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guished the holy Virgin by certain rays of light which surrounded her person, on which he thus addressed the other mothers: Wherefore do you pre-sent these children before the alter? 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 ho nors of sepulture; that his remains, after having reposed a long time at Constantinople, † in a cha pel dedicated by James, denominated the Less, were conveyed to Venice ‡ in the thirteenth century.
Dropping, then, legends of such doubtful authority, let us satisfy ourselves with exhibiting Simeon under three authentic characters, which, while they lead us to an acquaintance with the man himself, will give us an idea of the state of the Jewish nation at the era of the Messiah'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 inspired, 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
*From a passage of St. Epiphanius misunderstood. See Epiph. Tom II. de Vit. Proph. page 150. Paris 1622. Codin. Orig. Const. page 56. Lut. 1655.
Tillemont, Memoir. Eccles. Tom. I. page 448. Par. 1693.
usual expression employed by them to denote the years of the Messiah. One of the most solemn oaths is that which appeals to the consolation: and one of their most common formularies is to this ef fect: So may I see the consolation, as I have done such or such a thing: so may I see the consolation as my testimony is consistent with truth. The prophets themselves employ the same style: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God: speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, 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, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, Isa. xlix. 13.
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 descriptive 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 Mes siah. Believers, under that dispensation, entertained the same expectation with Simeon; 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 color 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 honors 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 him 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, Mat. 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 enjoyments 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. 11. 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 testi
mony 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 made 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 error 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 name, 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 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 rough places plain, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God, Isa. 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. That 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