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The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
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.
The Interview of Mary and Elisabeth; The Song of Mary.
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
We have here an interview between the two happy mothers, Elisabeth and Mary: the angel, by intimating to Mary the favour bestowed on her cousin Elisabeth (v. 36), gave occasion for it; and sometimes it may prove a better piece of service that we think to bring good people together, to compare notes. Here is,
I. The visit which Mary made to Elisabeth. Mary was the younger, and younger with child; and therefore, if they must come together, it was fittest that Mary should take the journey, not insisting on the preference which the greater dignity of her conception gave her, v. 39. She arose, and left her affairs, to attend this greater matter: in those days, at that time (as it is commonly explained, Jer. xxxiii. 15; l. 4), in a day or two after the angel had visited her, taking some time first, as it is supposed, for her devotion, or rather hastening away to her cousin's, where she would have more leisure, and better help, in the family of a priest. She went, meta spoudes—with care, diligence, and expedition; not as young people commonly go abroad and visit their friends, to divert herself, but to inform herself: she went to a city of Judah in the hill-country; it is not named, but by comparing the description of it here with Josh. xxi. 10, 11, it appears to be Hebron, for that is there said to be in the hill-country of Judah, and to belong to the priests, the sons of Aaron; thither Mary hastened, though it was a long journey, some scores of miles.
1. Dr. Lightfoot offers a conjecture that she was to conceive our Saviour there at Hebron, and perhaps had so much intimated to her by the angel, or some other way; and therefore she made such haste thither. He thinks it probable that Shiloh, of the tribe of Judah, and the seed of David, should be conceived in a city of Judah and of David, as he was to be born in Bethlehem, another city which belonged to them both. In Hebron the promise was given to Isaac, circumcision was instituted. Here (saith he) Abraham had his first land, and David his first crown: here lay interred the three couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and, as antiquity has held, Adam and Eve. He therefore thinks that it suits singularly with the harmony and consent which God uses in his works that the promise should begin to take place by the conception of the Messias, even among those patriarchs to whom it was given. I see no improbability in the conjecture, but add this for the support of it, that Elisabeth said (v. 45), There shall be a performance; as if it were not performed yet, but was to be performed there.
2. It is generally supposed that she went thither for the confirming of her faith by the sign which the angel had given her, her cousin's being with child, and to rejoice with her sister-favourite. And, besides, she went thither, perhaps, that she might be more retired from company, or else might have more agreeable company than she could have in Nazareth. We may suppose that she did not acquaint any of her neighbours at Nazareth with the message she had received from heaven, yet longed to talk over a thing she had a thousand time thought over, and knew no person in the world with whom she could freely converse concerning it but her cousin Elisabeth, and therefore she hastened to her. Note, it is very beneficial and comfortable for those that have a good work of grace begun in their souls, and Christ in the forming there, to consult those who are in the same case, that they may communicate experiences one to another; and they will find that, as in water face answers to face, so doth the heart of man to man, of Christian to Christian.
II. The meeting between Mary and Elisabeth. Mary entered into the house of Zacharias; but he, being dumb and deaf, kept his chamber, it is probable, and saw no company; and therefore she saluted Elisabeth (v. 40), told her she was come to make her a visit, to know her state, and rejoice with her in her joy.
Now, at their first coming together, for the confirmation of the faith of both of them, there was something very extraordinary. Mary knew that Elisabeth was with child, but it does not appear that Elisabeth had been told any thing of her cousin Mary's being designed for the mother of the Messiah; and therefore what knowledge she appears to have had of it must have come by a revelation, which would be a great encouragement to Mary.
1. The babe leaped in her womb, v. 41. It is very probable that she had been several weeks quick (for she was six months gone), and that she had often felt the child stir; but this was a more than ordinary motion of the child, which alarmed her to expect something very extraordinary, eskirtese. It is the same word that is used by the LXX. (Gen. xxv. 22) for the struggling of Jacob and Esau in Rebecca's womb, and the mountains skipping, Ps. cxiv. 4. The babe leaped as it were to give a signal to his mother that he was now at had whose forerunner he was to be, about six months in ministry, as he was in being; or, it was the effect of some strong impression made upon the mother. Now began to be fulfilled what the angel said to his father (v. 15), that he should be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb; and perhaps he himself had some reference to this, when he said (John iii. 29), The friend of the Bridegroom rejoiceth greatly, because of the Bridegroom's voice, heard, though not by him, yet by his mother.
2. Elisabeth was herself filled with the Holy Ghost, or a Spirit of prophecy, by which, as well as by the particular suggestions of the Holy Ghost she was filled with, she was given to understand that the Messiah was at hand, in whom prophecy should revive, and by whom the Holy Ghost should be more plentifully poured out than ever, according to the expectations of those who waited for the consolation of Israel. The uncommon motion of the babe in her womb was a token of extraordinary emotion of her spirit under a divine impulse. Note, Those whom Christ graciously visits may know it by their being filled with the Holy Ghost; for, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
III. The welcome which Elisabeth, by the Spirit of prophecy, gave to Mary, the mother of our Lord; not as to a common friend making a common visit, but as to one of whom the Messiah was to be born.
1. She congratulates her on her honour, and, though perhaps she knew not of it till just now, she acknowledges it with the greatest assurance and satisfaction. She spoke with a loud voice, which does not at all intimate (as some think) that there was a floor or a wall between them, but that she was in a transport or exultation of joy, and said what she cared not who knew. She said, Blessed art thou among women, the same word that the angels had said (v. 28); for thus this will of God, concerning honouring the Son, should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. But Elisabeth adds a reason, Therefore blessed art thou because blessed is the fruit of thy womb; thence it was that she derived this excelling dignity. Elisabeth was the wife of a priest, and in years, yet she grudges not that her kinswoman, who was many years younger than she, and every way her inferior, should have the honour of conceiving in her virginity, and being the mother of the Messiah, whereas the honour put upon her was much less; she rejoices in it, and is well pleased, as her son was afterwards, that she who cometh after her is preferred before her, John i. 27. Note, While we cannot but own that we are more favoured of God than we deserve, let us by no means envy that others are more highly favoured than we are.
2. She acknowledges her condescension, in making her this visit (v. 43): Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Observe, (1.) She calls the virgin Mary the mother of her Lord (as David in spirit, called the Messiah Lord, his Lord), for she knew he was to be Lord of all. (2.) She not only bids her welcome to her house, though perhaps she came in mean circumstances, but reckons this visit a great favour, which she thought herself unworthy of. Whence is this to me? It is in reality, and not in compliment, that she saith, "This was a greater favour than I could have expected." Note, Those that are filled with the Holy Ghost have low thoughts of their own merits, and high thoughts of God's favours. Her son the Baptist spoke to the same purport with this, when he said, Comest thou to me? Matt. iii. 14.
3. She acquaints her with the concurrence of the babe in her womb, in this welcome to her (v. 44): "Thou certainly bringest some extraordinary tidings, some extraordinary blessing, with thee; for as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, not only my heart leaped for joy, though I knew not immediately why or wherefore, but the babe in my womb, who was not capable of knowing, did so too." He leaped as it were for joy that the Messiah, whose harbinger he was to be, would himself come soon after him. This would serve very much to strengthen the faith of the virgin, that there were such assurances as these given to others; and it would be in part the accomplishment of what had been so often foretold, that there should be universal joy before the Lord, when he cometh, Ps. xcviii. 8, 9.
4. She commends her faith, and encourages it (v. 45): Blessed is she that believed. Believing souls are blessed souls, and will be found so at last; this blessedness cometh through faith, even the blessedness of being related to Christ, and having him formed in the soul. They are blessed who believe the word of God, for that Word will not fail them; there shall, without doubt, be a performance of those things which are told her from the Lord. Note, The inviolable certainty of the promise is the undoubted felicity of those that build upon it and expect their all from it. The faithfulness of God is the blessedness of the faith of the saints. Those that have experienced the performance of God's promises themselves should encourage others to hope that he will be as good as his word to them also: I will tell you what God has done for my soul.
IV. Mary's song of praise, upon this occasion. Elisabeth's prophecy was an echo to the virgin Mary's salutation, and this song is yet a stronger echo to that prophecy, and shows her to be no less filled with the Holy Ghost than Elisabeth was. We may suppose the blessed virgin to come in, very much fatigued with her journey; yet she forgets that, and is inspired with new life, and vigour, and joy, upon the confirmation she here meets with of her faith; and since, by the sudden inspiration and transport, she finds that this was designed to be her errand hither, weary as she is, like Abraham's servant, she would neither eat nor drink till she had told her errand.
1. Here are the expressions of joy and praise, and God alone the object of the praise and centre of the joy. Some compare this song with that which her name-sake Miriam, the sister of Moses, sung, upon the triumphant departure of Israel out of Egypt, and their triumphant passage through the Red Sea; others think it better compared with the song of Hannah, upon the birth of Samuel, which, like this, passes from a family mercy to a public and general one. This begins, like that, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, 1 Sam. ii. 1. Observe how Mary here speaks of God.
(1.) With great reverence of him, as the Lord: "My soul doth magnify the Lord; I never saw him so great as now I find him so good." Note, Those, and those only, are advanced in mercy, who are thereby brought to think the more highly and honourably of God; whereas there are those whose prosperity and preferment make them say, What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? The more honour God has any way put upon us, the more honour we must study to give to him; and then only are we accepted in magnifying the Lord, when our souls magnify him, and all that is within us. Praising work must be soul work.
(2.) With great complacency in him as her Saviour: My spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour. This seems to have reference to the Messiah, whom she was to be the mother of. She calls him God her Saviour; for the angel had told her that he should be the Son of the Highest, and that his name should be Jesus, a Saviour; this she fastened upon, with application to herself: He is God my Saviour. Even the mother of our Lord had need of an interest in him as her Saviour, and would have been undone without it: and she glories more in that happiness which she had in common with all believers than in being his mother, which was an honour peculiar to herself, and this agrees with the preference Christ have to obedient believers above his mother and brethren; see Matt. xii. 50; Luke xi. 27, 28. Note, Those that have Christ for their God and Saviour have a great deal of reason to rejoice, to rejoice in spirit, that is rejoicing as Christ did (Luke x. 21), with spiritual joy.
2. Here are just causes assigned for this joy and praise.
(1.) Upon her own account, v. 48, 49. [1.] Her spirit rejoiced in the Lord, because of the kind things he had done for her: his condescension and compassion to her. He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; that is, he has looked upon her with pity, for so the word is commonly used. "He has chosen me to this honour, notwithstanding my great meanness, poverty, and obscurity." Nay, the expression seems to intimate, not only (to allude to that of Gideon, Judg. vi. 15) that her family was poor in Judah, but that she was the least in her father's house, as if she were under some particular contempt and disgraced among her relations, was unjustly neglected, and the outcast of the family, and God put this honour upon her, to balance abundantly the contempt. I the rather suggest this, for we find something toward such honour as this put upon others, on the like consideration. Because God saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, Gen. xxix. 31. Because Hannah was provoked, and made to fret, and insulted over, by Peninnah, therefore God gave her a son, 1 Sam. i. 19. Whom men wrongfully depress and despise God doth sometimes, in compassion to them, especially if they have borne it patiently, prefer and advance; see Judg. xi. 7. So in Mary's case. And, if God regards her low estate, he not only thereby gives a specimen of his favour to the whole race of mankind, whom he remembers in their low estate, as the psalmist speaks (Ps. cxxxvi. 23), but secures a lasting honour to her (for such the honour is that God bestows, honour that fades not away): "From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, shall think me a happy woman and highly advanced." All that embrace Christ and his gospel will say, Blessed was the womb that bore him and the paps which he sucked, Luke xi. 27. Elizabeth had once and again called her blessed: "But that is not all," saith she, "all generations of Gentiles as well as Jews shall call me so." [2.] Her soul magnifies the Lord, because of the wonderful things he had done for her (v. 49): He that is mighty has done to me great things. A great thing indeed, that a virgin should conceive. A great thing indeed, that Messiah, who had been so long promised to the church, and so long expected by the church, should now at length be born. It is the power of the Highest that appears in this. She adds, and holy is his name; for so Hannah saith her song, There is none holy as the Lord, which she explains in the next words, for there is none beside thee, 1 Sam. ii. 2. God is a Being by himself, and he manifests himself to be so, especially in the work of our redemption. He that is mighty, even he whose name is holy, has done to me great things. Glorious things may be expected from him that is both mighty and holy; who can do every thing, and will do every thing well and for the best.
(2.) Upon the account of others. The virgin Mary, as the mother of the Messiah, is become a kind of public person, wears a public character, and is therefore immediately endued with another spirit, a more public spirit than before she had, and therefore looks abroad, looks about her, looks before her, and takes notice of God's various dealings with the children of men (v. 50, &c.), as Hannah (1 Sam. ii. 3, &c.). In this she has especially an eye to the coming of the Redeemer and God's manifesting himself therein.
[1.] It is a certain truth that God has mercy in store, mercy in reserve, for all that have a reverence for his majesty, and a due regard to his sovereignty and authority. But never did this appear so as in sending his Son into the world to save us (v. 50): His mercy is on them that fear him; it has always been so; he has ever looked upon them with an eye of peculiar favour who have looked up to him with and eye of filial fear. But he hath manifested this mercy, so as never before, in sending his Son to bring in an everlasting righteousness, and work out an everlasting salvation, for them that fear him, and this from generation to generation; for there are gospel privileges transmitted by entail, and intended for perpetuity. Those that fear God, as their Creator and Judge, are encouraged to hope for mercy in him, through their Mediator and Advocate; and in him mercy is settled upon all that fear God, pardoning mercy, healing mercy, accepting mercy, crowning mercy, from generation to generation, while the world stands. In Christ he keepeth mercy for thousands.
[2.] It has been a common observation that God in his providence puts contempt upon the haughty and honour upon the humble; and this he has done remarkably in the whole economy of the work of man's redemption. As God had, with his mercy to her, shown himself mighty also (v. 48, 49), so he had, with his mercy on them that fear him, shown strength likewise with his arm. First, In the course of his providence, it is his usual method to cross the expectations of men, and proceed quite otherwise than they promise themselves. Proud men expect to carry all before them, to have their way and their will; but he scatters them in the imagination of their hearts, breaks their measures, blasts their projects, nay, and brings them low, and brings them down, by those very counsels with which they thought to advance and establish themselves. The mighty think to secure themselves by might in their seats, but he puts them down, and overturns their seats; while, on the other hand, those of low degree, who despaired of ever advancing themselves, and thought of no other than of being ever low, are wonderfully exalted. This observation concerning honour holds likewise concerning riches; many who were so poor that they had not bread for themselves and their families, by some surprising turn of Providence in favour of them, come to be filled with good things; while, on the other hand, those who were rich, and thought no other than that to-morrow should be as this day, that their mountain stood strong and should never be moved, are strangely impoverished, and sent away empty. Now this is the same observation that Hannah had made, and enlarged upon, in her song, with application to the case of herself and her adversary (1 Sam. ii. 4-7), which very much illustrates this here. And compare also Ps. cvii. 33-41; cxiii. 7-9; and Eccl. ix. 11. God takes a pleasure in disappointing their expectations who promise themselves great things in the world, and in out-doing the expectations of those who promise themselves but a little; as a righteous God, it is his glory to abase those who exalt themselves, and strike terror on the secure; and, as a good God, it is his glory to exalt those who humble themselves, and to speak comfort to those who fear before him. Secondly, This doth especially appear in the methods of gospel grace.
1. In the spiritual honours it dispenses. When the proud Pharisees were rejected, and Publicans and sinners went into the kingdom of heaven before them,—when the Jews, who followed after the law of righteousness, did not attain it, and the Gentiles, who never thought of it, attained to righteousness (Rom. ix. 30, 31),—when God chose not the wise men after the flesh, not the mighty, or the noble, to preach the gospel, and plant Christianity in the world, but the foolish and weak things of the world, and things that were despised (1 Cor. i. 26, 27)—then he scattered the proud, and put down the mighty, but exalted them of low degree. When the tyranny of the chief priests and elders were brought down, who had long lorded it over God's heritage, and hoped always to do so, and Christ's disciples, a company of poor despised fishermen, by the power they were clothed with, were made to sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,—when the power of the four monarchies was broken, and the kingdom of the Messiah, that stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is made to fill the earth,—then are the proud scattered, and those of low degree exalted.
2. In the spiritual riches it dispenses, v. 53. (1.) Those who see their need of Christ, and are importunately desirous of righteousness and life in him, he fills with good things, with the best things; he gives liberally to them, and they are abundantly satisfied with the blessings he gives. Those who are weary and heavy-laden shall find rest with Christ, and those who thirst are called to come to him and drink; for they only know how to value his gifts. To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet, manna is angels' food; and to the thirsty fair water is honey out of the rock. (2.) Those who are rich, who are not hungry, who, like Laodicea, think they have need of nothing, are full of themselves and their own righteousness, and think they have a sufficiency in themselves, those he sends away from his door, they are not welcome to him, he sends them empty away, they come full of self, and are sent away empty of Christ. He sends them to the gods whom they served, to their own righteousness and strength which they trusted to.
[3.] It was always expected that the Messiah should be, in a special manner, the strength and glory of his people Israel, and so he is in a peculiar manner (v. 54): He hath helped his servant Israel, antelabeto. He hath taken them by the hand, and helped them up that were fallen and could not help themselves. Those that were sunk under the burdens of a broken covenant of innocency are helped up by the blessings of a renewed covenant of grace. The sending of the Messiah, on whom help was laid for poor sinners, was the greatest kindness that could be done, the greatest help that could be provided for his people Israel, and that which magnifies it is,
First, That it is in remembrance of his mercy, the mercifulness of his nature, the mercy he has in store for his servant Israel. While this blessing was deferred, his people, who waited for it, were often ready to ask, Has God forgotten to be gracious? But now he made it appear that he had not forgotten, but remembered, his mercy. He remembered his former mercy, and repeated that to them in spiritual blessings which he had done formerly to them in temporal favours. He remembered the days of old. Where is he that brought them up out of the sea, out of Egypt? Isa. lxiii. 11. He will do the like again, which that was a type of.
Secondly, That it is in performance of his promise. It is a mercy not only designed, but declared (v. 55); it was what he spoke to our fathers, that the Seed of the woman should break the head of the serpent; that God should dwell in the tents of Shem; and particularly to Abraham, that in his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed, with the best of blessings, with the blessings that are for ever, and to the seed that shall be for ever; that is, his spiritual seed, for his carnal seed were cut off a little after this. Note, What God has spoken he will perform; what he hath spoken to the fathers will be performed to their seed; to their seed's seed, in blessings that shall last for ever.
Lastly, Mary's return to Nazareth (v. 56), after she had continued with Elisabeth about three months, so long as to be fully satisfied concerning herself that she was with child, and to be confirmed therein by her cousin Elisabeth. Some think, though her return is here mentioned before Elisabeth's being delivered, because the evangelist would finish this passage concerning Mary before he proceeded with the story of Elisabeth, yet that Mary staid till her cousin was (as we say) down and up again; that she might attend on her, and be with her in her lying-in, and have her own faith confirmed by the full accomplishment of the promise of God concerning Elisabeth. But most bind themselves to the order of the story as it lies, and think she returned again when Elisabeth was near her time; because she still affected retirement, and therefore would not be there when the birth of this child of promise would draw a great deal of company to the house. Those in whose hearts Christ is formed take more delight than they used to do in sitting alone and keeping silence.