Some 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).