Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LORD'S CAREER. We have the testimony of "eyewitnesses," of men who could not have been mistaken, and who gave the very strongest assurances that they were not deceiving and misleading; we therefore know what were the scenes through which Jesus passed, what were the particulars of his life. We know:
1. His character - how pure, how perfect, it was.
2. His thoughts - how profound, how practical, how original, they were.
3. His works - how mighty and how beneficent they were.
4. His sufferings and sorrows - with what sublime patience they were endured.
5. His death - under what awful solemnities it was undergone.
6. The great and supreme fact of his resurrection. Of all these things we are thoroughly assured.
II. THE OFFER HE MAKES OF HIMSELF AS OUR DIVINE REDEEMER. It is perfectly clear that Jesus Christ regarded himself as One that was here on the highest mission, as One that was very far removed above ordinary manhood. He felt that he stood in a relation to the human race that was not only unusual, but unique. Otherwise he could not have spoken of "giving his flesh for the life of the world," of being "the Light of the world," of "drawing all men unto him;" he could not have invited all heavyladen souls to come to him that they might find rest in him. It is abundantly clear that Jesus Christ offered himself, and still offers himself:
1. As the Divine Teacher, at whose feet we may all sit and learn the living truth of God.
2. As the Divine Savior, in whom we may all trust for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation to God.
3. As the Divine Friend, to whom we may trust our heart, and in whom we may find a Refuge.
4. As the Divine Lord, who claims the obedience and service of our lives.
III. THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST FOR ALL THAT HE UNDERTAKES. Can he, of whom his critics spoke so slightingly as "the carpenter's Son," do all this? Is he equal to such offices as these? There is the experience of eighteen centuries to which this appeal may be made. And from the first to the last; from the experience of the little child and of the man in middle life and of extreme old age; from that of health and of sickness; from that of adversity and of prosperity; from that of ignorance and of culture; from that of human souls of every conceivable variety of constitution and of human lives of every imaginable variety of condition; - the answer is one strong, unhesitating, enthusiastic "Yes!" Many things are disputable, but this is certain; many things are to be discredited, but these are to be "most surely believed;" and on them we do well to build our present heritage and our eternal hope. - C.
Acts 1:1). Our Lord's earthly life was thus, in Luke's view, only a first stage in an everlasting history. But while Luke, like other authors in the classical world, may have had the interests of his book in view in dedicating it to Theophilus, he had at the same time a nobler purpose, even to confirm Theophilus in the Christian faith. He proposes consequently to display the basis on which this convert has been building, and how absolutely certain the Christian faith is. It is well to revise the foundations. We ought to "walk about Zion, and go round about her;" we ought to "tell the towers thereof, and mark well her bulwarks, and consider her palaces; that we may tell it to the generation following" (Psalm 48:12, 13). What, then, does Luke present to Theophilus as an account of the Christian faith?
I. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS NOT A SPECULATIVE SYSTEM. Man, left to himself, evolves out of his consciousness a system more or less complete, and calls upon his fellows to accept of it as their religious faith. But such an evolution of religion has proved a failure. Into the interesting study of comparative religion we cannot here enter at any length, but two tendencies in speculation may be noticed in passing. The first is the outward, or idealistic tendency, which may be found developed in the Indiaa religions; the second is the inward, or self-reliant tendency, which may be seen carried to its issues in Hellenism and the speculations of the West. Thus the tendency of the Oriental mind was and is to contemplate Nature and to reverence her underlying forces; while the tendency of the Occidental mind was to contemplate man or human nature, and to find in his individuality, his freedom, and his power the true unit and substance of thought. The Oriental mind consequently lost itself in speculations on the absolute, which became to the dreamers of the East an abstraction without personality, intelligence, or limitation, just as he has become of late to certain of our dreamers in the West; and the climax of being is in the Nirvana, the utter extinction of human personality through absorption into the universal Spirit. The Western, or Grecian mind, on the other hand, held to man and human nature, cultivated a boundless self-reliance, and a supreme confidence in human nature and its powers. His gods and goddesses were but deified men and women; Olympus only a Greece enjoying larger latitude and more abundant sunlight; and reason and self the ultimate objects of trust. The issue, as we might expect, was "intense worldliness of spirit, that dread of death, that doubt of immortality, that decay of the religious sentiment, which finally covered classical life with such deep gloom and despair." The two tendencies, Oriental and Occidental - the one making man nothing, the other making man all in all - had, before Christ's time, ample opportunity to prove their insufficiency. They had in Buddhism and in Platonism checks, but they were unequal to the needful reformation. It remained for a better faith to furnish man with certainty. Hence we remark -
II. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FOUNDED ON THE HISTORY OF A PERSON. The gospel, as Luke here indicates, consists in the history of a Person whose advent is essential to the salvation of the world. Hence the substance of the Christian faith is historical, not speculative. Whatever certainty attaches to historical evidence as superior to speculation attaches, therefore, to the Christian faith. And here we have to notice:
1. That the history rests on the testimony of eye-witnesses. This is asserted by Luke in verse
2. Facts consequently appealing to the senses of the apostles constitute the foundation of the faith. And if it be insinuated that they were "interested witnesses," we reply with Luke:
2. That the witnesses gained nothing in the worldly sense by their testimony. As ministers of the Word, they were persecuted, in many cases killed; in all cases life was much less comfortable in consequence of their testimony than if they had said nothing about the Savior who died and rose again.
3. Luke sifted the facts as carefully as he could. It is significant that he makes no claim to inspiration in his prologue. And this is the rule with the sacred writers. Some have supposed that because the writers do not each and all put in a categorical claim to inspiration, it is superfluous to suppose that they are all inspired. But we reply that it is far better for writers to show that they are inspired than to say they are. Inspiration, like all other good gifts of God, is to be "known by its fruits." This prologue shows that many tried their hands at writing lives of Jesus; but there has been a "survival of the fittest" in this case at all events, to the great advantage of mankind. Instead of asserting his inspiration, Luke used his best endeavors to sift the material and pro. duce a careful and "classic" work. Instead of the Spirit of God despising means, he owns them and blesses them.
III. THE HISTORY OF CHRIST HAS A PERSONAL BEARING UPON EACH ONE OF US. Theophilus had been taught this, just as we require to be taught it. Now, we may See the application of Christ's life to our individual need by the two tendencies already referred to. The human mind is idealizing in its character. It can be shown that we owe even our scientific progress to the idealists, the Pythagoreans in Greece and the Platonists in Alexandria being the only men in the old world who really advanced science. Now, Jesus supplies us, in his own perfect and sinless Person, with the "ideal" we individually need to satisfy the cravings and longings of the heart. He is, in fact, "altogether lovely." So that by his realized Personality we are saved from occupation with a pure abstraction, called the "absolute," and the self-effacement to which the Indian dreamers and others are led, as the hope and consequence of their speculation. The definiteness of the historic Person is thus placed in antagonism to the dreamy indefiniteness of speculation about the absolute. Again, the human mind is introspective and self-reliant in its tendencies. Jesus Christ again applies the requisite check and antagonism to the dangerous tendency. His perfect life shows us by contrast how imperfect our lives are; his mission as Savior demonstrates our spiritual need; and so we end by taking up self-suspicion in place of self-confidence, and we delight ourselves in the Lord alone. Thus it may be seen that the life of Jesus, especially when we remember his Divinity and omnipotence, becomes a personal interest and a reforming power.
IV. THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IS THE RESULT OF THE PERSONAL CHRIST INFLUENCING AS THEY NEEDED IT THE WILLING SONS OF MEN. The Book of the Acts has to be taken as the development of the Gospel. In it we see the Lord adding to the Church of such as shall be saved, and accomplishing his sacred purposes through human instrumentalities. The people are made willing in the day of his Pentecostal power (Psalm 110:3). The great Personality is thus seen to be moulding men. It has been said truly that Christianity has been a progress through antagonism (cf. Hebberd, ut supra). Paganism was a development; Christianity has been a history of restraint. It has curbed men's passions, and conducted them through antagonism to their goal. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Galatians 5:17). This policy of restraint or antagonism may be traced through Church history. Only an outline can be here suggested. Mohammedanism was a providential restraint upon the growing superstitions of the early centuries. Catholicism again was a restraint upon the vandalism of the Germanic tribes, and by the establishment of feudalism it changed nomadic nations into settled and sympathizing patriots. Protestantism followed, to restrain the "spiritual despotism" which accompanied Catholicism, and secure freedom and the rights of the individual. Even the scientific spirit, as can easily be shown, is due to Protestantism, and if it threatens us, as it does, with unspiritual developments, Christianity will take a new start and antagonize that spirit with a wholesome assertion of the spiritual nature and rights of man (cf. Hebberd, ut supra). A great restraining Savior is thus seen to be moving among men and using their freedom to serve his glorious designs. The Christian faith is simple trust in this historic yet immortal Person, who can consider and consult at once the majestic cycles of human progress and the minutest needs of those who trust him. We have certainty at the foundation of our faith, and a living Lord continually at our side. - R.M.E.
I. THE DOMESTIC BOND. Here we have conjugal relationship in its true form; established in mutual respect; justified and beautified by mutual affection; made permanently happy by common affinities and common aims; elevated and consecrated by the presence of another and still nobler bond - that of a strong and immovable attachment to God. A human life is quite incomplete without such tender ties of God's own binding, and these ties are immeasurably short of what they were meant to be if they are not enlarged and ennobled by the sanctities of religion.
II. HUMAN AND DIVINE ESTIMATION. These two godly souls enjoyed the favor of their Divine Father and of their human friends and neighbors: "They were both righteous before God," and they were "blameless" in the sight of men. God accepted them, and man approved them. He to whom they were responsible for all they were and did saw in them, as he sees in all his children, the imperfections which belong to our erring and struggling humanity; but he accepted their reverence and their endeavor to please and to obey him, forgiving their shortcomings. And their kindred and their friends recognized in them those who were regulating their life by God's holy will, and they yielded to them their fullest measure of esteem. No human life is complete without the possession of these two things:
(1) the favor of the living God; and
(2) the esteem of those amongst whom we live.
To walk in the shadow of conscious estrangement from God, to miss the sweet sunshine of his heavenly favor, - this is to darken our life with a continual curse, this is to bereave ourselves of our purest joy and most desirable heritage. And while some of the very noblest of our race, following thus in the footsteps of the Master himself, have borne, in calm and heroic patience, the obloquy of the ignorant and the malice of the evil-minded, yet it is our duty, and it should be our desire and aspiration, so to walk in rectitude and in kindness that men will bless us in their hearts, will esteem us for our integrity, will hold us in their affection. The man who "wears the white flower of a blameless life" is the man who will be a power for good in the circles in which he moves.
III. SACRED SERVICE. It may be questionable whether any distinction is intended between "ordinances" and "commandments;" but there can be no question at all that both together cover religious observances and moral obligations. The Law which these two faithful souls obeyed enjoined the one as well as the other. And no human life is complete which does not include both these elements of piety.
1. The worship of God, in private prayer, in family devotion, in public exercises, is a serious and important part of a good man's experience.
2. And certainly not less so is the regulating of conduct by the revealed will of God; the walking, day by day, in uprightness and integrity, in sobriety and purity, in truth and in love. Beautifully complete, fashioned in spiritual symmetry, attractive and influential, is that human life which is spent in the home of hallowed love, which is bright with the favor of God and man, and which is crowned with the sovereign excellences of piety and virtue. - C.
I. THE LORD UTILIZED EXISTING ORGANIZATIONS. Just as we believe the New Testament eldership was based upon the Old Testament office of elder, so here we have the great reformer taken from the Aaronic priesthood. Once more is honor put upon the line of Aaron. The parents of the forerunner both belonged to the priestly tribe. They are, moreover, godly people, being "both righteous before God, walking in all. the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (verse 6). By which could not be meant, that they were sinlessly perfect, especially since in such a case the ritual through which they regularly passed would have been strangely unmeaning. They were a pious, God-fearing pair, walking before the Lord, and striving to be perfect. And here we may draw attention to the advantage John thus had in pious parents. It is, we believe, a physical advantage to be the offspring of those who have learned by God's grace to subdue their passions, and who may otherwise be healthy. Other things being equal, their physical development must be superior to that of those whose parents may be addicted to any forms of sinful indulgence.
II. NOTICE THE TRIAL OF THEIR FAITH. This consisted in their having no child. With the Jews there was, added to the natural desire of husband and wife for children, the stimulus arising from the Messianic promises. A Deliverer is expected: why not in my family? Thus Jewish mothers were kept in an expectant attitude, not knowing but that the Messiah was to be their Son. We see in such psalms as 127, 128, etc., evidence how the Divine blessing was associated with fruitfulness. Zacharias and Elisabeth had hitherto been denied the blessing of any child, and, though they had continued to pray about it, they had ceased really to hope. Just like the people who prayed for the release of Peter, and then would not believe it was he when he came knocking at the door (Acts 12:12-16), so the aged priest and his wife seem to have kept up the form of prayer for a son long after they had ceased to expect such a gift. God keeps us waiting till we are hopeless, and then he surprises us with his blessings.
III. NOTICE NEXT THE PRAYING MULTITUDE AND THE OFFICIATING PRIEST. Zacharias belonged to the eighth of the priestly courses, and had consequently to come up twice a year for eight days' attendance at the temple. Those belonging to the same course met and cast lots for the privilege of officiating at the golden altar. So soon as a priest secured the privilege once, he retired from the contest, as once during the sojourn at Jerusalem was deemed ample honor. Zacharias happened to be successful; the Lord's will was that he should officiate on a given day. The lot left the destiny of each absolutely in the hands of the Lord. It is quite a different matter when people make an appeal to him in games of chance and such like. Into the sanctuary (ναὸν) of the Lord accordingly he went, to burn incense at the morning hour, as seems most probable. And while he burned the pure perfume within, the mnltitude of the people prayed without. It was an acknowledgment that their prayers required something to make them acceptable. They could not ascend alone. And was this not the idea of the arrangement? Man's prayers needed to be supplemented by a divinely arranged perfume, just as we now expect our prayers to be accepted only through the merits of Jesus Christ. Again, must we not suppose that the people were praying for deliverance and the advent of the Deliverer? Their prayers and the aged priest's were really one. There was unison and harmony, even though presented from different standpoints. The people without and the priest within were acting in "pre-established harmony."
IV. THE ANGEL OF JOY APPEARS IN THE SANCTUARY, It was upon the path of duty Zacharias met the angel, just as Jacob had done long before at Mahanaim (Genesis 32:1). Gabriel's visit at first terrified the solitary priest. But as the angel of glad tidings and so, as he has been called, "of evangelization" (cf. Godet, in loc.), he soon reassures Zacharias. He tells him that his wife is to bear him a son, and his name is to be called "John."
1. This itself is significant. The word "John" is derived from יָהוָה, and הָנַן, and means "Jehovah giveth grace." It thus signalized the dispensation." The Baptist was really the morning star of the gospel dispensation.
2. He was to be morally great. The gracious name would not belie his character. He would be "great in the sight of the Lord," who "looketh on the heart."
3. He was to be separated from the world as a true Nazarite. He was not to drink either wine or strong drink.
4. He was to be inspired from the womb. The inspiration from wine was needless, when he was to be borne upwards and constantly exhilarated by the Spirit of God (cf. Ephesians 5:18).
5. He shall be correspondingly successful. Many of the Jews shall he turn to the Lord their God."
6. His reformation is to resemble that of Elias. Elijah lived to turn the nation to the worship of the true God; his work was preparatory, like the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, before the still small voice. So was it to be with John. He was by stern and solitary moral grandeur to bring the people to a sense of sin, and thus prepare them for the advent of the Savior. No father ever got a more magnificent future laid before his son. The angel sketched a destiny which was fitted to make the old priest glad.
V. UNBELIEF INSISTING ON A FURTHER SIGN. The appearance of Gabriel, the transparent honesty of his words, the holy place, the whole circumstance of the vision, ought to have assured Zacharias and rebuked his unbelief. Here, after four hundred years of silence, a message has come again from God; and surely it should have been believed. But no! Zacharias asks for a further sign. Has he forgotten Abraham and Sarah? Has he forgotten Isaac and Rebecca? Surely the priest, though aged and with an aged wife, had every reason to believe the angel-brought promise of his God? His unbelief was criminal. He deserves a chastisement. The demand for miracles at the present day is on the part of some just as unreasonable. Unless some additional sign is granted, then faith will be withheld. There is a scepticism which deserves chastisement instead of sympathy or encouragement. And Zacharias is struck dumb. He is doomed to speechlessness for the most of a year. His dumbness was to be a sign of his unbelief and a pure judgment from God. We may compare his case with that of the man born blind (John 9:2, etc.). In this case the deprivation was to be the basis of Divine mercy; in the case of Zacharias it was a clear note of Divine displeasure. Yet with judgment there is mixed mercy. He is promised a release on the day of the birth of John. For God's "anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).
VI. THE PATIENT WORSHIPPERS AND THE DUMB PRIEST. The burning of incense occupied usually a certain length of time. But Zacharias tarries long beyond this. The people wait, but marvel as they wait. They wish his benediction. But when he at length appears, he can only make signs to them, and dismiss them without a word. And yet a sign is there for them. They see that a vision has been vouchsafed in the temple. If the priest is silent, it is because God has spoken. Better that man should be dumb before God, than that Heaven should be silent for ever! Zacharias's judgment is to the people a merciful sign. The week of temple-work was no sooner over than he went home to his house in the hill-country of Judaea. His affliction must have been very painful and humiliating. He would be regarded by his friends as one "smitten of the Lord." But in due season the mercy and grace of God are realized in the Baptist's conception. If Zacharias mourned over his unbelief and its chastisement, Elisabeth was enabled to rejoice over her good fortune and the removal of her reproach. We have thus gone over the announcement of a great man's advent. Are not the truly great the gracious gifts of God? They should be called "John," as indicating whence the true heroes come, and to whom we should ascribe the blessing of their lives. A recent writer says that society has progressed mainly through a succession of great men, and he adds, "Society makes only so much of the great man as goes to the composition of the average man, leaving an overplus which is not to be put to the credit of society or previous human acquisition, but which is a gift from nature - from the Unknown. It makes all of the great man except his special genius, which is afterwards to improve society."ft6 If in this quotation we substitute for "nature," nature's God, we shall have the true idea. Great men are God's gifts, and though the world may, as in this case, misuse and murder them, they confer, through confession and martyrdom, incalculable blessing upon the race. It is only right for us to recognize in God the Source of great souls, and to use them for his glory. - R.M.E.
1. ONE TAKING HIGH RANK WITH GOD. "Great in the sight of the Lord." By faith in Jesus Christ our child may become a "son of God" in a sense not only true but high (see John 1:12). "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God" (Romans 8:17). Obedience will ensure the friendship of God (see John 14:23; John 15:14). Earnestness will make him a fellow-laborer with God (1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). The acceptance of all Christian privilege will make him a "king and priest unto God" (Revelation 1:6). Who can compute how much better it is to be thus "great in the sight of the Lord" than to be honored and even idolized by men?
II. ONE IN WHOM GOD HIMSELF DWELLS. "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." God desires to dwell with and in every one of his human children; and if there be purity of heart and prayerfulness of spirit, he will dwell in them continually (Luke 11:13; John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Revelation 3:20).
III. ONE THAT IS MASTER OF HIMSELF. "He shall drink neither wine," etc. By right example and wise discipline any man's child may be trained to control his own appetites, to regulate his tastes, to form temperate and pure habits, to wield the worthiest of all scepters - mastery of himself.
IV. ONE IN WHOM THE BEST AND NOBLEST LIVES AGAIN. "He shall go in the spirit and power of Elijah." In John the Baptist there lived again the great Prophet Elijah - a man of self-denying habit; of dauntless courage, that feared the face of no man, and that rebuked kings without flinching; of strong and scathing utterance; of devoted and heroic life. In any one of our children there may live again that One who "in all things in which John was great and noble, was greater and nobler than he." In the little child who is trained in the truth and led into the love of Christ there may dwell the mind and spirit of the Son of God himself (Romans 8:9; Philippians 2:5).
V. ONE THAT LIVES A LIFE OF HOLY USEFULNESS. What nobler ambition can we cherish for our children than that, in their sphere, they should do as John did in his - spend their life in the service of their kind? Like him, they may:
1. Make many a home holier and happier than it would have been.
2. Prepare the way for others to follow with their higher wisdom and larger influence.
3. Be instrumental in turning disobedient hearts from the way of folly to the path of wisdom.
4. Earn the benediction of" many" whom they have blessed (verse 14). To ensure all this, there must be:
1. Parental example in righteousness and wisdom.
2. Parental training as well as teaching.
3. Parental intercession. - C.
Revelation 3:14). A deeper interest should gather round it than attaches to the beginning of the material universe. Both begin in mystery, but happily we see the mystery by the eye of faith safely lodged in the hand of God. Genesis gives to us the mysterious origin of the ordinary creation, and Luke gives to us the mysterious origin of the extraordinary creation of which Jesus is the real Head.
I. WE SHALL NOTICE THE SCENE OF THIS ANGEL-VISIT. We saw Gabriel last in the temple, holding intercourse beyond the first veil with Zacharias as he offered the incense. He was in "the holy place," on the threshold of "the holy of holies." But now, by way of contrast, he repairs to Nazareth, that city of Galilee so hidden in the hills that all who for various reasons needed a hiding-place resorted thither. It was a rendezvous for the worst of people, and became proverbial as the one place out of which no good thing need be expected (John 1:46). It was here the angel of mercy made his way to carry good tidings to one in whose veins was the blood of kings. The house of David had fallen indeed on evil days when its lineal representative was to be found in a virgin betrothed to the village carpenter. Meanwhile let us comfort ourselves with the thought that angel-visits, though reputedly few and far between, are not confined to temple-courts or palaces of earthly kings. The lowliest of situations and the lowliest hearts may be honored by a messenger from heaven.
II. THE MESSAGE GABRIEL BROUGHT. Having sought and found the virgin who was espoused to Joseph, he first addressed to her a remarkable salutation. He salutes her as one who is
(1) "highly favored" (κεχαριτωμένη) that is, the object of special favor from God; and
(2) as one enjoying God's special presence - "The Lord is with thee." The other clause, "Blessed art thou among women," seems to be transferred from the subsequent salutation of Elisabeth (verse 42; and cf. Revised Version). It was a very gracious assurance Gabriel brought to Mary. She needed all the support it gave her in her present trying position. The immediate effect upon her mind was fear. She is troubled at the unexpected apparition. But it led her to deep thoughtfulness. It has been well said that praise comes as a surprise to the meek, but as a right, or rather less than a right, to the proud.
(2) Mary was thrown by her fear into anxious thought as to what particular good fortune could be hers. Her idea was that she deserved nothing, and so she could the more thoroughly appreciate whatever came. What a relish Divine favor would be if we had Mary's meekness! Gabriel now bids her no longer to fear, since she has found favor with God, and her good fortune is to consist g t in this - that she is to be the mother of an everlasting Monarch. But we must pause over Gabriel's message.
1. The name of her Son is to be Jesus. That is, he is to be a Savior of men from sin (cf. Matthew 1:21). The world has had Joshuas in abundance, captains of invasion, but only one Jesus as a Savior from the curse and power of sin.
2. He is to be great. And assuredly, if moral influence and genius constitute the highest greatness, Jesus has no equal among the sons of men.
3. He is to be called the Son of the Highest. God is to be his Father in a special sense. This does not refer to his "Eternal Sonship," but to his human sonship. He is to stand to God in the relation of son to father, so far as his human nature is concerned. Mary is thus to be the mother of God's Son.
4. He is to succeed to the throne of his father David. Now, are we to understand this of a succession to a world-kingdom, and a "personal reign" over the Jews? If this be the meaning, then this reign is still to come, for through the rejection of Messiah this kingship was prevented. And so some interpret this (cf. Godet, in loc.). But our Lord's own words about the unworldliness of his kingdom seem to set this idea at rest. He came to be King over a spiritual kingdom. Now, David, we should remember, was a great ecclesiastical reformer. He exercised commanding influence in the church as well as State of his time; and he realized his vice-gerency under God. Jesus succeeds David upon the spiritual lines which were the chief lines of David's influence as king.
5. His reign and kingdom are to be everlasting. His is to be no dying dynasty, but an everlasting rule. Emperors and kings have come and gone, and left their glory behind them; but this Son of Mary commands more influence every year, and knows no decline. The kingdoms of the world run a longer or shorter course; but Christ's kingdom outlasts them all. Such a message was fitted to overwhelm an ordinary mind. Mary is to be the mother of a new King, and he is never to be uncrowned - an everlasting Monarch! Surely an ordinary head would be turned by such tidings as these.
III. HOW MARY TAKES THE MESSAGE. She is so meek that her head is not turned. She is in amazement certainly, but there is calm dignity and purity in her reply.
1. She asks how such a birth is to come about since she is a virgin? This was not the inquiry of a doubter, but of a believer. She wanted direction. Was she to go on with her proposed marriage with Joseph? or was she to break with him? or was she to do nothing but wait? Gabriel directs her to wait passively in God's hands, and all he has promised will come supernaturally about. Just as the Spirit overshadowed the old chaotic world, and brought the cosmos out of it, so would he overshadow Mary, and give her a holy Son. Mary was to sit still and see the salvation of God. And here we must notice that it was a "holy Child" which the world required as a Savior, one in whom the law of sin affecting the rest of the race should be broken, who would be "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." David may say, "In sin did my mother conceive me;" but no such language must be heard from the lips of Christ. This moral break, this exception to the general rule, is brought about by a supernatural conception and birth. Is there not here a lesson about leaving things sometimes in God's hands altogether? It is a great thing sometimes to sit still and do nothing; to cultivate passivity. Like the Virgin, let us simply wait. As a further direction, Gabriel suggests a visit to Elisabeth, that her faith in God's power may be confirmed. The intercourse with her aged relative will do her a world of good in present circumstances. There in the hill-country of Judaea she will find increasing reason for trusting in God.
2. Mary accepts the situation with all its risks. Her submission is an instance of the holiest courage. She cannot but become for a time an object of suspicion to Joseph, and to many more. Her reputation will be for a time at stake. It is a terrible ordeal to encounter. But she bows to the Divine will, and asks God to do with her as he pleases. Faith alone could sustain her in such circumstances. God would vindicate her character in due season. How much are we willing to risk for our Lord? Would we risk reputation, the most precious portion of our heritage, if God clearly asked us to do so? This was what Mary was ready to do. In other words, are we ready to put God before personal reputation? Is he worthy in our eyes even of such a sacrifice?
IV. NOTICE THAT WE HAVE HERE AN INTIMATION HOW THE NEW CREATION MUST BEGIN WITHIN US. The angel-message comes to us, as to Mary, that "Christ" may be formed in us "the Hope of glory." What we have got to do is just to wait for the overshadowing as Mary did. It comes to the waiting and expectant souls. Not the waiting of indifference, but the waiting of expectancy, secures the great blessing. Let us cease from our own efforts, let us be still, and we shall indeed see the salvation of God! - R.M.E.
I. HIS DIVINE ORIGIN. He was not only to be her offspring, but he should "be called the Son of the Most High." And there was to come upon her and overshadow her the Holy Ghost, the Power of the Most High. He was to be not only a son of God, but the Son of God, related to the Eternal Father as no other of the children of men had ever been or should ever be. He was to be One that would in the fullest sense partake of the Divine nature, be one in thought and in aim and in action with the Father (John 5:19, 23; John 8:28; John 10:30; John 14:10, 11). He was to be "God manifest in the flesh."
II. THE WORK HE SHOULD ACCOMPLISH. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus;" and he was to be so called because he would "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:25). There have been "saviors of society" from whom this poor wounded world might well have prayed to be delivered, men who tried to cover their own hideous selfishness under a fair and striking name. What they have claimed to be, Jesus the Savior was and is. He saves from sin. And to do that is to render us the very greatest conceivable service, both in its negative and positive aspects.
1. Negatively considered. To destroy sin is to take away evil by the root. For sin is not only, in itself, the worst and most shameful of all evils by which we can be afflicted, but it is the one fruitful source of all other evils - poverty, estrangement, strife, weariness and aching of heart, death.
2. Positively considered. Saving from sin means restoring to God; it includes reinstatement in the condition from which sin removed us. Jesus Christ, in the very act in which he redeems us from the penalty and power of sin, restores us to God - to his Divine favor, his likeness, his service. Accepting and abiding in the Savior, we dwell in the sunshine of God's everlasting friendship; we grow up into his perfect image; we spend our days and our powers under his direction. It is not only that Jesus Christ delivers us from the darkest curse; it is that he raises us to the loftiest heritage, by the salvation which he offers to our hearts.
III. THE DIGNITY AND POWER HE SHOULD ATTAIN. He was to reign upon a throne, "over the house of Jacob for ever;" and "of his kingdom there should be no end." Great and large as Mary's expectations for her promised Child may have very justly been, they can have been nothing to the fulfillment of the angel's words. For the kingdom of Christ. (as it is or as it shall be) is one that surpasses in every way that of the greatest Hebrew sovereign. It does so:
1. In its main characteristics. It is spiritual. The only homage which is acceptable to its King is the homage of the heart, the only tribute the tribute of affection, the only obedience the obedience of love. It is beneficent. Every subject in this realm is sacredly bound to seek his brother's wellbeing rather than his own. It is righteous. Every citizen, because he is such, is pledged to depart from all iniquity, to pursue and practice all righteousness.
2. In its extent. It has "no end" in its spacial dimensions. No river bounds it; no mountain, no sea; it reaches the whole world round.
3. In its duration. He shall reign "for ever;" his rule will go down to remotest times; it will touch and include the last generation that shall dwell upon the earth. Let us rejoice in his greatness; but let us see to it that
(1) we have a part in the heritage of those whom he is blessing, and that
(2) we take our share in the furtherance of his mission of mercy. - C.
I. THE INSPIRATION GRANTED TO ELISABETH. (Verses 42-45.) And here we may mark the directness of the inspired address. There was no lengthened introduction, no conversation about health, or weather, or news, but an immediate mention of the all-important matter which concerned the Virgin.
1. Elisabeth assures Mary of her signal blessedness in being selected to be the mother of Messiah. She was to be the blessed mother of a blessed Son. How delightful a balm this would be to Mary's anxious heart! Instead of suspicion, there is a salutation such as a princess might thankfully receive.
2. Elisabeth beautifully depreciates herself. It is the way the Spirit takes with those he indeed inspires. It is not boastfulness, but self-depreciation he implants within them. Elisabeth feels herself so unworthy, that she wonders the mother of Messiah deigns to visit her! A royal visit would not have been to the priest's wife such an honor. She is Mary's humble servant, because Mary is to be the mother of her Lord. In fact, had Mary been a queen, she could not have been more lovingly and reverentially treated.
3. A holy joy thrills through her from Mary's advent. It was the "chief joy" of human hearts asserting his marvelous power. The Holy Ghost conducts the humble woman to the most entrancing joy.
4. Mary's faith is recognized and encouraged. The contrast between Mary's faith and Zacharias's doubt must have been very marked. The poor priest is stealing about the house dumb, while Mary is in the enjoyment of all her faculties and powers. Elisabeth would rejoice that Mary, through unhesitating faith, had escaped such a judgment as her husband was enduring. The blessedness of faith in God cannot be too emphatically asserted. It is the secret of real happiness just to take him at his word. As the "faithful Promiser" he never disappoints any who put their faith in his promised aid. Not only do we who believe enter into rest (Hebrews 4:3), but we also enter into blessedness (cf. μακαρία of ver. 45).
II. THE INSPIRATION OF MARY. (Verses 46-55.) We have in the Magnificat of Mary the noblest of Christian hymns. There are traces of such earlier efforts as Hannah's prayer; but this only brings out the continuity of the revelation, and in no way affects the originality of Mary's inspiration. And here let us notice:
1. How God is the Source of Mary's joy. It is not in herself she rejoices, but in God as her Savior. This is the great fact we have all got to realize - that our Savior, not our state, is the fountain of joy. And when we consider his power, and his revealed purposes, and the course of his redeeming love, we must acknowledge that there is in him abundant reason for our joy. Mary felt in body, soul, and spirit the joy of her Lord.
2. Mary recognizes in her own selection the condescending love of God. It is not those the world would select as instruments whom God chooses. The world selects the rich. God chooses "the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him" (James 2:5); so here Mary signalizes her "low estate" as magnifying her Lord's condescending love. How beautiful a spirit to cultivate! Instead of the honor done her unduly exalting her, it only leads her to adore the Divine condescension in stooping to such as she was.
3. She believes in her everlasting fame. She knows that the Incarnation will prove such a stupendous fact that all generations will call her blessed. As the mother of Messiah, she cannot but have the homage of all coming generations. She ought consequently to be with all of us "the blessed mother of the Christ of God."
4. She feels herself the subject of great mercy from the Holy One. And is this not the acknowledgment which all God's people may make? Hath he not done great things for all his people, whereof they are glad (Psalm 126:1)?
5. She takes the widest views of God's dealings with others. Thus she recognizes:
(1) That those who fear God receive his mercy in every generation. (Verse 50.) This is the law of mercy - it is given to those who fear God. It was never meant to encourage men in recklessness or presumption.
(2) The proud experience his dispersive power. (Verse 51.) This is brought out in history. The Jewish captivities, their present dispersion, "the decline and fall of the Roman Empire," and many a judgment since, have been illustrations of this line of procedure on the part of the Most High.
(3) The deposition of rulers and the exaltation of the humble. (Verse 52.) Mary is here speaking of the usurpers in Palestine, and the exaltation of those they despised. The law was marvelously illustrated in the case of Mary's Son, whose exaltation above all dynasties is the greatest fact in civilization (cf. δυνάστας of verse 52).
(4) The satisfaction of the needy, and the disappointment of the rich. (Verse 53.) Here is another aspect of the law of the Divine dealings. Those who feel their need, and hunger after satisfaction, receive it from God. Mary experienced this, and so do all who really hunger after God and righteousness. They have a beatitude always in store for them (Matthew 5:6). On the other hand, those who are rich, that is, who feel inde- pendent and will not look to the Lord for help, who have, in short, "received their consolation," are sent empty away. Disappointment sooner or later becomes their portion. This was the experience of Pharisee and Sadducee and all the well-to-do and self-righteous classes in our Lord's time. And undoubtedly the arrangement is just.
(5) The fidelity of God to his covenant with Israel. (Verses 54, 55.) In the Incarnation God was sending real help to his people. It was the crowning act of mercy, and the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Mary thus began with God's holiness, and passed in review his power, his mercy, and finally his faithfulness. All these are illustrated pre-eminently in the Incarnation.
III. THESE INSPIRATIONS PRESENT TO US THE CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL, For we have before us two lowly women, deep in their self-abasement. The self-righteous spirit has been annihilated within them, and they are thus fitted to be God's instruments. Secondly, we find them maintaining this beautiful spirit after they have become the special objects of the Divine favor. Grace does not spoil them, but provokes within them gratitude. They abound in praise, not in pride. Thirdly, they enter into hopes for their people and the world, as well as for themselves. It is so with real Christians. They become of necessity large-hearted. The inspirations received lead to outbursts of joyful anticipation for all the world. The assertion of Luke that Mary returned home (verse 56) does not necessarily imply that she did not wait for John's birth and circumcision. The probabilities are in favor of supposing that she did so wait, and received the additional consolations which the song of Zacharias was so fitted to bring. Strengthened by her long visit to Elisabeth, she would be the better able to go back to Nazareth and brave all suspicion there. God, by a special communication, made Joseph's suspicion altogether to cease, and Mary was taken by him as wife, instead of being privately divorced. The Virgin's trust in God smoothing her way was thus gloriously fulfilled (Matthew 1:18-25), and she found herself passing onwards upon a path of peace towards that signal influence and power which she has exercised among men. - R.M.E.
I. MARY'S RESPONSE to God's distinguishing goodness to her. She received from God a kindness that was:
1. Necessarily unique. Only to one of the daughters of men could be granted the peculiar honor conferred on her. We are naturally and properly affected by mercies which speak of God's distinguishing goodness to us.
2. Fitted to fill her heart with abounding joy. She was to become a mother, and the mother of One who should render to his people services of surpassing value; no wonder that her "spirit rejoiced" in such a prospect.
3. Calculated to call forth all that was highest and worthiest in her nature. She would have to cherish and to rear, to teach and to train, that illustrious Son who should call her "mother."
4. Certain to confer, upon her, an honorable immortality. All generations would call her blessed.
5. Rendered to one who could not have expected it. God had stooped low to bless, even to the low estate of "his bondmaiden." And, impressed with this wonderful and unanticipated goodness, she poured forth her gladness in a song of holy gratitude, of lofty praise. Such should be -
II. OUR APPRECIATION of God's abounding kindness to ourselves.
1. The indebtedness under which our heavenly Father has laid us. It is, indeed, as different as possible from that which inspired this sacred lyric. Yet may we most reverently and most becomingly take the words of Mary into our lips - both the utterance of felt obligation and the language of praise. For:
(1) How low is the condition on which, in our case, God has mercifully looked! from what depth of error, of folly, of wrong, has he raised us! - a depth with which the lowly estate of Mary is not to be compared.
(2) With what a great salvation has he delivered us! - a salvation with which even the national deliverance Mary would be expecting of her Son is of very small account.
(3) And what a lasting good he confers upon us who have received God our Savior! The blessing of an immortality of undying fame is very precious to these thirsting human spirits of ours: but is it comparable with that of an actual immortality of conscious, eternal life with God and with the good in the heavenly kingdom? Distant generations will not hear our name, but in remotest times we shall be dwelling and serving in unimaginable joy.
2. The response we should make to our Father.
(1) Great gladness of heart. We should rejoice in God our Savior; welcoming him, trusting and resting in him, finding our refuge and our strength in his faithfulness and his love.
(2) Honouring him before all men. "Magnifying the Lord" with the utterance of the lip, with the obedience of the life, with active service in his vineyard. - C.
Luke 2:35) she passed into the light of truth and the rest of God, and now she sees how much greater occasion she had than she knew at the moment to sing in such strains of the character of God. We look at these Divine attributes as expressed in the coming of the Savior.
I. HIS DIVINE POWER. "He that is mighty hath done... great things" (verse 49); "He hath showed strength with his arm" (verse 51). God's power is very gloriously manifested in the formation and furniture of this earthly home, in the creation of successive generations of mankind, in the providential government of the world, including the mastery of all physical forces and the control of all human energies; but by far the most wonderful exhibition of Divine power is in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. To exert a transforming power on one intelligent, free, disloyal spirit; to conquer a rebellious, to win an estranged, soul; to raise a fallen nature, and uplift it to a height of holy excellence; to make that which had lowered itself to the basest fit for the society of the holiest in heaven; to do this not in one individual case but in the case of "ten thousand times ten thousand;" to introduce a power which can elevate an,t ennoble families, communities, nations; which is changing the character and condition of the entire race; - this is "the power of God," this is the doing of him "that is mighty."
II. HIS DIVINE HOLINESS. "Holy is his Name" (verse 49); "He hath scattered the proud," etc. (verses 51, 52). God's holiness is shown in his providential interpositions, in his humbling the haughty, in his scattering the cruel and the profane, in his raising the lowly and the pure and the true. Thus he has been revealing his righteousness in every nation and in every age. But nowhere does his holiness appear as it is seen in
(1) the mission of his Son, who came to put away sin; in
(2) the life and language of his Son, who illustrated all purity and condemned all iniquity; in
(3) the death of his Son, who by the sacrifice of himself uttered God's thought and feeling about sin as nothing else could speak it, and struck it such a death-blow as nothing else could strike it.
III. HIS DIVINE MERCY. (Verse 50.) Many are the testimonies borne by Old Testament saints to the pity, the patience, the mercy, of the Lord. But in Jesus Christ - in his spirit, in his example, and more particularly in his redeeming death and work - is the manifestation of the grace of God. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In the gospel of Christ the pity, the patience, the magnanimity, of God rise to their fullest height, reach to their noblest breadth.
IV. HIS DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. (Verses 53-55.) God, who made us for himself and for truth and righteousness, who has made our hearts to hunger for the highest good, does not leave us to pine and perish; he fills us with the "rich provision" of his truth and grace in Jesus Christ. "As he spake unto our fathers," so he has done, granting not only such a One as they hoped for, but One that has been to the whole race of man a glorious Redeemer, in whom all nations are blessed with a blessing immeasurably transcending the most sanguine hopes of his ancient people.
1. Let our souls be so filled with the greatness and the goodness of God as thus revealed, that we shall break forth into grateful song, magnifying his Name.
2. Let us return at once to him, if we yet remain at a distance from him; for we have no right to hope, and no reason to expect, that he will ever manifest himself to us in more attractive features than as we see him in the Son that was born of the lowly Virgin. - C.
I. CONTEMPLATE THE MOTHER IN HER JOY. (Verses 57-63.) A mother with a firstborn son embodies as much joy as we can well imagine in a world like this. All pain and anguish over and forgotten in the mighty fruition (cf. John 16:21). Next there would be messages sent to friends, "neighbors and cousins," who would be expected to call with congratulations. And they gave their congratulations without stint - "They rejoiced with her." Next came the circumcision and the naming of the child, and the idea of the neighbors was that they could not do better than call him "Zacharias," i.e. "one whom Jehovah remembers," after his priestly father. But the joyful mother has a new name to give her son, and, though none of her ancestors have borne it, he must be called "John," which, as already noticed, signifies "Jehovah giveth grace." The new name is to herald the nature of the dispensation. The friends are not satisfied, however, until they consult the dumb father. They accordingly make signs to him how he would have him called, and he, with most serious deliberation, wrote on the tablet, "His name is John." It was a revelation to the neighbors, and they took it as such, and "marveled all." The joyful mother had thus the satisfaction of seeing her firstborn son introduced to the Jewish Church by the rite of circumcision, and receiving a name which was itself a promise of great grace from God. What a joy it should be to parents to have their little children thus early introduced into the Church of God, and identified with its brightening prospects!
II. CONTEMPLATE THE FATHER PRAISING GOD. (Verses 64, 67-79.) The dumb priest now regains his speech, and no sooner is his mouth opened than he bursts into praise. Doubtless he praised God for his judgment on himself and for his mercy in the gift of the goodly child. He was able then to sing of both (cf. Psalm 101:1). Moreover, the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of prophecy filled him, so that his praise took the beautiful poetic form here given. And this song of Zacharias divides itself into two portions -first, the establishment of the theocracy under Messiah (verses 67-75); and secondly, the apostrophe to the little child about his part in the work of reformation (verses 75-79). To these let us devote a few thoughts.
1. The establishment of the theocracy under Messiah. As a priest, Zacharias naturally looked at the new movement from an ecclesiastical and patriotic point of view. Hence he praised God for the deliverance of his people through raising up a horn for them in the house of his servant David. This horn, the symbol of "might," is the Messiah who is to be born of Mary. But what salvation is it to be? In the usual Jewish spirit, he speaks of it as a salvation from enemies and all that hate the people of the Lord. In other words, the inspired priest looks and longs for a national deliverance. And the true patriot can long for nothing less. The blessing which he praises God for on his own account, he desires for all his race. At the same time, it is to be noticed that it is pious parents who are to realize the mercy-parents "who had hoped for the blessing of their seed, and had mourned over the misery of their posterity." Such were hoping always on the covenant-promises, and now they were to have them fulfilled. But it is to be further noticed that the national deliverance expected is a means, not an end. It is only that the theocratic idea may be carried out by the emancipated people, and God served by them without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all their days. It is here that the great difference between worldly aspirations and spiritual ones is to be appreciated. If people hope for blessing that they may the better serve and please themselves, then they are simply worldly and selfish; but if they seek blessing to fit them to serve God, they are entering into the nobility of his kingdom. It is the reign of God within us and around us which we should always hope for and try to promote.
2. The priest's apostrophe to his little child. In the father's address to little John we see the spirituality which underlay his hope. His boy is to be a prophet of the Most High, something superadded to the priestly privileges which belonged to the family by right of birth. By word of mouth, therefore, is he to prepare his Lord's way. But his message is to be in the first instance about "remission of sins." In other words, the reformation hoped for is to be moral. Beginning in pardon and penitence, it will indeed be the dawn of a better day to many who have been sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and the "guiding light" into the way of peace. John is thus to be the herald of the dawn. The Messiah is the "Sun of Righteousness," whose presence constitutes the day. He enables us to say, "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1). John is to be the voice in the desert to apprise the wandering and stumbling "caravan" of the approach of dawn and its guidance into peaceful paths. And, as we shall see, the moral reformation under John became national, so that before Messiah's baptism "all the people were baptized" (chapter 3:21).
III. CONTEMPLATE THE LITTLE CHILD'S DEVELOPMENT. (Verse 66, 80.) The result of such prophecies connected with the circumcision of the child was the growth of a wholesome "fear" throughout all the hill-country of Judaea. The people began to hope for important changes. And their hopes were so far confirmed by the development of John. In the first place, "the hand of the Lord," i.e. Divine power and grace, "was with him." He grew up a spiritually minded boy. All who saw the priest's son concluded that God was with him in his grace and love. There are children who grow up with the stamp of heaven upon their whole lives. The Spirit of God is manifestly moving them along the true path. In the second place, he had due physical development. "He grew." A dedicated boy, a Nazarite from his youth, he grew up robustly on his plain fare, physically fit for the life of toil which was before him. In the third place, "he waxed strong in spirit." His whole inward man more than kept pace with his outward growth. He was not only a good and growing lad, but also heroic in his mental progress. The inspired boy was getting strength to become one of God's heroes. In the last place, he betook himself to the deserts until such times as he was manifested to Israel. It was to be a development amid the solitude of the desert down towards the Dead Sea which John was to realize. God was his Teacher. Even the poor Essenes, who lived a life of asceticism in the neighborhood, must have kept John at a distance, and so made his loneliness the more intense. And yet it may be safely said that no one has ever done much for God who has not been much alone with him. It is the communion of the lowly spirit with the Supreme which fits for high service. A desert, and not a garden of Eden, may often be the fittest environment for the consecrated soul, seeing that he is thereby thrown more completely upon God. Like Moses and Elijah, John has his long season of solitude with God, and then he comes forth radiant for the work he has to do in Israel. May such a development as John's be realized by many! - R.M.E.
I. OCCASION FOR HOPEFULNESS AND GLADNESS OF HEART. "The mother remembereth no more her anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world," said our Lord (John 16:21). And why rejoice on this occasion? Because of:
1. The love which the little child will cherish. Not, indeed, to be manifested in its very earliest days, but to be felt and shown before long - the beautiful, clinging, whole-hearted love of childhood; a love which it is fair to see and most precious to receive.
2. The love which the little child will call forth - the love which is parental, fraternal; the love of those who serve as well as that of kindred and friends, - this, too, is one of the most goodly sights on which the eye of purity and wisdom rests; it is one of the sweetest and most wholesome ingredients in the cup of earthly good.
3. The discipline which the coming of the child will involve. All parents have an invaluable privilege, from which they ought to derive the greatest benefit. They may be so slow to learn, so unimpressionable, so obdurate, that they are none the wiser or better for their parentage; and in that case they will be something or even much the worse. But if the "little child" does not "lead" us, it is our own fault and folly. The child's dependency on his parent, trustfulness in his parent, obedience to his parent, - do these not speak eloquently of our dependence upon, our trustfulness in, our obedience to our heavenly Father? The love we feel for our little child, the care we take of him, the profound regret we should feel if he went astray, the sacrifice we are ready to make for his recovery, - does not all this summon us, with touching and even thrilling voice, to realize the love God has for us his human children, the care he has taken of us day and night through all our years, the profound Divine regret with which he has seen us go astray from himself, the wonderful sacrifice he made for us when he spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, in order to restore us to himself and reinstate us in our heritage? And the labor we are necessitated to bestow, the patience to exercise, and the self-denial and sacrifice to show, - these are essential factors in the forming of our character. We should not choose them, but we may well be most thankful for them.
4. The excellency to which he may attain; it may be that
(1) of physical beauty, or
(2) of intellectual ability, or
(3) of spiritual worth, or
(4) of valuable service.
Who can tell what lies latent in that helpless infant? what sources of power and blessing are in that little cradle?
II. OCCASION FOR REVERENT AWE. It may well be that "fear" comes on all those who hold their own children in their arms. For they who are entrusted with a little child receive therewith a most grave responsibility. It is true that nothing can remove the accountableness of each soul to its Creator for what it has become; but it is also true that parents are very seriously responsible for the character and career of their children. Our children will believe what we teach them, will form the habits in which we train them, will follow the example we set them, will imbibe the spirit which we are breathing in their presence. What shall this child be? That depends on ourselves. If we are only true and wise and kind, our children will almost certainly become what we ourselves are - what we long and pray that they may be. Joy and awe are therefore the two appropriate sentiments at every human birth. When a child is born into the home, there enters that which may be the source of the greatest gladness to the heart; there also enters that which should make life a far more serious and solemn thing. - C.
I. IT BEGINS IN SPIRITUAL EMANCIPATION. "We being delivered out of the hand of our enemies." In order to "walk in newness of life," we must be rescued from the thraldom of sin. And there is a twofold deliverance that we need. One is from the condemnation of our guilt; for we cannot rest and rejoice in the love of God while we are under a troubled sense of the Divine displeasure, while we feel and know that our "sin has separated between" ourselves and our heavenly Father. The other is from the bondage of evil. So long as we are "held in the cords of our sins," we are helplessly disobedient; it is only when we have learnt to hate sin, and, loathing it, to leave it behind us, that we are free to walk in the path of righteousness. This double emancipation is wrought for us by the Lord whose way the son of Zacharias was to prepare. By faith in him, the great Propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2), we have full and free forgiveness, so that all the guilty past may be removed from our sight; and in the presence of a crucified Redeemer "the flesh and its affections are crucified," we die to our old self and our old iniquities, the tolerance of sin is slain, we hate that which we loved and embraced before, we are "delivered out of the hand of our enemies."
II. IT PROCEEDS ALONG THE PATH OF FILIAL SERVICE. We "serve him without fear." Here are two elements - obedience and happiness. As soon as we unite ourselves to our Lord and Savior, we live to serve. "None of us liveth to himself;" "We thus judge,... that we who live should not live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us" (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15). And this is the only true life of man. The animal may live for itself, though even the higher animals live rather for others than for themselves. But all whom we should care to emulate live to serve. It is not the sentence passed, it is the heritage conferred upon us, that in Christ Jesus we live to serve God - to serve him by direct worship and obedience, and also, indirectly, by serving the children of his love and the creatures of his care. And we serve in love; and therefore without fear - without that fear which means bondage; for "perfect love casteth out fear." It is with no hesitating and reluctant step that we walk in the ways of God; it is our joy to do his bidding; we "delight to do his will: yea, his Law is within our heart" (Psalm 40:8). "We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;" our spirit is the spirit of happy childhood, which runs to fulfill its Father's word.
III. IT MOVES TOWARDS PERFECT EXCELLENCE OF CHARACTER. "In holiness and righteousness before him." Here are three elements of the Christian life.
1. A holy hatred of evil; leading us to condemn it in ourselves and in others, and prompting us to expel and extirpate it to the utmost of our power.
2. The pursuit and practice of all that is equitable; endeavoring to do and to promote that which is just in all the relations in which we stand to others, or they to one another.
3. Piety; doing every right thing as unto Christ our Lord; living consciously "before him;" so that all our rectitude of heart and excellency of behavior is something more than a habit of life; it is a sacrifice unto our Savior.
IV. IT PERSEVERES EVEN TO THE END. "All our days." There is no break in our course. Our upward and onward path may be undulating, but it is continuous, and is ever making for the summit. We do not retire, or resign, or abdicate, in this noblest work, in this sacred office of being "servant of the Lord," "king and priest unto God." Having loved his own, our Master loved them unto the end (John 13:1); and loving him whom we have not seen, and rejoicing in him with unspeakable joy, we are faithful unto death, and we know that
"To him that overcometh
I. THE DEGREES OF DARKNESS in which the world was shrouded when the Dayspring rose. It was a dark hour when Jesus Christ was born. "Darkness covered the earth." But the shadows were deeper in some lands than in others; some minds were more lost and buried in the thick darkness than others were.
1. The dim twilight of Judaism - a twilight, not of the morning, but of the evening. For Judaism had passed out of its manhood into its dotage, out of its strength and spirituality into a dreary and lifeless formalism. It had, indeed, escaped from idolatry, and it was free from the worst excesses of the pagan world; but of a pure piety, a spiritual and acceptable service, it knew but little. Compared, however, with surrounding peoples, the Jews may be said to have stood in the twilight of truth.
2. The darkness of philosophy. For philosophy was groping in the darkness; it had felt or was feeling its way out of the absurdities of polytheism and idolatry; it touched - but only here and there - the grand truth of monotheism; but it was peering in the direction of pantheism and atheism. "The world by wisdom knew not God." And even where it did reach the idea of one living God, it could not tell how he was to be worshipped, how his favor was to be won, what were the relations he desired to sustain to mankind.
3. The thick darkness of paganism. If the philosophers "sat in darkness," the idolaters of uncivilized communities were "in the shadow of death." What a death in life is the existence of those who are buried in the most blighting superstitions and the most debasing habits! There indeed "the light is as darkness;" it moves us to a profound pity as we think of it. We are not surprised to read in the text of -
II. THE COMPASSION OF THE FATHER OF MEN IN VIEW OF IT. "The tender mercy of our God" was called forth by the sad spectacle of a world in deep shadow, a race without the Light of life. At their best, men were far enough from truth, from righteousness, from the love of God; at their worst, they had utterly gone astray, "stumbling on the dark mountains" of error and of iniquity. Well might the God of all pity compassionate such a lost race as this.
III. THE VISIT OF THE HEAVENLY DAYSPRING. "The Dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light." Jesus Christ came to be the "Light of the world;" and such he is. He has illumined all the way from the blackness of darkness of sin to the light and glory of heaven. What precions rays of light has the Divine Teacher shed on
(1) the nature and the disposition of God, our Father; on
(2) the character and the consequences of sin; on
(3) the way back to God and righteousness; on
(4) the transcendent value of the human soul; on
(5) the beauty and blessedness of the life of consecration; on
(6) the certainty of future glory to the good and faithful!
Let us draw near to him who is the Light of the human world, let us walk in the light of his reviving truth, "that we may be the children of light," and dwell in immortal glory. - C.
1. Christianity has had no fair chance of showing what it is in it to do. It has been so wretchedly misrepresented through whole centuries of time.
2. It has done much to moderate and mitigate the severities of war; amongst other things, it has carried the "red cross" of succor right into the heart of the battle-field.
3. It is impregnating the minds of statesmen with the truth that an unnecessary war is a heinous crime against God and man.
4. It has been leading the souls of men into a profounder peace. For there is a spiritual sphere in which there is strife and unrest worse by far than any physical contests can be. It is there that peace has been most missed, and that its absence has wrought the saddest evil. This worst restlessness has resulted from two things -
I. FROM MAN SEEKING HIS SATISFACTION WHERE HE CANNOT FIND IT.
1. What a vain thing is it to seek satisfaction in a life of pleasure, in living to be amused, in hunting happiness over the field of enjoyment!
2. What an unsatisfying thing is he lived on any lower plane, whatever it may be! Alas for those millions to whom it is a dreary and monotonous round of toil! And to those who move in the higher social circles, is it so very much better? When the veil is lifted, as it is occasionally by some honest memoirs or frank autobiography, how often do we find it full of disappointment, of disillusion, of wretched rivalry, of hunger and heart-ache! There is no peace or rest there that is worthy of the name. Where, then, shall rest be found? We shall gain it from him and find it in him who "knew what was in man," and who alone knew what would satisfy the hunger of his soul; it was he who came to guide our feet into the way of peace. We shall find it in his friendship, in his service, in his cause. When we have come to ourselves, and have returned unto the Lord our God; when we have lost sight of ourselves, and have entered his holy and happy service; then have we left disquietude and unrest behind us, then have we entered into a true, deep, and enduring peace.
II. FROM OUR SENSE OF SIN AGAINST GOD. There is no peace for man without reconciliation to God. He has left the home of his Father, has become estranged from him, has come under his righteous condemnation, and he can find no peace until he has been forgiven and restored. Apathy, indifference, the unconcern of a stolid ignorance, there may be; but that is not peace. Peace is a well-grounded assurance that all is well with us. This we can only obtain by knowing the truth concerning ourselves, and by taking the path which leads us home to God. It is just this we have in Jesus Christ. He
(1) makes plain to the understanding and makes grievous to the soul our own great unworthiness and guilt; and then he
(2) offers himself to us as our all-sufficient Savior. Then "being justified by faith [in him] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." And abiding in him, we continue in the path of peace - a path which leads on to holy joy and up to heavenly glory. - C.
I. THE SERVICES SOLITUDE WOULD RENDER US.
1. It would bring God near to us. When man is quite removed from us, and his voice is completely hushed; when we are alone, whether it be in the folds of the hill, or in the depth of the valley, or in our own chamber; - we have a sense of God's nearness to us which we have not amid the crowd. And what an inestimable advantage it would be to us to let the consciousness of God's own presence often fill our soul, and then to hold sustained communion with him!
2. It would place our past in full view before our soul. It is not well to be very often looking back on that which has gone. There is deep wisdom in "forgetting those things which are behind," both past follies and past successes. Yet is it well sometimes to review the way we have been taking - to consider how much there is that should humble us, and how much that should teach us our weakness and cast us on the mercy and the help of God.
3. It would confront us with the future. It would make us ask whither we are going, what there remains for us to do before we die, how well we are prepared for death and the great day of account.
4. It would lead us to estimate our present spiritual condition - how good a use we have made of our privileges, whether we have been progressing or receding in our course, whether we are what our Divine Lord would have us be, how we stand in the sight of perfect truth and purity.
II. THE OCCASIONS WHEN IT IS MOST APPROPRIATE.
1. Between the night and the morning; when the soul has to address itself to new duties, new difficulties, new opportunities.
2. Between the evening and the night; before a man commits himself to the "great Guardian of his sleeping hours," his hours of utter helplessness and unconsciousness.
3. Before leaving the shelter of the home; when the young heart goes forth into deeper waters - who shall say how deep? - of temptation and trial; when all, and far more than all, its resources will be required for the stern struggle before it.
4. In the crises of our career; when in the innermost chamber of the soul it is determined whether the heart and life shall be yielded to the holy Savior and rightful Sovereign, or shall be withheld from him.
5. At the time of religious avowal; when a human being takes upon himself the vows of God, and makes open declaration of attachment to the Lord his Redeemer.
6. Before special services which demand the full strength of the soul to meet them bravely and to render them worthily. At such times as these does it most become us to shut our doors upon ourselves and be long alone with God. - C.