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Luke relates how it happened, that Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem, as his mother was living at a distance from her home, when she was approaching to her confinement. And first he sets aside the idea of human contrivance, (123) by saying, that Joseph and Mary had left home, and came to that place to make the return according to their family and tribe. If intentionally and on purpose (124) they had changed their residence that Mary might bring forth her child in Bethlehem, we would have looked only at the human beings concerned. But as they have no other design than to obey the edict of Augustus, we readily acknowledge, that they were led like blind persons, by the hand of God, to the place where Christ must be born. This may appear to be accidental, as everything else, which does not proceed from a direct human intention, is ascribed by irreligious men to Fortune. But we must not attend merely to the events themselves. We must remember also the prediction which was uttered by the prophet many centuries before. A comparison will clearly show it to have been accomplished by the wonderful Providence of God, that a registration was then enacted by Augustus Caesar, and that Joseph and Mary set out from home, so as to arrive in Bethlehem at the very point of time.
Thus we see that the holy servants of God, even though they wander from their design, unconscious where they are going, still keep the right path, because God directs their steps. Nor is the Providence of God less wonderful in employing the mandate of a tyrant to draw Mary from home, that the prophecy may be fulfilled. God had marked out by his prophet — as we shall afterwards see — the place where he determined that his Son should be born. If Mary had not been constrained to do otherwise, she would have chosen to bring forth her child at home. Augustus orders a registration to take place in Judea, and each person to give his name, that they may afterwards pay an annual tax, which they were formerly accustomed to pay to God. Thus an ungodly man takes forcible possession of that which God was accustomed to demand from his people. It was, in effect, reducing the Jews to entire subjection, and forbidding them to be thenceforth reckoned as the people of God.
Matters have been brought, in this way, to the last extremity, and the Jews appear to be cut off and alienated for ever from the covenant of God. At that very time does God suddenly, and contrary to universal expectation, afford a remedy. What is more, he employs that wicked tyranny for the redemption of his people. For the governor, (or whoever was employed by Caesar for the purpose,) while he executes the commission entrusted to him, is, unknown to himself, God’s herald, to call Mary to the place which God had appointed. And certainly Luke’s whole narrative may well lead believers to acknowledge, that Christ was led by the hand of God “ from his mother’s belly,” (Psalms 22:10.) Nor is it of small consequence (125) to the certainty of faith to know, that Mary was drawn suddenly, and contrary to her own intention, to Bethlehem, that “out of it might come forth” (Micah 5:2) the Redeemer, as he had been formerly promised.
1. The whole world This figure of speech (126) (by which the whole is taken for a part, or a part for the whole) was in constant use among the Roman authors, and ought not to be reckoned harsh. That this registration might be more tolerable and less odious, it was extended equally, I have no doubt, to all the provinces; though the rate of taxation may have been different. I consider this first registration to mean, that the Jews, being completely subdued, were then loaded with a new and unwonted yoke. Others read it, that this registration was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria; (127) but there is no probability in that view. The tax was, indeed, annual; but the registration did not take place every year. The meaning is, that the Jews were far more heavily oppressed than they had formerly been.
There is a diversity as to the name of the Proconsul. Some call him Cyrenius, ( Κυρήνιος,) and others, Quirinus or Quirinius But there is nothing strange in this;for we know that the Greeks, when they translate Latin names, almost always make some change in the pronunciation. But a far greater difficulty springs up in another direction. Josephus says that, while Archelaus was a prisoner at Vienna, (Ant. 17:13. 2,) Quirinus came as Proconsul, with instructions to annex Judea to the province of Syria, (xviii. 1.1.) Now, historians are agreed, that Archelaus reigned nine years after the death of his father Herod. It would therefore appear, that there was an interval of about thirteen years between the birth of Christ and this registration; for almost all assent to the account given by Epiphanius, that Christ was born in the thirty-third year of Herod: that is, four years before his death.
Another circumstance not a little perplexing is, that the same Josephus speaks of this registration as having happened in the thirty-seventh year after the victory at Actium, (128) (Ant. 18:2. 1.) If this be true, Augustus lived, at the utmost, not more than seven years after this event; which makes a deduction of eight or nine years from his age: for it is plain from the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, that he was at that time only in his fifteenth year. But, as the age of Christ is too well known to be called in question, it is highly probable that, in this and many other passages of Josephus’s History, his recollection had failed him. Historians are agreed that Quirinus was Consul nineteen years, or thereby, before the victory over Antony, which gave Augustus the entire command of the empire: and so he must have been sent into the province at a very advanced age. Besides, the same Josephus enumerates four governors of Judea within eight years; while he acknowledges that the fifth was governor for fifteen years. That was Valerius Gratus, who was succeeded by Pontius Pilate.
Another solution may be offered. It might be found impracticable to effect the registration immediately after the edict had been issued: for Josephus relates, that Coponius was sent with an army to reduce the Jews to subjection, (Ant. 18:2.2) from which it may easily be inferred, that the registration was prevented, for a time, by popular tumult. The words of Luke bear this sense, that, about the time of our Lord’s birth, an edict came out to have the people registered, but that the registration could not take place till after a change of the kingdom, when Judea had been annexed to another province. This clause is accordingly added by way of correction. This first registration was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria That is, it was then first carried into effect. (129)
But the whole question is not yet answered: for, while Herod was king of Judea, what purpose did it serve to register a people who paid no tribute to the Roman Empire? I reply: there is no absurdity in supposing that Augustus, by way of accustoming the Jews to the yoke, (for their obstinacy was abundantly well-known,) chose to have them registered, even under the reign of Herod. (130) Nor did Herod’s peculiar authority as king make it inconsistent that the Jews should pay to the Roman Empire a stipulated sum for each man under the name of a tax: for we know that Herod, though he was called a king, held nothing more than a borrowed power, and was little better than a slave. On what authority Eusebius states that this registration took place by an order of the Roman Senate, I know not.
(123) “ Il monstre que cela ne s'est point fait par advis ou conseil humain.” —”He shows that this was not by human advice or plan.”
(124) “ Data opera et consulto;” — “ de propos delibere;” — “of deliberate purpose.”
(125) “ Neque parum facit;” — “ ce n'est pas un poinct de petite importance.”
(127) The reader will observe that this is the rendering of the authorized English version. — Ed.
(128) “ Victoriae Actiacae.” — “ C'est une victoire qu'ent Auguste a la bataille sur mer contre Antoine et Cleopatra, aupres de la ville nommee Actium.” — “That is, a victory which Augustus had in the naval battle which he fought against Antony and Cleopatra, near the town called Actium.”
(129) “ Elle fut lors executee, et trouva-on facon d'en venir a bout.” — “It was then executed, and a way was found of succeeding in it.”
(130) “ Sub Herode;” — “ combien qu'ils fussent sujets d'Herode;” — “though they were subjects of Herod.”
7. Because there was no room for them in the inn We see here not only the great poverty of Joseph, but the cruel tyranny which admitted of no excuse, but compelled Joseph to bring his wife along with him, at an inconvenient season, when she was near the time of her delivery. Indeed, it is probable that those who were the descendants of the royal family were treated more harshly and disdainfully than the rest. Joseph was not so devoid of feeling as to have no concern about his wife’s delivery. He would gladly have avoided this necessity: but, as that is impossible, he is forced to yield, (131) and commends himself to God. We see, at the same time, what sort of beginning the life of the Son of God had, and in what cradle (132) he was placed. Such was his condition at his birth, because he had taken upon him our flesh for this purpose, that he might, “empty himself” (Philippians 2:7) on our account. When he was thrown into a stable, and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him among men, it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging, (133) but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.
(131) “ Il baisse la teste;” — “he bows the head.”
(132) “ Comment il a este heberge.”
(133) “ Non modo hospitii jure;” — “ non point comme un logis pour y estre hebergez en passant.”
8. And there were shepherds It would have been to no purpose that Christ was born in Bethlehem, if it had not been made known to the world. But the method of doing so, which is described by Luke, appears to the view of men very unsuitable. First, Christ is revealed but to a few witnesses, and that too amidst the darkness of night. Again, though God had, at his command, many honorable and distinguished witnesses, he passed by them, and chose shepherds, persons of humble rank, and of no account among men. Here the reason and wisdom of the flesh must prove to be foolishness; and we must acknowledge, that “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25) excels all the wisdom that exists, or appears to exist, in the world. But this too was a part of the “emptying of himself,” (Philippians 2:6 :) not that any part of Christ’s glory should be taken away by it, but that it should lie in concealment for a time. Again, as Paul reminds us, that the gospel is mean according to the flesh, “that our faith should stand” in the power of the Spirit, not in the “lofty (142) words of human wisdom,” or in any worldly splendor, (143) (1 Corinthians 2:4;) so this inestimable “treasure” has been deposited by God, from the beginning, “in earthen vessels,” (2 Corinthians 4:7,) that he might more fully try the obedience of our faith. If then we desire to come to Christ, let us not be ashamed to follow those whom the Lord, in order to cast down the pride of the world, has taken, from among the dung (144) of cattle, to be our instructors.
(142) “ En paroles magnifiques;” — “in magnificent words.”
(143) “ En quelque lustre et apparence du monde;” — “in any luster and display of the world.”
(144) “ Ex pecudum stercore;” — “ sur la fiente des bestes.”
9. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them He says, that the glory of the Lord (145) shone around the shepherds, by which they perceived him to be an angel. (146) For it would have been of little avail to be told by an angel what is related by Luke, if God had not testified, by some outward sign, that what they heard proceeded from Him. The angel appeared, not in an ordinary form, or without majesty, but surrounded with the brightness of heavenly glory, to affect powerfully the minds of the shepherds, that they might receive the discourse which was addressed to them, as coming from the mouth of God himself. Hence the fear, of which Luke shortly afterwards speaks, by which God usually humbles the hearts of men, (as I have formerly explained,) and disposes them to receive his word with reverence.
(145) “ La clarte du Seigneur;” — “the brightness of the Lord.”
(146) “ c'a este afin qu'ils cogneussent que c'estoit l'ange de Dieu qui parloit;” — “it was in order that they might know that it was the angel of the Lord that spoke.”
10. Fear not The design of this exhortation is to alleviate their fear. For, though it is profitable for the minds of men to be struck with awe, that they may learn to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name,” (Psalms 29:2;) yet they have need, at the same time, of consolation, that they may not be altogether overwhelmed. For the majesty of God could not but swallow up the whole world, if there were not some mildness to mitigate the terror which it brings. And so the reprobate fall down lifeless at the sight of God, because he appears to them in no other character than that of a judge. But to revive the minds of the shepherds, the angel declares that he was sent to them for a different purpose, to announce to them the mercy of God. When men hear this single word, that God is reconciled to them, it not only raises up those who are fallen down, but restores those who were ruined, and recalls them from death to life.
The angel opens his discourse by saying, that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground or matter of joy, that a Savior is born These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration. (147) Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are so many tormentors. The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquillity to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.) By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh. (148)
Which shall be to all the people Though the angel addresses the shepherds alone, yet he plainly states, that the message of salvation which he brings is of wider extent, so that not only they, in their private capacity, may hear it, but that others may also hear. Now let it be understood, that this joy was common to all people, because, it was indiscriminately offered to all. For God had promised Christ, not to one person or to another, but to the whole seed of Abraham. If the Jews were deprived, for the most part, of the joy that was offered to them, it arose from their unbelief; just as, at the present day, God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few. Although this joy is confined to a few persons, yet, with respect to God, it is said to be common. When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he speaks of the chosen people only; but now that, the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14) has been thrown down, the same message has reference to the whole human race. (149) For Christ proclaims peace, not only, to them that are nigh, “but to them that are, far off,” (Ephesians 2:17,) to “strangers” (Ephesians 2:12) equally with citizens. But as the peculiar covenant with the Jews lasted till the resurrection of Christ, so the angel separates them from the rest of the nations.
(147) “ Ce n'est que fumee;” — “it is only smoke.”
(148) “ Parquoy apprenons de prendre tellement notre contentement en Christ seul, que le sentiment de sa grace nous face surmonter toutes choses qui sont dures a la chair, et finalement en oste toute l'amertume.”— “Wherefore, let us learn to take our satisfaction, in such a manner, in Christ alone, that the feeling of his grace may make us rise above all things that are unpleasant to the flesh, and finally may take away all their bitterness.”
(149) “ Au reste, il est bien vray que l'ange parle seulement du peuple esleu, assavoir des Juifs; mais pourceque maintenant la paroy qui faisoit separation est rompue, la mesme ambassade s'addresse aujourdhui a tout le genre humain.” — “Besides, it is very true that the angel speaks only of the elect people, namely, the Jews; but because now the wall of partition which made a separation is broken down, the same message is addressed, at the present day, to all the human race.”
11. This day is born to you Here, as we lately hinted, the angel expresses the cause of the joy. This day is born the Redeemer long ago promised, who was to restore the Church of God to its proper condition. The angel does not speak of it as a thing altogether unknown. He opens his embassy by referring to the Law and the Prophets; for had he been addressing heathens or irreligious persons, it would have been of no use to employ this mode of speaking: this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord For the same reason, he mentions that he was born in the city of David, which could serve no purpose, but to recall the remembrance of those promises which were universally known among the Jews. Lastly, the angel adapted his discourse to hearers who were not altogether unacquainted with the promised redemption. With the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets he joined the Gospel, as emanating from the same source. Now, since the Greek word Greek, as Cicero assures us, has a more extensive meaning than the Latin word Servator, and as there is no Latin noun that corresponds to it, I thought it better to employ a barbarous term, than to take anything away from the power of Christ. And I have no doubt, that the author of the Vulgate, and the ancient doctors of the Church, had the same intention. (150) Christ is called Savior, (151) because he bestows a complete salvation. The pronoun to you (152) is very emphatic; for it would have given no great delight to hear that the Author of salvation was born, unless each person believed that for himself he was born. In the same manner Isaiah says, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given,” (Isaiah 9:6;) and Zechariah, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee lowly,” (Zechariah 9:9.)
(150) He refers to his use of the Latin word Salvator , for which there is no classical authority. The apology may be deemed unnecessary; but Calvin was entitled to be more sensitive on this point than many modern scholars. The purity of his style discovers so perfect an acquaintance with the writers of the Augustan age, that it must have given him uneasiness to depart from their authorized terms. He pleads high authority for the liberty he had taken. Cicero, whose command of the resources of his native tongue will not be questioned, acknowledges that there is no Latin word which conveys the full import of the Greek word σωτ́ηρ, and in this, as well as many other instances, calls in the aid of a richer and more expressive language than his own. — Ed.
(151) “ Salvator .”
(152) “ Au reste, ce n'est pas sans cause que ce mot Vous est adjouste: et il est bien a poiser. Car il ne serviroit gueres de savoir que le Sauveur est nay, sinon qu'un chacun appliquast cela a sa personne, s'asseurant que c'est pour lui qu'est nay le Fils de Dieu.” — “Besides, it is not without reason that this word You is added; and it is well to weigh it. For it would hardly be of service to know that the Savior is born, unless each applied that to his own person, being persuaded that it is for him that the Savior is born.”
12. And this shall be a sign to you (153) The angel meets the prejudice which might naturally hinder the faith of the shepherds; for what a mockery is it, that he, whom God has sent to be the King, and the only Savior, is seen lying in a manger! That the mean and despicable condition in which Christ was might not deter the shepherds from believing in Christ, the angel tells them beforehand what they would see. This method of proceeding, which might appear, to the view of men, absurd and almost ridiculous, the Lord pursues toward us every day. Sending down to us from heaven the word of the Gospel, he enjoins us to embrace Christ crucified, and holds out to us signs in earthly and fading elements, which raise us to the glory of a blessed immortality. Having promised to us spiritual righteousness, he places before our eyes a little water: by a small portion of bread and wine, he seals, (154) the eternal life of the soul. (155) But if the stable gave no offense whatever to the shepherds, so as to prevent them from going to Christ to obtain salvation, or from yielding to his authority, while he was yet a child; no sign, however mean in itself, ought to hide his glory from our view, or prevent us from offering to him lowly adoration, now that he has ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.
(153) “ Et vous aurez ces enseignes ;” — “and you shall have these signs.”
(154) “ Eternam animi vitam obsignat.”—Our rendering is close. But what is sealed? Is it meant, that the mere act of partaking the Lord's Supper places beyond a doubt the salvation of the worshipper, or even gives to it any additional certainty? In some loose sense of this sort, the phrase is often enough used even by Protestant divines. It is satisfactory to have Calvin's own authority for the meaning of this passage. “ Il seelle la promesse .” — “ He seals the promise.” The meaning is, that God ratifies his word. By condescending to employ outward symbols, together with his holy word, for expressing the blessings of salvation he holds out to his people an additional testimony, and in this manner grants a strong confirmation to their faith. — Ed.
(155) It may be proper to exhibit the entire sentence referred to in the former note. “ Comme nous ayant promis la justice spirituelle, il nous met devant les yeux un peu d'eau: par un petit morceau de pain et une goutte de vin, il seelle la promesse qu'il a faite de la vie eternelle de nos ames.” — “As, having promised to us spiritual righteousness, he places before our eyes a little water: by a small morsel of bread and a drop of wine, he seals the promise which he has made of the eternal life of our souls.”
13. And suddenly there was present with the angel a multitude An exhibition of divine splendor had been already made in the person of a single angel. But God determined to adorn his own Son in a still more illustrious manner, This was done to confirm our faith as truly as that of the shepherds. Among men, the testimony of “ two or three witnesses ” (Matthew 18:16) is sufficient to remove all doubt. But here is a heavenly host, with one consent and one voice bearing testimony to the Son of God. What then would be our obstinacy, if we refused to join with the choir of angels, in singing the praises of our salvation, which is in Christ? Hence we infer, how abominable in the sight of God must unbelief be, which disturbs this delightful harmony between heaven and earth. Again, we are convicted of more than brutal stupidity, if our faith and our zeal to praise God are not inflamed by the song which the angels, with the view of supplying us with the matter of our praise, sang in full harmony. Still farther, by this example of heavenly melody, the Lord intended to recommend to us the unity of faith, and to exhort us to join with one consent in singing his praises on earth.
14. Glory to God in the highest The angels begin with thanksgiving, or with the praises of God; for Scripture, too, everywhere reminds us, that we were redeemed from death for this purpose, that we might testify with the tongue, as well as by the actions of the life, our gratitude to God. Let us remember, then, the final cause, why God reconciled us to himself through his Only Begotten Son. It was that he might glorify his name, by revealing the riches of his grace, and of his boundless mercy. And even now to whatever extent any one is excited by his knowledge of grace to celebrate the glory of God, such is the extent of proficiency in the faith of Christ. Whenever our salvation is mentioned, we should understand that a signal has been given, (156) to excite us to thanksgiving and to the praises of God.
On earth peace The most general reading is, that the words, among men good-will, should stand as a third clause. So far as relates to the leading idea of the passage, it is of little moment which way you read it; but the other appears to be preferable. The two clauses, Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, do unquestionably agree with each other; but if you do not place men and God in marked opposition, the contrast will not fully appear. (157) Perhaps commentators have mistaken the meaning of the preposition ἐν, for it was an obscure meaning of the words to say, that there is peace in men; but as that word is redundant in many passages of Scripture, it need not detain us here. However, if any one prefer to throw it to the last clause, the meaning will be the same, as I shall presently show.
We must now see what the angels mean by the word peace. They certainly do not speak of an outward peace cultivated by men with each other; but they say, that the earth is at peace, when men have been reconciled to God, and enjoy an inward tranquillity in their own minds. (158) We know that we are born “children of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:3,) and are by nature enemies to God; and must be distressed by fearful apprehensions, so long as we feel that God is angry with us. A short and clear definition of peace may be obtained from two opposite things, — the wrath of God and the dread of death. It has thus a twofold reference; one to God, and another to men. We obtain peace with God, when he begins to be gracious to us, by taking away our guilt, and “not imputing to us our trespasses,” (2 Corinthians 5:19;) and when we, relying on his fatherly love, address him with full confidence, and boldly praise him for the salvation which he has promised to us. Now though, in another passage, the life of man on earth is declared to be a continual warfare, (159) (Job 7:1,) and the state of the fact shows that nothing is more full of trouble than our condition, so long as we remain in the world, yet the angels expressly say that there is peace on earth This is intended to inform us that, so long as we trust to the grace of Christ, no troubles that can arise will prevent us from enjoying composure and serenity of mind. Let us then remember, that faith is seated amidst the storms of temptations, amidst various dangers, amidst violent attacks, amidst contests and fears, that our faith may not fail or be shaken by any kind of opposition.
Among men good-will (160) The Vulgate has good-will in the genitive case: to men of good-will. (161) How that reading crept in, I know not: but it ought certainly to be rejected, both because it is not genuine, (162) and because it entirely corruptsthe meaning. Others read good-will in the nominative case, and still mistake its meaning. They refer good-will to men, as if it were an exhortation to embrace the grace of God. I acknowledge that the peace which the Lord offers to us takes effect only when we receive it. But as εὐδοκία is constantly used in Scripture in the sense of the Hebrew word רצון, the old translator rendered it beneplacitum , or, good-will. This passage is not correctly understood as referring to the acceptance of grace. The angels rather speak of it as the source of peace, and thus inform us that peace is a free gift, and flows from the pure mercy of God. If it is thought better to read good-will to men, or towards men, (163) it will not be inadmissible, so far as regards the meaning: for in this way it will show the cause of peace to be, that God has been pleased to bestow his undeserved favor on men, with whom he formerly was at deadly variance. If you read, the peace of good-will as meaning voluntary peace, neither will I object to that interpretation. But the simpler way is to look upon εὐφοκία as added, in order to inform us of the source from which our peace is derived. (164)
(156) “ Comme si la trompette sonnoit, pour nous resveiller;” — “as if the trumpet were sounding to awake us.”
(157) “ Or si on ne mettoit les hommes au second membre, l'antithese ne seroit pas parfaite.” — “But if men were not put in the second clause, the contrast would not be perfect.”
(158) “ Quand les hommes estans reconciliez a Dieu, ont repos en leurs esprits, et en leurs consciences.” — “When men being reconciled to God, have rest in their minds and in their consciences.”
(159) הלא צבא לאכוש על ארף,—”i s there not a warfare to man upon earth? ”
(160) “ Envers les hommes son bon plaisir, ou, bonne volonte;” — “towards men his good pleasure, or, good-will.”
(161) “ Hominibus bonae voluntatis.”
(162) “ Adulterina.” — “ Pource que ce n'est pas la vraye et naturelle.” —”Because it is not the true and natural reading.”
(163) “ In hominibus;” — “ Aux hommes, ou, Envers les hommes.”
(164) In the Opuscula Theologica of the elder Tittmann, the critical scholar will find this beautiful passage discussed with that happy union of learning, discrimination, and piety, which distinguishes all his writings. — Ed.
15. After that the angels departed Here is described to us the obedience of the shepherds. The Lord had made them the witnesses of his Son to the whole world. What he had spoken to them by his angels was efficacious, and was not suffered to pass away. They were not plainly and expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem; but, being sufficiently aware that such was the design of God, they hasten to see Christ. In the same manner, we know that Christ is held out to us, in order that our hearts may approach him by faith; and our delay in coming admits of no excuse. (166) But again, Luke informs us, that the shepherds resolved to set out, immediately after the angels had departed. This conveys an important lesson. Instead of allowing the word of God, as many do, to pass away with the sound, we must take care that it strike its roots deep in us, and manifest its power, as soon as the sound has died away upon our ears. It deserves our attention, also, that the shepherds exhort one another: for it is not enough that each of us is attentive to his own duty, if we do not give mutual exhortations. Their obedience is still farther commended by the statement of Luke, that they hastened, (ver. 16;) for we are required to show the readiness of faith.
Which the Lord hath revealed to us They had only heard it from the angel; but they intentionally and correctly say, that the Lord had revealed it to them; for they consider the messenger of God to possess the same authority as if the Lord himself had addressed them. For this reason, the Lord directs our attention to himself; that we may not fix our view on men, and undervalue the authority of his Word. We see also that they reckon themselves under obligation, not to neglect the treasure which the Lord had pointed out to them; for they conclude that, immediately after receiving this intelligence, they must go to Bethlehem to see it. In the same manner, every one of us, according to the measure of his faith and understanding, ought to be prepared to follow wheresoever God calls.
(166) “ Si nous sommes paresseux de le faire, toutes les excuses du monde ne nous serviront de rien.” — “If we are indolent in doing so, all the apologies in the world will be of no service to us.”
16. And found Mary This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude? or to expect the restoration of the kingdom and salvation from him, whose poverty and want were such, that he was thrown into a stable? Yet Luke writes, that none of these things prevented the shepherds from admiring and praising God. The glory of God was so fully before their eyes, and reverence for his Word was so deeply impressed upon their minds, that the elevation of their faith easily rose above all that appeared mean or despicable in Christ. (167) And the only reason why our faith is either retarded or driven from the proper course, by some very trifling obstacles, is, that we do not look steadfastly enough on God, and are easily “tossed to and fro,” (Ephesians 4:14.) If this one thought were entirely to occupy our minds, that we have a certain and faithful testimony from heaven, it would be a sufficiently strong and firm support against every kind of temptations, and will sufficiently protect us against every little offense that might have been taken.
(167) In the French copy he adds: “ En sorte que cela ne les empesche point de recognoistre la hautesse de sa maiste divine.” — “So that it does not hinder them from acknowledging the height of his divine majesty.”
17. They published concerning the word It is mentioned by Luke, in commendation of the faith of the shepherds, that they honestly delivered to others what they had received from the Lord; and it was advantageous to all of us that they should attest this, and should be a sort of secondary angels in confirming our faith. Luke shows also that, in publishing what they had heard, they were not without success. (168) Nor can it be doubted, that the Lord gave efficacy to what they said, that it might not be ridiculed or despised; for the low rank of the men diminished their credit, and the occurrence itself might be regarded as fabulous. But the Lord, who gave them this employment, does not allow it to be fruitless.
That the Lord should adopt such a method of proceeding as this, — should employ inconsiderable men in publishing his Word, may not be quite so agreeable to the human mind. But it tends to humble the pride of the flesh, and to try the obedience of faith; and therefore God approves of it. Still, though all are astonished, no one moves a step to come to Christ: from which we may infer, that the impression made upon them by hearing of the power of God, was unaccompanied by any devout affection of the heart. The design of publishing this report was not so much for their salvation, as to render the ignorance of the whole people inexcusable.
(168) “ Ils n'ont pas perdu leurs peines;” — “they did not lose their pains.”
19. Now Mary kept Mary’s diligence in contemplating the works of God is laid before us for two reasons; first, to inform us, that this treasure was laid up in her heart, for the purpose of being published to others at the proper time; and, secondly, to afford to all the godly an example for imitation. For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment, and the great object of our life, to consider with attention those works of God which build up our faith. Mary kept all these things This relates to her memory. Συμβάλλειν signifies to throw together, — to collect the several events which agreed in proving the glory of Christ, so that they might form one body. For Mary could not wisely estimate the collective value of all those occurrences, except by comparing them with each other.
20. Glorifying and praising God This is another circumstance which is fitted to be generally useful in confirming our faith. The shepherds knew with certainty that this was a work of God. Their zeal in glorifying and praising God is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of our ingratitude. If the cradle of Christ (169) had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the heavenly life. When Luke says, that the testimony of the angel served as a rule to the shepherds in all that they did, (170) he points out the nature of true godliness. For our faith is properly aided by the works of God, when it directs everything to this end, that the truth of God, which was revealed in his word, may be brought out with greater clearness.
(169) “ Si les petits drapeaux esquels estoit enveloppe l'infant Jesus;”— “if the little rags in which the child Jesus was wrapped.”
(170) “ Ad quam omnia exigerent.” — “ Une reigle, a laquelle ils ont rapporte tout ce qu'ils voyoyent;” — “a rule by which they related all that they saw.”
21. That the child might be circumcised As to circumcision in general, the reader may consult the Book of Genesis, (Genesis 17:10.) At present, it will be sufficient to state briefly what applies to the person of Christ. God appointed that his Son should be circumcised, in order to subject him to the law; for circumcision was a solemn rite, by which the Jews
were initiated into the observance of the law. (171) Paul explains the design, (172) when he says, that Christ was“
made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Galatians 4:4.)
By undergoing circumcision, Christ acknowledged himself to be the slave (173) of the law, that he might procure our freedom. And in this way not only was the bondage (174) of the law abolished by him, but the shadow of the ceremony was applied to his own body, that it might shortly afterwards come to an end. For though the abrogation of it depends on the death and resurrection of Christ, yet it was a sort of prelude to it, that the Son of God submitted to be circumcised.
His name was called JESUS. This passage shows, that it was a general custom among the Jews to give names to their children on the day that they were circumcised, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are here mentioned by the Evangelist. First, the name Jesus was not given to the Son of God accidentally, or by the will of men, but was the name which the angel had brought from heaven. Secondly, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command of God. The agreement between our faith and the word of God lies in this, that he speaks first, and we follow, so that our faith answers to his promises. Above all, the order of preaching the word is held up by Luke for our commendation. Salvation through the grace of Christ, he tells us, had been promised by God through the angel, and was proclaimed by the voice of men.
(171) “ Par lequel les Juifs protestoyent de se soumettre a l'observation de la Loy;” — “by which the Jews solemnly declared that they would submit to the observance of the Law.”
(172) “ Finem.” — “ La fin ou le but de ceste soumission de Jesus Christ;” —”the end or design of this submission of Jesus Christ.”
(173) “ Servum.”—This might have been supposed to be equivalent to ministrum , servant, had not the latter clause of the sentence expressly contrasted freedom with the condition of a slave. But Calvin settles the point by rendering it serf, slave; by which he evidently means “complete and degrading subjection.” Paul frequently speaks of the state of the Church under the law as bondage, (Galatians 4:3,) and a yoke of bondage, (Galatians 5:1.) — Ed.
(174) See passages referred to in the preceding note, in which the term bondage is applied by an inspired writer to the ceremonial law — Ed.
22. And after that the days were fulfilled On the fortieth day after the birth, (Leviticus 12:2,) the rite of purification was necessary to be performed. But Mary and Joseph come to Jerusalem for another reason, to present Christ to the Lord, because he was the first-born. Let us now speak first of the purification. Luke makes it apply both to Mary and to Christ: for the pronoun αὐτῶν, of them, can have no reference whatever to Joseph. But it ought not to appear strange, that Christ, who was to be, made a curse for us on the cross,” (Galatians 3:13,) should, for our benefit, take upon him our uncleanness with respect to legal guilt, though he was “without blemish and without spot,” (1 Peter 1:19.) It ought not, I say, to appear strange, if the fountain of purity, in order to wash away our stains, chose to be reckoned unclean. (191) It is a mistake to imagine that this law of purification was merely political, and that the woman was unclean in presence of her husband, not in presence of God. On the contrary, it placed before the eyes of the Jews both the corruption of their nature, and the remedy of divine grace.
This law is of itself abundantly sufficient to prove original sin, while it contains a striking proof of the grace of God; for there could not be a clearer demonstration of the curse pronounced on mankind than when the Lord declared, that the child comes from its mother unclean and polluted, and that the mother herself is consequently defiled by childbearing. Certainly, if man were not born a sinner, if he were not by nature a child of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3,) if some taint of sin did not dwell in him, he would have no need of purification. Hence it follows, that all are corrupted in Adam; for the mouth of the Lord charges all with pollution.
It is in perfect consistency with this, that the Jews are spoken of, in other passages, as “holy branches of a holy root,” (Romans 11:16 :) for this benefit did not properly belong to their own persons. They had been set apart, by the privilege of adoption, as an elect people; but the corruption, which they had by inheritance from Adam, was first in the order of time (192) We must, therefore, distinguish between the first nature, and that special kindness through a covenant, by which God delivers his own people from the curse which had been pronounced on all. And the design of legal purification was to inform the Jews, that the pollutions, which they brought with them into the world at their birth, are washed away by the grace of God.
Hence too we ought to learn, how dreadful is the contagion of sin, which defiles, in some measure, the lawful order of nature. I do own that child-bearing is not unclean, and that what would otherwise be lust changes its character, through the sacredness of the marriage relation. But still the fountain of sin is so deep and abundant, that its constant overflowings stain what would otherwise be pure.
(191) “ Si celuy qui est la fontaine de toute purete, a voulu estre tenu pour immonde et souille, afin de laver toutes nos ordures.” — “If he, who is the fountain of all purity, determined to be reckoned unclean and defiled in order to wash away our pollutions.”
(192) “ La corruption hereditaire procedante d'Adam precedoit un tel bien, et estoit plus ancienne.” — “The hereditary corruption proceeding from Adam preceded such a benefit, and was more ancient.”
23. As it is written in the Law This was another exercise of piety which was discharged by Joseph and Mary. The Lord commanded, that all the males should be dedicated to him, in remembrance of their deliverance; because when the angel slew all the first-born of Egypt, (Exodus 12:29,) he had spared the first-born of Israel.“
On the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I hallowed unto me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the Lord” (Numbers 3:13.)
They were afterwards permitted to redeem their first-born at a certain price. Such was the ancient ceremony: and, as the Lord is the common Redeemer of all, (193) he has a right to claim us as his own, from the least to the greatest. Nor is it without a good reason, that Luke so frequently repeats the statement, that Joseph and Mary did what was written in the law of the Lord For these words teach us, that we must not, at our own suggestion, attempt any thing in the worship of God, but must obediently follow what he requires in his Word.
(193) “ Veu que le Seigneur est Redempteur de tout le monde en general;” — “since the Lord is Redeemer of all the world at large.”
24. And that they might offer a sacrifice This sacrifice belonged to the ceremony of purification; lest any one should suppose that it was offered for the sake of redeeming the first-born. When the Evangelist mentions a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, he takes for granted that his readers will understand, that Joseph and Mary were in such deep poverty, as not to have it in their power to offer a lamb. For this exception is expressly mentioned:“
If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons,” (Leviticus 12:8.)
Is it objected, that the Magi had very recently supplied them with a sufficiency of gold to make the purchase? I reply: We must not imagine that they had such abundance of gold as to raise them suddenly from poverty to wealth. We do not read, that their camels were laden with gold. It is more probable that it was some small present, which they had brought solely as a mark of respect. The law did not rigorously enjoin, that the poor should spend their substance on a sacrifice, but drew a line of distinction between them and the rich, as to the kind of sacrifices, and thus relieved them from burdensome expense. There would be no impropriety in saying, that Joseph and Mary gave as much as their circumstances allowed, though they reserved a little money to defray the expenses of their journey and of their household.
25. And, lo, there was a man in Jerusalem The design of this narrative is to inform us that, though nearly the whole nation was profane and irreligious, and despised God, yet that a few worshippers of God remained, and that Christ was known to such persons from his earliest infancy. These were “the remnant” of whom Paul says, that they were preserved “according to the election of grace,” (Romans 11:5.) Within this small band lay the Church of God; though the priests and scribes, with as much pride as falsehood, claimed for themselves the title of the Church. The Evangelist mentions no more than two, who recognised Christ at Jerusalem, when he was brought into the temple. These were Simeon and Anna. We must speak first of Simeon.
As to his condition in life we are not informed: he may have been a person of humble rank and of no reputation. Luke bestows on him the commendation of being just and devout; and adds, that he had the gift of prophecy: for the Holy Spirit was upon him. Devotion and Righteousness related to the two tables of the law, and are the two parts of which an upright life consists. It was a proof of his being a devout man, that he waited for the consolation of Israel: for no true worship of God can exist without the hope of salvation, which depends on the faith of his promises, and particularly on the restoration promised through Christ. Now, since an expectation of this sort is commended in Simeon as an uncommon attainment, we may conclude, that there were few in that age, who actually cherished in their hearts the hope of redemption. All had on their lips the name of the Messiah, and of prosperity under the reign of David: but hardly any one was to be found, who patiently endured present afflictions, relying on the consolatory assurance, that the redemption of the Church was at hand. As the eminence of Simeon’s piety was manifested by its supporting his mind in the hope of the promised salvation, so those who wish to prove themselves the children of God, will breathe out unceasing prayers for the promised redemption. For we, “have need of patience” (Hebrews 10:36) till the last coming of Christ.
And the Holy Spirit was upon him The Evangelist does not speak of “the Spirit of adoptions” (Romans 8:15,) which is common to all the children of God, though not in an equal degree, but of the peculiar gift of prophecy. This appears more clearly from the next verse and the following one, in which it is said, that he received a revelation (194) from the Holy Spirit, and that, by the guidance of the same Spirit, he came into the temple Though Simeon had no distinction of public office, he was adorned with eminent gifts, — with piety, with a blameless life, with faith and prophecy. Nor can it be doubted, that this divine intimation, which he received in his individual and private capacity, was intended generally for the confirmation of all the godly. Jesus is called the Lord’s Christ, because he was anointed (195) by the Father, and, at the same time that he received the Spirit, received also the title, of King and Priest. Simeon is said to have come into the temple by the Spirit; that is, by a secret movement and undoubted revelation, that he might meet Christ. (196)
(194) “ Responsum;” — “revelation.”
(195) It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader, that the simple meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah, and of the Greek word Christ, is Anointed; and that the Lord's Christ means the Lord's Anointed, — a designation which, as has been already remarked, ( p. 92, note 2,) was familiarly applied to David and his successors on the throne for many generations, (2 Samuel 19:21; Lamentations 4:20,) but was afterwards restricted to “David’s son,” and “David’s Lord,” (Matthew 22:45,) whom Daniel emphatically calls the Messiah, the Anointed, (Daniel 9:25.) — Ed.
(196) “ C'est a dire, par un mouvement secret et certaine revelation du Sainct Esprit, afin de s'y rencontrer a l'heure que Christ y estoit.” — “That is to say, by a secret movement and certain revelation of the Spirit, in order that he might arrive at the hour when Christ was there.”
29. Thou now sendest thy servant away From this song it is sufficiently evident, that Simeon looked at the Son of God with different eyes from the eyes of flesh. For the outward beholding of Christ could have produced no feeling but contempt, or, at least, would never have imparted such satisfaction to the mind of the holy man, as to make him joyful and desirous to die, from having reached the summit of his wishes. The Spirit of God enlightened his eyes by faith, to perceive, under a mean and poor dress, the glory of the Son of God. He says, that he would be sent away in peace; which means, that he would die with composure of mind, having obtained all that he desired.
But here a question arises. If he chose rather to depart from life, was it amidst distress of mind and murmuring, as is usually the case with those who die unwillingly, that Simeon was hurried away? I answer: we must attend to the circumstance which is added, according to thy word God had promised that Simeon would behold his Son. He had good reason for continuing in a state of suspense, and must have lived in some anxiety, till he obtained his expectation. This ought to be carefully observed; for there are many who falsely and improperly plead the example of Simeon, and boast that they would willingly die, if this or the other thing were previously granted to them; while they allow themselves to entertain rash wishes at their own pleasure, or to form vain expectations without the authority of the Word of God. If Simeon had said exactly, “Now I shall die with a composed and easy mind, because I have seen the Son of God,” this expression would have indicated the weakness of his faith; but, as he had the word, he might have refused to die until the coming of Christ.
30. For my eyes have seen This mode of expression is very common in Scripture; but Simeon appears to denote expressly the bodily appearance of Christ, as if he had said, that he now has the Son of God present in the flesh, on whom the eyes of his mind had been previously fixed. By saving (197) I understand the matter of salvation: for in Christ are hid all the parts of salvation and of a happy life. Now if the sight of Christ, while he was yet a child, had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure; how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms: but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do “we all,” as Paul says, “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” — not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honor, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.
(197) “ La ou nous avons rendu Ton salut, qui voudroit suivre le mot Grec de pres, il faudroit dire, Ton Salutaire .” — “ Where we have translated Thy Salvation, were we to follow closely the Greek word, we must say, Thy Saving.” — It is evident that Calvin viewed σωτήριον, not with most of our lexicographers, as a noun of the same import with σωτηρία, salvation, but as the neuter of the adjective σωτήριος, which occurs in a memorable phrase, ἡ χάρις τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ σωτήριος, ( Titus 2:11,) rendered in the English version, the grace of God that bringeth salvation. — Ed.
31. Which thou hast prepared By these words Simeon intimates, that Christ had been divinely appointed, that all nations might enjoy his grace; and that he would shortly afterwards be placed in an elevated situation, and would draw upon him the eyes of all. Under this term he includes all the predictions which relate: to the spread of Christ’s kingdom. But if Simeon, when holding a little child in his arms, could stretch his mind to the utmost boundaries of the world, and acknowledge the power of Christ to be everywhere present, how much more magnificent ought our conceptions regarding him to be now that he has been set up as a, “standard to the people,” (Isaiah 49:22,) and has revealed himself to the whole world.
32. A light for the revelation of the Gentiles Simeon now points out the purpose for which Christ was to be exhibited by the Father before all nations. It was that he might enlighten the Gentiles, who had been formerly in darkness, and might be the glory of his people Israel There is propriety in the distinction here made between the people Israel and the Gentiles: for by the right of adoption the children of Abraham “were nigh” (Ephesians 2:17) to God, while the Gentiles, with whom God had made no “covenants of promise,” were “strangers” to the Church, (Ephesians 2:12.) For this reason, Israel is called, in other passages, not only the son of God, but his first-born, (Jeremiah 31:9;) and Paul informs us, that “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Romans 15:8.) The preference given to Israel above the Gentiles is, that all without distinction may obtain salvation in Christ.
A light for revelation (198) means for enlightening the Gentiles Hence we infer, that men are by nature destitute of light, till Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2,) shine upon them. With regard to Israel, though God had bestowed upon him distinguished honor, yet all his glory rests on this single article, that a Redeemer had been promised to him.
(198) “ Lumen ad revelationem.” — “ La ou nous avons traduit, Pour l'esclaircissement, le mot Grec signifie quelque fois Revelation: mais Simeon vent dire ici, Pour esclairer ou illuminer les Gentils.” — “Where we have translated, For the enlightening, the Greek word ( ἀποχάλυψις) sometimes signifies Revelation: but Simeon means here, To enlighten or illuminate the Gentiles.”
33. And his father and mother were wondering Luke does not say, that they were astonished at it as a new thing, but that they contemplated with reverence, and embraced with becoming admiration, this prediction of the Spirit uttered by the lips of Simeon, so that they continued to make progress in the knowledge of Christ. We learn from this example that, when we have once come to possess a right faith, we ought to collect, on every hand, whatever may aid in giving to it additional strength. That man has made great proficiency in the word of God, who does not fail to admire whatever he reads or hears every day, that contributes to his unceasing progress in faith.
34. And Simeon blessed them If you confine this to Joseph and Mary, there will be no difficulty. But, as Luke appears to include Christ at the same time, it might be asked, What right had Simeon to take upon him the office of blessing Christ? “Without all contradiction,” says Paul, “the less is blessed of the greater,” (Hebrews 7:7.) Besides, it has the appearance of absurdity, that any mortal man should offer prayers in behalf of the Son of God. I answer: The Apostle does not speak there of every kind of blessing, but only of the priestly blessing: for, in other respects, it is highly proper in men to pray for each other. Now, it is more probable that Simeon blessed them, as a private man and as one of the people, than that he did so in a public character: for, as we have already said, we nowhere read that he was a priest. But there would be no absurdity in saying, that he prayed for the prosperity and advancement of Christ’s kingdom: for in the book of Psalms the Spirit prescribes such a εὐλογία , — a blessing of this nature to all the godly.“
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; we have blessed you in the name of the Lords” (Psalms 118:26.)
Lo, this has been set This discourse was, no doubt, directly addressed by Simeon to Mary; but it has a general reference to all the godly. The holy virgin needed this admonition, that she might not (as usually happens) be lifted up by prosperous beginnings, so as to be less prepared for enduring afflictive events. But she needed it on another account, that she might not expect Christ to be received by the people with universal applause, but that her mind, on the contrary, might be fortified by unshaken courage against all hostile attacks. It was the design, at the same time, of the Spirit of God, to lay down a general instruction for all the godly. When they see the world opposing Christ with wicked obstinacy, they must be prepared to meet that opposition, and to contend against it undismayed. The unbelief of the world is—we know it—a great and serious hinderance; but it must be conquered, if we wish to believe in Christ. There never was a state of human society so happily constituted, that the greater part followed Christ. Those who will enlist in the cause of Christ must learn this as one of their earliest lessons, and must “put on” this “armor,” (Ephesians 6:11,) that they may be steadfast in believing on him.
It was by far the heaviest temptation, that Christ was not acknowledged by his own countrymen, and was even ignominiously rejected by that nation, which boasted that it was the Church of God; and, particularly, that the priests and scribes, who held in their hands the government of the Church, were his most determined enemies. For who would have thought, that he was the King of those, who not only rejected him, but treated him with such contempt and outrage?
We see, then, that a good purpose was served by Simeon’s prediction, that Christ was set for the ruin of many in Israel The meaning is, that he was divinely appointed to cast down and destroy many. But it must be observed, that the ruin of unbelievers results from their striking against him. This is immediately afterwards expressed, when Simeon says that Christ is a sign, which is spoken against Because unbelievers are rebels against Christ, they clash themselves against him, and hence comes their ruin This metaphor is taken from a mark shot at by archers, (200) as if Simeon had said, Hence we perceive the malice of men, and even the depravity of the whole human race, that all, as if they had made a conspiracy, rise in murmurs and rebellion against the Son of God. The world would not display such harmony in opposing the Gospel, if there were not a natural enmity between the Son of God and those men. The ambition or fury of the enemies of the Gospel carries them in various directions, faction splits them into various sects, and a wide variety of superstitions distinguishes idolaters from each other. But while they thus differ among themselves, they all agree in this, to oppose the Son of God. It has been justly observed, that the opposition everywhere made to Christ is too plain an evidence of human depravity. That the world should thus rise against its Creator is a monstrous sight. But Scripture predicted that this would happen, and the reason is very apparent, that men who have once been alienated from God by sin, always fly from him. Instances of this kind, therefore, ought not to take us by surprise; but, on the contrary, our faith, provided with this armor, ought to be prepared to fight with the contradiction of the world.
As God has now gathered an Israel to himself from the whole world, and there is no longer a distinction between the Jew and the Greek, the same thing must now happen as, we learn, happened before. Isaiah had said of his own age,“
The Lord will be for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense, to both the houses of Israel,” (Isaiah 8:14.)
From that time, the Jews hardly ever ceased to dash themselves against God, but the rudest shock was against Christ. The same madness is now imitated by those who call themselves Christians; and even those, who lay haughty claims to the first rank in the Church, frequently employ all the power which they possess in oppressing Christ. But let us remember, all that they gain is, to be at length crushed and “ broken in pieces,” (Isaiah 8:9.)
Under the word ruin the Spirit denounces the punishment of unbelievers, and thus warns us to keep at the greatest possible distance from them; lest, by associating with them, we become involved in the same destruction. And Christ is not the less worthy of esteem, because, when he appears, many are ruined: for the “savor” of the Gospel is not less “sweet” and delightful to God, (2 Corinthians 2:15,) though it is destructive to the ungodly world. Does any one inquire, how Christ occasions the ruin of unbelievers, who without him were already lost? The reply is easy. Those who voluntarily deprive themselves of the salvation which God has offered to them, perish twice. Ruin implies the double punishment which awaits all unbelievers, after that they have knowingly and wilfully opposed the Son of God.
And for the resurrection This consolation is presented as a contrast with the former clause, to make it less painful to our feelings: for, if nothing else were added, it would be melancholy to hear, that Christ is “ a stone of stumbling,” which will break and crush, by its hardness, a great part of men. Scripture therefore reminds us of his office, which is entirely different: for the salvation of men, which is founded on it, is secure; as Isaiah also says, “ Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread; and he shall be for a sanctuary,” or fortress of defense, (Isaiah 8:13.) And Peter speaks more clearly:“
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house. Wherefore also it is contained in Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion the head-stone of the corner, elect, precious, and he that believeth in him shall not be confounded. Unto you, therefore, which believe, he is precious: but unto them who are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,” (1 Peter 2:4; Isaiah 28:16.)
That we may not be terrified by the designation bestowed on Christ, “a stone of stumbling,” let it be instantly recollected, on the other hand, that he is likewise called the “corner-stone,” on which rests the salvation of all the godly. (201)
Let it be also taken into account, that the former is accidental, while the latter is properly and strictly his office. Besides, it deserves our notice, that Christ is not only called the support, but the resurrection of the godly: for the condition of men is not one in which it is safe for them to remain. They must rise from death, before they begin to live.
(200) “ Ceste facon de parler contient une metaphore prise des arbalestiers, ou autres qui visent au blanc.” — “This way of speaking contains a metaphor, taken from archers, or others who aim at a mark.”
(201) “ La maitresse Pierre du coin, sur laquelle est fonde le salut de tous les enfans de Dieu.” — “The head-stone of the corner, on which is founded the salvation of all the children of God.”
35. But also a sword shall pierce thy own soul This warning must have contributed greatly to fortify the mind of the holy virgin, and to prevent her from being overwhelmed with grief, when she came to those distressing struggles, which she had to undergo. Though her faith was agitated and tormented by various temptations, yet her sorest battle was with the cross: for Christ might appear to be utterly destroyed. She was not overwhelmed with grief; but it would have required a heart of stone not to be deeply wounded: for the patience of the saints differs widely from stupidity.
That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed There are some who connect this clause with a part of the former verse, that Christ is set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel; and who include in a parenthesis what we have just now explained about the sword: but it is better, I think, to refer it to the whole passage. The particle that, ὅπως ἄν, in this passage, does not strictly denote a cause, but merely a consequence. When the light of the Gospel arises, and persecutions immediately spring up, there is, at the same time, a disclosure of affections of the heart, which had been hitherto concealed: for the lurking-places of human dissimulation are so deep, that they easily remain hidden till Christ comes. (202) But Christ, by his light, discloses every artifice, and unmasks hypocrisy; and to him is properly ascribed the office of laying open the secrets of the heart. But when the cross is added to doctrine it tries the hearts more to the quick. For those who have embraced Christ by outward profession, often shrink from bearing the cross, and, when they see the Church exposed to numerous calamities, easily desert their post.
(202) “ Extra Christum;” — “ jusqu'a ce que Jesus Christ viene.”
36. And there was Anna, a prophetess Luke mentions not more than two persons who received Christ; and this is intended to teach us, that whatever belongs to God, however small it may be, ought to be preferred by us to the whole world. The scribes and priests, no doubt, were then surrounded by great splendor; but, as the Spirit of God, whose presence was not at all enjoyed by those rulers, (203) dwelt in Simeon and Anna, those two persons are entitled to greater reverence than an immense multitude of those whose pride is swelled by nothing but empty titles. For this reason, the historian mentions Anna’s age, gives her the designation of prophetess, and, thirdly, bears a remarkable testimony to her piety, and to the holiness and chastity of her life. These are the qualities that justly give to men weight and estimation. And certainly none are led astray by the dazzling and empty magnificence of outward show, but those who are drawn, by the vanity of their own minds, to take pleasure in being deceived.
She had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity This is intended to inform us, that she was a widow in the very prime of life. She had married young, and shortly afterwards lost her husband; and the circumstance of her not entering into a second marriage while she was in the rigor of her bodily frame, (204) is mentioned with the view of heightening the commendation of her chastity. What follows, that she was a widow of about eighty-four years, may be explained in two ways. Either that time had passed in her unmarried state, (205) or it was the whole period of her life. If you reckon the eighty-four years as the time of her widowhood, it will follow that she was more than a hundred years old: but I leave that matter doubtful. The Spirit of prophecy still shone in a very few, who served as tokens to attest the doctrine of the Law and the Jewish religion, till the coming of Christ. In a state of society so dissolute, the elect of God needed such aids to prevent them from being carried away.
(203) The word rulers ( principes ) appears to be here used sarcastically; for his own translation is,” duquel estoyent du tout destituez les autres, combien que ce fussent les gouverneurs;” — “of which the others were entirely destitute, though they were rulers.”
(204) “ Quum adhuc vegeto esset corpore.”
(205) “ Il y avoit tant de temps que son mari estoit mort;” — “it was so long since her husband died.”
37. She departed not from the temple This is a hyperbolical expression; but the meaning is plain, that Anna was almost constantly in the temple. Luke adds, that she worshipped God with fastings and prayers day and night Hence we infer, that she did not visit the temple for the mere purpose of performing the outward service, but that she added to it the other exercises of piety. It deserves our attention, that the same rule is not enjoined on all, and that all ought not to be led indiscriminately to copy those performances, which are here commended in a widow. Each person ought to make a judicious inquiry, what belongs to his own calling. Silly ambition has filled the world with apes, from superstitious persons seizing, with more “zeal” than “knowledges” (Romans 10:2,) every thing that they hear praised in the saints: as if the distinction of rank did not render a selection of employments necessary, that each person may answer to his own calling. What is here related of Anna, Paul applies in a particular manner to widows, (1 Timothy 5:5;) so that married people act a foolish part, if they regulate their life by an unsuitable model.
But there still remains another doubt. Luke appears to make fastings a part of divine worship But we must observe, that of the acts which relate to worship, some are simply required, and, as we are accustomed to say, are in themselves necessary; while others are accessory, and have no other design than to aid the former class. Prayers belong strictly to the worship of God. Fasting is a subordinate aid, which is pleasing to God no farther than as it aids the earnestness and fervency of prayer. We must hold by this rule, that the duties of men are to be judged according as they are directed to a proper and lawful end. We must hold, also, by this distinction, that prayers are a direct worship of God; while fastings are a part of worship only on account of their consequences. Nor is there any reason to doubt, that the holy woman employed fastings as an excitement to bewail those calamities of the Church which then existed.
38. Made acknowledgment also to God (206) The holy melody, which proceeded from the lips of Simeon and Anna, is praised by Luke, in order that believers may exhort each other to sing with one mouth the praises of God, and may give mutual replies. When he says, that Anna spake of him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, he again points out the small number of the godly. For the substance of faith lay in this expectation; and it is evident, that there were few who actually cherished it in their minds.
(206) “ Louoit aussi le Seigneur;” — “praised also the Lord.”
39. They returned to Galilee The departure to Egypt, I readily acknowledge, came between those events; and the fact mentioned by Luke, that they dwelt in their own city Nazareth, is later, in point of time, than the flight into Egypt, which Matthew relates, (Matthew 2:14.) But if there was no impropriety in one Evangelist leaving out what is related by another, there was nothing to prevent Luke from overleaping the period which he did not intend to mention, and passing at once to the following history. I am very far from agreeing with those who imagine that Joseph and Mary, after having finished the sacrifice of purification, returned to Bethlehem, to live there. Those persons are foolish enough to believe, that Joseph had a settled abode in a place where he was so little known, that he was unable to find a temporary lodging. Nor is it without a good reason that Luke says, with respect both to Joseph and Mary, that Nazareth was their own city We infer from it, that he never was an inhabitant of Bethlehem, though it was the place of his extraction. (207) As to the order of time, I shall presently give a more full explanation.
(207) “ Combien que ce fust le pays de ses ancestres;” — “though it was the country of his ancestors.”
40. And the child grew From the infancy of Christ Matthew passes immediately to his manifestation. (230) Luke relates here a single fact, which well deserved to be recorded. In the midst of his boyhood, Christ gave a specimen of his future office, or at least indicated, by a single attempt, what he would afterwards be. The child grew, and was invigorated in spirit These words show, that the endowments of his mind grew with his age. (231) Hence we infer, that this progress, or advancement, relates to his human nature: for the Divine nature could receive no increase.
But a question arises. From the time that he was conceived in his mother’s womb, did he not abound in all fullness of spiritual gifts? for it appears absurd to say, that the Son of God wanted any thing that was necessary to perfection. The reply is easy. If it takes nothing from his glory, that he was altogether, “emptied,” ( ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε , Philippians 2:6,) neither does it degrade him, that he chose not only to grow in body, but to make progress in mind. And certainly when the Apostle declares, that, “in all things he was made like unto his brethren,”(Hebrews 2:17,) and “was in all points tempted like as we are, sin excepted,” (Hebrews 4:15,) he no doubt includes, that his soul was subject to ignorance. There is only this difference between us and him, that the weaknesses which press upon us, by a necessity which we cannot avoid, were undertaken by him voluntarily, and of his own accord. Christ received, in his human nature, according to his age and capacity, an increase of the free gifts of the Spirit, (232) that “out of his fullness” (John 1:16) he may pour them out upon us; for we draw grace out of his grace.
Some excessively timid persons restrict what is here said to outward appearance, and make the meaning to be, that Christ appeared to make progress, though, in point of fact, no addition was made to his knowledge. But the words have a quite different meaning, and this mistaken opinion is still more fully refuted by what Luke shortly afterwards adds, that he grew in age and wisdom with God and man, (Luke 2:52.) We are not at liberty to suppose, that knowledge lay concealed in Christ, and made its appearance in him in progress of time. There is no doubt whatever, that it was the design of God to express in plain terms, how truly and completely Christ, in taking upon him our flesh, did all that was necessary to effect his brotherly union with men. (233)
And yet we do not in this way suppose a double Christ: (234) for, though God and man are united in one person, it does not follow, that the human nature received what was peculiar to the Divine nature: but, so far as was necessary for our salvation, the Son of God kept his divine power concealed. What Irenaeus says, that his Divine nature was quiescent when he suffered, (235) I understand to refer, not only to bodily death, but to that amazing distress and agony of soul, which drew from him the complaint, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) In a word, if we do not choose to deny, that Christ was made a real man, we ought not to be ashamed to acknowledge, that he voluntarily took upon him everything that is inseparable from human nature.
It is a foolish objection, that ignorance does not apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin: for the same thing might be said of death. Scripture declares, on the contrary, that he performed the office of Mediator: for all the punishment which we deserved was transferred from us to him. (236) Besides, it is a foolish mistake to say, that ignorance is the punishment of sin. For we must not suppose that Adam, while he remained in innocence, knew all things. Angels also are, to some extent, ignorant, and yet they do not endure the punishment of sin.
A more refined argument is employed by some, that there was no ignorance in Christ, because ignorance is sin. But those persons assume a principle which is altogether false and groundless: otherwise, the angels must either be equal to God, or they must be sinful. (237) There is no doubt a sinful blindness of the human mind, which is justly reckoned a part of original sin: but here we ascribe to Christ no other ignorance than what may fall upon a man who is pure from every taint of sin.
He was invigorated in spirit, and was full of wisdom Luke thus declares, that whatever wisdom exists among men, and receives daily accessions, flows from that single fountain, from the Spirit of God. The following phrase is more general, and the grace of God was upon him: for it includes all the excellence of every description that shone brightly in Christ.
(230) “ Au temps de sa manifestation;” — “to the time of his manifestation.”
(231) “ Avec l'aage les dons et graces d'Esprit croissoyent aussi et aug-mentoyent en luy.” — “With age, the gifts and graces of the Spirit grew also and increased in him.”.
(232) “ En dons et graces de l'Esprit;” — “in gifts and graces of the Spirit.”
(233) “ Avoit vrayement et entierement prins tout ce qui estoit possible et propre pour accomplir de tous points la conjonction fraternelle de luy avec les hommes.” — “Had truly and entirely taken all that was possible and fitted to complete, at all points, the brotherly union between him and men.”
(234) “ Deux Christs, ou un double Christ;” — “two Christs, or a double Christ.”
(235) “ Qu'il a souffert, sa Divinite ne demonstrant point sa vertu.” — “That he suffered, his Divinity not demonstrating power.”
(236) “ Pource qu'il a prins sur soy toutes les peines que nous avions meritees, afind nous en discharger.” — “Because he took upon himself all the punishment which we had deserved, in order to discharge us from it."
(237) “ Autrement il faudra que les Anges soyent pareils a Dieu, et qu'ils sachent tout: ou selon le dire de ces gensci, ils seront vicieux.” — “Otherwise, the Angels must be equal to God, and know everything: or, according to the statement of these people, they must be sinful.”
41. And his parents went every year to Jerusalem It is mentioned in commendation of the piety of Mary and Joseph, that they gave diligent attendance to the outward worship of God. It was not of their own accord, but by a divine command, that they undertook this annual journey. The law enjoins the, males “only to, appear before the Lord,” (Exodus 23:17.) This arrangement does not entirely exclude females, but spares them by an exercise of kindness. This mark distinguishes the true religion from vain and wicked superstitions. The former confines itself within the limits of obedience to God, and of compliance with the enactments of his law. The latter wander, at their own pleasure, beyond the limits of God’s word, without any fixed rule. The worship of the temple was, no doubt, infected with many corruptions, the priesthood was sold for money, and doctrine was involved in many errors. Yet, as legal ceremonies were still in force, and the outward rite of sacrifice was observed as it is laid down in the law, believers were bound to perform such exercises in testimony of their faith. The name father is here given to Joseph, not with strict accuracy, but according to the opinion generally entertained respecting him.
44. And thinking that he was in the company Many passages of Scripture show plainly, that those who came from a distance, at the festivals, to worship in the temple, were accustomed to travel in companies. There is no reason, therefore, to wonder that, on the first day, Joseph and Mary were less anxious about the child; and their subsequent conduct shows that this was not owing to indolence or carelessness.
46. Sitting in the midst of the doctors Rays of divine brightness must have evidently shone in this child: otherwise those haughty men would not have permitted him to sit along with them. Though it is probable that he occupied a lower seat, and not the rank of the doctors, yet such disdainful men would not have condescended to give him an audience in a public assembly, if some divine power had not constrained them. This was a sort of prelude to his public calling, the full time of which had not yet arrived. In this way, however, he intended to give nothing more than a taste, which would immediately have faded from the recollection of men, had not Mary kept it for us laid up in her heart, (Luke 2:19,) to bring it out afterwards, along with other treasures, for the use of all the godly.
47. And all who heard him Two things here claim our attention. All who heard him were astonished: for they reckoned it a miracle, that a child should frame his questions with such correctness and propriety. Again, they heard Christ, and thus acted the part rather of scholars than of teachers. He had not yet been called by the Father, to avow himself a public teacher of the Church, and therefore satisfied himself with putting modest questions to the doctors. Yet there is no room to doubt that, in this first attempt, he already began to tax their perverse way of teaching: for what Luke afterwards says about answers, I consider as denoting, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, any kind of discourse.
48. And his mother said to him Those who think that the holy virgin spake in this manner, for the purpose of showing her authority, are, in my opinion, mistaken. It is even possible, that it was not till they were apart, and the witnesses had withdrawn, that she began to expostulate with her son, after they had left the assembly. However that may be, this complaint was not the result of ambition, but was the expression of grief, which had lasted three days. (238) Yet the manner of her complaint, as if she had received an injury, shows how ready we are by nature to defend our own rights, even without paying regard to God. The holy virgin would a thousand times (239) rather have died, than deliberately preferred herself to God: but, in the indulgence of a mother’s grief, she falls into it through inadvertency. And undoubtedly this example warns us, how jealous we ought to be of all the affections of the flesh, and what care we ought to exercise, lest, by being too tenacious of our rights, and following our own desires, we defraud God of his honor.
(238) “ Mais l'ennuy et la fascherie qu'elle avoit eue trois jours durant l'a fait ainsi parler.” — “But the uneasiness and distress, which she had had for three days, made her speak in this manner.”
(239) “Centies;” — “mille fois.”
49. Did ye not know? Our Lord justly blames his mother, though he does it in a gentle and indirect manner. The amount of what he says is, that the duty which he owes to God his Father, ought to be immeasurably preferred to all human duties; and that, consequently, earthly parents do wrong in taking it amiss, that they have been neglected in comparison of God. And hence we may infer the general doctrine, that whatever we owe to men must yield to the first table of the law, that God’s authority over us may remain untouched. (240) Thus we ought to obey kings, and parents, and masters, (241) but only in subjection to God: that is, we must not, for the sake of men, lessen or take away any thing from God. And, indeed, a regard to the superior claims of God does not imply a violation of the duties which we owe to men.
In those things which belong to my Father This expression intimates, that there is something about him greater than man. It points out also the chief design of his being sent into the world, which was, that he might discharge the office enjoined upon him by his heavenly Father. But is it not astonishing, that Joseph and Mary did not understand this answer, who had been instructed by many proofs, that Jesus is the Son of God? I reply: Though they were not wholly unacquainted with Christ’s heavenly origin, yet they did not comprehend, in every respect, how he was intent on executing his heavenly Father’s commands: for his calling had not yet been expressly revealed to them. Mary kept in her heart those things which she did not fully understand. Let us learn from this, to receive with reverence, and to lay up in our minds, (like the seed, which is allowed to remain for some time under grounds) those mysteries of God which exceed our capacity.
(240) “ Que tout ce qui est deu aux hommes, est au dessous de la premiere Table de la Loy, et doit tenir le second lieu, afin que toujours Dieu ait sa puissance et son authorite entiere.” — “That all that is due to men is below the first Table of the Law, and ought to hold the second plane, in order that God may always have his power and his authority entire.”
(241) “ Dominis;” — “ maistres et seigneurs;” — “masters and lords.”
51. And he was subject to them It was for our salvation that Christ took upon him this low estate, — that the Lord and head of angels voluntarily became subject to mortal creatures. Such was the purpose of God, that Christ should remain, for some time, under a shadow, beating the name of Joseph. Though this subjection, on the part of Christ, arose from no necessity which he could not have avoided, yet, as he had taken upon him human nature on the condition of being subject to parents, and had assumed the character both of a man and of a servant, — with respect to the office of Redeemer, this was his lawful condition. The more cheerfully, on this account, ought every one to bear the yoke which the Lord has been pleased to lay upon him. (242)
(242) “ D’autant plus faut-il que chacun de nous s’assujettisse de bon coeur, st ploye le col sous le joug auquel il plaira a Dieu de nous soumettre.” — “So much the more must every one of us submit heartily, and bend the neck under the yoke, to which it shall please God to subject us.”
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24