Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Worthy of Imitation 7

Simeon.jpgSome fifteen or so years ago I read a wonderful book on preaching by John R.W. Stott (Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today
). In that book, Stott frequently referred to someone I knew very little about but who was obviously a significant figure for Stott. The preacher’s name was Charles Simeon. I never chased anything down about Simeon, but over the decades I’ve seen his name mentioned plenty of times. So I was pleased to see that Chris Armstrong, in Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future, has an entire chapter devoted to this great preacher.

Armstrong focuses on three elements of Simeon’s life: his story of conversion, his mentoring of future pastors, and his personality issues that, over time, saw the grace of God rework and transform.
His conversion story was one from overt dismissal and rejection of Christianity to a deep sense of his own sin, the joy of forgiveness, and an ongoing rejoicing in God’s grace. 


Out of his lack of preparation Simeon decided to help those who would follow him into parish ministries — so he had evening “conversation parties” during which time he interacted with future pastors by entertaining questions, instructing and — hear this — providing outlines of his own sermons for others to use. He knew what he was doing and decided to help others, and the numbers he guided into ministry out of Cambridge is nothing short of spectacular. One of his famous statements about how to measure a good sermon: “Does it uniformly tend to humble the sinner? to exalt the Savior? to promote holiness? If in one single instance it loses sight of any of these points, let it be condemned without mercy” (142).
What do you think of these evaluations of a sermon?
His theology leaned toward Calvinism but he made it clear: make “Bible Christians, not system Christians” (143). Which meant he continued the Eclectic Society spirit formed by John Newton. 
What is perhaps most notable about Simeon is his personality: as a young pastor he was notably affected, arrogant and stubborn but, over time and under the influence of a godly, compassionate mentor — Henry Venn — over time he became the peach that grew from a bitter taste to a sweet taste. “Transparent brokenness was a keynote of his ministry” (147).
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posted September 21, 2009 at 6:37 am

I wonder what he meant in saying “Does it uniformly tend to humble the sinner?

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posted September 21, 2009 at 6:48 am

Wow, fascinating man – with a powerful story (a link here: Charles Simeon). In a University church, at a time when intellectual conflict was beginning among scholars and the Church of England seemed to emphasis itself rather than gospel he sought to preach the gospel. And he invested time in students who were likely to be entering the ministry.

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Scot McKnight

posted September 21, 2009 at 7:39 am

RJS, Simeon wanted human sinfulness to be clear in order trust the Savior more. I haven’t read any of his sermons so I don’t know any details, but it’s more a shaping of his gospel in this statement than anything else that is at work in his statement.

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Allan R. Bevere

posted September 21, 2009 at 8:49 am

I read Stott’s book many years ago as well as a young seminary student. It is near the top of my list of all-time great books on preaching.
I tend to agree with Simeon, though the details of those three would need more sketching out in discussion. If #1 is neglected, human beings can get an skewed view of their own goodness. If #2 is absent, the reason for even gathering to hear a sermon in the first place is lost; and if #3 is ignored a sermon might not only lack substance, but the grateful response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is lost as well.

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posted September 21, 2009 at 8:51 am

Wonderful statement about brokenness shaping ministry. I see this modeled in the pastors in my current church.

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posted September 21, 2009 at 9:15 am

I love the statement about making “Bible Christians, not system Christians”. Too often we get hung up on our church doctrine and polity and elevate to the level of personal holiness. Knowledge of these things is good, but we must remember to keep the main thing, the main thing and that’s Christ and Him crucified.

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posted September 22, 2009 at 12:07 am

Charles Simeon in his own words.

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Chris Armstrong

posted September 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

Thanks, Ben, for the link. I use parts of Simeon’s Memoirs with students in one of my courses–it’s great to have an online option for that book.

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