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that Mary did not like to hear Zacharias insinuate, that she would not believe till a miracle was wrought to convince her; but only that she did not understand how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state, and desired him to explain it to her, not doubting but it was possible. Wherefore, the weakness of her apprehension being consistent with faith, and her request being conceived with modesty and humility, the angel told her, that the wonderful event should be accomplished by the interposition of the Holy Spirit, and special energy of the power of God, who would preserve her reputation entire, at least, in the opinion of impartial judges, and protect her from any injury which this mystery might expose her to. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore, also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. He shall be called God's son, because thou shalt conceive him by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost, causing him to exist in thy womb. Moreover, to confirm her faith, he acquainted her with the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth, who was then past the age of child-bearing, that being a thing similar, though inferior, to her own pregnancy, which he had been predicting. And Mary said, behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. In this answer Mary expressed both great faith and great resignation. She believed what the angel had told her concerning her conception, and wished for it, not regarding the inconveniencies she might be exposed to thereby, well knowing that the power of God could easily protect her
Mary now went to the city where Zacharias and Elizabeth resided. On her arrival she saluted her cousin. But she no sooner spake, than the child in the womb of Elizabeth leaped, as transported with joy. Moreover, the holy woman herself, inspired at the approach of the Messiah, saluted the virgin by the grand title of The mother of my Lord. Being also in a divine and prophetic ecstacy, she uttered things which had an evident relation to the particulars of Mary's interview with the angel, things, therefore, which Elizabeth could know only by revelation; so that she astonished Mary exceedingly, and exalted her faith beyond every doubt. And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. In these last words she evidently commends the humble faith with which Mary had received the revelation which was made her by the angel. The virgin, having heard Elizabeth thus speak, was likewise filled with the Holy Ghost; so that being inspired, she expressed the deepest sense of her own unworthiness, and of the infinite goodness of God in chusing her to the high honour of being Messiah's mother. This she did in a hymn, which, though uttered extempore, is remarkable for the beauty of its style, the sublimity of its sentiments, and the spirit of piety which runs through the whole. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. When a person, speaking of himself, mentions his soul or spirit doing a thing, it is the strongest expression in human language, and intimates his doing the thing mentioned with the utmost energy of all his faculties. Mary, therefore, by saying that "her soul magnified the Lord, and that her spirit rejoiced in God," meant to tell that she exerted the utmost vigour of all her faculties, in declaring the perfections of God, which constitute his greatness; and that the considerations of his goodness towards her filled her with joy, to the utmost extent of her
capacity. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. Though I am a person in the lowest station, and had not the least reason to expect that any thing extraordinary should arise from me; yet God hath put such honour on my condition, as to make me the instrument of bringing into the world Messiah, the desire of all nations, for which reason all generations shall esteem me peculiarly happy; for, behold, from henceforth all gencrations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty, Almighty God, hath done to me great things. Perhaps Mary had now in her eye her miraculous conception of Messiah. And Holy is his name. She made this remark to signify her humble faith in God's wisdom and goodness. She was astonished that God should have chosen her, a person of the meanest condition, to be mother of Messiah. Yet, from her belief of the divine perfections, she was convinced that all was done in wisdom and truth. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. So great is the goodness of God, that he rewards the piety of his servants upon their posterity, to the thousandth generation. [Exod. xx. 6.] By making this observation the virgin modestly insinuated, that she imputed the great honour that was done her, not to any merit of her own, but to the piety of her ancestors, Abraham and David, which God thus rewarded upon their latest posterity. He hath shewed strength with his arm. It is an observation of Grotius, that God's great power is represented by his finger, his greater by his hand, and his greatest by his arm. The production of lice was the finger of God, [Exod. vii. 18.] and the other miracles in Egypt were done by his hand, [Exod. iii. 20.] but the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea, was brought to pass by his arm. [Exod. xv. 16.] Wherefore the virgin's meaning is, that in this dispensation of his providence God mightily manifested his Sovereign power. He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. The proud great women, who indulged many fond imaginations concerning the honour that should accrue to them from giving birth to Messiah, he hath scattered; he hath filled them with shame to such a degree, that they have scattered and hid themselves, in allusion to an army of cowards, who, breaking their ranks, run off in despair. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. The kings who sprang from David had, no doubt, one after another, expected to be the parents of Messiah; and when the kingdom was taken from them, such of the royal progeny as were in the highest station, would reckon this their certain and highest privilege. But now their hope was wholly overthrown. They were brought down, by God, from that height of dignity to which, in their own imagination, they had exalted themselves; and a person in the meanest condition, of all the royal seed, was raised to it.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. Both the poor and the rich are here represented as waiting at God's gate, in the condition of beggars; the rich, in expectation of receiving the honour of giving birth to Messiah; the poor, in expectation, not of that blessing, but hoping for such small favours as suited their condition, While they wait in this state, God, by an exercise of his sovereignty, bestows the favour so much courted by the rich on a poor family, to its unspeakable satisfaction, and sends the rich away disappointed and discontented. He hath holpen his servant Israel. The word here translated to help signifies properly to support a thing that is falling, by taking hold of it on the falling side. Mary's meaning, therefore, was, that God had now remarkably supported the Jewish nation, and hindered it from falling, by raising up Messiah among them, the matchless renown of whose undertaking would reflect infinite honour on the nation which gave him birth. Perhaps, also, by his servant Israel, she meant all those who are spiritually so called, In remembrance of his mercy. When men remember things which they ought to
perform, they commonly perform them, especially if no obstacle lies in their way, For some such reason as this the scriptures say, God remembers his attributes, when he exerts them in a signal manner, and his promises, when he fulfills them in spite of all opposition. So he is said to forget a thing when he acts outwardly, as men do when they have forgotten it. Yet, properly speaking, remembering and forgetting are both of them absolutely inconsistent with the perfections of God, in whose mind things past, present, and to come, are ever present. As he spake to our forefathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever, i. e. to all his seed, Gentiles as well as Jews. For though the virgin might not have a distinct conception of what she uttered, understood in this extensive view; yet as she spoke by inspiration, there is nothing to hinder us from affixing such a meaning to her words, especially as the construction of the sentence would scarce admit of any other. It might, therefore, be better translated thus: In remembrance of his mercy to Abraham, and to his seed for ever, as he spake to our fathers. And so, Mary having, to her unspeakable satisfaction, found all things as the angel had told her, she returned home at the end of three months, when the period of Elizabeth's pregnancy was completed. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house in Nazareth.
Now Elizabeth's full time came that she should be delivered, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord shewed great mercy upon her, by giving her a son after so long a course of barrenness; and they rejoiced with her. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him Zacharias after the name of his father. The law did not enjoin that the child should have his name given him at circumcision; but it was customary to do it then, because, at the institution of the rite, God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah, Gen. xvii. v. 15. And his mother answered and said, Not so, but he shall be called John. She might in this, act by revelation, or Zacharias may have explained the whole affair to her in writing. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father how he would have him called. And he asked, namely, by signs, being dumb, for a writingtable, and wrote, saying, his name is John. Zacharias had no sooner done writing, than he recovered his speech, the angel's prediction being then fully accomplished.. Accordingly, with an audible articulate voice, he praised God in holy raptures, to the astonishment of all present, acknowledging the justice of the punishment that had been inflicted upon him, and the greatness of the sin which had procured it. By this open, affectionate confession, he impressed all his neighbours and acquaintance with a reverence for God, and a fear of offending him. Immediately after this he broke out in the following divine ode, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people. For God to visit his people is a metaphorical expression, signifying to shew them great favour. It is taken from the custom of princes, who commonly visit the provinces of their kingdom, in order to redress grievances and to confer benefits. The great benefit accruing to the people of God from the visitation which this holy man speaks of here, is their redemption or deliverance from all their spiritual enemies, by the coming of Messiah. And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. In the prophetic language a horn signifies power, dignity, and dominion, because the strength and beauty of several animals lie in their horns. A horn of salvation, therefore, is a power which works or brings salvation. Here it signifies Messiah, who was soon to appear to save his people, the knowledge of which grand event had been communicated to Zacharias by the angel, who foretold the birth of his son, verse 17. As he spake [promised] by the mouth of his holy pro phets, which have been since the world began. That we should be delivered from our
enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. The promise which was made ever since the world began, refers, no doubt, to the seed of the woman, who was to bruise the serpent's head. To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. God hath raised up a mighty deliverer in the house of David, to perform the great spiritual mercy which he promised to our fathers, and to fulfil that most gracious covenant, which he was pleased to confirm by oath to our father Abraham, Gen. xxii. 16. The tenor of which covenant was, that Abraham's spiritual seed, being delivered from their enemies by Messiah, should, under his government, worship God cheerfully, without slavish fear, and serve him by purity of heart and integrity of life throughout all generations. Having thus described the great blessing which Messiah, whose coming he had so near a prospect of, was about to confer upon men, Zachariah proceeded to speak concerning his own son, who, as the angel had told him, was to be Messiah's forerunner. And thou child, (pointing towards John, or, perhaps, taking him in his arms,) shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, thou shalt be the messenger of God most high; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way; thou shalt go before the Lord Messiah, to dispose mankind to reverence him, and to receive his doctrine; and this thou shalt do, by preaching to his people the glad tidings, that there is salvation to be obtained, even by repentance, God having determined to pardon the sins of the penitent. To give the knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins. Through the tender mercy of our God, though thou shalt give men the glad tidings of the pardon of their sins upon their repentance, thou shalt teach them that their pardon is the pure effect of the most tender mercy of God. Of which mercy this indeed is the highest expression, that he is about to make Messiah the sun of righteousness, foretold by the prophets to arise upon the world, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us. To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace. At his coming, Messiah shall enlighten, with the knowledge of salvation, the Gentile nations, who had long lived in ignorance and wickedness, which are the cause of death. Nay, he shall guide the feet even of us Jews into the way of happiness, by shewing us more perfectly the will of God, and the method of salvation. In these elevated strains did this pious man describe the great blessings which mankind were to enjoy by the coming of the seed promised to Adam, to Abra ham, and to David.
We are informed that John grew and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel; referring, perhaps, to his early seeking retirement, as well as to his residing with his parents in the hill, or desert country of Judea.
As it was the fourth month of Mary's pregnancy when she returned from visiting Elizabeth, the signs of it began to appear. Her husband observed them, was incensed, and meditated the dissolution of the marriage. But before he came to a determination, it is natural to think he would converse with her upon the subject; and that she, in her own vindication, might relate to him the vision of the angel, the message he had brought her, and what happened to Zacharias and Elizabeth: perhaps, also, she might produce letters from Zacharias, foreseeing what was to happen. But Joseph, apprehensive that the whole might be a stratagem of Mary and her relations to save her reputation, thought himself obliged to divorce her, although he was not fully certain of her unchastity; for he was a religious observer of the law. Nevertheless, he