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Luke ii. 22—35. For tour hundred years before the birth of Christ, ihe gift of prophecy had ceased among the Jews. At 1 he period of his advent it was revived, and bestowed, among others, upon Simeon. The character and declarations of this pious person come now to be considered in the prosecution of our Saviour's life. Among the plagues which God inflicted on the people of Egypt, to compel them to liberate the Israelites, the last and the greatest was the destruction of the first-born of every family, from that of the imperial Pharaoh to that of the meanest of his subjects. In commemoration of this event, and of the deliverance then experienced by the Israelites, God claimed the first-born as peculiarly his own, in succeeding generations, and commanded that they should solemnly be presented to him in the temple, as an acknowledgment of his right in them, and that
LIFE OF CHRIST. 87 the price of their redemption should there be paid. To comply with this ordinance, and to make the sacrifices required for her legal purification, Mary went up from Bethlehem, where she had probably remained since the birth of the Saviour, and carried him to the temple. She there, according to the law, offered two doves, the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering; and having waited in the outer court till this service was performed, entered into the temple.
There was then at Jerusalem, Simeon, a man venerable for his years, but still more venerable for his piety, who had long been " waiting for the consolation of Israel ;" an expression applied by the scriptures, and the Jewish writers, to the Messiah. We shall not stop to inquire whether, according to the opinion of some commentators, he was Simeon, surnamed the Just, one of the grand synagogue, and so celebrated in the annals of the Jews ; or, according to others, Simeon the son of Hillel, president of the great sanhedrim, and father of that Gamaliel of whom St. Paul was the disciple. We know nothing of him, except from this portion of the sacred history. We cannot tell whether he was dignified by his rank and birth ; but we know that he was great and dignified from his virtues. " He was," says the Evangelist, "just and devout;" an eulogium which renders him more worthy of our reverence than the highest offices, and the most illustrious descent. " The Holy Ghost teas npon him ;" i. e. he was favoured by immediate revelations from God, and had the spirit of prophecy conferred upon him. By this spirit he was assured that he should not see death till he had beheld that Messiah for whom he, like every faithful Israelite, looked with so much ardour. Sustained bv this a?
88 SERMO XXXVI. surance, he joyfully saw those days passing away, the end of which was to be crowned by the accomplishment of all his wishes. By the inspiration of the Spirit he went to the temple just as the Son of God made his first entrance into it. By the same inspiration he recognised him as the Messiah; and immediately folding the holy infant in his aged arms, offers to God the first-fruits of those immortal praises, which all believers shall for ever render to him for
the birth of a Saviour. "Lord," exclaims he, in the fervours of holy transport and joy, "now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy ivord ; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.''' Who can describe the emotions of Simeon as he uttered these impressive words ? He sees before him, he touches, he holds in his arms, that Messiah whom so many prophets, and righteous men, so many kings, and patriarchs, have in vain longed to behold. He sees the accomplishment of those promises, which Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and so many other believers, under the former dispensation, had beheld only afar off! If Abraham, the most illustrious of his ancestors, seeing by faith at the distance of many centuries, the advent of the Saviour, leaped for joy, what must be the transports of Simeon, who contemplates him present. Imagine to yourselves what would have been the joy of a faithful Israelite, if after contemplating the cruel servitude of his people to the Egyptians, he had seen Moses bora, and been assured (hat he would be the deliverer of Israel. If after having trembled for his life, if after having seen him exposed upon the ile in the floating cradle, which a tender and ingenious mother had prepared for him,, lie had beheld the daughter of Pharaoh adopting
LIFE OF CHRIST. 89 it, and sheltering it from danger, would not his joy have been unutterable ? Simeon's was as much greater as the Son of God was superior to Moses, as an eternal salvation to a temporal deliverance. o wonder that after this exalted privilege, he was ready to depart from earth ; no wonder that after fix-
ing his eyes upon Jesus, he was ready to close them upon all other objects. Every thing terrestrial must now appear to him of little consequence. Let Herod reign peaceably on the throne of Judea, or let him be precipitated from it ; let Augustus execute his ambitious projects, or let them be blasted ; let the Roman empire flourish, or decay; what is all this to Simeon, after he has seen the salvation of God. The rising of the Sun of Righteousness was the signal of his departure. He has beheld its beams. He dies content, and his gray hairs descend with pleasure to the tomb. " Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." Another consideration inspires Simeon with this willingness to die. He beholds in this Saviour the firmest foundation of his faith, the infallible proof of an immortal life. He holds in his arms the precious pledge of eternal felicity for the pious. Anticipating the sacrifice of the cross, he sees in this Jesus him who is to seal the divine promises with his blood, and give all believers an assurance of the unspeakable happiness of the soul, and the glorious resurrection of the body. Simeon has seen the salvation of God. Can the world then, into which he is about to enter, have for him any of that gloom which renders an approach to it so terrible to the greater part of mortals. Since " the day-spring from on high" lias visited him, he beholds a way opened even into i]u> holiest. Since the King of glory has descended. VOL. II. 12
I 90 SERMO XXXVI. from on high, to dwell among men. the eternal gates
must be opened, the everlasting doors must be lifted up, to let in the believing soul. Simeon has seen the salvation of God. Can he then be afflicted at remembering that his body will be laid in the tomb, and serve as food for worms ? o ; he can say in afar more energetic manner than Job, •• I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God ;" when at the general resurrection he shall re-appear to judge the world. Yes, these same eyes with which I have seen the Saviour on his entrance upon earth ; these same eyes which have discerned him through the infirmities of childhood, will contemplate him hereafter in heaven, in the midst of his splendour and glory. These were then the sources of that joy and peace which attended the last moments of this holy man: an indifference for the objects of earth, and an assured hope of an eternal felicity. These prompted that beautiful exclamation which we cannot too much admire, " Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation/" Such were the sentiments and emotions of Simeon, on beholding the Saviour. But in contemplating Jesus, his mind does not rest merely on his person; it fixes also on that salvation which he came to procure for man; " I have seen thy salvation." The veil which covers the future is for him drawn aside; and, illumined by a heavenly light, he already contemplates all the grandeurs of the Redeemer's ministry, and all the blessings which he brings into the world. Hitherto the church of God had been confined to a
t LIFE OF CHRIST. 01 single nation ; lie beholds it now extending its borders, and embracing all the earth; he sees the Sun of righteousness rising upon those nations that had hitherto sat in darkness and the shadow of death, and dispelling by its rays the clouds of ignorance, of delusion, and superstition. " JMine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast 'prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles." You immediately perceive that the word light is here used in a metaphorical sense, and that Christ is thus termed, because he diffuses the most important knowledge and instruction through the gentile world. This is a mode of speaking common to all languages, since all mankind have felt that what light is to the eye, that knowledge is to the mind. Did our time permit, it would be easy to show you in detail the fulfilment of this prediction, and the propriety of the application of this term to our Saviour. But the limits prescribed to these exercises forbid a full elucidation of a subject so calculated to teach you your obligations to Jesus. Let your own meditations supply what I am unwillingly constrained to omit. The task is not difficult. You have only to transport yourselves in imagination to those dark ages which preceded the advent of Christ, ar.il the publication of his gospel. You have only to recall to your minds what you have heard, or what your reading has taught you, of those cruel, impure, and abominable worships of those pretended gods, who were black with every crime ; of those false systems of religion which were every where introduced, which prevailed in the most polished as well as the most savage nations. Represent to yourselves the unhappy posterity of Adam, with the exception only of one small nation, even among whom the know-
H2 SCRMQ XXXVI. ledge of the (rue Cod, and of his salvation, was com paratively obscure and superficial. Represent to yourselves all the posterity of our great progenitor in the deepest ignorance on all the great points of religion and morality, overwhelmed with a deluge of errors and superstitions, worshipping every object in nature except the great Creator ; regarding as deities all the productions of the earth, its plants, its beasts, its reptiles; all the luminaries of the heavens : all the passions and crimes of men. Imagine what must have been the situation of these blind men, who knew not whence they came, nor why God called them into being, nor the manner in which they could acceptably adore him, nor what awaited them after death ; who in vain sought instruction on all these points from their sages, their philosophers. Recall to yourselves those barbarous sacrifices to which these unhappy persons had recourse to appease their cruel divinities, in which even the life and the blood of their own children were not spared. Represent to yourselves what must have been their anguish at the approach of death, when their soul was filled with terror, on entering into a dark, and unknown future; or agitated with remorse at the remembrance of its crimes; crimes for which it beheld no atoning blood, no expiating Saviour. After having thus gone back to these dark ages, return to yourselves. Feel how different is your condition from that of these unfortunate men. Consider attentively the beauty of your religion, the sublimity of its doctrines, the purity of its morality, the greatness of its promises, the eternal salvation which it announces, the worship so simple, and yet so reasonable, which it requires us to render to the Divini-
ty. Recall to your remembrance those hopes, those
LIFE OF CHRIS! . 93 consolations, which you have heard given to the trying, and in which you desire one day to participate. Do more, my brethren; transport yourselves in imagination to the paradise of God. Assemble all those dispersed traits which the scriptures employ, to paint to us the glories of the third heaven ; the felicities, the delights which God destines to his children, and his friends. Having made this examination, put to yourselves that question which naturally presents itself: whence were derived all these great truths, all this interesting knowledge ? Whence is it that we know more concerning God, our relations to him, our duty and destination, than the wisest philosophers of antiquity did? To whom are we indebted for those doctrines, those precepts, those consolations, those promises, which compose our religion ? Is it not to Jesus Christ ? Alas ! without him w r e should never have had proper thoughts of God; we should never have known his grace, his compassion towards men, and the end for which he has destined us. We should never have known how to obtain the forgiveness of our sins, nor how to worship him aright. We should have been bowing down to stocks, and to stones, and have " had our understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in us." But, by Jesus Christ, we have been "translated from the kingdom of darkness to that of his marvellous light." We have been instructed in every thing necessary for our duty, and happiness here, and our felicity hereafter. Shall we not then, with Simeon, magnify the Lord for giving usa Saviour, who has indeed hern "a /7V// to lighten
the gentries 9 "
9 i SERMOJ XXXI f. As the pagan world received such blepsings from the advent of Messiah, so also did this event confer lustre on the Jewish nation. This Jesus, who is 14 a light to lighten the gentiles," is also, proceeds the inspired Simeon, M the glory of his people Israel." It was glorious to the Jews that the Saviour of mankind was horn in their nation. This circumstance is mentioned to their honour by St. Paul: " Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came." (Rom. ix. 5.) In Judea rose that king, who is infinitely more illustrious than the most powerful earthly monarch who ever lived ; whose dominions extend far beyond the conquests of the greatest heroes of the world; whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; whose name is pronounced with rapture; whose authority is cheerfully acknowledged by every one of his unnumbered subjects. Was it not an honour to the Jews to have such a king born in the midst of them, and going forth from them, to subdue the world? In Judea rose that Jesus who has conferred blessings upon mankind, infinitely greater than the combined benefits of all the benevolent mortals who have ever lived ; who has redeemed our race from misery unutterable; to whom " the blessings of thousands that were ready to perish," rise every day, and every hour, from the remotecorners of the earth, and on whom myriads of the redeemed perpetually gaze, with ever-increasing devotion and love. Was it not a glory to the Jews to have such a benefactor of mankind born among them ? Simeon having thus declared the happy efFects of the Saviour's mediation, blessed Joseph and Mary.
Being a prophet, and full of the Holy Ghost, he discharged that sacerdotal and prophetic office, to
LIFE OF CHRIST. 96 pray for them, and give them his benediction. In this respect he acted as their superior, since, according to the maxim of St. Paul, The lesser is blessed by the greater. According to this same maxim, when he took up the child Jesus in his arms, he did not bless him by whom he himself was to be blessed, and whom he knew to be his Lord and Saviour, though concealed under the weakness of infancy : but addressing himself to Mary, he, in the prophetic language, predicts what should befall both the child and herself. " He said unto Mary, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Yea, a sword .shall pierce through thy own soul also." How perfectly was this prediction of Simeon accomplished. Though Jesus came into the world, that the world by him might be saved ; though his life was pure, and innocent, and spotless, yet does not his whole history prove, that lie was a sign spoken against? Was he not perpetually exposed to contradiction and reproach, to censure and calumny, to malice and cruelty ? Was he not the innocent occasion of the falling of multitudes, who were scandalized at his person and doctrine, who preferred darkness to light, and sin to righteousness, unbelief to faith, and obstinacy to repentance ? Was he not opposed by all classes of persons, on all occasions, in the most virulent manner? Does not the whole evangelical history prove to us, that to persons who were worldly-minded, and had no relish for spiritual things, which was the case with the generality of the
Jews, he was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; because their prejudices obstructed the reception of his pure and holy doctrine, and of his spi-
00 bERMO XXXVI. ritual kingdom, so different from that which they had expected ? But if he was thus set for the fall of many who took offence at him, and perished under a more aggravated condemnation for their rejection of him, he was also the means of causing many to rise from guilt, from misery, and despair. During his abode on earth, numbers crowded to him, and hailed him as their Saviour. Whilst his blood still smoked upon Calvary, myriads, under the preaching of the apostles, rose from a death of sin to a life of righteousness. This effect is still carrying on in the world; and every day, through the influence of his cross, numbers are rising up from the thraldom of Satan, to the liberty of the sons of God, or ascending from earth to the regions of felicity. In consequence of this different effect produced upon different persons, " the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed ;" i. e. it would manifestly appear who had honest and religious dispositions, and would receive the gospel with sincerity and gratitude ; and who, through the hardness of their hearts and their corrupt affections, would reject the offers of salvation. Simeon, in conclusion, declares to the virgin mother, that she shall participate in the afflictions of Jesus: " Yea, a sword shall pierce thine own soul also." This prediction was in a degree accomplished, whenever she witnessed the sufferings of the Redeemer.
it was emphatically fulfilled when she stood by his cross. Who can describe the agonies which she then endured ? They are indescribable. Tender and affectionate mothers, you alone can form any conception of them ! Is there in this assembly a widowed mother, whose love is concentrated on an
LIFE OF CHRIST. 97 enly son ; a son who is worthy of all her affection, who is her only support and resource, and for whom she flatters herself a high distinction in life is reserved ? Is there such a mother present ? To her I speak. Think what would be your anguish if this son were to be torn from you by a premature death, and all your joys and hopes interred in his tomb ! Go further. Suppose this your son should expire in ignominy, loaded with the public execration, and that you were obliged to behold this beloved object, livid, motionless, bloody, accursed ! Could you support such a spectacle ? evertheless, this would be ecstacy, compared to the griefs which wrung the heart of Mary. She beholds him to whom nature and grace had united to attach her ; her son, and yet her Lord, the consolation of Israel, and her chief joy; him whose birth was announced by an angel, whose incarnation was hailed with rapture by the heavenly host ; whose divine wisdom, whose sublime consolations, whose kind cares, had cheered her in every situation in life, — now struggling with the pangs of death, and about to leave her desolate and forsaken ! Her grief would be mitigated, could she be permitted to approach him, to pluck the thorns from his temple, to staunch the precious blood which flows from his wounds, to support his sinking head, and receive his last breath ! But even this sad consolation is denied her. She can only behold his agonies, without being able to alleviate them ; listen
to his groans, without being able to suspend them ; hear the execrations and scoffs of his murderers, without being able to silence them ! Holy Simeon, thy prophecy is now fulfilled, and a sword pierce? through her soul ! VOL. II. 13
98 9ERM0 XXXVI. From the many inferences naturally resulting from this discourse, we can select only a few. 1. Let us all be led to imitate the example of Simeon, and acquire a perfect willingness to meet death whenever God shall appoint ; so that when we are called to leave this world, we may not be constrained to cry out, like the majority of mankind, " O spare me, that I may recover strength before I go hence, and be no more !" but may exclaim, with all the calmness and peace of Simeon, " ow lettest. thou thy servant depart in peace." If we acquire not this temper, we cannot be happy. If our felicity consists in an abode in the body, (an abode which we know can continue but a little time, and cannot be perpetuated a moment by our most ardent wishes,) must we not be agitated by painful fears and apprehensions ? If our happiness is bound up in what we cannot retain ; if we are in continual dread of what we cannot avoid ; if we are engaged in a contest with necessity, in which we must be vanquished ; if, when we know that our souls must be required of us, we will not prepare freely to relinquish them, rather than have them reluctantly dragged from us, are we not unwise ?. Do we not shudder at our situation, if it be true with regard to any of us, (and it is true with regard to most of us,) that
the presence of the Lord, the highest hope and joy of all the pious, is for us the supreme object of dread ; and yet that we have no better fortress to hide ourselves from this presence than this body of clay, which he can so easily beat down, and leave us naked and defenceless ? Let us flee instantly from this perilous and unhappy state. Let us become reconciled to the grave, and obtain a victory over the dread of death. Then, not fearing death, we
LIFE OF CHRIST.
need tear nothing. Whenever God calls us we maj answer, " Lord, noiv, this instant, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." Do you say, Had 1 like Simeon beheld the Saviour, I should have had his dispositions ? Deceive not yourselves; your advantages are not only equal to, they are even greater than those of Simeon. He beheld, it is true, the infant Saviour; but you have known not only his birth, but his life^ his miracles, his instructions : he has been exhibited to you dying, rising from the tomb, ascending to the highest heaven, and shedding down his Holy Spirit. You have seen him breaking with a rod of iron the enemies who opposed his empire ; preserving his church from age to age in the midst of the tempests which earth and hell have raised against it ; and fulfilling in every period his promises to his people. Ah ! m\ brethren, they are not the peculiar privileges of Simeon that we need, but his piety, his religious heart,
hisdetachment from the world. Instead of imitating this holy man, in removing our eyes from the world which is flying from us, and fixing them on that eternity which approaches, we lay hold on the earth with our strongest passions. We ought to be attached to the world only by our duties, we are so by our most ardent hopes and desires. Like Simeon, let salvation be our chief concern ; then we shall die in peace, and eternity will ofFer to us objects infinitely more interesting than those which we can behold below. 2. Christ is a " light to lighten the Gentiles." Let us rejoice in this light, and be thankful for it. What a privilege have we in being surrounded by it above those nations who lived before his appearance, and above many people who still sit in « darkness and the shadow of death ?" For this distinguished and
100 SERMO XXX \ I. undeserved privilege, should not our hearts swell with gratitude to God ? To gratitude add a proper improvement of it. If while it shines around us, it shines not in our hearts, and has no enlightening, transforming influence upon them, it will only increase our guilt and condemnation. We shall in the day of judgment envy the lot of those pagans, who to their sins against the law of nature have not added a rejection of the gospel, and a neglect of the covenant of grace. We shall see that our condemnation is just, if " when light has come into the world, we have chosen darkness rather than light." Let us then, according to the exhortation of the apostle. " walk as the children of the light and of the day. not of the night or of darkness." Let mpiiy and pray lor those who have not this light, and use every exertion in our power that it may be diffused among them. Let us lift up our supplications for the un-
happy posterity of Abraham, from whom the glor) is quite departed ; let us beseech God to hasten the time when " all Israel shall be saved," and when " the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in." With the warmest gratitude for our own privileges, let the tenderest charity for others be mingled. 3. Through the Saviour " the thoughts of men's hearts were to be revealed." Has this effect been produced upon us ? Have we gained a knowledge of our state and character from the preaching of Christ ? His gospel has often been presented to us : what discoveries has it made ? Has it convinced us of the corruption of our nature, of our natural opposition to God and holiness, of our perishing need of the divine grace, and of the atonement of Jesus ? If it has not taught us these and similar lessons, it has been of no avail to us. What effect has the preaching of Christ
LIFE OF CHRIST. 101 produced upon our lives ? We must either rise or fall by means of his gospel. Are we then risen through Christ to a new and heavenly life, or are we filled with prejudice against his church and people ? [f he has proved a " stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" to us, we may well tremble ; but if we by him have risen to holiness, we shall shortly rise to eternal glory. 4. Finally, let us learn from the sufferings of Mary to bear with patience those lighter afflictions with which God visits us. Behold the Virgin mother while a sword pierces through her soul, all those of you who are repining at your calamities ; who are exclaiming, that you could have borne any other sorrows better than those which have befallen you ; who are suffering imagination to magnify your little
griefs, till they appear to your prejudiced eye greater than any which have been experienced by mortals. Behold the woes of Mary, and instead of murmuring, bless God who has spared you so many miseries which were felt by one so far exalted above you in piety and devotion.
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