Even when he humbles himself, still Christ has honour done him to balance the offence of it. That we might not be stumbled at the meanness of his birth, angels then did him honour; and now, that we may not be offended at his being presented in the temple, like other children born in sin, and without any manner of solemnity peculiar to him, but silently, and in the crowd of other children, Simeon and Anna now do him honour, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
I. A very honourable testimony is borne to him by Simeon, which was both a reputation to the child and an encouragement to the parents, and might have been a happy introduction of the priests into an acquaintance with the Saviour, if those watchmen had not been blind. Now observe here,
1. The account that is given us concerning this Simeon, or Simon. He dwelt now in Jerusalem, and was eminent for his piety and communion with God. Some learned men, who have been conversant with the Jewish writers, find that there was at this time one Simeon, a man of great note in Jerusalem, the son of Hillel, and the first to whom they gave the title of Rabban, the highest title that they gave to their doctors, and which was never given but to seven of them. He succeeded his father Hillel, as president of the college which his father founded, and of the great Sanhedrim. The Jews say that he was endued with a prophetical spirit, and that he was turned out of his place because he witnessed against the common opinion of the Jews concerning the temporal kingdom of the Messiah; and they likewise observe that there is no mention of him in their Mishna, or book of traditions, which intimates that he was no patron of those fooleries. One thing objected against this conjecture is that at this time his father Hillel was living, and that he himself lived many years after this, as appears by the Jewish histories; but, as to that, he is not here said to be old; and his saying,Now let thy servant depart intimates that he was willing to die now, but does not conclude that therefore he did die quickly. St. Paul lived many years after he had spoken of his death as near, Acts 20:25. Another thing objected is that the son of Simeon was Gamaliel, a Pharisee, and an enemy to Christianity; but, as to that, it is no new thing for a faithful lover of Christ to have a son a bigoted Pharisee.
The account given of him here is, (1.) That he was just and devout, just towards men and devout towards God; these two must always go together, and each will befriend the other, but neither will atone for the defect of the other. (2.) That he waited for the consolation of Israel, that is, for the coming of the Messiah, in whom alone the nation of Israel, that was now miserably harassed and oppressed, would find consolation. Christ is not only the author of his people’s comfort, but the matter and ground of it, the consolation of Israel. He was long a coming, and they who believed he would come continued waiting, desiring his coming, and hoping for it with patience; I had almost said, with some degree of impatience waiting till it came. He understood by books, as Daniel, that the time was at hand, and therefore was now more than ever big with expectation of it. The unbelieving Jews, who still expect that which is already come, use it as an oath, or solemn protestation, As ever I hope to see the consolation of Israel, so and so it is. Note, The consolation of Israel is to be waited for, and it is worth waiting for, and it will be very welcome to those who have waited for it, and continue waiting. (3.) The Holy Ghost was upon him, not only as a Spirit of holiness, but as a Spirit of prophecy; he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and enabled to speak things above himself. (4.) He had a gracious promise made him, that before he died he should have a sight of the Messiah, Luke 2:26. He was searching what manner of time the Spirit of Christ in the Old-Testament prophets did signify, and whether it were not now at hand; and he received this oracle (for so the word signifies), that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed. Note, Those, and those only, can with courage see death, and look it in the face without terror, that have had by faith a sight of Christ.
2. The seasonable coming of Simeon into the temple, at the time when Christ was presented there, Luke 2:27. Just then, when Joseph and Mary brought in the child, to be registered as it were in the church-book, among the first-born, Simeon came, by direction of the Spirit, into the temple. The same Spirit that had provided for the support of his hope now provided for the transport of his joy. It was whispered in his ear, “Go to the temple now, and you shall see what you have longed to see.” Note, Those that would see Christ must go to his temple; for there The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to meet you, and there you must be ready to meet him.
3. The abundant satisfaction wherewith he welcomed this sight: He took him up in his arms (Luke 2:28), he embraced him with the greatest affection imaginable, laid him in his bosom, as near his heart as he could, which was as full of joy as it could hold. He took him up in his arms, to present him to the Lord (so some think), to do either the parent’s part or the priest’s part; for divers of the ancients say that he was himself a priest. When we receive the record which the gospel gives us of Christ with a lively faith, and the offer it makes us of Christ with love and resignation, then we take Christ in our arms. It was promised him that he should have a sight of Christ; but more is performed than was promised: he has him in his arms.
4. The solemn declaration he made hereupon: He blessed God, and said, Lord, now let thou thy servant depart in peace, Luke 2:29-32.
(1.) He has a pleasant prospect concerning himself, and (which is a great attainment) is got quite above the love of life and fear of death; nay, he is arrived at a holy contempt of life, and desire of death: “Lord, now let thou thy servant depart, for mine eyes have seen the salvation I was promised a sight of before I died.” Here is, [1.] An acknowledgment that God had been as good as his word; there has not failed one tittle of his good promises, as Solomon owns, 1 Kgs. 8:56. Note, Never any that hoped in God’s word were made ashamed of their hope. [2.] A thanksgiving for it. He blessed God that he saw that salvation in his arms which many prophets and kings desired to see, and might not. [3.] A confession of his faith, that the child in his arms was the saviour, the Salvation itself; thy salvation, the salvation of thine appointing, the salvation which thou has prepared with a great deal of contrivance. And, while it has been thus long in the coming, it hath still been in the preparing. [4.] It is a farewell to this world: “Now let thy servant depart; now mine eyes have been blessed with this sight, let them be closed, and see no more in this world.” The eye is not satisfied with seeing (Eccl. 1:8), till it hath seen Christ, and then it is. What a poor thing doth this world look to one that hath Christ in his arms and salvation in his eye! Now adieu to all my friends and relations, all my enjoyments and employments here, even the temple itself. [5.] It is a welcome to death: Now let thy servant depart. Note, Death is a departure, the soul’s departure out of the body, from the world of sense to the world of spirits. We must not depart till God give us our discharge, for we are his servants and must not quit his service till we have accomplished our time. Moses was promised that he should see Canaan, and then die; but he prayed that this word might be altered, Deut. 3:24, 25. Simeon is promised that he should not see death till he had seen Christ; and he is willing to construe that beyond what was expressed, as an intimation that, when he had seen Christ, he should die: Lord, be it so, saith he, now let me depart. See here, First, How comfortable the death of a good man is; he departs as God’s servant from the place of his toil to that of his rest. He departs in peace, peace with God, peace with his own conscience; in peace with death, well-reconciled to it, well-acquainted with it. He departs according to God’s word, as Moses at the word of the Lord (Deut. 34:5): the word of precept, Go up and die; the word of promise, I will come again and receive you to myself. Secondly, What is the ground of this comfort? For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. This bespeaks more than a great complacency in the sight, like that of Jacob (Gen. 46:30), Now let me die, since I have seen thy face. It bespeaks a believing expectation of a happy state on the other side death, through this salvation he now had a sight of, which not only takes off the terror of death, but makes it gain, Phil. 1:21. Note, Those that have welcomed Christ may welcome death.
(2.) He has a pleasant prospect concerning the world, and concerning the church. This salvation shall be,
[1.] A blessing to the world. It is prepared before the face of all people, not to be hid in a corner, but to be made known; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles that now sit in darkness: they shall have the knowledge of him, and of God, and another world through him. This has reference to Isa. 49:6; I will give thee for a light to the Gentiles; for Christ came to be the light of the world, not a candle in the Jewish candlestick, but the Sun of righteousness.
[2.] A blessing to the church: the glory of thy people Israel. It was an honour to the Jewish nation that the Messiah sprang out of one of their tribes, and was born, and lived, and died, among them. And of those who were Israelites indeed of the spiritual Israel, he was indeed the glory, and will be so to eternity, Isa. 60:19. They shall glory in him. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory, Isa. 45:25. When Christ ordered his apostles to preach the gospel to all nations, therein he made himself a light to lighten the Gentiles; and when he added, beginning at Jerusalem, he made himself the glory of his people Israel.
5. The prediction concerning this child, which he delivered, with his blessing, to Joseph and Mary. They marvelled at those things which were still more and more fully and plainly spoken concerning this child, Luke 2:33. And because they were affected with, and had their faith strengthened by, that which was said to them, here is more said to them.
(1.) Simeon shows them what reason they had to rejoice; for he blessed them (Luke 2:34), he pronounced them blessed who had the honour to be related to this child, and were entrusted with the bringing him up. He prayed for them, that God would bless them, and would have others do so too. They had reason to rejoice, for this child should be, not only a comfort and honour to them, but a public blessing. He is set for the rising again of many in Israel, that is, for the conversion of many to God that are dead and buried in sin, and for the consolation of many in God that are sunk and lost in sorrow and despair. Those whom he is set for the fall of may be the same with those whom he is set for the rising again of. He is set eis ptosin kai anastasin—for their fall, in order to their rising again; to humble and abase them, and bring them off from all confidence in themselves, that they may be exalted by relying on Christ; he wounds and then heals, Paul falls, and rises again.
(2.) He shows them likewise what reason they had to rejoice with trembling, according to the advice given of old, with reference to the Messiah’s kingdom, Ps. 2:11. Lest Joseph, and Mary especially, should be lifted up with the abundance of the revelations, here is a thorn in the flesh for them, an allay to their joy; and it is what we sometimes need.
[1.] It is true, Christ shall be a blessing to Israel; but there are those in Israel whom he is set for the fall of, whose corruptions will be provoked, who will be prejudiced and enraged against him, and offended, and whose sin and ruin will be aggravated by the revelation of Jesus Christ; many who will extract poison to themselves out of the balm of Gilead, and split their souls on the Rock of salvation, to whom this precious Foundation-stone will be a stone of stumbling. This refers to that prophecy (Isa. 8:14, 15), He shall be for a sanctuary to some, and yet for a snare to others, 1 Pet. 2:7, 8. Note, As it is pleasant to think how many there are to whom Christ and his gospel are a savour of life unto life, so it is sad to think how many there are to whom it is a savour of death unto death. He is set for a sign, to be admired by some, but by others, by many, spoken against. He had many eyes upon him, during the time of his public ministry, he was a sign, but he had many tongues against him, the contradiction and reproach of sinners, he was continually cavilled at and abused; and the effects of this will be that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed (Luke 2:35), that is, upon this occasion, men will show themselves, will discover, and so distinguish, themselves. The secret good affections and dispositions in the minds of some will be revealed by their embracing Christ, and closing with him; the secret corruptions and vicious dispositions of others, that otherwise would never have appeared so bad, will be revealed by their enmity to Christ and their rage against him. Men will be judged of by the thoughts of their hearts, their thoughts concerning Christ; are they for him, or are they for his adversaries? The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and by it we are discovered to ourselves, and shall be judged hereafter.
[2.] It is true, Christ shall be a comfort to his mother; but be not thou too proud of it, for a sword shall pass through thine own soul also. He shall be a suffering Jesus; and, First, “Thou shalt suffer with him, by sympathy, more than any other of his friends, because of the nearness of thy relation, and strength of affection, to him.” When he was abused, it was a sword in her bones. When she stood by his cross, and saw him dying, we may well think her inward grief was such that it might truly be said, A sword pierced through her soul, it cut her to the heart. Secondly, Thou shalt suffer for him. Many understand it as a prediction of her martyrdom; and some of the ancients say that it had its accomplishment in that. Note, In the midst of our greatest delights and advancements in this world, it is good for us to know that bonds and afflictions abide us.
II. He is taken notice of by one Anna, or Ann, a prophetess, that one of each sex might bear witness to him in whom both men and women are invited to believe, that they may be saved. Observe,
1. The account here given of this Anna, who she was. She was, (1.) A prophetess; the Spirit of prophecy now began to revive, which had ceased in Israel above three hundred years. Perhaps no more is meant than that she was one who had understanding in the scriptures above other women, and made it her business to instruct the younger women in the things of God. Though it was a very degenerate age of the church, yet God left not himself without witness. (2.) She was the daughter of Phanuel; her father’s name (says Grotius) is mentioned, to put us in mind of Jacob’s Phanuel, or Penuel (Gen. 32:30), that now the mystery of that should be unfolded, when in Christ we should as it were see God face to face, and our lives be preserved; and her name signifies gracious. (3.) She was of the tribe of Asher, which was in Galilee; this, some think, is taken notice of to refute those who said, Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet, when no sooner did prophecy revive but it appeared from Galilee. (4.) She was of a great age, a widow of about eighty-four years; some think she had now been eighty-four years a widow, and then she must be considerably above a hundred years old; others, rather than suppose that a woman so very old should be capable of fasting and praying as she did, suppose that she was only eighty-four years of age, and had been long a widow. Though she was a young widow, and had lived with her husband but seven years, yet she never married again, but continued a widow to her dying day, which is mentioned to her praise. (5.) She was a constant resident in or at least attendant on the temple. Some think she had lodgings in the courts of the temple, either in an alms-house, being maintained by the temple charities; or, as a prophetess, she was lodged there, as in a proper place to be consulted and advised with by those that desired to know the mind of God; others think her not departing from the temple means no more, than that she was constantly there at the time of divine service: when any good work was to be done, she was ready to join in it. It is most probable she had an apartment of her own among the out-buildings of the temple; and, besides her constant attendance on the public worship, abounded in private devotions, for she served God with fastings and prayers night and day: having no secular business to employ herself in, or being past it, she gave up herself wholly to her devotions, and not only fasted twice in the week, but always lived a mortified life, and spent that time in religious exercises which others spent in eating and drinking and sleeping; she not only observed the hours of prayer, but prayed night and day; was always in a praying frame, lived a life of prayer, gave herself to prayer, was frequent in ejaculations, large in solemn prayers, and very particular in her intercessions. And in these she served God; that was it that put a value upon them and an excellency in to them. The Pharisees fasted often, and made long prayers, but they served themselves, and their own pride and covetousness, in their fastings and prayers; but this good woman not only did that which was good, but did it from a good principle, and with a good end; she served God, and aimed at his honour, in fasting and praying. Note, [1.] Devotion is a thing we ought to be constant in; other duties are in season now and then, but we must pray always. [2.] It is a pleasant sight to see aged Christians abounding in acts of devotion, as those that are not weary of well-doing, that do not think themselves above these exercises, or past them, but that take more and more pleasure in them, and see more and more need of them, till they come to heaven. [3.] Those that are diligent and faithful in improving the light and means they have shall have further discoveries made them. Anna is now at length abundantly recompensed for her attendance so many years in the temple.
2. The testimony she bore to our Lord Jesus (Luke 2:38): She came in at that instant when the child was presented, and Simeon discoursed concerning him; she, who was so constant to the temple, could not miss the opportunity.
Now, (1.) She gave thanks likewise to the Lord, just as Simeon, perhaps like him, wishing now to depart in peace. Note, Those to whom Christ is made known have reason enough to give thanks to the Lord for so great a favour; and we should be excited to that duty by the praises and thanksgivings of others; why should not we give thanks likewise, as well as they? Anna concurred with Simeon, and helped to make up the harmony. She confessed unto the Lord (so it may be read); she made an open profession of her faith concerning this child.
(2.) She, as a prophetess, instructed others concerning him: She spoke of him to all them that believed the Messiah would come, and with him looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Redemption was the thing wanted, waited for, and wished for; redemption in Jerusalem, for thence the word of the Lord was to go forth, Isa. 2:3. Some there were in Jerusalem that looked for redemption; yet but a few, for Anna, it should seem, had acquaintance with all them that were joint-expectants with her of the Messiah; she knew where to find them, or they where to find her, and she told them all the good news, that she had seen the Lord; and it was great news, this of his birth now, as afterwards that of his resurrection. Note, Those that have an acquaintance with Christ themselves should do all they can to bring others acquainted with him.
Lastly, Here is a short account of the infancy and childhood of our Lord Jesus.
1. Where he spent it, Luke 2:39. When the ceremony of presenting the child, and purifying the mother, was all over, they returned into Galilee. Luke relates no more concerning them, till they were returned into Galilee; but it appears by St. Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 2:1-23) that from Jerusalem they returned to Bethlehem, where the wise men of the east found them, and there they continued till they were directed to flee into Egypt, to escape the malice and rage of Herod; and, returning thence when Herod was dead, they were directed to go to their old quarters in Nazareth, whence they had been perhaps some years absent. It is here called their own city, because there they had lived a great while, and their relations were there. He was ordered further from Jerusalem, because his kingdom and priesthood were to have no affinity with the present government of the Jewish church or state. He is sent into a place of obscurity and reproach; for in this, as in other things, he must humble himself and make himself of no reputation.
2. How he spent it, Luke 2:40. In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, and therefore he passed through infancy and childhood as other children did, yet without sin; nay, with manifest indications of a divine nature in him. As other children, he grew in stature of body, and the improvement of understanding in his human soul, that his natural body might be a figure of his mystical body, which, though animated by a perfect spirit, yet maketh increase of itself till it comes to the perfect man, Eph. 4:13, 16. But, (1.) Whereas other children are weak in understanding and resolution, he was strong in spirit. By the Spirit of God his human soul was endued with extraordinary vigour, and all his faculties performed their offices in an extraordinary manner. He reasoned strongly, and his judgment was penetrating. (2.) Whereas other children have foolishness bound in their hearts, which appears in what they say or do, he was filled with wisdom, not by any advantages of instruction and education, but by the operation of the Holy Ghost; every thing he said and did was wisely said, and wisely done, above his years. (3.) Whereas other children show that the corruption of nature is in them, and the tares of sin grow up with the wheat of reason, he made it appear that nothing but the grace of God was upon him (the wheat sprang up without tares), and that, whereas other children are by nature children of wrath, he was greatly beloved, and high in the favour of God; that God loved him, and cherished him, and took a particular care of him.