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“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”—LUKE ii. 29, 30.
In this portion of sacred history, we have a most impressive assemblage. The narrative might almost be said to furnish a picture before which we might stand and gaze till our whole spirit were lost in wonder. Place yourselves in imagination in the ancient temple. The priests are actively engaged in the duties of their office. A domestic first almost escapes your notice. Joseph and his espoused wife are there; and the mysterious babe, -at whose birth a company of the heavenly host appeared, and announced the promised Saviour. A venerable old man enters the place, approaches the mother, and takes the young child in his arms. His whole countenance becomes radiant with the sacred emotions of his soul. He blesses God. He offers the sacrifice of thankful adoration.
And mark what he says beside. You have seen the aged clinging with painful anxiety to life; or querulously calling for a release, from which, at the same time, they shrink. Hear this venerable saint. He had long and devotedly served God. In his view, God was his Lord and Master, his absolute Sovereign. Him he had served, and found his service perfect freedom. It had been revealed to him, that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord's Anointed, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, of whom Moses and the prophets had spoken. On this particular day, a divine impulse brings him to the temple. The same guidance directs him to the infant Jesus. He takes him up in his arms, blesses God, and says, Lord, let thy servant be now dismissed,—dismissed in peace, from labour, to rest and blessedness.
Thus calmly, nay, with such real though subdued and holy desire, does he speak of death.
It is chiefly in reference to this point that I wish to direct your attention to the paragraph from which the text is taken.
Some speak of death as a debt which they owe to nature, and which they must pay. Others shrink from it with terror. Many who are not perhaps dismayed, have painful misgivings. They are all willing to banish the subject from conversation; wishful to forget it. How different the feelings and language of Simeon! He welcomes the signal. He is ready to depart.
I appeal to your conscience. When any circumstance tells, or seems to tell, of the near approach of death, is it not thus that you desire to meet it? To be enabled to meet the call, to receive the solemn announcement, with brightening joy; to say, “ Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace?” Whatever your views of life, you desire to be able to meet death as Simeon did. In reference to this natural desire, I shall direct your attention,
I. To the character of Simeon, as illustrating that of a saint of God: and,
II. To his feelings on the approach of death, as illustrating the happiness which, in his last moments, the saint of God enjoys.
I. The character of Simeon.
1. He was just and devout. The former expression denotes his uprightness before men; what may be termed the strictness of his morals. The second, his careful reverence of God; the depth, the circumspection, the power of his piety. As he performed all the duties of life, so his devotional habits marked both the existence and strength of his devotional feelings. His conscience, fully alive to the great subject of moral obligation, looked both to God and man. Hence he was just and devout.
2. Waiting for the consolation of Israel. The special character of his devotion is here pointed out. In the Scriptures a man like Simeon would see the guilt and sinfulness of mankind, and the intimations of a merciful provision for his recovery. He had true views of the promised Redeemer. In him he saw the salvation of God; the salvation which man needed, and God had provided. And here was comfort :-comfort for Israel; for the spiritual church which expected him :-comfort for all nations;
inasmuch as he alone remedies the real disease under which creation groans.
For him Simeon waited. He paid peculiar attention to those parts of Scripture which related to the subject. He firmly believed the promise of God. He waited for its accomplishment with expectation and desire. His uprightness and devotion rested on his faith in the merciful promise of a Redeemer.
See the unchangeable nature of religion. As its foundation, the sinner seeks a Saviour. As its fruits and evidences, here are uprightness and devotion. The orderly combination of these is scriptural sanctity.
Simeon had some special privileges. The Holy Spirit, in richer abundance than ordinary, rested on him. The period of his death was marked by an impressive and delightful signal. And in all cases, “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” Extraordinary gifts are not to be looked for; but on unreserved piety the full power of ordinary influence shall descend. “ To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly."
II. Let us now look at Simeon as receiving the appointed sign of dissolution.
To the priests in the temple, the holy child would only appear as an ordinary infant. Simeon saw him as taught of God. Who can tell what discoveries then flashed on his soul? Often, a vast mass of materials shall be all disorder and confusion, till one single thought comes as a key to the whole, and the whole is at one glance understood. Simeon knew much from the Scriptures. He referred the promise to a person, and expected consolation from his coming. He bolds in his arms the Lord's anointed, and the plan of salvation bursts upon his view,-salvation for Jew and Gentile; for mankind.
But in the glory which he beheld, he forgot not the announcement of his own removal. Let us observe the manner in which he speaks of it.
1. Notice the manner in which he speaks of himself and his Lord. The word “servant” does not here mean merely one who ministers; nor is “ Lord” a mere title of honour.
Modern ideas would scarcely allow me to use a literal translation. They denote absolute sovereignty on the one hand, and absolute subjection on the other. Look at the Creator; look at the creature; and so it is; and thus the saint of God feels and acknowledges, and delights to feel and acknowledge. “Thou hast the right to appoint me my work; to fix the time of labour, to direct its cessation: life, labour, death, are all at thy disposal.” The sinner lives to himself; the saint, to God.
2. By implication, we see the view which the servant of God takes of life. It is the allotted period of labour, for the performance of the work which God gives us to do. And by his providence, he fixes our work, our station, and commands us to be faithful.
3. See his views of death. A peaceful dismissal from labour. While labour was duty, Simeon continued; but (and see here the same feeling more explicitly stated by Paul, a holy longing to depart) here is no request that the period might be prolonged. It is delightful to live for God; it is more delightful to die to him. The service is on earth; the dismissal removes to heaven. Hence, the peace of the dying moments of the saint of God. Death breaks up the false peace of the wicked, and confirms the true peace of the righteous. The conscience is at peace, through the Lord's Christ, the consolation of Israel, the world's Saviour. And when the conscience is at rest, and the hope of glory brightens in the soul, let death come in its most terrible form, and the peace is undisturbed. Christ has conquered death; and death comes to the saint as the subdued servant of Christ, to bear the message of dismissal and peace.
1. To be as Simeon was, we must come to God by Christ. Personal reconciliation, and regeneration, received by personal faith, are the basis of the Christian character.
2. He who would be dismissed from service in peace, must, during the allotted period, serve according to his Master's will and appointment. Guard against self-will. Let Christ choose your station, appoint your work. Be it honourable, or what the world calls mean; be it connected with active,
useful service, or to be cast into the dungeon like the Baptist, and beheaded in obscurity; look only to God's will. Serve not your own carnal pride, while seeming to serve God.
3. Be encouraged. The time of rest draws nigh. O the blessedness of your last hour! the peace, the joy, and hope of the moments when you are passing into your Lord's presence! Relax not; faint not. Your Lord will dismiss you in peace, and eternity shall witness the glorious reward.
THE RIGHTEOUS AT THE LAST JUDGMENT.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."'-MATTHEW XXV. 34.
The whole description of the solemn proceedings of the day of judgment, contained in the immediate connexion of the passage now read, well deserves your large and serious consideration. At present, however, it is my design to endeavour to fix your attention on the important subjects which will be suggested by that deeply interesting phrase, — “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Let us come to the consideration of these subjects most seriously. We must needs die. Nothing can avert this our ultimate doom. We may forget it; we cannot escape it. We may refuse to give our life any reference to it; but it will come at the last: and all experience shows that the gloom we avoid by forgetting our latter end, is only converted into a horror of darkness for our death-bed, which seems to antedate the blackness of darkness, to the awful verge of which we are come. By timely forethought all this may be avoided. Come to the consideration of the text as those who desire that it may one day be addressed to them.
I. The language of the text evidently implies that man was not designed originally for an abiding earthly inheritance.
The account of his creation is given in Genesis very briefly.