Arthur Middleton on a classical Anglican evangelical

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was renowned for his devotion to Christ, for his zeal for saving souls, for moral courage and endurance in the face of opposition and for absolute disinterestedness, self-sacrifice, and disregard of wealth, ease, reputation and position. This classical Anglican evangelical churchman was formed by the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England.

Born in Reading in 1759, of respectable parents without influence on his religious character, his religious awakening occurred at Eton in 1776, when a National Fast Day was strictly observed. He felt he had displeased God more than others and so he humbled himself before God and spent the day in fasting and prayer.

On arrival at King’s College, Cambridge in 1779, where he lived for the next fifty-seven years, in the first three weeks a regulation required him to attend the Lord’s Supper which overwhelmed him with unworthiness. It prompted his preparation for receiving Holy Communion, by fasting, prayer and reading. Surprisingly, he studied classics of Anglican devotion including The Whole Duty of Man (‘the only religious book that I had ever heard of), the Non-juror Kettlewell On the Sacrament, and Bishop Wilson of Sodor and Man On the Lord’s Supper.

His heart was touched by Wilson’s point that the Jews knew what they did when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering. He laid his sins upon the sacred head of Jesus, and in his Easter Communion he experienced the sweetest access to God through ‘my blessed Saviour.’ From then on, prayer became as marrow and fatness to him, a peace in his soul which he never lost.

Simeon, dubbed ‘Methodist’, at this crisis of his life, was guided by teaching of a very pronounced Church type that is not inconsistent with his evangelical character, so it is not surprising that he became a pronounced churchman and evangelical. It was said he was more of a churchman than a Gospel-man, and would have agreed with Sir Edwyn Hoskyns who always pointed out to evangelicals that the Gospel implied the Church. So the Bible comes first, then the Prayer Book and all other books, and doings in subordination to both. Bishop Moule, his biographer, suggested he might have found much to sympathize with in the early phase of the Oxford Movement.

He was asked how he had surmounted persecution and the prejudice against him. He said, ‘My friend, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all his suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow him patiently. We shall soon be partakers of his victory’

This pastor, year after year, in his trials, grew downward in humility and upward in his adoration of Christ, never yielded to bitterness or to the temptation to leave his charge – for fifty-four years. In our ecclesiastical disappointment and discouragements there is a power for perseverance in looking to someone who in an earlier age surmounted great obstacles in obedience to God’s call by the power of God’s grace. Instead of complaining about ‘my pain’, we will find how in the words of St James [1.3] we can ‘Count it all joy my brothers when you fall into various trials.’