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The Song of Simeon.*
LUKE ii. 25-30.
And behold there was a man in Jerusalen, whose name
was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed to him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the spirit into the temple : and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, lo do for him after the custom of the law; then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.
Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive, Gen. xlvi. 30. This was the exclamation of an affectionate father; might I not have said, of a weakly affectionate father, on a memora. ble occasion in his life. If such an emotion savours not of heroism, it is at least an effusion of nature.
* If the Reader wishes to peruse Saurin's Sermons as originally arranged, that on the Birth of Jesus Christ, the third of Vol. II. of Mr. ROBINSON's Selection, immediately precedes this on the Song of Simeon. VOL, VI.
Joseph had been the centre of a fond parent's teriderest affections. Jacob had for more than twenty years been impressed with the belief that this dearly beloved son was devoured by an evil beast. He displayed every token of affliction that could be expressed by the paternal heart, on the loss of a child, a dar ling child, thus cruelly torn from him. After so many years of mourning, he is informed that his son is yet alive, that he is exalted to the most eminent state of power and splendour which the King of Egypt could bestow; that he had sent to bring his father down to him. Every instant now appears an age to the good old man, till the period of their re-union arrives. Every thing that retards the accomplishment of his wishes seems to defeat it. He trembles to think on the length of the way, on the dangers of such a journey, on his own debilitated frame. He departs at length, he reaches the desired haven; he beholds with his eyes the endeared object of so many earnest prayers. He feels himself in the embrace of his Joseph, he feels his visage bedewed with the tears of filial love. Joy deprives him of the powers of utterance, and with difficulty the faultering tongue can pronounce the words which Moses, if I may be allowed the expression, seems to have derived from the bowels of paternal tenderness: “Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive."
A greater than Jacob, my brethren, or rather a greater than Joseph, is here. Simeon had received from God the assurance of having his life prolonged till his eyes should see the promised Messiah.
On the accomplishment of that promise depended the solution of these anxious inquiries, so interesting to the wretched posterity of Adam: Is there any mitigation to be expected of that fatal denunciation, In the day thou eatest of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, thou shalt surely die, Gen. ii. 17.-Did so many oracles, which announce a Redeemer, proceed from God, or from men ?-Is it possible that the love of God should rise so high, as to immolate his own Son in the room of the guilty ?-In a word, Is the expectation of Israel well-founded, or is it chimerical ? The promise is at last fulfilled ; that divine Infant at last appears, whom God had prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glor ry of Israel. Luke ii. 31, 32. Already has an angel of the Lord announced his advent to the shepherds: already has a multitude of the heavenly host made the air resound with these triumphant strains, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men, Luke ii. 14. Already have these sages of the East arrived to render him supreme homage, as to their Sovereign. What remained to Simeon, after having seen the Saviour of the world, but to take possession of the long-expected salvation? He accordingly takes the child in his arms: his faith is now changed into vision, and his hope into enjoyment, and he in transport exclaims, “ Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvaion."
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.
I. 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 probably false, or, at best, extremely uncertain. Cardinal Baronius,* on the authority of some ancient Doctors of the Church, insists that he must bave 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 Doctorsť 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,f 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, rii. 14: that having closed his tablets, on opening them to resume his labour, lie 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,f 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 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 Jewsill 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 Constantinoplet in a chapel dedicated by James, denominated the Less, were conveyed to Venicef in the thirteenth century.
* Annal. Eccles. A. C. 1. page 58. Tom. I. Antv. 1612.
+ Consult Lightfoot, Tom. II. Horæ Hebr. in Luc. II. 25. page 498. Rot. 1686.
Baronius ut supra.
$ Allatius de Eccl, Occid. Col. 1648. Niceph. Hist. Eccl. Lib. I. cap. 2. Paris, 1630.
Dropping, then, legends of such doubtful authority, let us satisfy ourselves with exhibiting Simeon under three authentic characters, which while they S Baronius ut supra. ll 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.