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We have an Introduction by the Evangelist, in the opening of this Gospel. To which follows the Account of John the Baptist, as the Harbinger of Christ. An Angel appears to Zacharias, and to the Virgin Mary: the Hymn of Mary on the Occasion: the Birth of John the Baptist, and the Prophecy thereon of Zacharias.
(1) Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, (2) Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses and ministers of the word; (3) It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, (4) That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
I do not think it necessary to detain the Reader with any long observation on this preface. The reasons Luke assigns for entering upon this solemn service, plainly shew that the hand of the Lord was upon him. The certainty of the truths he was about to deliver, arose, not only from being with others eye witnesses of them, but he, and they, are said to have been ministers of the word; thereby intimating that he considered himself called to it by the Lord; for he saith, that it seemed good to him. Who this Theophilus was, is not certain; but it should seem to have been One taught of God, by what is said of his instruction in the faith. And hence we learn, for whom the Gospel is designed, and to whom God the Holy Ghost sends it; similar to what Paul said in his preaching, Men and Brethren, Children of the stock of Abraham and whosoever among you feareth God, to You is the word of this salvation sent! Acts 13:26 ; Galatians 3:29 . Reader! if God the Spirit so commissions His word of salvation to your heart and mine, this will be a blessed testimony to us both, not only of the truth of his holy scriptures, but also of our personal interest in them. And this will be what the same Apostle said to the Church of the Thessalonians, the highest proof of our election of God, when his Gospel comes unto us, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 .
(5) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. (6) And they were both righteous before G o d, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (7) And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. (8) And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, (9) According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. (10) And the whole multitude of the people were praying without, at the time of incense. (11) And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (12) And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. (13) But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. (14) And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. (15) For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. (16) And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord, their God. (17) And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (18) And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. (19) And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. (20) And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. (21) And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. (22) And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. (23) And it came to pass, that as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. (24) And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, (25) Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
Here Luke, begins his relation of the wonderful events concerning the Person, Character, Offices, and Relations of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he begins the subject with the date of those transactions, which was in the days of One of the Herods. And it is worthy the Reader's remark, that as this Herod, who was at this time deputy King, under the Roman Emperor, the prophecy of Jacob when a dying was now to be fulfilled. He had said, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. Genesis 49:10 . And here we find the sceptre indeed departed, for Herod, a foreigner, was King. Deuteronomy 17:15 .
The birth of John, though singularly accomplished, differed widely from that of the Lord Jesus; for though wonderful, it was not miraculous. And the introduction in the opening of this Gospel, in the particulars of it, appears to have been on purpose to mark the striking dissimilarity. We shall have occasion in the course of this chapter to notice this. In the mean time, let us observe the method the Lord was pleased to adopt to bring Zacharias acquainted with it. He was in the course of his ministry, attending the temple service, when an angel appeared to him. This is the first open vision which the Holy Ghost had favored the Church with, from the close of the Old Testament prophecy by Malachi. Zacharias, astonished at the sight and message of the angel, is tempted to doubt, and is struck dumb for his unbelief. But what I particularly request the Reader to remark, in proof that the birth of John differs altogether from that of the Lord Jesus Christ, is, that though the wife of Zacharias was indeed now aged, and had been hitherto barren, yet the event of John's birth was altogether the result wholly of natural causes, and from natural means; and though John was a child of promise, as Isaac was, yet in his conception and birth there was nothing miraculous, or contrary to the ordinary course of nature more than his. Genesis 18:10-14 ; Galatians 4:28 .
When the Reader hath properly noted this, that no more honor be given to the servant than the Lord hath given him, the Reader may properly pause, and consider the greatness of the Man, and the greatness of the Office, in the which he was designed to minister. Like Jeremiah, ordained from the womb, he was filled with the Holy Ghost, for the purpose of this office, in ministering to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jeremiah 1:5 . And when it is said, as that it is said, that he should be great in the sight of the Lord, plainly this means, that he was so in the sight of Him to whom he became a forerunner. And hence we find the Lord Jesus bearing testimony to his character, that he was not only a Prophet, and more than a Prophet, but that among them born of women, none had been greater than he. Matthew 11:11 . See John 1:23 , etc.
I detain the Reader to make one observation more, in order to have suitable apprehensions of the vast difference between the servant, and Him that sent him. It is said here, concerning the office of John, that he should go before the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power and spirit of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Reader! do not overlook, that all that is here said, is said only of John's ministry, as an instrument to this blessed work, and no further. John never did, nor could, convert or turn a single soul. This is Creator-work, and not creature. The Lord who made the heart, can only turn the heart. But John, by ministering in the Lord's name, became the Lord's instrument in the great work. And I beg the Reader to notice, and with the just attention it deserves, what is said of John, in making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Yes! John's ministry, like all other servants, could be blessed to no other than the Lord's people; they whom the Father gave to his dear Son, before the world was formed, and whom God the Holy Ghost had engaged to make willing in the day of his power, were prepared for Jesus as his redeemed; and grace here, and glory hereafter, prepared for them in Christ, from everlasting. How blessedly all the great truths of God harmonize!
(26) And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee named Nazareth, (27) To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and
the virgin's name was Mary. (28)And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. (29) And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. (30) And the angel said unto her, Fear not Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. (31) And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (32) He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: (33)And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (34) Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall
this be, seeing I know not a man? (35) And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (36) And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. (37) For with God nothing shall be impossible. (38) And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word: and the angel departed from her.
As the miraculous conception forms so grand and momentous a doctrine of our most holy faith, in the firm assurance of which is involved everything that is important in the Gospel; I persuade myself that I shall have the free indulgence of my Reader t o enter upon it very fully, and on true spiritual grounds to look into the whole relation of it, while looking up to God the Holy Ghost to be the teacher both of myself and Reader, in examining the several interesting particulars contained in it. Could it be supposed but for a moment, that the human nature of Christ had been produced in the ordinary way of generation among men, though it were admitted at the same time, that the mission of Christ as far exceeded all other Prophets, as the heavens are higher than the earth; still this were nothing. For then, after all, the dignity of Christ's person would have been no greater than that of any other Prophet; and his communications from God would have been in no other way than theirs. The office indeed, might have been greater, and his communications from God greater, and his usefulness more extensive. But, as to nature and person, Christ would have been upon a level with all that went before. Whereas, between Christ and Moses, the greatest of all Prophets under the Old Testament; and Christ, and John the Baptist, declared to be the greatest of all born among women, under the New; the former is said to be but as a servant to Christ, the Son, in the house of God: and the latter declares himself not worthy to unloose the latchet of the shoes of Christ. See Hebrews 3:1-6 ; John 1:15-34 . Reader, ponder over these things by the way. See Commentary on Matthew 3:1-4 . Poor: Matthew 3:4
I have, in my Poor Man's Commentary, on the first chapter of Matthew, ver. 18. stated, somewhat largely, my views, according to scripture testimony, on the miraculous conception. But, as the subject is infinitely important, and the Church of God cannot be too clearly, nor fully established, in the most perfect conviction of this fundamental truth of our most holy faith; I would very earnestly beg the Reader's indulgence, taking advantage, from the long contents concerning it, in this chapter, to consider it yet a little more particularly. And I am free to confess, that an anxiety, for the rising generation in this kingdom, on the momentous doctrines of the Gospel, prompt me the more earnestly to this service. Never, in my view, was there a day since the Reformation, when the only principles, which make the glorious Gospel of the ever blessed God truly blessed, were in equal danger to be frittered away, by the carelessness of some, and the artfulness of others, who affect to call themselves rational Christians. I humbly beg to bear my testimony to the truth, as it is in Jesus, to this fundamental article of the real Christian's creed, in the evidences of the miraculous conception. And when I have stated in order, the scriptural account of this momentous doctrine, I shall leave the whole to the Reader's own mind, that he may compare spiritual things with spiritual: and that, under the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, his faith may be found, not to rest in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.
And first: I beg him to observe with me, that with the Promise, which came in with the Fall; it was said, the seed of the Woman should bruise the Serpent's head. And in conformity to this, when, in the after age of the Church, the Lord entered into covenant with Abraham; the tenor of this covenant was conveyed in terms agreeably to this promise; that in his seed should all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:3 . Now, saith the Holy Ghost by Paul, when explaining both those Scriptures, and shewing their connection; now to Abraham, and his seed were the promises made: he saith not, and to seeds, as of many, but as of One, and to thy seed which is Christ. Galatians 3:16 . Words, as plain these, as language can furnish, in proof that the human nature, which the Son of God should take into union with him, thereby forming one Person, even Christ, should be the seed of the woman. Peter, in his sermon, on the day of Pentecost, quotes a passage from one of the prophetical Psalms of David, in confirmation. He first shews that David king of Israel could not possibly mean himself; and then saith, that David being a prophet, knew that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his body according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit upon his throne. Acts 2:30 . compared with Psalms 132:11 . and Luke 1:31-32 . And these scriptures most plainly shew, that Christ, after the flesh, should be of the seed of the woman.
The next point to be attended to, in forming suitable and becoming apprehensions of this great mystery, is, to examine into what the holy scriptures taught, concerning the Incarnation of the Son of God. And here we discover the Prophets, commissioned by the Holy Ghost, informing the Church, that the event should be altogether new, and mysterious; such as never had taken place in the annals of the world. One of them cried aloud to the Church, saying: that the Lord himself would give them a sign. Behold, (said he,) a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Which (saith an Evangelist in after days, under the same authority) being interpreted, is God with us. Compare Isaiah 7:14 . with Matthew 1:23 . Another Prophet, in allusion to the same blessed promise, declared, that the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth; A woman shall compass a man. Jeremiah 31:22 . And the Lord Jesus himself by the spirit of prophecy, confirms them both, in what he had long before delivered to the Church; when in that precious Psalm, which principally means himself, he had said; For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought, in the lowest parts of the earth. Psalms 139:13-15 . Fearfully and wonderfully made indeed, when considered with an eye to Christ, by the sovereign agency of God, in the womb of the Virgin; here called, in prophetical language, the lowest parts of the earth. But the terms are by no means applicable to the universal generation of mankind. Great as the Lord's power is, in all his works of creation; yet the stated order of the Lord, in those acts of his appointment, do away the expressions of fear and wonder. Now, these scriptures taught the Church to expect the birth of Him, whom they refer to, as coming out of the ordinary course of nature; and in a way, such as the Incarnation of the Son of God, by the miraculous conception only, can explain.
From hence we go on to what the Evangelist hath recorded in this chapter. An angel is sent to the virgin Mary, to announce the wonderful event. His salutation implied somewhat of infinite moment. H ail thou that art highly favored! Highly favored indeed! And not simply, in the grace imparted to her, of God's everlasting love; personally considered in redeeming mercy, as distinguished in calling her, with an holy calling, from the Adam state of nature, in which she was born; for this blessing she had in common with all the children of God; but highly favored, in this singular instance of grace, which never could be enjoyed by any other; in being chosen, as the woman, whose seed should bruise the serpent's head. Concerning the chastity of Mary, in respect to her virgin state, none but unblushing infidels could for a moment question. For unless it could be supposed, that God the Holy Ghost, for more than seven hundred years before the event was to take place, should have caused such a prophecy to be made, as that of the conception of a virgin; and then, be regardless of the accomplishment: unless this could be supposed, which is impossible, we cannot but suppose, that the Lord watched over his own promise, and made all due arrangement, that it should come to pass.
Assuming this point also granted, and still prosecuting the mysterious subject, we next have to consider another branch, requiring explanation. The Virgin Mary, though in herself in perfect chastity, yet certainly derived from the Adam-nature, in which she was born, taints of the same corruption from that race of fallen man, of whom it is said, by the testimony of the Holy Ghost himself, there is none holy, no not one. It therefore becomes necessary to enquire, how He, who was conceived in the Virgin's womb, by the miraculous power of God, was preserved free from that contagion; so as to be, as he is blessedly described, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens? Hebrews 7:26 . This question becomes exceedingly momentous. And blessed be God we have, in scripture, the most satisfying answer to it.
The word of God teacheth, that all the persons of the Godhead were engaged in the formation of the human nature of Christ. Concerning God the Father, it was said by Christ, under the spirit of prophecy, ages before his incarnation: A body hast thou prepared me. Compare Psalms 40:6 . with Hebrews 10:5 . And that God the Son had a hand in it is evident, for the Holy Ghost by Paul saith; that He took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. And again, He took of flesh and blood. Hebrews 2:16; Hebrews 2:16 . And in this Chapter we have the wonderful relation of the part which God the Holy Ghost had in the work, in his overshadowing power.
When the Reader hath duly pondered these sublime considerations, I would beg of him to be very attentive to what the Evangelist hath recorded in this Chapter. The angel answered the modest enquiry of Mary, how the thing he spoke of should be; by saying, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee: and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. By which we plainly learn, that this overshadowing power became the sole act of generation. And this is in exact correspondence to what was said by the angel to Joseph. For that (said he) which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. Matthew 1:20 . Here then, the whole is explained. The act of conception from the Holy Ghost must be holy; because it is solely from, and wrought by, the Lord himself, who is holy. Had there been the intervention of an human father, no doubt, that in this case, defilement must have followed; for it is by this corruption is derived in all generations, from father to son. But in this instance, God the Holy Ghost is the agent; and therefore, as the angel said, that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. This then was the tabernacle which God pitched, and not man. Hebrews 8:2 . This the stone cut out without hands: that is, without human hands. Daniel 2:45 .
And I beg the Reader to observe with me, yet further, in confirmation of this most blessed, and wonderful truth; how the Holy Ghost hath been pleased to word the mysterious subject. A virgin shall conceive. Yes! But not by man! She shall bring forth a son. Yes! But not by human begetting. The Holy Ghost shall overshadow her. Therefore, (that is, his Almighty agency being the sole cause) that holy Thing (not that holy person, for then there would have been two persons in one Christ; but that holy thing) shall be called the Son of God. Oh! how precious is this discovery! And further: When God sends forth his Son, he is said to be made of a woman; not begotten, but made: and which, though made of the substance of the seed of the woman; yet being made by the Holy Ghost, cannot but be holy. So that as nothing is derived by generation, from the impurity of our nature, the sole agency being of God; that holy thing is in nature holy, and of consequence the Son of God.
Now Reader, pause over the wonderful subject! Put the whole together in one collected point of view. Behold, how very full and clear the several terms made use of, in representing this great truth, are; that the Church might have all suitable, and becoming apprehensions (as far as our capacities at present are capable in apprehending) of so great a mystery. Call to mind the vast preparations made for this one purpose: the union of God and man in one person, through a long succession of generations, from the fall of man to the coming of Christ. Yea, before the earth was formed, or Jehovah, in his threefold character of person, went forth in acts of creation. Then Christ was set up, as the head of his body the Church, from everlasting. Proverbs 8:22-23 . And from the first promise in the Bible, concerning the seed of the woman, until we behold it fulfilled in the uncreated word being made flesh, and dwelling among us; we trace the whole scope of scripture, pointing and directing, like so many rays of light, converging to this one centre. Had the human nature of Christ been formed out of nothing, or from the dust of the earth, as Adam was; where would have been his relationship to his people? Or, had the human nature of Christ been taken from any part of man, as Eve was, from the rib of Adam; this would have been a relationship no doubt, but nothing more mysterious than the former instance. But, to form the Human Nature of Christ from the seed of the woman, by conception, without man, and wholly by the power of God; this was a sign indeed, from God: this was a new thing in the earth; and a mystery, surpassing all human foresight and contrivance. Well might the Apostle, in the contemplation, exclaim: Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16 . Largely as I have trespassed, I must not dismiss the vast subject before that I have first called the Reader to remark with me, and to remark it in terms suited to its infinite importance, the very blessed doctrine connected with it, of the atonement. For, the miraculous conception, once confirmed, brings up after it, the evident intention from it, of Christ's sacrifice. The Son of God becoming incarnate, implied the design, of making his soul an offering for sin. This one act preached more fully than ten thousand sacrifices on Jewish altars; that without shedding of blood, there was no remission. Surely, all the branches of revelation, concerning God, might have been accomplished, (as far as revelation was necessary,) without such an event as the miraculous conception. But if Christ, and Christ only, can do away sin, by the sacrifice of himself, a body must be given him. Psalms 40:6-8 . Blessedly doth God the Holy Ghost bear testimony to this, by his servant the Apostle: In all things (said he) it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful, and faithful High Priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation, for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 . See the Commentary there. Poor: Hebrews 2:16
(39) And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; (40) And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. (41) And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: (42) And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. (43) And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (44) For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. (45) And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. (46) And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, (47) And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. (48) For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (49) For he that is mighty hath done to me great things: and holy is his name. (50) And his mercy is on them that fear him, from generation to generation. (51) He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. (52) He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. (53) He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. (54) He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; (55) As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed, forever. (56) And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Many very beautiful, and highly interesting things, arise before our view, in those scriptures; but I must study shortness. The babe leaping in the womb of Elizabeth, was certainly more than the ordinary effects of natural causes. In the after circumstances of the Baptist's life, everything testified to the sanctification of the man, as the forerunner of his Lord. Hence therefore, as if moved by a divine impulse, at the approach of Christ, though not manifested openly, the babe leaped in the womb for joy. Let the Reader recollect, what the angel said of John, Luke 1:15 . And I cannot but request the Reader to observe with me, that the salutation Elizabeth gave to Mary, was in the same words as the angel saluted the Virgin with; Blessed art thou among women. But the thing is explained, for we are told, that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And let not the Reader forget Elizabeth's testimony concerning Him, of whom she spake, when she said, and blessed be the fruit of thy womb! neither the source from whence she said it, being filled with the Holy Ghost. So then, here is God the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of Elizabeth, confirming the whole word of Scripture, to the testimony of the Godhead, and Manhood of Christ; that He is the blessing of Jehovah, to the Church: Men shall be blessed in him; and all nations shall call him blessed. Psalms 72:17-19 .
The song of Mary is full of the breathings of a soul under the influence of the Holy Ghost. How blessedly she speaks of God her Savior; evidently shewing, that she had a perfect apprehension of what the Prophets had taught, concerning the miraculous conception; and therefore knew, that the child then in her womb was, in one and the same moment, her Son and her Savior! And how blessedly she speaks of the low estate, both in the temporal poverty of her father's house, and the spiritual reduced estate, by reason of sin, to the whole race of Adam. And the personal dignity to which she, a poor, young, and humble Virgin, was exalted. He that is mighty (said she) hath done to me great things. Great indeed, and, until that period, never heard of before; and never to be again wrought in the earth. And how beautifully she ends her hymn of praise, in singing the sure deliverance of the Church, by this stupendous event. H e hath holpen (said she) his servant Israel: meaning, He hath redeemed the Church of God, in the Israel of God, his chosen; thus confirming the Covenant made with Abraham, that in his seed should all the families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:3 . with Galatians 3:16 .
(57) Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. (58) And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. (59) And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. (60) And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. (61) And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. (62) And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. (63) And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John: and they marvelled all. (64) And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. (65) And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad, throughout all the hill country of Judea. (66) And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! and the hand of the Lord was with him.
It was a custom among the Jews, though we do not find in the word of God a precept to this effect, to give the child a name at circumcision. And it was also customary, for the person, who performed the act of circumcision, to accompany it with a blessing. So that it could be no ordinary character that did it, and very generally it was the father. See Genesis 17:23 . But the dumbness of Zacharias, it is most likely, prevented in the present instance, his performing the service. For the name which those present intended to give the child, seems to imply as much. And when they made signs to his father on the subject, it is said, that he asked for a writing table for this purpose; that is, he made signs to have a writing table, so to do; for the dumbness of Zacharias was still upon him, until the name of John was fully given, according to the angel's declaration. (See Luke 1:13 .) Elizabeth's determining this name for her son, might have been taught her from her husband, who probably, notwithstanding his loss of speech, might have had the ability of informing her by sign, somewhat of the vision he had received. But I confess, that I am rather inclined to think, that the chastisement for unbelief on Zacharias, deprived him of this ability; and that Elizabeth, being full of the Holy Ghost, (see Luke 1:41 .) derived her knowledge from an higher source. The immediate liberation given to Zacharias's tongue when the prediction of the angel was fulfilled, became an additional testimony to the whole of this wonderful affair. And we may well suppose , as is here recorded, the astonishment produced in the minds of all that heard it.
(67) And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, (68) Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for he hath visited and redeemed his people, (69) And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; (70) As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began; (71) That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; (72) To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; (73) The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, (74) That he would grant unto us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, (75) In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (76) And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; (77) To give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, (78) Through the tender mercy of our God; where by the day-spring from on high hath visited us, (79) To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Reader! before you enter upon your observations of Zacharias's prophecy, pause at the threshold, to notice the grace of the Lord towards him, in removing from him his affliction. Well was it for Zacharias: well is it for all the Lord's people, his grace waits not their deservings, but flows from his own free love. And you should observe also, that no sooner is his tongue untied from the consequence of his unbelief, but the Lord loosens both heart and tongue to speak the Lord's praise; and to proclaim the Lord's mercy. And how doth he praise the Lord? Do not fail to observe, it is, as the God of Israel: Israel's God in covenant. All, and every part of redemption is, to perform the mercy, promised. Yes! For the Lord's Christ is the mercy promised: the first born in the womb of mercy; the whole of mercy; yea, mercy itself in the full. For there is no mercy, but in Christ. everything which can be called mercy, must have Christ in it, or it is no mercy be it what it may. It must have its very nature from Christ; its sweetness from Christ, its value from Christ, and its everlasting continuance from Christ. And hence Zacharias harps upon this sweet string; that it was to perform the mercy promised, and to fulfil Jehovah's covenant and oath, in all the blessings of Christ, forevermore. And let not the Reader fail to observe, with what holy rapture the father Zacharias addresses his son, though an infant, under the divine influence of the same spirit of prophecy: and having spoken of the Lord, now speaks of His harbinger. And this, by the way, is no small testimony in what office and character the Holy Ghost, by Zacharias, declared John's commission: (see Malachi 3:1 .) as a messenger going before the Lord, of His temple. Who, less than God, can have a temple? Who, but the Son of God in our nature, can be called the Lord of his temple? Oh! the preciousness of those unnumbered attestations, all over the word of God, to the Godhead of Christ, the truth as it is in Jesus!
(80) And the child grew, and waxed strong in
spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his
shewing unto Israel.
It is a blessed account of John, in the close of the chapter. He grew, and was in the deserts, until he entered upon his ministry. Untaught of men, unacquainted even with the person of his Lord, until taught of the Holy Ghost, how to know him; but then giving the highest attestation to the greatness of Christ's character, while declaring the littleness of his own. See John 1:19-34 .
Reaper! let, you, and I, at the very portal of this precious Gospel, stand and pause, before we hastily enter into the perusal of its blessed contents, and look up, and praise the Almighty Author, of His holy word, for such a profusion of mercies, as are here made known unto us; while we entreat the same glorious Lord to be our teacher, into a right understanding of those mysteries of godliness, to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Was it not enough to have given the Church the inspired records, concerning our Lord, in the precious relation by Matthew and Mark; but would our bountiful Lord add the Gospel, according to Luke, and John also? Oh then! do thou, blessed Lord the Holy Ghost, accompany the whole with thy divine teaching, that we may know the things, which are so freely given us of God; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Behold, Reader, in this chapter, the unbelief of Zacharias. Behold the faith of Mary and Elizabeth! To what, or to whom, shall we ascribe these things, but to distinguishing grace? Oh! may it be our happiness, to believe the record, which God hath given of his dear Son. And while we have faith, to this testimony of God; may we never lose sight of what the Holy Ghost hath taught by his servant, the Apostle; when he saith, Unto you it is given to believe in his name.
Reader! let us ponder over, again and again, the wonderous subject here recorded, of the miraculous conception. Let us view the distant prophecies, so many ages before, declaring the unheard of, unthought of, event: and then behold, as related in this Chapter, the accomplishment; until our souls are warmed with the contemplation, and we feel constrained to cry out with the Apostle, Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in our flesh! And oh! for grace to join in those hymns, both of Mary and Zacharias, from a personal interest in the same subject. Surely our souls may well rejoice in God our Savior, when through the mercy of our God the day-spring from on high hath visited us.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25