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pious Matron whose history is given in the Bible:(8) but Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah's wife, and Hannah, are all additional instances of that mysterious economy which from the beginning had been preparing the minds of faithful men for a Birth in “ the latter days" which should be out of the course of Nature: the Birth of One whose name should be called “Wonderful.” Accordingly, in ver. 36, we shall find the Angel Gabriel bringing forward this very case of Elisabeth, in order to reconcile the Mind of the Blessed Virgin to the mysterious destiny which was in store for herself.
26 And in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from GOD unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
No common Angel, but one of the highest order; as was meet, at the sending down from Heaven of the most Blessed message which had ever yet reached this suffering Earth.
That message was to exalt Human Nature above the Cherubim, by proclaiming the Incarnation of the WORD. Yet the Archangel Gabriel hastens with love and obedience to fulfill his embassy. “And," to quote the pious words of Bishop Taylor, “if we were to reduce our prayers to action, and do God's will on earth as the Angels in Heaven do it, we should promptly execute every part of the Divine Will; though it were to be instrumental in the exaltation of a brother above ourselves.”
27 to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
Something has been already said (in the Commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel) concerning the Divine Economy by which it was overruled that Mary should have been “espoused” to Joseph, at the time of the Annunciation; and immediately afterwards have become his Wife. See notes on St. Matth. i. 16, 18, 24. It was needful in this manner, at first, to shroud the mighty mystery of our Lord's Birth from the eyes of carnal men: and (what is more, it was seen fit by this masterpiece of divine contrivance, to defeat the vigilance of the Powers of Darkness also.
Do but note with what amazing simplicity, the most wonderful event which had happened in all the ages, is described! This was the hour for which Creation had groaned, ever since the Fall. The eyes of Patriarchs and Prophets had ever been turned in wonder and adoration towards this event. Faith and Hope had supported themselves "since the world began,” in sure belief that the day for the disclosure of the great mystery here revealed, must at last arrive. When it came, how unlike did the manner of its coming prove, to what men had expected! The House was David's House indeed; yet, reduced to what a low condition! In the secrecy of her private chamber,—to a Virgin,-dwelling in a despised city,far from Bethlehem of Judæa, the scene of the promises,—the Angel Gabriel brings the wondrous tidings which were destined to make all the ends of the Earth rejoice! See the second note on St. Luke ii. 38. 28 And the Angel came in unto her,
The Angel came in unto her,--so that the Blessed Virgin was within when she heard the heavenly tidings. Sarah, in like manner, was "in the tent,” when she heard the promise.(t) In connection with this subject, consider the following texts,-St. John xi. 20; 1 Tim. v. 13; Titus ii. 5.
and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
The Angel is instructed to bid Mary “Hail;" that is, to bring her a message of Peace and Joy: whereby God revokes the sentence which He had pronounced on our first Mother,-"In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.”(u)
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
(*) See note on ver., 37.
(1) Genesis xviii. 9, 10.
(u) Genesis iii. 18.
30 And the Angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
He calls her by her name,—as if to inspire confidence, and show that he knew her.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His Name JESUS.
It should not escape notice that these words are formed exactly upon those of the prophet Isaiah vii. 14:(x) and what follows (ver. 32) is a distinct allusion to another passage in the same prophet, namely ix. 6, 7.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest : and the LORD God shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David.
Reminding her thereby of many an ancient prophecy which had gone before ; and teaching her that the Offspring of her body was to be none other than the CHRIST.
33 And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the Angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man ?
The Blessed Virgin clearly understood that this promise was made to her in her Virgin estate
35 And the Angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
By which words, it is worth observing that the Angel Gabriel declared to the Virgin the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.
There was this contrast between the Old and the New Creation; that whereas, in the first, God “spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast ;"_in the second, He wrought secretly and silently,—“coming down," as the Psalmist speaks,(y) with reference to the days of MESSIAH, “like the rain into a fleece of wool, even as the drops that water the Earth.”
One of the very earliest of the Fathers, (Ignatius, second Bishop of Antioch,) says of this,—that it was “a crying mystery wrought in the silence of God:" a memorable saying, which the Church has never been able to forget.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
Mary asked for no sign, yet a sign (the most fitting imaginable!) is given her;given in love, not in anger as in the case of Zacharias.
Elisabeth was the Blessed Virgin's “cousin.” Hence her wondrous son also was the Kinsman of Christ.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
There is an allusion here to the words of Genesis xviii. 14. The case of Elisabeth resembled that of Sarah. See the note on ver. 25.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the LORD; be it unto me according to thy word.
And the Angel departed from her. (2) Compare St. Matthew i. 21 and 23.
(y) Psalm lxxii. 6.
She submits to it, rather as a mysterious dispensation which she could not tell how to comprehend, than glories in it as a privilege. Her answer befits the Mother of One who was declared to be “meek and lowly;" owning herself but the Handmaid of Him who was to be her Son.
Observe the wondrous contrast with what took place “in the beginning.” At the Fall of Man, that old serpent, Satan, held parley with a Woman, and deceived her by the Spirit of Pride. In order to the Restoration of our Nature, an Archangel discourses with another Woman, and persuades her through her Humility.
And here, it may be well worth remarking (with Bishop Taylor) that “the holy Virgin came to her great perfection and height of piety, by a few, and those, modest and unattractive, exercises and actions. St. Paul travelled over the world; preached to the Gentiles and disputed against the Jews; wrote Epistles; suffered dangers, injuries, affronts, and persecutions to the height of wonder; whereby he won for himself a crown. But the holy Virgin attained perfection by the means of a quiet and silent piety, by internal actions of love, devotion, and contemplation: and instructs us that silent affections, the splendours of an internal devotion, the union of love, humility, and obedience, the daily offices of prayer and praises sung to God, acts of faith and fear, of patience and meekness, of hope and reverence, repentance and charity, and those graces which walk in a veil and silence; make great ascents to God, and as sure progress to favour and a crown, as the more ostentatious and laborious exercises of a more public religion.”
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
Thirty-eight cities of Judah “in the mountains,” are enumerated in the Book of Joshua, (xv. 48 to 60:) but Tradition has always pointed out “Kirjath-Arba, which is Hebron,”(z) as the dwelling-place of the venerable pair to whom Mary hastened.
40 and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
She seems to have taken the holy pair by surprise, through the fervent haste with which she performed her journey. (The grace of the Holy Spirit knows nothing of slow endeavours!) Surely the mountains of that “hill country,”-the forest, and every tree therein,-broke forth into singing, and Earth was joyful; for the Lord had redeemed Jacob, and comforted His people.(a) “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings!”(6)
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the Babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.
These holy women, meeting to compare and unite their joys, and then made pro phetic and inspired, must needs have discoursed like Angels; for (as a pious Bishop has remarked, all the faculties of Nature were turned into Grace. It is not easy to imagine the rapture of this blessed meeting. Never, but in Heaven, was there more joy and ecstasy!
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb.
Observe the “loud voice.” Verily, if she had not spoken as she did, the very stones must have cried out!
Notice also, that she repeats the Angel's salutation; see ver. 28.
Rightly does Elisabeth call our Saviour CHRIST, “the fruit of thy womb:" for she spake of One "who took Man's nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance."(c)
43, 44 And whence is this to me, that the Mother of My LORD should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the Babe leaped in my womb for joy. (z) Joshua xv. 54. (a) Isaiah xliv. 23, and xlix. 13. (6) Isaiah lii. 7.
(c) Article II.
It has been said,-“Grace introduces things to which Nature is a stranger.” The Forerunner, yet unborn, bears testimony to his yet unborn LORD;-a significant circumstance, surely; as indicative of the coming of a Kingdom where mysteries are hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed unto Babes !(d)
We shall behold our Saviour in like manner coming to His servant, (the Greater to the Less!) for Holy Baptism. See note on St. Matth. iii. 13.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the LORD.
Every word of this address(e) is clearly prophetical,—for which the declaration in ver. 41 prepares us. Elisabeth sees the whole extent of the mystery. Not only does she declare the present wonder, that Mary is the Mother of the Redeemer; and the future issue, that all things shall be fulfilled which have been foretold her; but she is able also to declare the state of heart in which her kinswoman received the Angel Gabriel's message: Past, and Present, and Future open to her prophetic
Thereupon was poured forth the Divine “Magnificat,”—whose echoes yet fill the Churches of Christendom. The Hymn of the Blessed Virgin is manifestly constructed upon the same model as that strain of thankfulness which Hannah gave utterance to, on a similar occasion:(f) and with which indeed it should be compared throughout. The germ of both heavenly compositions is to be found in a yet more ancient Song,-namely, that of Sarah, contained in Genesis xxi. 6.
46, 47 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the LORD, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my SAVIOUR.
Now, “the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace.”(g) Observe how she drops, in her exceeding exultation, the thought of self. Her joy is not in herself, but in GOD her SAVIOUR.
48 For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
She speaks not of her poverty, -and yet, she was very poor; but (after the manner of a Hebrew mother) her words have reference to the reproach of childlessness which God had removed from her. Compare ver. 25. What a profound and glorious meaning do the common words of rejoicing among the Mothers of Israel, (h) assume on the lips of the Virgin Mother of our LORD!-the “Blessed Virgin" let us call her,-and so, fulfill her prophecy.
49 For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His Name.
“That Soul,” as Bede remarks, “can alone duly magnify the LORD, for whom He deigns to do mighty things.”
50 And His Mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
To quote the same writer, once more,—“As if she had said, Not only for me hath He that is mighty done great things; but in every nation, he that feareth God is accepted of Him."
This is almost a quotation from Psalm ciii. 17.
51 He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
That is, Those who, in the imagination of their hearts, are proud,-He hath scattered.
52, 53 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted
(d) St. Matth. xi. 26.
(e) Ver. 42 to 45.
() 1 Samuel ii. 1 to 10. (9) Galat. v. 22. (h) See Leah's words,-Genesis xxix. 32: and Hannah's-1 Sam. i. 11.
them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
With verses 51, 52, 53, compare the corresponding parts of Hannah's Song pamely, 1 Sam. ii. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8."
The following places of Scripture will also be found worth referring to, in illustration of the three last verses, viz., Job v. 11: Psalm cxiii. 7: Ezekiel xvii. 24: xxi. 26.
Some of the wonders to be achieved by the Introduction of the Gospel are here glanced at. First, is described the dethronement and casting down of the Devil, and of all his evil host,(i)—together with the exaltation of "the poor of this world, rich in faith," to be “heirs of the Kingdom.”(k) Next, it is prophesied how they who hunger after Eternal Life with their whole soul,(1) shall be filled, when Carist shall appear in glory; while they who, rejoicing in their self-righteousness, think themselves rich, shall in the end be sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His Mercy; This verse seems intended to recall Psalm xcviii. 3. 55 as He spake to our Fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.
The allusion in this verse to the last words of the prophet Micah (vii. 20) seems unmistakable.
The Blessed Virgin speaks, of course, of the true spiritual Israel. “For," as St. Paul explains, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:”(m) but “the Israel of God"(n) are “such as are of a clean heart.”(0) “They which are of Faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”(p. And this promise is not narrowed by any limits; but to the very end of time there shall never lack believers,—whereby Abraham shall have a "seed, forever.”
It is a divine thing that the Blessed Virgin should have thus glanced back to the beginning, from the end; and by this allusion to God's promise made to Abraham, (9) should have virtually admitted, and in the very highest sense, “ that there had not failed aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel. All had come to pass.”(r)
If any do inquire how it happens that this Hymn, poured forth in expression of the Blessed Virgin's Joy and Thankfulness, should have become a portion of the Church's Daily Service,-let them know that it does not contain one word of exultation but what every humble Christian may make his own. When the Eternal Word was made flesh, it was not, of course, the Blessed Virgin in particular, but mankind in general, which He designed to honour. The purpose of the Son of God, when He honoured the Blessed Virgin so far as in, and from, her to become Man, was to advance Human Nature by assuming it into the Unity of His Divine Person; so that, being born of her, He might procure not only hers, but our common Salvation. Every member of the great human family may therefore sing the “Magnificat;" and when he bears his part in that divine Anthem, should learn to make the Blessed Virgin's raptures a private and a personal concern:-“My soul doth magnify the LORD, and my Spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour; because He did regard the low estate of us poor mortal men, -His afflicted servants. For behold, in consequence of the Incarnation of the Son of God, all generations of mankind, ay, and every order of the Angelic Host, shall for evermore pronounce us 'Blessed:' for the Mighty One did mighty things for us, when He united Himself to our fallen Nature: wherefore Holy is He; and Blessed for evermore be His Holy Name!”
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
During those three months Prayer and Meditation rather than converse, was surely the resource of this pair of holy Matrons: for unspeakable was the blessed
(0) Compare St. Luke x. 18.
(k) St. James ii. 5. (2) Compare St. Luke xv. 16, 17, 23, (the case of the Gentile world :) St. Matthew xv. 26, 27, &c.
(m) Romans ix. 6. (n) Galat. vi. 16.
(0) Psalm lxxiii. 1. (p) Galat. iii. 7. (9) Genesis xii. 3, xvii. 7, &c. (r) Joshua xxi. 45, and xxiii. 14.