Simeon's Swan Song
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” — Luke ii. 29, 30.
IF we are believers in Christ, we shall one day use words like these. Perhaps not just at present; and yet, possibly, sooner than some of us think, we shall gather up our feet in our bed, and we shall say with all composure, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”
See what death is to the believer. It is only a departure. It is a departure after a day of service. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart. My day’s work is done; let me now go home.” With us who believe it will be a departure to a higher service, for we shall still be the Lord’s servants even when we depart from this present sphere of labour. We shall go to do yet higher and more perfect work in the nearer presence of our Master. “His servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face.” But death to the believer is only a departure from one form of service to another.
And, note, that it is a departing “in peace.” We are at peace with God. We have—
“Peace! perfect peace! in this dark world of sin,
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within!”
As many as have believed in Jesus, have entered into rest. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God;” we have joy and peace in believing; and, as we live in peace, we shall also die in peace. We shall remain in peace, and we shall depart in peace. A deep and holy calm will fill up our dying moments.
“It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call to heaven’s perfect peace!”
We shall be able to say, perhaps, when we come to die, what a dear friend of mine once said to me, when I went in to see him on his dying bed. A part of his affliction consisted in total blindness from what they call the breaking of the eye-strings. Sitting up, although he could not see me, he moved his hand, and said,—
“And when ye see my eye-strings break,
How sweet my minutes roll!
A mortal paleness on my cheek,
But glory in my soul!”
So will it be with us; we shall depart in peace. To the believer, death is not a thing to be dreaded; he oven asks for it, “Lord, now lettest thou, permittest thou, thy servant to depart in peace. Grant it as a boon, vouchsafe it as a favour.” Death to the sinner is a curse, but to the believer it is a form of benediction, it is the gate of life. To the sinner, it is a chain dragging him down to the unutterable darkness of the pit; but to the saint, it is a chariot of fire bearing him aloft to the heaven of light and love.
Note, also, that Simeon said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Did you not notice, in our reading, what Luke says about Simeon in the twenty-sixth verse? “It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” The prophecy had been fulfilled, he had seen the Lord’s Anointed; there was nothing more for him to desire upon earth, so he said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” The reason for Simeon’s holy calm, the cause of his finding death to be nothing but a departure out of this world, lies in this fact, that he could say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” It is of that blessed fact that I am going to talk to-night as the Spirit shall help me.
I do not suppose that everybody here can say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” Some of you would not depart in peace if death came to you as you now are. Dear friend, if you are not prepared for death and judgment, you had better pray, “Lord, let me stop here till I have found peace with thee; and then let me depart in peace whensoever thou wilt.”
I shall at this time take the innermost sense of the text, dwelling upon these words of Simeon, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” There were others who had seen the baby Christ with their natural eyes; but Simeon had seen, in the babe, Christ the salvation of God, not with his outward eyes, but with the inward perceptions of his spirit. I hope that many here present can say that they have seen, and do see, in Christ, God’s salvation, and their salvation given to them of God. If so, I am sure that they feel ready to live, or ready to die; but if it be not so with any of you, if you cannot say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” you cannot pray, “Lord, let thy servant depart in peace.”
What, then, do these words mean, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation”? I will try to explain their meaning in my discourse to-night; and when I have finished, I think you will see that there are these five things included in this utterance of old Simeon; first, here is clear perception; next, perfect satisfaction; then, happy unbinding; then, dauntless courage; and finally, joyful appropriation.
I. The first thing for us to notice in Simeon’s swan song is CLEAR PERCEPTION: “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Some people are very hazy in their religion; they “see men as trees walking.” They see things as we see them in London in a fog; that is to say, we do not see them clearly; we cannot see them distinctly; and yet we do see them after a fashion. The fault with a great many Christians, nowadays, is that they have only just light enough to see things as in a mist; they have not discerned clearly the sharply-cut image of the truth. But Simeon could say, not, “I think I see the salvation of God in Christ; I hope I do; perhaps I do; but he could say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Oh, happy are you, my dear friends, to-night, if you can distinctly and clearly see in Christ Jesus, the salvation of God!
True, Christ was but a baby then; and Simeon could easily hold him in his arms; yet his faith could see everlasting salvation, infinite salvation within God incarnate. God has come into our world, and has taken upon himself our nature. He that was born at Bethlehem was “very God of very God.” He that trod the acres of Palestine, as he went about doing good, was the same who “was in the beginning with God,” without whom was not anything made that was made. Christ is God. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God;” but it is equally true that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
“It is my sweetest comfort, Lord,
And will for ever be,
To muse upon the gracious truth
Of thy humanity.
For ever God, for ever man,
My Jesus shall endure;
And fix’d on him, my hope remains
Now, this Christ took upon himself the sins of all his people. “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and sin being laid on Christ, it remained no more on those from whom he took it. He bore it that they might not bear it; he suffered the consequences of their sin that they might never suffer those consequences. Jesus made an atonement to the justice of God; he vindicated and honoured the perfect law of the Most High. When I see Christ on the cross, Christ in the tomb, Christ risen from the dead, Christ at the right hand of God, I understand that he took away my sin. He died; he was buried; he came forth from the grave, having destroyed my sin, and put it away; and he has gone into the heavens as my Representative, to take possession of the right hand of God for me, that I in him and with him may sit there for ever and ever. To me, Christ’s sacrifice is a business transaction as clear and straight as mathematics could make it. I care not that men decry what they call "the mercantile theory of the atonement.” I hold no “theory” of the atonement; I believe that the substitution of Christ for his people is the atonement for their sins; and that there is no other atonement, but that all else is theory. This is to me so clear, so true, so definite, that I can venture to say with Simeon, when I have seen Christ, especially Christ crucified, Christ glorified, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Clear perception, then, is the first meaning of Simeon’s words.
You young people, who have come to believe in Christ, get clear perceptions as to how Christ is God's salvation. Do not mix and muddle things up as so many do; but accept Christ as your Substitute, as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Believe that on the cross he paid your debt, discharged your liability, and bought you with a price, so that you are his, and his for ever and ever. You will never have peace in death, I do not see how you are to have solid rest in life, without a sharp, crisp, clearly-cut idea of how Christ is the salvation of God. The bulk of people do not see it, and they therefore miss the comfort of it. The comfort of a man, immersed in debt, is assured if he has a friend who bears his burden, and pays his debt for him; then he feels that he is clear of all his former liabilities. I declare, before the living God, that I know of no solid comfort for my heart to-night but this, the chastisement of my peace was upon him, and with his stripes I am healed. May you get a clear perception of this great truth now!
II. But, next, when Simeon could say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” he had PERFECT SATISFACTION in Christ.
You observe, he takes Christ up in his arms, and says, “Mine eyes have seen,” not, “a part of thy salvation,” but “thy salvation.” He is not looking to anything else for salvation, but only to that Man-child, seeing all that that Man-child will do, and bear, and suffer, recognizing in him the two natures, the divine and the human; and as he clasps him to his breast, he says, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation. It is enough, I have here all that I want. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Beloved friends, have you ever done with Christ what old Simeon did? “He took him up in his arms, and blessed God.” All that you need to save you, lies in him. I have known the Lord now for some forty years, or thereabouts. When I first came to him, I came as a sinner, without any works of my own which I could trust, or any experience upon which I could rely; and I just rested my whole weight upon the finished work of Christ. Now, after forty years of service, and nearly forty years of preaching the gospel, have I any works of my own to add to what Christ has done? I abhor the thought of such a thing. Have I even the weight of a pin’s head that I dare put into the scale with my Lord’s merits? Accursed be the idea! More than ever do I sing,—
“Nothing save Jesus would I know,”
and nowhere would I rest but in him alone. Now, dear Christian friends, I know you understand this, that Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour, that he is all your salvation, and all your desire; and yet, perhaps, you are tempted at times to think that you must be this, or you must do that, or you must feel the other, or else Christ is of none effect to you. Think not so; but rest wholly and alone on Christ. Say, “I rest in him, whether I am a saint or a sinner; whether I have bright frames or dark frames; whether I am useful, or whether I am defeated in my service. I have no more to trust in when I rejoice in the light of God’s countenance than I have when I walk in darkness, and see no light. Christ is everything to me at all times; a winter Christ and a summer Christ; all my light when I have no other, and all my light when I have every other light.”
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame;
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name:
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
God bring you to this, that you may just say, “I have seen Christ, mine eyes have seen God’s salvation, I am perfectly satisfied; I want nothing else.” Does a man pluck me by the sleeve, and say, “I will tell you something worth hearing”? My good fellow, go and tell it to somebody who wants to hear it; for I do not. I have heard all the news I want when I have heard of eternal salvation by Jesus Christ.
III. Now, thirdly, notice that there is in Simeon’s words, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” a kind of HAPPY UNBINDING. The man has been, as it were, bound; but he says, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. Every fetter is broken now. I have seen thy salvation, Lord, I am not tied to life, nor tied to home, nor tied to comfort, nor tied even to thy temple. Now, Lord, I can go anywhere, departing in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Is not that a grand utterance of old Simeon? The most of us are tied in one way or another, and we find it hard to cut ourselves loose. With many of us, the first part of our life is often spent in tying ourselves down to this world; and by-and-by we feel that we are too much tied, bound, hampered, hindered; and we cry out, “How shall we get free?” The only way to get free is to get Christ. “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” If you take Christ in your arms, and say with Simeon, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” you can then say, “Everyone else and everything else may go now.
“ ‘Yea, shouldst thou take them all away,
Yet will I not repine;
Before they were possessed by me,
They were entirely thine.’ ”
And, as thou hast given me Christ, thou mayest do what thou wilt with me as to other things.” Where Christ is not valued, gold becomes an idol. Where Christ is not prized, health becomes an idol. Where Christ is not loved, learning and fame become idols. Where Christ is not first and foremost, even personal beauty may become an idol. But when Christ becomes our all in all, because our eyes have seen his salvation, then the idols fall, Dagon is broken; we are emancipated; and we can say concerning all these things, “Ay, whether ye come or whether ye go, ye are not lords of the house; you are but comers and goers unto me henceforth and for ever; for a clear conception that Christ is God’s salvation, and a full grasp of him as mine, have set my spirit free from every fetter that hitherto held me in captivity.”
IV. I must not pause here, because I want you to notice how the being able to say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” gives to a man DAUNTLESS COURAGE.
He who has once seen Christ as God’s salvation is not afraid to see death. “Now,” saith he, “I can look death in the face without dread, for I have seen God’s salvation.” He is not afraid of that tremendous judgment-seat which will be set in the clouds of heaven, for he who will sit upon that judgment-seat is God’s salvation to us who believe. The man who is “looking unto Jesus” is not afraid of the day when the earth will rock and reel, and everything based upon it will shake to its destruction. He is not afraid of the star called Wormwood, nor of seeing heaven and earth on a blaze. “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” saith he; and he bears this glorious vision about with him wherever he goes; it is more to him than any earthly talisman could be, it is more powerful than the most potent charm of the mystic or the magician. Such a man is safe; he must be safe; his eyes have seen God’s salvation.
If you would have a courage of the truest kind, that needs no stimulus of drink, and no excitement of the noise of trumpet and of drum, the calm courage that can suffer pain, that can bear rebuke, that can endure slander, that can stand alone, that could stand foot to foot with the infernal fiend himself, and yet not be afraid— if you would have such courage as that, you must get Christ in your arms; for then shall you say with Simeon, “Lord, come what may, I have nothing to fear, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
“Fearless of hell and ghastly death,
I’d break through every foe;
The wings of love, and arms of faith,
Should bear me conqueror through.”
V. I will not detain you much longer, for the time is well nigh spent; but I would say this one more thing, he who layeth hold on Christ, makes a JOYFUL APPROPRIATION of him. His sight of Christ, his clear apprehension of what Christ is, is accompanied by a personal appropriation of Christ to himself.
This is the matter that puzzles many. I have, during the past week, talked with several people who have heard from me concerning the way of salvation, and the preciousness of Christ, and the question of many of these enquirers has been this, “How can we get a hold of Christ? We believe that all you say about him is true. Christ is God’s salvation; but how can we take him to be ours? You seem to treat Christ as if he were yours beyond all question. How can we learn to do the same?” My answer is, when you once know how the Saviour saves, and how he is God’s salvation, trust him to save you. That trust grips him, holds him; and if you can hold him, he is yours. We have certain rights of property extant among us, and a man may have to bring his title-deeds to prove that a house is really his own; but in the kingdom of grace, the only title-deed you want is that you have a hold of Christ. May I take him, then, without any right? Yes, taking Christ gives you the right to take him. “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” There is a piece of bread on yonder table; I mean to have it for my own. It will be of no use for you to dispute with me about the matter, for I shall put it beyond all dispute. How? I shall take that bread in my hand. Well, you can wrench it from me. I shall do more than that; I shall eat it; I shall digest it; it will become a part of my own being. You will not get it away from me then; and I do not care if you go to law with me to try to get it. Possession is more than nine points of the law in such a case as that. Digestion and assimilation will be ten points of the law, certainly. Now, it is just so with Christ. Poor soul, take him; believe him; trust him; appropriate him. Trust him more, and more, and more. The more the devil tries to take him from thee, trust him the more. Plunge thyself deeper and deeper still into this sea of salvation, and trust Christ still more.
Perhaps some one says, “But how may I know at first that I have a right to trust Christ? You have a right to trust Christ because you are commanded to do it. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Make a dash for this great blessing. Take Christ to-night, whether or no; for, though it should seem like robbery to thee to take him, yet if thou once hast him, he will never be taken away from thee. Make a dash for Christ, I say, to-night, and take him, saying, “I believe him; I trust him; I rest myself on him.” Heaven and earth shall pass away; but if thou dost trust Christ, thou shalt never be ashamed. There was never a man yet who dared trust Christ, and yet found that Christ was not equal to his need, or that he did not fully supply all his wants.
Simeon took Christ up in his arms. Somebody might have said, “Old man, what hast thou to do with the new-born King? Old man, thou mayest be just and devout; but darest thou handle the Incarnate God? Darest thou fondle him upon whose shoulders God hath laid the key of his kingdom, whose name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace? Darest thou touch him?” Yes, he dares do it; he takes him up in his arms, he clasps him to his heart, he rejoices over him, he is ready to die with delight now that he has found Christ. Come, poor troubled ones, come to-night, and take Christ into your arms! And you, dear saints of God, who have done this long ago, do it over again! Take him right up into your arms, as though he were still a babe. Take him still to your heart, and say, “He is everything to me— my love, my hope, my brother, this blessed Incarnate God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” If thou canst do this, it shall be well with thee now, it shall be well with thee in death, it shall be well with thee throughout eternity.
Have I among my hearers any who are postponing this all-important business, putting it off till a more convenient season? Let me tell them something that ought to warn them of the risk they are running Once upon a time, the prince of darkness said to the evil spirits under his command, “I want to see which of you can be my best servant. The gospel is being preached in various places, and many persons are hearing it, and I am afraid that my kingdom will suffer loss. Unless something can be done, I fear that many will desert from under the black flag, and enlist under the standard of Jesus of Nazareth. I would fain prevent this; which of you will help me?” Then up rose one, who said, “I will go forth, and say that the Bible is not true, that Christ is not God, and that what is preached is not the truth.” But the great prince of the pit answered him, “Thou wilt not serve my turn just now. There are a few places where thou wilt be very useful; but the most of those who are listening to this Word will scout thee, and drive thee back. Thou smellest too much of the place whence thou goest on my errands. Thou canst not do what I want now.” Up stood another of the evil throng, and said, “Let me go, and I will bring forth certain new views of truth, and various fresh doctrines, and with these I will turn aside the thoughts of men from the old faith.” But the prince of the power of the air replied, “Thou, too, art a good servant of mine, and thou standest me in good stead at other times; but just now thou art not the one for the task I propose.” Then out spake one, who said, “O prince of darkness, methinks I am thy good soldier on this occasion. Hero am I, send me.” “And what wilt thou do?” said Beelzebub, “What will thou do?” “I will go forth, and tell the people that the warnings of the preacher are true, and the voice of the gospel is the voice of God; I will not awaken and arouse them by any sort of opposition; but I will tell them that there is time enough, by-and-by, to attend to these things. I will bid them wait a little longer, and bide their time. I will put this word into the mouth of each one, that he may say to the preacher, ‘Go thy way, for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.’ ” Then the grim master of the pit smiled, and said, “Go thy way, my faithful servant, thou art he that shall carry out my purpose right thoroughly, and so shalt thou foil the preacher, and the word that he utters shall fall to the ground.” Is there not a message here for some one who is listening to my words?
“Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” How I wish that I could make some here, who do not know it, understand how divinely simple is the way of salvation! You are a sinner, guilty and condemned. Christ becomes a man, takes your sins, suffers in your stead. You accept him to stand for you. You permit him, by your faith, to be accepted as your Substitute, and his pains are put down instead of yours, and you are “accepted in the Beloved,” and saved in him. Oh, if you could but do this,— and you may do it to-night before you leave this place, and I hope you will,— if you do this, whether you be old or young, there will come to you a heartful of benediction for life, and the best of all preparations for death. Truly happy shall you be if you can say, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
I seem as if I did not want to see anything else, after having seen Christ as God’s salvation. There is a story told of Mahometans, who often are very fanatical, and do very strange and horrible things in their fanaticism; but they have been known to go to Mecca, to see the tomb of their prophet, and when they have seen his tomb, they have taken a hot steel, and have drawn it across their eyes, that they might never see anything else, that indeed they might die with the view of the false prophet’s tomb as their last sight. Now, that is not what we do; but still we would act in the spirit of it. “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” People say, “See Naples, and die.” They mean that it is so lovely that, when you have seen it, there is nothing more to see. See Christ, and what else is there to see? Now, whether you sail over the blue sea beneath a bluer sky, or dive into the deeps of this murky atmosphere, whether you are in a palace or in a dungeon, sick or full of bounding health, all these are items of small consequence. If your eyes have seen God’s salvation, God has blessed you as only God can bless you. Go and live in peace, and go and die in peace; and praise the name of him who gave you such a Saviour to see, and the power to see him. The Lord bless you, beloved! Amen and amen.