Preaching Out of Season

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On November 10, 1782, Charles Simeon preached his first sermon at Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England.

The parishioners didn’t want him. They couldn’t stop him from preaching on Sunday mornings, but they refused to let him preach at the afternoon service for twelve years. When Simeon started an evening service, the wardens locked the doors while people waited on the street. Simeon called a locksmith and got in, but when it happened again Simeon gave up and dropped the service.

When people came to worship on Sunday mornings, they discovered that the pewholders had refused to come and locked their pews so nobody could sit in them. Simeon bought chairs at his own expense for the aisles, but the wardens threw them into the churchyard. Simeon eventually won a legal decision that pewholders couldn’t lock their pews and stay away indefinitely, but he never used it. “He let his steady, relentless ministry of the word and prayer and community witness gradually overcome the resistance,” says John Piper.

One day a group of students waited outside the church with plans to assault Simeon. They waited by the usual exit, but Simeon happened to use a different door that day.

Opposition continued for years, even decades. “In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience,” said Simeon. “The passage of Scripture which subdued and controlled my mind was this, ‘The servant of the Lord must not strive.’”

Simeon made a profound impact on evangelicalism in England and beyond. According to historian Thomas Macaulay, Simeon’s “authority and influence… extended from Cambridge to the most remote corners of England … His real sway in the Church was far greater than that of any primate.” By the time he died, it is estimated that a third of all the Anglican ministers in the country had sat under his teaching at some point.

Few pastors embody Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 better than Simeon. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Pastoring or preaching out of season? You’re not alone. Remember the example of Charles Simeon.

Preach the Word. Preach it patiently. Discharge your duty. Don’t take it personally when you face opposition. Trust the Word to do its work.

“A typical emotional response to trouble in the church is to think, ‘If that’s the way they feel about me, then they can find themselves another pastor,’” observes John Piper. Charles Simeon offers a corrective, a model of preaching “out of season.” We’re called to preach not only when it’s opportune but when it’s inopportune, when our courage is weak and people oppose us. Our charge isn’t just for easy times. It’s made before God and Christ Jesus. It matters.

When asked how he had withstood opposition for 49 years, he replied, “My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.”

Pastoring or preaching out of season? You’re not alone. Remember the example of Charles Simeon.

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