BY REV. H. ELVET LEWIS
The Temple shows to better advantage at the beginning of the Gospel history than at its close. As we follow our Lord through the events of the last week, we meet no winsome faces within its precincts. Annas is there, and Caiaphas; Pharisees too, blinded with envy; but there is no Zacharias seen there, no Simeon, no doctors of the law even, such as gathered around the Boy of twelve. If any successors of these still frequented the sanctuary, they are lost in the deep shadow cast by a nation's crime. Perhaps we may consider those whom we meet on the threshold of our Lord's life as the last of an old regime of prophetic souls, the last watchers passing out of sight as the twilight of a coming doom thickened and settled on the Holy City.
But there he stands, the gracious, winsome old man, whom death is not permitted to touch till the Star of Bethlehem has risen. |It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ!| He is like a dweller of the spiritual world, who only returns to visit earthly ways. For him the veil, though not as yet rent, has worn thin, and he is more familiar with the voices from beyond it than with the voices of earth. The priest, the Levite, the Rabbi, pass him like shadows: the Holy Ghost is his living companion and teacher. Browning's Rabbi ben Ezra might well have borrowed his song from the lips of this aged saint:
|Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!'|
Consider his CHARACTER: |the same man was just and devout.| Inward and outward are in equipoise; he does not make frequent prayers atone for equally frequent lapses in duty. He looks upon men in the light which has risen upon him through looking upon God. He brought with him, from the Throne of Grace, the tranquil beams which helped him to perceive what he owed to his fellow-men. He was so subdued to charity, that his one expectation was the consolation of Israel. He was no prophet of doom; perhaps he was even blind to the moral deterioration, the blight of ideals, growing more wasteful, every day, of the nation's best life. To him, Israel was still more in need of consolation than chastisement. Alas! for these gentle-souled patriots, whose hopes rise from their own heart's goodness, and not from their nation's worth! So obscure, so devout: while the great ones sin, they pray; while the popular priests lead in worldliness, they retire into God's hiding-places to intercede. They have private paths into God's Paradise: they do not always see the cherubim with flaming sword. God often calls them home before the stormy dawn of the evil day. So they live and die, waiting for the consolation.
Consider, again, his HOLY FELLOWSHIP: |the Holy Ghost was upon him.| His heart became the ark of the Heavenly Dove, wandering over the grey waters; and to him was the olive leaf brought. He looked past the face of the Rabbi and the priest, not contemptuously, but wistfully, wondering why he must: he looked past them, and beheld in the dawning shadow a diviner Face. He heard secrets which would be foolishness to others, even to frequenters of the Temple and to robed priests. He thought of death peacefully; but that other Face always came, faintly but immutably, between him and the Last Shadow. The Lord's Christ first, death after. What gracious ways God has of treating some of these simply-trusting children of His! How graciously He orders the course of spiritual wants for them! |And the evening and the morning| are -- each day.
|And he came by the Spirit into the Temple.| He required no ecclesiastical calendar, no book of the hours. This obscure denizen of the sanctuary had a dial in his own soul, and the silent shadow on the figures came from no visible sun. Be sure that there are men and women still, just, and fearing God, who anticipate the days of heaven, and almost win their dawning. How often must Simeon have come, waiting: and yet how fresh was his hope each time! He fed on God's disappointments; the unfulfilled was his hidden manna.
Consider his ONE GREAT DAY. An obscure worshipper suddenly becomes the richest, most honoured man in all the world: in his arms he holds God's Incarnate Son. Yesterday was a day of earth, tomorrow also may well be a day of earth: but this, a day of heaven! Alas! but only to him. To others this, too, is a very day of earth. Did some officiating priest watch the little group of peasant parents showing their first-born to an obscure worshipper? And did he look, without a stain of contempt upon his vision? And yet Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, had no such gift and prize as the arms of that humble dreamer held. Who would not have taken his place, had they known! It is well to be reckoned God's intimate, lest we miss the Child.
|The sages frowned, their beards they shook,
For pride their heart beguiled;
They said, each looking on his book,
'We want no child.'|
But Simeon had dwelt nearer God than they -- nearest God of all that came to the Temple that day. And so God trusted him with His Best.
Then, once more, consider his PROPHETIC PRAYER. He was now ready to depart. He had arrived at the house where the chamber of peace looks towards the sunrising: why should he return to the warfare again? He was unfitted for earth, by the face of that Child: he would go where such a vision would not be marred by earthly airs! |For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.| The sentinel has been long on duty: now the watch is done, |now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.| And as he passes from his well-kept post, his heart's charity overflows, and Gentile and Jew are covered with his blessing: the Gentile even coming first, as though, perhaps, he perceived that |the salvation of the Jews could only be realised after the enlightenment of the heathen, and by this means| -- Godet suggests. To the darkened souls of the pagan world -- light: to the humiliated Jewish people -- glory. Israel had seen and lost many a glory: it had seen the glory of conquest, of wealth, of wisdom, of ritual, of righteousness: but in the little Child was the sum and essential radiancy of all glory that had been, the earnest of all glory that was to be. Eternally, Christ is |the hope of glory.|
Consider also his PERFECT CANDOUR. He looked in the Child's face, he looked in the mother's face, with all the tenderness and love that made it half divine; and then this disciple of the Spirit, strangely moved from his wonted calm, described truth purely as he saw it. He scanned the future, heard the sound of many a fall, caught the hiss and cry of uneasy consciences against the |sign|; he saw the gleam of the sword, and the wounded mother's heart; he saw the revelations of good and of evil which the child would surely effect. One might not unnaturally conclude that these presentiments were of the day -- of that very hour. He had hitherto walked and dwelt in the light of consolation; he had dreamed his tranquil dream |beside still waters.| But in this moment of contact with God, he was made strong to see the darkness which is never absent from the azure of truth -- |a deep, but dazzling darkness.| So to young Samuel came the sorrowful vision of the fall of the house of Eli; so to the old prophet-saint now glittered the gleaming arrows of truth. But neither scorn nor wrathful eloquence moves him, in view of what he saw: he simply accepts this burden of the Lord, and bears it, without murmuring or exulting. He sees the |fall and rising again of many in Israel|; it is God's will: let His will be done! |A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also|: bow, mother-heart, to the purposes of God's heart of love! |In peace| this servant of the Lord still stands; |in peace| he departs. Blessed are they whom darkling truths may grieve, but not distract; whom stormy revelations beat upon, but cannot shake. They live in the house founded upon a rock.
What presentiment of his nation's doom came to him in that moment of clearer insight, of more candid intercourse with truth? |The thoughts of many hearts| -- |the uneasy working of the understanding in the service of a bad heart|: -- how much was revealed, how much was mercifully concealed? We cannot tell; but strength was given him to bear the gleam of the vision, and still wait. |O rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him.| He saw the Child go out of the Temple; and if, for a moment, a breath as of a chill wind smote his soul, he retired into the deeper consolations of God, where the sun smites not by day, nor the moon by night. If it was his last visit to the Temple, he had seen what would have made it worth his while to have gone there every day for seventy years or more. And let it not be forgotten that God still gives His Child to those who humbly, faithfully wait for the consolation of Israel.
Such a picture as that of Simeon gives piety its divinest charm. It is not simply that men have wished to be in his place; but -- what is far better and far more practical -- they have wished to be in his spirit. He draws them towards him, and after him. He stands in a glorious company of winsome souls, who not only lead to heaven, but attract men on the way.
|They are, indeed, our Pillar-fires
Seen as we go;
They are that City's shining spires,
We travel to:
A sword-like gleam
Kept man for sin
First out; this beam
Will guide him in.|