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Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon VI. The Character of Simeon.

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 Ghost was upon him. Luke ii. 25.

This was that Venerable saint of Israel, who, blessed with the view of the new-born Messiah, considering the summit of his earthly hopes as attained, poured forth the ardent prayer--"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." [Luke ii. 29, 30.] And from the character given of him in my text, we may pronounce that he was not unworthy of the distinguished honour of being one of the first to welcome the glorious Saviour of the world.

It is one of the admirable excellencies of the sacred writings, that they enforce the lessons of piety and virtue, not only by the most luminous and impressive precepts, but by the still more interesting force of splendid and illustrious examples. When we attentively contemplate those holy meri who were admitted to intimate intercourse with Jehovah, and were the depositories of his will and the subjects of his distinguished favour, we are strongly excited to emulate those virtues which their character and lives inculcate, and by which they rose thus high in the favour of heaven.

[57] Let us now, then, seriously consider the character of him who is presented to us in my text; and when we contemplate his virtues as delineated by the evangelist, let us be excited to imitate them, by 'the inspiring confidence, that with him we shall then see the salvation of God.

"There was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; the same man was just."

His whole conduct was regulated by the precepts of the divine law; and the blameless tenor of his life; was marked by no actions that wounded the feelings, destroyed the peace, or injured the property of others. That sacred rule which reason has written on the hearts of all men, and which the Gospel has published with divine sanctions, of "doing to others as we would they should do unto us," was the rule by which Simeon regulated his conduct. [Luke vi. 31.] It led him to cultivate not only the virtues of integrity and uprightness, but those active virtues of benevolence and kindness which are the perfection of the exalted virtue of justice. "He did justly, he loved mercy, as well as walked humbly with his God." [Micah vi. 8.] Preserving a conscience void of offence towards God as well towards man, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, he merited and obtained the character of a just or righteous man.

Brethren, unless the unbiassed testimony of our hearts authorize us, after the faithful examination of our lives, to cherish the humble conviction, that, through the grace of God, we regulate our conduct by the precepts of the divine law; unless we can [57/58] assert the humble claim, that, as far as human frailty will permit, we are just and righteous, all our pretensions to religion are empty arid vain. He who impiously presumes that the warmest professions of zeal for the glory of God, and the most punctual and regular discharge of all the public duties of religion, will atone for any acts of injustice or dishonesty, for any violation of those moral virtues that constitute the ornament, the perfection, and the happiness of our nature, however he may flatter his own heart, is obnoxious to the wrath of that almighty Being who cannot be deceived, and who has required, as the only infallible evidence of our love for him, that we keep all his commandments. The dissembling hypocrite may hope, by zealous professions of religion, and by external acts of homage to God, to conceal, or to carry more securely into effect, the purposes of injustice or licentiousness: but on him will certainly be executed the wo denounced against the Pharisees of old--"Wo unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! who cleanse the outside of the cup and platter, but within are full of extortion and excess." [Matt. xxiii. 25.] "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell!" [Matt. xxiii. 33.]

But while Simeon was careful to cherish all the moral virtues, he was not unmindful that they could be rendered acceptable to God only when sanctified by the divine principle of piety and devotion; while he was sedulous and faithful in the discharge of all those duties which his fellow-men could claim from him, he felt the full force of those sacred obligations that bound him to the greatest and best of Beings, his Maker and his God.

[59] Simeon was not only just, he was "devout."

It is one of those striking and unaccountable inconsistencies that disgrace the character and conduct of man, that while he always stamps with merited disgrace the violation of those duties which he owes to his fellow-men, he himself habitually violates, and, unconcerned, views others violate, those exalted duties which are due to the almighty Maker and Governor of the world. He is ever ready to acknowledge, that the tribute of praise is to be rendered to human excellence, and to acknowledge the lively sense of the obligations to an earthly benefactor. He brands with infamy the apathy that, unmoved, beholds illustrious virtue--that ingratitude which spurns the hand that bestowed distinguished benefits. And yet, (strange inconsistency of human nature!) man, without any concern, forgets his sense of obligation to Him, in whom he lives, and moves, and has his being; he shrinks not from the base ingratitude which he incurs, by remaining unmindful of that heavenly Benefactor from whom cometh every good and perfect gift; he does not indignantly shun that criminal apathy which discerns not, nor adores thy excellence and glory, O Jehovah, from whom emanates every excellence which adorns thy creatures.

Not so the holy saint whose character we are contemplating. "Just" to his fellow-men, Simeon was also "devout" to his God. The contemplation of the excellence and goodness of the Maker of the universe warmed his soul, and drew forth the lively tribute of adoration and praise. The profound sense of his weakness and guilt often prostrated him in earnest confession and supplication before the throne of his almighty Benefactor and sovereign [59/60] Judge. From the view of the infinite perfections of that glorious Being who bestowed on him the countless blessings of life, the flame of pious gratitude was kindled and burnt with steady and increasing brightness.

Be it our aim, my brethren, at once to admire and to imitate the devout Simeon. Let piety to God enkindle, cherish, and exalt every moral virtue; be this the sacred spring whence shall flow all the graces and virtues that adorn our lives. Contemplating with holy admiration and gratitude the goodness and glory of him who sits on the throne of the universe, let us worship and fall down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Be the exercises of devotion our habitual employment and the source of our highest pleasures. Let us glory in the inestimable privilege of being permitted to lay our wants before the throne of our almighty Benefactor, to repose our cares and sorrows on the bosom of our heavenly Parent, and to hold communion with the gracious Father of our spirits. Let every morning renewing his goodness, awaken in our hearts the song of praise; let every evening, still witnessing his unfailing mercy, find us still prostrate at his throne. Daily transgressing his commands, yet daily sustained by his bounty, daily let us implore his mercy and invoke his care. In the temples sacred to his honour, where his mercy-seat is unfolded to the children of men, let us ever be found humble and penitent worshippers; there let us devoutly mingle in the fervent confessions, prayers, and praises, that ascend to his throne; there let us, with penitent and obedient hearts, receive the joyful messages of reconciliation; and above all, there let us with grateful and holy emo[60/61]tions surround the altar, to feast on that bread which cometh down from heaven, and to wash away our sins in the purifying blood of the divine Redeemer.

Blessed is our destiny, if these exalted exercises are here our habitual employment and delight; the feeble and imperfect devotions of earth shall terminate in the pure and rapturous worship of heaven; the strains of time shall be exchanged for the songs of eternity; through the courts of the earthly sanctuary we shall pass into that celestial temple where, with the holy saint whose devotion we have imitated, and with the spirits of the just made perfect, we shall see the salvation of God, and rejoice evermore in the everlasting consolation of Israel.

It was this "consolation of Israel" for whom, we are told in my text, Simeon "waited."

He was "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel."

With the liveliest solicitude must the holy men among the nation of the Jews have anticipated those blessed days when he, who was emphatically styled the "consolation of Israel," should appear among his people as their God and Saviour. The early promises of Jehovah given in mercy to the first parents of our race and their descendants, had lighted up the expectation, and succeeding prophets had, with luminous and increasing sublimity and clearness, portrayed the divine character and benignant offices of that blessed personage who was to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel;" [Luke ii. 32.] while the greater por[61/62]tion of the blinded and sensual nation of the Jews, intoxicated with vain ideas of temporal grandeur and dominion, desired and expected a temporal deliverer and king, there were others who, with the devout Simeon, piously and wishfully waited for him as "the consolation of Israel"--as that divine and compassionate Saviour who was to "comfort his people, and have mercy on his afflicted" [Isa. xlix. 13.]--who was to be the divine Messenger of the "glad tidings to Zion," that "the days of her mourning were ended," and that "the Lord should be her everlasting light, and her God, her glory." [Isa. lx. 20.] They waited for him as "the consolation of Israel," as that compassionate Saviour who, bearing the messages of reconciliation, would "preach good tidings to the meek," would "bind up the broken-hearted," and "comfort those that mourn." [Isa. lxi. 1, 2.]

With what ardent desires must the pious saints of Israel--who, mourning under the weakness and guilt of human nature, felt the inefficacy of all those observances, which were but "shadows of good things to come," to shed light and peace on their sorrowing spirits--have looked forward to the coming of Him who was to "bring in everlasting righteousness;" who, by the sacrifice of himself, was to put away sin, and to perfect for ever his penitent and faithful people! [Dan. ix. 24.] What transport must have swelled the breast of the pious Simeon when, in that blessed babe, whom, with sacred ardour, he pressed to his holy bosom, he beheld the divine "consolation of Israel," and rejoiced in that salvation which a fallen world had so long desired to behold!

[63] My brethren, transports not less ardent should swell our breasts, for our eyes have seen, drawn by the pencil of inspiration, the "consolation of Israel;" we have beheld "the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," who has proclaimed for us the glad tidings that God is in him reconciling the world unto himself. [St. John i. 14.] To us has this divine Teacher displayed the glorious attributes of the almighty Father, and those graces and virtues which, by conforming us to the divine image, prepare us for the fruition of divine Miss. For us has he purchased that blessed spirit of sanctification and comfort, by whose mighty power we are raised from the ruins of the fall, and comforted under the sorrows of this wearisome pilgrimage." For us, he, the divine Conqueror, hath stripped of its horrors the dark valley of the shadow of death, and opened the path to those immortal abodes where, in the presence of his Father, there is fulness of joy.

We bless thee, then, O thou consolation of Israel! we ardently desire the full manifestation of thy salvation, enlightening and purifying our hearts, and conforming us to thy holy temper and spotless example; we humbly and supremely confide in thee as the all-sufficient and compassionate Saviour in whom the guilty find a refuge, the weary and heavy-laden an eternal rest. And with increasing strength and ardour may we advance in the knowledge of the living God, and of thee, O divine Jesus, whom he has sent, and whom to know aright is life eternal.

After having contemplated the character of [63/64] Simeon, his exemplary justice and integrity, his ardent devotion, his holy faith in the promised salvation of God, we are not surprised at the last circumstance which the sacred writer relates of him--that

"The Holy Ghost was upon him."

His exalted virtues could only have been produced by the agency of that blessed Spirit who is the source of truth and holiness. Simeon indeed possessed not only those celestial graces by which the Holy Spirit enlightens, renews, and consoles the faithful servants of God, but those energetic impulses which animate the soul with prophetic gifts. We are told that "Simeon was led by the Spirit into the temple," and there beholding the infant Jesus, burst forth in a prophetic display of his future glory, character, and offices.

But in the devout Simeon, as in all the people of God, this divine Spirit dwells with those less splendid, but, in the sight of God, more acceptable graces, love, joy, meekness, faith. It is the office of this blessed Spirit to enlighten, renew, console, guide us to everlasting life. What cause of holy triumph, that while we diligently work out our salvation, God, by his almighty Spirit, worketh in us both to will and to do; that, while we sojourn in this vale of imperfection and tears, God has sent forth the light and the truth of his blessed Spirit, to lead us, to bring us to his holy hill, to himself, our exceeding and eternal joy!

Behold then, my brethren, in the holy saint whose character has been exhibited to you, the exalted standard of moral and religious duty at which you are to aim, and the attainment of which [64/65] can alone elevate you among the ranks of the acceptable servants of your God, and qualify you for his favour. "Just," not merely in the restricted sense which renders to all their dues, but in that enlarged application which embraces every duty of personal and social righteousness. "Devout," not only acknowledging, and admiring, and venerating the existence, attributes, and providence of God, but habitually rendering to him homage, and manifesting a sense of the obligations that bind you to him, in the reverence, submission, and obedience that characterize your lives. And all your personal, moral, and religious virtues must be animated and controlled by faith in him, whom Simeon "waited for" in holy hope, as "the consolation of Israel," but who is revealed to us as "the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord," through whose grace we are to be sanctified, and through whose merits we are to be accepted. [Luke ii. 11.]

In the attainment of this universal righteousness, this evangelical piety and faith, without which we shall not be partakers of the salvation of God, we are animated by the exalted assurance, that "the Holy Ghost is with us," the power and strength of the third person of the adorable Godhead, inscrutably but effectually operating in us, inspiring us with good desires, and enabling us to bring the same to good effect, creating a clean heart and renewing a right spirit within us, directing us in all our doings with his most gracious favour, and furthering us with his continual help. Let us realize this truth, incomprehensible as it may be to our limited understandings, that, instead of depending [65/66] solely on our own capricious resolutions, on our own feeble endeavours, we may in watchfulness and prayer, in the worship and ordinances of the sanctuary, seek that strength from above, that power of the Holy Ghost which, in every temptation, however formidable, will be sufficient for us, and in every duty, however arduous, will be made perfect in our weakness.

Constantly then let us cherish the divine but mysterious truth, that in the Holy Spirit of God our virtues have an almighty Guardian, our sorrows a divine Comforter; and let us implore him to shed upon us, as he did upon Simeon of old, not the overpowering blaze of his miraculous gifts, but the soft and serene lustre of his celestial graces, to be unto us a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, a spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and to fill us with the spirit of his holy fear, to defend us from all evil, and especially from the awful guilt of resisting his grace and quenching his holy inspiration. Oh thou blessed Spirit! lead us through all the changes and trials of this mortal life, to that heavenly state where the faith which thou dost now inspire, shall terminate in the blissful vision of the divine glory; and those duties which thou dost now enable us to discharge, shall all be resolved into the exalted work of praising and adoring, for ever and ever, thee, O Holy Ghost, with the Father and the Son, ever one God.

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