corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Luke 1

 

 

Verse 17

DISCOURSE: 1466

JOHN THE FORERUNNER OF JESUS

Luke 1:17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

THE Mosaic dispensation may be called the age of prophecy; for under it was foretold every thing which should be accomplished to the end of time. The nearer the prophets arrived to the commencement of the Christian era, the more minute and circumstantial were their predictions respecting it. Other prophets had spoken largely of the Messiah; but Malachi, the last of them, points out his harbinger; and closes the prophetic canon with announcing the mission of one, who should prepare the world for his reception [Note: Malachi 4:5-6.]. Accordingly, about the time that Christ was to come, it was expected that Elijah, or at least some prophet like unto him, should first appear [Note: Hence those questions put to the Baptist, John 1:21 and to our Lord, Matthew 17:10-13.]. Hence, when the angel was sent to Zacharias to inform him, that he in his old age should have a son, who was destined by God to the office of introducing the Messiah; he cited that very prophecy of Malachi, and cast the true light upon it: he told him, that this son of his should go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elias, and have the honour of announcing to the world the Messiah’s advent.

Respecting this person, thus solemnly foretold, and thus miraculously born, we shall be led to notice two things;

I. His character—

It is in a comparative view that the text requires us to consider this:

He came “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” whom he closely resembled—

[The resemblance may be seen in the endowments of their mind [Note: They were both men of eminent piety. Compare 1 Kings 17:24 and James 5:17 and 2 Kings 2:9; 2 Kings 2:11. with Luke 1:15. John 5:35. Matthew 11:9; Matthew 11:11.] — — — the habits of their life [Note: They were self-denied and dead to the world. Compare 1 Kings 17:3-6; 1 Kings 17:10 and 2 Kings 1:8. with Matthew 3:4 and Luke 1:80.] — — — the exercise of their ministry [Note: They were bold reprovers and successful reformers. Compare 1 Kings 18:17-40; 1 Kings 21:19-24 and 2 Kings 1:3-4. with Luke 3:7-14; Luke 3:16-19 and Matthew 21:32.] — — —]

In this view, John is said to be “great in the sight of the Lord”—

[Such a character will not be admired amongst men: but with God it is in the highest estimation. We grant that, in some respects, it is not so much suited to us, as it was to John, and the particular office he sustained: but, for the most part, it is proper for every person in every age, and most of all for ministers. It is proper that we be “filled with the Holy Ghost;” and if we be so “even from our mother’s womb,” happy are we. We ought also to shew a holy superiority to the world, to sit loose to its cares and pleasures, and to be regardless of its frowns or favours. We should dare to serve our God, even though the whole nation have departed from him: and bear our testimony against sin, by whomsoever it be committed. We should shew ourselves determinately on the Lord’s side, and “shine as lights in a dark world.”]

Suited to his august character Was,

II. His office—

This was peculiar to himself; he alone of all the sons of men was appointed to be the forerunner of his Lord—

[It was customary for great personages to send messengers before them to prepare their way: and such a messenger was John the Baptist [Note: Malachi 3:1. with Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14.]. It was highly proper that so glorious a person as the Messiah should not even appear to come in a surreptitious or clandestine manner; but that the minds of men should be directed to him, and his arrival be made the subject of general expectation. Hence we find, that the great argument by which John excited men to repentance, was this, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He continually disclaimed all pretensions to the Messiahship himself, and directed them to One, who was speedily to arise among them, “whose shoe-latchet he was not worthy to unloose.” As the Messiah’s harbinger, he strove to prepare the hearts of men for his reception. Men of all ages and descriptions were warned by him; and “fathers with their children were turned by him unto the Lord their God.” The most “disobedient” among them “were converted by him to the wisdom of the just,” even to that adorable Jesus, whom all the righteous love, and in the love of whom true wisdom consists. This was the end and aim of his whole ministry, even to point men to that “Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world:” and, having succeeded in this according to his father’s prediction [Note: ver. 76, 77.], he was glad himself to “decrease,” that “the Messiah might increase” and be glorified [Note: John 3:30.].]

But similar to his, is the office of every minister—

[The minds of the generality are as regardless of Christ as if he had never come into the world; they take his name indeed into their lips, but have no desire after his salvation in their hearts. Hence arises the necessity of crying to them continually, “Behold the Lamb of God,” “behold him, behold him [Note: Isaiah 65:1.]!” Him we must exalt as the only Saviour of the world; and account our lives well spent, if we be the favoured instruments of converting but a few to him — — —]

We cannot but observe from this subject,

1. How great a person Christ must be—

[From the preparations which were made for his reception, we are led to expect that he was possessed of more than human dignity: and accordingly we find him identified with Jehovah [Note: Compare Malachi 3:1. with Matthew 11:10.], and designated as the “Lord our God [Note: ver. 16.].” Yes: he was “Emmanuel, God with us,” or, as he is elsewhere called, “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: Titus 2:13.].” While therefore we contemplate his advent, let us think of it with the profoundest admiration, and the most lively gratitude.]

2. How important must be the knowledge of him—

[The very end for which John was miraculously given to the world, was to bear witness to Christ, and to commend him to the Jewish nation. Was then the knowledge of Christ of such importance to the Jews? Surely it is no less so to us: our salvation depends upon it, as well as theirs: and therefore we should all ask ourselves, ‘What think I of Christ? What am I the better for him? What hope have I in him?’ In him alone can we find acceptance, and “by him alone can we, be justified.” To him then let us direct our most assiduous attention, and “count all things but as dross and dung” for the excellency of the knowledge of him.”]


Verse 35

DISCOURSE: 1467

THE ANGEL’S MESSAGE TO MARY

Luke 1:35; Luke 1:38. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.

AS none can tell what devices Satan is plotting for their ruin, or what snares he may bring them into; so none can tell what thoughts of peace and love God may have towards them, or what mercies he may speedily vouchsafe unto them. Little did the persecuting Saul think, when on his journey to Damascus, what God would do for him before he leached the place of his destination: and as little did the blessed Virgin imagine, when engaged in her domestic duties, what was in reserve for her, or what a single day should bring forth. The time fixed in the Divine counsels came at last, when the Messiah was to be brought into the world; and the Virgin Mother was to be informed of God’s designs respecting her. Methinks, at the first address of the angelic messenger, she was filled with surprise and terror: but having been fully instructed respecting that peculiar favour which God had prepared for her, she acquiesced in the Divine proposals, and committed herself with all her concerns, into the hands of her Almighty Friend.

We propose to consider,

I. The honour promised her—

She was informed, that God had ordained her to be the happy instrument of bringing into the world his only dear Son: and, on her inquiring how that should be accomplished in her virgin state, she was told that the Holy Ghost, who at the first creation of the world “moved upon the face of the waters,” and reduced the chaotic mass to order and beauty, should, by his almighty power, form in her that Holy Being, who should, in his human as well as his divine nature, be the Son of God.

But here a question arises, why should the Messiah be born in this way? Why might not the privilege of bearing him be vouchsafed to her in a way more agreeable to the common course of nature? We answer, that there was, if we may so speak, a necessity for it:

1. That he might not be involved in Adam’s guilt—

[Adam was not a mere individual, but the head and representative of all his posterity; and, when he violated the covenant which God had made with him, he brought a curse, not on himself only, but on all his descendants also. This is evident from the death of infants, who cannot have contracted personal guilt, and yet suffer the punishment of sin. This could not be, if sin, in some shape or other, were not imputed to them. It is by “the transgression of Adam that they are accounted sinners, and that judgment comes upon them to condemnation [Note: Romans 5:12-19.].” “In Adam all died [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:22.].”

Now if the Lord Jesus had descended from him in the common way, he would have lain under the same sentence of condemnation with others, and therefore would have needed a deliverer himself, instead of becoming a deliverer to others.]

2. That he might not partake of Adam’s corruption—

[When Adam fell, he became corrupt in every member of his body, and in every faculty of his soul. And we are particularly informed, that “he begat a son in his own likeness,” not in the likeness of God in which he was created, but in his own image as a fallen creature. An awful evidence of this truth he soon beheld, in Cain’s hatred, and murder, of righteous Abel.

Of this corruption Christ must have participated, if he had been born in the way of other men: for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one [Note: Job 14:4.],” says Job: and again, “How can he be clean that is born of a woman [Note: Job 25:4.]?” In this case, he could not have been “a Lamb without spot or blemish;” and consequently not a proper sacrifice for sin. He must be without sin himself, if he is to take away the sins of others [Note: 1 John 3:5.]; and “offer himself without spot to God,” if he is to purge away the guilt of a ruined world [Note: Hebrews 9:14.].]

3. That the Scriptures might be fulfilled in him—

[The very first promise which announced his future birth, designated him as exclusively “the Seed of the woman [Note: Genesis 3:15.].”We might not perhaps have so limited the import of that passage, if subsequent prophecies had not thrown the true light upon it: but Isaiah expressly says, that “a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel [Note: Isaiah 7:14.]; and an inspired Apostle assures us, that this Scripture had an exact and literal accomplishment in the birth of Jesus [Note: Matthew 1:22-23.]. The Prophet Jeremiah also, encouraging the Jews to return to their native land, tells them, that “God would create a new thing there, namely, A woman should compass a man [Note: Jeremiah 31:22.];” that is, should bear a man-child in her virgin state, which had never taken place from the foundation of the world, and which would in a peculiar manner require the exercise of his all-creating power.

Now the Scriptures cannot be broken: if therefore Jesus was to be the Messiah spoken of in the prophets, he must be born in this very manner; and the honour of bearing him must be enjoyed in this way alone.]

From the conferring the honour, we are naturally led to consider,

II. Her acceptance of it—

Here, while we behold her virgin modesty, unalloyed with any mixture of pride or boasting, we are of necessity called to admire,

1. Her faith in the promise—

[When Zacharias, an aged and pious priest, had been informed by the angel that he should have a son in his old age, he doubted the truth of it, and required a sign for the confirmation of his faith [Note: ver. 18–20.]: but when this holy Virgin was told of a thing far less credible, she doubted not one single moment: her question was, not for the assuring of her mind about the truth of the promise, but merely for information respecting the mode of its accomplishment. Now in this she shewed the eminence of her piety: and for this she was particularly commended by God himself, who inspired Elizabeth, at the first appearance of the Virgin, to exclaim, “Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord [Note: ver. 45.].”. It was such an exercise of faith that made Abraham so distinguished among all the sons of men, and so eminently beloved of his God [Note: Romans 4:3; Romans 4:13; Romans 4:18-22.]. This also was the grace which most particularly characterized all the saints of old [Note: Hebrews 11.]; which also our blessed Lord invariably honoured with his peculiar approbation; which therefore should exalt his Virgin mother exceeding highly in our esteem.]

2. Her submission to the appointment—

[She could not but know that the honour proposed for her acceptance might entirely ruin her character, and possibly even affect her life: for God himself had commanded, that a virgin betrothed should, if unfaithful to her engagements, be punished with death, exactly as she would have been if actually married [Note: Deuteronomy 22:23-24.]. On these grounds she might well have suggested doubts, and inquired, how she should be protected from these awful consequences. But she felt no doubt, but that He, whose power and love could confer upon her the proposed honour, would exercise a watchful care over her, and either entirely prevent, or richly recompense, these dreaded evils. Like “Abraham, who at the call of God went out, not knowing whither he went,” she cheerfully committed herself to the Divine protection, knowing in whom she had believed, and assured that he would never leave her nor forsake her. That there was just ground for such fears, appears by the very purpose which Joseph formed, of putting her away as an adulteress: and which was only prevented by the intervention of God himself, who sent an angel to inform him by what means she was pregnant, and to commend her to his peculiar care.

Here again we cannot but admire that resignation and fortitude, whereby she rose superior to all those fears and apprehensions, which such a situation was calculated to inspire.]

3. Her gratitude for the favour—

[At the first, as we might expect, her frame was that of meek and humble submission. But, when she had had time to reflect upon the greatness of the mercy vouchsafed unto her, and the blessings which would come upon the world by her means, she broke forth into the most exalted strains of praise: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” She justly acknowledged, that, “He who was mighty had done to her great things,” in the contemplation of which “all generations would call her blessed.” She viewed with ineffable delight the accomplishment of that promise which had been made to Abraham; and doubtless, to the latest moment of her life, adored that God, who had made use of her as his honoured instrument to fulfil it.]

In the review of this mysterious subject, we may learn,

1. How God fulfils his promises—

[The difficulty here seemed insurmountable: the Son of God, in order “to redeem them that were under the law, must be made under the law,” yet not really obnoxious to its curse; and be “made of a woman,” subject to all the infirmities of our nature, and yet be free from sin [Note: Galatians 4:4-5. Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15.]. But God is never at a loss: “with him nothing is impossible:” he devised and executed a plan, whereby we might have “such an high-priest as became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners [Note: Hebrews 7:26.];” a plan, that filled all heaven with wonder. Thus, in other dispensations of his providence and grace, he often permits difficulties to arise, which preclude all hope of our attaining the object of our desire. But, in the best and fittest season, he interposes, and “makes light to arise in obscurity, and our darkness to be as the noon-day.” At this hour, as much as in the days of Abraham, is that saying true, “In the mount the Lord shall be seen.”]

2. How we ought to receive them—

[Amongst the many promises which God has given us, there is one “exceeding great and precious,” not unlike to that which has been the subject of our present consideration; namely, that “Christ shall be formed in our hearts [Note: Galatians 4:19,]; that being so formed, he “shall dwell in us [Note: Ephesians 3:17.];” and that so dwelling in us, he shall be to us “the hope of glory [Note: Colossians 1:27.].” This promise is even greater than that which was fulfilled to the blessed Virgin, inasmuch as a spiritual union with the Lord exceeds that which is merely carnal [Note: Luke 11:27-28.]. And how should we receive this promise? I answer, precisely as the blessed Virgin did. We should not stagger at it through unbelief: we should not account it too good for his love to grant, or too great, for his power to execute. We should be alike unmoved by either the difficulties that may obstruct its accomplishment, or the dangers that may follow it. Our reputation, our interests, our life, we should commit to the hands of a faithful Creator, equally ready to suffer for him, or to he more illustrious monuments of his paternal care. O happy should we be, if in this manner we could embrace every promise he has given us, and in full expectation of its accomplishment say, “Behold the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”]


Verse 38

DISCOURSE: 1467

THE ANGEL’S MESSAGE TO MARY

Luke 1:35; Luke 1:38. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.

AS none can tell what devices Satan is plotting for their ruin, or what snares he may bring them into; so none can tell what thoughts of peace and love God may have towards them, or what mercies he may speedily vouchsafe unto them. Little did the persecuting Saul think, when on his journey to Damascus, what God would do for him before he leached the place of his destination: and as little did the blessed Virgin imagine, when engaged in her domestic duties, what was in reserve for her, or what a single day should bring forth. The time fixed in the Divine counsels came at last, when the Messiah was to be brought into the world; and the Virgin Mother was to be informed of God’s designs respecting her. Methinks, at the first address of the angelic messenger, she was filled with surprise and terror: but having been fully instructed respecting that peculiar favour which God had prepared for her, she acquiesced in the Divine proposals, and committed herself with all her concerns, into the hands of her Almighty Friend.

We propose to consider,

I. The honour promised her—

She was informed, that God had ordained her to be the happy instrument of bringing into the world his only dear Son: and, on her inquiring how that should be accomplished in her virgin state, she was told that the Holy Ghost, who at the first creation of the world “moved upon the face of the waters,” and reduced the chaotic mass to order and beauty, should, by his almighty power, form in her that Holy Being, who should, in his human as well as his divine nature, be the Son of God.

But here a question arises, why should the Messiah be born in this way? Why might not the privilege of bearing him be vouchsafed to her in a way more agreeable to the common course of nature? We answer, that there was, if we may so speak, a necessity for it:

1. That he might not be involved in Adam’s guilt—

[Adam was not a mere individual, but the head and representative of all his posterity; and, when he violated the covenant which God had made with him, he brought a curse, not on himself only, but on all his descendants also. This is evident from the death of infants, who cannot have contracted personal guilt, and yet suffer the punishment of sin. This could not be, if sin, in some shape or other, were not imputed to them. It is by “the transgression of Adam that they are accounted sinners, and that judgment comes upon them to condemnation [Note: Romans 5:12-19.].” “In Adam all died [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:22.].”

Now if the Lord Jesus had descended from him in the common way, he would have lain under the same sentence of condemnation with others, and therefore would have needed a deliverer himself, instead of becoming a deliverer to others.]

2. That he might not partake of Adam’s corruption—

[When Adam fell, he became corrupt in every member of his body, and in every faculty of his soul. And we are particularly informed, that “he begat a son in his own likeness,” not in the likeness of God in which he was created, but in his own image as a fallen creature. An awful evidence of this truth he soon beheld, in Cain’s hatred, and murder, of righteous Abel.

Of this corruption Christ must have participated, if he had been born in the way of other men: for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one [Note: Job 14:4.],” says Job: and again, “How can he be clean that is born of a woman [Note: Job 25:4.]?” In this case, he could not have been “a Lamb without spot or blemish;” and consequently not a proper sacrifice for sin. He must be without sin himself, if he is to take away the sins of others [Note: 1 John 3:5.]; and “offer himself without spot to God,” if he is to purge away the guilt of a ruined world [Note: Hebrews 9:14.].]

3. That the Scriptures might be fulfilled in him—

[The very first promise which announced his future birth, designated him as exclusively “the Seed of the woman [Note: Genesis 3:15.].”We might not perhaps have so limited the import of that passage, if subsequent prophecies had not thrown the true light upon it: but Isaiah expressly says, that “a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel [Note: Isaiah 7:14.]; and an inspired Apostle assures us, that this Scripture had an exact and literal accomplishment in the birth of Jesus [Note: Matthew 1:22-23.]. The Prophet Jeremiah also, encouraging the Jews to return to their native land, tells them, that “God would create a new thing there, namely, A woman should compass a man [Note: Jeremiah 31:22.];” that is, should bear a man-child in her virgin state, which had never taken place from the foundation of the world, and which would in a peculiar manner require the exercise of his all-creating power.

Now the Scriptures cannot be broken: if therefore Jesus was to be the Messiah spoken of in the prophets, he must be born in this very manner; and the honour of bearing him must be enjoyed in this way alone.]

From the conferring the honour, we are naturally led to consider,

II. Her acceptance of it—

Here, while we behold her virgin modesty, unalloyed with any mixture of pride or boasting, we are of necessity called to admire,

1. Her faith in the promise—

[When Zacharias, an aged and pious priest, had been informed by the angel that he should have a son in his old age, he doubted the truth of it, and required a sign for the confirmation of his faith [Note: ver. 18–20.]: but when this holy Virgin was told of a thing far less credible, she doubted not one single moment: her question was, not for the assuring of her mind about the truth of the promise, but merely for information respecting the mode of its accomplishment. Now in this she shewed the eminence of her piety: and for this she was particularly commended by God himself, who inspired Elizabeth, at the first appearance of the Virgin, to exclaim, “Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord [Note: ver. 45.].”. It was such an exercise of faith that made Abraham so distinguished among all the sons of men, and so eminently beloved of his God [Note: Romans 4:3; Romans 4:13; Romans 4:18-22.]. This also was the grace which most particularly characterized all the saints of old [Note: Hebrews 11.]; which also our blessed Lord invariably honoured with his peculiar approbation; which therefore should exalt his Virgin mother exceeding highly in our esteem.]

2. Her submission to the appointment—

[She could not but know that the honour proposed for her acceptance might entirely ruin her character, and possibly even affect her life: for God himself had commanded, that a virgin betrothed should, if unfaithful to her engagements, be punished with death, exactly as she would have been if actually married [Note: Deuteronomy 22:23-24.]. On these grounds she might well have suggested doubts, and inquired, how she should be protected from these awful consequences. But she felt no doubt, but that He, whose power and love could confer upon her the proposed honour, would exercise a watchful care over her, and either entirely prevent, or richly recompense, these dreaded evils. Like “Abraham, who at the call of God went out, not knowing whither he went,” she cheerfully committed herself to the Divine protection, knowing in whom she had believed, and assured that he would never leave her nor forsake her. That there was just ground for such fears, appears by the very purpose which Joseph formed, of putting her away as an adulteress: and which was only prevented by the intervention of God himself, who sent an angel to inform him by what means she was pregnant, and to commend her to his peculiar care.

Here again we cannot but admire that resignation and fortitude, whereby she rose superior to all those fears and apprehensions, which such a situation was calculated to inspire.]

3. Her gratitude for the favour—

[At the first, as we might expect, her frame was that of meek and humble submission. But, when she had had time to reflect upon the greatness of the mercy vouchsafed unto her, and the blessings which would come upon the world by her means, she broke forth into the most exalted strains of praise: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” She justly acknowledged, that, “He who was mighty had done to her great things,” in the contemplation of which “all generations would call her blessed.” She viewed with ineffable delight the accomplishment of that promise which had been made to Abraham; and doubtless, to the latest moment of her life, adored that God, who had made use of her as his honoured instrument to fulfil it.]

In the review of this mysterious subject, we may learn,

1. How God fulfils his promises—

[The difficulty here seemed insurmountable: the Son of God, in order “to redeem them that were under the law, must be made under the law,” yet not really obnoxious to its curse; and be “made of a woman,” subject to all the infirmities of our nature, and yet be free from sin [Note: Galatians 4:4-5. Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15.]. But God is never at a loss: “with him nothing is impossible:” he devised and executed a plan, whereby we might have “such an high-priest as became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners [Note: Hebrews 7:26.];” a plan, that filled all heaven with wonder. Thus, in other dispensations of his providence and grace, he often permits difficulties to arise, which preclude all hope of our attaining the object of our desire. But, in the best and fittest season, he interposes, and “makes light to arise in obscurity, and our darkness to be as the noon-day.” At this hour, as much as in the days of Abraham, is that saying true, “In the mount the Lord shall be seen.”]

2. How we ought to receive them—

[Amongst the many promises which God has given us, there is one “exceeding great and precious,” not unlike to that which has been the subject of our present consideration; namely, that “Christ shall be formed in our hearts [Note: Galatians 4:19,]; that being so formed, he “shall dwell in us [Note: Ephesians 3:17.];” and that so dwelling in us, he shall be to us “the hope of glory [Note: Colossians 1:27.].” This promise is even greater than that which was fulfilled to the blessed Virgin, inasmuch as a spiritual union with the Lord exceeds that which is merely carnal [Note: Luke 11:27-28.]. And how should we receive this promise? I answer, precisely as the blessed Virgin did. We should not stagger at it through unbelief: we should not account it too good for his love to grant, or too great, for his power to execute. We should be alike unmoved by either the difficulties that may obstruct its accomplishment, or the dangers that may follow it. Our reputation, our interests, our life, we should commit to the hands of a faithful Creator, equally ready to suffer for him, or to he more illustrious monuments of his paternal care. O happy should we be, if in this manner we could embrace every promise he has given us, and in full expectation of its accomplishment say, “Behold the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”]


Verse 46-47

DISCOURSE: 1468

THE VIRGIN’S SONG OF PRAISE

Luke 1:46-47. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

THE characteristic features of the unregenerate man are pride and selfishness. If the distinctions of others are superior to his own, he regards them with envy; if inferior, with contempt. The reverse of this is universally produced by the grace of God. That teaches us to “seek not our own things only, but also the things of others;” and to “prefer others in honour before ourselves:” being ready at all times to acknowledge and commend what is good in them, and to give God the glory of whatever good there may be in us. No where will this be found more beautifully exemplified than in the interview which took place between Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary. Immediately after the blessed Virgin had been informed of God’s gracious design respecting her, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who had, by the immediate influence of Heaven, been enabled to conceive a son in her old age. On her very first appearance, Elizabeth, neither elated with her own honour, nor envious of Mary’s, broke forth into the warmest congratulations; losing all sight, as it were, of her own mercies, and rejoicing altogether in those which had been vouchsafed to her pious friend. The Virgin too, in her reply, shewed clearly on what her mind was fixed, and what was the main desire of her heart. Not a single word savouring of self-exaltation escaped her lips: but with devoutest gratitude she ascribed unto God the honour due unto his name.

In considering these first effusions of her soul, it will be proper to notice,

I. The grounds of her joy—

[Doubtless she had some respect to the peculiar mercy vouchsafed to her [Note: ver. 48, 49.]: nor could she without base ingratitude have overlooked it. But it is evident that her views were directed to “God” himself, as the Benefactor, the “Saviour,” of mankind.

If we consider God the Father as the object in whom she rejoiced, still it was in him as sending his Son into the world, and by him reconciling the world unto himself. It was in him also as her Saviour. Here then we see her sentiments in relation to the state of her soul before God. Holy as she was, she saw herself a sinner before God, and justly obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. She was convinced also that she could not by any means make atonement for her sins, or reconcile herself to God. She felt that she needed a Saviour as much as the vilest of the human race: and she looked for salvation solely as the gift of God through the merits of her Redeemer.

Were such her views? what ought to be ours? what should be our estimate of our own state? How vain must be that conceit, which the more chaste and sober amongst us are prone to indulge, that they do not deserve the wrath of God; or that they shall find acceptance with God because of their comparative goodness!

If we consider the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of her joy, (which we may well do,) then do we see what her views were of that child, whom she was in due time to bring into the world. “David, in and by the Spirit, had called him Lord,” at the time that he spoke of him as his son, who should in due time arise to sit upon his throne [Note: Compare Psalms 110:1. with Matthew 22:43-45.]. And Elizabeth had directly acknowledged that holy Being that was but just formed in the Virgin’s womb, as “her Lord;” and had declared that the infant in her own womb had leaped for joy at his approach [Note: ver. 43, 44.]. The Virgin herself too knew his Divine origin, and that he was “the Son of the Highest.” Well therefore might she “magnify” him for his astonishing condescension, and “rejoice in” him as her deliverer from the wrath to come. It is probable enough that her views of his work and offices were much less distinct than ours: but, whether more or less clear, they were manifestly the ground of her joy. She knew that he was sent to be the Saviour of the world; and she had no doubt but that he would “finish the work which God had given him to do.”

And have not we the same ground of joy [Note: Luke 2:10-11.]? or rather, ought not our joy in him to be more sublime, in proportion as our knowledge of him is more clear? O let not our views of him be less exalted, or our affiance in him less firm! — — —]

From viewing the grounds of her joy, let us turn our attention to,

II. The expressions of it—

[Here we behold a blessed mixture of admiration, gratitude, and joy. It is evident that her mind was full of her subject: the abruptness of her speech shews, that she had “mused in her heart till the fire kindled; and then she spoke with her tongue.” She was naturally of a ruminating thoughtful turn [Note: Luke 1:29; Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51.]: and, from the moment when the angel announced to her the Divine purpose, we doubt not but that her meditations had been on this subject night and day. Here then, overwhelmed, as it were, with the greatness of this mystery, she gives vent to her feelings, and magnifies him as her Saviour, whom by faith alone she knew to have been formed in her womb.

Fain would she have presented to her God a tribute of praise adequate to the occasion. Her soul and spirit “were engaged to the uttermost:” but the language of mortality was too feeble for such a theme. Yet, as far as she could, she “magnified” her Lord, and rendered to him the acknowledgments so justly due.

As to the joy she felt, that also, no less than her theme, exceeded the powers of language to express. Even if she could have expressed it, her words would not convey to us any precise ideas, unless we had correspondent feelings within our own bosom.

If such, then, was her state, we ask, what can any man know of this mystery, who has not been filled with wonder at it? What can any man know of it, who does not rejoice in it with most exalted joy, and bless God for it from his inmost soul? — — — As a speculative truth, indeed, it may have received our assent, even though we have never contemplated it with any suitable emotions: but if the excellency of the truth have been ever felt, we have found that we sunk under it as ineffable, incomprehensible; and were constrained to adore in silence the mercies which we could not utter — — —]

From this instructive history we may learn,

1. Our duty—

[Persons readily acknowledge their obligation to do as they would be done unto, or even to perform some religious duties: but they can live all their days without rejoicing in God, and yet never feel any sense of guilt on account of it. But are not the commands on this head as clear, and as forcible, as on any subject whatever? “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice [Note: Philippians 4:4.];” “Rejoice evermore, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.].” Indeed the exercise of this heavenly disposition is represented as characteristic of the true Christian, insomuch that no person can claim that honourable appellation, who is a stranger to it: “We are the circumcision, who rejoice in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 3:3.].” Let not any then imagine that they are in a state acceptable to God, while they continue to have such low thoughts of the Saviour, and are so insensible to all the wonders of redeeming love — — —]

2. Our privilege—

[We are almost ashamed to have spoken of joy in Christ under the name of duty. What would a glorified saint feel, if exhorted to it as a duty? He would spurn at the idea: he would say, ‘It is not my duty, but my privilege: it constitutes the very happiness of heaven.’ O that we could learn to think of it in that view! It is in this very light that St. Peter speaks of it, not as an object to be desired, but as an attainment common to the saints: “Believing in Christ,” says he, “ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].” Look at the Psalmist, and behold his state: he determined to praise his God with every faculty of his soul [Note: Psalms 103:1-2.], and every member of his body [Note: Psalms 35:9-10. “My soul — — — yea, all my bones shall say, &c.”], if we may so speak; and to spend every day, (I had almost said, every hour,) to the end of life, in this blessed employment [Note: Psalms 145:1-2; Psalms 146:1-2; Psalms 119:164; Psalms 119:62.]. Let us imitate his example. “Let them give thanks, whom the Lord hath redeemed:” if we do not, “the very stones will cry out against us.” We are not advocates for enthusiasm: but if to resemble the holy Virgin, to be filled with admiring thoughts of the Saviour, and to anticipate the felicity of heaven, be enthusiasm, let us be enthusiasts: such enthusiasts will God approve. Yet, that we give no just occasion for that reproach, let us combine discretion with devotion; according to the exhortation of the Psalmist, “Sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing ye praises with understanding [Note: Psalms 47:6-7.].”]


Verses 67-75

DISCOURSE: 1469

THE SONG OF ZACHARIAS

Luke 1:67-75. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which hare been since the world began; that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us: to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

CONSIDERING the depth of humiliation to which the Son of God was about to submit, in taking upon him our nature, it was necessary that his birth should be attended with such circumstances, as were calculated to impress the minds of men with a conviction of his real character. Accordingly we find, that, previous to his birth, there was ample testimony given to him as a most extraordinary personage, such as the world had never before seen. A person was sent “to prepare his way before him:” and this forerunner was himself distinguished by a preternatural birth. The father of this messenger was informed by an angel, that his aged, and hitherto barren, wife should conceive a son, who should be called John. On his expressing some doubt of the angel’s veracity, he was struck dumb for his unbelief; and continued so till the birth and naming of the promised child: and then, on his confirming the appointment of his wife respecting the name of the child, his tongue was loosed, and he brake forth into this prophetic hymn of praise: in which he blesses God for the advent of the Messiah,

I. As an accomplishment of prophecy—

The incarnation of the Son of God had been foretold from the beginning of the world—

[It was announced to Adam immediately after his fall [Note: Genesis 3:15.]. To Abraham it had been promised with an oath [Note: Genesis 22:16-18.]. To David, from whose loins the Messiah was to spring, it had been confirmed by an everlasting covenant [Note: Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:34-36; Psalms 132:11; Psalms 132:17-18.].

In a more particular manner it had been foretold that Christ should “visit and redeem” his people. The state of the Israelites in Egypt, and their redemption from thence, had been foreordained from the beginning, in order to typify this great event. Abraham was warned of the afflictions which his posterity should endure there, and of the wonderful deliverance which at a remote period they should experience [Note: Genesis 15:13-14. with Acts 7:6-7.]. Joseph in his dying hour assured his brethren, that God would “visit them,” and bring them thence [Note: Genesis 50:24-25.]. And Moses was in due time sent upon this errand, and commissioned to inform his wretched countrymen, that God was come at last to visit and deliver them [Note: Exodus 3:16-17.]. Now in the text, there is, as in the sequel will more fully appear, a reference, not to the event merely, but to the very terms in which that event was predicted: from which circumstance, the typical application of that history to the incarnation of Christ, is clearly warranted and confirmed.]

For the accomplishment of this great event, this holy man blessed and adored his God—

[The prospect of this event had excited a lively joy in the breast of Abraham, at the distance of two thousand years [Note: John 8:56.]: and all who, in the intermediate space, had successively believed the promises, had lived and died in the pleasing expectation, that the happiness denied to them should be granted to their posterity [Note: Hebrews 11:13.]. When the time for the Messiah’s advent drew nigh, the expectation of him became more general [Note: John 4:25.], more joyful, more assured. Many there were who “looked for redemption in Jerusalem [Note: Luke 2:38.],” and “waited for Jesus as the Consolation of Israel [Note: Luke 2:25.].” What wonder then that, on the sight of his forerunner, Zacharias burst forth in these triumphant strains? What wonder that, in the confidence of faith, he spake of the Saviour as already arrived, yea, and the work of redemption as already effected by him, though there were yet several months to elapse before he would be born into the world? It was surely the fittest use of his newly-recovered speech; and had he forborne to use it thus, “the very stones would have cried out against him.”]

But the incarnation of Christ was a ground of joy to him:

II. As a mean of spiritual blessings—

Here the reference to the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt is yet more manifest than before. The requisition made by Moses to Pharaoh was, that Israel should go into the wilderness to serve the Lord. This was the ground of contest between them [Note: Exodus 5:1-3]; till at last God, by his terrible judgments on the Egyptians, decided the point. But, after that the Israelites were brought forth to the very borders of the Red Sea, they were menaced with utter destruction by Pharaoh and all his host. The overwhelming of that army in the sea completed the deliverance of his people, so that they could from that moment serve the Lord without any fear of their ancient oppressors.

The redemption wrought out by Christ is in perfect correspondence with this. By his advent we obtain,

1. Deliverance from our spiritual enemies—

[We are in the hand of enemies more cruel and tyrannical than those of Egypt; we are in bondage to sin and Satan, death and hell. From these our blessed Lord delivers us [Note: This is twice mentioned in the text.]. By the blood of his cross he expiates sin, overcomes Satan, destroys death, and liberates from the jaws of hell. He is “an horn of salvation” to his people, a mighty and irresistible Saviour, who will push down all his enemies. None can detain us any longer in bondage, when he comes to set us free: “if he make us free, then are we free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]

2. Liberty to serve our God—

[Deliverance from the punishment of sin would be unworthy the name of a deliverance, if it were not accompanied with a restoration to the Divine favour, and a thorough renovation of heart and life. As long as we were destitute of holiness, we must of necessity be strangers to happiness. Heaven itself would be no heaven to an unholy soul. But Jesus “redeems us from all iniquity, and purifies us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” He causes us to delight ourselves in God; and to “serve him without fear.” In this respect we far exceed all who lived under the Jewish dispensation: for they were kept at a distance from God; and the very services which they rendered to him, tended to generate in them a servile fear [Note: Hebrews 12:18-21.]? But we “have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father [Note: Hebrews 12:22-24. with Romans 8:15.]!”

Can it be doubted whether these things deserve our grateful acknowledgments? If the state to which the Israelites were brought in the Wilderness or in Canaan, was a just ground of praise and thanksgiving, is not ours much rather?]

Application—

1. Let us bless God for the event we this day commemorate [Note: This Sermon was preached on Christmas-day.]—

[The Saviour’s birth was proclaimed by angels as “glad tidings of great joy to all people;” and the heavenly hosts themselves began a new song in heaven, “Glory to God in the highest!” The virgin who bare him, the patriarch who took him in his arms, the prophetess who beheld him, together with many others, rejoiced exceedingly in his advent, notwithstanding they had such imperfect views of his character. Shall not we then; we who have had his nature and office so fully revealed to us; we who have seen him dying, rising, ascending, and enthroned; we who have beheld him sending down the Holy Ghost from heaven, and saving myriads of sinners like ourselves; yea, we who have experienced his power to save, (if we have indeed experienced it,) shall not we praise him? Yes; blessed, “blessed be his name for visiting and redeeming” our souls! “blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen, and Amen [Note: Psalms 72:18-19.].”]

2. Let us seek to participate the blessings accruing from it—

[Though we are not properly affected with our spiritual bondage, because we are in love with our chains, yet is it far more terrible than any to which our bodies can be subject. Now we are well assured, that if heavy tasks were daily imposed on us, and we were constantly beaten for not executing what it was not in our power to perform, we should not unfrequently pour out our complaints before God, and cry to him to avenge our cause [Note: Exodus 5:14-16.]. What stupor then has seized us, that, in a situation incomparably more lamentable, we do not embrace deliverance when it is offered? Let us not be satisfied with captivity, when Christ is “proclaiming liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound [Note: Isaiah 61:1.].” Let us not “thrust him away from us [Note: Acts 7:27; Acts 7:39.],” when he is come to visit us: but let us welcome him into our hearts, as well as into the world, and never rest till “we know him in the power of his resurrection, in the fellowship of his sufferings, and in a conformity to him” both in holiness and in glory [Note: Philippians 3:10.].]


Verse 78-79

DISCOURSE: 1470

THE CAUSES OF OUR SAVIOUR’S INCARNATION

Luke 1:78-79. Through the tender mercy of our God, the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

OUR Saviour’s birth, though in many respects peculiarly low and abject, was attended with some circumstances not unworthy the occasion. We might mention his miraculous conception, the acclamations of angels, &c. &c.; but we shall only advert to the account given in the context of his Forerunner, who was prophesied of by Isaiah; named by the angel before his conception in the womb; born in a preternatural way; celebrated by several to whom the spirit of prophecy was given after it had been withdrawn from Israel three hundred years, commissioned to prepare men for the reception of the Saviour, and to publish the tidings in the text—

From them we shall be led to contemplate,

I. The advent of our Lord—

Our Lord is here represented under the image of the Sun—

[This is a metaphor by which he has been designated throughout all the Holy Scriptures. Balaam spoke of him as “a Star that should come out of Jacob [Note: Numbers 24:17.]:” Isaiah, as “a great light which the Gentiles who were walking in darkness should behold [Note: Isaiah 9:2. with Matthew 4:16.]:” Malachi as “the Sun of Righteousness that should arise on the world with healing in his wings [Note: Malachi 4:2.].” In the New Testament also he is declared to be “the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world [Note: John 1:9.].” Our Lord himself also assumes that character; “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life [Note: John 8:12.].” Even in heaven itself does he sustain the same character; for “the Lamb is the light thereof [Note: Revelation 21:23.].”

Moreover, what the sun is to the material world, that is he to us. He is the Author of all light, natural [Note: Genesis 1:3.], intellectual [Note: Job 38:36.], spiritual [Note: James 1:17.]: and, as the face of nature withers or revives, according as the influence of the sun upon it is increased or diminished, so the souls of men continue dead or are quickened, according as the Sun of Righteousness withholds or imparts his invigorating rays — — —]

Under that character he has visited our benighted world—

[A dawning of his appearance had been long visible in the promises of God, and in all the prophetic writings, as also in the whole of the Mosaic ritual. But at his incarnation he began more clearly to illumine this horizon. He diffused a light around him by his doctrine and example: and they who could see through the veil of his flesh, “beheld his glory [Note: John 1:14.].” And those who now will receive his truth, and “follow his steps,” shall surely be as much distinguished from the world around them, as they who are groping in midnight darkness are from those who are walking in the light of the noon-day sun — — —]

This will lead me to speak of,

II. The end of his advent—

The whole world were in utter darkness—

[How little did even the wisest philosophers know respecting any thing pertaining to the eternal world! Truly “the world by wisdom knew not God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:21.].” Nor are we in reality more enlightened in reference to spiritual things than they. I grant that, so far as speculative knowledge is concerned, we have the advantage of them: but in respect to saving knowledge, we are as dark as they. Take the sentiments even of the world at large, and compare them with the word of God; and they will be found as far from the truth as if they had no inspired volume to instruct them. And where their mere sentiments are correct, how faint are their apprehensions of the truths which they profess to hold! How inadequate is their sense of the evil of sin, of the majesty of God, of the excellency of Christ, of the beauty of holiness, or of any one spiritual truth whatever! The truth is, that we are looking for “peace” “in the ways” of sin, as much as the heathen themselves, and, notwithstanding all our advantages, are, like them, “in darkness and the shadow of death,” on the very confines of destruction.]

To dispel this darkness He came into the world—

[Human reason could not break through the clouds with which we were enveloped; still less could the lucubrations of reason convert the soul to God. No way for reconciliation with God could ever have been found out by mortal man. To make reconciliation for him, to reveal it to him, and to render it available for his eternal welfare, were the great objects of the Saviour’s incarnation: He visited our world “to give light to them who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace:” and every soul that avails himself of the Saviour’s instructions, shall be “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. [Note: Acts 26:18.]”]

Already, methinks, you begin to see,

III. The unbounded mercy of God displayed in it—

Well is it traced to “the tender mercy of our God”—

[To what else can we trace it? What could man do to merit such a gift as that of God’s only dear Son? — — — But the expression in my text deserves particular notice. The words import, “the bowels of mercy,” which were moved in commiseration of our fallen state [Note: σπλάγχναἐλέους.]. Conceive of God as looking upon our first parents after the fall, and as saying concerning them, as he did concerning his people Israel; “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me: my repentings are kindled together: I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger [Note: Hosea 2:8-9.].” Yes indeed, this will give a just view of the compassion which moved Almighty God to send his Son for the redemption of a ruined world — — —]

And can we withhold our admiration from this stupendous act of mercy?

[Let us only contemplate the benefits we receive from the material sun. Suppose we had been from the first moment of our existence in the state in which large districts of the habitable globe are for one half of the year: suppose we had been in utter darkness even until now; and God had unexpectedly, and unsolicited, caused the sun to visit us in meridian splendour: Would there have been any bounds to our admiration or gratitude? — — — What then shall we say now that he has caused “the Sun of Righteousness to shine upon us,” and “the day-star to arise in our very hearts [Note: 2 Peter 1:19.]?” Verily, “if we do not bless him, the stones will cry out against us [Note: See Ephesians 2:4; Ephesians 2:7.]” — — —]

Address—

1. Those who are yet sitting in darkness—

[This is the state of the whole unconverted world. If a man feeling in his bosom the ranklings of anger and hatred, “is in darkness even until now [Note: 1 John 2:9.],” what must they be who are living altogether to themselves and to the world? Think what ye may, ye are “in the shadow of death,” and on the very confines of destruction — — — I pray you improve the opportunity now afforded you, and “whilst you have the light, walk in the light, that ye may be the children of light” — — —]

2. Those who have been “brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel”—

[Bless ye your God: bless him without ceasing: bless him with your whole hearts. Is it a pleasant thing to behold the sun? What delight then must ye have in beholding the glory of God as beaming forth in the face of Jesus Christ!” — — — See then that ye walk worthy of this great mercy: for “if ye walk in the light as he is in the light, then shall ye have sweet fellowship with the Father and the Son, and the blood of Jesus Christ shall cleanse you from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.].” Let Christ be your light in this world, and you shall dwell in the beams of his meridian glory for ever and ever.]

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 1:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/luke-1.html. 1832.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology