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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Introduction

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark .

1 The genealogy of Christ from Abraham to Joseph.

18 He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary when she was espoused to Joseph.

19 The angel satisfieth the misdeeming thoughts of Joseph, and interpreteth the names of Christ.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ. — Whether this title merely introduces the genealogy which follows, or extends to the whole account of our Lord contained in this gospel is a question disputed by interpreters. In Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” the LXX. use the same phrase as that here employed by St. Matthew; and the section which it introduces is plainly an account of Adam’s production, and of the patriarchs who descended from him in the line of Seth to Noah. But the word γενεσις occurs also in Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created;” where it obviously signifies the history or relation of their production, and of the several events which followed. In Greek authors γενεσις signifies original, extract, descent, or birth; but the Hebrew mode of speaking is here probably the better rule; and the term may be here extended to the history which follows, as in Genesis 6:9, where, “These are the generations of Noah,” is the title of a section which says nothing of his descent, but carries us on to the character of that patriarch, and the events of his life. If this introductory clause be limited to the genealogy, it may be translated, as by Campbell, “the lineage,” if taken in the more extended sense, “the history of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ. — On the name Jesus, see the note on verse 21. When Matthew adds Christ to this name he declares that Jesus was the MESSIAH; and in proof of this his gospel was written. The word signifies, one anointed; in allusion to the custom of consecrating and inaugurating priests and kings among the Jews, by anointing them with oil. The composition for this purpose, and which was applied not only to persons but to things set apart for the service of God, was made by Moses under Divine direction, and kept in the sanctuary. It was typical of the communication of the Holy Spirit with which the Church is replenished; and for this reason it is, that his sacred influence upon the minds of believers is called by St. John “an unction, or anointing, from the Holy One.” It was the full effusion of the Spirit upon our Saviour which constituted him “the Messiah, or Christ;” that is “the Anointed of the Lord.” After the resurrection of our Lord the term Christ, without the article, passed into a proper name, and, as such, is used to distinguish the Divine founder of our religion.

The son of David, the son of Abraham. — The terms son and daughter were used by the Hebrews to signify grandchildren, or any lineal descendants, however remote. Thus, our Lord calls the woman whom he healed of an infirmity, “a DAUGHTER of Abraham.” The Messiah was to be a descendant of Abraham, through Isaac, not Ishmael; through Jacob, not Esau; and was to be of the tribe of Judah, and of the house and lineage of David. Thus was fulfilled in our Lord the promise made to Abraham, “that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed;” and the covenant with David, “that of the fruit of his body he would raise up the Christ to sit upon his throne.” The name, “Son of David,” appears constantly in the latter Jewish writings for “the Messiah;” and that it was so used in common language in the time of our Lord appears from several passages of the gospels: “Hosannah to the Son of David;” “Have mercy upon us, thou Son of David,” &c. St. Matthew therefore proves from the Jewish genealogies, that our Lord was descended from David and Abraham. — This was sufficient for the purpose of this evangelist, who wrote immediately for the use of the Jews: but St. Luke, who wrote his gospel for the Gentile Churches, carries up the genealogy from Abraham to Noah and Adam: and thereby put them in possession of the Old Testament account of the origin and descent of mankind, and corrected their vain traditions and absurd fables.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Abraham begat Isaac. — For a full investigation of the questions which have been raised on the genealogies of Christ given by St. Matthew and St. Luke, recourse may be had to Grotius, Hammond, Le Clerc, Lightfoot, Bishop Kidder, Whitby, Dr. Barrett, and others who have written at large upon them. The genealogies coincide from Abraham to David; and then so entirely differ, except in two descents, that they must be regarded as two distinct tables; and the opinion now generally admitted is that of Lightfoot, that St. Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, whose adopted son Jesus was; and St. Luke, that of his virgin mother. — This derives strong confirmation from the circumstance that the Jewish rabbins in their writings call Mary the daughter of Eli. This distinction in the genealogies also serves to explain the reason why St. Luke begins his genealogy with stating that Jesus was the SUPPOSED son of Joseph, “who was the son of Eli.” The natural father of Joseph was, as Matthew states, Jacob; but Mary being the daughter of Eli, Joseph became his son-in-law; or simply, according to the vague way in which the Hebrews used such relative terms, his SON; which is farther confirmed by another instance of a son-in-law being called a son in the same table, namely, Salathiel, who is called “the son of Neri,” that is, his son-in-law; his natural father being Jechonias, 1 Chronicles 3:17. The only point of real importance, however, in this question is, whether Mary as well as Joseph was of the house of David, because the Christ was indubitably to be of the seed of David “according to the flesh,” which our Lord was not by mere virtue of his being the adopted son of Joseph, and entered as such in the Jewish genealogies. Now, though there seems sufficient reason to conclude that Mary married Joseph as next of kin; and though the very silence of the Jews, who, upon the promulgation of the doctrine of Christ’s miraculous conception, at whatever period that was first made known, whether during our Lord’s life, or immediately after his ascension, must have raised this fatal objection, if Mary had not been a descendant of David as well as Joseph, proves that this fact was a subject of public notoriety; yet the matter is settled by a passage in the gospel of St. Luke, which those who have investigated this question of the two genealogies have generally overlooked.

In Luke 1:32, when the angel makes the annunciation to Mary that she should become the mother of the Messiah, he says, “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,” — terms which could not have been used unless Mary herself had been David’s descendant. It may be added to this, that unless it had been a matter sufficiently well known and acknowledged, that Mary and Joseph were of the same house and lineage, it could have answered no end for Matthew to have copied from the public genealogical tables of the Jews the descent of Joseph from David, since he himself closes the list of descents with an account of the conception and birth of Jesus, which declares that he was not the son of Joseph, but of Mary only. But the family relationship of Mary and Joseph being well known, the one genealogy was as well suited to his purpose as the other. Beside that, it had also this advantage, that it established our Lord’s legal right to the throne of David, through Joseph, of whom he was the son by adoption. And this was of importance in arguing with the Jews; for, although Mary was descended from David, yet, had she married into the tribe of Levi, under the same circumstances as she married Joseph, our Lord would have been reckoned in the Jewish genealogies as of the tribe of Levi, and his legal claim to the throne of David could not have been maintained on the ground of descent; but, having married into her own tribe, our Lord was the descendant of David, both in law and by nature.

With respect to other difficulties in these tables of descent, they are to be referred to the Jewish records, and not to the evangelists who copied them. As, however, the Jews exerted particular care in preserving the pedigree of their priests, and also the line of David, in which they expected the Messiah, the discrepances are probably apparent only, and the obscurity arises from the circumstance that their mode of keeping them, as being affected by their changes of name, or the practice of bearing double names, and by their laws of succession, is now but partially known. The tables are, however, sufficiently clear to prove the only point for which they were introduced, that Jesus was the son of David, and the son of Abraham.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom, &c. — Here it is to be observed, that the evangelist, in giving the natural line of descent from David to Joseph, uses the term εγεννησε , begat, in each instance; but instead of saying that Joseph begat Jesus, he turns the phrase by saying, “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, OF WHOM WAS BORN Jesus;” thus intimating what he afterward more fully states, that Jesus was not begotten of Mary by her husband, Joseph.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Fourteen generations. — Lightfoot has shown, by a number of instances, that it was usual with the Jews to reduce things or numbers nearly alike to the same term, for the sake of aiding the memory. Here, therefore, are three regular classes, formed by unimportant omissions: the first, under the patriarchs, and judges, from Abraham to David; the second, under the kings; the third, under the governors and Asmonean priests, from the captivity to Christ. The Greeks as well as Jews reckoned by generations. So Pausanias: “From Thanypus to Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, ωεντε ανδρων και δεκα εισι γενεαι , were fifteen generations of men.” So also Herodotus and Polybius.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Now the birth of Jesus, &c. — The birth of our Saviour is now placed by chronologers in about four years before the common era from which we reckon. In the first ages of Christianity the practice of dating from the birth of Christ was unknown; and, in fact, was not generally adopted among Christians till about A.D. 730; and it is now generally agreed that an error of four years was then made in fixing the era.

Was espoused to Joseph. — Maimonides says, that “before the giving of the law, if a man met a woman in the street, he might take her home and marry her; but when the law was given, the Israelites were commanded that if a man would take a woman, he should do it before witnesses, and this was called an espousal, or betrothing; and when a woman, is espoused, although she is not yet married, or has entered her husband’s house, yet she is a man’s wife.” Six months, and sometimes a year, intervened between the betrothment and the nuptials. “No woman,” says Lightfoot, “is ever married, among the Jews, without a previous espousal.” The same previous ceremony appears to have been customary among other nations.

Before they came together, &c. — Before she was removed to her husband’s house, and the marriage consummated.

She was found with child of the Holy Ghost. — Εκ ωνευματος αγιου . Because of the absence of the article, Wakefield translates, “by a holy spirit,” signifying, by the Divine power. But Bishop Middleton has shown that after prepositions anomalous instances of the omission of the article frequently occur. Besides, we have no indication of a plurality of beings, bearing the appellation, of “holy spirits,” in the New Testament, and no such phrase as ωνευματα αγια . That the human nature of our Lord should be thus formed supernaturally by the power of the Holy Ghost, was necessary, that he might escape the traduction of original sin, and be born and remain perfectly pure and sinless, that so the Divine nature might, without moral degradation, he personally united with the human, and that he might be qualified to be a perfect example of holiness, and finally “offer himself without spot to God,” as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, &c. — Δικαιος is by some taken to signify merciful, or compassionate, a sense in which the word is seldom or never used; and which, though it appears to harmonize with the moderate conduct which Joseph purposed to pursue toward Mary, destroys in fact the force of the passage. That he was a mild and considerate man, appears from his being unwilling to make her a public example; but it was because he was a just man, that is, a man who regarded the law, and was observant of moral duties, that he resolved to put her away, though privily; so that here we have the character of this excellent man drawn by a brief but striking touch of the pencil of inspiration. His sense of justice prevented his affection from stooping to what then appeared to be a disgrace, and yet the mildness of his character led him to perform an act of justice without severity. Παραδειγματισαι , to make her a public example, here means, either to bring her before the magistrate, in order to her being punished capitally according to the law Deuteronomy 22:23-24; or, more probably, as this law required witnesses of the crime, which Joseph could not produce, to divorce her in a public manner, and thereby openly expose her shame.

There was, however, a method of divorce so private as to require to be done in the presence of only two persons, by simply giving the woman a bill of divorce, without assigning any reasons. This Joseph resolved to adopt; and as this proceeding illustrates the character of Joseph, so the whole circumstance of the case exhibits that of Mary. She does not appear to have made any communication to Joseph of the message of the angel. She might be forbidden to do this; or she might wisely conclude that it would be treated as an idle tale; and so she left the matter in the hands of God, supported only by her NOBLE FAITH, and submitting to temporary suspicion in patient expectation of a Divine interposition at the fittest time. The idolatrous worship paid to the virgin has perhaps led Protestants too much to overlook those striking illustrations of her character which incidentally, but powerfully break forth in the narratives of the evangelists. They, however, unite to prove her to have been a woman equally eminent in the order of intellect and piety; retired and humble, but firm, thoughtful, and singularly qualified to pass through that succession of mysterious scenes, which could only be opened fully by the resurrection of her glorious Son from the dead. Never was mother so honoured or so tried.

Verse 20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. — In this mode, as well as others, God “at sundry times” made known his will to the patriarchs and prophets; so that dreams were reckoned by the Jews as one of the modes of prophetic inspiration. It was the tradition of Divine revelations being made in this manner, carried into the heathen world, which led to the common notion of the significancy of dreams; and thus by abuse it became, and still continues a fruitful source of superstition. The prophetic dreams of sacred writ were not, however, common dreams; and as they were supernaturally induced, and were admonitory, directive, or predictive, they were accompanied with an internal evidence; of what kind we cannot say, but such as distinguished them from the ordinary rovings of the mind in sleep, and afforded sufficient conviction of their supernatural character. And although this method of communication was more frequent and longer continued under those dispensations of religion which preceded Christianity, yet they were probably sometimes vouchsafed to pious Gentiles; and even now the phenomenon of dreaming, a very powerful instrument of working upon the mind of man, may occasionally be employed to warn the wicked and direct the good, although as the medium of revealing religious truth, dreams are no longer necessary. The use or abuse of this doctrine will, however, depend upon sobriety of mind.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And thou shalt call his name Jesus. — Mary being taken home to be the wife of Joseph, it belonged to him as the father, in the legal construction, to give the child a name; and he was directed to call him Jesus, which is the Hebrew Joshua in the Greek form, and signifies a Saviour, from שׁ?ע to save. Hence the angel adds, for he shall save his people from their sins. He does not say, according to the expectation of the Jews, he shall save his people ISRAEL from their Gentile ENEMIES; but indefinitely, his people, all who believe on him, whether Jew or Gentile; and that not from temporal calamity or degradation, but from their sins: thus, from the beginning, was the notion of a political Messiah excluded from the minds of Joseph and Mary. The very name of our Lord, given by Divine command, lays a firm foundation for the trust of the guilty; and opens the most glorious hope to man, even that of SALVATION from the guilt and penalty, from the power and pollution of sin in this life, and beyond it a resurrection from the dead, immortality, and eternal felicity.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled, &c. — By this we are not to understand that the end of Christ’s being born of a virgin was to fulfil the prediction; but that the event exactly corresponded to the prophecy, and was intended to fulfil it, with reference to the great purpose of our salvation, anciently promised by the prophets, and in the mode which had been revealed to them. The prediction declares that a certain event would take place; and the evangelist assures us, that the very event spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah, that “a virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a Son,” was the birth of Jesus Christ of the Virgin Mary: in other words, that not only did an event take place, to which the words of the prophet might be applied, by way of parallel or accommodation, but that the prophecy was now fulfilled in a strict and literal sense. Some of those commentators who contend that the quotations adduced from the prophets by St. Matthew and other writers of the New Testament, are used as apposite illustrations, in the same manner as passages from the Greek and Latin classics by modern writers, will not even except those instances which, like the above, are introduced by the strong formula, ινα ωληρωθη το ρηθεν , that it might be fulfilled which was spoken. They therefore soften the import of ωληροω , to “fulfil,” into the occurrence of an event bearing some resemblance to another.

Michaelis, however, who adopts this doctrine in part, makes all exception of those passages which are introduced with this form of expression. The fact is, that none of these quotations which appear with this or any other form expressive of fulfilment of any part of the Old Testament, can be taken in any other sense than as specified accomplishments of predictions, the sense indeed of which might not in many instances be obvious before they were pointed out by the Spirit of inspiration, and which in some few instances, even then, may be somewhat difficult to trace; but if, as Dr. Owen justly observes, “the same Spirit which dictated the prophecies in the Old Testament, dictated also their interpretation in the New, he surely could best ascertain to whom or to what they were meant to be ultimately applied.” If indeed it were the practice with St. Matthew and the evangelists to introduce an apposite application of the moral sentences and weighty sayings of the Old Testament, where it is manifest that no prediction is involved, the case would be altered; but it is not so, for the supposed examples of this practice which have been adduced will not support themselves. Dr. Campbell instances, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son,” which will be considered in its place, and the conclusion drawn from it refuted.

His second instance, when examined, will be found against him. It is taken from the directions as to the paschal lamb, Exodus 12:46: “None of his bones shall be broken;” which he says is a mere law, not a prophecy; and yet St. John, after speaking of our Lord’s legs not being broken upon the cross, says, “For these things were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” But, if this law as to the paschal lamb was designed to constitute it a type, then, from the first, that law looked forward to the circumstance which accomplished the type; and that very circumstance being of a remarkable character was designed to mark out Christ’s sacrifice as the true and spiritual passover. — Thus the law, though simply in itself a ceremonial direction, had the nature of a prophecy, and prefigured an event which was literally fulfilled in the antitype to the Jewish paschal sacrifice. Dr. Sykes, indeed, who strongly contends for the principle of accommodation in these cases, urges that it was customary with the Jewish rabbins to apply passages of the Old Testament in a sense very remote from that of the original author; but Dr. Marsh makes a sufficient reply, when he says that he has produced no passages from the Talmud or from any Jewish commentator, where similar expressions to those above mentioned, — “that it might be fulfilled,” &c.,— are used to introduce instances of mere accommodation. In the case of St. Matthew, especially, this theory is in the highest degree absurd; since he wrote more immediately for the conviction of the Jews, and therefore more frequently than the other evangelists quotes the prophecies of the Old Testament, and shows their fulfilment.

Had he, therefore, applied the same form of introduction with respect to such prophecies, and to mere rhetorical allusions, he would have defeated his own purpose by perplexing his readers. That which appears to have misled many commentators on this point, is the difficulty of discovering, in several of these quotations, a direct prediction of what related to Messiah in the scope and context of the prophetic discourse from which it was taken. But this objection has proceeded upon a faulty view of the character and genius of the Hebrew system of prophecy itself. It ought to be remembered, that, in the declarations of the prophets, as Dr. Owen again remarks, there was “a grand and extensive scheme formed by Providence from the first, which consists of different parts, some respecting the temporal, and others the spiritual benefit of mankind; and yet there is a close and intimate connection between them, and upon this are founded the reasons of those abrupt transitions to remote subjects, and quick changes of numbers and persons, &c., so frequent in the prophecies, so that temporal is often introductory to, and significant of the spiritual. For as every temporal blessing, favour, and deliverance, which the Jews obtained, sprang from the mercies of God through Christ; so they became not only preludes to, but also types and pledges of that future deliverance and blessing which he was finally to procure by his birth, actions, and sufferings, for the whole human race.” Hence it is, that some prophecies singly and literally apply to Christ; and others in a more spiritual manner are completed in and by him, than in those personal and historical types of him and the affairs of his kingdom, with which the Jewish Scriptures and history abound.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, &c. — This illustrious prophecy was delivered by Isaiah, (chap. 7,) in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah when he and his people were under great apprehensions that the state would be subverted by the invasion of the confederated kings of Israel and Syria. God by the prophet promises deliverance to Ahaz, who appears to have been utterly distrustful in the message of God, and in this spirit to have refused to ask a sign from God, “either in the depth, or in the height above,” that is, any natural prodigy within the compass of observation. This he did, secretly trusting in the help of his ally, the king of Assyria, rather than in God; but covering his unbelief with a pretence of not being willing to “tempt the Lord.” Upon this the prophet losing sight of Ahaz, and the sign he had refused to ask, turns to the people, “the house of David,” and says to them, not to Ahaz, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” This was “a sign” to them, as it was the utterance of a new prophecy and ASSURANCE respecting the coming of Messiah, made under special inspiration; and it was “a sign” or pledge, also, that the house of David, and the kingdom of Judah, should not be destroyed, for they all knew that Messiah was to be the heir and possessor of David’s throne, as his descendant; and thus it had in it the nature of “a sign,” encouraging for the occasion, although the Messiah was not to be born till a distant period, beside that the prophecy was a new disclosure respecting him, and unveiled the most important particulars concerning him: as,

1. That he should be born of a virgin, then for the first time explicitly announced, although intimated in the first promise, where he is called the seed of the woman.

2. That he should be a Divine person, according to his name, “Emmanuel, God with us.”

3. That he should also be truly a man, being fed from a state of childhood with the common meats of the land, until he attained maturity,

“Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know,” or till he shall know, “to refuse the evil, and choose the good;” that is, in the Hebrew mode of speaking, till he is grown up to the age of discernment. Some suppose that this allusion to butter and honey was an assurance that the land should remain cultivated, and yield food for its inhabitants, till the time of his birth. But I am inclined to think that this part of the prediction is to be taken as an indication of the lowly state in which this wondrous personage was to pass his youth. Butter, the hemah of Scripture, is probably the same as the haymak of the Arabs, which is cream produced by simmering sheep’s milk over a slow fire, which with wild honey was the common food of persons in humble life; and as it is noticed of John the Baptist that his food was “locusts and wild honey,” to indicate that he spent his early life in desert solitudes, so of Emmanuel it is thus predicted, that he should spend his childhood and youth in obscurity among a rural and poor people, and not in the palaces of the great, which was the fact.

This view receives confirmation from the 22d verse of the same chapter, where for the people to eat butter and honey is placed among the effects of a desolated and wasted state of the country, which no longer afforded them luxuries. So many important particulars respecting the Messiah did this explicit prophecy contain. What man but a prophet inspired of God could have foreseen an event not only so improbable, but apparently impossible, and that seven hundred years before it took place? Here is the express prophecy recorded in the sacred books of the Jews; and no one has ever pretended that it was fulfilled in the case of any human being, but in “the man CHRIST JESUS.” The verse which follows, — “For before the child,” or this child, “shall know to refuse the evil, or to choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest,” that is, Israel and Syria, “shall be forsaken of both her kings,” may be understood to signify, that within that period of time in which this or any other child comes to years of understanding, the two invading kings should be destroyed, as they were soon afterward, by the king of Assyria; or with others, we may understand it to be a distinct prophecy, and that the child now spoken of and pointed to was the prophet’s own son, whom he was commanded to take with him to meet Ahaz, Isaiah 7:3. For why this child was taken by the prophet, by express command, on such an occasion, as Dr. Kennicott observes, but that something remarkable was to be said of him, does not otherwise appear.

To so striking a fulfilment of this prophecy in our Lord, the Jews object, that the word עלמת is not to be strictly translated a virgin; to which the answer is conclusive, that it is so rendered in their own Septuagint, which translation was made three hundred years before St. Matthew wrote; and, although it is rendered νεανις , a young girl, and not ωαρθενος , a virgin, by the Jews, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotian, this was subsequently to the Christian era, and to serve the cause of their own unbelief. They also interpret the prophecy, as the modern Socinians, of a young woman then a virgin being married, and bringing forth a child in the ordinary way; which could be no such extraordinary matter, as to be introduced so emphatically: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive!” &c.: and could be no “sign,” or miracle denoting a supernatural interposition to confirm the hope of “the house of David.”

They shall call his name Emmanuel, &c. — This is not a proper name, but a name of description; and the phrase, “they shall call his name,” is the same as” he shall be called,” as it is expressed in some of the earlier versions; and to be called is in the Hebrew idiom to be; as “my house shall be called a house of prayer;” that is, it shall be so. — Christ is therefore God, and “God with us,” otherwise he could not be Jesus, the Saviour; and so the real name which was given to our Lord implies all that is expressed by his prophetic designation.

The high import of the term Emmanuel is attempted to be sunk, by the Unitarians, into a mere intimation that “God would be with the Jews,” to deliver them from their enemies; but whoever follows those sections of Isaiah’s prophecies which succeed each other in the 7th, 8th, and 9th chapters of his prophecy, will perceive that, with him, it was a designation which implies positive Deity. For not only immediately after ( Matthew 8:8) is the land of Judah called Emmanuel’s land, and so he is held forth as ITS LORD and Owner; but, with the same course of thought in his mind, and with evident reference to the child to be born of a virgin, the prophet exclaims, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Such, with Isaiah, were the glorious and Divine characters of Emmanuel.

This descriptive title of our Lord, then, related primarily to the union of the Divine nature with ours; a union so strict as to be PERSONAL, though without confusion of the SUBSTANCE, which remained, and must for ever remain, distinct, though hypostatically ONE. This is a mystery which reason cannot now, and perhaps never may, comprehend; not because it is contrary to it, but manifestly above it. It is no more contrary to it, than the union of our own body and soul, things of a quite different, and even of a contrary essence, in one person; and that it is above reason arises from this, that we have exceedingly imperfect and inadequate views of human nature itself, much more of the Divine. — Necessarily we must be so acquainted with each as to prove that such a union as the Divine and human natures in the person of the one Christ is contrary to some principle in either, of which we have full and adequate knowledge, before we can decide the question on natural principles; a presumption of which no reasonable, not to say modest man can be guilty. Our faith in these high mysteries rests therefore upon the testimony of God, as collected from the plain unwarped meaning of his own revelation. But the name Emmanuel, God with us does not simply indicate this mysterious fact. The greatest consequences depend upon it. We are assured thereby of the condescension of God to MAN, even in his “low estate.” The gracious and benevolent conduct of our Lord to mankind. during his sojourn on earth, was the public visible exhibition of the same sympathies and affections which he feels toward us, now he has entered into his glory; and, beside this, it was this peculiar circumstance, that he was truly God in our nature, which gave that grand and boundless consideration to his vicarious sufferings, which has rendered it “righteous” in God to remit the sins of all who penitently trust in his merit; while his remaining God and man for ever personally united affords us the pledge of that inconceivable exaltation of human nature which shall take place, as to the righteous, at his second advent. For then these vile bodies are to be made like unto his glorious body, and our souls to undergo that vast change which the New Testament describes by the indefinite, but for that reason the most expressive term which could be used, — “glorification.” He will therefore be “God with us,” and we shall be with him, as the Head of glorified human nature, for ever. “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

On this whole account it may be remarked, that the birth of Christ of a pure virgin was the commencement of the completion of that series of illustrious predictions which began to be delivered to the patriarchs, and were proclaimed to the Jewish Church in increasing number and variety by the Hebrew prophets, until the close of that singular succession of inspired men in the person of Malachi. That the Christ should be born of a virgin, was obscurely intimated in that first promise of grace on which the mercy of God permitted guilty and penitent man to hope. He was then announced as “the Seed of the woman,” — a singular mode of expression, which probably from the beginning served to awaken attention and inquiry; but it was expressly declared that he should be born of a virgin in that passage from Isaiah which has been already considered. The intimate connection which exists between this important circumstance and the whole plan of our redemption, is at once seen by those who hold the true scriptural doctrine of our Lord’s sacrificial and vicarious death; and every effort is therefore made to discredit the doctrine by those who deny Christ’s death to be a proper atonement for sin. For, since they reject the atonement, they can find no reason for the miraculous conception; and regarding it, therefore, as an incumbrance to the history of Christ, they have zealously, though vainly, and in opposition to all evidence, endeavoured to prove that those portions of the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke which treat of it are additions of later times.

But all the parts of truth must be consistent with each other; and as the sacrificial character of the death of Christ will be found indelibly stamped upon a hundred unquestioned passages, both of the Old and the New Testaments, it follows that he must have been “without spot,” absolutely without sin, which no human being ever was, or could be, who came into the world in the ordinary manner. By natural generation we are connected with Adam, whom St. Paul teaches us to consider as the fountain of sin and death to all his posterity; but the human nature of our Lord came not down the stream which issued from that fountain. By being formed and nourished in the womb of the virgin, he partook of human nature with as much truth, as if he had been begotten of man; but, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, his real human nature was ab origine, spotless and unpolluted, having no seeds of evil in it, nor placed under those penal relations to the first Adam, by which all his posterity became separated and alien from that life of God which is the principle of all true holiness. Thus was the human nature of our Lord “holy, harmless, and separate from sinners,” in its original condition and relations, as well as by his subsequent practice; and thus was that which was born of Mary called by the angel, in St. Luke, “a holy thing.” His example was therefore that of a perfect man, and his sacrifice that of a “Lamb without spot;” so that he could die vicariously, that is, in the place of others, the merit of his death being transferable, in consequence of his not being held to that penalty. He died, “the JUST for the UNJUST, that he might bring us to God.” See note on Luke 1:35.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Her first-born Son. — The first son was, among the Jews, called “the first-born,” whether any more sons were brought forth afterward or not; so that nothing can be inferred from this passage, one way or the other, as to the question whether Mary had any other child. The object of the evangelist was to show that she had none before Jesus, and that he was born of her, still being a virgin. It is for the latter reason that he refers to Joseph’s continency. The doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is a figment of later times, founded neither upon Scripture, nor uniform tradition, nor the reason of the case.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 1". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-1.html.
 
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