Charles Simeon (24 September 1759 – 13 November 1836) was a leading clergyman within the Evangelical party of the Church of England. When he began his ministry at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, he was so unpopular that the Churchwardens barred his entry, services were frequently interrupted, and he was often insulted in the streets. Overcoming public prejudice, he subsequently gained a remarkable and lasting influence among the undergraduates of the university. His exposition of Scripture according to a responsible hermeneutic, Reformed theological base and Pietist application, gave Evangelicalism in the United Kingdom a strong base on which to develop.
According to the historian Thomas Macaulay, Simeon’s “authority and influence… extended from Cambridge to the most remote corners of England, …his real sway in the Church was far greater than that of any primate.”
Not only was Simeon a passionate and systematic expositor of the Scriptures. He was also passionate about world mission, and Jewish evangelism in particular. As Simeon was a founding member of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1799, and of the London Society for the Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (CMJ) in 1809.
A story is told of him [Edward Bickersteth] and Charles Simeon to this effect: They were once present at a meeting held in support of the Society [CMJ]. Simeon was the speaker, and, in closing his speech, he said that they had met together that day for the furtherance of the most important object in the world, viz., the conversion of the Jews. When Simeon sat down, Bickersteth wrote on a slip of paper — eight million Jews, eight hundred million heathens, which of these is the most important? This paper he handed to Simeon, who at once turned it over and wrote on the other side: Yes, but if the eight million Jews are to be as “life from the dead*” to the eight hundred million heathens, what then? This done, he returned the slip of paper to Bickersteth.
Gidney, who gives Simeon 83 mentions, observes: It is interesting to note that the honoured name of Charles Simeon appears for the first time in the list of officials as a Country Director. He had been both a contributor to, and advocate for, the Society from the first, but he now “came on board.” He had been very active in recent events, for, on reference to the Minutes of Committee of those days, we find that he was present on December 27th 1814, and in 1815 on January 31st, February 17th, 21st, 24th, 28th, March ist, and again on the 14th at a General Meeting when the minutes of the General Meeting of February 28th were confirmed, and the great question of the withdrawal of the Nonconformists from participation in the Society was finally settled. Simeon helped steer CMJ through the choppy waters of denominational division. When the Society formed in 1809 the aim was for it to be inter-denominational, with Anglicans and Non-Conformists participating together. But differences arose over baptism and other questions, and in 1814, the Society became strictly Anglican, with the others forming the British Society. Simeon was one of those who saw through this process, and Gidney reports:
To use the forcible language of Charles Simeon, “The dissenting part of the managers then took to the long boat, and the Churchmen set to work at the pumps.”Thus Churchmen became the sole managers of the Society.
Two of Simeon’s letters, December 29th, 1814, and January 10th, 1815, within this period, are dated from Stanstead Park, Emsworth, the residence of Lewis Way. We can imagine that the tangled affairs of the Society at this juncture gave the two friends much to talk about. In the first of these letters Simeon says: “The whole Society is placed on a firmer basis than ever. I expect now that some of our higher Churchmen will come in, and all serious clergy through the land.” The word “serious” was in general use to denote the Evangelical clergy.
Through Simeon’s involvement the Society stay within the bounds of Anglican Evangelicalism. Simeon’s sermons on the Jews were distinctly premillennial in their eschatology, longing for a return of the Jews to the land of Israel in combination with an enthusiasm for evangelism amongst them.
Prayer: Thank you for the influence and inspiration of Charles Simeon in his preaching of the Good News of the Messiah, his call to share the Good News with the Jewish people, and his strong expectation of the Restoration of Israel, physically and spiritually. Help us to build responsibly, sensitively and respectfully on his life and legacy, and as Messianic Jews let us truly and humbly find ourselves part of the answer to his question “What then?”. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
T. Gidney, The History of The London Society For Promoting Christianity Among The Jews (London: CMJ, 1908), 273. For other versions see Eugene Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society (London: CMS, 1899), 154; Thomas Rawson Birks, Memoir of the Rev. Edward Bickersteth (New York: Harper, 1851, vol. 2), 53.
Discourses in Behalf of the Jews. London: Samuel Holdsworth, 1839.
From THE TESTIMONY OF THE REV. CHARLES SIMEONON THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TO THE JEWS(FROM REV. W. CARUS’S MEMOIR) ‘Take care of these texts, they are gold every one ofthem’ He then dictated the following:-‘I wish to show you what grounds wehave for humiliation, in that we havebeen so unlike to God in our regardstowards his fallen people; see Jer. xii. 7,“I have given the dearly beloved of mysoul into the hands of her enemies;”and again, (Rom. xi. 28,) “As touchingthe election, they are beloved for thefathers’ sake.” And to bring you into aconformity to God in relation towardsthem, so far as it respects your effortsfor their welfare and your joy intheir prosperity, see Ezek. xxxvi.22-24. “Therefore say unto the houseof Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Ido not this for your sakes, O house ofIsrael, but for mine holy name’s sake,which ye have profaned among theheathen, whither ye went. And I willsanctify my great name, which wasprofaned among the heathen, whichye have profaned in the midst of them;and the heathen shall know that I amthe Lord, saith the Lord God, when Ishall be sanctified in you before theireyes. For I will take you from amongthe heathen, and gather you out ofall countries, and will bring you intoyour own land.” And again, (Jer. xxxii.41,) “Yea, I will rejoice over them todo them good, and I will plant themin this land assuredly with my wholeheart and with my whole soul.” Andlastly, (see Zeph. iii. 17,) “The Lord thyGod in the midst of thee is mighty ;he will save, he will rejoice over theewith joy; he will rest in his love ; hewill joy over thee with singing. I willgather them that are sorrowful for thesolemn assembly, who are of them, towhom the reproach of it was a burden.Behold, at that time I will undo allthat afflict thee; and I will save herthat halteth, and gather her that wasdriven out; and I will get them praiseand fame in every land where theyhave been put to shame. At that timewill I bring you again, even in thetime that I gather you; for I will makeyou a name and a praise among allpeople of the earth when I turn backyour captivity before your eyes, saiththe Lord.”“On Sunday morning, October 30th,when I came to him, after hearingthe sermons on behalf of the Jews,and began to speak to him of theforcible manner in which the matterhad been treated by Mr. Noel, heimmediately rejoined, by a commenton our ignorance, as well as want offeeling on the whole subject; andthen, alluding to the texts beforeselected, he begged me to observe thestrong expressions which God hadbeen pleased to use, when describingHis intense and unalterable regardfor his ancient people. ‘See,’ said he,‘how wonderfully be speaks; he callsthem, 1. “The dearly beloved of mysoul;” and then he says, 2, “I will plantthem in this land assuredly, with mywhole heart, and with my whole soul;’and then again, 3. “He will rejoiceover them with joy; he will rest inhis love; he will joy over them withsinging;” nay more, 4. “They shall bea name and a praise among all peopleof the earth.” ’ His thoughts on this,and the following days, as might beanticipated, were chiefly given to thesubject of the Jews.”
Prayer and Reflection – based on Simeon’s life of prayer – from Prince of Evangelicals Simeon at Prayer Simeon’s spiritual life was fed by personal prayer for which he often arose at 4 a.m. When he changed his rooms he engaged in it on their eves. Prayer undergirded his utterances, friendships and ministry. His custom was to meet with his curate and a few others on Sunday evening in his rooms for supper and spiritual devotion, a church dignity once present being deeply moved by his closing prayers of humiliation and confession that, ‘our tears may bewashed in the atoning blood of Christ’. He challenged others to pray, as in the second sermon preached to the infant Church Missionary Society in which he countered objections to overseas missions by pleading: ‘Let all excuses be put away, and let all exert themselves at least in prayer to the great “Lord of the Harvest”, and entreat Him day and night “to send forth labourers into His harvest”’. He believed that church committees needed special prayer, because, as Cabinets their members are human and mistakes and errors will be made, but if there was more prayer God would better direct them. His prayer intensity focussed itself on those who opposed him, asked for his intercessions, or were unconverted. When slandered by a newspaper editor he answered, ‘I will pray for him’. For his uncivil churchwardens who locked his church door against him he prayed: ‘May God bless them with enlightening grace’. To an unknown correspondent he wrote that it was enough for him to hear from ‘a fellow sinner in distress,’ for he could then pray for him. Hesometimes spent nights in prayer, and once interceded throughout a week for a friend in need. To John Venn he wrote: ‘To my thanksgivings I added my poor prayers for still more rich and more abundant blessings that all which God has already done for you may be only the drops before the shower’. Believing in the power of prayer to soften the heart and open it to Christ, he told his brother John to pray to become a Christian. Often in company he would silently intercede for others, as once, when horse-riding, a young German agnostic came to him and asked why his lips were moving, and was met with the reply, ‘I am praying for you my friend’. Subsequent conversation with Simeon led to his conversion. He delighted in social prayer, and boldly introduced others to it, and wherever possible, as at Stapleford and on his Scottish tours, he created prayer circles, some continuing for many years. When Miles Atkinson, Vicar of St. Edward’s church, Cambridge, proposed a universal prayer session at 9 p.m. on Friday evenings for the nation then at war with France, Simeon gave it full support, and persuaded his friends likewise. In 1807 at a time of malevolent slander he wrote to Edward Edwards: ‘Amidst all that I feel to mourn over, my soul rejoicesexceedingly in God my Saviour. I trust that this joy will be made to abound more and more when you put your live coal to mine, and blow it with the breath of prayer’. Often knowing that he did not love an opposer as he should, he tried, he said, to put the dearest object of his affections in his place and pray for him. Simeon grounded his prayer life on the majesty and sovereignty of God, for; ‘With Him there is no weariness, nor any defect either of inclination or of power’. But he must be sought not only for help but, ‘much more for the communications of His grace, and manifestations of His glory’. It was his abiding conviction that: ‘A close walk with God is necessary for maintaining of fervour in intercession . . . It is scarcely ever that we can intercede with fervour, unless we enjoy an habitual nearness to God’. To one who was ill he wrote that her seclusion would give her opportunity for: ‘more intrinsic and abiding communion with yourLord . . . My prayer to God for you is that you may have such abundant discoveries of his incomprehensible love, as may be more effectual to “fill you with all the fulness of God”’. In his view every attribute of God deserved ‘all imaginable praise from his creature’. Above all he must be contemplated in his Son who should be praised for ‘assuming our nature, and expiating our sins by His own blood upon the cross, and as becoming the living head of all His believing people’.