Charles Simeon's Example of Starting by Finding Common Ground
Charles Simeon (1758–1836) reinvigorated the English church with his emphasis on the primacy of Scripture and the necessity of practical application.
Simeon was a Calvinist but disliked the label. In a sermon on Romans 9:16, he said,
Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other.… Mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.
Simeon practiced what he preached. We get a glimpse of this through a conversation he had with John Wesley, reported by Simeon himself.
“Sir,” Simeon said to Wesley, “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 unto God, if God had not first put it into your heart?”
“Yes,” answered Wesley, “I do indeed.”
“And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything that you can do,” Simeon continued, “and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”
“Yes, solely through Christ,” Wesley replied.
“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.”
Of course, the Wesley and Simeon story doesn’t mean Calvinism and Arminianism are the same. They aren’t. Some Arminians would give different answers than Wesley did, and some Calvinists would ask different questions than Simeon. But I admire the spirit of anyone who starts by looking for common ground; sometimes you’ll find a great deal more than you expect.
Learn more about Randy's book hand in Hand: The Beauty of God's Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.