John Piper taught on the life of Charles Simeon at a Pastors Conference in 1989. It is a wonderful use of an an hour and a half of your time if you are willing to listen to this man’s beautiful story and legacy. This biography is full of lessons on contrition (which I blog about here), suffering, perseverance, and the joys of adoration in Christ. Among those points, was a beautiful stance on the delicate intricacies and delight in balancing Calvinism and Arminianism.
“He [Chales Simeon] did not want to be labeled a Calvinist or an Arminian. He wanted to be Biblical through and through and give every text its due proportion, whether it sounded Arminian as it stands or Calvinistic. But he was known as an evangelical Calvinist, and rightly so. As I have read portions of his sermons on texts concerning election and effectual calling and perseverance he is uninhibited in his affirmation of what we would call the doctrines of grace. In fact he uses that phrase approvingly in his sermon on Romans 9:19-24 (Horae Homileticae, Vol. 15, p. 358).
But he had little sympathy for uncharitable Calvinists. In a sermon on Romans 9:16, he said,
An example of how he lived out this counsel is seen in the way he conversed with the elderly John Wesley. He tells the story himself:
Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Yes, I do indeed.
And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Yes, solely through Christ.
But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (Moule, 79f)
But don’t take this to mean that Simeon pulled any punches when expounding Biblical texts. He is very forthright in teaching what the Bible teaches and calling error by its real name. But he is jealous of not getting things out of balance.
He said that his invariable rule was “to endeavor to give to every portion of the Word of God its full and proper force, without considering what scheme it favours, or whose system it is likely to advance” (Moule, 79). “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding” (Moule, 77).
He makes an observation that is true enough to sting every person who has ever been tempted to adjust Scripture to fit a system.
I love this view! Oh, if we each could humbly and faithfully delight in that balance and be satisfied with the truth of Scripture wherever it leads us!