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A PLAIN COMMENTARY
THE FOUR HOLY GOSPELS.
1 The Preface of Luke to his whole Gospel. 5 The Conception of John the Bap
tist, 26 and of Christ. 39 The prophecy of Elizabeth, and of Mary, concerning CHRIST. 57 The nativity and circumcision of John. 67 The prophecy of Zacharias, both of Christ, 76 and of John.
ST. LUKE, who wrote his Gospel after those of St. Matthew and St. Mark had been published, will be found to supply many particulars of our LORD's life which the two earlier Evangelists omit. He was divinely guided to begin his Narrative from a much earlier period than they; and to “set forth in order” the history of the Birth, not only of our Blessed Saviour, but of His Forerunner likewise. It has been piously, and reasonably thought, that he derived some of his information as to these events, (subject to the suggestions and guidance of the Holy Guost,) from the Virgin Mother herself. In the course of this portion of his Gospel, occur the three Inspired Hymns which make part of our Daily Service. .
St. Luke then proceeds to relate the same events, generally, as are found in St. Matthew and St. Mark; but always with important differences, in matters of detail. Five consecutive chapters, however, (ch. xiii. to ch. xvii.,) contain infcrmation peculiar to the present Gospel.
Though not actually one of the Apostolic body, he seems to have been an eye witness of many of the events which he describes. (See below, the note on verse 3.) And there are places in his Gospel where he has been permitted to come wonderfully near his LORD; as when he describes the mysterious hour of His Agony in the Garden :-xxii. 41 to 46.
He begins his Narrative with relating something about himself; his qualification for the work of an Evangelist, and the purpose with which he wrote his Gospel:where every word is full of wonder, and even of difficulty. The Reader will also, (it is trusted,) find that every statement may be turned to edification and delight, as well. St. Paul relates(a) that St. Luke was a Physician of the Body. “The Brother, whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the Churches,”(6) is found to have been also a skillful Physician of the Soul.
1, 2 FORASMUCH as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, ossians iv. 14.
(6) 2 Cor. viii. 18.
even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the Word :
These four verses are called the “Preface” to St. Luke's Gospel: from which, we learn many things of importance; as, first, that there was a time when, from the report of eye-witnesses, many narratives of our LORD's Life, besides the four which we now possess, had been committed to writing. But observe,—their Authors had “taken in hand” a task which they were not divinely commissioned to perform. It may be inferred, from what is here said, that to be in possession of the personal notices of eye-witnesses even, was not a sufficient qualification to enable a man to become an Evangelist; inasmuch as all the narratives here alluded to, have perished. St. Luke did not so “take in hand” to write a Gospel. The Holy SPIRIT moved him ;-whereupon it seemed good to him ;-and he wrote.
3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
You observe that St. Luke contrasts the way in which he had obtained his information, with that in which the “many" who had “taken in hand” to write a History of our LORD's Life, had obtained theirs. They wrote from tradition: St. Luke had enjoyed “perfect understanding of all things from the very first,”-probably as an eye-witness. The Church has indeed always inclined to the belief that he was one of the Seventy Disciples,-whose sending out, he alone describes in his tenth Chapter. That portion of Scripture is therefore appointed to be read on St. Luke's Day.
4 that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
This, then, was the object with which this Gospel was written. The Evangelist seems to have bestowed all his labour in building up one Gentile heart in the Christian faith. And God blessed him in the deed; for thereby the whole Church of Christ hath been, and will be, edified forever. Shall we sometimes disdain a narrow field for labour, and be discontented at having to minister (if need be) to a single soul ?
About Theophilus, whom St. Luke addresses, we know nothing: but his name signifies “Beloved of God;" and (0 Reader!) be sure of this, that if thou art be loved of God, St. Luke's Gospel is specially addressed to thee.
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia :
David distributed the priests into twenty-four courses ;(c) when “the eighth” lot came forth “to Abijah." (ver. 10.) Zacharias was descended from one of the priests who belonged to his “course.”
and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
The Old Testament names immediately meet us. “Elisabeth” is the same word as “Elisheba,”(d) and “Mary" as “Miriam.”(e)
6, 7 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD, blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
The expression in the original is,—“they were both far advanced in their days:" as if implying that this holy pair had wellnigh reached the end of their earthly race.
(c) 1 Chron. xxiv. 1-18.
(d) Exodus vi. 23.
(e) Exodus xv. 20.
8, 9 And it came to pass, that while he executed the Priest's office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the Priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the Temple of the LORD.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without, at the time of incense. Refer, here, to Leviticus xvi. 17.
11 And there appeared unto him an Angel of the LORD standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
The dawn of the Gospel takes place in the Temple of God.
Concerning the Altar of incense, see Exodus xxx. 1 to 9. It stood “before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony.” Incense was symbolical of Prayer; whence it is said in the Book of Revelation that the “odours” in the golden vials, are “the prayers of Saints,”-chap. v. 8. See also Revelation viii. 3, 4; and the note on St. Matthew ii. 11 may be consulted.
We are reminded by this description of where the Angel stood, not only of the place of Session of the Eternal Son, (f)-but also that it was on the right side of the Holy Sepulchre that a heavenly Messenger was seen after the Resurrection of our LORD;(9) and on the right side of the ship that the net was lowered on the capturing of the second miraculous draught of fishes.(h)
12, 13 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the Angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son,
So that, in former years, Zacharias had prayed earnestly for children; but he had long since made up his mind that God had refused his petition. The Angel informs him that it was far otherwise.
Until this time, only two cases of conception, predicted by an Angel, are recorded to have occurred: namely, the prediction respecting Isaac, made to Abraham:(i) and the prediction respecting Samson, made to Manoah's wife.(k) See the note on St. Luke ii, 21.
and thou shalt call his name John.
14, 15 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the LORD, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his Mother's womb.
That is to say, the vow of the Nazarite should be upon him, (as it had been upon Samson,)(1) from the time of his birth. Concerning that vow, see Numbers vi. 2, 3.
16, 17 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the LORD their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.
This is best explained by a reference to the actual prophecy of Malachi, (iv. 5, 6,) alluded to by the Angel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the Fathers to the Children, and the heart of the Children to their Fathers.” The Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elias,” inasmuch as he was one who
St. Mark xvi. 19. (i) Genesis xvii. 21, &c.
(9) St. Mark xvi. 5.
(h) St. John xxi. 6. (1) Judges xiü. 4, 5.
“constantly spoke the truth, boldly rebuked vice, and patiently suffered for the Truth's sake.”(m)
18, 19 And Zacharias said unto the Angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the Angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.
An awful, yet most calm rebuke, truly; and worthy of an Angel from Heaven.(n) He that speaks to thee is Gabriel, (that is, “the Man of God.”) whose office in Heaven it is to stand in the presence of the Most High. I, who in the days of old was sent to Daniel, (o) behold am now sent with heavenly tidings unto thee! .... How must the heart, which a moment before wavered, have been overcome by the solemn recollections which every word of the glorious Speaker awakened!
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed; because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
So that Zacharias received a sign, though a very different one from what he had expected: and an appropriate sign it was; for behold, the faculty of speech, which he had misused to express mistrust in God's promises, was for a fixed time withdrawn. He became deaf moreover, as well as dumb; for, when the Baptist was to be circumcised, we shall find that the neighbours “made signs to his Father, how he would have him called.” ver. 62.
In the words actually employed by Zacharias, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, respectively,(p) there does not seem to be much difference; but the Speakers were very diversely affected. While hers was the hesitation of Faith,(9) which timidly asked for explanation,-his was the reluctance of Unbelief, which required a sign. Hence, her doubt was solved,-his, punished.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the Temple.
They were waiting for him to come out and bless them. “How was he honoured in the midst of the people in his coming out of the sanctuary!”—as it is said by the son of Sirach. “He went down, and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to give the blessing of the LORD with his lips.” (r)
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
He could not pronounce the accustomed words of Blessing. Surely it was a highly significant circumstance that at the moment when the good tidings of the Gospel had been proclaimed, and an event had been announced by which the Law was to cease, the Priest should come forth from the Sanctuary of God with dumb lips! Consider St. Luke xvi. 16; and St. Matthew xi. 13.
23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24, 25 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the LORD dealt with me in the days wherein He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
She speaks after the manner of the daughters of Abraham,—with whom, to go childless was accounted a reproach. The case of Elisabeth more nearly resembles that of Sarah, than of any other (m) Collect for St. John Baptist's Day.
(n) Compare Jude ver. 9. (0) Daniel viii. 16: ix. 21.
p) See ver. iv. 34. (9) See verse 45.
(r) Ecclesiasticus 1. 5, 20.