Timothy Dudley-Smith, in his fine biography of John Stott, draws some striking parallels between John Stott and Charles Simeon (1759-1836).
‘Both were privileged sons of comparatively affluent parents, educated at public schools, undergraduates at Cambridge. They shared a transforming experience of conversion to Christ, early and and severe trials and testing, and virtually a lifetime’s ministry in a single church. Each cultivated habits well beyond the norm for early rising, disciplined prayer and the study of Scripture. Each became a mentor to students, and a leader to younger clergy as well as among his contemporaries. They shared a call to the single life, and to the rediscovery (and subsequent teaching) of the art of expository preaching. Like John Stott, Simeon had a world vision (as one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society) and a grasp of strategic organisation, as in the patronage trust which he founded and which still bears his name. Each was a believer in the power of the printed word, and published many volumes of Bible exposition.’
Stott himself was an admirer of Simeon, and frequently quoted him in his writings. He writes of Simeon’s ‘unalloyed personal authenticity’ and of his faith as ‘the religion of a sinner at the foot of the cross’. And he recounts the following story:-
‘At one of his weekly tea-parties somebody asked Simeon: ‘What, Sir, do you consider the principle mark of regeneration?’ It was a probing question. With the current popularity of the ‘born-again movement,’ one wonders how the average evangelical believer would reply today. This was Simeon’s answer: ‘the very first and indispensable sign is self-loathing and abhorrence…This sitting in the dust is most pleasing to God…give me to wish to be with a broken-hearted Christian, and I prefer his society to that of all the rest…Were I now addressing to you my dying words, I should say nothing else but what I have just said. Try to live in this spirit of self-abhorrence, and let it habitually mark your life and conduct.’
Stott agreed with Simeon when he warned against ‘systematizers of religion’, preferring rather to let Scripture speak for itself, and not to be over-anxious to resolve apparent anomalies and antimonies. They both taught that the truth does not lie at one extreme or the other, nor yet in the middle, between them, but at both extremes, even if we cannot reconcile them.
Sir Marcus Loane was another who found the parallels between Stott and Simeon to be remarkable. Not in personality, ‘but in single-minded dedication, centred on the Word of God, based on a particular church and pulpit, but influential beyond all local borders.’ He imagines a dedication to John Stott, that might be placed in All Souls. It might read:-
In honour of
John Robert Walmsley Stott
who like Charles Simeon
for 54 years in the heart of Cambridge
has not for 54 years in the heart of London
exercised a ministry
which has touched the end of the earth for God.
Based on Dudley-Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, 428-429