Luke 1:67
When John was born his mother's heart was filled with great joy, and her neighbors rejoiced with her. And when the little child, a week old, was introduced into the Jewish commonwealth, a feeling of awe filled the hearts of those present, and there was much wonderment concerning him. "Fear came on them all," and every one was asking, "What manner of child shall this be?" No doubt the exceptional character of the circumstances attending his birth and his circumcision accounted for the joy and also for the fear; but apart from all that was unusual, there was reason enough ibr both sentiments to be felt and shown. At any ordinary human birth there is -

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.

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost.
I. Preliminary questions. In the opening portion of St. Luke's Gospel, there is a definiteness of time, place, and circumstance, which makes us feel that we are not breathing in the air or looking through the deceptive light of legend. We are not travelling in dreamland, for we can measure distances. The objections which have been made in modern times to this statement are derived from two elements in the narrative —(1) from the account of various angelic appearances;(2) from the recorded bursts of ecstatic or prophetic song.

1. As to the angelic appearance in these opening chapters. Unquestionably here, as elsewhere, throughout, and to its very close, St. Luke's is the Gospel of the holy angels. The existence o!angels rests upon the same witness as the whole supernatural life. There must be something of fitness in the times of their manifestation, and in the persons to whom they make themselves known. In a material age they cease to appear. There must be a certain saintly second-sight — a something angelic in the angel seen. All depends upon the initial point of view. From ours it is not incredible, but rather probable, that Gabriel should have come to Zacharias and Mary; that songs of acclamation should have rung out over Bethlehem. We are come to an innumerable company of angels. Well, too, may we be impressed by the gravity and reserve of the scriptural account of angelic appearances. Man receives no random invitation to a heedless intimacy on the one hand; to a Socinian heresy of angel cultus on the other. Of all the countless hosts of heaven, Scripture condescends to make but two known to us by name — Gabriel and Michael.

2. But, in reference to these opening scenes of St. Luke's Gospel, it has further been objected that these sacred songs, these bursts of Hebraic poetry, are unmistakably like art, or legend; that the critic is irresistibly impelled to see them in a piece of fancy work, like the songs in Tennyson's "Queen Mary." There are a few considerations which remove this obstinate prejudice of modern criticism. If labour and genius are the only possible creators of any form of literature, these songs, of course, can scarcely be genuine. But if, as a matter of fact, prophecy exists; if Jesus Christ be its chief and central subject, it is only natural that, after an interval of 400 years, it should awaken again, just as he was about to visit the earth; that the father of God's chosen servant, who was to go as a messenger before Messiah's face, should be filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesy.(1) The Benedictus was, no doubt, formed in the heart of Zacharias during the long months of enforced muteness, when he was dumb, and not able to speak. After nine months of silence it came streaming out like the molten metal when issue is given to it.(2) The pious Hebrew would have no such material difficulties as those which have been suggested above. For Hebrew poetry was not fettered by the laws of an inexorable prosody. It did not exact the exquisite and severe modulation of classical scansion. Psalm. like strains rushed spontaneously to the lips of those who lived in the circle of the Old Testament writings, and spake its language. Moreover — and this is most important of all — the whole substance and tenor of the Benedictus shows that it was not moulded by art; that it does not bear the same relation to the gospel history as the speeches of Pericles or Hannibal to the narratives of Thucydides and Livy. From what point of view must Zaeharias have spoken? The sight of Christ which he enjoyed was far beyond that of any of the psalmists in clearness. Yet the picture which he drew must have been painted in Hebrew colours, and set in a Jewish framework. A later writer, in an age pre-eminently without critical tact and subtlety, would never have contented himself with putting these oracular utterances into the lips of Zacharias. No doubt the Christian Church has, almost from the beginning, used these songs in daily worship. By doing so she interprets them of Jesus. But the question is not, in the slightest degree, how the Christian Church understands this and the other songs, when they have been permanently committed to writing. The question is whether, after the cross and resurrection, after all things were fulfilled, she could, by any conceivable self-restraint, have managed to write them in such a strain? These songs would rather have been like the Apocalyptic strains, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." The mind which wrote the Benedietus, under the condition of a full historical knowledge of the gospel, must either have been an earnest or a deceptive mind. For an earnest mind, such reserve upon the subjects which were in the front rank of its affections, would have been unnatural; for a deceptive mind it would have been, ex hypothesi, impossible. Thus, the Benedictus is impossible at a date either earlier or later than that to which it is assigned by the third evangelist. Such visions of the light just dawning, such a conception of the general character of the approaching redemption, with such reserve — rather such silence — as to the mode in which it was to be carried out in detail; such silver brightness on the edge of the mist, such dimness in its heart; such strange eloquence and reserve — could only have come from one who stood on the thin border-line between the two dispensations — on the infinitesimal space between the two vast ranges before and behind. A little more, and the song would have been purely Christian; a little less, and it would have been purely Jewish.

II. We proceed to draw some lessons from the song itself.

1. It is well to remember who and what Zacharias was. Zacharias was a holy and religious priest. The employment of Zacharias was that of a minister of a Divinely. ordained ritual. Now true revelation does not deal with the spirit of man mechanically. The thought and utterance take the mould and colour of the mind, which the spirit freely uses. The form of the revelation is adapted to the natural tendencies and whole condition of him who is the Holy Ghost's voice or pen. The prophet priest Ezekiel views the Church under the image which would naturally occur to one who had been trained in such an element — the image of a temple. The priest prophet Zacharias views the life of all the emancipated children of God as one continuous worship, one endless priestly service — "That we, fearlessly, having been once for all delivered from hand of enemies, should continually do Him worship. In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days that we have." This is the essence and use of all the true ritualism of God. One word summed up the whole meaning and purpose of the priestly life of Zacharias — to do God service, to be worshipping Him. This word, this Ich Dien of the faithful priesthood, he makes the Ich Dien of every child of God. The one true priest, whose coming is so near, shall enable all the redeemed people to perform the true service of priests, to celebrate God's worship in the long festivity of a perpetual freedom. The motto of Christ's kingdom of priests comes fitly from the lips of an inspired priest. The meaning of the Old Testament ritual is given, as best became the fitness of things, by one who was "of the order of Abia." These words are sung in hundreds of churches. It is well that singers should be taught to sing "gracefully," as well as heartily, to the Lord. But both choirs and congregations should keep the words of Zacharias ever before them, "Without fear to do Him the worship and service of a life."

2. The place which is occupied by the Benedictus in the reformed Prayer Book is significant and interesting. It is placed immediately after the second lesson at morning service, which is always from one of the Gospels, Epistles, or the Apocalypse. Zacharias was the first New Testament prophet; and this is almost the first gospel hymn. The voice and song of such a one may fitly be heard immediately after our first reading from the New Testament. It does not, perhaps, seem a mere fancy to see in the contents of the Benedictus a reference to the work of the Christian ministry. Zacharias was a father as well as a priest. He turns, with a burst of joy, which was not merely natural, to his babe, and places him among the goodly company of the prophets — " And thou too, child, shalt be called prophet of the Highest. For onward thou shalt go, on, in front of the Lord, to prepare His ways; To give knowledge of salvation to His people." But what was to be done by the child of Zacharias is to be done by Christ's ministers, who "prepare and make ready a people for His second coming." And the simple reading of the simple gospel in the second lesson is a specimen, as it were, and epitome of all this work.

III. This utterance of Zacharias is something more than a song or poem. It is a treatise on salvation.

1. Its Author — "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He hath raised up a strong salvation for us."

2. Its cause — "On account of the tender mercy of our God."

3. Its essence — " Salvation, consisting in remisssion of sins."

4. Its blessedness and privileges — "Being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, to serve Him without fear."

5. Its consequence — "In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days." All who have ever understood the Psalmist's deeply pathetic cry, "Make the reproach which I am afraid of to pass over," will also understand the preciousness of the privilege. We conclude by citing the image with which the song concludes. It is derived from a caravan which has lost its way, when the wayfarers "sit down" in the darkness, which is like the shadow of death, to perish in their helplessness. Then, in the high heavens, a glorious star makes its Epiphany. So often as we sing this hymn with true spiritual worship, with hearts full of the sense of that salvation which consists in remission of sins, the old song may be as full of life and joy as any new hymn. The Hymn of Zacharias is the strain of the "Pilgrims of the Night."

(Bishop Willliam Alexander.)

1. Observe that no sooner was Zachary recovered and restored to his speech, but he sings the praises of his Redeemer, and offers up a thanksgiving to God. The best return we can make to God for the use of our tongue, for the giving or restoring of our speech, is to publish our Creator's praise, to plead His cause, and vindicate His honour.

2. The subject matter of Zachary's song. What is the particular and special mercy which He praises and blesses God for? It is not for his own particular and private mercy, namely, the recovery of his speech, though undoubtedly he was very thankful to God for that mercy; but he blesses and praises God for catholic and universal mercies bestowed upon His Church and people.

3. In this evangelical hymn there is a prophetic prediction, both concerning Christ and concerning John.(1) Concerning Christ, he declares that God the Father had sent Him of His free mercy and rich grace, yet in performance of His truth and faithfulness, and according to His promise and oath which He had made to Abraham and the fathers of the Old Testament. Where note —(a) He blesses God for the comprehensive blessing of the Messiah — "visited," i.e., in the incarnation of Jesus.(b) The special fruit and benefit of this gracious and merciful visitation — the redemption of a lost world.(c) The character given of this Saviour and Redeemer — "horn of salvation," i.e., a royal and glorious, strong and powerful, Saviour to His Church and people. The horn in Scripture signifies glory and dignity, strength and power; as the beauty, so the strength of the beast lies in his horn; now Christ being styled a horn of salvation intimates that He Himself is a royal and princely Saviour, and that the salvation which He brings is great and plentiful, glorious and powerful.(d) The nature and quality of that salvation and deliverance which the Son of God came to accomplish for us. Not a temporal deliverance, as the Jews expected, from the power of the Romans; but spiritual, from the hands of sin and Satan, death and hell; His design was to purchase a spiritual freedom and liberty for us, that we might be enabled to serve Him without fear, i.e., without the servile and offending fear of a slave, but with the dutiful and ingenuous fear of a child. Learn hence, that believers, who were slaves of Satan, are by Christ made God's freemen; and, as such, they owe God a willing, cheerful, and delightful service without fear, and a constant, persevering service all the days of their life.(e) The source and fountain from which this glorious Saviour and gracious salvation arose and sprang, viz., from the mercy and faithfulness of God.(2) Concerning John, he prophesies —(a) The nature of His office.(b) The quality of his work. He was to be a herald and harbinger to the Most High; as the morning star, foretelling the glorious arising of the Sun of Righteousness.

4. Zachary, having spoken a few words concerning his son, returns instantly to celebrate the praises of the Saviour, comparing Him to the rising sun, which shone forth in the brightness of the gospel to enlighten the dark corners of the world.

(W. Burkitt, M. A.)

Sunday School Times.
When an English garrison, during the Indian Mutiny, was besieged at Lucknow, and was almost momentarily expecting the fall of the city, a sick woman started up from her slumber, crying, "We're saved! Don't you hear the music? They're coming! They're coming!" No one else could hear that music; yet, in a few hours, a relieving force arrived, and the garrison was saved. This prophecy of Zacharias is like the far-off music of the coming salvation. Compare in Motley's "Dutch Republic" the account of the relief of Leyden. The state of the world before the coming of Christ may be compared to that of shipwrecked men clinging to a rock in the midst of the sea. There is no safety for them where they are, and no safety in themselves. With what joyous eyes is it that they behold a boat coming to their rescue from the distant land! So in the case of lost humanity, salvation had to be brought. A man crossing a heath one dark night fell into a pit. He tried in vain to get out, calling loudly for assistance all the while. Soon people gathered to his assistance, and a rope was lowered to him. He grasped it, and was drawn up into the light. So mankind cannot be uplifted from the pit of sin, except by salvation brought from above.

(Sunday School Times.)

Sunday School Times.
Like the song of Mary, this prophecy of Zacharias tells of God's faithfulness in His promises. In ancient times there was a beautiful rite of hospitality. Friends residing in different countries gave each other emblems, on the presentation of which each could claim the hospitality of the other. And when they both were dead, the son of one could call upon the son of the other for the same hospitality by presenting his emblem. The promises made to the father were fulfilled to the son. So down through the ages the Jews waited for the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham. But to us it is given to see in clearer light their complete fulfilment, and how that came neither too late nor too soon.

(Sunday School Times.)

I. Let us join Zacharias in his song of praise for that great deliverance of which John was the harbinger. The blessings here celebrated were not confined to Jews, but are common to all God's " people. Salvation is ever the same in substance, and much the same in its form and means.

II. It becomes us to be thankful that the light of the gospel has visited our own land in particular. Through God's mercy we have been lifted out of idolatry, impurity, and misery, into the knowledge of the truth. Let us see that the "light" is shining into our hearts, and that we are walking in it.

III. Deliverance from enemies through the gospel. Saved from sin; taken out of the power of our spiritual foes.

IV. Serving God without fear.

1. External peace and security.

2. Internal state of mind produced by religion. At peace with God; delighting in Him as a Father and Friend.

(James Foote, M. A.)

There are men and women known in history chiefly by their relation to their children. They were godly men and women; men and women of ability and usefulness in their day; but their pre-eminent place in the world is as parents. This fact should be a stimulus and a source of hope to every parent. Whatever a father or a mother may have done or have failed to do up to the present hour, there is that child to be looked after, to be loved and cared for, to be trained and prayed over, to have faith in behalf of. In that child there may lie the hope and the joy of multitudes, and the hope and the joy of the parents as well. How this ought to nerve us and give us cheer as we toil and pray for the child of our hearts. That child may rise up to call us blessed, and, for his sake, all generations may call us blessed. It is for us to do our duty by our children. It may be for us to have a reward in them beyond all other rewards we have in and for our earthly course. You are the father, or the mother, of that child. How much of good does that portend to him? How much of good it may portend to you!

(H. C. Trumbull.)

"Filled with the Holy Ghost" — that was fitness for praising God acceptably, and for proclaiming His truth acceptably, in the days of Zacharias. It was not that Zacharias was filled with enthusiasm, filled with earnestness, filled with knowledge, filled with poetic fervour; but that he was filled with the Holy Ghost. That gave his words power, and, because of that fact, his words are in our ears and on our lips to-day. There is no other source of true power in God's service in this age, or in any age. To be a good parent, a good teacher, a good preacher, a good Bible student, a good man, or a good woman, one needs to be filled with the Holy Ghost; there is no substitute for this.

(H. C. Trumbull.)

On the night before her execution, Mary Queen of Scots composed a short prayer, and sang it over by herself because she could not sleep. The words are very musical in the Latin which she used, expressing the passionate wish of a captive to escape:

"O Lord God Almighty! my hope is in Thee!

O Jesus beloved, now liberate me!

In durance the drearest, in bonds the severest —

My desire is to Thee!

In sighing and crying, on bended knees lying,

I adore — I implore Thou would'st liberate me!"

When Madame Guyon and her faithful maid were imprisoned, she composed songs for her comfort. "And then," says she, "we sang them together, praises unto Thee, O our God! It sometimes seemed to me as if I were a little bird, whom the Lord had placed in a cage, and that I had nothing to do now but sing!"

Bishop Jewel, writing to Peter Martyr, March, 1560, says: "Religion is now somewhat more established than it was. The people are everywhere exceedingly inclined to the better part. Ecclesiastical and popular music has much conduced to this result. For as soon as they had once commenced to sing publicly in only one little church in London, immediately not only the other neighbouring churches, but even the towns far distant, began to vie with each other in the same practice. At times you may see at Paul's Cross, after sermon, six thousand persons, old and young, of both sexes, singing together and praising God. This sadly annoys the priests and the devil, for they see that by these means the sacred discourses sink more deeply into men's minds, and that their kingdom is shaken and shattered at almost every note."

It is emphatically the song of a man whose tongue is unloosed; who for the first time has entered into the meaning of the books which he has been reading since his childhood, of the services in which he has been engaged ever since he became a priest. A speech may be invented with tolerable success for a general on the eve of a battle, though such as have really come down to us stir the blood far more; but the mimicry of this kind of feeling must have been odious and contemptible. I know not where you could find the stamp of fraud more clear and ineffaceable than on a document which attempted it. If the words of Zacharias have lasted to our day, and have been accepted by men of different races as vital and true words — as words which speak to and speak forth the human heart within them — I cannot persuade myself that they bear that stamp of insincerity.

(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

One can't help thinking that the mind and heart of Zacharias during all those nine months had been filling with this song. And now it bursts forth at once — as a flower suddenly bursts out where there was but a green-sheathed bull yesterday. This song is as spontaneous as that of a lark, and as lyrical. As David found a prayer in his heart (2 Samuel 7:27), so Zacharias found a song in his.

(A. B. Grosart, D. D.)It is a wonderful scene in the house of the old priest Zacharias that we are permitted to witness. The priest's lips had long been sealed. In silence he had awaited the fulfilment of the Divine promise. His tongue was not to be loosed till the word of the Lord had been fulfilled, that his first utterance might be praise to God for His wonderful works. It was manifest that a new era was beginning — the era of the long-expected redemption of Israel. This is the strain of Zacharias' hymn of praise. Just as a mountain stream, which, after being long hemmed in, finds at last an outlet, leaps along in tumultuous gladness, so does the long pent-up emotion of Zacharias' heart flow forth in a rapture of praise, "Blessed be the Lord," &c. We feel that this is not the expression simply of his own personal, fatherly gladness. It is the rejoicing song of all who looked for redemption in Israel, thus finding utterance through him. We observe that it was —

I. A Tree OF FULFILMENT (vers. 67-70), and —

II. A TIME OF SALVATION (vers. 71-79).

(Professor Luthardt.)

— A vivid emotion of love and gratitude is very apt to break out into speech, either in the form of a public testimony for Christ, or in the voice of song. I have known a prayer meeting, at a time of awakening, to become like an aviary, for God had put a new song into scores of mouths.

(T. L. Cuyler.)

No man or woman amongst you knows what he might be if he were filled with the Spirit. What is that rough Luther? He is only fit to have been a killer of bullocks, or a feller of oaks in the forest; but fill Luther with the Holy Spirit and what is he? He takes the bull of Rome by the horns, slays wild beasts of error in the great arena of the gospel, and is more than a conqueror through the might which dwelleth in him! Take John Calvin — fit naturally to be a cunning lawyer, cutting and dividing nice points, judging this precedent and that, frittering away his time over immaterial niceties; but fill him with the Holy Ghost and John Calvin becomes the mighty master of grace, the reflection of the wisdom of all past ages, and a great light to shed a brilliant ray even till the Millennium shall dawn I Chief, and prince, and king of all uninspired teachers, the mighty seer of Geneva, filled with the Spirit of God is no more John Calvin, but a God-sent angel of the Churches!

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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