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taken notice of by many, verse 21. There were likewise many, who, upon his coming out dumb, conjectured that he had seen a vision, verse 22. Matters of so public a nature, and the truth or falsehood of which so many must have known, would never have been thus openly appealed to by Luke if they had been really false.
When the angel appeared to Zacharias, it was in such a form, as evidently proved him to be a being of a superior nature, and therefore filled the mind of Zacharias with that awful sensation, which the greatest and best of mankind have often experienced on similar occasions. To relieve him from this apprehension, the angel said, Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son. cannot imagine that this holy man, at so advanced an age, and on such an occasion, would pray for the pregnancy of his wife, who was likewise very old. The priests, in this office, considered themselves as the mouth of the people, and made the welfare of the nation the subject of their prayers. Wherefore, since it is reasonable to suppose that Zacharias now interceded for the coming of the Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, we may consider the angel's word as having a reference to such a prayer, thus: "The Messiah, for whose coming thou prayest, is about to be born, for thy wife shall bring forth his fore-runner." Some, indeed, are of opinion, that the prayers which Zecharias may have put up for offspring when he and his wife were young, were meant. Yet the time and place of the vision gives reason to believe, that the object of it was a matter of more general concern:-and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias. The son of Zacharias had the spirit of Elijah, equalling, if not exceeding him, in zeal for God, in severity of manners, in courage, and in sustaining persecutions. For he was clad in a garment of camel's hair, fed on locusts and wild honey, rebuked sinners of the highest distinction with great boldness, and was put to death on that account. He had the power also of Elijah; for though he did no miracle, he was honoured with the like success in restoring the lost spirit of true religion among his countrymen. Nay, he even excelled Elijah in that which is properly the power of a prophet, and to which all his other gifts are subservient; the power of converting men being in this more successful without miracles, than Elijah had been with them. By his preaching he made such a general change upon the manners of the nation, that he turned the hearts of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to their children the Jews, from whom they had been alienated on account of their wickedness; and the hearts of the children to their fathers, by begetting in them a love of religion, and religious characters, and by so doing prepared a people for the coming of the Lord.
Thus God, by a supernatural interposition, testified his approbation of the piety of this religious pair. But Zacharias, looking on the pregnancy of his wife as a thing incredible, because she was greatly advanced in years, did not believe the news thereof, though brought him by an angel, and rashly demanded a sign in confirmation of it; which want of faith was the more culpable, as he was well acquainted with the instances of Sarah, who brought forth Isaac in an extreme old age; and of the wives of Manoah and Eleana, who, after long barrenness, conceived by the promise of angels. The angel, in reply, informed him that he was Gabriel, who stood in the presence of God, referring, as some suppose, to his station among the heavenly hosts; or, as others think, to the place he then occupied in the temple. To confirm his faith, To confirm his faith, he gave him a sign, which was also a chastisement of his offence. Because he had sinned with his
lips, the angel struck him dumb, declaring that he should continue so till the message, whose truth he had doubted of, was verified by the accomplishment. Accordingly, when Zacharias came out to the people, who had been praying in the court of the temple while the incense was burning, he could not speak to them; but he made such signs as let them know he had seen a vision, which was the cause of his dumbuess.
And it came to pass that as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed unto his own house. This is generally supposed to have been in Hebron, a city of the priests, about twenty miles from Jerusalem. And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. The meaning is, either, that she saw no company, judging it proper to spend much of her time in the duties of devotion, and meditating silently on the wonderful goodness of God; or, that she concealed her pregnancy for a while, lest she should expose herself to ridicule. by speaking of it before she knew certainly that it was a real conception.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy the angel Gabriel was sent to a city of Galilee, that he might there communicate the most important tidings to a young virgin, who, though a descendant of David, lived in circumstances of humble poverty, and was distinguished by nothing but her exemplary piety. She was contracted to a man of the same tribe, and similar character, whose name was Joseph. It was usual among the Jews for women to be for some time thus contracted, before that they were taken home to reside with their husbands; they were considered as under all the obligations of wedlock, and every deviation from the rules of chastity was, in them, punishable as adultery.
When the angel entered the apartment where Mary resided, he addressed her with Hail! thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, i. e. according to the Hebrew idiom, thou art the happiest of all the women that ever lived. A salutation so unusual from a being of a superior order, (for such his form, which was more than human, bespoke him to be,) put Mary into a great perturbation of spirit. Wherefore, to remove her fears, the angel, speaking with a soothing accent, bid her take courage; and explained what he had said by telling her that she was the happiest woman upon earth, in having found such favour with God, as to be chosen to the highest honour that a mortal could enjoy. She was to conceive and bring forth the great person, who, on earth, was to be called Jesus, because he would be the restorer of human nature, and Saviour of the world; but in heaven was known by the name of the Son of God most high. Moreover, being the long expected Messiah, the Lord God would give him the throne typified by that of David his earthly father; for he was to rule over the house of Jacob, the spiritual Israel, even all who imitated the faith and obedience of that good patriarch, and of this his kingdom there was to be no end. When Mary heard Gabriel say that she was to conceive Messiah, being conscious of her virginity, she found the matter above her comprehension, and therefore desired him to explain it. Being young and unexperienced, it was not to be expected that she could have a comprehension of mind and strength of faith, equal to that which the old priest Zacharias ought to have possessed. Besides, this was a thing supernatural, and altogether without example; for though it is not distinctly mentioned by the evangelist, it is plain, from Mary's answer, that the angel had let her know she was to conceive forthwith, and without the concurrence of a man. These seem to have been the reasons why Gabriel, who had struck Zacharias dumb for presuming to ask a sign in proof of his wife's future pregnancy, bore with the virgin, when she desired to know how hers could be brought about. In the mean time, it should be observed,