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 when." That "when" was at this day. "When the days of" the blessed Virgin's "purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished," forty days after Christ's nativity, this day, just then, "they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord." Then blessed Mary and Joseph "brought," then devout Simeon and Anna "blessed;" and if we be either Marys or Annas, Josephs or Simeons, holy men or devout women, we too will this day bless God for the blessing of the day.
For this day of his presentation, as well as those others of his birth, circumcision and manifestation--Candlemas-day as well as Christmas-day, New Year's day, or Epiphany, is a day of blessing; a day of God's blessing us, and our blessing of him again; of Christ's being presented for us, and our presenting to him again; of his presenting in the temple, and our presenting ourselves in the church, to bless God and him for his presentation, his presentation-day and our Candlemas, our little candles, our petty lights, our souls reflecting back to this great Light, that was this day presented in the temple and then darted down upon us.
The shepherds blessed God in the morn of his nativity; the wise men upon Epiphany; Simeon and Anna, today. All [340/341] conditions before, all sexes today; ignorant shepherds and learned clerks, poor countrymen and great princes, no condition out before, and both sexes in today. Sinners both of Jew and Gentile, men that most stood in need of a Saviour, before; just and righteous souls today; that we might know there is none so good but stands in need of him one day or other--that will want a Saviour, if not at Christmas, yet at Candlemas; if not among sinners, yet among the righteous, either first or last. Mary the blessed, Joseph the just, Simeon the devout, Anna the religious, all in today, as at the end of Christmas; like the chorus to the angel's choir, to bear a part in the angels' anthem, to make up a full choir of voices to glorify God for this great present, which brings peace to the earth, and good-will among men.
And this day first is it given into our arms. In all the former festivals he is either in his mother's lap, or in his cradle, or to be sure not out of doors; there only, or within only, is he to be seen. This day first he comes abroad to be handled by us. Before, indeed, he might be thought to concern us somewhat; now first are we made sensible of it, when we may take him into our own arms and kiss him, in the prophet David's expression, "kiss" this Son of the Most High, as he lies in our arms.
He "was made man" at his birth, "made under the law" at his circumcision, made manifest to the Gentiles at his Epiphany; but all this while at a kind of distance from us. This is the day of a nearer application to us, when he is, (1) first, made a present and offering for us; for us, who were none of is, I am sure, in any case to be presented for ourselves: not pure, not clean, not whole, not holy enough, any of us, to be presented before God, till he was first presented to make us accepted. When he is (2) made a present and offering to us; presented and offered to us, to be taken, embraced, and offered up again by us, to make all our offerings and ourselves accepted in this Beloved.
For this it is, in the sum, that we are this day to bless God--as I hope we have done on other days for the other--that this Beloved of his would thus still, again and again, more and more, undergo the condition of men; make himself (1) of no [341/342] more account than an ordinary man, be valued and redeemed at the ordinary rate of the poorest child, as this day he was. That (2) he would let his mother, too, be reckoned in the rank of the meanest women, that were not able to offer a pair of turtles or young pigeons, and go for one that had need of purification as well as other women--as if she were no better than the rest--after this great childbirth, though without the least spot or impurity, in the whole business both of conception and childbirth; in a word, that he would thus condescend, and descend too, into our very arms, to be offered for us and offered by us.
There are four remarkable passages of the day. 1. The blessed Virgin's purification. 2. Our blessed Saviour's presentation. 3. Good Simeon's exultation. And, 4. Religious Anna's gratulation. There are but two of them in the text, Christ's presentation and Simeon's exultation: the other two are not now within our compass; some other time they may. These two will at this time be enough; especially being not only to consider what was done then, but what must be still--not only what by others, but also what by us; our own duty, as well as Christ's parents' and Simeon's performances; what they did for him then "after the custom of the law," what we for him now, after the law is out of custom and fashion, after the fashion and custom of the Gospel. For does blessing, or blessedness, belong only to the law? do they not more to the Gospel? Certainly much more. Simeon only was the precentor--began the song which is to continue to the end of the world. And though Simeon be departed, according to his wish, yet has the Church throughout it taken up the hymn, and sings it every evening, as a perpetual memorial of this day's benediction. So our blessing to continue, as well as God's; ours to him, as well as his to us: and his is such that it will never fail, but extend the virtue of this day's great present unto all generations.
I have already divided you the text, whilst I told you two of the great remarkables of the day were in it--Christ's presentation, and Simeon's gratulation; Christ's presentation to God, and his acceptation by man; Christ presented in the temple according to the law, Christ received into the arms according unto faith.
[342/343] The first of these in the 27th verse, which runs thus:--"And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law." There is the presentation.
The second of the points is in the 28th verse:--"Then took he him up into his arms, and blessed God." There is his reception, or Simeon's acceptation of him, or gratulation and exultation over him.
Of each of these, first in reference to them, then afterward to ourselves: first to inform you what was done, then to teach you what to do. I begin with what was done; and first with Christ's presentation: where we are to pass through these particulars: the presenters, the presented, the time, the place, the manner of presenting this great present.
The presenters were "the parents;" the presented was "the child Jesus;" the time was "when the days of her purification were accomplished;" the place, "the temple;" and the manner, according to "the custom of the law:" all according to order; and that also keep we now.
The presenters first in that--first in order, and first in fitness too. Who fitter to present the Child than its own parents? Jus liberorum, the power over the child, is properly theirs. Nature makes it so: they give it being; and therefore, surely, have most right to it when it is in being, and whilst it is so; till God, by a second law, either take it to himself, or disposes it to another, for which it naturally almost leaves its parents to increase itself.
Upon the first title, of God's claim to it, they here bring it to him; but so they receive it back again with greater comfort. We lose nothing that we give to God; we do but bring it to him only for a blessing to it, and depart with both. The parents never can be surer of the child, than when they first give it unto God. Fathers and mothers may learn by these good folks thus to sanctify, as it were, their children from the breast.
Both parents agree here; nor the tenderness of the one, nor the austerity of the other, think much of God's demands, though it seem to entrench much upon their right, their very natural right. Nature itself must veil and submit where God pleads interest; even that eternal and inviolable law of [343/344] preserving ourselves and ours, is circumcised within the limits of God's prerogative; and we must do neither but with submission to his pleasure to dispose of us and ours.
Yet "parents" here, under the notion of goneij, seems very strange, Joseph having no part in his geniture; yet so the law sometimes calls both the stepfather and stepmother. No wonder then to hear Joseph so entitled, who in the eyes of the world, and term of law, (that reaches not extraordinaries, nor provided words for miraculous conceptions), was counted father in the very proper acception. Only this to be said: common fame may be deceived, and names affixed where not severed; and titles often to be accepted too, rather than venture a harsh and untimely censure upon ourselves, or them that are very near us, by the discovery of an unseasonable truth.
Truth it was that Joseph was not his father: that both Joseph himself and the Evangelist well knew. Yet would the one speak after the vulgar language, rather than cross received terms at the first in the recital of a story which might lose its credit by so early a discovery of a mysterious truth, but might with little offence be corrected in the progress: nor would the other proclaim himself no father, lest that most pure and immaculate Virgin should run the hazard of lewd tongues, and the great wonders of the Most High be blasphemed, and his Son dishonoured with a name which these late sons of hell only durst belch out.
Call we them both then still, if we think good, the "parents" of this "child:" however a foster-father Joseph was, and by that relation had a title to this presentation; and we by it another lesson to take care of those we undertake for, as for our own, to present and offer them also to God, to consecrate them also betimes to God's service. Seasonable words hence (1) remember we ever to observe. (2) Not upon every hint to cross the road of speech. (3) To conceal awhile unseasonable truths. (4) To take care of the fame and honour of others. (5) To perform our duties with all tenderness to our charges, and, however, dedicate them to the disposal of the Almighty.
Thus much we may learn by the presenters and their title; and our unhappy times make us the readier to make [344/345] another note, to take notice of this happy juncture, where both parents agree about the child, both bring him. Our divisions are so increased upon us, that those whom God has nearest joined are so wide separated in this business, that the unfortunate child is kept from being presented unto God; God deprived of his right, and the child of the benefit, by the perverseness of the one or other of the parents; the child neither brought to the church nor God--done for neither according to law nor custom, but debarred Christianity--denied to God at first, and in danger to be denied by him at the last--through the division of the parents in religion and sect. A joyful sight it is, methinks, to see them here united for the child's good; the more, for that our dissensions of parents look so ugly, and are so deeply prejudicial to God's honour, and the child's both benefit and right which it has to be presented to God in holy baptism. It may yet prove worse in the education, if the difference still continue between the parents; and the child which unbaptized cannot be conceived to have any greater assistance of inward grace than the child of a heathen or a Jew, being both by nature,- and it is to be feared, by the parents' irreligion, yet further nourished by a leaving it merely in that state, proner far to evil than good, to error than truth,--such a child it cannot be expected in reason but that it should adhere to the worser part; and as it lost its baptism at the first, so at the last miss its religion too. God being denied it when he would have it, and calls for it to have it brought to him, we can have no great confidence that he will at another time accept it, when it is grown out of that number of little ones whom he calls--become greater in its corruption, and the first-fruits of his age dedicated to another master. God send better agreements among parents, say I, be it for the children's sake, that they may be presented to the Lord!
A "child" it is that is presented in the text and in the day; and the "child Jesus." Such a child is both example and authority enough for us to bring ours also to the Lord whilst they are such; unless we think our children are holier than he--want less than he--can be without God better than he--more above the law than he.
[345/346] But he calling for them himself,--"Suffer little children to come unto me,"--it seems to me both ingratitude and impudence to keep them from him; to say nothing of the infidelity in so doing: as if we believed him not that he meant it when he called; not we thought he could them no good if they came; or that he would not; or that they were as well without him as with him, without his blessing as with it. It may be they will tell us he called them, indeed, but not to baptism; did not baptize the children before their fathers--before they themselves were fitted for it, by whom only the children have right to it? or baptize them when they were not brought by them to that purpose? Is it not enough that Christ desires and accepts the children that are brought to him, that come to him? And how come they now to him but by baptism? How has the Universal Church, from that day to this, brought children to him? has it not been to baptism, in all catholic doctrine and practice to this day? Have we now all found any better way to bring them to him? None at all, alas! and is that better?
Their children, forsooth are holy because their fathers are -alike, I think, that is, under the bondage of corruption. Their fathers holy! I would we could see it once. But suppose them so, were there no holy fathers among the Jews, that their children must all receive the sacrament of circumcision, to which our baptism succeeds, to hallow them? Ay, but God now has promised to be the father of them and of their seed. And did he not so to Abraham first?--and yet must his children be circumcised. What is it, trow, that these men would have? Must the Jews dedicate their children, and must not the Christian? were the Jewish children God's right, and are not the Christians'? Do not we owe ours as much to him as they theirs? Or must their births be happy by an early consecration, and ours not? theirs in a better condition under the wings of the Almighty, ours in a mere natural state in our mere protection? theirs sealed for God's own; ours without seal, or anything but their fathers' sin to know them by; challenged wholly to ourselves, as if God had neither part nor portion in them? Certainly, did men but thus consider, children would not be [346/347] so much injured by their parents' forwardness; and could children and sucklings understand it, they would complain of so great an injury done to them--the most imaginable that can be done to that tender age--thus to be deprived of the blessing, and taken out of the protection, as much as lies in their parents' power, of their God and Saviour.
Thus far we have considered only God's right and the child's good in being brought into the temple. See we now the parents' devotion, and God honoured by it.
They "brought in the Child." And what better present can they bring, can any parents bring and offer, than a child? How can they express their devotion more to God, than by offering what is dearest?
Now (1) he brings his child to God, that brings it to be baptized, to be instructed, to be brought up in the fear of God and the practice of true religion.
He (2) brings him more peculiarly, that devotes him to some peculiar service of the church, as Anna did Samuel to the service of the tabernacle.
He (3) brings him to God, that commends him daily in his prayers to God for a blessing, as Abraham did Ishmael in that petition, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee!"
He (4) brings him to God, that resigns him wholly at any time to God's disposal, both in health and sickness, both in plenty and want, for any fortune or condition that God thinks fit or convenient for him. Indeed, there was a strange offering of a child prescribed to Abraham, to sacrifice him on an altar: and God sacrificed this Child at last, his Son upon the cross for us; but he requires not that we should so with ours. Yet this he does, that, with Abraham, we should so resign the dearest of them to God, that if at any time for his service he command them from us, and please for the profession of his name or truth to sacrifice them to the flames or to the cross, any way understood, we should not think much to be so bereaved of them to their greater glory.
All these ways the child is brought to God according to the letter; but in the mystery, he (1) also brings his child, even who has none, that brings what is dearest to him, and submits it to God's pleasure; he (2) that blessed all his [347/348]actions at the beginning with his prayers; he (3) that devotes his first morning thoughts to heaven; he (4) that dedicates his first thoughts, motions, and intentions, the first-born of his soul, to God's honour and glory. So we may offer children, that have no children; bring a child, who have no child. Nay more, we may bring the Child--that is, the best of children, above all children, the "child Jesus," as well as the barren maid as the most fruitful mother may do this. It may be better too; they that have no other child, may best tend upon the "child Jesus;" they that have none other to care for, have the more care to bestow on him; they that have no other to nurse or bring up, may the easier and fuller apply themselves to nurse him up in their souls, till he be grown up in the to a perfect stature; and having no other to bring to the temple, may every day bring him. He was brought here by a virgin; and I know not how he can be brought by any better. Yet by a Virgin-mother here, that both virgins and mothers, parents and others, all conditions, might have an interest to present him.
And sure no greater present, none more acceptable--no child to this, to the "child Jesus." Bring him with us, and come and welcome; welcome at any time with him. It is in him that all our offerings are accepted; his cross, the altar that sanctifies our gifts; he the beloved Child, in whom alone God is well pleased.
His parents brought him in without a figure: brought he was before in the type only and the shadow, prefigured in Isaac, and Solomon, and Josiah, and in the offerings and sacrifices of the law. The great light or candle of this day first dispersed those shadows; all legal purification days turned into so many Candlemases by the bringing in of this Eternal light, this bright only child of the Father of lights.
But are our candles all put out? ceremony and substance vanished too? Is it not Candlemas still with us? Are we returned to that former darkness, and no light left us to offer up--no "child Jesus" to offer still? Yes, still we have; it is an Eternal Light that this day sprang up, beyond the splendour of the lamps of the temple. We offer Christ even to this day still.
[348/349] 1. He offers Jesus, that forms himself to the image of Jesus, by "putting him on," as the Apostle speaks, in righteousness and holiness, by meekness, patience, obedience, charity, and brotherly love; growing up by what degrees he can to the stature of Christ, so presenting himself before God: and he that does it in his youth, at the first spring of his understanding days, brings the "child Jesus,"--the most acceptable, the most early and timely offering.
2. He brings and offers Jesus, who, when he has done all he can, offered all he is able, given all he had, yet renounces all as unworthy; claims nothing by them, thinks them not worth acceptance, but wraps them all up in Christ's mantle; presents his merits as the only offering, his righteousness and abundant satisfactions to sanctify all his other presents; stands to none, pleads nothing, claims by nothing, but only him.
3. He offers Jesus, that it, in a thankful remembrance of his love, offers him up in the holy sacrament as the only sacrifice of thanksgiving, beyond all other possible praises, and for an atonement and reconciliation for his own sins and the sins of all the world. It is time we set aside some time for such an offering; and in the text we find it, though not explicitly, yet necessarily implied. For, "when the parents brought in the child," will easily tell us that--a "when," a time there was; and is a kind of relative conjunction, that by joining the context will quickly be resolved, within a few verses backward, to be "when the days of her purification," the mother's purification, "were accomplished."
The law would not sooner suffer the mother to come near the sanctuary: so scrupulous did God seem to be of the pollution of his temple, that he would not accept his own dues and offerings from a hand of that body which had but on it the least semblance of impurity, though it was no other than a mere natural course which himself had made. Nature itself, it seems, when its motions are but merely natural, must have nothing to do at the altars of holiness. God made all things good; makes many good things, which yet he thinks not good enough to approach his holiness without a previous purification. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their followers, may cry out, "The whole congregation is [349/350] holy;" all holy enough, anything good and pure enough, for the temples, altars, sacrifices, services, ministrations of the Lord and his Christ,- but it seemed they wanted fire to cleanse them and their censers, and God sent it with a vengeance. They would not keep apart from holy offices, but God parts the earth to sever them from his altars: and when our sins are sufficiently punished, their followers will find some strange purging fires for thus boldly daring, without purifying their hands after the law or custom of the Church, to lay them to Christ's plough before their days be out, either themselves or their days accomplished; not their very apprenticeships out, some of them, so presumptuously intruding into holy offices, functions, offerings, and places; such men's "damnation slumbers not;" though it tarry, it will come sure at last. The holy Virgin, who needed no purification for this childbirth, (as not conceiving, as the text runs, suscepto semine,) must be purified before she come, though to bring an offering as pure as purity itself. So is God's method and order, so he requires it "after the custom of the law", it is said here; and were there no reason else, church-law, and custom in church business, in all reason should carry it,
And it being holy business, purification cannot but be a necessary disposition to it; some kind of separation to prepare for it. There is a legal separation, and it did well when it was in use; there is an evangelical, still in force; an external and an internal both. Holy things not to be meddled with but with holy hands--hands separated from civil and secular employments; none to offer as priests, but those that are so accomplished with that kind of separation; and none to present, neither anything to be offered, but such as have holy hearts, and unhallowed hands are not fit to bring in Jesus, nor tough the offerings of so pure a God. Not the word, not the sacraments, not the services, none of them to be either offered or taken, by any he whoever that hates to be reformed, who is not purified and disposed rightly before he comes.
Forty were the days of this purification. Something there may be in the number. So many days Moses prepared for [[350/351] the receiving of the law; so many Elijah, in his advance to the mount of God; so many Christ himself, before he entered upon his office; so many the Church designs for a preparation to Easter, as a purification of our souls and bodies, by prayer and fasting, against our Easter offerings. Whether this number tell us, by ten four time multiplied, that the Decalogue of Moses is in the four Evangelists completed, the law perfected by the Gospel; or that these bodies we bear about us, consisting of four elements, are by the observation of the Ten Commandments accomplished with all virtues, and thereby best purified; or that the tenth parts of all our years, to which forty days do well near draw (so many being but little more than the tenth portion of a year), are hereby required to be spent in God's service, the purifying of our souls and bodies for his use;--whether it be for the one reason or the other, or the third,--for this, sure, it is, that we may understand a large and considerable portion of our days is to be always spent in good preparations, purifications, and retirements. Christ can never be too much provided for, nor we too much purified, when we come to take or offer him.
Nor is the place, for that is the next point, where we are to offer, though a great way off, to be complained of for its distance. If it be the place where God has set his name, and appointed for his worship--as far as Mount Moriah from Abraham's tents, or the uttermost borders of Judea from the temple--go we must thither, and not think much of it. "They brought him in," says the text; that is, into the temple at Jerusalem. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a pretty walk to go with a young child to offer; but where God commands, there is no gainsaying. There is no burden neither to such souls as just Josephs and blessed Marys; and the child will get no cold by the way it goes to God: our niceness makes the trouble, and betrays us to the fear. The child gets no hurt by being carried to the font; nor did it in devouter times, when it was wholly dipped, no more than so great a pain as circumcision hurt the infant's health. Our tenderness and fooleries, who have not faith enough to trust God with them, or to submit mildly to God's ordinances, are the only causes of all miscarriages in holy business, where we will be wiser than God, tenderer than God, [351/352] and more careful than God would have us. The greatest argument for this generation not turning Jews is, I think, for fear of circumcision--lest they should put themselves to any pain, or fear to lose their children, by that bloody sacrament; else, I fear they are too well disposed towards it. One thing would much persuade, I am sure, if they might so pull down all pour churches, and have but one to go to once a year. So godly is the age we live in! so well are we reformed!
Yet the fittest place, sure, for God's offerings, are God's houses; his own altars for his own service; holy places for holy works, for holy offerings, Templum Domini for Dominum templi, as devout Bernard, "the temple of the Lord the fittest place for the Lord of the temple;" that the fittest, the likeliest to find him in. So the prophecy, so the desire, call it which you please, of holy David fulfilled,--Suscepimus misercordiam in medio templi: "We have found," or we wait for, "thy loving-kindness in the midst of the temple." Mercy itself there this day found. We may pray anywhere and offer, and offer anywhere, either our own children or the child Jesus, if necessity so be: but the best souls love the best places; holy souls, holy places. David professes so. Nay, the very sparrows, he observes, will build as near the altars as they can; and it may be for that kind of sensible and natural piety, they particularly, above all other creatures, are said by Christ not to "fall, one of them, to the ground," without God's more peculiar providence.
I shall make no further note upon this particular; it is but implicitly implied, though yet so necessarily in the text: they "brought him in." In whither? Into the temple it was; and the very words immediately before, in that very verse, express it. Yet being but so expressed, so briefly and implicitly, I take leave to be brief too, because there is still so much of the text, and so little of the time, behind. And the point next is the manner and form of Christ's presentation, or the cause or reason why he was presented, why they brought him in: "to do for him after the custom of the law." And three points of it there were to be observed upon such occasions,--to offer him, to ransom him, to offer for him.
[352/353] He was (1) the first-born, and therefore to be offered and presented. The first-born was God's: "All the first-born are mine," says he, "both of man and beast." And Christ, he is "the first-born of every creature," says St. Paul. So in him they are offered altogether, man and beast--all sanctified by him: men that live like men, and men that live like beasts; qui computruerunt sicut jumenta in stercore suo: who wallow in their own dung, in their own sins, "like the beasts that perish;" for the righteous and for the sinner both is he offered, that both might have access to God through him; that man and beast too, according to the letter, might, as the Psalmists says, be saved, that is, blessed and preserved, through him.
He was the first-born (2) of his Father, the first and only-begotten Son of God; so to be presented upon that title.
He was (3) the first-born of his mother, the first and only son first born though not begotten there; but first-born was sufficient to entitle him to God.
The Apostle calls him (4) "the first-born among many brethren;" he our elder, and we the younger brethren.
The same Apostle (5) calls him the "first-born of the dead." So that now being the first-born both by Father and mother, both in heaven and earth, of quick and dead, of every creature, no great wonder to hear of his presenting to the Lord.
Yet for himself neither was he offered, but for us; he needed no such sanctifying but for us; to sanctify us, as the first-fruits to sanctify the whole lump; as the true "Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world;" as the first-born in relation to his brethren, to rule over us as a Prince, and offer for us and bless us a Priest; the two appendices of a primogeniture. Thus is he made to us our "morning sacrifice," as he was after our "evening offering," when he was offered upon the cross. Thus both offered for himself "after the custom of the law," and for us in the interpretation of the Gospel.
But "the custom of the law" was, next, to ransom him. "Five shekels" was his price--the ordinary rate; a goodly price for the First-born of God to be valued at! O blessed Jesu, how little hast thou made thyself for us!--of how little value! How can we sufficiently value thee, for thy thus [353/354] undervaluing thyself! And why should we now, my beloved, so overvalue ourselves as to think no honour sufficient for us, nothing too good for us, no riches enough, no respect answerable to our deserts? If Christ be valued at "five shekels," the best of us, all of us, the whole world of us--and if there were a world of worlds--were not all worth five farthings. Let us but think of this, and no disrespect, or disesteem, or slighting, from the very meanest and unworthiest hand, will ever trouble us again, certainly.
Well, ransomed he was yet with it, as little as it was; but it seems it was but to pay a greater--the price of his life to ransom us. No ransom would redeem him the second time, because his business was not to redeem himself, but us. He was redeemed nor for a little; but he was sold for less than thirty pence, and yet would not be redeemed by any sum. "he made himself of no estimation," again and again, and dealt with himself as if he were not worth a ransom, only that he might ransom us, and set us high in God's esteem.
The ransom money here was the priest's; and holy Mary, as poor as she was, would pay her dues. And Jesus would she should--his mother should; and then, sure, all his brethren too would be therefore offered and redeemed. It is a good example for church duties when such pay them, and may amount to a kind of precept; for if he who is the great High Priest himself, and from whom it was not due, pay, as he did tribute afterward, that he might not offend, I can see little of Christ where the Church or priest is robbed, or little Christianity where such offences are not heeded.
Christ would break no law, for he "came to fulfil it;" nor custom, for you see he observes it--did so all his life; kept the feasts, kept the customs. He follows not Christ that does other, whoever he follows.
Nay, Christ himself commutes too; breaks not the custom of commutation. One of the most questionable points of custom is commutation,--to exchange one for another, to pay with the purse instead of the person. Yet such was law and custom, and Christ disputes it not; nor is reason against it, to change one thing for another, when both are good; one [354/355] vow into another, one penance into another, where reason, not covetousness--respect to the condition, or inability of persons, not partiality, make the exchange. In such cases we are to submit, not dispute or cry out, as some do, "If for money, why not without it? If God will not accept my person, why my money? If I may have or do it for the payment of a little sum, why is it not lawful to me without it?" It is answerable enough to reasonable men, or devout Christians--So God, so law, so custom will have it, and it is no sin to do it.
There is yet one thing more to be done "after the custom of the law"--an offering to be offered; "a lamb," and a "turtle-dove," or a "young pigeon," for the rich, or "two turtles," or "two young pigeons," for the poorer sort. And it was so done here. It is thought by them that dare determine which, that it was the latter, the pigeons, as cheaper and easier to be gotten, where there was so much poverty as this Child was born to.
Be it which it will, it was the poor's offering, that (1) from henceforth poverty might look cheerful to the Christian, that was so horrid to the Jew; become his happiness, which was the other's great affliction: the poor woman's offering, that it might sanctify poverty to the poor, and offer it henceforward as an acceptable service unto God.
That (2) the Christian might hence know what to offer, gemitus turturum et columbarum, a sorrowful and contrite heart; bewail themselves like turtles that have lost their mates, and mourn sore like doves; offer up chaste and harmless souls, the chastity of the turtle and the innocence of the dove.
That (3) we might no more hereafter censure poverty, even when it falls to the great man's share, seeing blessed Mary and Joseph, of the seed royal both, are become so poor that they can offer no more than this; nay, though they should have no more to offer than their own sighs and moanings.
That (4) we might learn now, that God will accept even the least and poorest presents--"two turtles," "two pigeons," "two mites"--where there is no more with convenience to be spared. Yet somewhat he will have offered, [355/356] be it never so little, that all might acknowledge his right, none at all excepted.
Thus this offering concerns us: but how it concerns the Child Jesus is to be enquired. The one turtle could not possibly, the sin-offering, to be sure; but the other might: it was a burnt-offering, that, a kind of thanksgiving only for his safe birth, as well as for his mother's safe deliverance. It was to have been a lamb, could the woman's poverty have reached it, though the sin-offering for no woman at her purification had been above a turtle: it may be to tell them that they are to give thanks both for themselves and their Child--great thanks, more than double, though they offer but little and single for their own natural imperfections; a lamb for them both, though but a turtle for themselves; the child's original guilt to be purged with another kind of sacrifice, better sacrifices than those. Yet, besides, he taking on him our persons, the sin-offering, might also so far concern him as he concerned us.
And if so, the greater, sure, is our obligation to him, that he would not only "take on him the form of a servant," but go also under the fashion of a sinner; that he would be brought into so dishonourable appearance, to be thus done for "after the custom of the law;" not only "offered himself," but himself offered for, as if he needed an offering to cleanse him. But so it was not, for that it was not that he thus submitted to the law of offerings but for these ensuing reasons; and so we consider the reason of the doing: -
1. To avoid scandal, not to offend the Jews; to teach us to be very scrupulous how we offend our brother, that we use neither our own right nor our Christian liberty with offence.
2. To teach obedience; not to dispute commands, nor plead privileges too much against laws and customs.
3. To be a pattern of humility; not to exalt or cry up ourselves, or think much to be accounted like other men.
4. To show his approbation of the law; and that however he might seem, yet indeed he did not come" to destroy the law, but to fulfil it.
5. That he might thus receive the testimony of Simeon and Anna, and be made manifest from his very beginning who he was; that he might appear to the world, what before he did only to the wise men and the shepherds, " to be a light [356/357] to the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel;" and to be this day so proclaimed by the Spirit of prophecy in both the sexes.
6. He was done for "according to the law," that he might redeem us from the bondage of the law; offered as the first-born, as a Son of Man, that he might thereby make us the children of God.
7. He that needed no offering for himself was thus offered, that we might with holy Job suspect the best and perfectest of our works; and though we be never so righteous, not answer, nor know, but despise ourselves, and make supplication to our Judge.
Lastly, he was thus presented to God, that so he might be embraced by man,--that Simeon, not for himself only but for us, might take seising of him, and we be thus put in possession of a Saviour. For so it follows, as on purpose, "Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God."
We have done with Christ's offering: come we now to our receiving. His parents presented him to God--Simeon received him for us. And these the particulars of the receiving: suscipiens, suscipiendi modus, susceptionis tempus, and suscipientis benedictio. (1.) The receiver: Simeon, "he." (2.) The manner of taking or receiving him: "took him up in his arms." (3.) The time, "then:" "when he was brought into the temple." (4) The thanksgiving for it: "and blessed God."
But our receiving takes me from Simeon's: I must defer him till anon, till after ours; only I shall glance at it as I speak of ours,--for which I would to God we were all as well prepared as he for his.
"The same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him." I would I could say so of us here this day: Sed nunquid hos tantum salvabis Domine? says holy Bernard; "Wilt thou, O Lord, save only such?" and answers it out of the Psalm, Jumenta et himines salvabis Domine, "Thou, Lord, shalt save both man and beast;" us poor beasts too, wandering sheep at best, but too often as unreasonable, as sensual, as grovelling down wards as any beast,--dirty and filthy as sows, churlish as dogs, fierce as lions, lustful as goats, cruel as [357/358] tigers, ravenous as bears. Accomplish we but the days of our purification,--purify we our hearts by faith and repentance,--bring we this gemitus columbæ, sorrow for our sins, though we cannot this simplictatem columbæ, innocence and purity,--the mourning of the turtle, though we cannot the innocence of the dove,--and not withstanding all shall be well.
It is Candlemas to-day,--so called from the lighting up of candles, offering them, consecrating them, and bearing them in procession; a custom from the time of Justinian the Emperor, at the latest about 1100 years ago; or as others say, Pope Gelasius, anno 496, or thereabouts;--to show that long expected Light of the Gentiles was now come, was now sprung up, and shined brighter than the sun at noon, and might be taken in our hands. Let the ceremony pass, reserve the substance; light up the two candles of faith and good works, light them with the fire of charity; bear we them burning in our hands, as Christ commands us; meet we him 'with our lamps burning;' consecrate we also them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them upon the altars of the God of our salvation, bini et bini, as S. Bernard speaks, as in procession, 'two and two,' in peace and unity together; and with this solemnity and preparation, we poor oxen and asses may come and approach to our Master's crib. The crib is the outward elements, wherein he lies wrapped up; they are the swaddling clothes and mantles, with which his body is covered when he is now offered up to God, and taken up by us. Take them, and take him; the candle of faith will there show you him, and the candle of charity will light him down into your arms, that you may embrace him. We embrace where we love, we take into our arms whom we love; so that love Jesus and embrace Jesus--love Jesus and take Jesus--love Jesus and take him into our hands, and into our arms, and into our mouths, and into our hearts.
Take him and offer him again; take him up and offer him up for our sanctification and redemption, to redeem us from [358/359] all our sins, and sanctify all our righteousness; for without him nothing is righteous, nothing is holy.
This day was his offering day--is to be ours. Offer we then him, offer we ourselves; take we him up into our arms, into pour hands and hearts; having first lighted a candle and swept our houses to receive and entertain him, and having humbly, and cheerfully, and devoutly, and thankfully received him, bless we God.
God be gracious unto us, and purify our hearts and hands, that we may worthily receive him; strengthen our arms, that we may hold him; open our mouths, that we may bless him for him; accept our offering, and Christ's offering for us,--his perfect sacrifice, for our imperfect offerings; that we may receive all the benefits of this great sacrifice--the remission of our sins, the cleansing of our souls, the refreshing of our bodies--the fulness of all grace, and the saving them in the kingdom of glory; that as we this day bless him here, so we may bless and praise and glorify him hereafter for evermore.