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The Gospel. See note commencing Matthew 1:1. The Gospel here signifies the unwritten oral Christ-history possessed by the Church which constitutes the subject-matter of the four written gospels.
According to As shaped and recorded by. The ancient titles do not say The Gospel by Matthew or Luke; for that would obscure the fact that the body of gospel facts was accumulated before the gospel books were written.
INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD OF JESUS.
From Luke 1:1, to Luke 2:52.
The two former Gospels, says Van Oosterzee, show us who Jesus was; this informs us how he became what he was; pointing us successively to the unborn, (Luke 2:22,) the infant, (Luke 2:16,) the child, (Luke 2:27,) the boy, (Luke 2:40,) and the man, (Luke 3:22.)
§ 1. LUKE’S PREFACE, Luke 1:1-4 .
1. Forasmuch Luke here informs us that the many attempts made to reduce the oral and documentary gospel matter to form had induced him to furnish a complete, orderly, and reliable Gospel.
Many The history of the doings and sayings of Jesus would necessarily constitute a main amount of the preaching of the apostles. Of this history so preached every Church, at any rate, if not many private Christians, would desire to possess some sketch or summary. These would be raw material for history, but not of sufficient authority to become a standard gospel for the Christian Church at large. Among these defective particulars of the many, the gospels of Matthew and Mark, even if written previous to the publication of Luke’s, are not to be included. Matthew’s gospel as yet was in the Hebrew language, and Mark’s was published in distant Italy, so that neither probably was yet in circulation in the locality where Luke was conversant.
Have taken in hand Have undertaken. The phrase in itself expresses neither success nor failure; and so implies neither praise nor censure. The only terms, indeed, in which Luke implies censure are those in which he expresses the excellences he expected his own gospel to exhibit. These excellences will be found to consist in the earliness of the point at which his history begins the care with which he had investigated everything to the bottom, and the certainty of his confirmation.
To set forth in order To arrange. It does not, therefore, seem that Luke reprehends any very great want of orderly arrangement in the documents of these
many. A declaration A narrative or relation. Something less than a history, yet constituting a summary of the matter, however long or short.
Things… most surely believed among us Things held as absolute facts, on the surest evidence, by the full faith of the Church.
2. Delivered them unto us This delivery being previous to writing must have been oral. The us to whom they were delivered must be the Church and people contemporaneous with the apostles, and to whom they preached. The phrase “handed down,” therefore, is not a proper translation of the Greek term; for that would imply that the receiver belonged to a later generation. Luke, though after the apostles in rank, was probably their coeval in time.
From the beginning The beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.
Eyewitnesses To be “witnesses chosen before of God” of the doings and sayings of Jesus was the very essence and object of the apostolic office. Acts 10:41; Acts 1:8; Acts 1:22; Acts 26:16. In accordance with this is the bold declaration of Peter at a later day: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables… but were eye-witnesses.” On equally strong grounds does John, near the close of the first century, later, in fact, than the publication of this gospel, place his own testimony: “That which was from the beginning, which we have HEARD, which we have SEEN with our EYES, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled… declare we unto you.” 1 John 1:1. Such declarations afford no room, no interval of time, no chance for the intervention of fabricators for forming traditions, legends, or myths. Our gospels are the plain records of the statements of actual spectators.
Ministers of the word The terms eyewitnesses and ministers are epithets for the same persons. The apostles were to be eye-witnesses of the facts, in order to be official rehearsers of the history.
3. It seemed good to me also This seeming good to himself does not exclude a concurrence with the influence of inspiration, nor a use of the aid of Paul. So in the letters of the counsel at Jerusalem, it is said, “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” Acts 15:28.
Having had perfect understanding Having completely traced out by investigation to the utmost. Luke here writes in the true conscientious historical spirit. Though he had not studied in the schools of modern criticism, he had all the means of immediate investigation, of which the rules of modern criticism seek to supply the want. Conscientiousness and common sense, with facts and witnesses so near at hand, were incomparably superior to any critical apparatus of the modern professor. Besides, he had more than any secular historian can claim. He had a providential commission, a divine inspiring guidance, and the endowment of the discerning of spirits. He so wrote by order of the great Head of the Church, and his record was accepted by the Church in its gifted and blessed first age.
From the very first This refers to the early point to which Luke’s investigations carried the beginning of his history back, namely, to the angel’s announcement to Zacharias in Luke 1:5.
In order Not a mere unarranged miscellany, or series of swings or doings, but a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. This does not pledge Luke to an absolutely accurate observance in details of chronological order; for of that his documents may not have always furnished him the means. Yet no evangelist is so careful to connect his events chronologically with contemporaneous secular history as Luke; no error, we firmly believe, has ever been truly detected in his professed chronological statements; and if the investigations of Wieseler be reliable, Luke has well sustained any professions of a chronological order which he can be supposed to have here made.
Most excellent Theophilus As the name Theophilus signifies a lover of God, some have supposed that it stands as a symbol to represent any Christian reader. But the literal writings of the New Testaments know no such use of symbolic names. The epithet most excellent indicates not affection simply for a friend, but respect for elevated character or rank. Theophilus, therefore, must be considered as a Christian of influential character; a convert, perhaps, of Luke. Of his residence we have but one indication. The Acts of the Apostles is also addressed by Luke to Theophilus, (Acts 1:1;) and it has been noted that Luke, when his narrative brings him into Italy and near Rome, mentions such minute places as Appii Forum and the Three Taverns (Acts 28:15) precisely as if they were known to Theophilus. The inference is that he was a resident of Rome. Although, however, the name of Theophilus is not symbolic, yet Theophilus himself stands as a representative man for every Christian reader. Neither the Gospel nor the Acts are to be viewed as a mere private letter to him. In a similar way, Cicero addressed his treatises on Old Age and on Friendship to Atticus; Horace addressed his Art of Poetry to the Pisoes; and Plutarch addressed his Treatise on Divine Delay to Cynius.
This address, although it was usually attended with some personal references, yet, like a modern dedication of a book, was simply a token of respect for an honoured friend; and the composition itself was none the less a work for the public and posterity.
4. Mightest know the certainty This was the great ultimate object; that the Christian laity, of whom Theophilus was a representative, might be fully assured of the perfect confirmation of the Christian history. This confirmation would arise from the profoundly reliable character of Luke, and from his perfect understanding of all things, even
from the very first. Hast been instructed The Greek word here used, κατηχηθης , is that from which the words catechise and catechumen are derived. This probably refers not to the catechesis of Theophilus’s childhood; for Theophilus was probably an adult when the apostolic ministry commenced. It more probably refers to the private oral instruction preparatory to baptism which the minister of the word bestowed on the young convert, over and above the preaching of the word. This catechetical instruction would embrace such documentary or traditional history of Jesus as his particular Church possessed. Luke now proposes to give this catechetical matter a more authentic substance and form.
It is agreed among scholars that this brief preface of Luke’s is written in the purest Greek style of any passage in the New Testament.
5. Days of Herod Herod, surnamed the Great. See note on Matthew 2:1.
Course of Abia Abijah. See 1Ch 24:3 ; 1 Chronicles 24:10; 1 Chronicles 24:19; also, Nehemiah 12:1; Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:17. When the sons of Aaron became too numerous, David divided them into twenty-four courses, or classes. Each class had supervision of the daily service of the temple for a week. The priests for each day of the week were selected from the class by lot. On the return from the captivity but four courses were left, which were again divided into twenty-four. The course of Abia, being the eighth, it has been calculated officiated April 17-23, and in October 3-9.
His wife was of the daughters of Aaron Both John’s parents were of priestly rank, the most honourable nobility among the Jews. It is a saying of R. Jochanan, “He that would be rich, let him join himself to the seed of Aaron; for so it is, that the law and the priesthood make rich. R. Idi bar Abin married a priestess, and from him proceeded those that were made doctors, namely, R. Shecheth, and R. Joshua.” And so Josephus says, “As among different nations there are different sorts of nobility, so with us the sharing of the priesthood is token of illustrious rank.” And so the learned Greek Jew of Alexandria, the celebrated Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, loftily said, “As far as God surpasses man in greatness, so far the high-priesthood surpasses the royalty; for the former is the service of God, the latter the care of men.” The two illustrious births now about to be announced were to be from the daughters of the sacred line of Aaron and the royal line of David.
§ 3. ELISABETH’S CONCEPTION, Luke 1:5-25 .
Luke now opens his gospel history with the striking scene which announced the approaching birth of John, the harbinger of Jesus.
During the 400 years preceding the account now to be narrated, neither vision nor miracle had been vouchsafed by God to his people. As the old canon closed with the prediction by Malachi that the coming of Elijah should precede the advent of the Messiah, so the first action of the new is to announce the true Elijah’s birth. God did but honour the ordinances of his own appointment when he made his temple the place, his priesthood the instrument, and his service the time of the initial movement.
6. Commandments and ordinances Commandments refer to the moral law, ordinances to the ritual.
Blameless Blameless even before God. Not blameless, indeed, as tried by the Christless law, which makes no allowance for infirmities; but blameless as living, through grace, under the atonement, in the undiminished approbation of God. So perfect was their faith, and so pure their life, that God imputed no blame unto them. This was their ordinary spiritual state; yet it excluded not the possibility of sin. For at a moment of trial Zacharias was betrayed into fault, and suffered a divine penalty.
8. While he executed the priest’s office In order to understand the scene, which now so solemnly opens our Christian history, let the reader compare our Temple Plan in vol. i, p. 247. At the hour (probably of the
Sabbath, when all the congregation of Israel attended) the people are in the Court of Israel, and the Court of the Women, in front of the Great Altar, on which the bleeding lamb is about being placed. In the so-called HOLY PLACE is the Altar of Incense, (7,) with the Golden Table for the show-bread (6) and the Golden Candlestick (8) on either side. Two officiating priests are present; the one to supervise the sacrifice on the Great Altar, and to the other (being to-day Zacharias himself) belongs the more honourable office of burning the incense on the Golden Altar in the Holy Place.
9. To burn the incense The composition of the sacred incense for the altar ( which the Jews were forbidden to make for private use) is given in Exodus 30:34-38. It was in the performance of the service placed in a vase or cup, called the censer, upon the Golden Altar in the Holy Place, with burning coals beneath, producing by its smoke a powerful perfume, filling the Temple with its fragrance. As it was within the MOST HOLY, on the Sacred Ark, between the Cherubim, that God the King of Israel dwelt, whose house the Temple was, so the bread, the candlestick, and the incense were all, symbolically, furnishings for him.
Some have incorrectly supposed that Zacharias was High Priest. But that pontiff’s duty was to enter the MOST HOLY once a year to make expiation for the people; namely, on the great day of atonement.
10. People were praying When the priest within the Holy Place, sprinkles the incense in the censor upon the burning altar, as the column of incense rises, the prayers of the people also ascend, of which the incense was the sacred type; and while the incense is ascending the bleeding victim is on the altar. Just so, when our prayers ascend, the great atoning victim avails in our behalf. So does the scene which introduces the new dispensation typify the results for which the new dispensation took existence.
11. Angel of the Lord See note on Matthew 1:20. The appearance of this angel is the opening of the miraculous dispensation of grace.
On the right side of the altar Zacharias at the proper signal ascending the steps behind the Great Altar, passes through the Porch, and walking the gilded floor, (for ceiling, walls, and probably floor, were sheeted with a complete overlay of gold,) approaches the altar upon which the censer has been placed. In this sanctuary no glare of day ever penetrates; but from the golden chandelier, with its seven branches crowned with lamps, pours a blaze of golden light over the golden altar and table, filling the golden room with richest splendour. The column of incense rises to soften the light and fill the air with fragrance. In this scene of dim magnificence a more than mortal form presents itself to the eye of Zacharias. Between the candlestick (8) and the Golden Altar (7) stands the angel Gabriel on the right side of the altar, (not on Zacharias’s right hand,) and, therefore, on the south side of the altar and on the right side of God, whose Shekinah, or Presence, once dwelt between the cherubim in the Most Holy, or Holy of Holies. This is the post of divine honour suitable to the being who announces that the age of Christ has approached, and that his harbinger is now to be born.
Though the system of miraculous revelation ceased with the closing canon, yet, if we may believe the Jewish historians, there were exceptional manifestations made in the Holy of Holies, or in the Holy Place, at this same Altar of Incense, to former priests. Ezra, the inspired Scribe, upon the return from the Captivity, established the Great Synagogue, consisting of one hundred and twenty grave and holy men, among whose presidents are enumerated Haggai, Zechariah, and Zerubbabel, which lasted one hundred and twenty years, terminating with the close of the presidency of the renowned Simon the Just, who died about 320 years before Christ. This was specially the age of the Soferim or Scribes. Simon the Just, it is related, filled the High Priesthood forty-nine years; and in the last year he said, “I shall die this year; for every year that I have entered the Holy of Holies there has been an Ancient One, זקז אהד , clothed in white, and veiled in white, that entered and came out with me; this year he entered but came not out.” Josephus narrates of the High Priest Hyrcanus, that upon the day that his sons fought at Cyzicenus, he was offering incense in the temple alone, and he heard a voice declaring that they had just conquered Antiochus; and this, going forward from the temple, he announced to the people in front. The annunciation was verified by the result.
12. Fear fell Wonderful is the fear which curdles the blood of even the bravest of mortals at the thought of meeting a messenger from God, or an apparition from the world of spirits. It seems to indicate that such beings do exist, and that such is their relation to us that their approach, by way of manifestation, must shock the very foundations of our being. So when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and to Manoah, both gave themselves up for dead. Judges 6:12; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:3; Judges 13:22.
13. Thy prayer is heard The angel attests his reality as a true supernatural being by showing that he knew what Zacharias’s prayer had long been, as well as by the splendour of his person. His prayer had, doubtless, once been for a posterity that his name might not die in Israel. But that hope declining as his age advanced, his later desire had been for the “consolation of Israel.” And at the present moment the prayers of Israel are ascending “for the people of God,” as Grotius says; “and, if Josephus and Philo are to be believed, for the salvation of the world.” Both currents of Zacharias’s prayer are heard. The posterity and the consolation are at hand.
John The God-given. A suitable name for one divinely given in answer to prayer. It is a suitable name, also, for him who, promised by ancient prophecy, was at last bestowed.
15. Neither wine nor strong drink This is in accordance with the vow of the Nazarite, Numbers 6:3-4. Similar announcements were made concerning Samson, Judges 13:4-5, and Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:11. The Nazarite thus consecrates himself to an over self-severity, in order to raise the people to the idea of self-control and temperance. They were eminent in abstinence, in order by example to raise the popular standard of mastery over bodily appetites. They abstained from what was innocent, either in quality or measure, in order to influence the world to abstain from what was guilty either in kind or in excessive degree. John was to be Nazarite; Jesus was to be the model, not of over self-severity, but of practical and duly measured innocence and right. Paul gives a rule for Christian Nazaritism in 1 Corinthians 8:13. Our modern temperance societies are properly a Christian Nazaritism. They are a moral enterprise, aiming to raise the public practice to a standard of temperance by exhibiting an abstinence from even an otherwise innocent measure of indulgence. Strong drink included all exhilarating liquors besides wine. The chemical art of distilling the modern inflaming liquors was unknown to the ancients; but they were able to make intoxicating drinks from the palm-tree, from apples, and from grains. Drunkenness was by no means thereby wholly unknown. See Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 23:29-30.
Holy Ghost… from his mother’s womb Even before birth the plenary influence of the Holy Spirit shall be upon and in his spirit. As soon as the soul shall quicken the unborn, there shall rest a holy power upon it. There is no Scripture ground for supposing with some that the child, even before birth, is no possible subject of sanctifying power.
17. He John.
Go before him That is, before the Lord their God. This seems to be a clear ascription of the divine title to the Messiah, before whom John was to go.
In the spirit and power of Elias And hence he was predicted by Malachi under the name of Elijah. Malachi 4:5.
Turn the heart of the fathers to the children Not the heart of the children to the fathers, mark; but the heart of the fathers to the children. The fathers here are the holy ancestry of degenerate Israel, and they have, as it were, been offended with the apostacy of their descendants. But John shall so infuse a better spirit into this generation that a reconciliation shall take place between the holy olden time and the fallen
present. A people A clear allusion to the admission of the Gentiles into the Church of God.
18. Whereby shall I know? This bold putting the angel to the proof was a want of proper faith. The fact that the angelic visitant knew his prayer, the splendour of his person, and the tremor of Zacharias, were vouchers sufficient. Strauss notes that Zacharias’s Greek words here are precisely the same with the Greek words of Abraham, according to the Septuagint in Genesis 15:8, and asks why Abraham was gratified and Zacharias punished. Grotius had answered Strauss’s question centuries before it was asked. Abraham had been instructed by no previous example; Zacharias was instructed by the example of Abraham, which as a priest he was bound to understand. But Zacharias’s penalty, like his fault, was slight. It was discipline rather than punishment. And Grotius, literal as is his spirit, finds in the dumbness and beckoning of Zacharias a type of the then existing silence of prophecy, leaving the nation to the premonitions of the rites and ceremonies alone until the Messiah be born.
19. Gabriel See note on Matthew 1:20.
In the presence of God See note on Matthew 18:10.
Shalt be dumb Literally, shalt be silent. The word rendered speechless in Luke 1:22, signifies both deaf and dumb. As his ear had refused the angel’s message, he shall be rendered deaf; and as he had uttered a bold and faithless speech, so a divine silence shall reprove him. Well for us often might it be, if some such gentle admonitory judgment should check our loquacity and teach us a wise silence. Zacharias’s punishment shall have a side of blessing to it. It shall be a sign to him that God will be better than his faith; a sign to others that the hope of Israel is drawing nigh. Similarly, by supernatural interviews, Jacob was made lame, and Saul of Tarsus was struck blind. These were the severe side of a gracious visitation. They remind us that we are sinners, even when we receive the tokens of God’s favour. And they tell us what we deserve in spite of the blessings that we get.
22. When he came out From the Holy Place. Zacharias now comes forth, near the Great Altar, and presents himself to the people, viewing him from below in the courts of Israel, and of the women.
They perceived that he had seen a vision It was customary for a priest to return forthwith from the holy place, so that the people might be sure that no judgment had befallen him for malperformance of office, or for any defect of the service. Zacharias, being speechless, indicated by signs that a divine manifestation had been made to him.
23. The days of his ministration The week of the priestly course of Abia. During their week the priests did not visit their own homes, but remained in the temple enclosures.
25. The Lord dealt with me Her retirement accords with the special dealing of God with her. She is to become the mother of one set apart from the world, and so she sets herself apart while so becoming.
My reproach The promise of a Messiah rendered marriage and maternity honourable among the Jews. Hence from the earliest times, as in the cases of Rachel and of Hannah, barrenness was a misfortune and a reproach.
26. In the sixth month After the annunciation to Zacharias.
Galilee See note on Matthew 4:12.
Named Nazareth See note on Matthew 2:23.
§ 4. SALUTATION OF MARY, Luke 1:26-38 .
As the approaching birth of the harbinger before Messiah’s face has been announced, so now follows the full annunciation of the coming Messiah himself. As birth is one of the wonders of nature, so these two births are more wonderful than nature. The first of the two is by an exaltation of nature above nature; the last is a direct over-passing of nature’s laws.
27. To a virgin See note on Matthew 1:23.
House of David Lineage or family of David. It is disputed among critics whether this is spoken of Joseph or of Mary.
28. Angel came… said, Hail In a green, open space at the northwestern extremity of Nazareth there is a small fountain, whence issues a slender stream from which the maidens of Nazareth, holding beneath their pitchers, obtain water for their homes. It is called the Fountain of the Virgin; for there the tradition is that this annunciation by Gabriel took place. In commemoration of this event, there stands the Church of the Annunciation. Whether the tradition be true or false, there can be no reasonable doubt that Mary in her day, among the maidens of that village, held the pitcher and drew water from this spring.
Highly favoured This, in the Roman or Vulgate translation of the New Testament, is rendered plena gratiâ, full of grace. See note on Matthew 1:18. The Romanists in vain endeavour to prove the sinlessness of Mary from this phrase. It means, as is said in Luke 1:30, that she had found favour or grace with God. Blessed art thou among women See note on Matthew 1:18.
29. Saw him The phrase, when she saw him, being absent from many manuscripts, is of doubtful authenticity, but the angel’s visibility seems to be implied.
Troubled at his saying There is a meek composure in the words of Mary, quite in contrast with the hasty language of Zacharias. She utters no bold word demanding test or proof; and she closes with complete submission to her trial and to her destiny of honour.
Cast in her mind Conjectured, debated in her mind.
What manner What the nature.
30. Fear not He prefaces his announcement to Mary, as to Zacharias, with an encouraging fear not. The Gospel dispensation opens with a dismissal of fear and a promise of salvation.
31. Jesus See note on Matthew 1:21.
32. Throne of his father David See note on Matthew 1:20. The throne of the theocracy, or ancient kingdom of God. The Jewish nation, as a chosen people of God, constituted this theocracy during the Mosaic dispensation. On the throne of this theocracy David was a representative king. When the Jewish race ceased to be the theocracy by the taking of the kingdom of God from them, that kingdom was established on a new basis, by which every man, Jew or Gentile, was admitted to form part of that kingdom by faith. On the throne of that theocracy sits Jesus, the eternal successor of David.
33. The house of Jacob Both of Jacob’s natural and spiritual descendants. “For,” says Grotius, “just as David the king of Israel did by conquest amalgamate the Edomites and other nations with his kingdom, so also this Messiah-king, by gospel conquest, shall incorporate the Gentiles into his kingdom and naturalize them as true Israel. Isaiah 14:1. The stranger shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.” And, Isaiah 44:5, of the same stranger it is said he “
shall call himself by the name of Jacob.” For ever This term being applied here to no earthly or mere human subject, must be taken in the strict sense of eternity.
Shall be no end For though its probationary mediatorial form shall cease, yet its substance shall be eternal. Christ shall be eternal king, and so his reign and throne shall be endless.
34. How shall this be? Zacharias requires proof of the angel’s statement before he will believe the thing will be done; Mary accepts that the thing will be done, and modestly asks how? One is a case of presumptuous unbelief; the other is a case of faith asking to be further instructed. “I accept in full faith the fact; but by what process (since the natural process is impossible) shall it be accomplished?” The angel now declares the process. Instead of an impure and sexual agency, a holy, unsexual, omnipotent power shall as purely produce the new being as the first germ of plant and tree was originally formed and developed “before it grew.” Genesis 2:5.
35. The Holy Ghost The definite article is not in the Greek. The phrase holy spirit here designates not the third person in the trinity; for, then, he would be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; but the same holy spirit of Deity which brooded upon chaos and produced the creation.
Come upon thee See Acts 1:8.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee The pure Spirit of God should sanctify her nature and render her the holy mother of the Son of God.
Overshadow thee By an act of power as pure as the shadow of a cloud shed down upon thee, shall God be the creative father of thy holy son.
The holy thing That totality which is born of thee, including both human and divine, is holy, a holy thing. Its human flesh and blood, though drawn from a fallen source, shall, as they form into his being, be pure as the first Adam, by association with the divine. Him hath God sanctified and sent through the ordinary pathway of birth into the world. John 10:36. So that Christ taking our nature took not its sin.
Shall be called the Son of God Because the second person in the Trinity is by this divine operation, and this human conception and birth, incarnated in his person. Undoubtedly the production of the human birth by Deity entitles even the human person of our Saviour to the appellation Son of God. Yet primarily this title, taking its starting point from the divinity, descends to include the humanity. On the other hand, the title Son of man, beginning with his humble humanity, takes in its glorified state, and even its union with the divine.
The idea of a god become incarnate, and thus a god-man, it is often said abounds in heathen mythology, and so in Christianity is a plagiary. But though heathenism has her gods incarnate, she never rose to the thought of the infinite and eternal God assuming humanity upon his divinity. That Hercules should be begotten of Jove, or Achilles be born of the goddess Thetis, are small fables, bearing no analogy to the true Incarnation. And even the incarnations of Vishnu in Hindoo mythology are merely the goings forth of the god himself under the mere shape of animal or man. They are not a real divinity in a real humanity, a unity of the two complete personal natures, perfect God and perfect man, constituting one God-man.
36. Thy cousin E1isabeth Mary was of the tribe of Judah, and Elisabeth of the tribe of Levi. That is, their fathers probably were; for it was the father’s descent which assigned any family to its tribeship. The two women, therefore, may have been cousins by the mother’s side, by their mothers having been sisters. But the word rendered cousin may signify kindred of any degree.
37. Nothing shall be impossible Ages ago (Genesis 18:14) “The LORD” had said in a similar announcement to Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” The angel refers to the analogous case of Elisabeth as proof to Mary that miraculous birth is an event that may now occur. The birth of an immortal being into existence is the greatest of natural events. The birth of an immortal being, without a human father, by a divine interposition, is one of the greatest of miracles. The birth of a human being from a true divine paternity, placing a God-man upon earth, is pre-eminently THE miracle of which all other miracles are but the subordinates and attendants. But all things are possible with God. To perform a contradiction is, indeed, not a possibility even with omnipotence. But then a contradiction is really nothing at all, and so does not come into the number of all things. God is fully able to suspend by miracle the laws of nature, and even reverse them all. For the laws of nature are nothing more than the ordinary action of the divine will, which God can vary just as easily as he can hold them uniform. The incarnation is just as easy a work with God as a maintenance of the ordinary laws of birth.
39. Into the hill country See note on Matthew 2:1. See also the map.
With haste The action of eager interest. If we may suppose Hebron to be Elisabeth’s residence, Mary’s journey would be about one hundred miles. Robinson journeyed with camels from Hebron to Jerusalem in an hour and fifteen minutes, and from thence to Nazareth with mules in nearly thirty hours. A camel travels about ten miles an hour; a mule three.
City of Judah The city is by many supposed to be Hebron. In Joshua 21:11, is mentioned “Arba,… which is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah.” It was a residence of priests, and so very probably of the priest Zacharias. Modern tradition, traceable back no further, however, than the sixteenth century, finds his residence in Ain Karim. This is a prosperous village within the hill country, where now stands the convent of St. John in the Desert. According to tradition, Mary, in her visit to Elisabeth, found her at Zacharias’s rural abode, one mile from the village, where the interview took place. The place was marked by a chapel built by the Empress Helena, of which the ruins still remain. The spot is called The Visitation. But some of the best scholars suppose that Judah is but a softened name for Juttah, a city mentioned in Joshua 15:55; Joshua 21:16, and which exists at the present day.
§ 5. VISIT OF MARY TO ELISABETH, Luke 1:39-56 .
Elisabeth concealed herself for five months, (Luke 1:24;) and the annunciation was made to Mary in the sixth month, (26;) and Mary visits Elizabeth for three months, making about nine months. The conception of the Messiah, doubtless, took place before Mary’s departure. The revelation of the fact to Joseph took place after her return.
There are many passages in the word of God which modern delicacy desires to avoid, and at which modern scepticism utters its scoffs. But in all such passages, be it noted, the holy word seeks to pander to no impure or sensual passion. On the contrary, the expressions that occur indicate that the sacred writer was unconscious of impurity, and is, as it were, unknowing of the applications and perversions which a depraved heart makes of his words. Its words, therefore, are utterances of highest purity. With the guilty is the guilt. The Holy Spirit need not hesitate to name what the Omnipotent Spirit does not hesitate to create; and that naming and that creating are equally pure.
41. Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost It would seem that the pure and blessed Spirit rested divinely upon the person of the future mother of the Messiah; and her voice became, as it were, the conductor by the blessed sympathy of that spirit to the body, soul, and spirit of the future mother of the Baptist. Hence the words that Elisabeth now uttered were impregnated with inspiration, and she was enabled to address Mary with prophetic words.
43. Mother of my Lord Mother of the human nature of the Incarnate. But there is something that grates painfully upon our heart as we survey the phrase of the Romish Church, “Mary the mother of God.”
44. Leaped in my womb for joy As if even before birth joyfully predicting by the Holy Spirit the Messiah at the approach of the Messiah’s future mother; as if indicating that hereafter his own joy would be fulfilled in the Messiah’s fulness. It seems most plainly accordant with the mind of the inspired writer, that, upon this occasion, the unborn harbinger salutes with joy the unborn Messiah at his first approach. From before his birth he was to be filled with the Holy Ghost. That Spirit now filled the mother because of the spirit of the child.
45. She that believed The believing Mary, whose faith stood in contrast with Zacharias’s unbelief, and should be rewarded with the performance.
46-55. The Magnificat, or triumphal hymn of the Blessed Virgin.
This hymn has been called the Magnificat, from the first word of the Latin version; the Hymn of Zacharias (68-79) is called the Benedictus; and that of Simeon the Nunc Dimittis. Like one of the prophets of old, Mary, in the moment of inspired exaltation, pours forth her joy in rhythmical utterances. As in such cases of excitement memory is doubly powerful, it was easy to record with verbal accuracy the entire hymn.
It is divisible into three parts.
I. Luk 1:46-49. Rapturous recognition of God’s strange grace upon her own utterly humble person and character.
II. Luk 1:50-53. A recognition that it is ever thus that God exalts the humble and brings low the proud.
III. Luk 1:54-55. The blessed result is, that humble Israel is now to be exalted according to God’s ancient promise to Abraham.
I. Recognition of God’s grace to her humility.
Compare the song of Hannah upon a similar occasion, the birth of a future prophet and judge of Israel. This is formed upon the same model of that, as proof that the new dispensation is the outgrowth of the old, and that the same spirit, in different ages and persons, breathes the same holy strains. But the song of the latter is gentler, grander, opening into a far sublimer prospective.
48. Low estate of his handmaiden Mary’s ground of praise and thanksgiving is the wonderful grace of God that had condescended to even her. True, she is daughter of the noblest line of Israel or the world, but for ages that royal line has been in a low estate. It seemed wonderful that the daughter of neither Augustus nor Herod should be selected as the mother of the Incarnate, but the humble virgin of Nazareth. Some ten years before Mary uttered this hymn, Virgil, the Roman poet, had in one of his finest strains predicted the birth of a noble babe, under whose sway a new order of things should commence, and the renovation of the world be accomplished. It was suggested, doubtless, by the prevalent presentiment that a great deliverer was soon to be born, arising from the prophecies of the Messiah. But the worldly poet preferred to find his mother for the Messiah in the wife of a Roman consul. So differs the wisdom of God from the folly of man.
All generations shall call me blessed Here is prophecy; and how wonderfully has it been fulfilled! Sad it is, indeed, to think that even the Christian Church has made her the object of idolatry. But let that not prevent our uttering the epithet blessed upon her whom God deigned to honour above all her sex.
II. Recognition that God ever exalts the lowly.
50-53. From her own case, Mary now generalizes that thus does God ever deal; debasing the proud, exalting the humble. The past tense of the verbs here is intended to express past, present, and future. Paganism, now reigning supreme in the Roman empire, is destined to give way before the religion of the despised cross. In two or three passing centuries the power of the son of this Nazarene maiden will subdue the Roman empire, and the throne of Augustus shall be inherited by his worshippers. So does God put down the mighty from their seats, and exalt them of low degree.
III. So God shall exalt his humble Israel.
54, 55. And this law of wondrous vicissitudes and reverses is now accruing to the behalf of Israel. Sad has been his humiliation; from a high to a low estate has he been brought; but the time of his re-exaltation has now arrived, and the old Abrahamic covenant is now come to its fulfilment.
Holpen Old English for helped.
55. To Abraham The promise was that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18.
§ 5. BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, Luke 1:57-80 .
57. Brought forth a son See note on Matthew 3:1.
59. They came To the house probably of Zacharias. For no particular place was prescribed, and no particular person as performer of the rite.
To circumcise the child Circumcision was given by God to Abraham as the sign of the covenant between God and the circumcised. Perhaps it was, as in the case of sacrifices, merely the renewal of an ancient rite, for we find that not only the Jews and other Abrahamic tribes practised the rite, but the Ethiopians, Abyssinians, Egyptians, and others. Under the Mosaic law, infant circumcision was the rite of induction into the kingdom of God. It was the condition to be performed before the adult person could partake of the paschal feast. Exodus 12:43-48. This was enjoined with great solemnity. So under the Christian dispensation except a man be externally born of water he cannot see the external kingdom of God. John 3:3. That is, as circumcision once, so baptism now is the admission rite of the Church of God. From this it would follow that no one who is not qualified if an adult, by justifying faith, if an infant, by the unconditional power of the atonement to enter the kingdom of God, is qualified for baptism. And as circumcision was required previous to the paschal feast, so baptism should be performed previous to the partaking of the communion.
They called him The name was generally given to the child by the Jews at circumcision. Like baptism, circumcision was the sacred recognition of the personality of the individual; and the persons solemnly present are proper witnesses to identify him in case of future dispute. So in our old English, to baptize is to christen, that is, both to Christianize and to name him; giving him his Christian or christen name.
60. His mother answered She had probably learned from Zacharias by writing what his name was commanded to be.
61. None of thy kindred The custom of naming children from some one of the circle of relations was so common, not to say so natural, that this new name seemed unwelcome.
62. Made signs For the father, as we have already remarked, was deaf as well as dumb.
63. Writing table It was a small, flat piece of wood, (for the simple conveniences of pen, ink, and paper were then unknown,) like a slate, overspread with a surface of wax. The writing was done with an iron stylus or bodkin, sharp at one end, and broad and smooth at the other, so that the opposite ends could be used for writing and
erasing. His name is John Not his name shall be called John; for Zacharias recognizes that the angel of God had already named him. Zacharias is only a recorder of the divine commandment.
64. His mouth was opened immediately As the want of faith had produced the dumbness, so the act of faith reproduced the speech. Moreover, the sign was needless now that the reality had come.
65. Fear came on all A holy awe, inspired by the thought that the angel of God had indeed visited them, and that prophecy and miracle had revived, as in the Old Testament times. Noised abroad The wonder began at Jerusalem, but its consequences and results took place in the Hill Country; and there, too, the wonderful boy remained, to be the object of speculation and rumour.
66. What manner of child Doubtless these facts were still remembered by many when John finally came forth as a prophet, and stirred the nation with his powerful preaching.
The hand of the Lord This is Luke’s statement, not the people’s. For Josephus’s account of the baptism and fame of John, see note on Matthew 4:3.
67. Prophesied All inspired utterances are called prophesying, but in the present case there was clearly inspired prediction. In the Old Testament spirit the kingdom of Christ in the future is described in general terms, but vaguely understood by the prophet himself. It is prophetic description rather than prophetic history. The traits of the description are to be found in the Christian dispensation as a future whole, not to be fully verified until the world is gathered into the Church, and the Church shall rise to the predicted ideal. The prophetic hymn consists of two parts. Part first ( 68-75) predicts, under Jewish images, the power and safety of Messiah’s kingdom. Part second, (76-79,) in an address to the infant John, predicts his preparatory office as herald of the Messiah’s manifestation and his glorious kingdom of human salvation on earth and in heaven.
I. Luk 1:68-75. Power and safety of Messiah’s kingdom.
68. Redeemed his people Namely, the theocracy, that is, the kingdom of God, whether the Jewish Church under the old dispensation, or the Christian Church under the new.
68-79. The Benedictus, or hymn of Zacharias.
69. Raised up a horn of salvation This image of his Church is taken from nature, after the simplicity of primitive times. A horn is the strength, power, and beauty of the animal that wears it; and so it became an image of power, both in the ancient classic writers and in the Old Testament. So Psalms 132:17: “I will make the horn of David to bud.” From signifying power as a quality, the word is made to signify a power, kingdom, or king.
Revelation 17:12: “The ten horns thou sawest are ten kings.”
Jeremiah 48:25: “The horn of Moab is cut off.” So here it is applied to the Messiah about to be born.
House Family lineage, as we say, The house of Bourbon, or of Brunswick.
70. By the mouth of his holy prophets The Messiah is the theme of prophecy and the antitype of the types since the world began. Even in the garden of Eden the first prediction of the Saviour was given. Genesis 3:15. But Peter, in Acts 3:21, uses similar words: All his holy prophets since the world began; by which he plainly means Moses and the prophets following. The words world began are a very loose translation. The original is απ ’ αιωνος , which means not from the creation, but from an ancient age, from of old. The same phrase is used by the Septuagint in Genesis 6:4, and Psalms 25:6.
71. That we The true Church of God, consisting of all faithful believers, whether of the old or new dispensation. Zacharias, as an individual, doubtless understood the words in a Jewish sense of the Jewish theocracy, or State Church alone. But the Holy Spirit knew its future application.
Should be saved from our enemies Collectively, the Church shall be preserved in the midst of its wrathful foes, and finally obtain complete victory and triumphant security. Individually, the Christian shall have a divine protection amid both temporal and spiritual dangers, and in the triumphant age of the Church even temporal triumph. The phrase that we should be saved depends upon the phrase (Luke 1:70) as he spake. What God spoke by his holy prophets was that we should be saved, etc., by the power of the Messiah.
72. To perform the mercy This phrase depends upon hath raised up a horn, Luke 1:69. God hath raised up a Messiah in order to bring about these results. The oath is in apposition with covenant, and is the object of remember.
75. In holiness Towards God.
And righteousness Towards man.
II. Luk 1:76-79 . The prediction addressed to his son, the infant Baptist, in regard to his office.
77. Salvation… by remission of sins On condition of repentance in faith on an approaching Messiah.
78. Dayspring from on high The beautiful English word dayspring is taken, we suppose, from the conception of the spring or fountain of light, from which day is conceived to be poured upon us from the morning sky. The Greek word here used, ανατολη , signifies rising, namely, of the sun at dawn; and thence it signifies the east, or region of sunrise. But it is objected that the rising of the sun does not come from on high, but is at the horizon. Hence some commentators have, very tastelessly, referred the Greek word to the upspringing of the plant, as the image of the Messiah. Professor Owen refers it to the sun, but confines the figure to the word ανατολη , referring the phrase from on high literally to the Messiah, as being from above. But the dayspring is not limited to the luminary alone. The ανατολη is the rising of the morning light, not merely of the sun; and the ascent of the daylight, or dawn of a clear morning, from which the commencing day comes down upon us, really mounts the firmament and reaches the zenith long before the sun attains the horizon. The dawn or dayspring, therefore, is from on high, as belonging to the firmament above us, and not to the plane of the earth beneath us. As so descending from above, it is here the beautiful image of light and salvation from heaven.
79. To them that sit in darkness The image is here completed. The people are sitting in sullen darkness, the darkness even of death, and the dayspring pours down its splendour from the eastern sky upon them.
Guide our feet into the way of peace The sitters in darkness have wandered far from the paths of peace, and the dayspring from on high reveals to them the true way.
‘So breaks on the traveller, faint and astray,
The bright and the balmy effulgence of morn.”
On this song of Zacharias, and on this chapter generally, we may remark:
1 . On the very eve of the Messiah’s appearing the speakers are still in the dimness of the Jewish dispensation as to the exact character of the Messiah and his reign. Had these prophetic passages been, as sceptics represent, composed after the crucifixion, or even after the destruction of Jerusalem, the writer would have suited the details to the then existing facts.
2 . All the elements which are here ascribed to the Messiah’s kingdom are really in its very nature and substance, and are to be developed in its history from the beginning and in future ages. Mercy, holiness, truth, light, and peace are its inmost principles, and to those are given, in the present and future, power to triumph in the world.
3 . The Messiah now truly lives and reigns in this kingdom. He lives and reigns personally and in the body. He lives and reigns as personally and corporeally as if he reigned visibly, and as if he now sat upon a golden throne in the city of Jerusalem. He sways the sceptre of the world though the world be in rebellion. Without visible manifestation or show of physical or mechanical power, and allowing the principles of probation and free-agency to work out their problem, he is ever ruling and overruling the affairs of men in order to the development and ultimate prevalence of the reign of truth and righteousness in the earth, in order that millions on millions may be redeemed; to the end that he shall finally “see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.”
4 . Christian scholars have always been aware that, in the narratives of the births both of John and of Jesus, there is an abundance both of events and phrases that are framed after the model of Old Testament examples. Zacharias is visited in the same manner by an angel, and with the same message, as was Abraham. Mary’s hymn is paralleled by Hannah’s upon a similar occasion. John is, like Samson, heralded by an angel before his birth, and is bound to be a Nazarite. The mythical scheme of the skeptical Strauss uses these well known facts to show that the whole story is a fabrication manufactured by the imagination of the early Christians out of these Old Testament histories, blended mythically together. His system represents the main share of gospel history to be thus constructed out of Old Testament materials. Every New Testament fact that has anything like it in the Old Testament is a plagiary and an imitation; and every event fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy is held to be invented to fit the prophecy, or to be made out of the prophecy itself. The real truth is, that the Old Testament does contain the kernel and shadows of the New. The Jewish people were a living type of a better dispensation. The prediction is verified in the fulfillment, the type in the antitype, the sacrifice in the atonement, the shadow in the substance.
80. Grew In body, as waxed strong refers to mind. Similar description of the growth of Samson, Judges 13:2; of Jesus, Luke 2:40.
The deserts Not strictly deserts, but the rural region, little inhabited, of his native hill country. “They are mistaken,” says Grotius, “who think that this only indicates his country home, for his home was a city;” it signifies that resigning home he dwelt in the solitudes. So his severer food comported with his wilderness life to express his Elijah-like mission to preach repentance. This was his preparatory schooling, in which silence, study of God’s word, and prayer, with meditation, nourished his spiritual strength. This concealment stands in contrast to his showing, or manifestation, when the fullness of time arrived.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34