Living to preach

Daily Reading for November 12 • Charles Simeon, Priest, 1836

Simeon lived to preach. This was unusual at a time when most sermons were dry, learned discourses, memorized word-for-word or read from a manuscript. Many preachers used sermons written by other people, taken from books. Listeners were expected to think about the ideas expressed, but rarely were they challenged to change their lives. This was not for Charles Simeon, who saw such preaching as an invitation to a self-satisfied, lukewarm piety. Simeon not only wrote his own sermons, but spent twelve hours preparing each one, sometimes longer. And he sought to engage not only the minds, but the hearts and wills of his listeners. Although he shared the distrust of “enthusiasm” typical of the day, he did not hesitate to appeal to the emotions as well as to the intellect. His sermons were dramatic and fervent. Cambridge was not ready for Simeon, and congregations were small at first (due in part, no doubt, to the creative efforts of the wardens to keep them small). But within a decade, people began to fill the pews of Holy Trinity (new, more sympathetic wardens opened the pews in 1790), and by the early 1800s, a Sunday congregation of a thousand worshipers was not unusual. . . .

The most distinctive feature of Simeon’s preaching was his faithfulness to scripture. He rose daily at 4:00 am and spent four hours a day in Bible study and prayer. Simeon knew the scriptures—he read the Bible far more than anything else—and believed the preacher’s task was to allow the scripture to speak. “My goal,” he said in the preface to Horae Homileticae, is to bring out of the scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.”

From the introduction to Charles Simeon in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

Past Posts