Book Review: Charles Simeon of Cambridge, by Hugh Evans Hopkins
Hugh Evans Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge. Wipf and Stock, 2011. 236 pages.
Pastors need encouragement to finish the race. Paul knew this and encouraged the young minister Archippus, “see that you fulfill the ministry you have received from the Lord” (Col. 4:17). Each of us look forward to that day when we’ll hear, “Well done” (Matt. 25:21). But how do we make it to that day? Like Archippus had Paul, pastors need models in the faith, godly men who’ve gone before them and who have entered into the joy of the master.
Charles Simeon was such a man. His biography is a means of grace to endure in faithfulness. According to worldly wisdom, Simeon wasn’t a standout. He wasn’t handsome and he wasn’t popular, but the Lord had plans for him far beyond his own expectations. He attended Cambridge before it was an intellectual powerhouse, and he came to faith in the year of 1779. During the Lord’s Supper, Simeon reflected on his own unworthiness to participate and over the next few days he eventually confessed, “Jesus Christ is risen today!” on Easter Sunday (29).
At age 23, Simeon was called to the pastorate. Though Simeon lacked experience and training, he was appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church in 1782 (36). Before Simeon, Holy Trinity Church had been served by faithful men such as Richard Sibbes and Thomas Goodwin. Yet the church wasn’t prepared to be pastored by Simeon. In fact, the church didn’t want him at all. In the first decade, he faced unrelenting opposition. He wasn’t a perfect pastor, but he persevered in a difficult ministry. Here are three ways he serves as an example for us to follow.
An Example of Patience
During Simeon’s first sermon at the church, as he preached, his wardens protested (38). They wanted another man for the pastorate, so the churchwardens rallied the regular pew-holders to lock up the pews, literally! No one could sit in the empty seats and those who wanted to attend were forced to sit in the aisles. And that was just the first Sunday. To make it even more clear that they didn’t want Simeon, the parishioners hired the Reverend John Hammond to preach the Sunday afternoon service and paid him double Simeon’s salary. Five years later, Hammond stepped down, only for another to take his place for seven more years!
But Simeon carried on concerned for the state of his church’s souls (49). Holy Trinity Church didn’t want Simeon, but he wanted their holiness. He patiently pursued their sanctification. He modeled what Paul encourages in the Thessalonian church, “be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14). Simeon remained patient and preached twice a week to the same congregation for 54 years. He reminds us of the great benefit of patiently preaching to the same people, year after year, for a lifetime.
An Example of Suffering
When the Chief Shepherd returns, faithful pastors can expect an unfading crown of glory. But until that day, pastors must share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 5:1, 4). Simeon faced the scorn of his parishioners for over a decade of his ministry. He patiently fed the flock that bit him. But he also faced the disdain of the townspeople. On one walk home from church, Simeon was pelted with dirt and rotten eggs. It was so normal for him to be ignored and avoided by townspeople that when one poor man showed respect to Simeon, he cried tears of gratitude (79).
Simeon knew he was honored by God and was free to face the offence of men. As his diaries reveal, when trouble came, and it often did, he turned to God’s word for comfort. One day after he had suffered derision at the university, he prayed for God to encourage him from the word. The first text to catch his eye was Matt. 27:32, “They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross” (81). For the suffering pastor, Simeon’s example is a reminder that you aren’t alone.
An Example of Raising Up Leaders
Every pastor must entrust the gospel to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). But in Simeon’s day, a good man was hard to find. It’s not that men didn’t desire the pastorate—many men desired the office for the financial security and social mobility it provided (84).
Burdened by this reality, Simeon gave himself to providing encouragement, advice, and wisdom to the next generation. In 1792 he began sermon classes which would continue for forty years, teaching on sermon preparation and delivery. After fourteen years of solo-ministry at Holy Trinity, he was able to appoint a full-time assistant curate in 1796 (107). In 1813, Simeon began conversation parties where up to eighty men would come at six o’clock for tea (90). At these parties, Simeon fielded any question and for two decades he fueled brotherly love and fellowship through conversations.
With care and attention, Simeon raised an army of young men for the work of preaching. The effects of his discipling efforts were felt over 5,000 miles away in India. The missionary Henry Martyn was first a deacon under Simeon at Holy Trinity. Daniel Corrie was another man raised up under Simeon and sent out to the ends of the earth. Who are the young men in your church you’re seeking to raise up to be the next leaders?
An Example to Imitate
Have I persuaded you yet to pick up Charles Simeon of Cambridge? Read of how Simeon cheerfully encouraged brothers in their ministries through faithfully writing letters; by 1829 he had written close to seven thousand. Learn from a man whose work in Cambridge reached far beyond Cambridge to the ends of the earth (117). Study at the feet of a pastor who ministered zealously without burnout. Imitate a man who not only cultivated the vineyard of the Lord, but faithfully attended his own too (121). Charles Simeon was a preacher’s preacher and a pastor’s pastor. He was occupied with beholding the Lord Jesus Christ. We’d do well to imitate his ministry.