You need only to read the story of the years between the two Testaments to know at what a low level things were when the Lord Jesus came in. There was plenty going on of the religious system, but the real, spiritual, essential value was very small, the state of things very deplorable; and Simeon had lived long years through that state of things and might well have lost heart. There was plenty, I say, to put him out altogether. You know of the political conditions of his day, which created a well-nigh impossible situation in which to expect the fulfilment of any testimony in glory. The enemy was in the land and the people of God were in poor condition; and much more. The inward spiritual history of this man could have been no easygoing sort of thing, but must have been full of testing and trying, and of much pressure to put him right out. Strange ways with a vessel for fullness! You would think that to be chosen for such a purpose would mean that the history would in some way correspond with fullness, would be marvellous and wonderful, without any difficulty about it at all.
I want to say here that Simeon was but the individual voice and actor in a corporate end-time ministry. We are told here that Anna, who is a kind of counterpart of Simeon, spoke to all those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. There was evidently a company of them in Jerusalem. It may have been, and doubtless was, comparatively small, but there it was. There was a company there, waiting, praying, standing for the fullness of the Lord, and Simeon was but the voice and expression of that corporate vessel. I say that, because we do not want to think too much about the individuals in this matter - considering ourselves as individual Simeons. The Lord raises up a corporate testimony to represent and bring in His greater fullness, and what is true of the individual is true of the company. It goes through strange, unusual ways of testing, of perplexity, of adversity, of strain, and ofttimes its position seems to be an impossible one. Just think yourself into Simeon's position. All these long years he had been standing, praying, waiting, longing, for the coming of the Lord's Christ. Although the Lord Himself had spoken to him and told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ, you know very well that under certain conditions of pressure you are tempted to question even what the Lord has said to you, and it would not have been difficult now for Simeon, as an old man, to have said, 'I wonder if I am deceived. Am I holding on to an illusion? Nothing seems to be happening, there seems to be no development, I am getting older and older, and even the promises of God do not seem to be fulfilled; what God has said seems to be no nearer realization.' Under stress you can feel and think like that. I have no doubt Simeon suffered the same assaults on his mind as other people of God have done in their relationship to something precious of the Lord.
Now I have said that this was a very small company, and that is borne out again and again by the Word of God. At critical times, times of transition, that is a feature to be taken account of. At an end-time, that which is to be the vessel of fullness is in itself a very small vessel. There may be the big thing, but that which is really going to serve the full end of God will be reduced unto refinement, as was the case with Gideon's thirty-two thousand, who were reduced to three hundred for that purpose. It was not a big company in the end, not a mob, not a mass movement. It is like that and will be like that at the end. That which is related to God's fuller intention will be a comparatively small thing very much refined, and the Lord takes serious pains to see that it is so.
Now when you come to Simeon in relation to that service, you note, of course, that he speaks of himself as the Lord's servant. There are two words here of considerable significance. "Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, according to thy word, in peace." As we have earlier intimated, the word he used is the one used so often by the Apostle Paul about himself. "Now lettest thou thy BONDSERVANT..." "Paul, the BOND-SLAVE of Jesus Christ." Simeon looked upon himself as the Lord's bond-slave. And then, when he said, "Now lettest thou thy servant depart, LORD,'' he did not use the word that is usually employed for Lord, but the word despotes, 'the despot'. 'Now lettest thou thy bond-slave go free, O Despot.' You see what kind of conception he had of himself as a servant, and of the Lord as in the position of complete mastery over him. We so often think of the Lord as the Lord Whom we delight in; we like to call Him Lord, but we do not often think of Him in the sense of a despot. That word for us has an unsavoury element in it. The Lord, the Despot! What I am trying to point out is that, in the usage of this language, Simeon is looking upon himself as the servant of the Lord under absolute mastery. The Lord was his complete master, despot. He was a mastered, a subdued, a subjugated man. For this service of the fullness of Christ, the servant has to be on that basis, a bond-slave, one in complete subjection to the Lord. So much is this the case that here the Greek figure behind the language is that of the slave who has either been inherited or bought, and then branded; he cannot take freedom unless he is either given franchise or bought right out from his bondage by some superior authority. He has no rights whatever. And Simeon is saying, 'Now, Lord, let me go as Thy branded bond-slave; give me my heavenly franchise.'
There were two intertwining factors in Simeon's case. There was the sovereign act of God in his apprehending, and there was the heart response of Simeon to that apprehending. These two things work in both ways. God acted sovereignly to apprehend him, and Simeon, on his part, made a full heart response. Yet it also worked the other way. Because Simeon's heart was so set upon the Lord, the Lord laid hold on him. There is the great truth of the Bible that back of all our spiritual history and experience is election, relating, of course, not to salvation but to service. That lies behind and before anything on our part at all. And yet God looks to see the attitude of our hearts before He will bring that election into realization and express it. The fact does remain that the Lord waits for something on our part, even if only for an attitude, for reality - that we really mean business with Him - before He can bring out clearly that thing which He has foreseen and intended. When our hearts are like Simeon's, wholly and utterly abandoned to the Lord so that he calls the Lord his Despot and himself the Lord's bond-slave, we discover then that the Lord has had us in view for a long time, and His intentions concerning us are brought to light. You see the intertwining of these two things - the sovereignty of God and the abandonment of our hearts. They are like two circles turning in on themselves all the time. Do remember that, because they are very important things.
Now life can only be definite and meaningful and unified if it is mastered by one Master. The explanation of the dividedness, the disintegration, the distraction, the lack of cohesion and certainty and meaning, is so often that we have not got a Master. Either we are trying to be our own masters, or we are allowing ourselves to be mastered by all sorts of interests and considerations, and thus are playing into the hands of the forces that are at work to destroy our lives. Our great need is of a Master, a Despot, and to be found in utter subjection to Him; what Paul (the man who knew all about this) called 'being apprehended by Christ Jesus.' That was Paul's conception of his conversion. One day the Lord put His hands on him, said, 'Now, Paul, I have got you; what will you do about it?' and the wholehearted response, never gone back upon, was, "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). From that time, Paul called himself the bond-slave of Jesus Christ, and the one thing that concerned him was to be in subjection to Christ, or for Christ to be absolutely Lord. If it is not like that, life will be a confusion, a civil war inside of ourselves. Unless there is one absolute Master, life will be a misfit; we shall have missed the thing for which God made us, until He is our Master.
Come back to Simeon. You see, Simeon was a man of great interests. He has been traced by scholars to be the son of Hillel, the great Jewish scholar who founded a school of interpretation of the law. He has also been declared to be the father of the great Gamaliel, at whose feet Paul was brought up. If these facts be true, he must have had a tremendous heritage, a wide field of interest. But, for Simeon, the coming of the hand of the Lord upon him meant that none of that - his scholarly interest, his inheritance, his world, great and full as it was - answered to the deepest thing in him; and it was that same deep thing in him still unanswered, still unsettled, that was his apprehending. We ourselves come to some extent into this very thing when we find that, however much there may be in life and in this world which interests us and occupies much of our time and attention, somehow or other it is not answering to something in us. We may get as far as we can get in that, in success and so on, and yet somehow even the best and the greatest is still a disappointment: there is something remaining. That is the apprehending hand of God, so that nothing just 'fills the bill,' as we say: there is something which has still to be met, some question still to be answered, some compelling sense of our standing in relationship to something more and higher. That is a mark of God's having a greater purpose in our lives, for He never lets us be satisfied with anything less than the full object for which He has called us. We may think we now have our field, but if that is less than all God's thought we may explore and exploit our field but we shall discover that we have not found all that in our heart of hearts we know to be the answer to our existence, to that sense of destiny, of Divine purpose, which casts an emptiness and dissatisfaction upon all else. It was like that, undoubtedly, with Simeon, and yet that something else had not yet come actually into view. But the day that it came, why, his whole world passed out as nothing. He said, 'Now I have it, now I have arrived!' The day when he held the child Jesus in his arms, he knew he had his answer.