26.Now in the sixth month It was a wonderful dispensation of the divine purpose, and far removed from the ordinary judgment of men, that God determined to make the beginning of the generation of the herald more illustrious than that of his own Son. The prophecy respecting John was published in the temple and universally known: Christ is promised to a virgin in an obscure town of Judea, and this prophecy remains buried in the breast of a young woman. But it was proper that, even from the birth of Christ, that saying should be fulfilled, “ it pleased God by foolishness to save them that believe,” (1Co_1:21.)
The treasure of this mystery was committed by him to a virgin in such a manner, that at length, when the proper time came, it might be communicated to all the godly. It was, I own, a mean kind of guardianship; but whether for trying the humility of faith, or restraining the pride of the ungodly, it was the best adapted. Let us learn, even when the reason does not immediately appear, to submit modestly to God, and let us not be ashamed to receive instruction from her who carried in her womb Christ the eternal “ wisdom of God,” (1Co_1:24.) There is nothing which we should more carefully avoid than the proud contempt that would deprive us of the knowledge of the inestimable secret, which God has purposely “hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed ” to the humble and “to babes, ” (Luk_10:21.)
It was, I think, for the same reason that he chose a virgin betrothed to a man There is no foundation for Origen’s opinion, that he did this for the purpose of concealing from Satan the salvation which he was preparing to bestow on men. The marriage was a veil held out before the eyes of the world, that he who was commonly “supposed to be the son of Joseph ” (Luk_3:23) might at length be believed and acknowledged by the godly to be the Son of God. Yet the entrance of Christ into the world was not destitute of glory; for the splendor of his Godhead was manifested from the commencement by his heavenly Father. Angels announced that “a Savior was born,” (Luk_2:11;) but their voice was only heard by the shepherds, and traveled no farther. One miracle, — everywhere published by “the wise men who came from the east, ” (Mat_2:1) that they had seen a star which proclaimed the birth of the Highest King,—may have been highly celebrated. Yet we see how God kept his Son, as it were, in concealment, until the time of his full manifestation arrived, and then erected for him a platform, that he might be beheld by all.
The participle μεμνηστευμένην, which is employed by the Evangelist, signifies that the virgin had then been engaged to her bridegroom, but was not yet given as a wife to her husband. For it was customary among Jewish parents to keep their daughters some time at home, after they had been betrothed to men; otherwise, the law relating to the seduction of a “ betrothed damsel” (Deu_22:23) would have been unnecessary. Luke says that Joseph was of the house of David; for families are usually reckoned by the names of the men; but on this point we shall speak more fully in another place.
Lk1:26. in the sixth month] i. e. after the vision of Zachariah. This is the only passage which indicates the age of John the Baptist, as half a year older than our Lord.
Galilee] Thus began to be fulfilled the prophecy of Isa_9:1, Isa_9:2. Galilee of the Gentiles (Gelîl haggoyîm), one of the four great Roman divisions of Palestine, was north of Judaea and Samaria, west of Peraea, and comprised the territories of Zebulun, Naphthali, Issachar and Asher (Mat_4:13). Josephus describes it as rich in trees and pastures, strong, populous, containing 204 towns, of which the least had 15000 inhabitants, and occupied by a hardy and warlike race, Bell. Jud. iii. 3; Vit. 45, 52. See Map, and note on 3:2.
named Nazareth] The expression shews that St Luke is writing for those who were unfamiliar with Palestine. See on 2:51.
a virgin] Isa_7:14; Jer_31:22. The many miraculous and glorifying legends which soon began to gather round her name in the Apocryphal Gospels are utterly unknown to Scripture.
Galilee is one of many geographical names which have gradually extended their range. It was originally a little “circuit” of territory round Kadesh Naphtali containing the towns given by Solomon to Hiram (1Ki_9:11). This was called the “circuit of the Gentiles,” because the inhabitants were strangers (1 Mac. 5:15, Γαλ. ἀλλοφύλων). But it grew, until in the time of Christ it included the territory. of Naphtali, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar (D. B.2 1. p. 1117). For a description of this region see Jos. B. J. 3:3. 1-3. Nazareth is mentioned neither in O.T. nor in Josephus, but it was probably not a new town in our Lord’s time. The site is an attractive one, in a basin among the south ridges of Lebanon. The sheltered valley is very fruitful, and abounds in flowers. From the hill behind the town the view over Lebanon, Hermon, Carmel, the Mediterranean, Gilead, Tabor, Gilboa, the plain of Esdraelon, and the mountains of Samaria, is very celebrated (Renan, Vie de J. p. 27). It would seem as if Mt. (2:23) was not aware that Nazareth was the original home of Joseph and Mary.
Ver. 26-38. The annunciation of the Virgin Mary.
The recital contained in this little section is peculiar to this Gospel of St. Luke. It lay outside what may be termed the apostolic tradition. It neither helps nor mars the moral or dogmatic teaching of the men trained in the school of Jesus of Nazareth. It simply answers a question that probably few of the converts of the first quarter of a century which succeeded the Resurrection morning cared to ask:
We do not suppose that the true story of the birth of Jesus Christ was any secret, any precious mystery in the Church of the first days. It was known doubtless to the leading teachers, known to many of their hearers, but it was evidently unused as a popular text for preaching. It probably was not among those “memoirs” of the apostles which were read and expounded in the first forty years in the public synagogues and in the quiet upper rooms of so many of the cities of Syria, and in not a few of the towns of Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Nor is the reason of this doubtful; the wondrous story of the child Jesus” birth would add little to the simple faith of the first believers in the Crucified.
Of miracles and works of wonder they had heard enough to convince them that, if these were true, surely never man had worked like this Man. They had heard, too, of the crowning, sign of the Resurrection. There were men in those first days, scattered abroad in all lands, who had seen these things, who knew that the Master had died on the cross, and who had seen him, touched him, and spoken to him after his resurrection. The mysterious miracle of the incarnation was not needed for the preaching of the first days.
But time went on, and naturally enough many of the thoughtful cultured men who had accepted the doctrine of the cross began to say We ought to have the true story of the beginnings of these marvelous events authoritatively written down. Here and there we have heard something of the birth and childhood, why have we not the details authenticated? Men like Paul and Luke felt that such natural questionings should be answered. And hence it came to pass that, moved by the Holy Spirit under, we believe, the direction of Paul Luke went to the fountainhead, to the blessed mother herself, to those holy women some of whom we believe had borne her company from the beginning, and from her lips and their lips wrote down what she (or they) dictated, partly from memory, partly perhaps from memoranda which she and others had kept of that strange sweet time; and so these two chapters of the Third Gospel, of which the incarnation is the central narrative, were written down much in the original form in which Luke received it, the Greek simply translating the original Hebrew story. Around the words of the Gospel soon gathered a host of miraculous legends glorifying the blessed mother of the Lord. These are utterly unknown to Scripture, and should be quietly put aside. Strange speculations respecting her and the manner of the wondrous birth have been in all times, nay, still are favorite subjects of dispute among theologians. It is a pity to try and be wise beyond what is written. The believer will content himself with just receiving the quiet story of the holy maid as Mary the mother gave it to Luke or Paul, feeling assured that the same power of the Highest by which the crucified Jesus was raised from the tomb where he had lain for three days, was able to overshadow the virgin of Nazareth, was able to cause to be born of her that holy thing which was called the Son of God.
And in the sixth month; that is, after the vision of Zacharias in the temple. Unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. These explanatory notes make it clear that St. Luke was writing for those who were strangers to Palestine. Such details were no doubt added by St. Luke to the oral or written Hebrew narrative upon which this section is entirely based. Under the Roman domination the land of promise was divided into Judaea, Samaria, Peraea, and Galilee. Galilee was the northern department, and comprised the old territory of the tribes of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Asher. From Josephus we learn that at this period the northern division was rich and populous, and covered with flourishing towns. Nazareth, which still exists as a large village of some three thousand inhabitants, under the name of En-Nazirah, is about twenty-four miles to the east of the Luke of Tiberius. It is well situate in a valley among the hills which rise to the north of the Esdraelon plain. From one of the grassy slopes which rise behind Nazareth, one of the noblest views is obtained. The snowy summits of Lebanon and Hennon close the prospect on the north; on the south the broad Esdraelon plain, with the mountains of Ephraim; Gilead and Tabor lie on the east; on the other side, the green uplands of Carmel are bathed by the blue waves of the Mediterranean Sea. The meaning of the name Nazareth has been the subject of much learned controversy. The more usually adopted derivation, however, refers the word to rxn, “a shoot or branch,” which conveys, as Dean Plumptre remarks, something of the same meaning as our hurst or holm in English topography. Burckhardt, the traveler, believes the name was originslly used on account of the numerous shrubs which cover the ground in this locality.
Cambridge Bible: NT
27. espoused] Rather, betrothed. The betrothal, which is in the East a ceremony of the deepest importance, usually took place a year before the marriage.
Joseph, of the house of David] We are nowhere told that Mary was of the house of David, for both the genealogies of the Gospels are genealogies of Joseph. See Excursus II. The fact that it seems always to be assumed that Mary also was of the lineage of David (vs. 32), makes it probable that the genealogy of Mary is involved in that of Joseph, and that they were first cousins.
Mary] The same name as Miriam and Marah, Exo_15:20; Rth_1:20. Her early residence at Nazareth, before the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, is narrated by St Luke alone. It does not however follow that St Matthew was unaware of it (Mat_13:55, Mat_13:56). After the narrative of the Nativity she is very rarely mentioned. The Ave Maria of the Roman Catholics did not assume its present form till the 16th century.
27. ἐμνηστευμένην. This is the N.T. form of the word (2:5): in LXX we have μεμνηστευμ. (Deu_22:23). The interval between betrothal and marriage was commonly a year, during which the bride lived with her friends. But her property was vested in her future husband, and unfaithfulness on her part was punished, like adultery, with death (Deu_22:23, Deu_22:24). The case of the woman taken in adultery was probably a case of this kind.
ἐξ οἴκου Δαυείδ. It is unnecessary, and indeed impossible, to decide whether these words go with ἀνδρί, or with παρθένον, or with both. The last is the least probable, but Chrysostom and Wieseler support it. From vv. 32 and 69 we may with probability infer that Lk. regards Mary as descended from David. In 2:4 he states this of Joseph. Independently of the present verse, therefore, we may infer that, just as John was of priestly descent both by Zacharias and Elisabeth, so Jesus was of royal descent both by Mary and Joseph. The title “Son of David” was publicly given to Jesus and never disputed (Mat_1:1, Mat_1:9:27, Mat_1:12:23, Mat_1:15:22, Mat_1:20:30, 31; Mar_10:47, Mar_10:48 ; Luk_18:38, Luk_18:39). In the Test. XII. Patr. Christ is said to be descended from Levi and Judah (Simeon 7.); and the same idea is found in a fragment of Irenæus (Frag. 27., Stieren, p. 836). It was no doubt based, as Schleiermacher bases it (St. Luke, Eng. tr. p. 28), on the fact that Elisabeth, who was of Levi, was related to Mary (see on ver. 36). The repetition involved in τῆς παρθένου is in favour of taking ἐξ οἴκου Δαυείδ with ἀνδρί: otherwise we should have expected αὐτῆς. But this is not conclusive.
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; more accurately, betrothed. The formal ceremony of betrothal took place among the Jews in most cases a year prior to the marriage. The question has arisen whether the words, “of the house of David,” refer to Joseph or to Mary. Grammatically, they would seem to belong to Joseph; but the fact of the Gospel being here so closely translated from a Hebrew (Aramaic) original. prevents us from laying down any strict linguistic rules which belong to the Greek language.
“Who was Mary the virgin?” has been often asked. Verse 32 and 69 would lose their point altogether unless we regard Luke as being persuaded that the young Hebrew girl was a descendant of David. In respect to the virgin”s family, we read that she was a cousin or kinswoman of Elisabeth. This would at least ally her closely to the priestly race. Dean Plumptre quotes one out of the many ancient apocryphal legends current respecting Mary of Nazareth, deeming it worthy of mention as having left its impress on Christian art. “The name of the virgin”s mother was Anne. Mary surpassed the maidens of her own age in wisdom. There were many who early sought her in marriage. The suitors agreed to decide their claims by laying their rods before the holy place, and seeing which budded. It was thus that Joseph became betrothed to her.” The same scholar adds, “The absence of any mention of her parents in the Gospels suggests the thought that she was an orphan, and the whole narrative of the nativity presupposes poverty! The name Mary is the same as Miriam or Marah.” (On the question of the genealogy recorded by St. Luke, see note on Luk_3:23)
28.Hail, thou who hast obtained favor The angel’s commission being of an astonishing and almost incredible description, he opens it with a commendation of the grace of God. And certainly, since our limited capacities admit too slender a portion of knowledge for comprehending the vast greatness of the works of God, our best remedy is, to elevate them to meditation on his boundless grace. A conviction of the Divine goodness is the entrance of faith, and the angel properly observes this order, that, after preparing the heart of the virgin by meditation on the grace of God, he may enlarge it to receive an incomprehensible mystery. For the participle κεχαριτωμένη, which Luke employs, denotes the undeserved favor of God. This appears more clearly from the Epistle to the Ephesians, (Eph_1:6,) where, speaking of our reconciliation to God, Paul says, God “ hath made us accepted (ἐχαρίτωσεν) in the Beloved:” that is, he has received into his favor, and embraced with kindness, us who were formerly his enemies.
The angel adds, the Lord is with thee To those on whom he has once bestowed his love God shows himself gracious and kind, follows and “ crowns them with loving-kindness,” (Psa_103:4.) Next comes the third clause, that she is blessed among women. Blessing is here put down as the result and proof of the Divine kindness. The word Blessed does not, in my opinion, mean, Worthy of praise; but rather means, Happy. Thus, Paul often supplicates for believers, first “grace” and then “peace,” (Rom_1:7; Eph_1:2,) that is, every kind of blessings; implying that we shall then be truly happy and rich, when we are beloved by God, from whom all blessings proceed. But if Mary’s happiness, righteousness, and life, flow from the undeserved love of God, if her virtues and all her excellence are nothing more than the Divine kindness, it is the height of absurdity to tell us that we should seek from her what she derives from another quarter in the same manner as ourselves. With extraordinary ignorance have the Papists, by an enchanter’s trick, changed this salutation into a prayer, and have carried their folly so far, that their preachers are not permitted, in the pulpit, to implore the grace of the Spirit, except through their Hail, Mary. But not only are these words a simple congratulation. They unwarrantably assume an office which does not belong to them, and which God committed to none but an angel. Their silly ambition leads them into a second blunder, for they salute a person who is absent.
28. highly favoured] marg. “graciously accepted” or “much graced.” Literally, having been graced (by God). Eph_1:6, “accepted.” Not as in the Vulgate “Gratiâ plena” but “gratiâ cumulata.” “Not a mother of grace, but a daughter.” Bengel.
blessed art thou among women] These words are of dubious authenticity, being omitted by B and various versions. They may have been added from vs. 42. With this address comp. Jdg_6:12.
28. χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη.1 Note the alliteration and the connexion between χαῖρε and χάρις The gratia plena of the Vulg. is too indefinite. It is right, if it means “full of grace, which thou hast received”; wrong, if it means “full of grace, which thou hast to bestow.” From Eph_1:6 and the analogy of verbs in -όω, κεχαριτωμένη must mean “endued with grace” (Ecclus. 28:17). Non ut mater gratiæ, sed ut filia gratiæ (Beng.). What follows explains κεχαριτωμένη, for with μετὰ σοῦ we understand ἐστι, not ἔστω (comp. Jdg_6:12). It is because the Lord is with her that she is endued with grace. Tyn., Cov., and Cran., no less than Wic. and Rhem., have “full of grace”; Genev. has “freely beloved.” See Resch, Kindheitsev. p. 78.
The familiar εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν, although well attested (A C D X Γ Δ Π, Latt. Syrr. Aeth. Goth., Tert. Eus.), probably is an interpolation borrowed from ver. 42: א B L, Aegyptt. Arm. omit.
29.When she had seen him, she was agitated Luke does not say that she was agitated by the presence of the angel, but by his address. Why then does he also mention his presence? The reason, I think, is this. Perceiving in the angel something of heavenly glory, she was seized with sudden dread arising out of reverence for God. She was agitated, because she felt that she had received a salutation, not from a mortal man, but from an angel of God. But Luke does not say that she was so agitated as to have lost recollection. On the contrary, he mentions an indication of an attentive and composed mind; for he afterwards adds, and was considering what that salutation would be: that is, what was its object, and what was its meaning. It instantly occurred to her that the angel had not been sent for a trifling purpose. This example reminds us, first, that we ought not to be careless observers of the works of God; and, secondly, that our consideration of them ought to be regulated by fear and reverence.
[Was troubled, etc.] I. It was very rare and unusual for men to salute any women; at least if that be true in Kiddushin. Rabh Judah, the president of the academy of Pombeditha, went to Rabh Nachman, rector of the academy of Neharde, and after some talk amongst themselves, “Saith Rabh Nachman, Let my daughter Doneg bring some drink, that we may drink together. Saith the other, Samuel saith, We must not use the ministry of a woman. But this is a little girl, saith Nachman. The other answers, But Samuel saith, We ought not to use the ministry of any woman at all. Wilt thou please, saith Nachman, to salute Lelith my wife? But, saith he, Samuel saith, The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness. But, saith Nachman, thou mayest salute her by a messenger. To whom the other; Samuel saith, They do not salute any woman. Thou mayest salute her, saith Nachman, by a proxy her husband. But Samuel saith, saith he again, They do not salute a woman at all.”
II. It was still much more rare and unusual to give such a kind of salutation as this, Hail, thou that art highly favoured; by which title Gabriel had saluted Daniel of old: with this exception, that it was terror enough so much as to see an angel.
She was troubled; more accurately, she was greatly troubled. Different to Zacharias, who evidently doubted in the mission of the angel, and who required some sign before he could believe, Mary simply wondered at the strangeness of what was about to happen. Her terror at the sudden appearance of the angel, who probably appeared to her as a young man clad in garments of a strange dazzling whiteness, is most natural.
30.Fear not, Mary He bids her lay aside fear. Let us always remember—what arises from the weakness of the flesh—that, whenever the feeblest ray of the Divine glory bursts upon us, we cannot avoid being alarmed. When we become aware, in good earnest, of the presence of God, we cannot think of it apart from its effects. Accordingly, as we are all amenable to his tribunal, fear gives rise to trembling, until God manifests himself as a Father. The holy virgin saw in her own nation such a mass of crimes, that she had good reason for dreading heavier punishments. To remove this fear, the angel declares that he has come to certify and announce an inestimable blessing. The Hebrew idiom, Thou hast found favor, is used by Luke instead of, “God has been merciful to thee:” for a person is said to find favor, not when he has sought it, but when it has been freely offered to him. Instances of this are so well known, that it would be of no use to quote them.
From the same root as χαίρω, to rejoice. I. Primarily that which gives joy or pleasure; and hence outward beauty, loveliness, something which delights the beholder. Thus Homer, of Ulysses going to the assembly: “Athene shed down manly grace or beauty upon him” (“Odyssey,” ii., 12); and Septuagint, Psalms 45:3, “grace is poured into thy liPsalms” See also Pro_1:9; Pro_3:22. Substantially the same idea, agreeableness, is conveyed in Luk_4:22, respecting the gracious words, lit., words of grace, uttered by Christ. So Eph_4:29. II. As a beautiful or agreeable sentiment felt and expressed toward another; kindness, favor, good-will. 2Co_8:6, 2Co_8:7, 2Co_8:9; 2Co_9:8; Luk_1:30; Luk_2:40; Act_2:47. So of the responsive sentiment of thankfulness. See Luk_6:32, Luk_6:33, Luk_6:34 :; Luk_17:9; but mostly in the formula thanks to God; Rom_6:17; 1Co_15:57; 2Co_2:14; 2Ti_1:3. III. The substantial expression of good-will; a boon, a favor, a gift; but not in New Testament. See Rom_5:15, where the distinction is made between χάρις, grace, and δωρεὰ ἐν χάριτι, a gift in grace. So a gratification or delight, in classical Greek only; as the delight in battle, in sleep, etc. IV. The higher Christian signification, based on the emphasis of freeness in the gift or favor, and, as commonly in New Testament, denoting the free, spontaneous, absolute loving-kindness of God toward men, and so contrasted with debt, law, works, sin. The word does not occur either in Matthew or Mark.
31.Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb The angel adapts his words, first to Isaiah’s prophecy, (Isa_7:14,) and next to other passages of the Prophets, with the view of affecting more powerfully the mind of the virgin: for such prophecies were well known and highly esteemed among the godly. At the same time, it ought to be observed that the angel did not merely speak in private to the ear of the virgin, but brought glad tidings, ( εὐαγγέλιον ,) which were shortly afterwards to be published throughout the whole world. It was not without the purpose of God, that the agreement, between ancient prophecies and the present message respecting the manifestation of Christ, was so clearly pointed out. The word conceive is enough to set aside the dream of Marcion and Manichaeus: for it is easy to gather from it that Mary brought forth not an ethereal body or phantom, but the fruit which she had previously conceived in her womb.
Thou shalt call his name Jesus The reason of the name is given by Matthew: for he shall save his people from their sins, (Mat_1:21 .)And so the name contains a promise of salvation, and points out the object for which Christ was sent by the Father into the world, as he tells us that he “came not to judge the world, but to save the world,” (Joh_12:47.) Let us remember that not by the will of men, but by the command of God, was this name given to him by the angel, that our faith may have its foundation, not in earth, but in heaven. It is derived from the Hebrew word ישע, salvation, from which comes הושיע, which signifies to save. It is a waste of ingenuity to contend that it differs from the Hebrew name יהושוע, (Jehoshua or Joshua.) The Rabbins everywhere write the word Jesu; and they do this with evident malice, that they may not bestow on Christ an honorable name, but, on the contrary, may insinuate that he is some pretended Jew. Their manner of writing it, accordingly, is of no more importance than the barking of a dog. The objection that it is far beneath the dignity of the Son of God to have a name in common with others, might equally apply to the name Christ, or Anointed But the solution of both is easy. What was exhibited in shadow under the law is fully and actually manifested in the Son of God; or, what was then a figure is in him a substance. There is another objection of as little weight. They assert that the name of Jesus is not worthy of veneration and awe, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, (Phi_2:9,) if it does not belong exclusively to the Son of God. For Paul does not attribute to him a magical name, as if in its very syllables majesty resided, but his language simply means that Christ has received from the Father the highest authority, to which the whole world ought to submit. Let us then bid adieu to such imaginations, and know, that the name Jesus was given to Christ, in order that believers may be instructed to seek in him what had formerly been shadowed out under the Law.
JESUS; the ordinary Greek form, the well-known Hebrew Jehoshua, the shortened Joshua, “The Salvation of Jehovah.
Vers. 31-33. The greatness of Jesus Christ.
To Mary, as to Elisabeth, it was foretold by the celestial messenger that her Son should be “great.” There can be no doubt that, after all that was then said, Mary expected unusually great things of the Child that should be born of her. But how very far short of the fact her highest hopes have proved to be! For to whatever exalted point they reached, the Jewish maiden could not possibly have attached to the angel”s words such meaning as we know them to have contained. The greatness of that promised Child was threefold; it related
I HIS DIVINE ORIGIN. He was not only to be her offspring, but he should “be called the Son of the Most High.” And there was to come upon her and overshadow her the Holy Ghost, the Power of the Most High. He was to be not only a son of God, but the Son of God, related to the Eternal Father as no other of the children of men had ever been or should ever be. He was to be One that would in the fullest sense partake of the Divine nature, be one in thought and in aim and in action with the Father. (Joh_5:19, 23 8:28 10:30 14:10, 11) He was to be “God manifest in the flesh.
II THE WORK HE SHOULD ACCOMPLISH. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus;” and he was to be so called because he would “save his people from their sins”. (Mat_1:25) There have been “saviors of society” from whom this poor wounded world might well have prayed to be delivered, men who tried to cover their own hideous selfishness under a fair and striking name. What they have claimed to be, Jesus the Savior was and is. He saves from sin. And to do that is to render us the very greatest conceivable service, both in its negative and positive aspects.
1. Negatively considered. To destroy sin is to take away evil by the root. For sin is not only, in itself, the worst and most shameful of all evils by which we can be afflicted, but it is the one fruitful source of all other evils poverty, estrangement, strife, weariness and aching of heart, death.
2. Positively considered. Saving from sin means restoring to God; it includes reinstatement in the condition from which sin removed us. Jesus Christ, in the very act in which he redeems us from the penalty and power of sin, restores us to God to his Divine favor, his likeness, his service. Accepting and abiding in the Savior, we dwell in the sunshine of God”s everlasting friendship; we grow up into his perfect image; we spend our days and our powers under his direction. It is not only that Jesus Christ delivers us from the darkest curse; it is that he raises us to the loftiest heritage, by the salvation which he offers to our hearts.
III THE DIGNITY AND POWER HE SHOULD ATTAIN. He was to reign upon a throne, “over the house of Jacob for ever;” and “of his kingdom there should be no end.” Great and large as Mary”s expectations for her promised Child may have very justly been, they can have been nothing to the fulfillment of the angel”s words. For the kingdom of Christ. (as it is or as it shall be) is one that surpasses in every way that of the greatest Hebrew sovereign. It does so:
1. In its main characteristics. It is spiritual. The only homage which is acceptable to its King is the homage of the heart, the only tribute the tribute of affection, the only obedience the obedience of love. It is beneficent. Every subject in this realm is sacredly bound to seek his brother”s wellbeing rather than his own. It is righteous. Every citizen, because he is such, is pledged to depart from all iniquity, to pursue and practice all righteousness.
2. In its extent. It has “no end” in its spacial dimensions. No river bounds it; no mountain, no sea; it reaches the whole world round.
3. In its duration. He shall reign “for ever;” his rule will go down to remotest times; it will touch and include the last generation that shall dwell upon the earth. Let us rejoice in his greatness; but let us see to it that
(1) we have a part in the heritage of those whom he is blessing, and that
(2) we take our share in the furtherance of his mission of mercy. C.
32.He shall be great The angel had said the same thing about John the Baptist, and yet did not intend to make him equal to Christ. But the Baptist is great in his own class, while the greatness of Christ is immediately explained to be such as raises him above all creatures. For to him alone this belongs as his own peculiar prerogative to be called the Son of God. So the apostle argues.
Unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? (Heb_1:5.)
Angels and kings, I admit, are sometimes dignified with this title in Scripture; but they are denominated in common the sons of God, on account of their high rank. But it is perfectly clear and certain, that God distinguishes his own Son from all the others, when he thus addresses him particularly, Thou art my Son, (Psa_2:7.) Christ is not confounded either with angels or with men, so as to be one of the multitude of the sons of God; but what is given to him no other has a right to claim. The sons of God are kings, not certainly by natural right, but because God has bestowed on them so great an honor. Even angels have no right to this distinction, except on account of their high rank among creatures, in subordination to the Great Head, (Eph_1:21.) We too are sons, but by adoption, which we obtain by faith; for we have it not from nature: Christ is the only Son, the only-begotten of the Father, (Joh_1:14.)
The future tense of the verb, he shall be called the Son of the Highest, is tortured by that filthy dog (26) Servetus to prove that Christ is not the eternal Son of God, but began to be so considered, when he took upon him our flesh. This is an intolerable slander. He argues that Christ was not the Son of God before he appeared in the world clothed with flesh; because the angel says, He shall be called On the contrary, I maintain, the words of the angel mean nothing more than that he, who had been the Son of God from eternity, would be manifested as such in the flesh, (1Ti_3:16;) for to be called denotes clear knowledge. There is a wide difference between the two statements, — that Christ began to be the Son of God, which he was not before, — and that he was manifested among men, in order that they might know him to be the person who had been formerly promised. Certainly, in every age God has been addressed by his people as a Father, and hence it follows, that he had a Son in heaven, from whom and by whom men obtained the sonship. For men take too much upon them, if they venture to boast of being the sons of God, in any other respect than as members of the only-begotten Son, (Joh_1:18.) Certain it is, that confidence in the Son alone, as Mediator, inspired the holy fathers with confidence to employ so honorable an address. That more complete knowledge, of which we are now speaking, is elsewhere explained by Paul to mean, that we are now at liberty not only to call God our Father, but boldly to cry, Abba, Father, (Rom_8:15; Gal_4:6.)
The Lord God will give unto him the throne of his father David We have said that the angel borrows from the prophets the titles which he bestows on Christ, in order that the holy virgin might more readily acknowledge him to be the Redeemer formerly promised to the fathers. Whenever the prophets speak of the restoration of the church, they direct all the hope of believers to the kingdom of David, so that it became a common maxim among the Jews, that the safety of the church would depend on the prosperous condition of that kingdom, and that nothing was more fitting and suitable to the office of the Messiah than to raise up anew the kingdom of David. Accordingly, the name of David is sometimes applied to the Messiah. “ They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king,” (Jer_30:9.) Again, “my servant David shall be a prince among them,” (Eze_34:24.) “They shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king,” (Hos_3:5.) The passages in which he is called “ the son of David” are sufficiently well known. In a word, the angel declares that in the person of Christ would be fulfilled the prediction of Amos, “ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen,” (Amo_9:11.)
He shall be great – There is undoubted reference in this passage to Isa_9:6-7. By his being “great” is meant he shall be distinguished or illustrious; great in power, in wisdom, in dominion on earth and in heaven.
Shall be called – This is the same as to say he “shall be” the Son, etc. The Hebrews often used this form of speech. See Mat_21:13.
The Highest – God, who is infinitely exalted; called the Highest, because He is exalted over all his creatures on earth and in heaven. See Mar_5:7.
The throne – The kingdom; or shall appoint him as the lineal successor of David in the kingdom.
His father David – David is called his father because Jesus was lineally descended from him. See Mat_1:1. The promise to David was, that there should “not fail” a man to sit on his throne, or that his throne should be perpetual 1Ki_2:4; 1Ki_8:25; 1Ki_9:5; 2Ch_6:16, and the promise was fulfilled by exalting Jesus to be a Prince and a Saviour, and the perpetual King of his people.
32. shall be called] i. e. shall be. The best comment on this verse is furnished by the passages of Scripture in which we find the same prophecy (Mic_5:4; 2Sa_7:12; Isa_9:6, Isa_9:7, Isa_9:11:1, Isa_9:10, Isa_9:16:5; Jer_23:5, Jer_23:30:9; Eze_34:24; Hos_3:5; Psa_132:11) and its fulfilment (Php_2:9-11; Rev_22:16).
the throne of his father David] according to Psa_132:11.
32. οὗτος ἔσται μέγας. As in ver. 15, this is forthwith explained; and the greatness of Jesus is very different from the greatness of John. The title υἱὸς γ̔ψίστου expresses some very close relation between Jesus and Jehovah, but not the Divine Sonship in the Trinity; comp. 6:35. On the same principle as Θεός and Κύριος Ὕψιστος is anarthrous : there can be only one Highest (Ecclus. 7:15, 27:26, 19:17, 24:2, 23, 29:11, etc.). The κληθήσεται is not a mere substitute for ἔσται: He not only shall be the Son of God, but shall be recognized as such. In the Acta Pauls et Theclæ we have Μακάριοι οἱ σαβόντες Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ ὑψίστου κληθήσονται (Tischendorf, p. 239). For τὸν θρόνον Δαυείδ Comp. 2Sa_7:12, 2Sa_7:13; Isa_9:6, Isa_9:7, Isa_9:16:5.
Δαυείδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ. This is thought to imply the Davidic descent of Mary; but the inference is not quite certain. Jesus was the heir of Joseph, as both genealogies imply. Comp. Psa_132:11; Hos_3:5. There is abundant evidence of the belief that the Messiah would spring from David: Mar_12:35, Mar_12:10:47, Mar_12:11:10; Luk_18:38, Luk_18:20:41; Luk_4 Ezra 12:32 (Syr. Arab. Arm.); Ps. Sol. 17:23, 24; Talmud and Targums. See on Rom_1:3.
The Son of the Highest. It is singular that this title, given by the angel to the yet unborn child, was the one given to the Redeemer by the evil spirit in the case of the poor possessed. (see Mar_5:7) Is this the title, or one of the titles, by which our Master is known in that greater world beyond our knowledge? The throne of his father David; clearly indicating that Mary herself was of royal lineage, although this is nowhere definitely stated. (see Psa_132:11) These words of the angel are as yet unfulfilled. They clearly speak of a restoration of Israel, still, as far as we can see, very distant. Nearly nineteen centuries have passed since Gabriel spoke of a restored throne of David, of a kingdom in Jacob to which should come no end. The people, through all the changing fortune of empires, have been indeed strangely kept distinct and separate, ready for the mighty change; but the eventful hour still tarries. It has been well observed how St. Luke”s report of the angel”s words here could never have been a forgery as one school of critics asserts of the second century. Would any writer in the second century, after the failure of Jesus among the Jews was well known, when the fall of Jerusalem had already taken place, have made an angel prophesy what is expressed here?
33.And he shall reign over the house of Jacob As salvation was promised, in a peculiar manner, to the Jews, (the covenant having been made with their father Abraham, Gen_17:7,) and Christ, as Paul informs us, “was a minister of the circumcision,” (Rom_15:8,) the angel properly fixed his reign in that nation, as its peculiar seat and residence. But this is in perfect accordance with other predictions, which spread and extend the kingdom of Christ to the utmost limits of the earth. By a new and wonderful adoption, God has admitted into the family of Jacob the Gentiles, who formerly were strangers; though in such a manner that the Jews, as the first-born, held a preferable rank; as it is said, “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion,” (Psa_110:3.) Christ’s throne was, therefore, erected among the people of Israel, that he might thence subdue the whole world. All whom he has joined by faith to the children of Abraham are accounted the true Israel. Though the Jews, by their revolt, have separated themselves from the church of God, yet the Lord will always preserve till the end some “remnants” (Rom_11:5;) for his “calling is without repentances” (Rom_11:29.) The body of the people is apparently cut off; but we ought to remember the mystery of which Paul speaks, (Rom_11:25,) that God will at length gather some of the Jews out of the dispersion. Meanwhile, the church, which is scattered through the whole world, is the spiritual house of Jacob; for it drew its origin from Zion.
For ever The angel points out the sense in which it was so frequently predicted by the prophets that the kingdom of David would be without end. It was only during his own reign and that of Solomon, that it remained wealthy and powerful Rehoboam, the third successor, hardly retained a tribe and a half. The angel now declares that, when it has been established in the person of Christ, it will not be liable to destruction, and, to prove this, employs the words of Daniel, (Dan_7:14,) of his kingdom there shall be no end Though the meaning of the words is, that God will for ever protect and defend the kingdom of Christ and the church, so that it shall not perish on the earth “as long as the sun and moon endure,” (Psa_72:5,) yet its true perpetuity relates to the glory to come. So then, believers follow each other in this life, by an uninterrupted succession, till at length they are gathered together in heaven, where they shall reign without end.
33. reign … for ever] Dan_2:44, “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall stand for ever.” (Comp. Dan_7:13, Dan_7:14, Dan_7:27; Mic_4:7.) “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Psa_45:6; Heb_1:8). “He shall reign for ever and ever,” Rev_11:15. In 1Co_15:24-28 the allusion is only to Christ’s mediatorial kingdom,—His earthly kingdom till the end of conflict.
Over the house of Jacob – The house of Jacob means the same thing as the “family” of Jacob, or the descendants of Jacob – that is, the children of Israel. This was the name by which the ancient people of God were known, and it is the same as saying that he would reign over his own church and people forever. This he does by giving them laws, by defending them, and by guiding them; and this he will do forever in the kingdom of his glory.
Of his kingdom there shall be no end – He shall reign among his people on earth until the end of time, and be their king forever in heaven. his is the only kingdom that shall never have an end; he the only King that shall never lay aside his diadem and robes, and that shall never die. “He “the only King that can defend us from all our enemies, sustain us in death, and reward us in eternity. O how important, then, to have an interest in his kingdom! and how unimportant, compared with “his” favor, is the favor of all earthly monarchs!
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
How, etc. — not the unbelief of Zacharias, “Whereby shall I know this?” but, taking the fact for granted, “How is it to be, so contrary to the unbroken law of human birth?” Instead of reproof, therefore, her question is answered in mysterious detail.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee – This conception shall take place suddenly, and the Holy Spirit himself shall be the grand operator. The power, δυναμις, the miracle-working power, of the Most High shall overshadow thee, to accomplish this purpose, and to protect thee from danger. As there is a plain allusion to the Spirit of God brooding over the face of the waters, to render them prolific, Gen_1:2, I am the more firmly established in the opinion advanced on Mat_1:20, that the rudiments of the human nature of Christ was a real creation in the womb of the virgin, by the energy of the Spirit of God.
Therefore also that holy thing (or person) – shall be called the Son of God – We may plainly perceive here, that the angel does not give the appellation of Son of God to the Divine nature of Christ; but to that holy person or thing, το ἁγιον, which was to be born of the virgin, by the energy of the Holy Spirit. The Divine nature could not be born of the virgin; the human nature was born of her. The Divine nature had no beginning; it was God manifested in the flesh, 1Ti_3:16; it was that Word which being in the beginning (from eternity) with God, Joh_1:2, was afterwards made flesh, (became manifest in human nature), and tabernacled among us, Joh_1:14. Of this Divine nature the angel does not particularly speak here, but of the tabernacle or shrine which God was now preparing for it, viz. the holy thing that was to be born of the virgin. Two natures must ever be distinguished in Christ: the human nature, in reference to which he is the Son of God and inferior to him, Mar_13:32; Joh_5:19; Joh_14:28, and the Divine nature which was from eternity, and equal to God, Joh_1:1; Joh_10:30; Rom_9:5; Col_1:16-18. It is true, that to Jesus the Christ, as he appeared among men, every characteristic of the Divine nature is sometimes attributed, without appearing to make any distinction between the Divine and human natures; but is there any part of the Scriptures in which it is plainly said that the Divine nature of Jesus was the Son of God? Here, I trust, I may be permitted to say, with all due respect for those who differ from me, that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, anti-scriptural, and highly dangerous. This doctrine I reject for the following reasons: –
1st. I have not been able to find any express declaration in the Scriptures concerning it.
2dly. If Christ be the Son of God as to his Divine nature, then he cannot be eternal; for son implies a father; and father implies, in reference to son, precedency in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the idea of generation; and generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation.
3dly. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.
4thly. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time; i.e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.
5thly. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is, in my opinion, absurd; and the phrase eternal Son is a positive self-contradiction. Eternity is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to Time. Son supposes time, generation, and father; and time also antecedent to such generation. Therefore the conjunction of these two terms, Son and eternity is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.
The enemies of Christ’s Divinity have, in all ages, availed themselves of this incautious method of treating this subject, and on this ground, have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the Godhead of Christ. This doctrine of the eternal Sonship destroys the deity of Christ; now, if his deity be taken away, the whole Gospel scheme of redemption is ruined. On this ground, the atonement of Christ cannot have been of infinite merit, and consequently could not purchase pardon for the offenses of mankind, nor give any right to, or possession of, an eternal glory. The very use of this phrase is both absurd and dangerous; therefore let all those who value Jesus and their salvation abide by the Scriptures. This doctrine of the eternal Sonship, as it has been lately explained in many a pamphlet, and many a paper in magazines, I must and do consider as an awful heresy, and mere sheer Arianism; which, in many cases, has terminated in Socinianism, and that in Deism. From such heterodoxies, and their abetters, may God save his Church! Amen!
36. καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐλεισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς σου. Comp. ver. 20. Mary, who did not ask for one, receives a more gracious sign than Zacharias, who demanded it. The relationship between her and Elisabeth is unknown.
“Cousin,” started by Wiclif, and continued until RV. substituted “kinswoman,” has now become too definite in meaning. The kinship has led artius to represent the two children as being playmates; but Joh_1:31 seems to be against such Companionship. It has also led to the conjecture that Jesus was descended from both Levi and Judah (see on ver. 27). But Levites might marry with other tribes; and therefore Elisabeth, who was descended from Aaron, might easily be related to one who was descended from David. This verse is not evidence that Mary was not of the house of David.
37.For no word shall be impossible with God If we choose to take ῥη̑μα, word, in its strict and native sense, the meaning is, that God will do what he hath promised, for no hinderance can resist his power. The argument will be, God hath promised, and therefore he will accomplish it; for we ought not to allege any impossibility in opposition to his word But as a word often means a thing in the idiom of the Hebrew language, (which the Evangelists followed, though they wrote in Greek,) we explain it more simply, that nothing is impossible with God We ought always, in- deed, to hold it as a maxim, that they wander widely from the truth who, at their pleasure, imagine the power of God to be something beyond his word; for we ought always to contemplate his boundless power, that it may strengthen our hope and confidence. But it is idle, and unprofitable, and even dangerous, to argue what God can do unless we also take into account what he resolves to do. The angel does here what God frequently does in Scripture, employs a general doctrine to confirm one kind of promise. This is the true and proper use of a general doctrine, to apply its scattered promises to the present subject, whenever we are uneasy or distressed; for so long as they retain their general form, they make little impression upon us. We need not wonder if Mary is reminded by the angel of the power of God; for our distrust of it diminishes very greatly our confidence in the promises. All acknowledge in words that God is Almighty; but, if he promises any thing beyond what we are able to comprehend, we remain in doubt. Whence comes this but from our ascribing to his power nothing more than what our senses receive? Thus Paul, commending the faith of Abraham, says, that he “gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform,” (Rom_4:20.) In another passage, speaking of the hope of eternal life, he sets before him the promise of God. “I know,” says he, “whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him,” (2Ti_1:12.)
This may seem to be a small portion of faith; for no man, however wicked, openly denies God’s claim to be Almighty. But he who has the power of God firmly and thoroughly fixed in his heart will easily surmount the other obstacles which present themselves to faith. It ought to be observed, however, that the power of God is viewed by true faith, if I may use the expression, as efficacious For God is and wishes to be acknowledged as powerful, that by the accomplishment itself he may prove his faithfulness.
With God nothing shall be impossible (σὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα)
Ῥῆμα, word, as distinguished from λόγος, word, in classical Greek, signifies a constituent part of a speech or writing, as distinguished from the contents as a whole. Thus it may be either a word or a saying. Sometimes a phrase, as opposed to ὄνομα, a single word. The distinction in the New Testament is not sharp throughout. It is maintained that ῥῆμα in the New Testament, like the Hebrew gabar, stands sometimes for the subject-matter of the word; the thing, as in this passage. But there are only two other passages in the New Testament where this meaning is at all admissible, though the word occurs seventy times. These are Luk_2:15; Act_5:32. “Kept all these things” (Luk_2:19), should clearly be sayings, as the A. V. itself has rendered it in the almost identical passage, Luk_2:51. In Act_5:32, Rev. gives sayings in margin. In Luk_2:15, though A. V. and Rev. render thing, the sense is evidently saying, as appears both from the connection with the angelic message and from the following words, which has come to pass: the saying which has become a fact. The Rev. rendering of this passage is, therefore, right, though a little stilted: No word of God shall be void of power; for the A. V. errs in joining οὐκ and πᾶν, not every, and translating nothing. The two do not belong together. The statement is, Every (πᾶν) word of God shall not (οὐκ) be powerless. The A. V. also follows the reading, παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, with God; but all the later texts read παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ, from God, which fixes the meaning beyond question.
38. be it unto me according to thy word] The thoughts of the Virgin Mary seem to have found their most natural utterance in the phrases of Scripture. 1Sa_3:18, “If it be the Lord let Him do what seemeth Him good.” For Mary too was aware that her high destiny must be mingled with anguish.
And the angel departed from her] We can best appreciate the noble simplicity of truthfulness by comparing this narrative of the Annunciation with the diffuse inflation of the Apocryphal Gospels. Take for instance such passages as these from one of the least extravagant of them, ‘The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.’ “The Angel Gabriel was sent to her … to explain to her the method or order of the Conception. At length having entered unto her, he filled the chamber where she abode with an immense light, and saluting her most courteously said, ‘Hail Mary! most acceptable Virgin of the Lord! Virgin full of grace … blessed art thou before all women; blessed art thou before all men hitherto born.’ But the Virgin who already knew the countenance of angels, and was not unused to heavenly light, was neither terrified by the angelic vision nor stupefied by the greatness of the light, but was troubled at his word alone; and began to think what that salutation so unwonted could be, or what it portended, or what end it could have. But the Angel, divinely inspired and counteracting this thought, said, Fear not, Mary, as though I meant something contrary to thy chastity by this salutation; for &c., &c.” The reader will observe at once the artificiality, the tasteless amplifications, the want of reticence;—all the marks which separate truthful narrative from elaborate fiction. (See B. H. Cowper, The Apocryphal Gospels, p. 93.)
38. Ἰδού ἡ δούλη κυρίου. That ἰδού is not a verb, but an exclamation, is manifest from the verbless nominative which follows it. Comp. 5:12, 18. “Handmaid” or “servant” is hardly adequate to δούλη. It is rather “bondmaid” or “slave.” In an age in which almost all servants were slaves, the idea which is represented by our word “servant” could scarcely arise. In N.T. the fem. δούλη occurs only here, ver. 48, and Act_2:18, the last being a quotation.
γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. This is neither a prayer that what has been foretold may take place, nor an expression of joy at the prospect. Rather it is an expression of submission, —“God’s will be done”: πίναξ εἰμι γράφομενος. ὄ βούλεται ὁ γραφεύς, γραφέτω (Eus.). Mary must have known how her social position and her relations with Joseph would be affected by her being with child before her marriage. There are some who maintain that the revelation made to Joseph (Mat_1:18-23) is inconsistent with what Lk. records here; for would not Mary have told him of the angelic message? We may reasonably answer that she would not do so. Her own inclination would be towards reserve (2:51); and what likelihood was there that he would believe so amazing a story? She would prefer to leave the issue with regard to Joseph in God’s hands. Hastings, D.C.G. art. “Annunciation.”
Dr. Swete has shown that the doctrine of the Miraculous Conception was from the earliest times part of the Creed. Beginning with Justin Martyr (Apol. 1:21, 31, 32, 33, 63; Try. 23, 48, 100), he traces back through Aristides (J. R. Harris, p. 24; Hennecke, p. 9 ; Barnes, Canon. and Uncanon. Gospp. p. 13), Ignatius (Eph. 19; Trall. 9. ; Smyr. 1.), the Valentinians, and Basilides, to S. Luke, to whom these Gnostics appealed. The silence of S. Mark is of no weight; his record does not profess to go farther back than the ministry of the Baptist. In the Third Gospel we reach not merely the date of the Gospel (a.d. 75-80), but the date of the early traditions incorporated in these first chapters, traditions preserved (possibly in writing) at Jerusalem, and derived from Mary herself.
The testimony of the First Gospel is perhaps even earlier in origin, and is certainly independent. It probably originated with Joseph, as the other with Mary (Gore, Bampton Lectures, p. 78; Dissertations on Subjects connected with the Incarnation, pp. 12-40). Greatly as the two narratives differ, both bear witness to the virgin birth (Swete, The Apostles’ Creed, ch. 4.).
42.Blessed art thou She seems to put Mary and Christ on an equal footing, which would have been highly improper. But I cheerfully agree with those who think that the second clause assigns the reason; for and often signifies because. Accordingly, Elisabeth affirms, that her cousin was blessed on account of the blessedness of her child. To carry Christ in her womb was not Mary’s first blessedness, but was greatly inferior to the distinction of being born again by the Spirit of God to a new life. Yet she is justly called blessed, on whom God bestowed the remarkable honor of bringing into the world his own Son, through whom she had been spiritually renewed. And at this day, the blessedness brought to us by Christ cannot be the subject of our praise, without reminding us, at the same time, of the distinguished honor which God was pleased to bestow on Mary, in making her the mother of his Only Begotten Son.
43.And whence is this to me? The happy medium observed by Elisabeth is worthy of notice. She thinks very highly of the favors bestowed by God on Mary, and gives them just commendation, but yet does not praise them more highly than was proper, which would have been a dishonor to God. For such is the native depravity of the world, that there are few persons who are not chargeable with one of these two faults. Some, delighted beyond measure with themselves, and desirous to shine alone, enviously despise the gifts of God in their brethren; while others praise them in so superstitious a manner as to convert them into idols. The consequence has been, that the first rank is assigned to Mary, and Christ is lowered as it were to the footstool. Elisabeth, again, while she praises her, is so far from hiding the Divine glory, that she ascribes everything to God. And yet, though she acknowledges the superiority of Mary to herself and to others, she does not envy her the higher distinction, but modestly declares that she had obtained more than she deserved.
She calls Mary the mother of her Lord This denotes a unity of person in the two natures of Christ; as if she had said, that he who was begotten a mortal man in the womb of Mary is, at the same time, the eternal God. For we must bear in mind, that she does not speak like an ordinary woman at her own suggestion, but merely utters what was dictated by the Holy Spirit. This name Lord strictly belongs to the Son of God “manifested in the flesh,” (1Ti_3:16,) who has received from the Father all power, and has been appointed the highest ruler of heaven and earth, that by his agency God may govern all things. Still, he is in a peculiar manner the Lord of believers, who yield willingly and cheerfully to his authority; for it is only of “his body” that he is “the head,” (Eph_1:22.) And so Paul says, “though there be lords many, yet to us,” that is, to the servants of faith, “there is one Lord,” (1Co_8:5.) By mentioning the sudden movement of the babe which she carried in her womb, (ver. 44,) as heightening that divine favor of which she is speaking, she unquestionably intended to affirm that she felt something supernatural and divine.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? But the Holy Ghost (verse 41) raised Elisabeth”s thoughts yet higher. Not only did she bless the mother of the coming Messiah, but the Spirit opened her eyes to see who that coming Messiah really was. Very vague indeed was the conception of the coming Messiah in Israel. The truth was, perhaps, revealed, and in rapt moments received by men like Isaiah and Ezekiel; and now and again men like David; Daniel wrote down visions and revelations respecting the Coming One, the true purport of which vision they scarcely grasped. Generally the Messianic idea among the people pictured a hero greater than Saul, a conqueror more successful than David, a sovereign more magnificent than Solomon. They pictured ever the glorious arm sustaining the coming Hero-King; but few, if any, dreamed of the “glorious arm” belonging to their future Deliverer. But here the Spirit in a moment revealed to the happy wife of the priest Zacharias that the Babe to be born of her young kinswoman was not only the promised Messiah, but was the awful Son of the Highest! Think, reader, what these simple words we are considering signify! Why am I so favored “that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? “The contrast leaves no room for doubt,” well argues Dean Plumptre, “that she used the word “Lord” in its highest sense. “Great” as her own son was to be (verse 15) in the sight of the Lord, here was the mother of One yet greater, even of the Lord himself.”
And whence is this to me? – An expression of humility. Why is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me, as if to honor me?
Mother of my Lord – The word “Lord” sometimes denotes “divinity,” and sometimes superior, master, teacher, or governor. It was given by the Jews to their expected Messiah; but whether they understood it as denoting divinity cannot now be ascertained. It is clear only that Elizabeth used it as denoting great dignity and honor.
45.And blessed is she that believed It was by a hidden movement of the Spirit, as is evident from a former statement of Luke, that Elisabeth spoke. The same Spirit declares that Mary is blessed because she believed, and by commending Mary’s faith, informs us generally in what the true happiness of men consists. Mary was blessed, because, embracing in her heart the promise of God, she conceived and brought forth a Savior to herself and to the whole which the Judges occupied; as when Cicero proposes to appeal from the Senate to the popular assembly, ”a subselliis in rem deferre.” Calvin may have had in his eye such a phrase as “imi subsellii vir,” and his meaning is fully brought out by his own version, “sur le marchepied.” — Ed world. This was peculiar to her: but as we have not a drop of righteousness, life, or any other benefit, except so far as the Lord presents them to us in his Word, it is faith alone that rescues us from the lowest poverty and misery, and makes us partakers of true happiness.
There is great weight in this clause, for there shall be a fulfillment to those things which have been told her The meaning is, faith gives way to the divine promises, that they may obtain their accomplishment in us. The truth of God certainly does not depend on the will of men, but God remains always true, (Rom_3:4,) though the whole world—unbelievers and liars—should attempt to ruin his veracity. Yet, as unbelievers are unworthy to obtain the fruit of the promises, so Scripture teaches us, that by faith alone they are powerful for our salvation. God offers his benefits indiscriminately to all, and faith opens its bosom to receive them; while unbelief allows them to pass away, so as not to reach us. If there had been any unbelief in Mary, that could not prevent God from accomplishing his work in any other way which he might choose. But she is called blessed, because she received by faith the blessing offered to her, and opened up the way to God for its accomplishment; while faith, on the other hand, shuts the gate, and restrains his hand from working, that they who refuse the praise due to its power may not feel its saving effect. We must observe also the relation between the word and faith, from which we learn that, in the act of believing, we give our assent to God who speaks to us, and hold for certain what he has promised to us that he will do. The phrase, by the Lord, is of the same import with an expression in common use, on the part of God; for the promise had been brought by the angel, but proceeded from God alone. Hence we infer that, whether God employs the ministrations of angels or of men, he wishes equal honor to be paid to his Word as if he were visibly descending from heaven.
For (hoti). It is not certain whether hoti here is “that” or “because.” It makes good sense either way. See also Luk_7:16. This is the first beatitude in the New Testament and it is similar to the last one in the Gospels spoken to Thomas to discourage his doubt (Joh_20:29). Elisabeth wishes Mary to have full faith in the prophecy of the angel. This song of Elisabeth is as real poetry as is that of Mary (Luk_1:47-55) and Zacharias (Luk_1:68-70). All three spoke under the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the first New Testament hymns and they are very beautiful. Plummer notes four strophes in Mary’s Magnificat (Luk_1:46-48, Luk_1:49, Luk_1:50, Luk_1:51-53, Luk_1:54, Luk_1:55). Every idea here occurs in the Old Testament, showing that Mary’s mind was full of the spiritual message of God’s word.
Now follows a remarkable and interesting song of the holy virgin, which plainly shows how eminent were her attainments in the grace of the Spirit. There are three clauses in this song. First, Mary offers solemn thanksgiving for that mercy of God which she had experienced in her own person. Next, she celebrates in general terms God’s power and judgments. Lastly, she applies these to the matter in hand, treating of the redemption formerly promised, and now granted to the church.
46.My soul magnifieth Here Mary testifies her gratitude, as we have already said. But as hypocrites, for the most part, sing the praises of God with open mouth, unaccompanied by any affection of the heart, Mary says that she praises God from an inward feeling of the mind. And certainly they who pronounce his glory, not from the mind, but with the tongue alone, do nothing more than profane his holy name. The words soul and spirit are used in Scripture in various senses, but, when employed together, they denote chiefly two faculties of the soul; spirit being taken for the understanding, and soul for the seat of the affections. To comprehend the meaning of the holy virgin, it must be observed that what is here placed second is first in order; for the excitement of the will of man to praise God must be preceded by a rejoicing of the spirit, (47) as James says, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” (Jas_5:13.) Sadness and anxiety lock up the soul, and restrain the tongue from celebrating the goodness of God. When the soul of Mary exults with joy, the heart breaks out in praising God. It is with great propriety, in speaking of the joy of her heart, that she gives to God the appellation of Savior Till God has been recognised as a Savior, the minds of men are not free to indulge in true and full joy, but will remain in doubt and anxiety. It is God’s fatherly kindness alone, and the salvation flowing from it, that fill the soul with joy. In a word, the first thing necessary for believers is, to be able to rejoice that they have their salvation in God. The next ought to follow, that, having experienced God to be a kind Father, they may “offer to him thanksgiving,” (Psa_50:14.) The Greek word σωτὴρ, Savior, has a more extensive signification than the Latin word Servator; for it means not only that he once delivers, but that he is “the Author of eternal salvations” (Heb_5:9.)
46. And Mary said] This chapter is remarkable for preserving a record of two inspired hymns—the Magnificat and the Benedictus—which have been used for more than a thousand years in the public services of Christendom. The Magnificat first appears in the office of Lauds in the rule of St Caesarius of Arles, a. d. 507. (Blunt, Annotated Prayer Book, p. 33.) It is so full of Hebraisms as almost to form a mosaic of quotations from the Old Testament, and it is closely analogous to the Song of Hannah (1Sa_2:1-10). It may also be compared with the Hymn of Judith (Jud_1:1-17). But it is animated by a new and more exalted spirit, and is specially precious as forming a link of continuity between the eucharistic poetry of the Old and New Dispensation. (See Bp Wordsworth, ad loc.)
My soul doth magnify the Lord] 1Sa_2:1; Psa_34:2, Psa_34:3. The soul (ψυχὴ) is the natural life with all its affections and emotions; the spirit (πνεῦμα) is the diviner and loftier region of our being, 1Th_5:23; 1Co_2:10.
Ver. 46-56. The hymn of Mary, commonly called the Magnificat.
And Mary said. There is a great contrast between the behavior of the two women when they met in Elisabeth”s house. The elder was full of a new strange ecstatic joy. “She was filled with the Holy Ghost” (verse 42), and spoke her words of lofty congratulation with “a loud voice” (verse 42). Mary, on the other hand, was not conscious evidently, on this occasion, of any special presence of the Holy Spirit. Since the hour of the annunciation and her own meek faithful acceptance of the Lord”s purpose, she had been dwelling, so to speak, under the immediate influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Her cousin”s inspiration seems to have been momentary and transitory, while hers, during that strange blessed season which immediately preceded the Incarnation, was enduring. Hence the quiet introduction to her hymn, “And Mary said.” It is, of course, possible that she had committed the beautiful thoughts to writing; but perhaps, in giving them to Luke or Paul, she needed no parchment scroll, but softly repeated to the chronicler of the Divine story the old song in which she had first told her deep imaginings to Elisabeth, and afterwards often had murmur the same bright words of joy and faith over the holy Babe as he lay in his cradle at Bethlehem, in Egypt, or in Nazareth. The “Virgin”s Hymn” for nearly fourteen centuries has been used in the public liturgies of Christendom. We find it first in the ethics of Lauds in the Rule of St. Caesarius of Aries (A.D. 507).
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. This is the first of the four divisions of the Magnificat. In it she speaks of herself, and her deep feelings of adoration and of holy joy, and of intense glad surprise. It is a prayer, but the highest kind of prayer, for it asks for nothing it simply breathes adoration and thankfulness. We may imagine the angels praying thus. They have all that created beings, however exalted, can desire in the beatific vision which they perpetually enjoy; and yet they pray continually, but only after this manner.
The joy of her spirit, notice, is based on the fact of the revelation that he, God, was, too, her Savior; and, of course, not hers only: her great joy was in the thought of the salvation of the suffering, sinning world around her. Then she passes into simple wonderment that she should have been chosen as the instrument of the boundless goodness of God. She had nothing to recommend her only her low estate. Though royally descended, she only occupied a position among the humblest Hebrew maidens, and yet, owing to God”s favor, she will be deemed blessed by countless unborn generations.
Vers. 46-48. The voice of praise.
This “improvisation of a happy faith” is not more musical to the ear than it is beautiful to our spiritual discernment. It presents to us the mother of our Lord in a most pleasing light. We will look at these words of devout gratitude as
I MARY”S RESPONSE to God”s distinguishing goodness to her. She received from God a kindness that was:
1. Necessarily unique. Only to one of the daughters of men could be granted the peculiar honor conferred on her. We are naturally and properly affected by mercies which speak of God”s distinguishing goodness to us.
2. Fitted to fill her heart with abounding joy. She was to become a mother, and the mother of One who should render to his people services of surpassing value; no wonder that her “spirit rejoiced” in such a prospect.
3. Calculated to call forth all that was highest and worthiest in her nature. She would have to cherish and to rear, to teach and to train, that illustrious Son who should call her “mother”.
4. Certain to confer, upon her, an honorable immortality. All generations would call her blessed.
5. Rendered to one who could not have expected it. God had stooped low to bless, even to the low estate of “his bond-maiden.” And, impressed with this wonderful and unanticipated goodness, she poured forth her gladness in a song of holy gratitude, of lofty praise. Such should be
II OUR APPRECIATION of God”s abounding kindness to ourselves.
1. The indebtedness under which our heavenly Father has laid us. It is, indeed, as different as possible from that which inspired this sacred lyric. Yet may we most reverently and most becomingly take the words of Mary into our lips both the utterance of felt obligation and the language of praise. For:
(1) How low is the condition on which, in our case, God has mercifully looked! from what depth of error, of folly, of wrong, has he raised us! a depth with which the lowly estate of Mary is not to be compared.
(2) With what a great salvation has he delivered us! a salvation with which even the national deliverance Mary would be expecting of her Son is of very small account.
(3) And what a lasting good he confers upon us who have received God our Savior! The blessing of an immortality of undying fame is very precious to these thirsting human spirits of ours: but is it comparable with that of an actual immortality of conscious, eternal life with God and with the good in the heavenly kingdom? Distant generations will not hear our name, but in remotest times we shall be dwelling and serving in unimaginable joy.
2. The response we should make to our Father.
(1) Great gladness of heart. We should rejoice in God our Savior; welcoming him, trusting and resting in him, finding our refuge and our strength in his faithfulness and his love.
(2) Honouring him before all men. “Magnifying the Lord” with the utterance of the lip, with the obedience of the life, with active service in his vineyard. C.
46-56. The Magnificat or Song of Mary
This beautiful lyric is neither a reply to Elisabeth nor an address to God. It is rather a meditation; an expression of personal emotions and experiences. It is more calm and majestic than the utterance of Elisabeth. The exultation is as great, but it is more under control. The introductory εἶπεν, as contrasted with ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ (ver. 42), points to this. The hymn is modelled upon the O.T. Psalms, especially the Song of Hannah (1Sa_2:1-10); but its superiority to the latter in moral and spiritual elevation is very manifest. From childhood the Jews knew many of the O.T. lyrics by heart; and, just as our own poor, who know no literature but the Bible, easily fall into biblical language in times of special joy or sorrow, so Mary would naturally fall back on the familiar expressions of Jewish Scripture in this moment of intense exultation.
The hymn falls into four strophes, 46-48, 49 and 50, 51-53, 54 and 55.
46. Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον. The verb is used in the literal sense of “enlarge,” Mat_23:5 : comp. Luk_1:58. More often, as here, in the derived sense of “esteem great, extol, magnify” (Act_5:13, Act_10:46, Act_19:17). So also in class. Grk. Weiss goes too far when he contends that “distinctions drawn between ψυχή and πνεῦμα have absolutely no foundation in N.T. usage” (sind gänzlich unbegründet); but it is evident that no distinction is to be made here. The ψυχή and the πνεῦμα are the immaterial part of man’s nature as opposed to the body or the flesh. It is in her inner, higher life, in her real self, that Mary blesses God in jubilation. If a distinction were made here, we ought to have μεγαλύνει τὸ πνεῦμά μου and ἠγαλλίασεν ἡ ψυχή μου, for the πνεῦμα is the seat of the religious life, the ψυχή of the emotions. See Lft. Notes on the Epp. of S. Paul, p. 88, 1895, and the literature there quoted, esp. Olshausen, Opusc. p. 157.