Essay / Theology

Easily Edified, like Simeon

As a college student, Charles Simeon had to attend chapel services. Like all mandatory chapel requirements, this one ran the risk of being an open invitation for students to go through the motions, with no real mental or spiritual involvement. To make matters worse, the chapel services Simeon had to attend were also events at which the ministers themselves seemed to be going through the motions: he said, “The service in our Chapel has almost at all times been very irreverently performed.”

But during Easter week in April of 1779, Simeon got saved. He came to understand the real meaning of the Christian faith in which he had been nominally raised, and trusted Jesus Christ to deliver him from sin and condemnation. For a period of several months following his conversion, Simeon found those “irreverently performed” mandatory chapel services to be a source of powerful inspiration.

such was the state of my soul for many months from that time that the prayers were as marrow and fatness to me. Of course there was great difference in my frames at different times; but for the most part they were very devout, and often, throughout a great part of the service, I prayed unto the Lord ‘with strong crying and tears.’

Picture the scene. Imagine the worst Jane Austen clergyman you can, droning his way heartlessly and artlessly through a read-aloud Book of Common Prayer liturgy for a captive audience of undergrads. And there, under the voice of a priest who has forgotten how to communicate reverence, in a crowd of college kids who don’t want to be there, Charles Simeon is taking in the word of God from the mouth of the Lord himself, and pouring out his own prayers to God in the language of Holy Scripture and the 16th century wordsmithing of Cranmer. Maybe nobody else was having church, but Simeon was. He goes on:

This is a proof to me that the deadness and formality experienced in the worship of the Church arise far more from the low state of our graces than from any defect in our Liturgy. If only we had our hearts deeply penitent and contrite, I know from my experience at this hour that no prayers in the world could be better suited to our wants or more delightful to our souls.

Not long ago, somebody (Harold Best, ultimately) put a nice phrase into circulation: Easily edified. It captures a frame of mind in which a person can be built up and inspired by just about anything. Simeon had this virtue. Not only in the rapturous experiences he had in the months following his conversion, but also, in a more softened and sustainable way, throughout his long life, Simeon was easily edified. Just a word or two of Scripture could encourage him or call his mind into the presence of God.

“Easily edified.” What would it be like to for a pastor to preach a sermon to a congregation of spirits who were easily edified, who didn’t require an especially impressive showing, and who didn’t think that some technical tweaking or reinventing of the structure of the worship service would generate enough pressure to force edification into them? What would it be like to be so easily edified that you could tolerate, and even benefit from, the weak and even misguided attempts at spiritual encouragement that are offered to you by well-meaning believers?

Great. Great is what it would be.

Share this essay [social_share/]