"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."—Luke ii. 29.
That scene when the old man took the Babe in his withered arms is one of the most picturesque in the Gospel narrative. Led by some monition which he recognised as divine, he had come into the Temple, perhaps expecting that at last he was to "see the Lord's Christ," but probably quite ignorant of the form in which the Christ would bless his waiting eyes. He had to wait for a space, and presently a peasant woman comes in with her child in her arms, and a voice in his spirit says, "Arise, anoint Him, for this is He." So he takes the Infant in his arms, and pours forth his swan-song: "Lord, now"— after all these years of waiting—" lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."
Here we have the Old recognising and embracing the New. In Simeon's character the highest product of Old Testament revelation is presented. He was "just and devout," which make ethical perfection stated in Old Testament terms; and he "waited for the consolation of Israel," which was the attitude intended to be effected in the true Israelite, by the gradual manifestation "through the ages" of God's "increasing purpose." Thus discharging in the present all duties towards God and man, looking to the future with confident expectance, and having "the Holy Ghost upon him," Simeon was the realised ideal of the Old Testament, a bright, consummate flower which had at last effloresced from the roots; and, in his own person, an embodiment of the very results which God had patiently sought through millenniums of providential dealing and inspiration. Therefore in his arms was fitly laid the infant Christ. He exhibits what God intended to secure by the whole previous processes of Revelation in that he recognises that they were transcended and done with, that all that they pointed to was accomplished when a devout Israelite took into his arms the incarnate Messiah, that the past had now answered its purpose, and like the scaffolding when the top-stone of a building is brought forth with shouting, might be swept away, and the world be none the poorer. And so he rejoices in the Christ he receives, and sings the swan-song of the departing Israel, the Israel according to the Spirit. And that is what Judaism was meant to do, and how it was meant to end, in an euthanasia, in a passing into the nobler form of the Christian Church and the Christian citizenship.
We need not dwell on the tragic contradiction to such an ideal relation which the reality presented. But we may point out that this relation of the Old to the New recurs in every generation, and very specially in ours. It is well for the New when it is content to be taken in the arms of the Old and receive its benediction. It is ill for the Old when, instead of welcoming, it frowns on the New, and, instead of playing the part of Simeon, plays that of Herod, and seeks the life of the child that threatens to destroy its sovereignty. Conservative elders and revolutionary youth may both be the better for pondering that scene of Simeon with the Christ in his arms.
Here, too, is the slave recognising and submitting to his owner. The word for " Lord " here is seldom applied to God. It is a harsh expression, being, in fact, that which appears in English as "despot." "Slave" is its correlative; the one word asserting absolute ownership and authority, and the other expressing abject submission. So Simeon takes these two words to express his relation and feeling towards God. "Thou art the Owner, the Despot, and I am Thy slave." Slavery is the "sum of all villainies" when subsisting between men; it is the sum of all blessedness when subsisting, and recognised, between men and God.
For what does it imply? The right to command and the duty to obey, the sovereign will that is supreme over all, and the blessed attitude of yielding up one's will wholly, without reserve, without reluctance, to that infinitely mighty, and—blessed be God I —infinitely loving will. Aosolute authority calls for abject submission.
Again, the despot has the unquestioned right of life and death over his slave, and, if he chooses, can smite him down where he stands, and no man have a word to say. Thus, absolutely, we hang upon God, and, because He has the power of life and death, every moment of our lives is a gift from His hands, and we should not subsist for an instant unless by continual effluence from Him, and influx into us, of the life which flows from Him, the fountain of life.
Again, the slave-owner has entire possession of all the slave's possessions, and can take them and do what he likes with them. And so all that I call mine is His. It was His before it became mine; it remains His whilst it is mine, because I am His, and what seems to belong to me belongs to Him, no less truly. What, then, do we do with our possessions? Use them for ourselves? Dispute His ownership? Forget His claims? Grudge that He should take them away sometimes, and grudge still more to yield them to Him in daily obedience, and, when necessary, surrender them? Is such a temper what becomes the slave? What reason has he to grumble if the Master comes to him and says, "This bit of ground that I have given you to grow a few sugar-canes and melons on, I am going to take back again "? What reason have we to set up our puny wills against Him, if He exercises His authority I
over us, and demands that we should regard ourselves not only as sons but also as slaves, to whom the owner of it and us has given a talent to be used for Him?
This sounds very harsh; but if we remember that this word "despot" is used by Peter, too, when he speaks of "denying the Lord that bought them," and understand that Jesus has this ownership of us because He has given His life to acquire us for His possession, the harshness melts out of the thought, and only blessedness is left in it.
We have here the saint recognising and welcoming death. Simeon's words are generally quoted as if they were a prayer, " Now let Thy servant depart in peace"; but they are not petition or aspiration, but a statement of fact. He saw the appointed token that the time had come when his long waiting was over. He uses the technical word for relieving a sentry. The hour had arrived when the slave's weary watch was over, and he might go home and rest.
He welcomes the dismissal which he recognises. He is going "in peace." There is no agitation, still less shrinking or fear, but he slips quietly away from his post, because his eyes had seen God's salvation. That sight is the reason, first of all, for his being sure that the curfew had rung for him, and that the day's work was done. But it is also the reason for the peacefulness of his departure. He went "in peace," because of what? Because the »
weary, blurred old eyes had seen all that any man needs to see to be satisfied and blessed. Life could yield nothing more, though its length were doubled to this waiting saint, than the sight of God's salvation.
Can it yield anything more to us? And may we not say, if we have seen that sight, what an unbelieving author said, with a touch of self-complacency not admirable, " I have warmed both hands at the fire of life, and I am ready to depart." We may go in peace, if our eyes have seen Him who satisfies our vision, whose bright presence will go with us into the darkness, and whom we shall see more perfectly when we have ceased to be slaves on an outlying estate of our Owner's, and are taken home as sons to the many mansions of the Father's house.