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JESUS THE CHRIST BY HUMAN ANCESTRY, (Parallel passage: Luke 3:23-38.)
The book of the generation. As St. Matthew was writing only for Jews, and they, by reason of their Old Testament prophecies, looked for the Messiah to be born of a certain family, he begins his Gospel with a pedigree of Jesus. In this he mentions, by way of introduction, the two points to which his countrymen would have special regard—the descent of Jesus from David, the founder of the royal line, him in whose descendants the Ruler of Israel must necessarily (2 Samuel 7:13-16) be looked for; and also from Abraham, who was the head of the covenant nation, and to whom the promise had been given that in his seed all the nations of the earth should bless themselves (Genesis 22:18; Genesis 12:3). After this he proceeds to fill up the intervening steps in the genealogy. The spelling of the names in the Authorized Version accords with the Greek, and so varies from the Old Testament orthography; but for the sake of the English reader it is certainly advisable to do what has been done in the Revised Version, viz. to conform the spelling to that of the Old Testament, and, where the Greek varies much, to put that form in the margin. It is better to write Rahab than Raehab, and Shealtiel than Salathiel. Those who read the Greek Gospels when these were first written read also the Old Testament in Greek, and so were in no confusion. The first verse of the Gospel is doubtless intended as a preface to what is contained in Matthew 1:2-17. It is, indeed, true that the phrase, "the book of the generation", might in itself point rather to events and works connected with the active life of him whose name it precedes (cf. the use of toledoth in Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 10:1; even Genesis 2:4, et al.) , and thus might refer to the whole of Matthew 1:1-25. (Kubel), or even the whole of the First Gospel (Keil); yet the addition of the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, by summarizing the genealogy, limits the reference of Matthew 1:1 to this alone. Observe
(1) that the same word (γένεσις) recurs in Matthew 1:18; but being without βίβλος, has a slightly different meaning;
(2) that the word translated" generation" in Matthew 1:17 is γενέα, and means a single stratum of human life. The evangelist uses the name Jesus Christ here as a proper name, customary in later Christian circles (cf. John 1:17, and especially the traces of development from 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Romans 10:9 to Philippians 2:11). "Christ" is not used in its signification of "Messiah," or "Anointed," till Matthew 1:17, where it would be better rendered "the Christ."
Abraham begat Isaac. From Abraham to David the genealogy in St. Matthew agrees with that in Luke 3:1-38. In the other two sections, from Solomon to Zerubbabel, and from Zerubbabel to Christ, there is some difficulty in accounting for the variations, which are considerable. The natural descent of each son from his father is emphasized by the repetition of the word "begat" at every stage (cf., however, Luke 3:8, note) till we come to Jesus, and then the phrase is varied, "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus." Judas (Judah, Revised Version) and his brethren. The addition of these words seems very natural here, because the twelve sons of Jacob were the fathers of the tribes of Israel, and as descended from Abraham were heirs of the promises; and although Judah was the tribe from which the Messiah was to spring, he was to be the glory of the whole of Israel. The same words, "and his brethren," are, however, found in Luke 3:11, where there is no such reason to account for them.
Of Thamar (Tamar, Revised Version). In this genealogy the only women mentioned beside the Virgin Mary herself, who must of necessity be introduced, are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, and many explanations have been suggested why these should be specially singled out for notice. The most plausible reasons put forward have been that they are introduced because of the sins with which all but one of them were stained, and because two were not of the race of Israel. Thus, it has been thought, St. Matthew would, in the outset of his Gospel, proclaim Christ as the Friend, even the Kinsman, of sinners, and the Saviour offered to Gentiles as well as to Jews. It is probably wiser not to put so deep a meaning on the appearance of these names, but to consider that they are here because in each case the circumstances were different from the ordinary steps of the genealogy. Had they been in the same position as all the other wives and mothers who are unnamed, they also would have been left unnamed.
And Naasson (Nahshon, Revised Version) begat Salmon. This line of descent, from Nahshon to David, is also given by St. Luke (Luke 3:31, Luke 3:32), and is derived from Ruth 4:18-22. But it has occasioned some difficulty, because it makes but five steps from Nahshon, who (Numbers 1:7) was one of the heads of fathers' houses at the time of the Exodus, to the days of David. According to the chronology added in the margin of the Authorized Version, this period extended from b.c. 1490 to b.c. 1056, i.e. more than four hundred and thirty years, thus making a generation to consist in each case of more than eighty years. And even according to the more accurate computation of the date of the Exodus the period would be two hundred and forty-eight years, thus making each generation nearly fifty years. Even this seems very long, especially in the East; so that it is probable that the genealogy in Ruth, merely adopted by the evangelists, recorded only the more important names.
Salmon begat Booz (Boaz, Revised Version) of Rachab (Rahab, Revised Version). That this was Rahab of Jericho has been generally received, and it is clear from the narrative in Joshua 2:11, where Rahab declares, "The Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath," that, whatever this woman's previous life and character may have been, she was then not unlikely to join herself to the Israelites. Moreover, her great services rendered to the spies, and the conspicuous way in which she and her house were singled out for preservation from all the rest of the city, may have marked her as not unfit to become the wife of a chief man in Israel. The Old Testament says nothing of this marriage, but there has been no endeavour made in the Bible to preserve every detail of the genealogies, the record of the successive fathers being all that for Jewish purposes was required. But that Rahab of Jericho was received among the people of Israel, not merely as one dwelling in their midst (Joshua 6:25), but to a place of honour among them, was an old tradition among the Jews; cf. T. B. Meg., 14 b (vide Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebr.'), where Neriah, Baruch, Seraiah, Maaseiah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanameel, and Shallum, and also Huldah, are all said to have sprung from her. Some also say that she was made a proselyte, and was married to Joshua—a tradition followed, as it seems, in the Midrash 'Koh.,' on Ecclesiastes 8:10.
David the king. The mention of David's royal position seems made here because at this point the line of the Messiah first becomes connected with the royal house. At the time when Saul was made king the people chose to have him in opposition to the Divine will; but giving them next as king a man after his own heart, God uses the offence of his people so that it shall become a channel of blessing, and from this king Christ himself shall be born. Of her that had been the wife of Urias. It is not easy to see why Bathsheba is spoken of thus indirectly, as her own name was certainly better known, and is more frequently mentioned in the Old Testament than Uriah's. The phrase seems to call attention most pointedly to David's sin. and that too in a sentence where his kingly dignity has just been markedly emphasized. The way in which God dealt with David and his sin is very parallel to that in which he dealt with the Israelites after their choice of Saul. David's first child, like the Israelites' first king, finds not God's blessing; but the second child is the pledge of peace with God (Solomon)—is Jedidiah, "the beloved of the Lord," as David the second king was the man after God's own heart. She that had been the wife of Uriah, after David's repentance becomes Solomon's mother. Up to this point the genealogies in St. Matthew and St. Luke have entirely accorded, but with the mention of Solomon we come upon a variation, which continues till the union of the two forms of the pedigree in Salathiel (Shealtiel, Revised Ver-zion), the father of Zerubbabel. In St. Matthew the line which is followed is the succession of the kings of Judah from Solomon to Jehoiachin (Jechonias) St. Luke mentions, after David, his son Nathan (of whom we find a notice in 1 Chronicles 3:5; 2 Samuel 5:14), and then passes on through a series of nineteen names, none of which is found in other parts of Scripture as belonging to the race of David. We have nothing, therefore, with which to compare them; but in number they correspond very nearly with the known descendants in the line of Solomon, so that, although we cannot verify the names, the list bears upon its face the appearance of being derived from some duly kept record of the pedigree of Nathan, the son of David.
And Joram begat Ozias (Uzziah, Revised Version). Between Joram and Uzziah the pedigree omits three names—Ahaziah immediately succeeded Joram (2 Kings 8:24), and was followed by his son Joash (2 Kings 12:1), and he by his son Amaziah (2 Kings 14:1). These were probably left out, that the number of generations might be reduced to fourteen. It is not likely that St. Matthew omitted them, but that they were absent from the form which he used. If we seek for a reason why these precise names are omitted, we may probably find it in the fact of their being descended from Jezebel; while the language of the second commandment would suggest that to the fourth generation the children' of that race would suffer for the sins of their parents. To the Jewish compiler of this genealogy no argument more forcible for the removal of these names could have been suggested. It will be seen that the word "begat" in these verses does not signify always the direct succession of son to father.
Josias (Josiah, Revised Version) begat Jechonias (Jechoniah, Revised Version). Here we come upon another omission. Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim, and he the father of Jechoniah (called also Jehoiachin); see 2 Kings 23:34; 2 Kings 24:6. The omission is supplied in some few manuscripts; but it may be only the case of a marginal note in a previous copy having found its way into the text. There is, however, something to be said in favour of its acceptance. The similarity between the names Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin is very great, especially in some of the Greek forms, so that they might easily be confused, and thus a verse be omitted in some very early text. Then Jehoiachin (Jechonias) apparently had no brethren (but see 1 Chronicles 3:16), whereas Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, had two or three (1 Chronicles 3:15). To make the whole pedigree agree with the Old Testament records some addition in this form would appear necessary; Josiah begat [Jehoiakim and his brethren, and Jehoiakim begat] Jechoniah about the time, etc. But manuscript evidence for this is extremely slight (vide Westcott and Hort, 'App.,' i,). Yet the supposition that the name of Jehoiakim has been omitted removes what has seemed to many another difficulty. As the list now stands, to make up the fourteen in the third as well as in the second section of the genealogy it is necessary to count Jehoiachin—a king whose reign lasted only three mouths (2 Kings 24:8)—twice over. He closes the second fourteen and begins the third. There is nothing like this found at the other division. To substitute Jehoiakim after Josiah would avoid this repetition of the name of such a very insignificant person, especially as the reign of Jehoiakim lasted eleven years (2 Kings 23:36). And to mention Jehoiakim as the father of Jehoiachin "at the time of the carrying away to Babylon" would be very appropriate, whereas to say Josiah begat his children at that date is not so strictly correct. It seems, then, probable that we have here some clerical error, which may have existed already in the list which St. Matthew used. About the time. The preposition in the Greek means rather, "at the time." The Authorized Version, however, gives the sense, for the birth of Jehoiachin must have been some years before the commencement of the Babylonish conquest, which may be said to have begun with Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of the land in Jehoiakim's days (2 Kings 24:1).
Jechonias begat Salathiel (Shealtiel, Revised Version). From Jeremiah 22:30 it has sometimes been thought that Jechoniah died childless, though the preceding context, which speaks of him and his seed, seems hardly to warrant the supposition; but clearly the words of the prophet there imply that none of his descendants should attain to a position such as was held by Zerubbabel, and that his family should soon come to an end. If we look at the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:17 we find Assir mentioned as the son of Jechoniah (cf., however, Revised Version, "Jeconiah the captive"), and Salathiel as his son; and in the next verse Pedaiah, a brother of Salathiel, is named as father of Zerubbabel. By St. Luke (Luke 3:27) Salathiel is called the son of Neri, and in Ezra 3:2; Ezra 5:2; and Haggai 1:1 Zerubbabel is called the son of Shealtiel. These are all the details we have, and to decide on how they are related to each other is very difficult. We.may, perhaps, be right in supposing that Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel, having died, his son Zerubbabel was adopted by Shealtiel. We must then suppose that, the royal line through Solomon having ended, and Jechoniah's only child, Assir (if he ever existed, vide supra) , having left no issue, the line of David is taken up through the family of the other son, Nathan, and that from him descended Neri, the father of Shealtiel, who takes the place of Jechoniah's issue, which has altogether failed.
And Zorobabel (Zerubbabel, Revised Version) begat Abiad. Here the two lines of pedigree in St. Matthew and St. Luke seem tc separate, and not to converge again till we come to Matthan (or Matthat), the grandfather of Joseph, which name is common to both. The Bishop of Bath and Wells has shown some reason for supposing that Rhesa, mentioned in St. Luke as Zerubbabel's son, is merely a title signifying "a chief," and also for identifying Hananiah, who is called a son of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3:19), with Joanna, who follows Rhesa in St. Luke (Luke 3:27), and there being some relation between the Juda of St. Luke and the Abiud (i.e. father of Juda) given as Zerubbabel's son in St. Matthew. Except in these few particulars, the two lines show no connexion of names, and it seems likely that the family of David had fallen into low estate for several generations before the birth of Christ.
Eleazar begat Matthan. St. Luke makes Matthat (or Hatthan; the names are from the same root, and in some texts are identical), to be the son of Levi. This is probably the actual fact. St. Luke seems to have traced the genealogy from Zerubbabel through a younger, son, St. Matthew through an elder. But the elder line failing, Matthan, the son of Levi, of the younger branch, becomes heir to, and is called son or, Eleazar, of the senior line. As the promise of the Messiah was to the house of David, and this was known to every Jew, we need not be surprised to find the families descended from that king preserving most careful records of every branch of the family.
And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. St. Luke calls Joseph "the son of Heli." There are two ways in which these differing statements may be made to accord. The two sons of Matthan were Jacob the elder, and Heli the younger. It may be that Mary was the only child of Jacob, and Joseph the son of Heli. Then by marriage with his cousin, Joseph would become Jacob's son as well as Heli's. Or it may be that Jacob died without children, and Heli, marrying his widow according to the Jewish usage, became by her the father of Joseph, who hence would be called Jacob's son, that the elder brother's line might not die out. The points noticed above in respect of these varying pedigrees seem to be all those on which anything needs to be said with the view of comparing them. Their variety stands as a constant evidence of the independence of the two evangelists. Had either of them been conscious of the existence of the other's work. it is inconceivable that he would have made no effort to adjust the pedigree, for which he would possess means now lost for ever. They both design to give us the descent of Joseph from David, this being what a Sew would most regard. The descent of Mary from David is nowhere definitely mentioned in the Gospels, but that Jesus was sprung from David on the mother's side too we are warranted in concluding from the words of the angel to Mary (Luk 1:1-80 :82), "his father David" (cf. also Delitzsch, 'Hess. Proph.,' § 17). But though we ought not to spend vain labour in attempting to reconcile these two genealogies of Joseph, we can see, from what we know of Jewish customs, grounds enough for understanding how these variations came to exist. The same Jew, we find, was often known under two names; of this we have several examples in the lists of the twelve apostles. It is possible, therefore, that in these two pedigrees there may have been more points of union than we are able to detect. Then the rule, before alluded to, by which a man took the childless widow of his deceased brother for his wife and raised seed unto his brother, may also have led to much confusion of names, which we have now no means of unravelling. The evangelists drew each his own list from some authentic source, accessible to others beside themselves, and the record of which could be verified when the Gospels were set forth. This should satisfy us that those we have received were held by the Jews soon after Christ's time to be truthful records, and that each established from a Jewish point of view the descent of the putative father of Jesus from King David. Of whom was born Jesus. This name, which, through Jeshua, is the Greek form of Joshua (for which, indeed, it stands in the Authorized Version of Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8), signifies "Jehovah is help," and was not an uncommon name among the Jews, though given with marked significance at this time (see verse 21). We find, according to the best texts, that in Luke 3:29 this name occurs in the pedigree of Joseph (where the Authorized Version has Jose), and the Revised Version has adopted that reading. Who is called Christ. The evangelist here alludes merely to the well-known fact that Jesus was called by this name. The significance of the word, which is a translation of the Hebrew Messiah, is "anointed," and in the Old Testament it is given to priests (as Le Luke 4:3, Luke 4:5, Luke 4:16), to a king appointed by Jehovah (1 Samuel 24:6, 1 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 19:21), also to King Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), and to some unnamed representative of Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:10). It was subsequently applied to Jesus both in the Greek form and in the Hebrew (John 1:41; John 4:25). It must, however, be noticed (vide Bishop Westcott, Add. Note on 1 John 5:1) that it was not a characteristic title of the promised Saviour in the Old Testament, and was not even specifically applied to him, unless, perhaps, in Daniel 9:25, Daniel 9:26—a passage of which the interpretation is very doubtful.
Fourteen generations. To make the list more easy to remember, the names were so ordered that there should be the same number in each of the three divisions. Thus a means was afforded of checking the correctness of the enumeration, and the list became a sort of memoria technica. Unto Christ; better here, unto the Christ. For now begins the history which tells of this Jesus as the specially Anointed One of God, the true Messiah, of which all the previously anointed messengers had been but types and figures. The history which St. Matthew is about to give demonstrates that in Jesus were fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament which the Jews had constantly referred to the Messiah, for whose appearance the pious in Israel were ever looking.
JESUS THE CHRIST BY DIVINE ORIGIN. Recorded by Matthew only. The frequent similarity of language found in Luke 1:26-35 (vide 'Synopticon') is probably due to the fact that Joseph and Mary not unnaturally fell into the way of using the same words to express two messages of similar import.
The object of this paragraph is to show that Messiah was in origin not of man but of God. This fact was accepted even by his reputed father Joseph, who was only convinced of it after a special communication by an angel in a dream; giving him the facts of the case, and foretelling that a son would be born, and that this Son would be the expected Saviour; and also showing from prophecy that such union of God with man was no unheard-of supposition, but the fulfilment and completion of ancient thought suggested by God. Joseph at once accepts the communication and takes Mary home, avoiding, however, all cause for the supposition that the child was, after all, of human origin.
Now the birth (Matthew 1:1, note). Γέννησις ("generation") of the received text refers to the causative act, the true reading (γένεσις) to the birth itself (cf. Luke 1:14). Of Jesus Christ was on this wise. The Revised Version margin says, "Some ancient authorities read, 'of the Christ,'" but perhaps the reading, "of Christ Jesus" (B [Origen]), is even preferable, as in no good manuscript of the New Testament is the article elsewhere prefixed to "Jesus Christ," and the easy residing, "of the Christ," would hardly provoke alteration, while it might easily arise from assimilation to the preceding "unto the Christ" of Matthew 1:17 (cf. Dr. Hort, in Westcott and Hort, 'Appendix.' Bishop Westcott, however, seems to prefer the reading. "of the Christ," and so distinctly Irenaeus, Matthew 3:16). If the reading, "of Christ Jesus," be accepted, the evangelist purposely repeats his phrase of Matthew 1:17, and then identifies him with the historic Person. When as. The Revised Version omits "as" because obsolete; cf. "what time as." His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph; had been betrothed (Revised Version), the tense clearly showing that the betrothal had already taken place. Betrothal was and is with the Semitic races a much more formal matter than with us, and as binding as marriage; of. Deuteronomy 22:23, Deuteronomy 22:24; cf. also the words of the angel, "Mary thy wife" (Deuteronomy 22:20). Before they came together; including, probably, both the home-bringing (Deuteronomy 22:24) and the consummation (Deuteronomy 22:25). She was found (εὑρώθη). Although Cureton shows that the Aramaic equivalent is used in the sense of "became," and wishes to see this weaker meaning in several passages of the Greek Testament (including, apparently, the present), the references that he gives (Rom 7:10; 2 Corinthians 5:3; 2 Corinthians 11:12) do not justify us in giving up the stronger and more usual sense. On εὑρέθη always involving more or less prominently the idea of a surprise, cf. Bishop Lightfoot on Galatians 2:17. Observe the reverent silence with which a whole stage of the history is passed over. With child of the Holy Ghost (ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου; cf. Galatians 2:20, without the article in both cases). According to the usual interpretation of these words, "the Holy Ghost" refers to the Third Person of the Trinity, and "of" (ἐκ) is used because the agent can be regarded as the immediate source (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:2). But the questions suggest themselves:
(1) whether Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον is here used in a strictly Christian or in a pre-Christian sense? and
(2) if the latter, what was this pre-Christian sense? As to (1), it may be argued that the evangelist himself, writing long after Pentecost, and recording sayings taught among Christians only alter Pentecost, would naturally wish his words to be understood in a Christian sense; and hence that Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον here has at least that comparatively developed doctrine of the Personality of the Holy Ghost which we find indicated in the New Testament; e.g. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:13; John 14:1-31.-16. It may, however, be justly replied that the words are in themselves rather a record of the feelings of Joseph and Mary about the Incarnation, and are merely a translation of the phrase Ruah-hakodesh (or its Aramaic equivalent, Ruah Kudsha) , which they themselves used; and that hence its true meaning here must be rather sought in the meaning of the Semitic phrase in pre-Christian times. In other words, Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον here means neither more nor less than Ruah-hakodesh meant on the lips of a godly and instructed Jew before the teaching of Christ, and especially before Pentecost.
(2) What was this pre-Christian sense? What did Ruah-hakodesh mean? To answer this fully would be to compile a treatise on one of the most difficult and disputed points of Old Testament and early Jewish theology. But a cursory comparison of passages in the Old Testament and the pre-Christian writings seems to show that, though there are many places which quite fall in with the Trinitarian view, and which are often marked by strong personification of the Spirit, religious Jews did not understand by Ruah-hakodesh a permanent and distinct hypostasis in the Deity, but rather the Deity itself in relation to the world as the Source and Maintenance of its life (Job 33:4; Psalms 104:30; Job 34:14; Psalms 139:7; Isaiah 63:10; cf. Wis. 1:7; 12:1), in contrast to the Deity absolutely and as the object of worship. Pre-Christian thought, that is to say, used the term "Holy Spirit" as designating the One God in a certain relation to the world, not as designating a permanent and real distinction in the Godhead. If this be so, we must understand the phrase here to mean that Christ was conceived of God (not of any Person in the Godhead) in contrast to man. We may, perhaps, even give to ἐκ its fullest meaning of" origin" (cf John 1:13, οὐκ ἐξαἱμάτων … ἀλλ ἐκ Θεοῦ). The phrase as a whole thus only insists that the Child was by origin Divine. It will be noticed that Luke 1:35 is then closely parallel, "the Holy Ghost" (Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον) there apparently connoting an outpouring of life; "the power of the Most High" (δύναμις ὑψίστου), an outpouring of strength. Dorner says that the expression in our text is "the less precise ancient Christian designation of the Divine Essence generally, out of which (de quo) Christ has come. To the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian sense is only to be ascribed, according to the Scriptures, first, the internal preparation of humanity for the Divine Incarnation, and, secondly, after the Unio the animation of the humanity of Christ by the Divine power issuing from the Logos." The passage in Martensen's 'Dogmatics,' § 139, so well known for its latter part, apparently agrees with this: "He is born not of the will of a man, nor of the will of the flesh; but the holy will of the Creator took the place of the will of man and of the will of the flesh,—that is, the creating Spirit, who was in the beginning, fulfilled the function of the plastic principle. He was born of the Virgin Mary, the chosen woman in the chosen people. It was the task of Israel to provide, not, as has been often said, Christ himself, but the mother of the Lord; to develop the susceptibility for Christ to a point when it might be able to manifest itself as the pro-foundest unity of nature and spirit—a unity which found expression in the pure virgin. In her the pious aspirations of Israel and of mankind, their faith in the promises, are centred; she is the purest point in history and in nature, and she, therefore, becomes the appointed medium for the new creation." Observe that the Greek Creeds , by not inserting the article (contrast afterwards καὶ εἰς τὸ Πσεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον) , probably intended only to reproduce St. Matthew's language. The Latin could not fail to be ambiguous (de Spiritu Sancto) If, however, we divest ourselves of considerations directly derived from exegesis, and, turning to the theological side, ask which Person of the Blessed Trinity, in fact, prepared Mary for the Incarnation of the Second Person, we must undoubtedly answer that it was the Third Person. For this is his peculiar function, uniting alike the Persons in the Godhead and also the Godhead to creation (cf. Dorner, 'System.,' 1.425,437; 4.159, etc.).
Then Joseph her husband; and (Revised Version). The thought is slightly adversative (δέ); though this was "of the Holy Ghost," yet Joseph was about to put her away. Being a just man; righteous (Revised Version); i.e. who strove to conform to the Divine precepts manifested for him in the Law (cf. Luke 1:6; Luke 2:25). And not willing; i.e. "and yet not wishing," though the Law, which he was striving to follow, seemed to inculcate harshness. This clause has been taken in the opposite sense equivalent to "and therefore not wishing," because the spirit of the Law, which he had learned to understand, was in reality against all unnecessary harshness. The negative used is in favour of the former interpretation. To make her a public example; rather, to proclaim her ("Wold not pupplische her, Wickliffe); αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι (cf. Colossians 2:15). The thought is of public proclamation of the fact of the divorce, not that of bringing Mary herself forward for public punishment, and so making her a public example (παραδειγματίσαι). Was minded (ἐβουλήθη). The tense indicates the resolution come to as the result of the conflict between duty and wish implied in the preceding clause. To put her away secretly. Adopting the most private form of legal divorce, and handing the letter to her privately in presence of only two witnesses, to whom he need not communicate his reasons (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:154). Observe in this verse Joseph's insistance on his personal and family purity, and yet his delicate thoughtfulness for her whom he loved.
But while he thought on these things; when (Revised Version); ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος. The tense lays stress, not on the continuance of his meditation (contrast Acts 10:19), but on the fact that the determination to which he had already come (vide supra) was already in his mind at the time when the following event happened. "These things;" his determination and its causes. Behold; unexpectedly. Though common in St. Matthew, it never lacks the connotation of surprise. The angel of the Lord; an angel of the Lord (Revised Version). In Mary's case it was the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26); but here not defined (so in Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19; Luke 1:11; Luke 2:9). (On angels, of especially Dorner, 'System.,' 2.96.) Appeared unto him in a dream. Joseph received his communications by dream (Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19, Matthew 2:22); to Mary, doubtless the more holy person, the vision was vouchsafed to her bodily eyes. If Joseph, as seems probable, was old, we here have a beginning of the fulfilment of the promise concerning Messianic times, "Your old men shall dream dreams" (Joel 2:28). Saying, Joseph, thou son of David. In reminding Joseph of the greatness of his ancestry, the angel probably desired
(1) to accept Joseph's resolution as right in so far as Joseph knew the circumstances, because with the promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 there was special need to keep the line pure;
(2) but, under the true circumstances, to urge him to take Mary, that so the promise might be fully carried out in his family and no other.
Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife (2 Samuel 7:15, note). For that which if conceived in her ("borun," Wickliffe; quod natum est, Vulgate); "Gr. begotten", for γεννηθέν generally refers to the father rather than the mother (yet see Matthew 11:11), and here lays special stress on the Divine origin. Is of the Holy Ghost. "Of Spirit (not flesh), and that the Holy Spirit (ἐκ Πνεύματός ἐστιν Ἁγίου)" (2 Samuel 7:18, note).
The first half is almost verbally identical with the promise to Mary in Luke 1:31. It is, perhaps, hypercritical to see anything more than a coincidence when such common terms are used, but it was not unnatural that the communications of the angels to both Mary and Joseph should be purposely clothed in language similar to that used of Sarah (Genesis 17:19), and in measure to that used of Hannah. And she shall bring forth. Is the slight adversative force (δέ) to be seen in the contrast of the physical birth to the spiritual origin? A Son. In this, at least, thou shalt be able to test the accuracy of my statement. And thou shalt call. Taking the position of his father; the child being thus recognized by all as of David's line (of. Kubel). In Luke Mary is told to give the name, but presumably the formal naming would be by Joseph. His name JESUS (cf. Ecclesiasticus 46:1, "Jesus the son of Nave … who, according to his name, was made great for the saving of the elect of God"). For he shall save; for it is he that shall save (Revised Version), equivalent to "He, and no other, is the expected Saviour." (For αὐτός in this sense of excluding others, cf. especially Colossians 1:16-20.) It may, however, here not be exclusive, but only intensive—he being what he is. The connexion will then be—the name Jesus will answer to the fact, for he himself, in his own Person (1 John 2:2), by virtue of what he is (John 2:24, John 2:25), shall save, etc. Jesus, equivalent to Jeshua (verse 16, note); he shall save, equivalent to Joshi' a. His people. Israel after the flesh (cf. John 1:11; Luke 2:10; contrast John 1:29; John 4:42), for whom deliverance from sins must be the first step to restoration to rightful position, and yet the last stage of result from acceptance of Christ. Comparative salvation from sin, due to acceptance of Christ, must precede that restoration which Joseph then desired, and all true Jews still ardently pray for; full salvation from sin will be the final issue of that restoration. From their sins. With a greater salvation, therefore, than that which Manoah's wife was told that her son should begin to accomplish (Judges 13:5). Observe that this promise of Christ as Saviour is given to Joseph, who had deeper experience of sin (verse 20, note), while to Mary, who is marked by promptness of personal devotion, is given the promise of Christ as King (Luke 1:32,Luke 1:33). Sate … from(σώσει … ἀπό) , not merely "out of" (ἐκ, John 12:27), but from all attacks of sin considered as coming born without (but see Matthew 6:13, note).
Matthew 1:22, Matthew 1:23
The evidence of prophecy. ("Now all this was done .. God with us.") The Revised Version omits the marks of parenthesis. From a comparison of Matthew 26:56 (and perhaps also Matthew 21:4), this is not the utterance of the evangelist, but of the previous speaker, yet formulated by the evangelist (cf. Weiss). The thought, that is to say, is still part of the angel's encouragement to Joseph; the exact mode of expressing the record of that thought is the evangelist's; so also Tatian's 'Diattess.' (or perhaps only Ephraem's comment upon it; of. Zahn), Quod si dubitas, Isaiam audi.
All this; τοῦτο ὅλον (not ταῦτα πάντα). The birth of a Saviour, with the means by which it came about, by a virgin, and "of the Holy Ghost." Was done; is come to pass (Revised Version); i.e. in abiding effect (γέγονεν). It is considered as having already taken place (cf. "the prophetic perfect" of the Old Testament). That it might be fulfilled. God's past utterance is looked at as necessitating a present action. Which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying; by the Lord through (Revised Version); i.e. the Lord is the Agent (ὑπό), the prophet the means or instrument (διά). The Lord; i.e. Jehovah, not "God," because the thought is of covenant promise.
Behold, a virgin (the virgin, Revised Version) shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son. The difficulty of this quotation from Isaiah 7:14 is well known.
(1) If the word translated "virgin" (‛almah) properly means this, and
(2) if it be also implied in the promise that the virginity was to be maintained until the birth of the son, then
(3) (a) the fulfilment can have been only in the case of our Lord, and
(b) the promise was no real sign to Ahaz, and
(c) the context of the promise (according to which Rezin and Pekah were to perish in the lad's early childhood, Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:16) has no apparent reference to the promise itself.
(4) If, on 'the other hand, ‛almah means only "young woman," the promise might easily be a sign to Ahaz; but, then, how is it that St. Matthew, or rather the angel, apparently lays so much stress on "virgin "? The answer is, as it seems, that
(1) ‛almah, by derivation, means "young woman" (vide Cheyne). but in ordinary usage, "virgin."
(2) When the promise was uttered by Isaiah, the word suggested" virgin," but not (for who would have supposed such a thing?) maintenance of the virginity.
(3) The child, thus naturally born, should be called "Immanuel," in sign of God's presence with his people to deliver them from Rezin and Pekah, and, while he was still in childhood, this deliverance should come. The definite article prefixed to "virgin" (ha-‛almah) either designated a person who was known to the prophet and perhaps also to Ahaz, or, as "the article of species" (Cheyne), pictured the person more definitely to the mind, though in herself unknown. Thus the promise meant to Ahaz and Isaiah that a woman, at that time a virgin, should bear a son, synchronous with whose childhood should be the Lord's deliverance of his people. It is possible that Isaiah further saw in this child' the hoped-for Messiah, identifying it with that of Matthew 9:6, the long time that was yet to intervene being hidden from him.
(4) The angel sees a further meaning in the promise than either Ahaz or Isaiah saw, and perceives that, in the providence of God, the words were so chosen as to form a promise of a virgin-birth, the son being of suck origin that, in the highest sense, he could be truly called "Immanuel." "It seems not unwise to suppose that God, who designed to send his Son to be the Deliverer of mankind, so ordered the course of the world in his Divine providence that many things should tell of the coming Saviour, so that when he appeared those who had studied God's revelation should tirol that the scheme of salvation had been one and the same throughout all time. Thus by past events, which had specific meaning in their own time, are found to have further con-rained a prefiguration of greater things in time to come; and to have been promises, ready to receive their highest accomplish-merit as soon as the fitness of time should appear" (Dr. Lumby).
And they shall call. Men generally, in virtue of his true nature. His name Emmanuel (Revised Version. Immanuel, as Isaiah 7:14), which being interpreted is, God with us. St. Matthew emphasizes the interpretation in order to, bring out the fact that this Son, now to be born to Joseph, shall not only be Jesus, Saviour, but also God with us; he is the manifestation of God in our midst. The thought is parallel to that of John 1:14.
Matthew 1:24, Matthew 1:25
Joseph's threefold obedience—taking Mary, not consummating the marriage, naming the child in faith.
Then Joseph being raised; and Joseph arose (Revised Version); for the stress of the Greek is not on "Joseph," but ἐγερθείς. Immediately on arising, Joseph obeyed. From sleep; from his sleep (Revised Version); i.e. which he was then enjoying. No stress is laid on sleep as such. Did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife. "Bidden," in modern English, too much suggests "asking;" hence the Revised Version "commanded" (προσέταξεν). Joseph's faith was seen in immediate obedience to commands received.
And knew her not. The tense (ἐγίνωσκεν) brings out the continuance of Joseph's obedient self-restraint. "He was dwelling in holiness with her" (Tatian's 'Diatess.'). Till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. Thus the angel's promise is so far fulfilled. A son (Revised Version); "her firstborn," though found as early as Tatian's.' Diatess.,' having been added from Luke 2:7. Though no great stress can be laid on the word "till" (ἕως [οὖ], Basil refers to Genesis 8:7; comp. also Psalm exit. 8), nor even on "firstborn," which suggested to a Jew rather consecration (Luke 2:23) than the birth of other children; yet it is a reasonable inference from the passage as a whole that the οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν was not continued after the birth of the Son. Whether, however, other children were born to Mary or not, the true text of this passage gives no hint. And he called his name JESUS (Luke 2:21, note). Observe that this name had already occurred in Joseph's family (Luke 3:29). It is, however, now given in sign of Joseph's faith in him and his work.
I. THE TITLE.
1. It is a book; but it is not, like other books, the product of human thought. It presents to us a life not like other lives. That life stands alone in its beauty, purity, tenderness, in the glory of its unearthly holiness, in the majesty of its Divine self-sacrifice. It stands alone in its claims; it claims to be the great example, the one pattern life, the Light of the world. It claims to be a revelation of a new life; it offers a gift of power and Divine energy—a power which can lift men out of darkness into light, out of worldliness and selfishness into the life of holy love, into the clear light of the presence of God. The conception of that life is unlike any of the ideals of perfection to be found in ancient writers; there was never anything like it before. It has changed our estimate of various moral qualities; it has raised some that the world thought little of to a very high place of dignity; it has depressed others that once stood high in the thoughts of men to their proper level. That life has affected the modes of thought and feeling even of those who will not accept it as a revelation from God. It formed a mighty epoch in the history of thought; men cannot divest themselves of its influence; they cannot think now as they might have thought had that life never been lived on earth. It is impossible for us to put ourselves back into the mental attitude of those who had never heard of that life; it has exercised an influence so widespread, so deep-reaching, over the whole field of thought and feeling. But we can see that that life could never have been conceived by any human genius, least of all at the time when the Gospels were written. Compare it with any efforts of human imagination; there is not one that can even seem to endure the comparison. This history is unique. It has the stamp of genuineness, the ring of truth. Fictitious it cannot be; there never was man that could have invented it. Compare it with other religious writings of antiquity, whether Jewish or Christian; compare it with the apocryphal Gospels, or with the books of the sub-apostolic Fathers: this book stands absolutely alone; there is no other book like it; the gulf that parts it from all other books is wide, deep, immense. It is the book, the Bible—the book that speaks to the heart of man as no other book can, because it is God's book; it comes from him, and it speaks to the heart which is his handiwork, to the man whom he created in his own image, after his own likeness. It bears in itself the evidence of its Divine origin; we feel, as we read its sacred words, that it has a message for us, that it is God's voice calling us, telling us all that we need to know of himself, of his will, of his redemption of the human race from sin and death.
2. The subject of the book. It is "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ," the book which tells us of his birth, of his history. It opens with a tab!e of genealogy. He is" the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." In him was fulfilled the promise made to Abraham: "In thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." In him was fulfilled the faithful oath which the Lord had sworn to David: "Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne." The book gives us the history of a Person. Christianity presents to us not simply a code of morals, a system of theology, but a Person. The book describes his character, it relates the circumstances of his life upon earth. It is a history, but it is more than a history. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." It sheds a light upon the way that leadeth to Christ; it shows us where to find him. For this history is not like other histories, merely a record of past facts of more or less interest. It is the revelation of a present Saviour. It has not done its work for us unless it is leading us to Christ himself, to a personal knowledge of the Lord. We may know the Gospel through and through, its language, history, geography, archeology,—that knowledge is of deep, absorbing interest; but if we advance no further, we miss the very end for which the Gospel was written. Indeed, it is no Gospel to us, no glad tidings, but only an ancient book, unless by its guidance we find Christ. The deepest biblical scholar, if he fails to find Christ, knows less of the real meaning of the Gospel than the humblest Christian who is living in the faith of the Son of God. It is not the knowledge of the facts of the Lord's history, but the living, personal knowledge of himself, that is eternal life. We must learn to abide in him, to live in that fellowship which is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Without this spiritual know]edge the Gospel is written in vain for our salvation: "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." The mere external knowledge of the Scripture can only increase the condemnation of those who have not sought by prayer and the gracious help of God the Holy Ghost to penetrate its inner meaning. That inner meaning, revealed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit of God, and brought to bear upon our inward and outward lives, giveth life, because it brings us to him who alone is the Life of men. The promise was that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in the Seed of Abraham; not in his history, not in the record of his life and teaching, but in that holy Seed himself, in his grace, in his abiding presence, in union with him.
II. THE GENEALOGY.
1. It begins from Abraham. St. Matthew was writing for the Jews in the first instance. He proves that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah whom the Jews expected, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. He was descended from the father of the faithful, born in the covenant, himself admitted by the rite of circumcision into the conditions of the ancient covenant. He fulfilled all righteousness, all the requirements of the Law. He lived as a Jew, he preached to the Jews. "I am not sent," he said," but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But even as he said those words he healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman; it was an earnest of the world-wide range of his redemption. He died, "not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Therefore through him the blessing of Abraham hath come upon the Gentiles. As St. Paul teaches us in Galatians 3:1-29., "The Scripture preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." "There is neither Jew nor Greek; for if we be Christ's, then are we Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Thus the first verse of the First Gospel preaches faith. Christ is the Son of Abraham, who "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." They which are of faith are the children of Abraham; they share the blessing of Abraham. Christ is theirs, and they are Christ's.
2. The genealogies in Genesis descend from Adam; this ascends to Christ. God made man in the likeness of God. Adam begat sons in his own likeness, after his image. The sting of the serpent infected the race: "Original sin is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam." The Spirit of the Lord indeed strove with man from the beginning; he was not left to die in his sin and misery; the first promise of a Redeemer follows close upon the first sin. God was never without a witness; in Cain and Abel we have the first sight of the field in which the wheat and the tares grow together unto the harvest. But corruption soon spread widely among the descendants of Adam; all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. As man receded further from the Divine origin of the race, the deeper became the taint of sin; the traces of the image of God grew ever fainter, the poison of the serpent deadlier and more loathsome. It repented God that he had made man upon earth; the Flood destroyed the ungodly. Then God established his covenant, first with Noah, afterwards with Abraham. The promise became clearer and more definite. The generations had descended from God; now they begin to ascend towards God again, towards the Christ, who is the Son of God, himself God incarnate. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ; he saw it and was glad. Generation after generation looked for the promised Saviour; Simeon was "waiting for the consolation of Israel." The Jews inquired of John the Baptist whether he was the Christ that was to come—the Christ was to restore all things. In Adam all died, in Christ shall all be made alive; for the last Adam is a quickening Spirit, even the Lord from heaven. He came to restore the almost lost image of God. "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we must also bear the image of the heavenly." God hath predestinated his elect to be conformed to the image of his Son. As they draw nearer and nearer to Christ, imitating his blessed example, looking always unto Jesus, they are being renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created them. The generations ascend towards the Christ; so must each Christian strive in his own spiritual life to rise ever nearer to the Lord.
3. The variations of rank in the genealogy. The generations begin with patriarchs; they rise to kings; they descend again to private men. From Abraham to David the king; from David the king to Joseph the carpenter. Human ancestry, however illustrious, could add nothing to the dignity of the Son of God. But both his blessed mother and Joseph, his father by adoption, were descended from David. Apparently the Lord Jesus was, according to the flesh, the representative of David, the lineal heir to David's throne. But he lived in obscurity for the first thirty years of his earthly life. He was meek and humble in heart; he prided not himself on earthly rank. Indeed, what was rank to him? The difference between the greatest monarch and the humblest beggar is altogether inappreciable compared with the infinite descent from heaven to earth. When once he had emptied himself of his glory, and taken the form of a servant, it was as nothing that he chose the carpenter's shop rather than the royal palace. His earthly ancestors varied in rank. There were kings, there were private men; the reputed father of the Lord, the husband of his mother, was a carpenter. Honours, like wealth, are vanity; the one highest honour, the one loftiest title, is theirs to whom he hath given power to be called the sons of God.
4. The variations in moral and spiritual character. In the genealogy there are holy men like Abraham, there are wicked men like Ahaz, Manasseh, Amen. There is a Moabitish woman, pure indeed, and lovely in character, but of heathen blood. Others there are whose lives had been defiled with sin—Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba. The Lord indeed was born by a miraculous conception, without stain of human corruption; but sinners as well as saints are reckoned in his genealogy, lie was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, though he was without sin. His ancestry was not uniformly holy, any more than uniformly royal. The poorest have an interest in him as much as the noblest; the sinful have an interest in him as well as apostles and saints.
5. The genealogy, like all genealogies, shows the transitoriness of all things human. "Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah." Man comes, and man goes; a man is born into the world; man goeth to his long home. Each man represents a long line of ancestors, a line which each generation lengthens, a line stretching back into the remotest past. Most of us know very little of those who have gone before us, not so much as their names. They are gone, and we must follow; we shall soon be but names in the memory of posterity; soon our very names will be forgotten. But God hath said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Then the dead of ages past are living still; we speak of them as the dead, but they live unto God. Their number is incalculable; the world of the dead is infinitely more numerous than the world of the living. But they are all known, every one of them, to the all-seeing God. We shall soon be gathered to that countless multitude. It matters little now to them what their rank, their wealth, was in life. The patriarch, the king, the carpenter, are distinguished now only by their faith, their holiness. Many that once were last are first now, and the last are first. So will it be with us who are living now. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven;" "Seek first the kingdom of God."
6. The genealogy shows the true manhood of Christ. According to the flesh he is descended, like ourselves, from a long line of human ancestors. His birth was miraculous; but on his mother's side he came out of Judah, Judah from Abraham, Abraham from Adam. He represents human nature; he is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; he was made in all things like unto us, yet without sin.
7. The genealogy shows his Divine birth; for "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." He was born of Mary; he was not the Son of Joseph; he had no earthly father. Joseph was the husband of Mary, but not the father of Jesus; he was born of her. The first mention of his birth points at once to other than a human origin. He who is the Son of Abraham is also the Son of God.
8. The numbers. The three fourteens are probably intended to assist the memory, but they may possibly contain a mystical meaning. Seven is the signature of perfection; two, of human witness; three, of God. The history which we are approaching is the history of One who, though he appeared in the form of man, was in truth God. It is related by human witnesses; it is perfect, sufficient for all our needs. "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his Name." The book which we are opening is "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ," the book which relates the redeeming work of "the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Reverence, awe, and adoring love are the tempers of mind meet for such a study.
1. Search the Scriptures; they testify of Christ, and Christ is our Life.
2. Receive the word as the word of God; it has a message for you.
3. Believe in him; do his will. The study of the Scriptures must not end in knowledge; it must lead to faith and to obedience; it must lead to Christ.
4. Life is short; eternity is long. Set your affections on things above.
The birth of Jesus Christ.
I. THE DISTRESS OF MARY.
1. She was betrothed to Joseph. They had loved one another with a pure and holy love; now they were betrothed. The tie of betrothal was in the eyes of the Jews as sacred as that of marriage. The bridegroom had not yet taken home his bride; she was still in her parents' house. They were looking forward to the coming nuptials. It was the time upon which, years afterwards, men look back with such tender recollections—the time when young love was budding in all its freshness and purity; the time gilded by so many bright hopes of happiness to come; a time especially blessed when both are living in the faith and love of God, and are looking forward to live together in that holy estate of matrimony, which represents the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and the Church.
2. She was found with child. Every rose has its thorns; that bright, happy time is often, in ordinary experience, clouded with difficulties and anxieties. Never was there a greater trial for a betrothed pair than this which befell Joseph and Mary. 'They loved one another, we may be sure, deeply, sincerely. Now there was a barrier between them; it seemed an impassable hairier. Mary knew the secret: did she tell her betrothed? It may be that she thought it too sacred, too awful; she could not tell even Joseph. She had received the angel's message in implicit faith. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord," she had said; "be it unto me according to thy word." Perhaps she kept the secret in her heart; it was a strange mixture of awful joy and very bitter anguish. Those who are nearest to the Lord are often called to drink of his cup and to be baptized with his baptism. It was so now with the blessed virgin. She was to have that highest grace for which Jewish matrons longed so earnestly—she was to be the mother of the Christ; but she had to undergo a trial most acutely painful, a shame most terrible to a pure maiden soul. She seemed unworthy of the love of him who loved her best, whom she loved with the deep affection of a tender virgin-heart. She bore it in patience, though her heart was breaking; it was the agony which she had anticipated when she yielded herself in faith to the holy will of God. Perhaps she bore it in silence; the mystery was too deep, too awful for words. Perhaps (for we cannot tell)she whispered it to Joseph. But it was too strange, too incredible. He loved her and he trusted her; there is no real love without mutual confidence. But there is a limit to the trustfulness of the most loving heart. And this story seemed altogether impossible. Joseph could not believe it. His suspicions were natural, excusable; but how cruelly they must have wounded the tender heart of Mary!
3. It was of the Holy Ghost. The evangelist relates in few and simple words the greatest fact in the world's history; the miracle of miracles, in tile train of which lesser miracles must of necessity follow. The Incarnation is a truth above words, above the reach of human thought; it calls upon us, not for rhetorical description, but for adoration and thanksgiving. "The Spirit of God had moved [brooded] upon the face of the waters" in the day when God created the heaven and the earth. And now in the beginning of the new creation the Holy Ghost had come upon the blessed virgin, the power of the Highest had overshadowed her. She was highly favoured indeed, blessed above all other women, chosen to be the mother of the Lord. Very pure and holy she must have been; it may well be, the holiest of women, as she was the most highly favoured. But she was a creature, born in sin like ourselves, needing, like ourselves, to be cleansed by the atoning blood of her own Divine Son. And now the unique grace and dignity vouchsafed unto her brought with it a season of heart-rending anguish.
1. He was a just man. He too was sorely tried. He had tenderly loved his betrothed; he loved her still. He was in a position of the greatest perplexity. Mary was conscious of her own innocence; the angel had announced to her the cause of her immaculate conception. Joseph had, at the most, only her word to trust in; appearances were against her; her statement, if she told him all, required a very high degree of unquestioning, trustful faith. But he was a just man; he would not do her wrong. He could not wholly believe; perhaps he did not wholly disbelieve. We may be sure that he was distracted with anxiety. He was a just man; he wished to do what was right; but he was in a great difficulty; it caused him long and anxious thought.
2. His intention. He intended to adopt a middle course; he would not expose his betrothed; he loved her still. His justice was not the strict, stern justice which considers only the letter of the Law; it was tempered with the gentler feelings, mercy and compassion. He could not bring one whom he had loved so dearly into the danger of shame and death. But under circumstances so suspicious he could not consummate the marriage. He was minded to put her away privily.
III. THE DIVINE INTERVENTION.
1. The solution of Joseph's doubts. He thought on these things. We may be sure that he prayed. It was misery to him to mistrust his betrothed; it was misery to be doubtful about the right path to be pursued in a case of such momentous importance to them both. A holy man like Joseph, who prayed always, would pray most earnestly, most importunately under circumstances so distressing. At last the answer came. God will not leave his servants in perplexity; he will clear up their doubts; he will teach them what they ought to do. But trust in God does not remove the duty of thoughtfulness. We must think, as Joseph thought, seriously and prayerfully, when difficult questions present themselves. If we do this, God will not suffer us to be led astray; he will guide us aright.
2. The angel. The word means "messenger." The blessed angels are God's messengers; they are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. They help us now, for they encamp round about those who fear the Lord. They bring God's messages of love to us now, as they did then to Joseph; they guide us now, as they then guided him. The angel appeared to him in a dream; so they often whisper now the intimations of God's holy will in the hour of quiet, in the silence of the night.
3. The message. It calmed the fears of Joseph, it removed his doubts, it enabled him to rejoice once more in the love of his betrothed. There was nothing to separate her from him. tie was to take her; her words, if she had told him, strange and mysterious as they were, were strictly true; that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. She should bring forth a Son, a Son who should be the Saviour of the world, not Joseph's son, but entrusted for a time to Joseph's care. Mary was to be the mother of the Lord, the highest honour surely ever vouchsafed to child of Adam; Joseph was to have the great joy of watching over his infancy and youth. Surely no charge so high and holy had ever been entrusted even to the blessed angels. It was God's answer to prayer, the prayer of a righteous man which availeth much with God. His anxiety was over new; his doubts were dispelled; his path was clear. He was a righteous man; he had thought and he had prayed. God will answer us, he will guide us in our perplexities, and show us the path of duty, if, like Joseph, we try to live a holy life, if we think seriously, if we pray earnestly.
IV. THE PROPHECY.
1. It must be fulfilled. For it was spoken of the Lord. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Isaiah is often called the evangelical prophet; in his prophecy we have the foreshadowing of the gospel, the good tidings of salvation; his very name points to the Saviour; it is "Jesus" with the elements reversed, it means "the salvation of Jehovah." The prophecy was given through him; but he was not the author of it, it came from God. God had spoken it, and he would make it good. He had announced his will long ago, and at length the time was come. "Now all this is come to pass," the angel said (for these words are part of the message), "that it might be fulfilled." All this had come to pass that human nature might be cleansed by its union with the Divine nature in the Person of Christ. That great result was the end contemplated by the prophecy; to fulfil the prophecy, and to save the souls of men, was the same thing, It was an end worthy of a Divine intervention, worthy of an angel-messenger. All this, the annunciation, the miraculous conception, all this is come to pass that his gracious purpose, announced so long ago, might now be fulfilled.
2. The substance of the prophecy. The Hebrew words mean literally, "The virgin is with child, and beareth a Son." The prophet is speaking of one virgin, one illustrious and unique, as Chrysostom says. The terms of the prophecy can be satisfied only by a miraculous conception, a supernatural birth. It is the sign which the Lord himself shall give—the sign of the Messiah, the sign of deliverance from sin and death. That marvellous birth, foretold so solemnly, in such strange, startling language, was to be the beginning of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God upon earth. For the virgin-born is the King, the King who must reign till all his enemies are put under his feet. And he is "God with us"—Immanuel. He has taken upon him the form of a servant; he is made in the likeness of men. He was from all eternity in the form of God, living in that glory which he had with the Father before the world was. Now he is Immanuel," God with us," the Word incarnate. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." He has taken upon him our human nature, that by the mysterious union of the human and Divine in the one Person of Christ our human nature might be cleansed from the dark stain of sin, and be created anew after the image of God. God is with us—with us to redeem, to cleanse, to regenerate, to sanctify. He abideth in us if we are truly his, he in us and we in him. He is with us always even to the end of the world, ready to hear our prayer, ready to help us, ready to save us even to the uttermost; for through the wondrous miracle of the Incarnation he is ours and we are his, if we abide in his love.
V. THE HOLY NAME.
1. Joseph's obedience. All his doubts were dispelled, his anguish was gone, he was filled with a strange and awful joy. His betrothed was to be the mother of the Messiah. He was to care for her now, to watch over the infancy of the holy Child. He took unto him his wife; he respected her spotless purity; he lived with her in reverential awe. At last the promised Child was born. Joseph looked upon the heavenly face of the blessed Babe. There is something very sweet in the calm face of an innocent infant. What a depth of celestial beauty must there have been in the smile of the infant Jesus! what a treasure of unspeakable joy must that holy Babe have been to Mary and Joseph! He called his name Jesus, in obedience to the angel's bidding.
2. Many had borne that name already. It is the Greek form of the common Hebrew name Joshua. The first Joshua of whom we read was called originally Oshea or Hoshea; this name, which was also the name of the last King of Israel and of the first in order of the minor prophets, means "salvation." Moses added to it the sacred name, and called the son of Nun Jehoshua or Joshua, "the salvation of Jehovah" He fulfilled the prophecy contained in his name. He was steadfast in unswerving allegiance to Jehovah: "As for me and my house," he said, "we will serve the Lord." He was the Lord's instrument in saving the people of Israel out of the hands of their enemies. He led them through the river Jordan, he fought their battles for them, he gave them rest in the promised land. In all this he was an eminent type of our Lord, who is the Captain of our salvation, who fought out the fearful conflict for us against the deadly enemy, who leads his people through the river of death into the everlasting rest. The name of their great leader naturally became common among the Jews; it appears again and again under its various forms, Oshea, Hoshea, Jehoshua, Joshua, Joshua, Jesus.
3. But only the Son of God fulfilled its blessed meaning. He was indeed the Salvation of Jehovah; he was Jehovah, God the Son, come in his infinite tenderness, in his Divine compassion, to save his people. "He shall save his people from their sins," the angel said. This was the meaning, the translation of the name. "He himself shall save his people," the Greek word means—himself by his own power. The first Joshua saved the Israelites by the help of God; the second Joshua is himself God, therefore he himself is "able to save even to the uttermost all who come unto God by him." "He shall save his people." He came to "redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." He has a people, his own people, for he is a King, and his people are a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. They belong to him; they are his, bought with a price; they are not their own. All Christians are his by solemn dedication to his service in holy baptism; but in the deepest sense they only are his people in whom the promise is fulfilled, whom he is saving from their sins. Alas! there are some of whom it is written, "Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God' (Hosea 1:9).
4. His salvation is present. He saves his people from their sins; not only from the punishment of sin, but from the sin itself. His precious blood, once shed upon the cross, cleanses all who believe in him from the defilement of sin. His gracious presence, abiding in the heart through the indwelling of his Spirit, saves his people from the dominion of sin. "The sting of death is sin;" "but God giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the plain teaching of Holy Scripture; then if we are his, sin must be losing its power over us, for his blood is cleansing from all sin those who walk in the light of his presence, and he is saving them from the power of sin. We must try to realize in our own experience this victory over sin. Most people seem to be content with a life that falls very short of anything that can be called victory. But this is what God promises to give us; the Lord Jesus came to save his people from their sins; the purpose of his coming is not fulfilled in us unless we are saved from them. And he will save us, himself will save us, if we trust his word and come to him in faith.
5. And it is future, it is everlasting. Joshua led the children of Israel into Canaan; Jesus leads his people into heaven. He is preparing a place for us there, and is preparing us for it. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; but he of God is made unto us Sanctification. He makes his people holy by the gift of his Spirit. He takes away the sting of death, which is sin, and changes death into sleep. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord," for if they die in him, in spiritual union with him, he is their Jesus, their Saviour; the blessed meaning of the holy Name is realized in their experience, and refreshes their soul in death with its heavenly music.
1. God's holiest saints are often very sorely tried. Be patient; trust always.
2. God heareth prayer; he will bring the afflictions of his people to a happy issue.
3. The holy Name is exceeding precious and sacred; pronounce it with reverence; treasure it in your heart; do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus.
4. He shall save his people from their sins: is he saving you from yours?
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
We are tempted to pass by the string of names with which the New Testament opens, as though it had no moral significance, as though it were only a relic of Jewish domestic annals. But even the genealogies in Genesis are eloquent in lessons on human life—its brevity, its changes, its succession, its unity in the midst of diversity; and the genealogy of our Lord has its own peculiar importance, reminding us of many facts.
I. CHRIST IS TRULY HUMAN. It will be a great mistake if we so conceive of his Divinity as in any way to diminish our idea of his humanity. He was as true a man as if he had not been more than a man. The Divinity in him overflows the humanity, fills it and surrounds it, but does not destroy it. Christ is not a demi-god—half-way between man and God. Perfectly one with his Father on the Divine side of his nature, he is equally one with us on the human.
II. CHRIST HAS CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER MEN. He does not descend out of the sky like an angel, or suddenly appear at our tent-door as the "three men" appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18:2). He comes in the line of a known household, and takes his place in the family tree. This family tree suggests kinship. A family is more than a collection of men, women, and children, more or less closely associated together like the grains of sand on the seashore. There is blood-relationship in it The solidarity of the human race makes one man to be the brother of all men. But the family relationship is even closer. Our Lord extends his own closest kinship to all who do the will of God (Matthew 12:50).
III. THE PAST LEADS UP TO CHRIST. He has his roots in the ages. Those dim, sorrowful years did not come and go in vain. They were all laying the foundation on which, in the fulness of time, God would build his glorious temple. Yet the men whose names are immortalized in this list knew not of their high destiny. We live for a future that is beyond our vision.
IV. CHRIST IS NOT ACCOUNTED FOR BY HIS ANCESTRY. Some people are proud of a noble pedigree. Yet it is possible to be the worthless scion of a glorious house, for families often degenerate. On the other hand, many of the best men have emerged out of obscurity. We may believe in "blood" to a certain extent, but heredity will not explain the most striking phenomena of human life. Most assuredly it will not explain the marvellous nature and character of Christ. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4). Christ is not the product of such lives as those of his ancestors here given. His unique glory is not of this world, as a comparison of his life with his genealogy should show us.
V. CHRIST SUMS UP THE GLORIES OF THE PAST. All that is great and good in his ancestors is contained in Christ and surpassed by him.
1. The Jewish faith. Christ's pedigree goes back to Abraham, the friend of God; and in Christ Abraham's faith and piety are perfected, and the promises to Abraham are fulfilled.
2. The Jewish throne. Christ is David's heir. He inherits David's kingship anti he exceeds it, realizing in fact what David imperfectly foreshadowed in type.—W.F.A.
The name "Jesus."
"Jesus" was the personal name of our Lord, the Greek equivalent of the old Jewish name "Joshua," and not unknown in Hebrew families. Therefore to his contemporaries it would not have the unique associations that it has for us. It would be merely the designation of an individual. But everything that Christ touches is elevated to a new value by his contact with it. Now that he has been named "Jesus," that name is to us precious "as ointment poured forth."
I. THE MAIN MISSION OF CHRIST IS TO SAVE. His work may be regarded in many lights, fie is the great Teacher. His kingly throne is set up, and he has come to rule over us. In daily life he is the "Friend that sticketh closer than a brother." But before all he is the Saviour. This comes first, as the personal name "Jesus" comes before the official title "Christ." It is of his very nature to save. He cannot teach or rule or cheer us effectually until he has saved us. Now, this is the unique glory of Christ. Nature destroys the weak and cherishes the strong. Christ has pity on failure; he comes to rescue from ruin. Wherever there is distress or danger there he finds his peculiar sphere of activity.
II. THE GREAT EVIL FROM WHICH CHRIST SAVES IS SIN. Other evils are also removed. But they are of but a secondary character, and are not worthy to be named in comparison with this dark and direful curse of mankind. When once sin is mastered and cast out, it will be an easy work to expel the secondary troubles of life. For the most part they are the consequences of this monstrous evil, and will depart with it. At all events, we shall be stronger to bear those that remain when the heart-paralysis of moral evil is cured. The last thing that many people want from Christ is to be saved from their sin. They would be glad to be delivered from its pains and penalties, but the thing itself they love and have no wish to abandon. For them there is no salvation. Christ aims at the sin first of all. He treats it as man's deadly foe. For those who feel its weight, here is the very essence of the gospel—What we cannot do for ourselves by resolution and effort he can do for us, if we will open our hearts and let him in. Take this literally. He can save us from our own sins—our defects of character, evil habits, bad temper, vices.
III. THIS SALVATION IS FOR CHRIST'S PEOPLE. Here is a limitation. It must not be forgotten that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written for Jews. Christ's first mission was to "save the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Yet no one who reads the New Testament throughout can doubt that the limitation is not final. The Jew was only to have the first offer of salvation. He was to be invited in to the feast that he might afterwards go out and introduce others. Now the message is that Christ "is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him" (Hebrews 7:25). Yet the specification of "his people" has still an important meaning. Christ is not only the Saviour at the entrance of the Christian life, but throughout its course. The people of God are not perfect; daily they commit new sins, and Christ is their daily Saviour. Not only at the moment of regeneration, but through the long and often sadly stained Christian life, we need Christ to save from sins that still beset us.—W.F.A.
There is some obscurity as to the primary intention of these words as they appear in the narrative of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14); but the fitness of their application to Christ, now that he has come to fill in their meaning, makes the first use of them of small moment to us. For us they are a description of the birth and nature of our Lord.
I. THE VIRGIN-BIRTH. We may be sure that it was not in order to throw any discredit on the sanctity of marriage that God so ordered it that his Son should be born from a virgin, The New Testament honours marriage as truly as the Old Testament; and St. Paul, who is sometimes regarded as unfriendly to it, describes it as like the union of Christ with his Church. What, then, is the significance of the virgin-birth?
1. A mystery. It is right and reasonable that he who comes from the bosom of the Father should enter this world under circumstances that we cannot understand. Nevertheless, we may see to some extent what this means.
2. A miracle. Men of science have pointed out that this miracle is not so difficult to believe in as many others, because parthenogenesis is known in nature, though it is not found among men. Here, then, is something beyond the range of what happens in human experience, yet according to the known working of God in other spheres.
3. A holy birth. This is not the case because virginity is in any way more holy than marriage. Nevertheless, it has occurred to many that possibly the transmission of seeds of evil may have been avoided by this miracle. At all events, we know the fact that Christ was perfectly pure and stainless from his birth.
II. THE DIVINE NATURE. The human name of our Lord is "Jesus"—a name that describes his work on earth. His prophetic name is "Immanuel," one that reveals the deeper mystery of his mission.
1. The fact. In Jesus Christ we see the union of God and man. God is no longer a distant Being seated on his throne above the heavens. He has descended to this earth. It is difficult to think of God as the Infinite One who inhabits eternity; the very idea is so vast that it seems to melt away into vagueness. It is intangible; we cannot lay hold of it. But Christ we can see and understand. In Christ God looks at us with human eyes, speaks to us in an earthly tongue, touches us with a brother's hand. That this is so we can believe, not because we are informed of the doctrine of the Incarnation on authority, but just because, when we come to know Christ for ourselves, we can see God in him.
2. The grace. This great truth lies at the foundation of the gospel. All Christianity is built on the Incarnation. Although men may deliver one another from minor ills, only God can save from sin. Therefore, if Jesus is a Saviour in the deepest sense of the word, he must be God as well as man. But this is only one side of the subject, tie must be also "God with us"—as the Fathers represented it, the hand of God outstretched. He saves us by bringing God into us.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Suggestions of just ways of covering sin.
The contents of this verse and the following are, so far as they go, corroborating evidence of the supernatural origin and superhuman incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For if these things be not the truth respecting him, then will these verses also have to rank among the supposed cunningly devised fables; whereas in very truth their aspect is of the most opposite character. The aspect of these verses and their connection are strikingly of the real and the matter-of-fact. They present themselves and they speak so naturally. In those days of the Church's history which saw casuistry at its most flourishing, it may easily be imagined that the point would have been considered a most legitimately profitable one for argument, whether Joseph were more entitled or less entitled to the epithet of "a just man," in that he had it in his mind to "put away privily" his espoused wife rather than at once make a public example of what would too probably soon become a public scandal. And again, whether his intention to do this "privily" savoured most of regard for public advantage, or of self regard, or of regard for the supposed erring woman. From our point of view, any approach to the casuistical may be safely dispensed with. But in place thereof, we may fitly make this verse the occasion for inquiring what are some of the determining or guiding considerations which may be held to justify the disposition to shield human fault, sin, fall, rather than to expose it. We are on the safe side—
I. WHEN WE SEEK TO SHIELD A PERSON, THE SINNER, FROM PUBLIC EXPOSURE RATHER THAN SAY A WORD, EITHER TO HIMSELF OR TO THE PUBLIC, IN THE NATURE OF EXTENUATING THE SIN.
II. WHEN WE SEEK TO SHIELD ANOTHER RATHER THAN ONE'S SELF.
III. WHEN WE SEEK TO SHIELD THE PERSON WHO, EITHER BY NATURE OR BY INDIVIDUAL TEMPERAMENT, WOULD TAKE DISPROPORTIONATE SUFFERING; as, e.g.:
1. A woman, in anything that especially concerns the nature of woman.
2. Or any one whose known sensitiveness would render him liable to abnormal suffering.
IV. WHEN WE SEEK TO SHIELD FROM EXPOSURE CERTAIN KINDS OF SIN, VIZ. THOSE WHICH UNIVERSAL OBSERVATION TELLS US DO IN THE VERY ANNOUNCEMENT OF THEM SERVE TO EXCITE UNHEALTHY INTEREST, PRURIENT CURIOSITY. In not a few cases, notoriety undoubtedly attracts instead of deterring. It attracts also not in mere morbid and exceptional cases, but in virtue of a fascination not indeed otherwise explainable, but very easily explained when some of the radical vice of human nature is confessed. In the present instance, it is to be understood by the reverent reader of the history that Joseph, as "a just man," felt he had no choice but
(1) to put away the woman who seemed to have erred;
(2) to put her away privily, in order to avoid both public scandal as far as possible and unadvisable aggravation of her and his own feelings. The justifiableness of qualifications of this kind is amply illustrated by the conduct of Christ himself, alike in the instance of the woman "taken in adultery," and in that of Mary Magdalene.—B.
The "Name which is above every name."
In introduction dwell briefly on the thought of the Divine care, shown, first, in foreguarding Israel and, so to say, the world so early from mistake as to the character of their coming Saviour, Hope, King; and, secondly, in guiding Israel from the very first to understand that whatever breadth, height, scope, might belong to the salvation of the Saviour who was to be, it could in the first instance only be attained through men becoming extricated from sin. The keynote of the mission and of the very character of the Christ was ordained to be sounded in his Name. It is sounded in this name Jesus. It was announced before his appearance. It was wonderfully illustrated during some years preceding his disappearance from earth. And from that to this, the most significant of the world's history has been a constantly accumulating testimony to the truthfulness of the Name. Notice now this Name under the following simple aspects.
I. FOR THE LARGE PROFESSION THAT LIES IN IT IN CHALLENGING THE TEST OF WHAT IT WOULD PRACTICALLY DO. The Name challenges universal observation, but also universal judgment. And the facilities for exercising and pronouncing that judgment are great. They are ready to hand. The Name says that he who owns it wills to be judged by what he shall do.
II. FOR THE LARGE PROFESSION THAT LIES IN IT IN RESPECT OF THE UNLIMITED ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE SAVING. The saving in question, whatever it be, does not save itself by any qualification of the direction, the extent, the length of time, in which its efficacy should be found good. "Thou shalt call his Name Jesus." Although it is added, "for he shall save his people from their sins," we know that statement to be as broad, comprehensive, unlimited as the Name itself—Savior.
III. FOR THE LARGE PROFESSION THAT LIES IN IT OF UNSELFISHNESS. To save is to do something for others, at all events, as the word applies here. And to "spend and be spent" thus, unasking anything for self, is the essence of unselfishness.
IV. FOR THE NOVELTY AND UNIQUENESS OF IT, THE ABOVE THREE THINGS BEING GRANTED. Nothing had approached it before in the world's whole history.
V. FOR THE CONSISTENT, UNDEVIATING, AND UNCEASING ILLUSTRATION GIVEN TO IT BY THE WHOLE EARTHLY LIFE OF CHRIST. All of it spoke the Saviour, and not least so certainly when it spoke the destroyer of destruction, the forerunning of the destruction of the destroyer.
VI. FOR THE YET MORE WONDERFUL ILLUSTRATION GIVEN TO IT IN THE LONG, THE CALM, THE STILL-LASTING, THE EVERLASTING LEGACY OF THAT LIFE. That legacy is ever speaking:
1. Pre-eminently the Saviour, as compared with everything else either great or good. such as the Teacher, or the Example.
2. The Saviour, as distinguished from one who does, yet does but little.
3. The Saviour, as one all of whose workings are those of light, of advance, and of enduring good.—B.
The Name, the burden of prophecy.
Introduction. Though in the order of the historic narrative this name of prophecy, "Immanuel," comes second on this page, yet had it already found its place on the page of ages ago. It is the Name by which the prophet had long ago declared forcibly the dignity of the Christ—the real Being, the Christ. Whereas the other Name of our Matthew 1:21, Matthew 1:24 : was that given now in the "fulness of time," which dared boldly to challenge the proof in the immediate future of both itself and of the other predicted Name—their main truth, their minute accuracy. The reminiscence of prophecy, and the quotation of prophetic language now before us, are the appropriate, the natural sequel of the historic announcement of the incarnation and superhuman origin of Christ; and they are the appropriate anticipation of the illustrious career of the Saviour-Christ. Notice—
I. THE CONNECTION PRECLUDES THE EXPLANATION OF A MERE METAPHORIC OR A MERE SPIRITUAL MEANING AS THAT WHICH SHOULD JUSTLY ATTACH TO THIS DESCRIPTION' OF CHRIST. The Name is given clearly in closest connection with the statement that one who was still a virgin should conceive and bring forth a son. Truly enough, there are a hundred things in which God shall be said to be "with man." But it is no one of those hundred ways now. It is one that takes precedence of them all.
II. THAT THE FACT ONCE GRANTED OF THE MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION OF CHRIST OFFERS FOR OUR THOUGHT THE DEEP NECESSITY OF SUCH KIND OF UNION, SUCH REALITY OF UNION OF "GOD WITH MAN" FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE REDEMPTION OF MAN. There must be a certain kind of presence of God with man. The nature of that presence is all-important. All that is most distinctive in what we may call the revelation and the genius of the New Testament really hinges hereupon. Though probably all figures ought to be ruled incompetent to this great, this astounding fact, yet perhaps we shall not stray if we put it thus—that the Incarnation was a literal and a veritable graft of the Divine upon the human nature. Its object was at least twofold.
1. To bring a literal Presence into this world, and partly of this world, which otherwise would certainly in no course of things be here; One which should be a certain incomparable Sight, a certain incomparable Sound, a certain paramount Example among men. From that Presence would come, and come in streams, forces of new impression, of light, of conviction, of surprise, otherwise unattainable; no comet of heavenly bodies in the sky a millionth part so fruitful of impression and so intrinsically attracting, as this unsurpassed comet of real Divine nature within earth's humble range.
2. To bring that Presence into this world to execute one supreme, incomparable task. The motto, nay, the very key-note of the new song of this whole world is heard in the word "atonement." And though this be not the place to go beyond the statement of the fact, that fact is that "God with man" alone found "the proper Man" (Luther's hymn) able, willing, to meet the crisis, to suffer the suffering, to master the problem, and to atone.—B.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Genealogy of our Lord.
I. Matthew's purpose is to show that Jesus, after the flesh, was THE HEIR OF DAVID AND OF ABRAHAM, the true Inheritor of the promises and of the liabilities of Israel. At his birth instructed Israelites might exclaim, "Unto us a Son is born!"—one who entered into a family of broken fortune, but was able to redeem its fortunes; who came not to build up a competence for himself, but to accept the obligations of the family, and work out for it a full emancipation. It was also requisite that Jesus should be recognized as the Heir of David, as the promised ideal King of Israel
II. THE THREE TIMES FOURTEEN GENERATIONS, though artificial, did yet appeal to the Jewish mind as a symbol of the fulness of times. Of signs that the time was ripe for the birth of Christ there was no lack. The world had done as much as it was ever likely to do without the new influences Christ brought into it. No government had ever more at command for the regeneration of the world than Rome had. It enlightened policy, bold statesmanship, extensive dominion, could have abolished the world's woes, no more was required than Rome had given to the world. In Greece, culture had done its best; in the further East, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, had done all that human wisdom and purity could do to regulate the life and elevate the thoughts of men. The Jewish Law, Mosaism in all its departments, was also played out. It had yielded the utmost of benefit, and was now running to seed. A general feeling was stealing through many lands that the world needed help from above. Note, too, the preparation for the gospel in the spread of the Jews throughout the commercial world, the general prevalence of the Greek language, and the facility for intercourse afforded by the Roman government.
III. THE REASON OF THE LONG DELAY. At first sight one might suppose many good ends would have been served by Christ's appearing much earlier in the world's history. What prevented Christ from coming two thousand years before he did, and giving the world the advantage of two thousand years' more enjoyment of the best form of religion? Had Christ come as soon as the promise was given, the world would have been found unprepared for the gift, and unable to give it even that moderate welcome it afterwards found. The Law must first do its work, deepening the sense of duty, stirring conscience to an almost morbid activity, revealing the holiness of God, and showing men their lostness. The great gift of the Holy Spirit, the promise by preeminence, would not have been welcomed. God had to educate the world, as parents educate children, by alluring them onwards and by inconsiderable gifts teaching them gradually to long for the highest. He taught them to think of, to know, and to trust him by giving them what suited their condition and tastes; and so they learned by degrees to prize what he most highly esteemed—inward, spiritual prosperity.
IV. In our Lord's genealogy there is THE ORDINARY PROPORTION OF GOOD AND BAD PARENTAGE. Individuals are mentioned who would do no honour to any pedigree. The pride of birth which many of us feel would be abated were the whole ancestry from which we are sprung set down with biographies attached. We have only to go back far enough to find stain. Worse still, who can say what his own children shall be, and to what extent their disgrace is due to their inherited tendencies? Our Lord did not shun the contamination to which he was necessarily exposed by his true entrance into the human family.
1. Grace not hereditary. Fuller says, "Lord, I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely chequered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.
(1) Roboam begat Abia: that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
(2) Abia begat Asa: that is, a bad father a good son.
(3) Ass begat Josaphat: that is, a good father a bad son.
(4) Josaphat begat Joram: that is, a good father a good son.
I see, Lord, from hence that my father's piety cannot be entailed: that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary: that is good news for my son."
2. Relationship to Christ. The honour of being connected with Christ after the flesh. Yet even after he was born and seen among men this honour was not felt as we might expect; and at all events no special saving influence was exerted on the individuals composing his line of descent. Closer than every earthly tie is the spiritual relationship he announces in Matthew 12:50.—D.
Nativity of our Lord.
I. SUPERNATURAL ORIGIN OF THE HUMAN NATURE OF OUR LORD. He who came to be a new Head and Source of life to humanity could scarcely be the product of the old stock. All other men have sprung from Adam; all that has appeared in humanity is the evolution of what was in the first man. No new blood has been infused into the race. But in Christ a new beginning is made. As a matter of fact, he has never been accounted for by natural causes. His distinctive character among men requires an unusual, exceptional origin. "If by close historical scrutiny or critical questioning we fail to resolve the miraculous character of Jesus—the ultimate fact of Christianity—into the common, known elements of our human nature; if the laws of heredity prove insufficient to explain his generation; then the further question will at once arise whether there may not be other than natural elements present in human history which come to their perfect flower in Jesus of Nazareth? whether we may not find in the laws and forces of a supernatural evolution the sufficient explanation of his miraculous Person?" Expand by showing how neither Hebrew nor Gentile influences account for Jesus, and by showing the originality of the character and plan of Jesus, his sinlessness, his authority, his self-assertion.
II. THE TRUE HUMANITY OF JESUS. The Son of God did not come and assume for a year or two the appearance of a man in his prime. He was born a human Child, as truly human as any of us, with all human appetites, necessary emotions, and liabilities. Human birth ushers human beings into an existence out of which they cannot retire. So it was with our Lord. He lived under the limitations and restrictions which necessarily attend human nature. His was a real humanity. "He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one." We think of him as for the most part a spectator marking the conduct of others and caring for them, but having no righteousness of his own to maintain and continue. We are very conscious of the difficulties of the sanctified, but are apt to forget that he who sanctifies had the same temptations and the same difficulties. He as well as they had to watch and pray, to cry for aid and for relief, to put from him the views of the world which tempted him to abandon his high purpose. Miraculous birth is not necessarily an incarnation of God. But no miraculous birth recorded in the Bible was produced similarly to this. And the preparation thus made for the Incarnation is obvious. The mode of the Incarnation, as well as much else regarding it, is obscure; but it rosy be right to point here to one or two of its chief lessons or results.
1. Jesus is a Divine Person. That self which has ever been the same in all its acts is Divine. He may act now through his human nature—eating, sleeping, dying—or he may act through his Divine nature; but he who does so is not a man, but God the Son. What we find in Christ is God furnishing himself with a human body, mind, and soul, through and in which he as truly lives and works as through and in his Divine nature. Being the same Person after his incarnation as before, he took our nature "that he might taste death for every man;" that he might, that is, he who was already existing before he became Man. His Divine nature could not die, but he means to taste death, and therefore takes a nature which can suffer death. In that death on the cross no person died but the Son of God.
2. Another lesson of the Incarnation, if not of the Nativity, is too important to overlook. If we would learn how to benefit our fellow-men, we must study our Lord's method. Looking upon us who were infinitely beneath him, and desiring to bring us up more nearly to his level, he saw that the way to do so was to become one of us; to come among us and share with us in all but sin. There is probably more in this example than we are always willing to admit. We speak of raising the masses. One would take Christ's way of doing so who should himself become a sharer in their condition; who should give up his own pleasant, healthy residence and live among those he desires to benefit; who should give up his own lucrative profession and engage in the same kind of labour they are engaged in; who should put himself, with his education, his right views of what life should and might be, at their disposal; and should thus be among them a continua[ example and help. He would thus make their wrongs his own wrongs, and as he raised himself raise his class.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
"The book of the genealogy," etc. This is not the general title of the First Gospel, but rather the particular title of these sixteen or seventeen verses. The scroll, or writing of divorcement, which the Talmudists say consisted exactly of" twelve lines," is called a biblion, or "book" (Matthew 19:7). So the "book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ" may be understood to describe the single skin on which the words immediately before us were originally written. Vitringa remarks that the expression concerning the "names" in the "book of life," in Revelation 3:5, alludes to the genealogical tables of the Jewish priests (see Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64), as the "white raiment" mentioned there does to the priestly dress.
I. THIS IS THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS AS THE CHRIST.
1. This is implied in his description. "The Son of David, the Son of Abraham."
(1) David had many sons. So had he very many descendants. Abraham had a still mole numerous posterity. But amidst all the sons of David and of Abraham Jesus is "the Son',. So likewise is he "the Son of man." Here is a mark of surpassing excellence. In the whole human family there is no one to compare with him, personally, officially, relatively.
(2) These titles indicate him to be the "Seed" promised in the covenant, and the Seed to whom also the blessings of the covenant are promised. God made his covenant "unto Abraham and his Seed." Mark, "not seeds, as of many; but as of one, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). In him all the families of the earth are blessed.
2. To assert this is obviously the evangelist's intention. So we understand his words, "genealogy of Jesus the Christ."
(1) Jesus is the Antitype of all sacredly anointed persons—prophets, priests, kings. He alone united in himself all these offices.
(2) His anointing and Christship were of the Holy Ghost. The oil of anointing typified the Spirit of God.
(a) In its lustre. Hence the "unction of the Holy One" is said to convey spiritual teaching and heavenly knowledge (1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27).
(b) In its softening, mollifying, lubricating influences. So the oil of anointing is put for the graces of the Holy Spirit.
(c) Jesus was "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows," viz. not only in the kited, but also in the degree. He received the Spirit "not by measure."
(3) How favoured are the sons of Jesus! They are through him the seed of the covenant (see Galatians 3:29). They are Christians, anointed ones, viz. in a spiritual and very noble sense (2 Corinthians 1:21).
II. THE PEDIGREE IS GIVEN FOR OUR BENEFIT.
1. Jesus had no personal glory from it.
(1) Some of the ancestors were princes of the aristocracy of Virtue—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel. But Jesus himself was immeasurably superior to the best of them.
(2) Some were persons of sullied fame—Rehoboam, Abijah, Uzziah, Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon, Jechoniah. Note:
(a) Virtue does not run in the blood.
(b) Jesus appeared "in the likeness of sinful flesh."
(c) None are too vile to be saved by him.
2. To us it certifies his Messiahship.
(1) The patriarchs from David upwards were common ancestors of Joseph and Mary. The later patriarchs in this list were ancestors of "Joseph the husband of Mary," therefore here, of Jesus putatively, who was "supposed to be the Son of Joseph." Yet as the reputed or adopted Son of Joseph his title to the throne of David was valid.
(2) But that Jesus was also the Son of David in blood as well as in law is evident from the genealogy in Luke, which carries his line up through Mary. Joseph, whose lather was Jacob according to Matthew, is in Luke called "the son of Heli" (viz. jure matrimonii) , in compliance with the Jewish custom of tracing all genealogies through males. Every way, then, whether by law or by blood, Jesus is proved to be the Son of "David the king" (verse 67, and entitled to the throne.
(3) In these genealogies there are difficulties which we are now in no position to solve. These, however, were no difficulties to the contemporaries of the evangelists, familiar with Hebrew customs and having access to the national records. It is too late, now the records are lost, for sceptics to make capital out of these difficulties.
(4) But, on the other hand, the records being lost, no pretender to Messiahship can now establish descent from David. Surely the Jews, who require this mark, should be convinced that Jesus, in whom alone it is found, is very Christ (cf. Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; Mat 22:1-46 :447.
(5) He is the "Son of David" in the grandest sense, viz. that of being also David's Lord. Attributes of Divinity are ascribed by King David to the "King's Son" (see e.g. Psalms 72:1-20.), which by no pretence of "Oriental hyperbole" can be limited to Solomon. These superhuman claims, in which lie the source and secret of all the blessings of salvation, Jesus asserted for himself and fully vindicated.
3. It encourages the hope of the Gentiles.
(1) Significant of this gracious end, we notice that the seed of the covenant was conveyed through younger sons. Abraham himself was a younger son of Terah; so was Isaac of Abraham; so was Jacob of Isaac; so was Judah of Jacob. Phares and Zara are both mentioned in the genealogy, evidently to emphasize this principle; for here Pharos, the younger of the twins, was chosen. David likewise was a younger son of Jesse. And in the family of David, Solomon the ancestor of Joseph, and Nathan the ancestor of Mary, were both younger sons (of. Luke 15:11-32; also Romans 9:12, Romans 9:30).
(2) Note, further, that of the four women, beside the virgin, whose names are introduced, two were Gentiles, viz Rahab and Ruth
(3) "The children of the promise" whether Jew or Gentile, ever have been "counted for the seed." It was so in the family of Abraham. It is so in the family of Jesus (Galatians 3:29). Election is "through faith." The Old Testament begins with "the generation of the heartens and the earth;" the New, with the generation of him by whom they were created. The glory of the gospel exceeds not only that of the Law, but that also of the material world. Jesus, in his incarnation, became "the Beginning of the [new] creation of God." He is "the Firstborn of every creature," viz. the Head and Archetype of that new creation which is to consist of those who are "born again" of him.—J.A.M.
After giving the genealogy of Jesus, the evangelist proceeds to furnish important particulars of the history of his generation and birth. In these he brings out prominently the notable testimony of Joseph in proof of the Christship of Jesus. We note—
I. THAT JOSEPH IS A CREDIBLE WITNESS.
1. He was a righteous man.
(1) This is the character claimed for him by Matthew at a time when, if it were not a fact, it might have been challenged; for Joseph was well known (see Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; John 6:42). According to Eusebius, this Gospel was written in the third year of Caligula, i.e. a.d. 41, when many of Joseph's contemporaries were still living.
(2) Everything recorded of Joseph is consistent with this character. It is in particular well sustained by his conduct towards Mary, under the trying circumstances detailed in the text. He might have prosecuted her for adultery (see Deuteronomy 22:23, Deuteronomy 22:24). But he had an option of mercy, which he preferred. He resolved accordingly "to put her away privily," viz. by giving her, in presence of two witnesses, a bill of divorcement, without assigning any cause (see Deuteronomy 24:1). Thus her life would be spared. Note:
(a) True righteousness is merciful. Of this the gospel of our salvation furnishes glorious illustration.
(b) Leniency devoid of justice is not true mercy. The terrors of the Lord," as well as those of the Law, are necessary to the public good of the universe.
(3) As a righteous man Joseph could not be guilty of falsehood. This must hold under ordinary conditions, but especially in this case, where the subject of testimony is momentous, involving everlasting issues.
2. He was a sensible man.
(1) He certainly was not over-credulous, else he might have listened without demurrer to Mary's story. There is no mention here of Gabriel's message to Mary (see Luke 1:26-38). The omission suggests that Matthew's design was to bring out prominently the evidence of Joseph. Yet that Mary had communicated these things to Joseph may be reasonably presumed. She made no secret of them (see Luke 1:46-55).
(2) There were not wanting good reasons by which he might have been inclined to listen to this wonderful story.
(a) He had sufficient knowledge of Mary's previous piety to have disposed him to credit her testimony; but the circumstances are unprecedented, and he is not satisfied.
(b) He had the testimony of Elisabeth (see Luke 1:39-56), which was weighty when taken in connection with the vision of Zacharias, the remarkable event of the Baptist's birth, and Zacharias's prophecy (see Luke 1:67-79). Still, he was not satisfied. Note: Never was mother so honoured and so tried as Mary. Let not those who aspire to honours think to escape trials. As Mary suffered with Christ and for his sake, so shall we if Christ be formed in us (cf. Acts 5:41; Acts 9:16; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29).
3. He had the best opportunities of knowledge.
(1) As espoused to Mary he was in the best position to be acquainted with the matter of her testimony.
(2) He was therefore in the best position to he convinced by the complementary evidence furnished in the vision vouchsafed to himself.
(3) Of this vision he was, of course, a first-rate witness, for he was himself the subject of it.
II. THAT HIS TESTIMONY IS VERY VALUABLE.
1. Because of the importance of the subject.
(1) The subject is stupendous. The incarnation of Deity in human nature. "Immanuel."
(2) Such an event must be of the utmost moment to humanity. It presages the beatification of humanity. In this all "partakers of flesh and blood" must have the deepest interest.
(3) This is wonderful news for sinners. And such are we all. Note: Not only was the incarnation of Jehovah necessary for redemption, but faith in Jesus as Jehovah is necessary for salvation. The very name of Jesus associates Jehovah and salvation (cf. Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10; Acts 9:14; Romans 10:13).
2. Because of the nature of its authentication.
(1) An angel appeared to Joseph. Superhuman intelligence alone could reveal the subject.
(2) He appeared to him in a dream. Not an ordinary, but a Divine, dream. Such dreams carried with them convincing evidence. Else they could not serve their purpose (cf. Numbers 12:6; Deu 13:1-3; 1 Samuel 28:6, 1 Samuel 28:15; Joel 2:28). The evidence was convincing to Joseph. It reassured him of the innocence of Mary, and certified the truth of her wonderful story. It let in also the evidence of Elisabeth in its full force. The whole was confirmed by the correspondence of prophetic times, which had now awakened a general expectation.
(3) The sequel proved that Joseph was not misled.
(a) He had the "sign" that Mary should "bring forth a Son." God alone could certainly forecast this.
(b) That Son was to support the character of a Divine Saviour of sinners. Who but God could have foreseen that this Child would ever claim to be such a Saviour, much less that he should behave miraculously consistently with that most difficult and lofty claim?
3. Because of its consistency with Scripture.
(1) The miracle of the virgin-mother was a prominent subject of ancient prophecy.
(a) It dawned in the first promise (Genesis 3:15), that the "Seed of the woman," viz. without the man—the issue therefore of a virgin—should "bruise the serpent's head."
(b) It is explicitly set forth by Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) in the passage cited in the text. Here we note the definite article—not "a virgin," but "the virgin (המלעה)." One only such occurrence was ever to take place.
(2) Another notable circumstance is that, according to Isaiah, the house of David was not to fair until this wonder should be accomplished. The sign was given expressly to reassure that house, now fearing extinction, when, after the slaughter perpetrated by Pekah, Judah was again invaded by Rezin. But, excepting in Jesus, the family of David is now difficult to trace. Surely this ought to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. The certainty of our faith is established by many infallible proofs. Unreasonableness is with unbelief.
III. THE HAND OF GOD IS EVIDENT IN THE HISTORY.
1. Wisely ordered was the espousal of Mary to Joseph, not only to give value to his testimony, but also to shield the reputation of the virgin, and to afford her and her infant a needful earthly guardianship. Note: A providence that is equal to all emergencies may well be trusted by Christians.
2. It is also a significant circumstance that Jesus received his name at the time of his circumcision. To give the name at such a time was the common custom (Luke 1:59, Luke 1:60). But in this case the name of Jesus was most appropriately given when that blood was first shed without which there is no remission of sins. The sign of circumcision had its perfect accomplishment in the shedding of the blood of the covenant upon the cross.
3. This Name, with its reason, are a blessed revelation. There is no salvation but from sin. Sin carries its own punishment. The removal of sin is the remission of punishment. Infinite mercy can only save sinners from punishment by saving them from sin.
4. Jesus becomes incarnate again in every regenerate spirit. The reconciliation of the human to the Divine was first effected in the Person of Christ. As Christ is formed in us we become reconciled to God. Christ grows up in us as we grow up into him. The life of faith is a life of miracle.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The mission of genealogies.
The Gospels contain two genealogies of Jesus the Messiah. Both relate to Joseph the reputed father of Jesus, and to Mary by virtue of her relation as wife, or her family relation, to him. Matthew's is the transcript of the public record, and traces the family line in a descending scale from Abraham; Luke's is the private family genealogy, and it traces the family line in an ascending scale up to Adam. Matthew takes the point of view of a Jew; Luke sees in Messiah a Saviour for humanity. It has been suggested that the Jew bore two names—what may be called a religious name, which would be used in the sacred records; and what may be called a secular name, which would be used in the civil lists. This may account for diversity in the forms of the names in these two genealogies.
I. THE COMMON MISSION OF GENEALOGIES. Everybody does not jealously guard the family records. But some do. They are felt to be important:
1. When there is family property. This is illustrated in the case of the Israelites. The land of Canaan was divinely allotted to the families, and it was inalienable (see the year of jubilee, and Naboth's refusal to give up his garden). Any one claiming land in Canaan was bound to show the family register.
2. When there were class privileges. Illustrate by the inability of some, in the time of the restoration, to prove their priestly or Levitical connections. See the jealousy with which membership in Indian castes is preserved.
3. When any one becomes famous. At once we want to know who he is; what are his belongings; who are his "forbears." An idea that no man is a distinct and separate individual. We are all products. We all belong to the past. Those who have been live over again in their sons. So in a biography we always want to know a man's ancestry. Show that there is this common interest in Jesus, and it is fully met, and met in such a way as to secure a supreme interest in him.
II. THE SACRED MISSION OF GENEALOGIES. They become proofs of the Messiahship of Jesus. Prophecy fixed one condition. Messiah would belong to the royal house of David. Now, observe that during Christ's life this was never once disputed. The Sanhedrin kept the public archives; and though Herod the Great sought out and burnt all the family registers he could, the enemies of Christ never attempted to disprove his claim to belong to the royal race. Evidently the public genealogies confronted them and served this sacred purpose. Ulla, a rabbi of the third century, says, "Jesus was treated in an exceptional way, because he was of the royal race."—R.T.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in a most significant and emphatic way, points out the distinct feature of the last Divine revelation: "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son (ἐν υἱῷ)." Sonship declaring Fatherhood in God is the very essence of the revelation in Christ. That point is illustrated in the genealogies in a very striking way. Jesus is set forth as the Son of David; he is more, he is the Son of Abraham; he is more, he is the Son of Adam; he is more, he is even the Son of God. If this seems to be less prominent in Matthew's descending genealogy, it is very prominent in Luke's ascending one. Putting all these Sonships together, we get the following impressions concerning the claims of Jesus.
I. HE WAS TRUE KING. "Son of David;" lineal descendant of King David. With actual, natural, legitimate right to the sovereignty of David's land. In our Lord's time there was no other claimant to David's throne. Herod would have made short work in dealing with any such claimant. He tried to destroy the Child-King Jesus. Jesus was David's legitimate and only Heir.
II. HE WAS TRUE JEW. "Son of Abraham." This was indeed involved in his being "Son of David," since David was a son of Abraham; but for the satisfaction of the Jews the Abrahamic descent is assured. "Salvation is of the Jews." Messiah must come in the Abrahamic line. He must be the "Seed of Abraham," in whom all nations of the earth are to be blessed.
III. HE WAS TRUE MAN. "Son of Adam." Luke, writing for Gentiles, goes beyond all Jewish limitations, and sets forth the true, proper, common humanity of Christ, and the interest of all humanity in him. For if "salvation is of the Jew," it is salvation for the whole world. "God so loved the world." Jesus belongs to the Jewish race, and that is important. He is the Crown and Flowering of that race. But Jesus belongs to humanity, and that is more important. He is the Hope of the human race; the "Life and Light of men."
IV. HE WAS DIVINE MAN. "Son of God." There is a sense in which this may be said of every man; there is a special sense in which it is said of Christ. He brings a new force of Divine life to start a new spiritual race, even as Adam had a special Divine life to start a human race. "In him was life."—R.T.
Matthew 1:3, Matthew 1:5
Strange links in genealogical chains.
It must strike every reader as singular, that the women introduced in the genealogies are of doubtful character or of foreign relations. "The mention of the four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, in such a pedigree is very significant. Tamar, the forgotten one, twice left a childless widow; Rahab, not only of the accursed seed of the Canaanites, but moreover a harlot; Ruth, also a long-childless widow, and a stranger, and born of the stock of Moab, that nation of incestuous origin, forbidden to enter the house of the Lord unto the tenth generation; and lastly, the wife of Uriah, the very mention of whom, under this designation, only draws attention to her sin;—all these are seen incorporated into the line of the children of Abraham, nay, more, into the holy genealogy of Christ." What can it be intended that these strange links should teach us?
I. MAN'S WILFULNESS IS NOT ALLOWED TO HINDER. GOD'S PURPOSES. Marriage of Jews beyond the limits of the nation was strictly forbidden; and such marriages were a fruitful source of evil, as, is illustrated in the times of Balaam and of Nehemiah. We can clearly see man's wilfulness in the marriages of Rahab and Ruth, who were both foreigners, and worse than wilfulness in David's marrying Bathsheba. Such wilfulness we might expect would thwart the Divine purpose for the race; but instead, it was overruled. God's thought cannot be frustrated. If man resists, he will simply be borne along on the current of God's outworking purpose.
II. GOD LETS CHARACTER TRIUMPH OVER MERE RACE-DISABILITIES. This is illustrated in the cases of Rahab and Ruth, the fine illustrations of faith in God and of the loyalty of sincere love. That faith ennobled a Canaanite in the sight of God. That loyalty of love beautified a Moabite in the sight of God. And so our Lord taught that the humbled, penitent, believing "publicans and harlots' entered his kingdom rather than Abraham-born Jews, who had nothing to boast of but a pedigree.
III. GENTILES HAVE A CLEAR CLAIM TO THE BENEFITS OF MESSIAH'S WORK. They have an actual part in him. The blood of two Gentile mothers is in the Saviour of the world. The Gentiles need rest in no mere permission to share Jewish privilege: they can claim their rights in Jesus. He is "a Light to lighten the Gentiles."—R.T.
The mystery of the Incarnation.
Christianity starts with a miracle. It is a miracle altogether so stupendous and so unique that its reception settles the whole question of the possibility of the miraculous. He who can believe that God shadowed himself to our apprehension in the likeness of a man, he who can recognize in the Babe of Bethlehem, both the Son of God and the Son of Mary, will find that no equal demand is ever afterwards made upon his faculty of faith. Both Testaments begin with a miracle. A world of order and beauty arising out of chaos is a miracle as truly as is the birth of a divinely human Saviour by the Divine overshadowing of Mary. We ask how these things were done, but the mystery eludes all human explanations. In the whole circle of causes yet searched out by man, there are none which help us to trace the mystery. We ask why, and then for us the mystery of wisdom and grace is allowed to unfold a little. Two influences affected the truth of the Incarnation in the time of the apostles—Judaism tended to overpress the mere humanity of Christ; Gnosticism tended to dissipate the humanity into a mere appearance.
I. ON WHAT PRINCIPLE is THE INCARNATION FOUNDED. It is essentially a revelation, and it rests upon the principle that man can only be taught the truth concerning God, and saved from his sins, by a revelation. Man is made a moral being by receiving a revelation of the will of God. Man is redeemed by receiving a revelation of the-mercy of God. What man precisely needs is a revelation of God's character; it must be shown to him in human spheres. That is the Incarnation, "God manifest in the flesh."
II. WHAT FORM DID THE INCARNATION TAKE? We may gain the best ideas by noticing what it was not.
1. God did not put on the mere appearance of humanity. This was the error of the Docetae. To correct this the evangelists give details of our Lord's birth into veritable humanity.
2. God did not assume to himself a human body. That is, he did not find a human body, and come into it, as the hermit-crab will find, and enter into, an empty shell. Scripture says he was made man.
3. God did not take any particular class or kind of humanity. He was just the world's Babe, the world's Man.—R.T.
The Holy Ghost before Pentecost.
We are so accustomed to associate the term "Holy Ghost" with the descent of the Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost, that it seems strange to us to find it used by the evangelists even in the early portions of their Gospels. But there is no proper authority for connecting the term exclusively with Pentecost. Properly speaking, there is nothing peculiar or distinctive in the term. "Spirit" and "Ghost" are synonyms. "Holy Spirit" may properly be put wherever "Holy Ghost" is found. Nothing is added to our knowledge by using the term "Ghost." Whenever God is spoken of in the Scripture as working within things, out of sight, in the spheres of thought and feeling, he is spoken of as God the Spirit, or God the Ghostly. The Old Testament is full of statements concerning the working of God's Spirit in creation; in the antediluvians; in the kings; in the prophets. God works in the created spheres in two ways.
1. In external spheres, and in modes apprehensible by human senses.
2. In internal spheres, and in modes apprehensible by the feeling, the mind, and the will. God's secret workings are to be regarded as the operations of his Spirit. So the mysterious putting forth of Divine power in the case of Mary is properly presented as the working of the Holy Ghost.
I. GOD WORKING IN THE MINDS OF MEN IS THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH OF. THE HOLY GHOST. This belongs exclusively to no one age, to no one dispensation, to no one race. To the heathen God is the "great Spirit." "Moved by thee, the prophets wrote and spoke." There is this "inspiration of the Almighty which giveth understanding," as the common heritage of the race; and special forms it takes, within Jewish lines, only illustrate the universal forms it takes for all humanity.
II. GOD USING, AS HIS AGENCY, THE LIFE AND WORDS AND WORKS OF JESUS, IS THE SPECIAL CHRISTIAN TRUTH OF THE HOLY GHOST. So Jesus said, "He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you;" "He shall … bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." The Holy Ghost of the early Church is the Holy Spirit of the Church of all the ages, only his instruments are precise; his agency is limited. He works through the outer revelation which has been brought to men by Christ, and is given to men in Christ.—R.T.
Justice is considerateness.
Very little is known concerning Joseph the husband of Mary; and yet enough is known to reveal a character. And what more especially shows him up to our view is his determination to do what was right, but to do it kindly. According to Jewish ideas, betrothal was as sacred as marriage, and infidelities before marriage were treated as infidelities after marriage, and death by stoning was the punishment for such sins. It was customary for persons to be engaged, or espoused, for twelve months, and during that time the persons did not see each other. Mary had to tell Joseph, and Joseph had to act under the circumstances in the way that seemed best. He was a just man, but he was a kind man. No doubt what Mary told him made a great demand on his faith. He does not seem to have been able to receive her mysterious story until his mind was divinely guided; then he married Mary, and at the time that Jesus was born Joseph was her recognized husband.
I. THE JUST MAN WANTS TO DO THE RIGHT. But it is always difficult to decide what is right when other people are affected by our decision. When we have to judge the conduct of others we easily make mistakes. We judge as if persons acted from the motives which decide our action. It was easy for Joseph to explain Mary's conduct, and see quite sufficient ground for refusing any further relations with her. And in forming judgment on such grounds, he would have been altogether wrong, and he would have unworthily dealt with Mary. She was no wilful sinner; she had only come into the sovereign power and grace of God. In trying to be just there is grave danger of our becoming most unjust. See Eli's suspicion of Hannah.
II. THE JUST MAN WANTS TO DO THE KIND. Noble-minded men let mercy tone judgment. Ignoble-minded men love to persecute, and call it punishment. Charity hideth sin; is jealous concerning imperilled reputation; and suffers most deeply when punishment must be inflicted. So God's mercy loves to rejoice over judgment.—R.T.
Dreams as revelations.
It has been said that dreams represent the usual mode of Divine communication with persons who are outside the covenant. But this view is not fully maintained by a study of all the incidents narrated. It is true of Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-7), of Laban (Genesis 31:24), of Pharaoh's butler and baker (Genesis 40:5-19), of Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-7), of the Midianite (Judges 7:13-15), of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1, Daniel 2:31; Daniel 4:5, Daniel 4:8), of the Wise Men (Matthew 2:11, Matthew 2:12), of Pilate's wife (Matthew 27:19). But it is not true of Jacob (Genesis 28:12; Genesis 31:10), of Joseph (Genesis 37:5-9), of Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-15), of Daniel (Daniel 7:1-28.), or of Joseph (Matthew 1:20, Matthew 1:21; Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19, Matthew 2:20). It is said that communication by dreams is the lowest form of revelation, because it deals with man when the senses and the will are asleep, and the panorama of the contents of the mind keeps passing, and there is no intelligent selection and arrangement of them. Dreams are much regarded in heathen religions. They are very sparingly used in the Jehovah-religion; and all Divine directions, whether by dreams or otherwise, are dependent upon the inward earnestness and sincerity of the heart. Perhaps it may be said that God used dreams in revealing his will to those who were not specially sensitive to spiritual things. Poets, prophets, mystics, see visions. Common men, or men in ordinary moods and conditions of mind, dream dreams, which God fills with meaning. See how far this is illustrated in the several cases mentioned above. Note that Joseph takes no place as a prophet or specially gifted or spiritual man; and therefore what may be called the commonplace mode of Divine communication was employed in his case.
I. DREAMS ARE USUALLY WITHOUT SIGNIFICANCE. They represent the workings of the mind apart from the control of the will. They may or may not be connected. They may or may not be remembered. They bear no relation to character or culture. They can only nourish superstition if unduly regarded.
II. DREAMS ARE SOMETIMES FULL OF DIVINE SIGNIFICANCE. NO sphere of man's life can be thought of as beyond God's control and use. He can be the will that guides, shapes, arranges, our dreams, so that they shall convey to us some message from him. He has done this. He still does this. Though his working in us, by the movings and guidings of the Holy Ghost, makes special and external forms of revelation seldom, if ever, necessary.—R.T.
A mission revealed in a twofold Name.
The fact confronts us, and sets us upon earnest inquiry, that one name was prophesied for Messiah, and another name was given to him when he came. He was to be called "Immanuel," and he was called "Jesus." Now, are we to understand that these are two names, and that Messiah is to be known as "Immanuel-Jesus"? or are we to see in the name Jesus a full and sufficient embodiment of the idea contained in the name "Immanuel"? Jewish names, and especially prophetic names, carry definite and precise meanings; they embody facts or suggest missions.
I. THE MESSIANIC NAMES TREATED AS TWO.
1. Take the prophetic name "'Immanuel," or "Emmanuel." The secondary reference of the prophecy in Isaiah is to the Messiah; the first reference is to some one who should deliver the nation from its immediate troubles (see Commentary on Isaiah 7:14). The name carried the assurance "God is with us." But that assurance involved more than the fact of Divine presence. If God is near, he is near to help. If God manifests himself, he manifests himself to deliver and to save. Christ, then, is "God with us," sensibly present, manifest in the flesh. With us he is active to help and save.
2. Take the angel-given name "Jesus." This is a common Jewish name. It is the Greek form of the familiar "Joshua;" but it has a significance and a history. It is really Hoshea, or Hoshua, "the Helper," with the name of God added as a prefix, Je-hoshua, shortened to Joshua. So it means in full, "God our Helper." But, in the dream, a very full translation of the name was given. It was said to declare Messiah's mission to be "saving the people from their sins," and "from their sins" is designedly set in contrast with "from their troubles," so that the moral and spiritual character of the mission should be made quite plain.
II. THE MESSIANIC NAMES TREATED AS ONE. Take the simple meaning of "Jesus," Je-hoshua; it is "God with us helping." But that is precisely the thought embodied in "Emmanuel," which is "God with us," and the connection declares that God is thought of as with us to help us. Then the same mission is declared in both names. It is the fact that our supreme need arises out of our sins that decides the sphere of the Divine helping.—R.T.
It is plain that the Jews used their Old Testament Scriptures in ways that do not commend themselves to us. To-day rabbis can find references and proofs in passages which, to our more orderly and logical minds, seem to have no bearing on the subject. They have always been readily carried away by similarity in the sound of passages. Strict criticism cannot approve of their quotations or recognize their intelligent connections. We are to remember' that one supreme idea possessed the mind of the Jew. He looked for Messiah; everything was full of Messiah; everything pointed to Messiah. The Jews were ready to find references to Messiah everywhere. So when they believed Messiah had come, they naturally turned to the old Scripture, and matched the facts of his life with all the Messianic references. We are more critical than they; we have a keener historical sense; and so we have learned to regard the Messianic allusions as secondary references, the prophecies bearing a first relation to the times in which they were uttered. St. Matthew is presenting Jesus as the Messiah promised to the Jews; and he brings into special prominence, through the whole of his narrative, that harmony between the events and the prophecies by which Jesus is marked out as the "Christ." The formula "that it might be fulfilled" is like a refrain repeated in every page of the book. In the two first chapters we find five detached incidents of the childhood of Jesus connected with five prophetic sayings. "This Gospel is the demonstration of the rights of sovereignty of Jesus over Israel as their Messiah." The importance of Scripture fulfilments may be shown by illustrating the two following points.
I. AN INDEPENDENT REVELATION IS INCONCEIVABLE. If God is pleased to work by revelations, we may be quite sure that those revelations are related; and we expect them to be given in an ascending scale; the roots of all later revelations are sure to be found in the earlier ones. An independent revelation is at once stamped with suspicion. If its connections cannot be shown, its trustworthiness may be denied. True revelations had been given to the Jews. New revelations must confirm their truth, and be their unfolding. Conceive what would have been said if Jesus had appeared making independent claim as Messiah, heedless of all connection between his revelation and preceding ones. Without hesitation we say that, in such a case, his claim could not have been justified. "The Scripture must be fulfilled."
II. AN ANTAGONISTIC REVELATION MUST BE REJECTED. It would have been the all-sufficing answer for the Pharisees, if only they could have given it—Scripture is opposed to the claims of this Jesus of Nazareth. But they never dared attempt to prove antagonism between his revelation and the previous one. Disciples and apostles, and even our Lord himself in his teachings, fully combat the idea of antagonism. He came "not to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfil." He was able, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets," to expound "in all the Scripture the things concerning himself." "To him give all the prophets witness."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany