World Wide Study Bible

Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

Dedication to Theophilus

 1

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

 

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

51

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

53

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

54

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

55

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

The Birth of John the Baptist

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of his servant David,

70

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71

that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

72

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

73

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness

before him all our days.

76

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.

78

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

 

The Birth of Jesus

 2

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Jesus Is Named

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word;

30

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

31

which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus in the Temple

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

 


Select a resource above

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,”
(Malachi 3:1.)

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”
(Hebrews 2:2,)

of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God,”
(Hebrews 10:29,)

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,”
(Psalm 127:3.)

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,”
(Genesis 15:5.)

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,”
(Genesis 17:7)

and again,

“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,”
(Psalm 103:17,18.)

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,”
(Titus 2:12-14.)

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,”
(Isaiah 9:1;)

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,”
(Isaiah 60:2.)

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.

Luke relates how it happened, that Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem, as his mother was living at a distance from her home, when she was approaching to her confinement. And first he sets aside the idea of human contrivance,123123     “Il monstre que cela ne s'est point fait par advis ou conseil humain.” —”He shows that this was not by human advice or plan.” by saying, that Joseph and Mary had left home, and came to that place to make the return according to their family and tribe. If intentionally and on purpose124124     “Data opera et consulto;” — “de propos delibere;” — “of deliberate purpose.” they had changed their residence that Mary might bring forth her child in Bethlehem, we would have looked only at the human beings concerned. But as they have no other design than to obey the edict of Augustus, we readily acknowledge, that they were led like blind persons, by the hand of God, to the place where Christ must be born. This may appear to be accidental, as everything else, which does not proceed from a direct human intention, is ascribed by irreligious men to Fortune. But we must not attend merely to the events themselves. We must remember also the prediction which was uttered by the prophet many centuries before. A comparison will clearly show it to have been accomplished by the wonderful Providence of God, that a registration was then enacted by Augustus Caesar, and that Joseph and Mary set out from home, so as to arrive in Bethlehem at the very point of time.

Thus we see that the holy servants of God, even though they wander from their design, unconscious where they are going, still keep the right path, because God directs their steps. Nor is the Providence of God less wonderful in employing the mandate of a tyrant to draw Mary from home, that the prophecy may be fulfilled. God had marked out by his prophet — as we shall afterwards see — the place where he determined that his Son should be born. If Mary had not been constrained to do otherwise, she would have chosen to bring forth her child at home. Augustus orders a registration to take place in Judea, and each person to give his name, that they may afterwards pay an annual tax, which they were formerly accustomed to pay to God. Thus an ungodly man takes forcible possession of that which God was accustomed to demand from his people. It was, in effect, reducing the Jews to entire subjection, and forbidding them to be thenceforth reckoned as the people of God.

Matters have been brought, in this way, to the last extremity, and the Jews appear to be cut off and alienated for ever from the covenant of God. At that very time does God suddenly, and contrary to universal expectation, afford a remedy. What is more, he employs that wicked tyranny for the redemption of his people. For the governor, (or whoever was employed by Caesar for the purpose,) while he executes the commission entrusted to him, is, unknown to himself, God’s herald, to call Mary to the place which God had appointed. And certainly Luke’s whole narrative may well lead believers to acknowledge, that Christ was led by the hand of God from his mother’s belly,” (Psalm 22:10.) Nor is it of small consequence125125     “Neque parum facit;” — “ce n'est pas un poinct de petite importance.” to the certainty of faith to know, that Mary was drawn suddenly, and contrary to her own intention, to Bethlehem, that “out of it might come forth” (Micah 5:2) the Redeemer, as he had been formerly promised.

1. The whole world This figure of speech126126     “Synecdoche.” (by which the whole is taken for a part, or a part for the whole) was in constant use among the Roman authors, and ought not to be reckoned harsh. That this registration might be more tolerable and less odious, it was extended equally, I have no doubt, to all the provinces; though the rate of taxation may have been different. I consider this first registration to mean, that the Jews, being completely subdued, were then loaded with a new and unwonted yoke. Others read it, that this registration was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria;127127     The reader will observe that this is the rendering of the authorized English version. — Ed. but there is no probability in that view. The tax was, indeed, annual; but the registration did not take place every year. The meaning is, that the Jews were far more heavily oppressed than they had formerly been.

There is a diversity as to the name of the Proconsul. Some call him Cyrenius, (Κυρήνιος,) and others, Quirinus or Quirinius But there is nothing strange in this;for we know that the Greeks, when they translate Latin names, almost always make some change in the pronunciation. But a far greater difficulty springs up in another direction. Josephus says that, while Archelaus was a prisoner at Vienna, (Ant. 17:13. 2,) Quirinus came as Proconsul, with instructions to annex Judea to the province of Syria, (xviii. 1.1.) Now, historians are agreed, that Archelaus reigned nine years after the death of his father Herod. It would therefore appear, that there was an interval of about thirteen years between the birth of Christ and this registration; for almost all assent to the account given by Epiphanius, that Christ was born in the thirty-third year of Herod: that is, four years before his death.

Another circumstance not a little perplexing is, that the same Josephus speaks of this registration as having happened in the thirty-seventh year after the victory at Actium,128128     “Victoriae Actiacae.” — “C'est une victoire qu'ent Auguste a la bataille sur mer contre Antoine et Cleopatra, aupres de la ville nommee Actium.” — “That is, a victory which Augustus had in the naval battle which he fought against Antony and Cleopatra, near the town called Actium.” (Ant. 18:2. 1.) If this be true, Augustus lived, at the utmost, not more than seven years after this event; which makes a deduction of eight or nine years from his age: for it is plain from the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, that he was at that time only in his fifteenth year. But, as the age of Christ is too well known to be called in question, it is highly probable that, in this and many other passages of Josephus’s History, his recollection had failed him. Historians are agreed that Quirinus was Consul nineteen years, or thereby, before the victory over Antony, which gave Augustus the entire command of the empire: and so he must have been sent into the province at a very advanced age. Besides, the same Josephus enumerates four governors of Judea within eight years; while he acknowledges that the fifth was governor for fifteen years. That was Valerius Gratus, who was succeeded by Pontius Pilate.

Another solution may be offered. It might be found impracticable to effect the registration immediately after the edict had been issued: for Josephus relates, that Coponius was sent with an army to reduce the Jews to subjection, (Ant. 18:2.2) from which it may easily be inferred, that the registration was prevented, for a time, by popular tumult. The words of Luke bear this sense, that, about the time of our Lord’s birth, an edict came out to have the people registered, but that the registration could not take place till after a change of the kingdom, when Judea had been annexed to another province. This clause is accordingly added by way of correction. This first registration was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria That is, it was then first carried into effect. 129129     “Elle fut lors executee, et trouva-on facon d'en venir a bout.” — “It was then executed, and a way was found of succeeding in it.”

But the whole question is not yet answered: for, while Herod was king of Judea, what purpose did it serve to register a people who paid no tribute to the Roman Empire? I reply: there is no absurdity in supposing that Augustus, by way of accustoming the Jews to the yoke, (for their obstinacy was abundantly well-known,) chose to have them registered, even under the reign of Herod.130130     “Sub Herode;” — “combien qu'ils fussent sujets d'Herode;” — “though they were subjects of Herod.” Nor did Herod’s peculiar authority as king make it inconsistent that the Jews should pay to the Roman Empire a stipulated sum for each man under the name of a tax: for we know that Herod, though he was called a king, held nothing more than a borrowed power, and was little better than a slave. On what authority Eusebius states that this registration took place by an order of the Roman Senate, I know not.

7. Because there was no room for them in the inn We see here not only the great poverty of Joseph, but the cruel tyranny which admitted of no excuse, but compelled Joseph to bring his wife along with him, at an inconvenient season, when she was near the time of her delivery. Indeed, it is probable that those who were the descendants of the royal family were treated more harshly and disdainfully than the rest. Joseph was not so devoid of feeling as to have no concern about his wife’s delivery. He would gladly have avoided this necessity: but, as that is impossible, he is forced to yield,131131     “Il baisse la teste;” — “he bows the head.” and commends himself to God. We see, at the same time, what sort of beginning the life of the Son of God had, and in what cradle132132     “Comment il a este heberge.” he was placed. Such was his condition at his birth, because he had taken upon him our flesh for this purpose, that he might, “empty himself” (Philippians 2:7) on our account. When he was thrown into a stable, and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him among men, it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging,133133     “Non modo hospitii jure;” — “non point comme un logis pour y estre hebergez en passant.” but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.

8. And there were shepherds It would have been to no purpose that Christ was born in Bethlehem, if it had not been made known to the world. But the method of doing so, which is described by Luke, appears to the view of men very unsuitable. First, Christ is revealed but to a few witnesses, and that too amidst the darkness of night. Again, though God had, at his command, many honorable and distinguished witnesses, he passed by them, and chose shepherds, persons of humble rank, and of no account among men. Here the reason and wisdom of the flesh must prove to be foolishness; and we must acknowledge, that “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25) excels all the wisdom that exists, or appears to exist, in the world. But this too was a part of the “emptying of himself,” (Philippians 2:6:) not that any part of Christ’s glory should be taken away by it, but that it should lie in concealment for a time. Again, as Paul reminds us, that the gospel is mean according to the flesh, “that our faith should stand” in the power of the Spirit, not in the “lofty142142     “En paroles magnifiques;” — “in magnificent words.” words of human wisdom,” or in any worldly splendor,143143     “En quelque lustre et apparence du monde;” — “in any luster and display of the world.” (1 Corinthians 2:4,5;) so this inestimable “treasure” has been deposited by God, from the beginning, “in earthen vessels,” (2 Corinthians 4:7,) that he might more fully try the obedience of our faith. If then we desire to come to Christ, let us not be ashamed to follow those whom the Lord, in order to cast down the pride of the world, has taken, from among the dung144144     “Ex pecudum stercore;” — “sur la fiente des bestes.” of cattle, to be our instructors.

9. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them He says, that the glory of the Lord145145     “La clarte du Seigneur;” — “the brightness of the Lord.” shone around the shepherds, by which they perceived him to be an angel.146146     “c'a este afin qu'ils cogneussent que c'estoit l'ange de Dieu qui parloit;” — “it was in order that they might know that it was the angel of the Lord that spoke.” For it would have been of little avail to be told by an angel what is related by Luke, if God had not testified, by some outward sign, that what they heard proceeded from Him. The angel appeared, not in an ordinary form, or without majesty, but surrounded with the brightness of heavenly glory, to affect powerfully the minds of the shepherds, that they might receive the discourse which was addressed to them, as coming from the mouth of God himself. Hence the fear, of which Luke shortly afterwards speaks, by which God usually humbles the hearts of men, (as I have formerly explained,) and disposes them to receive his word with reverence.

10. Fear not The design of this exhortation is to alleviate their fear. For, though it is profitable for the minds of men to be struck with awe, that they may learn to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name,” (Psalm 29:2;) yet they have need, at the same time, of consolation, that they may not be altogether overwhelmed. For the majesty of God could not but swallow up the whole world, if there were not some mildness to mitigate the terror which it brings. And so the reprobate fall down lifeless at the sight of God, because he appears to them in no other character than that of a judge. But to revive the minds of the shepherds, the angel declares that he was sent to them for a different purpose, to announce to them the mercy of God. When men hear this single word, that God is reconciled to them, it not only raises up those who are fallen down, but restores those who were ruined, and recalls them from death to life.

The angel opens his discourse by saying, that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground or matter of joy, that a Savior is born These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration.147147     “Ce n'est que fumee;” — “it is only smoke.” Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are so many tormentors. The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquillity to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.) By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.148148     “Parquoy apprenons de prendre tellement notre contentement en Christ seul, que le sentiment de sa grace nous face surmonter toutes choses qui sont dures a la chair, et finalement en oste toute l'amertume.”— “Wherefore, let us learn to take our satisfaction, in such a manner, in Christ alone, that the feeling of his grace may make us rise above all things that are unpleasant to the flesh, and finally may take away all their bitterness.”

Which shall be to all the people Though the angel addresses the shepherds alone, yet he plainly states, that the message of salvation which he brings is of wider extent, so that not only they, in their private capacity, may hear it, but that others may also hear. Now let it be understood, that this joy was common to all people, because, it was indiscriminately offered to all. For God had promised Christ, not to one person or to another, but to the whole seed of Abraham. If the Jews were deprived, for the most part, of the joy that was offered to them, it arose from their unbelief; just as, at the present day, God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few. Although this joy is confined to a few persons, yet, with respect to God, it is said to be common. When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he speaks of the chosen people only; but now that, the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14) has been thrown down, the same message has reference to the whole human race.149149     “Au reste, il est bien vray que l'ange parle seulement du peuple esleu, assavoir des Juifs; mais pourceque maintenant la paroy qui faisoit separation est rompue, la mesme ambassade s'addresse aujourdhui a tout le genre humain.” — “Besides, it is very true that the angel speaks only of the elect people, namely, the Jews; but because now the wall of partition which made a separation is broken down, the same message is addressed, at the present day, to all the human race.” For Christ proclaims peace, not only, to them that are nigh, “but to them that are, far off,” (Ephesians 2:17,) to “strangers” (Ephesians 2:12) equally with citizens. But as the peculiar covenant with the Jews lasted till the resurrection of Christ, so the angel separates them from the rest of the nations.

11. This day is born to you Here, as we lately hinted, the angel expresses the cause of the joy. This day is born the Redeemer long ago promised, who was to restore the Church of God to its proper condition. The angel does not speak of it as a thing altogether unknown. He opens his embassy by referring to the Law and the Prophets; for had he been addressing heathens or irreligious persons, it would have been of no use to employ this mode of speaking: this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord For the same reason, he mentions that he was born in the city of David, which could serve no purpose, but to recall the remembrance of those promises which were universally known among the Jews. Lastly, the angel adapted his discourse to hearers who were not altogether unacquainted with the promised redemption. With the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets he joined the Gospel, as emanating from the same source. Now, since the Greek word Greek, as Cicero assures us, has a more extensive meaning than the Latin word Servator, and as there is no Latin noun that corresponds to it, I thought it better to employ a barbarous term, than to take anything away from the power of Christ. And I have no doubt, that the author of the Vulgate, and the ancient doctors of the Church, had the same intention.150150     He refers to his use of the Latin word Salvator, for which there is no classical authority. The apology may be deemed unnecessary; but Calvin was entitled to be more sensitive on this point than many modern scholars. The purity of his style discovers so perfect an acquaintance with the writers of the Augustan age, that it must have given him uneasiness to depart from their authorized terms. He pleads high authority for the liberty he had taken. Cicero, whose command of the resources of his native tongue will not be questioned, acknowledges that there is no Latin word which conveys the full import of the Greek word σωτ́ηρ, and in this, as well as many other instances, calls in the aid of a richer and more expressive language than his own. — Ed. Christ is called Savior,151151     “Salvator.” because he bestows a complete salvation. The pronoun to you152152     “Au reste, ce n'est pas sans cause que ce mot Vous est adjouste: et il est bien a poiser. Car il ne serviroit gueres de savoir que le Sauveur est nay, sinon qu'un chacun appliquast cela a sa personne, s'asseurant que c'est pour lui qu'est nay le Fils de Dieu.” — “Besides, it is not without reason that this word You is added; and it is well to weigh it. For it would hardly be of service to know that the Savior is born, unless each applied that to his own person, being persuaded that it is for him that the Savior is born.” is very emphatic; for it would have given no great delight to hear that the Author of salvation was born, unless each person believed that for himself he was born. In the same manner Isaiah says, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given,” (Isaiah 9:6;) and Zechariah, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee lowly,” (Zechariah 9:9.)

12. And this shall be a sign to you153153     “Et vous aurez ces enseignes;” — “and you shall have these signs.” The angel meets the prejudice which might naturally hinder the faith of the shepherds; for what a mockery is it, that he, whom God has sent to be the King, and the only Savior, is seen lying in a manger! That the mean and despicable condition in which Christ was might not deter the shepherds from believing in Christ, the angel tells them beforehand what they would see. This method of proceeding, which might appear, to the view of men, absurd and almost ridiculous, the Lord pursues toward us every day. Sending down to us from heaven the word of the Gospel, he enjoins us to embrace Christ crucified, and holds out to us signs in earthly and fading elements, which raise us to the glory of a blessed immortality. Having promised to us spiritual righteousness, he places before our eyes a little water: by a small portion of bread and wine, he seals,154154     “Eternam animi vitam obsignat.”—Our rendering is close. But what is sealed? Is it meant, that the mere act of partaking the Lord's Supper places beyond a doubt the salvation of the worshipper, or even gives to it any additional certainty? In some loose sense of this sort, the phrase is often enough used even by Protestant divines. It is satisfactory to have Calvin's own authority for the meaning of this passage. “Il seelle la promesse.” He seals the promise.” The meaning is, that God ratifies his word. By condescending to employ outward symbols, together with his holy word, for expressing the blessings of salvation he holds out to his people an additional testimony, and in this manner grants a strong confirmation to their faith. — Ed. the eternal life of the soul.155155     It may be proper to exhibit the entire sentence referred to in the former note. “Comme nous ayant promis la justice spirituelle, il nous met devant les yeux un peu d'eau: par un petit morceau de pain et une goutte de vin, il seelle la promesse qu'il a faite de la vie eternelle de nos ames.” — “As, having promised to us spiritual righteousness, he places before our eyes a little water: by a small morsel of bread and a drop of wine, he seals the promise which he has made of the eternal life of our souls.” But if the stable gave no offense whatever to the shepherds, so as to prevent them from going to Christ to obtain salvation, or from yielding to his authority, while he was yet a child; no sign, however mean in itself, ought to hide his glory from our view, or prevent us from offering to him lowly adoration, now that he has ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.

13. And suddenly there was present with the angel a multitude An exhibition of divine splendor had been already made in the person of a single angel. But God determined to adorn his own Son in a still more illustrious manner, This was done to confirm our faith as truly as that of the shepherds. Among men, the testimony of “two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16) is sufficient to remove all doubt. But here is a heavenly host, with one consent and one voice bearing testimony to the Son of God. What then would be our obstinacy, if we refused to join with the choir of angels, in singing the praises of our salvation, which is in Christ? Hence we infer, how abominable in the sight of God must unbelief be, which disturbs this delightful harmony between heaven and earth. Again, we are convicted of more than brutal stupidity, if our faith and our zeal to praise God are not inflamed by the song which the angels, with the view of supplying us with the matter of our praise, sang in full harmony. Still farther, by this example of heavenly melody, the Lord intended to recommend to us the unity of faith, and to exhort us to join with one consent in singing his praises on earth.

14. Glory to God in the highest The angels begin with thanksgiving, or with the praises of God; for Scripture, too, everywhere reminds us, that we were redeemed from death for this purpose, that we might testify with the tongue, as well as by the actions of the life, our gratitude to God. Let us remember, then, the final cause, why God reconciled us to himself through his Only Begotten Son. It was that he might glorify his name, by revealing the riches of his grace, and of his boundless mercy. And even now to whatever extent any one is excited by his knowledge of grace to celebrate the glory of God, such is the extent of proficiency in the faith of Christ. Whenever our salvation is mentioned, we should understand that a signal has been given, 156156     “Comme si la trompette sonnoit, pour nous resveiller;” — “as if the trumpet were sounding to awake us.” to excite us to thanksgiving and to the praises of God.

On earth peace The most general reading is, that the words, among men good-will, should stand as a third clause. So far as relates to the leading idea of the passage, it is of little moment which way you read it; but the other appears to be preferable. The two clauses, Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, do unquestionably agree with each other; but if you do not place men and God in marked opposition, the contrast will not fully appear.157157     “Or si on ne mettoit les hommes au second membre, l'antithese ne seroit pas parfaite.” — “But if men were not put in the second clause, the contrast would not be perfect.” Perhaps commentators have mistaken the meaning of the preposition ἐν, for it was an obscure meaning of the words to say, that there is peace in men; but as that word is redundant in many passages of Scripture, it need not detain us here. However, if any one prefer to throw it to the last clause, the meaning will be the same, as I shall presently show.

We must now see what the angels mean by the word peace. They certainly do not speak of an outward peace cultivated by men with each other; but they say, that the earth is at peace, when men have been reconciled to God, and enjoy an inward tranquillity in their own minds.158158     “Quand les hommes estans reconciliez a Dieu, ont repos en leurs esprits, et en leurs consciences.” — “When men being reconciled to God, have rest in their minds and in their consciences.” We know that we are born “children of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:3,) and are by nature enemies to God; and must be distressed by fearful apprehensions, so long as we feel that God is angry with us. A short and clear definition of peace may be obtained from two opposite things, — the wrath of God and the dread of death. It has thus a twofold reference; one to God, and another to men. We obtain peace with God, when he begins to be gracious to us, by taking away our guilt, and “not imputing to us our trespasses,” (2 Corinthians 5:19;) and when we, relying on his fatherly love, address him with full confidence, and boldly praise him for the salvation which he has promised to us. Now though, in another passage, the life of man on earth is declared to be a continual warfare,159159     הלא צבא לאכוש על ארף,—”is there not a warfare to man upon earth? (Job 7:1,) and the state of the fact shows that nothing is more full of trouble than our condition, so long as we remain in the world, yet the angels expressly say that there is peace on earth This is intended to inform us that, so long as we trust to the grace of Christ, no troubles that can arise will prevent us from enjoying composure and serenity of mind. Let us then remember, that faith is seated amidst the storms of temptations, amidst various dangers, amidst violent attacks, amidst contests and fears, that our faith may not fail or be shaken by any kind of opposition.

Among men good-will160160     “Envers les hommes son bon plaisir, ou, bonne volonte;” — “towards men his good pleasure, or, good-will.” The Vulgate has good-will in the genitive case: to men of good-will.161161     “Hominibus bonae voluntatis.” How that reading crept in, I know not: but it ought certainly to be rejected, both because it is not genuine,162162     “Adulterina.” — “Pource que ce n'est pas la vraye et naturelle.” —”Because it is not the true and natural reading.” and because it entirely corruptsthe meaning. Others read good-will in the nominative case, and still mistake its meaning. They refer good-will to men, as if it were an exhortation to embrace the grace of God. I acknowledge that the peace which the Lord offers to us takes effect only when we receive it. But as εὐδοκία is constantly used in Scripture in the sense of the Hebrew word רצון, the old translator rendered it beneplacitum, or, good-will. This passage is not correctly understood as referring to the acceptance of grace. The angels rather speak of it as the source of peace, and thus inform us that peace is a free gift, and flows from the pure mercy of God. If it is thought better to read good-will to men, or towards men, 163163     “In hominibus;” — “Aux hommes, ou, Envers les hommes.” it will not be inadmissible, so far as regards the meaning: for in this way it will show the cause of peace to be, that God has been pleased to bestow his undeserved favor on men, with whom he formerly was at deadly variance. If you read, the peace of good-will as meaning voluntary peace, neither will I object to that interpretation. But the simpler way is to look upon εὐφοκία as added, in order to inform us of the source from which our peace is derived.164164     In the Opuscula Theologica of the elder Tittmann, the critical scholar will find this beautiful passage discussed with that happy union of learning, discrimination, and piety, which distinguishes all his writings. — Ed.

15. After that the angels departed Here is described to us the obedience of the shepherds. The Lord had made them the witnesses of his Son to the whole world. What he had spoken to them by his angels was efficacious, and was not suffered to pass away. They were not plainly and expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem; but, being sufficiently aware that such was the design of God, they hasten to see Christ. In the same manner, we know that Christ is held out to us, in order that our hearts may approach him by faith; and our delay in coming admits of no excuse.166166     “Si nous sommes paresseux de le faire, toutes les excuses du monde ne nous serviront de rien.” — “If we are indolent in doing so, all the apologies in the world will be of no service to us.” But again, Luke informs us, that the shepherds resolved to set out, immediately after the angels had departed. This conveys an important lesson. Instead of allowing the word of God, as many do, to pass away with the sound, we must take care that it strike its roots deep in us, and manifest its power, as soon as the sound has died away upon our ears. It deserves our attention, also, that the shepherds exhort one another: for it is not enough that each of us is attentive to his own duty, if we do not give mutual exhortations. Their obedience is still farther commended by the statement of Luke, that they hastened, (ver. 16;) for we are required to show the readiness of faith.

Which the Lord hath revealed to us They had only heard it from the angel; but they intentionally and correctly say, that the Lord had revealed it to them; for they consider the messenger of God to possess the same authority as if the Lord himself had addressed them. For this reason, the Lord directs our attention to himself; that we may not fix our view on men, and undervalue the authority of his Word. We see also that they reckon themselves under obligation, not to neglect the treasure which the Lord had pointed out to them; for they conclude that, immediately after receiving this intelligence, they must go to Bethlehem to see it. In the same manner, every one of us, according to the measure of his faith and understanding, ought to be prepared to follow wheresoever God calls.

16. And found Mary This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude? or to expect the restoration of the kingdom and salvation from him, whose poverty and want were such, that he was thrown into a stable? Yet Luke writes, that none of these things prevented the shepherds from admiring and praising God. The glory of God was so fully before their eyes, and reverence for his Word was so deeply impressed upon their minds, that the elevation of their faith easily rose above all that appeared mean or despicable in Christ.167167     In the French copy he adds: “En sorte que cela ne les empesche point de recognoistre la hautesse de sa maiste divine.” — “So that it does not hinder them from acknowledging the height of his divine majesty.” And the only reason why our faith is either retarded or driven from the proper course, by some very trifling obstacles, is, that we do not look steadfastly enough on God, and are easily “tossed to and fro,” (Ephesians 4:14.) If this one thought were entirely to occupy our minds, that we have a certain and faithful testimony from heaven, it would be a sufficiently strong and firm support against every kind of temptations, and will sufficiently protect us against every little offense that might have been taken.

17. They published concerning the word It is mentioned by Luke, in commendation of the faith of the shepherds, that they honestly delivered to others what they had received from the Lord; and it was advantageous to all of us that they should attest this, and should be a sort of secondary angels in confirming our faith. Luke shows also that, in publishing what they had heard, they were not without success.168168     “Ils n'ont pas perdu leurs peines;” — “they did not lose their pains.” Nor can it be doubted, that the Lord gave efficacy to what they said, that it might not be ridiculed or despised; for the low rank of the men diminished their credit, and the occurrence itself might be regarded as fabulous. But the Lord, who gave them this employment, does not allow it to be fruitless.

That the Lord should adopt such a method of proceeding as this, — should employ inconsiderable men in publishing his Word, may not be quite so agreeable to the human mind. But it tends to humble the pride of the flesh, and to try the obedience of faith; and therefore God approves of it. Still, though all are astonished, no one moves a step to come to Christ: from which we may infer, that the impression made upon them by hearing of the power of God, was unaccompanied by any devout affection of the heart. The design of publishing this report was not so much for their salvation, as to render the ignorance of the whole people inexcusable.

19. Now Mary kept Mary’s diligence in contemplating the works of God is laid before us for two reasons; first, to inform us, that this treasure was laid up in her heart, for the purpose of being published to others at the proper time; and, secondly, to afford to all the godly an example for imitation. For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment, and the great object of our life, to consider with attention those works of God which build up our faith. Mary kept all these things This relates to her memory. Συμβάλλειν signifies to throw together, — to collect the several events which agreed in proving the glory of Christ, so that they might form one body. For Mary could not wisely estimate the collective value of all those occurrences, except by comparing them with each other.

20. Glorifying and praising God This is another circumstance which is fitted to be generally useful in confirming our faith. The shepherds knew with certainty that this was a work of God. Their zeal in glorifying and praising God is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of our ingratitude. If the cradle of Christ169169     “Si les petits drapeaux esquels estoit enveloppe l'infant Jesus;”— “if the little rags in which the child Jesus was wrapped.” had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the heavenly life. When Luke says, that the testimony of the angel served as a rule to the shepherds in all that they did,170170     “Ad quam omnia exigerent.” — “Une reigle, a laquelle ils ont rapporte tout ce qu'ils voyoyent;” — “a rule by which they related all that they saw.” he points out the nature of true godliness. For our faith is properly aided by the works of God, when it directs everything to this end, that the truth of God, which was revealed in his word, may be brought out with greater clearness.

21. That the child might be circumcised As to circumcision in general, the reader may consult the Book of Genesis, (17:10.) At present, it will be sufficient to state briefly what applies to the person of Christ. God appointed that his Son should be circumcised, in order to subject him to the law; for circumcision was a solemn rite, by which the Jews

were initiated into the observance of the law.171171     “Par lequel les Juifs protestoyent de se soumettre a l'observation de la Loy;” — “by which the Jews solemnly declared that they would submit to the observance of the Law.” Paul explains the design,172172     “Finem.” — “La fin ou le but de ceste soumission de Jesus Christ;” —”the end or design of this submission of Jesus Christ.” when he says, that Christ was

“made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,”
(Galatians 4:4,5.)

By undergoing circumcision, Christ acknowledged himself to be the slave173173     Servum.”—This might have been supposed to be equivalent to ministrum, servant, had not the latter clause of the sentence expressly contrasted freedom with the condition of a slave. But Calvin settles the point by rendering it serf, slave; by which he evidently means “complete and degrading subjection.” Paul frequently speaks of the state of the Church under the law as bondage, (Galatians 4:3,9,) and a yoke of bondage, (Galatians 5:1.) — Ed. of the law, that he might procure our freedom. And in this way not only was the bondage174174     See passages referred to in the preceding note, in which the term bondage is applied by an inspired writer to the ceremonial law — Ed. of the law abolished by him, but the shadow of the ceremony was applied to his own body, that it might shortly afterwards come to an end. For though the abrogation of it depends on the death and resurrection of Christ, yet it was a sort of prelude to it, that the Son of God submitted to be circumcised.

His name was called JESUS. This passage shows, that it was a general custom among the Jews to give names to their children on the day that they were circumcised, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are here mentioned by the Evangelist. First, the name Jesus was not given to the Son of God accidentally, or by the will of men, but was the name which the angel had brought from heaven. Secondly, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command of God. The agreement between our faith and the word of God lies in this, that he speaks first, and we follow, so that our faith answers to his promises. Above all, the order of preaching the word is held up by Luke for our commendation. Salvation through the grace of Christ, he tells us, had been promised by God through the angel, and was proclaimed by the voice of men.

22. And after that the days were fulfilled On the fortieth day after the birth, (Leviticus 12:2,4,) the rite of purification was necessary to be performed. But Mary and Joseph come to Jerusalem for another reason, to present Christ to the Lord, because he was the first-born. Let us now speak first of the purification. Luke makes it apply both to Mary and to Christ: for the pronoun αὐτῶν, of them, can have no reference whatever to Joseph. But it ought not to appear strange, that Christ, who was to be, made a curse for us on the cross,” (Galatians 3:13,) should, for our benefit, take upon him our uncleanness with respect to legal guilt, though he was “without blemish and without spot,” (1 Peter 1:19.) It ought not, I say, to appear strange, if the fountain of purity, in order to wash away our stains, chose to be reckoned unclean.191191     “Si celuy qui est la fontaine de toute purete, a voulu estre tenu pour immonde et souille, afin de laver toutes nos ordures.” — “If he, who is the fountain of all purity, determined to be reckoned unclean and defiled in order to wash away our pollutions.” It is a mistake to imagine that this law of purification was merely political, and that the woman was unclean in presence of her husband, not in presence of God. On the contrary, it placed before the eyes of the Jews both the corruption of their nature, and the remedy of divine grace.

This law is of itself abundantly sufficient to prove original sin, while it contains a striking proof of the grace of God; for there could not be a clearer demonstration of the curse pronounced on mankind than when the Lord declared, that the child comes from its mother unclean and polluted, and that the mother herself is consequently defiled by childbearing. Certainly, if man were not born a sinner, if he were not by nature a child of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3,) if some taint of sin did not dwell in him, he would have no need of purification. Hence it follows, that all are corrupted in Adam; for the mouth of the Lord charges all with pollution.

It is in perfect consistency with this, that the Jews are spoken of, in other passages, as “holy branches of a holy root,” (Romans 11:16:) for this benefit did not properly belong to their own persons. They had been set apart, by the privilege of adoption, as an elect people; but the corruption, which they had by inheritance from Adam, was first in the order of time192192     “La corruption hereditaire procedante d'Adam precedoit un tel bien, et estoit plus ancienne.” — “The hereditary corruption proceeding from Adam preceded such a benefit, and was more ancient.” We must, therefore, distinguish between the first nature, and that special kindness through a covenant, by which God delivers his own people from the curse which had been pronounced on all. And the design of legal purification was to inform the Jews, that the pollutions, which they brought with them into the world at their birth, are washed away by the grace of God.

Hence too we ought to learn, how dreadful is the contagion of sin, which defiles, in some measure, the lawful order of nature. I do own that child-bearing is not unclean, and that what would otherwise be lust changes its character, through the sacredness of the marriage relation. But still the fountain of sin is so deep and abundant, that its constant overflowings stain what would otherwise be pure.

23. As it is written in the Law This was another exercise of piety which was discharged by Joseph and Mary. The Lord commanded, that all the males should be dedicated to him, in remembrance of their deliverance; because when the angel slew all the first-born of Egypt, (Exodus 12:29,) he had spared the first-born of Israel.

“On the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I hallowed unto me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be:
I am the Lord” (Numbers 3:13.)

They were afterwards permitted to redeem their first-born at a certain price. Such was the ancient ceremony: and, as the Lord is the common Redeemer of all,193193     “Veu que le Seigneur est Redempteur de tout le monde en general;” — “since the Lord is Redeemer of all the world at large.” he has a right to claim us as his own, from the least to the greatest. Nor is it without a good reason, that Luke so frequently repeats the statement, that Joseph and Mary did what was written in the law of the Lord For these words teach us, that we must not, at our own suggestion, attempt any thing in the worship of God, but must obediently follow what he requires in his Word.

24. And that they might offer a sacrifice This sacrifice belonged to the ceremony of purification; lest any one should suppose that it was offered for the sake of redeeming the first-born. When the Evangelist mentions a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, he takes for granted that his readers will understand, that Joseph and Mary were in such deep poverty, as not to have it in their power to offer a lamb. For this exception is expressly mentioned:

“If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall
bring two turtles, or two young pigeons,” (Leviticus 12:8.)

Is it objected, that the Magi had very recently supplied them with a sufficiency of gold to make the purchase? I reply: We must not imagine that they had such abundance of gold as to raise them suddenly from poverty to wealth. We do not read, that their camels were laden with gold. It is more probable that it was some small present, which they had brought solely as a mark of respect. The law did not rigorously enjoin, that the poor should spend their substance on a sacrifice, but drew a line of distinction between them and the rich, as to the kind of sacrifices, and thus relieved them from burdensome expense. There would be no impropriety in saying, that Joseph and Mary gave as much as their circumstances allowed, though they reserved a little money to defray the expenses of their journey and of their household.

25. And, lo, there was a man in Jerusalem The design of this narrative is to inform us that, though nearly the whole nation was profane and irreligious, and despised God, yet that a few worshippers of God remained, and that Christ was known to such persons from his earliest infancy. These were “the remnant” of whom Paul says, that they were preserved “according to the election of grace,” (Romans 11:5.) Within this small band lay the Church of God; though the priests and scribes, with as much pride as falsehood, claimed for themselves the title of the Church. The Evangelist mentions no more than two, who recognised Christ at Jerusalem, when he was brought into the temple. These were Simeon and Anna. We must speak first of Simeon.

As to his condition in life we are not informed: he may have been a person of humble rank and of no reputation. Luke bestows on him the commendation of being just and devout; and adds, that he had the gift of prophecy: for the Holy Spirit was upon him. Devotion and Righteousness related to the two tables of the law, and are the two parts of which an upright life consists. It was a proof of his being a devout man, that he waited for the consolation of Israel: for no true worship of God can exist without the hope of salvation, which depends on the faith of his promises, and particularly on the restoration promised through Christ. Now, since an expectation of this sort is commended in Simeon as an uncommon attainment, we may conclude, that there were few in that age, who actually cherished in their hearts the hope of redemption. All had on their lips the name of the Messiah, and of prosperity under the reign of David: but hardly any one was to be found, who patiently endured present afflictions, relying on the consolatory assurance, that the redemption of the Church was at hand. As the eminence of Simeon’s piety was manifested by its supporting his mind in the hope of the promised salvation, so those who wish to prove themselves the children of God, will breathe out unceasing prayers for the promised redemption. For we, “have need of patience” (Hebrews 10:36) till the last coming of Christ.

And the Holy Spirit was upon him The Evangelist does not speak of “the Spirit of adoptions” (Romans 8:15,) which is common to all the children of God, though not in an equal degree, but of the peculiar gift of prophecy. This appears more clearly from the next verse and the following one, in which it is said, that he received a revelation194194     “Responsum;” — “revelation.” from the Holy Spirit, and that, by the guidance of the same Spirit, he came into the temple Though Simeon had no distinction of public office, he was adorned with eminent gifts, — with piety, with a blameless life, with faith and prophecy. Nor can it be doubted, that this divine intimation, which he received in his individual and private capacity, was intended generally for the confirmation of all the godly. Jesus is called the Lord’s Christ, because he was anointed195195     It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader, that the simple meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah, and of the Greek word Christ, is Anointed; and that the Lord's Christ means the Lord's Anointed,a designation which, as has been already remarked, (p. 92, note 2,) was familiarly applied to David and his successors on the throne for many generations, (2 Samuel 19:21; Lamentations 4:20,) but was afterwards restricted to “David’s son,” and “David’s Lord,” (Matthew 22:45,) whom Daniel emphatically calls the Messiah, the Anointed, (Daniel 9:25, 26.) — Ed. by the Father, and, at the same time that he received the Spirit, received also the title, of King and Priest. Simeon is said to have come into the temple by the Spirit; that is, by a secret movement and undoubted revelation, that he might meet Christ.196196     “C'est a dire, par un mouvement secret et certaine revelation du Sainct Esprit, afin de s'y rencontrer a l'heure que Christ y estoit.” — “That is to say, by a secret movement and certain revelation of the Spirit, in order that he might arrive at the hour when Christ was there.”

29. Thou now sendest thy servant away From this song it is sufficiently evident, that Simeon looked at the Son of God with different eyes from the eyes of flesh. For the outward beholding of Christ could have produced no feeling but contempt, or, at least, would never have imparted such satisfaction to the mind of the holy man, as to make him joyful and desirous to die, from having reached the summit of his wishes. The Spirit of God enlightened his eyes by faith, to perceive, under a mean and poor dress, the glory of the Son of God. He says, that he would be sent away in peace; which means, that he would die with composure of mind, having obtained all that he desired.

But here a question arises. If he chose rather to depart from life, was it amidst distress of mind and murmuring, as is usually the case with those who die unwillingly, that Simeon was hurried away? I answer: we must attend to the circumstance which is added, according to thy word God had promised that Simeon would behold his Son. He had good reason for continuing in a state of suspense, and must have lived in some anxiety, till he obtained his expectation. This ought to be carefully observed; for there are many who falsely and improperly plead the example of Simeon, and boast that they would willingly die, if this or the other thing were previously granted to them; while they allow themselves to entertain rash wishes at their own pleasure, or to form vain expectations without the authority of the Word of God. If Simeon had said exactly, “Now I shall die with a composed and easy mind, because I have seen the Son of God,” this expression would have indicated the weakness of his faith; but, as he had the word, he might have refused to die until the coming of Christ.

30. For my eyes have seen This mode of expression is very common in Scripture; but Simeon appears to denote expressly the bodily appearance of Christ, as if he had said, that he now has the Son of God present in the flesh, on whom the eyes of his mind had been previously fixed. By saving197197     “La ou nous avons rendu Ton salut, qui voudroit suivre le mot Grec de pres, il faudroit dire, Ton Salutaire.” Where we have translated Thy Salvation, were we to follow closely the Greek word, we must say, Thy Saving.”It is evident that Calvin viewed σωτήριον, not with most of our lexicographers, as a noun of the same import with σωτηρία, salvation, but as the neuter of the adjective σωτήριος, which occurs in a memorable phrase, ἡ χάρις τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡ σωτήριος, (Titus 2:11,) rendered in the English version, the grace of God that bringeth salvation. — Ed. I understand the matter of salvation: for in Christ are hid all the parts of salvation and of a happy life. Now if the sight of Christ, while he was yet a child, had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure; how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms: but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do “we all,” as Paul says, “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” — not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honor, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.

31. Which thou hast prepared By these words Simeon intimates, that Christ had been divinely appointed, that all nations might enjoy his grace; and that he would shortly afterwards be placed in an elevated situation, and would draw upon him the eyes of all. Under this term he includes all the predictions which relate: to the spread of Christ’s kingdom. But if Simeon, when holding a little child in his arms, could stretch his mind to the utmost boundaries of the world, and acknowledge the power of Christ to be everywhere present, how much more magnificent ought our conceptions regarding him to be now that he has been set up as a, “standard to the people,” (Isaiah 49:22,) and has revealed himself to the whole world.

32. A light for the revelation of the Gentiles Simeon now points out the purpose for which Christ was to be exhibited by the Father before all nations. It was that he might enlighten the Gentiles, who had been formerly in darkness, and might be the glory of his people Israel There is propriety in the distinction here made between the people Israel and the Gentiles: for by the right of adoption the children of Abraham “were nigh” (Ephesians 2:17) to God, while the Gentiles, with whom God had made no “covenants of promise,” were “strangers” to the Church, (Ephesians 2:12.) For this reason, Israel is called, in other passages, not only the son of God, but his first-born, (Jeremiah 31:9;) and Paul informs us, that “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Romans 15:8.) The preference given to Israel above the Gentiles is, that all without distinction may obtain salvation in Christ.

A light for revelation198198     “Lumen ad revelationem.” — “La ou nous avons traduit, Pour l'esclaircissement, le mot Grec signifie quelque fois Revelation: mais Simeon vent dire ici, Pour esclairer ou illuminer les Gentils.” — “Where we have translated, For the enlightening, the Greek word (ἀποχάλυψις) sometimes signifies Revelation: but Simeon means here, To enlighten or illuminate the Gentiles.” means for enlightening the Gentiles Hence we infer, that men are by nature destitute of light, till Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2,) shine upon them. With regard to Israel, though God had bestowed upon him distinguished honor, yet all his glory rests on this single article, that a Redeemer had been promised to him.

33. And his father and mother were wondering Luke does not say, that they were astonished at it as a new thing, but that they contemplated with reverence, and embraced with becoming admiration, this prediction of the Spirit uttered by the lips of Simeon, so that they continued to make progress in the knowledge of Christ. We learn from this example that, when we have once come to possess a right faith, we ought to collect, on every hand, whatever may aid in giving to it additional strength. That man has made great proficiency in the word of God, who does not fail to admire whatever he reads or hears every day, that contributes to his unceasing progress in faith.

34. And Simeon blessed them If you confine this to Joseph and Mary, there will be no difficulty. But, as Luke appears to include Christ at the same time, it might be asked, What right had Simeon to take upon him the office of blessing Christ? “Without all contradiction,” says Paul, “the less is blessed of the greater,” (Hebrews 7:7.) Besides, it has the appearance of absurdity, that any mortal man should offer prayers in behalf of the Son of God. I answer: The Apostle does not speak there of every kind of blessing, but only of the priestly blessing: for, in other respects, it is highly proper in men to pray for each other. Now, it is more probable that Simeon blessed them, as a private man and as one of the people, than that he did so in a public character: for, as we have already said, we nowhere read that he was a priest. But there would be no absurdity in saying, that he prayed for the prosperity and advancement of Christ’s kingdom: for in the book of Psalms the Spirit prescribes such a εὐλογία,a blessing of this nature to all the godly.

“Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord;
we have blessed you in the name of the Lords”
(Psalm 118:26.)

Lo, this has been set This discourse was, no doubt, directly addressed by Simeon to Mary; but it has a general reference to all the godly. The holy virgin needed this admonition, that she might not (as usually happens) be lifted up by prosperous beginnings, so as to be less prepared for enduring afflictive events. But she needed it on another account, that she might not expect Christ to be received by the people with universal applause, but that her mind, on the contrary, might be fortified by unshaken courage against all hostile attacks. It was the design, at the same time, of the Spirit of God, to lay down a general instruction for all the godly. When they see the world opposing Christ with wicked obstinacy, they must be prepared to meet that opposition, and to contend against it undismayed. The unbelief of the world is—we know it—a great and serious hinderance; but it must be conquered, if we wish to believe in Christ. There never was a state of human society so happily constituted, that the greater part followed Christ. Those who will enlist in the cause of Christ must learn this as one of their earliest lessons, and must “put on” this “armor,” (Ephesians 6:11,) that they may be steadfast in believing on him.

It was by far the heaviest temptation, that Christ was not acknowledged by his own countrymen, and was even ignominiously rejected by that nation, which boasted that it was the Church of God; and, particularly, that the priests and scribes, who held in their hands the government of the Church, were his most determined enemies. For who would have thought, that he was the King of those, who not only rejected him, but treated him with such contempt and outrage?

We see, then, that a good purpose was served by Simeon’s prediction, that Christ was set for the ruin of many in Israel The meaning is, that he was divinely appointed to cast down and destroy many. But it must be observed, that the ruin of unbelievers results from their striking against him. This is immediately afterwards expressed, when Simeon says that Christ is a sign, which is spoken against Because unbelievers are rebels against Christ, they clash themselves against him, and hence comes their ruin This metaphor is taken from a mark shot at by archers,200200     “Ceste facon de parler contient une metaphore prise des arbalestiers, ou autres qui visent au blanc.” — “This way of speaking contains a metaphor, taken from archers, or others who aim at a mark.” as if Simeon had said, Hence we perceive the malice of men, and even the depravity of the whole human race, that all, as if they had made a conspiracy, rise in murmurs and rebellion against the Son of God. The world would not display such harmony in opposing the Gospel, if there were not a natural enmity between the Son of God and those men. The ambition or fury of the enemies of the Gospel carries them in various directions, faction splits them into various sects, and a wide variety of superstitions distinguishes idolaters from each other. But while they thus differ among themselves, they all agree in this, to oppose the Son of God. It has been justly observed, that the opposition everywhere made to Christ is too plain an evidence of human depravity. That the world should thus rise against its Creator is a monstrous sight. But Scripture predicted that this would happen, and the reason is very apparent, that men who have once been alienated from God by sin, always fly from him. Instances of this kind, therefore, ought not to take us by surprise; but, on the contrary, our faith, provided with this armor, ought to be prepared to fight with the contradiction of the world.

As God has now gathered an Israel to himself from the whole world, and there is no longer a distinction between the Jew and the Greek, the same thing must now happen as, we learn, happened before. Isaiah had said of his own age,

The Lord will be for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense, to both the houses of Israel,” (Isaiah 8:14.)

From that time, the Jews hardly ever ceased to dash themselves against God, but the rudest shock was against Christ. The same madness is now imitated by those who call themselves Christians; and even those, who lay haughty claims to the first rank in the Church, frequently employ all the power which they possess in oppressing Christ. But let us remember, all that they gain is, to be at length crushed and broken in pieces,” (Isaiah 8:9.)

Under the word ruin the Spirit denounces the punishment of unbelievers, and thus warns us to keep at the greatest possible distance from them; lest, by associating with them, we become involved in the same destruction. And Christ is not the less worthy of esteem, because, when he appears, many are ruined: for the “savor” of the Gospel is not less “sweet” and delightful to God, (2 Corinthians 2:15,16,) though it is destructive to the ungodly world. Does any one inquire, how Christ occasions the ruin of unbelievers, who without him were already lost? The reply is easy. Those who voluntarily deprive themselves of the salvation which God has offered to them, perish twice. Ruin implies the double punishment which awaits all unbelievers, after that they have knowingly and wilfully opposed the Son of God.

And for the resurrection This consolation is presented as a contrast with the former clause, to make it less painful to our feelings: for, if nothing else were added, it would be melancholy to hear, that Christ is a stone of stumbling,” which will break and crush, by its hardness, a great part of men. Scripture therefore reminds us of his office, which is entirely different: for the salvation of men, which is founded on it, is secure; as Isaiah also says, Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread; and he shall be for a sanctuary,” or fortress of defense, (Isaiah 8:13,14.) And Peter speaks more clearly:

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house. Wherefore also it is contained in Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion the head-stone of the corner, elect, precious, and he that believeth in him shall not be confounded. Unto you, therefore, which believe, he is precious: but unto them who are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,” (1 Peter 2:4-7; Isaiah 28:16.)

That we may not be terrified by the designation bestowed on Christ, “a stone of stumbling,” let it be instantly recollected, on the other hand, that he is likewise called the “corner-stone,” on which rests the salvation of all the godly.201201     “La maitresse Pierre du coin, sur laquelle est fonde le salut de tous les enfans de Dieu.” — “The head-stone of the corner, on which is founded the salvation of all the children of God.”

Let it be also taken into account, that the former is accidental, while the latter is properly and strictly his office. Besides, it deserves our notice, that Christ is not only called the support, but the resurrection of the godly: for the condition of men is not one in which it is safe for them to remain. They must rise from death, before they begin to live.

35. But also a sword shall pierce thy own soul This warning must have contributed greatly to fortify the mind of the holy virgin, and to prevent her from being overwhelmed with grief, when she came to those distressing struggles, which she had to undergo. Though her faith was agitated and tormented by various temptations, yet her sorest battle was with the cross: for Christ might appear to be utterly destroyed. She was not overwhelmed with grief; but it would have required a heart of stone not to be deeply wounded: for the patience of the saints differs widely from stupidity.

That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed There are some who connect this clause with a part of the former verse, that Christ is set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel; and who include in a parenthesis what we have just now explained about the sword: but it is better, I think, to refer it to the whole passage. The particle that, ὅπως ἄν, in this passage, does not strictly denote a cause, but merely a consequence. When the light of the Gospel arises, and persecutions immediately spring up, there is, at the same time, a disclosure of affections of the heart, which had been hitherto concealed: for the lurking-places of human dissimulation are so deep, that they easily remain hidden till Christ comes.202202     “Extra Christum;” — “jusqu'a ce que Jesus Christ viene.” But Christ, by his light, discloses every artifice, and unmasks hypocrisy; and to him is properly ascribed the office of laying open the secrets of the heart. But when the cross is added to doctrine it tries the hearts more to the quick. For those who have embraced Christ by outward profession, often shrink from bearing the cross, and, when they see the Church exposed to numerous calamities, easily desert their post.

36. And there was Anna, a prophetess Luke mentions not more than two persons who received Christ; and this is intended to teach us, that whatever belongs to God, however small it may be, ought to be preferred by us to the whole world. The scribes and priests, no doubt, were then surrounded by great splendor; but, as the Spirit of God, whose presence was not at all enjoyed by those rulers,203203     The word rulers (principes) appears to be here used sarcastically; for his own translation is,” duquel estoyent du tout destituez les autres, combien que ce fussent les gouverneurs;” — “of which the others were entirely destitute, though they were rulers.” dwelt in Simeon and Anna, those two persons are entitled to greater reverence than an immense multitude of those whose pride is swelled by nothing but empty titles. For this reason, the historian mentions Anna’s age, gives her the designation of prophetess, and, thirdly, bears a remarkable testimony to her piety, and to the holiness and chastity of her life. These are the qualities that justly give to men weight and estimation. And certainly none are led astray by the dazzling and empty magnificence of outward show, but those who are drawn, by the vanity of their own minds, to take pleasure in being deceived.

She had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity This is intended to inform us, that she was a widow in the very prime of life. She had married young, and shortly afterwards lost her husband; and the circumstance of her not entering into a second marriage while she was in the rigor of her bodily frame,204204     “Quum adhuc vegeto esset corpore.” is mentioned with the view of heightening the commendation of her chastity. What follows, that she was a widow of about eighty-four years, may be explained in two ways. Either that time had passed in her unmarried state,205205     “Il y avoit tant de temps que son mari estoit mort;” — “it was so long since her husband died.” or it was the whole period of her life. If you reckon the eighty-four years as the time of her widowhood, it will follow that she was more than a hundred years old: but I leave that matter doubtful. The Spirit of prophecy still shone in a very few, who served as tokens to attest the doctrine of the Law and the Jewish religion, till the coming of Christ. In a state of society so dissolute, the elect of God needed such aids to prevent them from being carried away.

37. She departed not from the temple This is a hyperbolical expression; but the meaning is plain, that Anna was almost constantly in the temple. Luke adds, that she worshipped God with fastings and prayers day and night Hence we infer, that she did not visit the temple for the mere purpose of performing the outward service, but that she added to it the other exercises of piety. It deserves our attention, that the same rule is not enjoined on all, and that all ought not to be led indiscriminately to copy those performances, which are here commended in a widow. Each person ought to make a judicious inquiry, what belongs to his own calling. Silly ambition has filled the world with apes, from superstitious persons seizing, with more “zeal” than “knowledges” (Romans 10:2,) every thing that they hear praised in the saints: as if the distinction of rank did not render a selection of employments necessary, that each person may answer to his own calling. What is here related of Anna, Paul applies in a particular manner to widows, (1 Timothy 5:5;) so that married people act a foolish part, if they regulate their life by an unsuitable model.

But there still remains another doubt. Luke appears to make fastings a part of divine worship But we must observe, that of the acts which relate to worship, some are simply required, and, as we are accustomed to say, are in themselves necessary; while others are accessory, and have no other design than to aid the former class. Prayers belong strictly to the worship of God. Fasting is a subordinate aid, which is pleasing to God no farther than as it aids the earnestness and fervency of prayer. We must hold by this rule, that the duties of men are to be judged according as they are directed to a proper and lawful end. We must hold, also, by this distinction, that prayers are a direct worship of God; while fastings are a part of worship only on account of their consequences. Nor is there any reason to doubt, that the holy woman employed fastings as an excitement to bewail those calamities of the Church which then existed.

38. Made acknowledgment also to God206206     “Louoit aussi le Seigneur;” — “praised also the Lord.” The holy melody, which proceeded from the lips of Simeon and Anna, is praised by Luke, in order that believers may exhort each other to sing with one mouth the praises of God, and may give mutual replies. When he says, that Anna spake of him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, he again points out the small number of the godly. For the substance of faith lay in this expectation; and it is evident, that there were few who actually cherished it in their minds.

39. They returned to Galilee The departure to Egypt, I readily acknowledge, came between those events; and the fact mentioned by Luke, that they dwelt in their own city Nazareth, is later, in point of time, than the flight into Egypt, which Matthew relates, (Matthew 2:14.) But if there was no impropriety in one Evangelist leaving out what is related by another, there was nothing to prevent Luke from overleaping the period which he did not intend to mention, and passing at once to the following history. I am very far from agreeing with those who imagine that Joseph and Mary, after having finished the sacrifice of purification, returned to Bethlehem, to live there. Those persons are foolish enough to believe, that Joseph had a settled abode in a place where he was so little known, that he was unable to find a temporary lodging. Nor is it without a good reason that Luke says, with respect both to Joseph and Mary, that Nazareth was their own city We infer from it, that he never was an inhabitant of Bethlehem, though it was the place of his extraction.207207     “Combien que ce fust le pays de ses ancestres;” — “though it was the country of his ancestors.” As to the order of time, I shall presently give a more full explanation.

40. And the child grew From the infancy of Christ Matthew passes immediately to his manifestation.230230     “Au temps de sa manifestation;” — “to the time of his manifestation.” Luke relates here a single fact, which well deserved to be recorded. In the midst of his boyhood, Christ gave a specimen of his future office, or at least indicated, by a single attempt, what he would afterwards be. The child grew, and was invigorated in spirit These words show, that the endowments of his mind grew with his age.231231     “Avec l'aage les dons et graces d'Esprit croissoyent aussi et aug-mentoyent en luy.” — “With age, the gifts and graces of the Spirit grew also and increased in him.”. Hence we infer, that this progress, or advancement, relates to his human nature: for the Divine nature could receive no increase.

But a question arises. From the time that he was conceived in his mother’s womb, did he not abound in all fullness of spiritual gifts? for it appears absurd to say, that the Son of God wanted any thing that was necessary to perfection. The reply is easy. If it takes nothing from his glory, that he was altogether, “emptied,” (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, Philippians 2:6,) neither does it degrade him, that he chose not only to grow in body, but to make progress in mind. And certainly when the Apostle declares, that, “in all things he was made like unto his brethren,”(Hebrews 2:17,) and “was in all points tempted like as we are, sin excepted,” (Hebrews 4:15,) he no doubt includes, that his soul was subject to ignorance. There is only this difference between us and him, that the weaknesses which press upon us, by a necessity which we cannot avoid, were undertaken by him voluntarily, and of his own accord. Christ received, in his human nature, according to his age and capacity, an increase of the free gifts of the Spirit,232232     “En dons et graces de l'Esprit;” — “in gifts and graces of the Spirit.” that “out of his fullness” (John 1:16) he may pour them out upon us; for we draw grace out of his grace.

Some excessively timid persons restrict what is here said to outward appearance, and make the meaning to be, that Christ appeared to make progress, though, in point of fact, no addition was made to his knowledge. But the words have a quite different meaning, and this mistaken opinion is still more fully refuted by what Luke shortly afterwards adds, that he grew in age and wisdom with God and man, (ver. 52.) We are not at liberty to suppose, that knowledge lay concealed in Christ, and made its appearance in him in progress of time. There is no doubt whatever, that it was the design of God to express in plain terms, how truly and completely Christ, in taking upon him our flesh, did all that was necessary to effect his brotherly union with men.233233     “Avoit vrayement et entierement prins tout ce qui estoit possible et propre pour accomplir de tous points la conjonction fraternelle de luy avec les hommes.” — “Had truly and entirely taken all that was possible and fitted to complete, at all points, the brotherly union between him and men.”

And yet we do not in this way suppose a double Christ:234234     “Deux Christs, ou un double Christ;” — “two Christs, or a double Christ.” for, though God and man are united in one person, it does not follow, that the human nature received what was peculiar to the Divine nature: but, so far as was necessary for our salvation, the Son of God kept his divine power concealed. What Irenaeus says, that his Divine nature was quiescent when he suffered,235235     “Qu'il a souffert, sa Divinite ne demonstrant point sa vertu.” — “That he suffered, his Divinity not demonstrating power.” I understand to refer, not only to bodily death, but to that amazing distress and agony of soul, which drew from him the complaint, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) In a word, if we do not choose to deny, that Christ was made a real man, we ought not to be ashamed to acknowledge, that he voluntarily took upon him everything that is inseparable from human nature.

It is a foolish objection, that ignorance does not apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin: for the same thing might be said of death. Scripture declares, on the contrary, that he performed the office of Mediator: for all the punishment which we deserved was transferred from us to him.236236     “Pource qu'il a prins sur soy toutes les peines que nous avions meritees, afind nous en discharger.” — “Because he took upon himself all the punishment which we had deserved, in order to discharge us from it." Besides, it is a foolish mistake to say, that ignorance is the punishment of sin. For we must not suppose that Adam, while he remained in innocence, knew all things. Angels also are, to some extent, ignorant, and yet they do not endure the punishment of sin.

A more refined argument is employed by some, that there was no ignorance in Christ, because ignorance is sin. But those persons assume a principle which is altogether false and groundless: otherwise, the angels must either be equal to God, or they must be sinful.237237     “Autrement il faudra que les Anges soyent pareils a Dieu, et qu'ils sachent tout: ou selon le dire de ces gensci, ils seront vicieux.” — “Otherwise, the Angels must be equal to God, and know everything: or, according to the statement of these people, they must be sinful.” There is no doubt a sinful blindness of the human mind, which is justly reckoned a part of original sin: but here we ascribe to Christ no other ignorance than what may fall upon a man who is pure from every taint of sin.

He was invigorated in spirit, and was full of wisdom Luke thus declares, that whatever wisdom exists among men, and receives daily accessions, flows from that single fountain, from the Spirit of God. The following phrase is more general, and the grace of God was upon him: for it includes all the excellence of every description that shone brightly in Christ.

41. And his parents went every year to Jerusalem It is mentioned in commendation of the piety of Mary and Joseph, that they gave diligent attendance to the outward worship of God. It was not of their own accord, but by a divine command, that they undertook this annual journey. The law enjoins the, males “only to, appear before the Lord,” (Exodus 23:17.) This arrangement does not entirely exclude females, but spares them by an exercise of kindness. This mark distinguishes the true religion from vain and wicked superstitions. The former confines itself within the limits of obedience to God, and of compliance with the enactments of his law. The latter wander, at their own pleasure, beyond the limits of God’s word, without any fixed rule. The worship of the temple was, no doubt, infected with many corruptions, the priesthood was sold for money, and doctrine was involved in many errors. Yet, as legal ceremonies were still in force, and the outward rite of sacrifice was observed as it is laid down in the law, believers were bound to perform such exercises in testimony of their faith. The name father is here given to Joseph, not with strict accuracy, but according to the opinion generally entertained respecting him.

44. And thinking that he was in the company Many passages of Scripture show plainly, that those who came from a distance, at the festivals, to worship in the temple, were accustomed to travel in companies. There is no reason, therefore, to wonder that, on the first day, Joseph and Mary were less anxious about the child; and their subsequent conduct shows that this was not owing to indolence or carelessness.

46. Sitting in the midst of the doctors Rays of divine brightness must have evidently shone in this child: otherwise those haughty men would not have permitted him to sit along with them. Though it is probable that he occupied a lower seat, and not the rank of the doctors, yet such disdainful men would not have condescended to give him an audience in a public assembly, if some divine power had not constrained them. This was a sort of prelude to his public calling, the full time of which had not yet arrived. In this way, however, he intended to give nothing more than a taste, which would immediately have faded from the recollection of men, had not Mary kept it for us laid up in her heart, (ver. 19, 51,) to bring it out afterwards, along with other treasures, for the use of all the godly.

47. And all who heard him Two things here claim our attention. All who heard him were astonished: for they reckoned it a miracle, that a child should frame his questions with such correctness and propriety. Again, they heard Christ, and thus acted the part rather of scholars than of teachers. He had not yet been called by the Father, to avow himself a public teacher of the Church, and therefore satisfied himself with putting modest questions to the doctors. Yet there is no room to doubt that, in this first attempt, he already began to tax their perverse way of teaching: for what Luke afterwards says about answers, I consider as denoting, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, any kind of discourse.

48. And his mother said to him Those who think that the holy virgin spake in this manner, for the purpose of showing her authority, are, in my opinion, mistaken. It is even possible, that it was not till they were apart, and the witnesses had withdrawn, that she began to expostulate with her son, after they had left the assembly. However that may be, this complaint was not the result of ambition, but was the expression of grief, which had lasted three days.238238     “Mais l'ennuy et la fascherie qu'elle avoit eue trois jours durant l'a fait ainsi parler.” — “But the uneasiness and distress, which she had had for three days, made her speak in this manner.” Yet the manner of her complaint, as if she had received an injury, shows how ready we are by nature to defend our own rights, even without paying regard to God. The holy virgin would a thousand times239239     “Centies;” — “mille fois.” rather have died, than deliberately preferred herself to God: but, in the indulgence of a mother’s grief, she falls into it through inadvertency. And undoubtedly this example warns us, how jealous we ought to be of all the affections of the flesh, and what care we ought to exercise, lest, by being too tenacious of our rights, and following our own desires, we defraud God of his honor.

49. Did ye not know? Our Lord justly blames his mother, though he does it in a gentle and indirect manner. The amount of what he says is, that the duty which he owes to God his Father, ought to be immeasurably preferred to all human duties; and that, consequently, earthly parents do wrong in taking it amiss, that they have been neglected in comparison of God. And hence we may infer the general doctrine, that whatever we owe to men must yield to the first table of the law, that God’s authority over us may remain untouched.240240     “Que tout ce qui est deu aux hommes, est au dessous de la premiere Table de la Loy, et doit tenir le second lieu, afin que toujours Dieu ait sa puissance et son authorite entiere.” — “That all that is due to men is below the first Table of the Law, and ought to hold the second plane, in order that God may always have his power and his authority entire.” Thus we ought to obey kings, and parents, and masters,241241     “Dominis;” — “maistres et seigneurs;” — “masters and lords.” but only in subjection to God: that is, we must not, for the sake of men, lessen or take away any thing from God. And, indeed, a regard to the superior claims of God does not imply a violation of the duties which we owe to men.

In those things which belong to my Father This expression intimates, that there is something about him greater than man. It points out also the chief design of his being sent into the world, which was, that he might discharge the office enjoined upon him by his heavenly Father. But is it not astonishing, that Joseph and Mary did not understand this answer, who had been instructed by many proofs, that Jesus is the Son of God? I reply: Though they were not wholly unacquainted with Christ’s heavenly origin, yet they did not comprehend, in every respect, how he was intent on executing his heavenly Father’s commands: for his calling had not yet been expressly revealed to them. Mary kept in her heart those things which she did not fully understand. Let us learn from this, to receive with reverence, and to lay up in our minds, (like the seed, which is allowed to remain for some time under grounds) those mysteries of God which exceed our capacity.

51. And he was subject to them It was for our salvation that Christ took upon him this low estate, — that the Lord and head of angels voluntarily became subject to mortal creatures. Such was the purpose of God, that Christ should remain, for some time, under a shadow, bearing the name of Joseph. Though this subjection, on the part of Christ, arose from no necessity which he could not have avoided, yet, as he had taken upon him human nature on the condition of being subject to parents, and had assumed the character both of a man and of a servant, — with respect to the office of Redeemer, this was his lawful condition. The more cheerfully, on this account, ought every one to bear the yoke which the Lord has been pleased to lay upon him.242242     “D’autant plus faut-il que chacun de nous s’assujettisse de bon coeur, st ploye le col sous le joug auquel il plaira a Dieu de nous soumettre.” — “So much the more must every one of us submit heartily, and bend the neck under the yoke, to which it shall please God to subject us.”




Advertisements