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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Luke 2

 

 

Verse 10-11

DISCOURSE: 1471

CHRIST’S INCARNATION GLAD TIDINGS TO ALL

Luke 2:10-11. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

IT has pleased God on many occasions to confer upon the poor some peculiar tokens of his regard: he has even “chosen them,” in preference to all others, “to be rich in faith and heirs of his kingdom.“But, as though he had designed to mark with special approbation the exertions of honest industry, he has vouchsafed his most distinguished favours to them at a time when they have been employed in the duties of their respective callings. Gideon, “who was of a poor family of Manasseh, and the least in his father’s house,” was threshing his father’s wheat, when he was called to judge and to deliver Israel [Note: Judges 6:11; Judges 6:15.]. Saul, who also was “of the least family belonging to the least of all the tribes,” was seeking his father’s asses, when he was anointed to be king over Israel [Note: 1 Samuel 9:3; 1 Samuel 9:20-21.]. David also, the least of Jesse’s family, was brought from the sheepfold, that, from tending his father’s sheep, he might be exalted to the throne, and be made the shepherd, and king, of God’s peculiar people [Note: Psalms 78:70-71. with 1 Samuel 16:11.]. Thus, when God had sent his dear Son into the world, he commissioned an angel to announce the tidings of his advent. But to whom did he send the angel? to Herod, or the chief priests? No: but to poor shepherds, who, for the security of their sheep, and their own mutual convenience, were keeping their watches, in rotation, through the night [Note: φυλάσσοντεςφυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς, Keeping (by turns) the watches of the night. ver. 8.]. To fix their attention, and to counteract the scandal which the tidings themselves would occasion, (for it must seem strange indeed to hear of the Saviour of the world, and the Lord of Glory, lying in a manger,) the angel appeared clothed with light, such light as clearly indicated the dignity of the messenger, and the importance of the message. Having dispelled the fears which his first appearance had excited in their minds, he addressed them in the words which we have just read: in elucidating which, we shall consider,

I. The tidings announced—

The birth of Jesus is here declared: and the city wherein he was born is specified in appropriate terms, in order that the accomplishment of that prophecy which had foretold the place of his birth might be distinctly seen and acknowledged [Note: Micah 5:2.]. The description here given of Jesus is worthy of our deepest attention. The angel describes him by,

1. His office—

[Many saviours had been sent to Israel in former ages [Note: Nehemiah 9:27.]: but here was one infinitely superior to them all; one who came to deliver, not one people only, but a whole world; not from temporal bondage or misery, but from sin and Satan, death and hell — — —]

2. His right and title to it—

[The name “Christ,” as also the name “Messiah,” signifies ‘Anointed:’ and it was the name by which the great Deliverer was expected both by the Jewish and Gentile world [Note: John 4:25. It was not a Jewess, but a Samaritan, that said this.]. Now this name denoted his divine commission, together with his super-eminent qualifications for the performance of his office. The kings and priests, and, in some instances, the prophets also, were set apart for their respective offices by a holy unction. And he, in whom all these offices were combined, was consecrated to them by a public and immeasurable effusion of the Holy Ghost [Note: Luke 3:22; Luke 4:18. with Psalms 45:7 and John 3:34.]. He was no unauthorized obtruder; but a Saviour duly sent and qualified.]

3. His sufficiency for it—

[Had the person announced as a Saviour been a mere creature, he never could have effected all that was necessary for those whom he came to save. But he was “the Lord,” even Jehovah himself. It had been said of him by the prophet, eight hundred years before, “To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and his name shall be called, The Mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.]:” and that prophecy was declared to be now accomplished. Consequently, whatever he had undertaken, he was able to perform: his atonement would be sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world: his righteousness would be sufficient to justify all that should trust in it for acceptance: and his grace would be sufficient to make them conquerors over all their enemies.]

Together with the tidings themselves, the angel announced also,

II. The importance of them—

The term, “behold,” is always used to mark the importance of that to which it is prefixed. But here the precise view in which the tidings claim our attention is distinctly specified. They are a matter,

1. Of exceeding joy—

[To illustrate this, we need only observe by whom the message was delivered, and if whom. An angel was the messenger: but he was not privileged to say, “To us is born a Saviour:” no; there was no Saviour provided for the fallen angels: but for man, when he fell. God became incarnate: “he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham [Note: Hebrews 2:16.].” Suppose then, that instead of being sent to men, the angel had been sent to his fallen brethren; and that, having opened the gates of hell, he had announced the tidings to the apostate spirits, “To you is sent a Saviour!” O what joy had been diffused through those miserable regions! How would the vaults of hell have rung with acclamations and hosannas! How would every spirit instantly have forgotten his pains, and pressed forward to hear the full import of this astonishing message! Thus then ought the tidings to be received amongst us: since the only difference between them and us is, that on them is executed the sentence they deserve, and we are shut up in prison, waiting to have the same executed upon us, as soon as the full measure of our iniquities shall be completed.]

2. Of universal joy—

[These tidings were equally interesting to Jews and Gentiles; to those of the apostolic age, and to us who live at such a distance, both of time and place. Nor is there one among the children of men who has not equal cause to value the Saviour that is here announced. Who is there that does not need the merit of his atonement and the efficacy of his grace? And who is there to whom they are not freely offered? There is not one on earth who can be saved without them; nor is there one, however abandoned, who may not, by a believing application to the Saviour, be interested in them. Well therefore may they be called good tidings “to all people;” since they are so to all, of every age, and of every description: and well may the prophet call on the whole creation to shout for joy [Note: Isaiah 44:23.].]

We conclude with inviting you all to imitate the shepherds:

1. Inquire into the truth of the tidings you have heard—

[The shepherds instantly went to Bethlehem, to see with their own eyes the truth of what they had heard [Note: ver. 15.]. To you then we say, “Go to Bethlehem,” or rather, Go to the Bible, and search whether these things be not as they have been represented? What would you have thought of the shepherds, if, when they had such an opportunity of obtaining satisfaction on the point, they had neglected it, and had laid themselves down to sleep? O be not ye such yourselves. You have incomparably better means of information than they had. You may see the whole record concerning this holy Child; his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, yea, you may see the union of the Godhead with his human-nature, and may read, in facts as well as in declarations, his ability to save you to the uttermost. O arise, and inquire into these deep mysteries, with all the humility and attention they demand.]

2. When convinced of the truth of them yourselves, communicate them diligently to others—

[The shepherds would not hide within their own bosoms the things they had heard and seen, but published them abroad for the information of others also [Note: ver. 17.]. And should you be silent? When you have so much clearer instruction to convey, should you, not impart it gladly to those around you? Remember, that if you have the knowledge of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Saviour, you are on no account to put that light under a bushel, but to make use of it that you may guide others also into the way of peace.]

3. Make them the theme of your joyful praises in the midst of your earthly business—

[“The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen [Note: ver. 20.]:” they forsook not their duty: but returned to it in a joyful and devout frame of mind. A discovery of the deep things of God is not intended to take us out of the situations in life which we have been called to fill; but to make us holy, and happy in them. Let this effect be wrought on you. Neglect not your worldly occupations, whatever they may be; but serve God in them, and abound in praises and thanksgivings for that which has been revealed unto you. However mean or toilsome your vocation be, care not for it; but make it to appear, that the knowledge of this Saviour can render any yoke easy, and afford a joy which the world can neither give nor take away.]


Verse 13-14

DISCOURSE: 1472

THE ANGELS’ SONG

Luke 2:13-14. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.

THE circumstances of our Saviour’s birth characterize in a measure, the dispensation which he came to introduce. The Gospel exhibits a plain, yet profound, scheme of salvation: while its great outlines are intelligible to the meanest capacity, it abounds with the most sublime, and inscrutable mysteries. Thus, in the incarnation of our Lord, there was a meanness, which seemed unsuitable to such an occasion; and at the same time a majesty, that was worthy the person and character of the new-born infant: he was born, not in a palace, but a stable, and had only a manger for his reception: yet did an angel come from heaven to announce his birth; and a multitude of the heavenly host attended to proclaim his praise.

In this divine hymn the incarnation of Christ is represented in a two-fold view:

I. As a subject for our deepest contemplation—

The subject itself is announced in those words of the angel to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” And, in honour of this marvellous event, a multitude of the heavenly host break forth into strains, so abrupt, as to need much careful elucidation, and so ardent, as to express as fully as possible what angels feel in the contemplation of this divine mystery.

Behold, “peace” now exists “on earth”—

[The whole race of man had fallen, and were subjected to God’s heavy displeasure. Nor was there on man’s part any possibility of restoring himself to the Divine favour. But God devised a mode for reconciling the world unto himself through the intervention of his only dear Son. On his co-equal, co-eternal Son, who was “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” “he laid our iniquities,” that so, his justice being satisfied by an atonement in our behalf, reconciliation might be effected for us in perfect consistency with all the Divine perfections. Hence peace was brought down from heaven to earth, through the sufferings of our incarnate God, who is therefore emphatically called “the Prince of Peace.” Now every sinner in the universe may hare peace with God, and in his own conscience, if only he welcome this Saviour into his heart, and believe in him as God’s appointed instrument for the salvation of the world.]

And now also is revealed “good-will toward men”—

[The strongest possible evidence of God’s love to men was, the gift of his only dear Son, to die for them. In this view the incarnation of our blessed Lord is always spoken of [Note: John 3:16. 1 John 4:10.]; and Jehovah himself is represented as commending his love to us in, and by, this marvellous event [Note: Romans 5:8.].

But far more than this is comprehended in the expression here used by the holy angels. I understand by it, that, through the incarnation of Christ, a full scope is given to the exercise of God’s “good-will to man,” so that it can flow down in the richest abundance into the soul of every one that is “at peace” with him. Yes, to every believing soul “will God manifest himself as he does not unto the world,” and “dwell in him, and abide with him,” and give a spirit of adoption, yea, and the witness of the Spirit to attest to him the relation in which he stands to God,” and will “rejoice over him to do him good,” “rejoicing over him with joy, and resting in his love, and joying over him with singing.” There is no expression of good-will which a believing soul is capable of receiving from God, which shall not, more or less, be vouchsafed by God to every one that is at peace with him through faith in Christ.]

And by all this is “the highest possible glory reflected upon God himself”—

[There is not a perfection of the Deity which is not honoured by this, yea, and more honoured than ever it was before. Wisdom and goodness and power and love had been displayed before in the formation of angels, and in the blessedness diffused throughout the whole creation, and the perfect adaptation of every thing to its proper end. Holiness too and justice had been rendered conspicuous by the expulsion of all the fallen angels from heaven, and the consigning of them over to everlasting misery in hell. But there had been no trace of mercy to be seen in any corner of the universe: nor could the highest intelligence in heaven conceive how the exercise of this perfection could consist with the rights of justice. But now the union and harmony of all the Divine perfections was seen through the incarnation and death of God’s only dear Son, justice exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy in away of justice, or, as the Psalmist expresses it, “Mercy and truth meeting together, and righteousness and peace kissing each other.” Well then did the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest.” They had seen no “peace” proclaimed in heaven; no expression of “good-will” towards the fallen angels: but towards men on earth both were most gloriously displayed. Hence with wonder and admiration this blessed assembly pour forth their praises in this appropriate song, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, good-will towards men.”]

But to contemplate this subject will be of no use, unless we enter fully into it,

II. As a mercy devoutly to be acknowledged—

The angels, though in comparison of us they had no interest in this event, came down from heaven to celebrate and proclaim it. And shall not we celebrate it? Shall so much as one of us remain indifferent, now that the glad tidings of it are brought to our ears? Consider, I pray you,

1. Your own personal interest in it—

[Where would all of you have been, if God had not devised and executed these means for your restoration to his favour? You had all participated in the guilt of the fallen angels, and must all have partaken of their misery. What could you have done more than they to avert or mitigate your doom? You would have lived only to fill up the measure of your iniquities, and would then have been reserved, like those unhappy spirits, in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day. But, through the substitution of God’s only dear Son in your place, and the atonement he has offered in your behalf, there is not so much as one of you that may not be reconciled to God, and made an everlasting object of his favour. In fact, I who speak to you at this moment, am “an ambassador from God to announce to you these glad tidings.” To me, as his servant, is “committed the ministry of reconciliation, to declare, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:” and at this very moment it is as if the Lord Jesus Christ himself addressed you: for, as bearing his commission, and actually representing him, “I now beseech you all in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. This must not be confined to the Apostles.].” Will not ye then adore God for this revelation of his mercy to you? Will ye not all rise as one man to welcome this Saviour, and adore him, and to seek through him the blessings he is come to impart? What if such a revelation of mercy were sent to the fallen angels, do you think they would hear it with indifference? Or, if they did hear it with indifference, is there so much as one of you that would not say, “Leave them to themselves; their damnation is just?” Know then, that in condemning them, you condemn yourselves; and “out of your own mouth will God condemn you” at the last day. But I hope better things of you, my brethren; and I call upon you all now at this very moment, in spirit at least, to join the angelic choir, and sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, who has opened such a way for the effecting of my reconciliation with him, and for these wonderful displays of good-will to my guilty soul.’]

2. The glory that will accrue to God from it to all eternity—

[But for this revelation of God’s mercy to us, there would have been little difference between earth and hell: for God would have been no more glorified in the one than in the other. But God is glorified in the midst of us: I trust there are in this very assembly, some at least, who have found peace with God, and can attest from their own experience how sweet are the manifestations of his good-will to their souls. And the time is shortly coming when “all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest,” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” And O what a place will this wretched world then be! What bright manifestations of the Saviour will then be vouchsafed to men! Me thinks, the visions of Mount Tabor will then be common upon earth, and this song of angels will become the common tone of intercourse between man and man throughout the whole world.

But raise your thoughts to heaven, my brethren, and consider for a moment what is passing there. There are already millions of redeemed souls that rest not day or night from these songs of praise. There the chorus is swelling louder and louder every day by the accession of saints made perfect, every one having tuned his harp to the heavenly song, and bursting forth at his first entrance into heaven into acclamations and hosannas that shall never end. And what shall we say of that period when all the assembly of the redeemed, together with all the holy angels, shall join in one universal uninterrupted song: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and glory, and honour, and blessing; therefore blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 5:11-13.].” Can you, my brethren, contemplate that day, and not rejoice in the expectation of it, and long to be found in the happy number of the redeemed? I call upon you, then, yea I charge you all in the name of the Most High God, to begin this very day this heavenly song. Leave to an ungodly world to make this a season of carnal festivity: make ye it a season of holy joy; a very anticipation of heaven itself.]

Application—

[But I cannot close the subject without entreating you all to imitate the conduct of these holy angels. They were not content with being happy themselves; they sought to promote the happiness of others by making known to them these glad tidings, and setting them an example of the frame of mind which they should cultivate. This is the way in which I would recommend to you, my brethren, to spend this holy season. Let each according to his ability improve the opportunities that are afforded him, of diffusing far and wide this divine knowledge, and of stimulating all around him to the attainment and the exercise of this heavenly joy.]


Verse 15

DISCOURSE: 1473

INQUIRY INTO THE GOSPEL RECOMMENDED

Luke 2:15. Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

IT is a rich mercy to have a faithful instructor, who will declare unto us the whole counsel of God. But, to obtain any solid benefit, we must search into the truths we hear, and endeavour to get a deep impression of them upon our minds. Without care and diligence on our parts, it would be to little purpose to enjoy the ministry of Paul himself, or even of angels from heaven. What would the shepherds have been profited by the tidings which the angels announced to them respecting the Saviour’s birth, if, like too many amongst us, they had contented themselves with admiring the eloquence of the chief speaker, or the sweetness and melody of the hymn they sang? They set us a good example: they thought not of amusement, but of edification; not of the manner in which the messengers performed their part, but of the truths delivered by them: and no sooner had their heavenly instructors left them to themselves, than they proposed to go immediately and examine into the things which had been made known unto them.

From this striking incident we shall take occasion to set before you,

I. The event referred to—

In the preceding context we are informed what the tidings were, which were brought by the angels—

[These tidings were, that a Saviour was that very day born into the world. A general expectation prevailed among the Jews that about that time a person of most extraordinary character should be born in their land, and should become a Saviour to the Jewish people. Very erroneous notions indeed obtained respecting the nature of the benefits which he would impart to them: but the more enlightened persons among them extended their views beyond a mere temporal deliverance, and looked forward to spiritual and eternal blessings. The advent of this person was now proclaimed to the shepherds; and it was declared, that the Child was born “in the city of David, as the prophets had foretold [Note: Micah 5:2.]; and, that not the Jews only, but “all the nations” of the earth, were interested in the salvation which he was come to effect.

The tidings yet further intimated, that the new-born infant was none other thanthe Lord of Glory.” It was no common child whose birth was announced: though he partook of flesh and blood, yet was he possessed of a nature infinitely superior to that of men or angels. The shepherds were informed that “the Child which was born, and the Son that was given, was,” as Isaiah had foretold, “the Mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.],” even “Emmanuel God with us [Note: Isaiah 7:14.].” As the salvation which he was to accomplish was to be extended to all people, so he was fitted for his work, being the omnipotent Jehovah, who could not fail of success in whatever he undertook.

Lastly, it was declared, that notwithstanding the dignity of his person, and the greatness of his office, he was to be found in a state of the deepest humiliation. It was not in the palaces of Herod or the high-priest, or in the mansions of the great and noble, that this Child was to be found: no; they must go and look for him in the stable of an inn; and they would “find him wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger,” like one that was ordained to be “a worm and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people [Note: Psalms 22:6.].”]

The same tidings are announced to us at this day—

[No angels are now sent, or need to be sent, on such messages, because the Scriptures give us all the information that we can desire. But ministers are ambassadors from God; and are commissioned from God to declare the same joyful tidings as were conveyed to the shepherds by the heavenly hosts. We then make known to you, that that very Jesus, who once lay in the womb of the blessed Virgin, and who, at his birth had no other mansion than a stable, no other cradle than a manger, that same Jesus, I say, was “God manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.],”even “God over all blessed for ever [Note: Romans 9:5.]. We moreover declare unto you, that he is “the Saviour of the world,” and that “there is no other name given under heaven whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ [Note: Acts 4:12.].”]

From the regard which the shepherds paid to this event, we proceed to shew you,

II. The inquiries to be made concerning it—

No message that comes from God ought to be treated with contempt; much less should one that is of such mysterious import, such universal concern.

Inquire then into,

1. The truth of the fact—

[There is something so marvellous, and almost incredible, in the idea of God becoming man, in order to save a ruined world, that it should not be hastily embraced, no, not even though it were declared by an angel from heaven. It becomes us to examine what can be adduced in confirmation of it. We should, with the Bereans, “search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things be so [Note: Acts 17:11.].” We should inquire whether the prophets spake any thing respecting this great event [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-11.]; whether they gave any reason to believe, that God would ever take upon him our nature, and accomplish our salvation in so strange a way [Note: Micah 5:2. Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 7:14.]. We should inquire what proof the Apostles had, that they were rightly informed; and what evidence there is, that, in relating these things to us, they were divinely inspired [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16. 2 Peter 1:21.]. In short, we should, if I may so speak, “go to Bethlehem,” and see for ourselves; yea, we should “make haste” to do so, lest we lose the opportunity afforded us, or become indifferent to the report itself.]

2. The grounds and reasons of it—

[It cannot be that such an event should ever have taken place without some urgent necessity. We should therefore inquire what occasion there was for it. If we do this, we shall find that among the various reasons that will occur to the mind, there are two peculiarly prominent, two that will sufficiently account for the whole mystery; and these are, Man’s happiness, and God’s honour. Without the incarnation and death of the Son of God, man could never have attained to happiness. He was reduced to the state of the fallen angels in respect of guilt; and he must have resembled them in respect of misery, if such a way had not been devised and executed for his recovery. Moreover, it was in this way only that God could save man, and at the same time maintain the honour of his own perfections. Without an atonement, his justice could not be satisfied: nor could his mercy be exercised in consistency with his truth and holiness. It was, that “mercy and truth might meet together, and that righteousness and peace might kiss each other [Note: Psalms 85:10.];” it was for this end, I say, that our God became incarnate: and the more we examine into the reasons of this mysterious dispensation, the more we shall be satisfied, that it is in every respect worthy of its Divine Author.]

3. Its use and importance—

[We are not to amuse ourselves with empty speculations upon such momentous points as this; but to inquire into their practical use and importance. Now these tidings will upon examination be found as important to us as to any people at any period of the world. Our first and great concern is, How may we be reconciled to our offended God? To this we find a complete and satisfactory answer in the event referred to. The Lord Jesus Christ has become a mediator between God and man; he has taken our nature, in order that he might “bear our sins in his own sacred body,” and work out a righteousness whereby we might be justified; so that “God may now be just, and yet the justifier of all that believe [Note: Romans 3:25-26.].” In this mystery the burthened conscience finds rest and peace. From this, the vilest of the human race may take encouragement to return to God; and be fully assured, that, for Christ’s sake, all his iniquities shall be pardoned, and not one of them be remembered against him any more for ever [Note: Hebrews 8:12.]. Surely then we should spare no pains in investigating these things, that so we may derive from them the consolation and happiness they are intended to convey.]

To recommend yet further this spirit of inquiry, we shall conclude, with shewing you the benefits that will result from it:

1. You will receive conviction in your own minds—

[The shepherds did not doubt the veracity of the angels; but their faith was certainly confirmed, when they had ocular demonstration of the fact that had been related to them. Thus, though we may not really disbelieve the incarnation of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, or doubt whether he be the only, and all-sufficient Saviour of the world, yet the more we examine the Scriptures with humility and prayer, the more deep will be our insight into this “great mystery of godliness,” and the more shall we attain “a full assurance of understanding” with respect to it.

Let this then incline us to go with one accord to Bethlehem, and to commence the pious search: yea, let the hope and prospect of so rich a benefit stimulate us to united and instantaneous exertions.]

2. You will be disposed to communicate the joyful tidings to others—

[This was the first-fruit of the conviction which the shepherds had received: “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child [Note: ver. 17.].” And will you be contented to “put your light under a bushel?” Will you not rather imitate the famished lepers, who when they had found the Syrian camp deserted, and a vast plenty of provisions and booty of every kind lying unprotected, “said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings; and we hold our peace: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household [Note: 2 Kings 7:8-9.]?” You find in general, that persons are averse to speak of the great mysteries of redemption, because they have so little considered them: on the contrary, they who feel the importance of them, cannot be restrained from speaking of them: and if they be derided or menaced for their zeal, they will give the same answer as the Apostles did, “We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].”]

3. You will abound in praises and thanksgivings to God for them—

[In this respect also the shepherds manifested the fruits of diligent and humble inquiry: “They returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them [Note: ver. 20.].” And shall not we feel a similar disposition, if once our hearts be duly impressed with these things? Yes: if we “muse as we ought, the fire will kindle, and at last we shall speak with our tongues [Note: Psalms 39:3.].” We shall vie even with the angelic hosts in singing, “Glory to God in the highest for the peace which is brought down on earth, and the good-will that is thereby expressed towards man.”

If, then, our fellow-creatures have any claim upon us for the benefit of our instructions, or God has any demands upon our gratitude for the stupendous mercies he has vouchsafed unto us, then should we search with diligence into the truths that are revealed, in order that we may be quickened to the performance of our duty, and be stimulated to pay our tribute of love to man, and of praise to God.]


Verse 21

DISCOURSE: 1474

THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST

Luke 2:21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

THE naming of children has often been used, not merely for distinction’s sake, but also to express some expectation or wish which the parent entertained respecting his child. Of course, the name must frequently have ill-suited the character of the person that bore it. This was remarkably the case with the two first children that were born into the world. Adam named the first Cain, (which signifies getting,) supposing that he had gotten that Promised Seed who was to repair the ruins of the fall: and his second son he named Abel (vanity), having already had abundant evidence of the sinful dispositions of Cain. But in both he was mistaken; for the former proved a murderer; and the latter a distinguished saint.

But God has on several occasions condescended to give names to children previous to their conception in the womb: and the names so given have always designated the real character of the persons themselves. We are particularly informed, that God required the child which he gave to Zacharias and Elizabeth to be called John, which means grace or favour; because, whilst he was a favour bestowed on them, he was to be an object of God’s peculiar favour, and an occasion of much good to others [Note: Luke 1:13-14.].

The name of Jesus also was given by the angel to the Virgin’s Child, “before he was conceived in her womb.” And how significant this was, it is scarcely needful to mention. It was the same name with Joshua, and meant Divine Saviour: and was therefore most fitly given to Him, who was “Emmanuel, God with us,” and who was destined “to save his people from their sins [Note: For a fuller explanation of this, see Disc, on Matthew 1:21-23.].” The time of imposing the name on a child was generally that of his circumcision. It was thus in the case of John [Note: Luke 1:59-63.], as also in that of Jesus: the solemnity of that rite giving an additional weight to the name imposed.

But it is to the rite itself, that is, to circumcision, that we shall confine our attention at this time: for, in point of importance, it seems to have been the first and greatest of all the ordinances among the Jews. We propose to shew,

I. The nature and intent of circumcision—

It was originally given to Abraham as a seal of the covenant of grace

[God made a covenant with Abraham, to give him a numerous posterity, with the land of Canaan for their inheritance; and at last one particular Seed, “in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” This promise Abraham believed; and he looked forward to that peculiar Seed as the true and only source of blessings to himself. In consequence of this faith, he was accepted of God; who engaged to treat him as a righteous person, through the righteousness of the Saviour imputed to him [Note: Romans 4:3; Romans 4:18-25.]. And in token that he would execute every part of this gracious covenant, he appointed him and all his posterity to be circumcised. This is the account which St. Paul himself gives of this ordinance: he calls it a “sign,” and a “seal:” a “sign” to Abraham and his seed, that they were the Lord’s peculiar people; and a “seal” to them, that God would be his and their God, provided they walked in the faith, and in the steps of their father Abraham [Note: Romans 4:11-12.]. As a sign, it shewed them their engagements to God; and as a seal, God’s engagements to them.]

But, as continued to the Jews, in and after the days of Moses, it was a seal of the covenant of works—

[The Mosaic covenant differed materially from that of Abraham, and yet the same ordinance was a seal to both. The rite of circumcision was absolutely indispensable to all [Note: Genesis 17:14 It was equally enjoined by the law. Compare Exodus 12:48. with John 7:22.]: it was invariably the rite, by which, and by which alone, any persons, whether infants or adults, were initiated into that covenant. And in what light were they taught to view it? We answer, as binding them to an observance of the whole law of Moses, and as suspending their salvation on their performance of this condition. In this light St. Peter viewed it, when that famous controversy respecting circumcision was brought before the whole College of Apostles at Jerusalem: he reproved those who insisted on the observance of that rite, for “putting a yoke upon the Christians, which not even the most eminent among the Jews had been able to bear [Note: Acts 15:1; Acts 15:10.].” Of course, if circumcision had not bound them to the observance of the whole law of Moses, there could have been no foundation for this objection. St. Paul yet more strongly confirms this statement: for he says to those who were in danger of being misled by the Judaising Christians, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing: for I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law [Note: Galatians 5:2-3.]” Here then the point is clear; that though circumcision was given primarily as a seal of the covenant of grace, it was eventually (though not expressly called so) a seal of the covenant of works also. From the time that it was first instituted, it continued to be a sign and a seal; but the privileges of which they were a seal, and the obligations of which they were a sign, varied according to the nature of the covenant to which the rite itself was annexed: to Abraham, it sealed the covenant of grace; to Moses and the Jews, the covenant of works.]

This view of the rite will throw light upon,

II. The reasons of our Lord’s submitting to it—

These were chiefly two;

1. That he might appear to be the Promised Seed—

[The Person in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, was marked out by God as one particular individual, who should in due time arise, and in whom “the covenant made with Abraham should be confirmed.” St. Paul infers this from the very term used on that occasion being in the singular number: and though we should not have conceded to him that inference, as a critic, we doubt not but that the truth he affirms, was intended, by the Holy Ghost, to be marked in that very expression on which he founds his remark [Note: Galatians 3:16.]. At all events, the Messiah was to be of the posterity of Abraham; all of whom were circumcised: therefore, if Jesus were not circumcised, he could have no claim, no allowable claim, to this distinction: whatever he might be, he could not be acknowledged to be a child of Abraham. It is true, this mark could not distinguish him as the Messiah, because it was common to all the Jews: but the want of it would have been an infallible proof that he was not the Messiah; and therefore he submitted to receive it.]

2. That he might be fully under the obligations of the Mosaic law—

[Mankind at large were subject only to the moral law; and therefore for their redemption it would have been sufficient for the Son of God to assume our nature: but the house of Israel, for whose salvation he was sent in the first instance, were under the ceremonial law; and therefore for their redemption he must be made under that also. This is particularly noticed by St. Paul, who says, that “in the fulness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law [Note: Galatians 4:4-5.].” Now it was by circumcision that the children of the Jews were initiated into the Mosaic covenant, and brought fully into subjection to the law. Hence therefore Christ submitted to circumcision, and acknowledged at all times his obligation to obey that law in every thing. He says himself, “I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them.” There is one very remarkable instance of his obedience to the law, which reflects considerable light on the subject before us. Baptism was not any part of the original law: but it had been introduced as an additional rite for the admission of proselytes into the Jewish religion: and the introduction of it had been so far sanctioned by God himself, that John, the forerunner of our Lord, was expressly commissioned to baptize all who desired an admission into the kingdom of the Messiah. Hence Jesus Christ himself went to be baptized of him: and upon John’s declining it as unsuitable to the dignity of our Lord, Jesus said to him, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness [Note: Matthew 3:15.].” The same strict adherence to the law was observable in him at all times, except when the execution of his high office, and the establishment of his Divine authority, required a temporary deviation from it. Indeed, he not only fulfilled the law, but was himself the completion of it; every part of it being accomplished in him as its great prototype. In a word, if he would redeem mankind, he must do it by obeying that law which we had broken, and enduring those penalties which we had incurred. This therefore he undertook to do, that, by his atoning sufferings and perfect obedience, he might restore us to our forfeited inheritance. Of this work his circumcision was the commencement: it was the commencement of those sufferings which constitute his atoning sacrifice, and of that obedience which constitutes our justifying righteousness. It was the commencement of that “work which God had given him to do,” and which terminated at last in what the Apostle fitly calls, “his obedience unto death.”]

Let us now turn our attention to,

III. The lessons, which his submission to it may teach us—

It may well teach us,

1. To observe the instituted ordinances of our religion—

[Circumcision, with respect to us, is done away, and is superseded by the milder rite of baptism. But baptism is as necessary for us, as circumcision was to the Jews; and it is to be administered to the very same persons.

We know that this is a point disputed by many; who are fond of bringing forward the controversy on all occasions. Far be it from us to encourage a controversial spirit: we would avoid it, and discourage it, to the utmost of our power. Yet it is necessary that we should instruct those who are under our charge in all things relating to their duty; and therefore, without offence to others, we may be allowed to state with plainness our views and sentiments.

Two reasons in particular are urged for not administering baptism to infants: the one is, that we are not any where commanded to do so; the other is, that children are not capable of all the ends of baptism; since baptism presupposes a knowledge and approbation of those principles, into which we are baptized.

But to this we answer, What occasion was there for renewed orders concerning a thing that had already existed two thousand years? A rite more suited to our dispensation was introduced; but the persons interested in it were not therefore deprived of their birthright. If it was intended to abridge the privileges of children, we might well expect that such an intention should have been expressed: but where has God expressed it? and who but God can take away the privileges which God has given?

Again: If it be any argument against the baptism of children, that they cannot understand the principles which they become pledged to maintain, it is equally so against the circumcision of infants: and whosoever will condemn that, let him answer it to God.

Be it so; children are not capable of all the ends of baptism. But was Christ capable of all the ends of circumcision? was not one end of it to put away (emblematically then, and really afterwards) the lusts of the flesh? But had he any lusts to put away? Yet he was circumcised: and consequently, children may now be baptized, though they be not capable of all the ends of baptism.

Once more: Are not children capable of receiving the blessings of the covenant? for our Lord says, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.” And if they are capable of the blessings of the covenant, are they not also of the seal; when that seal is nothing more than a token from God that the blessings shall be theirs?

We have said thus much, not for the sake of stirring up controversy, but of confirming you in the principles, which, as members of the Church of England, you profess.

This only we add, that if Jesus Christ submitted to circumcision for the good of his enemies, much more should you consult the benefit of your children by dedicating them to God in baptism.]

2. To seek that purity of which circumcision was an emblem—

[What the true circumcision was, we are abundantly informed both by Moses and the prophets [Note: Deuteronomy 10:16. Jeremiah 4:4.]. Even at that time circumcision, if not accompanied with a suitable course of life, was accounted for uncircumcision: and much more, under our dispensation, must those only be accounted Christians, who are such in deed and in truth [Note: Romans 2:25; Romans 2:28-29.]. We will call upon you all then, not to rest in your baptism, as though that made you Christians, but to seek the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and “the answer of a good conscience towards God [Note: 1 Peter 3:21.].” It is remarkable that St. Paul represents this very purification as the thing intended to be produced by the circumcision of Christ. We are (federally) “circumcised in him:” but (personally) we are to “put away the body of the sins of the flesh [Note: Colossians 2:10-11.].” And the very promise which God has given us, is, that “he will circumcise our hearts, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul [Note: Deuteronomy 30:6.].” Look ye to it then, my brethren, that this seal of our covenant be found in you. “Put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man, which after God is renewed in righteousness and true holiness.” It may be painful thus to mortify the flesh; but it must be done, if you would have any well-founded hope towards God: for, notwithstanding “salvation is bestowed by grace through faith,” yet it is an unalterable truth, that “they who are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”]


Verses 22-24

DISCOURSE: 1475

PRESENTATION OF CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE

Luke 2:22-24. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

IT is a comfortable consideration to the poor and ignorant, that they may possess the knowledge of salvation, though they have never been instructed in the nature of the Mosaic law, or seen its full connexion with Christianity. But it is certain that a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures tends exceedingly to establish us in the faith, and to quicken us to a holy obedience. The importance of being acquainted with the Old Testament, appears from the frequent reference which there is to it in the New Testament. Sometimes we meet with references put interrogatively, “What is written in the law?” “What saith the law?” and sometimes positively, “It is written in the law.” Hence it is obvious that, without an acquaintance with the law, much of the force and evidence of the Christian Scriptures must be lost: and therefore we cannot but earnestly recommend an attention to the Old Testament, as the means of more fully comprehending the New. In the short passage before us, we are directed no less than three times to compare the history with the ordinances which had before been given to Moses: the time of the Virgin’s purification, the offering she offered, and the presentation of her infant Son in the temple, are all said to be “according to the law of the Lord.” To that then we shall refer you, while we consider,

I. The purification of the mother—

For the elucidation of this subject, there are several distinct inquiries to be made—

What did the law enjoin in relation to purification after child-birth?

[A woman was deemed unclean for seven days after her deliverance from child-birth, so that she rendered every one unclean who even came in contact with her: and for thirty-three days afterwards she was not permitted to touch any holy thing, or to enter into the temple. The time was doubled for a female child: the mother was then more or less unclean for eighty days. She was then to come to the door of the tabernacle, and to present there a lamb and a pigeon; the pigeon for a sin-offering, and the lamb for a burnt-offering: by the sin-offering acknowledging her sinfulness, and by the burnt-offering testifying her gratitude for the mercies vouchsafed unto her. If the mother were poor, she might offer a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons; the burnt-offering might be suited to her means; but, whatever were her circumstances, her sin-offering must be the same: because the same atonement is necessary for all; but the modes of testifying our gratitude must vary according to our various situations in life [Note: See Leviticus 12:1-8.].

Such was the ordinance itself. We proceed to ask,]

What sentiments was this law intended to convey?

[The very offerings which were presented on the occasion, intimated, that they who had experienced deliverance from child-birth had just occasion for renewed expressions of humiliation and gratitude. Such is the state of human nature since the fall; that a taint is contracted, and communicated also, by that law which was given to man in innocence, “Increase and multiply.” David says, “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Indeed the very pangs of child-birth, remind all who are called to endure them, of the first transgression; and, as being inflicted on account of sin, they call for acknowledgments of our sinful state. This, I say, was intimated by the sin-offering, whereby “an atonement was made for her who offered it.” The burnt-offering, as a token of gratitude, needs no comment; every one must see that it was proper for the occasion, and justly expressed what might be supposed to be the state of her mind.

Yet there is good reason to inquire,]

What necessity was there for the mother of our Lord to obey this law?

[Certainly, whatever taint may be contracted by others, none could have been by her on this occasion. Yet, as the manner of her conception was not generally known, and Joseph was her reputed husband, it was proper to comply with the requisitions of the law, as much as if she had borne a child in the common way. It would have ill become her to cast a stumbling-block before others on this occasion: and her own heart was so full of love to God, that she counted nothing a burthen that she could do for him. She determined therefore, as Jesus himself did in the instance of his baptism, to fulfil all righteousness to the utmost of her power.

It may be asked however,]

What is this law to us?

[Doubtless, as to the ceremonial part of it, it is abrogated altogether: but, as to its spiritual import, it speaks as loudly to us as ever it did to the Jews. Humiliation and gratitude are the proper fruits of mercies received: I say, humiliation first, and then gratitude. This is not the order in which these feelings arise in the mind of a philosopher: but it is the order in which they rise in the heart of a Christian: a sense of unworthiness abases his soul in the dust, and enhances, beyond all expression, the favours conferred upon him. We appeal to every spiritual person for the truth of this: and we call on every one, whatever be the mercies he has received, to express his sense of them in this way. Certainly they who have been delivered from the pains of child-birth, have abundant reason to present such offerings to God: and we do not hesitate to say, that their expressions of gratitude should be diversified and enlarged according to the opportunities and abilities that God has given them. We must not however limit the subject to this particular deliverance; for, whatever mercy God has vouchsafed unto us, we should endeavour to requite him according to the loving-kindness he has shewn us.]

Having thus considered the purification of the mother, let us direct our attention to,

II. The presentation of her Son—

Here is the same reference to the law, as before. We will state to you,

1. What connexion it had with Christ’s presentation in the temple—

[Upon the destruction of the Egyptian first-born, whilst not one of the first-born, either of men or cattle, that belonged to Israel, died, God claimed the first-born of Israel, both of men and beasts, as his peculiar property [Note: Exodus 13:2.]; and required that the reason of his so doing should be transmitted carefully to the latest posterity [Note: Exodus 13:11-14.]. Afterwards he accepted the tribe of Levi and their cattle in the place of the first-born and their cattle [Note: Numbers 3:11-13.]; and appointed them, with very peculiar and impressive solemnities [Note: Numbers 8:5-23.], to be consecrated to his service in their stead. He appointed also that the precise number of the persons belonging to each should be ascertained; and it being found that the first-born were two hundred and seventy-three more in number than the Levites, he ordered that they should be redeemed at the price of five shekels a-piece, (about 12s. 6d. each,) and that the money should be paid to Aaron and his sons for the service of the tabernacle [Note: Numbers 3:39-51.], and from that time it was an established law, that every male which opened the womb should be holy to the Lord [Note: Numbers 18:15-16.]; the clean beasts were to be sacrificed to him; and the unclean to be redeemed with a Iamb: but the first-born of men were universally to be redeemed; his mercy to them, and his consequent property in them, being thus kept in everlasting remembrance [Note: If the whole of the various passages cited upon this subject be not read, very large and copious extracts at least should be made, in order to lay the subject fully before the audience.].

Now Christ, as Mary’s first-born, came under this law; and though his life had never been forfeited, yet, to fulfil the law, and cut off all occasion of offence, he must be redeemed in the same manner as others. For this purpose his parents carried him to the Temple, and presented him before the Lord, in the way that God had appointed.

But it may be asked, Did the blessed Virgin wish to exempt him from the peculiar service of her God? No: she knew that he was sent into the world to be his servant, and that his ear was bored to the door-post as soon as he assumed our nature [Note: Compare Psalms 40:6. with Hebrews 10:5.]: but she would omit nothing which the Law required, either at her hands or his: teaching us thereby to sink all personal concerns in a regard for the honour of our God, and the good of our fellow-creatures.]

2. What their compliance with the law in this instance may teach us—

[Loudly indeed does it speak to mothers. Behold the blessed Virgin taking her infant child “to present him to the Lord:” is not this the thing which you should do the very moment you embrace your new-born babe? Should you not do it every time that you administer to its necessities, or supply its wants? Methinks you should never draw out the breast to it, without lifting up your heart in prayer for it, and entreating God to accept and own it, as a child of his. How can any of you endure the thought of bringing forth for Satan, and nourishing a child for him? Surely your prayer should often be ‘Lord, I ask not for my child the things of this world; (give him food and raiment, and I am content;) but I ask for grace; I ask for mercy; I ask for peace; I ask for all the blessings of salvation for him. I ask that thou thyself mayest be his portion, and that he may be the lot of thine inheritance. Yes, ye who have travailed in birth with your dear children, let your anxieties for them be summed up in this, that they may be “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” If you “travail in birth with them again and again till Christ be formed in them, so far from pitying your anguish, I will rejoice over you, and say, that “your labour shall not be in vain.” Little do mothers consider how much, under God, the salvation of their children depends on them. Little do they think how the prayers they have offered for, and with, their children, and the tears they have shed over them, would impress their tender minds, long after their tongues have been silent in the grave: and probably induce a penitential sorrow, when some concurring providence shall have softened and prepared their minds. Were parents more anxious about the spiritual welfare of their children, we should not so often find them in their declining years bowed down with trouble, and “their grey hairs brought with sorrow to the grave.”

And does not the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple speak to young people also? Yes surely; and that too in most instructive terms. You are ready to think it too early yet awhile to give yourselves to the Lord: but can that ever be too early, which is your most indispensable duty, your highest privilege, your surest felicity? Did Samuel ever regret that he was given to the Lord even from his mother’s womb? Did Timothy spend a less happy life, because he followed the faith and piety of Lois and Eunice? If you could but once taste the blessedness of true religion, you would never think of it as a toil, or dread it as a bondage: having “drunk water out of the wells of salvation,”you would most contentedly leave to others the muddy draughts which they with difficulty collect from their own “broken cisterns.” Be prevailed upon, then, to make the attempt; to give yourselves to the Lord; to commence that blessed course which Jesus trod before you. You have a special promise given you by God himself; “They that seek me early, shall find me:” The Lord impress it on your minds, and lead you to a sweet experience of its truth and blessedness!

But the subject speaks to all of us; yes, I say, to all. Do we not all profess to be “the Church of the first-born?” and is it not on that ground that we hope to be numbered with “the general assembly, who are written in heaven?” Behold then, we all belong to God: he lays claim to every one of us, and says, “They are mine.” True, “we have been redeemed, yea redeemed, not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” But wherefore have we been redeemed? That we might not serve the Lord? Nay; but that we might serve him: “Christ has redeemed us, that he might purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” In the name of God then I say, “Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price; therefore ye should glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are his.” And here let me observe to you, that there is no commutation of service admitted or allowed. If all the tribes of the earth should offer to stand in your place, and to serve God in your stead, he would not regard their offer, nor dispense with your service. All of you must surrender up yourselves to him. You have already been devoted to him in baptism: remember then the vows that are upon you: Remember “whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve:” and know assuredly, that those words which are so often, but so ignorantly, uttered by us in our prayers, contain the very truth of God; “his service is perfect freedom.”]


Verse 25

DISCOURSE: 1476

CHRIST THE CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL

Luke 2:25. The same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.

IN every age of the Church, there have been some distinguished from the common herd of professors, by their unfeigned zeal and piety. At the time when our blessed Lord came into the world, the Jewish nation were in a most degenerate state: yet were there some, who, with humble and assured expectation, “looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Amongst those was that aged saint, “to whom it was revealed, that he should not see death, till he should have seen the Lord’s Christ:” “the same man was just and devout,” waiting for the sight of him whom he regarded as “the Consolation of Israel,” and expecting it as the consummation of all his wishes.

The description here given of our Lord is worthy of peculiar attention; while the conduct of the holy patriarch is also replete with useful instruction. We propose therefore to consider,

I. In what respects Christ is “the Consolation of Israel”—

The Scriptures inform us, that there is consolation in Christ [Note: Philippians 2:1.], even abundant [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.] and everlasting consolation [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.]. Our Lord himself, speaking of the Spirit, calls him “another Comforter [Note: John 14:16.],” intimating thereby that he himself had sustained and executed this office. But as the Israel of God in that age were in some respects different from the Israel that now is, it will be proper to distinguish between them, and to shew in what respects this glorious title is applicable to Christ;

I. In reference to the Jewish Church—

[He came to give them clearer light. Moses had revealed to them the will of God: but he had put a veil upon his face to intimate the darkness of that dispensation [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:13.]; and had expressly referred them to a prophet who should arise after him, to whom they must look for fuller instructions [Note: Deuteronomy 18:15.]. The prophets of later ages taught the people to look forward to the times of the Messiah, when the glorious light should arise upon the Church, to chase away all the clouds of darkness in which it was then involved [Note: Isaiah 60:1-3. Malachi 4:2.]; insomuch that at the time of Christ’s advent there was a general and assured expectation, that a fuller revelation was about to be given them by him: “We know that Messias Cometh, who is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things [Note: John 4:25.].

He came also to deliver them from the yoke of the ceremonial law. This was a heavy burthen, which not even the most spiritual among them was able to support. This was never intended to continue any longer than the period fixed for the Messiah’s advent. It was foretold by David, that a priest should arise after the order of Melchizedec; and consequently, with the change of priesthood, there must be a change of the whole law that related to it [Note: Hebrews 7:11-12.]. Other prophets spake of “a new covenant [Note: Jeremiah 31:31-34.],” and of “a shaking again, not of the earth only, but also of the heavens [Note: Haggai 2:6.]:” by which they intimated that the old covenant should vanish away [Note: Hebrews 8:8.], and that the new order of things, which could not be shaken, should remain, after that the former was abrogated and dissolved [Note: Hebrews 12:25; Hebrews 12:27.].

He came moreover to establish an universal empire. The Jews in general misunderstood the prophecies relating to this event, and supposed that their Messiah would erect a temporal monarchy: but those who had a clearer insight into the meaning of the prophets, expected the establishment of a spiritual kingdom, wherein they should not merely be “delivered from all their enemies, but should serve God without fear in righteousness and holiness before him all the days of their life [Note: Luke 1:72-75.].”

To those who viewed him as the appointed Source of these benefits, his advent must be an occasion of most exalted joy: and accordingly it was announced as such by the angelic hosts, who said, “Behold, we bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord [Note: Luke 2:10-11].”]

2. In reference to the Christian Church—

[Having partaken of all the preceding benefits, we are led to contemplate the Saviour more immediately in reference to our own necessities: and O, what a consolation is he to us, while we view him as a Propitiation for our sins! What tongue can utter the feelings of a contrite soul, when, after many fears of God’s wrath, it is enabled to see the efficacy of Christ’s atonement? O, the peace, the joy, the exultation that arise from every fresh application of his blood to the conscience! Well is “the peace said to pass understanding,” and “the joy of believing to be unspeakable and glorified!”

But we are enabled to view him further as ourAdvocate with the Father.” In this light, he is, if possible, more precious than in the former. The comfort springing from his sacrifice would be greatly diminished, if we did not know that he is entered into heaven with his own blood, to plead the merit of it in our behalf. What should we do under any fresh contracted guilt, if we had not an Intercessor, through whom we might return to God, and offer our petitions with confidence of acceptance? Weak and frail as we are, we should sit down in despair: but having such a High-Priest that is passed into the heavens for us, we may come boldly to the throne of grace, assured of obtaining mercy, and of finding grace to help us in the time of need [Note: Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 4:16.].

Further, we behold him also as a fountain of all spiritual blessings. “It hath pleased the Father that in Christ should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.]. Whatever we want, whether wisdom, or righteousness, or strength, there is a fulness of it all in him; and we may say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24.].” What an unspeakable consolation must this be to those who feel their emptiness and poverty! What blessed confidence does it bring into the soul, when, under a full conviction that we have not in ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.], we are enabled to say, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me [Note: Philippians 4:13.]!”

In these views “Christ is so precious to those who believe in him,” that they “account all things but loss and dung in comparison of the knowledge of him [Note: Philippians 3:8.].”]

It will not be unprofitable to consider,

II. In what manner we are to “wait for” him—

In the precise sense in which this expression is used in the text, we can now only wait for his coming to judge the world. But there is a spiritual advent to the soul, which every believer is entitled to expect: for, as Christ said to his Disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you [Note: John 14:18.]; so he says to every obedient follower, “I will come unto you, and make my abode with you [Note: John 14:21-23.].” This advent therefore we are entitled to expect: and we should wait for it,

1. In a renunciation of all other comforters—

[The ungodly, in their troubles, go, like the Jews of old, to the creature for help and comfort [Note: Hosea 5:13.]: the worldling, to his business; the voluptuary, to his indulgences; the man of gaiety, to his sports; and the formalist, to his duties. They all “forsake the fountain of living waters, and hew out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.].” But we must go to Him, who invites the weary and heavyladen, and gives them assurances of rest [Note: Matthew 11:28.]. The language of our hearts must be, “Lord, to whom shall we go [Note: John 6:68.]? Whom have we in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that we desire besides thee [Note: Psalms 73:25.].” “None else shall save us; for in thee, even in thee alone, the fatherless findeth mercy [Note: Hosea 14:3.].”]

2. In a firm persuasion of his all-sufficiency—

[We shall in vain hope for comfort in Christ, if we doubt either his power or his willingness to save us. “If our faith be wavering, we shall receive nothing of the Lord [Note: James 1:6-7.].” We should not therefore come to Christ, saying, “Lord, if thou canst do any thing for us, interpose and help us [Note: Mark 9:22.];” but, “Lord, I know that with thee all things are possible [Note: Job 42:2.]:” thy blood can cleanse from the deepest guilt [Note: 1 John 1:7. Isaiah 1:18.]; thy grace can vanquish the most deep-rooted lusts [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]; and one glimpse of thy countenance can turn all my sorrows into joy [Note: Psalms 4:6; Psalms 42:11.]. “Having thee, though possessed of nothing else, I possess all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].” What a holy glorying would such views of Christ introduce into the soul, even if its distresses were ever so accumulated [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.]! Surely, our consolations should abound not only above, but also in proportion to, our heaviest afflictions [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].]

3. In an assured expectation of his promised advent—

[That he has promised to come to the souls of his afflicted people has been before shewn. Indeed a very principal end of his heavenly mission was, “to comfort them that mourn in Zion, and to appoint unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness [Note: Isaiah 61:1-3.].” Will he then relinquish the work he has undertaken? Will he violate his own engagements? “Is he a man, that he should lie, or the Son of Man, that he should repent?” Let us not then listen to the suggestions of unbelief and impatience [Note: Psalms 77:7-9.]: but rather obey the voice of the prophet, who says, “Though the vision tarry, wait for it; for in due time it shall come and shall not tarry [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].”]

Our improvement of this subject shall be,

1. In a way of inquiry—

[What do we make the ground of our consolation? We see what is supremely and exclusively the consolation of Israel. O that our regard to Christ may testify for us, that we belong to the true Israel!]

2. In a way of encouragement—

[Consolation implies some previous trouble. Now, trouble, if not of a temporal, yet certainly of a spiritual kind, we must all feel. Let us acquaint ourselves with Christ, and we shall never be at a loss for comfort. Let us live nigh to him, and we may defy all the powers of earth and hell [Note: See Isaiah 25:9.].]


Verses 28-32

DISCOURSE: 1477

TESTIMONY BORNE TO JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

Luke 2:28-32. Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 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 lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

WHILST we are noticing, as they arise, the various steps of our Saviour’s humiliation, we shall have repeated occasions to observe, how carefully God has guarded us against the unfavourable impressions which we might otherwise have received from them. At no season was the Divine interposition more remarkable than at our Saviour’s birth. The circumstances that attended it were as humiliating as could well be conceived; for he was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. But the descent of angels from heaven to announce and celebrate his advent, was more than sufficient to counterbalance the effect, which the meanness of his appearance might produce. Thus it was also when he was presented to the Lord by his parents, at the time of his mother’s purification in the temple. He was presented in order to be redeemed, as all other first-born children were; as though his life had been forfeited, as well as theirs. But, as a counterpoise to this, an aged saint, to whom it had been promised that he should not die till he had seen the Messiah, was warned by an express revelation from above to go into the temple for that purpose. Whilst he was there, the child was brought thither by his parents; and this holy man was inspired to distinguish his person, and to proclaim his character. His language on this occasion is very instructive: it shews us,

I. What views we should have of Christ—

We have no reason to think that in his outward appearance the infant Jesus was at all different from others. But this aged saint, on taking him up in his arms, announced him,

1. As the divinely-appointed Saviour—

[It was to God the Father that this holy man addressed his devout acknowledgments, and said, “Mine eyes have seen thy Salvation.” We must never forget, that the Father is the fountain, from whence the streams of salvation flow. He is “the giver of every good and perfect gift;” and the gift of his dear Son to a ruined world was altogether the fruit of his love. “He prepared for him a body.” He qualified him for his office by an immeasurable communication of the Holy Spirit. He upheld him in the execution of his work, protected and preserved him till his hour was come, and enabled him to persevere till he could say, “It is finished.”

Moreover the Father himself bore testimony to him under that character. Thrice, by an audible voice from heaven, did he point him out to the world in that view; “This is that my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him.” He constrained angels (both good and bad), and men (enemies as well as friends), to unite their testimony with his. In raising up Jesus from the dead, he declared also with irresistible evidence, that Jesus was his Son; and that what he had done for the salvation of the world, was accepted in our behalf. The Apostles, whom he sent forth to instruct the world, were everywhere to bear this testimony, that the “Father had sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world:” and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon thousands, both in his gracious influences and miraculous powers, in order to confirm their word.

In a word, our blessed Lord himself always spake of himself as sent by the Father to perform His will; and therefore, whilst we thankfully acknowledge the readiness with which Jesus undertook our cause, we must always regard him as God’s salvation, commissioned by him for that purpose, accepted by him in that capacity, and proclaimed by him for that end.]

2. As the universal Saviour—

[The immediate and primary objects of the Messiah’s attention were, (as our Lord himself informs us,) “the lost sheep of the House of Israel [Note: Matthew 15:24.]” And, after his resurrection, he gave especial commandment, that his Apostles, who were commissioned to preach the Gospel to all nations, should make the first offers of salvation to the Jews, even in that very city where he had so recently been condemned to death, and to that very people who had imbrued their hands in his blood [Note: Luke 24:47.]. Accordingly we find that the Apostles forbore to preach unto the Gentiles, till the Jews had obstinately rejected their testimony, and poured contempt upon the proffered salvation [Note: Acts 13:46.].

But the ultimate design of God was to give salvation to the world at large. If the Jews were to have the peculiar glory of giving birth to the Saviour, and of having the Gospel first ministered to them, they were not to engross all the benefits of his mission. The Gentiles, who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, were to behold his light, and to be guided by him into the paths of peace. Wherever there is a fallen child of Adam, there is a person for whom Christ came into the world, and to whom the Gospel, if thankfully accepted, shall become the power of God unto salvation. We are of Gentile extraction, and to us are the blessings of salvation offered: nor should we ever name the name of Christ, without feeling our obligations to him, and glorying in him as “all our salvation and all our desire.”

These two points which we have noticed in the text, as distinguishing the character of the Saviour, are united by the prophet; who represents the Father as addressing his Son in these memorable terms: “It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth [Note: Isaiah 49:6.].”]

That these views are not merely of a speculative nature, will be evident, whilst we notice,

II. The blessed effects of them upon a dying hour—

That the aged saint was in a measure affected, as Jacob was at the sight of his beloved Joseph [Note: Genesis 46:30.], we may very well concede: but still there was a difference between the two cases, corresponding with the difference between the objects seen: the one was affected as a parent, at the sight of a long-lamented son; the other, as a believer, at the sight of him on whom all his hopes, and the hopes of a ruined world, were built. The fact is, that a sight of Christ in his true character has now, and at all times, the very same effect. The mere circumstance of beholding his bodily presence, or of taking him up into one’s arms, would never reconcile one to the thoughts of death: but the beholding of him as the Author and Procurer of salvation, (as we may do by faith,) will universally,

1. Divest death of its terrors—

[That which makes death terrible, is sin. We know in our minds that sin is hateful unto God, and that he has denounced his heavy judgments against it: and consequently whilst that continues unrepented of, we cannot but feel a secret dread of God’s tribunal, and of the sentence that shall be passed upon us. But, if we have “by faith seen him, who is invisible,” if we have embraced in our hearts the Lord Jesus, and relied upon him as the appointed Saviour of the world, what have we to fear? “Our iniquity is forgiven, and our sin is covered:” by “believing in Jesus, we are justified from all things;” even “sins of a crimson dye are made white as snow.” The sting of death therefore is drawn; and we may adopt the language of the Apostle, “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:56-57.]!”

It is true, that many, who are ignorant of Christ, are enabled to brave death on a field of battle, and even to look forward to it with composure in its more gradual approaches. But in both cases they either put away the thought of God’s judgment altogether, or deceive themselves with the idea that they are prepared to meet it. Let them only be undeceived respecting the state of their own souls, and the state to which alone the promises of salvation are attached, and the most stout-hearted man in the universe will tremble: and it is uniformly found, that those persons who most appear to disregard death, are most averse to hear of it, or to reflect on its consequences on the souls of men. It is the knowledge of Christ only that affords a Scriptural hope of acceptance with God; and therefore it is that alone which will enable us to view with comfort the approach of death.]

2. Make it an object of desire—

[St. Paul tells us that to whomsoever “it is Christ to live, it is also gain to die:” and he speaks of himself as “having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which he considered as far better” than the happiest state he could enjoy on earth. Would we know what it was that made death so desirable to him? he tells us; “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me.” And in proportion as our views of Christ are clear, the same effects will follow: “We shall rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Who can hear that prayer of Christ’s, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me may be with me, to behold that glory which thou hast given me;” who, I say, can hear this, and not long for its accomplishment? There may remain in us somewhat of a natural fear of dissolution; and a regard for our families may perhaps make us wish to prolong for a season our stay on earth: but when, like Stephen, we behold the Lord Jesus and the glories of the invisible world, we feel every other tie dissolved, and long to have “mortality swallowed up of life.” We are like persons in a foreign land, who, after having formed many friendships there, are loth to quit it; but, feeling the stronger attractions of their own family and country, relinquish present comforts, in the hope and prospect of others more sublime. This is represented as the state of all who have made any progress in the divine life; they are “looking for, and hasting to, the coming of the day of Christ [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.].” Some may enjoy more of triumph in their end, and others less; but the testimony of David is found almost universally true, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace [Note: Psalms 37:37.].”]

We may learn from hence,

1. In what manner we should approach God’s temple below

[It is particularly noticed respecting this distinguished saint, that “he came by the Spirit into the temple.” Thus was his mind prepared for those manifestations of the Saviour which he there received. And what is the reason that we come up so often to the house of God without any benefit to our souls? Is it not that we come thither merely in a customary formal way, perhaps from no better motive than curiosity, and never pray to God for his Spirit to accompany us thither? We do not go up with enlarged expectations: we do not even think of having Christ revealed to our souls. But why do we not expect to see Christ there? Has he not said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world?” And is not this the particular direction of God to his ministers, “Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh [Note: Isaiah 62:11.]?” Know then, brethren, that, though you cannot see Christ in the flesh, you may by faith obtain a far brighter view of him than that holy man enjoyed who embraced him in his arms: and if you would have such manifestations of him to your souls in the house of God, you must pray to God for his Spirit to accompany you to his house, and take away the veil from your hearts. “Be not straitened in yourselves, and you shall not be straitened in your God:” only come hungering and thirsting after Christ, and you shall never be “sent empty away.”]

2. In what way we may secure admission into his temple above

[There is one great preparation for an entrance into heaven, and that is, a sight of Christ by faith. “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Without the knowledge of Christ no man can behold the face of God in peace. “There is no other foundation whereon any man can build,” “nor any other name whereby any man can be saved.” It was this which saved those who looked forward to him before his advent; and it is this which alone saves any since his advent. O that we duly considered this! How diligently should we then inquire, What are my views of Christ? How am I affected with them? Do they lead me to cast myself upon him? Do they enable me to rejoice in him? Do I under the influence of them look forward to the period of my dissolution as that which will introduce me to his more immediate presence, and to the consummation of all my hopes? Brethren, rest not in a mere nominal profession; be not content with calling Christ, Lord, Lord; but seek such views of him as shall transform you into his image, and make you meet for his glory.]


Verse 34-35

DISCOURSE: 1478

THE ENDS AND EFFECTS OF CHRIST’S EXHIBITION TO THE WOULD

Luke 2:34-35. Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

THE ways of God are deep and unsearchable. The richest displays of his love have been often accompanied with the heaviest afflictions. The honour bestowed on Paul was the forerunner of great sufferings. Thus the Virgin’s distinguished privilege of bringing the Son of God into the world was a prelude to the severest anguish to her soul. Even the gift of the Messiah himself, while it saves some, is the occasion of a more dreadful condemnation to others. It was foretold, that, as this was one end, so it would also be an effect, of Christ’s mission.

I. The remote ends of Christ’s exhibition to the world—

God has on the whole consulted his creatures’ good as well as his own glory; but he will not effect the happiness of every individual.

The “fall of many” was one end of Christ’s coming—

[His appearance was contrary to the carnal expectations of the Jews. Hence he became a stumbling-block to almost the whole nation. It had been plainly foretold that he should be so [Note: Isaiah 8:14-15.]. This prophecy is frequently quoted by the inspired writers [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23. 1 Peter 2:8.]. Our Lord himself expressly refers to it [Note: Matthew 21:42; Matthew 21:44.]. He elsewhere confirms the declaration contained in it [Note: John 9:39.].]

The coming of Christ actually produced this effect—

[Many took offence at him [Note: At his low parentage, his mean appearance, his sublime doctrines, his high pretensions, &c.]. Thus they became more wicked than they would otherwise have been [Note: John 15:22.]. Thus also they perished with a more aggravated condemnation [Note: Matthew 11:22.].]

But this was by no means the chief end.

The “rising of many” was another end of Christ’s coming—

[Jews and Gentiles were in a most deplorable condition: they were guilty, helpless, hopeless. From this state Christ came to raise them. This also was a subject of prophecy [Note: Isaiah 8:14.]; and our Lord often declares that this was the end of his coming [Note: Luke 19:10. John 10:10.]: hence he calls himself “the resurrection and the life [Note: John 11:25.].”]

And his coming produced this effect also—

[Few believed on him before his death: but myriads were raised by him soon after. They rose from a death in sin to a life of holiness. This effect is still carrying on in the world. Many from their own experience can say with Hannah [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.]—]

These ends, however, were more remote.

II. The more immediate end—

The minds of men in reference to God were very little known: neither ceremonial nor moral duties could fully discover their state; but he came to make it clear how every one was affected towards God.

In order to this he was “a mark or butt of contradiction [Note: σημεῖον ἀντιλεγόμενον.]”—

[No man ever met with so much contradiction as he [Note: Hebrews 12:3.]. He was contradicted by all persons [Note: Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, Herodians.], on all occasions [Note: In all that he taught about his person, work, and offices, and in all he did, in working miracles, &c.], in the most virulent manner [Note: They came to catch, ensnare, and provoke him.], in spite of the clearest evidence [Note: They would rather ascribe his miracles to Beelzebub, and his doctrines to madness, impiety, and inspiration of the devil.], and in the most solemn seasons [Note: Even on the cross itself.] — — — This was frequently as a sword in Mary’s breast.]

By his becoming such a mark, the thoughts of men’s hearts were discovered—

[The Pharisees wished to be thought righteous; the Scribes, the free-thinkers of the day, pleaded for candour; the Herodians professed indifference for all religion: yet they all combined against Christ. Thus they shewed what was in their hearts.]

The preaching of Christ still makes the same discovery—

[Christ is still a butt of contradiction in the world. Before his Gospel is preached, all seem to be agreed; but when he is set forth, discord and division ensue [Note: Matthew 10:34-36.]: then the externally righteous people shew their enmity; then the indifferent discover the same readiness to persecute. On the other hand the humility of others appears: many publicans and harlots gladly embrace the truth, and many believers manifest a willingness to die for Christ.]

By way of improvement we may inquire,

1. What self-knowledge have we gained from the preaching of Christ?

[He has been often “set forth crucified before our eyes.” This must in a measure have revealed our thoughts to us. What discoveries then has it made [Note: Has it shewn us our natural pride and self-righteousness, our self-sufficiency and self-dependence, our light thoughts of sin, our ingratitude, our unbelief, our enmity against God and his Christ? If it have not taught us these humiliating lessons, we have learned nothing yet to any good purpose.]? Let us take the Gospel as a light with which to search our hearts. Let us beg of God to illumine our minds by his Holy Spirit.]

2. What effect has the preaching of Christ produced on our lives?

[We must either rise or fall by means of the Gospel. Are we then risen with Christ to a new and heavenly life? or are we filled with prejudice against his Church and people? Let us tremble lest be prove a rock of offence to us. If we rise with him now to a life of holiness, he will raise us ere long to a life of glory.]


Verse 49

DISCOURSE: 1479

CHRIST’S EARLY HABITS

Luke 2:49. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me. wist ye not that I mutt be about my Father’s business?

THE prophets and apostles of old are proposed to us as examples in a variety of respects: but we are to follow men no further than they themselves followed Christ. Christ is the great pattern, to which all are to be conformed: and so fully is his character delineated in the Holy Scriptures, that we can scarcely ever be at a loss to know either what he did, or what he would have done, in any circumstances of life. The account we have indeed of his early days is very concise. There is little related of him to gratify our curiosity, but enough to regulate our conduct. The only authentic record which we have of the transactions of his childhood, is that before us.

His parents had carried him up at twelve years of age to Jerusalem, where all the males were obliged to assemble thrice in the year. After the paschal solemnities were completed, his parents set out on their journey homeward, and proceeded for one whole day, concluding that Jesus was in the company together with them. In the evening, to their great surprise, they sought for him in vain among all his kinsfolk and acquaintance; and therefore they returned the next day with their hearts full of sorrow and anxiety to Jerusalem, to search for their beloved child: but there they could hear no tidings of him all that night. Prosecuting their inquiries the third day, they found him at last, conversing with the doctors in the temple. Joseph being only his reputed father, left the task of reproving him to Mary his mother. She, gently chiding him for the distress he had occasioned them, received from him the reply which we have just read; in which he vindicated his conduct, from the superior obligations which he owed to his heavenly Father, and shewed, that their anxieties had arisen from their own ignorance and unbelief. They, we are told, “understood not his saying:” but we understand it: and from a sense of the vast importance of it, we will,

I. Explain to you his reply—

[This was probably the first time that he had ever been at Jerusalem since he was quite an infant: and he was solicitous to improve to the uttermost the opportunity which this season bad afforded him, of cultivating divine knowledge, and “increasing in heavenly wisdom.” Not wearied with the seven days that he had spent in spiritual exercises, he was happy to prolong the time, and to sit among the doctors (not with dictatorial forwardness, but with the modesty of a child) to answer any questions that were put to him, and to ask for information on those points, in which he found himself not yet sufficiently instructed [Note: ver. 41–47.]. It was in the use of such means as these that the indwelling Godhead gradually irradiated his mind, and trained him up for the office, which at a more advanced age he was to fulfil. This was “the business to which his heavenly Father had called him,” at this time; and it was the delight of his soul to execute it: nor was he responsible to his earthly parents for overlooking on this occasion that attention to their feelings, which, in less urgent circumstances, he would have gladly shewn.

For all this he appealed to them: “How is it that ye sought me with such anxiety? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” You know whence I am, that I am, in a way that no other child ever was, or ever will be, the Son of God. You know the end for which I was sent into the world, even to save my people from their sins. You know what marvellous interpositions have been vouchsafed me, insomuch that I was preserved, whilst all the children of Bethlehem, from two years old and under, were slain. You know also that the same heavenly Father who bade you carry me into Egypt, advertised you afterwards of Herod’s death, and directed you to return with me to our native land. And can you doubt that a child so born, and born for so great an end, and so miraculously preserved, shall be taken care of? Was not my heavenly Father’s care sufficient without yours?

Again, You have known my habits from my earliest infancy, and how entirely I have been devoted to my God, whilst in no single instance did I ever shew myself forgetful of you. You might well have concluded therefore, that I acted under the special direction of my heavenly Father, and might have been assured in your minds, that I was engaged “in my Father’s business.” You had abundant reason to be satisfied of all this; and therefore, though I cannot disapprove of your returning to search for me, I cannot altogether commend your sorrows and anxieties respecting me; since, if you had duly considered the circumstances I have referred to, your minds would have been comforted, being stayed on God.

Now, though “his parents understood not this at the time,” we, who enjoy a fuller revelation of God’s will, clearly comprehend it; and therefore may well, like Mary, treasure it up in our hearts. And being further informed, that during the whole of his youthful days “he was subject to his parents,” we see, that the construction we have put upon his words is true, and our vindication of his conduct is correct.]

Having explained his words, let me now,

II. Commend to your attention the sentiments contained in them—

Two things are here evidently insinuated;

1. That the service of God is of paramount obligation—

[God’s claims are infinitely superior to all that man can assert. We are to love and serve him with all our heart and soul and strength. In matters of mere arbitrary institution, he is pleased indeed to wave his claims, and to give a priority to ours; saying, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice [Note: Hosea 6:6.]:” but in the service of the heart and of the soul, he will never for a moment abandon his rights: He says, “My Son, give me thine heart:” and this we must give him at the peril of our souls. In comparison of him, “our earthly parents, yea and our very life itself, are to be objects of hatred” and contempt [Note: Luke 14:26.]. We are not to regard the authority of any superiors whatever, but to say, “whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye [Note: Acts 4:19.]. Nor are we to be influenced by any examples, however numerous; but like Joshua, we must say, “Whatever the whole nation may do, I and my house will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.].” This is strongly inculcated under the Christian dispensation: “Give thyself wholly to these things [Note: 1 Timothy 4:15. See the force of the Greek.].” “Rejoice evermore: pray without ceasing: in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.].” In a word, our whole life should be such, as, if any one shall inquire after us, to leave no doubt upon his mind, but that we are dutifully and diligently engaged “in our Father’s business.” It is not necessary that we should be always praying: our Lord himself was not praying at this time, but gaining instruction in the things of God. This was his duty. Ours is to perform the various offices of life in their season, combining in their due measure the services which our station in life calls for, with those which we owe more immediately to God. But in all that we do, we must have respect to God’s authority as appointing it, and seek God’s glory in the execution of it. “We must live not unto ourselves, but solely and entirely unto God [Note: Romans 14:7-8.].”]

2. That in serving him, it is not possible for us to engage too early, or too earnestly—

[Our Lord was only twelve years of age at this time: and now, after having fulfilled all his duties during the seven days of the feast, he persisted even till the tenth day in prosecuting what he judged to be for the improvement of his own mind, and for the honour of his heavenly Father. It is probable that, whilst all the males of Israel were at Jerusalem together, he, a little child, could not gain the attention of the great doctors at Jerusalem, who would almost of necessity be fully occupied with those who had come from every quarter of the land. But when the strangers were all gone, he might without difficulty gain access to the great and authorized instructors of the Lord’s people. This probably was one reason of his staying at that time, that so he might improve to the uttermost the only opportunity that had ever been afforded him. In like manner, when, in the course of his ministry, he had been labouring all the day, and praying all the night, and then, without taking any sustenance, was labouring also the next day, his friends sought him, fearing “he was beside himself” (as we translate it), or rather, that “he was transported too far,” so as irreparably to destroy his own health [Note: Mark 3:21. ὅτι ἐξέστη.] Now in all this he has shewn us, that, however we may be wearied in the Lord’s service, we are never to be weary of it; but are to prosecute it incessantly to the very utmost of our power. In short, whatever progress we may have made in our divine course, we are to “forget the things which are behind, and to reach forth to those that are before,” and never to pause till we have gained the prize [Note: Phill. 3:13. 14.].]

Address—

1. To parents—

[You have a solicitude for your children’s welfare: you are anxious for the preservation of their health, and the advancement of their temporal prosperity. These feelings, if kept within due bounds, I by no means condemn. But your chief anxiety should be for the welfare of their souls; and your labour should be to engage them thoroughly in the business assigned them by their heavenly Father. If you neglect this, or shew a lukewarmness about it, you will involve yourselves in guilt of the deepest die. You remember how Eli was punished for this sin [Note: 1 Samuel 3:11-13.]: and his sons Hophni and Phinehas will reproach him in the last day as accessary to their destruction, Beware lest that reproach be vented against you by your children: for assuredly, if your souls will be required at the hand of your minister, much more will the blood of your children be required at your hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:8.].]

2. To young people—

[You have from the moment you came into the world a business assigned you by your heavenly parent, and you are bound to execute it from the very beginning according to your capacity. If you commence it early, you have a special promise from God, that you shall succeed in your efforts [Note: Proverbs 8:17.]. And tell me, what period of life is there, in which you can be so well employed as in doing your Father’s will? You may think that youth and manhood are seasons rather for pleasure and for temporal pursuits: but the more you resemble Christ, the happier you will be. Who is there amongst you that does not congratulate Samuel, Obadiah, Timothy, on their early surrender of themselves to God. Be assured, that such a retrospect in your own case will, in a dying hour, be a source of much comfort to your souls. In the meantime you will greatly honour God by dedicating your whole lives to him, and will diffuse blessings through the world, instead of being, as alas! too many are, curses to all around them. And thus, it may be hoped, you will conciliate the favour both of God and man [Note: ver. 52.]. But if unhappily you be blamed for consecrating yourselves to God, then must you be ready to give a reason of your conduct with meekness and fear [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.].”]

 


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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 2:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/luke-2.html. 1832.

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