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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.”
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,”
(1 Corinthians 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,” (1 Corinthians 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,” (Luke 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” (Luke 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,” (Luke 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,” (Matthew 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” (Deuteronomy 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.
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, (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,” (Psalm 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,” (Romans 1:7; Ephesians 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, Mary2323 “Ave, Maria.” 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.
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?2424 “Cur ergo aspectus etiam meminit?” Calvin's allusion is brought out more clearly in his own vernacular. “Pourquoy donc dit-il, Quand elle l'eut veu?” — “Why then does he say, When she had seen him?” 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.
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.2525 “Neque otiosam imaginari licet.” — “Car nous ne pouvons point apprehender à bon escient la presence de Dieu, sinon avec ses 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.
31. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb The angel adapts his words, first to Isaiah’s prophecy, (Isaiah 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, (Matthew 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,” (John 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, (Philippians 2:9, 10,) 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.
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? (Hebrews 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, (Psalm 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, (Ephesians 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, (John 1:14.)
The future tense of the verb, he shall be called the Son of the Highest, is tortured by that filthy dog2626 The use of such epithets may not be easily reconciled to the refinements of modern taste; but, three centuries ago, few readers would be startled by them, and they are much more sparingly employed by Calvin than by many of his contemporaries. Not to mention that Paul says, Beware of dogs, (Philippians 3:2,) and that the statement, Without are dogs, (Revelation 22:15,) bears the impress of the Alpha and Omega, (Revelation 22:13,) Servetus, to whom the epithet “filthy” is applied, had denied the fundamental doctrine of our Lord's supreme Divinity, and had luxuriated in the most revolting and blasphemous expressions. — Ed. 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, (1 Timothy 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, (John 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, (Romans 8:15; Galatians 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,” (Jeremiah 30:9.) Again, “my servant David shall be a prince among them,” (Ezekiel 34:24; 37:24.) “They shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king,” (Hosea 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,” (Amos 9:11.)
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, Genesis 17:7,) and Christ, as Paul informs us, “was a minister of the circumcision,” (Romans 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,” (Psalm 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” (Romans 11:5;) for his “calling is without repentances” (Romans 11:29.) The body of the people is apparently cut off; but we ought to remember the mystery of which Paul speaks, (Romans 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, (7:14,) of his kingdom there shall be no end2727 Daniel's prediction referred to runs thus: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” The angel does not employ these words; but his departure from them is not strongly marked, and it can scarcely be doubted that he had this passage in his eye. — Ed. 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,” (Psalm 72:5, 17,) 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.
34. How shall this be? The holy virgin appears to confine the power of God within as narrow limits as Zacharias had formerly done; for what is beyond the common order of nature, she concludes to be impossible. She reasons in this manner. I know not a man: how then can I believe that what you tell me will happen? We ought not to give ourselves very much trouble,2828 “Nec vero magnopere laborandum est.” This is bold language, and must have sounded harsh and irreverent to a Popish ear: but in his French version Calvin uses still less ceremony. “We must not tease ourselves much to find out a way of vindicating her entirely“ — “Or il ne nous faut pas beaucoup tormenter a trouver facon de la justifier entierement.” — Ed. to acquit her of all blame. She ought immediately to have risen by faith to the boundless power of God, which is not at all lettered to natural means, but sways the whole world. Instead of this, she stops at the ordinary way of generation. Still, it must be admitted that she does not hesitate or inquire in such a manner as to lower the power of God to the level of her senses; but is only carried away by a sudden impulse of astonishment to put this question. That she readily embraced the promise may be concluded from this, that, though many things presented themselves on the opposite side, she has no doubt but on one point.
She might instantly have objected, where was that throne of David? for all the rank of kingly power had been long ago set aside, and all the luster of royal descent had been extinguished. Unquestionably, if she had formed her opinion of the matter according to the judgment of the flesh, she would have treated as a fable what the angel had told her. There can be no doubt that she was fully convinced of the restoration of the church, and easily gave way to what the flesh would have pronounced to be incredible. And then it is probable that the attention of the public was everywhere directed at that time to the prediction of Isaiah, in which God promises that he would raise up a rod out of the despised stem of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1.) That persuasion of the kindness of God, which had been formed in the mind of the virgin, led her to admit, in the fullest manner, that she had received a message as to raising up anew the throne of David. If it be objected that there was also another prediction, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, (Isaiah 7:14,) I reply, that this mystery was then very imperfectly understood. True, the Fathers expected the birth of a King, under whose reign the people of God would be happy and prosperous; but the manner of its accomplishment lay concealed, as if it had been hidden by a veil. There is no wonder, therefore, if the holy virgin puts a question on a subject hitherto unknown to her.
The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God. Although the Papists have exercised barbarous tyranny on this subject, yet they have never proceeded so far as to allow the wife to form a vow of continence at her own pleasure. Besides, it is an idle and unfounded supposition that a monastic life existed among the Jews.
We must reply, however, to another objection, that the virgin refers to the future, and so declares that she will have no intercourse with a man. The probable and simple explanation is, that the greatness or rather majesty of the subject made so powerful an impression on the virgin, that all her senses were bound and locked up in astonishment. When she is informed that the Son of God will be born, she imagines something unusual, and for that reason leaves conjugal intercourse out of view. Hence she breaks out in amazement, How shall this be? And so God graciously forgives her, and replies kindly and gently by the angel, because, in a devout and serious manner, and with admiration of a divine work, she had inquired how that would be, which, she was convinced, went beyond the common and ordinary course of nature. In a word, this question was not so contrary to faith, because it arose rather from admiration than from distrust.
35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee The angel does not explain the manner, so as to satisfy curiosity, which there was no necessity for doing. He only leads the virgin to contemplate the power of the Holy Spirit, and to surrender herself silently and calmly to his guidance. The word ἐπελεύσεται, shall come upon, denotes that this would be an extraordinary work, in which natural means have no place. The next clause is added by way of exposition, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: for the Spirit may be regarded as the essential power of God, whose energy is manifested and exerted in the entire government of the world, as well as in miraculous events. There is an elegant metaphor in the word ἐπισκιάσει, overshadow. The power of God, by which he guards and protects his own people, is frequently compared in Scripture to a shadow, (Psalm 17:8; 57:1; 91:1.) But it appears to have another and peculiar meaning in this passage. The operation of the Spirit would be secret, as if an intervening cloud did not permit it to be beheld by the eyes of men. Now, as God, in performing miracles, withholds from us the manner of his proceedings, so what he chooses to conceal from us ought to be viewed, on our part, with seriousness and adoration.
Therefore also the holy thing which shall be born This is a confirmation of the preceding clause: for the angel shows that Christ must not be born by ordinary generation,2929 “Christum opportere absque viri et mulieris coitu nasci.” that he may be holy, and that he may be the Son of God; that is, that in holiness and glory he may be high above all creatures, and may not hold an ordinary rank among men. Heretics, who imagine that he became the Son of God after his human generation, seize on the particle therefore as meaning that he would be called the Son of God, because he was conceived in a remarkable manner by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is a false conclusion: for, though he was manifested to be the Son of God in the flesh, it does not follow that he was not the Word begotten of the Father before the ages. On the contrary, he who had been the Son of God in his eternal Godhead, appeared also as the Son of God in human flesh. This passage not only expresses a unity of person in Christ, but at the same time points out that, in clothing himself with human flesh, Christ is the Son of God. As the name, Son of God, belonged to the divine essence of Christ from the beginning, so now it is applied unitedly to both natures, because the secret and heavenly manner of generation has separated him from the ordinary rank of men. In other passages, indeed, with the view of asserting that he is truly man, he calls himself the Son of man, (John 5:27;) but the truth of his human nature is not inconsistent with his deriving peculiar honor above all others from his divine generation, having been conceived out of the ordinary way of nature by the Holy Spirit. This gives us good reason for growing confidence, that we may venture more freely to call God our Father, because his only Son, in order that we might have a Father in common with him, chose to be our brother.
It ought to be observed also that Christ, because he was conceived by a spiritual power, is called the holy seed For, as it was necessary that he should be a real man, in order that he might expiate our sins, and vanquish death and Satan in our flesh; so was it necessary, in order to his cleansing others, that he should be free from every spot and blemish, (1 Peter 1:19.) Though Christ was formed of the seed of Abraham, yet he contracted no defilement from a sinful nature; for the Spirit of God kept him pure from the very commencement: and this was done not merely that he might abound in personal holiness, but chiefly that he might sanctify his own people. The manner of conception, therefore, assures us that we have a Mediator separate from sinners, (Hebrews 7:26.)
36. And, behold, Elisabeth thy cousin By an instance taken from her own relatives, the angel encourages the faith of Mary to expect a miracle. If neither the barrenness nor the old age of Elisabeth could prevent God from making her a mother, there was no better reason why Mary should confine her view within the ordinary limits of nature, when she beheld such a demonstration of divine power in her cousin He mentions expressly the sixth month; because in the fifth month a woman usually feels the child quicken in the womb, so that the sixth month removes all doubt. True, Mary ought to have placed such a reliance on the bare word of God as to require no support to her faith from any other quarter; but, to prevent farther hesitation, the Lord condescends to strengthen his promise by this new aid. With equal indulgence does he cheer and support us every day; nay, with greater indulgence, because our faith is weaker. That we may not doubt his truth, testimonies to confirm it are brought by him from every direction.
A question arises, how Elisabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron, (ver. 5,) and Mary, who was descended from the stock of David, could be cousins This appears to be at variance with the law, which prohibited women from marrying into a different tribe from their own, (Numbers 36:6.) With respect to the law, if we look at its object, it forbade those intermarriages only which might “remove inheritances from tribe to tribe,” (Numbers 36:7.) No such danger existed, if any woman of the tribe of Judah married a priest, to whom an inheritance could not be conveyed. The same argument would hold if a woman of the tribe of Levi passed into another tribe. It is possible that the mother of the holy virgin might be descended from the family of Aaron, and so her daughter might be cousin to Elisabeth.
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,)3030 “Laquelle ont suivie les Evangelistes, combien qu'ils escrivissent en Grec.” — Fr. 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.3131 “Haesitamus.” — “We are in a state of uncertainty, without being able to convince ourselves of it.” — “Nous sommes en branle sans pouvoir nous y asseurer.” — Fr. 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,” (Romans 4:20, 21.)
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,” (2 Timothy 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 efficacious3232 “Effectualem.” — “We must observe that true faith apprehends the power of God, not in the air, but with its results.” — “Il faut noter que la vraye foy apprehende la puissance de Dieu, non point en l'alr, mais avec ses effects.” For God is and wishes to be acknowledged as powerful, that by the accomplishment itself he may prove his faithfulness.
38. Behold the handmaid of the Lord The holy virgin does not allow herself to dispute any farther: and yet many things might unquestionably have obtruded themselves, to repress that faith, and even to draw off her attention from what was said to her by the angel. But she stops the entrance of opposing arguments, and compels herself to obey. This is the real proof of faith, when we restrain our minds, and, as it were, hold them captive, so that they dare not reply this or that to God: for boldness in disputing, on the other hand, is the mother of unbelief. These are weighty expressions, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: for she gives and devotes herself unreservedly to God, that he may freely dispose of her according to his pleasure. Unbelievers withdraw from his hand, and, as far as lies in their power, obstruct his work: but faith presents us before God, that we may be ready to yield obedience. But if the holy virgin was the handmaid of the Lord, because she yielded herself submissively to his authority, there cannot be worse obstinacy than to fly from him, and to refuse that obedience which he deserves and requires. In a word, as faith alone makes us obedient servants to God, and gives us up to his power, so unbelief makes us rebels and deserters. Be it unto me This clause may be interpreted in two ways. Either the holy virgin, leaving her former subject,3333 “Laissant son premier propos.” betakes herself suddenly to prayers and supplications; or, she proceeds in the same strain3434 “Uno contextu.” — “En continuant le fil de son propos.” to yield and surrender herself to God. I interpret it simply that she is convinced of the power of God, follows cheerfully where he calls, trusts also to his promise, and not only expects, but eagerly desires, its accomplishment. [We must also observe that she is convinced on the word of the angel, because she knows that it proceeded from God: valuing its credit, not with reference to him who was its messenger, but with reference to him who was its author.3535 “Il faut aussi noter qu'elle s'asseure sur la parole de l'Ange, par ce qu'elle sait qu'elle est procedee de Dieu: pesant la dignite d'icelle non a cause de celuy qui en estoit le messager, mais a cause de celui qui en estoit l'autheur.” ]
39. And Mary arising This departure mentioned by Luke proves that Mary’s faith was not of a transitory nature: for the promise of God does not fade away with the presence of the angel, but is impressed upon her mind. The haste indicates a sincere and strong affection. We may infer from it that the Virgin disregarded every thing else and formed a just estimate of this grace of God. But it may be inquired, what was her object in undertaking this journey? It certainly was not made for the mere purpose of inquiry: for she cherished in her heart by faith the Son of God as already conceived in her womb. Nor do I agree with those who think that she came for the purpose of congratulating Elisabeth.4141 “Gratulandi causa;” — “pour faire caresse a sa cousine.” I think it more probable that her object was, partly to increase and strengthen her faith, and partly to celebrate the grace of God which both had received.4242 “Illustrandae ultro citroque gratiae Dei;” — “de celebrer et magnifier la grace de Dieu faite a l'une et a l'autre.”
There is no absurdity in supposing, that she sought to confirm her faith by a view of the miracle, which had been adduced to her with no small effect by the angel. For, though believers are satisfied with the bare word of God, yet they do not disregard any of his works which they find to be conducive to strengthen their faith. Mary was particularly bound to receive the assistance which had been offered, unless she chose to reject what the Lord had freely given to her. Besides, the mutual interview might arouse both Elisabeth and herself to higher gratitude, as is evident from what follows. The power of God became more remarkable and striking by taking in at one view both favors, the very comparison of which gave no small additional luster. Luke does not name the city in which Zacharias dwelt, but only mentions that it belonged to the tribe of Judah, and that it was situated in a hilly district. Hence we infer that it was farther distant than Jerusalem was from the town of Nazareth.
41. When Elisabeth heard It is natural that sudden joy, on the part of a pregnant woman, should cause a motion of the child in her womb; but Luke intended to express an extraordinary occurrence. No good purpose would be served by involving ourselves in intricate questions, if the child was aware of the presence of Christ, or felt an emotion of piety: it is enough for us that the babe started by a secret movement of the Spirit. Luke does not say that the feeling belonged to the child, but rather intimates that this part of the Divine operation took place in the mother herself, that the babe started in her womb The expression, she was filled with the Holy Ghost, means that she was suddenly endued with the gift of prophecy to an unusual extent: for the gifts of the Spirit had not formerly been wanting in her, but their power then appeared more abundant and extraordinary.
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.4343 “Christo velut in subsellium redacto.” Subsellium is evidently not employed here to convey a shade of the honor belonging to the seats. 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,” (1 Timothy 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,” (Ephesians 1:22, 23.) And so Paul says, “though there be lords many, yet to us,” that is, to the servants of faith, “there is one Lord,” (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6.) 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.
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, (Romans 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 bosom4444 “Sinum expandit;” — “mais la foy, par maniere dire, tend son giron pour les recevoir;” — “but faith, so to speak, holds its lap to receive them.” 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.