Luke 1:46
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
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(46) My soul doth magnify the Lord.—We come to the first of the great canticles recorded by St. Luke, which, since the time of Cæsarius of Arles (A.D. 540), who first introduced them into public worship, have formed part of the hymnal treasures of Western Christendom. We may think of the Virgin as having committed to writing at the time, or having remembered afterwards, possibly with some natural modifications, what she then spoke. Here the song of praise is manifestly based upon that of Hannah (1Samuel 2:1-10), both in its opening words and in much of its substance, and is so far significant of the hopes, and, if we may so speak, studies, of the maiden of Nazareth.



Luke 1:46 - Luke 1:55

Birds sing at dawn and sunrise. It was fitting that the last strains of Old Testament psalmody should prelude the birth of Jesus. To disbelievers in the Incarnation the hymns of Mary and Zacharias are, of course, forgeries; but if it be true nothing can be more ‘natural’ than these. The very features in this song, which are appealed to as proof of its being the work of some unknown pious liar or dishonest enthusiast, really confirm its genuineness. Critics shake their heads over its many quotations and allusions to Hannah’s song and to other poetical parts of the Old Testament, and declare that these are fatal to its being accepted as Mary’s. Why? must the simple village maiden be a poetess because she is the mother of our Lord? What is more likely than that she should cast her emotions into forms so familiar to her, and especially that Hannah’s hymn should colour hers? These old psalms provided the mould into which her glowing emotions almost instinctively would run, and the very absence of ‘originality’ in the song favours its genuineness.

Another point may be noticed as having a similar bearing; namely, the very general and almost vague outline of the consequences of the birth, which is regarded as being the consummation to Israel of the mercy promised to the fathers. Could such a hymn have been written when sad experience showed how the nation would reject their Messiah, and ruin themselves thereby? Surely the anticipations which glow in it bear witness to the time when they were cherished, as prior to the sad tragedy which history unfolded. Little does Mary as yet know that ‘a sword shall pierce through’ her ‘own soul also,’ and that not only will ‘all generations’ call her ‘blessed,’ but that one of her names will be ‘Our Lady of Sorrows.’ For her and for us, the future is mercifully veiled. Only one eye saw the shadow of the Cross stretching black and grim athwart the earliest days of Jesus, and that eye was His own. How wonderful the calmness with which He pressed towards that ‘mark’ during all His earthly life!

The hymn is sometimes divided into four strophes or sections: first, the expression of devout emotion {Luke 1:46 - Luke 1:48}; second, the great fact from which they arise {Luke 1:48 - Luke 1:50}; third, the consequences of the fact {Luke 1:51 - Luke 1:53}; fourth, its aspect to Israel as fulfilment of promise. This division is, no doubt, in accordance with the course of thought, but is perhaps somewhat too artificial for our purposes; and we may rather simply note that in the earlier part the personal element is present, and that in the later it fades entirely, and the mighty deeds of God alone fill the meek singer’s eye and lips. We may consider the lessons of these two halves.

I. The more personal part extends to the end of Luke 1:50.

It contains three turnings or strophes, the first two of which have two clauses each, and the third three. The first is Luke 1:46 - Luke 1:47, the purely personal expression of the glad emotions awakened by Elisabeth’s presence and salutation, which came to Mary as confirmation of the angel’s annunciation. Not when Gabriel spoke, but when a woman like herself called her ‘mother of my Lord,’ did she break into praise. There is a deep truth there. God’s voice is made more sure to our weakness when it is echoed by human lips, and our inmost hopes attain substance when they are shared and spoken by another. We need not attribute to the maiden from Nazareth philosophical accuracy when she speaks of her ‘soul’ and ‘spirit.’ Her first words are a burst of rapturous and wondering praise, in which the full heart runs over. Silence is impossible, and speech a relief. They are not to be construed with the microscopic accuracy fit to be applied to a treatise on psychology. ‘All that is within’ her praises and is glad. She does not think so much of the stupendous fact as of her own meekly exultant heart, and of God, to whom its outgoings turn. There are moods in which the devout soul dwells on its own calm blessedness and on God, its source, more directly than on the gift which brings it. Note the twofold act-magnifying and rejoicing. We magnify God when we take into our vision some fragment more of the complete circle of His essential greatness, or when, by our means, our fellows are helped to do so. The intended effect of all His dealings is that we should think more nobly-that is, more worthily-of Him. The fuller knowledge of His friendly greatness leads to joy in Him which makes the spirit bound as in a dance-for such is the meaning of the word ‘rejoice’-and which yet is calm and deep. Note the double name of God-Lord and Saviour. Mary bows in lowly obedience, and looks up in as lowly, conscious need of deliverance, and beholding in God both His majesty and His grace, magnifies and exults at once.

Verse 48 is the second turn of thought, containing, like the former, two clauses. In it she gazes on her great gift, which, with maiden reserve, she does not throughout the whole hymn once directly name. Here the personal element comes out more strongly. But it is beautiful to note that the ‘lowliness’ is in the foreground, and precedes the assurance of the benedictions of all generations. The whole is like a murmur of wonder that such honour should come to her, so insignificant, and the ‘behold’ of the latter half verse is an exclamation of surprise. In unshaken meekness of steadfast obedience, she feels herself ‘the handmaid of the Lord.’ In undisturbed humility, she thinks of her ‘low estate,’ and wonders that God’s eye should have fallen on her, the village damsel, poor and hidden. A pure heart is humbled by honour, and is not so dazzled by the vision of future fame as to lose sight of God as the source of all. Think of that simple young girl in her obscurity having flashed before her the certainty that her name would be repeated with blessing till the world’s end, and then thus meekly laying her honours down at God’s feet. What a lesson of how to receive all distinctions and exaltations!

Luke 1:49 - Luke 1:50 end this part, and contain three clauses, in which the personal disappears, and only the thought of God’s character as manifested in His wonderful act remains. It connects indeed with the preceding by the ‘to me’ of Luke 1:49; but the main subject is the new revelation, which is not confined to Mary, of the threefold divine glory fused into one bright beam, in the Incarnation. Power, holiness, eternal mercy, are all there, and that in deeper and more wondrous fashion than Mary knew when she sang. The words are mostly quotations from the Old Testament, but with new application and meaning. But even Mary’s anticipations fell far short of the reality of that power in weakness, that holiness mildly blended with tenderest pity and pardoning love; that mercy which for all generations was to stretch not only to ‘them that fear Him,’ but to rebels, whom it would make friends. She saw but dimly and in part. We see more plainly all the rays of divine perfection meeting in, and streaming out to, the whole world, from her Son ‘the effulgence of the Father’s glory.’

II. The second part of the song is a lyric anticipation of the historical consequences of the appearance of the Messiah, cast into forms ready to the singer’s hand, in the strains of Old Testament prophecy.

The characteristics of Hebrew poetry, its parallelism, its antitheses, its exultant swing, are more conspicuous here than in the earlier half. The main thought of Luke 1:51 - Luke 1:53 is that the Messiah would bring about a revolution, in which the high would be cast down and the humble exalted. This idea is wrought out in a threefold antithesis, of which the first pair must have one member supplied from the previous verse. Those who ‘fear Him’ are opposed to ‘the proud in the imagination of their hearts.’ These are thought of as an army of antagonists to God and His anointed, and thus the word ‘scattered’ acquires great poetic force, and reminds us of many a psalm, such as the Second and One hundred and tenth, where Messiah is a warrior.

The next pair represent the antithesis as being that of social degree, and in it there may be traced a glance at ‘Herod the King’ and the depressed line of David, to which the singer belonged, while the meaning must not be confined to that. The third pair represent the same opposites under the guise of poverty and riches. Mary is not to be credited with purely spiritual views in these contrasts, nor to be discredited with purely material ones. She, no doubt, thought of her own oppressed nation as mainly meant by the hungry and lowly; but like all pious souls in Israel, she must have felt that the lowliness and hunger which Messiah was to ennoble and satisfy, meant a condition of spirit conscious of weakness and sin, and eagerly desiring a higher good and food than earth could give. So much she had learned from many a psalm and prophet. So much the Spirit which inspired psalmist and prophet spoke in her lowly and exultant heart now. But the future was only revealed to her in this wide, general outline. Details of manner and time were all still blank. The broad truth which she foretold remains one of the salient historical results of Christ’s coming, and is the universal condition of partaking of His gifts. He has been, and is, the most revolutionary force in history; for without Him society is constituted on principles the reverse of the true, and as the world, apart from Jesus, is down-side up, the mission of His gospel is to turn it upside-down, and so bring the right side uppermost. The condition of receiving anything from Him is the humble recognition of emptiness and need. If princes on their thrones will come to Him just in the same way as the beggar on the dunghill does, they will very probably be allowed to stay on them; and if the rich man will come to Him as poor and in need of all things, he will not be ‘sent empty away.’ But Christ is a discriminating Christ, and as the prophet said long before Mary, ‘I . . . will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick; and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.’

The last turn in the song celebrates the faithfulness of God to His ancient promises, and His help by His Messiah to Israel. The designation of Israel as ‘His servant’ recalls the familiar name in Isaiah’s later prophecies. Mary sees in the great wonder of her Son’s birth the accomplishment of the hopes of ages, and an assurance of God’s mercy as for ever the portion of the people. We cannot tell how far she had learned that Israel was to be counted, not by descent but disposition. But, in any case, her eyes could not have embraced the solemn facts of her Son’s rejection by His and her people. No shadows are yet cast across the morning of which her song is the herald. She knew not the dark clouds of thunder and destruction that were to sweep over the sky. But the end has not yet come, and we have to believe still that the evening will fulfil the promise of the morning, and ‘all Israel shall be saved,’ and that the mercy which was promised from of old to Abraham and the fathers, shall be fulfilled at last and abide with their seed for ever.

Luke 1:46-48. And Mary said — Under a prophetic impulse, several things which perhaps she herself did not then fully understand. Having heard Elisabeth speak, as above related, she likewise was filled with the Holy Ghost, and under his influence uttered extempore a hymn, remarkable for the beauty of its style, the sublimity of its sentiments, and the spirit of piety which runs through the whole of it: and manifesting the deep sense she had of her own unworthiness, and of the goodness of God in choosing her to the high honour of being the Messiah’s mother. It is observable, most of the phrases which she uses are borrowed from the Old Testament, with which the pious virgin seems to have been very conversant; especially from the song of Hannah, in which there were so many passages remarkably suitable to her case. See 1 Samuel 2:1-10. My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour — She seems to turn her thoughts here to Christ himself, who was to be born of her, as the angel had told her he should be the Son of the Highest, whose name should be Jesus, the Saviour. And she rejoiced in hope of salvation through faith in him, which is a blessing common to all true believers, more than in being his mother in the flesh, which was an honour peculiar to her. And certainly she had the same reason to rejoice in God her Saviour that we have: because he had regarded the low estate of his handmaid — In like manner as he regarded our low estate; and vouchsafed to come and save her and us, when we were reduced to the lowest estate of sin and misery. All generations shall call me blessed Μακαριουσι, shall call me happy. So Dr. Doddridge, who justly observes, that there are several other texts in which μακαριος should rather be rendered happy, than blessed, which is the proper signification of ευλογητος. See 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 20:6.

1:39-56 It is very good for those who have the work of grace begun in their souls, to communicate one to another. On Mary's arrival, Elisabeth was conscious of the approach of her who was to be the mother of the great Redeemer. At the same time she was filled with the Holy Ghost, and under his influence declared that Mary and her expected child were most blessed and happy, as peculiarly honoured of and dear to the Most High God. Mary, animated by Elisabeth's address, and being also under the influence of the Holy Ghost, broke out into joy, admiration, and gratitude. She knew herself to be a sinner who needed a Saviour, and that she could no otherwise rejoice in God than as interested in his salvation through the promised Messiah. Those who see their need of Christ, and are desirous of righteousness and life in him, he fills with good things, with the best things; and they are abundantly satisfied with the blessings he gives. He will satisfy the desires of the poor in spirit who long for spiritual blessings, while the self-sufficient shall be sent empty away.My soul doth magnify the Lord - To "magnify" means to "make great," and then to "extol," to "praise," to "celebrate." It does not mean here strictly to "make great," but to increase "in our estimation" - that is, to praise or extol. See Psalm 34:3; 2 Samuel 7:26. 46-55. A magnificent canticle, in which the strain of Hannah's ancient song, in like circumstances, is caught up, and just slightly modified and sublimed. Is it unnatural to suppose that the spirit of the blessed Virgin had been drawn beforehand into mysterious sympathy with the ideas and the tone of this hymn, so that when the life and fire of inspiration penetrated her whole soul it spontaneously swept the chorus of this song, enriching the Hymnal of the Church with that spirit-stirring canticle which has resounded ever since from its temple walls? In both songs, those holy women, filled with wonder to behold "the proud, the mighty, the rich," passed by, and, in their persons the lowliest chosen to usher in the greatest events, sing of this as no capricious movement, but a great law of the kingdom of God, by which He delights to "put down the mighty from their seats and exalt them of low degree." In both songs the strain dies away on Christ; in Hannah's under the name of "Jehovah's King"—to whom, through all His line, from David onwards to Himself, He will "give strength"; His "Anointed," whose horn He will exalt (1Sa 2:10); in the Virgin's song, it is as the "Help" promised to Israel by all the prophets.

My soul … my spirit—"all that is within me" (Ps 103:1).

Ver. 46,47. We are now come to the famous song of the blessed virgin, upon whom also the Spirit of the Lord comes upon this occasion. She first solemnly gives praise unto God, then by various expressions declareth the power and goodness of God, showing him worthy to be praised, and lastly applies what she had spoken more generally to the particular business of man’s redemption. Our magnifying God is not by making him great, as he magnifies us, as it is Luke 1:49, but by declaring and showing forth his greatness. She saith, her soul did magnify the Lord, and her spirit rejoiced. Soul and spirit are but two words signifying the same thing, and importing that she glorified God heartily, and with her whole soul, and teaching us that all praising of God with our lips is of no significance, without the conjunction of the heart with the tongue.

In God my Saviour. So Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord. This is true spiritual rejoicing, when the primary object of our joy is not the sensible good, but the goodness of the Lord to us, in giving us that good thing.

And Mary said, my soul doth magnify the Lord. Either Jehovah, the Father, or the Son; who, as he was David's Lord, according to his divine nature, though his son after the flesh, was, in the same sense, Mary's Lord, as well as her son: and by "magnifying" him is meant, not making him great, for he cannot be made greater than he is; but ascribing greatness to him, even all the perfections of the Deity, and praising him on account of them; and also declaring and speaking well of his many and mighty works of power, goodness, grace, and mercy, and giving him the glory of them: this Mary did, not in lip and word only, but with her whole heart and, soul, and with all the powers and faculties of it; being filled with the Holy Ghost, and under a more than ordinary influence of his, as her cousin Elisabeth was: and it is to be observed, that she all along speaks in the prophetic style, of things, as if they were done, which were doing, or would shortly be done. {5} And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

(5) Christ, the redeemer of the afflicted and revenger of the proud, promised long ago to the fathers, is now finally exhibited indeed.

Luke 1:46 ff. An echo of the lyrical poetry of the Old Testament, especially of the song of praise of Hannah the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2). This psalm-like effusion from the heart of Mary (the so-called Magnificat) divides itself into four strophes, namely, (1) Luke 1:46-48 (as far as αὐτοῦ); (2) Luke 1:48 (from ἰδού onward) as far as Luke 1:50; (3) Luke 1:51-53; and (4) Luke 1:54-55. Each of these four strophes contains three verses. See Ewald, p. 181.

ἡ ψυχή μου] the mediating organ between πνεῦμα and body (Beck, bibl. Seelenl. p. 11 ff.; Delitzsch, bibl. Psychol. p. 222) which receives the impressions from without and from within, and here expresses by means of the mouth what has taken place in the πνεῦμα (hence ἠγαλλίασε in the aorist). The πνεῦμα is “the highest and noblest part of man, whereby he is qualified to grasp incomprehensible, invisible, eternal things; and is, in brief, the house within which faith and God’s word abide,” Luther (Ausl. 1521). Comp. Hahn, Theol. d. N. T. I. p. 411 ff. That the spirit of Mary exulted full of the Holy Spirit, was selfe-evident for the evangelist after Luke 1:35; an observation, such as that of Luke 1:41, concerning Elizabeth: ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγ., would now have been inappropriate in reference to Mary. ἀγαλλιάω, in the active, is only found here and at Revelation 19:7 (Lachmann, Tischendorf), which reason, however, does not warrant the conjecture of ἀγαλλιάσεται (Valckenaer, Bretschneider).

σωτῆρι] benefactor. “Is est nimirum σωτήρ. qui salutem dedit,” Cicero, Verr. ii. 63.

ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τ. ταπ. τ. δούλ. αὐτ.] as at 1 Samuel 1:11. Comp. Psalm 31:8; also Luke 9:38. The expression of the adjectival notion by means of the substantive (comp. 2 Kings 14:26; Psalm 25:17) places the quality in the foreground. See Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 367 f.; Bernhardy, p. 53. Mary means the lowliness of her person, in spite of which she is chosen of God to such greatness. She was in fact only an insignificant maiden from the people, an artisan’s betrothed bride.

ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] from henceforth; for now, after Elizabeth’s inspired words, no further doubt could remain to Mary respecting her condition as mother of the Messiah; from henceforth, therefore, she could not but be the object of the general congratulation, whereof Elizabeth herself had just made a beginning.

πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί] all generations.

Luke 1:46-56. Mary’s song.—μεγαλύνει: magnificat, Vulg[10], whence the ecclesiastical name for this hymn, which has close affinities with the song of Hanna in 1 Samuel 2:1-10; variously regarded by critics: by some, e.g., Godet and Hahn, as an extemporised utterance under inspiration by Mary, by others as a remnant of old Jewish-Christian Hymnology (J. Weiss, etc.), by others still as a purely Jewish Psalm, lacking distinctively Christian features (Hillmann). There are certainly difficulties connected with the first view, e.g., the conventional phraseology and the presence of elements which do not seem to fit the special situation.—ψυχή, πνεῦμα: synonyms in parallel clauses.

[10] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).

46–56. The Magnificat

46. And Mary said] This chapter is remarkable for preserving a record of two inspired hymns—the Magnificat and the Benedictus—which have been used for more than a thousand years in the public services of Christendom. The Magnificat first appears in the office of Lauds in the rule of St Caesarius of Arles, a. d. 507. (Blunt, Annotated Prayer Book, p. 33.) It is so full of Hebraisms as almost to form a mosaic of quotations from the Old Testament, and it is closely analogous to the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It may also be compared with the Hymn of Judith (Jdg 16:1-17). But it is animated by a new and more exalted spirit, and is specially precious as forming a link of continuity between the eucharistic poetry of the Old and New Dispensation. (See Bp Wordsworth, ad loc.)

My soul doth magnify the Lord] 1 Samuel 2:1; Psalm 34:2-3. The soul (ψυχὴ) is the natural life with all its affections and emotions; the spirit (πνεῦμα) is the diviner and loftier region of our being, 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Luke 1:46. Εἶπε, said) in words, or even in writing. Mary had received the Divine message after Zacharias, and yet she is the first to raise the hymn of joy: the songs of both ought as well to be compared together, as also with the words of the angel, Luke 1:28, etc., 13, etc.; and in another point of view with the language of Hannah, 1. Sam. Luke 2:1, etc., and with the thanksgiving of David, 2 Samuel 7:18, etc., on the same subject: also Psalms 34. The hymns of Mary and Zacharias breathe altogether the spirit of the New Testament. And Mary was divinely so guided, that, even though she did not understand all the particulars (as ch. Luke 2:33; Luke 2:50, implies), yet she spake out the mystery in words adapted to express even its most profound meaning. She praises God in the name of herself, and of her Blessed Offspring in the womb, and of Israel. The beginning of the hymn is in conformity with Psalm 31:8, LXX: Ἀγαλλιάσομαι καὶ εὐφρανθήσομαι ἐπὶ τῷ ἐλέει σον· ὅτι ἐπεῖδες ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσίν μου.

Verse 46-56. - The hymn of Mary, commonly called the Magnificat. Verse 46a. - And Mary said. There is a great contrast between the behavior of the two women when they met in Elisabeth's house. The elder was full of a new strange ecstatic joy. "She was filled with the Holy Ghost" (verse 42), and spoke her words of lofty congratulation with "a loud voice" (verse 42). Mary, on the other hand, was not conscious evidently, on this occasion, of any special presence of the Holy Spirit. Since the hour of the annunciation and her own meek faithful acceptance of the Lord's purpose, she had been dwelling, so to speak, under the immediate influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Her cousin's inspiration seems to have been momentary and transitory, while hers, during that strange blessed season which immediately preceded the Incarnation, was enduring. Hence the quiet introduction to her hymn, "And Mary said." It is, of course, possible that she had committed the beautiful thoughts to writing; but perhaps, in giving them to Luke or Paul, she needed no parchment scroll, but softly repeated to the chronicler of the Divine story the old song in which she had first told her deep imaginings to Elisabeth, and afterwards often had murmur the same bright words of joy and faith over the holy Babe as he lay in his cradle at Bethlehem, in Egypt, or in Nazareth. The "Virgin's Hymn" for nearly fourteen centuries has been used in the public liturgies of Christendom. We find it first in the ethics of Lauds in the Rule of St. Caesarius of Aries (A.D. 507). Luke 1:46Said (εἶπεν)

Simply. Compare Luke 1:42. "Elizabeth's salutation was full of excitement, but Mary's hymn breathes a sentiment of deep inward repose" (Godet). Compare the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2). Hannah's song differs from Mary's in its sense of indignation and personal triumph compared with Mary's humility and calmness.

My soul - spirit (ψυχή - πνεῦμα)

See on Mark 12:30. The soul is the principle of individuality, the seat of personal impressions, having a side in contact with the material element of humanity, as well as with the spiritual element. It is thus the mediating organ between the spirit and the body, receiving impressions from without and from within, and transmitting them by word or sign. Spirit is the highest, deepest, noblest part of our humanity, the point of contact between God and man.

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