corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.10.24
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Luke 2

 

 


Verses 1-7

Luke 2:1-7

A decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed

There is no grand reason, you see, given why Mary and Joseph should go to Judaea.
The angel who is said to have announced the coming birth does not appear again to tell them that they must travel, since otherwise the Son of David will not be connected with His ancestral dwelling-place. They go because every one else is going. A decree of the Caesar obliges the man to register himself in the village, whatever it is, to which he belongs. It may be an awkward contrivance, as a modern writer says it is, to make the conception of royalty fit with the facts. Assuredly the critic, or any ingenious man in this day, could have invented a better tale. And if forgers of that day had, as he supposes, an unlimited command of supernatural incidents, these poor peasants might have been transported by any kind of celestial machinery to the spot in which they were required to be. Nor can we doubt that a Frenchman now, or an Oriental then, would have introduced such an event with becoming pomp. If it was part of the scheme that the birth should be humble, he would have taken pains that we should observe that part of it. There would have been starts of surprise, exclamations at the stooping of the Highest of all to the lowest place. Here is nothing of the kind. Events, the belief of which has affected all the art and speculation of the most civilized nations in the modem world, are recorded in fewer words, with less effort, than an ordinary historian, or the writer of a newspaper, would deem suitable to the account of the most trivial transaction. Such marvellous associations have clung for centuries to these verses, that it is hard to realize how absolutely naked they are of all ornament. We are obliged to read them again and again to assure ourselves that they really do set forth what we call the great miracle of the world. If, on the other hand, the mind of the evangelist was possessed by the conviction that he was not recording a miracle which had interrupted the course of history, but was telling of a Divine act which
explained the course of history and restored the order of human life, one can very well account for his calmness; if that conviction was a true one, we might account for the impression which his brief sentences have made on later ages. That the poll-tax of the first emperors should be the instrument of bringing forth the King before whom the Caesars were to bow, would then seem one of those incidents in the drama of the universe which discover a God who is not suddenly interfering to untie knots that are too difficult for human hands, but who is directing all the course of the action, from the beginning to the catastrophe; not crushing the wills of the persons in the drama, but leading them on, by methods which we cannot see or conjecture, to fill their places in it. And the birth in the manger would be felt, not as an embellishment of the narrative, but as a part of the revelation. The King, who proves His title and His Divinity by stooping to the lowest condition of His subjects, is brought into direct contrast with him who had risen by intrigues, proscriptions, and the overthrow of an ancient order, to be hailed as the Deliverer and highest God of the earth. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

The child and the emperor

Was that infant at Bethlehem no more than a subject of the Roman emperor? Was Christianity the mere product of these outward favouring circumstances? Not so. It is true that from these circumstances the fulness of time took its shape and colour. Without that shelter it would not have been, humanly speaking, what now it is. But the spark of life itself was independent of any local or national state. The very characteristic of the life of Christ is that which soared above any such local limit. Therefore it is that He was born, apart from all the stir and turmoil of the world, in a humble stall, in a dark cavern, in a narrow street of an obscure mountain village. Therefore it is that He lived for thirty years in the secluded basin of the unknown, unconsecrated Nazareth; that He passed away without attracting a single word of notice from any contemporary poet or philosopher of that great court, which has made the reign of Caesar Augustus proverbial to all time as the “Augustan age.” Born under the empire, there was in Jesus Christ nothing imperial, except the greatness of His birth. Born under the Roman sway, there was nothing in Him Roman except the world-wide dominion of His Spirit. From Caesar Augustus comes out a decree that all the world should be taxed, subdued, civilized, united. All honour to him for it! All vigilance, all exertion, all prudence, be ours to watch and seize all the opportunities that are given to us. But it is from God that there come these flashes of life and light, of goodness and of genius, which belong to no age, but which find their likeness in that Divine Child, which was born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This, then, is the double principle of which the birth of Christ is the most striking example; external circumstances are something, but they are not everything The inward life is the essential thing; but for its successful growth it needs external circumstance. There are a thousand ways in which this double lesson is forced upon us, but the most striking illustration is still to be found in the contrast of the same double relation to the circumstances of world, century, country, or Church in which we live. And, on the other hand, there is our own separate existence and character with its own work to do--its own special nourishment from God. (Dean Stanley.)

A political era associated with high religious experiences

It was remarkable that the birth of Christ should take place in connection with the process of a great political engagement. Whilst men were moving from all quarters, in response to the decree of Caesar Augustus, the angels of heaven were gathering around the world’s greatest event. We need historical landmarks to help our memory of the best things. Blessed is that nation whose political eras are associated with the highest religious experiences. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Historical difficulties of the census

Great as are the historic difficulties in which this census is involved, there seem to be good independent grounds for believing that it may have been originally ordered by Sextius Saturinus, that it was begun by Publeius Sulpicius Quirinus, when he was for the first time legate of Syria; and that it was completed during his second term of office. In deference to Jewish prejudices, any infringement of which was the certain signal for violent tumults and insurrections, it was not carried out in the ordinary Roman manner, at each person’s place of residence, but, according to Jewish custom, at the town to which their family originally belonged. The Jews still clung to their genealogies and to the memory of long-extinct tribal relations; and though the journey was a weary and distasteful one, the mind of Joseph may well have been consoled by the remembrance of that heroic descent which would now be authoritatively recognized, and by the glow of those Messianic hopes to which the marvellous circumstances of which he was almost the sole depositary would give a tenfold intensity. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The empire of Rome and the stable at Bethlehem

I. 1. Consider the decree that went forth from the emperor. How important it must have appeared to the Roman authorities!

2. Consider also the scene that night at Bethlehem. Little knew the people who were filling that inn whom they were turning out!

II. 1. Learn that God is working in all the events of life, great or small; bringing out of them issues very different from the issues intended by the actors in those events. Emperors are but officials in God’s Temple, and their decrees are but means by which He carries out His.

2. Learn that God’s work does not appeal to the outward senses. It is born at lowly Bethlehem rather than in powerful Rome or in self-righteous Jerusalem. Yet it lasts to eternity.

3. Learn also how the work of Christ in us is like His work in the world. He has to be born in each one of us. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

God overrules

Augustus, while sending forth his edicts to the utmost limits of the East, little knew that on his part he was obeying the decrees of the King of kings. God had foretold that the Saviour should be born in Bethlehem. In order that this might be accomplished He made use of Augustus, and through this prince the order was given for the census of the whole people. At the sight of those wars and revolutions that upset the world you feel inclined to imagine that God no longer governs the world or those in it. You are mistaken, God permits that these awful catastrophes should take place, just for the salvation and perfection of this or that person whom the world knows not. (De Boylesve.)

God’s time arrives

I. DIVINE POWER IN THE INCARNATION. II. WISDOM

III. FAITHFULNESS.

IV. HOLINESS. Hiding His wonders from unbelievers.

V. Love (John 3:16). (Van Doren.)

1. Caesar Augustus. Son of Octavius and Aria; licentious and treacherous. Superstitious--oft borne to the temple before day, for prayer. Generous, vain, ambitious, warlike, another Louis XIV. Cruel--three hundred senators and two hundred knights murdered with his consent. Defeated at sea, he dragged Neptune’s statue into the sea. His daughter Julia, by her infamy, embittered his last days. Reigned 44 years, died aged 76. A long and splendid reign. In Augustus, see man’s nothingness, amid earthly splendour. In Mary, see highest destiny, amid earthly meanness. (Van Doren.)

The birth of Jesus Christ

There is a fine propriety in celebrating once a year the nativity. Our ignorance of the date is no valid objection. We do not hesitate to date our letters and documents Anno Domini 1887, although in doing so we commit an error of at least four years, and perhaps six. The all-important thing here is not the time of the nativity, but the fact of the nativity. And, if one day in every week the Church of Immanuel celebrates the resurrection of her Lord, is it unbecoming that she should one day in every year celebrate that nativity without which there had never been either resurrection or redemption, or even the Church herself? And now let us attend to the story of the birth of Immanuel. More than seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, the prophet Micah gave utterance to the following remarkable prophecy:

Thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah,

Which art little to be among the thousands of Judah,

Out of thee shall One come forth unto me

Who is to be ruler in Israel;

Whose goings forth are from of old,

From everlasting.

That same Almighty God who, through the restlessness of a Persian monarch, had rescued from annihilation the national stock from which His Anointed was to spring, prepared a birthplace for His Anointed through the edict of a Roman emperor. For, when the fulness of the time had come, and the Christ was to be born, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world should be enrolled. And thus a minute prophecy, a thousand times imperilled in the course of seven centuries, was at last minutely accomplished. Oh, who does not feel that a God is here? Who can resist the conviction that this God has had from the beginning His purposes, and actually controls every movement of every human will? Yet there is no reason for supposing that Augustus Caesar, in issuing his decree for a universal census, was conscious that in so doing he was preparing the way for the accomplishment of an ancient prediction. A Roman, he cared nothing for the Hebrews. A pagan, he knew nothing of Messianic prophecies. His issuing a decree of enrolment was nothing unnatural or extraordinary; it was one of the commonest acts of a political ruler, and he himself was one of the most methodical of men. Yet who can doubt that Caesar Augustus, in issuing this decree, was accomplishing a predetermined purpose of the Ancient of Days? Nevertheless, nothing is clearer than this: Caesar Augustus, in publishing this edict, and Joseph and Mary, in visiting Bethlehem in accordance with its requirements, acted as perfectly free, voluntary beings. Now, I have not alluded to this matter for the purpose of attempting to solve a frequently propounded problem--namely, the reconciliation of Divine sovereignty and human freedom. Considered practically in its matter-of-fact aspect, this subject presents no difficulty. It is only when we pry into that domain of infinite problems which God has not opened to us that we become bewildered and lost. Duty, not metaphysics, is our rule for life. Let me conclude with three reflections.

I. THE BIRTH AT BETHLEHEM CONSECRATED AND GLORIFIED ALL INFANCY. AS Athena was fabled to have sprung full-grown and panoplied from the cloven brow of Zeus, so the Christ and Son of God might have descended into humanity an unborn, adult Adam; for the distance between babe and man is infinitely less than the distance between man and God. But, no; He descended into humanity through the avenue of birth and babyhood, coming, like any other infant, under the law of growth, and so consecrating all life from cradle to grave, hallowing birth as well as death. The birth at Bethlehem made babyhood a sacred thing. And so the very infancy of Jesus is a gospel.

II. THE TREATMENT OF THE HOLY FAMILY AT BETHLEHEM’S INN WAS A PROPHECY OF THE WORLD’S TREATMENT OF JESUS CHRIST EVER SINCE. It is, I repeat, a picture of the world’s treatment of Jesus Christ ever since. It does not repulse Him; it simply has no room for Him. The world seizes the inn; Christianity must put up with a stable. (G. D Boardman.)


Verse 4

Luke 2:4

Which is called Bethlehem

Description of Bethlehem

The town is picturesque in the highest degree.
Its fortified walls have long vanished, but its position on a long, narrow ridge, has confined it to the limits of three thousand years ago, and its houses, very probably, are just the same in appearance as those of the time of David, or even earlier. In fact, we have before us an old Jewish city such as men inhabited in the Bible ages. But its picturesqueness is the best of it, for the streets are as far from being clean as those of other Eastern towns. Rivulets of abomination run across them or stand in puddles, for scavengers are unknown, and the masterless, homeless dogs cannot eat all the garbage. The main street is largely occupied by workshops, or rather arches, with no window, which is not much loss in such a climate. Looking in, one sees that the floor is covered with men sitting cross-legged, hard at work making carved rosaries from the stones of the Dora palm, or the common date, or olive wood; crosses from fig-wood, stained black; fancy trifles from the asphalt of the Dead Sea; endless souvenirs of the town in olive-wood; but, above all, cutting medallions from the mother-of-pearl oyster-shells of the Red Sea, or engraving them with the story of our Lord from His birth to His death. In this one art alone there are, perhaps, 500 workmen engaged. The staple industry of the town is in fact the manufacture of endlessly varied mementos of Bethlehem to be sold, after they have been blessed by the priests, to the pilgrims. This being a Christian town, the wives and daughters often sit with their husbands or brothers: a strange sight in the East, but one that goes far, by what it suggests, to account for the general prosperity. The buildings show that no masons could be better than the Bethlehemites, though there are not many good houses except in the front street and even this has its better and its worse end. Inside, some are, of course, very superior to others, and it is the same with the workshops. Here is one, where men and women are busy making beads for rosaries. All the men are on the ground, cross-legged; the women sit on low pieces of wood, their bare feet visible outside their dress. Mat baskets, or large wooden bowls, of beads cut from olive rods, are on the ground; one man saws a small piece of wood fixed upright in a vice, another turns the beads at a most primitive lathe, driven by a cord stretched on a bent fiddle-stick arrangement. The work-bench consists of some beams on the ground, but one man has a vice fixed in the earth, and is filing something vigorously; the women have fiddle-bows of their own, but the string is a fine saw to cut the beads apart. The long stick which they dissact with this tool rests on an upright, and is held straight by the left hand. The workshop of Joseph at Nazareth could not have been simpler, or, I might say, ruder, for this one seems originally to have been a small cavern in the hillside, the front being filled in, except the door, with masonry, to fit it for its present purpose. The roof is ceiled with a coating of reed-stalks, which sadly needs repair; the walls are in their natural roughness; the floor is the limestone; the door might have been made by one of Noah’s carpenters, so roughly is it put together. A woman outside, with a nearly naked child astride her shoulder, he, r forehead and neck bright with coins, is looking in, with ourselves, at the busy scene. Turning up one of the short, steep side lanes, I found a second street parallel with the principal one, but dirtier. At some points, on the lower side of the main street, houses extend a short way down the hill, with stairs outside. One I noticed with the stone wall built on the edge of the limestone, so that the view was uninterrupted to the bottom of the valley. A very rickety hand-rail guarded the inner side; such a rail as the whole West could not match; made of natural wood, rough, bent, gaping, set on the steps, held in its place one knew not how. Stairs and house alike were built in arches; the wooden railing alone vindicating the rude backwardness of the East. Two women sat grinding corn on the landing above the first flight; a young woman and a young man were enjoying an interview lower down, and a miserable-looking old woman surveyed the world from above
. (G. Geikie, D. D.)

The Church of the Nativity

The entrance to the Church of the Nativity faces an open space; the promenade of older Bethlehemites, and the playground of younger. Old marble pillars lie side by side in one part of it, and serve as a seat for the weary or idle, and a centre of activity for urchins, who must clamber over something, even in the city of David. The old arched gateway into the church has been long ago filled up with heavy square stones, to resist attack, and now the only entrance is by a small door, less than three feet broad, and hardly four feet high; but it is well that the proudest have to stoop in entering a building so venerable. Contemporary evidence proves that it was built by order of Constantine, so that it is the oldest church in Palestine, perhaps in the world. Within,you are in the presence of sixteen centuries, and tread ground hallowed by the footsteps of nearly fifty generations of believers in the Crucified One. You find yourself in a small, bare porch, once approached through a spacious quadrangle on the open space outside, with covered ways, lined with rows of pillars, in front and at the sides, and provision for baptism and oblation in the centre, From this, three spacious arched gates led into the ancient porch, which ran along great part of the west end of the church; but two of the gates have been entirely built up, and, as we have seen, only a very small doorway, is left in the third, for fear of the Mahommedans. The porch is dark, and is divided by walls into different chambers. Inside, the venerable simplicity is very impressive. You face the east end, which is 170 feet from the western wall, and, proceeding to the centre, find yourself under a nave which rises in a pointed roof about thirty feet over the capitals of the great pillars, nineteen feet high, which support an aisle on each side. A clerestory, with five arched windows at each side, admits abundant light. The aisles are flat-roofed, supported in the centre by a row of eleven massive pillars, while another row of the same number holds up the straight beams of the lofty nave, the windows over which correspond to the spaces between the columns below. Once elaborately painted, there is now little ornament left on them, except some faint indications of former pictures of saints, and armorial bearings and mottoes, left eight hundred years ago by the Crusaders, with whose greatest chiefs it was a great matter to have their names emblazoned in the church of the Nativity. The columns, each one mighty whole, are of reddish limestone with white veins, and rest on great square slabs, the capitals being Corinthian, and the architraves very simple. The pointed roof of the nave was once richly painted and gilded, but this glory has long ago departed; and the spaces between the high windows at its sides were formerly covered with marbles and mosaics, but though the marbles remain, the mosaics survive only in fragments. When perfect, these represented, on the south side, the seven immediate ancestors of Joseph, the husband of the Holy Virgin. Above them, concealed by curtains, are niches containing altars, on which books of the Gospels rest; and on a line with these is a strange mosaic of coloured glass, on a gilded ground, representing a huge plant, the creation of some one’s brain long ago, not the imitation of any natural growth. A short way down the aisle stands the ancient baptismal font, eight-sided, with an inscription in Greek on a table below, over a small sculptured cross “(Given) as a memorial, before God and for the peace and forgiveness of the sinners (who presented it), of whom the Lord knows the names.” Humble enough I But all the more likely to be noted above. It brings one in mind of the dying request of the once imperious Alfonso de Ojeda, erewhile the haughtiest knight of Castile, yet in the end lowly before his Saviour--that they should bury him at the entrance to the Cathedral at Havana, that every one, as he went in, might tread on the dust of so unworthy a worm. A wall on the east side of this many-pillared square space, runs across aisles and nave alike; the former ending here, though the nave really extends beyond this line to the east end of the church, which is rounded into a projecting half-circle, or apse; the secret chamber of the Greek altar and choir, for in Greek worship both are hidden from the congregation by a screen. This apsidal end, with two similar semicircles at the two ends of the transept, gives the shape of a Latin cross to the whole building. Descending the steps from the raised floor of the eastern part of the nave, and turning sharply to the left, a half-sunk arched doorway leads you down by thirteen steps to the Chapel of the Nativity; once a rude cave; now paved and walled with marble, and lighted by thirty-two lamps. About forty feet from east to west, it is only sixteen wide and ten high, and, of course, would be totally dark but for the artificial illumination, for it lies immediately under the great choir, at the very east of the church. The roof is covered with what had once been striped cloth of gold; three huge candlesticks, with candles rising higher than your head, stand at the back; and in front, between two marble pillars, a large picture of the Nativity, and some small ones below it, rest on a projecting shelf of marble, forming the altar. Below this is a shrine unspeakably sacred to millions of our fellow Christians. It is semi-circular, arching outwards above, and at most only four feet high. Fifteen silver lamps burn in it, night and day, lighting up the painted marbles which encrust it; and in the centre of its small floor is a silver star--marking the spot, it is believed, over which the Star of the East once rested--with an inscription, at the sight of which, I frankly confess, I wept like a child: “Hie de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est.” A Turkish soldier, gun in hand, and fez on head, stood a few steps behind, but I forgot his presence. Pilgrims kneeled down and kissed the silver which spoke a story so infinitely touching, and I did the same. There is no reason, so far as I can see, to doubt that in this cave, so hallowed by immemorial veneration, the great event associated with it actually took place. Nor is there any ground for hesitation because it is a cave that is regarded as the sacred spot. Nothing is more common in a Palestine village, built on a hill, than to use as adjuncts of the houses, the eaves with which all the limestone rocks of the country abound making them the store-room, perhaps, or the workshop, or the stable, and building the dwellings before them so as to join the two. (G. Geikie, D. D.)

Illustrious pedigree in obscurity

It need not surprise us that the representatives of such an illustrious ancestry should be found in a station so obscure. In the book of Judges, we find a grandson of Moses reduced to engage himself as family priest, in Mount Ephraim, for a yearly wage of “ten shekels, a suit of apparel, and his victuals.” At the present day, the green turban which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history, the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher, and a keeper of a turnpike gate, and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church. The vicissitudes of the Jewish nation for century after century; its deportation to Babylon, and long suspension of national life; its succession of high priestly rulers, after the return; its transition to the Asmonean line, and, finally, the reign of the Idumean house of Herod, with all the storm and turmoil which marked so many changes, had left, to use the figure of Isaiah, only a root in a dry ground, an humble citizen of Nazareth, as the heir of its ancient royalty. (G. Geikie, D. D. )

Subsidiary lives

Hence, sometimes one life will appear to have been almost solely devoted to the more selecting, developing, and energizing another. For example, remember Hannah. Her lot was an exceedingly humble one. It seemed linked with a purpose no more extraordinary than that of a hundred other Hebrew mothers. She came to Eli at least twice in the temple; yet so unobtrusive and so unremarkable was she, that she had each time to introduce herself to the busy man, and repeat her name and errand. To wean the infant Samuel, and bring him a little coat every year, was about all we know of the purpose for which Hannah’s life was set in the infinite counsels of heaven. So of Andrew: he was one of the chosen twelve, and there is one pattern of cross that bears his name, because he was martyred upon it. But all we positively read about a man so true and good, is that he brought Simon Peter to Jesus. So of Joseph, the Nazarene carpenter; he shows himself in the early history of the Bethlehem babe; but Scripture, after it has exhibited how useful he was in guarding the reputation of the Virgin-Mother, dismisses him so suddenly that nobody knows where he was buried, or even where he died. (R. Robinson.)

Christ born in Bethlehem

1. The place where Christ was born is observable. Not Nazareth, but Bethlehem, in accordance with Micah’s prediction. We may suppose that the Blessed Virgin little thought of changing her place, but to have been delivered of her Holy Burden at Nazareth, where it was conceived. Her house at Nazareth had been honoured by the presence of the angel; yea, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost; that house there, we may suppose, was most satisfactory to the Virgin’s desire. But He who made choice of the womb where His Son should be conceived, it was fit He should also choose the place where His Son should be born. And this place, many hundred years before, was foretold should be Bethlehem.

2. How remarkable was the providence of God in bringing the Virgin up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, that Christ, as it was prophesied of Him, might be born there. How the wisdom of God overrules the actions of men, for higher or nobler ends than they aimed at. The emperor’s aim by this edict was to fill his coffers; God’s end was to fulfil his prophecies.

3. How readily Joseph and Mary yielded obedience to the edict and decree of this heathen emperor. It was no less than four days’ journey from

Nazareth to Bethlehem; how just an excuse might the Virgin have pleaded for her absence I What woman ever undertook so hazardous a journey, when so near her delivery? And Joseph, no doubt, was sufficiently unwilling to draw her forth into so manifest a hazard. But as the emperor’s command was peremptory, so their obedience was exemplary. We must not plead difficulty for withdrawing our obedience to supreme commands. “How did our Saviour, even in the womb of His mother, yield homage to civil rulers and governors I The first lesson which Christ’s example taught the world, was loyalty and obedience to the supreme magistrate.

4. After many weary steps the holy Virgin comes to Bethlehem, where every house is taken up by reason of the great confluence of people that came to be taxed; and there is no room for Christ but in a stable; the stable His palace, the manger His cradle. Oh, how can we be abased low enough for Him who thus neglected Himself for us! ( W. Burkitt, M. A.)

Christ’s lowly birth

The lowly birth of the Saviour of the worm is--

1. Surprising, when we consider who He is that comes.

2. Intelligible, when we ask why He comes.

3. A cause of joy, when we see for whom He comes. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

Christ’s threefold birth

The threefold birth of the Son of God.

1. Begotten of the Father before all worlds.

2. Born of flesh in the world.

3. Born of the Spirit in us. (F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)

Birth of the Son of God

It is necessary for a due celebration of Christmas, that we should recognize the Son of God in the new-born child; for, without this recognition, we should lack--

Christ’s birth in Bethlehem

The Son of God born in the little town of Bethlehem, a proof--

Christmas a children’s festival

The festival of Christmas a children’s festival; feral.

1. It leads us to a Child.

2. It fills the world of children with joy.

3. Its duo celebration demands a childlike spirit. (Florey.)

Christ’s birth in an inn

Christ was born in an inn, to intimate--

(2) that He was a pilgrim on earth, as we ought to be;

The birth of Jesus the new birth of the human race

1. Without the birth of Jesus, the new birth of mankind is impossible.

2. With it, the new birth is begun.

3. By it, the new birth is assured. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)


Verse 6

Luke 2:6

The days were accomplished

The birth of Christ

The whole of the world’s history led up to this night.
It is the hinge on which the history of man turns. The whole of mankind from Adam waited for this night. All the prophets, from righteous Enoch to John the preacher of repentance, laboured to prepare the way for Him who came on this night. The Word was made flesh to sanctity human nature. God descended to man, to raise man to God. Christmas is the feast of salvation for all mankind. The heathen were at this time celebrating their Saturnalia, in remembrance of the Golden Age, which indeed had never been since sin was in the world, an age when, they said, all the world was full of light, and joy, and innocence. But these were times for ever gone by, times from which every century was removing them further morally, as well as actually. Yet, see! how Christmas comes to turn the vain and wistful backward look into a look forwards. The evening and the morning form the day according to the Divine reckoning, not the morning and the evening. First comes darkness, and then light; first sadness, then joy; first desire, then fulfilment. Christ came to bid the old heathens turn away from contemplation of the past, and through Him look to the coming of the true Golden Age, the age when, from the new heavens and the new earth, sin and sighing shall have fled; when He, who is the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, shall reign in righteousness, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Christ has not, indeed, founded on earth the Golden Age such as the Gentiles lusted after, any more than He came to be the Messiah such as the Jews longed for; He did not come to give peace to the world itself, but an inner peace, a peace that is hid with Christ in God--not such as the world giveth--a peace which cannot be broken and taken away, a peace to be won through conflict and storm and anguish. He came not to give earthly riches and prosperity, but the true riches, which are spiritual: The Incarnation has made that possible which before was impossible. The heathen looked back to the reign of Peace and Innocence and Plenty as something past and unattainable. Christ shows it as future, and opens the kingdom of the Golden Age to all. Earth and heaven are united. Man is made a citizen of Heaven, a member of the Golden Kingdom that is preparing and awaiting its manifestation. On earth man is subject to temptation, with the world ever striving to stamp out and destroy the spiritual kingdom, as Herod, its type, sought to destroy the infant Messiah; on earth, but not of it, man waits and prepares himself, and prays, “Thy kingdom come,” knowing that the manifestation of the sons of God in the coming Golden Age cannot be till God’s will is done by His subjects on earth as it is done by the denizens of heaven. At the heathen Saturnalia all distinction between slave and master was done away, to return into full force when the feast was over. Christmas shows us Him who is very God made the servant of all, taking on Him the form of a servant, made in the likeness of flesh, that He might redeem men from slavery, and set them free in the glorious liberty of childhood to God. And as on this day the birth of the visible sun was kept, because the days have been shortening, and now appear to lengthen again, Christ calls the Gentiles to look away from the sun that rules the day to Himself, who is the true Light of the world, the Sun of Righteousness, rising with healing on His wings, who comes with promise of a day eternal, in which there will be no created sun or moon, or humanly-made candle, but the Lord God will be the light, and there shall be no night more
. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

The joy of Christmas

Christmas Day is characteristically different from other festivals, such as Easter or Whitsunday. It has a softer, tenderer, more domestic interest about it. It falls in with other feelings, and blends with some of the closest and dearest associations of family life. A first-born child in common life--born, it may be, after a season of gloom and distress; an heir, it may be, of a throne, or born in the humblest life, what is a first-born child but the sweet and happy embodiment of hope and promise, of happy days, of daily developing delight, of good and noble manhood? So it is in our common everyday life; and those who do not know it of their own, know it well for their friends, how deeply, thankfully sinks into the heart of man the delight of a newborn, a first-born child. So, I say, of common life and ordinary families. But this day saw the birth, not of the first-born of ordinary human parents, but of the Child of heaven and earth, the Child of God and man, the Child for whom both heaven and earth were waiting in anxious expectation of redemption and restitution, the Child of hopes unspeakable-hopes that could not be frustrated to those who would hold them fast; the Heir of heaven, the Heir of earth, the Heir in whose inheritance all men might regain the inheritance of their Father’s kingdom … Then let us keep this holy day with peaceful, happy, Christian thankfulness. Let it be a day of sober joy, of outpouring charity, of mutual Christian love, of deepminded peace. It is a day of family concord; a day for special parental love, and special filial duty and obedience; a day on which the internal affection of families should be warmest and brightest; a day that should know of no bickerings or irritations between those of the same household, brothers and sisters, fellow-servants, and all others. It is a day for neighbourly kindness, mutual forgiveness, interchange of all friendly offices. It is a day which, opening our hearts in grateful love to God, should open them also in brotherly kindness to one another, and help us all on towards that blessed goal which we all hope to reach, and which none will reach so surely as those who are doing their best to enable others to reach it also. (Bishop Moberly.)

The greatest event on the smallest of scales

And in speaking of the greatness of the event of Christmas Day, let us observe further one peculiarity of its outward circumstances that conveys to us a special lesson concerning greatness of all kinds. This decisive world-historical birthday took place in a small inn of a small village of a small province of a small nation. It was the greatest of events on the smallest of scales. There are some who think that all events and characters are to be measured by the magnitude of the stage on which they appear; there are some who are perplexed by the thought that this globe, on which the history of man is enacted, is now known to be a mere speck in the universe: there are some who are startled on learning for the first time that the heathen world far outnumbers the Christian, and that the famous Indian teacher, Buddha, counts myriads more worshippers than Christ. But the moment we go below the surface we find that the truth conveyed to us by the birth of the world’s Redeemer in the little village of Bethlehem is the likeness of a principle which ramifies far and wide. It was once said to me by a distinguished American, “The truth which needs especially to be impressed upon us Americans is that bigness is not greatness.” It was a truth which a well-known English philosopher had already impressed upon his American audience with a courage which they were honest enough to appreciate. The fact is that the great nations of the world have almost always been amongst the smallest in size. Europe is diminutive compared with any of the other continents, and yet Europe is certainly the seat and centre of the world’s history. Athens in its greatest days was as nothing compared with Babylon and Nineveh, and yet Athens was the eye of the world’s civilization. Palestine was not nearly half the size even of our own little island, and yet Palestine is the cradle of the world’s religion. (Dean Stanley.)

On the most striking circumstances that distinguished the birth of the Redeemer

I. HIS IMMACULATE AND MYSTERIOUS CONCEPTION. Ancient mythology teems with instances of a fictitious correspondence between Divine and human kind. In that credulous age, whoever had the good fortune to excel his competitors in wisdom, arts, or arms, boasted an alliance with heaven. Even the best among them did not scruple to blast maternal honour for the sake of this imaginary distinction. But, fantastical as it was in them, it is an evidence to us, that the idea was then sufficiently popular to warrant and protect the fact from implicit reprobation when it happened. Indeed the various impostures of this kind, which mark the annals of paganism, most probably resulted from some of the earliest predictions of the Messiah’s birth, which might be propagated among the heathen by tradition, as it was preserved among the Jews by Scripture.

II. The era of Christ’s nativity, interesting as it was to the children of men, was NOT ANNOUNCED BY ANY OF THOSE FULSOME FORMS OF OSTENTATIOUS SPLENDOUR WHICH MARK THE BIRTH OF THE GREAT. His kingdom was not of this world, and He deigned not to borrow its rites. But His insignia are stamped in the heavens (Matthew 2:2). Angels announced His advent with strains of highest rapture.

III. THE WORLD WAS LITTLE AFFECTED by this event so essential to its welfare. This, perhaps, is the most extraordinary circumstance of all, that dignified and distinguished that occasion. Those already specified were evidently adapted by Providence to assert the importance, and attest the truth of His character. But what shall we say of the meanness, the ignominy, the contempt to which the Son of God condescended in taking upon Him the form of a man? The gospel accounts sufficiently for this. It is intended to suppress the arrogant, and elevate all the milder sensibilities of the heart. Christ came to inculcate the principles of virtue and religious wisdom; not to swell the passions, or stimulate the wishes of ambition, but to refine fallen and degraded human nature; not to pamper the appetites of men, but to wean them from the sensual and temporary enjoyments of this life, by those of a rational, spiritual, and immortal kind. It was, indeed, one capital object of this Divine embassy, to set the insignificance of those things which dazzle our senses, and mislead our hearts, in the strongest and most affecting point of view. And how could He do it more effectually than by the poverty and abjection in which He made His appearance and progress through life? The most likely means of detaching His disciples from the world, was giving them in this manner an example of living above it. They cannot consistently be covetous of distinctions, which are so uniformly despised by their Master. CONCLUSION: Do not imagine that this festival requires no preparation of you. Let one and all “prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight His paths.” Come, ye miserable sinners, laden with the insupportable burden of your sins; come, ye troubled consciences, uneasy at the remembrance of your many idle words, many criminal thoughts, many abominable actions; come, ye poor mortals, condemned first to bear the infirmities of nature, the caprices of society, the vicissitudes of age, the turns of fortune, and then the horrors of death, and the frightful night of the tomb; come, behold the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; take Him into your arms, learn to desire nothing more when you possess Him. (B. Murphy.)


Verse 7

Luke 2:7

Her first-born Son

Birth of Christ the Lord

I.
CHRIST’S RELATION TO THE POOR.

1. When He came in so lowly circumstances, consenting to lay His head in a manger, none of the pomps of royalty about Him, how touchingly and tenderly He spoke to the vast majority of the world. There is a bond of sympathy between Him and the multitude whose condition is one of struggles, deprivations, and anxieties. Here is a warrant of His love; here is something to secure their confidence, draw out their hearts, lead them to admiration.

2. How plain, in the light of this event, is the folly of estimating men by their birth or surroundings. What a rebuke on the worldliness of earth, on our unseemly regard for temporal surroundings. If Christ, the King of kings, the Saviour of the world, the Son of the Highest, could take so lowly a station, we are weak indeed, if we judge men hereafter by the canopy on their cradles or the jewels on their swaddling-bands.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF INFANCY. Why was Christ a babe? To link Himself at every stage with humanity; to indicate the sweetness and preciousness of infant life. In that quaint, fragile casket--a babe--is the jewel of an immortal soul. There lie the germs of immense possibilities. The soul is as yet in embryo, but it is there. He turns against his better nature, against the teachings of Christ’s life, who has no interest in the new-born babe.

III. THE SUPERIOR IMPORTANCE OF THE SPIRITUAL TO THE MATERIAL. HOW little do we know of the material circumstances of Christ’s life! Even this great event, His birth, is shrouded in comparative darkness. God would show us the comparative insignificance of temporal things. Christ came to teach spiritual truth.

IV. Christ’s coming was THE PIVOTAL EVENT OF THE WORLD’S HISTORY.

From Bethlehem shall go forth an influence that shall move the world. That Divine Babe is the salvation of a ruined earth! (A. P. Foster.)

The miraculous conception not unreasonable

Let me dispute the case with a mere natural man, How doth the harvest of the field enrich the husbandman? It is answered, By the seed which is sown in the ground. Say again, How came seed into the world to sow the ground? Surely you must confess that the first seed had a Maker, who did not derive it from the ears of wheat, but made it of nothing by the power of His own hand; says St. Austin, “then God could make a man without the seed of man in the Virgin’s womb, who made seed for the corn before ever there was earing or harvest.” Nay, there is an instance for it in the little bees, as the poet doth philosophize, they do not bring forth their young ones, as other creatures do, by the help of male and female together; but they gather the seed which begets the young ones from the dew of leaves, and herbs, and flowers, and so they bring them forth. (Bishop Hacket.)

Christ born without the curse of the flesh

The Virgin conceived our Lord without the lusts of the flesh, and therefore she had not the pangs and travail of women upon her, she brought Him forth without the curse of the flesh. These be the Fathers’ comparisons: as bees draw honey from the flower without offending it, as Eve was taken out of Adam’s side without any grief to him, as a spring issues out of the bark of the tree, as the sparkling light from the brightness of the star, such ease was it to Mary to bring forth her first-born Son; and therefore having no weakness in her body, feeling no want of vigour, she did not deliver Him to any profane hand to be dressed, but by a special ability, above all that are newly delivered, she wrapt Him in swaddling clouts. (Bishop Hacket.)

Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes

Now these clouts here mentioned which were not worth the taking up, but that we find them in this text, are more to be esteemed than the robes of Solomon in all his royalty; yea, more valuable than the beauty of the lily, or any flower of the field or garden, which did surpass all the royalty of Solomon. I may say they are the pride of poverty, for I know not in what thing poverty may better boast and glory than in the rags of Christ. (Bishop Hacket.)

1. The strange condition of the mother, that she brought forth a Son, who by nature was no bearer, for she was a virgin.

2. The strange condition of the Babe, the first-begotten Son of God was the first-born Son of flesh and blood.

3. The strange condition of the place, that she laid Him in a manger.

4. The strange condition of men, that there was no room in the inn for Jesus and Mary. (Bishop Hacket.)

The Christ-child

Mother and child! What more beautiful sight, and what more wonderful sight is there in the world? What more beautiful? That man must be very far from the Kingdom of God--he is not worthy to be called a man at all--whose heart has not been touched by the sight of his first child in itsmother’s bosom. The greatest painters who have ever lived have tried to paint the beauty of that simple thing--a mother with her babe: and have failed. One of them, Rafaelle by name, to whom God gave the spirit of beauty in a measure in which He never gave it, perhaps, to any other man, tried again and again, for years, painting over and over that simple subject--the mother and her babe--and could not satisfy himself. Each of his pictures is most beautiful--each in a different way; and yet none of them is perfect. There is more beauty in that simple everyday sight than he or any man could express by his pencil and his colours. And as for the wonder of that sight I tell you this: That physicians, and the wise men who look into the laws of nature, of flesh and blood, say that the mystery is past their finding out; that if they could find out the whole meaning, and the true meaning of those two words, “mother” and “child,” they could get the key to the deepest wonders of the world--but they cannot. And philosophers who look into the laws of soul and spirit say the same. The wiser men they are, the more they find in the soul of every new-born babe, and its kindred to its mother, wonders and puzzles past man’s understanding. This then we are to think of--God revealed, and shown to men, as a babe upon His mother’s bosom. It was only in the Babe of Bethlehem that the whole of God’s character shone forth, that men might not merely find Him and bow before Him, but trust in Him and love Him, as one who could be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. A God in need! a God weak! a God fed by mortal woman! a God wrapt in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger! If that sight will not touch our hearts, what will? God has been through the pains of infancy, that He might take on Him not merely the nature of a man, but all human nature, from the nature of the babe on its mother’s bosom, to the nature of the full-grown and full-souled man, fighting with all his powers against the evil of the world. All this is His, and He is all; that no human being, from the strongest to the weakest, from the oldest to the youngest, but may be able to say, “What I am, Christ has been!” (C. Kingsley.)

The Advent exalts human relations

Why was it that the Eternal Son, when He abandoned that “glory which He had with the Father before the world was,” and determined to be “the Man Christ Jesus,” was pleased to make His apparition on the scene of the world even as others do; to be the infant and the child before He was the man; to be subject to the filial obligation in the fulness of its legitimate extent; and to be all this in a situation in which such ties were stripped of all that could recommend them, apart from their own intrinsic value--a situation in which wealth could not adorn, nor authority dignify them? Assuredly one prominent reason was that, separating, by means so much more intelligible than argumentative statements, what was essentially excellent in human nature from its depravations and corruptions, He might bestow a special dignity upon those primary connections of human life upon which the rest so mainly depend, and in which the tenderer and better affections of the heart find, and were meant by our Creator to find, their peculiar sphere of exercise. Nothing can more truly show that nature and revelation came from the same hand, than the assumption into revelation of all that is innocent in nature. When God, as Creator of the world, bound together all the variety of human connections by all the variety of corresponding affections, He wrought a work destined for everlasting. Dispensations may change, but these things are not meant to change. And thus it is that, when from the perusal of the New Testament a man descends into the charities of social life, things do not seem changed in their position, but wonderfully beautified in their complexion; a Diviner glow rests upon them and a holier sanctity. There is a change, but it is a change that adorns without disturbing. It is as if a man who had lived in a twilight world, where all was dimly revealed and coldly coloured, were suddenly to be surprised with the splendour of a summer noon. Objects would still remain, and relations be still unbroken; but new and lovely lights and shadowings would cover them: they would move in the same direction as before, but under an atmosphere impregnated with brighter hues, and rich with a light that streamed direct from heaven.

I. Then, by what means could this high result have been attained with such force, directness, and certainty, as has been effected in the adoption by our God of those very connections? So far, you can perceive a strong reason for the manner of Christ’s incarnation--for His advent among us in the simplicity of our ordinary manhood. You can perceive that it conferred an inexpressible dignity upon the relation, above all others, of the mother and the child.

II. I would add that of His design to exalt this as well as the other natural relations, to make them high and sacred elements in the religion He was about to establish, a most lovely proof is insinuated in the constant employment of all these connections and feelings to symbolize the eternal realities of the spiritual world.

III. The passage before us speaks not merely of the “first-born,” but of her who bore Him, and whose mysterious agonies were unsupported by the aids of wealth and the appliances of luxury; who was rejected when she would have given to the Immortal Infant the common comforts of that trying hour; and who had to place among the beasts of the field, less insensate than man, the “life of the world” thus cast forth to die. How wondrous, how unfelt before or since, the communion of that mother and that Son! With the full remembrance of His supernatural descent, to sit at the same daily table for all those long and untold years that preceded the public ministry of the great prophet; to recognize in Him at once the babe of her bosom and the God of her immortality; to catch, ever and anon, those mystic echoes of eternity which the deeper tones of His converse would reveal, and to behold, plainer and plainer, as He grew, the lineaments of the God impressed upon the wondrous inmate of her humble home; surely these were experiences to dignify that mother in our thoughts; yea, to give a glory and a hallowing to maternity itself for ever.

IV. One point, above all others, added a peculiar interest to that wondrous connection. The virgin and her Son stood alone in the world! alone in the long line of the human race! He, with whom she was so awfully, yet endearingly connected, could acknowledge no earthly father, no author of His humanity, but that overshadowing Spirit by whose mysterious operation He had been invested with our nature. In that awful hour of Bethlehem there must have mingled with the sorrows of the outcast Virgin the trembling joys of one who knew herself the supernatural channel of the Hope of the human race. And though she might own to the feebleness of the woman in that hour of trial, and deplore amid the unworthy accompaniments of such a scene that “low estate” of “the handmaid of the Lord” which had reduced her to them, yet as she gazed upon that Eternal Child in whom was bound up the regeneration of Israel, of the world, “her soul could magnify the Lord and her spirit rejoice in God her Saviour.” (W. Archer Butler.)

The Saviour and the manger

For ourselves Christmas Day is one of universal joy; for Jesus Christ’s sake, who as on this day was born, there is a loving sadness. His birth overshadowed His life. His very coming into the world was a heavy prophecy of sorrow.

I. BORN A HELPLESS UNKNOWING BABE. Unable to do anything; He was mocked in the hour of His Passion; as being weak and foolish; as one unable to reply to Herod and to Pilate (Isaiah 53:17). The burden of our nature was laid upon Him all through His earthly life, which was one long course of sacrifice for others. The weak and suffering are often the workers of the world.

II. BORN WITHOUT A DWELLING. “No room for Him in the inn”; whilst living, no home for Him in Jerusalem or elsewhere (Matthew 8:20). In death He had no tomb or sepulchre of His own. Quite possible to do a mighty work for the world, and yet have no lot or portion in it.

III. BORN IN DARKNESS. Just after midnight; died in darkness “over the whole land,” just after midday. The Light of the world came into it at dark, to make it bright with His presence, which presence being taken away, left it dark again. Type of a soul once enlightened, fallen away into the darkness of sin (Matthew 6:23).

IV. BORN ON A HARD COUCH. Born in a stable, laid in a manger, He died extended and reposing upon the bitter couch of the cross. A birth, life, and death in hardship. This world a school of discipline to holy souls.

V. BORN BETWEEN TWO ANIMALS. The ox and the ass were with Him at His birth. He was compelled to breathe out His soul between two thieves, and during His life He received sinners. Conclusion: Every life repeats itself. Marvellous concord between Jesus Christ the Child and Jesus Christ the Man, the manger and the cross, the beginning and the end. (M. Faber.)

There was no room for them in the inn

No room for Christ in the inn

I. There were OTHER REASONS WHY CHRIST SHOULD BE LAID IN THE MANGER.

1. It was intended thus to show forth His humiliation. Would it not have been inappropriate that the Redeemer who was to be buried in a borrowed tomb should be born anywhere but in the humblest shed, and housed anywhere but in the most ignoble manner? The manger and the cross, standing at the two extremities of the Saviour’s earthly life, seem most fit and congruous the one to the other.

2. By being in a manger He was declared to be the king of the poor. In the eyes of the poor, imperial robes excite no affection, but a man in their own garb attracts their confidence. Great commanders have readily won the hearts of their soldiers by snaring their hardships and roughing it as if they belonged to the ranks.

3. Further, in being thus laid in a manger, He did, as it were, give an invitation to the most humble to come to Him. We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger.

4. Methinks there was yet another mystery. This place was free to all. Christ was born in the stable of the inn to show how free He is to all comers. Class distinctions are unknown here, and the prerogatives of caste are not acknowledged, No forms of etiquette are required in entering a stable; it cannot be an offence to enter the stable of a public caravanserai. So, if you desire to come to Christ, you may come to Him just as you are; you may come now.

5. It was at the manger that the beasts were fed; and does the Saviour lie where weary beasts receive their provender, and shall there not be a mystery here? Alas, there are some men who have become so brutal through sin, so utterly depraved by their lusts, that to their own consciences everything manlike has departed; but even to such the remedies of Jesus, the Great Physician, will apply. Even beastlike men may come to Christ, and live.

6. But as Christ was laid where beasts were fed, you will recollect that after He was gone beasts fed there again. It was only His presence which could glorify the manger, and here we learn that if Christ were taken away the world would go back to its former heathen darkness. Christianity itself would die out, at least that part of it which really civilizes man, if the religion of Jesus could be extinguished.

II. THERE WERE OTHER PLACES BESIDES THE INN WHICH HAD NO ROOM FOR JESUS.

1. The palaces of emperors and the halls of kings afforded the Royal Stranger no refuge.

2. But there were senators, there were forums of political discussion, there were the places where the representatives of the people make the laws, was there no room for Christ there? Alas I none.

3. How little room there is for Him in what is called good society. There is room there for all the silly little forms by which men choose to trammel themselves; room for frivolous conversation; room for the adoration of the body; there is room for the setting up of this and that as the idol of the hour, but there is too little room for Christ, and it is far from fashionable to follow the Lord fully.

4. How little room for Him on the exchange.

5. How little room for Him in the schools of the philosophers.

6. How little room has He found even in the Church. Go where ye will, there is no space for the Prince of Peace but with the humble and contrite spirits which by grace He prepares to yield Him shelter.

III. THE INN ITSELF HAD NO ROOM FOR HIM. This was the main reason why He must be laid in a manger.

1. The inn represents public opinion. In this free land, men speak of what they like, and there is a public opinion upon every subject; and you know there is free toleration in this country to everything-permit me to say, toleration to everything but Christ.

2. The inn also represents general conversation. Speech is very free in this land, but ah! how little room is there for Christ in general talk.

3. As for the inns of modern times--who would think of finding Christ there?

IV. HAVE YOU ROOM FOR CHRIST?

V. If you have room for Christ, then THE WORLD HAS NO ROOM FOR YOU. It had no room for Joseph or Mary, any more than for the Babe. Who are His father, and mother, and sister, and brother, but those who receive His word and keep it? So, as there was no room for the Blessed Virgin, nor for the reputed father, remember there is no room in this world for any true follower of Christ.

1. No room for you to take your ease.

2. No room for you to sit down contented with your own attainments.

3. No room for you to hide your treasure in.

4. No room for you to put your confidence.

5. Hardly room of sufferance. You must expect to be laughed at, and to wear the fool’s cap in men’s esteem. Will you enlist on such terms? Will you give room for Christ, when there is henceforth no room for you? (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Christ outside of the inn

1. This was partly the result of ignorance. Had they known He was the Messiah, doubtless they would have acted otherwise.

2. But partly also the result of selfishness. Had there been more of a generous humanity in their hearts, some fitter place would have been found for Mary and her child.

I. We may take this inn as AN EMBLEM OF THE UNGODLY WORLD. What is the essential distinction between an inn and a home? In the one, as in the other, a number of individuals dwell together, but “home” involves the idea of vital unity--common life, feeling, experience. In an inn no mutual fellowship; each thinks only of his own interests. When Christ was born, the Roman Empire was just one huge inn, with no real cohesion, no vital unity, amongst the various provinces. Into this world of aggregated interests Christ came; and there was no room for Him. Even the Jewish nation, to whom more especially He came, was split up into sects and parties, each pursuing its own objects, although living under the same roof of a common history and a common religion; and so, when He came unto His own, they received Him not. Is it not the same in the world now?

II. AN EMBLEM OF MANY AN UNCHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLD. Many a household does not at all realize the idea of a “home.” Its members cat and sleep under the same roof; but this is more like an arrangement of temporary necessity than of loving choice. They need Christ as a bond of union; but they do not feel their need of Him, and so for Him they have no room.

III. AN EMBLEM OF THE WORLDLY HEART. It might be thought the very spirit of selfishness would impart unity to the worldling’s nature. But no, for while his desires are imperious, they are often mutually conflicting. He needs a governing principle--Christ dwelling in the heart. (T. C.Finlayson.)

Room in the soul for Christ

As the palace, and the forum, and the inn, have no room for Christ, and as the places of public resort have none, have you room for Christ? “Well,” says one, “I have room for Him, but I am not worthy that He should come to me.” Ah! I did not ask about worthiness; have you room for Him? “Oh,” says one, “I have an empty void the world can never fill!” Ah! I see you have room for Him. “Oh! but the room I have in my heart is so base!” So was the manger. “But it is so despicable!” So was the manger a thing to be despised. “Ah! but my heart is so foul!” So, perhaps, the manger may have been. “Oh I but I feel it is a place not at all fit for Christ!” Nor was the manger a place fit for Him, and yet there was He laid. “Oh! but I have been such a sinner; I feel as if my heart had been a den of beasts and devils!” Well, the manger had been a place where beasts had fed. Have you room for Him? Never mind what the past has been; He can forget and forgive. It mattereth not what even the present state may be if thou mournest it. If thou hast but room for Christ He will come and be thy guest. Do not say, I pray you, “I hope I shall have room for Him;” the time is come that He shall be born; Mary cannot wait months and years. Oh! sinner, if thou hast room for Him let Him be born in thy soul to-day: “To-day if ye will hear His voice harden not your hearts as in the provocation.” “To-day is the accepted time; to-day is the day of salvation.” Room for Jesus! Room for Jesus now! “Oh!” saith one, “I have room for Him, but will He come?” Will He come indeed! Do you but set the door of your heart open, do but say, “Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to thee; come, lodge within my heart,” and He will come to thee, and He will cleanse the manger of thy heart, nay, will transform it into a golden throne, and there He will sit and reign for ever and for ever. My Master wants room! Room for Him! Room for Him! I, His herald, cry aloud, Room for the Saviour! Room! Here is my royal Master--have you room for Him? Here is the Son of God made flesh--have you room for Him? Here is He who can forgive all sin--have you room for Him? There is He who can take you up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay--have you room for Him? Here is He who, when He cometh in, will never go out again, but abide with you for ever to make your heart a heaven of joy and bliss for you--have you room for Him? ‘Tis all I ask. Your emptiness, your nothingness, your want of feeling, your want of goodness, your want of grace--all these will be but room for Him Have you room for Him? Oh! Spirit of God, lead many to say, “Yes, my heart is ready.” Ah! then He will come and dwell with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ waiting for room

Were a man to enter some great cathedral of the old continent, survey the vaulted arches and the golden tracery above, wander among the forests of pillars on which they rest, listen to the music of choirs, and catch the softened light that streams through sainted forms and histories on the windows, observe the company of priests, gorgeously arrayed, chanting, kneeling, crossing themselves, and wheeling in long processions before the great altar loaded with gold and gems; were he to look into the long tiers of side chapels, each a gorgeous temple, with an altar of its own for its princely family, adorned with costliest mosaics, and surrounded, in the niches of the walls, with statues and monumental groups of dead ancestors m the highest forms of art, noting also the living princes at their worship there among their patriarchs and brothers in stone--spectator of a scene so imposing, what but this will his thought be: “Surely the Infant of the manger has at last found room, and come to be entertained among men with a magnificence worthy of His dignity “But if he looks again, and looks a little farther in--far enough in to see the miserable pride of self and power that lurks under this gorgeous show, the mean ideas of Christ, the superstitions held instead of Him, the bigotry, the hatred of the poor, the dismal corruption of life--with how deep a sigh of disappointment will he confess: “Alas, the manger was better and a more royal honour!” (Horace Bushnell, DD.)

Room in the heart for Christ

Christ was straitened for room in the inn, and thrust into the stable, that you might open your heart wide, and enlarge it, to give him a habitation to content Him. First, beloved, periculosum est inter delicius poni; ‘tis full of peril to rest among pleasures and delights; it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting Ecclesiastes 7:2). Adam had his habitation among the sweet savours and most delightful recreations of the garden of Eden; his senses were so filled with objects of pleasures, that he forgot the Lord: therefore Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who came to restore all that was lost, pitched upon the worst corner of the house, where there were no delights at all to move temptation. King’s houses, and well furnished mansions have their occasions of lewdness, but she laid her Son in a manger. Learn from hence to condescend unto the humility of Christ if you mean to ascend unto His glory; for as the custom of those regions was, this manger was a vault cut out of a rock, as low a place as He could cast Himself into; but no man projects so wisely to raise up, mighty building as he that lays a low foundation. It is reported of Sextus Quintus, how he was so far from shame that he was born in a poor cottage, that he would sport with his own fortune, and say he was born in a bright resplendent family, because the sun looked in at every cranny of the house; it is not the meanness of the place that can justly turn to any man’s scorn, nor doth a magnificent palace build up any man’s reputation. Holofernes had a costly tent to cover him, and yet was never the honester; and it was a pretty objection of Plutarch’s against the vain consumption of cost upon the decking of our houses. What do we mean, says he, to be at such cost to deck our chambers? Why will we pay so dear for our sleep, when God, if you please, hath given you that for nothing? the slenderest place served our Saviour to cover His head, “she laid Him in a manger.” (Bishop Hacket.)

Christ seeks entrance into the heart

Why, since Christianity undertakes to convert the world, does it seem to almost or quite fail in the slow progress it makes? Because, I answer, Christ gets no room, as yet, to work, and be the fire in men’s hearts He is able to be. We undertake for Him as by statecraft and churchcraft and priestcraft. We raise monasteries for Him in one age, military crusades in another. Raymond Lull, representing a large class of teachers, under took to make the gospel so logical that he could bring down all men of all nations, without a peradventure, before it. Some in our day are going to carry everything by steam-ships and commerce; some by science and the schooling of heathen children; some by preaching agents adequately backed by missionary boards; some by tracts and books. But the work, however fitly ordered as respects the machinery, lingers, and will and must linger, till Christ gets room to be a more complete inspiration in His followers. They gave Him the stable when they ought to be giving Him the inn, put Him in the lot of weakness, keep Him back from His victories, shut Him down under the world, making His gospel, thus, such a secondary, doubtfully real affair, that it has to be always debating in the evidences; instead of being its own evidence, and marching forward in its own mighty power And yet Christ has a patience large enough to bear us still; for He carne to bear even our sin, and He will not start from His burden, even if He should not be soon through with it. All the sooner ought we to come to the heart so long and patiently grieving for us. Be it ours to make room for Him, and to stretch ourselves to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)

Shutting out Jesus

Unless the Holy Spirit has been really given, these are the words which we may see written up here, and there, and everywhere--even in this professedly Christian land--“No room for Jesus here!” You can scarcely find an inn literally--a hotel, a public-house, or a beer-shop--where these words are not too plainly written up “No room for Jesus here.” They are written, too, over the doors of how many so-called places of amusement--theatres, ball-rooms, and such like: “No room for Jesus here!” But not only so; over how many places of business are there these same words! In how many private houses--drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, parlours, and kitchens--may we look up and see the same sad words--“No room for Jesus here!” And written on all these why? “Who dares,” you say, “to write such words?” They write them--every one writes them, wherever he goes, who has an unchanged heart; for upon every heart that is not changed--whether it beats in the bosom of a prince or a peasant, of a professing Christian or a professing heathen--the same sad, solemn words are written deep--“No room for Jesus here!” (Henry Wright, M. A.)

Christ found in lowly places

And very like this world was that inn. Room and smiling welcome for the rich and the reveller: no room for the heavy-laden and the poor. And very like--because that which we see without in others we can find within ourselves, if we look--is our own heart unto that inn. Room, ample room, for pride and display, luxury and indolence: no room for humility and meekness, self-denial and holy work. Yet, as surely as Christ was born, nigh upon 2,000 years ago, in a manger, so is He born now in lowly homes and hearts. Does not your own experience correspond with this? Have you not found Christ in poverty rather than in plenteousness, in suffering rather than in merriment, in solitude rather than in multitudes, in the stable rather than the inn? When have you prayed most vehemently? When have you seemed to know most clearly that you had a soul which could never die, though the body might be buried in a week? it has been, when you have been sent away from the din and excitement of the world, to the lonely, silent places of affliction; affliction in others, or in yourself, alike meant to lead us unto Christ. To be always in the inn, always and altogether in the uproar, and heat, and enjoyment of the world; that would be death to us as Christians, death to our spiritual life. (Canon S. Reynolds Hole.)

The disowned Saviour

You are all familiar, perhaps, with the story of Ulysses, the great Greek warrior, king of the island of Ithaca, and one of the most illustrious heroes of the Trojan war. After an absence from his home for twenty years--years consumed in wars and wanderings--he returned to his island empire to find his palace beset by a circle of gay young lords, who were not only consuming his substance and wasting his resources in riotous living, but were adding insult to injury, on the one hand by usurping the reins of power in his dominions, and on the other by their infamous proposals, or, at least, by mutually vying for the hand of his beloved and longsuffering Penelope. Wisely, he did not at once make himself known. Had he done so, it might have cost him his life. Nay, doubtless, had he promptly revealed himself in his own proper character, these graceless suitors would not have hesitated instantly to put him out of his own house--incontinently and unceremoniously to order him off his own premises and out of his own kingdom. More likely still, they would have taken measures effectually to compass his death. Do you say that that was pretty rough treatment? I agree with you; and yet it was not more so than that which, eighteen hundred years ago, was accorded to the Son of Man. When the Saviour of men came into this world, His own world, the world He had made with His own hands and was about to redeem with His own blood, there was yet found in it no room for Himself. No room! Hustled out of the inn where others found accommodation, the Divine Son of Mary and of God was left to creep into the world, as it were, through a back door--to be ushered into His earthly existence surrounded only by the wondering beasts of the stall. (R H. Howard.)

Christ waiting to find room

On the birth and birthplace of Jesus there is something beautifully correspondent with His personal fortunes afterwards, and also with the fortunes of His gospel, even down to our own age and time. He comes into the world as it were to the taxing, and there is scant room for Him even at that. My subject is the very impressive fact that Jesus could not find room in the world, and has never yet been able to find it.

I. SEE HOW IT WAS WITH HIM IN HIS LIFE. Herod’s massacre of innocents; parents unable to understand Him, to take in conception of His Divine childhood; John the Baptist growing doubtful, and sending to inquire whether He is really the Christ; Rabbis with no room in their little theologies for His doctrine; His own disciples getting but slenderest conception of His person and mission from His very explicit teachings.

II. So IF WE SPEAK OF CHRISTENDOM, it might seem as if Christ had certainly gotten room, so far, to enter and be glorified in human society. But

(a)what multitudes of outlying populations are there that have never heard of Him. And

(b) of the states and populations that acknowledge Him, how little of Christ, take them altogether, can there be said to be really in them?

III. To take a closer inspection. GREAT MULTITUDES UTTERLY REJECT HIM, AND STAY FAST IN THEIR SINS. They have no time to be religious, or the sacrifices are too great; some too poor, others too rich. Some too much honoured, and some too much want to be. Some in their pleasures, some in their expectations. Some too young, some too old, &c. The great world thus under sin, even that part of it which is called Christian, is very much like the inn at Bethlehem, preoccupied, crowded full in every part, so that, as the mother of Jesus looked up wistfully to the guest-chambers that cold night, drawing her Holy Thing to her bosom, in like manner Jesus Himself stands at the door of these multitudes, knocking vainly, till His head is filled with dew, and His locks are wet with the drops of the night.

IV. CHURCHCRAFT MEANTIME HAS BEEN QUITE AS NARROW, QUITE AS SORE A LIMITATION AS STATECRAFT.

V. AND THE ATTEMPTED WORK OF SCIENCE, CALLING ITSELF THEOLOGY, IS SCARCELY MORE EQUAL TO ITS THEME.

VI. But the most remarkable thing is that, when the old niggard dogma of a bigot age and habit give way, and emancipated souls begin to look for a new Christianity and a broader, worthier faith, just then everything great in the gospel vanishes more strangely than before. Faith becomes mere opinion, love a natural sentiment, piety itself a blossom on the wild stock of nature. Jesus, the Everlasting Word, dwindles to a mere man. The Holy Spirit is made to be very nearly identical with the laws of the soul. The new Christianity, the more liberal, more advanced belief, turns out to be a discovery that we are living in nature just as nature makes us live. Salvation there is none; nothing is left for a gospel but development, with a little human help from the excellent Person, Jesus. Is it not time that Christ cur Master should begin to be more fitly represented by His people. Be it yours, then, to make room for Him, even according to the greatness of His power--length, breadth, depth, height. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)

A fit nursery for the Holy Child

We try to realize the scene and situation of which the text tells us; and we feel that the stable and the manger were not a fit nursery and cradle for the Holy Child. The best house in Bethlehem, and the fairest chamber in it, would have been honoured by that wondrous birth And pious fancy, offended at the lowly birthplace of the Lord, has constructed legends in the hope to hide its shame. They say that the cave in which the Virgin rested glowed with a glorious light as soon as she entered it, and that this light, excelling the brightness of the sun, remained within the cave as long as she was there. We share the feeling out of which such legend grew. And yet, while lamenting that, through want of room, the Saviour should have been born in such a lowly place, it may be that we are not giving Him the best accommodation that we can. For want of room He may be pushed away into some cold corner of our hearts, and to some small apartment of our thoughts. Even in our worship He has often less room than He claims. There is not a precious thing we have that does not owe some of its preciousness to Him. Our lives would be sad indeed, and all our merriment would be but a surface thing, like a hollow laugh or ghastly smile, that seeks to hide our inward wretchedness, were it not for those bright hopes that Christ has enabled us to cherish. If we trace them back to their source we shall find them all in Him. Let us find room for Him then amid all the gladness of this season and all the pleasures of this day. (E. A. Lawrence.)

A fit prelude to a life of poverty, humiliation, and sacrifice

By a vision of the night God could have prepared the keeper of the inn for the reception of the world’s Saviour; by a message conveyed by angelic lips He could have commanded the most sumptuous welcome which earth’s palaces could afford; He who created the beauties which smiled on the bosom of paradise could have called into existence a garden blooming with flowers which never graced primeval Eden, and amid its blushing charms the “Rose of Sharon” might have budded. But no! In God’s estimation, what difference is there between a palace and a manger? Whatever Christ touched He dignified. The king, untouched by Christ, is blind and miserable and naked. The pauper in whose heart Christ abides is gifted with loftiest dignity. Christ shed a glory round that Eastern stable. Had infant Caesars pillowed their heads in the manger it would have been a manger still; but Christ having found a cradle there, the manger is henceforth distinguished by such a glory as never shone on the palaces of kings. (Dr. Parker.)

No room for Christ

NO ROOM FOR JESUS.

He was cradled in a manger;

His own angels sung the hymn

Of rejoicing at His coming,

Yet there was no room for Him.

Oh, my brothers, are we wiser,

Are we better now than they

Have we any room for Jesus

In the life we live to-day? (Anon)

Not much room for our Lord Jesus

Has there been, or will there be;

Room for Pilate and for Herod--

Not for Him of Calvary.

Room for pleasures--doors wide open,

And for business,--but for Him

Only here and there a manger,

Like to that at Bethlehem.

NEW PRINCE, NEW POMP.

The inns are full; no man will yield

This little pilgrim bed;

But forced He is with silly beasts

In crib to shroud His head.

Despise Him not for lying there

First what He is inquire:

An Orient pearl is often found

In depth of dirty mire.

Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish,

Nor beasts that by Him feed;

Weigh not His mother’s poor attire,

Nor Joseph’s simple weed.

This stable is a prince’s court,

The crib His chair of state;

The beasts are parcel of His pomp,

The wooden dish His plate.

The persons in that poor attire

His royal liveries wear;

The Prince Himself is come from heaven:

This pomp is praised there.

With joy approach, O Christian wight

Do homage to thy King;

And highly praise this humble pomp

Which He from heaven doth bring.

(R. Southwell.)

That night in Bethlehem, if Joseph had gone to some house and made them thoroughly understand that the Lord of Glory was about to be born in that village, they would have said, “Here is the best room in our house. Come in; come in. Occupy everything.” But when Joseph asked at this house and that house and the other house, they said, “No room on the floor, no room on the lounge, no room for Christ.” Ah! that has been the trouble in all the ages. The world has never had room for Him. No room in the heart, for here are all the gains and the emoluments of the world that are coming up to be enrolled, and they must find entertainment and lodging. Every passion full. Every desire full. Every capacity of body, mind, and soul full. No room for Christ. Room for all unholy aspirations, room for self-seeking, room for pride, room for Satan, room for all the concerted passions of darkness, but no room for Jesus. I go into a beautiful store. I find its shelves crowded with goods, and the counter crowded, and the floor crowded. It is crowded even to the ceiling. They have left just room enough in that store for commercial men, for bargain-makers, for those who come to engage in great mercantile undertakings, but no room in that store for Christ. I go into a house. It is a beautiful home. I am glad to see all those beautiful surroundings. I am glad to see that the very best looms wove those carpets, and the best manufactory turned out those musical instruments. There is no gospel against all that. But I find no Christ in that household. Room for the gloved and the robed; room for satin sandals and diamond head-gear; room for graceful step, and obsequious bow, and the dancing up and down of quick feet; room for all light, and all mirth, and all music; but--hear it, O thou Khan of Bethlehem--hear it, you angels who carolled for the shepherds in Bethlehem--no room in that house for Christ! No room in the nursery, for the children are not taught to pray; no room in the dining-hall, for no blessing is asked on the food; no room in the sleeping apartment, for God’s protection is not asked for the night. Jesus comes, and He retorts. He says, “I come to this world, and I find it has no room for Me; but I have room for it. Room in My heart--it beats in sympathy with all their sorrows. Room in My Church--I bought it with My blood. Room in heaven. Room in the anthem that never dies. Room in the banner procession. Room in the joys eternal. Room in the doxologies before the throne. Room for ever.” (Dr. Talmage.)

A night in a Syrian inn

I found the house consisted of only one very lofty room, about eighteen feet square. Just within the door a donkey and a yoke of oxen stood; and I soon perceived that rather more than one-third of the room was set apart for cattle, where the floor, which was on a level with the street, was of earth, and partially strewn with fodder. Suddenly the idea entered my mind that it must have been in such a house as this that Christ was born. I imagined Joseph anxiously seeking rest and shelter for Mary after her long journey. All the guest-chambers were already filled. The raised floor was crowded with strangers who had, like them, come to be taxed. But Joseph and Mary may have taken refuge from the cold in the lower part of the room. The manger was very likely close by Mary’s side, hollowed out at the edge of the dais, and filled with soft winter fodder. I raised my head and looked at one of the mangers, and I felt how natural it was to use it as a cradle for a newly-born infant. Its size, its shape, its soft bed of fodder, its nearness to the warm fire always burning on the dais in mid-winter, would immediately suggest the idea to an Eastern mother. (Rogers.)

No room for Jesus

Before you utterly damn this unnamed Jewish innkeeper and his seemingly unfeeling guests, pray be reasonable, and consider three things in abatement.

I. As to the first. MEN ARE GENERALLY GUILTY OF HOLDING THEIR FELLOWS TO ACCOUNT FOR A MEASURE OF LIGHT AND CULTURE WHICH THOSE FELLOW-MEN DO NOT POSSESS, BUT WHICH THEIR JUDGES DO.

II. But as to the second--LET US SEE WHAT REASONS PROBABLY INFLUENCED THE INN-KEEPER, AND WHETHER THE MASS OF MANKIND WOULD NOT THINK THOSE REASONS QUITE VALID.

1. He turned them off because they were not known. It is a busy time. The imperial edict for the enrolment of the provinces is bringing multitudes from the country to town. At this juncture two unknown people present themselves. One is a young woman. Her condition betrays itself. Who are they? The inn-keeper does not know them. Now, under the circumstances, would not such a reception as they received in Bethlehem be awarded to persons in similar condition at a majority of houses in Christendom on any Christmas Day?

2. Their appearance and the condition of their luggage were against them. You know what is meant by a “carpet-bag”, on one hand, and on the other by a “Saratoga trunk” and what a bid for attention a man makes by his luggage. Little did Joseph and Mary have. The inn-keeper had his regular customers. They were substantial citizens from the neighbouring country. To bring in two strangers for a night might be to drive off a dozen good, responsible customers for ever. For you must mark that the real glory of Mary and Jesus was unknown to this tavern-keeper, and was really unsuspected.

3. They were poor and could not pay. It would have greatly increased the bill of a rich couple who should have demanded the turning of a guest from his apartments to make way for themselves in an emergency.

III. Now in the third case, after you have considered the difference made in our culture by the blessed Jesus, and all the reasons which the inn-keeper had for turning Mary into the stable because he had no room for her and Jesus in the inn, before you pronounce sentence, make some little examination into the question whether we have not treated Jesus worse than He was treated in Bethlehem. The decision of that question will obviously much depend upon the space in our hearts and lives which Jesus is allowed by us to occupy. Are there not some of us who never permit Him to come upon our premises? So present is He everywhere among men by the power of His principles and His Spirit, that it is not possible to exclude Him utterly, and yet, so far as our responsibility is concerned, we do keep Him out to the whole extent of our failure to give Him a welcome to our thoughts, to our affections, and to our activities. Does He have ample welcome to all these departments of our existence? Does He have the chief place in our thoughts--the best place in our love--the largest place in our work? Is He welcomed and honoured?

1. Jesus is kept out of your heart because you do not know Him. Your ignorance is wilful. Recollect that He does not come unborn to you, as He did to the inn-keeper in Bethlehem. He comes to you with all His history of growth and beauty, of truth and activity, of self-denial and suffering, of love and power. The innkeeper of Bethlehem will rise up in the Judgment with many men of this generation and condemn them--because he turned away an unaccredited woman, and you reject the acknowledged Lord of Glory.

2. And you have the inn-keeper’s second reason: it will drive other guests away. Perhaps it would turn other guests out of your heart, perhaps not. If any depart because Jesus came, you ought to be glad of their departure. Here is a whole room full of the members of the large family of the Pleasures. They are many, and they are exacting. They take large space, for they live widely. Many of them are most deceptive, having stolen the garb and imitated the manners of the most reputable and solid Enjoyments. These latter are the most pleasant and among the most respectable guests that the heart can entertain. They will stay with Jesus,. while those wild and giddy and profitless things you call Pleasures would better have no place in your affections. You were not born to be amused, but to be disciplined.

And there is Business, taking up almost all your heart and head, and crowding you, and calling you, and bothering you, until you are so nervous that you can hardly eat or sleep. Room for darkness, and no room for light; room for foulness, and no room for purity; room for death, but no room for life! Every story from attic to basement crowded, and Jesus turned out into the stable!

3. But the inn-keeper sent Mary to the stable because it would not be remunerative to entertain her in his house. He would have been compelled to turn out some well-known and liberally-paying guests. You know Him to be a Prince, for whose sake every reasonable man would think it quite the proper thing to dismiss any other guest. Does not “pay” to entertain Jesus! Did you ever know a man who took Jesus into his intellect, and worked up his studies under that Great Master, and not grow in profoundness of thought and width of range of intellectual vision? Did you ever know an artist give Jesus a lodging, and not thereby have all his aesthetic nature quickened and purified and brightened? Did you ever know any man to conduct any business for Jesus, permeating his life with the Spirit of Jesus, basing his plans on the principles taught by Jesus, and laying every profitable income of his trade as a tribute at the feet of Jesus, who did not thrive and increase and have happiness along the whole line of his business career? Is He going away? It may be that your years are drawing to a close. Has He grown weary of your insulting dismissals? Stop! Lord Jesus Christ! O Son of Mary, stop! Do not leave such of the readers of this page as have said to Thee, “No room!” It must not be. I seem to hear these busy men in future knocking passionately and desperately at the gate of mercy, but without love of Jesus, and out of the solemn profoundness of eternity there comes the crushing echo, “No room!” And conscience shrieks to them, “No room! No room among the crowns and songs and glories of heaven for the hearts that had no room for Jesus!” (C. F. Deems, D. D.)


Verse 8-9

Luke 2:8-9

In the same country shepherds

The shepherds and the Magi at the cradle of Christ

(with Matthew 2:1-12).

I. THE SHEPHERD COMES FIRST TO THE CRADLE OF CHRIST, BUT THE SAGE COMES TOO THE JEW FIRST, BUT ALSO THE GENTILE. Here we have--

1. A prophecy that, as in His cradle the Lord Jesus received “in a figure” the homage of the entire world, so at last, in happy, glorious fact, He will receive the adoration of all kindreds and tribes, drawing all men unto Himself by virtue of His cross.

2. A consolation, viz., that even the poorest, the simplest, the least gifted and accomplished, find a welcome from Him, and may Lake rank among the very first in His kingdom.

3. A lesson--that whatever may be the distinctions which obtain among us elsewhere, we are all one in the service of Christ, and should use our several gifts for each other’s good,--the shepherd singing his song to the sage, and the sage telling the story of his star to the wondering shepherd.

II. WE MAY LEARN FROM THE STORY THAT IT IS NOT SO MUCH IN THE NUMBER AND MAGNITUDE OF OUR GIFTS, AS IN THE USE WE MAKE OF THEM, THAT OUR TRUE WELFARE AND HAPPINESS CONSIST. The shepherds, ignorant men, condemned to a life of hard toil and scanty fare, tied and bound by the claims of their craft, with few opportunities for joining in the public worship of the Temple, or for listening to the instructions of the Rabbis. Yet, at the bidding of the angel, they leave their flocks, and hasten to Bethlehem to verify the good tidings. The wise men from the East had, in some sort, even fewer advantages and aids than the shepherds. No direct message from heaven was vouchsafed to them. They see a new sign in the sky. They believe that it foretells the advent of some great one upon the earth. How hard it must have been for them to leave the luxuries and honours, and, above all, the scientific pursuits of the Persian palace, in order to encounter the toils and perks of a long and hazardous journey, on the mere chance of finding their conclusion verified! What a noble faith in their scientific inductions, or in the inward leading of God, is implied in their encountering so great a risk or so slight a chance of being bettered by it!

III. If it be true that our place in Christ’s service and regard depends on our fidelity in using our gifts rather than on the abundance of our gifts, IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT THE ONLY GENUINE FIDELITY IS THAT WHICH LEADS US FORWARD AND UPWARD. The sages and the shepherds were men who looked before as well as after, men who knew little and were aware of it, or men who knew much and yet accounted that much but little compared with what God had to teach. Let us be followers of them, ever looking for more truth while we walk by the truth we know. And, walking in the light we have, it will grow larger and purer; using the gifts we possess, more will be added unto us. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The shepherds

1. The time, the place, the tidings, the listeners, are all in unison. The shepherds were on historic ground. On those same slopes, on those same hill-sides, David of old had fed his father’s flocks, and it was from those same fields that he went forth at God’s command to exchange his shepherd’s crook for the royal sceptre, and his lowly dress for the purple of a king. It was on these fields, rich with precious memories, that the shepherds lay. It was night, and the sky was cloudless. Hill and dale slept under the beauty of the clear moon, and the quiet flocks were gathered to the shelter of the fold. To such a scene came the first tidings of the world’s peace. Not to man’s busy haunts, where even in the hush of night the cry of sorrow is heard, and the trouble in man’s heart goes on, but to those peaceful folds, sleeping in the bosom of the voiceless hills. The home of peace is not in the world’s great centres, but among the shaggy woods and grassy vales and solemn hills. And when the angels came with their messages of peace to earth they came to such a scene as that. They did not choose the Temple in Jerusalem, and from its lofty pinnacle flash their glory on a slumbering city--that would have been at variance with the character of their message, and discordant with the unostentatious spirit of their King.

2. And that humble shepherds were the first to receive the glad tidings is as instructive as it is strange. The event itself was unparalleled, and the simple announcement of it was destined, like a stone cast into the still lake, to extend its influence in ever-widening circles; yet it was to men lowly and obscure, without worldly place or power of any kind, that the first proclamation was made. In the world’s view it would have been deemed an utter waste to brighten the sky with angels, and pour down from the steeps of glory cataracts of tumultuous song, for a few poor shepherds. But no consideration speaks more real comfort to our hearts than this. It shows us plainly that there is no respect of persons with God; that in His eye the loftiest and the lowliest are as one.

3. But not only was the message of the angels given to shepherds, it was given to them while they were pursuing their work. Idle men do not receive visions. It is not in the working up of spiritual ecstasy, but in the sober and honest discharge of life’s duties, that we are most likely to find God and be found of Him.

4. The shepherds were “sore afraid.” But their fear soon gave place to action. When the angels had gone away, they said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see”--not if the thing is come to pass, but--“this thing which is come to pass.” They did not arise and go because they doubted, but because they believed. Ah! it was a grand journey of faith--this of the shepherds from the sheep-folds to the manger, worthy to be inserted in the eleventh of Hebrews. What is our attitude towards the Divine announcements?

5. Having seen the Infant Saviour, they immediately made known their story, first to Mary, who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, and then to the busy crowd of travellers bustling about the inn. No sooner had they found Christ for themselves, than they made it known abroad that they had found Him.

6. But we do not part company with them here. We are told in the twentieth verse that they “returned”--returned to their ordinary work, to their flocks and folds, to those vales and hills from which they had come, now for ever bright to them with something of the angels’ glory, and there, in their own quiet life, they “fought the good fight, and kept the faith.” God does not call every man to be an apostle. He wants preachers in private as well as in public. He wants the glad tidings to be told in sheepfolds, and in markets, and in shops, as much as in places set apart for the proclamation. And if for you the world has been transfigured, and common things have received the impress of heaven by the vision of God’s salvation, then in the place where your daily lot is cast, in the sphere of your common duties and labours, stand forth a witness for righteousness and for God, preach tile gospel of peace and salvation to the sin-stricken, sorrow-laden men and women all around you. (H. Wonnacott.)

This angel is the first evangelist

He is a type of what gospel-preaching should be.

1. His message is good news. The gospel not a threat nor a law, but news of salvation.

2. To all the people--not merely to an elect few. To all classes--not merely to the intelligent and refined.

3. The cause of this joy proclaimed is the advent of Christ, i.e., the Messiah, the Anointed One, the great High Priest who makes atonement for the past sins of His people; a Saviour because He saves His people from their sins themselves.

4. The attestation of His Divinity (Luke 2:12). The evidence of His Divinity is His love--the fact that He is placed under all the limitations of humanity Philippians 2:5-8).

5. Notice also the first approach of the Divine message always produces fear in the heart (verse 9), and the message of the gospel to the affrighted heart is ever the same, “Fear not.”

6. The convert becomes at once a preacher to others (verse 17).

7. The shepherds publish. Mary ponders. Both the active and the meditative temperament have a place in the Church of Christ. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)

Highest and lowest brought together

The shepherds were chosen on account of their obscurity and lowliness to be the first to hear of the Lord’s nativity, a secret which none of the princes of this world knew. And what a contrast is presented to us when we take into the account who were the messengers to them. The angels who excel in strength, these did God’s bidding towards the shepherds. Here the highest and lowest of God’s rational creatures are brought together. The angel honoured a humble lot by his very appearing to the shepherds; next he taught it to be joyful by his message. (J. H. Newman.)

Finding the Lord in daily duties

The wise woman of Medina went long pilgrimages to find the Lord, but in vain; and, despairing, she returned to her daily duties, and when there engaged she found the Lord she had elsewhere sought in vain. (See Trench’s Poems.)

Dignity bestowed on those following their daily calling

Moses received his credentials as the legate of the Almighty and the lawgiver of a new nation while keeping the flocks of Jethro. Gideon threshed wheat by the wine-press when the angel brought him his commission, and the enemies of Israel fled before “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Saul going to seek his father’s asses found a kingdom for himself; and Samuel waited to anoint David while they fetched him from “those few sheep in the wilderness.” Elisha was ploughing when “Elijah passed by” and cast the mantle of prophecy upon him, and Amos among the herdmen of Tekoa saw God’s judgments upon Philistia and Tyre. It was while Zacharias “executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course” that the angel Gabriel brought him “joy and gladness,” and all mankind the earnest of a new and glorious dispensation--and the first mortals that ever heard “the sons of God shouting for joy” were a band of shepherds watching their flocks on the Judean hills. (Amelia S. Barr.)

Joy often follows fear

Learn in the first place from this that a scene that may open in darkness and fright may end in the greatest prosperity and advantage. These shepherds were alarmed and startled; but how soon their consternation ended in exultation and jubilee. Those shepherds may in their time have had many a fierce combat with wolves, and seen many strange appearances of eclipse, or aurora, or star-shooting. But those shepherds never saw so exciting a night as that night when the angel came. And so it often is that a scene of trouble and darkness ends in angelic tones of mercy and of blessing. That commercial disaster that you thought would ruin you for ever, made for you a fortune. Jacob’s loss of Joseph opened for him the granaries of Egypt for his famine-struck family. Saul, by being unhorsed, becomes the trumpet-tongued apostle to the Gentiles. The ship splitting in the breakers of Melita sends up with every fragment on which the two hundred and seventy-six passengers escape to the beach the annunciation that God will deliver His ambassadors. The British tax on tea was the first chapter in the Declaration of American Independence. Famine in Ireland roused that nation to the culture of other kinds of product. Out of pestilence and plague the hand of medical science produced miracles of healing. It was through bereavement you were led to Christ. The Hebrew children cast into the furnace were only closeted with the Son of God walking beside them, the flames only lighting up the splendour of His countenance. And at midnight, while you were watching your flocks of cares, and sorrows, and disappointments, the angel of God’s deliverance flashed upon your soul, crying, “Fear not. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” If I should go through this audience to-day, I would find that it was through great dark-hess that you came to light, through defeat that you came to victory, through falling down that you rose up, and that your greatest misfortunes, and trials, and disasters have been your grandest illumination. (Dr. Talmage.)

The shepherd’s an honourable calling

Hunters and warriors make a great figure in the world; but he that feeds the sheep is more honourably employed than he who pursues the lion. The attendance of man upon these innocent creatures, which God hath ordained for his use, is an employment which succeeded to the life of Paradise. The holy patriarchs and servants of God were taught to prefer the occupation of shepherds. Their riches consisted in flocks and herds; and it was their pleasure, as well as their labour, to wait upon them in tents, amidst the various and beautiful scenery of the mountains, the groves, the fields, and streams of water O happy state of health, innocence, plenty and pleasure--plenty without luxury, and pleasure without corruption! How far preferable to that artificial state of life; into which we have been brought by over-strained refinement in civilization, and commerce too much extended; when corruption of manners, unnatural, and consequently unhealthy, modes of living, perplexity of law, consumption of property, and other kindred evils, conspire to render life so vain and unsatisfactory, that many throw it away in despair, as not worth having. A false glare of tinselled happiness is found amongst the rich and great, with such distressing want and misery amongst the poor, as nature knows nothing of, and which can arise only from the false principles and selfish views and expedients of a weak and degenerate policy. (Wm. Jones.)

Several of the most gracious Divine manifestations, and most interesting discoveries, concerning the Messiah, were made under the Old Testament, to men who followed this occupation, as, e.g., to Abraham, Moses, David. In like manner, a singular honour was now preparing for the shepherds of Bethlehem, who, from the reception they gave the heavenly message, and the part they afterwards acted, appear to have been believing and holy men, whom Divine grace had taught and prepared to welcome a coming Saviour. (James Foote, M. A.)

Tending flocks by night

It is only in the cool months that sheep feed through the day. In the greater part of the year they are led out to pasture only towards sunset, returning home in the morning, or if they be led out in the morning they lie during the hot hours in the shade of some tree or rock, or in the rude shelter of bushes prepared for them (Song of Solomon 1:7). They are taken into the warmth of caves or under other cover during the coldest part of winter; the lambs are born between January and the beginning of March, and need to be kept with the ewes in the field, that the mothers may get nutriment enough to support the poor weak creatures, which cannot be taken to and from the pasturage, but must remain on it. That many of them die is inevitable, in spite of the shepherd’s utmost care, for snow and frost on the uplands, and heavy rain on the plains, are very fatal to them. Nor is their guardian less to be pitied. He cannot leave them day or night, and often has no shelter. At times, when on his weary watch, he may be able to gather branches enough to make a comparatively dry spot on which to stand in the wild weather, but this is not always the case. I have heard of the skin peeling completely from a poor man’s feet from continued exposure. By night, as we have seen, he has often, in outlying places, to sleep on whatever brush he may gather; his sheepskin coat, or an old rug or coverlet, his only protection Perhaps it fared thus with the shepherds of Bethlehem, eighteen hundred years ago, when they were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (C. Geikie, D. D.)

Attend to your own business

The business of these shepherds that night was staying out of doors to watch their sheep. It was while they were attending to their business that they had a visit from the angels. If they had been at home, or out at a party, or even in a prayer-meeting, when they ought to have been in that sheep-field on the Bethlehem hillside, they would have missed a sight of the angel of the Lord. If they had been playing on harps at a sacred concert, or ornamenting pottery for a synagogue fair, or even carrying an offering up to the temple at Jerusalem, when sheep-watching was their duty, they would not have heard that song of the angels, or seen the glory of the Lord round about them, or received first of all the good tidings for a lost race. The best place in all the world to be is at the post of duty. Nowhere else can such blessings, temporal or spiritual, be fairly looked for. If the Lord has a good gift or a glad message to one of His children, He sends it to the place where the child ought to be found. If the child is not there, he fails of getting what he might have had to rejoice over. Day or not--night and day, be where you belong. If your duty calls you to stay at home, stay there, and never suppose that you can have a bigger blessing anywhere else. If your duty calls you to be on a steamer, or a railway car, out in the streets or the fields, at a party or a prayer-meeting, in a store or a factory, at a concert or a church-service, in the home of a friend to give counsel or cheer, or in a dwelling of poverty to administer relief, be there, at whatever cost or risk is demanded, and understand that it is safest and best for you to be there only. (Sunday School Times.)

Shepherds fit persons to receive the gospel message

The news of Christ’s birth is a message for an angel to deliver, and it had been news for the best prince on earth to receive. Yet it fell not out amiss that they to whom it first came were shepherds; the news fitted them well. It well agreed to tell shepherds of the yearning of a strange Lamb, such a Lamb as should “take away the sins of the world;” such a Lamb as they might “send to the Ruler of the world for a present”--Isaiah’s Lamb. Or, if ye will, to tell shepherds of the birth of a Shepherd. Ezekiel’s Shepherd: “Behold, I will raise you a Shepherd,” “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4); “the Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:20); “the Good Shepherd that gave His life for His flock” (John 10:11). And so it was not unfit news for thepersons to whom it came. (Bp. Lancelot Andrewes.)

The annunciation to the shepherds

Who the angel was, we are not told. Quite probably it was the same angel who had already made annunciation to Zacharias in the temple, to Mary at Nazareth, to Joseph in his slumber--even the same Gabriel, Strength of God, who, five centuries before, had made annunciation to the exile by the Ulai. The glory of the Lord which shone round about these shepherds was doubtless that same miraculous effulgence in which Deity had been wont in the earlier ages to enshrine Himself, and which the rabbins called the Shechinah. Diversified as well as extraordinary were the appearances of that Shechinah in ancient days. It had gleamed as a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life; it had flickered as a lambent flame in the brier-bush of Horeb; it had hung as a stupendous canopy over the mountain of the law; it had hovered as a glittering cloud above the cherubim overshadowing the mercy-seat; it had marshalled the hosts of Israel for forty years, towering like a pillar of cloud by day and like a pillar of fire by night; it had filled the temple of Solomon, flooding it with a brightness so intense that the priests could not enter to minister; it was to be the radiant cloud which should enfold out of sight the ascending Lord; it will be the great white throne on which that ascended Lord will descend when He returns in the pomp of His second advent. But never had it served a purpose so august and blissful as on this most memorable of nights when, after centuries of eclipse, it suddenly reappeared and shone around the astonished shepherds. Well might the effulgent cloud now return, as though in glad homage to the Incarnation; for on this night is born He who is to be His own Church’s true pillar of fire-cloud, to marshal her through sea and wilderness into the true promised land. Oh, since the day was as the night when Jesus Christ died, let us be grateful that the night was as the day when Jesus Christ was born. But where shall we find this mighty Deliverer? How shall we know Him when we see Him? The sign is twofold. The first sign is this: “Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.” The Christ of God might have descended an archangel, glittering with celestial emblazonry. And it is a sign as powerful as simple. Had He descended otherwise, we might not have believed so easily in the reality of the Incarnation. We might have said that He was an angel. But when we behold Him a helpless little Babe, we feel that the Incarnation was no acting--no phantom. We feel that Deity has in very truth come down within our sphere, linking His fortunes with ours, taking our life, like ourselves, at its germ as well as at its fruit, sharing with us the cradle as well as the grave, the swaddling clothes of Mary of Bethlehem as well as the burial linen of Joseph of Arimathea. But the angel gives a second sign: “Lying in a manger.” Not, then, in choice apartments of an inn, not in sumptuous nurseries of the opulent, not in palaces of royalty, was the King of kings and Lord of lords to be cradled; but in a crib, amid the beasts of the stall. And this was to be one of the secrets of his kinghood. In fact, all society is built up from below. “The roof is most, dependent upon the foundation than the foundation upon the roof. Nearly all, if not quite all, the movements which have changed the thinking and determined the new courses of the world have been upward, not downward. The great revolutionists have generally been cradled in mangers, and gone through rough discipline in early life. Civilization is debtor to lowly cradles, and unknown mothers hold a heavy account against the world.”--“Ecce Deus,” by Joseph Parker, D.D. (G. D. Boardman.)

By night

Wherefore at night this Babe of Glory was born that He might turn the night into day. (Bishop Hacker.)

Philosophy discovered by humble men

The heathen make much ado, and relate it not without admiration, by what mean and almost despised persons the deep knowledge of philosophy was first found out and brought to light. As Protagoras earning his living by bearing burdens of wood; and Cleanthes no better than a Gibeonite, fain to draw water for his liberty. Chrysippus and Epictetus mere vassals to great men for their maintenance, yet these had the honour to find out the riches of knowledge for the recompense of their poverty; but the day shall come that these philosophers will wonder that they found out no more than they did, and be astonished that silly shepherds were first deputed to find out one thing more needful than all the world beside, even Jesus Christ. Tiberius propounded his mind to the Senate of Rome, that Christ, the great Prophet in Jewry, should be had in the same honour with the other gods which they worshipped. (Bishop Hacker.)

The Good Shepherd that giveth His life for His sheep, would first be manifested to those good shepherds that watched over their sheep. (Bishop Hacker.)

Surely these shepherds had heavenly meditations in their minds, and were most religiously prepared, when His ambassador of heaven did approach unto them. And you, my beloved, I speak to one with another, if that innocency and harmlessness were in you that was in them, you would think many a time that a Divine beam did shine upon your soul, and that you had your conversation with angels. (Bishop Hacker.)

The first to see Christ at His final advent

There are two sorts of persons noted for finding out Christ more eminently than others, the shepherds before all others after He was born, and Mary Magdalen the first of all men and women, as far as we read, after His resurrection. The shepherds were vouchsafed their blessing, because they watched by night, a hard task if you consider the time of the year; and Mary was so prosperous because she rose very early in the morning to seek her Lord. It is hard to say whether ever she slept one wink for care and grief, since the Passion of our Saviour; and God knows who shall be the first that finds Him at His second coming in Glory, when He shall come also like a thief in the night; but whosoever he be, this I am sure of, he must be none of them that sleep in gluttony(that are heavy with surfeiting and drunkenness, with chambering and wantonness, he must watch or be fit to waken to find the Lord. (Bishop Hacker.)

A watchful shepherd

Suffer not your eyelids to shut, but sift and shake your own heart; examine yourself, remember what a blessing it is to be a watchful shepherd, that an angel of comfort may come and sing salvation unto you. (Bishop Hacker.)

A flock to look after

To include you all, every man and woman in the application, suppose you are nobody’s keeper but your own; why be watchful and prudent over the safety of your own soul; and when I have spoke that word, your soul, I perceive instantly that you have a whole flock to look to, and it is all your own, the affections and passions Of your mind, them I mean; it you bridle their lust and wantonness, if they do you reasonable service, you have a rich flock, sheep that shall stand upon the right hand of God: if they usurp and fill you full of uncleanness, they are a flock of goats, that shall be condemned unto the left. What says Cato of our affections? They are to be governed like a flock of sheep, you may rule them altogether so long as they follow and keep good order, but single one out alone, and it will be unruly and offend you; as who should say all our affections must be sanctified to God, the whole flock; let one passion have leave to straggle and all will follow it to destruction. Let the watchfulness of the heart especially be fixed upon this flock, the desires, the passions over all that issues out of the soul (Bishop Hacker.)

1. The Lord did put on this glorious apparel, even a robe of light to express the Majesty of His Son, who was born to save the world.

2. This lightsome apparition about the shepherds, a type of the light and perspicuousness which is genuine and proper to the gospel.

3. The dark night was brightened with a shining cloud at our Saviour’s nativity, to signify that He should be a light of consolation to them that sate in the dark night of persecution and misery. The most obscure things shall be made manifest unto His light, and the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed unto Him.

4. No sooner was the world blest with the birth of this holy Child, God and Man, but the angels put on white apparel, the air grows clear and bright, darkness is dispelled; therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and walk as children of the light; the earth Should be more innocently walked on to and fro, because Christ hath trod upon it; our bodies kept clean in chastity, because He hath assumed our nature and blessed it.

5. A glimpse of some celestial light did sparkle at His birth to set our teeth on edge to enjoy Him who is Light of lights, very God of very God, and to dwell with Him in that city which hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the Glory of God did enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. I conclude with St. Paul (Colossians 1:12). (Bishop Hacker.)


Verses 8-21

Verse 10

Luke 2:10

I bring you good tidings of great Joy.

Christmas-day lessons

1. The whole thought and idea of all that is told us about Christmas Day suggests the consoling, the cheering thought, that however gloomy our lot, however distressed our portion, God, the Almighty God, has not forsaken us.

2. There is the truth which the heathen, and we must also add, which Christians have often been very slow to acknowledge, that the Divine is only another word for the perfectly good, that God is goodness, and that goodness is God.

3. Let me take one special mark of the life of Christ which extends through the whole of it, by which His career from the cradle to the grave is distinguished from that of any of the other founders of religions. Let me sum it up in one expression which admits of many forms: He was the Mediator between the Divine and human, because He was the Mediator, the middle point, between the conflicting parts of human nature. (Dean Stanley.)

The joy-producing power of Christianity

1. What is Christianity itself, that is said to have this power of producing joy? It is that system of influence, which was designed of God, and which is destined to educate the whole human race to perfect manhood.

2. When we say that Christianity tends to produce joy, we are instantly pointed to the wretched condition of things which exists. Men say, “Christianity produce joy! Have there ever been such bloody wars as it has produced? such quarrelling and dissensions? Where is your joy? Besides, these flighty angels may have said something about joy, but what did the Master Himself say! Did He not say ‘Take up your cross’ &c.?” I do not say, however, that Christianity instantly produces joy. I do not say that it produces joy always. While man is being educated into, I concede that there is much suffering. But it is not suffering for the sake of the suffering--not aimless void and useless suffering.

3. But while this grand education is evolving we must not think that joy is absent wholly, and we must not pass too summarily by what has actually been gained by Christianity in the production of joy in the world. The earliest period of Christian life I suppose to have been transcendently joyful. The apostles had nothing that men usually call elements of happiness. Yet I will defy you to find in literature, ancient or modern, so high a tone of cheerfulness as you will find in their history. And since the days of the apostles how many Christian men have there not been who have been lifted up into that sphere where joy abode with them. There is yet to be a revelation of what Christianity has done for the internal man. The whole range of joy throughout the world has been augmented and elevated. The civilized world in ancient times was never so happy as it is now. The world is better off to-day than it was at any five hundred years previous. Agassiz says that the growth of a plant is in three stages: first, by the root, which is invisible, and is the slowest and longest; second, by the stem, which is perhaps not half as long; third, by maturation or ripening, which is the quickest of all. So it is in history. The past has been largely occupied with root-growth in moral things. The present may be considered the period of growth by the stem. And I think we are standing on the eve of a period of growth by maturation and ripening. It is for me, therefore, a very joyful thought, not only that we have a religion which is joy-producing in its ultimate fruits, but that, looked upon comprehensively, it has already produced vast cycles of joy, and is going forward, not having expended half its force yet, to an era in which joy producing shall be more apparent, and upon a vaster scale, and with more exquisite fruit, and in infinite variety. (H. W. Beecher.)

Glad news

Christianity is glad news.

I. BECAUSE IT REVELED GOD TO MAN. Consider the state of the world before Christianity was born. Here and there an old sage had groped his way to a knowledge of the alphabet of truth. Here and there the Divine Spirit had communicated to a tribe or nation so much of the Divine wisdom that they lived faithful to their marriage vows, knew the blessings of home, acknowledged the rights of property and life to such an extent that they would not steal nor kill. But of God they knew little--of the life beyond the grave nothing. But when Christianity was born, a sun arose into the darkness of the world. Men saw what they had felt must be, but what they had never before seen. And chiefest among all sights revealed, stood God. The heavens were no longer a vacuum, Christianity told them that God is their Father.

II. BECAUSE IT REVEALED MAN TO HIMSELF. Never till Jesus was born--never till he had lived and passed away--did man know the nobility of his species. Never until God dwelt in the flesh could any man know what flesh might become. Never until the fulness of God was in man bodily, might the race get even a hint of that Divine receptiveness that, above all else perhaps, most nobly characterises human nature.

III. BECAUSE IT REVEALS GOD IN MAN. The proclamation of the angels is confirmed in our experience and corroborated by our knowledge that the birth of Christianity was indeed “glad news” to men, because it brought God out of distance and darkness into light, and made Him nigh, as He is nigh who shares our burdens, consoles our sorrows, and in every pinch and stress of disastrous fortune rescues us from peril and saves us from loss. (W. H. Murray.)

Christian joyfulness

Have you no song in you to-day? Have you received no mercy that can make you tuneful? Do you not know that birds sing when they get wings? And shall God wing you with powers and yet you remain silent? Look abroad over the world and see how it is being lifted towards Christ; how the old barbarisms are melting away; how the dungeons of old oppressions are crumbling into ruins; how the tyrannies that trampled on men are being shorn of their power. See the torch and the sword drop from the hand of persecution, now nerveless, but once potent to strike and to light the martyr’s fire! Hear the chains of slavery snap! The ring and clash of the fetters falling from wrist and ankle sound round the world. What is doing it! Jesus is doing it. The Galilean has triumphed! Old things are passing away; behold, all things are becoming new! Is there no joy in our hearts at the sight of all this? Shall we sit stolid and unmoved while before our eyes the influence of the Birth is moving to its triumph, Should we do so, Religion would disown us as unworthy of her favours, and piety itself rebuke us as incapable of gratitude. (W. H. Murray.)

Joy born at Bethlehem

In our text we have before us the sermon of the first evangelist under the gospel dispensation. The preacher was an angel, and it was meet it should be so, for the grandest and last of all evangels will be proclaimed by an angel when he shall sound the trumpet of the resurrection, and the children of the regeneration shall rise into the fulness of their joy. The key-note of this angelic gospel is joy--“I bring unto you good tidings of great joy.” Nature fears in the presence of God--the shepherds were sore afraid. The law itself served to deepen this natural feeling of dismay; seeing men were sinful, and the law came into the world to reveal sin, its tendency was to make men fear and tremble under any and every Divine revelation. But the first word of the gospel ended all this, for the angelic evangelist said, “Fear not, behold I bring you good tidings.” Henceforth, it is to be no dreadful thing for man to approach his Maker; redeemed man is not to fear when God unveils the splendour of His majesty, since He appears no more a judge upon His throne of terror, but a Father unbending in sacred familiarity before His own beloved children. The joy which this first gospel preacher spoke of was no mean one, for he said, “I bring you good tidings”--that alone were joy: and not good tidings of joy only, but “good tidings of great joy.” Man is like a harp unstrung, and the music of his soul’s living strings is discordant, his whole nature wails with sorrow; but the son of David, that mighty harper, has come to restore the harmony of humanity, and where His gracious fingers move among the strings, the touch of the fingers of an incarnate God brings forth music sweet as that of the spheres, and melody rich as a seraph’s canticle.

I. THE JOY mentioned in the text--whence comes it, and what is it?

1. A great joy.

2. A lasting joy.

3. A pure and holy joy. But why is it that the coming of Christ into the world is the occasion of joy? The answer is as follows:

4. This Saviour was the Christ. “Anointed” of God, i.e., duly authorized and ordained for this particular work.

II. Follow Me while I briefly speak of THE PEOPLE. to whom this joy comes.

1. Observe how the angel begins, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day.” So, then, the joy began with the first who heard it, the shepherds. “To you,” saith he; “for unto you is born.” Beloved hearer, shall the joy begin with you to-day?--for it little avails you that Christ was born, or that Christ died, unless unto you a Child is born, and for you Jesus bled. A personal interest is the main point.

2. After the angel had said “to you,” he went on to say, “it shall be to all people.” But our translation is not accurate, the Greek is, “it shall be to all the people.” This refers most assuredly to the Jewish nation; there can be no question about that; if any one looks at the original, he will not find so large and wide an expression as that given by our translators. It should be rendered “to all the people.” And here let us speak a word for the Jews. How long and how sinfully has the Christian Church despised the most honourable amongst the nations! How barbarously has Israel been handled by the so-called Church! Jesus the Saviour is the joy of all nations, but let not the chosen race be denied their peculiar share of whatever promise Holy Writ has recorded with a special view to them. The woes which their sins brought upon them have fallen thick and heavily; and even so let the richest blessings distil upon them.

3. Although our translation is not literally correct, it, nevertheless, expresses a great truth, taught plainly in the context; and, therefore, we will advance another step. The coming of Christ is a joy to all people. “Goodwill towards”--not Jews, but “men “mall men. There is joy to all mankind where Christ comes. The religion of Jesus makes men think, and to make men think is always dangerous to a despot’s power. It is joy to all nations that Christ is born, the Prince of Peace, the King who rules in righteousness.

III. THE SIGN. The shepherds did not ask for a sign, but one was graciously given. Wilful unbelief shall have no sign, but weak faith shall have compassionate aid. Every circumstance is therefore instructive. The Babe was found “wrapped in swaddling clothes.

1. There is not the remotest appearance of temporal power here.

2. No pomp to dazzle you.

3. Neither was there wealth to be seen at Bethlehem.

4. Here too, I see no superstition.

5. Nor does the joy of the world lie in philosophy. God’s work was sublimely simple. Mysterious, yet the greatest simplicity that was ever spoken to human ears, and seen by mortal eyes. In a simple Christ, and in a simple faith in that Christ, there is a deep and lasting peace, an unspeakable bliss and joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God incarnate, the end of fear

I. As to THE FEAR of the text, it may be well to discriminate. There is a kind of fear towards God from which we must not wish to be free. There is that lawful, necessary, admirable, excellent fear which is always due from the creature to the Creator, from the subject to the king, ay, and from the child toward the parent. To have a holy awe of our most holy, just, righteous, and tender parent is a privilege, not a bondage. Godly fear is not the “fear which hath torment;” perfect love doth not east out, but dwells with it in joyful harmony. The fear which is to be avoided is slaving fear--that trembling which keeps us at a distance from God, which makes us think of Him as a Spirit with whom we can have no communion, as a Being who has no care for us except to punish us, and for whom consequently we have no care except to escape if possible from His terrible presence.

1. This fear sometimes arises in men’s hearts from their thoughts dwelling exclusively upon the Divine greatness. Is it possible to peer long into the vast abyss of Infinity and not to fear? Can the mind yield itself up to the thought of the Eternal, Self-existent, Infinite One without being filled first with awe and then with dread? What am I? An aphis creeping upon a rosebud is a more considerable creature in relation to the universe of beings than I can be in comparison with God. We have had the impertinence to be disobedient to the will of this great One; and now the goodness and greatness of His nature are as a our rent against which sinful humanity struggles in vain, for the irresistible torrent must run its course, and overwhelm every opponent. What does the great God seem to us out of Christ but a stupendous rock, threatening to crush us, or a fathomless sea, hastening to swallow us up? The contemplation of the Divine greatness may of itself fill man with horror, and cast him into unutterable misery!

2. Each one of the sterner attributes of God will cause the like fear. Think of His power by which He rolls the stars along, and lay thy hand upon thy mouth. Think of His wisdom by which He numbers the clouds, and settles the ordinances of heaven. Meditate upon any one of these attributes, but especially upon His justice, and upon that devouring fire which burns unceasingly against sin, and it is no wonder if the soul becomes full of fear. Meanwhile, let a sense of sin with its great whip of wire flagellate the conscience, and man will dread the bare idea of God.

3. Wherever there is a slavish dread of the Divine Being, it alienates man most thoroughly from his God. Those whom we slavishly dread we cannot love. Here is the masterpiece of Satan, that he will not let the understanding perceive the excellence of God’s character, and then the heart cannot love that which the understanding does not perceive to be loveable.

4. Fear creates a prejudice against God’s gospel of grace. People think that if they were religious they would be miserable. Oh, could they comprehend, could they but know how good God is, instead of imagining that His service would be slavery, they would understand that to be His friends is to occupy the highest and happiest position which created beings can occupy.

5. This fear in some men puts them out of all heart of ever being saved. Thinking God to be an ungenerous Being, they keep at a distance from Him.

6. This wicked dread of God frequently drives men to extremities of sin.

7. This fear dishonours God.

8. This fear hath torment. No more tormenting misery in the world than to think of God as being our implacable foe.

II. THE CURE FOR THIS FEAR. God with us: God made flesh--that is the remedy.

1. According to the text they were not to fear, because the angel had come to bring them good news. He who made the heavens slumbers in a manger. What then? Why, then God is not of necessity an enemy to man, because here is God actually taking manhood into alliance with Deity. Is there not comfort in that?

2. The second point that takes away fear is that this man who was also God was actually born. He is more man than Adam was, for Adam never was born; Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he knew not the littlenesses of childhood--he was full-grown at once; whereas Jesus is cradled with us in the manger, accompanies us in the pains and feebleness and infirmities of infancy, and continues with us even to the grave.

3. Christ’s office is to deliver us from sin. Here is joy upon joy.

III. APPLY THE CURE TO VARIOUS CASES. Encouragement to the weak, the sinful, the lonely, the tempted. There is no cause for any to keep away from God, since Jesus has come to bring all to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The joyful tidings of Christmas

Now, if, when Christ came on this earth, God had sent some black creature down from heaven (if there be such creatures there) to tell us, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” and if with a frowning brow and a stammering tongue he delivered his message, if I had been there and heard it, I should have scrupled to believe him, for I should have said, “You don’t look like the messenger that God would send--stammering fellow as you are--with such glad news as this.” But when the angels came there was no doubting the truth of what they said, because it was quite certain that the angels believed it; they told it as if they did, for they told it with singing, with joy and gladness. If some friend, having heard that a legacy was left you, should come to you with a solemn countenance, and a tongue like a funeral bell, saying, “Do you know so-and-so has left you £10,000?” Why, you would say, “Ah! I dare say,” and laugh in his face. But if your brother should suddenly burst into your room, and exclaim, “I say, what do you think? You are a rich man. So-and-so has left you £10,000!” Why, you would say, “I think it is very likely to be true, for he looks so happy over it.” Well, when these angels came from heaven, they told the news just as if they believed it; and though I have often wickedly doubted my Lord’s good will, I think I never could have doubted it while I heard those angels singing. No, I should say, “The messengers themselves are proof of the truth, for it seems they have heard it from God’s lips; they have no doubt about it, for see how joyously they tell the news.” Now, poor soul thou that art afraid lest God should destroy thee, and thou thinkest that God will never have mercy upon thee, look at the singing angels and doubt if thou darest. Do not go to the synagogue of long-faced hypocrites to hear the minister who preaches with a nasal twang, with misery in his face, whilst he tells you that God has goodwill towards men; I know you won’t believe what he says, for he does not preach with joy in his countenance; he is telling you good news with a grunt, and you are not likely to receive it. But go straightway to the plain where Bethlehem shepherds sat by night, and when you hear the angels singing out the gospel, by the grace of God upon you, you cannot help believing that they manifestly feel the preciousness of telling. Blessed Christmas, that brings such creatures as angels to confirm our faith in God’s goodwill to men! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The joy of Christmas

The incarnation, such a great and manifold blessing to our race, must bring with it a feeling of joy; and not to our race alone, but also to other beings whose destinies are bound up with ours. The nativity brought joy--

1. In heaven, to the angel spirits. Their ruin was now repaired (Isaiah 51:3). Zion here represents those who are ever beholding the Father’s face; who rejoice that the loss to their heavenly country is now made good, for the Lord will be able to lead all the faithful thither, where with the angels they will be in eternal joy.

2. In the unseen world, to the faithful departed, Joyful to the old fathers, it is their longed-for redemption. Adam’s sin brought our race into captivity to the devil. Redemption began to-day.

3. In the world, among all people. Joy for the new manifestation. He who before was invisible was made visible to-day by opening the eyes of the human race. The light of wisdom has put to flight all the darkness of ignorance, and brought joy in the place of despair. (Anon.)

Joy at the birth of Jesus

To us men, more than to the angels or to any other created beings, is this day’s joy. It is the great festival of humanity. He who was born to-day was--

I. A REDEEMER. Delivering us from the servitude of sin and Satan--a worse bondage than that of Egypt. Think what songs of praise (Exodus 15:1) are due to Jesus Christ to-day, who, by the baptism reddened by His blood, hath delivered us from the power of our spiritual foes.

II. A SURETY. Taking upon Himself all our debts and the condemnation of their punishment. A new, the greatest and unheard-of benefit Colossians 2:14). He came to-day to remit that vast debt, of sin which God alone could pay; that the bond might be burnt in the fire of His love, or be affixed to the cross on Mount Calvary.

III. A HEAVENLY PHYSICIAN. Prepared and willing to heal all diseases, again and again, without fee or reward, without pain to the patient Matthew 9:12; Luke 4:23).

IV. A SUN TO THE WORLD. Enlightening a darkness more dense than any natural or physical darkness (John 1:9; Joh_9:5). A light--

1. Eternal.

2. Cheering.

3. Glorifying.

V. A GUIDE TO THE TRUE AND BLESSED LIFE (Micah 2:13). Going before in difficulties, smoothing rough ways.

VI. A NOURISHER OF THE WORLD. Sustaining us in the way with “living bread.”

VII. A PRINCE OF PEACE. Bringing peace--

1. With God.

2. To one’s own conscience.

3. With each other. (Psalms 11:6-7.)

VIII. A SAVIOUR. Who will, after this life, bring us safely to the blessed and eternal country and being. Think on all these things and say (Psalms 117:1). (M. Faber.)

Joy follows sorrow

It is the presence, or the memory, of something avoided, which gives point to our warmest rejoicings. In man grief is linked on to happiness, and suffering to joy. Just as a life without need of care is not a happy life, so if there were no fasts there could be no feasts You must have shadow to show the light. So if there had been no fall there could have been no rising again. If there had been no Adam, there could have been no Christ. It was not only for His own pleasure, and not at all for His own profit, but for us, that Christ was born. Not for Adam, nor the old patriarchs, nor for very wicked men, but because we are what we are--that is why God must needs deny His own nature, and be born. Thus thelittle Infant Child appeals to us, as from the cross the Saviour crucified. Shall we then be sad and sorrowful on such a day? It is not sadness to remember an escape from danger, nor sadness to see a harbour in a storm. Those to whom this Christmas-time is not all mere pleasure, but whose sad memories and present troubles are too heavy, may sympathize with the Child born to suffer, and rejoice in the Lord born to save. It is for you to whom the world is not too dear, that you may have a world where sorrows enter not, that Christ was born. And for those who have no weight of care and sorrow, let the memory of Christ make them generous and thoughtful and kindhearted; not hard and selfish in their enjoyment, but longing to make all as merry and lighthearted as themselves, remembering that the first Christmas gift was given by God to us, when the Son of God gave to mankind Himself. (Bp. E. Steere.)

Good tidings

The gospel may be called “good tidings.”--

1. Because it is so beneficial.

2. Because it is so appropriate.

3. Because it is so personal,

4. Because it is so unexpected.

5. Because it is so subservient to the illustration of all the other dispensations of God toward us. (G. Brooks.)

The duty of Christian joy

We are incapable of omniscience in the region alike of enjoyment and of suffering. God has so made the eye of this body that it discerns not the animalcules swallowed in water, nor the tiny reptiles that are crushed by each tread of the foot. This limitation of the natural vision is a type to us of a principle which is the very condition of being. We are not to scrutinize sufferings which we cannot alleviate. We are not to allow pain to annihilate pleasure. We are not to set God’s dispensation of sorrow at variance with God’s other dispensation of joy. Where there is the remotest chance of alleviating, there we are to be keen-sighted in investigation. The eye is to be open--but let it be the natural eye, not the microscope. We are not intended so to realize the woe which cannot be mitigated, as to foster a general depression of tone, or a practical insensibility to the blessings which are largely mingled (none can deny it) in the cup of human being. It is needful, too, that we should none of us so enjoy as to forget the suffering which is for another and which shall be for us. On this ground, with this view, to this extent, we are bound to remember, and to take into our reckoning, the hardships, the calamities, and the miseries, which abound in the world. But it is not by refusing to rejoice that we shall really either learn to feel or learn to bear. (J. Vaughan.)

The gospel to be presented as great joy

It is the bounden duty of each one of us, in his own place and sphere, to present the gospel to the world as good tidings--of great joy--to all people. If we once lose this view of it, we have parted with its chief power over one large section at least of mankind. To the young, to the strong, to the busy, to the happy, it is idle to offer a consolation which they need not, or a gloom which they repudiate. Tell them that the gospel is a great joy--that it heightens all other joys, that it makes that everlasting which else must be temporal, that it makes the strong man stronger, and the young man younger, and the wise man wiser, and the delightful man more delightful, and thus completes and perfects every part and every kind of human vigour and of human usefulness and of human hope--you make Christ then what prophecy writes Him, the Desire of Nations; and you make the gospel what the angel calls it, great joy, and to all people. Nor do you, in so painting it, detract from any one of its charms for the struggling and the sorrow-laden. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (J. Vaughan.)

Christmas Day the turning point

Do you remember that Christmas Day is the first day in the year in which the days begin to lengthen? On the 21st, the 22nd, the 23rd, and the 24th of December they are substantially at a standstill; but on the 25th of December the hand of the poetic year cuts one lock from the head of darkness, and hangs it like a star on the forehead of the day; and to-day is a minute longer than yesterday. And the sun will not go back now. It has set its face toward the summer; and though there are going to be great storms in January, though vast shrouds of snow will cover the ground, yet you know and I know that the sun has gone to its farthest limit, and has begun to turn back; and that just as sure as nature is constant in her career, that sun is retracing his steps with summer in his bosom, and that there are fruits, and there are flowers, and there is a whole realm of joy coming. You have no doubt of this in the natural world. And I say that though the days of the world’s winter are not over, yet I believe that the Sun of righteousness has gone as far away as He ever will, and has turned, and is coming back; and that there is to be a future summer of joy and rejoicing in things spiritual as well as in things temporal. (H. W.Beecher.)

Heathen religions and Christianity

There have been many religions which have made men much more joyful than Christianity has; but they played upon the nature just as it was, and never sought to change it. The religion of the Greeks was a gay and festive religion. They wreathed themselves with flowers; they anointed themselves with sweet perfumes; they surrounded their temples with every attraction; they invoked every pleasure that they could think of; they sought to make the hour of their worship a beautiful and charming hour. They sought joy without seeking manhood. Theirs was a religion which took men just where they were, and left them where they were, and wrung out of them all the joy that there was in them at that point of development--and that was all. But Christianity takes men, and says, “Ye are capable of mightier things than these,” and so begins to open up the nature, to accord the nature, to discipline the nature, and make manhood vaster with the volume of joy by-and-by wrung out of their faculties--so vast that it shall transcend immeasurably that which was possible in the beginning or at the earlier stages. It is a great comfort to me, that have looked with so much sympathy upon the whole long requiem of time past, and upon the groaning and travailing in pain until now that is in the world, to believe, as I do heartily believe, that the future of Christianity is to be far brighter, and that the day of struggle is comparatively past. (H. W. Beecher.)

All creatures interested in the incarnation of Christ

Men did share in Him in His own sex and person; women in the womb that bare Him; poor men in the shepherds, great ones in the sages of the East; the beasts by the stable whereto He was born; the earth in the gold that was offered; the trees in the myrrh and frankincense; and to reckon up no more, the heavens in the star that blazed. All the works of God, even they which by natural obedience bless Him and magnify Him for ever, did claim some office to make one in the solemnity when their Creator was born. Why surely some room was left for the angels. It was fit they should be in the train at the inauguration of this mighty Prince, and their place, according to their dignity, was very honourable; they were God’s ambassadors, and as if they had a patent to use their office frequently, they had many errands from heaven--to Mary, to Joseph. (Bishop Hacker.)

Behold

Of which word standing in this place I note three things--admiration, demonstration, and attention.

1. Ecce, see and admire this is the greatest wonder that ever was. If you love to cast your eyes upon that which is miraculous, look this way, and see the greatest miracle that ever was brought to light.

2. To cry out unto the shepherds, behold, is an adverb of demonstration. Things hard by make us look towards them more than those that are farther off; we sit still and muse upon that which we hope will come to pass, but when we hear the bridegroom coming, then we bustle and look out. And though the senses of our body do not fix themselves upon Him, yet faith will perceive Him strongly and certainly that He is truly present; faith will assure itself how He stands at the door and knocks, and how it hears His voice. Furthermore let this demonstrative direction put you in mind to live so justly and inoffensively as if you did always behold God in the flesh. But--

3. Ecce, behold, it cloth not beg, but command, attention. When the Lord sends a messenger, is it not fit to note him diligently, and to ponder his sayings in your mind? (Bishop Hacker.)

Good news to all people

A good harvest is not welcome to one village, but it is gladsome to the whole country round about; and when spoils are divided after the vanquishing of an enemy, every soldier is enriched, and hath his share. Such a communicative blessing is our Saviour’s incarnation--every man fills his bosom with the sheaves of the harvest; everyChristian soldier that fights a good warfare plucks somewhat from the spoils of the enemy. (Bishop Hacker.)

The birth of Jesus

I. THE MESSENGER EMPLOYED. One of the dignified sons of light. An ambassador from heaven to earth, from God to man. A service of unrivalled glory and benevolence, calculated to excite wonder and abundant praise. By the redemption which is in Christ angels become our brethren, our friends, and our companions for ever. It is Probable their joys and honours are greatly enhanced by the work of the Messiah.

II. THE PERSONS ADDRESSED. Jewish shepherds. What a contrast between the ambassador and those to whom he appeared. How different, too, to the doings of men and to human expectations. It would have been supposed the tidings should have been given to kings, or philosophers, or assuredly to the priests. But God’s ways are not our ways. In all the work and life of Christ God poured contempt upon worldly glory and distinctions.

III. THE MESSAGE COMMUNICATED.

1. The angel describes the person of Him who is born.

2. He announces His birth. The end of prophecy. The fulfilment of types. The fulness of the times.

3. He affirms this to be an event of good tidings. Tidings of Divine grace and salvation--all others are insignificant in comparison. Life, light, happiness, eternal glory.

4. He notices the universal application of these good tidings.

Application:

1. Is the end of Christ’s birth answered in you?

2. If so, rejoice.

3. Caution against the temptations of the season. Let your joy be “in the Lord.” (Jabez Burns, D. D.)

The angel’s message to the shepherds

1. The time. Not in the meridian splendour of the sun, when his unnumbered glories might have added to the lustre of the scene, and charmed and gratified senses and imagination. Silence of night is more favourable to devotion than bustle of day. The errand of the heavenly messengers was of a religious nature, therefore they arrive in the darkness and stillness of night. Long before this silent hour the sun had set in the western sky. The stars appeared, and the moon could not certainly withhold her light and her attendance upon such an occasion; everything conspired to direct the pious mind to solemn contemplation.

2. The persons. Not to rulers or great men was the message sent, but to humble shepherds. Why, then, say the poor, that religion is not for them, that they are neglected and forgotten? It was to poor men that this wondrous announcement was made.

3. The tidings revealed. Were they not “good tidings’? Would not the poor afflicted and oppressed debtor, who was just about to be dragged by a merciless creditor from his home and family, to be shut up in prison, esteem it glad tidings if he should be in that hour informed that one, completely able, had sent an express messenger to the hard-hearted creditor, saying, “Place all this man’s debt to my account; set him at liberty to go home to his afflicted wife and famishing children”? And was it not good tidings to the children of Israel in Egypt when Moses was sent by God to be their deliverer, and to lead them to the promised land? But what is here announced far exceeds the joy of such occasions as these, for they refer to temporal concerns, this to eternal. (H. Venn, M. A.)

Great joy is often

1. Secret.

2. Silent.

3. Childlike.

4. Modest.

5. Elevated. Christ is the only source of rational joy among fallen men. (Van Doren.)

The Christmas festival festival for the whole world

1. This it is designed to be.

2. This it can be.

3. This it must be.

4. This it will be. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

The message to the shepherds

I. HOW SURE IS GOD’S WORD. Ages had rolled by since the promise was first made. Saints had waited; types had prefigured; prophets had foretold: at last, when all preparation is complete, the Divine decree is accomplished.

II. HOW WONDERFUL ARE GOD’S WAYS.

III. HOW GLORIOUS IS GOD’S SALVATION. God, and yet man; a babe, and yet Lord of all. How great the Father’s love; how wonderful the Son’s condescension! (W. S. Bruce, M. A.)

Christianity a cheerful religion

It is necessary for some people to remember that cheerfulness, good spirits, light-heartedness, merriment, are not unchristian nor unsaintly. We do not please God more by eating bitter aloes than by eating honey. A cloudy, foggy, rainy day is not more heavenly than a day of sunshine. A funeral march is not so much like the music of angels as the song of birds on a May morning. There is no more religion in the gaunt naked forest in winter than in the laughing blossoms of the spring, and the rich ripe fruits of autumn. It was not the pleasant things in the world that came from the devil, and the dreary things from God; it was sin brought death into the world and all our woe; as the sin vanishes, the woe will vanish too. God Himself is the ever-blessed God. He dwells in the light of joy as well as of purity, and instead of becoming more like Him as we become more miserable, and as all the brightness and glory of life are extinguished, we become more like God as our blessedness becomes more complete. The great Christian graces are radiant with happiness. Faith, hope, charity--there is no sadness in them; and if penitence makes the heart sad, penitence belongs to the sinner, not to the saint. As we become more saintly, we have less sin to sorrow over. No; the religion of Christ is not a religion of sorrow. It consoles wretchedness, and brightens with a Divine glory the lustre of every inferior joy. It attracts to itself the brokenhearted, the lonely, the weary, the despairing; but it is to give them rest, comfort, and peace. It rekindles hope; it inspires strength, courage, and joy. It checks the merriment of the thoughtless who have never considered the graver and more awful realities of man’s life and destiny; but it is to lead them through transient sorrow to deeper and more perfect blessedness, even in this world, than they had ever felt before the sorrow came. (T. Dale, M. A.)

The great birthday

I. THE BIRTH OF CHRIST SHOULD BE THE SUBJECT OF SUPREME JOY. We have the angelic warrant for rejoicing because Christ is born. It is a truth so full of joy that it caused the angel who came to announce it to be filled with gladness. He had little to do with the fact, for Christ took not up angels, but He took up the seed of Abraham; but I suppose that the very thought that the Creator should be linked with the creature, that the great Invisible and Omnipotent should come into alliance with that which He Himself had made, caused the angel as a creature to feel that all creatureship was elevated, and this made him glad. Besides, there was a sweet benevolence of spirit in the angel’s bosom which made him happy because he had such gladsome tidings to bring to the fallen sons of men.

1. The birth of Christ was the incarnation of God. This is a wondrous mystery, to be believed in rather than to be defined. Mankind is not outlawed or abandoned to destruction, for, lo! the Lord has married into the race, and the Son of God has become Son of Man. This proves that God loves man, and means man’s good; that He feels for man and pities him; that He intends to deliver man and to bless him.

2. He who was born is unto us a Saviour. Those who will be most glad of this will be those who are most conscious of their sinnership. If you would draw music out of that ten-stringed harp, the word “Saviour,” pass it over to a sinner. “Saviour” is the harp, but “sinner” is the finger that must touch the strings and bring forth the melody.

3. This Saviour is Christ the Lord, and there is much gladness in this fact. We have not a nominal Saviour, but a Saviour fully equipped; one who, in all points, is like ourselves, for He is Man, but in all points fit to help the feebleness which He has espoused, for He is the Anointed Man. The godlike in dominion is joined with the human in birth.

4. The angel called for joy, and I ask for it too, on this ground, that the birth of this child was to bring glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill toward men. The birth of Christ has given such glory to God as I know not that He could ever have had here by any other means. We must always speak in accents soft and low when we talk of God’s glory; in itself it must always be infinite and not to be conceived by us, and yet may we not venture to say that all the works of God’s hands do not glorify Him so much as the gift of His dear Son, that all creation and all providence do not so well display the heart of Deity as when He gives His Only-Begotten, and sends Him into the world that men may live through Him? What wisdom is manifested in the plan of redemption of which the incarnate God is the centre! What love is there revealed! What power is that which brought the Divine One down from glory to the manger; only Omnipotence could have worked so great a marvel! What faithfulness to ancient promises! What truthfulness in keeping covenant! What grace, and yet what justice!

II. Let us consider TO WHOM THIS JOY BELONGS.

1. It belongs to those who tell it.

2. It belongs to those who hear it.

3. It belongs to those who believe it.

III. How THAT JOY SHOULD BE MANIFESTED.

1. Proclaim the Saviour.

2. Sing God’s praises.

3. Spread the news--as the shepherds did.

4. Ponder this miracle of love--as Mary did.

5. Go and do good to others.

Come and worship God manifest in the flesh, and be filled with His light and sweetness by the power of the Holy Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ’s Nativity

1. Observe the interest which the angels felt on the occasion. While men’s minds are intent on the decree of the emperor, theirs are centred on Christ.

2. Not only did an angel appear to the shepherds, but the glory of the Lord shone round about them. Evidence of a message immediately from God.

3. The effect it had upon the shepherds. Sore afraid, but afterwards cheered.

4. The object proclaimed is the “Saviour.” Not themselves, but Christ.

5. The good news was common to all people, not to one nation only.

6. The good news, though common to all people, was more immediately addressed to the shepherds, who like many others were waiting for the consolation of Israel. The gospel is addressed to individuals, as if they only were the objects of it. Salvation is directly offered to every soul.

7. In this heavenly message particular attention is paid to time, place, and other circumstances, to show their agreement with ancient prophecy. Not even an angel may speak anything contrary to the Scriptures (Galatians 1:8).

I. CONSIDER THE SUBJECT OF THE ANGELIC MESSAGE, AND SEE WHAT GOOD TIDINGS ARE CONTAINED IN IT.

1. The birth of Jesus Christ was itself good news. The great object of prophecy from the beginning of the world, and the hope of the Church in all ages.

2. The gracious design of His incarnation imparted good tidings to a guilty and ruined world.

3. The way of salvation, which was effected by the coming of Christ, forms an essential part of the good tidings brought to us by the angel. Repentance and remission of sins preached among all nations.

II. THESE TIDINGS ARE MATTERS OF JOY, OF GREAT JOY TO ALL PEOPLE. The word used is strong, and only used for such great occasions as the joy of harvest or an important victory; but is fully applicable to this subject.

1. The coming of Christ was the joy of the Old Testament Church, while they lived only in hope of this great event (Isaiah 25:9; John 8:56). How much more when it is fully realized.

2. All the joy of believers during the lifetime of our Saviour centred entirely in Him.

3. All the joy in the times of the apostles had an immediate reference to Christ and His salvation. The apostles triumphed in every place, but it was because the savour of His name was spread abroad.

4. Christ and His salvation made all their troubles and sorrows light and momentary; yea, they counted not their lives dear for His sake. The history of the primitive Church is a history of sufferings in the cause of Christ, and of joy and rejoicing in His holy name. This also is the way for us to bear up under all the sorrows, trials, and afflictions of this life.

III. INQUIRE WHAT IS NECESSARY TO RENDER THESE GOOD TIDINGS A MATTER OF REAL JOY TO US. It is an undoubted fact that they do not produce joy in all: they did not then, and they do not now. Many think the tidings of the gospel not worth hearing. Many who hear, neglect them, or feel no interest in them. Some who seem to rejoice for a time become indifferent, and afterwards wither away.

1. To become the subject of real joy, these tidings require to be believed as true, and to be received with the utmost cordiality.

2. It requires a deep conviction of our guilty, lost, and ruined state, which is presupposed by the gospel, and which must be felt and realized before it can convey to us tidings of great joy.

3. A cordial reception of the gospel itself, as revealing the only way of salvation; obeying it from the heart, and receiving the truth in love. (Theological Sketch-book.)

The first Christmas

I. THAT A SCENE OF FRIGHT OFTEN BECOMES A SCENE OF EXALTATION. Joseph’s way to authority led through the pit, slavery, and prison. How many through affliction have found spiritual triumph.

II. WE SEE WHY CHRIST FINDS SO POOR A RECEPTION UPON EARTH. ROOM for outward pomps, but none for the lowly Son of God. In yonder store there is room for trade, for money, but no room for Christ. There is no war between prosperity and Christ.

III. THAT WHILE VIRTUE IS OFTEN FORCED TO PLAIN LODGINGS, WICKEDNESS IS PROVIDED WITH FINE QUARTERS. Guilt on the throne, innocence in the cabin; Nero in the palace, Paul a prisoner; Nebuchadnezzar walking in the hanging gardens, Shadrach in the fire. Remember the order: first the manger; second, the cross; third, the crown.

IV. THAT JOY IS A DOMINANT ELEMENT IN RELIGION. (Dr. Talmage.)

The first Christmas morning

I. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST WAS GOOD TIDINGS TO THE SLAVE. When He came, a large part of the race were held in abject servitude. Slavery prevailed extensively in cultivated Greece, in imperial Rome, and even in Palestine--in the very shadow of the temple of the Most High. Some Roman masters held from ten to twenty thousand slaves, and the condition of the slave was hard in the extreme. He was treated and held simply as a “thing”; bought and sold as men deal in sheep and horses, he was absolutely the property of his master; he had no rights as a man--no place under the law; could be beaten, scourged, and put to death at the will of the master. Such was the condition of half the world when the angel choir sang their Gloria in Excelsis. But that song was the death-knell to human bondage. The Infant that lay in the manger hard by was to be the great Deliverer. Glorious emancipation! Glorious harbinger of that spiritual liberty which Christ is yet to achieve!

II. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST WAS GOOD TIDINGS TO THE LABOURER. The mass of men belong to the labouring class--are forced to earn their bread in the sweat of their brows. The honour, the dignity, of labour was not at all understood before Christ’s advent. Philosophers taught that all forms of manual labour were degrading. In Rome only three kinds of occupation were considered respectable, viz.: medicine, commerce, and architecture. Free men had to work side by side with slaves. But Christ taught a new doctrine. He consecrated and made honourable all honest labour, both by the precepts He taught and by His own example. And just as the spirit and teachings of the great Master prevail, the labouring classes will be elevated and prosperous, and human society will approximate the heavenly world.

III. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST REVEALED TO EARTH THE TRUE IDEA OF HUMANITY. The ancients had no just conception of man as man. At best, he was considered of no account, except as related to the State or the crown.

IV. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST WAS GOOD TIDINGS TO THE FAMILY. The ancients had very imperfect ideas about it. Marriage was simply the means the State had to produce citizens. But, oh, the power, the blessedness, of the religion of Jesus on the family !V. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST WAS GLAD TIDINGS BECAUSE IT GAVE THE WORLD A NEW HOPE, The song of the angels on that eventful Christmas morning was the song of hope to a despairing world. (D. W. Lusk.)

Good tidings of great joy

The sweet air of the gospel hath some harsh tidings, to take up the cross, and endure unto blood, and death, but these were tidings of joy.

1. Joys are of several sizes, this is a great one, nay, none so great.

2. Joys and great ones are quickly done, this is joy that shall be and continue.

3. A man may be a conduit-pipe to transmit joy to others, and have no benefit himself; this is joy to you, to every ear that hears 2:4. A good nature would not engross a blessing, but desires to have it diffused, and so was this joy to all people. The angel said unto them, “Fear not.” What should they not fear: first, non a splendore divine, let not their hearts be troubled because the glory of the Lord shone round about them, Sore eyes are distempered at much light, and it is a sign there is some darkness within us all, which loves not to be discovered; that the best of us all are much perplexed if any extraordinary brightness flash upon us. (Bishop Hacket.)

Fear not

So if there be not a mixture of fear with our love, it falleth asleep, it waxeth secure, and loseth her Beloved. If the comfort of our joy be not allayed with some fear, ‘tis madness and presumption. Again, if our fear be not intermixed with the comfort of some joy, ‘tis sullenness and desperation. As the earth cannot be without summer and winter to make it fruitful, the pleasure of the one and the austerity of the other make up the revolution of a good year, so faith is the parent both of a cloudy fear, and a smiling hope: faith begets fear in us in regard of our own weakness, and hope in regard of the goodness of God; hope ariseth out of the faith of the gospel, and fear out of the faith of the law. These cannot be parted. (Bishop Hacket.)

That bondage which makes us liable to judgment is naught; but the fear which issues from a conscientiousness of that bondage flying to God that it may fly from judgment is holy and good. Briefly, let them thus be compared together; a filial fear, which loves God for His own goodness, is like a bright day which hath not a cloud to disfigure it; a servile fear, that dreads God because it dreads the wrath to come, is like a day that is overcast with clouds, but it is clearer than the fairest moonshine night. It is good to have the spirit of adoption, but it is better to have the spirit of bondage than the spirit of slumber; it is good to be in Canaan, but it is better to be in the wilderness than in Egypt; it is good to be a child, but it is better to be a servant than a stranger to the Lord. (Bishop Hacket.)

This, then, is another fear which belongs to our allowance, but there is a fear which hath a nolite set before it, an immoderate horror of heart, a symptom of desperation, or at least of infidelity and diffidence; this is that quivering with which God strikes His enemies, as a tree is shaken by the wind to unfasten it from the root. (Bishop Hacket.)

Nothing, you see, is comfortable to them that have not the true comforter, the Holy Spirit in their soul. (Bishop Hacket.)

Satan feels some horror that gnaws and torments him, but he feels not the blessing of that fear which should discipline him from sin, and amend him. (Bishop Hacket.)

Then it were good, methinks, that discretion and consideration of Christ’s merciful gospel did mitigate their zeal, who think they are bound to thunder nothing so much to the people as fears, and terrors, like the writer of Iambiques that spoke anger and poison to put Archilochus into desperation. Let vices be threatened, but let the hope that accompanies true repentance go together. Let judgment be put home to the obdurate conscience, but let mercy be an advocate for tile broken in heart. Let the strictness of law and the curse thereof fetch a tear from our eyes; but let the ransom of our sins be set before us, and that Christ will wipe all tears from our eyes. St. Paul wished himself at Corinth, not to affright them, but to rejoice with the brethren; as it was said of the mild nature of the Emperor Vespasian, he never sent any man from him discontent, but gave him some comfort and satisfaction. So the gospel is such a sweet demulcing lesson, that if it be truly preached it must always revive the heart, it cannot leave a sting behind it. You see the angel delights not to scare, but to comfort the shepherds, “Fear not.” (Bishop Hacket.)

Gospel joy continuous

This spiritual gladness and festivity is the principal assistance to vanquish Satan, and all desperate doubts with which he would perplex our conscience: it is a royal joy which comforts us that we shall be heirs of a glorious kingdom; it is a sanctified joy which gives us promise that we shall not only be kings but priests for ever, to offer up the sweet odours of our prayers to God; it is a superlative joy which cries down all other petty delights, and makes them appear as nothing; it is endless joy of durance and lasting for ever and ever; for my text says it is “joy that shall be unto you.” Times of feasting have a period, every man is glutted at last; he that hath his fill of sport is weary by the late of night, and glad to take his rest. But the joy that you have in Christ is with you all the year, in all your sorrow, in all your adversities; it sleeps with you, it grows old with you, it will change this life with you, and follow you into a better: “And My joy shall no man take from you,” says our Saviour (John 16:22). Christmas joy was not only for the first twelve days when the Son of God was born, but for all the twelve months of twelve hundred years, and many hundreds after them unto the world’s end. So St. Peter cloth solace us with black sails of sorrow; as if he had never made a saving voyage. All their laughter is like the joy of Herod’s birthday.; dancing, and revels, and offering of great gifts last for a while, but before evening you shall see an alteration; and when their surfeited tables are removed away, the last service in the platter is the head of John the Baptist. But the mirth which we have in the Mediator of our salvation is a song which hath no rest in it, nor ever shall have a close. We begin the first part here, that we may sing the other part in psalms and hallelujahs with the saints for ever. As Christmas is celebrated part of the new year, and part of the old, so it is joy that is in this life, and shall be in the life to come. (Bishop Hacket.)

The nativity of our Lord, tidings of great joy

1. Let us consider that the nativity doth import the completion of many ancient promises, predictions, and prefigurations concerning it; that whereas all former dispensations of favour and mercy were as preludes or preambles to this; the old law did aim to represent it in its mysterious pomps; the chief of providential occurrences did intimate it; the prophets often in their mystical raptures did allude to it, and often in clear terms did express it; the gracious designs of God, and the longing expectations of mankind being so variously implied in regard thereto; now all is come to be fulfilled, and perfected in most clear, most effectual, most substantial accomplishment. Now what can be more delightful, or satisfactory to our mind, than to reflect on this sweet harmony of things, this goodly correspondence between the old and new world; wherein so pregnant evidences of God’s chief attributes (of His goodness, of His wisdom, of His fidelity and constancy), all conspiring to our benefit, do shine? Is it not pleasant to contemplate how provident God hath ever been for our welfare? what trains from the world’s beginning, or ever since our unhappy fall, He hath been laying to repair and restore us? how wisely He hath ordered all dispensations with a convenient reference and tendency to this masterpiece of grace? how steady He hath been in prosecuting His designs, and how faithful in accomplishing His promises concerning it? If the “holy patriarchs did see this day, and were glad”; if a glimpse thereof did cause their hearts to leap within them; if its very dawn had on the spirits of the prophets so vigorous an influence, what comfort and complacence should we feel in this its real presence, and bright aspect on us!

2. Let us consider what alteration our Lord’s coming did induce, by comparing the state of things before it with that which followed it. The old world then consisting of two parts, severed by a strong wall of partition, made up of difference in opinion, in practice, in affection, together with a strict prohibition to one of holding intercourse with the other. Such was the state of the world in its parts; and jointly of the whole it may be said that it was “shut up under sin” and guilt, under darkness and weakness, under death and corruption, under sorrow and woe: that no full declaration of God’s pleasure, no clear overture of mercy, no express grant of spiritual aid, no certain redemption from the filth or the force of sin, from the stroke of death, from due punishment hereafter; no encouragements suitable to high devotion, or strict virtue, were anywise in a solemn way exhibited or dispensed before our Lord’s appearance: so that well might all men be then represented as Cimmerians, “sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death.” Now the Spirit of God (the Spirit of direction, of succour, of comfort spiritual) is poured on all flesh. “Now the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men.” Now Jew and Gentile are reunited and compacted in one body; walking in the same light, and under obligation to the same laws. But farther, that we may yet more nearly touch the point--

3. Let us consider that the nativity of our Lord is a grand instance, a pregnant evidence, a rich earnest of Almighty God’s very great affection and benignity toward mankind; for, “In this,” saith St. John, “the love of God was manifested, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world:” and, “Through the tender mercies of our God,” sang old Zachariah, “the Day-spring from on high did visit us:” this indeed is the peculiar experiment, wherein that most Divine attribute did show and signalize itself. And what greater reason of joy can there be, than such an assurance of His love, on whose love all our good dependeth, in whose love all our felicity consisteth? What can be more delightful than to view the face of our Almighty Lord so graciously smiling on us? Should we not be extremely glad, should we not be proud, if our earthly prince by any signal mark would express himself kindly affected to us? How much more should we resent such a testimony of God’s favour t how worthily may our souls be transported with a sense of such affection!

4. We may consider our Lord’s nativity, as not only expressing simple good-will, but implying a perfect reconciliation, a firm peace, a steady friendship established between God and us or that it did not only proceed from love, but did also produce love to us. Now, then, what can be more worthy of joy than such a blessed turn of affairs? How can we otherwise than with exceeding gladness solemnize such a peace?

5. Our Lord’s nativity doth infer a great honour, and a high preferment to us: nowise indeed could mankind be so dignified, or our nature so advanced as hereby: no wisdom can devise a way beyond this, whereby God should honour His most special favourites, or promote them to a nearness unto Himself. This is a peculiar honour, to which the highest angels cannot pretend; “for He took not the nature of angels, but He took the seed of Abraham.” And is it not good matter of joy to be thus highly graced? When are men better pleased than when they are preferred; than especially, when “from the meanest state, from the dunghill, or from the dust, they are raised to be set among princes, and made to inherit the throne of glory”?

6. Finally, if we survey all principal causes of joy and special exultation, we shall find them all concurring in this event. Is a messenger of good news embraced with joy? Behold the great Evangelist is come, with His mouth full of news, most admirable, most acceptable: He, who doth acquaint us that God is well pleased, that man is restored, that “the adversary is cast down,” that paradise is set open, and immortality retrieved; that truth and righteousness, peace and joy, salvation and happiness are descended, and come to dwell on earth. Is the birth of a prince by honest subjects to be commemorated with joyous festivity? Behold a Prince born to all the world! a Prince undertaking to rule mankind with sweetest clemency and exact justice. May victory worthily beget exultation? See the invincible warrior doth issue forth into the field, “conquering and to conquer”: He that shall baffle and rifle the strong one, our formidable adversary; that shall rout all the forces of hell, and triumph over the powers of darkness. Is a proclamation of peace, after rueful wars, to be solemnized with alacrity? Behold then everlasting peace between heaven and earth, a general peace among men. Is satisfaction of desire and hope very pleasant? Behold the “desire of all nations, the expectation of Israel,” He for whom the whole creation groaned, is come. Is recovery of liberty delectable to poor slaves and captives? Behold the “Redeemer is come out of Sion”; the precious ransom, sufficient to purchase the freedom of many worlds, is laid down. Is an overture of health acceptable to sick and languishing persons? Behold the great Physician, endued with admirable skill, and furnished with infallible remedies, is come, to cure us of our maladies, and ease us of our pains. Is mirth seasonable on the day of marriage? Behold the greatest wedding that ever was is this day solemnised; heaven and earth are contracted; divinity is espoused to humanity; a sacred, an indissoluble knot is tied between God and man. Is the access of a good friend to be received with cheerful gratulation? Behold the dearest and best Friend of all mankind. Is opportune relief grateful to persons in a forlorn condition, pinched with extreme want, or plunged in any hard distress? Behold a merciful, a bountiful, a mighty Saviour and succourer. Is the sun-rising comfortable after a tedious, darksome, and cold night? See, “the Sun of Righteousness is risen with healing in His wings,” dispensing all about His pleasant rays and kindly influences. (J. Barrow, D. D.)

Religious joy

Let us consider this more at length, as contained in the gracious narrative of which the text is part.

1. What do we read just before the text? that there were certain shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, and angels appeared to them. Why should the heavenly hosts appear to these shepherds? What was it in them which attracted the attention of the angels and the Lord of angels? Were these shepherds learned, distinguished, or powerful? Were they especially known for piety and gifts? Nothing is said to make us think so. Almighty God looks with a sort of especial love, or (as we may term it) affection, upon the lowly. Perhaps it is that man, a fallen, dependent, and destitute creature, is more in his proper place when he is m lowly circumstances, and that power and riches, though unavoidable in the case of some, are unnatural appendages to man, as such. And what a contrast is presented to us when we take into account who were our Lord’s messengers to them! The angels who excel in strength, these did His bidding towards the shepherds. Here the highest and the lowest of God’s rational creatures are brought together. A set of poor men, engaged in a life of hardship, exposed at that very time to the cold and darkness of the night, watching their flocks, with the view of scaring away beasts of prey or robbers. We know the contracted range of thought, the minute and ordinary objects, or rather the one or two objects, to and fro again and again without variety, which engage the minds of men exposed to such a life of heat, cold, and wet, hunger and nakedness, hardship and servitude. They cease to care much for anything, but go on in a sort of mechanical way, without heart, and still more without reflection. To men so circumstanced the angel appeared, to open their minds, and to teach them not to be downcast and in bondage because they were low in the world. He appeared as if to show them that God had chosen the poor in this world to be heirs of His kingdom, and so to do honour to their lot.

2. And now comes a second lesson, which I have said may be gained from the festival. The angel honoured a humble lot by his very appearing to the shepherds;, next he taught it to be joyful by his message. The angel said, “Fear not,” when he saw the alarm which his presence caused among the shepherds. Even a lesser wonder would have reasonably startled them. Therefore the angel said, “Fear not.” We are naturally afraid of any messenger from the other world, for we have an uneasy conscience when left to ourselves, and think that his coming forebodes evil. Besides, we so little realize the unseen world, that were angel or spirit to present himself before us we should be startled by reason of our unbelief, a truth being brought home to our minds which we never apprehended before. A little religion makes us afraid; when a little light is poured in upon the conscience, there is a darkness visible; nothing but sights of woe and terror; the glory of God alarms while it shines around. His holiness, the range and difficulties of His commandments, the greatness of His power, the faithfulness of His word, frighten the sinner, and men seeing him afraid, think religion has made him so, whereas he is not religious at all. But religion itself, far from inculcating alarm and terror, says, in the words of the angel, “Fear not;” for such is His mercy, while Almighty God has poured about us His glory, yet it is a consolatory glory, for it is the light of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). If all these things be so, surely the lesson of joy which the incarnation gives us is as impressive as the lesson of humility. St. Paul gives us the one lesson in his Epistle to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (J. H.Newman, D. D.)

Glad news

The days of life are not lived on one level range. There are days that are lifted, and days that are depressed; days which stand out radiant with opportunity, as summits of mountains stand forth to the eye when the sun shines upon them. Now and then you come to a day so auspicious, so prophetic of good, that it sings through all its hours, and is as a hymn and a psalm. Not only do men come to such days, not only do individuals find themselves lifted by God’s mercy to such summits of feeling and expression, but nations and cities, governments and institutions, come to the same happy fortune. There are days in national life linked with such victorious memories, full with such present triumphs, that at the rising of the sun every patriotic citizen flings out to the morning air the national banner. Institutions, too, have their glorious days. Popular movements that represent great causes and grand effects roll up like waves to their cresting, and the power of the forces which moved them on culminates in popular gladness. Religion shares in the action of this law. And it is because Christianity helps men that it is properly named “glad news”; and it may be well for us who are in worship assembled to ask ourselves and to consider wherein Christianity is glad news, and why, being accepted, it brings joy to the human heart. In the first place, it is glad news because it is a revelation of God--both as to what He is in Himself, and what His feelings are toward man. The highest conception the human mind can form is that of Deity. It is too great in itself to go on without conceiving of a greater. The human constitution is of so noble a sort, is so majestic in its vision, so profound in its necessities, that it must have a God. The greatness of man is seen in the fact that in him is an actual graving to bow down to some one or to something that symbolises some one. Look, then, at and consider the state of the world before Christianity was born. Here and there an old sage, by sixty years of studentship, had groped his way up until his fingers had felt out a knowledge of the alphabet of truth which taught him the rudiments of righteousness. But of God they knew little. Of the life beyond the grave they knew nothing. The consolation which comes from knowledge they had not amid their trials. They died blindly submissive; they died wretchedly patient; they died stoically indifferent. And those that were left to mourn above their graves mourned without hope. But when Christianity was born, a sun rose into the darkness of the world. Men saw what they had felt must be, but what they bad never before seen. And chiefest among all sights revealed stood God. It told them of His affection, of His patience, of His mercy. It told them that He was mindful of them, that His ears were open to their cries, and His eyes noted the falling of their tears. What a revelation was this! How satisfactory in its nature! How sublime in its significance! How far-reaching in its influence! How could piety ever become intelligent? How could devotion ever be ardent and sincere until, in the person of God, the source and pattern of all purity, of all justice, of all affection, should be revealed unto man? Let it be known, then, and profoundly felt by us all here to-day, that Christianity was “glad news” unto man, first and foremost, because it revealed God. We do not realize, so familiar are we with the thought, what a gap would be made in our lives if from our minds the knowledge we have of God were stricken. Such a removal would be like taking one’s heart from his bosom. As in the one case physically we could not survive, so in the other case spiritually we could not survive. And the second great and emphatic reason is, as it seems to me, because it revealed man to himself. Never till Jesus was born--never till He had lived and passed away--did man know the nobility of his species. Never until God dwelt in the flesh could any man know what flesh might become. For natures are measured, not by what they can impart primarily, but by what they can receive. The ox can receive but little. The sweetness of the grass, the pungency of the budding shrubbery he crops, the coolness of the water that he drinks when athirst--these measure his being. They minister to his structure, and its wants being supplied his life is satisfied. The dog can receive yet more. He craves food, but he also craves affection. A life higher than his own is needed for his happiness. He looks at the hand of his master as the inferior looks at the superior when itself is great-enough to discover greatness. The dog finds deity in his master. From him he learns law and love both. From him he receives joy so intense that even his master marvels at it, and wonders that so slight a motion of his hand, so brief an utterance from his lips, can make any being so happy. It is because the dog can receive so much that thought ranks him so high. And the capacity of receptiveness gives accurate measurement and gradation to animals and to men. I say to men; for the same law holds good in the human species. There are some who receive little. On the other hand, there are those who are as a house when its windows are all open, and the sun and the wind play through its chambers. There is no form of beauty; there is no shade of loveliness; there is no odour or perfume, nor any melodious sound, that appeals to them in vain. And when we view them on the higher levels of receptiveness--the levels of mind and soul--we find that their intellect and their spirits alike are as pools that stand waiting for the streams to flow into them. From history and poetry, from science and art, from past and present, they are ministered unto ceaselessly. Nor is there anything religious, anything sacred and devout, anything spiritual and Divine, which does not find ready entrance into their natures. So freely do they receive of these, that by them at last they are possessed. Renewed in mind, transformed in spirit, sanctified in soul, they become like Him of whom they have received. So that their walk and conversation is with God. Never, as we have said, until Christ came was the greatness of this capacity to receive demonstrated. Christ showed what man might be, and thereby fixed his value. Heaven paid such a price for man that man himself was astonished. God’s acts are based on knowledge. The second reason, then, why Christianity is glad news is seen in the fact that beyond any mere religion, beyond all philosophies, it tells me what man is. We who are here can rise up and say, “We know what man is!” The world, from east to west, from north to south, can say, speaking through all her myriad mouths, “We know what man is!” The great continents, the islands of the sea, the far shores and the far climes, through all their industries, through all their commerce, through their intelligence, through the glory of their bloom and the pendent wealth of their harvests, can say, “We know what man is!” Ay, and the spirits of the redeemed in heaven and the great angels that wait before God, mighty in their power and intelligence, can bow down before Him who made the revelation in His Son, and murmur, in the hush of holy awe, “We know what man is!” We have said that the first reason why Christianity was glad news was found in the fact that it revealed God; and the second great reason that it was glad news was found in the fact that it revealed man; and now we say, lastly, that the third great reason why Christianity is glad news is found in the fact that it reveals God in man. Theodore Parker, of pleasant memory to many, to whom this city owes much, and to whom humanity owes more, had a splendid conception of God. No nobler Deity was ever preached than he proclaimed. Many who deride him, but have never read him, would be richer spiritually than they are if in their minds and souls they had his conception of Divinity. In addition to his splendid conception of God, he had the noblest possible conception of man--of his nature, of his possibilities, of his rights, and of his destiny. But of God in man he seems to have had little, if any, conception. On his right hand stood God, like a hewn pillar, massive and polished to the finest gleam; on the left stood man, a companion pillar, of which in way of description it is enough to say that it was the reflection of the other. But God in man, or the God-man--that white arch that should connect and span the space between the two--he did not discern. And that the object of this incarnation of Deity was the salvation of men from their sins we know. The mighty and benevolent uses of incarnation are patent. Only so could God be revealed, in such a way that the human mind might apprehend Him clearly, and the human soul in Him find courage. Only by such an incarnation could the requisite authority be given to human utterance, and the requisite wisdom be imparted to human understanding. Only by such an incarnation could the holy example, whose presence was needed, be given unto the world, and the adequate inspiration be imparted to humanity. And only by such an incarnation, only through the lips of His own Son, could the Divine Fatherhood be properly declared, the Divine life properly lived, and the victorious sacrifice, required both for the justice of heaven and the moral necessities of men, be made. We rejoice, therefore, in the incarnation of God in Christ as those who apprehend the high spiritual uses it subserves, the profound spiritual necessities it meets, and the otherwise incomprehensible truths that it makes familiar unto us. (W. H. Aitken.)

Good tidings of great joy

The message was one bearing “good tidings of great joy.” “Good tidings” in view of the light which was to be shed, the deliverance which was to be wrought, and the union of the whole race which was contemplated, and shall in due course be effected.

I. “Good tidings of great joy” in view of THE LIGHT WHICH WAS TO BE SHED. Christ in His coming has shed light upon the Divine tenderness and grace. Christ, in His coining, has shed light upon the moral obligations of men. “The law was given by Moses.” And Christ in His coming has shed light upon human destiny.

II. “Good tidings of great joy” in view of THE DELIVERANCE WHICH WAS TO BE WROUGHT. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” The deliverance Christ came to effect for all who should trust to Him is both a present and an eternal deliverance. He secures deliverance from the burden of unforgiven sin. He sets free from the defilement of sin. He preserves from remorse. And He saves from despondency and distrust. But He came to effect our eternal deliverance.

III. “Good tidings of great joy,” in view of the union of THE WHOLE RACE WHICH WAS CONTEMPLATED, AND WHICH SHALL, IN DUE COURSE, BE ACCOMPLISHED. “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” Judaism was marked by its exclusiveness. (S. D. Hillman, B. A.)


Verse 11

Luke 2:11

For unto you is born this day

Lessons from the birthday of Christ

The birthday of Christ!--a name which connects with the familiar associations of home-life the opening of the heavens to human hope, the inconceivable grace and condescension of Almighty God, the beginning of a state of things on earth in which God our Maker has united Himself for ever with humankind.

I. REVERENCE. In thinking of Christ’s birthday, we are between two dangers. It may have become a mere name and word to us, conventionally accepted and repeated, but conveying no really living meaning; or it may have come with such fulness of meaning as to overwhelm and confound our thoughts, making us ask, “How can such things be?” Let us remember that “God is Love;” and that the mystery of the incarnation is the manifestation of that infinite Love. Let us try to take a true measure of the unspeakable majesty and living goodness with which we have to deal.

II. PURITY. The Incarnation was the mind and atmosphere of heaven, coming with all the height of their sanctities into human flesh--a spectacle to make us stop and be thoughtful, and consider our own experience of life and society. Let us pass from things which fashion and custom do not mind, but which do lower the tone and health of soul and character, which often tempt and corrupt it; let us turn away our eyes from what, however captivating and charming, is dangerous to know and look at, to the little child and His mother, and learn there the lesson of strength, of manliness--for purity means manliness--of abhorrence of evil.

III. HUMILITY. The human mind cannot conceive any surrender of place and claims, any willing lowliness and self-forgetfulness, any acceptance of the profoundest abasement, comparable to that which is before us in the birth, and the circumstances of the birth, of Jesus Christ. The measure of it is the measure of the distance between the Creator and the creature, and the creature in the most unregarded, most uncared-for condition, helpless, unknown, of no account for the moment among the millions of men whom He had made, and whose pride, and loftiness, and ambition filled His own world. There He was for the time, the youngest, weakest, poorest of them all; and He came thus, to show what God thinks of human pride, ambition, loftiness. He came thus, to show how God despises the untruth of self-esteem, the untruth of flattery, and to teach how little the outward shows of our present condition answer to that which, in reality and truth, it is worth while for a living soul, an immortal being, to be.

IV. THE LESSON OF NOT PUTTING OUR TRUST IN THE ARM OF FLESH. Contrast the birthday of Christ with the purpose of His coming--to reform, conquer, and restore the world. Of all that mighty order which was to be, of all that overwhelming task and work before Him, here were the first steps, in the lowest paths of human life! He it was to whom was committed this great work of God. Not in the way which men understood or anticipated, not by forces and measures suggested by their experience, but in the exact way of God’s perfect holiness and righteousness. He began and finished the work which the Father gave Him to do. In the utter unlikelihood of His success, there is a lesson for us. In doing His work, and in doing our own work, we are often sorely tempted to depart from His footsteps. In doing His work, in maintaining His cause, in fighting for His kingdom, it has always been too common for man to think, that all the same means are available which are used in human enterprises, that success depended on the same conditions, that it was impossible without employing weapons which were not like His. They have trusted to energy, strength, sagacity; they have distrusted the power of single-hearted obedience, prayer, patience, faith, self-sacrifice, goodness; they have thought it weak to be over-scrupulous; they have forgotten how far beyond the reach and touch of human power are the fortunes of the kingdom of the Most Holy. And so in doing our own work, it is hard for us all not to do the opposite to what our Master did; hard not to trust to the arm and the ways of flesh, instead of trusting with our eyes shut the path of duty, truth, obedience. The trader has before him the way of unflinching honesty, or the way in which custom and opinion allow him to take advantage and make shorter cuts to profit and increased business; which path will he take? Will he have faith in principle, and perhaps wait, perhaps lose; or will he do as others do, and, highly respecting principle, yet forget it at the critical moment? The young man entering into life wishes to get on. Will he trust to what he is, to his determination to do right, to straightforwardness and simplicity, to God’s blessing, or what God has blessed and promised to bless, or will he push his fortunes by readiness to appear what he is not, by selfishness, by man-pleasing, by crooked paths and questionable compliances? The boy has to do his lessons and satisfy his teachers. Will he be content to appear no cleverer than he is, to be conscientious, diligent, faithful, dutiful, whatever comes of it; or will he be tempted to save himself labour and trouble by shorter and easier ways which many will tell him of, and gain credit for what he has no right to? Here, to warn us, to teach us, to comfort us, in all our varied conditions and employments, we have the beginning of Christ’s conquest of the world. The footsteps of His great progress begin from the cradle of the nativity.

V. GLADNESS AND JOY. Sometimes we feel hardly in tune for the rejoicing of Christmas. It contrasts sharply with the bitterness of a recent bereavement, the sorrowful watch round a hopeless sick bed. Or it may be, while we are saluting our Lord’s coming with hymns and carols of childlike exultation, and repeating the angelic welcome to the Prince of Peace, that by a terrible irony, the heavens around us are black with storm and danger: that great nations are involved in the horrible death-struggle of war; that day by day men are perishing by every form of carnage, and suffering every form of pain; and that by each other’s hands. We almost ask, in such a case, whether it is not mockery to think of gladness. Yet it is in place even then; and Christmas claims it from us. Those great gospel songs which heralded the Incarnation of the Son of God--the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Song of the angels--were themselves but the prelude to the life of the “Man of Sorrows.” They are followed immediately by Rachel weeping for her children at Bethlehem, and the flight from the sword of Herod. But yet in those dreadful days on earth, of blood and pain and triumphant iniquity, there was peace in heaven and the joy of the angels; for amid the cloud and storm of the conflict which men could not see through, the angels knew who was conquering. He is conquering, and to conquer still. All falsehood, cruelty, selfishness, oppression, and tyranny, are to fall before Him. Amid the darkness of our life, the hope of man is still on Him, as fixed and sure as ever it was. He will not disappoint man of his hope. (Dean Church.)

The message of the shepherds

I. How SURE IS GOD’S WORD!

II. How WONDERFUL ARE GOD’S WAYS!

III. How GLORIOUS IS GOD’S SALVATION! (W. S. Bruce, M. A.)

The two advents

I. THE FIRST COMING WAS IN WEAKNESS, the glory hidden; the second will be in power, the glory revealed.

II. THE FIRST CONING WAS INTRODUCTIVE TO AN EXPERIENCE OF LABOUR AND SUFFERING the second will be the inauguration of coronation and triumph.

III. IN FIRST COMING CHRIST MADE SALVATION POSSIBLE in second He will prove how His work has sped.

IV. IN FIRST COMING HE INVITED MEN TO RECONCILIATION AND PEACE in second He shall descend to bless the believing, but judge the impenitent. Lessons: As we are sure concerning the record of the first advent, let us also be as to the prediction of the second. Have we used the first so as to be prepared for this? (G. McMichael, B. A.)

Unto us a child is born

I. 1. Consider the revelation thus delivered by the angel--“Unto you is born a Saviour.” Jesus is horn a Saviour; we do not make Him a Saviour; we have to accept Him as such. Neither does salvation come from us or by us, but it is born to us.

2. Consider the outward sign by which the Saviour was to be known--“A babe lying in a manger!” Children are the saviours of society: the human race renewing itself perpetually in the freshness and innocence of childhood is prevented from becoming utterly corrupt. This is just the lesson the world needed. Philosophy, art, law, force, all had tried to raise mankind out of sin, and all had failed. In the fulness of time “unto us a Child is born,” and in the weakness of that Childhood, the human race is renewed, its flesh comes again “as the flesh of a little child.”

II. 1. What a message from heaven to a world weary of life and sick with sin--“Unto you is born a Saviour!”

2. What a message to those who are trusting in the pride of intellect, or in the pride of wealth, or in the pride of earthly position, or in the pride of character--“This shall be the sign: a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!” The signs which betoken the presence of the Eternal are not always such as commend themselves to men’s reasoning, for we are living among shadows which are not realities, although we mistake them for such. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

The nature of Christ’s salvation

He is not a temporal Saviour: He is not a Saviour from mere temporal calamity; He is not a Saviour such as the saviours among the Jews were, who had emancipated them from their civil foes; but He is a Saviour from spiritual evils. He saves us from spiritual darkness by His Word; from the pollution and power of sin, by His merit and grace; from the bondage of Satan, by His energy; from hell, by becoming a curse for us, that we may attain eternal life. His salvation extends to the soul as well as the body; to eternity as well as to time. (Dr. Beaumont.)

Universality of the gospel offer

In the further prosecution of this discourse, we shall first say a few words on the principle of the gospel message--good-will: Secondly, on the object of the gospel message--men--it is a message of good-will to men: And, Thirdly, on the application of the gospel message to the men who now hear us.

I. When we say that God is actuated by a principle of good-will to you, it sounds in your ears a very simple proposition. There is a barrier in these evil hearts of unbelief, against the admission of a filial confidence in God. We see no mildness in the aspect of the Deity. Our guilty fears suggest the apprehension of a stern and vindictive character. It is not in the power of argument to do away this impression. We know that they will not be made to see God, in that aspect of graciousness which belongs to Him, till the power of a special revelation be made to rest upon them--till God Himself, who created light out of darkness, shine in their hearts. But knowing also that He makes use of the Word as His instrument, it is our part to lay the assurances of that Word, in all their truth and in all their tenderness, before you.

II. We now proceed, in the second place, to the object of the gospel message--men--a message of good-will to men. The announcement which was heard from the canopy of heaven was not good-will to certain men to the exclusion of others. It is not an offer made to some, and kept back from the rest of the species. It is generally to man. We know well the scruples of the disconsolate; and with what success a perverse melancholy can devise and multiply its arguments for despair. But we will admit of none of them. We look at our text, and find that it recognizes no outcast. Tell us not of the malignity of your disease--it is the disease of a man. Tell us not of your being so grievous an offender that you are the very chief of them. Still you are a man. The offer of God’s good-will is through Christ Jesus unto all and upon all them that believe. We want to whisper peace to your souls; but you refuse the voice of the charmer, let him charm never so wisely. And here the question occurs to us--how does the declaration of God’s good-will in the text consist with the entire and everlasting destruction of so many of the species? In point of fact, all men are not saved. We hold out a gift to two people, which one of them may take and the other may refuse. The good-will in me which prompted the offer was the same in reference to both. God in this sense willeth that all men shall be saved. There is no limitation with Him; and be not you limited by your own narrow and fearful and superstitious conceptions of Him.

III. But this leads us, in the last place, to press home the lesson of the text on you who are now sitting and listening around us. God, in the act of ushering the gospel into the world, declares good-will to man. He declares it therefore to you. Now, you are liable to the same fears with these shepherds. You are guilty; and to you belong all the weakness and all the timidity of guilt. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Christ the Saviour

At the very utterance of the name Saviour, every heart exults with a delight otherwise unknown. To the generous breast, no other object is so beautiful, no other sound so welcome. Never do we shed such rapturous tears, or feel so passionate a joy, as when we witness the heroism and the self-devotion of some act of magnanimous deliverance. Power softens into loveliness, when thus exerted. Danger and toil, encountered in such a cause, impart a stern, yet irresistible attraction. It is thus we think of the patriot, bleeding for the freedom of his country; of the philanthropist, regardless of his own security amidst pestilence, and darkness, and the ministers of death, that he may release the wretched captive, and break the yoke of the oppressor; of the advocate, defending the house of the widow or the heritage of the orphan, and turning into mockery the venality of accusation, and the menaces of vengeance; of the statesman, who stands forth single-handed, but with a dauntless heart, to turn back the flood of tyranny or faction, when threatening to engulf in common ruin the welfare of his people and the safety of mankind; and of the pilot, adventurously urging his way through the pitiless and maddening surge, that he may snatch some solitary victim from the horrors of shipwreck, and bear him, naked and shivering, to the shore. What, then, shall be the glory of Him who plunged, with all the consciousness of unsheltered peril, into the very depths of misery, to rescue the perishing soul! Or what shall be the measure, either of our admiration or our gratitude, when we celebrate, beholding its last triumphs, the emancipation of a world! Advocate, Friend, Brother, these are beloved names; and, like a grateful odour, they give life to the drooping spirit; but if the name of Saviour be more endearing than them all, then what is that ravishment of love with which the rescued sinner shall hail at length the blessed name of Jesus! (S. McAll.)

The Saviour’s love

Like the sunshine that falls with magical flicker on pearl and ruby, lance and armour, in the royal hall, yet overflows the shepherd’s home, and quivers through the grating of the prisoner’s cell; pours glory over the mountain-range; flames in playful splendour on the wave; floods the noblest scenes with day, yet makes joy for the insect; comes down to the worm, and has a loving glance for the life that stirs in the fringes of the wayside grass; silvers the moss of the marsh and the scum of the pool; glistens in the thistle-down; lines the shell with crimson fire, and fills the little flower with light; travels millions and millions of miles, past stars, past constellations, and all the dread magnificence of heaven, on purpose to visit the sickly weed, to kiss into vividness the sleeping blooms of spring, and to touch the tiniest thing with the gladness that makes it great: so does the Saviour’s love, not deterred by our unworthiness, not offended by our slights, come down to teach and bless the meanest and the lowliest life in the new creation. He restores the bruised reed; the weakest natures share His visits, and revive beneath His smile. (Charles Stanford, D. D.)

The great announcement

I. A Saviour is BORN.

II. A SAVIOUR is born.

III. A Saviour is born unto you.

IV. THIS DAY. (Van. Doren.)

A Saviour from spiritual ruin

I know not how, but when we hear of saving, or mention of a Saviour, presently our mind is carried to the saving of our skin, of our temporal state, of our bodily life; further saving we think not of. But there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction there more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were reminded of it. Besides our skin and flesh, a soul we have, and it is our better part by far, that also hath need of a Saviour; that hath her destruction out of which, that hath her destroyer from which she would be saved, and those would be thought on. Indeed, our chief thought and care would be for that; how to escape the wrath, how to be saved from the destruction to come, whither our sins will certainly carry us. Sin will destroy us all. And to speak of a Saviour, there is no person on earth has so much need of a Saviour as has a sinner. Nothing so dangerous, so deadly unto us, as is the sin in our bosom; nothing from which we have so much need to be saved, whatsoever account we make of it. From it comes upon us all the evil of this life, and of the life to come, in comparison whereof these here are not worth speaking of. Above all, then, we need a Saviour for our souls, and from our sins, and from the everlasting destruction which sin will bring upon us in the other life not far from us. Then if it be good tidings to hear of a Saviour, where it is but a matter of the loss of earth, or of this life here; how then, when it comes to the loss of heaven, to the danger of hell, when our soul is at stake, and the well-doing or un-doing of it for ever? Is not such a Saviour worth hearkening after? (Bp. Lancelot Andrews.)

Christ the Saviour of men

What does that word Christ mean, and what does it teach us? To the Jew of that day, and even to the Pagan, there could have been no doubt as to the meaning of this word Christ, the Christos, the Anointed, one representing to him some person who had been publicly set apart to some great office among men. Anointing was that act by which, especially among the Jews, a man was set apart to some Divinely appointed office among the people; the prophet who was to speak to the people from God, the priest who was to minister to the people in holy things for God, the king who was to rule in God’s glory over God’s own people, were solemnly set apart by anointing to their office. What they would have called anointing we now call consecration--the publicly and divinely ordered sanctioning and setting apart of a man for an office in which he is to minister unto men and for God. This is anointing, and more than this, it implies that with the appointment and consecration came a power and a grace to fit a man for the office he received. When our Lord, then, is called the Anointed One, the Christ, it means that He is the One of all humanity, who is divinely consecrated and set apart to noble office and high service, and whose whole life and being is filled with the Divine light necessary for doing the work of that office--the Anointed, consecrated One, in whom all consecration and Divine unction centres for the performance of all offices. And every one of these offices, observe, was in the service of mankind. The prophetic office was His, and He claims it as His own when He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He hath anointed Me”--what for? “to preach the gospel to the poor.” The prophet’s office was an office to serve mankind as their teacher, their guide, and their counsellor. The priestly office was His, and for what? That He might offer Himself as a Lamb without spot or blemish to God, and, having entered by a new and living way with His own blood, should live for intercession and sacrifice, coming forth with blessings for God’s people. God made Him king over them, and gave Him heaven for an inheritance--for what? That He might rule them in righteousness and peace. Prophet, Priest, King: in each one of these He was the servant of mankind, and so He says of Himself, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” King of kings and Lord of lords He is, but Servant of servants to His brethren, and the lordship and the kingdom that He won was won by faith and suffering, won by faithful service, and He served that He might reign, and through it all He was sustained by the in dwelling power of the Spirit of God, who gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him. This is the idea of the Christ, the consecrated One. It means One whose whole life on earth, whose whole life ever since He has left this earth, was devoted, is devoted, to the service of mankind. (Bishop W. C. Magee.)

A consecrated life

Not so long ago the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands were sorely smitten and plagued by leprosy. They resolved at last to gather all the lepers from the islands round about, all tainted with the slightest symptoms of leprosy, and banish them to one island, where they should dwell and perish slowly, while the rest of their fellow citizens were saved from the plague--and they did so. And this band of pilgrims, on a pilgrimage of death, were gathered on the shore of one of these islands, about to depart by a ship which would carry them away for life, and standing on the shore was a priest, a Roman Catholic priest, and he saw this multitude going away without a shepherd to care for their souls, and he said, “Take me, let me go amongst them; I will dwell amongst these lepers, and will give them the ministrations of religion which otherwise they would be without.” He went, and for some time his courage sustained, and his ministrations blessed that people amongst whom he had cast his lot for life, for he might never leave that place; and then we hear in a letter, written by himself calmly and cheerfully, how that the disease has at last assailed himself, and that his hours of labour are numbered, and before him lies the death of slow and hideous decay to which he had doomed himself that he might save others. In that man was the heart of the priest; in that man was to be seen a manifestation of the Spirit of Christ, the Anointed One; full surely on that soul rested the Divine unction that strengthens and blesses men for noble deeds of sacrifice; and there is not one of us who, in our boasted Protestantism, might be disposed to look down upon “the benighted priest,” there is not one of us who might not say, “Let my soul be with his soul in the day when men will have to give an account before the judgment seat of God.” (Bishop W. C. Magee.)

The good news is for each and all

It is very pleasant to hear good tidings for all the rest of the world; but it is pleasanter to know that we have a personal share in the benefits of which those tidings tell. There may be safety to others who are endangered, and not to us. The lifeboat may come and go, and we be left on the wreck. Bread may be distributed to the hungry, and we fail of a share which shall keep as from starving. The physician may bring health to many, and pass us by unnoticed. All of our condemned fellows might be pardoned, and we have no release. Unless the good tidings are to us also, we cannot welcome them with boundless joy, however glad we are that there is help for others. The writer found himself, in the fortunes of war, a prisoner in the Libby, at Richmond. One evening, as the prisoners lay down to sleep, the story was whispered among them that a flag-of-truce boat had come up the river, and that some one of their number was to be released the next day. That was glad tidings for all. But the question in every prisoner’s mind was, “Am I to be released?” There were many dreams of home that night on that prison floor. In the early morning, after roll-call, there was breathless expectancy for the name of the favoured prisoner. It was the name of Chaplain Trumbull. Those glad tidings had a meaning for him they could not have for any of his companions. To him there came that day the message of deliverance from bondage, and he passed out from the prison-house thanking God that the message was to him. “Unto you” is a Saviour born. Whoever you are, whatever are your sins there is salvation for you. (H. C. Trumbull.)

Joy in the Saviour fully received

He is the most joyful man who is the most Christly man. I wish that some Christians were more truly Christians: they are Christians and something else; it were much better if they were altogether Christians. Perhaps you know the legend, or perhaps true history of the awakening of St. Augustine. He dreamed that he died, and went to the gates of heaven, and the keeper of the gates said to him, “Who are you?” And he answered, “Christianus sum,” I am a Christian. But the porter replied, “No, you are not a Christian, you are a Ciceronian, for your thoughts and studies were most of all directed to the works of Cicero and the classics, and you neglected the teaching of Jesus. We judge men here by that which most engrossed their thoughts, and you are judged not to be a Christian but a Ciceronian.” When Augustine awoke, he put aside the classics which he had studied, and the eloquence at which he had aimed, and he said, “I will be a Christian and a theologian;” and from that time he devoted his thoughts to the Word of God, and his pen and his tongue to the instruction of others in the truth. Oh I would not have it said of any of you, “Well, he may be somewhat Christian, but he is far more a keen money-getting tradesman.” I would not have it said, “Well, he may be a believer in Christ, but he is a good deal more a politician.” Perhaps he is a Christian, but he is most at home when he is talking about science, farming, engineering, horses, mining, navigation, or pleasure-taking. No, no, you will never know the fulness of the joy which Jesus brings to the soul, unless under the power of the Holy Spirit you take the Lord your Master to be your All in all, and make Him the fountain of your intensest delight. “He is my Saviour, my Christ, my Lord,” be this your loudest boast. Then will you know the joy which the angel’s song predicts for men. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The lesson of Christmas

In the light of the Son of God becoming flesh, we dare not degrade or defile ourselves. We see how base an apostasy it is to abnegate the Divine prerogative of our being. The birth of Christ becomes to us the pledge of immortality, the inspiration of glad, unerring, life-long duty to ourselves. And no less does it bring home to us the new commandment of love to our brethren. It becomes the main reason why we should love one another. If men were indeed what Satan makes them, and makes us try to believe that they solely are--hopelessly degraded, unimaginably vile; if human life be nothing at the best but the shadow of a passing and miserable dream, I know not how we could love one another. We could only turn with loathing from all the vice and blight, the moral corruption, the manifold baseness of vile, lying, degraded lives. How is all transfigured, how is the poorest wretch earth ever bore transfigured, when we remember that for these Christ became man, for these He died I Shall we, ourselves so weak, so imperfect, so stained with evil, shall we dare to despise these whom Christ so loved that for them--yea, for those blind and impotent men, these publicans and sinners, these ragged prodigals of humanity still voluntarily lingering among the husks and swine--for these, even for these, He, so pure, so perfect, took our nature upon Him, and went, step by step, down all that infinite descent? Despise them? Ah! the revealing light of the God-man shows too much darkness in ourselves to leave any possibility for pride. If we have learnt the lesson of Christmas, the lesson of Bethlehem, let us live to counteract the works of the devil; let it be the one aim of our lives to love and not to hate; to help, not to hinder; to succour them that are tempted, not to add to and multiply their temptations; to make men better, not worse; to make life a little happier, not more deeply miserable; to speak kindly words, not words that may do hurt; to console and to encourage, not to blister and envenom with slanderous lies; to live for others, not for ourselves; to look each of us not on his own things, but on the things of others; to think noble thoughts of man as well as of God; to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

A Saviour

The Esquimaux have no word in their language to represent the Saviour, and I could never find out that they had any direct notion of such a Friend. But I said to them, “Does it not happen sometimes when you are out fishing that a storm arises, and some of you are lost and some saved?” They said, “Oh yes, very often.” “But it also happens that you are in the water, and owe your safety to some brother or friend who stretches out his hand to help you.” “Very frequently.” “Then what do you call that friend?” They gave me in answer a word in their language, and I immediately wrote it against the word Saviour in Holy Writ, and ever afterwards it was clear and intelligible to all of them. (Colemeister.)

Christmas day explains two dispensations

Those who have travelled in mountainous countries know how the highest crest of the mountain range is always known by seeing from that point, and that point only, the streams dividing on either side. Even so it is with the event of this day. The whole, or nearly the whole, history of the ancient world, and specially of the Israelite people, leads us up to it as certainly on the one side, as the whole history of later times, especially of the Christian world, leads us up to it from the other side: Other events there are which explain particular portions of history; other birthdays can be pointed out; other characters have arisen which contain within themselves the seed of much that was to follow. There is none which professes like this to command both views at once, and thus, even if we knew no more concerning it, we should feel that a life and character which so explains two dispensations comes to us with a double authority. Either would be enough to constitute a claim to our reverence; both together make a claim almost irresistible. (Dean Stanley.)

Christ born in the city of David

A poor casket to contain so great a Jewel. “Thou Bethlehem,” says the Prophet Micah, “the least among the princes of Judah;” yet big enough to contain the Prince of heaven and earth. Little Zoar, says Lot, and yet Zoar was big enough to receive him and his children safe out of the fire of Sodom. Mean Bethlehem, unless the angel had spoke it, the prophet foretold it, and the star had showed it to the wise men, who would not have gainsaid that the Saviour of all men could be laid in such a village? The Roman historian made a marvel that so noble an emperor as Alexander Severus was, could come out of Syria, Syrus Archisynagogus, as they called him in scorn. Behold that emperor’s Lord, comes not only out of Syria, but out of the homeliest corner in Syria, out of the despicable tributary city of David. (Bishop Hacker.)

A Saviour

But that the name may not be an empty sound to us as it was to them, consider these three things.

1. With what honour it was imposed.

2. What excellency it includes.

3. What reverence it deserves. (Bishop Hacker.)

His words, His actions, His miracles, His prayers, His sacraments, His sufferings, all did smell of the Saviour. Take Him from His infancy to His death, among His disciples and among the publicans, among the Jews, or among the Gentiles, He was all Saviour. (Bishop Hacker.)

The sun enlightens half the world at once, yet none discern colours by the light but they that open their eyes; and a Saviour is born unto us all, which is Christ the Lord: but enclasp Him in thine heart as old Simeon did in his arms, and then thou mayest sing his “Nune Dimittis,” or Mary’s “Magnificat,” “My spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour. (Bishop Hacker.)

Christ’s birth city

The Athenians were proud of Pompey’s love, that he would write his name a citizen of their city. For a princely person to accept a freedom in a mean corporation is no little kindness; how much more doth it aggravate the love of Christ to come from heaven, and be made a citizen of this vile earth, to be born after a more vile condition than the most abject of the people. (Bishop Hacker.)

The merit of Christ’s birth

For, as we say of the sin of Adam, the act passed away at the first, but the guilt remains upon his posterity: so our Saviour was born upon one particular day which is passed, but the merit and virtue of it is never passed, but abides for ever. (Bishop Hacker.)

1. Then with reverend lips and circumcised ears let us begin with the joyful tidings of a Saviour.

2. Here’s our participation of Him in His nature, natus, He is born, and made like unto us.

3. It is honourable to be made like us, but it is beneficial to be made for us; “unto you is born a Saviour.”

4. Is not the use of His birth superannuated, the virtue of it long since expired? No, ‘tis fresh and new; as a man is most active when he begins first to run--He is born this day.

5. Is He not like the king in the Gospel who journeyed into a far country, extra orbem solisque vias, quite out of the way in another world? no--the circumstance of place points His dwelling to be near--He is “born in the city of David.

6. Perhaps to make Him man is to quite unmake Him; shall we find Him able to subdue our enemies, and save us, since He hath taken upon Him the condition of human fragility? Yes, the last words speak His excellency and power, for He is such a “Saviour as is Christ the Lord.” (Bishop Hacker.)

A Saviour

It comprehends all other names of grace and blessing; as manna is said to have all kind of supers in it to please the taste. When you have called Him the glass in which we see all truth, the fountain in which we taste all sweetness, the ark in which all precious things are laid up, the pearl which is worth all other riches, the flower of Jesse which hath the savour of life unto life, the bread that satisfieth all hunger, the medicine that healeth all sickness, the light that dispelleth all darkness; when you have run over all these, and as many more glorious titles as you can lay on, this one word is above them, and you may pick them all out of these syllables, “a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.” (Bishop Hacker.)

The nativity

Let us consider the message itself, the foundation of all our spiritual joy.

I. WHAT IS HE WHO IS BORN? He is “a Saviour,” a Deliverer. Good indeed are the tidings of a saviour. Delightful to one languishing On a bed of pain and sickness is He that comes with power and skill to heal and to restore. Most joyful to the wretch condemned to die for his crimes, is the sound of pardon.

II. WHAT ARE THE TITLES GIVEN TO THIS SAVIOUR?

1. He is “Christ.” As His name, Jesus, signifies a saviour, so Christ signifies the anointed. He is an anointed Saviour. Thus is He distinguished from all other saviours. The title “Christ” also teaches us His office.

2. He is “the Lord.” High and glorious name I He is Jehovah. He is “Lord” by right of creation, in His Divine and eternal nature. He is “Lord” by right of inheritance; man, as Mediator between God and man. He is more particularly our “Lord” by redemption. These names, then, “Christ, the Lord,” show Him, an all-sufficient Saviour; show Him, God and man united in one Person: as man to suffer, as God to redeem. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)


Verse 12

Luke 2:12

And this shall be a sign unto you.
--What the angels said to the shepherds was, “This shall be the sign unto you; ye shall find a babe,” a babe like any other, “wrapped in swaddling clothes,” differing from other babes only in the lowliness of His birth, “lying in a manger.” The absence of any adventitious source of interest, anything awe-inspiring in the circumstances of the birth of Christ, was no mere casual incident; it was eminently significant, characteristic of His life, a symbol of His sway. The identification of “signs” with “wonders” was the common error of the Jews. All Israel was expectant of the Messiah. The reason why they received Him not was that they could not recognize the Divine in the ordinary. A babe was born in Bethlehem: only by those who shared the mother’s prophetic insight was the mystery of God’s interposition seen in His birth. Angels sang of His advent; their song was mute save to the listening ear of a few shepherds. And this is the common error of us all. “He that receiveth a prophet,” says Christ, “in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward.” Yes, we respond, that is well; we all shall know a prophet when we see him. But Christ also says, “Whoso shall receive a little child in My name re-ceiveth Me.” He who is blind to the Christ in the little child may also fail to see the prophet when he comes. Such as Christ was manifested here, such did He ever continue. He would steal into the life of humanity as a babe twines round a mother’s heart. He would draw men to Him by the charm and sweetness of human sanctity; and to those who were thus attracted to Him and abode in His fellowship, there came at length the revelation that this was the Divine. The cross lay hidden in the manger of Bethlehem. He was already bearing the only cross a babe can bear, poverty and man’s contempt; sweetened by a mother’s care, the symbol of that affection of pious hearts which never failed Him throughout His vexed and troubled history; and hallowed by the Father’s approval of the well-beloved Son, in whom, now as ever, He was well pleased. The sacrificial purpose and saving energy of His life already appeared. “Though He was rich, yet for our sakes,” &c. The mother of Jesus and the adoring shepherds must have been struck by the contrast between the honour of His annunciation and the meanness of His birth; between the splendours of the angelic host, and the manger where He lay. Eighteen centuries of Christian history have taught us that herein is no contrast, but profound consistency. What honour could the world have rendered the Son of God which would not have more sharply contrasted with His character and mission than poverty and the world’s neglect? There is nothing in common between Christ and the luxury of wealth, the ostentation of a palace, the statecraft of a Court. The manger of Bethlehem is the sign of the Messiah; the lowly, self-accepted lot of Jesus is the seal of His divinity. Men soar, God stoops; ambition is human, condescension is Divine. When God reveals Himself for man’s salvation it can only be by sacrifice; and the more complete the sacrifice, the fuller is the revelation
. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The sign of Jesus Christ

What a wonderful contrast between this verse and that which follows! What greatness on the one side, what humility on the other! That humility is the sign of the greatness.

I. The sign of humility by which the entrance of Jesus into the world was announced, is found throughout the whole course of His history.

II. The same contrast is found in the institutions which Jesus has left to preserve in His Church the remembrance of His benefits.

III. There is, again, this same contrast of grandeur and humility to mark, with a Divine seal, the Church of Jesus Christ.

1. In its origin, composed of obscure persons from lowest ranks of a small unknown people.

2. As it exists to-day wherever the true Church is to be found.

IV. The same sign of humility will enable us to recognize the worship with which God is pleased.

V. The sign of humility which is constantly found in Christ, and in all that springs from Christ, must be found also among His disciples. (Horace Monod.)

Lessons of the holy manger

At the cradle of Christianity, we may observe something of the predestined form both of Christian doctrine and Christian life. In the bud we trace the probable shape and colour of the coming flower. When standing at the source of a river we can determine at least the general direction of its course. In the Sacred Infancy, too, we may discern, without risk of indulgence in over-fanciful analogies, a typical portraiture of the Christian creed, and a precious lesson for good Christian living. To the theologian and the practical Christian, the sign of the manger and of the swaddling clothes is at least as full of meaning now as it was of old to the shepherds of Bethlehem.

I. LOOK THEN AT THE CREED OF THE CHURCH. It has two sides, two aspects. It is one thing to sight, another to faith. To sight, it is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. To faith, it is revealed from heaven as supernatural and Divine.

II. Consider THE MORAL IMPORT OF THE MANGER-BED OF THE INFANT JESUS. The world-wide principle of spiritual death needed to be expelled by a stronger and not less universal principle. It demanded a regenerating force, resting not on theory but on fact, a principle human in its form and action, but Divine in its strength and origin. Such a privilege we find in the Babe, wrapped, &c. This was indeed the Divine Word, engrafted on human nature, and able to save the souls of men. The Incarnation was the source of a moral revolution. By saving man it was destined to save human society. It confronted sensuality by endurance and mortification. It confronted covetousness by putting honour upon poverty. It taught men that a man’s highest life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth. But its great lesson was a lesson of humility. In the humiliation of the Highest, the nations read the truth which the incarnate Lord taught in words:--“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” For us men humility is the law of progress, because it is the admission of truth. At Christ’s manger may we learn the blessed temper which makes faith, repentance, perseverance, easy, and to which are promised the crowns of glory, worn by the blessed around His throne. (Canon Liddon.)

The babe: A Christmastide meditation

The Incarnation was the great event in the world’s history. Nothing can rival in interest to us the coming of God in our mortal flesh; the shadowing of Deity in a human form, so that we might see Him; the manifestation of Deity in a saving love, so that we might be drawn to Him; the shinings in our humanity of a Divine purity; which should at once reveal to us our sins; and deliver us from their power.

I. OUR SAVIOUR WAS A REAL MAN. All are alike at birth--babes. Christ came as we came. He passed through the entire experience of human life, starting from the cradle, right up to and beyond the tomb.

II. OUR SAVIOUR WAS SIMPLY A MAN. “Ye shall find the babe”: just a babe, no more. No accident of birth limited Jesus to any part of the community; there were none of those things about Him on which men pride themselves. He belongs to all, however humble, obscure, poor, simple, needy.

III. HE WAS A LOVING MAN. A babe is the emblem of the mightiest thing on earth--love--the sunshine of the Divine radience.

IV. He was, for the most part, A REJECTED MAN. There never seemed to be any room for Him, from His birth onwards.

V. HE IS ALL IN ALL TO THOSE WHO RECEIVE HIM.

1. To find this Babe will be the beginning of truest peace to our own hearts.

2. To find this Babe will be the beginning for us of a better, nobler life.

3. To find this Babe will give to us the true spirit of brotherhood and charity. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

The sign of the manger

Let us think what is the connection here. A sign--a signal: how so? In what sense did the mode and circumstance of the birth make it typical of the thing which Christ comes to do? What is that thing which Christ comes to do? He has come to be the God-man, the Redeemer, the Emmanuel, and the Saviour--the God for us, and God with us, and God in us--of the fallen, the sinful, the erring and straying man. Now, to be this, He must first incorporate Himself with men, take the flesh and blood, the nature and body and spirit of the race which He comes to save. He must first of all incorporate Himself--not with a man, or a few men, but with humanity--with man as man, and not with certain privileged specimens and choice individuals of the race. He has come to undo the fall. He has come to bear the sins, to wipe away the tears, to take the sting out of the death of the Adam race as a whole; therefore He must not only take flesh and blood--become one of us and live our very life: that is not enough. He must go down to the very rock from which we are hewn, and He must put on our nature--not in its ornamental but in its bare form--not as it may deck itself in the embellishment of rank or wealth, of social distinction or philosophical culture, but as it is in itself and in the commonest experiences of its humblest children. If the Divine Saviour had appeared in any other form than this, He would have misled men as to the thing which He came to do, and as to the relation in which He desired to stand as to the lower and the lowest portions of the human family. The sign of the helpless babe and the manger cradle was no capricious or accidental idea; for, inasmuch as it is Christ the Lord, therefore ye shall find Him not in the miraculous strength of an instantaneous maturity, and not in the guest-chambers of a king’s palace, but as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. There was a connection and a congruity between the sign and the reality; for thus it was that Christ became, not the faith of a few, but the Saviour of all. None are poorer, none are humbler, none are less learned, none are less noble after the flesh, than He. None can say now, “His is the religion of the educated--of the philosophical--of kings and princes--His is the religion which admits or which favours a position of comfort or respectability, and I am none of these, so Christ is not for me.” And when, at this Christmas season, wealth surrounds itself with all its luxuries of mind and body, and thinks it much if, for a moment and in the most perfunctory way, it remembers the poor, we feel how slight must be the hold of these self-indulgers upon the faith which they profess to honour. If we would know the mystery of Christmas; if we would read the riddle of the angel; if we would know why he said, “The Saviour is born, and the sign is the manger,” we should turn our steps to some poor man’s chamber with its highbacked chair and its open Bible. We shall hear that man say, “Oh, I love both to be abased and to abound. I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, for Christ the Lord was born this day for our salvation, and His first earthly resting place was a yard and a manger.” (Dean Vaughan.)

Divine things veiled under earthly forms

This shall be your sign: not the march of a conqueror, not the splendour of a king, but the Babe wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger! Wherever God is, the presence is secret. What, for example, is the Book of God--the Bible--but an example of this sanctity in commonness: a heap of leaves, marked with ink and hand, stamped with signs for sounds, multiplied by printing-press and steam-engine, conveyed hither and thither by railways, bought and sold in shops, tossed from hand to hand in schools and homes, lost and dissipated by vulgar wear and tear? But go back to its composition. What was the Bible as it came forth originally, book by book, and chapter by chapter, from the mind which thought, and from the hand which wrote it? Was it not written, after all, both in composition and in dictation, like any other work of poetry or philosophy, of history or fiction--by the brain and nerve power of common-human beings? Was it not given forth line by line from the lips of a Paul sitting at the tent-making, or some other evangelist alternating between preaching and handicraft--by the utterance of sounds in an imperfect human language to some obscure Persis or other amanuensis reporting? Yet in that Book of books, thus material, thus earthly, thus human in its circumstances, there lies concealed the very breath and spirit of God Himself, mighty to stir hearts, and mighty to regenerate souls. The swathing bands of sense and time enclose the living and moving power which is of eternity, which is Divine. Nay, the sign of the true Deity is the fact that the form is human. Take another example of this from another of God’s instruments of communication. What is that vessel for holding common water, which is the appendage of every Christian place of worship? Is there anything in that laver--that font--but what is of the earth, and of the very commonest of all earth’s gifts for refreshing and purifying? “What can be the use,” some might inquire, “of bringing that earthly water into the House of God’s worship, as though we had forgotten our Master’s own words, ‘God is a Spirit’? What significance can there be--certainly what virtue--in sprinkling those few drops of common water upon the forehead of a child, with or without a particular form of sacred words accompanying? What, again, can be less intelligible than that sight of that little frugal table of common bread and common wine, standing there in front of the congregation? How can eating and drinking in God’s house affect, in any degree, for good the soul of the worshipper?” We can but answer that Christ our Master commanded the one sacrament as the appointed way of dedicating a new life to His service, and that He appointed the other sacrament as commemorative of His own death and passion--as instrumental, also, in nourishing the soul that in it feeds upon Him by faith. And though it would be presumptuous, indeed, to attach any value to a form of man’s invention, we feel that the presumption would be all the other way if we neglected an ordinance of Jesus Christ, because it was either too mysterious for us, or too carnal. Nay, we can almost read in the very simplicity a signal of His working, who, when He came on earth came as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and made it a sign of His presence that He was lying in a manger. But the same thing which is true of the Bible and of the sacraments, is true also of the Church and of the Christian. Where is it, we ask, that God in Christ dwells most certainly, most personally, on this earth? It is no word of man’s invention which answers, to the Church--“Ye, collectively, are the temple of God,” and, to the Christian “your body is the shrine of the Holy Ghost, which is in you.” Yet if we look at the men and the women and the children thus spoken to, we see nothing but human beings, frail and fallen, occupied for a large part of their life in the employments and the relaxations, in the talk and in the seeking, which are common alike to the righteous and the wicked, and which would equally be theirs if they had neither faith nor heaven. The treasure of the Divine light is always held in earthen vessels; not until the pitcher is broken at the fountain shall the full radiance shine out so as to be read of all men. Meanwhile the sign of God is the commonness. Christ came not to take men out of the world, but to consecrate and keep them in it. Coming to redeem earth, He takes earth as it is: not the ideal, but the real; and makes this the very token of His being amongst us--that we find a helpless babe and a manger cradle. (Dean Vaughan.)

The practice of swathing infants

When the Gospels were translated in our venerable version, it did not occur to any of the translators that the word “swaddling clothes” would ever be an obsolete word, needing to be illustrated by a description of ancient or foreign customs. And yet so it is at this day. The usage which is alluded to in this word is to us entirely strange. Few things among the old world customs, I venture to say, strike some of us as more outlandish--more pitiable even--more entirely removed from our notions of good care and right training--than the swaddling of little helpless babies, as it is practised, for instance, in Germany. I do not believe an American mother can generally pass one of those poor little Wickelkinder, strapped down on its back to a pillow by spiral after spiral of convoluted bandages, without longing to apply the scissors and let the little prisoner go free. And yet it is only a few generations since this way of treating new-born children prevailed, with variations and aggravations, in all nations, even the most civilized. We owe our own emancipation, in this land and century, from this and other artificial traditions, to no other single influence so much as to a remarkable book published in the middle of the last century by a citizen of Geneva--the “Emile” of Jean Jacques Rousseau. It speaks thus of the universally prevalent treatment of an infant child as it had continued to his day: “Scarcely does the child begin to enjoy the liberty of moving and stretching its limbs, when it is placed anew in confinement. It is wound in swaddling clothes, and laid down with its head fixed, its legs extended, its arms at its sides. It is surrounded with clothes and bandages of all sorts that prevent it from changing its position. It is a good thing if they do not even draw the bands so tight as to hinder respiration, and if they have the foresight to lay it on its side to avoid the danger of strangulation … The inaction and constraint in which the child’s limbs are confined must necessarily disturb the circulation, hinder the child from gaining strength, and affect its constitution … Is it possible that such cruel constraint can fail to affect the character of the child, as well as its physical temperament? Its first conscious feeling is a feeling of pain and suffering. It finds nothing but hindrances to the motions which it craves. More wretched than a criminal in irons, it frets and cries. The first gifts it receives are fetters; the first treatment it experiences is torture.” Such was the practice of a hundred years ago in the highest families of the most civilized country in the world. In many lands, partly owing to this very protest, the practice is better now. But in the slow-going East the common practice of the nursery is no better, and it is probably no worse than it was nineteen hundred years ago. But it is worse than anything we ever see or hear of ill this part of the world. In fact, it comes nearer to the binding of an Indian papoose to a board, than to anything that we are accustomed to see in the families of Christendom. Once wound around with these swathing-bands, sometimes with an addition of fresh earth against the skin, and packed in their cradles like a little mummy in its coffin, the poor little babies are expected to stay there, all cries and complaints notwithstanding; they are not removed by their mothers even for such necessary occasions as to be fed. I have heard pitiful stories told by missionaries’ wives, and by missionary physicians, in the East, of the sufferings of little infants in consequence of the obstinate persistence of parents in a usage which we clearly see to be so unreasonable and unnatural. (Leonard W. Bacon.)

The sign of the swaddling clothes

Is it not strange, you will ask, that when the shepherds were given a sign by which they should know their new-born Saviour, they should be told, not of something distinguishing Him from all children beside, but of something common to all the infants that were born that night in all Judea? “Ye shall find wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Why not say, according to the instincts of heathen mythology, Ye shall know Him by the bees that gather to suck the honey of His lips, or the strangled serpents that lie about His cradle? Why not say, according to the suggestions of Christian legend and art, Ye shall know Him by the aspect of supernatural majesty, which it shall be the dream and the disappointment of all the world’s artists to attempt to portray? Or, Ye shall know Him by tile halo of celestial light beaming from His brow, as in the “Holy Night” of Correggio, and filling the rude stall with an unearthly brightness? Or, Ye shall know Him by some accessories worthy of so royal a birth, by gifts of gold and myrrh and frankincense that strew the humble shed? The very question brings its answer: You are to know Him from all these natural dreams of a fond imagination, from the hopeful prognostications of Hebrew mothers, or the impatient fancies of fanatics, or the artful fictions of impostors taking advantage of the general expectation with which the very atmosphere of Palestine was saturated, to set forth some feigned Messiah--you are to know Him from all these by the fact that He is just the opposite of all such imaginings--that He is to all appearance just a helpless human infant, the most helpless thing in the whole creation, bound and bandaged in swaddling clothes. And if you would know how to distinguish Him from other such, it is not by His grandeur but by His poverty. There is no room in the inn for such as He; and they have laid Him in the manger, among the cattle The sign given to the shepherds is a sign also to us--that we find the Holy Child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Illustrious men have sometimes had an honest pride in inscribing upon their escutchon, beneath a noble crest, the symbol of the humble mechanic rank in which they had their origin. So the Church of Christ, beneath the diadem of supreme royalty, quarters upon its shield, beside the cross and the thongs, the manger and the swaddling bands, and invites the world to read the blazon. That family group which the painters of every later age have been essaying to depict--the carpenter with his simple, uninquisitive faith obedient to heavenly visions, the pure Virgin with her unskilled maiden tenderness pondering strange memories in her heart, both leaning over the Wonderful, but understanding not the saying which He speaks to them--these speak over again to us the language of that prophet who first called his child “Immanuel,” “Behold we and the Child whom the Lord hath given us are for signs and for wonders from the Lord of hosts.” (Leonard W. Bacon.)

Naturalness of the truly great

To illustrate the use of such a sign as was given to the shepherds, let me suppose some traveller accustomed to the splendour and reserve of royal courts visiting the city of Washington, and asking, on his way to the White House, how he should find the President. We should tell him, “You may know him by this sign. He is a plain man, plainly dressed in a black suit, and you will find him in the centre of the thickest crowd, and everybody coming up to shako hands with him. First, he is not distinguished in the way you expect him to be; and, secondly, he is unmistakably distinguished in just the opposite way.” But for some such “sign” as this our traveller might naturally mistake for the President some attache of a South American Embassy standing apart in a halo of dignity and a light blaze of gold lace. This “wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger” was just the sign the shepherds needed. And we do well if, looking for the Christ, we take heed to it ourselves. We are not yet safe from the error of them of old time, who thought to find the Lord clothed in soft raiment and dwelling in king’s palaces. (Leonard W. Bacon.)

Christ’s humility

In His nativity, and in His temptation (Mark 1:13), Christ was among beasts. Believers, ambitious of high place, forget their Master’s cradle. A manger is here honoured above a thousand glittering thrones. It is an ornament of His royalty, a throne of His glory.

He comes in humility; He reigns in humility; He leads by humility. The manger and the cross are stumbling-blocks to many. His infancy and death are still rocks, wrecking human pride. (Van Doren.)

The sign of the Incarnation

Christmas is full of surprises. It brings in, as no other event ever did, the element of mystery, of wonder. Its testimony is, God became manifest in the flesh. The Eternal Word was joined with a perfect human nature. The miracle of the Incarnation transcends every other that has been and will be wrought. It is in itself a wonder so great that all the accompaniments of the birth of Jesus sink into comparative insignificance. We are, I fear, inclined to forget the majesty of the fact in the strangeness of its surroundings. We count it a wonderful thing that He should have been born in the stable of a country inn, whereas the real wonder is that such a birth should take place anywhere, and so I ask you to contemplate one of the signs by which the shepherds of Bethlehem were to find and know the incarnate God--“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

I. It reminds us, by way of analogy, of a fact which constitutes the most trying element in the mystery of the Incarnation, namely, that GOD THEREBY CAME WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITATIONS. HOW an uncreated and omnipresent, that is, a boundless, Infinite Being could be contracted within the circumference of a human life is the most puzzling problem of revelation. The impossibility of our understanding this is a temptation, not perhaps to deny, but to forget the deeper meaning of the Christmas feast. Remember, then, that within these swathing bands which encircled the infant form of Jesus there was bound the nature of a Being more than human, even God Himself. Men may call this an unreasonable tax upon our faith. It is rather a sign of God’s condescension to human weakness. The whole secret of the history of idolatry among the Jews and the Gentiles was a longing for some visible manifestation of Him whom they felt they must worship. Man instinctively longs for some incarnate form, some Word of his Maker manifest in the flesh, some finite manifestation of the Infinite Father. And the birth of Jesus, the enshrining of God within a human form, the swathing of that power, which otherwise knows no bounds, was but an answer to man’s desire.

II. The sign holds good, not only of the nature of Christ, but likewise of THE LIFE WHICH, FROM FIRST TO LAST, HE LIVED. That also was like every purely human life, hemmed in. It unfolded according to the ordinary laws of growth. His babyhood was as real as His manhood. He increased in wisdom as well as stature. He learned gradually the wisdom which all the world now confesses. The common idea which people have of Jesus is that, being Divine, He was exempt from the ordinary conditions of common men; that He never knew constraint; that there were no barriers opposing Him, no bands fettering the free exercise of that Divine power which lay hidden within Him. Yet duty was sometimes hard for Him. He longed to do things which He might not attempt, because the higher and more spiritual dictates of His conscience forbade it. The kingdoms of this world and their glory looked as fair and tempting to His soul as they do to ours. But the law of righteousness, the swathing-bands of duty, the rules of obedience which God throws around us, likewise constrained Him.

III. The manner of the Incarnation shows GOD’S ESTIMATE OF HUMAN NATURE. If you are ever tempted to despise human nature because you see it now and then wearing disagreeable phases, or to think ill of, nay, to slight, your friends, remember God’s estimate of them. He does not thus stoop and toil to save the worthless. From being a King He descended to the lowest form of human life, entered the world in utter helplessness, was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and during all His development here on earth never rose above that form of a servant which He had taken. And He did all this, because even fallen man was dearer to His heart than the world of lost angels. (E. E. Johnson, M. A.)

Great things from small beginnings

Not, Ye shall find the angel in the heavens, the king on his throne, the young prince in a palace, the commander at the head of his armies, but “the babe in a manger.” How strange are God’s ways of working out His strange plans! It is not by might, nor by power, that His agencies accomplish their vast work. The least things are often the greatest in His providence (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). It may be the shepherd boy with his sling who gains victory over the mailed giant in whose presence the whole army of Israel stands trembling; it may be the tinker in Bedford Jail who writes a masterpiece in religious literature, to be honoured for centuries for its work and its worth; it may be the unschooled clerk from a Boston shoe-store who proclaims the gospel with a fervency and power which the best-cultured divines of all Christendom have not attained to; or it may be in the most unprepossessing child of your school or class that the grandest possibilities for the kingdom of Christ to-day lie hid. (H. C. Trumbull.)

The fitness of the sign

“This shall be the sign,” saith the angel. “Shall be”; but should it be this? No; how should it be? Let us see. Why, this shall be the sign; ye shall find the Child, not in these clouts or cratch, but in a crimson mantle, in a cradle of ivory. That, lo, were somewhat Saviour-like I But in vain take we upon us to teach the angel; we would have--we know not what. We forget St. Augustine’s distingue tempera; as the time is the angel is right, and a fitter sign could not be assigned. Would we have had Him come in power and great glory? and so He will come, but not now. He that cometh here in clouts will one day come in the clouds. But now His coming was for another end, and so to be in another manner. His coming now was “to visit us in great humility,” and so His sign to be according. Nay, then, I say, first go to the nature of a sign; if Christ had come in His excellency, that had been no sign, no more than the sun in the firmament shining in his full strength. Contrary to the course of nature it must be, else it is no sign. The sun eclipsed, the sun in sackcloth; that is signum in sole, “the sign indeed” (Luke 21:25). And that is the sign here: the Sun of Righteousness entering into His eclipse begins to be darkened in His first point, the point of His nativity. This is the sign, say I, and that had been none. (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)

The sign nothing; the treasure all

Make of the sign what ye will; it skills not what it be, never so mean. In the nature of a sign there is nothing, but it may be such; all is in the thing signified. So it carry us to a rich signature, and worth the finding, what matter how mean the sign be? We are sent to a crib, not to an empty crib; Christ is in it. Be the sign never so simple, the signature it carries us to makes amends. Any sign with such a signatnm. And I know not the man so squeamish, but if, in his stable and under his manger, there were a treasure hid, and he were sure of it, but thither he would, and pluck up the planks, and dig and rake for it, and be never a whir offended with the homeliness of the place. If, then, Christ be a treasure, as in Him are “all the treasures of the wisdom and bounty of God,” what skills it what be His sign. With this, with any other, Christ is worth the finding. He is not worthy of Christ who will not go anywhither to find Christ. (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)

Christ born in a manger

At midnight from one of the galleries of the sky a chant broke forth. To an ordinary observer there was no reason for such a celestial demonstration. If there had been such brilliant and mighty recognition at an advent in the House of Pharaoh, or at an advent in the House of Caesar, or the House of Hapsburg, or the House of Stuart, we would not so much have wondered; but a barn seems too poor a centre for such delicate and archangelic circumference. The stage seems too small for so great an act, the music too grand for such unappreciative auditors, the windows of the stable too rude to be serenaded by other worlds.

I. THAT NIGHT IN THE BETHLEHEM MANGER WAS BORN ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ALL THE POORLY STARTED. He had only two friends--they His parents. No satin-lined cradle, no delicate attentions, but straw and the cattle, and the coarse joke and banter of the camel drivers. From the depths of that poverty He rose, until to-day He is honoured in all Christendom, and sits on the imperial throne in heaven. Do you know that the vast majority of the world’s deliverers had barnlike birthplaces? Luther, the emancipator of religion, born among the mines. Shakespeare, the emancipator of literature, born in a humble home at Stratford-on-Avon. Columbus, the discoverer of a world, born in poverty at Genoa. Hogarth, the discoverer of how to make art accumulative and administrative of virtue, born in a humble home at Westminster. Kitto and Prideaux, whose keys unlocked new apartments in the Holy Scriptures which had never been entered, born in want. Yea, I have to tell you that nine out of ten of the world’s deliverers were born in want. I stir your holy ambitions to-day, and I want to tell you, although the whole world may be opposed to you, and inside and outside of your occupations or professions there may be those who would hinder your ascent, on your side and enlisted in your behalf are the sympathetic heart and the almighty arm of One who, one Christmas night about eighteen hundred and eighty years ago, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Oh, what magnificent encouragement for the poorly started!

II. Again, I have to tell you that IS THAT VILLAGE BARN THAT NIGHT WAS BORN GOODWILL TO MEN, whether you call it kindness, or forbearance, or forgiveness, or geniality, or affection, or love. It says, “Sheathe your swords, dismount your guns, dismantle your batteries, turn the warship Constellation, that carried shot and shell, into a grain ship to take food to famishing Ireland, hook your cavalry horses to the plough, use your deadly gunpowder in blasting rocks and in patriotic celebration, stop your lawsuits, quit writing anonymous letters, extract the sting from your sarcasm, let your wit coruscate but never burn, drop all the harsh words out of your vocabulary--Goodwill to men.”

III. Again, I remark that BORN THAT CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN THE VILLAGE BARN WAS SYMPATHETIC UNION WITH OTHER WORLDS. Move that supernatural grouping of the cloud banks over Bethlehem, and from the special trains that ran down to the scene I find that our world is beautifully and gloriously and magnificently surrounded. The meteors are with us, for one of them ran to point down to the birthplace. The heavens are with us, because at the thought of our redemption they roll hosannas out of the midnight sky.

IV. Again, I remark that THAT NIGHT BORN IN THAT VILLAGE BARN WAS THE OFFENDER’S HOPE. Some sermonizers may say I ought to have projected this thought at the beginning of the sermon. Oh, no! I wanted you to rise toward it. I wanted you to examine the cornelians and the jaspers and the emeralds and the sardonyx before I showed you the Kohinoor--the crown jewel of the ages. Oh, that jewel had a very poor setting! The cub of the bear is born amid the grand old pillars of the forest, the whelp of a lion takes its first step from the jungle of luxuriant leaf and wild flower, the kid of the goat is born in cavern chandeliered with stalactite and pillared with stalagmite. Christ was born in a bare barn. Yet that nativity was the offender’s hope. Over the door of heaven are written these words, “None but the sinless may enter here.” “Oh, horror,” you say, “that shuts us out!” No. Christ came to the world in one door, and He departed through another door. He came through the door of the manger, and He departed through the door of the sepulchre; and His one business was so to wash away our sin that after we are dead there will be no more sin about us than about the eternal God. I know that is putting it strongly, but that is what I understand by full remission. All erased, all washed away, all scoured out, all gone. Oh! now I see what the manger was. Not so high the gilded and jewelled and embroidered cradle of the Henrys of England, or the Louis of France, or the Fredericks of Prussia. Now I find out that that Bethlehem crib fed not so much the oxen of the stall as the white horses of Apocalyptic vision. Now I find the swaddling clothes enlarging and emblazing into an imperial robe for a conqueror. (Dr. Talmage.)

The Child in the manger

I. Learn from this story of the birth of Jesus, in the first place, that INDIGENCE IS NOT ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT OF DEGRADATION. When princes are born, heralds pro claim it, and flags wave it, and cannon thunder it, and illuminations set cities on fire with the tidings; but when Christ was born there was no demonstration of earthly honour or homage. Poor, and, if possible, getting poorer, and yet the recognition of the angel host proves the truth of the proposition that indigence is no sign of degradation. In all ages of the world there have been great hearts throbbing under rags, gentle spirits under rough exterior, gold in the quartz, Parian marble in the quarry, and in the very stables of poverty wonders of excellence that have been the joy of the heavenly host. Poetry, and science, and law, and constitutions, and commerce, like Christ, were born in a manger. Great thoughts that seem to have been the axle-tree on which the centuries turned, started in some obscure corner, and had Herods who tried to slay them, and Iscariots who betrayed them, and Pilates who unjustly condemned them, and rabbles who crucified them, and sepulchres which confined them until they broke forth again in glorious resurrection. Men are, like wheat, worth all the more for being flailed. Strong character, like the rhododendron, is an alpine plant which grows best in the tempest. There arc a great many men who are now standing in the front rank of the Church of God who would have been utterly useless had they not been ground and hammered in the foundries of disaster.

II. Again, I learn from the text that IT IS WHEN WE ARE ENGAGED IN OUR LAWFUL OCCUPATIONS THAT WE HAVE DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS MADE TO US. If these shepherds had gone that night into the village, and risked their flocks among the wolves, they would not have heard the song of the angels. In other words, he sees most of God and heaven who minds his own business! We are all shepherds, and we have large flocks of cares, and we must tend them. I know there are a great many busy men who say, “Oh, if I had only time, I would be good. If I had the days and the months and the years to devote to the subject of religion, I should be one of the best of Christians.” A great mistake are you making. The busiest men are generally the best men. There is no point from which you can get clearer views of duty than at the merchant’s counter, or the accountant’s table, or on the mason’s wall.

III. Again, the story of the text STRIKES AT THE POPULAR FALLACY THAT THE RELIGION OF CHRIST IS DOLOROUS AND GRIEF-INFUSING. The music that broke through that famous birth-night was not a dirge, but an anthem. It shook joy over the midnight hills. It not only dropped among the shepherds, but it sprang upward among the thrones. The robe of righteousness is not black. The religious life is not all weeping and sighing, and cross-bearing and warfare. Christianity does not frown on amusements and recreations. It quenches no light. It defaces no heart. Among the happy it is the happiest. Heaven itself is only a warmer love and a brighter joy.

IV. Again, I learn from this subject, WHAT GLORIOUS ENDINGS COME FROM SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT BEGINNINGS. The New Testament Church was on a small scale. The fishermen watched it. Small beginnings, but glorious endings. A throne linked to a manger. Mansions of light at God’s right hand associated with stables of poverty.

V. I learn, finally, from this story of the birth of Christ, THE GLORIOUS RESULT OF A SAVIOUR’S MISSION. Have you ever thought how strangely this song of peace must have sounded to the Roman Empire? Why, that Roman Empire gloried in its arms, and boasted of the number of men it had slain, and with triumph looked at conquered provinces. Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Macedonia, Egypt, had bowed to her sword, and crouched at the cry of her war eagles. Their highest honours had been bestowed upon Fabius and Scipio and Caesar. It was men of blood and carnage that they honoured. With what contempt they must have looked upon a kingdom the chief principle of which was to be goodwill to men, and upon the unarmed, penniless Christ, who, in Nazarene garb, was about to start out for the conquest of the nations. If all the blood which has been shed in battle were gathered together in one great lake, it would bear up a navy. The blow that struck Abel into the dust has had its echo in the carnage of all the centuries. If we could take our stand on some high mountain of earth, and have all the armies of other ages pass along, what a spectacle! There go the hosts of the Israelites through scores of Red Seas, one of them of water, the rest of blood. There go the armies of Cyrus, lifting their infuriate yell over prostrate Babylon. There goes Alexander, with his innumerable host, conquering all but himself, and making the earth to reel under the battle gash of Persepolis and Chaeronia. There goes the great Frenchman, down through Egypt like one of its own plagues, and up through Russia like one of its own ice-blasts. Host after host. Tramp tramp, tramp. Coming down to our day, I appeal to the grave-trench under the shadow of Sebastopol, and turning to India I show you fallen Delhi, and Allahabad, and the inhuman Sepoys, and the regiments of Havelock avenging the insulted flag of Great Britain. On this, the day before Christmas, I bring you good tidings of great joy. A Saviour for the lost. Medicine for the sick. Light for the blind. Harbour for the bestormed. Eternal life for the dead. (Dr. Talmage.)


Verse 13

Luke 2:13

With the angel a multitude of the heavenly host

The angel’s song

I.
CONSIDER THE PASSAGE AS IT LIES BEFORE US IN THE HISTORY.

II. MAKE SOME PRACTICAL REMARKS UPON THE SUBJECT.

1. If this be the song and taste and sentiment of heaven, what is the taste and sentiment of the men of the earth who call themselves wise, and call us fools for believing the Bible?

2. We learn from the song that no goodwill from heaven can be communicated to man, nor any peace on earth, but what is consistent with the glory of God.

3. Herein are afforded sufficient encouragement and direction to every believing heart. (R. Cecil, M. A.)

A multitude of the heavenly host

In that distant age, as by no means since, the ministry of angels was familiar to the human mind--was required to answer, in fact, the necessities of human thought. On occasions infinitely less important than the birth of One whose name should be called Jesus, the Saviour, the angels then came and went in the universe freely, because in mind and for mind the universe was what it was. Since then not one has come. So the impression made then by its being said that this event was made illustrious by the attendance of a multitude of the heavenly host, and that which is made now, cannot be wholly the same. With all our ideas of the universe, it is infinitely more wonderful now than it was then. As it is so much more wonderful, it is so much more difficult to realize in thought. And so it is with reference to all else that is wonderful in the story of that birth to which the thoughts of the best part of the human race go back as to no other event in all human history. The modes of thought and of expression with regard to all that are unchanged by the lapse of ages--in the letter unchanged--but are they actually the same in spirit to us as they were in another age under cruder and almost opposite conditions of human thought? So shadowy has the angelic host become to mortal men now, to whom in their direst need or in their loftiest ecstasies no angels come, that the joy of that angelic host over the birth of the Saviour of mankind, so far from communicating itself to the Christian world of to-day, as it did once, is never felt save at Christmas, and then it would be hard to say by whom. This is not as it should be. To the thought of Christian men and women eighteen centuries ago the angelic host and their joy were real. Why should they not be so to our thought too? That these men and women were even as we are is the key to all history. With all that there is in our modern modes of thought to make the supernatural seem to us in fact, however it may be in name, one and the same thing with the incredible or faintly believed--with all that there is of this in our modern modes of thought, that which is in them, too, of a powerful apprehension of the idea of Christ’s life as the most signal manifestation of the Divine, is enough, if it be only well and truly considered, to make the angelic host and their song as real to us as ever they were to any generation of men--much more real, at any rate, than they have been to many in this generation. (J. Service, D. D.)

Music

Music has been called the speech of angels. I will go further and call it the speech of God Himself. Without words it is wonderful--blessed--one of God’s best gifts to men. But in singing you have both the wonders together, music and words. Why is there music in heaven? Because in music there is no self-will. It goes on certain laws and rules which man did not make, but has only found out. Music is a pattern of the everlasting life of heaven, because in heaven, as in music, is perfect freedom and perfect pleasure; and yet that freedom comes not from throwing away law, but from obeying God’s law perfectly; and that pleasure comes not from a self-will, and doing each what he likes, but from perfectly doing the will of the Father who is in heaven. And that in itself would be sweet music, even if there were neither voice nor sound in heaven. Some of us may not be able to make music with our voices; but we can make it with our hearts, and join in the angel’s song this day, if not with our lips, yet in our lives. Christmas has always been a day of songs, of carols, and of hymns; and so let it be for ever. For on Christmas Day, most of all days (if I may talk of eternal things according to the laws of time) was manifested on earth the everlasting music which was in heaven. (Charles Kingsley.)

Suddenly, or spirit and understanding

There are two classes of persons between whom a mutual distrust exists, because they fail to appreciate each other’s attitude toward the events of the universe.

I. The first class expects all things to come to pass gradually, so that their courses may be traced. The motive of this class is intellectual; the mind wants to correlate facts. Sudden transitions, having been hitherto supposed to argue the absence of natural causes, are unwelcome to the scientific mind.

II. The other class cares little for natural causes, but rather delights in things supposed to be unexplainable by any but extra-natural interventions. It knows that worship is the highest exercise of the mind, and it desires sudden and mysterious events to quicken the feeling of reverence.

III. Between these extremes our text mediates by affirming the sudden occurrences, but associating them by a copulative, rather than an adversative conjunction with the things that went before them. In this it has the authority of many scientific men (notably Dr. Maudsley), who assert that there are indeed leaps and sudden changes and specific differences, while they assign them to natural causes, thus contrasting them only with other events and things, not with nature as a whole, and connecting them copulatively instead of adversatively with other phenomena. Nor does this destroy the value of such events as calls to worship. The surprise caused by a sudden event often wakes up a sleeping sense of reverence whether the event is explainable or not. God means to surprise us, but He does not mean to put us to confusion. The scientific mind is compelled by the facts to concede the actual occurrence of sudden and surprising events. With the universe full of God the devout mind can afford to concede the presumptive universality of natural causes. Science has kept saying “not suddenly;” religion has reiterated “but suddenly;” the Bible calmly says “and suddenly.” The “and” suits science, the “suddenly” suits religion. Let us seek to be devout and scientific both, and sing with spirit and understanding. (American Horniletic Review.)

The birth of our Lord

The manner and spirit in which we ought to spend Christmas.

I. LET US ASCRIBE GLORY TO GOD. The Lord incarnate is placed before us; the Conqueror of Satan; the Saviour of man is thus revealed. Surely, if our hearts can be touched by the motive of gratitude to God for His mercies, we must feel it in the commemoration of the arrival of His Son. Surely we must feel some inclination this day to join the angelic host in “blessing, praising, and magnifying His Holy Name.”

II. LET US SPREAD PEACE ON THE EARTH. All animosities should cease. If God desire to be at peace with us, let us imitate the heavenly pattern set us at Bethlehem. All is peace in heaven, and it is our duty to promote it on earth.

III. LET US EXERCISE GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN.

IV. Let me impress upon you TO MAINTAIN, when this day and year have been added to the past, and even to the end of your lives, THE SEVERAL GRACES TO WHICH I HAVE ADVERTED. Becoming as they are at this season, they become us always. (A. Garry, M. A.)

The song of the angels

I. THE SONG ITSELF.

I. The song consists of a proclamation of peace. We are in a state of hostility and alienation. Not an easy thing to restore peace, consistently with the Divine nature and glory. Not only is the birth of Christ the occasion of a proclamation of peace between us and God, but it restores peace to our own mind. There is also peace made with our fellows and neighbours and kindred, and with the whole creaturely universe.

II. THE SONG AS SUNG ON THIS OCCASION--that is, as sung by ANGELS.

1. They are the most intellectual part of God’s creation; they have the purest intellect.

2. Observe not merely their intellectuality by their disinterestedness and impartiality. We are ourselves interested in the whole affair; not so with them. They were never polluted.

3. Their unanimity in singing it. There was no jarring string in that song; no dissenting voice in that harmony. Salvation affects heaven as well as earth.

Lessons:

1. A lesson of gratitute to God.

2. Kindness to each other, especially the poor. (J. Beaumont, D. D.)

The nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

His own appearance was despicable; that of His retinue was most magnificent. He who was the ancient of days became a helpless infant: He who was the light of the sun, comes into the world in the darkness of the night: He who came that He might lay us in the bosom of the Father, is Himself laid in the manger of a stable. But though meanly welcomed on earth, yet heaven makes abundant amends for all.

I. For the first it is said that AN INNUMERABLE COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST PRAISED GOD. Strange that they should make this day of heaven’s humiliation their festival and day of thanksgiving.

1. The holy angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ, because it gave them occasion to testify their deepest humility and subjection. To be subject to Christ while He sat upon the throne of His kingdom, arrayed with unapproachable light, controlling all the powers of heaven with a beck, was no more than His infinite glory exacted from them: but to be subject to Him in a cratch, when He hid His beams, was not obedience only but condescension. Now the time is come when they may express their fidelity and Obedience in the lowest estate of their Lord.

2. The angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ because the confirmation of that blessed estate of grace and glory, wherein they now stand, depended upon His incarnation. The government of all creatures is laid upon His shoulders. He is the “head of all principality and power” (Col Ephesians 1:10). The Mediator confirms them in their holy estate; therefore they rejoiced at the birth of Christ, wherein they saw the Godhead actually united to the human nature; since the merit of this union, long before that, prevailed for their happy perseverance.

3. The holy angels rejoiced at the birth of Christ, from the fervent desire they have of man’s salvation.

II. WHAT THIS ANGELICAL SONG CONTAINS IN IT?

1. God’s glory. God’s glory is of two sorts, essential and declarative. The abasing nativity of Jesus Christ is the highest advancement of God’s glory. This is a strange riddle to human reason, for God to raise His glory out of humiliation.

2. Peace on earth.

(a) All the precepts of His doctrine do directly tend to the establishing of peace among men. Christianity teaches us not to offer any injury to others. Christ forbids private revenge and retaliating of wrongs.

(b) The examples of Christ all tend to peace. But Christ says Matthew 10:34-35), we must distinguish between the direct end of Christ’s coming into the world and the accidental issue of it.

3. The infinite love and goodwill that God hath shown towards men.

The glory of the heavenly host an argument for more than bare necessity in the service of God

May not sundry ceremonies be left out, say they, and yet our religion be sound and entire? Indeed, our ceremonies are not necessary in themselves we grant it; why, and what if such great cathedral churches had not been built, nor such rich costly ornaments bestowed upon the roof, upon the choir, upon the Communion Table, might not prayers be read, and sermons preached with poorer habiliments and in meaner places?

Well, no man denies but God was faithfully served in dens, and rocks, and caves of the earth, when the apostles and prophets were persecuted. Besides, there are that complain, when one minister may sufficiently and audibly read service to the congregation: frustra fit per plura, what a needless thing it is, to have a choir of singers discharge that, which ordinarily is no more than one man’s labour? They that make these objections, let them consider what errors they fall into. They may as well tax God Himself for sending a multitude of angels to congratulate the birth of His Son, when two or three would have done the business; for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be justified. Why should a reasonable man think it fit to glorify God with bare scanty provision? God hath given us full measure of all His blessings, and running over; therefore no decent ceremony is superfluous, no rich ornament too gorgeous, no strain of our wit too eloquent, no music too sweet, no multitude too great to advance His name, who hath exalted us by the humiliation of His Son, and made us capable to live with angels in heaven, because Christ was content to lie among beasts in a manger. (Bishop Hacker.)

Multitude pleasing to God

And remember that there is no variation or change in God; as He appointed many angels to sing out His birth, so to this time and for ever He loves to be glorified by multitudes. Let two or three be gathered together in His name rather than one separatist alone; but if you will multiply those two or three to hundreds, to thousands Of souls, O then His desire is upon them that fear Him, and upon those thwackt congregations that call upon His name. He that invited the guests in the Gospel did not think his feast well bestowed till his room was full; therefore he bid his servants scour the highways and bring them in, that his number might be augmented. I commend your private exercises of prayer between God and your own heart, that your Father that sees you devout in secret may reward you openly: but those prayers which you would have most prosperous and successful, send them up in the thickest press of prayers, when a great assembly open their lips together. He that joins his spirit with the spirit of the Church shall be heard as if he prayed with ten thousand voices. (Bishop Hacker.)

Trust the heavenly forces

O see how many legions He can command” from heaven, and then say, it is a vain thing to trust in the forces of man; it is the Lord that hath powers and principalities in store to awe the world: lo, He cometh with a multitude of the heavenly host. (Bishop Hacker.)

One good work quickly followed by another

The choir was not long a-tuning, but the hymn was sung immediately after the sermon was ended, like a chime that follows a clock without distinction of a minute: one good work follows another incontinently without any tedious pause or lingering respite. Quick motions of zeal and devotion are ever most acceptable. Procrastinating of time is the ready way to be taken tardy like the foolish virgins. (Bishop Hacker.)

Church Psalmody

If Asaph and that choir did lift up their note with all sorts of musical instruments in the old law, while the sacrifice was burning upon the altar, I am sure we have much more cause, not in imitation of Asaph, but of the angels, to praise the Lord with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Luther, I know not upon what reason, unless it were because the angels in my text did begin the gospel with melody, he makes psalmody to be one of the notes of the orthodox Church of Christ. The voice of man certainly is to praise God in its best tunes and elegancies: and the reasons why musical notes are most fit and necessary amidst our Christian prayers are these four:

1. Rules of piety steal into our mind with the delight of the harmony, The Agathyrsians, even to Plato’s days, were wont to sing their laws, and put them in tune, that men might repeat them in their recreations.

2. It kindles devotion, and fills the soul with more loving affections. Make a cheerful noise to the God of Jacob, says David. As the noise of flutes and of trumpets inspire a courage into soldiers, and inflame them to be victorious, so the psalms of the Church raise up the heart, and make it leap to be with God; as if our soul were upon our lips, and would fly away to heaven.

3. An heavy spirit oppresseth zeal, and that service of God is twice done which is done with alacrity: and our Christian merriment by St. James’s rule is, singing and making melody to the Lord. When our Saviour and His company were sad the night before His Passion, to put away that heaviness they sang an hymn, when they went to Mount Olivet.

4. To sing some part of Divine doctrine is very profitable, because that which is sung is most treatibly pronounced; the understanding stabs long upon it, and nails it the faster to the memory. (Bishop Hacker)

Angelic insight

So my text lets you see, that if men be silent, and set not forth the praise of the Lord, the angels will speak, and give Him glory. It were a great shame for the Commons to be rude and irrespectful towards their king, when the nobles and princes of the people are most dutiful and obsequious; so when the Cherubins devote their songs to extol the most High, it were a beastly neglect in man, a worm in respect of a Cherubin, not to bear a part in that humble piety: but to speak after the method of reason, had it not been more proper for the angels at this time to have proclaimed Christ’s poverty than His power, His infancy than His majesty, His humility in the lowest, rather than His glory in the highest? If there were any glory coming out of this work of the Incarnation, it may seem we had it rather than our Saviour, and He lost it. But the piercing eye of those celestial spirits could see abundant honour compassing Christ about, where ignorant man could espy nothing but vileness and misery.

1. They celebrate the glory of God’s justice in sending His Son made of a woman, and made under the law, to suffer for us that had sinned against the law, because that justice would not receive man into favour without a satisfaction.

2. They divulge the honour of Christ unto the ends of the world, for the mercy that came down with Him upon all those that should believe in His name; if His justice was not forgotten in their song, surely His mercy should be much more solemnized. The angels for their own share were unacquainted with mercy, ‘twas news in heaven till this occasion happened; for those rebellious ones of their order that had sinned, they found no grace to remit their trespasses; properly that is called mercy, but a thing so rare and unheard of in heaven, that as soon as ever they saw it stirring in the earth, they sing “Glory to God in the highest.”

3. They praise the Lord on high for the Incarnation of His Son, because the dignity of the work was so from Himself, that no creature did merit it, none did beseech or intercede unto Him for it, before He had destinate it, nothing but His own compassion could move Him to it. (Bishop Hacker.)

The song of angels

1. They knew, in the first place, the glory and greatness of that Being who was cradled in the manger.

2. The angels knew the sinfulness and misery from which the Saviour came to rescue fallen man, as we have never known them.

3. These visitants, again, knew, as we do not, the happiness of that state to which Christ’s mission would raise us. We have seen, then, that angels praised God with such lively fervours, because they had so much clearer views than we of what Christ came to accomplish, when He was born at Bethlehem. (W. N. Lewis, D. D.)


Verse 14

Luke 2:14

Glory to God in the highest

The angels’ song (A Christmas sermon)

First heard above the plains of Bethlehem it is one day to be heard over all the world.
Its sweet melody is to be woven into every language which men have learnt to speak. The angels are to hear it in all dialects and tongues. It is to be the choral response of a gladdened world to the birthday joy which was once poured forth upon the shepherd hearts at Bethlehem.

I. WE OWE CHRISTMAS-TIDE TO CHRISTIANITY.

II. LET US REMEMBER THE ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTMAS-TIDE WITH “PEACE ON EARTH AND GOOD-WILL TO MEN.”

III. THERE IS JOY IN THINKING OF THE PARTIAL PREVALENCE OF THIS DIVINE INFLUENCE AMONGST THE FAMILY OF MAN.

IV. HOW MAY THE ADVENT OF CHRIST BE MADE TO REPEAT ITSELF THIS CHRISTMAS-TIDE? Whenever peace and goodwill mightily prevail amongst men, that is a time when Christ has a fresh hold upon human hearts.

V. We may not forget that THERE ARE HOMES WHICH WILL DEPEND FOR CHRISTMAS JOY UPON THE CAREFUL THOUGHT AND KINDLINESS OF OTHERS.

VI. THERE ARE SOME WHOSE HEARTS WILL RE TROUBLED WITH MEMORIES WHICH WILL CROWD AROUND THIS OTHERWISE HAPPY PERIOD. (W. Dorling.)

A Christmas carol

I. How DID THE APPEARING OF CHRIST BRING GLORY TO GOD?

1. In the fulfilment of prophecy.

2. In the salvation of man.

3. In exhibiting God’s love without detracting from any other attribute.

II. How PEACE ON EARTH?

1. It was not peace at first certainly. Describe the state of the world, especially Palestine, when Christ came, and during succeeding years.

2. But in proportion as Christ is known and felt, there will surely be peace on earth.

3. Peace in the city, town, or village in which Christians dwell.

4. Peace in the family.

5. Peace in the heart.

6. And all this will result from the practice of the principles of that religion whose Founder was cradled in Bethlehem’s manger, for that religion

III. How GOOD-WILL TOWARD MEN?

1. When one makes a present to another we look upon it as an expression of good-will. The value of the present is often indicative of the measure of esteem or good-will. God has given us His greatest, choicest gift, for He bestowed His only Son.

2. God’s good-will becomes even more apparent when we contemplate our own guilt.

3. What have you to say in answer to all this? All God requires from us in recognition of His love is our heart. And if we give Him our heart, we shall surely give our service. Have you given yours to Him? (A. F. Barfield.)

The Divine method in the world

This is the key-note, not only of the Christian message, but of Divine religion from the beginning. It is ours to follow, not to precede; to ask what has been the Divine method, not to ask what it should have been; and when once we begin to have some light on that view, then it will be ours to ask what are the signs of accomplishment.

I. WHAT HAS BEEN THE DIVINE METHOD?

1. We learn that there is a Divinity in this world which secures the direction of growth, but leaves the operative influences that produce it, and the working out of results to great natural laws.

2. We learn that the Divine method implies great length of time.

3. We learn that one universal and insuperable difficulty has been in teaching men how to live together peaceably.

II. WHAT, NOW, IS THE CONDITION AND THE PROSPECT, THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE WORLD, OF GOOD-WILL AND PEACE, OR THE ART OF LIVING TOGETHER?

1. The possibility of happiness among the poor, who constitute by far the largest part of the human race, has been so immensely increased as to form a broad platform on which to put our feet and form an estimate of the gains that have been made.

2. In the mind of the very labourers themselves there is springing up a spirit of organization and thrift,

3. There is coming, gradually, the admission of the great under-class of the human family to a participation in government.

4. The influence of nation upon nation must also be taken into consideration in estimating the advance of the latter-day glory. The globe has become but a single neighbourhood.

5. Look at how God has been raising up four great languages on the globe which ultimately, I think, will result in one. Look at what treasure is stored up in the French, in the German, in the English, and in the Latin. Shall I add the Greek--the language of science? The language of men, the language that contains the doctrines of independence, of liberty, of, I trust, man in man, is the English tongue. It is spoken more widely over the globe than any other. I rejoice with exceeding great joy that the English tongue is a charter of liberty to the human race.

III. IF YOU ACCEPT THE PROPHECIES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, INTERPRETING THEM along the lines of experience, showing what is the Divine method of working upon the human race, the angels that sang peace and good-will at the Advent will not be long delayed before they will sing again. I shall hear that song, not here but yonder. And perhaps joined with it will be the outcry of this glorious achievement which seems to us to have lingered, but that has not lingered, according to the thought of God, who hath done and is doing all things well, and who is the Conqueror of conquerors, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, my Saviour and my God, your Saviour and your God. Trust Him; rejoice in Him; love Him; and reign. (H. W. Beecher.)

The angels’ text

Such was the text of the angels on the night of our Saviour’s birth; and to that text our Saviour’s life furnished the sermon.

I. The first words of it are, “GLORY TO GOD!” and a most weighty lesson may we draw for ourselves from finding the angels put that first. A world is redeemed. Millions on millions of human beings are rescued from everlasting death. Is not this the thing uppermost in the angels’ thoughts? No, it is only the second thing. The first is, Glory to God! Why so? Because God is the giver of this salvation; nay, is Himself the Saviour, in the person of the only-begotten Son. Moreover, because in heavenly minds God always holds the first place, and they look at everything with a view to Him. Now, I would have you look to God in exactly the same manner. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you should do all to God’s glory. Then will you be like the angels who began their text with, Glory to God!

II. The next branch of the text is “PEACE ON EARTH.” Our Saviour Himself is the Prince of Peace--

1. Because His great purposes were to bring down peace to man.

2. Because He made it one of His prime objects to plant and foster peace within man. Peace was His legacy to His apostles.

3. But what kind of peace? Truly every kind which man can enjoy.

Now, let each of us ask himself with all seriousness, Do I feel anything of this godly peace?

III. There is a third part of the angels’ text, namely, “GOOD-WILL TO MEN:” and a very important part it is. For it sets forth the ground of our salvation. It was no excellency or merit of ours that drew our Saviour down from heaven. It was the wretchedness of our fallen state. Herein, as St. Paul tells us, “God commendeth His love toward us,” &c. (Romans 5:8). But though this love of God for His sinful creatures is worthy of all gratitude and praise, the good-will declared in the angels’ text means something more than mere love. The word which we translate “Goodwill,” is a word very full of meaning, and signifies that mixture of goodness, and kindness, and wisdom, which tends to good and wise plans. The good-will then in the angels’ text is no other than the great and merciful purpose of our redemption. Have we any proper sense and feeling of this good-will? I have spoken to you on the angels’ text, and in so doing have spoken of man’s salvation. The end of the whole is God’s glory; the means is peace on earth; the sole motive is goodness and loving-kindness to us miserable sinners.

IV. There are still three words in this text which I have not noticed. The angels did not simply say, “Glory to God;” but, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST,” that is, in heaven. Here is a wonderful, a glorious, a soul-sustaining scene opened to us. The angels in the very presence of God are moved by our sufferings and our redemption. Shall they glorify God for His goodness to us, and shall we forget to glorify Him for His goodness to ourselves? (A. W. Hare.)

Christmas Day

There is considerable difference of opinion as to what is the best reading and the best rendering of this passage. According to Dean Alford and the Revised Version, we should understand it to mean, “Peace among men towards whom God has a good-will”--that is, in whom He is well pleased. According to the Vulgate the meaning should be, peace to men who exhibit a good-will. This is the sense adopted by Keble in his Christmas hymn. The reading of the Authorised Version is not, perhaps, the best; but, as being more familiar, and at the same time so thoroughly in harmony with the spirit of the day, I will venture to take it as a motto.

1. It must be confessed that the conduct of professing Christians has often been such as to make the angels’ song sound like an ironical sarcasm, rather than an eulogy. Church history, for example, to a passionate lover of peace and good-will, must be very melancholy reading.

2. But I hear some one say,” things are improved now-a-days.” Well, yes, I suppose they are a little. Still many of those who call themselves Christians seem to be characterized by the very opposites of peace and good-will. I remember that in the preface to the second edition of his Belfast Address, Professor Tyndall said he was not surprised at the bitter things which had been uttered against him by Christians, when he remembered how bitterly they were in the habit of recriminating one another. “‘Tis true, ‘tis pity; pity ‘tis, ‘tis true.” Peace and good-will--peace, or the absence of quarrelsomeness; good-will, or the actual performance of deeds of kindness, are essential characteristics of genuine discipleship.

3. Let us, today, apply this test of discipleship to ourselves. Of all the provisions made for our spiritual welfare, nothing, perhaps, more helpful than the periodical recurrence of days like the present.

4. But it was Christ’s aim that every day should be in this respect a Christmas Day. Is that the case with us? There was a curious institution in the Middle Ages called the ecclesiastical truce or peace of God. Feuds legally stopped for four days a week. The bell tolled on a Wednesday. All hostilities were to cease till the following Monday. And until the Monday they were suspended; but then they were always faithfully resumed. Shall it be so with us? After mani-resting peace and good-will on the 25th of December, must we relapse again into practical paganism on the 26th? We cannot be always making presents, but we may be always doing good.

5. When peace and good-will are universal, human society will be, as Christ wished to make it, a heaven upon earth.

For lo! the days are hastening on

By prophet-bands foretold,

When with the ever-circling years

Comes back the age of gold--

When peace shall over all the earth

Its blessed banner fling,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing.

(Professor A. W. Momerie.)

The angelic hymn

The song consists of three propositions, of which two are parallel, and the third forms a link between the other two. In the first, “Glory to God in the highest places,” the angels demand that, from the lower regions to which they have just come down, from the bosom of humanity, praise shall arise, which, ascending from heavens to heavens, shall reach at last the supreme sanctuary, the highest places, and there glorify the Divine perfections that shine forth in this birth. The second, “Peace on earth,” is the counterpart of the first. While inciting men to praise, the angels invoke on them peace from God. This peace is such as results from the reconciliation of man with God; it contains the cause of the cessation of all war here below. These two propositions are of the nature of a desire or prayer. The verb understood is ἔστω, let it be. The third, which is not connected with the preceding by any particle, proclaims the fact which is the ground of this twofold prayer. If the logical connection were expressed, it would be by the word for. This fact is the extraordinary favour shown to men by God, and which is displayed in the gift He is bestowing upon them at this very time. The sense is: “for God takes pleasure in men.” In speaking thus, the angels seem to mean, “God has not be stowed as much on us (Hebrews 2:16)” The idea of “good-will” recalls the first proposition, “Glory to God!” while the expression, towards men,” reminds us of the second, “peace on earth!” (F. Godet, D. D.)

The Gloria in excelsis

In the account of this eventful night, the words heard are alone mentioned; one might be pardoned for wishing we had also the score! We all know how an interesting strain of melody will fix itself in our memories; sometimes we can hardly keep from humming it over, repeating snatches of it we have caught, and rehearsing to others the way it went, so as to give an idea, It may be that the shepherds remembered parts of this; but if so, we have no means of ascertaining it. Only the words reach us; but they are well worth the study of the world. The startling abruptness with which this seraphic anthem fell on the ears of the shepherds that first Christmas night, adds greatly to the dramatic effect of the scene. Hardly lingering for their leader to end his communication, that choir of singers “suddenly” burst forth with loud volume of exquisite harmony, celebrating the praises of Jehovah, whom they saw in a fresh field of splendid display. There were a vast number of singers--“a host,” that is to say, an army; “an army celebrating a peace.” Surely there was enough to inspire their music; and great armies of voices sing together quite often with immense power of rich and voluminous harmony. It was an exaggeration, no doubt, but ancient history gravely records that, when the invader of Macedon was finally expelled, the victorious Greeks, who heard the news and so learned that freedom had come, and fighting was over, and home was near, raised along the lines and throughout the camp such a shout of “Sorer! Soter!”--“a Saviour! A Saviour!”--that birds on the wing dropped down. It may have been so; but what was that little peninsula of Greece, as compared with this entire race redeemed from Satan unto God? What were the actual words of this angels’ song? It is well that we all recollect them--“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men!” Three stanzas in one hymn.

1. The first of them, and the foremost in thought, is “Glory to God in the highest.” This is not a prayer at all, but an ascription. It was no time to be asking that God be glorified, when the whole universe was quivering with new disclosure of a “Gloria in Excelsis,” such as blind men could see and deaf men could hear. Those angels did not pray--Glory be to God--but they exclaimed--Glory is to God in the highest! And then they rush rapidly into an enumeration of particulars. The connection of thought is close. Glory to God in the highest, because peace has come on the earth, and goodwill has already gone out toward men. These angels are making proclamation that the rebellious race is for evermore subdued. No longer was this planet to circle around among loyal worlds in space, flaunting the defiant flag of a belligerent in the kingdom of heaven. Men should be redeemed; sin should be positively checked; all the ills of a worn-out and wretched existence should be banished; poverty should be removed, sickness and death find a Master; Satan should be foiled by Immanuel in person. Hence this entire vision, which flashed on the awakened intelligence of the angels and inspired their song, was simply reversive and revolutionary. The whole earth seemed to rouse itself to a new being. Cursed for human sin, it saw its deliverance coming. The day had arrived when streams and lakes should gleam in the sunshine, when the valleys should smile and laugh and sing, when flowers should bloom and stars should flash--all to the glory of God!

2. Then “peace on earth”; God was at last in the world reconciling it unto Himself; the hearts of His creatures were coming back to Him; their allegiance was to be restored, their wills were to be subjugated, their minds were to be enlightened; thus peace over all the world would be established, God’s wrath would be averted, and the long wrestle of man with Satan would reach its end. For when men are really at peace with God, they will come to peace with each other.

3. And so, at last, “goodwill toward men.” That ends this song of the angel; that is what ought to be the beginning of each Christmas anthem and carol. God loves us; oh, how touchingly does the aged Paul in one place tell his young brother Titus about that “kindness and love of God our Saviour toward men! “God cherishes only goodwill toward any of us. Even the wicked; He takes no pleasure in their death. He would rather they would turn unto Him, and live. Oh, happy day is that in which He tells us all this unmistakably, with perfect plainness. Brethren, if God so loved us, then ought we also to love one another. “All ye are brethren.” Away with all fancied superiorities and aristocracies on the common Christmas day--the gladsome birthday of Christi Herdsmen are on a visit to a carpenter at an inn; and they are told to go to the outhouse to find him! Beasts are standing by a manger in which lies the Child--King David the Second I But, for a]! this seems so democratic and small, please remember that a choir of angels have been singing outside. Who among us is too proud to listen? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The angelic anthem

In this Divine anthem we are taught that--

I. THE INCARNATION WAS A BRIGHT EXHIBITION OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Hitherto the holy angels had seen the glory of the Divine justice in the punishment of their sinning compeers; and something like mercy in the suspension of the sentence pronounced on man. But here they see justice and mercy blended in a wonderful manner; and they give vent to their ecstasy in shouts of praise.

II. THE INCARNATION WAS THE MEANS OF BRINGING PEACE UPON EARTH.

1. Sin had created war in every man’s own bosom. Christ alone can put an end to that war, by procuring pardon of sin, peace for the conscience, tranquillity for the passions, subordination of the appetites--reconciling reason to conscience, and conscience to the law of God.

2. Sin had created a horrible war between man and man. Strife, envy, jealousy, oppression, ambition, prevailed; Christ came to preach and exemplify universal charity. Wherever the influence of His gospel is felt, peace follows between man and man; wherever His government is established, man embraces his brother.

3. Sin had caused war between man and his Maker. Terrible contest--the potsherd striving with Him who made it. Christ reconciles God and man. He is Himself both God and man; so He can both pardon sin and bestow needed grace.

III. THE INCARNATION WAS A MARVELLOUS DISPLAY OF THE GOODWILL OF GOD TO MAN.

1. Most astonishing condescension.

2. Unparalleled love.

3. Prodigious disinterestedness.

4. Universality. All are included in this goodwill.

IV. WHAT OUGHT TO BE OUR VIEWS, AND FEELINGS, AND CONDUCT.

1. They should be laudatory. We have far more occasion to praise God for the Incarnation, than the angels.

2. We should proclaim the Saviour to others. In trying to kindle a brother’s faith and devotion, our own will burn brighter and clearer. (John Stephens.)

I. The choir--singers from the new Jerusalem.

II. The theme--salvation.

III. The listeners--dwellers in heaven and earth. (Van Doren.)

The angels’ song

What does the angels’ song announce to men?

1. Bethlehem’s miracle.

2. Jesus’ greatness.

3. The Father’s honour.

4. The Christian’s calling.

5. Heaven’s likeness. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

A Christmas motto

“With malice toward none, with charity for all.” This truly Christian motto of President Lincoln, sounds almost like an earthly echo of the heavenly anthem, and certainly proves its power and influence in the history of the world. (P. Schaff, D. D.)

The first Christmas carol

I. INSTRUCTIVE THOUGHTS. The angels sang something which men could understand--something which will make men much better if they will understand it. The angels were singing about Jesus who was born in the manger. We must look upon their song as being built upon this foundation. They sang of Christ, and of the salvation which He came into this world to work out.

1. They said that this salvation gave glory to God in the highest--that salvation is God’s highest glory. God is glorified in every dewdrop that twinkles in the morning sun. He is magnified in every wood-flower that blossoms in the copse, although it lives to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness in the desert air. He is glorified in every bird that warbles on the spray; in every lamb that skips the mead. All created things extol Him. Is there aught beneath the sky, save man, that does not glorify God? Do not the stars exalt Him, when they write His name upon the azure of heaven in their golden letters? Do not the lightnings adore Him, when they flash His brightness in arrows of light piercing the midnight darkness? Do not thunders extol Him, when they roll like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not all things exalt Him, from the least even to the greatest? But though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle--Incarnation! There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High. See how every attribute is here magnified. Lo! what wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly. Lo! what power, for where is power so great as when it conceals power? Behold, what love is thus revealed to us when Jesus becomes a man! Behold what faithfulness! How many promises are this day kept; how many solemn obligations discharged?

2. When they had sung this, they sang what they had never sung before. “Glory to God in the highest,” was an old, old song; they had sung that from before the foundations of the world. But now, they sang as it were a new song before the throne of God; for they added this stanza--“on earth, peace.” They did not sing that in the Garden of Eden. There was peace there, but it seemed a thing of course, and scarce worth singing of. But now man had fallen, and since the day when cherubim with fiery swords drove out the man, there had been no peace on earth, save in the breast of some believers, who had obtained peace from the living fountain of this incarnation of Christ. Wars had raged from the ends of the world men had slaughtered one another, heaps on heaps. There had been wars within as well as wars without. Conscience had fought with man; Satan had tormented man with thoughts of sin. There had been no peace on earth since Adam fell. But now, when the newborn King appeared, the swaddling band with which He was wrapped up was the white flag of peace.

3. And, then, they wisely ended their song with a third note. They said, “Goodwill to man.” Philosophers have said that God has a goodwill toward man; but I never knew any man who derived much comfort from their philosophical assertion. Wise men have thought from what we have seen in creation that God had much goodwill toward man, or else His works would never have been so constructed for their comfort; but I never heard of any man who could risk his soul’s peace upon such a faint hope as that. But I have not only heard of thousands, but I know them, who are quite sure that God has a goodwill towards men; and if you ask their reason, they will give a full and perfect answer. They say, He has goodwill toward man, for He gave His Son. No greater proof of kindness between the Creator and His subjects can possibly be afforded than when the Creator gives His only begotten and well beloved Son to die. Though the first note is God-like, and though the second note is peaceful, this third note melts my heart the most.

II. EMOTIONAL THOUGHTS. Does not this song of angels stir your hearts with happiness? With confidence?

III. PROPHETIC UTTERANCES. The angels sang, “Glory to God,” &e. But I look around, and what see I in the wide, wide world? I do not see God honoured. I see the heathen bowing down before their idols; I see tyranny lording it over the bodies and souls of men; I see God forgotten.

IV. Now, I have one more lesson for you, and I have done. That lesson is PRECEPTIVE. I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. Now, Mr. Tradesman, you have an opponent in trade, and you have said some very hard words about him lately. If you do not make the matter up to-day, or to-morrow, or as soon as you can, yet do it on that day. That is the way to keep Christmas, peace on earth and glory to God. And oh, if thou hast anything on thy conscience, anything that prevents thy having peace of mind, keep thy Christmas in thy chamber, praying to God to give thee peace; for it is peace on earth, mind, peace in thyself, peace with thyself, peace with thy fellow men, peace with thy God. And do not think thou hast well celebrated that day till thou canst say,

“O God,

‘With the world, myself, and Thee

I ere I sleep at peace will be.’”

And when the Lord Jesus has become your peace, remember, there is another thing, goodwill towards men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Spreading the news of peace

At the close of the last war with Great Britain, I was in the city of New York. It happened that, on a Saturday afternoon in February, a ship was discovered in the offing, which was supposed to be a cartel, bringing home our commissioners at Ghent from their unsuccessful mission. The sun had set gloomily before any intelligence from the vessel has reached the city. Expectation became painfully intense as the hours of darkness drew on. At length a boat reached the wharf, announcing the fact that a treaty of peace had been signed, and waiting for nothing but the action of our government to become a law. The men on whose ears these words first fell rushed in breathless haste into the city to repeat them to their friends, shouting as they ran through the streets, “Peace, peace, peace!” Every one who heard the sound repeated it. From house to house, from street to street, the news spread with electric rapidity. The whole city was in commotion. Men bearing lighted torches were flying to and fro, shouting like madmen, “Peace, peace, peace!” When the rapture had partially subsided, one idea occupied every mind. But few men slept that night. In groups they were gathered in the streets and by the fireside, beguiling the hours of midnight by reminding each ether that the agony of war was over, and that a worn out and distracted country was about to enter again upon its wonted career of prosperity. Thus, every one becoming a herald, the news soon reached every man, woman, and child in the city; and in this sense the city was evangelized. All this, you see, was reasonable and proper, but when Jehovah has offered to our world a treaty of peace, when men doomed to hell may be raised to seats at the right hand of God, why is not a similar zeal displayed in proclaiming the good news? Why are men perishing all around us and no one has ever personally offered to them salvation through a crucified Redeemer? (Dr. Wayland.)

The perfections of the Incarnation

Before the Incarnation God showed some, but not all, His perfections. He showed--

1. His goodness, in creating man after His own image.

2. His love, when He led Eve and the animals to Adam.

3. His pity, by clothing Adam and Eve with coats of skins.

4. His power, in creating the world out of nothing.

5. His justice, in expelling our first parents from Paradise, deluging the wicked world, wasting the cities of the plain.

6. His wisdom, confounding the tongues of the builders of Babel.

7. His providence, in saving Egypt by means of Joseph. In the Incarnation these perfections shone out with greater clearness. We note here--

I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD. He clothed Himself with our nature, that His virtues, grace, and glory, yea, and Himself, He might communicate to us.

1. Naturally, by preserving the order of nature.

2. By the supernatural order of grace.

3. By His particular personality.

II. THE LOVE OF GOD. Seen in the close union between God and man Romans 8:32).

1. He became incarnate to suffer and die for man.

2. And that for man, His enemy.

III. THE PITY OF GOD. In person coming to relieve our miseries, making Himself capable of sorrow and suffering (Hebrews 4:15).

IV. THE POWER OF GOD. Uniting the highest nature with the lowly nature of man; the human and the Divine, without any confusion of substance, in unity of person.

V. THE JUSTICE OF GOD. Not rescuing man from sin and death by might or by power, but paying a full and sufficient satisfaction for all men’s sins: making an infinite satisfaction for infinite sin.

VI. THE WISDOM OF GOD. In planning the redemption of man. Neither man nor God, singly, could redeem man; it needed a God-man to do this. VII. THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. Which saw how to help and enrich man, when he was poor and naked, and destitute of all things. (M. Faber.)

A dying saint

This doxology of the angels has sometimes filled the thoughts of dying saints. The final words of the Rev. Edward Perronet, author of the hymn, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name,” were, “Glory to God in the height of His Divinity! Glory to God in the depth of His humanity! Glory to God in His all-sufficiency! and into His hand I commend my spirit.” The last words, too, of Rev. Doctor Backus, first President of Hamilton College, were, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Universal peace

Happy the day when every war-horse shall be houghed, when every spear shall become a pruning-hook, and every sword shall be made to till the soil which once it stained with blood I This will be the last triumph of Christ. Before death itself shall be dead, death’s great jackal, war, must die also; and then there shall be peace on earth, and the angel shall say, “I have gone up and down through the earth, and the earth sitteth still, and is at rest: I heard no tumult of war nor noise of battle.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The song of the angels

I. THE SCENE. It was a fine Eastern night, not cold like one of our Decembers, with frosts or nipping gales freezing through blood and marrow. “The shepherds were abiding in the fields,” i.e., making their bivouac in them. The evangelist’s style seems to quiver with the sudden surprise which came upon the shepherds. “And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they feared with sore fear. And that angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, as being that which shall be to all the people of God.” His message declares four things. The wondrous Child to be born is a Saviour, who conies in pity for a fallen race; Christ, who, as the Anointed One, has so long been expected; the Lord, who is Divine as well as human; in David’s city, to fulfil literally the oracle of Micah, and the anticipations which might have been awakened by the Psalm that speaks of a great Priest-king in connection with Bethlehem, and God’s remembrance of David’s life of affliction. “And this shall be a sign unto you;” a sign, in its quiet but amazing contrast to all exhibitions of this world’s royalty. “Ye shall find a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” Among the angels of heaven there was silence until the point when that angel visitant to the shepherds had touched the lowest point in the abyss of the humiliation: The armies of earth raise a shout or song. The armies of heaven (the “heavenly soldiers,” as it is grandly rendered in the old English version) have theirs--but it is a song of peace. Much of that choral ode was, probably, unheard by mortal ears--lost in the heights above. One fragment alone of the song is preserved. It is a triplet.

1. “Glory to God in the highest.” The angels speak from the point of view of this earth. We may understand either “Let it be,” or “It is.” If the former, they pray that from the bosom of humanity glory may rise to God in the highest heaven. If we understand the latter, they affirm that it does, at that moment, actually ascend. There is a little poem, possibly more beautiful in idea than in execution, which tells of a child dying in a workhouse. As her simple hymn, “Glory to Thee, my God, this night,” ascends from the pallet-bed, it floats up and up, until the last faint ripple touches the foot of the throne of God. Then, wakened by the faint, sweet impulse, a new strain of adoration is taken up by angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven--a grander and a fuller “glory.” Something in this way, in this passage, the angels seem to view the best adorations of this earth.

2. “On earth peace.” The peace spoken of in Scripture as effected by the Incarnation, is fourfold--between God and man; between man and angels; between man and man; between man and his own conscience. It is, of course, too darkly true, that as regards one form of this peace--that between man and man--history seems a long cynical satire on the angels’ words. The earth is soaking with blood at this moment, and families are in mourning for the slain in battle. Still, among Christian nations, and in the case of Christian soldiers, there are soft relentings, sweet gleams of human--or rather superhuman--love. Society, too, is full of prejudice and bitterness. In our homes there are tempers which drop vitriolic irritants into every little wound. It was a wholesome memory of the angels’ song which led men to examine their souls at Christmas, and to seek for reconciliation with any between whose souls and theirs stood the veil of quarrel or ill-will. But there is something beyond this. It means enmity done away, harmony restored, not only with one’s fellow-man, but with oneself. The unholy man has no true feeling of friendship, no friendly relations with himself. Worst of all, man may be in a state of estrangement from God, from Christ, from His Church, from hope--hostile in his mind, which lies immersed, and has its very existence in those evil works of his.

3. (For, understood) “Among men is good-will.” It is well known from Keble’s beautiful lines, and his note upon Pergolesi’s setting of the Vulgate version, that some manuscripts read, “among men of goodwill.” This interpretation, though it may please the fancy at first, will scarcely be accepted by the maturer judgment.

II. We may now OBSERVE WHERE THE ANGELS’ HYMN STANDS IN THE REFORMED LITURGY. In the Roman missal it is found at the beginning of the office; with us it is taken up immediately after we communicate, just before the parting blessing. In that magnificent burst of praise, the “Angelic Hymn,” or “Gloria in Excelsis,” is the basis of all that follows. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” “We praise Thee” for Thy greatness. “We bless Thee” for Thy goodness, thus made known to us by the voice of angels. “We worship Thee” in our hearts, with beseeming outward reverence. “We glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty”--glorifying and giving thanks with the confession of the mouth. Then we address the sacrificed Son, the Lamb, who is also our God. “O Lord, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” It is thus indicated that He is the subject of the angelic song, that to Him there is glory in the highest, with the Father and the Holy Ghost. “Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.” We worship with angels--in angels’ words. We worship them not. Therefore into the texture of our eucharistic “Gloria in Excelsis” is woven a golden thread from another New Testament song--the poem of victory upon the sea of glass. A psalmist had exclaimed, “They shall praise Thy name, great and terrible; holy is it. Exalt ye Jehovah our God, and worship at the mountain of His holiness; for holy is the Lord our God.” The writer of the Apocalypse hears it applied to Jesus. And His believing Church incorporates this into her golden commentary of praise upon the “Gloria in Excelsis.” “Thou only art holy, O Christ.” Only He is holy of Himself: of His holiness we have all received. To an ignorant and superstitious woman, now many years ago, a kindly visitor read the Gospels, with little but the most simple commentary, and without a single word of controversy. A day or two before her death, the poor woman mentioned a dream which she had, valuable only because it appeared to be the reflection of her waking thoughts. She seemed to be in a vast and magnificent church, thronged with thousands upon thousands. High in the distance rose a glorious altar, with a living form towering above it--the Lamb as it had been slain; below, down to the rails which separated the altar from the body of the church, were orders of angels, stoled and vested priests, the Virgin-mother. Moved by some impulse, one after another came to the chancel-gate, and was either received inside with a burst of joy that filled the distance, or sorrowfully sent away. At last the dying woman presented herself in her turn. Sternly, yet not without a tone of regret, a priest put her back, and said, “You cannot pass.” Sweetly, with tender sorrow, an angel whispered, “Alas! I cannot help you.” With trembling voice, the mother of Jesus told her that “her prayers could not open those gates, nor open a way to the eternal presence of her Son.” Then, with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, the woman was turning away, to wander she knew not where, when suddenly the form above the altar--not white, and wan, and stirless, like the crucifix, but living and glorious--stood by the guarded gate. And He opened it, and bade her come in and fear not. “For,” said He, “those who come unto Me I will not cast out.” And a glorious music arose in the distance. In the same spirit, in this hymn, we pass by saints and angels, and raise our chant, “Thou only art holy.” None holy, and therefore none tender as Christ. In thanksgiving for angels’ food we borrow angels’ words. The song of angels is our communion song. May it not also be made our communicant’s manual? For instance, let us take that single line, “on earth peace.” That man who did something to insult or injure me--that, perhaps, very wretched woman, with her bitter tongue and cutting jeer--have I forgiven her for Christ’s sake? This evil peevish temper, which embitters the fountains of family life, have I set about sweetening it? Am I trying to improve it? This dark hopelessness of God’s forgiveness, this despair of the power of God’s Spirit to help and sanctify, this unbelief in grace, as if an apostle’s pen had never written, “How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” this unbelief in the power of the Cross, this faithlessness which turns the bread of the sacrament into a stone in our bands, and makes us too deaf to hear “for thee!” again and again- is this passing away? Am I ready to take Him at His own word? If not, I cannot really join in the “Gloria in Excelsis.” I have nothing to say to one line, at least, of the blessed triplet--“On earth peace”--and therefore the whole harmony is untuned for me. The first “Gloria in Excelsis” died away over Bethlehem. What then? “It came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, then the men, even the shepherds, said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” The men, the “shepherds” (so the Evangelist seems to say), represent the whole race of men. Even so, the Church keeps unending Christmas, keeps a new Christmas with every communion. The shepherds did their simple work of announcement. “They made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child;” while Mary, with her deeper and more reflective nature, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Then “the shepherds returned, glorifying God” for His greatness, and “praising Him” for His goodness, laying the foundation for their glorification and praise “upon all the things which they bad heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” The glory and music of angels did not tempt them from their work, but made them do it more gladly upon their return. There was more of heaven about it. So will it ever be with those who seek Him faithfully, and join truly in the “Gloria in Excelsis.” (Bishop Wm. Alexander.)

1. Glory to God in the highest. This glory arises from three sources--the matter of the gospel, the manner of its dissemination, and the effects it has produced upon the hearts and habits of men.

2. Glory to God arises from the manner and success of the dissemination of the Word of God, as well as from its matter and contents.

3. Glory is given to God from the effects which this gospel produces among men. In the experience of many it already begins a new heaven and a new earth.

II. “On earth peace.” Let us first ascertain the nature of this peace, and secondly, the way in which the Word of God promotes it, in order that we may be able to seek peace also, and pursue the right way of hastening on its reign. There is the peace of ignorance, but this is the peace of delusion. There is peace from compromise, but this is the peace of hell. True peace between man and God, or between man and man, can flourish on true principle, and on nothing else. Let us briefly glance at a few features of this goodwill; next, at the way in which God exerts it, and lastly, infer the manner in which we also should show goodwill toward our fellowmen. It is a distinctive goodwill. Why did God pass by the angels that fell, and throw the arms of love around the children of men? It was also an undeserved goodwill. Before the Saviour came we lifted up no cry for the interposition of the mercy of God. Such is God’s goodwill, and such His way of showing it. God will show His goodwill to the sinner, just by showing him his sin and his peril. If you saw a brother asleep, amid the darkness of night, enjoying the most delightful dreams, and at the same hour the house on fire around him, would you show him more goodwill by leaving him undisturbed, or by rousing him rudely from his sleep, and pointing his eye to the danger of his situation? This is God’s way of manifesting His goodwill to men. (J. Gumming, D. D.)

Angels’ acclamations

There never was such an apparition of angels as at this time; and there was great cause; for--

1. There was never such a ground for it, whether we regard the matter itself, the incarnation of Christ.

2. Or whether we regard the benefit that comes to us thereby. Christ by this means brings God and man together since the fall.

I shall especially stand upon those words; but somewhat is to be touched concerning the apparition of these angels.

1. The circumstances of their apparition. They appear to poor shepherds. God respects no callings. He will confound the pride of men, that set so much by that that God so little respects, and to comfort men in all conditions.

2. Again, the angels appeared to them in the midst of their business and callings; and indeed God’s people, as Moses and others, have had the sweetest intercourse with God in their affairs; and ofttimes it is the fittest way to hinder Satan’s temptations, and to take him off, to be employed in business, rather than to struggle with temptations.

3. And then they appeared to them in the night. God discovers Himself in the night of affliction. Our sweetest and strongest comforts are in our greatest miseries. God’s children find light in darkness; nay, God brings light out of darkness itself. We see the circumstances then of this apparition. He calls these angels “a heavenly host” in divers respects, especially in these:

God is everywhere. “Suddenly,” it not only shows us--

1. Somewhat exemplary from the quick despatch of the angels in their business we pray to God in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;” that is, willingly, “suddenly,” cheerfully:--

2. But also it serves for comfort. If we be in any sudden danger, God can despatch an angel, “a multitude” of angels, to encamp about us “suddenly.” What is the use and end of this glorious apparition? In regard of the poor shepherds, to confirm their faith, and in them ours; for if one or two witnesses confirm a thing, what shall a multitude do? If one or two men confirm a truth, much more an host of heavenly angels. Therefore it is base infidelity to call this in question, that is confirmed by a multitude of angels. And to comfort them likewise in this apparition. We see by the way that for one Christian to confirm and comfort one another, it is the work of an angel, an angelical work; for one man to discourage another, it is the work of a devil. Thus much for the apparition.

3. Now the celebration is “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The word signifies “singing” as well as praise. It implies praise expressed in that manner; and indeed “praising God,” it is the best expression of the affection of joy. The angels were joyful at the birth of Christ their Lord. Joy is no way better expressed than in “praising God;” and it is pity that such a sweet affection as joy should run in any other stream, if it were possible, than the “praising of God.” God hath planted this affection of joy in the creature, and it is fit he should reap the fruit of his own garden. It is pity a clear stream should run into a puddle, it should rather run into a garden; and so sweet and excellent an affection as joy, it is pity it should be employed otherwise than “in praising God” and doing good to men. They express their joy in a suitable expression--“in praising God.” The sweetest affection in man should have the sweetest employment. See here the pure nature of angels. They praise God for us. We have more good by the incarnation of Christ than they have; yet notwithstanding, such is their humility, that they come down with great delight from heaven, and praise and glorify God for the birth of Christ, who is not their, but our Redeemer. Some strength they have. There is no creature but hath some good by the incarnation of Christ; to the angels themselves, yet, however, they have some strength from Christ, in the increase of the number of the Church; yet He is not the Redeemer of angels. And yet see, their nature is so pure and so clear from envy and pride, that they even glorify God for the goodness showed to us--meaner creatures than themselves; and they envy not us, though we be advanced, by the incarnation of Christ, to a higher place than they. Let us labour therefore for dispositions angelical, that is, such as may delight in the good of others, and the good of other meaner than ourselves. And learn this also from them: shall they glorify God for our good especially, and shall we be dull and cold in praising God on our own behalf? There is some difference in the readings. Some copies have it, “On earth peace to men of goodwill,” to men of God’s goodwill; and so they would have it two branches, not three.

If the word be rightly understood, it is no great matter.

1. First, the angels begin with the main and chief end of all. It is God’s end; it was the angels’ end, and it should be ours too, “Glory to God on high.”

2. Then they wish the chief good of all, that whereby we are fitted for the main end, “peace.” God cannot be glorified on earth unless there be peace wrought.

3. Then, thirdly, here is the ground of all happiness from whence this peace comes: from God’s goodwill; from his good pleasure or free grace “to men of God’s goodwill.” To begin with the first: “Glory to God in the highest.” The angels, those blessed and holy spirits, they begin with that which is the end of all. It is God’s end in all things, His own glory. He hath none above Himself whose glory to aim at. And they wish “Glory to God in the highest heavens.” Indeed, He is more glorified there than anywhere in the world. It is the place where His Majesty most appears; and the truth is, we cannot perfectly glorify God till we be in heaven. There is pure glory given to God in heaven. There is no corruption there in those perfect souls. There is perfect glory given to God in heaven. Here upon earth God is not glorified at all by many. In the mean time, let me add this by the way, that in some sort we may glorify God more on earth than in heaven. Here upon earth we glorify God in the midst of enemies; He hath no enemies in heaven; they are all of one spirit. In this respect, let us be encouraged to glorify God, what we can here: for if we begin to glorify God here, it is a sign we are of the number that He intends to glorify with Him for ever. The verb is not set down here; whether it should be, Glory is given to God; or whether, by way of wishing, “Let glory be given to God;” or by way of prediction or prophecy for the time to come, “Glory shall be to God,” from hence to the end of the world. The verb being wanting, all have a truth. “Glory to God on high.” Glory is excellency, greatness, and goodness, with the eminency of it, so as it may be discovered. There is a fundamental glory in things that are not discovered at all times. God is always glorious, but, alas! few have eyes to see it. In the former part of the chapter “light” is called the “glory of the Lord” (verse 9). Light is a glorious creature. Nothing expresseth glory so much as light. It is a sweet creature, but it is a glorious creature. It carries its evidence in itself; it discovers all other things and itself too. So excellency and eminency will discover itself to those that have eyes to see it; and being manifested, and withal taken notice of, is glory. In that the angels begin with the glory of God, I might speak of this doctrine, that the glory of God, the setting forth of the excellencies and eminencies of the Lord, should be the end of our lives, the chief thing we should aim at. The angels here begin with it, and we begin with it in the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be Thy name.” It should be our main employment (Romans 11:36). “Well then, the incarnation of Christ, together with the benefits to us by it, that is, redemption, adoption, &c., it is that wherein God will show His glory most of all. That is the doctrinal truth. The glory and excellency of God doth most shine in His love and mercy in Christ. Every excellency of God hath its proper place or theatre where it is seen, as His power in the creation, his wisdom in His providence and ruling of the world, His justice in hell, His Majesty in heaven; but His mercy and kindness, His bowels of tender mercy, do most appear in His Church among His people. God shows the excellency of His goodness and mercy in the incarnation of Christ, and the benefits we have by it. Many attributes and excellencies of God shine in Christ, as--His truth: “All the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). And then His wisdom, that he could reconcile justice and mercy, by joining two natures together. Likewise here is justice, justice fully satisfied in Christ. And of His holiness, that He would be no otherwise satisfied for sin. Therefore “glory to God in the highest heavens,” especially for His free grace and mercy in Christ.

Now that you may understand this sweet point, which is very comfortable, and indeed the grand comfort to a Christian, do but compare the glory of God, that is, the excellency and eminency of God’s mercy, and goodness, and greatness of this work of redemption by Christ, with other things.

1. God is glorious in the work of creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and the earth manifests the glory of God.

2. Nay, the glory of God’s love and mercy shined not to us so, when we were in Adam; not in Adam, for there God did good to a good man: He created him good, and showed goodness to him. That was not so much wonder. But for God to show mercy to an enemy, to a creature that was in opposition to Him, that was in a state of rebellion against Him, it is a greater wonder and more glory. That which I shall next stand upon, shall be to show

1. For the first, of glorifying God in general, I will not speak much. It would be large; and the point of glorifying God is most sweetly considered, as invested in such a benefit as this, when we think of it, not as an idea only, but think of it in Christ, for whom we have cause to glorify God, and for all the good we have by Him.

2. This being so excellent a duty, to which we are stirred by the angels, “Glory to God on high,” &c., what are the main hindrances of it that we give not God more glory?

3. Now, the way to attain to this glorious duty, to glorify God.

What is peace? It is the best thing that man can attain unto, to have peace with his Maker and Creator. Peace, in general, is a harmony and an agreement of different things.

1. First, there is a scattering and a division from God, the fountain of good, with whom we had communion in our first creation, and His delight was in His creature.

2. Then there is a separation between the good angels and us; for they being good subjects, take part with their prince, and therefore join against rebels, as we are.

3. Then there is a division and scattering between man and man.

4. And then there is a division and separation between a man and the creature, which is ready to be in arms against any man that is in the state of nature, to take God’s quarrel, as we see in the plagues of Egypt and other examples.

5. And they have no peace with themselves. Then if we be at peace with God, all other peace will follow; for good subjects will be at peace with rebels, when they are brought in subjection to their king, and all join in one obedience. Therefore the angels are brought to God again by Christ. And so for men, there is a spirit of union between them. The same Spirit that knits us to God by faith, knits us one to another by love. And we have peace with the creature, for when God, who is the Lord of hosts, is made peaceful to us, He makes all other things peaceable. All peace with God, with angels, and with creatures is stablished in Christ. And why in Christ? Christ is every way fitted for it, for He is the Mediator between God and man; therefore by office He is fit to make peace between God and man.

He is Emmanuel, Himself God and man in one nature; therefore His office is to bring God and man together.

1. It is fit it should be so in regard of God, who being a “consuming fire,” will no peace with the creature without a mediator. It stands not with His majesty, neither can there ever be peace with us otherwise.

2. It was also fit, in respect of us, it should be so. Alas! “who can dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:14). Who can have communion with God, who is a “consuming fire?” No. We cannot endure the sight of an angel.

3. If we look to Christ Himself, He being God’s Son, and the Son of His love, for Him to make us sons, and sons of God’s love. Is it not most agreeable, that He that is the image of God, should again renew the image of God that we lost? “Peace upon earth.” Why doth He say, “peace on earth”? Because peace was here wrought upon earth by Christ in the days of His flesh, when he offered Himself “a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour to His Father.” Because here in earth we must be partakers of it. We ofttimes defer to make our peace with God from time to time, and think there will be peace made in another world. Oh, beloved, our peace must be made on earth.

But to come to some trials, whether we have this peace made or no; whether we can say in spirit and truth, there is a peace established between God and us.

1. For a ground of this, that may lead us to further trial, know that Christ hath reconciled God and us together, not only by obtaining peace, by way of satisfaction, but by way of application also. He gives a spirit of application to improve that peace, to improve “Christ, the Prince of peace,” as their own. To come to some more familiar evidences, whether we be at peace with God, and whether we have the comfort of this peace, established by Christ, or no.

2. Those that are reconciled one to another have common friends and common enemies.

3. Another evidence of “peace” made in Christ between God and us, is a boldness of spirit and acquaintance with God (Job 22:21).

4. A Christian that hath made his” peace” with God, will never allow himself in any sin against conscience.

5. Again, where there is a true peace established, there is a high esteem of the word of peace, the gospel of reconciliation, as St. Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:18).

6. Lastly, those that have found peace are peaceable.

In the next place, to give a few directions to maintain this peace actually and continually every day.

1. To walk with God, and to keep our daily peace with God, it requires a great deal of watchfulness over our thoughts,--for He is a Spirit, over our words and actions. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace.

2. And because it is a difficult thing to maintain terms of peace with God, in regard of our indisposition, we fall into breaches with God daily, therefore we should often renew our covenants and purposes every day.

3. Again, if we would maintain this peace, let us be always doing somewhat that is good and pleasing to God. In the same chapter (Philippians 4:8), “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,” &c., “think of these things. Now, to stir us up more and more to search the grounds of our peace, I beseech you, let us consider the fearful estate of a man that hath not made his peace with

God. “Goodwill towards men.” Divers copies have it otherwise, “On earth peace to men of goodwill.” Some have it, “Goodwill towards men.” The sense is not much different. Peace on earth, “To men of God’s goodwill, of God’s good pleasure.”

That God hath a pleasure to save, or “goodwill towards men,” of God’s good pleasure; “Peace on earth,” to men of God’s goodwill and pleasure; or God’s good pleasure towards men.

1. God shews now good pleasure towards men. The love that God bears towards man hath divers terms, from divers relations. Now this free goodwill and grace, it is towards men, towards mankind. He saith not, towards angels. And learn this for imitation, to love mankind. God loved mankind; and surely there is none that is born of God, but he loves the nature of man, wheresoever he finds it.

2. This ἐυδοκια, “goodwill of God,” to restore lapsed man by the sending of His Son, is the ground of all good to man, and hath no ground but itself. I come to the last point, because I would end this text at this time.

3. This free love and grace of God is only in Christ. (R. Sibbes.)

The angels’ song

But what did the heavenly choir mean? They could not mean that, at that moment, there was “Peace on the earth”? Was it a prayer? “May there be glory to God in the highest, and may there be peace on earth, and may there be goodwill toward men!” Or was it prophecy? Did they foresee that the time would come that this would be the blessed condition of our world?--a time not yet arrived. The angel who led the band, had spoken of joy, only joy, “great joy,” prophetic joy, “which should be to all people,” a joy prophetic still. But the rushing “multitude of the angel host” carried the note higher, and gave no limit of time; and they did not say joy, but peace--“Peace on earth.” Is it that, even to an angel’s mind, peace is above joy? Or, was it that they thought and knew that this was what our world most wanted? They had been accustomed to look upon the peace of heaven, where everything has found its resting-place, and everything is calm: where there is not a sound which is not like the flow of waters: where a discordant note is never heard: where all hearts are in one sweet concord: where all is dove-like gentleness! No wonder, then, that they drew their anthems from the scenes they lived in. We have to do now only with peace. And the stress lies in the words, “On earth.” No marvel if there should be peace in heaven. No angel would care to proclaim a thing so certain. A “peace” that has sadly left us, since that day when sin came in! Observe the course of the facts of our world’s history. Adam and Eve who, till that moment, were as one, now wrangled, which is the guiltiest? The first death upon this earth is fratricide; and the murdering brother, in his callous heart, cares nothing! The whole world is at enmity with God; and, save a few elect of every kind, every creature perishes in one vast engulphing flood! The earliest building upon record ends in a confusion, and is stamped a Babel! Even Abraham and Lot have to part; and Isaac quarrels with Ishmael; and Jacob with Esau; and Joseph has no peace with his brethren. “Peace on earth!” where is it? Where does she hide herself? Is she in the valleys? is she among the mountains? Is she in the high places of kings? Is she in the cottage? Is she in the Church? Is she, as she ought to be, in any one single man that walks this earth? But what is “peace”? The after creation--the rest of the soul--the concord of hearts--the reflection of heaven--the image of God. We must examine it moreclosely. It is human peace the angels sang: “Peace on earth.” What is the peace of a man? First, there must be peace with God. God has said it universally, “There shall be no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” But peace makes peace. Peace with God in the soul, makes peace in the soul, and peace in the soul makes peace with the world. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The influence of Christianity on the temporal condition of mankind

I. ON NATIONAL CHARACTER.

II. ON SOCIAL INTERCOURSE.

1. Christianity imparts to social intercourse a principle of equity.

2. A character of mildness to the intercourse of social life.

3. A principle of benevolence.

III. ON THE DOMESTIC SCENE.

IV. ON THE INDIVIDUAL

1. It secures his property.

2. It promotes his health.

3. It guards his reputation. (T. Raffles, D. D.)

National peace

And indeed national feuds are the more odious and unchristian, by how much Christ hath called all people to the sprinkling of the same water, and to alike participation of His body and blood at the same table. And it was well apprehended of one, that God hath given unto men more excellent gifts in the skill of navigation since His son is born, than ever they had before; that He might show the way how all the kingdoms of the earth should be sociable together: for Christ hath breathed His peace upon all the kingdoms of the world. (Bishop Hacker.)

Christ adverse to some kinds of peace

Yet very true that none is a greater adversary than our Saviour to some sorts of peace. The peace of Christ breaks the confederacy which sinners have in evil; it defies the devil and the vain pomp of the world; it draws the sword against blasphemy and idolatry; it will not let a man be at quiet within himself when he is full of vicious concupiscence. To make a covenant with hell, as the prophet speaks, or to have any fellowship with the works of darkness. (Bishop Hacker.)

Peace and sanctity not incompatible

The very name of peace is sweet and lovely: it is the calm of the world, the smile of nature, the harmony of things, a gentle and melodious air struck from well-tuned affairs; a blessing, so excellent and amiable, that in this world there is but one preferable before it, and that is, holiness. And, certainly, great glory doth dwell in that land, where these two sister-blessings, righteousness and peace, do meet and kiss each other, as the Psalmist speaks (Psalms 85:9-10). I know, that there are hot and turbulent spirits enough abroad, who are apt to suspect whatsoever is spoken on the behalf of peace, to be to the disadvantage of holiness: and, perhaps, some men’s zeal may be such a touchy and froward thing, that, though an angel from heaven, yea an innumerable multitude of them, proclaim it; yet they cannot believe there may be glory to God in the highest, whilst there is peace on earth. Indeed, if peace and sanctity were incompatible, or if any unhappy circumstances should compel us to redeem the one at the price of the other; we ought rather to follow righteousness through thorns and briars, than peace in its smoothest way strewed with roses. But there is no such inconsistency between them: for, certainly, that God, who hath commanded us to follow both peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:14), supposeth that they themselves may well go together. We may well suspect that zeal to be but an unclean bird of prey, that delights to quarry upon the dove; and those erratic lights, which make the vulgar gaze and the wise fear, to be but glaring comets, whose bloody aspects and eccentric irregular motions threaten nothing but wars, ruin, and desolations. Righteousness doth not oblige, us, so soon as anything is passed contrary to our present judgments and persuasions, nay suppose it be contrary to the truth also, straight to furbish our weapons, to sound an alarm, and to kill others in defence of that cause for which we ourselves rather ought to die. This is not to part with peace for righteousness; but to sacrifice both peace and righteousness, to injustice and violence. The cause of God, of piety and religion, may frequently engage us to forego our own peace, as sufferers and martyrs; but never to disturb the public peace of our country, as fighters and warriors. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)


Verse 15

Luke 2:15

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see

Bethlehem’s wonder

Every year the Christian heart takes, in thought, the shepherd’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem.
In this district lay the fields of Boaz in which Ruth gleaned. Here the son of Obed was born. David was anointed in Bethlehem. Best of all, in Bethlehem was Christ revealed. It was not without significance that Bethlehem, “The House of Bread,” should be the birthplace of Him who had come down from heaven to be the Bread of Life for men, and that He, who was in after years to be the Friend of the people and Saviour of the world, to be Himself so straitened as often to have nowhere to lay His head, should commence His earthly pilgrimage within the precincts of a stable. Let us ask what it was that the Bethlehem manger contained.

I. A VIRGIN’S CHILD.

II. ISRAEL’S MESSIAH.

III. THE WORLD’S SAVIOUR.

IV. GOD’S SON.

Transcendent mystery! Thought is paralyzed when it attempts to conceive how the Eternal could become a child of days, how the Infinite could be reduced to dimensions, how the Adorable Creator could become one with His own creature. Let it kindle our gratitude that we can understand something of the purpose of this sublime mystery, if even we can learn nothing of its manner. The Son of God became incarnate, that He might reveal the Father, that He might exemplify human virtue, that He might take away our sins, and that He might be able thereby to make us partakers of His own Divine nature. (T. W.)

The first pilgrims to the stable of Bethlehem

1. Their pilgrim mind.

2. Their pilgrim staff.

3. Their pilgrim hope.

4. Their pilgrim joy.

5. Their pilgrim thanksgiving. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

How men receive the good news of God

I.

1. In order that man may possess the blessings which are brought upon earth in the Person of the Incarnate Word, he must be willing to obey the Divine Voice which bids him seek if he would find.

2. The shepherds are not content with wondering at the Divine mystery which has been made known to them, nor yet with listening to the angelic song, but they hasten to Him who is born their Saviour. Being thus obedient they are filled with the angelic spirit, and they are also able to glorify God for that which they have seen and heard. Simple faith and obedience lift up the humblest to share in the work of the angels of God.

3. Yet there are many, who hearing these things, regard them only with idle and fruitless wonder (Luke 2:18) instead of pondering them in their hearts as Mary did.

II.--1. The gospel message that God is made man is for ever ringing in our ears. How does it affect us? There are many who are ready to study Christian doctrine as an interesting phase of human thought, or as a bright poetic vision, but who never find the Child of Bethlehem as a Saviour in very deed.

2. If we have thus found Him, our belief will show itself, either

3. Let us pray, at any rate, we be not among those to whom the gospel is a mere matter of curiosity and empty wonder, exercising no influence on their lives, and forgotten in the excitement of some new incident of an unusual kind. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

The faith of the shepherds, true faith

1. Its foundation.

2. Its properties.

(1) Emotion of heart.

3. Its aim.

The shepherds as patterns for imitation

1. They seek the Child in the stable and the manger.

2. They spread the gospel message everywhere.

3. They praise God with thankful joy. (Ahlfeld.)

The shepherds’ celebration of Christmas

1. Their going.

2. Their seeing,

3. Their spreading abroad the saying.

4. Their return to their avocations. (Arndt.)

A pilgrimage to Bethlehem

God gives men information to put them upon action. No sooner are the shepherds informed of the Saviour’s birth, than they say, “Let us, then, go and see Him.” It will be well for us to imitate them, and take a pilgrimage to Bethlehem.

I. Let us go to Bethlehem, and see DEITY DISPLAYED. It was necessary for our redemption that the Saviour of men should be a man; for the same nature that sinned must bear the punishment of sin. In what manner the human nature was united to the Divine, we cannot tell. It is enough for us to know that it was so united (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1; Joh_1:14; 1 Timothy 3:15-16). Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh. Let us go to Bethlehem, and see this great sight. Angels desire to look at it. Glorious mystery!

II. Let us go to Bethlehem, and behold MAN REDEEMED. The redemption of fallen, guilty, helpless man, was the grand design of the Saviour’s birth. There is something delightful in the name “Saviour.” Cicero, the Roman orator, said, that when travelling in Greece, he saw a pillar inscribed with this word--Saviour. He admired the fulness of the name, but he knew not its Christian meaning. How much more may the redeemed sinner admire it! We must have perished, had He not come and saved us.

III. Let us take another turn to Bethlehem, and see SATAN RUINED. Ever since, in the garden of Eden, he seduced our first parents, Satan has ruled the children of disobedience, and led men captive at his will. At the birth of Christ his throne began to totter, and it will go on shaking until it is utterly destroyed. Christ by His death has destroyed him that had the power of death, and by His rising again has delivered all who were held in bondage by Satan. (George Burder.)

Teaching from Christ’s cradle

You all feel more or less the trials, the mystery of life, its sufferings and its sins. One and One only can alleviate for you those trials, can explain that mystery, can remove that suffering, can heal those sins. Would you understand anything either of this life or of the life beyond? You can only do so by watching the life of your Saviour, by coming to Christ’s cradle, by standing behind His cross, by sitting with the deathless angel in His forsaken tomb. Follow Him with the eagle eye of faith, and then you may see the heavens open and Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of God. I ask you, then, for a moment or two to stand with me beside the cradle of your Lord, in the manger at Bethlehem, and catch something of what we there may learn.

1. Some of you are poor. How glad for you, beyond all utterance, should be the meaning of Christmas! Your Lord was, as you are, poor--as poor as any of you. The lot which He chose for His own was your lot. Look at your own little children with love and reverence, for He, too, was the child of the poor. Your rooms, in garret or in cellar, are not more comfortless than that manger at Bethlehem; nor is your labour humbler than His in that shop of the village carpenter at Nazareth. It was to the poor, to the humble, to the ignorant, to those poor shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night, that the heavens flashed forth with angel wings. They were the first to see in that cradle the Blessed Child. Cannot you, in heart or mind, go with them. Let Christ’s cradle teach you to respect yourselves, to reverence with a nobler self-esteem the nature which He gave you and took upon Himself, and which, by taking upon Himself, He redeemed.

2. And some are rich. Oh I come ye also to the manger-cradle of your Lord, for rich men did come both to His cradle and to His tomb. From the far East came those three wise men--the “three kings of the East,” as they are called--they came, as the rich should come, with the gifts, willing and humble gifts, not doled forth with murmurs as a burden, but lavished as a privilege with delight. First of all they gave, as we all may and must give, themselves--the gold of worthy lives, the frankincense of holy worship, the myrrh of consecrated sorrow. They might have kept their gold and their treasures for their own selfishness, for their own gratification, for the enhancement of their personal luxury, for the enrichment of their sons and daughters. They might have stamped their substance with a vulgar commonplace possession; but do not you think it was happier for them that they made their gifts immortal by offering them at the cradle of their Lord? You may do the very same thing to-day. You may give your gifts at the cradle of your Lord to-day. If you give to one of the least of these your brethren, you give it unto Him.

3. Many of you are sorrowful. So was He. Whatever be the form of your sorrow, and it may be very varied--be it loneliness, or agony of body, or anxiety of mind, or the sorrows inflicted by the vulgarity or baseness of other men--He bore it all, even to the cross. That soft and tender Child by whose cradle we stand to-day, the shadow of His cross falls even on His cradle, the crimson of His sunset flushes even His golden dawn; and, perfected by suffering, He would teach every one of us out of our sorrows to make springs of tenderness and strength and beauty.

4. All of you are sinners; and to you the news of that birth is indeed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” While you may see there how much God hates the sin, you may see also how tenderly, how earnestly He loves the sinner. Let us come to this cradle: let the lepers come, and let the outcasts come, and the mourners with their tear-stained cheeks, and the sinners with their broken hearts, and the young man with his selfwill and his strong unconquered passions, and the poor with their struggling lives, and the rich with their many temptations, and let them kneel and drink freely of the waters of Siloam which flow softly, and let them bathe their sick and shivering souls in the golden tide of heaven’s beatitude, and stand in the circle of heaven’s own free light, undarkened by any shadow; let them escape the errors what, darken the mind, the lusts which destroy the body, the sins which corrupt the soul; and so one and all wish one another a happy Christmas time, as I do from my heart to all of you today. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The festival of Christmas

This, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing,” &c., was the resolution of the shepherds on the original Christmas Day. May it be our own I “Come and see,” is written upon the gospel. There is no secrecy and no concealment in it. It challenges inquiry.

I. WE HAVE A FACT BEFORE US: “UNTO YOU IS BORN A SAVIOUR.” It is a summary of revelation.

1. It presupposes a ruin.

2. It assumes that salvation must come from without.

3. It declares that the Deliverer, though He comes from without the creature, must enter into it by incorporation. There must be a birth to bring in the Saviour into the Cosmos. “Unto you is born a Saviour”--Incarnation makes Him such.

II. When we try to obey the summons the first thing which we notice is, that CHRISTMAS DAY IS THE FESTIVAL OF REDEMPTION AS A WHOLE. It presents to us, not so much one part or one element of the gospel, but rather the intervention of God in Christ to save sinners as a single and complete act, containing in itself all that was necessary to give it validity and efficacy.

III. But the festival of Christmas, though its foundation lies so deep, has a thought for all natures. It is in an especial sense THE FESTIVAL, OF THE BRIGHTER SIDE OF CHRISTIANITY.

IV. Christmas is by common consent THE FESTIVAL OF THE FAMILY AND THE HOME. (Dean Vaughan,)

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem

And what shall we find when we get there?

I. THAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN THERE BEFORE US.

1. Here are the shepherds. Let us ask them to tell their story. They say that they were watching their flocks on the hill-side, with no sounds to break the stillness but the occasional bleating of the sheep, when suddenly they became aware that they were in the presence of a glory brighter than that of noonday. An angel stood there, and as they shrank in affright from the wondrous vision, the angel spoke, and said, “Fear not,” &c.” And then there appeared with him “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” &c. And--

When such music sweet,

Their heart and ears did greet,

As never was by mortal fingers strook,

Divinely warbled voice Answering the stringed noise,

As all their souls in blissful rapture took

The air such pleasure loathe to lose,

With thousand echoes still prolonged each heavenly close.

The anthem died away. The light faded from the hills. The angelic host departed. And the shepherds leaving their flocks, as afterwards the woman John 4:28 left her waterpot, set out to see the new-born Saviour whom the angels sang. They found what? The splendour and magnificence befitting His birth who was heir of all things, and King of kings? No, but “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” And still, though that was what they saw, they returned glorifying and praising God.

2. But not only the shepherds--others also, and men very different from these, have been to Bethlehem before us. They are not shepherds but sages. They have come not from some near hill-side. They are travel-stained and weary, for they have travelled long and far. They tell us that they have seen a new star, blazing and flashing in the sky, and that, led by that star, they have come to the place where lay the young Child and His mother; have worshipped Him, and presented to Him precious gifts. And now, their quest ended and rewarded, and the star having paled before the Sun of Righteousness who has arisen with healing in His wings, they are wending their way home by another route, with a new hope born in their hearts.

3. And not only shepherds and sages, but a countless multitude through all the Christian centuries, have been heart-pilgrims to Bethlehem before us, and have declared that “this thing which had come to pass” was the one thing needed to give them peace here below and the hope of heaven hereafter.

II. BUT WHAT WENT THEY ALL OUT TO SEE, ANN WHAT SHALL WE SEE IF, LIKE THEM, WE GO NOW EVEN UNTO BETHLEHEM?

1. The reality of Christ’s humanity.

2. The self-sacrificing power of Divine love. Our gladness cost Christ grief. Our salvation His humiliation.

3. The perfection of Christ’s example. As we stand by the manger and know that that cradle means the cross, let us pray that “the same mind may be in us which was also in Christ Jesus.” (J. R. Bailey.)

This thing

I. Is of supreme interest as an event in the world. Outweighs all other great events of history.

II. Has to do with all time and all men.

III. Should be seriously inquired into by each one of us personally.

IV. Should receive our serious attention without delay.

1. Because you are losing happiness in proportion to your neglect of Christ.

2. Because you are missing the Divine method of spiritual life and heavenward growth.

3. Because with present conduct are bound up the solemn issues of the eternal future. (W. Manning.)

The visit of the shepherds

I. How came they to make this visit? They were directed by the angel.

II. There was no delay in the visit: “Let us go now.” That is the secret of finding Christ.

III. Why did they go away rejoicing? Because they found everything just as God had said. So if we seek and find Jesus we shall go joyfully on our journey. (Sermons for Boys and Girls.)

Which is come to pass

Every Divine prophecy has its counterpart and fulfilment sooner or later in the events of human history. If God has said, “It shall come to pass,” the time will come at which men shall say, “It is come to pass.” (J. R. Bailey.)

Which the Lord hath made known to us

Mark that. When there is anything specially important it is the Lord that makes it known to us. You would never have heard a syllable of this, if the Lord had not made it known to you. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)

The adoration of the shepherds

I. THE TRUTH INVESTIGATED. “The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” It will be felt at once that there was very little room in their case for scepticism. The manner of the revelation had been supernatural, and they could scarcely doubt the correctness of the information who had received it through the ministration of angels. The inquiry must be conducted in a humble and teachable spirit. It is of no use coming to it at all if we come in the spirit of self-sufficiency. Some men seem wonderfully baffled by the mysteries there are in grace. And, after all, it is no real calamity that there is mystery connected with all the departments of knowledge. Twilights are not altogether destitute of enjoyment: even the indistinct apprehension of truth has its pleasures; and these experiences do but herald the coming light. The objector may say, “Then what is the use of inquiring? You ask us to test the truth concerning Christ, and then you practically check our inquiry by telling us that there is mystery and that we must trust!” “Not so,” we reply. All we want you to see is that nature and revelation are alike in this respect, that in each department there are profound mysteries, problems you cannot solve; and just as you accept this in reference to the former, and take this for granted in all your researches into her domain, so we ask you candidly to accept this in relation to the latter; and further, just as you search into Nature, and form your own conclusions from what you can clearly apprehend, so we ask you in the same spirit to test the claims of Christ. Be assured His life and character, and His influence and power over human hearts will bear the closest scrutiny; and if the investigation is approached in the right spirit, then, despite all mysteries, the inquirer shall be led to Christ, and adoringly shall say unto Him: “Thou art the Son of God: Thou art the King of Israel!” “Immanuel, God with us.”

II. THE TRUTH PROCLAIMED. “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” Let us look at these first heralds or proclaimers, that we may get a little stimulus, as Christian workers, from what is recorded respecting them. Clearly, they were not men of culture: they were humble, unpretending shepherds. Yet, for all this, they were genuine preachers of the truth concerning Christ. The lack of intellectual endowments or of educational advantages must not be pleaded in excuse for the neglect of this duty. “Go, tell the good news to thy neighbour.” “Let him that heareth say, Come!”

These men, if unlettered, could at any rate speak from experience. They had heard the voice from heaven and had seen the young child. And it was this personal experience which fitted them for service and inspired them with a true enthusiasm.

And then, their hearts were full of love. The scene they had witnessed had touched their hearts with love to the new-born King, and the sweet songs of angels to which they had listened, proclaiming “peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” had fired their souls with the spirit of a true brotherhood. Dr. Tholuck relates how that one who had been a great traveller said to him that he had scarcely ever fallen into company with fellow-travellers without speaking to them of the heavenly journey. Tholuck almost questioned the propriety of forcing such conversation. “Ah,” responded his friend, “I endeavoured never to speak till I was certain, that I loved. I figured to myself that we are all brothers one of another, and this never failed to soften my heart, and when there was love in mine I soon found a bridge into that of the stranger. It was as though the breath of God had drawn out a thread from the one and had fastened it to the other.” Nor must we overlook the fact that these proclaimers kept to the one theme, Christ. They made known “the saying” concerning Christ, but they did so with a view of leading those who heard them to Him.

III. THE TRUTH EXEMPLIFIED. “And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things which they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” They not only tested and proclaimed the truth concerning Christ, but they exemplified it in their conduct and life. Too many, alas I are content with a very defective Christian life and character. The eminent Church historian, Neander, in speaking of the Stoics, remarks that there were many among them who did nothing more than make an idle parade of the lofty maxims of the ancient philosophers, embellishing their halls with their busts, whilst their own lives were abandoned to every vice. And even so there are to be found among the professed disciples of Jesus those who are very unworthy representatives of Him, and who by their failings bring dishonour upon His cause. (S. D. Hillman, B. A.)

Quiet thoughts, after high revelations

I pretend not, brethren, to sum up in these few words what such aims and endeavours should be; but to set forth the spirit of them is enough.

1. You cannot, for example, go to seek Him “in the flesh,” who was sought of old time in the stable at Bethlehem; but there are other humble roofs, and uninviting abodes, where you may seek, and haply find, “the Lord of life!” For Christ yet abides with His own; and very especially among the poorest and most helpless of His flock. Go to them, and you go to Him. Keep up a kindly, habitual compassion for their trials.

2. So again, you have no heaven-sent marvels of which to tell; you cannot report to others of the descent of the Angel of the Lord; nor of the gathering of an host of “ministering spirits” from above, chanting their adoration “to God and the Lamb!” But you can tell, perhaps, of the peace you may yourselves have read beneath the burning stars of some Christmas night. You can tell, perhaps, of some rough way that you yourselves have trod, and found, by God’s grace, consolation and “hope in its end.”

3. And need I point to one deeper and dearer realization of our subject yet? It stands in the fact that this sacred season has many opportunities for Holy Communion; for that best and most privileged way in which we can “keep the Feast.” He will be veiled in His Sacrament, as aforetime in His flesh; but the same Immanuel, “God with you!” And, surely, you will return to your own paths and your own ways, like your prototypes of Bethlehem, praising and glorifying God for all the benefits that He hath done unto you; having received the Cup of Salvation, and having been answered in the name of the Lord! (J. Puckle, M. A.)

The significance of Christmas

I. Here is a lesson of doctrinal theology.

II. A lesson of intellectual theology. A new revelation of God is given to man in the incarnate Christ.

III. A lesson in experimental theology.

IV. A lesson in emotional theology. It is a theophany of love.

V. A lesson of practical theology. The shepherds and wise men came in the spirit of earnest consecration.

VI. A lesson of consolation, of gladness, of rapture. (C. Wadsworth, D. D.)

Faith outliving its special occasions

The trial of men’s faith comes after God’s awakening angels have gone away. To us God’s favouring messengers are stripped of their miraculous raiment. They take the shape of merciful providences to relieve and comfort us, of Christian ordinances to strengthen us, festivals to reawaken our thanksgiving, and human hearts to enrich the poverty of ours with their affection. In the fresh mercy of some gracious deliverance, from sadness or pain or accident or threatened sorrow, men cast their thank-offering into the treasury of the Church, and wonder that they should ever be forgetful of God’s care. In the stillness of a sanctuary, when all the harmonies of holy times and places seem to shut out temptation, to set open the windows of heaven, and fill the uplifted spirit with hearty praise, men say, “Would to God all days and places were like this; for when faith, and zeal, and charity never would grow cold!” In the warmth of the feast it is easy to be glad. But these hours pass by. The angels are gone away into heaven. The festive lights are put out; the temple-doors are shut; the winter snow lies white and smooth on the little grave in the burial-ground. The world comes crowding, beseeching, flattering, threatening, almost forcing its way back, with its noise and its guilt, into the unguarded and yielding heart. Then comes the test of the reality, the sincerity, the power, of your Christian principles. When the song ceased, the first Christmas Eve, and the bright host vanished from the sky, the shepherds did not fall asleep again, and so have only a dream to tell the next morning. They verified the vision, like earnest and constant men. Secondly: Such willingness to watch and seek commonly leads, as it does here, to an equal readiness to believe when the promise is fulfilled, and they that have sought Christ find Him. They might have said--and if they had been modern philosophers, conceited critics, or ambitious naturalists, they would have been very sure to say--to each other, “Beware how you believe; these, to be sure, are extraordinary phenomena; they look very much as miracles are said to look--brilliant figures plainly seen by many witnesses, nay, by our own eyes, and articulate melodies from their tongues!--but possibly electricity, meteorology, optics, or acoustics may explain them all;--light or sound.” They say, “We will look into our books. It is extremely unlikely that nature would interrupt her order, or let in new light by a new channel. Let us take care not to be ridiculed for believing too much.” Glories of heaven and earth, grander than telescopes ever pierced among the stars, or hammers ever uncovered in the rocks, pass by, and there is no vision to behold them. Spiritual things not seen for want of spiritual senses! God knew whom He was choosing when He opened Heaven on those clear-hearted keepers of simple flocks. They discredited neither messenger nor message. Thirdly: When faith is prompt, honest, and manly, like this, it comes out as it does in these brave men, to an open confession. The shepherds said what they said frankly, “one to another,” and with one consent. So they did not hide their purposes, or play fast and loose with their convictions. Will those men who have resolved to go to Bethlehem and see, really arise and go? Many a Christian life falters and fails in every congregation between these two. Will resolve pass on into action, and a good faith confirm and demonstrate itself in good works? Yes, “they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Visions are transient; the festival is but for a day; the angels go away into heaven. But the indwelling Christ abides. (F. D. Huntingdon, D. D.)


Verses 16-18

Luke 2:16-18

And they came with haste.
The course pursued by the shepherds is vividly typical of that which should be pursued by all Christian inquirers.

1. A process of inquiry.

2. The joy of distinct confirmation.

3. A bold proclamation of the truth which has been realized.

The gospel is self-propagating. Wherever it makes a convert it makes a preacher. Have we made known abroad what we ourselves have experienced of the power and love of Christ? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets! We want more than the formal sermon. We need the simple personal testimony of every believing heart. In the case of Mary, it is plain that silence must not always be regarded as a sign of indifference. Her joy and her wonder were too great for speech. She had, indeed, had her period of exultation, and the calmness which followed was but the natural expression of a chastened feeling. (J1. Parker, D. D.)

Birthday contrasts

On the 5th of September, 1639, in the faubourg St. Germain, of Paris, then a little village surrounding the palace of King Louis XIII., was crowded the blue blood of France. Around that royal home of the kings of France had gathered all that was noble, all that was great in the land, in honour of the birth of a child to the king. In an antechamber within the palace the bishops of the Church were waiting to christen the child on its birth. Soon a nurse entered the room, bearing the child upon a pillow, and kneeling, she said, “Sire, it is my honour to bring you this son and heir.” The proud king carried the babe to an open window, and, addressing the waiting multitudes, exclaimed, “My son, gentlemen, my son!” The bells rang, the people shouted, and for a week France was wild with joy. The 19th of March, 1812, 173 years later, was the eve of another great birthday in France. The little Corsican, the man of destiny, was on the throne. He had put away one wife and taken another, and the birth of a child was expected. Twenty-one guns were to be fired if a daughter was born, a hundred if the child was a boy. On the 20th of March, at six o’clock in the morning, the booming of cannon was heard. All Paris waited and listened. When the twenty-second gun was heard a mighty shout arose, and there was great rejoicing in every part of France. The dynasty of Bonaparte had a son and heir. It is impossible, men and brethren, as we come together this morning to celebrate the anniversary of another birth that the contrast between that one and these should be overlooked. There was no royalty in Bethlehem; the palace was a stable, the cradle was a manger, but what a contrast paid to Him born at that time by a whole world for eighteen centuries. The child born in St. Germain was Louis XIV., the Grand King, who ruled for many years, who first said, “I am the State.” But he lived to see that the sun of his dynasty was setting. The other son died ere he had reached man’s estate, obscure and neglected. Five years after the guns had fired in honour of his birth his father was a prisoner of war. Looking back to that manger in Bethlehem, we see stepping from it a royalty which has governed the world. What a conquest, what a history is His! It is told in one of the apocryphal books that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem the earth stopped on its axis, and movement upon it suddenly ceased. A great light, an ineffable joy, had come upon the world, and that light, that joy, eighteen crowded busy centuries has not diminished. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)

The gospel a source of wonder

Many are set a-wondering by the gospel. They are content to hear it, pleased to hear it; if not in itself something new, yet there are new ways of putting it, and they are glad to be refreshed with the variety. The preacher’s voice is unto them as the sound of one that giveth a goodly tune upon an instrument. They are glad to listen. They are not sceptics, they do not cavil, they raise no difficulties; they just say to themselves, “It is an excellent gospel, it is a wonderful plan of salvation. Here is most astonishing love, most extraordinary condescension.” Sometimes they marvel that these things should be told them by shepherds; they can hardly understand how unlearned and ignorant men should speak of these things. But after holding up their hands and opening their mouths for about nine days, the wonder subsides, and they go their way and think no more about it. There are many of you who are set a-wondering whenever you see a work of God in your district. You hear of somebody converted who was a very extraordinary sinner, and you say, “It is very wonderful!” There is a revival; you happen to be present at one of the meetings when the Spirit of God is working gloriously: you say, “Well, this is a singular thing! very astonishing!” Even the newspapers can afford a corner at times for very great and extraordinary works of God the Holy Spirit; but there all emotion ends; it is all wondering, and nothing more. Now, I trust it will not be so with any of us; that we shall not think of the Saviour and of the doctrines of the gospel which He came to preach simply with amazement and astonishment, for this will work us but little good. On the other hand, there is another mode of wondering which is akin to adoration, if it be not adoration. Let me suggest to you that holy wonder at what God has done should be very natural to you. That God should consider His fallen creature, man, and instead of sweeping him away with the bosom of destruction, should devise a wonderful scheme for his redemption, and that he should Himself undertake to be man’s Redeemer, and to pay his ransom price, is, indeed, marvellous! Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship; being astonished at what God has done, you will pour out your soul with astonishment at the foot of the golden throne with the song, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and majesty, and power, and dominion, and might be unto Him who sitteth on the throne and doeth these great things to me.” Filled with this wonder, it will cause you a godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such love as this. You will be moved at the same time to a glorious hope. If Jesus has given Himself to you, if He has done this marvellous thing on your behalf, you will feel that heaven itself is not too great for your expectation, and that the rivers of pleasure at God’s right hand are not too sweet or too deep for you to drink thereof. Who can be astonished at anything when he has once been astonished at the manger and the cross? What is there wonderful left after one has seen the Saviour? The nine wonders of the world! Why, you may put them all into a nutshell--machinery and modern art can excel them all; but this one wonder is not the wonder of earth only, but of heaven and earth, and even hell itself. It is not the wonder of the olden time, but the wonder of all time and the wonder of eternity. They who see human wonders a few times, at last cease to be astonished; the noblest pile that architect ever raised, at last fails to impress the onlooker; but not so this marvellous temple of incarnate Deity; the more we look the more we are astonished, the more we become accustomed to it the more have we a sense of its surpassing splendour of love and grace. There is more of God, let us say, to be seen in the manger and the cross, than in the sparkling stars above, the rolling deep below, the towering mountain, the teeming valleys, the abodes of life, or the abyss of death. Let us then spend some choice hours of this festive season in holy wonder, such as will produce gratitude, worship, love, and confidence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Holy work for Christmas

This text seems to indicate four ways of serving God, four methods of executing holy work and exercising Christian thought. Each of the verses sets before us a different way of sacred service. I know not which of these four did God best service, but, I think, if we could combine all these mental emotions and outward exercises, we should be sure to praise God after a most godly and acceptable fashion.

I. SOME PUBLISHED ABROAD THE NEWS.

1. They had something to rehearse in men’s ears well worth the telling. They had found out the answer to the perpetual riddle.

2. That “something” had in it the inimitable blending which is the secret sign and royal mark of Divine authorship; a peerless marrying of sublimity and simplicity; angels singing!--singing to shepherds! Heaven bright with glory!--bright at midnight! God--a Babe! The Infinite--an Infant a span long! The Ancient of Days--born of a woman! What more simple than the inn, the manger, a carpenter, a carpenter’s wife, a child? What more sublime than a multitude of the heavenly host waking the midnight with their joyous chorales, and God Himself in human flesh made manifest?

3. The shepherds needed no excuse for publishing their news, for what they told they had first received from heaven. When heaven entrusts a man with a merciful revelation, he is bound to deliver the good tidings to others.

4. They spoke of what they had seen below. They had, by observation, made those truths most surely their own which had first been spoken to them by revelation. No man can speak of the things of God with any success until the doctrine which he finds in the Book he finds also in his heart.

II. SOME KEPT CHRISTMAS BY HOLY WONDER, ADMIRATION, AND ADORATION.

III. ONE, AT LEAST, PONDERED, MEDITATED, THOUGHT UPON THESE THINGS.

1. An exercise of memory.

2. An exercise of the affections.

3. An exercise of the intellect.

IV. OTHERS GLORIFIED GOD, AND GAVE HIM PRAISE.

1. They praised God for what they had heard.

2. They praised God for what they had seen.

3. They praised God for the agreement between what they had heard and what they had seen. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Many ways of serving God

Some people get the notion into their heals that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. Alas! how many of us would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. Tile shepherds went back to the sheep-pens glorifying and praising God. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall where the godly worker, as he plies the awl, sings of the Saviour’s love, ay, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by yonder carter as he drives his horse and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow-labourer by the roadside, as much as by yonder divine who, throughout the country like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our abiding in our vocation. Take care you do not fall out of the path of duty by leaving your calling, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it; think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the gospel. If you turn to the Bible, you will find the most menial forms of labour have been in some way or other connected either with the most daring deeds of faith, or else with persons whose lives have been otherwise illustrious; keep to your calling, brother, keep to your calling! Whatever God has made thee, when He calls thee abide in that, unless thou art quite sure, mind that, unless thou art quite sure that He calls thee to something else. The shepherds glorified God though they went to their trade. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Christmas work

Every season has its own proper fruit: apples for autumn, holly berries for Christmas. The earth brings forth according to the period of the year, and with man there is a time for every purpose under heaven. At this season the world is engaged in congratulating itself and in expressing its complimentary wishes for the good of its citizens; let me suggest extra and more solid work for Christians. As we think to-day of the birth of the Saviour, let us aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts; that as He is already “formed in us the hope of glory,” we may be “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” that we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves, and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals. Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at the first; let Him be crowned anew by us, for He is still adorned with the dew of His youth, and remains “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” The citizens of Durham, though they dwell not far from the Scotch border, and consequently in the olden times were frequently liable to be attacked, were exempted from the toils of war because there was a cathedral within their walls, and they were set aside to the bishop’s service, being called hi the olden times by the name of “holy work-folk.” Now, we citizens of the New Jerusalem, having the Lord Jesus in our midst, may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season; and, considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Second Christmas Day

And what can better befit us than to do as these shepherds did?

I. THEY RECEIVED THE HEAVENLY MANIFESTATION WITH BECOMING REVERENCE AND AWE. When “the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, they were sore afraid.” They instantly thought of God, and referred the whole thing to its proper Divine source. A right mind and a right learning sees God in everything, and beholds in the commonest ongoings of the universe the manifestations of eternal Power and Godhead, as energetic in character, and as wonderful in results, as the setting up of the stars on high, or the calling forth of the world from its nothingness. It sees in every light that shines from heaven the herald of present Deity, and is ready to fall down in holy reverence at every new signal from the sky, as verily the forthcoming of the Almighty Creator and King of the universe, before whom every knee should bow, and every tongue confess, with trembling adoration. But we need especially to know and feel that it is the same dreadful Majesty that approaches us in the proclamation of the Christ. For where the gospel speaks, there God and His angels are.

II. THE SHEPHERDS RELIEVED WHAT THE HEAVENLY MESSENGER TOLD THEM. Their ready persuasion in this respect also serves to show how self-evidencing the true gospel is to minds that are unprejudiced and really open to it. Its obstructions are ethical. Its absence in those to whom the gospel is faithfully preached is not the result of the absence of sufficient demonstration, but of the absence of heart and will to be convinced, and to own allegiance to the truth. Men have intuition enough on this subject to do away with dialectics.

III. THE SHEPHERDS DILIGENTLY IMPROVED THE LIGHT THEY RECEIVED. They were not satisfied with the mere hearing of the new-born Saviour, but must needs go and see what had occurred. Faith is an active principle. It cannot know of a Saviour and not go in search of Him. Let the impediments be what they may, it will on. There is a most important sense in which He is still here. He is in His word, in His sacraments, in His Church. This is now the Bethlehem to which we must go to seek Him.

IV. THE SHEPHERDS WERE AMPLY REWARDED FOR THEIR PAINS. They found the Saviour whom the angel announced. Earnestly seeking, they also joyfully find.

V. THE SHEPHERDS, HAVING FOUND THE CHRIST THEMSELVES, FREELY CONFESSED HIM BEFORE THE WORLD. “When they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” Christianity deals with men as individuals. But man is a social being, and social results must necessarily follow from the intense impulses which faith kindles in the individual soul. And as our existence must needs affect others, so our personal experiences also have relations, and are meant to have effects, beyond our individual selves.

VI. THE SHEPHERDS RETURNED TO THEIR FLOCKS GLORIFYING GOD. True religion was not meant to take men away from the ordinary pursuits of life, but to go with us into them to consecrate them, and to give us new comforts in them. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)


Verse 19

Luke 2:19

And pondered them in her heart

Mary’s musings

Great things were these which she kept, and most fit for earnest pondering.
Great were they to all, greatest to her, the “highly favoured” amongst women. Life was opening strangely upon her; and the last few months had crowded into their narrow compass all that was most fit to stir the very depths of her spirit. Brought up in the, comparative seclusion which shut in Jewish damsels, the angel of the Most High had stood suddenly beside her, and troubled her mind by the strangeness of his salutation. Then had followed the fears and hopes which the promise of that angel-visitor had interwoven with her very being. The “Desire of all nations” was at last to come, and she should be indeed His mother. From her should spring that mighty Redeemer, to give birth to whom had been the earnest longing of every Jewish mother. What hopes and wonder must have filled her soul! At length the months of waiting passed away, and the gracious birth was come, the promised Child was born, the Son of hope was given; and still how much was there upon which to muse and ponder! There was the full tide of a mother’s love for the Babe which slept beside her; there was the awful reverence of her pious soul for the unknown majesty of Him who of her had taken human flesh. Depths were all around her, into which her spirit searched, in which it could find no resting-place. How was He, this infant of days, the Everlasting Son? How was He to make atonement for her sins and the sins of her people? When would the mystery begin to unfold itself? As yet it lay upon her thick and impenetrable; all was dark around her; mighty promises and small fulfilments seemed to strive together in the womb of time. The angel had called Him Great, the Son of the Highest; but He lay there on her bosom weak and wailing as any other babe. He was to sit upon the throne of David; yet He was cradled in a manger. Angels broke on mortal sight, to make His birthplace known: yet none but the shepherds of Bethlehem had heard their message. A star from heaven guided eastern magi to His feet; but they made their offerings in a stable. She was “highly favoured” who had borne Him; yet a sword should pierce through her own soul. All was full of contradictions; yet amidst all she was unmoved. To the eye of a passing observer she might have seemed perhaps insensible--such a quietness there was about her. Did she know her own greatness? Did she feel the strangeness of all around her? Did her soul yearn over this Babe, and reach, forth to comprehend His unknown destiny? or was she indeed destitute of kindling feelings? No; “she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”; not one escaped her; but the current of her soul flowed far too deeply to babble forth its emotions. The “ornament of a quiet spirit” shrouded the mighty swellings of her heart. She was in God’s hands: this one thought was her anchor. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”: this was her talisman … So that this is the lesson taught us in the character of the Virgin Mary. The blessedness of cultivating a quiet, trusting spirit, a deep inward piety, a calm, waiting soul, by musing on God’s dealings. This was what distinguished her; this was the groundwork of that strength and nobleness of character which we trace in her. This, therefore, we should likewise cultivate, who would share her blessedness. For this will be to us too, of God’s blessing, a means of acquiring that pious cheerfulness of temper which is the natural mother of high and noble conduct. It is not in a loud profession or an obtrusive exterior, but in its silent inner power of bowing our will to that of God, of filling our common life with His presence, that true religion shows itself
. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)

Significant silence respecting Mary

How small a space does Mary hold in the New Testament! how vast a space in the history of the Church! Observe the silence of the record respecting her. Shakespeare, the highest among all who haw conceived the human heart or portrayed human life, is marked above all others, as the New Testament is, by the use of significant silence in representing character--led by his deep instinct to know that whatever is peculiarly fine or high can only in this way be hinted to the apprehension. The highest traits of his highest women especially, and in their highest moments, are indicated--how? Just by a few words, a few touches, coming in between silences of far deeper tone, and so the exquisite outline of those wonderful characters is made out. I find the same in the New Testament. Nothing in it is, to me, so deep and bottomless in meaning and effect as the silences of Christ--a stroke or two, a few lines, giving figure and expression to the formless deep lying below. And the same as to Mary. How few the touches!--only just enough to mark out and give character to the deeps of silence, as, when you hear a strain of music at night, the stillness which follows it is made richer still and more musical than any possibility of sound. The evangelists, having given us certain facts as to Mary, do afterwards almost nothing but remain quiet, and not interfere with the inferences of the Christian heart as to the beautiful nature and wonderful consciousness of the virgin mother. Nothing is said as to her feelings--(silence)--but we understand from a general sense of her character, how meek and submissive that silence is. In things which are above her thought, and which seem to men impossible, in things which bring glory to her, or in things which bring shame, the characteristic of this woman is deep, meek, silent submission; and this, as it is the natural top of true womanhood, so also is it of true Christianity. What she was, her son was also in His wider and grander relations to God. (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)

The inwardness of Mary’s character

Observe what I may call the inwardness of Mary’s character. On several occasions, when a common nature would have exulted, when vanity would have babbled, or when common wonder and doubt would have gone asking for explanations, it is said of her, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Now this would not have been repeated as it is, if it had not been a peculiarity and observable. This I call inwardness. There was a hush of awe about it, a disposition to keep a sacred thing sacred; to hide the depths of the heart away from common talk, and to keep their inexpressible-mess hidden to God; to keep all doubts and demurs submissively for His solution; to “judge nothing before the time”; to draw inward, and compose and hush the entire nature at the footstool of God; in short, her whole heart seems to have been expressed in the one sentence, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.” (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)

Hearing should be followed by meditation

Musing makes the fire to burn, and deep and constant thoughts are operative, not a glance or a slight view. The hen which straggles from her nest when she sits a brooding, produces nothing; it is a constant incubation which hatches the young. So when we have only a few straggling thoughts, and do not set a-brooding upon a truth, when we have flashes only, like a little glance of a sunbeam upon a wall, it does nothing; but serious and inculcative thoughts (through the Lord’s blessing) will do the work. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Value of meditation

Any benefit to be derived from hearing the Word exceedingly depends on meditation. Before we hear the Word, meditation is like a plough, which opens the ground to receive the seed; and after we have heard the Word, it is like the harrow which covers the new-sown seed in the earth, that the fowls of the air may not pick it up: meditation is that which makes the Word full of life and energy to our soul. What is the reason that most men come to hear the Word, as the beasts did in Noah’s ark: they came in unclean, and they went out unclean? The reason is, because they do not meditate on the truths they hear; it is but just like putting money into a bag with holes--presently it falls out. The truths they hear preached are put into shallow, neglected memories, and they do not draw them forth by meditation. It is for this reason, that hearing is so ineffectual. Hearing the Word merely is like indigestion, and when we meditate upon the Word, that’s digestion: and this digestion of the Word by meditation produces warm affections, zealous resolutions, and holy actions; and therefore, if you desire to profit by hearing the word, meditate. (H. G.Salter.)

Comfort by meditation

Meditation, as it advances the graces of the soul, so the comfort of the soul. God conveys comfort to us in a rational way; and although He is able to rain manna in the wilderness, and to cast in comfort to our souls without any labour of ours, yet usually He dispenses comfort according to the standing rule. He that does not work shall not eat--he that does not labour in the duties of religion shall not taste thesweetness of religion. Now, meditation is the serious and active performance of the soul to which God has promised comfort. The promises of the gospel do not convey comfort to us as they are recorded in the Word merely, but as they are applied by meditation. The grapes, while they hang upon the vine, do not produce that wine which cheers the heart of man: but when they arc squeezed in the wine-press, then they yield forth their liquor, which is of such a cheering nature. So the promises which are in the Word barely, do not send forth that sovereign juice which cheers our hearts; but when we ponder them in our souls, and press them by meditation, then the promises convey the water of life to us. Meditation turns the promises into marrow (Psalms 63:5-6); it conveys the strength of them to our souls. (H. G. Salter.)

Meditation nourishes the soul

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and our best abundance of the heart must be slowly and in quietness prepared. The cattle, when they rest, are yet working to prepare from the grass that sweetest and moat wholesome of beverages--milk. So must we prepare the abundance of the heart. If the milk of our word is to flow from us nourishingly, we must turn the common things of life--the grass--by slow and quiet processes, into sweet wisdom. In retired, meditative hours, the digesting and secreting powers of the spirit act; and thus ourselves are nourished, and we store nourishment for others. (T. T. Lynch.)

Meditation must be experienced to be appreciated

The advantage of meditation is rather to be felt than read. He that can paint spikenard, or musk, or roses, in their proper colour, cannot with all his art draw their pleasant savour; that is beyond the skill of his pencil. (T. Swinnock.)

The Incarnation a subject for devout study

No one can absolve himself from the duty of spiritual thought. The words which I have chosen for a text presents the duty to us with almost startling force. The mother of the Lord had received that direct, personal, living revelation of the purpose and the working of God which none other could have; she had acknowledged in the familiar strain of the Magnificat the salvation which He had prepared through her for His people; she might well seem to have been lifted above the necessity of any later teaching; but when the simple shepherds told their story, a faint echo as we might think of what she knew, she “kept all these things, &c.,” if haply they might show a little more of the great mystery of which she was the minister: she kept them waiting and learning during that long thirty years of silence, waiting and learning during that brief time of open labour, from the first words at the marriage feast to the last words from the cross. And shall we, with our restless, distracted lives, with our feeble and imperfect grasp on Truth, be contented to repeat with indolent assent a traditional confession? Can we suppose that the highest knowledge and the highest know ledge alone is to be gained without effort, without preparation, without discipline, and by a simple act of memory? Is it credible that the law of our nature, which adds capacity to experience and joy to quest, is suddenly suspended when we reach the loftiest field of man’s activity?

1. The SPIRIT of our study of the Incarnation must be love illuminated by faith, attested by the heart.

2. It follows that the AIM of our study will be vital and not merely intellectual.

3. If we have felt one touch of the spirit which should animate our contemplation of Christ Born, Crucified, Ascended, for us: if we have realized one fragment of the end to which our work is directed, we shall know what the BLESSING IS. know what it is to see with faint and trembling eyes depth below depth opening in the poor and dull surface of the earth; to see flashes of great hope shoot across the weary trivialities of business and pleasure; to see active about us, in the face of every scheme of selfish ambition, powers of the age to come; to see over all the inequalities of the world, its terrible contrasts, its desolating crimes, its pride, its lust, its cruelty, one over-arching sign of God’s purpose of redemption, broad as the sky and bright as the sunshine; to see in the gospel a revelation of love powerful enough to give a foretaste of the unity of creation, powerful hereafter to realize it. To us also the Christ has been given. To us also the message of the angels has been made known. To us also the sign of the Saviour has been fulfilled. Happy are we--then only happy--if we keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts. (Canon Westcott.)

The profoundest mystery yet is the origin of child-life

It is an unexplored history. The sublimest results often are in the child, and yet not a step can we trace with definiteness backward to know the cause of which this is the little effect. The future beams with revelations in its behalf; but of the particles which go to make it up who can guess? Who knows anything about it? The great Sphinx--standing alone in Egypt half-buried in the sand--what mind conceived that? what hand carved it? what has it to say for itself? or who shall speak for it? Yet every cradle has a sphinx more unreadable and mysterious than the old Sphinx of the desert. It is chiefly this future over which parents brood. A mother’s heart is a miracle. She sees what is not there. She creates what she sees and recreates it when a breath blows it all away. She loves what has no lovable quality. The child is a mere prophecy. These feet shall yet walk, but not now. These eyes shall beam, but now they sleep. These hands shall work, or caress, or carve, or carry the sword, but they are helpless now. “She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” is true of every Mary, and of every other name by which the mother is known. She ponders the miracle of the babe, and is herself another miracle creating the life which is to come, and which is purely the myth of her imagination. The things spoken by the angels and the shepherds of the Messiah, the mother of Jesus pondered, and every mother is a Mary, and ponders the little traveller knocking at the door of life or sleeping in the hospitable cradle. The unwritten poetry of a mother’s heart would give to the world a literature beyond all printed words. (H. F.Beecher.)

THE VIRGIN MARY TO THE CHILD JESUS,

Sleep, sleep, mine Holy One!

My flesh, my Lord I what name?

I do not know A name that seemeth not too high or low,

Too far from me or heaven.

My Jesus, that is best I that word being given

By the majestic angel whose command

Was softly as a man’s beseeching said,

When I and all the earth appeared to stand

In the great overflow.

A light celestial from his wings and head

Sleep, sleep, my saving One.

The slumber of His lips meseems to run

Through my lips to mine heart.

And then the drear sharp tongue of prophecy

With the dread sense of things which shall be done,

Doth smite me inly, like a sword.

(Mrs. E. B. Browning.)

THE MOTHER MARY.

Mary, to thee the heart was given,

For infant hands to hold,

Thus clasping, an eternal heaven,

The great earth in its fold.

He came, all helpless, to thy power,

For warmth, and love, and birth;

In thy embraces, every hour

He grew into the earth.

And thine the grief, O mother high,

Which all thy sisters share,

Who keep the gate betwixt the sky

And this our lower air.

And unshared sorrows, gathering slow;

New thoughts within thy heart,

Which through thee like a sword will go,

And make thee mourn apart.

For, if a woman bore a son

That was of angel-brood,

Who lifted wings ere day was done,

And soared from where he stood;

Strange grief would fill each mother-moan,

Wild longing, dim and sore;

“My child! my child I He is my own,

And yet is mine no more.”

So thou, O Mary, years on years,

From child-birth to the cross,

Wast filled with yearnings, filled with fears,

Keen sense of love and loss.

(G. MacDonald.)

Missings of mother

I think that the most wonderful book that could be written would be a book in which an angel should write all the thoughts that pass through a faithful mother’s mind from the time that she first hears the cry of her child, and knows that it is born into the world, and rejoices in the midst of her griefs; from the moment of her absorption, or annihilation, pouring herself into the child. Her wonderful gladness of fatigue; her unwillingness to divide her care with any; her heroic sacrifice of all that is brightest and best in life, with no prospect of remuneration except the satisfaction which she feels in serving that little mute and helpless child--these are past description. (H. W. Beecher.)


Verse 20

Luke 2:20

And the shepherds returned

Dignifying common life

And then they returned to their fields, to their flocks, to their ordinary life; giving thus a beautiful example of pious diligence and fidelity in their vocation.
An extraordinary privilege has been granted to them. They are not lifted up by it into pride and pretension and self-sufficiency and idleness. They are cheered by it in their common toil. This is all the gospel that some of them would hear on earth. They would die, probably, as they lived, tending their sheep, before the Good Shepherd openly appeared. In their example, they sanctify, they glorify, what we call common life. They dignify the duty, it may be the drudgery of the day. But what, after all, is common life? It is a relative phrase. Common life to these shepherds is the keeping of the sheep on those very fields where David was shepherd-boy before them, where Ruth gleaned after the reapers. Common life to the angels lies in the heavenly spheres, serving at the bidding of the King. This visit to the earth, on such an errand, is a remarkable exception to their ordinary experience. It is, if we may use the phrase, a point of high romance in their history
. (Dr. Raleigh.)

This is how all true-minded, simple-hearted inquirers have returned from their Christian investigations. It is questionable whether any man has ever closed the Bible in a mood of dissatisfaction who opened it with reverent determination to know how far it was a testimony from heaven. Christian investigation is not finished until it has brought into the heart a joy altogether unprecedented. The mere letter never brings gladness. Critics and disputants have found little in the Bible but a great waste of words; but penitent and earnest inquirers have returned from its examination with hearts overflowing with a new and imperishable joy. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Shepherds glorifying God for the birth of a Saviour

We will contemplate the things for which, and the manner in which, they glorified God, and will inter mingle some practical reflections.

I. WE WILL CONSIDER THE MATTERS FOR WHICH THEY GLORIFIED AND PRAISED GOD. These were the things, which they had heard and seen.

1. They glorified God that the promised Saviour was now born. They seem to have been some of those pious people who looked for redemption in Israel.

2. They rejoiced that this Saviour was born for them. The angel says, “Unto you is born this day a Saviour.” Conscious of their impotence and unworthiness, they felt their need of a Saviour, and esteemed it a matter of great joy that He was come to bring salvation to them. They doubtless admired the distinguishing grace of God in visiting them first of all with the glorious tidings.

3. The shepherds rejoiced that the Saviour was horn for others, as well as themselves. “I bring you good tidings,” says the angel, “which shall be to all people.”

4. The shepherds glorified God for what they had seen, as well as what they had heard.

II. CONSIDER THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY GLORIFIED HIM.

1. They glorified God by faith in the Saviour, whom He had sent. They believed the heavenly message. By faith in the Redeemer we give glory to God.

2. They glorified God by a ready obedience. Being informed by a heavenly messenger where the Saviour lay, they came to Him with haste. They made no delay, but immediately obeyed the Divine intimation. Faith operates in a way of cheerful obedience.

3. They glorified God by confessing and spreading the Saviour’s name. “When they had seen Him, they made known abroad what had been told them concerning the Child.” They were not ashamed to own Him as the Messiah, even in His infant state. You see that true faith will prompt you to honour Christ before men.

4. They glorified God by an attendance on the means of faith. The angel who announced the Saviour’s birth gave them a token by which they might know Him. “This shall be a sign to you. Ye shall find the babe wrapt in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And they came with haste, and found as he had told them.” God gave them a particular sign for the confirmation of their faith; and He has appointed standing means to strengthen and enliven ours. Jesus Christ is exhibited to us in His Word, in His sanctuary, and at His table. Here we are to seek Him, and converse with Him, that we may increase our faith and warm our love.

5. They glorified God with the voice of praise. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

The changed world

The day after Christ’s birth was a new day in the world’s history. The old era had passed, the new had begun; and only the angels knew what a revolution had been wrought by the quiet power of God. The wonder has grown with the years. Christianity has been an increasing miracle of the Lord’s presence on earth. That song, which a few shepherds heard, has sung itself into the thought of the world, and is the keynote and harmony of all peace and goodwill on earth.

I. THE CHRISTIAN CHANGE OF THE WORLD’S HISTORY IS A FACT. The influx through Christ of a new power into the life of humanity is a known fact of experience, as certain as the battle of Gettysburg, or the dawn of day. This fact of the new power in the world, through the birth of Christ, belongs to a series of facts. The religion of the Bible presents a continued succession, and reveals an exalted order of facts. Christianity is a positive religion of historical facts from Moses to Christ, from Christ to the last Church organized and the last communion table spread.

II. THE NATURE AND REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS FACT.

1. In Christianity we breathe a different air. Midway down the Simplon Pass the traveller pauses to read upon a stone the single word “Italia.” At this point he passes a boundary live, and every step makes plainer how great has been the change from Switzerland to Italy. The air becomes warm and fragrant, and vines line the wayside, and below, embosomed in verdure, Lake Maggiore expands before him. As that traveller rests at evening-time, he recognizes that the entrance into a new world was marked by the word “Italia” upon the stone on the pass. Humanity has crossed a boundary line: up to Bethlehem, bleak and cold--down from Bethlehem, another and a happier time.

2. This new transforming power was, to the disciples, Jesus Himself. He made all things new to them.

3. Jesus has been to the world a new revelation of God. God is essentially and eternally Christlike.

4. Jesus is also a new revelation of man. Man is in Christ another man. You pass a man in the streets, and you used to feel that you did not want to know or help such a poor creature--he lived below your world, and his name was not found in your book of life. Now it is different, for you have been baptized into the name of Christ, in whom our whole common humanity exists, redeemed and capable of a great salvation. CONCLUSION: We close by asking ourselves, “Am I living, by faith in the Son of God, in this changed world?” Is it, in the history of my soul, the day before, or the better day after, Christmas. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)


Verse 21

Luke 2:21

For the circumcising of the Child

Circumcision and baptism

The teaching of Jewish circumcision resembles the teaching of Christian baptism.
Both exhibit the putting away of the filth of the flesh; the first by a wounding of the body (which aptly recalls the severity of the elder dispensation); the second by an outward washing. This, which may be called the practical bearing of the present festival (Circumcision of Christ, 1st January), is brought out in the collect for the day, wherein we beseech God to grant us “the true circumcision of the spirit.” And it is worth observing that this was seen, from the very first, to be the mystical teaching of the rite. Thus Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy (which abounds in the loftier class of doctrine), speaks plainly (
Deuteronomy 10:16; Deu_30:6) of circumcising the heart; and the prophets (Jeremiah 4:4) use the same expression. St. Stephen’slanguage, when he addressed his countrymen for the last time (“Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” Acts 7:51), seems to show that this continued throughout the whole history of the Jewish people to be the well-understood meaning of the rite; while St. Paul’s witness on the point (Romans 2:28-29) is express. It is interesting to observe how closely this observance was connected with holy baptism, besides being typical of the Christian sacrament, and, indeed, a kind of anticipation of it: a rite performed in infancy, and made the occasion of bestowing a new name. (Dean Burgon.)

Spiritual nature of circumcision

Circumcision was the seal of the gospel covenant made by God with Abraham (Genesis 17:2; Gen_17:4; Gen_17:9); which the law, added--as the apostle teaches (Galatians 3:17)--four hundred and thirty years after, could not disannul. This was a covenant of faith, quite distinct from the covenant of works (Exodus 24:8) made through Moses; it was an evangelical, not a legal, covenant. And it foreshadowed what was to be in the latter days, though the people knew it not, would not know it. They relied on being naturally descended from Abraham, and gave no heed to our Saviour’s declaration that, if they were

indeed Abraham’s children, they would do the works of Abraham (John 8:39); in other words, that God’s promise to the patriarch’s seed was a spiritual promise, fulfilled to as many as showed the like faith with himself Galatians 3:7; Gal_3:29). While, therefore, our Saviour’s submission to be circumcised--whereby, in one respect, He fulfilled all righteousness--conveys an obvious lesson of obedience, and conformity to the laws of the Church, to which we belong; the gospel fulfilment which Christ gave to that sacred rite, and to the covenant with Abraham of which it was the seal and pledge, brings to mind the high spiritual teaching of all His other ancient laws, the design of which was to guide man’s heart to the future Messiah. God’s ancient law was spiritual throughout; no dead letter, but a living reality, trying the very heart and reins. (Dean Burgon.)

The circumcision of our Lord

There is no part of our Saviour’s life uninteresting, or that will not yield instruction. We ask, then, why did He submit to circumcision?

1. Christ was circumcised in order to fulfil the law. By His perfect obedience to all its precepts, He abolished its force and condemning power over every transgression. For us He was circumcised and baptized; for us He exhibited entire legal obedience, that He might bring us under the tender, merciful, encouraging covenant of the gospel, by “fulfilling all righteousness.”

2. Christ’s circumcision was necessary to obtain for Him a hearing among His own people. The Jews looked upon every uncircumcised person as unclean. Christ could have had no access to them without submitting to this ceremony. To manifest Himself of the seed of Abraham, to satisfy in this respect the requisitions of His nation, to substantiate His pretentions to be their Messiah, and deprive them of what would have been an unanswerable plea for rejecting Him, He graciously condescended to endure this painful rite. What an example has He set us of the excellency of submitting to privations and pains in advancing the happiness of our fellow-beings! Did Jesus bear the marks of an humbling rite in His own precious body, that His own people, when He came to them, might not be offended in Him; and shall not we yield to all innocent compliances with the habits and feelings of others, which may facilitate our usefulness to them, and bear with contentment the labours and crosses, self-denials, expenses, and cares, which may be necessary in promoting their salvation or happiness?

3. The institution of this ceremony, and Christ’s compliance with it, suggests to us the propriety and efficacy of visible rites and sacraments. Here was a seal of a covenant established by God. It was to be a token for distinguishing the faithful, a sign of cleansing from pollution, and an assurance of blessing from Jehovah. Without some visible rite it is hardly conceivable how this or any Church could be preserved distinct. Some sacrament is necessary, and, if necessary, obligatory upon every one who would support the Church, for which it is hallowed, and enjoy all its privileges. Accordingly, all systems of religion have had their rites, mysteries, symbols. What circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to Christians. Both of Divine appointment, significant of incorporation into the Church of God, requiring faith, representing purification from the defilements of sin, and implying consequent self-denial, holiness, obedience.

4. In the circumcision of Christ we are strikingly taught the propriety of submitting to all the precepts and institutions of the revelation under which we live. Christ was made under the law, consequently the law had authority over Him. With singular truth, He might have asked, “Can I be benefited by this rite, and by these simple ceremonies?” With peculiar force He might have inquired, “What connection can there be between these outward forms and My spirit; what efficacy can they have upon My heart?” With more propriety than any mortal He might have said, “I can be safe and perfect without all these.” But he did not stop to scruple their utility; He did not find fault with their nature. They were ordained by the Being who established the law under which He lived. This was sufficient for Him. And so throughout His life. He kept the passover; He observed the Sabbath; He went up to the feasts; He neglected no precept of the revelation which He knew came from God, and was authoritative till superseded by His new and better dispensation. In this conduct of His life our Saviour has set an example, excellent in itself, and fit for His disciples to revere. It points to us the necessity of obeying every precept, and observing every rite to which the gospel gives the seal of Divine authority. To neglect baptism or holy communion because, as men think, they may be as good and as safe without them, or because they cannot see their efficacy, is taking a ground which the all-perfect Son of God was too modest to assume. Whether men may be saved without these means, how they effect what is attributed to them, whether they are the best which might have been selected, are points with which we have nothing to do. The questions which concern us are, Whether Christ instituted baptism and the eucharist; and, if He did, whether His injunctions are binding upon us or not? On this plain ground every man may easily form a just determination concerning the propriety of observing all the precepts and institutions of the revelation under which he lives. His observance of them should be a simple act of faith and obedience, by which he should testify both to God and men. (Bishop Dehon.)

Early suffering

Thus early did Jesus suffer pain for our sakes, to teach us the spiritual circumcision, the circumcision of all our bodily senses. As the east catches at sunset the colours of the west, so Bethlehem is a prelude to Calvary, and even the Infant’s cradle is tinged with a crimson reflection from the Redeemer’s cross. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The circumcision of Christ

(First Sunday after Christmas.)

I. THE RITE OF CIRCUMCISION WHICH, AS ON THIS DAY, WAS ADMINISTERED TO THE INFANT JESUS HAD A TWOFOLD SIGNIFICANCE.

1. Its existence was a testimony that mankind is fallen and needs purification.

2. Circumcision was not only an act of humility, it was also an act of obedience to the law of God.

II. THE CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS THUS REVEALS TO US THE FOUNDATIONS ON WHICH HIS HUMAN LIFE WAS BUILT, VIZ., HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE. Can there be truer foundations for any human life than these? Is it not the very ideal of Christian childhood? Humility, which is the expression of our own insufficiency; obedience, which is the recognition of our dependence upon God.

III. It has been well pointed out by many devout Christian thinkers that THE HUMAN LIFE WHICH THE SON OF GOD LIVED IN THE FLESH IS THE VERY SAME AS THE LIFE WHICH HE LIVES IN US it is produced in the same manner, and progresses according to the same law. After His spiritual birth in us comes our spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11). As this life grows within us, we shall find that it has also its epiphany, its baptism, its temptation, its active ministry, its passion, its cross, its resurrection. Enough for us to-day to consider its circumcision. Not without reason do we pray in the Litany, “By Thy holy nativity and circumcision, good Lord deliver us.”

IV. The circumcision was distinguished from all other acts of our Lord’s humiliation IN THAT IT WAS WITHOUT ANY COMPENSATING GLORY, and was accepted by Him without any protest from God or man, declaring that He needed it not for His own sake. Yet there was even in His circumcision a glory bestowed upon Him which men could not at the time recognize, but which has proved to be the greatest of all the honours of His incarnate life. IT WAS THEN THAT THERE WAS BESTOWED UPON HIM THE NAME OF JESUS, God our Saviour. The name thus given Him in His humiliation has become the name in which He has triumphed over His enemies, the name which has been blessed by millions of penitent sinners, and adored in rapture by ten thousands of His saints.

V. Trembling, anxiously, WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD INTO THE UNCERTAINTY OF A NEW YEAR. If we begin the year in the spirit of Him who began His earthly life in humility and obedience, we may know that, however galling to our natural unrenewed will may be the humility which alone becomes us, however difficult may be the obedience which God demands from us, there is yet to be manifested a glory that exalteth, in comparison with which the trials of this present life are but as nothing. (Canon V. Hutton, M. A.)

The year begins with Thee,

And Thou beginn’st with woe,

To let the world of sinners see

That blood for sin must flow.

Thine Infant cries, O Lord,

Thy tears upon the breast,

Are not enough--the legal sword

Must do its stern behest.

Like sacrificial wine

Poured on a victim’s head

Are these few precious drops of Thin,,

Now first to offering led.

They are the pledge and seal

Of Christ’s unswerving faith

Given to His Sire, our souls to heal,

Although it costs His death.

“Jesus,” the watchword

I. FOR THE CHURCH AND FOR THE HOME.

II. FOR JOY AND FOR SORROW.

III. FOR LIFE AND FOR DEATH. (Dr. Gerok.)

The circumcision and naming of the Child

Boys were circumcised eight days after their birth. Tradition said that this day was chosen because the mother ceased to be unclean on the seventh day if she had borne a boy. He who circumcised the child used the following words: “Blessed be the Lord our God, who has sanctified as by His precepts, and given us circumcision.” The father of the child continued: “Who has sanctified us by His precepts, and has granted us to introduce our child into the covenant of Abraham our father.” The child was named the same day, because it was said that God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah when He gave the covenant of circumcision. (E. Stapler, D. D.)

The circumcision of Christ

1. It signifies purification. Christ committed no sin, but stood for sinful man.

2. It signified obedience (Genesis 17:12). He was “made under the law” Galatians 4:4).

3. It signified consecration. This ordinance was part of the covenant between God and the Jewish nation, whereby they were to be counted “a peculiar treasure” unto God “above all people” (Exodus 19:5). (D. Hughes, M. A.)

New Year’s Day

I. CIRCUMCISION WAS A RITE WHICH TOLD OF A MISIMPROVED PAST. The first account of it occurs in the history of Abraham, in whose case Paul says it was given as a sign and seal of the righteousness which is obtained by faith (Romans 4:11). The state of uncircumcision was thus a state of unrighteousness. Paul also tells the Colossians, that they had been dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh (Colossians 2:13). Circumcision, therefore, carried with it the remembrance and acknowledgment of a bad and unsatisfactory past. It told of alienation from God, and of faithlessnesses and infidelities. It carried with it a retrospect of failure and sin. Even the circumcision of “the holy child Jesus,” was an acknowledgment of the fallen condition of the race, with which he identified Himself, in its humiliation, that He might become its perfect Saviour.

II. CIRCUMCISION WAS A SIGN OF THE CUTTING OFF AND CASTING AWAY OF SIN. The fleshly incision was a token of a spiritual one, which consisted in separation from moral impurity and evil (Romans 2:29).

III. BUT CIRCUMCISION SET APART TO OBEDIENCE, AS WELL AS SEVERED FROM IMPURITY. It was the ceremony of initiation into the covenant, and pledged the subject to obey it. It was part of the redemption-work of Christ to obey the law.

IV. CIRCUMCISION CONFERRED AND FIXED ON CHRIST HIS TRUE DESCRIPTIVE NAME.

V. But, for the encouragement of those who feel their deficiencies and miseries, there is still one other particular connected with the text. HE WHOM GOD HATH APPOINTED TO BE OUR JUDGE, TOOK THE NAME OF JESUS. He is a Saviour, and a great one. Hopefully His circumcision day so proclaims Him to us. Yea, saith the apostle, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him” (Hebrews 7:25). (J. A.Seiss, D. D.)


Verse 22

Luke 2:22; Luk_2:24

The days of her purification

The presentation in the temple

I.
1. Consider the inner meaning of the law which was here fulfilled by the Infant Jesus. Ever since the day that Israel had been delivered from bondage by the death of the first-born of the Egyptians, the first-born had been considered especially dedicated to the service of God.

2. Here the First-born, not of Mary only, but of all creation, is presented to the Father. Is He not the Only-begotten Son, begotten before all worlds? Now that He has come in the substance of our flesh He is the true Head of the human race, the First-born of a restored humanity. It is as such that He makes His first visit to Jerusalem--type of the heavenly Jerusalem--the Church of the First-born; and His first entry into the Temple, the Home of God upon earth.

3. “Unto us a Son is given;” as the Son of Man, the Hope of the Human Race, our First-born, He is presented to the Father as our best and only offering. From this day forward He is “in the presence of God for us.”

4. Inasmuch as we are members of Christ, we too are presented in His presentation. We also become the first-born, joint-heirs with Him, the first-fruits of creation, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation.

II. 1. Realize that we are ever being presented in the Temple of God through our union with our Head, even Jesus Christ.

2. Realize this especially in the Holy Eucharist, in which we plead before our Father the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice and oblation for the sins of the whole world, and at the same time, sharing in His life, we offer and present ourselves a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.

3. Realize that as the first-born is especially claimed for the service of God, this sacrifice of ourselves must include the offering of our first-born, our best energies, our truest thoughts, our highest talents, our richest possessions. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

Dedication to God from early youth

In congratulating Simeon and Anna on having seen the salvation of Israel, we should not overlook the fact, that by long preparation and longing they made themselves worthy of embracing the Saviour. If you desire the same happiness, make the same preparation Do not defer it to your old age, but in order to ensure the friendship of Jesus then, devote yourself to Him now

I. THIS IS A SACRIFICE EXCEEDINGLY WELCOME TO GOD.

1. God has a predilection for youth, and selects them as His instruments to attain His designs. Joseph, David, Daniel, Stephen.

2. The young are eminently fit for heaven (Matthew 14:14).

3. So much the more does He value the self-sacrifice of youth, the devotion to Him from childhood being

(1) Firstlings (Genesis 4:4). He who dissipates him youth, and in old age turns to God, offers fruits of which the sweetest have been tasted by the devil; and ears, the best grain of which has been taken by him.

II. VERY PROFITABLE FOR ONESELF.

1. Because you are led to perfection, which is the true beauty and riches of man.

2. Because you will gain happiness here on earth.

3. Happiness in the next world. (Q. Rossi.)

Consequences of good education

Mary is the happiest mother, because she carried in her arms the best Child. Where is there a father or mother who would not desire to have good children? The attainment of this wish is often frustrated by parents themselves. Yet they would find urgent motives to realize it, if they would consider the happy results of giving a wise and religious education to their children.

I. CONSEQUENCES TO THE PARENTS. Children well educated are--

1. An honour to their parents. Their good name reflects on those who brought them up.

2. Their joy, consolation, and help, in every condition of life.

3. Their eternal crown.

II. CONSEQUENCES TO THE CHILDREN. Parents wish nothing more than to see their children happy. Now it is on good education that--

1. Their temporal happiness depends.

2. Their eternal weal. You have planted for heaven, and in heaven, therefore, you will reap your reward. No dowry equals this.

III. CONSEQUENCES TO FESTIVITY.

1. In regard to the family (Psalms 3:2; Psa_3:8).

2. In regard to civil society. Good and bad morals are rapidly spread and are kept up for a long time. (Tirinus)

The purification

The question meets us, If the blessed Virgin conceived the Son by the operation of the Holy Ghost, and if He Himself were absolutely and entirely pure, then what need of purification? What defilement was there, from which the Virgin Mother could be purified? And an answer is ready to hand which seems abundantly sufficient, namely, that as Jesus was circumcised, so Mary was purified; in each case there was submission to the letter of a Divine law, and there was no desire and no attempt to establish an exception. Our Lord was a Jewish boy, and was treated as Jewish boys were treated; Mary was a Jewish mother, and acted as Jewish mothers were wont to act. Our English version speaks of the days of her purification, and this is what we might have expected, but it should not be concealed that the best copies of the original Scriptures give, some of them His, some of them their purification; and there can be little doubt that this last form of the sentence is the correct one (so Revised Version). It would seem to indicate that, in the popular belief and feeling of the Jews the sacrifice which was instituted for the purification of the mother (Levit. 12.) did in reality also apply to the child; and this being so, St. Luke appears not to have hesitated to use a phrase, which, literally interpreted, would imply the need of purification on the part of our blessed Lord Himself. This is only another instance of the complete and unreserved manner in which the Head of our race is identified with ourselves. Perhaps the most interesting point in these verses is the incidental testimony to the poverty of the Holy Family. The offering might be a lamp and a turtle-dove if the parents were rich, and two doves or two pigeons if they were poor. Hence the mention of the “pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons” marks the worldly condition of the Blessed Virgin and Joseph; they came with the poor man’s and poor woman’s offering; and thus again the poverty of our Lord was declared in the most striking manner during His infancy. (Bishop Goodwin.)

The days of purification

When the fixed time of purification was passed (seven days for a boy and fourteen for a girl), the mother still remained at home thirty-three days for a boy and sixty-six for a girl. Then she went up to the Temple. (E. Stapfer, D. D.)

Her forty days were no sooner out than Mary comes up to the Holy City. She comes with sacrifices, whereof one is for a burnt-offering, the other for a sin-offering; the one for thanksgiving, the other for expiation; for expiation of a double sin--of the mother that conceived, of the Child that was conceived. We are all born sinners, and it is a just question whether we do more infect the world, or the world us. They are gross flatterers of nature that tell her she is clean. But, O the unspeakable mercy of our God I we provide the sin, He provides the remedy. Every poor mother was not able to bring a lamb for her offering; there was none so poor but might procure a pair of turtles or pigeons. God looks for somewhat of every one, not of every one alike. Since it is He that makes differences of abilities (to whom it were as easy to make all rich), His mercy will make no difference in the acceptation. The truth and heartiness of obedience is that which He will crown in His meanest servants. A mite, from the poor widow, is more worth to Him than the talents of the wealthy. The blessed Virgin had more business in the temple than her own. She came, as to purify herself, so to present her Son. Every male that first opened the womb was holy unto the Lord. He that was the Son of God by eternal generation before time, was also, by common course of nature, consecrated unto God. It is fit the Holy Mother should present God with His own. Her first-born was the first-born of all creatures. It was He whose temple it was that He was presented in, to whom all the first-born of all creatures were consecrated, by whom they were accepted; and now is He brought in His mother’s arms to His own house, and, as man, is presented to Himself as God. Under the gospel we are all first-born, all heirs; every soul is to be holy unto the Lord; we are a royal generation, an holy priesthood. Our baptism, as it is our circumcision, and our sacrifice of purification, so is it also our presentation unto God. Nothing can become us but holiness. O God! to whom we are devoted, serve Thyself of us, glorify Thyself by us, till we shall by Thee be glorified with Thee. (Bishop Hall.)

No myth

A mythus generally endeavours to ennoble its subject, and to adapt the story to the idea. If, then, the gospel narrative were mythical, would it have invented, or even suffered to remain, a circumstance so foreign to the idea of the myth, and so little calculated to dignify it as the above. A mythus would have introduced an angel, or, at least, a vision, to hinder Mary from submitting the child to a ceremony so unworthy of its dignity; or the priests would have received an intimation from heaven to bow before the infant, and prevent its being reduced to the level of ordinary children. (A. Neander.)

Early dedication to the Lord

The old Romans used to hold the face of all their new-born infants towards the sky, to denote that they must look above the world to celestial glories. We solemnly and prayerfully dedicate our children to God in baptism, &c. And, remembering their immortality and the uncertainty of their life, should we not also constantly devote them to God, and train them for Him and for heaven! My dear mother’s prayers with and for me influenced me more to what is good than any earthly thing besides ever did. Richard Cecil spoke of his mother as one that had great nearness to God in prayer, and he says she was to him as an angel of God in her counsels and prayers, which most deeply impressed him. At a college were one hundred and twenty young men were studying for the ministry, it was found, as the result of special inquiry, that more than a hundred of them had been converted mainly through a mother’s prayers and labours. But Sunday-schoolteachers, ministers, church members, young people themselves, and everybody should join in loving, prayerful efforts to present young people and others to the Lord. And if God’s grace be obtained for them, will they not be restrained from evil, and also led to good? Then children themselves should humbly, earnestly, lovingly, and through faith in Christ, present themselves to the Lord. A dear boy, who was soon after killed in a moment, prayed, “Lord, make me quite, quite ready, in ease Jesus comes for me in a hurry.” (Henry R. Burton.)

Early piety a safeguard

In one of the public enclosures of Philadelphia the fountain was recently left to play all night. During the hours of darkness a sharp frost set in; and those who passed by next morning found the water, still playing indeed, but playing over a mass of gleaming icicles. But that was not all. The wind had been blowing steadily in one direction through all these hours, and the spray had been carried on airy wings to the grass which fringed the pool in which the fountain stood. On each blade of grass the spray had fallen so gently as hardly to bend it, descending softly and silently the whole night long. By slow and almost imperceptible processes each blade became coated with a thin layer of ice; by the same noiseless processes each layer grew thicker, until in the morning what before had been a little patch of swaying grass was a miniature battleground of upright, crystal spears, each holding within it, as its nucleus, a single blade of grass, now cold, rigid, and dead. In human life, in like manner, it may seem a light thing leave a young heart outside of Christ’s fold, and exposed to the “cold winds of the world’s great unbelief.” There is no violent transformation of the character in such a case. Yet silently and surely the world’s frost settles upon the flowers of the heart, covering them with the chill spray of doubt, binding them with soft bonds which harden into chains of ice, encasing them in a coat of crystal mail, polished, cold, and impenetrable. You have met persons in whose heart this freezing process has been accomplished. You have seen beneath the icy surface the nucleus of good which might have grown to so fair a harvest, just as you have seen the dead blade of grass preserved at the core of the icicle. You can do little now for either the person or the plant: nothing but heaven’s sunshine can melt the ice which holds them in its deadly thrall. But you can take care that none of those for whom you are responsible will be left out in the world’s cold, to suffer so deadly a change. You can bring them within the warm influences of Christian life, where no frost will gather upon them, and where the soul’s highest powers will be gently wooed to their best growth.

Training children for the Lord

An aged Christian, a widow of fourscore years, relates the following experience of her early days. When she first entered upon her married life, she and her husband could lock their cottage door, and go together, forenoon and afternoon, to the house of God. After the birth of their first son they had to enjoy this privilege in turn; one going in the forenoon, and the other in the afternoon. But the sickness or fretfulness of the child not unfrequently detained the mother at home during the whole of the Sabbath. This she felt to be a great privation. On one such occasion a neighbour, coming in to inquire about her welfare, found her in tears. The dejected young mother was a Christian; she had early been brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus; she was a lover of the Lord’s house, and of the Lord’s day; she trusted in Jesus as her Saviour; but she had not yet learned lovingly to accept all His discipline. There were things connected with it “too painful for her.” She did not know what was to compensate her for tile want of the days in the courts of the Lord; and so she told her neighbour the cause of her dejection. “Woman,” replied her neighbour, in the broad dialect of that land, “d’ye no mind the word that says, ‘Take this child, and nurse him for Me; and I will give thee thy wages’?” It was a word in season; and, with greater or less power, it sustained and comforted that mother during the whole of her subsequent nursing of ten children. Her home in the valley of the Tweed was long ago exchanged for one on the banks of the Mohawk. But the God whose Word thus comforted her in early womanhood is with her still when she is old and greyheaded; and she can gratefully speak of her eleven children, nursed for Him, as all walking in the ways of God on earth, or taken away to another home into which sickness and death can never come. (Mothers’ Treasury.)

Holy education of children

Good laws will not reform us, if reformation begin not at home. This is the cause of all our misdeeds in Church and State, even the want of a holy education of children. (R. Baxter.)

Permanence of early impressions

The late Rev. Richard Knill, a most devoted and useful missionary in Russia, returned home to his native village. It so happened that he slept in the chamber where he had slept as a boy. All night long he lay awake thinking of the mercy and goodness of God to him through life. Early in the morning he looked out of a window, and saw a tree in the garden beneath which his mother had prayed with him forty years before. He went out, and on the same spot knelt down and thanked God for a praying mother. Here was the reward of a mother who trained her children in the way to heaven.


Verse 24

Luke 2:22; Luk_2:24

The days of her purification

The presentation in the temple

I.
1. Consider the inner meaning of the law which was here fulfilled by the Infant Jesus. Ever since the day that Israel had been delivered from bondage by the death of the first-born of the Egyptians, the first-born had been considered especially dedicated to the service of God.

2. Here the First-born, not of Mary only, but of all creation, is presented to the Father. Is He not the Only-begotten Son, begotten before all worlds? Now that He has come in the substance of our flesh He is the true Head of the human race, the First-born of a restored humanity. It is as such that He makes His first visit to Jerusalem--type of the heavenly Jerusalem--the Church of the First-born; and His first entry into the Temple, the Home of God upon earth.

3. “Unto us a Son is given;” as the Son of Man, the Hope of the Human Race, our First-born, He is presented to the Father as our best and only offering. From this day forward He is “in the presence of God for us.”

4. Inasmuch as we are members of Christ, we too are presented in His presentation. We also become the first-born, joint-heirs with Him, the first-fruits of creation, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation.

II. 1. Realize that we are ever being presented in the Temple of God through our union with our Head, even Jesus Christ.

2. Realize this especially in the Holy Eucharist, in which we plead before our Father the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice and oblation for the sins of the whole world, and at the same time, sharing in His life, we offer and present ourselves a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.

3. Realize that as the first-born is especially claimed for the service of God, this sacrifice of ourselves must include the offering of our first-born, our best energies, our truest thoughts, our highest talents, our richest possessions. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

Dedication to God from early youth

In congratulating Simeon and Anna on having seen the salvation of Israel, we should not overlook the fact, that by long preparation and longing they made themselves worthy of embracing the Saviour. If you desire the same happiness, make the same preparation Do not defer it to your old age, but in order to ensure the friendship of Jesus then, devote yourself to Him now

I. THIS IS A SACRIFICE EXCEEDINGLY WELCOME TO GOD.

1. God has a predilection for youth, and selects them as His instruments to attain His designs. Joseph, David, Daniel, Stephen.

2. The young are eminently fit for heaven (Matthew 14:14).

3. So much the more does He value the self-sacrifice of youth, the devotion to Him from childhood being

(1) Firstlings (Genesis 4:4). He who dissipates him youth, and in old age turns to God, offers fruits of which the sweetest have been tasted by the devil; and ears, the best grain of which has been taken by him.

II. VERY PROFITABLE FOR ONESELF.

1. Because you are led to perfection, which is the true beauty and riches of man.

2. Because you will gain happiness here on earth.

3. Happiness in the next world. (Q. Rossi.)

Consequences of good education

Mary is the happiest mother, because she carried in her arms the best Child. Where is there a father or mother who would not desire to have good children? The attainment of this wish is often frustrated by parents themselves. Yet they would find urgent motives to realize it, if they would consider the happy results of giving a wise and religious education to their children.

I. CONSEQUENCES TO THE PARENTS. Children well educated are--

1. An honour to their parents. Their good name reflects on those who brought them up.

2. Their joy, consolation, and help, in every condition of life.

3. Their eternal crown.

II. CONSEQUENCES TO THE CHILDREN. Parents wish nothing more than to see their children happy. Now it is on good education that--

1. Their temporal happiness depends.

2. Their eternal weal. You have planted for heaven, and in heaven, therefore, you will reap your reward. No dowry equals this.

III. CONSEQUENCES TO FESTIVITY.

1. In regard to the family (Psalms 3:2; Psa_3:8).

2. In regard to civil society. Good and bad morals are rapidly spread and are kept up for a long time. (Tirinus)

The purification

The question meets us, If the blessed Virgin conceived the Son by the operation of the Holy Ghost, and if He Himself were absolutely and entirely pure, then what need of purification? What defilement was there, from which the Virgin Mother could be purified? And an answer is ready to hand which seems abundantly sufficient, namely, that as Jesus was circumcised, so Mary was purified; in each case there was submission to the letter of a Divine law, and there was no desire and no attempt to establish an exception. Our Lord was a Jewish boy, and was treated as Jewish boys were treated; Mary was a Jewish mother, and acted as Jewish mothers were wont to act. Our English version speaks of the days of her purification, and this is what we might have expected, but it should not be concealed that the best copies of the original Scriptures give, some of them His, some of them their purification; and there can be little doubt that this last form of the sentence is the correct one (so Revised Version). It would seem to indicate that, in the popular belief and feeling of the Jews the sacrifice which was instituted for the purification of the mother (Levit. 12.) did in reality also apply to the child; and this being so, St. Luke appears not to have hesitated to use a phrase, which, literally interpreted, would imply the need of purification on the part of our blessed Lord Himself. This is only another instance of the complete and unreserved manner in which the Head of our race is identified with ourselves. Perhaps the most interesting point in these verses is the incidental testimony to the poverty of the Holy Family. The offering might be a lamp and a turtle-dove if the parents were rich, and two doves or two pigeons if they were poor. Hence the mention of the “pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons” marks the worldly condition of the Blessed Virgin and Joseph; they came with the poor man’s and poor woman’s offering; and thus again the poverty of our Lord was declared in the most striking manner during His infancy. (Bishop Goodwin.)

The days of purification

When the fixed time of purification was passed (seven days for a boy and fourteen for a girl), the mother still remained at home thirty-three days for a boy and sixty-six for a girl. Then she went up to the Temple. (E. Stapfer, D. D.)

Her forty days were no sooner out than Mary comes up to the Holy City. She comes with sacrifices, whereof one is for a burnt-offering, the other for a sin-offering; the one for thanksgiving, the other for expiation; for expiation of a double sin--of the mother that conceived, of the Child that was conceived. We are all born sinners, and it is a just question whether we do more infect the world, or the world us. They are gross flatterers of nature that tell her she is clean. But, O the unspeakable mercy of our God I we provide the sin, He provides the remedy. Every poor mother was not able to bring a lamb for her offering; there was none so poor but might procure a pair of turtles or pigeons. God looks for somewhat of every one, not of every one alike. Since it is He that makes differences of abilities (to whom it were as easy to make all rich), His mercy will make no difference in the acceptation. The truth and heartiness of obedience is that which He will crown in His meanest servants. A mite, from the poor widow, is more worth to Him than the talents of the wealthy. The blessed Virgin had more business in the temple than her own. She came, as to purify herself, so to present her Son. Every male that first opened the womb was holy unto the Lord. He that was the Son of God by eternal generation before time, was also, by common course of nature, consecrated unto God. It is fit the Holy Mother should present God with His own. Her first-born was the first-born of all creatures. It was He whose temple it was that He was presented in, to whom all the first-born of all creatures were consecrated, by whom they were accepted; and now is He brought in His mother’s arms to His own house, and, as man, is presented to Himself as God. Under the gospel we are all first-born, all heirs; every soul is to be holy unto the Lord; we are a royal generation, an holy priesthood. Our baptism, as it is our circumcision, and our sacrifice of purification, so is it also our presentation unto God. Nothing can become us but holiness. O God! to whom we are devoted, serve Thyself of us, glorify Thyself by us, till we shall by Thee be glorified with Thee. (Bishop Hall.)

No myth

A mythus generally endeavours to ennoble its subject, and to adapt the story to the idea. If, then, the gospel narrative were mythical, would it have invented, or even suffered to remain, a circumstance so foreign to the idea of the myth, and so little calculated to dignify it as the above. A mythus would have introduced an angel, or, at least, a vision, to hinder Mary from submitting the child to a ceremony so unworthy of its dignity; or the priests would have received an intimation from heaven to bow before the infant, and prevent its being reduced to the level of ordinary children. (A. Neander.)

Early dedication to the Lord

The old Romans used to hold the face of all their new-born infants towards the sky, to denote that they must look above the world to celestial glories. We solemnly and prayerfully dedicate our children to God in baptism, &c. And, remembering their immortality and the uncertainty of their life, should we not also constantly devote them to God, and train them for Him and for heaven! My dear mother’s prayers with and for me influenced me more to what is good than any earthly thing besides ever did. Richard Cecil spoke of his mother as one that had great nearness to God in prayer, and he says she was to him as an angel of God in her counsels and prayers, which most deeply impressed him. At a college were one hundred and twenty young men were studying for the ministry, it was found, as the result of special inquiry, that more than a hundred of them had been converted mainly through a mother’s prayers and labours. But Sunday-schoolteachers, ministers, church members, young people themselves, and everybody should join in loving, prayerful efforts to present young people and others to the Lord. And if God’s grace be obtained for them, will they not be restrained from evil, and also led to good? Then children themselves should humbly, earnestly, lovingly, and through faith in Christ, present themselves to the Lord. A dear boy, who was soon after killed in a moment, prayed, “Lord, make me quite, quite ready, in ease Jesus comes for me in a hurry.” (Henry R. Burton.)

Early piety a safeguard

In one of the public enclosures of Philadelphia the fountain was recently left to play all night. During the hours of darkness a sharp frost set in; and those who passed by next morning found the water, still playing indeed, but playing over a mass of gleaming icicles. But that was not all. The wind had been blowing steadily in one direction through all these hours, and the spray had been carried on airy wings to the grass which fringed the pool in which the fountain stood. On each blade of grass the spray had fallen so gently as hardly to bend it, descending softly and silently the whole night long. By slow and almost imperceptible processes each blade became coated with a thin layer of ice; by the same noiseless processes each layer grew thicker, until in the morning what before had been a little patch of swaying grass was a miniature battleground of upright, crystal spears, each holding within it, as its nucleus, a single blade of grass, now cold, rigid, and dead. In human life, in like manner, it may seem a light thing leave a young heart outside of Christ’s fold, and exposed to the “cold winds of the world’s great unbelief.” There is no violent transformation of the character in such a case. Yet silently and surely the world’s frost settles upon the flowers of the heart, covering them with the chill spray of doubt, binding them with soft bonds which harden into chains of ice, encasing them in a coat of crystal mail, polished, cold, and impenetrable. You have met persons in whose heart this freezing process has been accomplished. You have seen beneath the icy surface the nucleus of good which might have grown to so fair a harvest, just as you have seen the dead blade of grass preserved at the core of the icicle. You can do little now for either the person or the plant: nothing but heaven’s sunshine can melt the ice which holds them in its deadly thrall. But you can take care that none of those for whom you are responsible will be left out in the world’s cold, to suffer so deadly a change. You can bring them within the warm influences of Christian life, where no frost will gather upon them, and where the soul’s highest powers will be gently wooed to their best growth.

Training children for the Lord

An aged Christian, a widow of fourscore years, relates the following experience of her early days. When she first entered upon her married life, she and her husband could lock their cottage door, and go together, forenoon and afternoon, to the house of God. After the birth of their first son they had to enjoy this privilege in turn; one going in the forenoon, and the other in the afternoon. But the sickness or fretfulness of the child not unfrequently detained the mother at home during the whole of the Sabbath. This she felt to be a great privation. On one such occasion a neighbour, coming in to inquire about her welfare, found her in tears. The dejected young mother was a Christian; she had early been brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus; she was a lover of the Lord’s house, and of the Lord’s day; she trusted in Jesus as her Saviour; but she had not yet learned lovingly to accept all His discipline. There were things connected with it “too painful for her.” She did not know what was to compensate her for tile want of the days in the courts of the Lord; and so she told her neighbour the cause of her dejection. “Woman,” replied her neighbour, in the broad dialect of that land, “d’ye no mind the word that says, ‘Take this child, and nurse him for Me; and I will give thee thy wages’?” It was a word in season; and, with greater or less power, it sustained and comforted that mother during the whole of her subsequent nursing of ten children. Her home in the valley of the Tweed was long ago exchanged for one on the banks of the Mohawk. But the God whose Word thus comforted her in early womanhood is with her still when she is old and greyheaded; and she can gratefully speak of her eleven children, nursed for Him, as all walking in the ways of God on earth, or taken away to another home into which sickness and death can never come. (Mothers’ Treasury.)

Holy education of children

Good laws will not reform us, if reformation begin not at home. This is the cause of all our misdeeds in Church and State, even the want of a holy education of children. (R. Baxter.)

Permanence of early impressions

The late Rev. Richard Knill, a most devoted and useful missionary in Russia, returned home to his native village. It so happened that he slept in the chamber where he had slept as a boy. All night long he lay awake thinking of the mercy and goodness of God to him through life. Early in the morning he looked out of a window, and saw a tree in the garden beneath which his mother had prayed with him forty years before. He went out, and on the same spot knelt down and thanked God for a praying mother. Here was the reward of a mother who trained her children in the way to heaven.


Verses 25-35

Luke 2:25-35

Whose name was Simeon

Readiness for God’s will

“Some years ago,” says a lady, “I made the acquaintance of an old peasant in a little German village, where I for some time resided.
He was called Gottlieb, a name which has the very beautiful signification, ‘The love of God.’ The old man was well worthy of it, for if ever heart was filled with love to God and to all God’s creatures it was his. Once when walking I came upon him as he was stooping to pick up a fallen apple. ‘Don’t you weary, Gottlieb,’ I asked, ‘stooping so often, end then lying all alone by the roadside?’ ‘No, no, miss,’ he answered, smiling, and offering me a handful of ripe pears, ‘I don’t weary; I’m just waiting--waiting. I think I’m about ripe now, and I must soon fall to the ground; and then, just think, the Lord will pick me up! O miss, you are young yet, and perhaps just in blossom; turn well round to the Sun of Righteousness, that you may ripen sweet for His service.’” (
New Cyclopaedia of Anecdote.)

Waiting for the Lord

Everybody knows and loves the story of the dog Argus, who just lives through the term of his master’s absence, and sees him return to his home, and recognizes him, and rejoicing in the sight, dies. Beautiful, too, as the story is in itself, it has a still deeper allegorical interest. For how many Arguses have there been, how many will there be hereafter, the course of whose years has been so ordered that they will have just lived to see their Lord come and take possession of His home, and in their joy at the blissful sight, have departed! How many such spirits, like Simeon’s, will swell the praises of Him who spared them that He might save them. (Augustus Hare.)

Waiting for the chariot

Mrs. Cartwright, wife of the famous American preacher, was, after her husband’s death, attending a meeting at Bethel Chapel, a mile from her house. She was called upon to give her testimony, which she did with much feeling, concluding with the words: “The past three weeks have been the happiest of all my life; I am waiting for the chariot.” When the meeting broke up she did not rise with the rest. The minister solemnly said, “The chariot has arrived.”

Simeon’s blessed hope

I. SIMEON’S EXPECTATION. He was “waiting.” He did not wish that the tabernacle of his body might be dissolved; but he did hope that, through the chinks of that old battered tabernacle of his, he might be able to see the Lord.

II. THE FULFILMENT OF THIS EXPECTATION. He had the consolation for which he waited, and all the people of God now have it, in Jesus. But a little while ago I heard of an ungodly man who had a pious wife. They had but one daughter, a fair and lovely thing; she was laid on a bed of sickness: the father and mother stood beside the bed; the solemn moment came when she must die; the father leaned over, and put his arm round her, and wept hot tears upon his child’s white brow; the mother stood there too, weeping her very soul away. The moment that child was dead, the father began to tear his hair, and curse himself in his despair; misery had got hold upon him; but as he looked towards the foot of the bed, there stood his wife; she was not raving, she was not cursing; she wiped her eyes, and said, “I shall go to her, but she shall not return to me.” The unbeliever’s heart for a moment rose in anger, for he imagined that she was a stoic. But the tears flowed down her cheeks too. He saw that though she was a weak and feeble woman, she could bear sorrow better than he could, and he threw his arms round her neck, and said, “Ah! wife, I have often laughed at your religion; I will do so no more. There is much blessedness in this resignation. Would God that I had it too!” “Yes,” she might have answered, “I have the consolation of Israel.” There is--hear it, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish!-there is consolation in Israel. Ah! it is sweet to see a Christian die; it is the noblest thing on earth--the dismissal of a saint from his labour to his reward, from his conflicts to his triumphs. The georgeons pageantry of princes is as nothing. The glory of the setting sun is not to be compared with the heavenly coruscations which illumine the soul as it fades from the organs of bodily sense, to be ushered into the august presence of the Lord. When dear Haliburton died, he said, “I am afraid I shall not be able to bear another testimony to my Master, but in order to show you that I am peaceful, and still resting on Christ, I will hold my hands up;” and just before he died, he held both his hands up, and clapped them together, though he could not speak. Have you ever read of the death-bed of Payson? I cannot describe it to you; it was like the flight of a seraph. John Knox, that brave old fellow, when he came to die, sat up in his bed, and said, “Now the hour of my dissolution is come; I have longed for it many a-day; but I shall be with my Lord in a few moments.” Then he fell back on his bed and died.

III. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS FACT.

1. There is consolation in the doctrines of the Bible. What sayest thou, worldling, if thou couldst know thyself elect of God the Father, if thou couldst believe thyself redeemed by His only-begotten Son, if thou knewest that for thy sins there was a complete ransom paid, would not that be a consolation to you? Perhaps you answer, “No.” That is because you are a natural man, and do not discern spiritual things. The spiritual man will reply, “Consolation? ay, sweet as honey to these lips; yea, sweeter than the honeycomb to my heart are those precious doctrines of the grace of God.”

2. There is consolation in the promises of the Bible. Oh! how sweet to the soul in distress are the promises of Jesus! For every condition there is a promise; for every sorrow there is a cordial; for every wound there is a balm; for every disease there is a medicine. If we turn to the Bible, there are promises for all cases.

3. Not only have we consolatory promises, and consolatory doctrines, but we have consolatory influences in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Scripture biography of Simeon

What a biography of a man? How short, and yet how complete! We have seen biographies so prolix, that full one half is nonsense, and much of the other half too vapid to be worth reading. We have seen large volumes spun out of men’s letters. Writing desks have been broken open, and private diaries exposed to the world. Now-a-days, if a man is a little celebrated, his signature, the house in which he was born, the place where he dines, and everything else, is thought worthy of public notice. So soon as he is departed this life, he is embalmed in huge fulios, the profit of which rests mainly, I believe, with the publishers, and not with the readers. Short biographies are the best, which give a concise and exact account of the whole man. What do we care about what Simeon did--where he was born, where he was married, what street he used to walk through, or what coloured coat he wore? We have a very concise account of his history, and that is enough. His “name was Simeon;” he lived “in Jerusalem;” “the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” Beloved, that is enough of a biography for any one of us. If, when we die, so much as this can be said of us--our name--our business, “waiting for the consolation of Israel”--our character, “just and devout”--our companionship, having the Holy Ghost upon us--that will be sufficient to hand us down not to time, but to eternity, memorable amongst the just, and estimable amongst all them that are sanctified. Pause awhile, I beseech you, and contemplate Simeon’s character. The Holy Ghost thought it worthy of notice, since he has put a “behold” in the sentence. “Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon.” He doth not say, “Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was King Herod;” he doth not say, “Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, who was high priest;” but “Behold!”--turn aside here, for the sight is so rare, you may never see such a thing again so long as you live; here is a perfect marvel; “Behold,” there was one man in Jerusalem who was “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” His character is summed up in two words--“just and devout.” “Just”--that is his character before men. “Devout”--that is his character before God. He was “just.” Was he a father? He did not provoke his children to anger, lest they should be discouraged. Was he a master? He gave unto his servants that which was just and equal, knowing that he also had his Master in heaven. Was he a citizen? He rendered obedience unto the powers that then were, submitting himself to the ordinances of man for the Lord’s sake. Was he a merchant? He overreached in no transaction, but pro-riding things honest in the sight of all men, he honoured God in his common business habits. Was he a servant? Then he did not render eye-service, as a man-pleaser, but in singleness of heart he served the Lord. If, as is very probable, he was one of the teachers of the Jews, then he was faithful; he spoke what he knew to be the Word of God, although it might not be for his gain, and would not, like the other shepherds, turn aside to speak error, for the sake of filthy lucre. Before men he was just. But that is only half a good man’s character. There are many who say, “I am just and upright; I never robbed a man in my life; I pay twenty shillings in the pound; and if anybody can find fault with my character, let him speak. Am I not just? But as for your religion,” such a one will say, “I do not care about it; I think it cant.” Sir, you have only one feature of a good man, and that the smallest. You do good towards man, but not towards God; you do not rob your fellow, but you rob your Maker. Simeon had both features of a Christian. He was a “just man,” and he was also “devout.” He valued the “outward and visible sign,” and he possessed also the “inward and spiritual grace. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The waiting Church

All the saints have waited for Jesus. Our mother Eve waited for the coming of Christ; when her first son was born, she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” True she was mistaken in what she said: it was Cain, and not Jesus. But by her mistake we see that she cherished the blessed hope. That Hebrew patriarch, who took his son, his only son, to offer him for a burnt offering, expected the Messiah, and well did he express his faith when he said, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb.” He who once had a stone for his pillow, the trees for his curtains, the heaven for his canopy, and the cold ground for his bed, expected the coming of Jesus, for he said on his death-bed--“Until Shiloh come.” The law-giver of Israel, who was “king in Jeshurun,” spake of Him, for Moses said, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me: Him shall ye hear.” David celebrated Him in many a prophetic song--the Anointed of God, the King of Israel; Him to whom all kings shall bow, and all nations call Him blessed. How frequently does he in his Psalms sing about “my Lord”! “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” But need we stop to tell you of Isaiah, who spake of His passion, and “saw His glory”? of Jeremiah, of Ezekiel, of Daniel, of Micah, of Malachi, and of all the rest of the prophets, who stood with their eyes strained, looking through the dim mists of futurity, until the weeks of prophecy should be fulfilled--until the sacred day should arrive, when Jesus Christ should come in the flesh? They were all waiting for the consolation of Israel. And, now, good old Simeon, standing on the verge of the period when Christ would come, with expectant eyes looked out for Him. Every morning he went up to the temple, saying to himself, “Perhaps He will come to-day.” Each night when he went home he bent his knee, and said, “O Lord, come quickly; even so, come quickly.” And yet, peradventure, that morning he went to the temple, little thinking, perhaps, the hour was at hand when he should see his Lord there; but there He was, brought in the arms of His mother, a little babe; and Simeon knew Him. “Lord,” said he, “now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” “Oh,” cries one, “but we cannot wait for the Saviour now!” No, beloved, in one sense we cannot, for He has come already. The poor Jews are waiting for Him. They will wait in vain now for His first coming, that having passed already. Waiting for the Messiah was a virtue in Simeon’s day; it is the infidelity of the Jews now, since the Messiah is come. Still there is a high sense in which the Christian ought to be every day waiting for the consolation of Israel. I am very pleased to see that the doctrine of the second advent of Christ is gaining ground everywhere. I find that the most spiritual men in every place are” looking for,” as well as “hastening unto,” the coming of our Lord and Saviour. I marvel that the belief is not universal, for it is so perfectly scriptural. We are, we trust, some of us, in the same posture as Simeon. We have climbed the staircase of the Christian virtues, from whence we look for that blessed hope, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The consolation of Israel

Piscator observeth that “the consolation of Israel” is the periphrasis of Jesus Christ; because all the consolation of a true Israelite, as Jacob’s in Benjamin, is bound up in Christ. If He be gone, the soul goeth down to the grave with sorrow. As all the candles in a country cannot make a day--no, it must be the rising of the sun that must do it, the greatest confluence of comforts that the whole creation affordeth, cannot make a day of light and gladness in the heart of a believer; no, it must be the rising of this Sun of Righteousness. (G. Swinnock.)

Waiting is good but hard service

Waiting is often the best kind of service a man can render. Indeed we call a good servant a waiter. But it is commonly harder to wait than to work. It was hard for the children, the night before Christmas, to wait until morning before they knew what presents they were to have. Yet there was nothing for them to do but to wait. And if they only would wait, the morning would come--and with it all that had been promised to them for the morning. How hard it is to wait for the fever to turn, when we are watching by a loved one’s bedside, and our only hope is in waiting. It is hard to wait from seedtime to harvest, from the beginning of the voyage to its end, from the sad parting to the joyous meeting again, from the sending of a letter until its answer can come back to us. How much easier it would be to do something to hasten a desired event, instead of patiently, passively waiting for its coming. It is so much easier to ask in faith than to wait in faith. The minutes drag while the response tarries. (H. C. Trumbull.)

Waiting is harder than doing

Waiting is a harder duty than doing. In illustration of this compare Milton’s beautiful sonnet on his blindness, and that part of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” which tells of Passion and Patience. Jesus Himself had to wait patiently for thirty long years before He entered upon His mission. In a certain battle a detachment of cavalry was kept inactive. It was hard for the men to do nothing but wait, while the fight was going on before them. At last, in the crisis of the battle, the command was given them to charge, and that body of fresh men, sweeping down like a torrent, turned the tide of battle. So, in the battle of life, waiting is often the surest means to victory. And it is comforting to know that where we see only the unsightly bud, God sees the perfect flower; where we see the rough pebble, He sees the flashing diamond. (Sunday School Times.)

Patient waiting

Those who have read the story of Agamemnon will remember the glorious beauty of its opening. A sentinel is placed to watch, year after year, for the beacon-blaze, the appointed signal to announce the taking of Troy. At last it is lighted up; on many a hill the withered heath flares up to pass on the tidings being given; from many a promontory the fire rises in a pillar, and is reflected tremulously on the ridged waves, till at last it is lighted upon the mountains, and recognized as the genuine offspring of the Idean flame. And then the sentinel may be relieved. Even so it is with Simeon. He is a sentinel whom God had set to watch for the Light. He has seen it, and he feels now that his life-work is over. (Bishop Wm. Alexander.)

Simeon and the child Jesus

1. It is saying much for Simeon that he was both a just and a devout man. These two features of Christian character are needful tile one to the other. A just man may be rigidly and legally righteous, yet his character may be hard and cold; but a devout man is one of a warmer, gentler spirit, who is not only good, but makes goodness attractive. Simeon’s devout spirit adorned his justice, and his just spirit strengthened his devotion.

2. No Christian grace is finer than the grace that waits for the consolation of Israel. Waiting higher than working. The passive virtues of the Christian require and display a greater faith and a profounder humility than the active. To those who wait in faith, submission, and holy living, the consolation of Israel will always come.

3. All Christians may not depart in raptures, but they may at least expect to “depart in peace.” Many good people are greatly concerned lest they should not be ready to die. If we are ready to live we may leave dying to the Lord. Simeon’s life had been passed in peace with God. In the same peace he was ready to die.

4. The salvation of Christ is no meagre and limited scheme. It is for all peoples. Christ is both “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” and “the glory of God’s Israel.” Before His throne will be gathered at last “a great multitude whom no man can number.” “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” But what will satisfy His infinite heart, if the kingdom of Satan at last outnumbers His own?

5. Christ has always been “spoken against,” but Christianity lives, and is going on in the world “conquering and to conquer.” (E. D. Rogers, D. D.)

Simeon: saint, singer, and seer

Simeon’s song was the first human Advent hymn with which the Saviour was greeted, and it has been sung constantly in the Church ever since.

I. Contemplate A SAINTLY CHARACTER.

II. See further THE SAINT’S ANTICIPATION, resting upon

III. Now think of THE SAINTLY SATISFACTION. Simeon saw Christ. The promise was fulfilled. The vision was enough to satisfy the soul.

IV. Let us listen to THE SAINT’S SONG. HOW honourable was the position which Simeon occupied in uttering this song! A long chain of saints, stretching through the ages, was completed in him. They expected, he realized. They had all died, not having received the promise, he received. They had only foreseen, he actually touched Christ. He struck the first chords of that song which has been taken up already by the ages, and will go on vibrating and increasing in volume so long as earth stands or heaven endures.

V. THE SAINTLY PROPHECY of Simeon must not be unnoticed. If there is to be glory, there must also be suffering. He gives a hint of Gethsemane and of Calvary. A sword was to pass through Mary’s heart. Here is the “first foreshadowing of the Passion found in the New Testament.” It should save us from surprise that Christianity has had to pass through such vicissitudes. The Saviour came to His throne by way of the cross, and His truth will come to be the one power among men by way of frequent dispute and temporary rejection.

VI. THE SAINT’S PREPARATION FOR DEATH is suggested in his own words. There is a tradition that this was his “swan-song”--that he passed into the other world when he had finished it. More fitting words with which to die could not easily be found. What a contrast the dying words of such a saint present to the words of the worldling! It is said that Mirabeau cried out frantically for music to soothe his last moments; that Hobbes, the deist, said, as he gasped his last breath, “I am taking a fearful leap into the dark”; that Cardinal Beaufort said, “What I is there no bribing death?” Men with the Christian light have met death in another way. When Melancthon was asked if there was anything he desired, he said, “No, Luther, nothing but heaven.” Dr. John Owen said at last, “I am going to Him whom my soul loveth, or rather, who has loved me with an everlasting love.” John Brown of Haddington could say, “I am weak, but it is delightful to feel one’s self in the everlasting arms.” George Washington could say, “It is all well.” Walter Scott, as he sank in the slumber of death, “Now I shall be myself again.” Beethoven, as he could almost catch the melody of the mystic world, “Now I shall hear.” Wesley could cheerily meet death with the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Locke, the Christian philosopher, exclaimed at dying, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the goodness and knowledge of God!” Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”: Paul, “having a desire to depart”; and, “to die is gain.” All such utterances accord with the last words of Simeon. Inquiry as to the character of the individual life, hope, and preparation for the future should be the outcome of these thoughts. Useful and important lessons all may learn as they contemplate the character of the venerable Simeon--saint, singer, and seer. (F. Hastings.)

Simeon: a sermon for Christmas

Simeon, we are told, waited for the Consolation of Israel. In that short but striking word we discover a thought unknown to the ancient world, and one which gives the Jewish nation incomparable grandeur. Israel is a people that waits. Whilst the other nations grow great, conquer, and extend here below; whilst they think only of their power and visible prosperity, Israel waits. This little people has an immense, a strange ambition; they expect the reign of God on earth. Much that was carnal and selfish mixed up with that ambition. But the truly pious understood in a different way the consolation of Israel. In their ease, the question was, before everything else, spiritual deliverance, pardon, salvation. Yet how few they were who were not tired of waiting! For more than four hundred years no prophet had appeared to revive their hope. The stranger reigned in Jerusalem. Religious formalism covered with a winding sheet of lead the whole nation. The scoffers asked where the promise of Messiah’s coming was. Yet in the midst of that icy indifference, Simeon still waits. Consider--

I. THE FIRMNESS OF HIS HOPE.

II. THE GREATNESS OF HIS FAITH, In a poor child brought by poor people to the temple he discovers Him who is to he the glory of Israel, and--something more wonderful still, and wholly foreign to the spirit of a Jew--Him who is to enlighten the Gentiles. It is the whole of mankind that Simeon gives as a retinue to the child which he bears in his arms. Never did a bolder faith launch out into the infinite, basing all its calculations on the Word of God.

III. THE FEELINGS AWAKENED IN HIS SOUL BY THE CERTAINTY WITH WHICH FAITH FILLS HIM. All these feelings summed up in one--joy; the joy of a soul overwhelmed with the goodness of God, joy which is breathed out in song. What is the principle of that joy? It is a Divine peace. “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” And on what does that peace rest? On the certainty of salvation. “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” You who know this joy, keep it not to yourselves! (E. Bersier, D. D.)

A representative man

Sometimes one man seems to stand as the representative of the whole human family. It was so in this instance. All the expectations, desire, hope, and assurance of better things which have moved the heart of man, seem to have been embodied in the waiting Simeon. His occupation is appropriately described by the word waiting. He had probably seen a long lifetime of varied spiritual service, and had passed through his full share of human suffering; and now, with all this discipline behind him, he had nothing to do but to wait for the disclosure of the supreme mercy of heaven. At his age he could not be long, in the usual order of things, before he saw death; and yet, between him and that grim sight there lay the promised revelation of the very beauty of the Father’s image. The coming of Simeon into the Temple, though an ordinary act, was invested with extraordinary feeling and significance. Sometimes the habitude of a whole life will suddenly disclose new meanings and adaptations, and the most beaten ground of our routine will have springing up on it unexpected and precious flowers. Persist in going to the house of God, for the very next time you go you may be gladdened by rare revelations! A beautiful picture is this taking of the child into the arms of Simeon, this lifting up of the old man’s face, and this utterance of the saint’s prayer! Let imagination linger upon the pathetic scene. It is thus that God closes the ages and opens the coming time. The old man and the little child, whenever they come together, seem to repeat in some degree the interest of this exciting scene. Every child brought into the temple of the Lord should be in his own degree a teacher and a deliverer of the people; and every venerable saint should regard him as such, and bless God for the promise of his manhood. It is amazing at how many points we may touch the Saviour. There is Simeon with the little child in his arms, and in that little life he sees the whole power of God, and the light that is to spread its glory over Israel and the Gentiles. Simeon might have given his prayer another turn; he might have said, “Lord, let me tarry awhile, that I may see the growth of this child. I am unwilling to go just yet, as great things are about to happen, such as never happened upon the earth before; I pray Thee let me abide until I see at least His first victory, and then call me to Thy rest.” This would have been a natural desire, and yet the old man was content to have seen and touched the promised child; and he who might have died in the night of Judaism, passed upward in the earliest dawn of Christianity. Simeon saw the salvation of God in the little child. Others have seen that salvation is the wondrousness and beneficence exemplified in the full manhood of Christ. Some have been saved by a simple act of faith; others have passed into spiritual rest through doubt, suffering, and manifold agony. Some have gone “through nature up to nature’s God”; and others have found Him in the pages of revelation, in bold prophecy, in tender promise, in profound legislation, in gracious and healing sympathay. Thus there are many points at which we touch the great saving facts of the universe; the question is not so much at what point we come into contact with God as to be sure that our progress is vital and progressive. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Aged evangelists

The first evangelists were old people. When the King of kings put off the glory of His heavenly state, and came into this world, no person pronounced His name, or even recognized His face on the day of His first public appearance, but one old man and one old woman.

I. THE FIRST MAN IN THIS WORLD WHO WAS HONOURED TO BE AN EVANGELIST WAS AN AGED MAN. An old father named Simeon. Historically, we know nothing about him, not even that he was old; but all tradition says that he was so, and it is the fair, inevitable inference from the spirit of the story that he had reached a stage when, in all human probability, he would not have to live much longer. I think that he began to walk up to the temple with short breath and slow step, and that age had set a seal upon him, which, like the red cross upon a tree marked by the steward to come down, told that he was soon to die. Yet he had in cypher a secret message from heaven, by which he knew that he was safe to live a little longer, It looks as if he had belonged to the predicted few who spake often one to another in the dark hour just before the Sun of Righteousness rose, and that in answer to a great longing to see the Saviour “it was revealed to Him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” We are not told when this revelation was made. If in his early manhood, it must have been a strange, charmed life that he led ever after. At last the long-looked-for express came. Did he hear in the air or did the voice whisper in his soul words like these: “Go to the temple; the Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple this day”? We only know that “he came by the Spirit into the temple.” No particular stir in the street that morning, as the old man hurried along, to mark anything out of the common way. No one knows what kind of being Simeon expected to see, but we know that his faith was not shaken by the sight of His King coming as a mere child. All his soul flamed up. The old face shone like a lamp suddenly lighted; then to the delight of the mother and to the amazement of the officiating priests, who almost thought him out of his mind, this servant of the Master in heaven took the child in his arms and spoke like the prophet Isaiah. Let no believer be afraid to die. When the time comes, you will find that, little by little, He has cleared out all the impediments that now seem to you so great; you will be as really to go as Simeon was; and if you look for Him as he did, you will find that Jesus clasped close to you is still “the antidote to death.”

II. THE FIRST WOMAN IN THIS WORLD WHO WAS HONOURED TO BE AN EVANGELIST WAS AN AGED WOMAN. Let us take short notes of what is said about her.

1. The fact of her great age is stated. The style of the statement is obscure, but the meaning seems to be that she was a widow about eighty-four years of age; that seven years out of the eighty-four she had been a wife, and that she was quite a young girl when she married. Then she had lived long enough, like Noah, to see an old world die, and a new world born.

2. She was a prophetess God had said by an ancient seer, “On My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in these days of My Spirit.” As the sun sends out shoots of glory and tinges of forerunning radiance to tell that he is coming, so, before the Day of Pentecost was fully come, we have foretokens of it in the prophetic flashes that shone out from the souls of Simeon and Anna.

3. She was of the tribe of Asher. Not an illustrious tribe. No star in the long story of its darkness until now. It had, however, one honourable distinction. To it had been left a peculiar promise, the richest gem in the old family treasure: “And of Asher he said … As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The old prophetess could say of this promise, “I am its lawful heiress. Long have I known it, and always have I found it true. In my young days, in my days of happy wifehood, in my days of lonely widowhood, in my days of weary age; as my days, my strength has been.”

4. “She departed not from the temple, but served God,” &c. (verse 37). Looking and listening for the Lord of the temple, she thought that His foot on the stair might be heard at any moment, and she would not be out of the way when He came. When the temple shafts, crowned with lily-work, flashed back the crimson sunrise, she was there; when the evening lamps were lighted, she was there; when the courts were crowded, she was there; when the last echoes of the congregation died away, still she was there; her spirit said, “One thing have I desired of the Lord,” &c. (Psalms 27:4).

5. She took part in making known the joyful tidings. Simeon was in the act of speaking, “and she, coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him,” &c. (verse 38). We try in vain to picture her delight. It had been her habit to speak about the glory of which her heart was full to the people who came at the hour of prayer; and now, at this most sacred hour, we are sure that in her holy rapture she would stop this person, put her hand on that, and say in spirit, whatever her words may have been: “Look there on that little child; He is all that we have been looking for; folded up in that lovely little life is all our redemption; that bud will burst into wondrous flower some day. Whoever lives to see it, mark my words, that child will grow up to be the Redeemer of Israel.” First things are significant things, especially at the opening of a new dispensation. When, therefore, we find in the gospel-story that the first evangelists were old people, both old and young should take the hint. Old Christians must never tell us any more that they are past service. God has no such word as “superannuated” written against any name in His book. The young Christian, joyful with a soul that colours all things with the freshness and glory of its own morning, can never say of the old Christian, “I have no need of thee.” No hand can turn back the shadow on the dial of time; no spell can change the grey hair into its first bright abundant beauty; no science can discover the fountain of youth told about in Spanish tales of old romance; but the grace of God can do infinitely more than that. It can keep the heart fresh; it can make the soul young when the limbs are old. When strength is made perfect in weakness; when many years have run their course; when we are obliged to change the tense in speech about your labours, as Paul did when he said, “Salute the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord,” but feel all the while that you are more “beloved” than ever; when, “coming in,” you “give thanks to the Lord”; when your inmost life can say, “My hand begins to tremble, but I can still take hold of the everlasting covenant; my foot fails, but it is not far from the throne of grace; my sight fails, but I can see Jesus; my appetite fails, but I have meat to eat that the world knows not of; my ears are dull, but I hear Him, and He hears me; my memory is treacherous, but I remember the years of the right hand of the Most High, and delight to talk of His doings”; when you can thus preach Jesus, be assured that few evangelists do more for the gospel. No sermon moves us more deeply than that of an old, happy, Christian life, and no service more confirms our faith. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Simeon and Anna

Simeon had come up by special revelation; Anna needed no such token. Surely her leading was the best. Simeon needed the message, but if Christ had come as a thief at first, as He will at last, Anna would have been there. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

The same man was just and devout

To be devout means to live always with the consciousness of God’s presence; to walk with Him, as the old Scriptures put it, so that all thoughts and acts are thought and done before Him, and ordered so as to be in tune with His character. It means to live in worship of Him, so that honour is paid in everything to that which is God, to truth and mercy, justice and purity. But to be devout without being just is almost useless. For this kind of devotion is liable to extravagances of feeling which dim the clear sight of things. There is nothing more common than the prophecies M pious men who map out the future and run into the wildest follies. The prophet must be a just man, and that means not only the habit of right doing which devoutness almost secures, but the habit of right thinking. (Stopford A. Brooke.)

It is hard to wait, and few can do it well

But God was with Simeon, and high hopes, and faith. God with him; he had no lonely hours, and it is the loneliness of the heart that makes waiting so bitter. He had that ineffable Presence with him, consciousness of whom would make life Divine, could we but possess it; and the glory of God’s life and thought had filled his heart with song. To wait, then, was not hard; for every hour brought peaceful joy, and every joy was a new pledge of the last and most glorious joy. But along with this life with God, and flowing from it as a source, were those high hopes and faiths which were his companions in this abiding old age. Waiting was no hardship to one So companied. (Stopford A. Brooke.)

The expectant Simeon

We here see three different periods in the career of a believer.

I. WAITING.

1. For what? Consolation. The heart requires this (Hebrews 6:18). Redemption. No consolation except through redemption. God’s salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ the sum and substance of it all; for when he saw Him he was satisfied.

2. Relying on what? God’s Word.

3. Where? In the Temple. Perhaps because he looked for a special blessing in the house of God (Isaiah 56:7). Perhaps because of prophecy Malachi 3:1). Learn that the Holy Ghost never supersedes Scripture, but leads men to trust it, and wait in faith for the promised blessings. Observe also that He leads men to the sanctuary of God; not to neglect church, but to look for a blessing in it.

II. FINDING. We do not know how long he waited. Perhaps years. At length a very insignificant party entered the Temple. A man with a young woman and Child. Poor people. Proved by turtle doves (Leviticus 12:8).

1. He recognizes the sacred character of the Child. The believer recognizes Christ as his Saviour, though men in general may think nothing of Him.

2. He receives Him into his arms (Hebrews 11:13).

3. He blesses God.

III. HAVING FOUND.

1. He is at peace.

2. He is ready to die.

3. He is sure of the Divine salvation. (Canon Hoare.)

The Consolation of Israel

I. THE CHARACTER, UNDER WHICH THEY EXPECTED THEIR MESSIAH, is beautifully expressed in these words of Simeon--THE CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.

II. Having shown you under what character the Messiah was expected by Simeon and his friends, I proceed now, in the second place, to consider the STATE OF MIND IN WHICH THEY AWAITED HIS ARRIVAL.

1. Simeon waited in full confidence for the Consolation of Israel. He had received the promises of God concerning the coming of that Just One, and by faith he was persuaded of them, and embraced them. He entertained no doubts of their being fulfilled in their season.

2. Simeon waited for the Consolation of Israel with ardent desire. The Incarnation of the Son of God was not merely an event of whose certainty this excellent man was assured: he regarded it as an event most desirable, most happy for himself.

3. Once more; the state in which Simeon awaited the birth of the Messiah, was a state of holy preparation. For the same man was just and devout; and both he and his friends appear to have been very constant in their attendance on the public worship at the Temple. (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Christ our Consolation

I. Let us ask ourselves what it is that is here described by the words “the Consolation of Israel.” Israel was God’s own people. For all the duties, for all the trials, for all the sufferings of life, what had the Greek, what had the Roman, to furnish him, as compared with the poorest peasant in Israel, with one who could go forth in the strength of the Lord his God, and make mention of His righteousness only; who could stay himself on his God in trial, and in suffering could say, “It is Jehovah, my covenant God: let Him do what seemeth Him good”? Which of them could ever cry out, as death drew on, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord?” Of which of them could it ever be said, amidst all the void and unsatisfied yearnings of this life, “When I awake up after Thy likeness I shall be satisfied”? So that, as compared with the nations round, Israel’s Consolation was already abundant. Still, Israel had, and looked for, a Consolation to come. God’s people differed in this also from every people on earth. When, then, we use the words “the Consolation of Israel,” we mean Christ in the fulness of His constituted Person and Office as the Comforter of His people. And when we say “waiting for the Consolation of Israel,” we imply that attitude of expectation, anxious looking for, hearty desire of, this Consolation, which comes from, and is in fact, Christ Himself. First, then, Christ is the Consolation of His people, inasmuch as He DELIVERS THEM FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN. But, again, Christ consoles His people not only from guilt, but Is SORROW. It is His especial office, as we saw, “to bind up the broken heart; to give the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (H. Alford, M. A.)


Verse 26

Luke 2:26

And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost

The leading of the Spirit

Observe that Simeon found Christ in the temple, being conducted thither by the Holy Ghost.
There was an ancient promise, “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His Temple,” and this probably drew the holy man to the courts of the Lord. But the Lord might have come, and Simeon might not have been there, or the good old man might have been occupied in some other court of the holy place; but being led of the Spirit he came to the appointed spot at the very time when the mother of Christ was bringing the Babe in her arms to do for Him according to the law. In this Simeon is an instance of the truth that they find Christ who are led by the Spirit, and they alone. No man ever comes to Christ by his own wit and wisdom, nor by his own unprompted will: he alone who is drawn of the Spirit comes to Christ. We must submit ourselves to Divine teaching and Divine drawing, or else Christ may come to His temple, but we shall not perceive Him
. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Simeon’s felicity

How highly favoured was Simeon! A glorious anticipation truly for a pious Israelite to entertain! A stupendous assurance to carry about with him! How must it have stirred his inmost soul at times to think upon it! At one time, joy--at another, alarm--must have filled his heart; joy at the thought that God was about to visit and redeem His people; alarm, for who might abide the day of His coming, and who should stand when He appeared? Every rumour which reached him must have made his pulse throb and his heart beat; for he knew that he was destined to look upon Him to whom all type and all prophecy for four thousand years had been steadily pointing His words of recognition, the inspired hymn which bears his name, must doubtless have flowed from his burning lips like words of fire. His embrace must surely have been an act of unspeakable gratitude, wonder, and joy! (Dean Burgon.)

Blessedness found in the path of duty

Let us put ourselves in his position from the day that he received the promise, and consider, as far as may be, not merely what we should have felt, but how we should have acted, had we been in his place. It may be thought that we should have adopted one of the most probable opinions as to the manner in which Messiah would appear, and have anxiously expected His manifestation. We might perhaps have gone out of our way in this pursuit; and when the time grew long, we might have fancied that we were called upon to take some step in order to meet the Divine condescension half way. But what was the course adopted by devout Simeon? We find him frequenting the Temple faithfully, as aforetime; until, on a certain day, which was like every other day except in its results to him, the desire of his soul was gratified. A humble pair enter, and the mother bears in her arms a little Babe. There is nothing to distinguish that group from ordinary worshippers. Nay, their attire and their offering bespeak great poverty. Simeon is made aware by a sudden revelation of the Spirit, that in that helpless Child he beholds the Lord’s Christ: whereupon he takes Him up in his arms, and blesses God, and pours out his soul in solemn thankfulness. Surely the lesson to be derived from this incident is the same which is taught us by many a page of Holy Scripture besides; namely, that blessedness is to be found in the path of duty. This lesson we dare not overlook, or neglect. Every one is apt to think that there is something in his own position, peculiarly uncongenial to holiness; that his own path of life is peculiarly difficult and embarrassing. Especially are men prone to think that the common round of daily duties affords but little time, and presents yet fewer opportunities, for the service of God. The daily task is so humble, or so uncongenial; so simply worldly, or so extremely private, that many who desire a closer walk with God are apt to wish that they were not exactly what and where they are; but, indeed, almost anything besides. It is our own infirmity, if we thus think. God requires at our hand good things, not great things. He can do without us; and it is He who does in us all that we ever seem to do well. Moreover, if He does but find in us a perfect willingness to serve Him, let us be well assured that He will minister to us occasions of holiness; or rather, that we shall find ample room for the execution of our best designs and desires, in those same daily duties, that same lowly round of perhaps distasteful task, which we half dislike and half despise. (Ibid.)

Simeon’s character

1. The Holy Ghost, his Leader.

2. Faith, his consolation.

3. Piety, his life.

4. The Saviour, his joy.

5. To depart for heaven, his desire. (Van Doren.)

“In the huge Temple, deck’d by Herod’s pride, Who fain would bribe a God he ne’er believed, Kneels a meek woman, that hath once conceived, Tho’ she was never like an earthly bride. And yet the stainless would be purified, And wash away the stain that yet was none, And for the birth of her immaculate Son, With the stern rigour of the law complied: The duty paid received its due reward When Simeon bless’d the Baby in her arm; And though he plainly told her that a sword Must pierce her soul, she felt no weak alarm, For that for which a prophet thanked the Lord Once to have seen, could never end in harm.” (Hartley Coleridge.)

The fear of death destroyed by a sight of Christ

Our text is a joyful exclamation of a venerable old saint upon seeing the Lord’s Christ. It seems that when his eyes once looked upon Jesus, he never wished them to gaze on aught more on earth. Hence he exclaimed, “Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart inpeace.” We remark--

I. THAT GOD ALWAYS HONOURS PRE-EMINENTLY DEVOTED MEN. Them that honour Me,” saith the Lord, “will I honour.” Undevout minds are too worldly, too apathetic, too dull to hear the secret whispering of heaven. ‘Tis the spiritual ear alone that can hear the still small voice that comes across the universe from the spirit-world; ‘tis the spiritual eye alone that reads the secrets of eternity, that sees passing in review before it the realities of the hidden state. Some simple-hearted Christians were once returning from chapel; they had been to hear the holy Bramwell preach. One of them said to the other, “How is it that Mr. Bramwell has always something new to tell us?” “Ah!” said the other, “I can tell you how it is; he lives very much nearer the gates of heaven than many of us, and God tells him things He does not tell other people.” And so it was with Simeon. He lived very much nearer the gates of heaven than many of his day; and God honoured him by telling him this great fact. It was revealed unto Simeon that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

II. SIMEON WAS A MAN OF PRE-EMINENT DEVOTEDNESS TO GOD. “And, behold,” say the Scriptures, “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.” Observes an eminent divine, “No doubt there were many persons in Jerusalem named Simeon besides this man, but there was none of the name who merited the attention of God so much as he in the text.” There are four things said about him in the text, every one of which is an evidence of his great devotedness. It is said of him that he was just, devout, that he waited for the Consolation of Israel, and that the Holy Ghost was upon him. You cannot dispense with one of these elements from eminent piety, reconciliation, devoutness, a waiting upon God, and the possession of the Holy Ghost. A virtuous man said, a philosopher is the noblest work of God; but we would rather say a Christian, a devout man, is the noblest work of God. Such a man is God’s jewel, His friend; ‘tis with him God delights to dwell; ‘tis to him God will tell His secrets; on him confer His richest houours. Simeon was such a man; God honoured him by telling him the great fact, that before death should close his eyes, he should see the Lord’s Christ.

III. THAT THOUGH SIMEON WAS AN EMINENTLY DEVOTED MAN, HE HAD GREAT DISCOURAGEMENT IN OBTAINING A SIGHT OF THE OBJECT HE SO EXTREMELY DESIRED. What Simeon wanted was to see the Lord’s Christ. Unbelief would suggest to him, “Simeon, you are an old man, your day is almost ended, the snow of age is upon your head,, your eyes are growing dim, your brow is wrinkled, your limbs totter, and death cannot be at a great distance; and where are the signs of His coming? You are resting, Simeon, on a phantom of the imagination--it is all a delusion.” “No,” replies Simeon, “I shall not see death till I have seen the Lord’s Christ. Yes, I shall see Him before I die.” But unbelief would again suggest, “But remember, Simeon, many holy men have desired to see the Lord’s Christ, but have died without the sight.” “Yes,” says Simeon, “I shall see the Lord’s Christ.” I imagine I see Simeon walking out on a fine morning along one of the lovely vales of Palestine, meditating on the great subject that filled his mind. He is met by one of his friends--“Peace be with you: have you heard the strange news?” “What news?” replied Simeon. “Do you not know Zacharias, the priest?” “Yes, well.” “According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense in the temple of the Lord, and the whole multitude of the people were praying without. It was the time of incense, and there appeared unto him aa angel standing on the right side of the altar of incense, and told him that he should have a son, whose name should be called John: one who should be great in the sight of the Lord, who should neither drink wine nor strong drink, and he should be filled with the Holy Ghost from his infancy, and that he should go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord, and make ready a people prepared for the Lord. The angel was Gabriel, that stands in the presence of God, and because he believed not the angel, he was struck dumb.” “Ah!” says Simeon, “that is an exact fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6. This is the messenger of the Lord, to prepare the way; this is the forerunner; this is the morning star; the day dawn is not far off; the great Messiah is on His way--is nigh at hand. I shall not see death till I have seen the Lord’s Christ.Hallelujah! the Lord shall suddenly come to His Temple.” Simeon ponders these things in his heart, and time rolls on. I imagine I see Simeon again on his morning meditative walk. He is again accosted by one of his neighbours: “Well, Simeon, have you heard the news?” “What news?” “Why, there’s a wry singular story almost in everybody’s mouth. A company of shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem were watching their flocks; it was the still hour of night, and the mantle of darkness covered the world; a bright light shone around the shepherds, a light above the brightness of the midday sun; they looked up, and just above them appeared an angel glowing in all the lovely hues of heaven; the shepherds became greatly terrified, and the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’” “This is the Lord’s Christ. I shall not see death till I have seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon said to himself, “They will bring Him to the Temple to circumcise Him.” Away went Simeon, morning after morning, to see if he could get a glimpse of Jesus. Perhaps unbelief suggested to Simeon, “You had better stop at home this wet morning; you have been so many mornings and have not seen Him, you may venture to be absent this once.” “No,” says the Spirit, “you must go to the Temple.” Away went Simeon to the Temple. He would no doubt select a good post of observation. Look at him there, leaning his back against one of the pillars of the Temple; how intently he watches the door! He sees one mother after another bringing her infant to the Temple to be circumcised; he surveys the face of every child. “No,” says he, as his eye scans the countenance, “that is not He, and that is not”; but at length he sees the Virgin appear, and the Spirit told him that that was the long-expected Saviour. He grasped the Child in his arms, and pressed Him to his heart, and exclaimed, “Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Between Simeon and an awakened sinner there is one point of agreement: they both desire to see one object--the Lord’s Christ. “What must I do? I want help: to whom must I look? “Behold, a ray of light breaks in upon him--one single, but bright ray; it keeps him from utter despair, it gives him a faint hope, it enables him tremblingly to say, “Before I see death, I shall see the Lord’s Christ.”

1. Unbelief suggests, “How do you suppose that you will be permitted to see the Lord’s Christ? Do you think the great Jehovah, whose majesty almost confounds the cherubim and seraphim--at least compels them to cover over their bright faces with their wings, and fall before His throne in deep adoration--whose temple is all space, whose arm is around all worlds, who inhabits eternity, at whose bidding the sun lights up his fire, whose empire is so vast that were an angel, with the lightning’s swiftness, to fly in a direct line from the centre, he would not in millions of years sweep the outskirts of His creation, ‘who sits upon the highest heavens, and sees worlds infinite dance beneath Him as atoms in the sunbeam, you an atom, a shade, a moth, a worm, a flower of the field to-day, and not tomorrow, in the morning, and not to-night, not master of a moment, not a match for a breeze, a dream, a vapour, a shadow,’ a sinner born to die--how do you suppose He will show you the Lord’s Christ?” Replies the awakened sinner, “One thing I know: I dare not die till I have seen the Lord’s Christ. He cares for my body: will He be less concerned about my soul? Will He arrange all nature to minister to my bodily wants, and leave my soul to perish? No; that is unlike Him.”

2. Unbelief again suggests: “Are not your sins too great in magnitude and multitude to be forgiven?”

3. But unbelief again suggests, “Do you suppose that the sins of an age can be pardoned in a moment of time--sins that have spread over years of your life?” When we have seen Christ, the sting of death is gone. Simeon pressed the Lord’s Christ to his heart, and then he never wished his eyes to gaze on aught more of earth; and when the believing penitent has Christ in his heart, the hope of glory, then he is not afraid of death. A fact will bear out this statement. Some time since, a minister of the gospel was called upon to visit a dying woman. He ascended a flight of stairs that led into a miserable-looking garret; for, though clean and neat, there was scarcely an article of furniture to give an air of comfort to the chamber of death. In one corner of the room there was a bed--a bed of straw! On it lay a dying female, pale, and worn to a skeleton; she was near the verge, the trembling verge, of eternity. The minister drew nigh and said to her, “Well, my friend, how do you feel? What are your prospects for the eternity which is just about to open upon you?” She looked up in the minister’s face with a countenance bright with heavenly radiance, and beaming with a brightness she had caught gazing on the visions of God, and said, “Oh I sir,

“Tis Jesus, the first and the last,

Whose Spirit shall guide me safe home.

I’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for what is to come.”

Christianity can make a bed of straw into a bed of down--can convert a gloomy sick chamber into the vestibule of heaven, a chamber where the soul unrobes and plumes herself for her flight. (J. Caughey.)


Verse 27

Luke 2:27

Brought in the Child Jesus

Dedicating children to the Lord

When the Duke of Kent was dying, he desired that the little princess Victoria should be placed beside him, and then he offered a very affecting prayer that “if ever she became the Queen of England, she might rule in the fear of God.
” How many of our noble Queen’s virtues and good deeds have resulted doubtless from her godly training I In my first Circuit I knew the excellent family of the late eminent Rev. Benjamin Field. At his birth his very godly father solemnly dedicated him to God. He began to preach in his seventeenth year, and by his ministry and by his very good “Handbook to Scripture Doctrines,” he has been useful to thousands. Holy children generally live to be “great in the sight of the Lord,” and, if faithful, with God’s blessings, eminently useful
. (H. R. Burton.)

Singleness of aim

Parents should have one single object before them regarding their children, and that is, to bring them up for the Lord. To that everything else should give way. The natural tendency is to bring them up very genteelly, very respectably, to educate them for some station where they can make a great deal of money. This is the natural tendency on the part of parents. Well, they may obtain the desire of their hearts, but to the injury of the souls of their children. How I would press this on the hearts of my brethren! Of course I do not at all mean they should not have the best of education, and such an education as will be suitable to their station in life. But everything should give way to this point: my son, my daughter, are to be brought up for the Lord. My son, my daughter, are to become heirs of the kingdom that fadeth not away. Everything ought to give way to this one point. If we do not keep this before us, we shall constantly take wrong steps. Let me give an illustration. A Christian gentleman of good position in life articled his son to a very wicked lawyer, notoriously wicked. This son used to come home on the Saturday afternoons to spend the Lord’s day with his family. There he attended family prayers. He used to say strong things about his father’s petitions, such as, “My father prays for me that God would preserve me in the midst of temptation; he puts me in the lion’s mouth, and then asks God to preserve me!” (George Muller.)


Verse 29

Luke 2:29; Luk_2:31

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace

Nunc Dimittis

I.
Let us start with this great general principle which is full of comfort that EVERY BELIEVER MAY BE ASSURED OF ULTIMATELY DEPARTING IN PEACE. This is no privilege peculiar to Simeon, it is common to all the saints, since the grounds upon which this privilege rests are not monopolised by Simeon, but belong to us all.

1. All the saints have seen God’s salvation, therefore should they all depart in peace. It is true, we cannot take up the infant Christ into our arms, but He is “formed in us, the hope of glory.” It is true, we cannot look upon Him with these mortal eyes, but we have seen Him with those eyes immortal which death cannot dim--the eyes of our own spirit which have been opened by God’s Holy Spirit. A sight of Christ with the natural eye is not saving, for thousands saw Him and then cried, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”

2. Believers already enjoy peace as much as ever Simeon did. No man can depart in peace who has not lived in peace; but he who has attained peace in life shall possess peace in death, and an eternity of peace after death.

3. We may rest assured of the same peace as that which Simeon possessed, since we are, if true believers, equally God’s servants. The same position towards God, the same reward from God.

4. Another reflection which strengthens this conviction is, that up till now all things in their experience have been according to God’s Word. The promises of God, which are “Yea and amen in Christ Jesus,” are sure to all the seed: not to some of the children is the promise made, but all the grace-born are heirs. If, then, Simeon, as a believer in the Lord, had a promise that he should depart in peace, I have also a like promise if I am in Christ.

5. The departure of the child of God is appointed of the Lord. “Now lettest Thou,” &c. The servant must not depart from his labour without his Master’s permission, else would he be a runaway, dishonest to his position.

6. The believer’s departure is attended with a renewal of the Divine benediction. “Depart in peace,” saith God. It is a farewell, such as we give to a friend: it is a benediction, such as Aaron, the priest of God, might pronounce over a suppliant whose sacrifice was accepted. Eli said unto Hannah, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him.” Around the sinner’s death-bed the tempest thickens, and he hears the rumblings of the eternal storm: his soul is driven away, either amid the thunderings of curses loud and deep, or else in the dread calm which evermore forebodes the hurricane.

II. SOME BELIEVERS ARE CONSCIOUS OF A SPECIAL READINESS TO DEPART IS PEACE. When do they feel this? Answer:

1. When their graces are vigorous.

2. When their assurance is clear.

3. When their communion with Christ is near and sweet.

4. Saints have drawn their anchor up and spread their saris, when they have been made to hold loose by all there is in this world; and that is generally when they hold fastest by the world to come.

5. Saints are willing to depart when their work is almost done. Ah, Christian people, you will never be willing to go if you are idle. You lazy lie-a-beds, who do little or nothing for Christ, you sluggish servants, whose garden is overgrown with weeds, no wonder that you do not want to see your master!

6. One other matter, I think, helps to make saints willing to go, and that is when they see or foresee the prosperity of the Church of God. Good old Simeon saw that Christ was to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of His people Israel; and therefore he said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” It must have reconciled John Knox to die when he had seen the reformation safely planted throughout all Scotland. It made dear old Latimer, as he stood on the fagot, feel happy when he could say, “Courage, brother, we shall this day light such a candle in England as shall never be blown out.”

III. THERE ARE WORDS TO ENCOURAGE US TO THE LIKE READINESS TO DEPART (See Psalms 23:4; Psa_37:37; Psa_116:15; Isaiah 57:2; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1Co_15:54; Revelation 14:13). These promises belong to all believers; each of them is a sure word from God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Hunt Dimittis

It seems singular to see these two faces resting so closely together. Infancy and old age are met; second childhood holds first childhood by the hand while it sings a wonderful song.

I. The first thing that strikes our notice here is THE SINGULAR ILLUSTRATION OFFERED OF THE PARADOX OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. How extraordinary is the disparity between these two persons, and yet how absolutely the one seems to rest in the other! Jesus lies safely in Simeon’s arms; Simeon reposes his life for all the untold future in Jesus’ Messiahship. Simeon’s soul is held up for ever by the Little Child whose body he now holds in his hands! We can explain nothing in this strange scene without considering that Jesus was the true Messiah, and the Messiah was the incarnate God.

II. So this presents another lesson: here is A SATISFACTORY STYLE OF PIETY FOR AN UNWAVERING DEPENDENCE. There are faiths and religions, there are rituals and creeds, there are persuasions and experiences, enough almost to fill the world. Only some of them do not meet the end for which they have been commended. Many a man has what he calls his religion; and it does very well when shielded and sheltered, but it goes out ignobly in darkness and betrayal under the wild rush of discipline, or the hurricane gusts of tempestuous passion. It is evident that here in Simeon’s case we find a perfectly settled rest for any human soul. His full content with it is edifying and unmistakable. He was willing to take his eternal life on Christ’s own terms, and so he was perfectly satisfied. It mattered nothing to him that he was an old man, and this was a Babe, nor that he was a wise:ann, and this was only a peasant Infant forty days old; he expressed his entire contentment with the plan which infinite wisdom had devised for human reliance. Men may as well start with this; they must begin by accepting terms already made, and cease trying to make new ones. Felix Neff once told even a minister this: “There is much truth in your sermon, but it lacks one important thing: you still wish men to go to Jesus with lace sleeves, instead of going to Him in rags as they are.”

III. We find here AN INTELLIGENT AND EXEMPLARY APPRECIATION OF THE EXACT PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL. It will be well to put alongside of this song Simeon’s prophecy, which comes just after it. This good old man tells that young mother precisely what her Child was “set” for Christ was appointed to prostrate men from self-dependence, and raise them again into full union with Himself. His heart would be pierced in suffering, and so would Mary’s, before the history should be finished. But Christ’s sufferings would work out an atonement, by which sinners might be saved.

IV. A LESSON OF TRUST FOR NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANS FROM AN OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVER. Picture just that instant in which this old man stands gazing down upon the face of the Infant for the first time. Was this all to which mighty generations had been looking during those thousands of years that were gone? Was it just this weak little peasant Babe that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had seen afar off, and been glad to see? Was He what the ancient prophets had descried in the distance, as they stood peering off from the watchtowers of a militant Zion, the flashing seer-light in their eyes as they sang? Was this the King, whom King David had so celebrated in his Psalms? Alas for the poor show the new Monarch now made I Yet Simeon accepts Him I Just remember that it was everything or nothing to this old man to make his decision. No halfway allegiance would do. Jesus was the Messiah, or nothing. Surrender to Him would carry time and eternity with it, and he surrendered.

V. A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF READINESS FOR DEATH. Note the language carefully. Simeon does not use a prayer; he makes a declaration. He does not say--now let me depart; he says--now Thou dost let me depart. We feel certain that this man has been waiting a good while. Such unusual preparedness for departure was the general growth of years. It was no sudden explosion of experience, but must have had its increments of spiritual increase as many and as various as the rings of fibre in the trunk of a palm-tree. There is an old age full of querulous complaint and peevishness, under every on-coming of infirmity. It wears itself out in discontent; it often vanishes at the last, and makes no sign. On the other hand, there is an old age like this of the illustrious Simeon. The soul has leaned its all on God, and is perfectly satisfied because it knows it is perfectly safe. Not even severe trial can alter the permanence of such trust. For heaven seems the only true thing in the universe, and death is nothing but a kind of rough way of going to it. Remember the beautiful inscription upon Dean Alford’s tombstone; how it describes a grave: “The inn of a traveller on the way to Jerusalem” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Simeon’s Canticle

The “Nunc Dimittis” may supply us with useful lessons.

1. Its position in the service of our Reformed Church is an indication of honour paid to the written Word. The New Testament is exalted by the appointment of the Song of Simeon to be used after the second lesson from Scripture at evening service. The New Testament is full of Jesus. The Church has been rent with disputes about the nature of His presence in the sacrament of His love. Every Christian knows that there is a presence also in the Word of His truth. More especially, the thought, the breath, the very heart of Christ may be felt in the Gospels. When we read or hear them, we embrace Him as Simeon did. We cease to be critics when, with the aged saint, we hold Him in our arms.

2. More broadly, the “Nunc Dimittis” is also a Missionary strain. It is fittingly recorded by St. Luke, the Pauline Evangelist, who was as truly the Evangelist, as St. Paul was the Apostle, of the Gentiles. In Simeon’s Song we have the history of the ages in one short sentence, in three pregnant clauses, at once original, concise, and oracular. To the Gentiles, Messiah is ever giving “light”; to the Jews, He is ever bringing “glory.”

3. This canticle has a tone which is peculiarly suitable to the evening, and may profitably be applied in this spirit by believers of every Church. It is a soothing voice which sings for those who have had a long day’s work. It fits into the golden melancholy of the sunset time, or the later hours, when the lamps are lighted in the sanctuary. It is as a prayer with which a mother taught us to lie down in our beds.

4. The “Nunc Dimittis” has always seemed suitable as a prayer for a holy death. In some of the old services there was a touching way of referring Simeon’s song to our departure, and to the thought of those who rest in peace. When it was sung in “Holy Week,” just at its close the choir burst out into the funeral anthem--“In the midst of life we are in death.” The Song of Simeon, thought over with prayer, may lead us to exclaim with Paul, “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” Simeon’s holy soul can find no home and rest on the water-floods of life; it desires to return into the ark with the olive-branch of peace. And if any wish to depart in peace like Simeon, let him come in the guidance of the Spirit to the Temple. Let him expect Christ. Let him receive his Saviour into his arms of faith, and cradle Him upon a heart of love. The Old Testament often takes a dark view of death. The writer shudders as he writes. The last words of the great Italian poet, Leopardi, were, “I cannot see you any longer,” with a deep sigh. The last words of the sceptical Hamlet are--“the rest is silence.” The only Psalm which, in a like spirit, ends as it began, with gloom, is the 88th--

Lover and friend hast

Thou removed from me;

My intimates are--Darkness.

In such passages as these death is viewed as it is for us all, naturally. But Simeon seems to stand for a gentle picture of the Law--wearied with lifelong effort, worn out with age, ready to embrace the gospel, and so “depart in peace.” It is of profound and soothing significance that one, who may be almost termed “the last Old Testament saint,” finds death sweet. For him the promise of the Psalmist is fulfilled--

This God is our God for ever and ever;

He is our guide, gently leading us over death.

For narrrow though the bridge seems to be that spans the chasm, it is yet broad and strong for those who are thus guided. That bridge is the Cross of Christ. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Nunc Dimittis

This is a beautiful hymn of sunset--the sunset of the life of a good man which may also be called a hymn of sunrise, for there may be seen in it both the closing of a life and the beginning of a new one. Death is referred to in it, not as the flowing of twilight into darkness, but as a departure. The hymn is a thanskgiving for spiritual blessings, for a Divine light which had been planted by God in the soul, come to its meridian after much patience and long waiting. Beautiful thoughts, bearing fruit in beautiful words, rise in the midst of this noontide. God had sown this thought or impression in Simeon, in his old age, when he had begun to walk through the valley of the shadow. We know by experience how some favourite thought or idea in us may become like a living companion, go with us in our walks, and be with us in our occupations, even in our sleep. So was the Divine impression with Simeon. God is continually giving His children hallowed thoughts and impressions. Simeon’s case may say this to us: “Hold the good thoughts which come to you through prayer and other means of grace.” If we do this they will certainly bring us peace and consolation. (E. G. Charlesworth.)

Our last days should be our best days

Orators, though in every part of their speech they use great care and diligence, yet in the close of all they set forth the best of their art and skill, to stir up the affections and passions of their hearers, that then they may leave at the last the deepest impression of those things which they would persuade. Thus ought all of us to do, our whole life being nothing else but a continued and persuasive oration unto our God, to be admitted into His heavenly kingdom; but, when we come to the last act and epilogue of our age, then it is that we must especially strive to show forth all our art and skill, and that our last words may be our best words, our last thoughts our best thoughts, our last deeds our best deeds; whereby stirring up,-as it were, all the affections of God, and even the bowels of compassion, unto us. We may then, as the sun, though always glorious, yet especially at its setting, be most resplendent when we draw near unto our western home, the house appointed for all living. (Udall.)

The last scene

The evening praises the day, the last scene commends the act. The rivers, the nearer they draw to the sea, the sooner they are met by the tide. Though to guide a vessel safely along in the ocean argues much skill, and such a pilot is worthy of praise; yet at the very entrance into the haven, then to avoid the rocks, and to cast anchor in a safe road, argues most skill, and deserves most praise. Musicians reserve the sweetest strain for the close of the lesson. (G. Swinnock.)

Sweet when fading

As the perfume of May boughs is sweetest when they are about to fade, so, like them, I endeavour to make the close of my life sweet and fragrant by a worthy deportment and an honourable name. (Scriver.)

Some hearts, like evening primroses, open most beautifully in the shadows of life.

Simeon’s Canticle

These words are a sweet canticle, or swan-like song, of old Simeon, a little before his dissolution. He had seen the Messiah before by faith, now by sight, and wishes to have his eyes closed, that he may see nothing after this desirable sight. It is said of some Turks, that after they have seen Mahomet’s tomb, they put out their eyes, that they may never defile them after they have seen so glorious an object. Thus did old Simeon desire to see no more of this world, after he had seen Christ the Saviour, but sues for his dismissal. Note here--

1. That a good man having served his generation, and God in his generation, faithfully, is weary of the world, and willing to be dismissed from it.

2. That the death of a good man is nothing else but a quiet and peaceable departure; it is a departure “in peace” to the God of peace.

3. That it is only a spiritual sight of Christ by faith that can welcome the approach of death, and render it an object desirable to the Christian’s choice.

4. Holy Simeon, having declared the faithfulness of God to himself in the gift of Christ, next celebrates the mercy of God in bestowing this invaluable gift of a Saviour upon the whole world. The world consists of Jews and Gentiles; Christ is “a light” to the one, and “the glory” of the other. A light to the blind and dark Gentiles, and the glory of the renowned Church of the

Jews; the Messiah being promised to them, born and bred up with them, living amongst them, preaching His doctrine to them, and working His miracles before them; and thus was Christ “the glory of His people Israel.” (W. Burkitt, M. A.)

Simeon’s Song

The swan-like song of old Simeon. He speaks like a merchant who has got all his goods on shipboard, and now desires the master of the ship to hoist sail and be gone homewards. Indeed, what should a Christian, who is but a foreigner here, desire to stay any longer for in the world, but to get this full lading in for heaven? (W. Gurnall.)

Death tests

“Charles, our people die well,” said John Wesley to his brother. Why is not that a proper test? We take death-bed words without an oath in a court of justice; a man is honest, if ever, in the moment when the great shadow is coming. Think of the martyr Ridley, the night before he was burned alive at the stake. One of his pitiful friends offered to sit up with him in the prison. “Oh, n!” said the good man, “what would you do with yourself? I mean to go to bed, and sleep as quietly as ever I did in my life. My breakfast to-morrow will be sharp and painful; but I am sure my supper will be right pleasant and sweet!(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Death welcome with Jesus near

When his end was near, Dr. Grierson of Errol, after various Psalms and portions of Scripture had been read to him, asked his children to conclude by singing the hymn, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” After they had sung it, he said, “I feel ram safe there. Death has no power nor fear for me at all now.” And when told that it was drawing near the morning, he exclaimed, “Oh, let me go, for the day breaketh! I feel Jesus very near by me. Dear Lord, let me go!”

Light in death

The day before he died, John Holland, turning with his own hand to the eight chapter of the Romans, bade Mr. Legh read it: at the end of every verse he paused and gave the sense to his own comfort, but more to the joy and wonder of his friends. An hour or two after, on a sudden, he said, “Oh, stay your reading! What brightness is this I see? Have you lighted any candles? “No, it was replied; it is the sunshine. “Sunshine!” he said; “nay, it is my Saviour’s shine. Farewell, world: welcome, heaven!”

Ready to start

A saintly man, when nearing his end, once remarked: “I am just like a package that is all ready to go by train; packed, corded, labelled, paid for--waiting for the express to take me to glory!”

Release from school

Dr. Judson once said, “I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet, when Christ calls me, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. Death will never take me by surprise: do not be afraid of that; I feel so strong in Christ.”

Simeon’s Song

His Song may give us a glimpse of the man himself, for in it his habitual beliefs, convictions, and hopes rise to their highest and frankest expression.

I. In Simeon’s Song we have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF LIFE. KNOW art Thou relieving, or setting free, thy slave, O Master (literally, “O Despot”), according to Thy word, in peace.” Simeon regards himself as a sentinel whom, by His word or promise, the Great Master, or Captain, had ordered to an elevated and dangerous post, and charged to look for and announce the advent of a great light of hope, a light which was to convey glad tidings of great joy. To him life, or at least his own life, shaped itself as the task of a watchman, or a sentinel on duty--who has to face rough weather and smooth as he paces his weary beat, to confront the fears and hidden perils of the darkness, in order that the camp he guards may be secure; but who is sustained, under the burden of anxiety and weariness, by the hope of receiving a signal, of seeing a light arise in the darkness, which will not only release him from his post, but will also bring the tidings, or the prediction, of a great and final victory. A very noble, though by no means a perfect conception of human life, which is too large and complex to be rendered by any one image. A conception, moreover, which may be very helpful to us in many of the conditions in which we are placed. When life grows as weary and monotonous to us, through the prolonged pressure of samely duties, as to the watchman fixed to Agamemnon’s roof or to a dog chained to a post; or when the zest of youth has passed and the infirmities and disabilities of age, or disease, accumulate upon us; or when we are weighed down with a burden of cares, anxieties, and fears, many of which are gross and palpable enough, but to some of which we can hardly give a name; when flesh, or heart, fail us, or both fail us, it surely would sustain and comfort us were we to remember that our post has been appointed us by the Great Captain who makes no mistake; that the duties and the burdens allotted to us have an end of discipline and love, and are intended to make us stronger, wiser, better; and that, however long it may delay its coming, a great Light is to arise upon us; that it is this for which we are watching and serving: and that it will bring with it glad tidings of great joy for all people as well as for us.

II. In Simeon’s Song we have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF DEATH. In his view, the sentinel was also the slave, and the discharge of the sentinel was also the manumission of the slave. Relief from toil, relief from danger, relief from bondage--can any conception of death be more welcome and attractive to weary, world-worn, sinful men? Only one thing could render it more attractive and complete, and this we, who have the mind of Christ, are bound to supply: viz., that our relief from toil will not be an exemption from work, but an added capacity for labour which will take all toil and weariness out of it; that our relief from danger will not release us from that strife against evil in which even the holy angels are engaged, but will bring us an immortal strength and serenity in virtue of which we shall carry on the conflict without fear, and cherish the sure and certain hope that evil must in the end be overcome of good; and that our relief from bondage will not be a discharge from service, but will bring us a vigour and a grace which will make our service a delight, since henceforth we shall serve as sons and not as slaves.

III. We have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF SALVATION. Simeon does but show the true prophetic, i.e., the true catholic, spirit when he conceives of the salvation of God as extending to the Gentile as well as the Jew, and delights in a mercy as wide as the world. And we fall short of that spirit, we sin against the revelation of the Old Testament no less than that of the New, so often as we affect any special personal interest in the fatherly love and compassion of God, or even when we conceive of His salvation as confined to the Church. The Church has been elected, as the Jewish race was elected, solely for the sake of the world, solely that it may carry the news and the power of salvation to those who are outside its pale. If we have seen the Light, it is that we may bear witness to the Light; that we may announce its rising, reflect its splendour, and believe that it will shine on till the darkness is past and every shadow has fled away. If we are sentinels, it is that we may guard and save the whole camp, and not simply our own company or our own regiment. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The glory and work of old age

The greatness of man is chiefly in this, that he can say to pain, I will endure; and to death, I will conquer its fear; and to old age, I will not be querulous. The glory of man is chiefly in this, that Christ enables him to go beyond the Stoic, and to say to pain, I will not only endure, but I will make suffering a step towards progress; and to death, I will not only conquer its fear, but open it as the portal of ampler life; and to old age, I will not only not be querulous, but will, therein and thereby, finish my inner development before I go. To crystallise into finished perfection was the aim and the ideal of the Stoic. To grow for ever is the aim and the ideal of the Christian. Death ended the effort and the pain of the Stoic. Death continues the effort, without the pain, of the Christian. What were the gains which blessed Simeon’s age?

I. PROPHETIC POWER. He saw the Child and he knew that It was the Saviour of the world. This is the glory of a Christian’s old age--vividness of spiritual vision.

II. Another remarkable gain blessed the old age of Simeon, the possession of A LIBERAL RELIGIOUS VIEW. We find the old man set free from the exclusiveness and bigotry of his time and of his youth. Those were strange words upon the lips of a Jew--“a light to lighten the Gentiles!” They had been said before. But it was not a common thought, nor a national thought, at the time of Christ’s coming. Those who heard Simeon would be likely to call him a dangerous Liberal. Tolerance and a wide religious view are natural to old age, and it is very pitiable when we find it without them.

III. Simeon wins the crowning blessing of old age--DEEP PEACE. We cannot win that quiet till just before the close.

IV. But what is the SPECIAL WORK OF old age? It is partly outward, partly inward. Its outward work is the spreading of charity; the using of experience for the help of others. Its inward work is, however, the most important-the edifying of the heart in noble religion by consideration of the past; the rounding of the soul into as great perfection as possible, in filling up the broken edges of the sphere of life, in consolidating the world of our ideas. In wonder, and in joy that he has been so cared for, and so led into maturity, all thought of self passes from the old man’s life, and he throws his whole being in gratitude at the feet of his Saviour and his God. It is, in fact, the first touch, even before death, of the pure and perfect life, the first faint throb of the exquisite existence into which he is going to enter, the half-realization on the borders of the world of light, while yet within the glimmering shadow, of what communion with God may mean. Then, indeed, he feels what Simeon felt when the long-repressed cry rose to his lips, for he sees the very Christ: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant,” &c. (Stopford A, Brooke.)

Simeon felt that little hand that lay hidden in his bosom as if it was fast loosening the silver cord. He speaks less like a living man than as a kind of Lazarus, alive indeed, but bound. “Lord, loose me,” he prays. Younger men must work with the Messiah--his day was done. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Death viewed without terror

The Bible seldom speaks of death by its own ugly name. It rather chooses to use expressions which veil its pain and its terror; and so does common speech. But the reason in the two cases is exactly opposite. The Bible will not call death “death,” because it is not a bit afraid of it; the world will not, because it is so much afraid of it. The Christian view has robbed death of all its pain and terror. It has limited its power to the mere outside of the man, and the conviction that death can no more touch me than a sword can hack a surbeam, reduces it to insignificance. Death is a Liberator in the profoundest sense. It is the angel who comes in the night to God’s prisoned servant, striking the fetters from his limbs, and leading him through the iron gate into the city. Death is a departure which is an emancipation. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Death is release

If one had watch’d a prisoner many a year,

Standing behind a barred window-pane,

Fettered with heavy handcuff and with chain,

And gazing on the blue sky far and clear;

And suddenly some morning he should hear

The man had in the night contrived to gain

His freedom, and was safe, would this bring pain?

Ah! would it not to dullest heart appear

Good tidings?

(Helen Hunt.)

Sift therefore the agreeableness of those two parts, attend to these particulars:

1. Here is a supplicant the servant of the Lord--“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant.”

2. The petition of his soul--“to depart.”

3. The time which he sets--“Now, Lord, now ”

4. He pleads that he was well prepared to depart, for his heart was in peace, “Lord now ”

5. The assurance in which he trusted that God would grant him his desire, for it was according to His word.

6. And principally: Here is the reason upon which he framed his desire why he would depart, he had seen that which his soul waited for before it flitted away, “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” (Bishop Hacker.)

Servant of God

It is great humility to confess one’s self a servant, but it is no little dignity to profess one’s self such a servant, to be the servant of God, and not the servant of men by vile obsequiousness, nor the servant of a man’s own passions by lust and sensuality, nor the servant of sin by giving place unto the devil, this is a freedom that excels all other liberty. (Bishop Hacker.)

Simeon knew the instant of his dissolution was at hand, and yet he sang away the remainder of his life with joy; as who should say, fly away my soul, fly away like a dove and take thy rest, for now I see that the promises of grace and mercy are true; here is Christ thy Saviour in thy hands, thine eyes do see, thine arms do support thy salvation; though thou departest thou shalt not go from Him, for He is man on earth to comfort thee, and God in heaven to glorify thee. (Bishop Hacker.)

Satisfied

As who should say, if I had been summoned to leave my station before this day came, my soul had been in bitterness, and I had been gathered to my fathers in sorrow, but now my pilgrimage hath been prolonged till I am full of happiness, now I am fledged with all my feathers to fly away, for what will satisfy him upon earth whom the sight of a Saviour will not satisfy? He was far stricken in years, and yet not mellow enough to drop off from the tree till the nativity of Jesus was fulfilled, and he a witness of it. He looked many a long look before he beheld his Saviour. And this is the nature of God’s promises, they are seldom accomplished till his faith hath been thoroughly tried to whom they are made, and that he doth even languish with expectation. Some will say perhaps, O, I have waited long, this will never fall out as God hath promised. (Bishop Hacker.)

The best sight

Again, reason good he should ask of God to close his eyes, for they could never do him such good service any more, as they did at that instant, when they saw that mighty God in the visible form of a little Infant. The superstition and the barbarisms of the Turks being so well known, I do assent to some stories reported of them, which may seem incredible to civil nations. I instance in this particular, that when some of their zealots have made a pilgrimage to Mecca to do their adorations to the tomb of Mahomet, they presently draw hot burning steel before their eyes to put them out, that they may never see any other spectacle, after they have been honoured to see that monument of their prophet. Far better a great deal, and without superstition, might Simeon say, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, O Jehovah, now draw their curtains before them, that they may never hereafter see the iniquities of men.” (Bishop Hacker.)

Death better than degeneration

O let me not survive to see the infidelity of mine own nation: O let me not live to see Him crowned with thorns. (Bishop Hacker.)

Excessive spiritual joy

The Redeemer is come, let my fetters therefore be broken off; my joy is excessive and superlative, this frail flesh cannot contain it: The new wine is poured in, O let the old bottles break. Thou hast granted me more than ever Thou didst grant to any prophet upon earth; therefore exalt me to Thy saints in heaven. (Bishop Hacker.)

Seeing the invisible

Blessed were the eyes both of his soul and body: his bodily eyes did see the happiest sight in heaven and earth, but the eyes of his soul did respect that which is invisible. (Bishop Hacker.)

Christ embraced

He comes with much impotency and weakness, to be presented in the Temple, and to be redeemed after the custom of the law, with five shekels of silver, but He will redeem us both from the bondage of the law, and from the bondage of sin, with the five wounds of His body. If such salvation as this were only to be glanced upon perfunctorily, this sage Israelite would have been contented to have seen Him, and rested there; but forasmuch as we must incorporate our Saviour in our souls, and endeavour that there be a real union ‘twixt Christ and us: therefore in the verse before my text, Simeon took up our Saviour into his arms, and St. John makes that a great mystery of his own, and his brethren’s happiness, that their hands had handled the Word of Life. This doth not only betoken faith, but exceeding love; we hug them in our arms whom we have in dear estimation, we catch them in our arms, as if we would grow together: so if we love the Lord sincerely, we are one with Him, and He with us; we dwell in Him, and He in us. (Bishop Hacker.)

Old age

If any are entitled to a peaceful departure, it is those who, like the aged Simeon, have passed through not only the springtime and summer of life, but also through its autumn and winter. To few is it given to do this. For most of us, life closes before old age brings its burdens, its sorrows, or its triumphs. Stern, indeed, is the task which old age imposes upon those who enter her service. The departure of one friend after another, till all the companions of earlier and later years have disappeared, and one belongs to a generation not his own; the gradual failure of the faculties in which have lain the joy and pride of life; the conscious enfeebling of mind and body alike; the defeat, and often the entire reversal, of all one’s dreams for the progress and happiness of the race; and the adoption by the world of manners and fashions repugnant to every instinct in which one has been reared,--what trial has youth or manhood to compare with these? All the more beautiful is it, then, when the approach of old age, far from chilling heart or soul, touches life with a more radiant light than had belonged to it before, and brings the powers to a certain dignified maturity; reminding one of the lingering days of Indian summer, when, just as we have ceased to look for sunny skies, and are prepared for November’s chilly air, and have bade farewell to the last of the roadside flowers, a soft and dreamy haze falls upon the landscape, coming as if from another clime, and bringing with it a loveliness with which spring and summer can hardly vie. Sometimes, old age seems to loss its withering touch entirely, and, instead of blighting, to bring the intellectual powers to their highest vigour. The wisdom of experience, the deepening insight, into truth, ant stronger habits of independent judgment come to aid the mind or will and make them capable of their best work. It brings often a beautiful spirit of tolerance. Through many years of waiting and watching, they have learned the lesson, not of despair, but of hope. They have discovered that human systems are transient, the eternal truth and right abiding. The activity of younger minds, instead of awakening jealousy or discontent, moves their admiration, as the poor cripple or worn invalid looks admiringly upon the agile movements of children at their play, and marvels with longing, yet with pride, at his companion’s prodigal activity. The years, as they have passed, have taught them charity of judgment and confidence in men’s nobler motives. Youth, as we know, is almost of necessity one-sided and limited in its judgments, and liable to bitter prejudices. Again, old age brings not only tolerance and breadth: it brings also, at times, in its rarer manifestations, a vivid and living interest in passing events, which more than makes up for the forced inactivity which age imposes. If they cannot themselves share in the world’s activity, they rejoice that others should. Removed from the toil and scenes they love, they find their compensation in living in the efforts and experiences of younger souls, whose life is still before them. No hearts so young, no hopes so immature, but their sympathies are enlisted for them. Men marvel at their cheerfulness and unfailing animation, little knowing that they have learned the secret of perpetual youth. Where the affections are fresh and the sympathies warm and comprehensive, old age may touch the head with frost and leave furrows upon the brow, but it cannot reach the heart. Again, age seems to bring to those who know how to meet it a more serene and undisturbed happiness than belongs to any other period of life. Happy old age, I suppose, is that which has accumulated resources during its active years sufficient for its years of inaction. It has a full mind. It has thronging memories of a busy past. It has the remembrance of eager and serious effort while effort was possible. It has mental as well as physical faculties which bear witness of thorough use, and which have earned for themselves the right to repose. It has vital sympathies enlisted so long in great interests as feel still the glow of their old enthusiasms. Then come the composure, the peace, the dignity, which often make old age so winning and attractive. The din of life is far away. Its rancours and enmities have lost their sting. What dignity and grace it lends to the home! How much more, even in its infirmities, it adds to the life around it than it can possibly receive from it; not simply through whatever is venerable in its aspect or demeanour, but rather through the gentle bearing and tender sentiment which it calls into being, and without which our lives would be bare and rude indeed I What can be a better training for childhood than to grow up by the side of venerable forms, whom all are treating with honour and respect? What more refining influence, as one advances in years, than the tender solicitude, the loving care, the gentle deference, which it is the privilege of youth to offer to age? If age would be weary and solitary without youth at its side, youth would certainly be raw and uncouth without the softening presence of age. (E. H. Hall.)

A martyr’s death-song

These words have been the triumphant death-song of true martyrs. One of them, in the fourteenth century, Maximilian Hostialick, told the officer on the scaffold that he would repeat the song of Simeon, and then the executioner might do his duty. He accordingly lifted up his voice: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation”; and then fell the blow that severed his head from the body. (A. C. Thompson, D. D.)

Peace of a dying Christian

Joseph Addison, the renowned author and linguist, after enduring much physical suffering with fortitude, sent for the young but dissipated Lord Warwick. He came and said, “Dear sir, you sent for me. I believe and hope you have some commands. I shall hold them most dear.” “See,” said the dying saint, “in what peace a Christian can die!” and breathed his life out like a sleeping infant.

Christ immediately known and embraced

Simeon knew Christ as soon as he saw Him, and embraced Him as soon as he knew Him, and enjoyed Him as soon as he embraced Him. So some know the Word of God as soon as they hear it, and believe it as soon as they know it, and feel the comfort of it as soon as they believe it; but others hear it as though they heard it not, like deaf adders, that stop their ears at the voice of the charmer. (H. Smith.)

Prepared

For there was nothing which had not a tongue to speak for God. Everything was prepared for Him before He came to be revealed. He came not in the beginning nor in the ending. He came not in the ending, that we which come after Him, might long for His second coming. He came not in the beginning, because that such a Prince as He should have many banners and triumphs before Him. He came not in the beginning, because the eyes of faith should not be dazzled in Him, and lest they which should live in the latter times should forget Him and His coming, which was so long before; even as you forget that which I have said as soon as you are gone hence. He came not in the beginning, because if He had come before man had sinned, man would have acknowledged no need of a physician; but He came when man had sinned, and had felt the smart of sin. For when they were cast out of Paradise, they ran unto Christ, as the Israelites did to the serpent. He came not in the beginning, but in the perfect age of the world, to show that He brought with Him perfection, perfect joy, perfect peace, perfect wisdom, perfect righteousness, perfect justice, perfect truth; signifying thereby, that notwithstanding He came in the perfect age thereof, yet He found all things imperfect (H. Smith.)

The waiting of Simeon

Simeon also waited or the consolation of Israel, until he had embraced in his arms Him whom he so long longed to see and feel. How many waiters be there in the world, yet few wait as Simeon did; but some wait for honour, some for riches, some for pleasures, some for ease, some for rewards, some for money, some for a dear year, and some for a golden day, as they call it; but Simeon waited, and expected with many a long look, until he had seen and embraced Christ Jesus, the light of the Gentiles, the glory of Israel, the salvation of all that with a faithful and zealous affection and love do wait for His coming, to the comfort of the afflicted, and to the terrifying of the wicked and the ungodly, which have not already waited, neither embraced Him, as Simeon did. (H. Smith.)

Desiring death

May not any man desire death? May not the fastened ship in a strange land desire to be loosed, to hasten to his longed-for port at home? May not a man imprisoned amongst bitter enemies desire to be set at liberty, to return to his own country, in freedom to live amongst his sweet friends? Are we not strangers here, and by unpeaceable, most deadly enemies, our own flesh, the world, and the devil, held prisoners in the chains of sin and manifold infirmities? and is not our home heaven, and the saints and angels our most dear friends? No marvel, then, that Simeon here desireth to be loosed, or let depart. (H. Smith.)

Spiritual intimations

“And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This pre-intimation, be it observed, was not a mere presentiment; it was a direct revelation by the Holy Spirit. Yet, if Simeon had been questioned about it any time before this memorable day in the Temple, I doubt whether he would have affirmed that he was conscious of having received any distinctively supernatural communication. He probably would have answered: “I have a strong conviction that I shall not die until I behold the Consolation of Israel.” However this may have been, I believe that something like this has often occurred in the history of the Church, and may often occur again. Although the Holy Spirit is a supernatural being, yet, generally speaking, He acts so naturally on our feelings and expectations that we are not distinctly conscious of being under His influence. Who shall venture to affirm that those strong presentiments which we sometimes have--for example, concerning the conversion of children or kindred, or the restoration to health and home of far distant sick friends--may not be intimations to us by that Holy One who is emphatically the comforter and teacher and guide and helper and inspirer of His people? If the Holy Spirit can act on us in respect to duty, as we believe He does, why cannot He act on us in respect to desire and foresight? But let us not imagine that every presentiment is His impulse. How often are our saintliest and intensest expectations disappointed! Blessed are we if, like the patriarchs, we die as well as live in faith, although we have not received the promised blessings, but only seen them, and greeted them from afar. In all events, no one who has ever heard the glad tidings need die before he has in the truest sense seen the Lord’s Christ. (G. D. Boardman.)

Coincidences

“And He came in the Spirit into the Temple.” The Holy Spirit then not only revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen Jehovah’s Anointed: the Holy Spirit also prompted Simeon to visit the Temple the precise hour the Divine Babe was to be brought in. Ah, little do we imagine how many of the blessed coincidences of life are really arranged by that Holy One under whose administration we are living. Little did Simeon, although looking for the Consolation of Israel, imagine that he would see the Lord’s Christ that day in His Temple. Little did Joseph and Mary imagine that on that day the Divine Babe would receive such reverential salutation. Little did Cornelius in Caesarea and Peter in Joppa imagine that the Holy Spirit was arranging for them an interview momentous in consequences. Little did Philip and the treasurer of Ethiopia imagine that they would meet each other on the desert way between Jerusalem and Gaza. Little do we imagine that many of the so-called accidental conjunctions of life are really the gracious arrangements by One who, hidden behind earth’s thrones and nature’s laws, is administering the affairs of the universe in the interest of Christ and Christ’s Church. When will the world and the Church learn that Almighty God is Ruler as well as Maker? The character of Jesus Christ is the universal, infallible prober. The same lancet which lays bare the healthy nerve, lays bare the diseased. The same glad tidings which disclosed and saved a Simon Peter, disclosed and doomed a Judas Iscariot. Jesus Christ is the touch-stone of human hearts. And, first, we cannot but be impressed by the universal welcome which greeted the infant Jesus. Toil welcomed Him in the adoration of the shepherds. Intellect welcomed Him in the adoration of the wise men. Infancy welcomed Him in the adoration of the unborn son of Elisaheth. Old age welcomed Him in the adoration of Simeon and Anna. And well might all classes thus welcome Him; for He is the Son of man, and so the Christ for all men. Secondly, nothing is more beautiful than a Christian old age. For it brings, as it did to Simeon, three beautiful things. First, it brings depth of spiritual insight: Simeon took the Child into his arms, and blessed God, saying, “Lord, mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Secondly, it brings catholicity of spirit: “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” Thirdly, it brings peace in view of death: “O Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” The truth is, age does not depend on years. Some are old at twenty, others are young at ninety. As the poet sings:

“We live in deeds, not words; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial:

We should count time by heart-throbs.

He most lives ho thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”

Age is far more a matter of indolence, and uselessness, and ennui, than of chronology. And a Christian old age is ever youthful. (G. D. Boardman.)

Character and privilege of Simeon

I. HIS PERSONAL, PIETY. Who is the devout man? The answer is brief. It is the man who, in consequence of inward, spiritual illumination, entertains correct views of God--of God’s nature, character, government, worship, and grace; and who habitually feels, acts, and lives under the living influence of these views. It is the mart who has respect to God in all things; it is he who inherits and exhibits the moral glories of the great Father, walks in serene fellowship with Him in a world of storms, and lives and moves in His everlasting love. The devout man prays to his God in secret, makes His Book the reason and rule of duty, leans upon His kind arm when sorrows darken his path, and endeavours everywhere and always to glorify His holy name. But Simeon was not only devout, but also just. And who is the just man? The scriptural idea of him is vast and comprehensive. A just man is one who is universally right--right as to his condition, and right as to his character. His faith, his principles, his practice, are all right. Having accepted the Divine method of salvation, he is treated as though he were just; the Lord imputeth no iniquity to him. Having received the Divine Spirit, he is become actively just towards himself, his race, and his God. In law he is righteous: in life he is righteous. Such is the general idea the Bible gives of a just man. But, in the text, the phrase has evidently a limited signification. It denotes social rectitude. To be just to our fellow-men is to recognize, and, as far as we can, to protect their rights, civil, mental, religious. Now, between these distinct virtues there is an essential connection. They never do, they never can, exist separately. Strictly speaking, they are only two manifestations of the same thing. It is human holiness embracing at once the finite and the infinite as the spheres of its action. Men would sever devotion and morality; but the thing is impossible. Facts as well as philosophy prove it so. How can a truly devout man be unjust? And how can a just man be yet so unjust as to neglect his God? The two virtues we speak of, then, necessarily co-exist. But although these two qualities never exist independently of each other, yet it is a matter of fact, that in many a good man they are far from being equally developed. One man is very devotional as to the current of his thoughts, associations, feelings, hopes, and desires, and yet very defective, to say the least, in the discharge of his social obligations. Another man is remarkably exact, punctual, and conscientious in all his relative duties, who nevertheless is, or appears to be, very careless and cold in the offices of devotion and in the higher exercises of religion. How is this? In the history of practical godliness are four things which it would be well to remember: that different men excel in different virtues; that the same men excel in different virtues at different periods of their history: that in no man do all the virtues shine with equal radiance; and, finally, that the best of men are far from perfection here. Thus we have glanced at the virtues of Simeon; their nature, development, and mutual relation. In him they shone beautifully and harmoniously. His love to God produced universal propriety of conduct towards men; and that is what I would call true religion.

II. I now proceed to notice THE PUBLIC SPIRIT OF SIMEON. That is beautifully expressed in these words--“Waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” He was not only a just and devout man, but he was also writing for Him who was to be Israel’s consolation and glory and the Gentiles’ light. Simeon was not a man of a narrow, contracted, selfish mind. Oh! no. His thoughts, desires, solicitudes, and hopes were not limited to himself, nor to his own nation; his heart burned for the public good; he was an observer and interpreter of public events. Through the Divine medium of prophecy he surveyed the far-spread scenes of futurity. He had long waited for the day of the Lord: at last it sweetly dawned upon his hopes. Faith and prayer ever wait for those eras of light and renewal, by a succession of which God has promised to draw humanity nearer and still nearer to Himself. Simeon waited for the coming of Messiah: expectation was the habitual attitude of his spirit; it was the theme of his conversation; the breath of his prayers; the bright beam that ever cheered the long path of his pilgrimage. In the teachings of the synagogue, in the sacrifices of the Temple, in the changes which were passing over the institutions of his people, the devout patriarch saw the prophetic signs of the Son of man. His constant waiting for Christ kept his affections in a state of healthy excitement, spiritualized his piety, shed an unearthly lustre around his general character, and raised him far above the men of his age. Simeon gives three distinct views of Jesus. He refers to Him as the object of human hostility; as the cause of great moral revolutions; and, finally, as the source, the Divine source, of spiritual blessings.

1. The text refers to Christ as an object of human enmity, as a sufferer. He was to be a “sign to be spoken against”--the mark of evil men and evil spirits.

2. Simeon pointed to Jesus as the cause of great moral revolutions. He was to be “for the fall and the rising of many in Israel”--“the thoughts of many hearts were to be revealed.” Here two great effects are attributed to the presence of Jesus on earth; a revelation of human thoughts, and a revolution in human affairs. One of the mighty works which Jesus came to accomplish was to set men to think--to think with freedom, earnestness, and force; and this He actually did to an extent before unknown. His aim was not to affect the mere surface of our nature, to alter only its moral forms and fashions; but to send His influence down to its very centre. He set mind in motion; He touched the mysterious springs of its power: and this He did by the conjoined influence of two things--His truth and His character. Both these were original, perfect, Divine. The impulse which He thus imparted to our nature has been deepening and widening ever since. He originated a succession of improving changes which can no more be stopped than the course of the stars. The living power of the gospel, by rousing humanity to action, elicited its true character: opposing elements were set in commotion; the good and the evil rose to the surface; and thus “the thoughts of many hearts were revealed.” Simeon foresaw also that the Holy Child would be for the fall and rising of many. Here, again, we meet another wonderful principle--we say principle--for risings and failings in our world are not mere accidents or chances, but events regulated by a fixed law; and that law is administered by the Divine Mediator. We fancy we can see emblems of these moral changes--these risings and failings--even in the material world. The motions of the heavens--the processes of matter everywhere around us--the revolutions of the seasons--continually remind us of them. This revolutionary principle seems to be in constant operation in the government of our disordered race. It pervades the internal and the external history of humanity; it presides over all the alterations which take place in the ideas, the characters, and the institutions of men. How very remarkably was its energy displayed during the first age of Christianity. Then truth rose higher than it had ever done before: then error and ignorance began to fall; and, blessed be God! they have been falling and falling and falling ever since. Then the old schools of religious teachers fell; and a new one rose under the inspirations of Jesus, which is one day to fill the world with its doctrine. Then the first covenant disappeared, to give place to a better one. Then, in a word, the ancient Church fell, and the new rose into being; and the rise of this new society was one of the grandest results of Christ’s descent to our earth; it was, if we may be allowed the expression, the incarnation of one of the sublimest ideas of the Son of God.

3. Simeon speaks still more definitely of the Saviour. He represents Him as the source of all spiritual blessings. Three precious gifts, he predicted, would flow from this Divine Fountain; light, consolation, and glory. He is the light of men. We have already spoken of Christ as the quickener of mind: we must not forget, however, that the great instrument He employs is truth. Having thus meditated a little on the personal holiness of Simeon, and on his enlarged view of Jesus as the Saviour of the world, let us for a few minutes look on the glory that was shed on his latter end.

I. He was permitted to embrace the Holy Infant. He had been studying the predictions and types of the law; he had been long waiting for the Wonderful One, to whom they pointed; and now he was blessed with His presence. “Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God.” As he took the Incarnate One into his arms, the sunshine of heaven broke upon his soul: as he pressed Him to his heart, ideas, emotions, and beatitudes unutterable at once overwhelmed it like a flood, and before he uttered a word of gratulation to the blessed mother, he turned to God, and breathed his praises there: he blessed God. Oh! there are hours when the heart is too full to speak to any but its God. What a dreadful thing it is to see death before we see Christi See death we all must--we all shall, and that soon; perhaps unexpectedly. But have we seen Christ? Have we embraced Christ? Have we, by faith, seen the Divine grandeur of His person, the transcendent excellence of His character, and the preciousness of His cross, as the medium of pardon and the means of perfection?

II. Simeon was willing--I may say more--he was desirous to die. “Lord,” said the happy man, “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” This is a comprehensive sentence, and admits of a copious interpretation. First, with what calmness he viewed death. To him, it was only the letting him go--the departing from one place for another, and a better. I have seen, he said, all that is worth seeing in this narrow shadowy sphere; I have seen what I was most anxious to see; now let me be loosed, that I may soar to the world of the blessed. Again: he viewed his death as being entirely under the control of God. How soothing and sustaining this idea of death. The time, the place, the circumstances of our departure, are all preordained by our Father’s love.

III. Finally, he viewed the last scene as overspread with peace. “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” The departure of the just is peaceful. He has peace with heaven, with earth, and with his own nature. (Caleb Morris.)

The Song of Simeon

I. Let us notice THE OCCASION of these words. It is an affecting circumstance, that although our Lord came to abolish the whole ceremonial law, He himself submitted to it all. The object of this visit to the Temple was twofold. It was, in the first instance, for Mary’s purification. Wonderfully, brethren, amidst all His mercies to us, does s holy God keep up the remembrance of our sinfulness, and command us also to keep it up. We cannot even show our gratitude, lay a thank-offering upon His altar, without approaching His altar in the character of sinners. A grateful heart and a contrite heart must go together. Another object was accomplished by this visit. To keep up the remembrance of His mercy in sparing the sons of the Israelites when those of the Egyptians were destroyed, it was the command of God, that in all succeeding generations, the first-born of Israel, both of man and beast, should be considered as His property. “Sanctify to Me,” he says, “all the first-born, it is Mine.” The child was to be brought to the Temple as an acknowledgment of God’s right to him, and then, after the appointed sum was paid and certain ceremonies gone through, he became free. And this is the ground on which we rest the honour that we pay to our Christian sacraments. They are no more in themselves than the long abolished ceremonies of the Jewish Temple, but, like those ceremonies, they are of Divine appointment, and, according to the example of our Saviour Christ, we will revere them. We may now place before us the scene connected with the text. We must conceive of Mary, her own purification over, as standing in the Temple with the ministering priests before her and a company of other worshippers around her. And then we must imagine an aged man approaching, gazing for a moment at the heavenly Babe in her arms, then taking it into his, and, with a look upwards, bursting forth in the hearing of them all into this happy song.

II. Let us consider the HAPPINESS HE EXPRESSES IN IT. We feel at once that it is happiness he expresses, not that overflowing of delight and joy which we see in Mary at Elisabeth’ door, but a calm, subdued happiness; the happiness of one who has been long accustomed to strong emotions, and knows how to govern and restrain as well as indulge them. We are not told that Simeon was an old man, but it is probable from the narrative that he was so, and his happiness seems to be the happiness of old age, less lively and exuberant than that of youth, but as heart-felt and deep or deeper, and, like deep waters, quiet and serene. But in what did Simeon’s happiness consist?

1. In praise for a blessing given. “He took Him up in his arms, and”--what? gave utterance at once to the joy that thrilled within him I When some of us have a mercy sent us, we must welcome it, we say; have a little time allowed us to feel that it is ours, to examine it, and delight ourselves in it. Then comes late and slow the thought, that we owe this mercy to a gracious God, and must thank Him for it. But this is because our joy in our mercies is not holy joy. Holy joy is like the joy of heaven--its natural language is praise, and its happiest language is praise. Blessings become sweeter to us when they draw forth our praise. And it is this looking on Christ as a Saviour provided for us by the everlasting Jehovah, that leads the soul to feel so thankful for Him and rejoice so much in Him.

2. A hope realized was another part of Simeon’s happiness at this time. The history represents Simeon to us at first as under the influence of hope.

3. There was yet something more in this man’s happiness--delight in a glorious prospect opened to him. Let God give the real Christian what spiritual blessing he may, he immediately longs for more. The blessing he has received seems to bring into his view other blessings, and to kindle his desires for them. With him, therefore, hope realized is a new impulse given to hope.

III. Let us now endeavour to draw from his happiness SOME USEFUL INSTRUCTION FOR OURSELVES. And in doing so, we must regard ourselves, brethren, as dying men. Simeon speaks here as a dying man. Job, Elijah, Jonah, all cried out, “Let me die,” but they were some of the very worst words these men ever uttered. They were tired of God’s dealings with them, weary of the discipline or the work He had allotted them, and they wanted to get away from them. Bring your desire for death then, just as you would bring any other feeling, to the standard of God’s Word. It tells you that if it is a holy desire, it is the desire, not of a wretched, but of a happy hour. It is the strongest when the soul’s happiness is the greatest. It springs no more from the ills than from the joys of life. It tells you that Simeon’s happiness in the prospect of death was happiness in a Saviour. “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” explains it all. And you must understand this, and fully understand it, before you can participate in Simeon’s peaceful feelings. Sin is the sting of death. It is guilt on the conscience that makes death so terrible to man. And then, brethren, how shall we look on death? Prospects will open before us, feelings will arise within us, so elevating, that we shall care no more for it, than the eagle cares for the fog or the cloud through which it is piercing to get to the sun.

I am going to my Saviour, we shall say, and what matters to me the darkness, or roughness, or loneliness, of the road which leads me to Him? Once with Him, I shall never feel lonely again. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

In entering upon our subject this morning, we shall notice in the first place, the character of Simeon; secondly, his proclamation; thirdly, his desire.

I. THE CHARACTER OF SIMEON. This is set forth in the first verse of our text--“And behold there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” First, as to his justice. The former of these expressions, “and the same man was just,” has reference to his conduct towards men; the latter stating that he was “a devout man,” has direct reference to the feelings of his mind towards his God. Again, there is reference to his faith. “He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” This was a name given to the Messiah by those Jews who expected and most anxiously looked for His approach. Again, there is a reference to his gifts--“The Holy Ghost was upon him.” This is not intended merely to imply that he was a partaker of the influences of the Holy Spirit, which perform morally a renovation of the mind; but that he was also the subject of that sacred revelation which we find spoken of in the twenty-sixth verse--“And it was revealed unto Him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This holy man of God was the partaker of the same mighty agency which characterized the ancient patriarchs, prophets, and seers.

II. But we pass on to notice in the second place, HIS PROCLAMATION. Simeon was under the influences of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in the twenty-sixth verse; and we find it was at the very moment, when the infant Saviour was brought into the Temple to receive according to the custom of the law, that he came also by the Spirit into the Temple. His inspiration now assumed a character of sublimity not to be Bur passed; and he makes dignified proclamation of the incarnation of man’s only salvation; he calls Him “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” We shall consider under this part of our subject--

1. The nature of the work which the Lord Jesus Christ was ordained to accomplish.

2. Again, we notice, that the salvation of man, as a salvation from the guilt and punishment of sin, is a position to be maintained--that this salvation has been accomplished by the atonement of the Cross, is a principle firmly to be upheld--and that the denial of this is unbelief, shutting out all heavenly mercy, and exposing the soul, without any refuge, to a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.

3. We notice again, not only the nature of the work that the Lord Jesus Christ came to accomplish, bat also the extent to which it is to be carried. “Which thou hast prepared before all people.” We pass on from the character of Simeon, and his proclamation, to consider, thirdly, HIS DESIRE. “And He came by the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation; which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” First. He had no other object left to wish to live for on earth. It must have been an interesting sight, for those who were living under the Jewish economy, to see the Messiah in person; and then no doubt many of them, having seen Him who was to be the end of their law for righteousness unto them, wished to see nothing more in the world. Hear the tradesman, when he has made a provision for his family, has set them forward comfortably in life, and has gained all the advantages he could desire from commerce, then he thinks he can die in peace. Hear the philosopher, when he has made grand discoveries in philosophy, and has succeeded in tracing the dependence and fixing the boundaries of what was considered incomprehensible affinities--when he can define unknown properties, and has fully developed the relations of cause and effect, he thinks he has nothing more on earth to accomplish, and he can die in peace. Hear the statesman, when he has brought certain principles of government to work harmoniously together--when by his eloquence and energies he has placed his favourite politicaltenets in a commanding situation, and has effected his long-wished-for purposes, he thinks he has nothing more to do on earth, he now can depart in peace. Hear the warrior, if he can gain the victory over the enemy--if he can entwine around his martial brow the wreath of undying laurel--if he can emblazon his name on the records of fame, and achieve for himself a corruscation of splendour and military renown that will light up his monument in future ages, he thinks he can die in peace. So you may well imagine that Simeon, who had been waiting anxiously for the appearance of the Messiah, whose mind had been goaded, as it were, with many an anxious desire for His manifestation, when he now beheld Him who was the joy and consolation of Israel, should have nothing more to live for below, but should wish to depart in peace. Secondly. It will be seen that now there was the dismissal of all his doubts and fears, and the completion of all his hopes for eternity. There was in Simeon great faith; but now faith was consummated in the possession of the thing hoped for. (J. Parsons.)

Men generally unready to die

He says, Now let me depart; he desires no delay. Many would rather say with the Psalmist, O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence, and be no more seen. Grant me leisure to settle my affairs, to provide for my family, to examine my conscience, and to put myself in a condition to appear before Thee. But Simeon was not like others, who usually want to put off that evil day. If they could have their choice, there would be no period of life in which they would not have some plea to defer the payment of this debt to nature, and say to death, as the evil spirits said to Christ, Why art thou come to torment us before the time? How many of those pleas can the hopes and fears of vain men invent and set forth to the best advantage? Some would remonstrate that they are young, and that it is a sad thing to be taken off in the flower of their age; others, that they have children, and could wish to see them settled, and in a fair way of prospering; others, that they are engaged in undertakings useful to themselves and their families; others, that they hope to do considerable service to religion or to civil society, to the Church or to the State. Simeon is moved by none of these considerations: he desires not a respite and a reprieve to a distant day, not even to the morrow. Now, says he, let Thy servant receive his dismission. (J. Jortin.)

James Hervey

James Hervey, the English divine, died on Christmas, 1758. Having thanked his physician for his kind attentions, he exclaimed, with holy exultation, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!” He added, “Here, doctor, is my cordial. What are all the cordials given to support the dying in comparison with this hope in Christ Jesus?” So saying he closed his eves, and sang his Christmas carol in paradise. We shall bless God’s holy name as we make our Christmas communion to-day, for all His servants who have departed this life in His faith and fear. May He give us grace to follow the good examples thus set before us!

Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

God’s salvation

I. God’s salvation, as the object of view of which Simeon speaks--“Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” What is it? God’s salvation. Then it must be worthy of Himself. Is it God’s salvation? Then it is adapted to man’s ruin. Is it God’s salvation? Then it secures a whole revenue of praise and glory to His great name. Is it God’s salvation? Then man has no band in it. Is it God’s salvation? Then it is like the altar which God commanded Moses to build--“If thou lift up a tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” Is it God’s salvation? Then it originates with Him; it is accomplished by Him; it is imparted by Him; it redounds to His own glory; in the experience and eternal blessedness of those whom He saves.

II. Let us pass on, in the second place, to notice the nature of the sight. “Mine eyes have seen” it. There are men now in the professing Church who see clearly with the mental vision, but without faith. I was once told by an avowed infidel, who had read the Bible a great deal, but whose eyes the god of this world had blinded, “Well, sir, I am brought to the full conviction, that if the Bible be true, your view of it is the right one.” Now, he “saw” it. I merely name this to show you that there is such a thing as seeing it without its being a saving sight. I wish my hearers to come to an investigation of this. When Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen,” it was not a desultory, nominal statement of things, as if his eyes had seen a babe only. He saw beyond that. You may have seen some volumes of theology very clearly written, and setting forth the salvation of Christ Jesus with scriptural accuracy; you may say that its arguments are quite irresistible, and be brought to see that they are so; but that is quite a different thing from the sight intended in my text--“Mine eyes have seen.” This is the view which faith takes of Christ. And the view that faith takes of Christ implies that faith exists. Moreover, faith views in the official character and work of Christ the relationship that renders the Head and the members one. Moreover, while faith views this precious, glorious Christ in the dignity of His Godhead, in the perfection of His manhood, and in His official character, it goes on to gaze, saying, “Since mine eyes have seen--I may see much more,” and examines minutely into the mystery of godliness. Again, it is not only the view which faith thus takes, but this view is by attraction. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” And whenever faith is indulged with a vision of Christ so as to behold in Him all that the poor sinner needs for time and eternity, there is a drawing, a mighty attraction, a desire to come closer to Him, just as in nature, when we are attracted by an object at a distance which appears very beautiful, but scarcely discernible, we desire to approach nearer, and the more clearly we see the object, and the more beautiful it appears, the more vigilantly we draw near to have clearer and clearer views of it. Pass on to mark that the teachings of the Holy Ghost are essential to this. Hence our beloved Lord said, “The Spirit of truth shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you;” and “He shall testify of Me.”

III. The effects which follow. I am sure that every poor sinner who gets a glimpse of Christ will wonder; wonder at the provision and gift of such a Saviour; wonder at the very name He bears; for His name is “Wonderful.” Mark also, that when this sight of Christ is realized, objects terrene are thrown quite into the shade, trampled upon and entirely lost sight of. One thought more, and I will draw to a close. When all objects beside are thrown into the shade, and everything terrene is lost sight of for the time being; when faith has full scope, it seems as if they were all for awhile removed, and our heavenly felicity begun upon earth. (J. Irons.)

“Thy salvation”

As soon as a truly-awakened soul sees Jesus, though it be but the beginnings of Him, it recognizes Him; it recognizes the hem of His garment, and the print of His feet. Though the Lord be seen only as an Infant, and the heart’s idea of Him is very incomplete, yet He is perceived to be the Incomparable One, and the soul cries out, “He is all my salvation and all my desire.”

I. We learn from Simeon that CHRIST IS SALVATION. Not only a Saviour, but Salvation itself. And the only Salvation. And God’s Salvation. You have salvation in every aspect of it, and every form of it, as soon as you have obtained Christ. You must trust Him in everything and for everything.

II. CHRIST IS TO BE TAKEN UP INTO OUR ARMS AND TO BE LOOKED AT.

1. A grasp of faith.

2. A grasp of love.

III. WHEN CHRIST IS TAKEN UP INTO THE ARMS AND LOOKED UPON HE HAS A WONDERFUL EFFECT.

1. Waiting is ended.

2. Simeon was excited to praise the Lord.

3. Now that he had seen the Lord’s Christ, he desired to close his eyes upon all else. I have heard of stone who have looked on the sun unadvisedly, till they could not see anything else; but his I know, that he who looks on Christ becomes blind to all rival attractions. If these eyes have once seen the salvation of God, it looks like sacrilege to set them upon the base things of time and sense. Let the gate be closed through which Jesus has entered; it seems profane to allow a single object belonging to this traitorous world to enter our mind by eye-gate any more. Having eaten the white bread of heaven, we want no more of the husks of earth; having bad a glimpse of the Incarnate God, what is there more to see?

4. He was now prepared to look on death.

5. Ready to behold the glory of God. We must first look at Christ, and when our eyes have been brightened and strengthened by the mild splendours of Incarnate Deity, they will be fitted to behold the King Himself as He sits upon the throne. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 31

Luke 2:29; Luk_2:31

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace

Nunc Dimittis

I.
Let us start with this great general principle which is full of comfort that EVERY BELIEVER MAY BE ASSURED OF ULTIMATELY DEPARTING IN PEACE. This is no privilege peculiar to Simeon, it is common to all the saints, since the grounds upon which this privilege rests are not monopolised by Simeon, but belong to us all.

1. All the saints have seen God’s salvation, therefore should they all depart in peace. It is true, we cannot take up the infant Christ into our arms, but He is “formed in us, the hope of glory.” It is true, we cannot look upon Him with these mortal eyes, but we have seen Him with those eyes immortal which death cannot dim--the eyes of our own spirit which have been opened by God’s Holy Spirit. A sight of Christ with the natural eye is not saving, for thousands saw Him and then cried, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.”

2. Believers already enjoy peace as much as ever Simeon did. No man can depart in peace who has not lived in peace; but he who has attained peace in life shall possess peace in death, and an eternity of peace after death.

3. We may rest assured of the same peace as that which Simeon possessed, since we are, if true believers, equally God’s servants. The same position towards God, the same reward from God.

4. Another reflection which strengthens this conviction is, that up till now all things in their experience have been according to God’s Word. The promises of God, which are “Yea and amen in Christ Jesus,” are sure to all the seed: not to some of the children is the promise made, but all the grace-born are heirs. If, then, Simeon, as a believer in the Lord, had a promise that he should depart in peace, I have also a like promise if I am in Christ.

5. The departure of the child of God is appointed of the Lord. “Now lettest Thou,” &c. The servant must not depart from his labour without his Master’s permission, else would he be a runaway, dishonest to his position.

6. The believer’s departure is attended with a renewal of the Divine benediction. “Depart in peace,” saith God. It is a farewell, such as we give to a friend: it is a benediction, such as Aaron, the priest of God, might pronounce over a suppliant whose sacrifice was accepted. Eli said unto Hannah, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him.” Around the sinner’s death-bed the tempest thickens, and he hears the rumblings of the eternal storm: his soul is driven away, either amid the thunderings of curses loud and deep, or else in the dread calm which evermore forebodes the hurricane.

II. SOME BELIEVERS ARE CONSCIOUS OF A SPECIAL READINESS TO DEPART IS PEACE. When do they feel this? Answer:

1. When their graces are vigorous.

2. When their assurance is clear.

3. When their communion with Christ is near and sweet.

4. Saints have drawn their anchor up and spread their saris, when they have been made to hold loose by all there is in this world; and that is generally when they hold fastest by the world to come.

5. Saints are willing to depart when their work is almost done. Ah, Christian people, you will never be willing to go if you are idle. You lazy lie-a-beds, who do little or nothing for Christ, you sluggish servants, whose garden is overgrown with weeds, no wonder that you do not want to see your master!

6. One other matter, I think, helps to make saints willing to go, and that is when they see or foresee the prosperity of the Church of God. Good old Simeon saw that Christ was to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of His people Israel; and therefore he said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” It must have reconciled John Knox to die when he had seen the reformation safely planted throughout all Scotland. It made dear old Latimer, as he stood on the fagot, feel happy when he could say, “Courage, brother, we shall this day light such a candle in England as shall never be blown out.”

III. THERE ARE WORDS TO ENCOURAGE US TO THE LIKE READINESS TO DEPART (See Psalms 23:4; Psa_37:37; Psa_116:15; Isaiah 57:2; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1Co_15:54; Revelation 14:13). These promises belong to all believers; each of them is a sure word from God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Hunt Dimittis

It seems singular to see these two faces resting so closely together. Infancy and old age are met; second childhood holds first childhood by the hand while it sings a wonderful song.

I. The first thing that strikes our notice here is THE SINGULAR ILLUSTRATION OFFERED OF THE PARADOX OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. How extraordinary is the disparity between these two persons, and yet how absolutely the one seems to rest in the other! Jesus lies safely in Simeon’s arms; Simeon reposes his life for all the untold future in Jesus’ Messiahship. Simeon’s soul is held up for ever by the Little Child whose body he now holds in his hands! We can explain nothing in this strange scene without considering that Jesus was the true Messiah, and the Messiah was the incarnate God.

II. So this presents another lesson: here is A SATISFACTORY STYLE OF PIETY FOR AN UNWAVERING DEPENDENCE. There are faiths and religions, there are rituals and creeds, there are persuasions and experiences, enough almost to fill the world. Only some of them do not meet the end for which they have been commended. Many a man has what he calls his religion; and it does very well when shielded and sheltered, but it goes out ignobly in darkness and betrayal under the wild rush of discipline, or the hurricane gusts of tempestuous passion. It is evident that here in Simeon’s case we find a perfectly settled rest for any human soul. His full content with it is edifying and unmistakable. He was willing to take his eternal life on Christ’s own terms, and so he was perfectly satisfied. It mattered nothing to him that he was an old man, and this was a Babe, nor that he was a wise:ann, and this was only a peasant Infant forty days old; he expressed his entire contentment with the plan which infinite wisdom had devised for human reliance. Men may as well start with this; they must begin by accepting terms already made, and cease trying to make new ones. Felix Neff once told even a minister this: “There is much truth in your sermon, but it lacks one important thing: you still wish men to go to Jesus with lace sleeves, instead of going to Him in rags as they are.”

III. We find here AN INTELLIGENT AND EXEMPLARY APPRECIATION OF THE EXACT PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL. It will be well to put alongside of this song Simeon’s prophecy, which comes just after it. This good old man tells that young mother precisely what her Child was “set” for Christ was appointed to prostrate men from self-dependence, and raise them again into full union with Himself. His heart would be pierced in suffering, and so would Mary’s, before the history should be finished. But Christ’s sufferings would work out an atonement, by which sinners might be saved.

IV. A LESSON OF TRUST FOR NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANS FROM AN OLD TESTAMENT BELIEVER. Picture just that instant in which this old man stands gazing down upon the face of the Infant for the first time. Was this all to which mighty generations had been looking during those thousands of years that were gone? Was it just this weak little peasant Babe that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had seen afar off, and been glad to see? Was He what the ancient prophets had descried in the distance, as they stood peering off from the watchtowers of a militant Zion, the flashing seer-light in their eyes as they sang? Was this the King, whom King David had so celebrated in his Psalms? Alas for the poor show the new Monarch now made I Yet Simeon accepts Him I Just remember that it was everything or nothing to this old man to make his decision. No halfway allegiance would do. Jesus was the Messiah, or nothing. Surrender to Him would carry time and eternity with it, and he surrendered.

V. A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF READINESS FOR DEATH. Note the language carefully. Simeon does not use a prayer; he makes a declaration. He does not say--now let me depart; he says--now Thou dost let me depart. We feel certain that this man has been waiting a good while. Such unusual preparedness for departure was the general growth of years. It was no sudden explosion of experience, but must have had its increments of spiritual increase as many and as various as the rings of fibre in the trunk of a palm-tree. There is an old age full of querulous complaint and peevishness, under every on-coming of infirmity. It wears itself out in discontent; it often vanishes at the last, and makes no sign. On the other hand, there is an old age like this of the illustrious Simeon. The soul has leaned its all on God, and is perfectly satisfied because it knows it is perfectly safe. Not even severe trial can alter the permanence of such trust. For heaven seems the only true thing in the universe, and death is nothing but a kind of rough way of going to it. Remember the beautiful inscription upon Dean Alford’s tombstone; how it describes a grave: “The inn of a traveller on the way to Jerusalem” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Simeon’s Canticle

The “Nunc Dimittis” may supply us with useful lessons.

1. Its position in the service of our Reformed Church is an indication of honour paid to the written Word. The New Testament is exalted by the appointment of the Song of Simeon to be used after the second lesson from Scripture at evening service. The New Testament is full of Jesus. The Church has been rent with disputes about the nature of His presence in the sacrament of His love. Every Christian knows that there is a presence also in the Word of His truth. More especially, the thought, the breath, the very heart of Christ may be felt in the Gospels. When we read or hear them, we embrace Him as Simeon did. We cease to be critics when, with the aged saint, we hold Him in our arms.

2. More broadly, the “Nunc Dimittis” is also a Missionary strain. It is fittingly recorded by St. Luke, the Pauline Evangelist, who was as truly the Evangelist, as St. Paul was the Apostle, of the Gentiles. In Simeon’s Song we have the history of the ages in one short sentence, in three pregnant clauses, at once original, concise, and oracular. To the Gentiles, Messiah is ever giving “light”; to the Jews, He is ever bringing “glory.”

3. This canticle has a tone which is peculiarly suitable to the evening, and may profitably be applied in this spirit by believers of every Church. It is a soothing voice which sings for those who have had a long day’s work. It fits into the golden melancholy of the sunset time, or the later hours, when the lamps are lighted in the sanctuary. It is as a prayer with which a mother taught us to lie down in our beds.

4. The “Nunc Dimittis” has always seemed suitable as a prayer for a holy death. In some of the old services there was a touching way of referring Simeon’s song to our departure, and to the thought of those who rest in peace. When it was sung in “Holy Week,” just at its close the choir burst out into the funeral anthem--“In the midst of life we are in death.” The Song of Simeon, thought over with prayer, may lead us to exclaim with Paul, “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” Simeon’s holy soul can find no home and rest on the water-floods of life; it desires to return into the ark with the olive-branch of peace. And if any wish to depart in peace like Simeon, let him come in the guidance of the Spirit to the Temple. Let him expect Christ. Let him receive his Saviour into his arms of faith, and cradle Him upon a heart of love. The Old Testament often takes a dark view of death. The writer shudders as he writes. The last words of the great Italian poet, Leopardi, were, “I cannot see you any longer,” with a deep sigh. The last words of the sceptical Hamlet are--“the rest is silence.” The only Psalm which, in a like spirit, ends as it began, with gloom, is the 88th--

Lover and friend hast

Thou removed from me;

My intimates are--Darkness.

In such passages as these death is viewed as it is for us all, naturally. But Simeon seems to stand for a gentle picture of the Law--wearied with lifelong effort, worn out with age, ready to embrace the gospel, and so “depart in peace.” It is of profound and soothing significance that one, who may be almost termed “the last Old Testament saint,” finds death sweet. For him the promise of the Psalmist is fulfilled--

This God is our God for ever and ever;

He is our guide, gently leading us over death.

For narrrow though the bridge seems to be that spans the chasm, it is yet broad and strong for those who are thus guided. That bridge is the Cross of Christ. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Nunc Dimittis

This is a beautiful hymn of sunset--the sunset of the life of a good man which may also be called a hymn of sunrise, for there may be seen in it both the closing of a life and the beginning of a new one. Death is referred to in it, not as the flowing of twilight into darkness, but as a departure. The hymn is a thanskgiving for spiritual blessings, for a Divine light which had been planted by God in the soul, come to its meridian after much patience and long waiting. Beautiful thoughts, bearing fruit in beautiful words, rise in the midst of this noontide. God had sown this thought or impression in Simeon, in his old age, when he had begun to walk through the valley of the shadow. We know by experience how some favourite thought or idea in us may become like a living companion, go with us in our walks, and be with us in our occupations, even in our sleep. So was the Divine impression with Simeon. God is continually giving His children hallowed thoughts and impressions. Simeon’s case may say this to us: “Hold the good thoughts which come to you through prayer and other means of grace.” If we do this they will certainly bring us peace and consolation. (E. G. Charlesworth.)

Our last days should be our best days

Orators, though in every part of their speech they use great care and diligence, yet in the close of all they set forth the best of their art and skill, to stir up the affections and passions of their hearers, that then they may leave at the last the deepest impression of those things which they would persuade. Thus ought all of us to do, our whole life being nothing else but a continued and persuasive oration unto our God, to be admitted into His heavenly kingdom; but, when we come to the last act and epilogue of our age, then it is that we must especially strive to show forth all our art and skill, and that our last words may be our best words, our last thoughts our best thoughts, our last deeds our best deeds; whereby stirring up,-as it were, all the affections of God, and even the bowels of compassion, unto us. We may then, as the sun, though always glorious, yet especially at its setting, be most resplendent when we draw near unto our western home, the house appointed for all living. (Udall.)

The last scene

The evening praises the day, the last scene commends the act. The rivers, the nearer they draw to the sea, the sooner they are met by the tide. Though to guide a vessel safely along in the ocean argues much skill, and such a pilot is worthy of praise; yet at the very entrance into the haven, then to avoid the rocks, and to cast anchor in a safe road, argues most skill, and deserves most praise. Musicians reserve the sweetest strain for the close of the lesson. (G. Swinnock.)

Sweet when fading

As the perfume of May boughs is sweetest when they are about to fade, so, like them, I endeavour to make the close of my life sweet and fragrant by a worthy deportment and an honourable name. (Scriver.)

Some hearts, like evening primroses, open most beautifully in the shadows of life.

Simeon’s Canticle

These words are a sweet canticle, or swan-like song, of old Simeon, a little before his dissolution. He had seen the Messiah before by faith, now by sight, and wishes to have his eyes closed, that he may see nothing after this desirable sight. It is said of some Turks, that after they have seen Mahomet’s tomb, they put out their eyes, that they may never defile them after they have seen so glorious an object. Thus did old Simeon desire to see no more of this world, after he had seen Christ the Saviour, but sues for his dismissal. Note here--

1. That a good man having served his generation, and God in his generation, faithfully, is weary of the world, and willing to be dismissed from it.

2. That the death of a good man is nothing else but a quiet and peaceable departure; it is a departure “in peace” to the God of peace.

3. That it is only a spiritual sight of Christ by faith that can welcome the approach of death, and render it an object desirable to the Christian’s choice.

4. Holy Simeon, having declared the faithfulness of God to himself in the gift of Christ, next celebrates the mercy of God in bestowing this invaluable gift of a Saviour upon the whole world. The world consists of Jews and Gentiles; Christ is “a light” to the one, and “the glory” of the other. A light to the blind and dark Gentiles, and the glory of the renowned Church of the

Jews; the Messiah being promised to them, born and bred up with them, living amongst them, preaching His doctrine to them, and working His miracles before them; and thus was Christ “the glory of His people Israel.” (W. Burkitt, M. A.)

Simeon’s Song

The swan-like song of old Simeon. He speaks like a merchant who has got all his goods on shipboard, and now desires the master of the ship to hoist sail and be gone homewards. Indeed, what should a Christian, who is but a foreigner here, desire to stay any longer for in the world, but to get this full lading in for heaven? (W. Gurnall.)

Death tests

“Charles, our people die well,” said John Wesley to his brother. Why is not that a proper test? We take death-bed words without an oath in a court of justice; a man is honest, if ever, in the moment when the great shadow is coming. Think of the martyr Ridley, the night before he was burned alive at the stake. One of his pitiful friends offered to sit up with him in the prison. “Oh, n!” said the good man, “what would you do with yourself? I mean to go to bed, and sleep as quietly as ever I did in my life. My breakfast to-morrow will be sharp and painful; but I am sure my supper will be right pleasant and sweet!(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Death welcome with Jesus near

When his end was near, Dr. Grierson of Errol, after various Psalms and portions of Scripture had been read to him, asked his children to conclude by singing the hymn, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” After they had sung it, he said, “I feel ram safe there. Death has no power nor fear for me at all now.” And when told that it was drawing near the morning, he exclaimed, “Oh, let me go, for the day breaketh! I feel Jesus very near by me. Dear Lord, let me go!”

Light in death

The day before he died, John Holland, turning with his own hand to the eight chapter of the Romans, bade Mr. Legh read it: at the end of every verse he paused and gave the sense to his own comfort, but more to the joy and wonder of his friends. An hour or two after, on a sudden, he said, “Oh, stay your reading! What brightness is this I see? Have you lighted any candles? “No, it was replied; it is the sunshine. “Sunshine!” he said; “nay, it is my Saviour’s shine. Farewell, world: welcome, heaven!”

Ready to start

A saintly man, when nearing his end, once remarked: “I am just like a package that is all ready to go by train; packed, corded, labelled, paid for--waiting for the express to take me to glory!”

Release from school

Dr. Judson once said, “I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet, when Christ calls me, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. Death will never take me by surprise: do not be afraid of that; I feel so strong in Christ.”

Simeon’s Song

His Song may give us a glimpse of the man himself, for in it his habitual beliefs, convictions, and hopes rise to their highest and frankest expression.

I. In Simeon’s Song we have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF LIFE. KNOW art Thou relieving, or setting free, thy slave, O Master (literally, “O Despot”), according to Thy word, in peace.” Simeon regards himself as a sentinel whom, by His word or promise, the Great Master, or Captain, had ordered to an elevated and dangerous post, and charged to look for and announce the advent of a great light of hope, a light which was to convey glad tidings of great joy. To him life, or at least his own life, shaped itself as the task of a watchman, or a sentinel on duty--who has to face rough weather and smooth as he paces his weary beat, to confront the fears and hidden perils of the darkness, in order that the camp he guards may be secure; but who is sustained, under the burden of anxiety and weariness, by the hope of receiving a signal, of seeing a light arise in the darkness, which will not only release him from his post, but will also bring the tidings, or the prediction, of a great and final victory. A very noble, though by no means a perfect conception of human life, which is too large and complex to be rendered by any one image. A conception, moreover, which may be very helpful to us in many of the conditions in which we are placed. When life grows as weary and monotonous to us, through the prolonged pressure of samely duties, as to the watchman fixed to Agamemnon’s roof or to a dog chained to a post; or when the zest of youth has passed and the infirmities and disabilities of age, or disease, accumulate upon us; or when we are weighed down with a burden of cares, anxieties, and fears, many of which are gross and palpable enough, but to some of which we can hardly give a name; when flesh, or heart, fail us, or both fail us, it surely would sustain and comfort us were we to remember that our post has been appointed us by the Great Captain who makes no mistake; that the duties and the burdens allotted to us have an end of discipline and love, and are intended to make us stronger, wiser, better; and that, however long it may delay its coming, a great Light is to arise upon us; that it is this for which we are watching and serving: and that it will bring with it glad tidings of great joy for all people as well as for us.

II. In Simeon’s Song we have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF DEATH. In his view, the sentinel was also the slave, and the discharge of the sentinel was also the manumission of the slave. Relief from toil, relief from danger, relief from bondage--can any conception of death be more welcome and attractive to weary, world-worn, sinful men? Only one thing could render it more attractive and complete, and this we, who have the mind of Christ, are bound to supply: viz., that our relief from toil will not be an exemption from work, but an added capacity for labour which will take all toil and weariness out of it; that our relief from danger will not release us from that strife against evil in which even the holy angels are engaged, but will bring us an immortal strength and serenity in virtue of which we shall carry on the conflict without fear, and cherish the sure and certain hope that evil must in the end be overcome of good; and that our relief from bondage will not be a discharge from service, but will bring us a vigour and a grace which will make our service a delight, since henceforth we shall serve as sons and not as slaves.

III. We have A NOBLE CONCEPTION OF SALVATION. Simeon does but show the true prophetic, i.e., the true catholic, spirit when he conceives of the salvation of God as extending to the Gentile as well as the Jew, and delights in a mercy as wide as the world. And we fall short of that spirit, we sin against the revelation of the Old Testament no less than that of the New, so often as we affect any special personal interest in the fatherly love and compassion of God, or even when we conceive of His salvation as confined to the Church. The Church has been elected, as the Jewish race was elected, solely for the sake of the world, solely that it may carry the news and the power of salvation to those who are outside its pale. If we have seen the Light, it is that we may bear witness to the Light; that we may announce its rising, reflect its splendour, and believe that it will shine on till the darkness is past and every shadow has fled away. If we are sentinels, it is that we may guard and save the whole camp, and not simply our own company or our own regiment. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The glory and work of old age

The greatness of man is chiefly in this, that he can say to pain, I will endure; and to death, I will conquer its fear; and to old age, I will not be querulous. The glory of man is chiefly in this, that Christ enables him to go beyond the Stoic, and to say to pain, I will not only endure, but I will make suffering a step towards progress; and to death, I will not only conquer its fear, but open it as the portal of ampler life; and to old age, I will not only not be querulous, but will, therein and thereby, finish my inner development before I go. To crystallise into finished perfection was the aim and the ideal of the Stoic. To grow for ever is the aim and the ideal of the Christian. Death ended the effort and the pain of the Stoic. Death continues the effort, without the pain, of the Christian. What were the gains which blessed Simeon’s age?

I. PROPHETIC POWER. He saw the Child and he knew that It was the Saviour of the world. This is the glory of a Christian’s old age--vividness of spiritual vision.

II. Another remarkable gain blessed the old age of Simeon, the possession of A LIBERAL RELIGIOUS VIEW. We find the old man set free from the exclusiveness and bigotry of his time and of his youth. Those were strange words upon the lips of a Jew--“a light to lighten the Gentiles!” They had been said before. But it was not a common thought, nor a national thought, at the time of Christ’s coming. Those who heard Simeon would be likely to call him a dangerous Liberal. Tolerance and a wide religious view are natural to old age, and it is very pitiable when we find it without them.

III. Simeon wins the crowning blessing of old age--DEEP PEACE. We cannot win that quiet till just before the close.

IV. But what is the SPECIAL WORK OF old age? It is partly outward, partly inward. Its outward work is the spreading of charity; the using of experience for the help of others. Its inward work is, however, the most important-the edifying of the heart in noble religion by consideration of the past; the rounding of the soul into as great perfection as possible, in filling up the broken edges of the sphere of life, in consolidating the world of our ideas. In wonder, and in joy that he has been so cared for, and so led into maturity, all thought of self passes from the old man’s life, and he throws his whole being in gratitude at the feet of his Saviour and his God. It is, in fact, the first touch, even before death, of the pure and perfect life, the first faint throb of the exquisite existence into which he is going to enter, the half-realization on the borders of the world of light, while yet within the glimmering shadow, of what communion with God may mean. Then, indeed, he feels what Simeon felt when the long-repressed cry rose to his lips, for he sees the very Christ: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant,” &c. (Stopford A, Brooke.)

Simeon felt that little hand that lay hidden in his bosom as if it was fast loosening the silver cord. He speaks less like a living man than as a kind of Lazarus, alive indeed, but bound. “Lord, loose me,” he prays. Younger men must work with the Messiah--his day was done. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Death viewed without terror

The Bible seldom speaks of death by its own ugly name. It rather chooses to use expressions which veil its pain and its terror; and so does common speech. But the reason in the two cases is exactly opposite. The Bible will not call death “death,” because it is not a bit afraid of it; the world will not, because it is so much afraid of it. The Christian view has robbed death of all its pain and terror. It has limited its power to the mere outside of the man, and the conviction that death can no more touch me than a sword can hack a surbeam, reduces it to insignificance. Death is a Liberator in the profoundest sense. It is the angel who comes in the night to God’s prisoned servant, striking the fetters from his limbs, and leading him through the iron gate into the city. Death is a departure which is an emancipation. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Death is release

If one had watch’d a prisoner many a year,

Standing behind a barred window-pane,

Fettered with heavy handcuff and with chain,

And gazing on the blue sky far and clear;

And suddenly some morning he should hear

The man had in the night contrived to gain

His freedom, and was safe, would this bring pain?

Ah! would it not to dullest heart appear

Good tidings?

(Helen Hunt.)

Sift therefore the agreeableness of those two parts, attend to these particulars:

1. Here is a supplicant the servant of the Lord--“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant.”

2. The petition of his soul--“to depart.”

3. The time which he sets--“Now, Lord, now ”

4. He pleads that he was well prepared to depart, for his heart was in peace, “Lord now ”

5. The assurance in which he trusted that God would grant him his desire, for it was according to His word.

6. And principally: Here is the reason upon which he framed his desire why he would depart, he had seen that which his soul waited for before it flitted away, “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” (Bishop Hacker.)

Servant of God

It is great humility to confess one’s self a servant, but it is no little dignity to profess one’s self such a servant, to be the servant of God, and not the servant of men by vile obsequiousness, nor the servant of a man’s own passions by lust and sensuality, nor the servant of sin by giving place unto the devil, this is a freedom that excels all other liberty. (Bishop Hacker.)

Simeon knew the instant of his dissolution was at hand, and yet he sang away the remainder of his life with joy; as who should say, fly away my soul, fly away like a dove and take thy rest, for now I see that the promises of grace and mercy are true; here is Christ thy Saviour in thy hands, thine eyes do see, thine arms do support thy salvation; though thou departest thou shalt not go from Him, for He is man on earth to comfort thee, and God in heaven to glorify thee. (Bishop Hacker.)

Satisfied

As who should say, if I had been summoned to leave my station before this day came, my soul had been in bitterness, and I had been gathered to my fathers in sorrow, but now my pilgrimage hath been prolonged till I am full of happiness, now I am fledged with all my feathers to fly away, for what will satisfy him upon earth whom the sight of a Saviour will not satisfy? He was far stricken in years, and yet not mellow enough to drop off from the tree till the nativity of Jesus was fulfilled, and he a witness of it. He looked many a long look before he beheld his Saviour. And this is the nature of God’s promises, they are seldom accomplished till his faith hath been thoroughly tried to whom they are made, and that he doth even languish with expectation. Some will say perhaps, O, I have waited long, this will never fall out as God hath promised. (Bishop Hacker.)

The best sight

Again, reason good he should ask of God to close his eyes, for they could never do him such good service any more, as they did at that instant, when they saw that mighty God in the visible form of a little Infant. The superstition and the barbarisms of the Turks being so well known, I do assent to some stories reported of them, which may seem incredible to civil nations. I instance in this particular, that when some of their zealots have made a pilgrimage to Mecca to do their adorations to the tomb of Mahomet, they presently draw hot burning steel before their eyes to put them out, that they may never see any other spectacle, after they have been honoured to see that monument of their prophet. Far better a great deal, and without superstition, might Simeon say, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, O Jehovah, now draw their curtains before them, that they may never hereafter see the iniquities of men.” (Bishop Hacker.)

Death better than degeneration

O let me not survive to see the infidelity of mine own nation: O let me not live to see Him crowned with thorns. (Bishop Hacker.)

Excessive spiritual joy

The Redeemer is come, let my fetters therefore be broken off; my joy is excessive and superlative, this frail flesh cannot contain it: The new wine is poured in, O let the old bottles break. Thou hast granted me more than ever Thou didst grant to any prophet upon earth; therefore exalt me to Thy saints in heaven. (Bishop Hacker.)

Seeing the invisible

Blessed were the eyes both of his soul and body: his bodily eyes did see the happiest sight in heaven and earth, but the eyes of his soul did respect that which is invisible. (Bishop Hacker.)

Christ embraced

He comes with much impotency and weakness, to be presented in the Temple, and to be redeemed after the custom of the law, with five shekels of silver, but He will redeem us both from the bondage of the law, and from the bondage of sin, with the five wounds of His body. If such salvation as this were only to be glanced upon perfunctorily, this sage Israelite would have been contented to have seen Him, and rested there; but forasmuch as we must incorporate our Saviour in our souls, and endeavour that there be a real union ‘twixt Christ and us: therefore in the verse before my text, Simeon took up our Saviour into his arms, and St. John makes that a great mystery of his own, and his brethren’s happiness, that their hands had handled the Word of Life. This doth not only betoken faith, but exceeding love; we hug them in our arms whom we have in dear estimation, we catch them in our arms, as if we would grow together: so if we love the Lord sincerely, we are one with Him, and He with us; we dwell in Him, and He in us. (Bishop Hacker.)

Old age

If any are entitled to a peaceful departure, it is those who, like the aged Simeon, have passed through not only the springtime and summer of life, but also through its autumn and winter. To few is it given to do this. For most of us, life closes before old age brings its burdens, its sorrows, or its triumphs. Stern, indeed, is the task which old age imposes upon those who enter her service. The departure of one friend after another, till all the companions of earlier and later years have disappeared, and one belongs to a generation not his own; the gradual failure of the faculties in which have lain the joy and pride of life; the conscious enfeebling of mind and body alike; the defeat, and often the entire reversal, of all one’s dreams for the progress and happiness of the race; and the adoption by the world of manners and fashions repugnant to every instinct in which one has been reared,--what trial has youth or manhood to compare with these? All the more beautiful is it, then, when the approach of old age, far from chilling heart or soul, touches life with a more radiant light than had belonged to it before, and brings the powers to a certain dignified maturity; reminding one of the lingering days of Indian summer, when, just as we have ceased to look for sunny skies, and are prepared for November’s chilly air, and have bade farewell to the last of the roadside flowers, a soft and dreamy haze falls upon the landscape, coming as if from another clime, and bringing with it a loveliness with which spring and summer can hardly vie. Sometimes, old age seems to loss its withering touch entirely, and, instead of blighting, to bring the intellectual powers to their highest vigour. The wisdom of experience, the deepening insight, into truth, ant stronger habits of independent judgment come to aid the mind or will and make them capable of their best work. It brings often a beautiful spirit of tolerance. Through many years of waiting and watching, they have learned the lesson, not of despair, but of hope. They have discovered that human systems are transient, the eternal truth and right abiding. The activity of younger minds, instead of awakening jealousy or discontent, moves their admiration, as the poor cripple or worn invalid looks admiringly upon the agile movements of children at their play, and marvels with longing, yet with pride, at his companion’s prodigal activity. The years, as they have passed, have taught them charity of judgment and confidence in men’s nobler motives. Youth, as we know, is almost of necessity one-sided and limited in its judgments, and liable to bitter prejudices. Again, old age brings not only tolerance and breadth: it brings also, at times, in its rarer manifestations, a vivid and living interest in passing events, which more than makes up for the forced inactivity which age imposes. If they cannot themselves share in the world’s activity, they rejoice that others should. Removed from the toil and scenes they love, they find their compensation in living in the efforts and experiences of younger souls, whose life is still before them. No hearts so young, no hopes so immature, but their sympathies are enlisted for them. Men marvel at their cheerfulness and unfailing animation, little knowing that they have learned the secret of perpetual youth. Where the affections are fresh and the sympathies warm and comprehensive, old age may touch the head with frost and leave furrows upon the brow, but it cannot reach the heart. Again, age seems to bring to those who know how to meet it a more serene and undisturbed happiness than belongs to any other period of life. Happy old age, I suppose, is that which has accumulated resources during its active years sufficient for its years of inaction. It has a full mind. It has thronging memories of a busy past. It has the remembrance of eager and serious effort while effort was possible. It has mental as well as physical faculties which bear witness of thorough use, and which have earned for themselves the right to repose. It has vital sympathies enlisted so long in great interests as feel still the glow of their old enthusiasms. Then come the composure, the peace, the dignity, which often make old age so winning and attractive. The din of life is far away. Its rancours and enmities have lost their sting. What dignity and grace it lends to the home! How much more, even in its infirmities, it adds to the life around it than it can possibly receive from it; not simply through whatever is venerable in its aspect or demeanour, but rather through the gentle bearing and tender sentiment which it calls into being, and without which our lives would be bare and rude indeed I What can be a better training for childhood than to grow up by the side of venerable forms, whom all are treating with honour and respect? What more refining influence, as one advances in years, than the tender solicitude, the loving care, the gentle deference, which it is the privilege of youth to offer to age? If age would be weary and solitary without youth at its side, youth would certainly be raw and uncouth without the softening presence of age. (E. H. Hall.)

A martyr’s death-song

These words have been the triumphant death-song of true martyrs. One of them, in the fourteenth century, Maximilian Hostialick, told the officer on the scaffold that he would repeat the song of Simeon, and then the executioner might do his duty. He accordingly lifted up his voice: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation”; and then fell the blow that severed his head from the body. (A. C. Thompson, D. D.)

Peace of a dying Christian

Joseph Addison, the renowned author and linguist, after enduring much physical suffering with fortitude, sent for the young but dissipated Lord Warwick. He came and said, “Dear sir, you sent for me. I believe and hope you have some commands. I shall hold them most dear.” “See,” said the dying saint, “in what peace a Christian can die!” and breathed his life out like a sleeping infant.

Christ immediately known and embraced

Simeon knew Christ as soon as he saw Him, and embraced Him as soon as he knew Him, and enjoyed Him as soon as he embraced Him. So some know the Word of God as soon as they hear it, and believe it as soon as they know it, and feel the comfort of it as soon as they believe it; but others hear it as though they heard it not, like deaf adders, that stop their ears at the voice of the charmer. (H. Smith.)

Prepared

For there was nothing which had not a tongue to speak for God. Everything was prepared for Him before He came to be revealed. He came not in the beginning nor in the ending. He came not in the ending, that we which come after Him, might long for His second coming. He came not in the beginning, because that such a Prince as He should have many banners and triumphs before Him. He came not in the beginning, because the eyes of faith should not be dazzled in Him, and lest they which should live in the latter times should forget Him and His coming, which was so long before; even as you forget that which I have said as soon as you are gone hence. He came not in the beginning, because if He had come before man had sinned, man would have acknowledged no need of a physician; but He came when man had sinned, and had felt the smart of sin. For when they were cast out of Paradise, they ran unto Christ, as the Israelites did to the serpent. He came not in the beginning, but in the perfect age of the world, to show that He brought with Him perfection, perfect joy, perfect peace, perfect wisdom, perfect righteousness, perfect justice, perfect truth; signifying thereby, that notwithstanding He came in the perfect age thereof, yet He found all things imperfect (H. Smith.)

The waiting of Simeon

Simeon also waited or the consolation of Israel, until he had embraced in his arms Him whom he so long longed to see and feel. How many waiters be there in the world, yet few wait as Simeon did; but some wait for honour, some for riches, some for pleasures, some for ease, some for rewards, some for money, some for a dear year, and some for a golden day, as they call it; but Simeon waited, and expected with many a long look, until he had seen and embraced Christ Jesus, the light of the Gentiles, the glory of Israel, the salvation of all that with a faithful and zealous affection and love do wait for His coming, to the comfort of the afflicted, and to the terrifying of the wicked and the ungodly, which have not already waited, neither embraced Him, as Simeon did. (H. Smith.)

Desiring death

May not any man desire death? May not the fastened ship in a strange land desire to be loosed, to hasten to his longed-for port at home? May not a man imprisoned amongst bitter enemies desire to be set at liberty, to return to his own country, in freedom to live amongst his sweet friends? Are we not strangers here, and by unpeaceable, most deadly enemies, our own flesh, the world, and the devil, held prisoners in the chains of sin and manifold infirmities? and is not our home heaven, and the saints and angels our most dear friends? No marvel, then, that Simeon here desireth to be loosed, or let depart. (H. Smith.)

Spiritual intimations

“And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This pre-intimation, be it observed, was not a mere presentiment; it was a direct revelation by the Holy Spirit. Yet, if Simeon had been questioned about it any time before this memorable day in the Temple, I doubt whether he would have affirmed that he was conscious of having received any distinctively supernatural communication. He probably would have answered: “I have a strong conviction that I shall not die until I behold the Consolation of Israel.” However this may have been, I believe that something like this has often occurred in the history of the Church, and may often occur again. Although the Holy Spirit is a supernatural being, yet, generally speaking, He acts so naturally on our feelings and expectations that we are not distinctly conscious of being under His influence. Who shall venture to affirm that those strong presentiments which we sometimes have--for example, concerning the conversion of children or kindred, or the restoration to health and home of far distant sick friends--may not be intimations to us by that Holy One who is emphatically the comforter and teacher and guide and helper and inspirer of His people? If the Holy Spirit can act on us in respect to duty, as we believe He does, why cannot He act on us in respect to desire and foresight? But let us not imagine that every presentiment is His impulse. How often are our saintliest and intensest expectations disappointed! Blessed are we if, like the patriarchs, we die as well as live in faith, although we have not received the promised blessings, but only seen them, and greeted them from afar. In all events, no one who has ever heard the glad tidings need die before he has in the truest sense seen the Lord’s Christ. (G. D. Boardman.)

Coincidences

“And He came in the Spirit into the Temple.” The Holy Spirit then not only revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen Jehovah’s Anointed: the Holy Spirit also prompted Simeon to visit the Temple the precise hour the Divine Babe was to be brought in. Ah, little do we imagine how many of the blessed coincidences of life are really arranged by that Holy One under whose administration we are living. Little did Simeon, although looking for the Consolation of Israel, imagine that he would see the Lord’s Christ that day in His Temple. Little did Joseph and Mary imagine that on that day the Divine Babe would receive such reverential salutation. Little did Cornelius in Caesarea and Peter in Joppa imagine that the Holy Spirit was arranging for them an interview momentous in consequences. Little did Philip and the treasurer of Ethiopia imagine that they would meet each other on the desert way between Jerusalem and Gaza. Little do we imagine that many of the so-called accidental conjunctions of life are really the gracious arrangements by One who, hidden behind earth’s thrones and nature’s laws, is administering the affairs of the universe in the interest of Christ and Christ’s Church. When will the world and the Church learn that Almighty God is Ruler as well as Maker? The character of Jesus Christ is the universal, infallible prober. The same lancet which lays bare the healthy nerve, lays bare the diseased. The same glad tidings which disclosed and saved a Simon Peter, disclosed and doomed a Judas Iscariot. Jesus Christ is the touch-stone of human hearts. And, first, we cannot but be impressed by the universal welcome which greeted the infant Jesus. Toil welcomed Him in the adoration of the shepherds. Intellect welcomed Him in the adoration of the wise men. Infancy welcomed Him in the adoration of the unborn son of Elisaheth. Old age welcomed Him in the adoration of Simeon and Anna. And well might all classes thus welcome Him; for He is the Son of man, and so the Christ for all men. Secondly, nothing is more beautiful than a Christian old age. For it brings, as it did to Simeon, three beautiful things. First, it brings depth of spiritual insight: Simeon took the Child into his arms, and blessed God, saying, “Lord, mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Secondly, it brings catholicity of spirit: “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” Thirdly, it brings peace in view of death: “O Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” The truth is, age does not depend on years. Some are old at twenty, others are young at ninety. As the poet sings:

“We live in deeds, not words; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial:

We should count time by heart-throbs.

He most lives ho thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”

Age is far more a matter of indolence, and uselessness, and ennui, than of chronology. And a Christian old age is ever youthful. (G. D. Boardman.)

Character and privilege of Simeon

I. HIS PERSONAL, PIETY. Who is the devout man? The answer is brief. It is the man who, in consequence of inward, spiritual illumination, entertains correct views of God--of God’s nature, character, government, worship, and grace; and who habitually feels, acts, and lives under the living influence of these views. It is the mart who has respect to God in all things; it is he who inherits and exhibits the moral glories of the great Father, walks in serene fellowship with Him in a world of storms, and lives and moves in His everlasting love. The devout man prays to his God in secret, makes His Book the reason and rule of duty, leans upon His kind arm when sorrows darken his path, and endeavours everywhere and always to glorify His holy name. But Simeon was not only devout, but also just. And who is the just man? The scriptural idea of him is vast and comprehensive. A just man is one who is universally right--right as to his condition, and right as to his character. His faith, his principles, his practice, are all right. Having accepted the Divine method of salvation, he is treated as though he were just; the Lord imputeth no iniquity to him. Having received the Divine Spirit, he is become actively just towards himself, his race, and his God. In law he is righteous: in life he is righteous. Such is the general idea the Bible gives of a just man. But, in the text, the phrase has evidently a limited signification. It denotes social rectitude. To be just to our fellow-men is to recognize, and, as far as we can, to protect their rights, civil, mental, religious. Now, between these distinct virtues there is an essential connection. They never do, they never can, exist separately. Strictly speaking, they are only two manifestations of the same thing. It is human holiness embracing at once the finite and the infinite as the spheres of its action. Men would sever devotion and morality; but the thing is impossible. Facts as well as philosophy prove it so. How can a truly devout man be unjust? And how can a just man be yet so unjust as to neglect his God? The two virtues we speak of, then, necessarily co-exist. But although these two qualities never exist independently of each other, yet it is a matter of fact, that in many a good man they are far from being equally developed. One man is very devotional as to the current of his thoughts, associations, feelings, hopes, and desires, and yet very defective, to say the least, in the discharge of his social obligations. Another man is remarkably exact, punctual, and conscientious in all his relative duties, who nevertheless is, or appears to be, very careless and cold in the offices of devotion and in the higher exercises of religion. How is this? In the history of practical godliness are four things which it would be well to remember: that different men excel in different virtues; that the same men excel in different virtues at different periods of their history: that in no man do all the virtues shine with equal radiance; and, finally, that the best of men are far from perfection here. Thus we have glanced at the virtues of Simeon; their nature, development, and mutual relation. In him they shone beautifully and harmoniously. His love to God produced universal propriety of conduct towards men; and that is what I would call true religion.

II. I now proceed to notice THE PUBLIC SPIRIT OF SIMEON. That is beautifully expressed in these words--“Waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” He was not only a just and devout man, but he was also writing for Him who was to be Israel’s consolation and glory and the Gentiles’ light. Simeon was not a man of a narrow, contracted, selfish mind. Oh! no. His thoughts, desires, solicitudes, and hopes were not limited to himself, nor to his own nation; his heart burned for the public good; he was an observer and interpreter of public events. Through the Divine medium of prophecy he surveyed the far-spread scenes of futurity. He had long waited for the day of the Lord: at last it sweetly dawned upon his hopes. Faith and prayer ever wait for those eras of light and renewal, by a succession of which God has promised to draw humanity nearer and still nearer to Himself. Simeon waited for the coming of Messiah: expectation was the habitual attitude of his spirit; it was the theme of his conversation; the breath of his prayers; the bright beam that ever cheered the long path of his pilgrimage. In the teachings of the synagogue, in the sacrifices of the Temple, in the changes which were passing over the institutions of his people, the devout patriarch saw the prophetic signs of the Son of man. His constant waiting for Christ kept his affections in a state of healthy excitement, spiritualized his piety, shed an unearthly lustre around his general character, and raised him far above the men of his age. Simeon gives three distinct views of Jesus. He refers to Him as the object of human hostility; as the cause of great moral revolutions; and, finally, as the source, the Divine source, of spiritual blessings.

1. The text refers to Christ as an object of human enmity, as a sufferer. He was to be a “sign to be spoken against”--the mark of evil men and evil spirits.

2. Simeon pointed to Jesus as the cause of great moral revolutions. He was to be “for the fall and the rising of many in Israel”--“the thoughts of many hearts were to be revealed.” Here two great effects are attributed to the presence of Jesus on earth; a revelation of human thoughts, and a revolution in human affairs. One of the mighty works which Jesus came to accomplish was to set men to think--to think with freedom, earnestness, and force; and this He actually did to an extent before unknown. His aim was not to affect the mere surface of our nature, to alter only its moral forms and fashions; but to send His influence down to its very centre. He set mind in motion; He touched the mysterious springs of its power: and this He did by the conjoined influence of two things--His truth and His character. Both these were original, perfect, Divine. The impulse which He thus imparted to our nature has been deepening and widening ever since. He originated a succession of improving changes which can no more be stopped than the course of the stars. The living power of the gospel, by rousing humanity to action, elicited its true character: opposing elements were set in commotion; the good and the evil rose to the surface; and thus “the thoughts of many hearts were revealed.” Simeon foresaw also that the Holy Child would be for the fall and rising of many. Here, again, we meet another wonderful principle--we say principle--for risings and failings in our world are not mere accidents or chances, but events regulated by a fixed law; and that law is administered by the Divine Mediator. We fancy we can see emblems of these moral changes--these risings and failings--even in the material world. The motions of the heavens--the processes of matter everywhere around us--the revolutions of the seasons--continually remind us of them. This revolutionary principle seems to be in constant operation in the government of our disordered race. It pervades the internal and the external history of humanity; it presides over all the alterations which take place in the ideas, the characters, and the institutions of men. How very remarkably was its energy displayed during the first age of Christianity. Then truth rose higher than it had ever done before: then error and ignorance began to fall; and, blessed be God! they have been falling and falling and falling ever since. Then the old schools of religious teachers fell; and a new one rose under the inspirations of Jesus, which is one day to fill the world with its doctrine. Then the first covenant disappeared, to give place to a better one. Then, in a word, the ancient Church fell, and the new rose into being; and the rise of this new society was one of the grandest results of Christ’s descent to our earth; it was, if we may be allowed the expression, the incarnation of one of the sublimest ideas of the Son of God.

3. Simeon speaks still more definitely of the Saviour. He represents Him as the source of all spiritual blessings. Three precious gifts, he predicted, would flow from this Divine Fountain; light, consolation, and glory. He is the light of men. We have already spoken of Christ as the quickener of mind: we must not forget, however, that the great instrument He employs is truth. Having thus meditated a little on the personal holiness of Simeon, and on his enlarged view of Jesus as the Saviour of the world, let us for a few minutes look on the glory that was shed on his latter end.

I. He was permitted to embrace the Holy Infant. He had been studying the predictions and types of the law; he had been long waiting for the Wonderful One, to whom they pointed; and now he was blessed with His presence. “Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God.” As he took the Incarnate One into his arms, the sunshine of heaven broke upon his soul: as he pressed Him to his heart, ideas, emotions, and beatitudes unutterable at once overwhelmed it like a flood, and before he uttered a word of gratulation to the blessed mother, he turned to God, and breathed his praises there: he blessed God. Oh! there are hours when the heart is too full to speak to any but its God. What a dreadful thing it is to see death before we see Christi See death we all must--we all shall, and that soon; perhaps unexpectedly. But have we seen Christ? Have we embraced Christ? Have we, by faith, seen the Divine grandeur of His person, the transcendent excellence of His character, and the preciousness of His cross, as the medium of pardon and the means of perfection?

II. Simeon was willing--I may say more--he was desirous to die. “Lord,” said the happy man, “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” This is a comprehensive sentence, and admits of a copious interpretation. First, with what calmness he viewed death. To him, it was only the letting him go--the departing from one place for another, and a better. I have seen, he said, all that is worth seeing in this narrow shadowy sphere; I have seen what I was most anxious to see; now let me be loosed, that I may soar to the world of the blessed. Again: he viewed his death as being entirely under the control of God. How soothing and sustaining this idea of death. The time, the place, the circumstances of our departure, are all preordained by our Father’s love.

III. Finally, he viewed the last scene as overspread with peace. “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” The departure of the just is peaceful. He has peace with heaven, with earth, and with his own nature. (Caleb Morris.)

The Song of Simeon

I. Let us notice THE OCCASION of these words. It is an affecting circumstance, that although our Lord came to abolish the whole ceremonial law, He himself submitted to it all. The object of this visit to the Temple was twofold. It was, in the first instance, for Mary’s purification. Wonderfully, brethren, amidst all His mercies to us, does s holy God keep up the remembrance of our sinfulness, and command us also to keep it up. We cannot even show our gratitude, lay a thank-offering upon His altar, without approaching His altar in the character of sinners. A grateful heart and a contrite heart must go together. Another object was accomplished by this visit. To keep up the remembrance of His mercy in sparing the sons of the Israelites when those of the Egyptians were destroyed, it was the command of God, that in all succeeding generations, the first-born of Israel, both of man and beast, should be considered as His property. “Sanctify to Me,” he says, “all the first-born, it is Mine.” The child was to be brought to the Temple as an acknowledgment of God’s right to him, and then, after the appointed sum was paid and certain ceremonies gone through, he became free. And this is the ground on which we rest the honour that we pay to our Christian sacraments. They are no more in themselves than the long abolished ceremonies of the Jewish Temple, but, like those ceremonies, they are of Divine appointment, and, according to the example of our Saviour Christ, we will revere them. We may now place before us the scene connected with the text. We must conceive of Mary, her own purification over, as standing in the Temple with the ministering priests before her and a company of other worshippers around her. And then we must imagine an aged man approaching, gazing for a moment at the heavenly Babe in her arms, then taking it into his, and, with a look upwards, bursting forth in the hearing of them all into this happy song.

II. Let us consider the HAPPINESS HE EXPRESSES IN IT. We feel at once that it is happiness he expresses, not that overflowing of delight and joy which we see in Mary at Elisabeth’ door, but a calm, subdued happiness; the happiness of one who has been long accustomed to strong emotions, and knows how to govern and restrain as well as indulge them. We are not told that Simeon was an old man, but it is probable from the narrative that he was so, and his happiness seems to be the happiness of old age, less lively and exuberant than that of youth, but as heart-felt and deep or deeper, and, like deep waters, quiet and serene. But in what did Simeon’s happiness consist?

1. In praise for a blessing given. “He took Him up in his arms, and”--what? gave utterance at once to the joy that thrilled within him I When some of us have a mercy sent us, we must welcome it, we say; have a little time allowed us to feel that it is ours, to examine it, and delight ourselves in it. Then comes late and slow the thought, that we owe this mercy to a gracious God, and must thank Him for it. But this is because our joy in our mercies is not holy joy. Holy joy is like the joy of heaven--its natural language is praise, and its happiest language is praise. Blessings become sweeter to us when they draw forth our praise. And it is this looking on Christ as a Saviour provided for us by the everlasting Jehovah, that leads the soul to feel so thankful for Him and rejoice so much in Him.

2. A hope realized was another part of Simeon’s happiness at this time. The history represents Simeon to us at first as under the influence of hope.

3. There was yet something more in this man’s happiness--delight in a glorious prospect opened to him. Let God give the real Christian what spiritual blessing he may, he immediately longs for more. The blessing he has received seems to bring into his view other blessings, and to kindle his desires for them. With him, therefore, hope realized is a new impulse given to hope.

III. Let us now endeavour to draw from his happiness SOME USEFUL INSTRUCTION FOR OURSELVES. And in doing so, we must regard ourselves, brethren, as dying men. Simeon speaks here as a dying man. Job, Elijah, Jonah, all cried out, “Let me die,” but they were some of the very worst words these men ever uttered. They were tired of God’s dealings with them, weary of the discipline or the work He had allotted them, and they wanted to get away from them. Bring your desire for death then, just as you would bring any other feeling, to the standard of God’s Word. It tells you that if it is a holy desire, it is the desire, not of a wretched, but of a happy hour. It is the strongest when the soul’s happiness is the greatest. It springs no more from the ills than from the joys of life. It tells you that Simeon’s happiness in the prospect of death was happiness in a Saviour. “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” explains it all. And you must understand this, and fully understand it, before you can participate in Simeon’s peaceful feelings. Sin is the sting of death. It is guilt on the conscience that makes death so terrible to man. And then, brethren, how shall we look on death? Prospects will open before us, feelings will arise within us, so elevating, that we shall care no more for it, than the eagle cares for the fog or the cloud through which it is piercing to get to the sun.

I am going to my Saviour, we shall say, and what matters to me the darkness, or roughness, or loneliness, of the road which leads me to Him? Once with Him, I shall never feel lonely again. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

In entering upon our subject this morning, we shall notice in the first place, the character of Simeon; secondly, his proclamation; thirdly, his desire.

I. THE CHARACTER OF SIMEON. This is set forth in the first verse of our text--“And behold there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” First, as to his justice. The former of these expressions, “and the same man was just,” has reference to his conduct towards men; the latter stating that he was “a devout man,” has direct reference to the feelings of his mind towards his God. Again, there is reference to his faith. “He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” This was a name given to the Messiah by those Jews who expected and most anxiously looked for His approach. Again, there is a reference to his gifts--“The Holy Ghost was upon him.” This is not intended merely to imply that he was a partaker of the influences of the Holy Spirit, which perform morally a renovation of the mind; but that he was also the subject of that sacred revelation which we find spoken of in the twenty-sixth verse--“And it was revealed unto Him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This holy man of God was the partaker of the same mighty agency which characterized the ancient patriarchs, prophets, and seers.

II. But we pass on to notice in the second place, HIS PROCLAMATION. Simeon was under the influences of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in the twenty-sixth verse; and we find it was at the very moment, when the infant Saviour was brought into the Temple to receive according to the custom of the law, that he came also by the Spirit into the Temple. His inspiration now assumed a character of sublimity not to be Bur passed; and he makes dignified proclamation of the incarnation of man’s only salvation; he calls Him “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” We shall consider under this part of our subject--

1. The nature of the work which the Lord Jesus Christ was ordained to accomplish.

2. Again, we notice, that the salvation of man, as a salvation from the guilt and punishment of sin, is a position to be maintained--that this salvation has been accomplished by the atonement of the Cross, is a principle firmly to be upheld--and that the denial of this is unbelief, shutting out all heavenly mercy, and exposing the soul, without any refuge, to a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.

3. We notice again, not only the nature of the work that the Lord Jesus Christ came to accomplish, bat also the extent to which it is to be carried. “Which thou hast prepared before all people.” We pass on from the character of Simeon, and his proclamation, to consider, thirdly, HIS DESIRE. “And He came by the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation; which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” First. He had no other object left to wish to live for on earth. It must have been an interesting sight, for those who were living under the Jewish economy, to see the Messiah in person; and then no doubt many of them, having seen Him who was to be the end of their law for righteousness unto them, wished to see nothing more in the world. Hear the tradesman, when he has made a provision for his family, has set them forward comfortably in life, and has gained all the advantages he could desire from commerce, then he thinks he can die in peace. Hear the philosopher, when he has made grand discoveries in philosophy, and has succeeded in tracing the dependence and fixing the boundaries of what was considered incomprehensible affinities--when he can define unknown properties, and has fully developed the relations of cause and effect, he thinks he has nothing more on earth to accomplish, and he can die in peace. Hear the statesman, when he has brought certain principles of government to work harmoniously together--when by his eloquence and energies he has placed his favourite politicaltenets in a commanding situation, and has effected his long-wished-for purposes, he thinks he has nothing more to do on earth, he now can depart in peace. Hear the warrior, if he can gain the victory over the enemy--if he can entwine around his martial brow the wreath of undying laurel--if he can emblazon his name on the records of fame, and achieve for himself a corruscation of splendour and military renown that will light up his monument in future ages, he thinks he can die in peace. So you may well imagine that Simeon, who had been waiting anxiously for the appearance of the Messiah, whose mind had been goaded, as it were, with many an anxious desire for His manifestation, when he now beheld Him who was the joy and consolation of Israel, should have nothing more to live for below, but should wish to depart in peace. Secondly. It will be seen that now there was the dismissal of all his doubts and fears, and the completion of all his hopes for eternity. There was in Simeon great faith; but now faith was consummated in the possession of the thing hoped for. (J. Parsons.)

Men generally unready to die

He says, Now let me depart; he desires no delay. Many would rather say with the Psalmist, O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence, and be no more seen. Grant me leisure to settle my affairs, to provide for my family, to examine my conscience, and to put myself in a condition to appear before Thee. But Simeon was not like others, who usually want to put off that evil day. If they could have their choice, there would be no period of life in which they would not have some plea to defer the payment of this debt to nature, and say to death, as the evil spirits said to Christ, Why art thou come to torment us before the time? How many of those pleas can the hopes and fears of vain men invent and set forth to the best advantage? Some would remonstrate that they are young, and that it is a sad thing to be taken off in the flower of their age; others, that they have children, and could wish to see them settled, and in a fair way of prospering; others, that they are engaged in undertakings useful to themselves and their families; others, that they hope to do considerable service to religion or to civil society, to the Church or to the State. Simeon is moved by none of these considerations: he desires not a respite and a reprieve to a distant day, not even to the morrow. Now, says he, let Thy servant receive his dismission. (J. Jortin.)

James Hervey

James Hervey, the English divine, died on Christmas, 1758. Having thanked his physician for his kind attentions, he exclaimed, with holy exultation, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!” He added, “Here, doctor, is my cordial. What are all the cordials given to support the dying in comparison with this hope in Christ Jesus?” So saying he closed his eves, and sang his Christmas carol in paradise. We shall bless God’s holy name as we make our Christmas communion to-day, for all His servants who have departed this life in His faith and fear. May He give us grace to follow the good examples thus set before us!

Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

God’s salvation

I. God’s salvation, as the object of view of which Simeon speaks--“Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” What is it? God’s salvation. Then it must be worthy of Himself. Is it God’s salvation? Then it is adapted to man’s ruin. Is it God’s salvation? Then it secures a whole revenue of praise and glory to His great name. Is it God’s salvation? Then man has no band in it. Is it God’s salvation? Then it is like the altar which God commanded Moses to build--“If thou lift up a tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” Is it God’s salvation? Then it originates with Him; it is accomplished by Him; it is imparted by Him; it redounds to His own glory; in the experience and eternal blessedness of those whom He saves.

II. Let us pass on, in the second place, to notice the nature of the sight. “Mine eyes have seen” it. There are men now in the professing Church who see clearly with the mental vision, but without faith. I was once told by an avowed infidel, who had read the Bible a great deal, but whose eyes the god of this world had blinded, “Well, sir, I am brought to the full conviction, that if the Bible be true, your view of it is the right one.” Now, he “saw” it. I merely name this to show you that there is such a thing as seeing it without its being a saving sight. I wish my hearers to come to an investigation of this. When Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen,” it was not a desultory, nominal statement of things, as if his eyes had seen a babe only. He saw beyond that. You may have seen some volumes of theology very clearly written, and setting forth the salvation of Christ Jesus with scriptural accuracy; you may say that its arguments are quite irresistible, and be brought to see that they are so; but that is quite a different thing from the sight intended in my text--“Mine eyes have seen.” This is the view which faith takes of Christ. And the view that faith takes of Christ implies that faith exists. Moreover, faith views in the official character and work of Christ the relationship that renders the Head and the members one. Moreover, while faith views this precious, glorious Christ in the dignity of His Godhead, in the perfection of His manhood, and in His official character, it goes on to gaze, saying, “Since mine eyes have seen--I may see much more,” and examines minutely into the mystery of godliness. Again, it is not only the view which faith thus takes, but this view is by attraction. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” And whenever faith is indulged with a vision of Christ so as to behold in Him all that the poor sinner needs for time and eternity, there is a drawing, a mighty attraction, a desire to come closer to Him, just as in nature, when we are attracted by an object at a distance which appears very beautiful, but scarcely discernible, we desire to approach nearer, and the more clearly we see the object, and the more beautiful it appears, the more vigilantly we draw near to have clearer and clearer views of it. Pass on to mark that the teachings of the Holy Ghost are essential to this. Hence our beloved Lord said, “The Spirit of truth shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you;” and “He shall testify of Me.”

III. The effects which follow. I am sure that every poor sinner who gets a glimpse of Christ will wonder; wonder at the provision and gift of such a Saviour; wonder at the very name He bears; for His name is “Wonderful.” Mark also, that when this sight of Christ is realized, objects terrene are thrown quite into the shade, trampled upon and entirely lost sight of. One thought more, and I will draw to a close. When all objects beside are thrown into the shade, and everything terrene is lost sight of for the time being; when faith has full scope, it seems as if they were all for awhile removed, and our heavenly felicity begun upon earth. (J. Irons.)

“Thy salvation”

As soon as a truly-awakened soul sees Jesus, though it be but the beginnings of Him, it recognizes Him; it recognizes the hem of His garment, and the print of His feet. Though the Lord be seen only as an Infant, and the heart’s idea of Him is very incomplete, yet He is perceived to be the Incomparable One, and the soul cries out, “He is all my salvation and all my desire.”

I. We learn from Simeon that CHRIST IS SALVATION. Not only a Saviour, but Salvation itself. And the only Salvation. And God’s Salvation. You have salvation in every aspect of it, and every form of it, as soon as you have obtained Christ. You must trust Him in everything and for everything.

II. CHRIST IS TO BE TAKEN UP INTO OUR ARMS AND TO BE LOOKED AT.

1. A grasp of faith.

2. A grasp of love.

III. WHEN CHRIST IS TAKEN UP INTO THE ARMS AND LOOKED UPON HE HAS A WONDERFUL EFFECT.

1. Waiting is ended.

2. Simeon was excited to praise the Lord.

3. Now that he had seen the Lord’s Christ, he desired to close his eyes upon all else. I have heard of stone who have looked on the sun unadvisedly, till they could not see anything else; but his I know, that he who looks on Christ becomes blind to all rival attractions. If these eyes have once seen the salvation of God, it looks like sacrilege to set them upon the base things of time and sense. Let the gate be closed through which Jesus has entered; it seems profane to allow a single object belonging to this traitorous world to enter our mind by eye-gate any more. Having eaten the white bread of heaven, we want no more of the husks of earth; having bad a glimpse of the Incarnate God, what is there more to see?

4. He was now prepared to look on death.

5. Ready to behold the glory of God. We must first look at Christ, and when our eyes have been brightened and strengthened by the mild splendours of Incarnate Deity, they will be fitted to behold the King Himself as He sits upon the throne. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 32

Luke 2:32

A light to lighten the Gentiles

The light of the Gentiles

I.
EXPLAIN THE IMPORT OF THE TEXT.

1. The character of Jesus is exhibited under the image of light--the most glorious of all the creatures of God.

2. The subjects of His influences--“The Gentiles”--i.e., all nations that have not yet heard the tidings of the gospel in Him.

3. The result of the manifestation of Christ to the world will be universal illumination. He rises upon the nations to “lighten” them.

II. APPLY ITS TESTIMONY TO MISSIONARY EXERTIONS.

1. Examine the principles on which they are founded.

2. The considerations by which we are encouraged.

Christ the light of all nations

He gives the light of truth, of spiritual sight, of knowledge, of holiness, of joy, of heaven. The natives of arctic regions put on their holiday attire, and enthusiastically welcome the returning sun, when after months of absence, he again revisits them with his rays. How much more should we rejoice in the light of “the Sun of Righteousness?” There was a light once on or near the Goodwin Sands, called “The light of all nations,” because it was supposed that some of all nations would see it. The “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” will one day “cover the earth.” When Christ gives us light, we must reflect it (see Matthew 5:14-16). The lighthouse, when its lights burn truly, will warn the mariner against danger, and enable him to pursue the right and safe way. So we may each guide some from the darkness and danger of sin, to the light and safety of God’s mercy in Christ. (Henry R. Burton.)

Light an emblem of Christ

There is no figure more common nor more beautiful in the Scriptures, than that by which Christ is compared to “light.” Incomprehensible in its nature, itself first visible, and that by which all else is so; “light” represents to us Christ, whose generation none can declare, but who must shine on us ere we can know aught aright whether of things Divine or human. Pure, uncontaminated, though visiting the lowest parts of the earth, and penetrating the most noisome recesses; what is “light” an image of, if not of that Divine Mediator, who contracted no stain, though born of a woman, in the likeness of sinful flesh? Instrumental in all the processes of vegetation, so that, without its vivifying power, the earth could not yield its kindly fruits, nor expose its verdant hues, what is “light” but the emblem of that source of illumination, of whom the Evangelist declares that “He was the Light and Life of men”? And without searching too narrowly into the particular sources by which this resemblance might be proved, we may say that Christ is to the material world what the sun is to the natural; and wherever the gospel has been published and received as a communication from God, the darkness has fled, as night flies before the day; and we know, that wherever the revelation made through Christ has been dispersed, wherever it has vouchsafed its cheering rays, the clouds of ignorance, and superstition, and irreligion have vanished, and holiness purity, and morality have illumined the horizon. It has done more. It has hung the very grave with bright lamps, and re-kindled the blazings of an almost quenched immortality. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

And the glory of Thy people Israel--

Christ the glory of His people

We shall now employ the natural Israel as a type of the Lord’s elect ones, and surely there is no straining of the text, when we say that Jesus Christ is the glory of the spiritual seed, the redeemed people. And why, with evident propriety, may the saints of God be compared to Israel?

1. Surely because God has made a covenant with them as He did with Jacob.

2. We may be compared with Israel, again, because if we be the children of God we have learned to wrestle with the angel and prevail.

3. It may be that you have another likeness to Israel in the fact that you are much tried. Faith must be tried. God had one Son without sin, but He never had a Son without the rod.

4. The true Israel, which are spiritually the Church of Christ, are said, according to the text, to be the Lord’s people.

I. When we say that Christ is our glory, we mean that WE GET ALL THE GLORY WE HAVE THROUGH HIM. Some men go to the schools for glory, others to the camps of war. In all kinds of places men have sought after honour, but the believer saith that Christ is the mine in which he digs for this gold, Christ is the sea in which he fishes for this pearl; he gives up all other searchings and looks for glory in Jesus, and nowhere else.

1. The glory of election.

2. The glory of redemption.

3. The glory of adoption.

4. The glory of justification.

5. The glory of sanctification.

Thus I might continue showing you that there is not a single treasure which a Christian possesses which does not come to him through Christ. He has nothing in which he can glory but what he is sweetly compelled to say of it, “I gained this in the market of Calvary; I found this in the mines of a Saviour’s suffering; all this came to me through my bleeding, buried, risen, coming Lord, and He shall have the glory of it as long as I live.”

II. WE SEE A GLORY IN CHRIST which swallows up all other glories, as the sun’s light conceals the light of the stars.

1. In Christ’s person.

2. In Christ’s sufferings.

3. In Christ’s resurrection.

4. In Christ’s ascension.

5. In Christ’s intercession.

6. In Christ’s second advent.

III. The text is true in the sense that WE GIVE GLORY TO HIM. There is life in a look at the Crucified One. There is life in simple confidence in Him, but there is life nowhere else. God send to His Church an undying passion to promote the Saviour’s glory, an invincible, unconquerable pang of desire, and longing that by any means King Jesus may have His own, and may reign throughout these realms! In this sense, then, Jesus is and must be the glory of His people.

IV. But there is another sense--namely, FROM JESUS IS REFLECTED ALL THE GLORY WHICH IS PUT UPON HIS PEOPLE. Whatever glory they have, and they have much in the eyes of angels, and much honour in the eyes of discerning men, it is always the reflection of the Saviour’s glory. I know some holy men and women for whom I cannot but feel the deepest and intensest respect, but the reason is because they have so much of my Master about them. I think I would travel many miles to talk with some of them, because their speech is always so full of Him, and they live so near to Him.

V. The text may be read in this sense: Christ is the glory of His people, that is to say, THEY EXPECT GLORY WHEN HE COMES. Our glory is laid up. When you follow Jesus in resurrection, what glory! But we must not begin to speak of that, for we should never leave off at all if we began to talk about that glory--the glory of perfection, the glory of being delivered from sin, the glory of conquest, having trodden Satan under our feet; the glory of eternal rest, the glory of infinite security, the glory of being like Christ, the glory of being in the light and brightness of God, standing, like Milton’s angel, in the very sun itself. If you want to know what heaven is, you can spell it in five letters, and when you put the five letters together they sound like this: Jesus. That is heaven. It is all the heaven the angels round the throne desire to know. They want nothing better than this, to see His face, to behold His glory, and to dwell in it world with out end.

VI. THE PRACTICAL DRIFT OF THE SUBJECT.

1. We would give a word of warning to those of you who seek your glory anywhere else, because as surely aa you do so, even if you meet with honour for a time, you will have to lose it. It is always ill to put your treasure where it will be stolen from yon. Now, suppose you seek your glory in your learning. Well, well, well! Let the sexton take up your skull after you have been dead a little while, and what learning will there be in it, what show of wisdom will be found in it when it is resolved into a little impalpable brown powder? What will your science, and your mathematics, and your classics do for you in death and judgment? Suppose you seek your glory in fame, and become the favourite of the nation as a great soldier. When the grave-digger rattles your old bones about, what will that signify? You will have great fame, you say, and men will talk about you.

But he who hath his glory in Christ, when he openeth his eyes in the next world will see Christ, and so behold his glory safe, and firmly entailed upon him.

2. Another word, and that is a word of rebuke. There are some preachers we know of, and I suppose there will always be some of the genus, who preach, preach, preach, but they never preach what is Israel’s glory. They talk of anything but Christ.

3. There are some of you to whom I have a last word to say, and that is, some of you love Jesus Christ, but you are ashamed to say so. Now, since He is the glory of His people Israel, I shall be afraid of you and for you if you do not make Him your glory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ the glory of Israel

Christ was the glory of Israel.

1. Because He was a Jew by birth.

2. Because His history has vindicated all that was peculiar in the Jewish polity.

3. Because He confined His personal ministry to the Jews.

4. Because He has stamped the impress of Jewish thought on the mind of man.

5. Because He has invested the condition and prospects of the Jews with universal interest. (G. Brooks.)

The glory of Israel

There was salvation in this sight: there was light in it; and there was glory in it also. He will be--said Simeon--“the glory of Thy people Israel.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking of this same Saviour, when he said “They shall hang on Him all the glory of His Father’s house” Isaiah 22:24). The chief glory that a nation has is made up of the wise, and good, and great, and useful men who have belonged to it. We speak of Washington as the glory of America. We feel it an honour to belong to the nation which could claim Washington as one of its people. In Holland they call William, Prince of Orange, the glory of their nation. England, our grand old mother country, has had so many wise, and good, and great men, that it is hard to tell which to speak of as the best and greatest. They all help to make up the glory of the people of England. And any one who was born in England may feel it an honour to belong to a country which has produced so many good and great men. And in the same way it is the glory of the Jewish nation, or of Israel, as a people, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, belonged to their nation. Jesus was a Jew. And the Jewish people may well feel it an honour to belong to the nation among whom He was born. It is true in this sense that He is “the glory of His people Israel.” (Dr. Newton.)


Verse 34-35

Luke 2:34-35

Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many

Simeon’s prediction

This prediction has a very gloomy aspect, and speaks with a tone of sad foreboding in strange contrast to the riant tone of the song of thanksgiving which immediately precedes it.
But was it too gloomy for the facts? Was not every jot and tittle of it fulfilled within three and thirty years of its utterance? Is it not still finding a wide and large fulfilment?

1. When the word of Christ comes home to you, whether it come to quicken you to a new life, or to convince you of some truth which you had not recognized before, or had not reduced to practice, do not be amazed and discouraged if you stumble at it, if it awaken doubt and contradiction in your hearts, if you find it hard to believe, and still harder to live by. It is no strange thing which is happening to you, but the common and normal experience of all who believe in Him. The advent of Christ in the heart, His coming in power, must resemble His advent into the world, must create a strife between the good and the evil in your nature, must disclose so much that is evil in you as to make you fear goodness to be beyond your reach. How, but by the conviction of sin, can you be made penitent, and driven to lay hold on the salvation which takes away sin? And the oftener Christ comes, the nearer He draws to you, the more fully He enters into your life--the deeper will be your conviction of sin, of a tainted and imperfectnature; till, at times, you will fear as if a sword had been thrust it.to your very soul. This, indeed, is what He comes to you for; to separate between the evil and the good, to make you conscious of evils you did not suspect, so conscious that you hate and long to be delivered from them.

2. But this is not the only comfort or encouragement which the prediction of Simeon suggests. If he had not foreseen the nearer and immediate results of Christ’s advent, we might have distrusted him when he spake of its distant and ultimate results. If he had not told us of the conflict and sorrow, the self-exposure and self-contempt to which a faithful reception of Christ subjects us, we could hardly have believed him when he speaks of Christ as the Consolation for all sorrow, and the Light which is to glorify the whole dark world. But when we find all that he said of the nearer results of Christ’s coming to be true, we can hardly help believing him when he speaks to us of its happy ultimate results. Simeon has approved himself a faithful witness; we have found in our own experience that Christ is a Rock of stumbling and offence, a Signal which calls out all the opposition of an imperfect nature, a Sword which pierces the very soul and divides the evil in us from the good, a Touchstone which reveals our most secret thoughts and bents; let us also believe that He will be our Consolation, our Light, our Glory.

3. We may well believe it. Per augusta ad augusta, through a narrow way to a large place, through much struggle with many difficulties to a glorious end, through conflict to victory, seems the very motto of the Christian life. And this thought also is contained in Simeon’s prediction, which is so framed as to imply that it was by a Divine intention, and in order to realize a gracious Divine end, that Christ was to bring strife on