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died, he should see the exalted Messiah. Accordingly the spirit which now directed his steps to the temple, impressed on his mind a clear and strong conviction, that the infant, now presenting at the altar, was this glorious person. Full of heavenly transport, he took the holy blessed infant in his arms and addressed the throne of that God, who had thus highly favoured him, in such language as this: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; 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. It may be supposed, that these words were heard with wonder and joy, by the parents of the holy child: for it must certainly seem strange to them, that the good old man should be acquainted with the great things which concerned the heavenly infant; and they doubtless had reason to wonder how he came by the information but turning to the virgin mother, he added, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. In these remarkable words, the venerable old man prophesied the opposition which the gospel of CHRIST should meet with in the world; and shewed that the destruction of many would be the consequence of their final unbelief and disobedience; yet, at the same time, many would rise out of that dreadful condition, into which they were fallen by their sins, by being enabled to believe in the Son of God, and apply to their souls the benefits of his great salvation. The holy prophet proceeded further to inform the mother of our Lord, that her son should be set up as a mark, at which the unbelieving and disobedient should level all the darts of their infernal fury; and that the sorrows that she would feel on that acCount, would be exceedingly cutting, and painful: Yea, said he, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. The prophecy was remarkably fulfilled, when the holy Virgin, about thirty-three years after this, stood by the cross, and, in all the bitterness of grief, beheld the suf
ferings of her expiring son. Various have been the conjectures concerning this good old man Simeon; but who he was, is not decided with any degree of certainty. Some have supposed him to be a priest; others have imagined he was Simeon the Just, a great person who bore an excellent character amongst the Jews; others have concluded him to be the son of Hillel, a famous doctor in the Sanhedrim. But, as the evangelists are silent in these particulars, they must be left without any further inquiry.
The testimony of this great person was confirmed by that of an aged matron, named Anna, whom the evangelist calls a prophetess; and declares, that she departed not from the temple, but served God, with fastings and prayers, night and day. The meaning of which is, that she had dedicated herself to the service of God, and constantly attended on his worship in the temple. She had been married in her youth, and lived seven years with her husband: after his death, she continued in a state of widowhood, and was now far advanced in years. She came into the temple, while the aged Simeon held our great Redeemer in his arms; and, filled with heavenly rapture, blessed and praised the Lord for his infinite mercy, in remembering his people; and spake of the heavenly child to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Every thing which the law required concerning the redemption and presenting the holy child, being performed, Joseph and his family returned to Galilee, and dwelt in their own city Nazareth. But, it is supposed that they · did not long remain there, but settling their affairs, they soon returned to Bethlehem, and, with the heavenly infant, dwelt there.
While the holy family dwelt at Bethlehem, there came to Jerusalem, a company of eastern philosophers, or wise men. There had been a tradition spread all over the eastern nations, that a great king was to be born to the Jews, who would gain the empire of
the world. This tradition is supposed to have arisen from the Jews, who were scattered throughout the various nations of the East; and Zoroaster, the reformer of the Persian religion, said to be a servant of the prophet Daniel, copied into his book several passages' out of the Old Testament, and cannot be supposed to have omitted the famous prophecies concerning the kingdom of the Messiah. At the time of our Redeemer's birth, a remarkable star, or luminous appearance was seen in those countries, which induced the learned men of those times to conclude, that this splendid luminary denoted the birth of that extraordinary person and so fully were they satisfied that their conclusion was true, that a company of learned men actually came to Jerusalem on this errand. Whether they were princes, priests, or philosophers; how many there were in number; from what country they came, or how many days they arrived at Jerusalem after the birth of CHRIST, are questions which have puzzled the learned in all ages, but have never yet obtained a satisfactory answer. However, it is a certain matter of fact, that, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the days of Herod the king, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him. The appearance of these persons, the report, and the inquiry they made, alarmed and terrified the jealous old tyrant: for though by reason of his years, and ill state of health, he could not expect long to hold the crown; he could not bear the thought of a prince being born that was destined to that high dignity.-— And, as it had been his constant practice to murder every one who had a greater right to the crown than himself, he soon concluded, that the young child, when found, should add to the number of those murders he had been guilty of, to rear his throne, and to support it: but he craftily concealed his wicked design, spake to the strangers fair, and summoned the Sanhedrim to answer their enquiry, where the Messi
ah was to be born. He soon received their answer, and was informed, that Bethlehem in Judea, was the place where CHRIST was to be born: for thus it was written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. The gloomy tyrant, satisfied with this reply, sent for the noble strangers; and seeming well pleased with the event, diligently inquired after every circumstance which might throw light on the affair; and sent them to Bethlehem, desiring them, when they had found the child, to return to Jerusalem, and direct him to the place of his abode; and he pretended, that he would wait on him himself, and appoint him such honors as his high dignity required. The wise men received this intelligence with great satisfaction, and gladly set out for Bethlehem; when to their unspeakable joy, they saw, going before them, the same luminous appearance which they had seen in their own country: this glorious star stopped at Bethlehem, and stood directly over the house where the heavenly infant was. Thus directed by divine wisdom and power, they approached the sacred babe with adoration and joy, and having fallen down and worshipped him, they presented their offerings of gold, trankincense, and myrrh. But when they departed, they returned not to Jerusalem, but went to their own country another way; for the Lord had warned them in a dream, not to return to Herod with the information he desired.
Here may be observed the particular care of Divine Providence, in the preservation of the holy child; for Herod, who was one of the most crafty tyrants that ever existed, did not act in this case with his usual circumspection. He had no other notion of the Messiah, but that of his setting up a temporal kingdom, and supposed that this child would drive both himself and his family from the throne; and on this account he had resolved to put the infant to death. But is it not
strange that he should not have went himself, or sent some of his officers, or spies along with the wise men, and prevented the escape of his destined prey? The character and conduct of Herod in almost every case, is contrary to this: but the great Governor of the universe, when he pleases can cast confusion on the councils of princes, and preserve the innocent from their wicked designs.
We are not to suppose, that the satisfying the curiosity of these noble strangers, was the only end which Providence had'in view, when it directed them, in this extraordinary manner to the place of our Redeemer's birth, and inspired them with such sentiments concerning him. Several great and important ends were answered by this visit; it shewed to succeeding generations, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that there was an expectation, amongst the heathen nations, that a great king would at this time appear amongst the Jews; and it is manifest from hence, that there were prophecies amongst the Gentiles, which inspired them with a constant hope, that some great things would be done for mankind, by this exalted person. And it is to be supposed, that these great men, when they returned to their own country, published abroad through various nations, the tidings of what they had seen: and filling the world with the expectations of the kingdom of the Messiah, prepared the various nations for the reception of his glorious gospel. Thus, while the Jews continued in the blindness of obstinacy and unbelief, vast multitudes of the Heathens received the gospel, rejoiced in the truth, and dwelt under the benign influence of the great Sun of Righteousness. It may further be noted, that the coming of these philosophers to Jerusalem at this time, on such an errand, produced the determination of the Jewish council, that it was the language of the prophets, that Bethlehem was destined by heaven to be the place of our Redeemer's birth. And it may further be observed, that the seasonable presents made