World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative
concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us,
they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and
ministers of the word, 3it seemed good to me also, having traced the
course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order,
most excellent Theophilus; 4that thou mightest know the certainty
concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. 5There was in the
days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the
course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name
was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all
the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no
child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well
stricken in years. 8Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's
office before God in the order of his course, 9according to the custom of
the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and
burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying
without at the hour of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of
the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense. 12And Zacharias
was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13But the
angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard,
and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name
John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at
his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall
drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall
be turn unto the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before his face in the
spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the
children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to
make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. 18And
Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old
man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said
unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to
speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. 20And behold, thou
shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall
come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled
in their season. 21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they
marvelled while he tarried in the temple. 22And when he came out, he
could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in
the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb. 23And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled,
he departed unto his house. 24And after these days Elisabeth his wife
conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord
done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my
reproach among men. 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent
from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed
to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name
was Mary. 28And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly
favored, the Lord is with thee. 29But she was greatly troubled at
the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor
with God. 31And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth
a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be
called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the
throne of his father David: 33and he shall reign over the house of Jacob
for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34And Mary said unto
the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel
answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the
power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing
which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elisabeth
thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the
sixth month with her that was called barren. 37For no word from God shall
be void of power. 38And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be
it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39And
Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a
city of Judah; 40and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted
Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of
Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy
Spirit; 42and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed
art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto
me? 44For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears,
the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that
believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been
spoken to her from the Lord. 46And Mary said,
1. Birth of John the Baptist
1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, 2even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; 4that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. 5There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense. 12And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. 18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. 20And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb. 23And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house. 24And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men. 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. 37For no word from God shall be void of power. 38And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; 40and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; 42and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? 44For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord. 46And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid:
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
And holy is his name.
50And his mercy is unto generations and generations
On them that fear him.
51He hath showed strength with his arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52He hath put down princes from their thrones,
And hath exalted them of low degree.
53The hungry he hath filled with good things;
And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54He hath given help to Israel his servant,
That he might remember mercy
55(As he spake unto our fathers)
Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house. 57Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her. 59And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, blessing God. 65And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him. 67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of his servant David
70(As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72To show mercy towards, our fathers,
And to remember his holy covenant;
73The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
Should serve him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High:
For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
In the remission of their sins,
78Because of the tender mercy of our God,
Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.
Luke is the only Evangelist who makes a preface to his Gospel, for the purpose of explaining briefly the motive which induced him to write. By addressing a single individual he may appear to have acted foolishly, instead of sounding the trumpet aloud, as was his duty, and inviting all men to believe. It appears, therefore, to be unsuitable that the doctrine which does not peculiarly belong to one person or to another, but is common to all, should be privately sent to his friend Theophilus. Hence some have been led to think that Theophilus is an appellative noun, and is applied to all godly persons on account of their love of God; but the epithet which is joined to it is inconsistent with that opinion. Nor is there any reason for dreading the absurdity which drove them to adopt such an expedient. For it is not less true that Paul’s doctrine belongs to all, though some of his Epistles were addressed to certain cities, and others to certain men. Nay, we must acknowledge, if we take into account the state of those times, that Luke adopted a conscientious and prudent course. There were tyrants on every hand who, by terror and alarm, were prepared to obstruct the progress of sound doctrine. This gave occasion to Satan and his ministers for spreading abroad the clouds of error, by which the pure light would be obscured. Now, as the great body of men cared little about maintaining the purity of the Gospel, and few considered attentively the inventions of Satan or the amount of danger that lurked under such disguises, every one who excelled others by uncommon faith, or by extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, was the more strongly bound to do his utmost, by care and industry, for preserving the doctrine of godliness pure and uncontaminated from every corruption. Such persons were chosen by God to be the sacred keepers of the law, by whom the heavenly doctrine committed to them should be honestly handed down to posterity. With this view therefore, Luke dedicates his Gospel to Theophilus, that he might undertake the faithful preservation of it; and the same duty Paul enjoins and recommends to Timothy, (2 Timothy 1:14; 3:14.)
1. Forasmuch as many. He assigns a reason for writing which, one would think, ought rather to have dissuaded him from writing. To compose a history, which had already employed many authors, was unnecessary labor, at least if they had faithfully discharged their duty. But no accusation of imposture, or carelessness, or any other fault, is in the slightest degree insinuated. It looks, therefore, as if he were expressing a resolution to do what had been already done. I reply, though he deals gently with those who had written before him, he does not altogether approve of their labors. He does not expressly say that they had written on matters with which they were imperfectly acquainted, but by laying claim to certainty as to the facts, he modestly denies their title to full and unshaken confidence. It may be objected that, if they made false statements, they ought rather to have been severely censured. I reply again, they may not have been deeply in fault; they may have erred more from want of consideration than from malice; and, consequently, there would be no necessity for greater fierceness of attack. And certainly there is reason to believe that these were little more than historical sketches which, though comparatively harmless at the time, would afterwards, if they had not been promptly counteracted, have done serious injury to the faith. But it is worthy of remark that, in applying this remedy through Luke to unnecessary writings, God had a wonderful design in view of obtaining, by universal consent, the rejection of others, and thus securing undivided credit to those which reflect brightly his adorable majesty. There is the less excuse for those silly people, by whom disgusting stories, under the name of Nicodemus, or some other person, are, at the present day, palmed upon the world.
Are most surely believed among us The participle πεπληροφορημένα, which Luke employs, denotes things fully ascertained, and which do not admit of doubt. The old translator has repeatedly fallen into mistakes about this word, and through that ignorance has given us a corrupted sense of some very beautiful passages. One of these occurs in the writings of Paul, where he enjoins every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind, (Romans 14:5,) that conscience may not hesitate and waver, tossed to and fro (Ephesians 4:14) by doubtful opinions. Hence, too, is derived the word πληροφορία, which he erroneously renders fullness, while it denotes that strong conviction springing from faith, in which godly minds safely rest. There is still, as I have said, an implied contrast; for, by claiming for himself the authority of a faithful witness, he destroys the credit of others who give contrary statements.
Among us1717 Inter nos. has the same meaning as with us.1818 Apud nos. He appears to make faith rest on a weak foundation, its relation to men, while it ought to rest on the Word of God only; and certainly the full assurance (πληροφορία) of faith is ascribed to the sealing of the Spirit, (1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 10:22.) I reply, if the Word of God does not hold the first rank, faith will not be satisfied with any human testimonies, but, where the inward confirmation of the Spirit has already taken place, it allows them some weight in the historical knowledge of facts. By historical knowledge I mean that knowledge which we obtain respecting events, either by our own observation or by the statement of others. For, with respect to the visible works of God, it is equally proper to listen to eye-witnesses as to rely on experience. Besides, those whom Luke follows were not private authors, but were also ministers of the Word By this commendation he exalts them above the rank of human authority; for he intimates that the persons from whom he received his information had been divinely authorized to preach the Gospel. Hence, too, that security which he shortly afterwards mentions, and which, if it does not rest upon God, may soon be disturbed. There is great weight in his denominating those from whom he received his Gospel ministers of the Word; for on that ground believers conclude that the witnesses are beyond all exception, as the Lawyers express it, and cannot lawfully be set aside.
Erasmus, who has borrowed from Virgil1919 Quorum pars magna fui. — Virg. AEn. a phrase used in his version, did not sufficiently consider the estimation and weight due to a Divine calling. Luke does not talk in a profane style, but enjoins us in the person of his friend Theophilus to keep in view the command of Christ, and to hear with reverence the Son of God speaking through his Apostles. It is a great matter that he affirms them to have been eye-witneses, but, by calling them ministers, he takes them out of the common order of men, that our faith may have its support in heaven and not in earth. In short, Luke’s meaning is this: “that, since thou now hast those things committed faithfully to writing which thou hadst formerly learned by oral statements, thou mayest place a stronger reliance on the received doctrine.” It is thus evident that God has employed every method to prevent our faith from being suspended on the doubtful and shifting opinions of men. There is the less room for excusing the ingratitude of the world, which, as if it openly preferred the uncertainty arising out of vague and unfounded reports, turns from so great a Divine favor with loathing. But let us attend to the remarkable distinction which our Lord has laid down, that foolish credulity may not insinuate itself under the name of faith. Meanwhile, let us allow the world to be allured, as it deserves, by the deceitful baits of foolish curiosity, and even to surrender itself willingly to the delusions of Satan.
3. Having carefully examined all things The old translator has it, having followed out all things;2020 Omnia assequuto. and the Greek verb παρακολουθεῖν is taken metaphorically from those who tread in the footsteps of others, that nothing may escape them. So that Luke intended to express his close and laborious investigation, just as Demosthenes employs the same word, when, in examining an embassy against which he brings an accusation, he boasts of his diligence to have been such, that he perceived every thing that had been done as well as if he had been a spectator.
Luke very properly begins his Gospel with John the Baptist, just as a person who was going to speak about the daylight would commence with the dawn. For, like the dawn, he went before the Sun of Righteousness, which was shortly to arise. Others also mention him, but they bring him forward as already discharging his office. Luke secures our respect for him, while he is yet unborn, by announcing the miracles of divine power which took place at the earliest period of his existence, and by showing that he had a commission from heaven to be a prophet, ere it was possible for men to know what would be his character. His object was that John might afterwards be heard with more profound veneration, when he should come forth invested with a public office to exhibit the glory of Christ.
5. In the days of Herod This was the son of Antipater, whom his father elevated to the throne, and labored with such assiduity and toil to advance, that he was afterwards surnamed Herod the Great Some think that he is here mentioned by Luke, because he was their first foreign king; and that this was a suitable time for their deliverance, because the scepter had passed into a different nation. But they who speak in this manner do not correctly understand Jacob’s prophecy, (Genesis 49:10,) in which the advent of the Messiah is promised not merely after the royal authority had been taken from the Jews, but after it had been removed from the tribe of Judah. The holy patriarch did not even intimate that the tribe of Judah would be stripped of its supremacy, but that the government of the people would steadily remain in it until Christ, in whose person its permanency would at length be secured. When the Maccabees flourished, the tribe of Judah was reduced nearly to a private rank; and shortly afterwards, John, the latest leader of that race, was slain. But even at that time, its power was not completely annihilated; for there still remained the Sanhedrim, or Council selected out of the family and descendants of David, which possessed great authority, and lasted till the time of Herod, who, by a shocking slaughter of the judges, revenged the punishment formerly inflicted on himself, when he was condemned for murder, and forced to undergo voluntary exile, in order to escape capital punishment.
It was not, therefore, because he was of foreign extraction, that the reign of Herod broke the scepter of the tribe of Judah, (Genesis 49:10;) but because whatever relics of superior rank still lingered in that tribe were entirely carried off by his robbery. That its royal dignity had crumbled down long before, and that by slow degrees its supremacy had nearly given way, does not imply such a discontinuance as to be at variance with Jacob’s prophecy. For God had promised two things seemingly opposite; that the throne of David would be eternal, (Psalm 89:29, 36,) and that, after it had been destroyed, he would raise up its ruins, (Amos 9:11;) that the sway of his kingly power would be eternal, and yet that there should come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1.) Both must be fulfilled. That supremacy, therefore, which God had bestowed on the tribe of Judah, was suffered by him to be broken down for a time, that the attention of the people might be more strongly directed to the expectation of Christ’s reign. But when the destruction of the Sanhedrim appeared to have cut off the hope of believers, suddenly the Lord shone forth. Now, it belongs to the arrangement of history to mark the date of the transaction; but for no light reason did the word king mark, at the same time, the wretchedness of that period, in order to remind the Jews, that their eyes ought now to be turned to the Messiah, if they would sincerely keep the covenant of God.
Zacharias, of the course of Abia We learn from sacred history, (1 Chronicles 24:3, 31,) that the families of the priests were arranged by David in certain classes. In this matter David attempted nothing contrary to what the law enjoined. God had bestowed the priesthood on Aaron and his sons, (Exodus 28:1.) The other Levites were set apart to inferior offices, (Numbers 3:9.) David made no change in this respect; but his object was, partly to secure that nothing should be done in tumult and disorder, partly to oppose ambition, and at the same time to provide that it should not be in the power of a few persons, by taking the whole service into their own hands, to leave the greater number unemployed at home. Now in that arrangement, Abijah, son of Eleazar, held the eighth rank, (1 Chronicles 24:10.) Zacharias, therefore, belonged to the priestly family, and to the posterity of Eleazar who had succeeded his father in the high priest’s office, (Numbers 20:28.) In what manner Elisabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron, could be Mary’s cousin, (v. 36,) I will explain in the proper place. It is certainly by way of respect that Luke mentions the genealogy of Elisabeth; for Zacharias was permitted by the law to take to wife a daughter of any private Levite. From the equal marriage, therefore, it is evident that he was a man respected among his own rank.
6. And they were both righteous before God He awards to them a noble testimony, not only that among men they spent holy and upright lives, but also that they were righteous before God This righteousness Luke defines briefly by saying that they walked in all the commandments of God Both ought to be carefully observed; for, although praise is bestowed on Zacharias and Elisabeth for the purpose of showing us that the lamp, whose light went before the Son of God, was taken not from an obscure house, but from an illustrious sanctuary, yet their example exhibits to us, at the same time, the rule of a devout and righteous life. In ordering our life, (Psalm 37:23,) therefore, our first study ought to be to approve ourselves to God; and we know that what he chiefly requires is a sincere heart and a pure conscience. Whoever neglects uprightness of heart, and regulates his outward life only by obedience to the law, neglects this order. For it ought to be remembered that the heart, and not the outward mask of works, is chiefly regarded by God, to whom we are commanded to look. Obedience occupies the second rank; that is, no man must frame for himself, at his own pleasure, a new form of righteousness unsupported by the Word of God, but we must allow ourselves to be governed by divine authority. Nor ought we to neglect this definition, that they are righteous who regulate their life by the commandments of the law; which intimates that, to the eye of God, all acts of worship are counterfeit, and the course of human life false and unsettled, so far as they depart from his law.
Commandments and ordinances differ thus. The latter term relates strictly to exercises of piety and of divine worship; the latter is more general, and extends both to the worship of God and to the duties of charity. For the Hebrew word הקים, which signifies statutes or decrees, is rendered by the Greek translator δικαιώματα, ordinances; and in Scripture הקים usually denotes those services which the people were accustomed to perform in the worship of God and in the profession of their faith. Now, though hypocrites, in that respect, are very careful and exact, they do not at all resemble Zacharias and Elisabeth. For the sincere worshippers of God, such as these two were, do not lay hold on naked and empty ceremonies, but, eagerly bent on the truth, they observe them in a spiritual manner. Unholy and hypocritical persons, though they bestow assiduous toil on outward ceremonies, are yet far from observing them as they are enjoined by the Lord, and, consequently, do but lose their labor. In short, under these two words Luke embraces the whole law.
But if, in keeping the law, Zacharias and Elisabeth were blameless, they had no need of the grace of Christ; for a full observance of the law brings life, and, where there is no transgression of it, there is no remaining guilt. I reply, those magnificent commendations, which are bestowed on the servants of God, must be taken with some exception. For we ought to consider in what manner God deals with them. It is according to the covenant which he has made with them, the first clause of which is a free reconciliation and daily pardon, by which he forgives their sins. They are accounted righteous and blameless, because their whole life testifies that they are devoted to righteousness, that the fear of God dwells in them, so long as they give a holy example. But as their pious endeavors fall very far short of perfection, they cannot please God without obtaining pardon. The righteousness which is commended in them depends on the gracious forbearance of God, who does not reckon to them their remaining unrighteousness. In this manner we must explain whatever expressions are applied in Scripture to the righteousness of men, so as not to overturn the forgiveness of sins, on which it rests as a house does on its foundation. Those who explain it to mean that Zacharias and Elisabeth were righteous by faith, simply because they freely obtained the favor of God through the Mediator, torture and misapply the words of Luke. With respect to the subject itself, they state a part of the truth, but not the whole. I do own that the righteousness which is ascribed to them ought to be regarded as obtained, not by the merit of works, but by the grace of Christ; and yet, because the Lord has not imputed to them their sins, he has been pleased to bestow on their holy, though imperfect life, the appellation of righteousness The folly of the Papists is easily refuted. With the righteousness of faith they contrast this righteousness, which is ascribed to Zacharias, which certainly springs from the former, and, therefore, must be subject, inferior, and, to use a common expression, subordinate to it, so that there is no collision between them. The false coloring, too which they give to a single word is pitiful. Ordinances, they tell us, are called commandments of the law, and, therefore, they justify us. As if we asserted that true righteousness is not laid down in the law, or complained that its instruction is in fault for not justifying us, and not rather that it is weak through our flesh, (Romans 8:3.) In the commandments of God, as we have a hundred times acknowledged, life is contained, (Leviticus 18:5; Matthew 19:17;) but this will be of no avail to men, who by nature were altogether opposed to the law, and, now that they are regenerated by the Spirit of God, are still very far from observing it in a perfect manner.
7. And they had no child By an extraordinary purpose of God it was appointed that John should be born out of the common and ordinary course of nature. The same thing happened with Isaac, (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 21:1-3,) in whom God had determined to give an uncommon and remarkable demonstration of his favor. Elisabeth had been barren in the prime of life, and now she is in old age, which of itself shuts up the womb. By two hinderances, therefore, the Lord gives a twofold, surprising exhibition of his power, in order to testify, by stretching out his hand, as it were, from heaven, that the Prophet was sent by himself, (Malachi 3:1; John 1:6.) He is indeed a mortal man, born of earthly parents; but a supernatural method, so to speak, recommends him strongly as if he had fallen from heaven
9. According to the custom of the priest’s office The law enjoined that incense should be offered twice every day, that is, every morning and at even, (Exodus 30:7, 8.) The order of courses among the priests had been appointed by David, as we have already explained; and, consequently, what is here stated as to incense was expressly enjoined by the law of God. The other matters had been arranged by David, (1 Chronicles 24:3,) that each family might have its own turn, though David ordained nothing which was not prescribed by the law: he only pointed out a plan by which they might individually perform the service which God had commanded.
The word temple (νὰος) is here put for the holy place; which deserves attention, for it sometimes includes the outer court. Now, Zacharias is spoken of as going into the temple, which none but priests were permitted to enter. And so Luke says that the people stood without, there being a great distance between them and the altar of incense; for the altar on which the sacrifices were offered intervened. It ought to be observed also that Luke says before God: for whenever the priest entered into the holy place, he went, as it were, into the presence of God, that he might be a mediator between him and the people. For it was the will of the Lord to have this impressed upon his people, that no mortal is allowed to have access to heaven, without a priest going before; nay that, so long as men live on the earth, they do not approach the heavenly throne, so as to find favor there, but in the person of the Mediator. Now, as there were many priests, there were not two of them permitted to discharge, at the same time, the solemn office of intercession for the people; but they were so arranged in classes, that only one entered the Holy Place, and thus there was but one priest at a time. The design of the incense was to remind believers that the sweet savor of their prayers does not ascend to heaven except through the sacrifice of the Mediator; and in what manner those figures apply to us must be learned from the Epistle to the Hebrews.
12. Zacharias was troubled Though God does not appear to his servants for the purpose of terrifying them, yet it is advantageous and even necessary for them to be struck with awe, (Psalm 33:8,) that, amidst their agitation, they may learn to give to God the glory due unto his name, (Psalm 29:2.) Nor does Luke relate only that Zacharias was terrified, but adds that fear fell upon him; intimating that he was so alarmed as to give way to terror. The presence of God fills men with alarm, which not only leads them to reverence, but humbles the pride of the flesh, naturally so insolent that they never submit themselves to God until they have been overcome by violence. Hence, too, we infer that it is only when God is absent, — or, in other words, when they withdraw from his presence, — that they indulge in pride and self-flattery; for if they had God as a Judge before their eyes, they would at once and unavoidably fall prostrate. And if at the sight of an angel, who is but a spark of the Divine light, this happened to Zacharias, on whom the commendation of righteousness is bestowed, what shall become of us miserable creatures, if the majesty of God shall overwhelm us with its brightness? We are taught by the example of the holy fathers that those only are impressed with a lively sense of the Divine presence who shake and tremble at beholding him, and that those are stupid and insensible who hear his voice without alarm.
13. Fear not, Zacharias The glory of God, it ought to be observed, is not so appalling to the saints as to swallow them up entirely with dread, but only to cast them down from a foolish confidence, that they may behold him with humility. As soon, therefore, as God has abased the pride of the flesh in those who believe in him, he stretches out his hand to raise them up. He acts differently towards the reprobate; for at whatever time they are dragged before the tribunal of God, they are overwhelmed by absolute despair: and thus does God justly reward their vain delights, in which they give themselves up to the intoxicating wantonness of sin. We ought, therefore, to accept this consolation, with which the angel soothes Zacharias, that we have no reason to fear, when God is gracious to us. For they are greatly mistaken who, in order to enjoy peace, hide themselves from the face of God, whereas we ought to acquaint ourselves with him and be at peace, (Job 22:21.)
Thy prayer is heard Zacharias may seem to have acted an improper part, and inconsistent with the nature of his office, if, on entering the Holy Place in the name of all the people, he prayed as a private man that he might obtain offspring; for, when the priest sustained a public character, he ought, in forgetfulness as it were of himself, to offer prayers for the general welfare of the Church. If we say that there was no absurdity in Zacharias, after performing the chief part of the prayer, devoting the second part of it to private meditations about himself, the reply will not be without weight. But it is hardly probable that Zacharias did, at that time, pray to obtain a son, of which he had despaired on account of his wife’s advanced age; nor indeed can any precise moment be drawn from the words of the angel. I interpret it, therefore, simply that his prayer was at length heard, which he had poured out before God for a long period. That the desire of having children, if it be not excessive, is consistent with piety and holiness, may be gathered from Scripture, which assigns to it not the lowest place among the blessings of God.
Thou shalt call his name John The name was given, I think, to the Baptist in order to heighten the authority of his office. יהוהנן, (1 Chronicles 3:15,) for which the Greeks employ ᾿Ιωάννης, signifies in Hebrew the grace of the Lord Many suppose that the son of Zacharias was so called, because he was beloved of God. I rather think that it was intended to recommend not the grace which God bestowed upon him as a private individual, but that grace which his mission would bring to all. The force and weight of the name are increased by its date; for it was before he was born that God inscribed on him this token of his favor.
14. He shall be to thee joy The angel describes a greater joy than what Zacharias could derive from the recent birth of a child; for he informs him that he would have such a son as he had not even ventured to wish. He even proceeds farther to state that the joy would not be domestic, enjoyed by the parents alone, or confined within private walls, but shared alike by strangers, to whom the advantage of his birth should be made known. It is as if the angel had said that a son would be born not to Zacharias alone, but would be the Teacher and Prophet of the whole people. The Papists have abused this passage for the purpose of introducing a profane custom in celebrating the birth-day of John. I pass over the disorderly scene of a procession accompanied by dancing and leaping, and licentiousness of every description, strangely enough employed in observing a day which they pretend to hold sacred, and even the amusements authorized on that day taken from magical arts and diabolical tricks, closely resembling the mysteries of the goddess Ceres. It is enough for me, at present, to show briefly that they absurdly torture the words of the angel to mean the annual joy of a birth-day, while the angel restricts his commendation to that joy which all godly persons would derive from the advantage of his instruction. They rejoiced that a prophet was born to them, by whose ministry they were led to the hope of salvation,
15. For he shall be great He confirms what he said about joy, for John had been selected for a great and extraordinary purpose. These words are not so much intended to extol his eminent virtues as to proclaim his great and glorious office; as Christ, when he declares that among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, (Matthew 11:11,) refers less to the holiness of his life than to his ministry. What follows immediately afterwards, he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, must not be understood to mean that John’s abstemiousness was a singular virtue, but that God was pleased to distinguish his servant by this visible token, by which the world would acknowledge him to be a continual Nazarite. The priests too abstained from wine and strong drink, while they were performing their duties in the temple, (Leviticus 10:9.) The same abstinence was enjoined on the Nazarites, (Numbers 6:3,) until their vow should be fulfilled. By a striking mark God showed that John was dedicated to him to be a Nazarite for his whole life, as we learn was also the case with Samson, (Judges 13:3, 4.) But we must not on this ground imagine that the worship of God consists in abstinence from wine, as apish copyists select some part of the actions of the fathers for an object of imitation. Only let all practice temperance, let those who conceive it to be injurious to drink wine abstain of their own accord, and let those who have it not endure the want with contentment. As to the word σίκερα, I fully agree with those who think that, like the Hebrew word שכר, it denotes any sort of manufactured wine.
He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost These words, I think, convey nothing more than that John would manifest such a disposition as would hold out the hope of future greatness. By disposition I mean not such as is found even in ungodly men, but what corresponds to the excellence of his office. The meaning is, the power and grace of the Spirit will appear in him not only when he shall enter upon his public employment, but even from the womb he shall excel in the gifts of the Spirit, which will be a token and pledge of his future character. From the womb, means from his earliest infancy. The power of the Spirit, I acknowledge, did operate in John, while he was yet in his mother’s womb; but here, in my opinion, the angel meant something else, that John, even when a child, would be brought forward to the public gaze, accompanied by extraordinary commendation of the grace of God. As to fullness, there is no occasion for entering into the subtle disputations, or rather the trifling, of the sophists; for Scripture conveys nothing more by this word than the pre-eminent and very uncommon abundance of the gifts of the Spirit. We know, that to Christ alone the Spirit was given without measure, (John 3:34,) that we may draw out of his fullness, (John 1:16;) while to others it is distributed according to a fixed measure, (1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7.) But those who are more plentifully endued with grace beyond the ordinary capacity, are said to be full of the Holy Ghost. Now, as the more plentiful influence of the Spirit was in John an extraordinary gift of God, it ought to be observed that the Spirit is not bestowed on all from their very infancy, but only when it pleases God. John bore from the womb a token of future rank. Saul, while tending the herd, remained long without any mark of royalty, and, when at length chosen to be king, was suddenly turned into another man, (1 Samuel 10:6.) Let us learn by this example that, from the earliest infancy to the latest old age, the operation of the Spirit in men is free.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall he bring back These words show the shamefully dissolute conduct which then prevailed in the Church, for those in whom conversion to God could take place must have been apostates. And certainly corrupt doctrine, depraved morals, and disorderly government, were such as to render it next to a miracle that a very few continued in godliness. But if the ancient Church was so awfully dissolute, it is a frivolous pretext by which the Papists defend their own superstitions, that it is impossible for the Church to err, particularly since they include under this designation not the genuine and elect children of God, but the crowd of the ungodly.
But John appears to have more ascribed to him here than belongs to man. For conversion to God renews men to a spiritual life, and therefore is not only God’s own work, but surpasses even the creation of men. In this way ministers might seem to be made equal, and even superior, to God viewed as Creator; since to be born again to a heavenly life is a greater work than to be born as mortals on the earth. The answer is easy; for when the Lord bestows so great praise on the outward doctrine, he does not separate it from the secret influence of his Spirit. As God chooses men to be his ministers whose services he employs for the edification of his Church, he at the same time operates by them, through the secret influence of his Spirit, that their labors may be efficacious and fruitful. Wherever Scripture applauds this efficacy in the ministry of men, let us learn to attribute it to the grace of the Spirit, without which the voice of man would have spent itself uselessly in the air. Thus, when Paul boasts that he is a minister of the Spirit, (2 Corinthians 3:6,) he claims nothing separately for himself, as if by his voice he penetrated into the hearts of men, but asserts the power and grace of the Spirit in his ministry. These expressions are worthy of remark; because Satan labors, with amazing contrivance, to lower the effect of doctrine, in order that the grace of the Spirit connected with it may be weakened. The outward preaching, I acknowledge, can do nothing separately or by itself; but as it is an instrument of divine power for our salvation, and through the grace of the spirit an efficacious instrument, what God hath joined together let us not put asunder, (Matthew 19:6.)
That the glory of conversion and faith, on the other hand, may remain undivided with God alone, Scripture frequently reminds us that ministers are nothing in themselves; but in such cases he compares them with God, that no one may wickedly steal the honor from God and convey it to them. In short, those whom God, by the aid of the minister, converts to himself, are said to be converted by the minister, because he is nothing more than the hand of God; and both are expressly asserted in this passage. Of the efficacy of the doctrine we have now said enough. That it lies not in the will and power of the minister to bring men back to God, we conclude from this that John did not indiscriminately bring all back, (which he would unquestionably have done, if every thing had yielded to his wish,) but only brought those back whom it pleased the Lord effectually to call. In a word, what is here taught by the angel is laid down by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, that faith cometh by hearing, (Romans 10:17,) but that those only to whom the Lord inwardly reveals his arm (Isaiah 53:1; John 12:38) are so enlightened as to believe.
17. And he shall go before him By these words he points out what would be John’s office, and distinguishes him by this mark from the other prophets, who received a certain and peculiar commission, while John was sent for the sole object of going before Christ, as a herald before a king. Thus also the Lord speaks by Malachi,
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me,”
In short, the calling of John had no other design than to secure for Christ a willing ear, and to prepare for him disciples. As to the angel making no express mention of Christ in this passage, but declaring John to be the usher or standard-bearer of the eternal God, we learn from it the eternal divinity of Christ. With the spirit and power of Elijah By the words spirit and power, I understand the power or excellency of the Spirit, with which Elijah was endued; for we must not here indulge in a dream like that of Pythagoras, that the soul of the prophet passed into the body of John, but the same Spirit of God, who had acted efficaciously in Elijah, afterwards exerted a similar power and efficacy in the Baptist. The latter term, power, is added, by way of exposition, to denote the kind of grace which was the loftiest distinction of Elijah, that, furnished with heavenly power, he restored in a wonderful manner the decayed worship of God; for such a restoration was beyond human ability. What John undertook was not less astonishing; and, therefore, we ought not to wonder if it was necessary for him to enjoy the same gift.
That he may bring back the hearts of the fathers Here the angel points out the chief resemblance between John and Elijah. He declares that he was sent to collect the scattered people into the unity of faith: for to bring back the hearts of the fathers is to restore them from discord to reconciliation; from which it follows, that there had been some division which rent and tore asunder the people. We know how dreadful was the revolt of the people in the time of Elijah, how basely they had degenerated from the fathers, so as hardly to deserve to be reckoned the children of Abraham. Those who were thus disunited Elijah brought into holy harmony. Such was the reunion of parents with children, which was begun by John, and at length finished by Christ. Accordingly, when Malachi speaks of “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children,” (Malachi 4:5,) he intimates that the Church would be in a state of confusion when another Elijah should appear; and what was that state is plain enough from history, and will more fully appear in the proper place. The doctrine of Scripture had degenerated through countless inventions, the worship of God was corrupted by very gross superstition, religion was divided into various sects, priests were openly wicked and Epicureans, the people indulged in every kind of wickedness; in short, nothing remained sound. The expression, bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children, is not literally true; for it was rather the children who had broken the covenant and departed from the right faith of their fathers, that needed to be brought back But though the Evangelist does not so literally express that order of bringing back, the meaning is abundantly obvious, that, by the instrumentality of John, God would again unite in holy harmony those who had previously been disunited. Both clauses occur in the prophet Malachi, who meant nothing more than to express a mutual agreement.
But as men frequently enter into mutual conspiracies which drive them farther from God, the angel explains, at the same time, the nature of that bringing back which he predicts, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. This deserves attention, that we may not foolishly allow ourselves to be classed with ungodly men under a false pretense of harmony. Peace is a sounding and imposing term, and, whenever the Papists meet with it in scripture, they eagerly seize upon it for the purpose of raising dislike against us, as if we, who are endeavoring to withdraw the world from its base revolt, and bring it back to Christ, were the authors of divisions. But this passage affords a fine exposure of their folly, when the angel explains the manner of a genuine and proper conversion; and declares its support and link to be the wisdom of the just Accursed then be the peace and unity by which men agree among themselves apart from God.
By the wisdom of the just is unquestionably meant Faith, as, on the contrary, by the disobedient are meant Unbelievers. And certainly this is a remarkable encomium on faith, by which we are instructed, that then only are we truly wise unto righteousness when we obey the word of the Lord. The world too has its wisdom, but a perverse and therefore destructive wisdom, which is ever pronounced to be vanity; though the angel indirectly asserts that the shadowy wisdom, in which the children of the world delight, is depraved and accursed before God. This is therefore a settled point, that, with the view of becoming reconciled to each other, men ought first to return to peace with God.
What immediately follows about making ready a people prepared for the Lord, agrees with that clause, that John, as the herald of Christ, would go before his face, (Malachi 3:1;) for the design of his preaching was to make the people attentive to hear the instruction of Christ. The Greek participle κατεσκευασμένον, it is true, does not so properly mean perfection as the form and adaptation by which things are fitted for their use. This meaning will not agree ill with the present passage. John was commissioned to fit or mould to Christ a people which, formerly ignorant and uneducated, had never shown a desire to learn.
And Zacharias said to the angel Next follows the doubt of Zacharias, and the punishment which the Lord inflicted on his unbelief. He had prayed that he might obtain offspring, and now that it is promised, he distrusts, as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith. It might, at first sight, appear harsh that God is so much offended by his reply. He brings forward his old age as an objection. Abraham did the same; and yet his faith is so highly applauded that Paul declares, he
“considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb,” (Romans 4:19,)
but unhesitatingly relied on the truth and power of God. Zacharias inquires how, or by what proof, he might arrive at certainty. But Gideon was not blamed for twice asking a sign, (Judges 6:17, 37, 39.) Nay more, we are shortly after this informed of Mary’s objection, How shall this be, since I know not a man? (ver. 34,) which the angel passes over as if it contained nothing wrong. How comes it then that God punishes Zacharias so severely, as if he had been guilty of a very heinous sin? I do acknowledge that, if the words only are considered, either all were equally to blame, or Zacharias did nothing wrong. But as the actions and words of men must be judged from the state of the heart, we ought rather to abide by the judgment of God, to whom the hidden secrets of the heart are naked and opened, (Hebrews 4:13.)
Unquestionably, the Lord beheld in Zacharias something worse than his words may bear, and therefore his anger was kindled against him for throwing back with distrust the promised favor. We have no right, indeed, to lay down a law to God which would not leave him free to punish in one the fault which he pardons in others. But it is very evident that the case of Zacharias was widely different from that of Abraham, or Gideon, or Mary. This does not appear in the words; and therefore the knowledge of it must be left to God, whose eyes pierce the depths of the heart. Thus God distinguishes between Sarah’s laugh (Genesis 18:12) and Abraham’s, (Genesis 17:17,) though the one apparently does not differ from the other. The reason why Zacharias doubted was, that, stopping at the ordinary course of nature, he ascribed less than he ought to have done to the power of God. They take a narrow and disparaging view of the works of God, who believe that he will do no more than nature holds out to be probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses or confined to earthly means. But it belongs to faith to believe that more can be done than carnal reason admits. Zacharias had no hesitation with regard to its being the voice of God, but as he looked too exclusively at the world, an indirect doubt arose in his mind if what he had heard would really happen. In that respect he did no slight injury to God, for he went so far as to reason with himself, whether God, who had undoubtedly spoken to him, should be regarded as worthy of credit.
At the same time, we ought to know that Zacharias was not so unbelieving as to turn aside wholly from the faith; for there is a general faith which embraces the promise of eternal salvation and the testimony of a free adoption. On the other hand, when God has once received us into favor, he gives us many special promises, — that he will feed us, will deliver us from dangers, will vindicate our reputation, will protect our life; — and so there is a special faith which answers particularly to each of these promises. Thus, it will sometimes happen, that one who trusts in God for the pardon of his sins, and for salvation, will waver on some point, — will be too much alarmed by the dread of death, too solicitous about daily food, or too anxious about his plans. Such was the unbelief of Zacharias; for while he held the root and foundation of faith, he hesitated only on one point, whether God would give to him a son. Let us know, therefore, that those who are perplexed or disturbed by weakness on some particular occasion do not entirely depart or fall off from the faith, and that, though the branches of faith are agitated by various tempests, it does not give way at the root. Besides, nothing was farther from the intention of Zacharias than to call in question the truth of a divine promise; but while he was convinced generally that God is faithful, he was cunningly drawn by the craft and wiles of Satan to draw a wicked distinction. It is all the more necessary for us to keep diligent watch: for which of us shall be secure against the snares of the devil, when we learn that a man so eminently holy, who had all his life maintained strict watchfulness over himself, was overtaken by them?
19. I am Gabriel By these words the angel intimates that it was not his veracity, but that of God who sent him, and whose message he brought, that had been questioned; and so he charges Zacharias with having offered an insult to God. To stand before God signifies to be ready to yield obedience. It implies that he is not a mortal man, but a heavenly spirits — that he did not fly hither at random, but, as became a servant of God, had faithfully performed his duty: and hence it follows that God, the author of the promise, had been treated with indignity and contempt in the person of his ambassador. Of similar import is the declaration of Christ, “he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me,” (Luke 10:16.) Although the preaching of the gospel is not brought to us from heaven by angels, yet, since God attested by so many miracles that he was its author, and since Christ, the Prince and Lord of angels, once published it with his own mouth, (Hebrews 1:2,) that he might give it a perpetual sanction, its majesty ought to make as deep an impression upon us, as if all the angels were heard loudly proclaiming its attestation from heaven. Nay, the apostle, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, not satisfied with elevating the word of the gospel, which speaks by the mouth of men, to an equality with the law brought by angels, draws an argument from the less to the greater.
“If the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of rewards”
“of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God,”
whose “voice shakes not the earth only, but also heaven?” (Hebrews 12:26.) Let us learn to render to God the obedience of faith, which he values more highly than all sacrifices. Gabriel means the strength, or power, or pre-eminence of God, and this name is given to the angel on our account, to instruct us that we must not ascribe to angels any thing of their own, for whatever excellence they possess is from God. The Greek participle, παρεστηκὼς, (standing,) is in the past tense, but everybody knows that the past tense of such verbs is often taken for the present, and particularly when a continued act is expressed. The word εὐαγγελίσασθαι (to convey glad tidings) aggravates the crime of Zacharias; for he was ungrateful to God, who kindly promised a joyful and desirable event.
20. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb It was suitable that this kind of punishment should be inflicted on Zacharias, that, being dumb, he might await the fulfillment of the promise, which, instead of interrupting it by noisy murmurs, he ought to have heard in silence. Faith has its silence to lend an ear to the Word of God. It has afterwards its turn to speak and to answer Amen, according to that passage,
“I will say to them, Thou art my people, and they shall say,
Thou art my God,” (Hosea 2:23.)
But as Zacharias had rashly interrupted the Word of God, he is not allowed this favor of breaking out immediately in thanksgiving, but is denied for a time the use of his tongue, which had been too forward. Yet God is pleased graciously to mitigate the punishment, first, by limiting its duration to ten months, and next by not withholding from Zacharias the favor which he was unworthy to enjoy. With the same gentleness does he treat us every day: for when our faith is weak, and we throw out many obstacles, the truth of God, in continuing to flow toward us, must of necessity break through them with a kind of violence. That is the angel’s meaning, when he reproaches Zacharias with unbelief, and yet declares that those things which Zacharias did not believe would be accomplished in due time And so Zacharias is not a little relieved by learning that his fault has not made void the promise of God, which will afterwards be displayed in a more remarkable manner. It does sometimes happen that, notwithstanding the opposition made by unbelievers, the Lord bestows and fulfils what he had promised to them. We have a remarkable instance of this in King Ahaz, who rejected the promised safety, and yet was delivered from his enemies, (Isaiah 7:12.) But that resulted, without any advantage to him, in the salvation of the chosen people. It was otherwise with Zacharias, in whom the Lord chastises, and at the same time pardons, the weakness of faith.
21. And the people were waiting Luke now relates that the people were witnesses of this vision. Zacharias had tarried in the temple longer than usual. This leads to the supposition that something uncommon has happened to him. When he comes out, he makes known, by looks and gestures, that he has been struck dumb. There is reason to believe, also, that there were traces of alarm in his countenance. Hence they conclude that God has appeared to him. True, there were few or no visions in that age, but the people remembered that formerly, in the time of their fathers, they were of frequent occurrence. It is not without reason, therefore, that they draw this conclusion from obvious symptoms: for it was not an ordinary occurrence, [it was not a common accident, but rather an astonishing work of God,2222 Ce n'estoit point un accident commun, mais plustost une ceuvre ad-mirable de Dieu — Fr. ] that he became suddenly dumb without disease, and after a more than ordinary delay came out of the temple in a state of amazement. The word temple, as we have already mentioned, is put for the sanctuary, where the altar of incense stood, (Exodus 30:1.) From this place the priests, after performing their sacred functions, were wont to go out into their own court, for the purpose of blessing the people.
23. When the days were fulfilled Λειτουργία is employed by Luke to denote a charge or office, which passed, as we have said, to each of them in regular order, (1 Chronicles 24:3.) We are told that, when the time of his office had expired, Zacharias returned home. Hence we conclude that, so long as the priests were attending in their turns, they did not enter their own houses, that they might be entirely devoted and attached to the worship of God. For this purpose galleries were constructed around the walls of the temple, in which they had “chambers,” (1 Kings 6:5.) The law did not, indeed, forbid a priest to enter his house, but, as it did not permit those who ate the show-bread to come near their wives, (1 Samuel 21:4,) and as many persons were disposed to treat sacred things in an irreverent manner, this was probably discovered to be a remedy, that, being removed from all temptations, they might preserve themselves pure and clear from every defilement. And they were not only discharged from intercourse with their wives, but from the use of wine and every kind of intoxicating drink, (Leviticus 10:9.) While they were commanded to change their mode of living, it was advantageous for them not to depart from the temple, that the very sight of the place might remind them to cultivate such purity as the Lord had enjoined. It was proper also to withdraw every means of gratification, that they might devote themselves more unreservedly to their office.
The Papists of the present day employ this as a pretense for defending the tyrannical law of celibacy. They argue thus. The priests were formerly enjoined to withdraw from their wives, while they were engaged in religious services. Most properly is perpetual continence now demanded from the priests, who not in their turn, but every day, offer sacrifices; more especially since the importance of religious services is far higher than it was under the law. But I should like to know why they do not also abstain from wine and strong drink. For we are not at liberty to separate commandments which God has joined, so as to keep the one half and disregard the other. Intercourse with wives is not so expressly forbidden as the drinking of wine, (Ezekiel 44:21.) If, under the pretense of the law, the Pope enjoins celibacy on his priests, why does he allow them wine? Nay, on this principle, all priests ought to be thrown into some retired apartments of the churches, to pass their whole life immured in prisons, and excluded from the society of women and of the people.
It is now abundantly clear that they wickedly shelter themselves under the law of God, to which they do not adhere. But the full solution of the difficulty depends on the distinction between the law and the gospel. A priest stood in the presence of God, to expiate the sins of the people, to be, as it were, a mediator between God and men. He who sustained that character ought to have had something peculiar about him, that he might be distinguished from the common rank of men, and recognised as a figure of the true Mediator. Such, too, was the design of the holy garments and the anointing. In our day the public ministers and pastors of the church have nothing of this description. I speak of the ministers whom Christ has appointed to feed his flock, not of those whom the Pope commissions, as executioners rather than priests, to murder Christ. Let us therefore rest in the decision of the Spirit, which pronounces that “marriage is honorable in all,” (Hebrews 13:4.)
24. And hid herself This appears very strange, as if she had been ashamed of the blessing of God. Some think that she did not, venture to appear in public, so long as the matter was uncertain, for fear of exposing herself to ridicule, if her expectation were disappointed. In my opinion, she was so fully convinced of the promise made to her, that she had no doubt of its accomplishment. When she saw a severe punishment inflicted on her husband for “speaking unadvisedly with his lips,” (Psalm 106:33,) did she, for five successive months, cherish in her mind a similar doubt? But her words show clearly that her expectation was not doubtful or uncertain. By saying, thus hath the Lord done to me, she expressly and boldly affirms that his favor was ascertained. There might be two reasons for the delay. Until this extraordinary work of God was manifest, she might hesitate to expose it to the diversified opinions of men, for the world frequently indulges in light, rash, and irreverent talking about the works of God. Another reason might be that, when she was all at once discovered to be pregnant, men might be more powerfully excited to praise God. [For, when the works of God show themselves gradually, in process of time we make less account of them than if the thing had been accomplished all at once, without our having ever heard of it—Fr.] It was not, therefore, on her own account, but rather with a view to others, that Elisabeth hid herself
25. Thus hath the Lord done to me She extols in private the goodness of God, until the time is fully come for making it generally known. There is reason to believe that her husband had informed her by writing of the promised offspring, in consequence of which she affirms with greater certainty and freedom that God was the author of this favor. This is confirmed by the following words, when he looked, that he might take away my reproach; for she assigns it as the cause of her barrenness that the favor of God had been at that time withdrawn from her. Among earthly blessings, Scripture speaks in the highest terms of the gift of offspring. And justly: for, if the productiveness of the inferior animals is his blessing, the increase and fruitfulness of the human race ought to be reckoned a much higher favor. It is no small or mean honor, that God, who alone is entitled to be regarded as a Father, admits the children of the dust to share with him this title. Let us, therefore, hold this doctrine, that
“children are an heritage of the Lord,
and the fruit of the womb is his reward,”
But Elisabeth looked farther; for, though barren and old, she had conceived by a remarkable miracle, and contrary to the ordinary course of nature.
That he might take away my reproach Not without reason has barrenness been always accounted a reproach: for the blessing of the womb is enumerated among the signal instances of the divine kindness. Some think that this was peculiar to the ancient people: because Christ was to come from the seed of Abraham. But this had no reference, except to the tribe of Judah. Others think more correctly that the multiplication of the holy people was happy and blessed, as was said to Abraham, “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth,” (Genesis 13:16;) and again,
“Tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: so shall thy seed be,”
But we ought to connect the universal blessing, which extends to the whole human race, with the promise made to Abraham, which is peculiar to the church of God, (Genesis 13:15.) Let parents learn to be thankful to God for the children which he has given them, and let those who have no offspring acknowledge that God has humbled them in this matter. Elisabeth speaks of it exclusively as a reproach among men: for it is a temporal chastisement, from which we will suffer no loss in the kingdom of heaven.
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.
Now follows a remarkable and interesting song of the holy virgin, which plainly shows how eminent were her attainments in the grace of the Spirit. There are three clauses in this song. First, Mary offers solemn thanksgiving for that mercy of God which she had experienced in her own person. Next, she celebrates in general terms God’s power and judgments. Lastly, she applies these to the matter in hand, treating of the redemption formerly promised, and now granted to the church.
46. My soul magnifieth Here Mary testifies her gratitude, as we have already said. But as hypocrites, for the most part, sing the praises of God with open mouth, unaccompanied by any affection of the heart, Mary says that she praises God from an inward feeling of the mind. And certainly they who pronounce his glory, not from the mind, but with the tongue alone, do nothing more than profane his holy name. The words soul and spirit are used in Scripture in various senses, but, when employed together, they denote chiefly two faculties of the soul; spirit being taken for the understanding, and soul for the seat of the affections. To comprehend the meaning of the holy virgin, it must be observed that what is here placed second is first in order; for the excitement of the will of man to praise God must be preceded by a rejoicing of the spirit,4747 “Car avant que la volonte de l' homme soit mise en train de louer Dieu, il faut qu'il y ait devant une alaigrete et resiouissance d'esprit.” — “For before the will of man is set agoing to praise God, there must be previously a cheerfulness and rejoicing of spirit.” as James says, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” (James 5:13.) Sadness and anxiety lock up the soul, and restrain the tongue from celebrating the goodness of God. When the soul of Mary exults with joy, the heart breaks out in praising God. It is with great propriety, in speaking of the joy of her heart, that she gives to God the appellation of Savior Till God has been recognised as a Savior, the minds of men are not free to indulge in true and full joy, but will remain in doubt and anxiety. It is God’s fatherly kindness alone, and the salvation flowing from it, that fill the soul with joy. In a word, the first thing necessary for believers is, to be able to rejoice that they have their salvation in God. The next ought to follow, that, having experienced God to be a kind Father, they may “offer to him thanksgiving,” (Psalm 50:14.) The Greek word σωτὴρ, Savior, has a more extensive signification than the Latin word Servator; for it means not only that he once delivers, but that he is “the Author of eternal salvations” (Hebrews 5:9.)
48. Because he hath looked She explains the reason why the joy of her heart was founded in God to be, that out of free grace he had looked upon her. By calling herself low she disclaims all merit, and ascribes to the undeserved goodness of God every occasion of boasting. For ταπείνωσις, lowness, does not here denote — as ignorant and uneducated men have foolishly imagined — “submission, or modesty, or a quality of the mind,” but signifies “a mean and despicable condition.”4848 “Les Latins, traduisans ce passage du Grec, ont us, du mot d'Humi- lite, lequel les barbares et sots parleurs de Latin, prennent ici comme en Francois, pour une facon de faire contraire a l'arrogance, assavoir quand une personne s'estime rien: mais il se prend autrement, assavoir pour Petitesse; c'est a dire, condition basse et meprisee.” — “The Latins, translating this passage from the Greek, have used the word Humility, which barbarians and fools talking Latin take here, as in French, for a manner of acting opposed to pride: but it is taken differently, namely, for Meanness, that is, a low and despicable condition.” The meaning is, “I was unknown and despised, but that did not prevent God from deigning to cast his eyes upon me.” But if Mary’s lowness is contrasted with excellence — as the matter itself and the Greek word make abundantly plain — we see how Mary makes herself nothing, and praises God alone. And this was not the loud cry of a pretended humility, but the plain and honest statement of that conviction which was engraven on her mind; for she was of no account in the eyes of the world, and her estimation of herself was nothing more.
From this time She announces that this kindness of God will be kept in remembrance throughout all generations But if it is so remarkable, that it ought to be proclaimed every where by the lips of all men, silence regarding it would have been highly improper in Mary, on whom it was bestowed. Now observe, that Mary makes her happiness to consist in nothing else, but in what she acknowledges to have been bestowed upon her by God, and mentions as the gift of his grace. “I shall be reckoned blessed,” she says, “through all ages.” Was it because she sought this praise by her own power or exertion? On the contrary, she makes mention of nothing but of the work of God. Hence we see how widely the Papists differ from her, who idly adorn her with their empty devices, and reckon almost as nothing the benefits which she received from God.4949 “En cela nous voyons coment les Papistes accordent mal avec elle, lesquels sans jugement la parent de nouvelles louanges forgees en leurs cerveaux; et cependant ne tiennent quasi conte do tous les biens que’lle a eus de Dieu.” — “In this we see how ill the Papists agree with her, who without judgment adorn her with new praises forged in their own brains; and yet make no account, as it were, of all the benefits which she had from God.” They heap up an abundance of magnificent and very presumptuous titles, such as, “Queen of Heaven, Star of Salvation, Gate of Life, Sweetness, Hope, and Salvation.” Nay more, to such a pitch of insolence and fury have they been hurried by Satan, that they give her authority over Christ;5050 “Qui plus est, Satan les a transportez en une telle rage et forcenerie, qui’ls n’ont point eu de honte du luy attributer l’authorite de commander a Christ.” — “What is more, Satan has carried them away to such a rage and fury, that they are not ashamed to attribute to her authority to command Christ.” for this is their pretty song, “Beseech the Father, Order the Son.”5151 “Roga Patrem, jube Natum.” None of these modes of expression, it is evident, proceeded from the Lord. All are disclaimed by the holy virgin in a single word, when she makes her whole glory to consist in acts of the divine kindness. If it was her duty to praise the name of God alone, who had done to her wonderful things, no room is left for the pretended titles, which come from another quarter. Besides, nothing could be more disrespectful to her, than to rob the Son of God of what is his own, to clothe her with the sacrilegious plunder.
Let Papists now go, and hold us out as doing injury to the mother of Christ, because we reject the falsehoods of men, and extol in her nothing more than the kindness of God. Nay, what is most of all honorable to her we grant, and those absurd worshippers refuse.5252 “En ce faisant, nous luy accordons ce qui luy est le plus honorable, en lieu que ces habiles gens, qui la servent a contrepoil, l’en despouillent.” — “In doing this we grant to her what is the most honorable, while those clever people, who serve her the wrong way, take it from her.” We cheerfully acknowledge her as our teacher, and obey her instruction and commands. There certainly is no obscurity in what she says here; but the Papists throw it aside, trample it as it were under foot, and do all they can to destroy the credit of her statements?5353 “Fidem ejus dictis abrogant;” — “dementent la vierge en tant qu'en eux est;” — “as far as lies in them, they make the virgin a liar.” Let us remember that, in praising both men and angels, there is a general rule laid down, to extol in them the grace of God; as nothing is at all worthy of praise which did not proceed from Him.
He who is mighty hath done to me wonderful things She informs us, that the reason why God did not in this case employ the assistance of others was, to make his own power more illustrious. And here we must recall what she formerly said, that God had looked upon her, though she was mean and despicable. Hence it follows, that those praises of Mary are absurd and spurious which do not altogether exalt the power and free grace of God.
49. And holy is his name This is the second part of the song, in which the holy virgin celebrates in general terms the power, judgments, and mercy of God. This clause must not be viewed as a part of the preceding one, but must be read separately. Mary had extolled the grace of God, which she had experienced in her own person. Hence she takes occasion to exclaim, that holy is his name, and his mercy endures throughout all generations The name of God is called holy, because it is entitled to the highest reverence; and whenever the name of God is mentioned, it ought immediately to remind us of his adorable majesty.
The next clause, which celebrates the perpetuity of the Divine mercy, is taken from that solemn form of covenant,
“I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant,”
“who keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations,” (Deuteronomy 7:9.)
By these words, he not only declares, that he will always be like himself, but expresses the favor which he continues to manifest towards his own people after their death, loving their children, and their children’s children, and all their posterity. Thus he followed the posterity of Abraham with uninterrupted kindness; for, having once received their father Abraham into favor, he had made with him “an everlasting covenant.”
But as not all who are descended from Abraham according to the flesh are the true children of Abraham, Mary confines the accomplishment of the promise to the true worshippers of God, to them that fear him: as David also does:
“The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them,”
While God promises that he will be merciful to the children of the saints through all generations, this gives no support to the vain confidence of hypocrites: for falsely and groundlessly do they boast of God as their Father, who are the spurious children of the saints, and have departed from their faith and godliness.5454 “Car c'est a tort et fausses enseignes qu'ils se glorifient d'avoir Dieu pour leur Pere, puis qu’ils sont enfans bastards des saincts, et ont desvoye de leur foy et sainctete.” — “For it is improperly and under false colors that they boast of having God for their Father, since they are bastard children of the saints, and have departed from their faith and holiness.” This exception sets aside the falsehood and arrogance of those who, while they are destitute of faith, are puffed up with false pretenses to the favor of God. A universal covenant of salvation had been made by God with the posterity of Abraham; but, as stones moistened by the rain do not become soft, so the promised righteousness and salvation are prevented from reaching unbelievers through their own hardness of heart. Meanwhile, to maintain the truth and firmness of his, promise, God has preserved “a seed,” (Romans 9:29.)
Under the fear of the Lord is included the whole of godliness and religion, and this cannot exist without faith. But here an objection may be urged. What avails it that God is called merciful, if no man finds him to be so unless he deserves his favor? For, if the mercy of God is upon them that fear him, godliness and a good conscience procure his grace to men, and in this way men go before his grace by their own merits. I reply, this is a part of his mercy, that he bestows on the children of the godly fear and reverence for his majesty. This does not point out the commencement of his grace, as if God were idly looking down from heaven, to see who are worthy of it. All that is intended is, to shake off the perverse confidence of hypocrites, that they may not imagine God to be bound to them, because they are the children of saints according to the flesh: the divine covenant having another and very different object, that God may have always a people in the world, by whom he is sincerely worshipped.
51. He hath done might This means, “he hath wrought powerfully.” The arm of God is contrasted with every other aid: as in Isaiah, “I looked, and there was none to help,” (Isaiah 63:5;) “therefore,” says he elsewhere,
“his arm brought salvation unto him;
and his righteousness, it sustained him,” (Isaiah 59:16.)
Mary therefore means: God rested satisfied with his own power, employed no companions in the work, called none to afford him aid. What immediately follows about the proud may be supposed to be added for one of two reasons: either because the proud gain nothing by endeavoring, like the giants of old, to oppose God; or, because God does not display the power of his arm for salvation, except in the case of the humble, while the proud, who arrogate much to themselves, are thrown down To this relates the exhortation of Peter,
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,”
(1 Peter 5:6.)
He hath scattered5656 διεσχόρπισεν,, he utterly discomfits, a metaphor derived from putting to flight a defeated enemy. The word not unfrequently occurs in the Septuagint, but very rarely in the classical writers; though one example is adduced by Kuinoel from Aelian, Var. Hist. 13:46: τοὺς μέν διεσχόζπισεν, οὓς, (read τοὺς) δὲ ἀπέχτειενε.” — Bloomfield's Greek Testament. the proud in the thought of their heart5757 “La ou nous avons rendu, Il a dissipe, le mot Grec signifie proprement, Il a escarte ou espars.” This expression is worthy of notice: for as their pride and ambition are outrageous, as their covetousness is insatiable, they pile up their deliberations to form an immense heap, and, to say all in a single word, they build the tower of Babel, (Genesis 11:9.) Not satisfied with having made one or another foolish attempt beyond their strength, or with their former schemes of mad presumption, they still add to their amount. When God has for a time looked down from heaven, in silent mockery, on their splendid preparations, he unexpectedly scatters the whole mass: just as when a building is overturned, and its parts, which had formerly been bound together by a strong and firm union, are widely scattered in every direction.
52. He hath cast down the nobles This translation has been adopted, for the sake of avoiding ambiguity: for though the Greek word δυνάσται is derived from δύναμις, power, it denotes governors and eminent rulers.5858 “Le mot Grec (δυνάσται) vient de Puissance, comme si on disoit, Les puissans: mais il signifie les gouverneurs et gras seigneurs.” — “The Greek word comes from power, as if she had said, ‘The Mighty:' but it means governors and great lords.” Many persons think that δυνάστας is a participle. They are said by Mary to be cast down from their thrones, that obscure and unknown persons may be elevated in their room; and so she ascribes to the providence and judgments of God what ungodly men can the game of Fortune.5959 “Ludam Fortunae;” — “le jeu ou la roue de la Fortune;” — “the game or wheel of Fortune.” Let us understand, that she does not ascribe to God a despotic power,—as if men were tossed and thrown up and down like balls by a tyrannical authority,—but a just government, founded on the best reasons, though they frequently escape our notice. God does not delight in changes, or elevate in mockery to a lofty station, those whom he has determined immediately to throw down.6060 “Il ne faut pas penser que pour se jouer des hommes il les esleve amsi haut, et puis les abaisse.” — “We must not imagine that, to amuse himself with men, he raises them so high, and then sinks them low.” It is rather the depravity of men that overturns the state of things, because nobody acknowledges that the disposal of every one is placed in His will and power.
Those who occupy a higher station than others are not only chargeable with disdainfully and cruelly insulting their neighbors, but act in a daring manner towards Him to whom they owe their elevation. To instruct us by facts, that whatever is lofty and elevated in the world is subject to God, and that the whole world is governed by his dominion, some are exalted to high honor, while others either come down in a gradual manner, or else fall headlong from their thrones. Such is the cause and object of the changes which is assigned by David, “He poureth contempt upon princes,” (Psalm 107:39;) and by Daniel,
“He changeth the times and the seasons:
he removeth kings, and setteth up kings,” (Daniel 2:21.)
We see, indeed, how the princes of the world grow extravagantly insolent, indulge in luxury, swell with pride, and are intoxicated with the sweets of prosperity. If the Lord cannot tolerate such ingratitude, we need not be surprised.
The usual consequence is, that those whom God has raised to a high estate do not occupy it long. Again, the dazzling luster of kings and princes so overpowers the multitude, that there are few who consider that there is a God above. But if princes brought a scepter with them from the womb, and if the stability of their thrones were perpetual, all acknowledgment of God and of his providence would immediately disappear. When the Lord raises mean persons to exalted rank, he triumphs over the pride of the world, and at the same time encourages simplicity and modesty in his own people.
Thus, when Mary says, that it is God who casteth down nobles from their thrones, and exalteth mean persons, she teaches us, that the world does not move and revolve by a blind impulse of Fortune, but that all the revolutions observed in it are brought about by the Providence of God, and that those judgments, which appear to us to disturb and overthrow the entire framework of soclety, are regulated by God with unerring justice. This is confirmed by the following verse, He hath filled the hungry with good things, and hath sent the rich away empty: for hence we infer that it is not in themselves, but for a good reason, that God takes pleasure in these changes. It is because the great, and rich, and powerful, lifted up by their abundance, ascribe all the praise to themselves, and leave nothing to God. We ought therefore to be scrupulously on our guard against being carried away by prosperity, and against a vain satisfaction of the flesh, lest God suddenly deprive us of what we enjoy. To such godly persons as feel poverty and almost famine, and lift up their cry to God, no small consolation is afforded by this doctrine, that he filleth the hungry with good things
54. He hath lifted up his servant Israel In this last clause the general statements are applied by Mary to the present occasion. The meaning is, God has now granted the salvation which he had formerly promised to the holy fathers. And first, the verb ἀντιλαμζάνεσθαι, to lift up, contains an elegant metaphor:6161 “ ᾿Αντιλαμβάνεσθαι, denotes properly to lay hold of any thing, or person, by the hand, in order to support it when it is likely to fall; but the for the state of the nation was so fallen, that its entire restoration could not be expected on ordinary principles. And then God is said to have lifted up Israel, because he stretched out his hand, and lifted him up when lying prostrate. Religion had been polluted in innumerable ways. The public instruction retained almost nothing pure. The government of the Church was in the greatest confusion, and breathed nothing but shocking barbarity. The order of civil society no longer subsisted. The great body of the people were torn like wild beasts by the Romans and Herod. So much the more glorious was the restoration, which a state of affairs so desperate did not allow them to expect. Παιδὸς may here be taken either for child or for servant: but the latter signification is more appropriate. Israel is called, in this as in many other places, the servant of God, because he had been received into the family of God.
So as to be mindful Mary assigns the reason why the nation, when verging to ruin, was received by God; or rather, why God lifted it up when already fallen. It was to give an illustration of his mercy in its preservation. She expressly mentions that God had remembered his mercy, which he might appear in some sort to have forgotten, when he permitted his people to be so fearfully distressed and afflicted. It is customary to ascribe affections to God, as men conclude from the event itself, that he is offended with them, or that he is reconciled. Now, as the human mind forms no conception of the divine mercy, except so far as it is presented and declared in his own word, Mary directs her own attention and that of others to the promises,6262 “Marie se propose les promesses, et nous ramene tous a la consideration d'icelles.” — “Mary presents to herself the promises, and leads us all to the consideration of them.” and shows that, in the accomplishment of them, God has been true and faithful. In this sense, Scripture makes frequent mention of God’s mercy and truth, (Micah 7:20;) because we shall never be convinced of his fatherly kindness toward us, unless his word, by which he hath bound himself to us, be present to our recollection, and unless it occupy, as it were, an interterm is here, as at Acts 20:35, and often in the classical writers, used metaphorically in the sense of to protect, support.” — Bloomfield. mediate position between us, to link the goodness of God with our own individual salvation. By these words Mary shows, that the covenant which God had made with the fathers was of free grace; for she traces the salvation promised in it to the fountain of unmixed mercy Hence too we infer, that she was well acquainted with the doctrine of Scripture. The expectation of the Messiah was at that time, indeed, very general, but few had their faith established on so pure a knowledge of Scripture.
55. To Abraham and to his seed If you read these words in close connection with the close of the former verse, there appears to be an improper change of the case. Instead of τῶ ᾿Αβραὰμ καὶ τῶ σπέρματι, it ought to have been (πρὸς)τὸν ᾿Αβραὰμ καὶ τὸ σπέρμα,, as he spake TO our fathers, TO Abraham and TO his seed6363 Without attempting to make clear to the English reader the nature of this difficulty, which a Greek scholar will readily enough comprehend, it may suffice to say that the words, as he spake to our fathers, should be read as a parenthesis, and the words now under consideration will then be connected in the following manner: So as to be mindful (or, in remembrance) of his mercy to Abraham, and to his seed, for ever. — Ed. But, in my opinion, there is no such close connection. Mary does not merely explain who the Fathers were to whom God spake, but extends the power and result of the promises to all his posterity, provided they are the true seed of Abraham. Hence it follows, that the matter now in hand is, the solemn covenant which had been made, in a peculiar manner, with Abraham and his descendants. For other promises, which had been given to Adam, and Noah, and others, referred indiscriminately to all nations. As many of the children of Abraham, according to the flesh, have been cut off by their unbelief, and have been thrown out as degenerate from the family of Abraham, so we, who were strangers, are admitted to it by faith, and regarded as the true seed of Abraham. Let us therefore hold that, in consequence of God having formerly spoken to the fathers, the grace offered to them belongs equally to their posterity; and also, that the adoption has been extended to all nations, so that those, who were not by nature children of Abraham, may be his spiritual seed
The amount of this narrative is, that the birth of John was distinguished by various miracles, which gave reason to expect, that something great and remarkable would appear in the child himself at a future period. For the Lord determined to confer upon him from the womb remarkable tokens, that he might not afterwards come forward, as an obscure and unknown person, from the crowd, to discharge the office of a Prophet. First Luke relates, that Mary remained about three months with her cousin, — or, in other words, till the birth of the child: for it is probable that she had no other reason for staying so long, but to enjoy the exhibition of divine grace, which had been suggested to her by the angel for the confirmation of her faith.
58. And her neighbors and relatives heard It may admit of doubt, whether the wonderful kindness of God was estimated by those persons from the simple fact of her being blessed with a child, or whether they had previously heard that an angel appeared to Zacharias, and promised to him a son. This was certainly no ordinary divine favor, that, out of the course of nature, a barren woman at a very advanced age had brought forth a child. It is possible that, on this ground alone, they magnified the divine goodness. On the eighth day, from a sense of duty or from courtesy, as is customary on such occasions, some people assemble; but God takes occasion from it to make them witnesses and spectators of his power and glory. There can be no doubt but the extraordinary birth brought a greater crowd. They had reckoned it a prodigy to see an old and barren woman suddenly become pregnant; and now that the child is born, their astonishment is renewed and increased. We infer from the words of Luke that, though they circumcised their children at home, they were not wont to do so without collecting a numerous assembly: and with good reason, for it was a common sacrament of the church, and it was not proper to administer it in a secret or private manner.
59. And they called him Zacharias, by the name of his father We know that names were originally given to men, either from some occurrence, or even by prophetic inspiration, to point out some secret work of God. After a long period, when there was such a profusion of names, that it became inconvenient to form new ones every day, people satisfied themselves with the old and received names, and called their children by the names of their ancestors. Thus before the father of John, there were many called Zacharias, and perhaps they were the descendants of the “son of Barachias,” (Matthew 23:35.) Use and wont, we are aware, is generally taken for law, and so these persons contended that the prevailing custom should be observed as to the name of the child. Though we must not imagine that there is any sacredness in names, yet no judicious person will deny that, in this matter, believers ought to make a godly and profitable selection. They ought to give their children such names as may serve to instruct and admonish them, and consequently to take the names of holy fathers — for the purpose of exciting their children to imitate them — rather than adopt those of ungodly persons.
60. And his mother answering said It is uncertain if Elisabeth spoke this by inspiration. But when Zacharias saw the punishment inflicted on him for being too slow in believing, he probably informed his wife by writing what the angel had enjoined respecting the name, (ver. 13,) otherwise he would not have obeyed the command of God. Why this name was given to the Baptist by divine authority, I have already explained. The relatives, though unacquainted with the reason, are affected by the strangeness of the occurrence, particularly as they conjecture it did not take place without design.
64. And his mouth was instantly opened God puts honor on the birth of his prophet by restoring speech to his father: for there can be no doubt that this benefit was delayed till that day with the express object and design of fixing the eyes of men upon John. Zacharias spake, blessing God He did so, not only for the purpose of testifying his gratitude, but to inform his relatives and neighbors, that this punishment had been inflicted on him, because he had been too slow to believe: for he was not ashamed to unite with his own dishonor the praises of the divine glory. Thus it became universally known, that the birth of the child was not an accidental or ordinary event, but had been promised by an announcement from heaven.6565 “Mais selon la promesse expresse de Dieu, qui avoit este apportee et revelee par l'ange.” — “But according to the express promise of God, which had been brought and revealed by the angel.”
65. And fear fell upon all This fear mentioned by Luke proceeded from a feeling of the divine power: for the works of God ought to be contemplated by us with such reverence as to affect our minds with seriousness.6666 “Que nous en soyons touchez et esmeus a bon escient.” — “That we may be touched and moved by them in good earnest.” God does not amuse us with his miracles, but arouses the senses of men, which he perceives to be in a dormant state.6767 “Dieu en faisant miracles ne se joue point pour nous servir de passe- temps, mais reveille nos sens, lesquels il voit estre abrutis et en dormis.” — “God, in working miracles, does not amuse himself to supply us with pastime, but arouses our senses, which he sees to be stupified and asleep.” Luke says also that the report of those things was circulated in all the mountainous district of Judea And yet many derived no advantage from the temporary impression of the power of God: for, when John began to exercise his office as an instructor, there were few that remembered what wonders had attended his birth. It was not merely, however, for the sake of those who heard them, that God determined to spread abroad the report of those events, but to establish, in all ages, the certainty of the miracle, which was then universally known. Meanwhile, a general mirror of human ingratitude is here placed before our eyes: for, while trifling and frivolous occurrences remain firmly in our minds, those which ought to produce a constant recollection of divine favors immediately fade and disappear.
Luke does not speak of stupid men, or actual despisers of God: for he says that they put them in their heart: that is, they applied eagerly to the consideration of them. Some probably continued to remember, but the greater part rapidly shook off the fear which they had experienced. It deserves our notice that they were far from mistaking the design, when they interpreted the miracles which they saw as relating to the future excellence of the child: for such, we have said, was the design of God, that John should afterwards come forth with the highest reputation. And the hand of the Lord was with him The meaning is, that the grace of God was strikingly visible in many respects, and showed manifestly that he was not an ordinary person. It is a figurative mode of expression, and denotes that the power of God was as fully manifested as if his hand had been visibly seen, so that all readily acknowledged the presence of God.
67. Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost We have lately explained this phrase to mean, that the servants of God received more abundantly the grace of the Spirit, of which, at other times, they were not destitute. Thus we read, that the Spirit was given to the prophets: not that on other occasions they wanted it, but that the power of the Spirit was more fully exerted in them, when the hand of God, as it were, brought them into public view, for the discharge of their office. We must observe, therefore, the manner in which Luke connects the two clauses: he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied This implies that divine inspiration, at that time, rested upon him in an extraordinary measure, in consequence of which he did not speak like a man or private person, but all that he uttered was heavenly instruction. Thus also Paul connects prophecy with the Spirit.
“Quench not the Spirit: despise not prophesyings,”
(1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20.)
which teaches us that to despise instruction is to “quench” the light of “the Spirit.” This was a remarkable instance of the goodness of God, that not only did Zacharias recover the power of speech, which he had not enjoyed for nine months, but his tongue became the organ of the Holy Spirit.
68. Blessed be the Lord God Zacharias commences with thanksgiving, and in the raptures of the prophetic spirit describes the fulfillment of the redemption formerly promised in Christ, on which the safety and prosperity of the church depended. The reason why the Lord, to whose government the whole world is subject, is here called the God of Israel, will more fully appear from what follows, that to the seed of Abraham, in a peculiar manner, the Redeemer had been promised. Since, therefore, God had deposited with one nation only his covenant, of which Zacharias was about to speak, he properly mentions the name of that nation, for which the grace of salvation was especially, or at all events in the first instance, designed.
The word ἐπεσκέψατο, he hath visited, contains an implied contrast: for the face of God had been turned away for a time from the unhappy children of Abraham. To such a depth of calamity had they sunk, and with such a mass of distresses were they overwhelmed, that no one entertained the thought that the eye of God was upon them. This visitation of God, which Zacharias mentions, is declared to be the cause and origin of redemption. The statement may be resolved in this manner. God looked upon (ἐπεσκέψατο) his people, that he might redeem them Now, as those whom God redeems must be prisoners, and as this redemption is spiritual in its nature, we conclude from this passage, that even the holy fathers were made free from the yoke of sin and the tyranny of death, only through the grace of Christ; for it is said that Christ was sent as a Redeemer to the holy and elect people of God. But it will be objected, if redemption was brought by Christ at that time when he appeared clothed in flesh, it follows, that those believers who died before he came into the world were “all their lifetime” slaves of sin and death: which would be highly absurd. I reply, the power and efficacy of that redemption, which was once exhibited in Christ, have been the same in all ages.
69. He hath raised up the horn of salvation That is, saving power:7171 “C'est a dire, une vertu et puissance pleine de salut.” — “That is, a power and might full of salvation for, when the throne of David was cast down, and the people scattered, the hope of salvation had to all appearance perished. Zacharias alludes to the predictions of the prophets, which hold out that a sudden revival would take place, when the state of affairs should have become melancholy and desperate. This mode of expression is borrowed from the passage,
“There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed,” (Psalm 132:17.)
But if it is only in Christ that God has put forth his power to save us, we are not at liberty to depart from that method, if we desire to obtain salvation from God. Let it be also observed, that this horn brings salvation to believers, but terror to the ungodly, whom it scatters, or bruises and lays prostrate.
Of his servant David He is so denominated, not only because, like any one of the godly, he worshipped God, but for this other reason, that he was his chosen servant to rule and save his people, and thus to represent, along with his successors, the person and office of Christ. Though there remained among the Jews, at that time, no trace of a kingdom, Zacharias, resting on the promises of God, does not hesitate to call David the servant of God, in whom God gave an example of the salvation which was to come.7272 “Specimen futurae salutis;” — “pource que Dieu l'avoit dresse pour figure et tesmoignage du salut a venir;” — “because God had set him up for a figure and proof of the salvation to come.” Now that the throne of Christ is erected amongst us, that thence he may govern us, it follows that he is actually appointed to us the author of salvation.
70. As he spake That the salvation which is said to have been brought by Christ may not be thought doubtful on the score of novelty, he adduces as witnesses all the Prophets, who, though they were raised up at different times, yet with one consent teach, that salvation is to be expected from Christ alone. Nor was it the sole design of Zacharias to celebrate the truth and faithfulness of God, in performing and fulfilling what he formerly promised. His object rather was to draw the attention of believers to the ancient predictions, that they might embrace, with greater certainty and cheerfulness, the salvation offered to them, of which the Prophets from the beginning had testified. When Christ comes forth adorned,7373 “Ornatus;” — “revestu et garni d'excellens tesmoignages de tous les Prophetes;” — “clothed and adorned with excellent testimonies of all the Prophets.” with the testimonies of all the Prophets, our faith in him rests on a truly solid foundation.
He calls them holy prophets, to secure for their words greater authority and reverence. They were not inconsiderable or ordinary witnesses, but were of the first rank,7474 “Classicos testes.” This is a fine allusion to the Roman division into classes, (mentioned by Livy, 1:43,) from the first of which classes, as carrying greater weight and respectability, “testes,” witnesses were selected for signing Testaments, — a department of Conveyancing, which all civilized nations have guarded by the most careful provisions, and in which authenticity is peculiarly and indispensably necessary. Calvin's vernacular brings out, though with less elegance, the meaning in which classicos testes is here used, — “bons, suffisans, et sans reproche;” — “good, sufficient, and without reproach.” — Ed. and furnished with a public commission, having been separated from the common people, for that purpose, by divine authority. To inquire minutely how each of the prophets gave testimony to Christ, would lead us into a long dissertation. Let it suffice for the present to say, that they all uniformly make the hope of the people, that God would be gracious to them, to rest entirely on that covenant between God and them which was founded on Christ, and thus speak plainly enough of the future redemption, which was manifested in Christ. To this purpose are many striking passages, which contain no dark prophecies respecting Christ, but point him out, as it were, with the finger. But our chief attention is due to the signature of the divine covenant; for he that neglects this will never understand any thing in the prophets: as the Jews wander wretchedly7575 “Misere vagantur.” — “Les Juifs ne font que tracasser et se tormenter sans profit toute leur vie;” — “the Jews do but vex and tease themselves without advantage all their life.” in reading the Scripture, in consequence of giving their whole study to words, and wandering from the main design.
71. Salvation from our enemies Zacharias explains more clearly the power and office of Christ. And certainly it would be of little or no advantage to learn that Christ was given to us, unless we also knew what he bestows. For this reason he states more fully the purpose for which the horn of salvation was raised up: that believers may obtain salvation from their enemies Unquestionably, Zacharias was well aware, that the principal war of the church of God is not with flesh and blood, but with Satan and all his armament, by which he labors to accomplish our everlasting ruin. Though the Church is also attacked by outward foes, and is delivered from them by Christ, yet, as the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is chiefly to Satan, the prince of this world, and all his legions, that the present discourse relates. Our attention is also directed to the miserable condition of men out of Christ, lying prostrate under the tyranny of the devil: otherwise, out of his hand, out of his power, Christ would not deliver his own people. This passage reminds us that, so long as the Church continues her pilgrimage in the world, she lives amongst her foes, and would be exposed to their violence, if Christ were not always at hand to grant assistance. But such is the inestimable grace of Christ, that, though we are surrounded on every side by enemies, we enjoy a sure and undoubted salvation. The mode of expression may seem harsh, salvation from our enemies; but the meaning is obvious. No machinations or power, no wiles, no attacks will prevent our being delivered from them and saved “in the Lord with an everlasting salvatlon,” (Isaiah 45:17.)
72. To perform the mercy Zacharias again points out the fountain from which redemption flowed, the mercy and gracious covenant of God. He assigns the reason why God was pleased to save his people. It was because, being mindful of his promise, he displayed his mercy. He is said to have remembrance of his covenant, because there might be some appearance of forgetfulness during that long delay, in which he allowed his people to languish under the weight of very heavy calamities. We must carefully attend to this order. First, God was moved by pure mercy to make a covenant with the fathers. Secondly, He has linked the salvation of men with his own word.7676 “Il a lie le salut des hommes avec sa parole, comme dependant d'icelle.” — “He has bound the salvation of men with his word, as depending on it.” Thirdly, He has exhibited in Christ every blessing, so as to ratify all his promises: as, indeed, their truth is only confirmed to us when we see their fulfillment in Christ. Forgiveness of sins is promised in the covenant, but it is in the blood of Christ. Righteousness is promised, but it is offered through the atonement of Christ. Life is promised, but it must be sought only in the death and resurrection of Christ. This too is the reason why God commanded of old, that the book of the law should be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, (Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 9:19, 20.) It is also worthy of notice, that Zacharias speaks of the mercy performed in his own age, as extending to the fathers who were dead, and who equally shared in its results. Hence it follows, that the grace and power of Christ are not confined by the narrow limits of this fading life, but are everlasting; that they are not terminated by the death of the flesh, for the soul survives the death of the body, and the destruction of the flesh is followed by the resurrection. As neither Abraham, nor any of the saints, could procure salvation to himself by his own power or merits, so to all believers, whether living or dead, the same salvation has been exhibited in Christ.
73. According to the oath There is no word in the Greek original for the preposition according to: but it is a common and well understood principle of language, that when the accusative case is put absolutely, there is a preposition to be understood, by which it is governed. The oath is mentioned, for the purpose of expressing more fully the firmness and sacredness of his truth: for such is his gracious condescension, that he deigns to employ his name for the support of our weakness. If his bare promises do not satisfy us, let us at least remember this confirmation of them; and if it does not remove all doubt, we are chargeable with heinous ingratitude to God, and insult to his holy name.
To give to us Zacharias does not enumerate the several points of God’s covenant, but shows that God’s purpose, in dealing so kindly and mercifully with his people, was to redeem them.
74. That being delivered out of the hand of our enemies His purpose was, that, being redeemed, they might dedicate and consecrate themselves entirely to the Author of their salvation. As the efficient cause of human salvation was the undeserved goodness of God, so its final cause is, that, by a godly and holy life, men may glorify his name. This deserves careful attention, that we may remember our calling, and so learn to apply the grace of God to its proper use. We must meditate on such declarations as these:
“God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness,”
(1 Thessalonians 4:7.)
We are “redeemed with a great price,” (1 Corinthians 6:20,) “the precious blood of Christ,” (1 Peter 1:18,19,) not that we may serve “the lusts of the flesh,” (2 Peter 2:18,) or indulge in unbridled licentiousness, but that Christ may reign in us. We are admitted by adoption into the family of God, that we, on our part, may yield obedience as children to a father. For “the kindness and love (φιλανθρωπία) of God our Savior toward man,” (Titus 3:4,) “hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly,” (Titus 2:11,12.) And so Paul, when he wishes powerfully to exhort believers to consecrate themselves to God, “in newness of life,” (Romans 6:4,) and, “putting off, concerning the former conversation, the old man,” (Ephesians 4:22,) to render to him a “reasonable service,” “beseeches them by the mercies of God,” (Romans 12:1.) Scripture is full of declarations of this nature, which show that we “frustrate the grace” (Galatians 2:21) of Christ, if we do not follow out this design.
That we may serve him without fear This deserves our attention: for it implies that we cannot worship God in a proper manner without composure of mind. Those who are ill at ease, who have an inward struggle, whether God is favorable or hostile to them, whether he accepts or rejects their services,—in a word, who fluctuate in uncertainty between hope and fear, will sometimes labor anxiously in the worship of God, but never will sincerely or honestly obey him. Alarm and dread make them turn from him with horror; and so, if it were possible, they would desire that there were, “no God,” (Psalm 14:1.) But we know, that no sacrifice is acceptable to God, which is not offered willingly, and with a cheerful heart. Before men can truly worship God, they must obtain peace of conscience, as David speaks, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” (Psalm 130:4:) for those to whom God has given peace are graciously invited and led to approach him willingly and with a cheerful desire to worship him. Hence too Paul deduces that maxim, that “whatsoever is undertaken without faith is sin,” (Romans 14:23.) But since God reconciles men to himself in Christ, since by his protection he keeps them safe from all fear, since he has committed their salvation to his own hand and guardianship, we are justly declared by Zacharias to be delivered by his grace from fear. And so the prophets describe it as peculiar to his reign, that,
“they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid,” (Micah 4:4.)
75. In holiness and righteousness As the rule of a good life has been reduced by God to two tables, (Exodus 31:18; 34:1,) so Zacharias here declares, that we serve God in a proper manner, when our life has been framed to holiness and righteousness. Holiness, beyond all question, denotes—as even Plato knew the duties of godliness,7777 “Le mot de Sainctete comprend tout ce dont nous sommes redevables a Dieu pour adorer et honorer sa majeste.” — “The word Holiness includes all that we owe to God for adoring and honoring his majesty.” which relate to the first table of the law. Righteousness, again, extends to all the duties of charity: for God requires nothing more from us in the second table of the law, than to render to every one what belongs to him. It is added, before him, to instruct believers, that it is not enough if their lives are decently regulated before the eyes of men, and their hands, and feet, and whole body, restrained from every kind of open wickedness: but they must live according to the will of God, who is not satisfied with professions of holiness, but looks chiefly on the heart.
Lastly, That no man may consider his duties to be at an end, when he has worshipped God for a certain period, Zacharias declares that men have been redeemed on the condition7878 “Hac lege redemptas esse homines.” — “Zacharie dit que les hommes ont este rachetez a la charge de s'appliquer a servir Dieu tout le temps de leur vie.” — “Zacharias says that men have been redeemed upon condition of applying themselves to serve God all the time of their life.” that they shall continue to devote themselves to the worship of God all the days of their life And certainly, as redemption is eternal, the remembrance of it ought never to pass away; as God adopts men into his family for ever, their gratitude ought not to be transitory or of short continuance; and, in a word, as “Christ both died and rose, and revived” for them, it is proper that he should be “Lord both of the dead and living,” (Romans 14:9.) So Paul, in a passage which I lately quoted, enjoins us to
“live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,”
76. And thou, child Zacharias again returns to commend the grace of Christ, but does this, as it were, in the person of his son, by describing briefly the office to which he had been appointed as an instructor. Though in a little infant eight days old he does not yet observe prophetical endowments, yet turning his eyes to the purpose of God, he speaks of it as a thing already known. To be called means here to be considered and openly acknowledged as the prophet of God. A secret calling of God had already taken place. It only remained that the nature of that calling should be manifested to men. But as the name Prophet is general, Zacharias, following the revelation brought to him by the angel, affirms that he would be the usher8080 “Apparitorem.” — “Heraut.” or herald of Christ. He says, thou shalt go before the face of the Lord: that is, thou shalt discharge the office of turning men by thy preaching to hear the Lord. The reason why John, when he had nearly finished his course, affirmed that he was not a prophet of God, is explained by me at the proper place, (John 1:21,) and in what manner he was to prepare his ways we shall afterwards see.
77. To give knowledge of salvation Zacharias now touches the principal subject of the gospel, when he says that the knowledge of salvation consists in the forgiveness of sins. As we are all “by nature the children of wraths” (Ephesians 2:3,) it follows, that we are by nature condemned and ruined: and the ground of our condemnation is, that we are chargeable with unrighteousness. There is, therefore, no other provision for escaping eternal death8181 “Mortis;” — “La mort mortelle.” but by God
“reconciling us unto himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us,”
(2 Corinthians 5:19.)
That this is the only righteousness which remains to us before God, may be easily gathered from the words of Zacharias. For whence comes salvation, but from righteousness? But if the children of God have no other way of obtaining the knowledge of salvation except through the forgiveness of sins, it follows, that righteousness must not be sought in any other quarter. Proud men attempt to forge and manufacture a righteousness out of the merits of good works. True righteousness is nothing else than the imputation of righteousness, when God, out of free grace, acquits us from guilt. Besides, it ought to be observed that Zacharias is not speaking of “strangers from the covenants of promise,” (Ephesians 2:12) but of the people of God. Hence it follows, that not only does the commencement of righteousness depend on the forgiveness of sins, but it is by imputation8282 “Imputative, ut italoquar.” — “Par imputation, c'est a dire, d'autant que la justice de Christ laur est imputee.” — “By imputation, that is to say, in so far as the righteousnes of Christ is imputed to them” that believers are righteous before God to the very end: for they cannot appear before his tribunal in any other way than by betaking themselves daily to a free reconciliation.
78. Through the bowels8383 “Par les entrailles de la misericorde, ou, par l'affection misericordieuse.” — “By the bowels of mercy, or, by the merciful affection.” of mercy In so great a benefit Zacharias justly extols the mercy of God, and not satisfied with merely calling it the salvation which was brought by Christ, he employs more emphatic language, and says that it proceeded from the very bowels of the mercy of God. He then tells us metaphorically, that the great mercy of God has made the day to give light to those who were sitting in darkness Oriens, in the Latin version of this passage, is not a participle: for the Greek word is ἀνατολή, that is, the Eastern region, as contrasted with the West. Zacharias extols the mercy of God, as manifested in dispelling the darkness of death, and restoring to the people of God the light of life. In this way, whenever our salvation is the subject, we ought to raise our minds to the contemplation of the divine mercy. There appears to be an allusion to a prediction of Malachi, in which Christ is called “the Sun of Righteousness,” and is said to “arise with healing in his wing,” (Malachi 4:2,) that is, to bring health in his rays.
79. That he might give light to those who were sitting in darkness As to light and darkness, there are similar modes of expression in Isaiah: such as,
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined,”
and in many other passages. These words show, that out of Christ there is no life-giving light in the world, but every thing is covered by the appalling darkness of death. Thus, in another passage, Isaiah testifies that this privilege belongs peculiarly to the church alone.
“Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee,”
But how could it be said that the Israelites, on whose hearts the Lord always shone by faith, were sitting in the shadow of death? I reply, the godly, who lived under the law were surrounded on every side by the darkness of death, and beheld at a distance, in the coming of Christ, the light that cheered and preserved them from being overwhelmed by present death. Zacharias may have had in view the wretched condition of his own age. But it is a general truth, that on all the godly, who had ever lived, or who were afterwards to live, there arose in the coming of Christ a light to impart life: for it even diffused life over the dead. To sit is of the same import as to lie:8484 “Estre assis emporte autant comme estre couch, ou veautre.”— “To sit is of the same import as to be lying or wallowing.” and so Isaiah enjoins the Church, “Arise, for thy light is come,” (Isaiah 60:1.)
To guide our feet By this expression Zacharias points out, that the highest perfection of all excellence and happiness is to be found in Christ alone. The word Peace might indeed be taken in its literal sense, which would not be unsuitable: for the illumination brought by Christ tends to pacify the minds of men. But as the Hebrew word שלום, peace, denotes every kind of prosperity, Zacharias intended, I doubt not, to represent Christ as the author of perfect blessedness, that we may not seek the smallest portion of happiness elsewhere, but may rest on Christ alone, from a full conviction that in him we are entirely and completely happy. To this purpose are those words of Isaiah,
“The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory,” (Isaiah 60:19.)
But if the mere sight of his Son, while still a child, led Zacharias to discourse in so lofty a strain respecting the grace and power of Christ, before he was born, are not they so much the more ungrateful, who, now that Christ has died, and risen, and ascended to heaven, and sat down at his Father’s right hand, speak disrespectfully of him and of his power, to which the Holy Spirit bore testimony, while he was still in his mother’s womb? We must bear in mind what I have already mentioned, that Zacharias spake not from himself, but that the Spirit of God directed his tongue.
And the child grew This is added by Luke for continuing the thread of the history. First, he mentions that John became strong in spirit: which implies that the great and uncommon excellence of the child gave proof that there dwelt in him a Heavenly Spirit. Next, he tells us, that John remained unknown in the deserts till the day of his showing, that is, till the day on which the Lord had pur-posed to bring him into public view. Hence we conclude, that John, though he was fully aware of his calling, made no advances before the appointed time, but awaited the call of God.