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Charles Simeon’s difficulties

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In 1779, a fresher arrived at King’s College by the name of Charles Simeon.  In those days, the college would summon members to attend Holy Communion in chapel.  But Simeon – who’d been no Christian at school – became gripped by the realisation that he was totally unworthy.  For weeks, he dug out books to try to find how he could have his sins forgiven.  Finally, around Easter, came the answer, as he saw from Leviticus how guilt could be transferred to a sacrificial animal.  Now, at last, he understood Christ’s wonderful sacrifice for us, and was converted.

He soon began to hope that he could stay in Cambridge to make his discoveries known to others.  Amazingly, at the age of only 24, he was appointed to Holy Trinity – where he stayed for the remaining 54 years of his life.  He described the three great aims of his preaching as “To humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, to promote holiness.”

His impact was huge.  Many of his congregation went on to be preachers and missionaries, including the missionary Henry Martyn, Dean Francis Close of Carlisle, and Patrick Brontë, whose daughters’ novels are so famous.

But in this work, Simeon faced bitter opposition. His Bible preaching packed the church, but was resisted by many others.  Some students, who weren’t members, attempted to create disturbances at church. Those who attended were disparagingly known as “Sims”.  One college deliberately started a set of Greek lectures timed to clash with Simeon’s Sunday evening services, to try to stop undergraduates attending.

What kept him going?  Here is one vital moment he recalled, from his own memoir:

When I was an object of much contempt and direction in the University, I strolled forth one day, buffeted and afflicted with my little Testament in my hand. I prayed earnestly to my God that he would comfort me with some cordial from his Word, and that on opening the book I might find some text which would sustain me… The first text which caught my eye was this: “They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.” You know Simon is the same name as Simeon. What a word of instruction was here – what a blessed hint for my encouragement! To have the Cross laid upon me, that I might bear it after Jesus was a privilege! It was enough. Now I could leap and sing for joy as one whom Jesus was honouring with a participation in his sufferings… I henceforth find persecution as a wreath of glory round my brow!

This Sunday, we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus Himself speaks of how to find a similar attitude of joy in the face of opposition.