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This devout rapture is to be the subject of our present discourse, and its import we shall attempt to unfold, after having made a few reflections of a different kind, tending to elucidate the text.
1. We are to make a few preliminary reflections, for elucidating the text. And here it is natural, in the first place, to inquire Who this Simeon was, who acts such a distinguished part, at this period of the gospel history? But all that can be added to the narration of the Evangelist is merely a tissue of conjectural traditions palpably false, or, at best, extremely uncertain. Cardinal Baronius *, on the authority of some ancient Doctors of the Church, insists that he must have been of the sacerdotal order. This they attempt to prove from the words of the passage under review, He took the infant Jesus in his arms, as if to present: him to the Lord ; an idea not supported by any one of the circumstances recorded in the gospel. Certain modern doctors + believe him to have been the son of the celebrated Hillel, who was chief of the sect of the Pharisees. They even go so far as to assert, that he was the father of that Gamaliel at whose feet Paul was brought up. With respect to his condition, a variety of fables are retailed descriptive of his person ; such as that he was blind I, and recovered his sight on receiving our Saviour into his arms: and that other, of his being one of the interpreters of the Septuagint version || ; that having found many passages which predicted that the Messiah was to be born of a Virgin, he refused to translate them; nay, that he substituted the term Woman in place of Virgin in translating the noted prediction of Isaiah, vii. 14 : that having closed his tablets, on opening them to resume his labour, he found the word Virgin miraculously substituted in place of Woman ; that he besought God to grant him an explanation of this wonderful phenomenon, and his prayer was answered: once more, that having seen in the temple various women presenting their children, he had distinguished the holy Virgin by certain rays of light which surrounded her person, on which he thus addressed the other mothers : Wherefore do you present these children before B 2
* Annal. Eccles. A. C. 1 page 58. Tom. I. Antv. 1612. + Consult Lightfoot, Tom. II. Horæ Hebr. in Luc. II. 25. pago 498. Rot. 1686.
I Baronius ut supra.
| Allatius de Eccl. Occid. Col. 1648. Niceph. Hist. Eccl. Lib. I. cap. 2. Paris, 1630.
I Baronius ut supra.
the altar ? Turn round, and behold this one, who is more ancient than Abraham. Fictions, of no higher authority than what is farther related of him, namely, that the Jews, jealous of his talents and virtues, and, more especially, scandalized at the testimony which he had borne to Jesus Christ, had refused him the honours of sepulture : that his remains, after having reposed a long time at Constantinople t, in a chapel dedicated by James denominated the Less, were conveyed to Venice I in the thirteenth century.
Drooping, then, legends of such doubtfúl authority, let us satisfy ourselves with exhibiting Simeon under three authentic characters, which, while they lead us to an acquaintaintance with the man himself will give us an idea of the state of the Jewish nation, at the era of the Messia's birth. The first respects the faith of Simeon: he waited for the consolation of Israel. The second respects his piety and moral conduct; he was just and devout. The third respects his gifts and privileges; he was divinely spired, and it was revealed to him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
1. He waited for the consolation of Israel, that is, for the Messiah. This phraseology was adopted by the ancient Jews, and is still in use among the modern. The years of the consolation : || is an usual expression employed by them to denote the years of the Messiah. One of their most solemn oaths is that which appeals to the consolation : andone of their most common formularies is to this effect; So may I see the consolation, as I have done such or such a thing : so may I see the consolation, as my festimony is consistent with truth. The prophets themselves employ the same style: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God: speak ye comfortably to Jerusalemi, Isa. xl. 1. The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek ... to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, ... and to comfort all that mourn, Isa. xli. 1, 2. Sing O heavens; and be joyful () earth; and break forth into singing ( mountains : for the Lord hath comforted his people, Isa. xlix. 13.
* From a passage of St. Epiphanius misunderstood. See Epiph. Tom. Il de Vit. Proph, page 150. Paris 1622.
+ Codin. Orig. Const. page 56. Lut. 16.55.
Lughtfoot, in supra.
It were easy to prove, that these are so many oracular
predictions, which the inspired authors of the New Testament, the only infallible interpreters of the Old, understood as de scriptive of the Messiah. And proofs would multiply upon us without end, were we more particularly to undertake to demonstrate, that the title of the consolation is peculiarly adapted to our Lord Jesus Christ : but however instructive such reflections might be of themselves, they would carry us too far from the present object of pursuit.
We could only wish, that the faith of Simeon might assist you in forming an idea of the state of the Jewish Church, prior to the coming of the Messiah. Believers, under that dispensation, entertained the same expectation with Şinieon; like him they waited for the consolation of Israel.
We by no means presume to affirm that their ideas on this subject were exempted from prejudice. We well know that they assigned to most of the oracles, which announced a Redeemer, a sense conformable to the colour of their passions. Isaiah, who represented him as despised and rejected of men, Isa. liii
. 3. had, undoubtedly, a more just conception of him than the sons of Zebedee adopted, Mark X. 37. when they requested of him the most distinguished honours of his kingdom. Daniel, who predicted that the Messiah should be cut off, Dan. ix. 26. entered, undoubtedly, much more profoundly into the view of his coming into the world, than Peter did, who having heard lim speak of the death which he was to suffer, began to rebuke him, saying, be it far from thee, Lord : this shall not be unto thee, Matt. xvi. 22. Job, who contemplated him by the eye of faith, as standing at the latter day upon the earth, Job xix. 25, 26. and who hoped to behold him eye to eye, even after worms should have destroyed his body, knew incomparably better the blessings which he was to purchase for mankind, than those grovelling spirits who expected from him temporal enjoyinents merely. Even those of the Jews, whose understanding was most clearly enlightened, had much less penetration into the mystery of the cross, than the meanest of Christians; and according to the saying of Jesus Christ, He that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is, in this respect, greater than John Baptist, Matt, xi. 1 1. and then all the prophets : nevertheless they all lived in expectation of a deliverer : they all considered him as the centre of every divine grace: they all waited for him as the consolation of Israel. This is the first character given us of Simeon.
2. He was just and devout. The epithet just must not be taken in a literal and exact sense. Beware how you give the lie to revelation, to experience, to your own heart, whose concurring testimony evinces that there is none righteous upon the earth, no not one ; imagine not that Simeon, by his virtues, merited the privilege of seeing the Lord's Christ, and of partaking of the fruits of his incarnation. The righteousness of Simeon consisted in the efforts which he made to work righteousness : his perfection, in the desire with which he was animated to go on to perfection, and in the regret which he felt that his attainments were so inconsiderable. The sacrifices which he inade to God, derived all their value from the mercy of that God who was the object of his fear. Let this great principle of christian theology be deeply impressed on your minds : lose sight of it no not for a moment, and be constantly vigilant, lest the impure doctrine of the merit of good works find admission among you,
But wherefore suggest cautions to this effect? Wherefore should these walls so frequently resound with truths of this class? My brethren, you have so effectually excluded, by your coldness in the performance of good works, the doctrine of their merit, that there is little room to entertain the apprehension of its ever finding an establishment in the midst of us. And it is an undeniable fact, that this crror has gained no partisans in our churches : at least, if there be any, they have hitherto kept themselves invisible. We have seen many persons who, under the power of illusion, imagined they had fulfilled the conditions upon which the promises of salvation are founded : but never did we find one who advanced a plea of merit. But what we have seen, and what we have cause every day to deplore, and what is involving multitudes in utter ruin, is our frequently deceiving ourselves with the belief, that because righteousness and the fear of God are not meritorious, they are therefore unnecessary.
What we have seen, and what we have cause every day to deplore, is the unhappy persuasion prevailing with many who bear the Christian naine, that because the advent of the Messiah is a dispensation of grace, it gives encouragement to licentiousness and corruption.
Let us not employ such ingenious pains to deceive ourselves. Multiply without end, ye disputers of this world, your questions and controversies, it will never be in your power to prevent my clearly discerning, in the doctrine of the gospel, this twofold truth : on the one hand, that the best
preparation preparation for receiving the reign of grace, is that which Simeon made: he was just and devout, and he waited for the consolation of Israel. On the other hand, that the most insurmountable obstacle which can be opposed to this reign, is impiety and injustice. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the yough places plain, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God, Ísa. xl. 3. Matt. iii. 3. Luke iii. 6. This was the voice of the forerunner of Jesus Christ; and wherein did he make this preparation to consist? The preparation of him who had two coats was to impart to him who had none, Luke iii. 11. The preparation of him who had meat, was to act in like manner. T of the publicans was to exact no more than that which was appointed them, ver. 13. That of the soldier was to do violence to no man, to accuse no one falsely, and to be content with his wages, ver. 14. The preparation of all was to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, ver. 8. Without these, the reign of grace was the reign of wrath : without these, the ax was already laid unto the root of the trees; and every tree which brought not forth good fruit was to be heren down, and cast into the fire, ver. 9. and this Messiah, this Redeemer of mankind, was to come with his fan in his hand, throughly to purge his floor ; to gather the wheat into his garner ; but to burn the chaff with fire unquenchable, ver. 17.
Ah! if at this period of the gospel dispensation, when we are exercising, in some manner, the function of John Baptist, if in these days wherein we come to announce the revival of the reign of Jesus Christ in the midst of us, by the celebration of his incarnation and birth ; by the commemoration which we are to make next Lord's day in the sacrament of the supper: if at this season when we are crying aloud to you in the words of St. John, prepare ye the way of the Lord : should you, with the multitudes who attended his ministry, inquire, saying, and what shall we do? We would reply, wait for the consolation of Israel, as Simeon waited for it: bring forth fruits worthy of repentunce.
Prepare the way of the Lord, ye great ones of the earth ; lead the way in a procession of penitents, as the king of Ninevah did, when the preaching of Jonah thundered impending destruction in his ears, Jon. iii. 4,9. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, 1 Pet. v. 6. by whom kings