness; third, the proved experience that gratitude to God for His goodness and the expression of devotion in service could be as surely made within the circle of the Church of England as they had been manifestly discovered therein.

It was in strict consistency with these principles that Simeon sought the incumbency of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, as an additional sphere of opportunity reaching far beyond the scope of his fellowship at King's. It was these principles that guided and guarded him through the years of opposition, at once saving him from the temptation to flout the order of his Church by becoming an itinerant evangelist, and enabling him to demonstrate in the teeth of every form of violent misrepresentation that his message was the message of the Church of England.

It was these principles which guided him towards that far-reaching enterprise of providing Chaplains for the East India Company, so that he could encourage one after another of his assistant curates to offer for this service and was able to write in 1816 to one of them:

“In my last I mentioned eleven, whom within this year and a half I have had the happiness of recommending to India; and I am now happy to say, that Mr. S- of whose going I was doubtful, makes a twelfth. There are two more vacancies I hope to fill (one for Canton, and the other for Bombay), as soon as I can get the persons ordained. The person for Canton is a man of great talents”.

Here was a consecrated imagination going out to the ends of the earth. All of a piece was his decisive share in the founding of the Church Missionary Society, his complete devotion to the Jews’ Society, and his deeply convinced support of the Bible Society. Yet there was no ill-balanced enthusiasm, none of that fanaticism which distinguishes in value between the different ministries to which God calls His servants. The same principles indeed were used by him to fill the parishes of England with a stream of men who in his rooms in King's had begun to learn the rudiments of their ministry, having in Holy Trinity Church first heard the Gospel and there, with Simeon, learnt to discover how the Book of Common Prayer can offer a window into Heaven.

These same principles, these and none other, saw him in days when the purchase of advowsons was common practice justify to himself and others their purchase to ensure the continuity of a faithful ministry. Others “purchase income”, he wrote, “I purchase spheres, wherein the prosperity of the Established Church, and the Kingdom of our blessed Lord, may be advanced; and not for a season only, but if it please GOd, in perpetuity also.”

So, “with all the moderation requisite for its ultimate success”, he ran his race.


>> Perseverance to the end

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