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The Birth of Christ Foretold.
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 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. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
We have here notice given us of all that it was fit we should know concerning the incarnation and conception of our blessed Saviour, six months after the conception of John. The same angel, Gabriel, that was employed in making known to Zacharias God's purpose concerning his son, is employed in this also; for in this, the same glorious work of redemption, which was begun in that, is carried on. As bad angels are none of the redeemed, so good angels are none of the redeemers; yet they are employed by the Redeemer as his messengers, and they go cheerfully on his errands, because they are his Father's humble servants, and his children's hearty friends and well-wishers.
I. We have here an account given of the mother of our Lord, of whom he was to be born, whom, though we are not to pray to, yet we ought to praise God for.
1. Her name was Mary, the same name with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron; the name signifies exalted, and a great elevation it was to her indeed to be thus favoured above all the daughters of the house of David.
2. She was a daughter of the royal family, lineally descended from David, and she herself and all her friends knew it, for she went under the title and character of the house of David, though she was poor and low in the world; and she was enabled by God's providence, and the care of the Jews, to preserve their genealogies, to make it out, and as long as the promise of the Messiah was to be fulfilled it was worth keeping; but for those now, who are brought low in the world, to have descended from persons of honour, is not worth mentioning.
3. She was a virgin, a pure unspotted one, but espoused to one of the same royal stock, like her, however, of low estate; so that upon both accounts there was (as it was fit there should be) an equality between them; his name was Joseph; he also was of the house of David, Matt. i. 20. Christ's mother was a virgin, because he was not to be born by ordinary generation, but miraculously; it was necessary that he should be so, that, though he must partake of the nature of man, yet not of the corruption of that nature: but he was born of a virgin espoused, made up to be married, and contracted, to put honour upon the married state, that that might not be brought into contempt (which was an ordinance in innocency) by the Redeemer's being born of a virgin.
4. She lived in Nazareth, a city of Galilee, a remote corner of the country, and in no reputation for religion or learning, but which bordered upon the heathen, and therefore was called Galilee of the Gentiles. Christ's having his relations resident there intimates favour in reserve for the Gentile world. And Dr. Lightfoot observes that Jonah was by birth a Galilean, and Elijah and Elisha very much conversant in Galilee, who were all famous prophets of the Gentiles. The angel was sent to her from Nazareth. Note, No distance or disadvantage of place shall be a prejudice to those for whom God has favours in store. The angel Gabriel carries his message as cheerfully to Mary and Nazareth in Galilee as to Zacharias in the temple at Jerusalem.
II. The address of the angel to her, v. 28. We are not told what she was doing, or how employed, when the angel came unto her; but he surprised her with this salutation, Hail, thou art highly favoured. This was intended to raise in her, 1. A value for herself; and, though it is very rare that any need to have any sparks struck into their breast with such design, yet in some, who like Mary pore only on their low estate, there is occasion for it. 2. An expectation of great news, not from abroad, but from above. Heaven designs, no doubt, uncommon favours for one whom an angel makes court to with such respect, Hail thou, chaire—rejoice thou; it was the usual form of salutation; it expresses an esteem of her, and good-will to her and her prosperity.
(1.) She is dignified: "Thou art highly favoured. God, in his choice of thee to be the mother of the Messiah, has put an honour upon thee peculiar to thyself, above that of Eve, who was the mother of all living." The vulgar Latin translates this gratiá plena—full of grace, and thence gathers that she had more of the inherent graces of the Spirit than ever any had; whereas it is certain that this bespeaks no other than the singular favour done her in preferring her to conceive and bear our blessed Lord, an honour which, since he was to be the seed of the woman, some woman must have, not for personal merit, but purely for the sake of free grace, and she is pitched upon. Even so, Father, because it seemed good unto thee.
(2.) She has the presence of God with her: "The Lord is with thee, though poor and mean, and perhaps now forecasting how to get a livelihood and maintain a family in the married state." The angel with this word raised the faith of Gideon (Judg. vi. 12): The Lord is with thee. Nothing is to be despaired of, not the performance of any service, not the obtaining of any favour, though ever so great, if we have God with us. This word might put her in mind of the Immanuel, God with us, which a virgin shall conceive and bear (Isa. vii. 14), and why not she?
(3.) She has the blessing of God upon her: "Blessed art thou among women; not only thou shalt be accounted so by men, but thou shalt be so. Thou that art so highly favoured in this instance mayest expect in other things to be blessed." She explains this herself (v. 48), All generations shall call me blessed. Compare it with that which Deborah saith of Jael, another that was the glory of her sex (Judg. v. 24), Blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
III. The consternation she was in, upon this address (v. 29). When she saw him, and the glories with which he was surrounded, she was troubled at the sight of him, and much more at his saying. Had she been a proud ambitious young woman, that aimed high, and flattered herself with the expectation of great things in the world, she would have been pleased at his saying, would have been puffed up with it, and (as we have reason to think she was a young woman of very good sense) would have had an answer ready, signifying so much: but, instead of that, she is confounded at it, as not conscious to herself of any thing that either merited or promised such great things; and she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. Was it from heaven or of men? Was it to amuse her? was it to ensnare her? was it to banter her? or was there something substantial and weighty in it? But, of all the thoughts she had as to what manner of salutation it should be, I believe she had not the least idea of its being ever intended or used for a prayer, as it is, and has been, for many ages, by the corrupt, degenerate, and anti-christian ages of the church, and to be ten times repeated for the Lord's prayer once; so it is in the church of Rome. But her thoughtfulness upon this occasion gives a very useful intimation to young people of her sex, when addresses are made to them, to consider and cast in their minds what manner of salutations they are, whence they come, and what their tendency is, that they may receive them accordingly, and may always stand on their guard.
IV. The message itself which the angel had to deliver to her. Some time the angel gives her to pause; but, observing that this did but increase her perplexity, he went on with his errand, v. 30. To what he had said she made no reply; he therefore confirms it: "Fear not, Mary, I have no other design than to assure thee that thou hast found favour with God more than thou thinkest of, as there are many who think they are more favoured with God than they really are." Note, Those that have found favour with God should not give way to disquieting distrustful fears. Doth God favour thee? Fear not, though the world frown upon thee. Is he for thee? No matter who is against thee.
1. Though she is a virgin, she shall have the honour of being a mother: "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt have the naming of him; thou shalt call his name Jesus," v. 31. It was the sentence upon Eve, that, though she should have the honour to be the mother of all living, yet this mortification shall be an allay to that honour, that her desire shall be to her husband, and he shall rule over her, Gen. iii. 16. But Mary has the honour without the allay.
2. Though she lives in poverty and obscurity, yet she shall have the honour to be the mother of the Messiah; her son shall be named Jesus—a Saviour, such a one as the world needs, rather than such one as the Jews expect.
(1.) He will be very nearly allied to the upper world. He shall be great, truly great, incontestably great; for he shall be called the Son of the Highest, the Son of God who is the Highest; of the same nature, as the son is of the same nature with the father; and very dear to him, as the son is to the father. He shall be called, and not miscalled, the Son of the Highest; for he is himself God over all, blessed for evermore, Rom. ix. 5. Note, Those who are the children of God, though but by adoption and regeneration, are truly great, and therefore are concerned to be very good, 1 John iii. 1, 2.
(2.) He will be very highly preferred in the lower world; for, though born under the most disadvantageous circumstances possible, and appearing in the form of a servant, yet the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David, v. 32. He puts her in mind that she was of the house of David; and that therefore, since neither the Salique law, nor the right of primogeniture, took place in the entail of his throne, it was not impossible but that she might bring forth an heir to it, and therefore might the more easily believe it when she was told by an angel from heaven that she should do so, that after the sceptre had been long departed from that ancient and honourable family it should now at length return to it again, to remain in it, not by succession, but in the same hand to eternity. His people will not give him that throne, will not acknowledge his right to rule them; but the Lord God shall give him a right to rule them, and set him as his king upon the holy hill of Zion. He assures her, [1.] That his kingdom shall be spiritual: he shall reign over the house of Jacob, not Israel according to the flesh, for they neither came into his interests nor did they continue long a people; it must therefore be a spiritual kingdom, the house of Israel according to the promise, that he must rule over. [2.] That it shall be eternal: he shall reign for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end, as there had been long since of the temporal reign of David's house, and would shortly be of the state of Israel. Other crowns endure not to every generation, but Christ's doth, Prov. xxvii. 24. The gospel is the last dispensation, we are to look for no other.
V. The further information given her, upon her enquiry concerning the birth of this prince.
1. It is a just enquiry which she makes: "How shall this be? v. 34. How can I now presently conceive a child" (for so the angel meant) "when I know not a man; must it therefore be otherwise than by ordinary generation? If so, let me now how?" She knew that the Messiah must be born of a virgin; and, if she must be his mother, she desires to know how. This was not the language of her distrust, or any doubt of what the angel said, but of a desire to be further instructed.
2. It is a satisfactory answer that is given to it, v. 35. (1.) She shall conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, whose proper work and office is to sanctify, and therefore to sanctify the virgin for this purpose. The Holy Ghost is called the power of the Highest. Doth she ask how this shall be? This is enough to help her over all the difficulty there appears in it; a divine power will undertake it, not the power of an angel employed in it, as in other works of wonder, but the power of the Holy Ghost himself.
(2.) She must ask no questions concerning the way and manner how it shall be wrought; for the Holy Ghost, as the power of the Highest, shall overshadow her, as the cloud covered the tabernacle when the glory of God took possession of it, to conceal it from those that would too curiously observe the motions of it, and pry into the mystery of it. The formation of every babe in the womb, and the entrance of the spirit of life into it, is a mystery in nature; none knows the way of the spirit, nor how the bones are formed in the womb of her that is with child, Eccl. xi. 5. We were made in secret, Ps. cxxxix. 15, 16. Much more was the formation of the child Jesus a mystery; without controversy, great was the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, 1 Tim. iii. 16. It is a new thing created in the earth (Jer. xxxi. 22), concerning which we must not covet to be wise above what is written.
(3.) The child she shall conceive is a holy thing, and therefore must not be conceived by ordinary generation, because he must not share in the common corruption and pollution of the human nature. He is spoken of emphatically, That Holy Thing, such as never was; and he shall be called the Son of God, as the Son of the Father by eternal generation, as an indication of which he shall now be formed by the Holy Ghost in the present conception. His human nature must be so produced, as it was fit that should be which was to be taken into union with the divine nature.
3. It was a further encouragement to her faith to be told that her cousin Elisabeth, though stricken in years, was with child, v. 36. Here is an age of wonders beginning, and therefore be not surprised: here is one among thy own relations truly great, though not altogether so great as this; it is usual with God to advance in working wonders. Greater works than these shall ye do. Though Elisabeth was, on the father's side, of the daughters of Aaron (v. 5), yet on the mother's side she might be of the house of David, for those two families often intermarried, as an earnest of the uniting of the royalty and the priesthood of the Messiah. This is the sixth month with her that was called barren. This intimates, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, that all the instances in the Old Testament of those having children that had been long barren, which was above nature, were designed to prepare the world for the belief of a virgin's bearing a son, which was against nature. And therefore, even in the birth of Isaac, Abraham saw Christ's day, foresaw such a miracle in the birth of Christ. The angel assures Mary of this, to encourage her faith, and concludes with that great truth, of undoubted certainty and universal use, For with God nothing shall be impossible (v. 37), and, if nothing, then not this. Abraham therefore staggered not at the belief of the divine promise, because he was strong in his belief of the divine power, Rom. iv. 20, 21. No word of God must be incredible to us, as long as no work of God is impossible to him.
VI. Her acquiescence in the will of God concerning her, v. 38. She owns herself, 1. A believing subject to the divine authority: "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Lord, I am at thy service, at thy disposal, to do what thou commandest me." She objects not the danger of spoiling her marriage, and blemishing her reputation, but leaves the issue with God, and submits entirely to his will. 2. A believing expectant of the divine favour. She is not only content that it should be so, but humbly desires that it may be so: Be it unto me according to thy word. Such a favour as this it was not for her to slight, or be indifferent to; and for what God has promised he will be sought unto; by prayer we must put our amen, or so be it, to the promise. Remember, and perform thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou has caused me to hope. We must, as Mary here, guide our desires by the word of God, and ground our hopes upon it. Be it unto me according to thy word; just so, and no otherwise.
Hereupon, the angel departed from her; having completed the errand he was sent upon, he returned, to give an account of it, and receive new instructions. Converse with angels was always a transient thing, and soon over; it will be constant and permanent in the future state. It is generally supposed that just at this instant the virgin conceived, by the overshadowing power of the Holy Ghost: but, the scripture being decently silent concerning it, it doth not become us to be inquisitive, much less positive.