Charles Simeon and the fruit of humility

by Sean W. Corser

Charles Simeon was a pastor of a trouble-ridden congregation, he found himself in a peculiar situation that needed patience, perseverance, and a peaceful shepherd. You may know the feeling. These circumstances bore the fruit of what has become known as “growing downward”; that is, the humbling of self in the face of a holy and omnipotent God, yet not at the expense of self-degradation. Humility, not humiliation, is essential. This growing downward was a practice in preaching the gospel to himself that many in ministry, especially those in a revitalization setting, should strive for.   

Growing downward teaches patience amidst adversity

Newly appointed as pastor at Trinity Church in Cambridge, Simeon found himself in a place where many in his congregation did not wish him to be—pastor. John Piper in Roots of Endurance notes, the congregation would not allow Simeon to preach during the afternoon hour. In response, he began a later service to which the churchwarden locked the doors of the church requiring the congregants to sit in the church. These signs of open opposition and hostility didn’t just last for one week, or even two, but for seven years!

Little by little Simeon’s congregation came around. This turn was marked by two significant things, a persistent prayer life and an equally important characteristic was growing downward. He knew his sin intimately and knew his God intimately. As he peered into the depths of both he began to be humbled. This humility was the seed that blossomed patience. But not merely patience in isolation. It also led to perseverance in his ministry, something all pastors, but especially those revitalization must possess.

Growing downward teaches perseverance

Not only did he exemplify patience for a short while, he grew in it for 45 years. At any point, Simeon may have been justified in leaving his congregation, but he stayed, Faithfully laboring for the gospel. It was a dark time in Simeon’s life, but as is noted, “But again he endured patiently, and in 1815 he writes that peace had come to the church and that he had “the joy of ministering to an united and affectionate flock.”[1] His congregation had not allowed him to preach in certain capacities, they had even locked his people out of the pews. Yet through it all Simeon patiently endured the trials and tribulations. Revitalization is reformation and it requires both patience and perseverance. Characteristics, that, in the life of Simeon were cultivated as he continued to grow downward.

Where Simeon was patient with his stiff-necked congregation, he also persevered in that he saw his congregation come to unity under his leadership. Throwing in the towel would have been adequate he chose rather, by God’s call, to wait out the storm and persevere through whatever came; and there was much that came his way.

From the personal degrading of his name to his students, to the disruptions they caused during his preaching, Simeon persevered to the end. As Piper writes, “So at sixty years of age, Simeon renewed his commitment to his pulpit and the local and global mission of the church and preached vigorously for seventeen more years, until two months before his death. Surely there is a lesson for us here concerning retirement.”[2] There was no quit in the young, or old Simeon. His life was spent in labor of the gospel persevering through much opposition. But this perseverance is not simply from sheer will power. Simeon had been cultivated the discipline of growing downwards and adoring close communion with God. This was the heartbeat of Simeon’s inner life that cultivated in him the ability to be patient and persevere in the face of opposition.

Pipers, concluding word are fitting. He says,

But the remarkable thing about humiliation and adoration in the heart of Charles Simeon is that they were inseparable. Simeon was utterly unlike most of us today who think that we should get rid once and for all of feelings of vileness and unworthiness as soon as we can. For him, adoration only grew in the freshly plowed soil of humiliation for sin. So he actually labored to know his true sinfulness and his remaining corruption as a Christian.[3]

For Simeon, you can have humiliation and honor. You can have patience and perseverance. Only through the retelling of the gospel truths as balm to your soul. Feeling deeply the covering of sin through the work of Jesus Christ. The chief shepherd who exhibited patience and perseverance perfectly.

A plea to grow downward

Simeon grew downward in self-interest, but grew up exponentially through his being found under the wings of Christ. Do you want your church to be healthier and bigger? Humble yourself and be patient. Is there all kind of strife at your church? Humble yourself and persevere. Let church history inspire us, but let us ultimately look to Christ, who being in the form of God did not see equality with God something to be grasped. He humbled himself even to death, death on a cross.


Sean W. Corser was an intern in the inaugural class of Mathena Center internship and now has the joy of serving as student associate. Sean is on staff at Practical Shepherding, a ministry based in Louisville, KY that provides resources to pastors all over the world. Sean and his wife, Annie, are members of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and they have one daughter. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 and he desires to see churches become healthy by the power and grace of God. He is currently providing pulpit supply at First Baptist Church Eastwood in Louisville, KY. You can listen to his sermons at

[1] William Carus, Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon (London: 1847), p. 245.

[2] Piper, John. Roots of Endurance. Wheaton, Ill. Crossway, 96.  

[3] Ibid. 107.