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because every first-born was to be sacrificed to God, or redeemed if it was clean : it was the poor man's price, and the holy Jesus was never set at the greater prices, when he was estimated upon earth. For he, that was Lord of the kingdom, chose his portion among the poor of this world, that he might advance the poor to the riches of his inheritance; and so it was from his nativity hither. For at his birth he was poor, at his circumcision poor, and in the likeness of a sinner; at his presentation poor, and like a sinner and a servant, for he chose to be redeemed with an ignoble price. The five sicles were given to the priest for the redemption of the child ; and if the parents were not able, he was to be a servant of the temple, and to minister in the inferior offices to the priest ; and this was God's seizure and possession of him: for although all the servants of God are his inheritance, yet the ministers of religion, who derive their portion of temporals from his title, who live upon the corban, and eat the meat of the altar, which is God's peculiar, and come nearer to his holiness by the addresses of an immediate ministration, are God's own upon another and a distinct challenge. But because Christ was to be the prince of another ministry, and the chief priest of another order, he was redeemed from attending the Mosaic rites, which he came to abolish, that he might do his Father's business, in establishing the evangelical. Only remember, that the ministers of religion are but God's usufructuaries : as they are not lords of God's portion, and therefore must dispense it like stewards, not like masters ; so the people are not their patrons in paying, nor they their beneficiaries in receiving tithes, or other provisions of maintenance; they owe for it to none but to God himself: and it would also be considered, that, in all sacrilegious detentions of ecclesiastical rights, God is the person principally injured.
4. The turtle-doves were offered also with the signification of another mystery. In the sacred rites of marriage, although the permissions of natural desires are such, as are most ordinate to their ends, the avoiding fornication, the alleviation of economical cares and vexations, and the production of children, and mutual comfort and support; yet the apertures and permissions of marriage have such restraints
b Sed pudicitia illis prima, et neutri nota adulteria : conjugii fidem non violant. -- Plin. lib. x. c. 33.
of modesty and prudence, that all transgression of the just order to such ends is a crime: and besides these, there may be degrees of inordination or obliquity of intention, or too sensual complacency, or unhandsome preparations of mind, or unsacramental thoughts; in which particulars, because we have no determined rule but prudence, and the analogy of the rite, and the severity of our religion, which allow in some cases more, in some less, and always uncertain latitudes, for aught we know, there may be lighter transgressions, something that we know not of: and for these at the purification of the woman, it is supposed, the offering was made, and the turtles, by being an oblation, did deprecate a supposed irregularity; but by being a chaste and marital emblem, they professed the obliquity (if any were) was within the protection of the sacred bands of marriage, and therefore so excusable as to be expiated by a cheap offering. And what they did in hieroglyphic, Christians must do in the exposition; be strict observers of the main rites and principal obligations, and not neglectful to deprecate the lesser unhandsomenesses of the too sensual applications.
5. God had, at that instant, so ordered, that, for great ends of his own and theirs, two very holy persons, of diverse sexes and like piety, Simeon and Anna, the one who lived an active and secular, the other a retired and contemplative life, should come into the temple by revelation and direction of the Holy Spirit, and see him whom they and all the world did look for, “the Lord's Christ, the consolation of Israel.” They saw him, they rejoiced, they worshipped, they prophesied, they sang hymns; and old Simeon did comprehend and circumscribe in his arms him, that filled all the world, and was then so satisfied, that he desired to live no longer : God had verified his promise, had shown him the Messias, had filled his heart with joy, and made his old age honourable ; and now, after all this sight, no object could be pleasant but the joys of Paradise. For as a man, who hath stared too freely upon the face and beauties of the sun, is blind and dark to objects of a less splendour, and is forced to shut his eyes, that he may, through the degrees of darkness, perceive the inferior beauties of more proportioned objects : so was old Simeon ; his eyes were so filled with the glories of this revelation, that he was willing to close them in his last night, that
he might be brought into the communications of eternity; and he could never more find comfort in any other object this world could minister. For such is the excellency of spiritual things, when they have once filled the corners of our hearts, and made us highly sensible and apprehensive of the interior beauties of God and of religion, all things of this world are flat and empty, and unsatisfying vanities, as unpleasant as the lees of vinegar to a tongue filled with the spirit of high Italic wines. And. until we are so dead to the world as to apprehend no gust or freer complacency in exterior objects, we never have entertained Christ, or have had our cups overflow with devotion, or are filled with the Spirit. When our chalice is filled with holy oil, with the anointing from above, it will entertain none of the waters of bitterness; or if it does, they are thrust to the bottom, they are the lowest of our desires, and therefore only admitted, because they are natural and constituent.
6. The good old prophetess, Anna, had lived long in chaste widowhood, in the service of the temple, in the continual offices of devotion, in fasting and prayer ; and now came the happy instant, in which God would give her a great benediction, and an earnest of a greater. The returns of prayer, and the blessings of piety, are certain ; and though not dispensed according to the expectances of our narrow conceptions, yet shall they so come, at such times and in such measures, as shall crown the piety, and satisfy the desires, and reward the expectation. It was in the temple, the same place where she had for so many years poured out her heart to God, that God poured forth his heart to her, sent his Son from his bosom, and there she received his benediction. Indeed in such places God does most particularly exhibit himself, and blessing goes along with him, wherever he goes. In holy places God hath put his holy name, and to holy persons God does oftentimes manifest the interior and more secret glories of his holiness; provided they come thither, as old Simeon and Anna did, by the motions of the Holy Spirit, not with designs of vanity, or curiosity, or sensuality; for such spirits as those, come to profane and desecrate the house, and unhallow the person, and provoke the Deity of the place, and blast us with unwholesome airs.
7. But “ Joseph and Mary wondered at those things which were spoken,” and treasured them in their hearts, and they became matter of devotion and mental prayer, or meditation.
O eternal God, who, by the inspirations of thy Holy Spirit,
didst direct thy servants, Simeon and Anna, to the temple, at the instant of the presentation of the holy child Jesus, that so thou mightest verify thy promise, and manifest thy Son, and reward the piety of holy people, who longed for redemption by the coming of the Messias ; give me the perpetual assistance of the same Spirit to be as a monitor and a guide to me, leading me to all holy actions, and to the embracements and possessions of thy glorious Son; and remember all thy faithful people, who wait for the consolation and redemption of the church from all her miseries and persecutions, and at last satisfy their desires by the revelations of thy mercies and salvation. Thou hast advanced thy holy Child, and set him up for a sign of thy mercies, and a representation of thy glories. Lord, let no act, or thought, or word of mine, ever be in contradiction to this blessed sign; but let it be for the ruin of all my vices, and all the powers the devil employs against the church, and for the raising up all those virtues and graces, which thou didst design me in the purposes of eternity : but let my portion never be amongst the incredulous, or the scornful, or the heretical, or the profane, or any of those who stumble at this stone, which thou hast laid for the foundation of thy church, and the structures of a virtuous life. Remember me with much mercy and compassion, when the sword of sorrows or afflictions shall pierce my heart; first transfix me with love, and then all the troubles of this world will be consignations to the joys of a better : which grant for the mercies and the name's sake of thy holy child Jesus. Amen.
1. If, in the definition of meditation, I should call it an unaccustomed and unpractised duty, I should speak a truth, though somewhat inartificially : for not only the interior beauties and brighter excellencies are as unfelt as ideas and abstractions are, but also the practice and common knowledge of the duty itself are strangers to us, like the retirements of the deep, or the undiscovered treasures of the Indian bills. And this is a very great cause of the dryness and expiration of men's devotion, because our souls are so little refreshed with the waters and holy dews of meditation. We go to our prayers by chance, or order, or by determination of accidental occurrences; and we recite them, as we read a book; and sometimes we are sensible of the duty, and a flash of lightning makes the room bright, and our prayers end, and the lightning is gone, and we as dark as ever. We draw our water from standing pools, which never are filled but with sudden showers, and therefore we are dry so often: whereas if we would draw water from the fountains of our Saviour, and derive them through the channel of diligent and prudent meditations, our devotion would be a continual current, and safe against the barrenness of frequent droughts.
2. For meditation is an attention and application of spirit to Divine things; a searching out all instruments to a holy life, a devout consideration of them, and a production of those affections, which are in a direct order to the love of God and a pious conversation. Indeed meditation is all that great instrument of piety, whereby it is made prudent, and reasonable, and orderly, and perpetual. For, supposing our memory instructed with the knowledge of such mysteries and revelations, as are apt to entertain the spirit, the understanding is first and best employed in the consideration of them, and then the will in their reception, when they are duly prepared and so transmitted ; and both these in such manner, and to such purposes, that they become the magazine and