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Pulpit and Prayer Book man

by
21 February 2012

John Pridmore looks at a priest who held far-reaching sway

MUSEUM OF LONDON

MUSEUM OF LONDON

Evangelical heroes: in William Macduff’s Shaftesbury, or, Lost and Found, 1862, a scrap of paper advertises the Ragged Schools, founded by the Evangelical philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury in the 1840s for poor children. A shoe-black boy points out to a street urchin an image of Shaftesbury in the window of the London print-seller Henry Graves. The Shoe Black Brigade had been formed from the Ragged Schools by John MacGregor, and by 1862 was organised into eight brigades for different areas of the city. From Nancy Rose Marshall’s City of Gold and Mud: Painting Victorian London, a handsomely illustrated volume discussing thematically the work of a range of artists, and due to be published on 3 March for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (Yale, £45 (£40.50); 978-0-300-17446-5)Charles Simeon: An ordinary pastor of extraordinary influence
Derek Prime

Day One Publications £10
(978-1-84625-313-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9

Charles Simeon on “The Excellency of the Liturgy” (JLS Joint Liturgical Studies)
Andrew Atherstone

Alcuin Club and The Group for the Renewal of Worship £6.95*
(978-1-84825-138-0)

THE two greatest figures in the history of Anglican Evangelicalism had much in common. Both were Cambridge men. Both remained bachelors. Both stayed at the same church for more than half a century. Both saw the world as their parish. Both had a social conscience. Both refused — such was the size of their God — to align themselves with any one party.

They had much in common, but not everything. John Stott was never as irritable as Charles Simeon could be; nor was Stott as harsh on Stott as Simeon was on Simeon. For Simeon, “the very first and indis­pens­able sign of regeneration is self-loathing and abhorrence.” Stott, who also believed that we are sin­ners in need of for­giveness, wouldn’t have put it like that. But then Stott was never drunk in charge of a horse.

Of course, we have loved and learned from Stott ourselves. Simeon is a distant figure. Little has been written about him lately that is readily accessible. So Derek Prime’s splendid biography of this “ordinary pastor” is a most welcome publica­tion.

It might be said that Simeon led an uneventful life. At the age of eight, he went to Eton, and 11 years later to King’s College, Cambridge. There he was not expected to do any work or to sit any exams. He was ordained on Trinity Sunday 1782 — having successfully translated a pas­sage of the Greek Testament earlier the same day, the only test of his fitness for holy orders. After a few months assisting at St Edmund’s Church, Cambridge, he was appointed Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, where he stayed for the remaining 54 years of his life.

What lent this outwardly uneventful life significance was Simeon’s Evangelical conversion. Soon after arriving at King’s, he learned that at Easter he was re­quired to receive holy communion. He was convinced that he was unfit to do so. After lengthy soul-searching, on the day of resurrection he at last found “perfect peace”. Immediately, he was seized with the fervent concern for the spiritual welfare of others which possessed him for the rest of his days.

Simeon was not welcomed at Holy Trinity. It was fully 12 years before the factions that opposed him faded away and he was able to exercise his ministry unimpeded — an example, perhaps, of “the perseverance of the saints”. Despite a voice that sometimes failed him, Simeon had already begun to draw large crowds to hear his sermons. Forty years into his ministry, Simeon published 21 volumes of them.

Prime’s account of Simeon does justice to the full scope of his ministry; for he was more than a great preacher. He was also a devoted and tireless pastor. A symbol of his hospitality is his teapot, preserved in Holy Trinity, together with his umbrella, in the Evangelical equivalent of a reliquary.

When bread became scarce in Cambridge and the neighbouring villages, Simeon gave generously, and, as importantly, deployed his remarkable skills as an organiser to feed the hungry. Simeon did not travel widely, but he had a world­wide vision. Missionary work in India, he said, was “a principal and incessant object of my care and labour”.

Perhaps the timeliest chapter in the book is entitled “Simeon and the Principle of Balance”. Simeon held that “in matters that divide Chris­tians . . . the truth often exists in both extremes and not necessarily in the middle.” Those presently at war in the Anglican Communion would do well to heed Simeon’s words. They might like to know that the 21 volumes of his Horae Homileticae are now available on a single CD-ROM.

Simeon’s sermons on The Excellency of the Liturgy were among his most popular. Andrew Ather­stone’s useful monograph sets these sermons in their historical context and provides an extended abridge­ment of them. For Simeon, the Prayer Book was second only to holy scripture as a rule of faith. Would he, I wonder, have had as high an estimate of Common Worship?

The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney, in east London.

*This title can be obtained from www.jointliturgicalstudies.co.uk.

EVELYN UNDERHILL’s Worship, first published in 1936, after she had become a practising Anglo-Catholic, was described in its original preface as a “study of the nature and principles of Worship”. The first half of the book looks at the nature of worship, ritual, character, liturgy, and the eucharist; the second looks at different traditions, including Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Anglican (James Clarke, £19.50 (£17.55); 978-0-227-17292-6).

EVELYN UNDERHILL’s Worship, first published in 1936, after she had become a practising Anglo-Catholic, was described in its original preface as a “study of the nature and principles of Worship”. The first half of the book looks at the nature of worship, ritual, character, liturgy, and the eucharist; the second looks at different traditions, including Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Anglican (James Clarke, £19.50 (£17.55); 978-0-227-17292-6).

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