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all the families of the earth were to be blessed, we may consider the angel's words as having a reference to such a prayer, thus: The Messiah, for whose coming thou prayedst, is about to be born, for thy wife shall bring forth his fore-runner. Some, indeed, are of opinion, that the prayers which Zacharias may have put up for offspring, when he and his wife were young, are meant. Yet the time and place of the vision give reason to believe, that the object of it was a matter of more general concernment-and thou shalt call his name * John. 14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth; the birth of thy son shall cause uncommon joy to thee, and general joy to all good men. 15. For he shall be † great in the sight of the Lord; he shall be very great in respect of his office, which is to go before the Lord Messiah, and prepare his way. And as he is to preach repentance in order to the remission of sins, he shall shew mankind a pattern of that self-denial which he enjoins, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; he shall wholly avoid a delicate luxurious way of living, and be remarkable for his continued abstinence and mortification. He shall be remarkable also for the high degree of inspiration which he shall enjoy; and the shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. 16. And for the efficacy of his ministry; many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God 17. And he shall go before him, (the Lord Messiah) in the § spirit and power of Elias.
* Ver. 13. John.] In the Hebrew language this name signifies the grace of God; hence it was fitly given to the Messiah's fore-runner, who was sent to proclaim the immediate accomplishment of God's merciful intentions towards men, the expectation of which had been raised in them by all the preceding dispensations of religion.
† Ver. 15. Great in the sight of the Lord.] By this some understand that true greatness whereof God is the sovereign Judge, in opposition to that greatness which men acknowledge, who often err in their opinions of things. He shall be great in the sight of God, not of man. But, if I mistake not, great in the sight of God, is an Hebrew expression of the same form with astos Tw Jew, Acts vii. 20. and signifies, He shall be exceeding great, namely, in respect of his character, his office, his inspiration, and the success of his ministry, as it is explained by the angel himself.
Ibid. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.] In scripture, to be filled with the Holy Ghost, commonly signifies that degree of inspiration by which the prophets anciently spake. Accordingly, in this chapter it is applied to Elizabeth, to Mary, and to Zacharias, in cases where they all spake by a particular afflatus. When the angel therefore told Zacharias, that his son should be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb, his meaning was, that he should be very early inspired to teach the doctrines and precepts of true religion. Nor will this seem strange, when it is remembered, that at the age of twelve years our Lord exercised his prophetical gifts among the doctors in the temple. Luke ii. 49.
Ver. 17. Spirit and power of Elias.] The son of Zacharias had the spirit of Elijah, equalling, if not exceeding him in zeal for God, in severity of manners, in courage, and in sustaining persecutions. For he was clad in a garment of camel's hair, fed on locusts and wild honey, rebuked sinners VOL. I.
Elias. Though thou shalt name thy son John, he shall be the great person whom Malachi foretold should be the Messiah's forerunner, and to whom he gave the name of Elijah, because he was to possess both the spirit and power of that prophet-to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Malachi had prophesied of the Messiah's fore-runner, under the name of Elijah, iv. 5. "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord;" and had described his office thus, ver. 6. "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." Wherefore, by applying to John this prophecy, Gabriel hath pointed out the true interpretation and accomplishment of it.-As he hath done likewise with relation to Isaiah, xl. 3. by the following application of it to John; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Thus God highly rewarded the piety of this religious pair. But Zacharias, looking on the pregnancy of his wife as a thing incredible, because she was greatly advanced in years, did not believe the news thereof, though brought him by an angel, and rashly demanded a sign in confirmation of it; which want of faith was the more culpable, as he was well acquainted with the instances of Sarah, who brought forth Isaac in an extreme old age, and of the wives of Manoah and Elcana, who after long barrenness conceived, by the promise of angels. 18. And Zacharias said unto the
of the highest distinction with great boldness, and was put to death on that account. He had the power also of Elijah; for though he did no miracle, he was honoured with the like success in restoring the lost spirit of true religion among his countrymen. Nay, he even excelled Elijah in that which is properly the power of a prophet, and to which all his other gifts are subservient, the power of converting men; being in this more successful without miracles, than Elijah had been with them. By his preaching he made such a general change upon the manners of the nation, that he turned the hearts of the fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to their chil dren the Jews, from whom they had been alienated on account of their wickedness; and the hearts of the children to their fathers, by begetting in them a love of religion and religious characters; and by so doing, prepared a people for the coming of the Lord. See on Matt. xi. 11. sect 42.
* Ver. 18. And Zacharias said, &c.] In the Old Testament there are instances of holy men, who on occasions like to this, spake as Zacharias is said to have done, and who, instead of being reproved, are greatly com mended for their faith. Comp. Gen. xv. 8. with Rom. iv. 19, 20. Nevertheless, the treatment which he met with will not appear hard, when it is considered that the dispositions of his mind were very different from those of the persons mentioned. They believed the messages that were brought them, and desired to be confirmed in the faith thereof; conse quently, the language of their demand was, Lord, I believe, help mine unbelief; whereas Zacharias did not believe at all. This we are told expressly, ver. 20. And as his want of faith could proceed from nothing but his fancying the angel to be an evil spirit who designed to delude him, his sin was great, and his punishment just.
angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19. And the angel answering, said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. I am no evil spirit, as thou supposest, but the angel Gabriel, the same servant of God, (so the name signifies, being by interpretation vir Dei) who, as the Scripture informs thee, appeared anciently to the prophet Daniel, with a message concerning the Messiah. The truth of this thou mayest know, from the place where I now stand, and from the time at which I appear to thee; for I am in the presence of God, even in his sanctuary, where no evil spirit pretending a commission from him can possibly enter *. Moreover, I am not come of myself, but I am sent of God to tell thee the glad tidings of the near accomplishment of the things which I long ago shewed to Daniel at a great distance. Thou, therefore, whose advanced age ought to have been venerable by an advanced knowledge of divine things, as well as by a strong faith in the power of God, art much to blame for calling in question the truth of my message, especially as by the prophecies of Daniel thou mightest have understood, that this is the period determined for the coming of Messiah and his fore-runner.-Having thus spoken, he gave him a sign, which was also a chastisement of his offence. Because he had sinned with his lips, the angel struck him dumb, declaring that he should continue so, till the message, whose truth he had doubted of, was verified by the accomplishment. 20. And behold thou shalt be † dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be accomplished in their season. Accordingly, when Zacharias came out to the people, who had been praying in the court of the temple while the incense was burning, he could not speak to them. But he made such signs as let them know he had seen a vision, which was the cause of his dumbness. 21. And the people waited for Zacharias to come out and bless them; for so the priests used to do after burning the incense: and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them. And they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple. They saw in his countenance all the marks of the greatest fear and astonishment. These, together with the signs which he made, left them no room to doubt that he had seen a vision ; for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
The gloss given in the paraphrase of verse 19. may be confirmed likewise by a different rendering of the words thus: I who now stand in the presence of God am Gabriel.
+ Ver. 20. Dumb, and not able to speak.] The affirmation of a thing, joined with the denial of its contrary, is an idiom peculiar to the Jewish language, and is the strongest affirmation possible. The style of the evangelist John is remarkable for the frequency of this idiom.
23. And it came to pass, that as soon as the days of his mini. stration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. This is generally supposed to have been in Hebron, a city of the priests, about twenty miles from Jerusalem. See next section, ver. $9. 24. And after those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25. Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me to take away my reproach among men. The meaning is, either that she saw no company, judging it proper to spend much of her time in the duties of devotion, and in meditating silently on the wonderful goodness of God; or that she concealed her pregnancy for a while, lest she should expose herself to ridicule, by speaking of it before she knew certainly that it was a real conception.
IV. Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary. Luke i. 26,-56.
26. In the sixth month, namely, of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent from God, unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.-27. To a virgin espoused to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. Joseph was a descendant of king David, though now in low circumstances.-And the virgin's name was Mary. The Evangelist does not mention Mary's fa mily, because he was afterwards to delineate her genealogy in particular. The marriage between this couple was agreed upon, but the bride was not yet brought home to her husband, as is evident from Matth. i. 20. for it was common with the Jews not to cohabit together immediately after their marriages, (Deut. xx. 7. Judges xiv. 7, 8.)-The salutation which Gabriel gave to this virgin at his first appearance, was conceived in terms importing the highest respect. 28. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail! thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, i. e. according to the Hebrew idiom, Thou art the happiest of all the women that ever lived. -A salutation so unusual from a being of a superior order, (for such his form, which was more than human, bespoke him to be) put Mary into a great perturbation of spirit. 29. And when she
Ver. 26. A city of Galilee.] Galilee was the most northern part of Palestine. It was bounded on the north by Lebanon and Syria, on the west by Phoenicia, on the south by Samaria, and on the east (according to Jose, phus) by Jordan and the sea of Tiberias. Yet from the gospels it appears, that a part of the country north of the sea, and eastward of Jordan, was reckoned Galilee. (See the note on Bethsaida, sect. 60) Galilee therefore comprehended the possessions of the tribes of Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. It was divided into upper and lower Galilee, whereof the former was called Galilee of the Gentiles (Matth. iv. 15.) because it borde upon the Gentile nations, and was partly inhabited by them. Josephus tells us that the whole country was exceeding populous and very fruitful; that the number of its towns and villages was great; and that, even in the lesser towns, there were no less than fifteen thousand inhabitants, Bell. iii. 2.
saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.-Wherefore, to remove her fears, the angel, speaking with a smoothing accent, bade her take courage; and explained what he had said, by telling her that she was the happiest woman upon earth, in having found such favour with God, as to be chosen to the highest honour that a Mortal could enjoy. She was to conceive and bring forth the great person, who on earth was to be called Jesus, because he would be the restorer of human nature, and Saviour of the world, but in heaven was known by the name of the Son of God most high. Moreover, being the long expected Messiah, the Lord God would give him the throne typified by that of David his earthly father; for he was to rule over the house of Jacob, the spiritual Israel, even all who imitated the faith and obedience of that good patriarch; and of this, his kingdom, there was to be no end. 30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. 31. And behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. 32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. 33. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.--When Mary heard Gabriel say that she was to conceive Messiah, being conscious of her virginity, she found the matter above her com
* Ver. 33. Kingdom there shall be no end.] So the prophet Isa. ch. ix. 6, 17. Unto us a child is born, &c. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. The kingdom of Christ is twofold: 1. His spiritual kingdom, or the dominion of righteousness in the minds of men: 2. His temporal kingdom, or the outward dispensation of the gospel, together with an exercise of government over the world, by which all events are ordered, so as to promote the empire of righteousness in the hearts of men. This distinction removes the difficulty arising from 1 Cor. xv. 28. where we are told, that after the worlds are judged, Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to God the Father: compared with what Gabriel said to Mary on this occasion, and with the other passages of scripture, which affirm that our Lord's kingdom shall be everlasting. His temporal kingdom, or the gospel dispensation, will end with the world, being of no farther use. At that period likewise, he will deliver up to God the government of the world that was committed to him for the good of his church, after having accomplished the end of his coning, by putting down all rule, and all authority and power opposite to God's. But his spiritual kingdom, or the dominion of righteousness in the minds of reasonable beings, which he came down to establish, will continue with them to all eternity. Or we may suppose, that after the management of the world is delivered up to God, Jesus will still preside as head over the redeemed society in heaven, and perform such acts of government as their condition allows, and circumstances require, though still in subordination to God. For the Apostle says expressly, that then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. Or the epithet everlasting, when applied to Christ's kingdom, may be taken in a popular sense, for a duration to the end of time, in opposition to the short continuance of earthly kingdoms.