Charles Simeon was born in September of 1759 and was baptized into the Church of England on October 24th of that same year. Charles was educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. He experienced a religious conversion while preparing himself to receive Holy Communion. Simeon’s First Communion had been a discouraging experience, because he had used the popular devotional tract, The Whole Duty of Man, which emphasized law and duty as the means to rightly receive the Sacrament. When Simeon was later preparing to receive Easter Communion, he was given a copy of Bishop Thomas Wilson’s Instructions for the Lord’s Supper. Here, Charles Simeon encountered a wildly different approach- an approach which emphasized that the sacrifice of Christ, perceived by faith, is what makes us worthy to receive the Sacrament. This time, Simeon’s experience was one of peace and evangelical zeal.
Charles Simeon was ordained as a priest in 1783 and was appointed as the vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge that same year, where he would serve until his death. Under the influence of Henry and John Venn, Simeon became further formed in the Evangelical tradition in the Church of England. Simeon was at first unpopular in the university and at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, perhaps due to his young age and his ardent evangelicalism. Services were interrupted and he was insulted in the streets. But eventually his pastoral zeal, passionate preaching, and winsome character rose above any opposition. Simeon had a significant influence on Evangelical undergraduates and ordinands at Cambridge, he helped to found the Church Missionary Society in 1799 and actively recruited and supported many missionaries, and he was consulted by the East India Company on their appointment of chaplains. Simeon’s preaching was renowned for its biblical content, simplicity, and evangelical zeal.
Simeon died on the 13th of November, 1836. He was buried on the 19th of November in the King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Simeon’s funeral was attended by many, including many of the students at Cambridge, as the sketch below indicates.
Charles Simeon’s legacy reverberates within Anglicanism, and within evangelical Christianity even to today. William Edward Hartpole Lecky, an Irish Church historian, described the influence of Simeon and his evangelical peers in the following way:
“They gradually changed the whole spirit of the English Church. They infused into it a new fire and passion of devotion, kindled a spirit of fervent philanthropy, raised the standard of clerical duty, and completely altered the whole tone and tendency of the preaching of its ministers.”
Charles Simeon also established the Charles Simeon Trust, which he had intended would perpetuate evangelical influence within the Church of England after his death. The Charles Simeon Trust continues today, and it has expanded its scope, with its expressed mission being, “We exist to promote the growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by training up the next generation of Biblical expositors.” The Charles Simeon Trust offers excellent online courses on Biblical exposition and preaching in addition to intensive workshops all over the US and around the globe. If you are a preacher, catechist, or Bible study leader, I cannot recommend the Charles Simeon Trust courses or workshops enough!
A Collect for the Feast of Charles Simeon
And so we pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you called your servant Charles Simeon to preach the Gospel to the English and Indian peoples: Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.