Simon, Dr John Smith
1843-1933; e.m. 1863

WM minister and historian, born on 25 June 1843 in Glasgow, of Scottish and Welsh ancestry. His father was the Rev. John Simon (1802-1861; e.m. 1831) and he traced his Methodist ancestry back to 1748 in Birstall. He was Governor of Didsbury College, Manchester 1901-1913 and President of the Conference in 1907. His DD was conferred by Victoria University, Toronto. He wrote a history of Methodism in Dorset (1870), the scene of his early ministry, and the article on the history and polity of Methodism in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics; and he made substantial contributions to the London Quarterly Review. His early experience in a solicitor's office enabled him to write on the constitution and discipline of Wesleyanism. He gave the 1907 Fernley Lecture on the eighteenth century revival of religion in England.

He devoted his retirement in Southport to a scholarly, comprehensive, five-volume history of eighteenth-century Methodism, beginning with John Wesley and the Religious Societies (1921), the final volume being completed by his son-in-law Dr A.W. Harrison. He was President of the Wesley Historical Society 1907-1933. His wife was the sister of John Couch Adams and William G. Adams and his three daughters all married into the WM ministry. (See Under Harrison, A.W.) He died at Southport on 28 June 1933. His son Alfred Gordon Simon (1884-1962; e.m. 1910) was a missionary in Wuchang, China 1910-1927 and was Principal of Wesley College, Kumasi, Gold Coast (now Ghana) 1930-1934.


'John Simon seemed a lonely man, but he was really never less alone than when alone. His isolation sprang partly from his Victorian turn of mind, and partly from his sense of integrity. He stood aside always from any sort of cabal, and to pull a string or manipulate a wire was anathema to him. Yet he loved his brethren and in 1907 they elected him by a handsome majority to John Wesley's chair as President of the Conference. He served them all the days of his ministry, giving "Counsel's Opinion" gratis on all the points of Methodist law which troubled them.'

G. Elsie Harrison, Methodist Good Companions (1935) pp.147-8

'It was during these days of retirement, when an old man, that he began to write his magnum opus - his life of John Wesley in five volumes. All through his ministry he had been collecting his material, and now - brave soul - although an old man he sat down to his long task, which he almost finished, and gave to the world the most complete, and in many ways the best life of Wesley that has been published… He died at the age of ninety, and spent all the long years of his long retirment upon the task to which he brought such accurate knowledge and passionate love.'

W. Bardsley Brash, The Story of our Colleges (1935) p.63

'Simon mentions at the outset his heavy debt to the Curnock edition of Wesley's Journal. A note on the dust jacket also acknowledges that the work "covers ground which is more or less familiar to experts". Nevertheless, Simon brings to life an abundance of information about Wesley and the Methodist movement, pausing frequently to examine some of the interpretive issues raised by previous writers...

'Simon himself was conscious of the pitfalls of hero-worship and tried to avoid the problems of previous writers and artists who, as he said, "have been so anxious to invest their saints with the glory of the aureole that its splendour has prevented us from seeing the form and features of the man." When Simon's son-in-law, A.W. Harrison, completed the fifth volume of the work after Simon died at age ninety, he readily acknowledged his own inability to match Dr. Simon's "reverent affection ('a little this side of idolatry') for the founder of Methodism." While much of Simon's work borders on the pedestrian, his is the most extensive biography in this century and is written with an air of authority, resulting in a reputation for being the standard work on Wesley.'

Richard P. Heitzenrater, The Elusive Mr. Wesley, Nashville, 1984, pp.193-4

  • Methodist Recorder, 6 July 1933; 13 Sept 1962
  • G.E. Harrison in J.S. Simon, John Wesley, the Last Phase (1934) pp.9-17 (reprinted in Methodist Good Companions (1935). pp.139-54
  • WHS Proceeedings, 19 pp.49-51; 50 pp.15-18
  • R.P. Heitzenrater, The Elusive Mr. Wesley (1984), 2 pp.193-94
  • Henry D. Rack, 'Simon's Life of Wesley', in WHS Proceedings, 50 (1995-96) pp.15-18