The Song of Simeon
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon — and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel — and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit that he would 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, to do for Him after the custom of the law — then he took Him up in his arms and blessed God: Lord, now let You Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people — a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel."
Like all the pious among the Jews of old, Simeon waited "for the consolation of Israel" — that is, for the coming of the promised Messiah, the great deliverer. That hope in general was built upon the Scriptures, especially the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. But Simeon had a further ground of hope; he was not only "just and devout," a righteous and holy man — but he was also blessed with the special gift of the Holy Spirit: "the Holy Spirit was upon him, and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ."
Living in this joyful expectation, believing that as old as he was — he would yet live to see the Savior appear and doubtless hoping each day that the promise might be fulfilled, "he came by the Spirit into the temple."
It was the very day on which the parents of the infant Jesus brought Him there to present Him to the Lord as the first-born of His mother, and to offer the sacrifice commanded by the law. No sooner did the aged Simeon set eyes upon the child, than he knew (taught doubtless at the moment by the Holy Spirit) that this very child was "the desire of all nations" — the expected Messiah.
"Then he took Him up in his arms, and blessed God" — in those words of thankful praise which we know as "the Song of Simeon," beginning, "Lord, now let You Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation."
At length the promise was fulfilled — the happy moment had come — the Savior was born! It was for this he had waited in faith and hope — and now that the desire of his heart was satisfied, he had no more to live for. His eyes had seen the Messiah! Happy, thankful, and rejoicing — now he was ready to depart. But he saw by faith blessings without number that would come by the birth of Christ. He would be a light to both Jew and Gentile. Millions yet unborn would find salvation in Him. God had prepared this great salvation — and now in the fullness of time it had appeared.
This is the Savior in whom Christians now rejoice — this is the salvation which is offered in the gospel. Eighteen hundred years have passed since Simeon spoke. Myriads have lived and died in the faith of Christ. This light has enlightened many a heart. Millions have found a part in this salvation. And still the light shines, and still the glad tidings are proclaimed — and still, to Jew and to Gentile — Jesus is the one and only Savior.
Well do these words of Simeon express the feeling of many a Christian now: "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word — for my eyes have seen Your salvation!"
The aged pilgrim feels this. He has lived long and has seen much trouble. In early life he had keen desires after worldly pleasure and advancement — and thought perhaps that the world could make him happy. But he sees things differently now. He is done with the world. He has found a better portion. Christ is his portion. He longs to be with Him. Where his treasure is — there his heart is already. Much peace and happiness are his even now, but "to depart and to be with Christ is far better." To him, "to live is Christ — and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
Many a suffering Christian feels with Simeon. It has pleased God to lay him on a bed of sickness. It is a sickness unto death. They tell him that he can never recover. But He who laid him there, has given him a blessed hope. The sick man has sought and found his Savior. He is at peace with God through Christ. He has no fear now. "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). And God has given him this love. Happy sufferer! Happy even now, though pain and sickness are his daily portion. Happy, because Christ is his!
But he will be happier still, when he is released from the worn and wasted body — happier, far happier, when he is "present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). So this is his desire, to "depart in peace." If he had not seen God's salvation, if Jesus were not known and loved — then indeed he would fear to die and would cling even to a life of pain and anguish, rather than face the awful change. But he knows in whom he has believed; and he looks upon death as only a falling asleep in Jesus — the crossing of Jordan that will take him to the Heavenly Canaan.
Glad will he be to go, when it shall please God to take him to Himself. Yet there is no impatience in the true and humble disciple. There was none in Simeon. "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace." He believed that God would now soon call him to rest. But he was willing to leave it all to God; ""Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace."
Even so should the old, the sick, the suffering Christian feel; desirous to go — yet desiring above all that God's will should be done. He is content to go — and content to stay. He is sure that He who orders all things — will order all aright. He desires to have no will but His.
Sometimes it pleases God to keep the dying Christian in life, long beyond what seemed to be likely. Day after day he lingers on, while those around think that each day must surely be his last. Loving friends, grieved to see him suffer, are surprised that he is not released from this body of pain. They cannot understand why he is kept on earth. Ah, let them not wonder — let them only wait. God knows best. He will do all things well. He will do all things in the best way, and at the best moment.
They know not what work of grace may yet remain to be done in his heart, or what lessons of patience and faith they themselves may yet learn from him. A love greater than theirs is over him — a wisdom beyond all their wisdom is dealing with him. All will be well. When He sees best (and that will be best) — then God will let His servant depart in peace, according to His word.