Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
22. And after that the days of their 187 purification were fulfilled according to the law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem, that they might present him to the Lord, 23. As it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: 24. And that they might offer a sacrifice, according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. 25. And, lo, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and that man was just and devout, 188 waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26. And he had received a revelation 189 from the Holy Spirit, that he would not see death before he saw the Lord's Christ. 27. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. 190 And when the parents brought the young child Jesus, that they might do according to the custom of the Law for him, 28. He also took him into his arms: and blessed God, and said, 29. Thou now sendest thy servant away, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace, 30. For my eyes have seen thy salvation, 31. Which thou hast prepared before the face of all nations: 32. A light for the enlightening of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
22. And after that the days were fulfilled On the fortieth day after the birth, (Lev. 12:2, 4,) the rite of purification was necessary to be performed. But Mary and Joseph come to Jerusalem for another reason, to present Christ to the Lord, because he was the first-born. Let us now speak first of the purification. Luke makes it apply both to Mary and to Christ: for the pronoun αὐτῶν, of them, can have no reference whatever to Joseph. But it ought not to appear strange, that Christ, who was to be, made a curse for us on the cross,” (Ga 3:13,) should, for our benefit, take upon him our uncleanness with respect to legal guilt, though he was “without blemish and without spot,” (1Pe 1:19.) It ought not, I say, to appear strange, if the fountain of purity, in order to wash away our stains, chose to be reckoned unclean. 191 It is a mistake to imagine that this law of purification was merely political, and that the woman was unclean in presence of her husband, not in presence of God. On the contrary, it placed before the eyes of the Jews both the corruption of their nature, and the remedy of divine grace.
This law is of itself abundantly sufficient to prove original sin, while it contains a striking proof of the grace of God; for there could not be a clearer demonstration of the curse pronounced on mankind than when the Lord declared, that the child comes from its mother unclean and polluted, and that the mother herself is consequently defiled by childbearing. Certainly, if man were not born a sinner, if he were not by nature a child of wrath, (Eph 2:3,) if some taint of sin did not dwell in him, he would have no need of purification. Hence it follows, that all are corrupted in Adam; for the mouth of the Lord charges all with pollution.
It is in perfect consistency with this, that the Jews are spoken of, in other passages, as “holy branches of a holy root,” (Ro 11:16:) for this benefit did not properly belong to their own persons. They had been set apart, by the privilege of adoption, as an elect people; but the corruption, which they had by inheritance from Adam, was first in the order of time 192 We must, therefore, distinguish between the first nature, and that special kindness through a covenant, by which God delivers his own people from the curse which had been pronounced on all. And the design of legal purification was to inform the Jews, that the pollutions, which they brought with them into the world at their birth, are washed away by the grace of God.
Hence too we ought to learn, how dreadful is the contagion of sin, which defiles, in some measure, the lawful order of nature. I do own that child-bearing is not unclean, and that what would otherwise be lust changes its character, through the sacredness of the marriage relation. But still the fountain of sin is so deep and abundant, that its constant overflowings stain what would otherwise be pure.
23. As it is written in the Law This was another exercise of piety which was discharged by Joseph and Mary. The Lord commanded, that all the males should be dedicated to him, in remembrance of their deliverance; because when the angel slew all the first-born of Egypt, (Ex 12:29,) he had spared the first-born of Israel.
“On the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I hallowed unto me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be:
I am the Lord” (Nu 3:13.)
They were afterwards permitted to redeem their first-born at a certain price. Such was the ancient ceremony: and, as the Lord is the common Redeemer of all, 193 he has a right to claim us as his own, from the least to the greatest. Nor is it without a good reason, that Luke so frequently repeats the statement, that Joseph and Mary did what was written in the law of the Lord For these words teach us, that we must not, at our own suggestion, attempt any thing in the worship of God, but must obediently follow what he requires in his Word.
24. And that they might offer a sacrifice This sacrifice belonged to the ceremony of purification; lest any one should suppose that it was offered for the sake of redeeming the first-born. When the Evangelist mentions a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, he takes for granted that his readers will understand, that Joseph and Mary were in such deep poverty, as not to have it in their power to offer a lamb. For this exception is expressly mentioned:
“If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall
bring two turtles, or two young pigeons,” (Le 12:8.)
Is it objected, that the Magi had very recently supplied them with a sufficiency of gold to make the purchase? I reply: We must not imagine that they had such abundance of gold as to raise them suddenly from poverty to wealth. We do not read, that their camels were laden with gold. It is more probable that it was some small present, which they had brought solely as a mark of respect. The law did not rigorously enjoin, that the poor should spend their substance on a sacrifice, but drew a line of distinction between them and the rich, as to the kind of sacrifices, and thus relieved them from burdensome expense. There would be no impropriety in saying, that Joseph and Mary gave as much as their circumstances allowed, though they reserved a little money to defray the expenses of their journey and of their household.
25. And, lo, there was a man in Jerusalem The design of this narrative is to inform us that, though nearly the whole nation was profane and irreligious, and despised God, yet that a few worshippers of God remained, and that Christ was known to such persons from his earliest infancy. These were “the remnant” of whom Paul says, that they were preserved “according to the election of grace,” (Ro 11:5.) Within this small band lay the Church of God; though the priests and scribes, with as much pride as falsehood, claimed for themselves the title of the Church. The Evangelist mentions no more than two, who recognised Christ at Jerusalem, when he was brought into the temple. These were Simeon and Anna. We must speak first of Simeon.
As to his condition in life we are not informed: he may have been a person of humble rank and of no reputation. Luke bestows on him the commendation of being just and devout; and adds, that he had the gift of prophecy: for the Holy Spirit was upon him. Devotion and Righteousness related to the two tables of the law, and are the two parts of which an upright life consists. It was a proof of his being a devout man, that he waited for the consolation of Israel: for no true worship of God can exist without the hope of salvation, which depends on the faith of his promises, and particularly on the restoration promised through Christ. Now, since an expectation of this sort is commended in Simeon as an uncommon attainment, we may conclude, that there were few in that age, who actually cherished in their hearts the hope of redemption. All had on their lips the name of the Messiah, and of prosperity under the reign of David: but hardly any one was to be found, who patiently endured present afflictions, relying on the consolatory assurance, that the redemption of the Church was at hand. As the eminence of Simeon’s piety was manifested by its supporting his mind in the hope of the promised salvation, so those who wish to prove themselves the children of God, will breathe out unceasing prayers for the promised redemption. For we, “have need of patience” (Heb 10:36) till the last coming of Christ.
And the Holy Spirit was upon him The Evangelist does not speak of “the Spirit of adoptions” (Ro 8:15,) which is common to all the children of God, though not in an equal degree, but of the peculiar gift of prophecy. This appears more clearly from the next verse and the following one, in which it is said, that he received a revelation 194 from the Holy Spirit, and that, by the guidance of the same Spirit, he came into the temple Though Simeon had no distinction of public office, he was adorned with eminent gifts, — with piety, with a blameless life, with faith and prophecy. Nor can it be doubted, that this divine intimation, which he received in his individual and private capacity, was intended generally for the confirmation of all the godly. Jesus is called the Lord’s Christ, because he was anointed 195 by the Father, and, at the same time that he received the Spirit, received also the title, of King and Priest. Simeon is said to have come into the temple by the Spirit; that is, by a secret movement and undoubted revelation, that he might meet Christ. 196
29. Thou now sendest thy servant away From this song it is sufficiently evident, that Simeon looked at the Son of God with different eyes from the eyes of flesh. For the outward beholding of Christ could have produced no feeling but contempt, or, at least, would never have imparted such satisfaction to the mind of the holy man, as to make him joyful and desirous to die, from having reached the summit of his wishes. The Spirit of God enlightened his eyes by faith, to perceive, under a mean and poor dress, the glory of the Son of God. He says, that he would be sent away in peace; which means, that he would die with composure of mind, having obtained all that he desired.
But here a question arises. If he chose rather to depart from life, was it amidst distress of mind and murmuring, as is usually the case with those who die unwillingly, that Simeon was hurried away? I answer: we must attend to the circumstance which is added, according to thy word God had promised that Simeon would behold his Son. He had good reason for continuing in a state of suspense, and must have lived in some anxiety, till he obtained his expectation. This ought to be carefully observed; for there are many who falsely and improperly plead the example of Simeon, and boast that they would willingly die, if this or the other thing were previously granted to them; while they allow themselves to entertain rash wishes at their own pleasure, or to form vain expectations without the authority of the Word of God. If Simeon had said exactly, “Now I shall die with a composed and easy mind, because I have seen the Son of God,” this expression would have indicated the weakness of his faith; but, as he had the word, he might have refused to die until the coming of Christ.
30. For my eyes have seen This mode of expression is very common in Scripture; but Simeon appears to denote expressly the bodily appearance of Christ, as if he had said, that he now has the Son of God present in the flesh, on whom the eyes of his mind had been previously fixed. By saving 197 I understand the matter of salvation: for in Christ are hid all the parts of salvation and of a happy life. Now if the sight of Christ, while he was yet a child, had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure; how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms: but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do “we all,” as Paul says, “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” — not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honor, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.
31. Which thou hast prepared By these words Simeon intimates, that Christ had been divinely appointed, that all nations might enjoy his grace; and that he would shortly afterwards be placed in an elevated situation, and would draw upon him the eyes of all. Under this term he includes all the predictions which relate: to the spread of Christ’s kingdom. But if Simeon, when holding a little child in his arms, could stretch his mind to the utmost boundaries of the world, and acknowledge the power of Christ to be everywhere present, how much more magnificent ought our conceptions regarding him to be now that he has been set up as a, “standard to the people,” (Isa 49:22,) and has revealed himself to the whole world.
32. A light for the revelation of the Gentiles Simeon now points out the purpose for which Christ was to be exhibited by the Father before all nations. It was that he might enlighten the Gentiles, who had been formerly in darkness, and might be the glory of his people Israel There is propriety in the distinction here made between the people Israel and the Gentiles: for by the right of adoption the children of Abraham “were nigh” (Eph 2:17) to God, while the Gentiles, with whom God had made no “covenants of promise,” were “strangers” to the Church, (Eph 2:12.) For this reason, Israel is called, in other passages, not only the son of God, but his first-born, (Jer 31:9;) and Paul informs us, that “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Ro 15:8.) The preference given to Israel above the Gentiles is, that all without distinction may obtain salvation in Christ.
A light for revelation 198 means for enlightening the Gentiles Hence we infer, that men are by nature destitute of light, till Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Mal 4:2,) shine upon them. With regard to Israel, though God had bestowed upon him distinguished honor, yet all his glory rests on this single article, that a Redeemer had been promised to him.
“Les jours de la purification d'iceux, ou, d'icelle, assavoir de Marie,”(Le 12:6.)—”The days of the purification of them, or, of her, namely of Mary,” (Le 12:6.)
“Craignant Dieu;” — “fearing God.”
“Lequel avoit este adverti divinement par le Sainct Esprit;” — “who had been divinely warned by the Holy Spirit”
“Icelui estant meu par le Sainct Esprit, vint au Temple.” — “He, being moved by the Holy Ghost, came to the Temple.”
“Si celuy qui est la fontaine de toute purete, a voulu estre tenu pour immonde et souille, afin de laver toutes nos ordures.” — “If he, who is the fountain of all purity, determined to be reckoned unclean and defiled in order to wash away our pollutions.”
“La corruption hereditaire procedante d'Adam precedoit un tel bien, et estoit plus ancienne.” — “The hereditary corruption proceeding from Adam preceded such a benefit, and was more ancient.”
“Veu que le Seigneur est Redempteur de tout le monde en general;” — “since the Lord is Redeemer of all the world at large.”
“Responsum;” — “revelation.”
It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader, that the simple meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah, and of the Greek word Christ, is Anointed; and that the Lord's Christ means the Lord's Anointed,—a designation which, as has been already remarked, (p. 92, note 2,) was familiarly applied to David and his successors on the throne for many generations, (2Sa 19:21; La 4:20,) but was afterwards restricted to “David’s son,” and “David’s Lord,” (Mt 22:45,) whom Daniel emphatically calls the Messiah, the Anointed, (Dan. 9:25, 26.) — Ed.
“C'est a dire, par un mouvement secret et certaine revelation du Sainct Esprit, afin de s'y rencontrer a l'heure que Christ y estoit.” — “That is to say, by a secret movement and certain revelation of the Spirit, in order that he might arrive at the hour when Christ was there.”
“La ou nous avons rendu Ton salut, qui voudroit suivre le mot Grec de pres, il faudroit dire, Ton Salutaire.” — “Where we have translated Thy Salvation, were we to follow closely the Greek word, we must say, Thy Saving.”—It is evident that Calvin viewed σωτήριον, not with most of our lexicographers, as a noun of the same import with σωτηρία, salvation, but as the neuter of the adjective σωτήριος, which occurs in a memorable phrase, ἡ χάρις τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ σωτήριος, (Titus 2:11,) rendered in the English version, the grace of God that bringeth salvation. — Ed.
“Lumen ad revelationem.” — “La ou nous avons traduit, Pour l'esclaircissement, le mot Grec signifie quelque fois Revelation: mais Simeon vent dire ici, Pour esclairer ou illuminer les Gentils.” — “Where we have translated, For the enlightening, the Greek word (ἀποχάλυψις) sometimes signifies Revelation: but Simeon means here, To enlighten or illuminate the Gentiles.”