Charles Simeon, vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge from 1782 to 1836, was a remarkable man whose influence in the English church and other parts of the world continues to this day. His life story is well told by H.E. Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Hodder & Stoughton), a book published in 1977, but which I was delighted to read recently, and which I am happy to commend to readers of BTW.

     Simeon was converted in his first term at King's College, and immediately devoted himself to God's service. In some ways he had a privileged position: he was a fellow of King's, a man of independent means who was able to maintain a couple of horses, and had servants to look after his daily needs. But the course he pursued meant that he had anything but an easy life. He began his ministry at a time when there was much indifference and nominal belief in the Anglican church. He faced great opposition, both from his parishioners and from students and fellows. He was an emotional man, with a number of curious mannerisms, and had to struggle with a number of personal failings throughout his life, not least his pride. He only gradually learned the art of preaching clearly, having no-one to instruct him. But he persevered unflinchingly, and gradually built up a ministry which contributed significantly to the revival of Evangelical Christianity in 19th-century England. He regularly rose early in the morning to study the Bible and pray. This was the source of power in his ministry, in the course of which he preached through the entire Bible (an unusual practice in England at that time). Wherever he preached, whether in his own church, or in the University Church before all the fellows and dignitaries, he challenged his hearers with the message of God's judgment and God's grace to sinners demonstrated through the Lord Jesus. He was a kindly man who came to learn that one should not preach with excessive harshness, but should always try to set forth God's love even when preaching judgment. He seems to have been a man of great common sense, aware, long before the term was invented, of the danger of 'ministerial burn-out'. He would always make sure that he took plenty of physical exercise, and encouraged others in the ministry to do the same. He came to be known as a gifted and wise counsellor who was able to address the needs of many who came to him, showing a mixture of genuine pastoral concern and shrewd insight into the human condition. His congregation grew and grew, and many of those converted under his ministry went on to ministries of their own in England and particularly in India, for which country Simeon had a special concern. He gave liberally to the poor, and he was tireless in the pursuit of any cause which he saw might contribute to the spread of the gospel. Having been an object of widespread mockery at the beginning of his ministry, he died respected by almost all who knew him. Thousands came to his funeral. All this, and more, is detailed in Hopkins' biography, and it makes gripping and at times moving reading. Simeon's own correspondence, which the author has studied carefully, is frequently cited, and greatly enlivens the book.
     Yet Simeon was no Christian superman. He was a man of his time, and he had his blind spots, which this book does not seek to cover up. He was socially and politically conservative, a life-long Anglican who was happy to belong to the established church. Though he was a friend of William Wilberforce, the man who so vigorously pursued a campaign for the abolition of the slave trade (an Evangelical Christian, be it noted), he seems to have shown little interest in the campaign, something which may seem little short of astonishing to us today. This book does not idolise its subject, and Hopkins emerges as an insightful and independent-minded biographer.
     He also writes extremely well, and with a splendidly dry wit. An engaging feature of the book is the number of amusing stories it contains relating to Simeon and his times. The University of Cambridge was a somewhat bizarre and ramshackle institution in Simeon's day. Witness the candidate for an MA at Trinity College in 1769 who was asked in an oral exam whether the sun went round the earth or the earth round the sun: 'After some thought he came out with the original comment, "Sometimes the one, sometimes the other." For this brilliant piece of temporisation it seems, they awarded him his degree' (p. 21). Would that it were so easy these days!
     It is natural that I, an Englishman who has spent years of his life in Cambridge and even worshipped occasionally in Simeon's church, should have warmed to this book. But I think you will like it too. Few indeed are the books which move me to say 'Amen!' during reading, as this one did. England has changed much since Simeon's day, and England is not Singapore. But I think you will find that the biography of this godly 18th- and 19th-century English gentleman, which shows so clearly the transforming and energising power of God's grace, will still speak to you today.

(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

     Mr. Wilfred Leow, who will be graduating with the M.Div in January, was our Chapel speaker last week. He spoke on the Incarnation of Christ. Non-Christians may think of the Incarnation solely in terms of Christmas presents or increased December profits. Even Christians may be inclined to downplay the Incarnation, seeing it mainly as celebrating the birth of the one who came to die for our sins, that is, basically as a means to an end. But the Incarnation is important in itself, arguably as important as the death of Christ. It is also a very challenging topic: the very idea of God becoming man is one that taxes our understanding and seems to stretch our categories of thought to breaking point. But, full of paradox though it may be, the Incarnation is something we must try to understand, even if only partially. Mr. Leow structured the main part of his talk around three questions. First, he asked: what kind of body Adam might have had before he fell. He dealt with the impact of the statement in Heb 4:15 that Jesus is 'one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin' (Heb. 4:15)?
      Second, what is the cause of the Incarnation? Most Christians might answer that the reason Jesus was born as man was in order to die on the Cross. A rather different answer, given by a number of the Church Fathers, is this: that the Incarnation was the final stage in the creation of man. Colossians 1:15 speaks of Christ as 'the image of the invisible' God (clearly echoing the language of Gen. 1:26-27, describing the creation of the first man and woman). Taking this thought one stage further, Paul speaks of Christians as those 'predestined to be conformedto the likeness of his Son' (Rom. 8:29), and looks forward to the time when we shall 'bear the likeness of the man from heaven' [literally, 'the heavenly man'] (1 Cor. 15:49). We might even speculate, looking back at Genesis 1 in the light of New Testament revelation, that humanity was made in the image of Christ. Wilfred probed further into other related issues. the  We should remember that God's aim is not simply to bring us to salvation: God's final aim is that we should be like him. Salvation through Christ involves the putting on of a 'new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator' (Col. 3:10). This means that the real gauge of spiritual maturity is how much of Christ's image we bear.
      Third, why the Incarnation? We can therefore say that Christ united himself with humanity so that men and women might be united with God. The Old Testament represents fellowship between God and humans beings as the fellowship of clearly separate beings, a community, as we might term it.Jesus' words at John 17:20-23, particularly his high priestly prayer was that Christians may be 'in us' (v. 21), that is, sharing a mystical union with Father and Son. Paul's frequent use of the phrase 'in Christ' to describe the status of Christians (Rom. 6:11; 1 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 3:14; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:10). God desires Christians to have a close and intimate union with him. Wilfred explored several outworking of this truth.
      It was a challenging sermon and we invite readers to reflect seriously upon these issues.

Chapel this week was led by Dr Philip Satterthwaite instead of Mr Benny Fang. We apologise for the erratum in the last issue of BTW.

Next week (18 Dec), you are warmly invited to join us for "Christmas At BGST" from 12 noon to 2pm. Dr Quek will be leading a special Christmas Service. After which, we will have a time of fellowship over an east-west fusion Christmas potluck lunch. If you are coming, please call Ms Daisy Sim at 63538071 to confirm what food item you will be bringing. See you then!

 

Bible lands Study Tour 2002 covered two countries, Turkey and Greece. It stretched from Cappadocia (Kayseri and Goreme)  and Cilicia and Tarsus) to Achaia (Corinth). It was a great blessing, judging from the feedback given by the twenty-three trippers. We thank God for the insights gained as we read the relevant biblical texts at the very locations where the events took place. We also thank all who have prayed for us as travelled safely to and fro, not only over the war zone - our plane flew over what was ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the twin rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates - but also as we covered by land a large stretch of terrain from the picturesque, unique landscape of Cappadocia to the plains of Tarsus, the plateau of Konya (Iconium), the great lakes region between Yalvac (Pisidian Antioch) and Pammukkale (Hierapolis), the historic Western Anatolian cities in the Lycus Valley: Ephesus, Izmir (Smyrna), Bergama (Pergamum), and Thyatira. We continued over in Greece travelling in the comfort o airocniditioned buses over beautiful terrain with mountains on one side and the Aegean sea on the other side. We passed Thermopylae and saw the monument commemorating what the three hundred brave ancient Spartans did as they faced the superior forces of the Persians and died honourably, yet tragically. The gods whom they thought dwelt in Mt Olympus did not come to their rescue. But our God did when we encountered a road blockage due to a landslide and a swollen river that burst its banks. We had to detour, gulp down a welcome fast food dinner, and check into a hotel. Some of us were woken up in the middle of the night by fire engines putting out an electrical fire and firemen moving through the hotel corridors checking into the safety of the rest of the hotel. Others among us blissfully slept through the whole episode. But God was and is with us, protecting us in every way during the whole tour. He came to our rescue, even without our knowledge. Praise God!
      Yes, we have many things to praise God for. Beside what I have just shared, we must not forget the simple yet fascinating things: in Cappadocia we were enthralled at the sight of frost clinging to bushes by the roadside (later by snow falling in Istanbul). At the Temple of Asclepius in Pergamum, we were ecstatic to find a double rainbow stretching across the horizon, reminding us of God's closeness and care over us. At Cenchrae over in Greece we crossed the narrow Corinthian canal, lunched at the point where the Adriatic Sea (in the Sardonic Gulf) met the Aegean Sea. For 'dessert' God gave us the opportunity of seeing a large cargo vessel, pulled by a tug boat, edging its way over (not under) the bridge we had crossed earlier: the bridge was lowered into the seabed by an ingenious pulley system. At Istanbul at the palatial Dolmabahce residence of the last six rulers of modern Turkey we saw the splendour of the former Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. We visited many museums along the way housing artefacts discovered in the ruins of those cities. The trip helped many to appreciate better the Bible as we were able to relate what we were seeing with what was tucked away in the straightforward narratives of the Scriptures. This tour was an unforgettable adventure. It was  tiring, yet richly rewarding as we saw the remains of ancient civilizations, learned about the struggles of people during  yesteryears as well as today. We were blessed to hear firsthand of what God is doing among the Turkish and Greek peoples where a strong witness is going on for the Gospel despite persecution and much hardship. (QSH)

GOD'S RICHEST BLESSINGS TO OUR BIRTHDAY STARS!

Mr Woo Chong Yew 11/12
Ms Agnes Cher Mui Cheng  11/12
Ms Jenny Low Wai Sum  12/12
Mdm See Poh Chan  12/12
Mrs Ang Tiong Keng  13/12
Mrs Catherine Cheng Hwee Ming  15/12
Mr Peter Manimuthu  15/12


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Biblical Graduate School of Theology
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This page is updated on 13 Dec 2002 by Leong Kok Weng.
    Dec 2002