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§ 18. Simeon’s Prophetic Discourse.

The aged and devout Simeon,4848   We have no reason to suppose him to be the Rabbi Simeon, the father of Gamaliel, as no distinguishing mark of eminence is assigned to him. who had longed and prayed for the coming of Messiah’s kingdom, had received the Divine assurance that he should not die without seeing the desire of his heart. Under a peculiarly vivid impulse of this presentiment, he entered the Temple just as the infant Jesus was brought in. The Divine glory irradiating the child’s features harmonized with the longing of his inspired soul; he recognized the manifested Messiah, took the infant in his arms, and exclaimed, in a burst of inspired gratitude, “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace according to thy promise, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”4949   It is said in Luke, ii., 33, that “Joseph and Mary marvelled” at the words of Simeon. Now it is strange that what he said should appear marvellous to the parents, who were already cognizant of so many wonderful events in the history of the child. But we are to remember that the first three Gospels do not contain connected histories, but compilations of separate memoirs; and, again, the writer of the narrative may have been so imbued with wonder at the extraordinary whole, as to transfer this feeling to his expression in detailing the. separate parts, again and again. The narrative would have worn a very different aspect had Luke designed to compose a systematic work, with the parts accurately adjusted, instead of writing, as he did, with simple and straightforward candour. Then, turning to Mary, he exclaimed, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against;5050   The results of Messiah’s appearance among men depend upon their own spiritual dispositions: salvation for the believer, destruction for the unbeliever. Around his banner the hosts of the faithful gather; but infidels reject and fight against it. Salvation and doom are correlative ideas; all world-historical epochs are epochs of condemnation. and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may he revealed.”

Notice, now, the remarkable idea of the Messiah which these words convey; precisely such a one as we should expect from a longing Jew, of deep, spiritual piety. Although it cannot be said to contain really Christian elements, it is far above the ordinary conceptions of the times; and this not only confirms the truth of the narrative, but stamps the discourse as Simeon’s own, and not a speech composed in his name.5151   The accurate report of this discourse is accounted for by the supposition that the account came indirectly from Anna: not only the discourse, but the whole occurrence, must have made a deep impression upon her mind. It is true, Simeon conceives the kingdom of Messiah as tending to glorify the Jewish people, but yet extends its blessings also over the heathen, and believes that the light of the knowledge of God 25will illumine them also. Nor does he conceive Messiah’s kingdom as triumphing at once by displays of miraculous power, but rather as developing itself after struggles with prevailing corruptions, and after a gradual purifying of the theocratic nation. The conflict with the corrupt part of the nation was to be severe before the Messiah could lead his faithful ones to victory. The foreboding of suffering to Mary, so indefinitely expressed, bears no mark of post factum invention. But the inspired idea of Messiah in the pious old man obviously connected the sufferings which he was to endure in his strife against the corrupt people with those which were foretold of him in Isaiah, liii.

The other devout one, to whom the destiny of the infant Jesus was revealed, was the aged Anna, who heard Simeon’s words, shared in his joyful anticipations, and united in his song of thanksgiving.5252   We agree with Schleiermacher in thinking it probable that the narrative came indirectly from Anna. She is far more minutely described in it than Simeon, although the latter and his discourse constitute the most important part of the account, while her words are not reported at all.

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