Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
Scripture and the Authority of the Church.
I. St. Luke tells Theophilus that it seemed good to him to write in order an account of our Lord's life and death, that Theophilus might know the certainty of those things in which he had been instructed; and this, as a general rule, might well describe one great use of the Scripture to each of us: as individual members of Christ's Church, it enables us to know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed.
II. Our individual faith, although grounded in the first instance on parental authority, yet rests afterwards on wholly different grounds; namely, on the direct evidence in confirmation of it which is presented to our own minds. But with regard to those who are called the Fathers of the Church, it is contended sometimes that we do receive the Scriptures, in the end, upon their authority; and it is argued that, if their authority is sufficient for so great a thing as this, it must be sufficient for everything else; that if, in short, we believe the Scriptures for their sake, then we ought also to believe other things which they may tell us, even though they are not to be found in Scripture; In this argument there is the great fault that it mistakes the question at the outset. The authority of the Fathers, as they are called, is never to any sound mind the only reason for believing in the Scriptures. In truth, the internal evidence in favour of the authenticity of the Scriptures is that on which the mind can rest with far greater satisfaction than on any external testimonies, however valuable. It has been wonderfully ordered, that the books, generally speaking, are their own witness. When, therefore, we are told that, as we believe the Scriptures themselves upon tradition, so we should believe other things also, the answer is, that we do not believe the Scriptures either entirely or principally upon what is called tradition; but upon their own internal evidence, and that the opinions of the early Christians, like those of other men, may be very good on certain points, and to a certain degree, without being good in all points and absolutely.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 236.
Luke 1:5Man's Extremity—God's Opportunity.
I. On the low ebb to which the fortunes of the house of Israel were reduced at the period when St. John the Baptist was miraculously born. The very language in which the sacred books are written, had long ceased to be a spoken language. The noble spirit of the ancient days had, in a great measure, died out. The very nationality of the Jews had been broken up. Mixed races inhabited Galilee; aliens dwelt in the cities of Samaria; Judea itself had become a conquered province. An Idumæan was king, and even he was but the viceroy of a higher Gentile power. A Roman governor dwelt at Cæsarea, and had his law court in the capital. The descendants of Abraham were heard to declare: "We have no king but Cæsar."
II. The state of religion and morals. What a degraded people the Jews must have been, that the very ministers of religion should have deserved such reproaches as our Lord showered down upon them in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel! Their shameful way of evading the law of God—even the law of nature—by a system of quibbling traditions; their shameful violation of the law of marriage; their neglect of the Fifth Commandment; their hollowness about the Fourth; all that happened in the highest quarters in the matter of our Lord's betrayal, death, resurrection, showing such an utter contempt for truth, justice, right;—you cannot read and weigh the story carefully without feeling that the race must have been degraded and corrupt; that, indeed, things had sunk to a miserably low ebb everywhere.
III. Now it was at such a time as this, that the message of the Angel Gabriel to Zacharias, as he officiated in the Temple at Jerusalem, conveyed the first tidings of the coming Gospel. When night was darkest the day began to dawn, and the first faint streak of light—the harbinger and earnest of the glory that was to follow—was that message of the Angel. The lesson is to us a consolation, a help, and a warning. Be content to leave the future of thy Church, thy country, in the hand of God. In His own good time He will work—work wondrously, but not yet. The night is darkest before the springing of the day. The gathering clouds are meant to conceal the coming glory. Let the shadows, therefore, yet deepen apace, and be thou patient.
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 60.
References: Luke 1:6.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 40. Luke 1:6-80.—A. B. Bruce, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 14. Luke 1:8-23.—Ibid., p. 41. Luke 1:10.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 175.
Luke 1:15I. What makes people great in the sight of men? Several things do this; but birth, money, and talents are the chief things which give this kind of greatness.
II. What makes people great in the sight of God? It is not any of the things which lead to greatness in man's sight. A person may be born of the greatest king that ever lived, and be as rich as Stephen Gerard, and have many talents, and yet be never great at all in the sight of God. And then, on the other hand, a person may be born in a garret or a cellar, and never have any money to call his own, and no talent at all to to do anything that men call great, and yet may be really great in the sight of the Lord. What made John the Baptist great? And, what will make others as great as he was? The answer is—Obedience. It was simply his obedience which led to all John's greatness. He did just what God wanted him to do. He did nothing else, and he did this all the time. And if we obey God, as John did, it will make us great in His sight too. All the greatness which people get in men's sight is little and empty; but it is vast, wonderful, substantial greatness which they get who become great in the sight of God.
III. Why is it better to be great in the sight of the Lord than in the sight of men? We may answer the question by saying that it is so for three reasons. (1) Greatness in God's sight is better than greatness in man's sight because it is more useful. Great men in God's sight are more useful than others by their example. Now the most useful thing that can be done to anybody is to make him a Christian. But there is nothing like the influence of a Christian's example to help to make others Christians. (2) This greatness is more lasting than the other. Greatness in man's sight—a greatness that connects itself with birth, or money, or talents merely—will soon pass away; but greatness in God's sight—a greatness that connects itself with our being made good and holy—will never pass away. (3) It is within the reach of all. This is not true of greatness in the sight of men, but it is true of greatness in the sight of God. But there were three things in John's case that we must remember if we want to succeed: (1) John began early; (2) John had the Holy Spirit to help him; (3) John gave up everything that was likely to hinder him from becoming great.
R. Newton, Rills from the Fountain of Life, p. 71.
References: Luke 1:15.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 257; J. H. Hancock, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 388; New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 216.
Luke 1:17Drawing Lightning.
The wonderful suggestiveness of this passage is found in its theme. A wild threat, four hundred years old, is suddenly removed in a flash of benediction. The curse in Malachi is omitted in Luke—the lightning is drawn. The Gospel fulfils the law when it accepts children. God receives the fathers into favour and communion again when their hearts are turned to their offspring. This is the doctrine of the text. Hence, I present now as a legitimate subject of consideration the work of the Sunday school organisation; it discharges harmlessly the Old Testament maledictions, and it becomes the instrument of fulfilling the benedictions of the New. It is the world's helper and the Church's servant.
I. The subjects of Sunday school effort are, of course, understood to be the young of our race. Oftentimes these are the least noticed and the last noticed of all classes of beings with souls. And yet there is no truth more settled than that civilisation, chivalry, and Christianity reach their highest culmination in the caring for children.
II. Consider next the nature of the work we desire and propose to do on behalf of children. This is no less than to seek out, to educate, and to redeem children. (1) To seek them out. They must be sought out and brought under the power of the Gospel. They never will be until Christians become more Christlike. Brazilian rivers are full of diamonds; what then? The costliest jewels will only drift down the current and be lost in the sands, unless somebody goes to crown-making and gathers them carefully up. (2) To educate them becomes another part of this work. There is no agency which is doing more in this direction than the Sunday school. This will appear if you consider the class of instructors, the lesson they inculcate, the text-book they use, and the spirit by which they are actuated. (3) To redeem children, however, is the main end. God converts souls; our office is to lead them up under the force of the means of grace. And is there not in the Sunday school arch a fitting symbol of the Divine promise,—the very bow of the ancient covenant, bending over these young immortals, with its benediction of peace?
C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 182.
References: Luke 1:17.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 273. Luke 1:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., p. 1,405.
Luke 1:20Unbelief and dumbness are as fountain and stream, cause and effect. It is written, observes Paul in his second letter to the Church at Corinth, "I believed, therefore have I spoken;" we also believe, and therefore speak. Faith opens the lips, unbelief closes them. There is a noisy unbelief as well as a dumb unbelief. But the loud unbelief is a general faithlessness in all Divine testimony; while the dumb unbelief is lack of faith in some particular word of God. We are speaking, not of the unbelief of the unbeliever, but of the unbelief of the believer.
I. Not believing God's word about prayer, we cease from it or restrain it. In the first instance, prayer was instinctive. If we believe God's words we can pray. If we believe them cordially, we can pray earnestly. If we believe them but feebly, we pray faintly. If we do not believe them at all, we cease from prayer; and it is most instructive and interesting to observe how, as faith declines, dumbness in prayer creeps over us. "Thou shalt be dumb, because thou believest not my words."
II. Not believing God's words, we are dumb as to praise. We require words of God to expound to us the acts and works of God. Perplexity relaxes, loosens, and entangles the strings of our harp. Faith sets them free, tightens them, tunes them; and faith brings forth triumphant music. We may think the silence of our harp, and the dumbness of our voice in praise, of but small moment, but God saith, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me."
III. Not believing God's words, we are dumb as to our testimony to the truth. Truth is communicated and propagated by tradition; by men saying to each other, "Know the Lord," or, "Lo, here is Christ." When a man speaks of that which he believes, an influence goes forth from himself which does not proceed from him when he gives a tract or book, even though it be the Holy Book. "We believe and speak." We lose our faith and are silent.
IV. Not believing God's words we become dumb as to Christian intercourse and fellowship. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another." We speak to the unbeliever to bear witness. Believers speak to one another for mutual edification and consolation, and in the degree of their faith they will speak wisely and well.
S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 78.
References: Luke 1:20.—Spurgeon, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 42. Luke 1:21.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 127.
Luke 1:26The purpose of this special embassy of the angel was to announce to the Virgin the exceptional and signal honour to which she had been selected as the mother of the Lord. Through this mysterious relationship she became the source and messenger of rest and holiday to a sin-scourged world. But the picture which the words to which we have limited our text bring before us is that of an angel visiting a city,—a messenger from God coming amongst the crowded habitations of men.
I. Angels have visited great cities on various embassies and with divers missions. The historic page of Scripture is sometimes shaded by the wing of the angel of wrath, and sometimes brightened by the alighting of the angel of light. And, surely, if not visibly, angels are busy upon ministries of favour and beneficence still. Surely the same celestial garrison is on duty now as watched the faithful in time past. Surely there is the same alacrity of service, the same vigilance of guardian jealousy among the shining ones. And, surely, the charge has not been withdrawn which the Lord gives to His angels concerning us, to bear us in their mighty hands, and to minister unto those who are the heirs of salvation.
II. Be this, however, as it may, the mind which is thoughtful, and the heart which is devout, will discern a kind of impersonal angelic ministry in the recurrence of seasons, and in the footsteps of advancing time. If there are tongues in trees and books in the running brooks, surely we may find mouths in the months and lips in the lapsing days. Just as the half-way house invites to rest, so should the sixth month, the half-way month, invite us to a calm revision of our spiritual whereabouts. If June does but come as an angel to your Nazareth to show the Christians' half-way resting-place, and lead you to the Cross again, the straps which bound sin's tonnage to your back shall burst asunder, and you shall stand upright, a freed man in Christ. If you cannot get away from Nazareth with its workshops, let the Workman of Nazareth come and turn Nazareth itself into a resting-place. He will not despise it because it is a place of toil, but will come to work beside you, that you may rest with Him.
A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 21.
Luke 1:26-38The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I. "The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth." Never was a time when, humanly speaking, the promises of God might seem so much to have failed: the house of David had departed from the sight of men, was unknown and forgotten, and Israel itself under bondage to the heathen; the prince of this world seemed established above the sanctuary of God. But man's helplessness is God's opportunity, and nothing was lost in His sight; the fulness of the time was come, and it was fitting that the vessel, meet to be the recipient of the Divine grace, should be nurtured, not in kings' palaces, but in obscure poverty: poor in spirit, that hers might be the kingdom of heaven; mourning over the desolations of her household and people, that she might be comforted and their comforter; pure in heart, that she might see God.
II. When Mary saw the angel, "she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be." Slight but very beautiful is this indication of the Virgin's mind: "she was troubled," for the humble are troubled when they hear their own praise; and with that peculiar thoughtfulness which marks all that is said of her she cast in her mind what such a salutation should import. Even as at the last, they who shall hear the words, "Come, ye blessed of My Father," shall say, as it were, "Whence is this voice?" and be even troubled at the saying, as beyond their worthiness.
III. In Mary we see perfect faith, humility, and submission. Calm as deep waters, and thoughtful; as the morning cloud that discloses the rising sun; as the star that first appears when the storm is retiring. Sarah laughed at the strangeness of that salutation beyond all that she looked for; but Mary is composed and reflective, as one that wondered at nothing from the power and the goodness of God. Zacharias doubted, and by a sign was corrected; Mary doubted not, but by a sign was strengthened.
I. Williams, Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. ii., p. 353.
References: Luke 1:26.—A. Whyte, Expositor, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 120. Luke 1:26-38.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 146. Luke 1:28.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 191. Luke 1:31.—G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons in Marlborough College, p. 492. Luke 1:32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1760. Luke 1:34.—Ibid., vol. xxiv., No. 1405.
Luke 1:35The Mystery of the Holy Incarnation.
I. There are beings within the mind's easy conception that far overpass the glories of the statesman and the monarch of our earth. Men of even no extreme ardour of fancy, when once instructed as to the vastness of our universe, have yearned to know of the life and intelligence that animate and that guide those distant regions of creation which science has so abundantly and so wonderfully revealed; and have dared to dream of the communications that might subsist, and that may in another sphere subsist, with the beings of such spheres. Think what it would be to hold high converse with such a delegate of heaven as this; to find this lord of a million worlds the actual inhabitant of our own; to see him and yet to live; to learn the secrets of his immense administration and hear of forms of being of which men can now have no more conception than the insect living on a leaf has of the forest that surrounds him. Still more, to find in this being an interest, a real interest, in the affairs of our little corner of the universe; of that earthly cell which, in point of fact, is absolutely invisible from the nearest fixed star that sparkles in the heavens above us. Nay, to find him willing to throw aside his glorious toils of empire, in order to meditate our welfare, and dwell among us for a time. This surely would be wondrous, appalling, and yet transporting; such as that, when it had passed away, life would seem to have nothing more it could offer compared to the being blessed with such an intercourse. And now mark—behind all the visible scenery of nature; beyond all the systems of all the stars; around this whole universe, and through the infinity of infinite space itself; from all eternity, and to all eternity,—there lives a Being compared to whom that mighty spirit just described, with his empire of a million suns, is infinitely less than to you is the minutest mote that floats in the sunbeam.
II. The Lord of heaven and earth blended our nature with His own; He took the manhood into God; He bound us up with Himself as one indivisible being; He shared not only our state, but our nature and essence; He took from us a human nature that He might give us a Divine. And remember, further, that this mystery of the God and man is a mystery for everlasting. As there ever has been, and ever will be, the eternal Son of God, so will there ever remain the eternal Son of Man. This blessed union is incapable of dissolution; our immortality is suspended on its continuance; we could not have life eternal unless God were to be man eternal. The firstfruits will remain with the rest of the harvest in glory.
W. Archer Butler, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, 1st series, p. 16.
References: Luke 1:35.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 201; R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 377.
Luke 1:38The Call of God.
It was the answer of profound and humble obedience to the greatest call ever addressed from heaven to a mortal creature. The call, sudden, undreamt of, overwhelming,—interrupting in the most startling manner the daily course of an obscure human life, breaking in on its privacy, and laying on it the most awful of charges,—was a call to prepare for being the instrument of the final and complete accomplishment of God's highest words and most amazing work. It is idle, it is profane, to attempt to imagine the mind and soul of a human being like ourselves at such a moment. In its sudden translation and lifting up out of all the ordinary conditions of human life, in the tides of honour and rapture, of crushing shame and consciousness of the Divine election, of possible sacrifice and certain triumph, it could be like nothing that man has ever gone through. But whatever passed through the mind of that blessed one while the angel's words were setting before her the lot to which she had been appointed, and the place she was to fill in the eternal history, her instant expression of character was that of absolute self-surrender to all that she was called to—of perfect readiness for all that might be required of her. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."
I. One great part of the history of the Bible is the history of calls, widely different indeed in their circumstances, but alike in this, that they were a claim from Almighty God on the will of man for a free and unconditional service. It is the history, too, of the way in which this claim was met; and it was met variously—variously in the perfectness of the response made to it; variously in the struggle and discipline through which God's call at last asserted its supremacy. The calls of God are very various in their circumstances, and they are met in various ways. But wherever they meet us, and in whatever form, there is but one way of meeting them which carries with it blessing and hope,—the way of humble and honest acceptance, of unfeigned self-dedication, of modest and yet resolute determination, of which the highest and purest expression is the answer to the most wonderful call ever made to man. "Be it unto me according to thy word."
II. What is involved in that answer? It is no mere passive resignation and yielding to the Divine call. It is not merely shutting our eyes and saying, "Let what He wills come upon me." It is more than that. The call comes to living souls, to human consciences, to human wills, to human purpose. It asks for more than acquiescence and submission. It asks for conscious, deliberate union with the Divine will. It asks that we should associate and identify our own real wishes and desires with what we know of our Master's; and that we should work in His cause, as all men work for a cause they have at heart. It is the response of the obedient and ready will. It is the response of the soul which is its own master, feeling itself summoned to fulfil the end of its being—to be that link in the chain of God's designs, for which it was created, and for which life and spirit and reason were given it. It is the taking upon us the charge which it has pleased God to assign us, with its conditions, its responsibilities, its ventures. It is the offering up of what we are, to do our best for our Master.
R. W. Church, Human Life and Its Conditions, p. 172.
The Humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Humility is not a mere depression of a proud and strong will, not a mere acquiescence in the stronger will of an almighty Lord, but when carried out to perfection it is an absence of all self-will in the presence of God,—a clear, colourless transparency of soul, through which the light of God's will has liberty to shine and extinguish every other radiance. You know how slight a thing will tinge the ray of sunlight, and give it a tone of colour not its own. A single vine-leaf in the sun will let the ray pass freely through, but gives it in its passage that lovely colour of golden green. On the other hand, the clear atmosphere of a sky recently drained by heavy showers lets the pure sunlight live in it alone. Then you are sensible of mere light, void of all colour; it is light in air. Of such a quality was the humility of the Virgin Mary, pure air for the light of God to live in.
I. No notice, it appears, was given to the Blessed Virgin before the announcement of the angel. And when he announced the birth of Christ and the supernatural manner of it, she answered in these simple holy words, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." She was secure in the deep composure and humility of her heart. The angel folded his golden wings before her, and the radiance of his presence filled the corners of the narrow room; but she, as if she were used to angels' visits, received him gently, admitting freely through her ears and heart the gracious message of her Lord.
II. The next event mentioned is her visit to Elisabeth. In her hymn, the Magnificat, we observe that the two first verses only speak of herself, and then as pouring out her praise to God, while the rest without exception declare the mighty works of God, a mightiness shown in His mercy towards them that humble themselves.
III. After this event there follow others, where glory and pain interchange with one another; and all of these, with scarcely an exception, are trying to her temper of humility. But the blessed mother took all that came gently, cheerfully, humbly. She could not be surprised, for her heart was awake always to follow the indications of God's will. "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." May we have grace to follow her example who was blessed because she believed; and whose life on earth is a splendid instance of God's eternal law, He "resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble."
C. W. Furse, Sermons at Richmond, p. 285.
References: Luke 1:38.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89. T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 324. Luke 1:43.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. iv., p. 40.
Luke 1:46I. How the Blessed Virgin was engaged when the Angel Gabriel came in unto her, with his famous words of heavenly salutation on his lips, we know not. We do but know that she was within, and we picture the maiden's astonishment to be so found out in her privacy; and so addressed, amid the modest simplicity, not to say the poverty, of her home. Very singular are the evidences in Scripture of the maidenly reserve and thoughtfulness of Mary,—those indications of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. "In her we have the outline of all that is best in woman's nature,—habitual modesty, reserve, quietness, thoughtfulness; yet, if need be, love strong in death, and ability to suffer things which sterner natures shrink from. Above all, you have that holiness of heart which brings angels down from heaven to be its companions; yea, with which God Himself is content to come down from heaven to dwell."
II. We should seek to realise the solemn truth that in Mary the act of our first mother was in a manner reversed, and the penalty done away; that in her person we behold a woman bringing joy to the whole human race, as in the person of Eve we behold a woman bringing a perpetual heritage of woe. This is no mere historical fact, much less a mere theological speculation. As a matter of daily experience, we owe to the share which the Blessed Virgin was made to sustain in the economy of man's redemption the place which woman now occupies in the social scale. Whatever graces of man's character are symbolised by such Christian epithets as chivalrous and loyal are all an after-growth,—unknown to the old world, but grafted, so to speak, on to our renewed nature in Christ. The language of the old world had no name for such things. And why not? Simply because anciently such things were not! I am not saying that there was no filial piety and conjugal faithfulness and sincere attachment in the old days of classic Greece and Rome. But I am saying that all these relations—the relation of the child to the parent, of the husband to his wife—have assumed a far deeper, far loftier, far purer character, because they had received a sacred impress, since Christianity came into the world. And what, I ask, what restored the balance, re-adjusted the disturbed condition of the problem, and, in a word, made us what we are? The beginning of the whole matter is found in our text.
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 33.
Luke 1:46-47The Soul rejoicing in God.
These words express:—
I. The satisfaction which man's reason experiences at contact with God. God satisfies some of the deepest yearnings of our intellectual nature. For instance, all men and women who think at all desire, if they can, to refer the various facts and objects which meet them when they look out from themselves upon life to some common principle, to some all-comprehending law, under which each can be set in its proper place,—some law which will harmonise all, explain all, adjust what seems at variance, interpret what appears to be irregular, by the light poured upon all from a higher unity. God—the supreme Author and End of all existence—satisfies the intellectual demand of the human soul, which can be satisfied by none less than God. God furnishes the soul with the secret of the unity of all existence; and man, in the joy of this profound satisfaction offered to his reason, exclaims, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
II. But the words express also the satisfaction which God yields to another part of our spiritual being—the affections on the emotions. Among these look: (1) at the emotion of awe. Why are we men drawn, we scarcely know how or why, towards what is sublime or magnificent? Stern determination, great vigour of will, have an attraction for the majority of men. Most of us are irresistibly attracted towards that which is higher, greater, stronger, than ourselves. It was this principle which led the heathen nations of antiquity to give Divine honours to men whom they considered extremely eminent; but in reality this enthusiasm for greatness can be satisfied only in Him who alone is great—great in Himself, and not by the bequest of another. (2) We all feel, in various degrees, the love of beauty. It is He, depend upon it, it is He whose presence penetrates us at all the pores of our being which are alive to the sense of beauty in the world of nature and the world of thought. (3) God satisfies our filial affection. When we have found Him—the parent who unites a father's authority with a mother's tenderness, it is natural to exclaim, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
III. Note a third satisfaction which God yields to our spiritual nature. He supports and justifies conscience. He gives to conscience basis, firmness, consistency. He relieves its anxieties; He reconciles by a fuller revelation its questionings about Himself. Conscience incessantly chants before the Cross that it magnifies the Lord, and that it rejoices in God its Saviour.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 671.
Luke 1:46-48The Reverence due to the Blessed Virgin.
I. The singular beauty and purity and steadiness of character which are manifested in those passages of St. Mary's life which come before us in the Gospels. (1) The first point I will mention is, the remarkable faith with which she received the annunciation from the angel of the wonderful event which was to take place; her words are very simple and very full of faith,—"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (2) Again, the manner in which, as we read, Mary pondered in her heart the various events of the Lord's childhood, which seemed to point out her Son as being greater than even she herself had suspected, is worthy of notice, as being precisely that which befits religious character of the highest order. (3) The same religious discretion marked her conduct on the occasion of her losing sight of Jesus on their return from Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. His answer might well add to His parents' perplexity, and His mother does not seem to have understood it; but she did not forget the saying because she could not understand it; on the other hand, she kept it in her heart.
II. But it is not her own excellence which specially exalts the Blessed Virgin; it is the honour which was put upon her, independently of all merit of her own. We need not flinch from according to St. Mary the honours which belong to her. "All generations shall call me blessed," says the text; and we must have dull hearts if we do not so account her; and as we honour the Apostles because they were very near to, and much honoured by, the Lord, without asserting that they have any actual relation to God which we may not have, so may we rightly honour the Virgin Mother of Christ, without any extravagant views of her nature as being different from, or higher than, our own. While we reverence St. Mary as one of the first of saints, while we call her blessed, and think her the most highly honoured of the human race, we shall still feel no temptation in our hearts to worship her, provided we have our whole souls filled with the contemplation of the Saviour Jesus Christ.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 2nd series, p. 294.
References: Luke 1:46.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1614. Luke 1:46, Luke 1:47.—Ibid., vol. x., No. 606; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 133. Luke 1:46-55.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 42. Luke 1:48.—Ibid., vol. vi., p. 157. Luke 1:49-50.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 327.
Luke 1:53I. When Mary announces the reward of spiritual hunger and the punishment of spiritual satisfaction with self, she touches upon a principle of very wide range, applicable to the needs of mental, of moral, of physical life. If a living being is to benefit by nourishment, whether in body, mind, or spirit, that being must welcome its nourishment by active desire, by appetite. This is plain enough in the life of the body. Food, we all know, as a rule, benefits neither man nor beast unless there be relish or appetite for it. So again with mental life, whether in a man or a child. If knowledge is to do good; if the mind is to digest and make knowledge its own, then there must be a desire or appetite for it. If the mind have no thirst or appetite for knowledge, it will be sent empty away from the choicest library, from the most gifted teachers. Nothing can compensate for the absence of intellectual appetite. And this is also true of the spiritual world. What food is to the body; what useful information or speculative thought is to the mind of man; that religious truth and the supernatural grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ are to man's highest nature, to his undying personality, to his spirit. Religious truth forced upon a soul which has no desire for it does not illuminate,—it only provokes a secret or avowed hostility. The soul must desire God as its true life, its true force, if God is to enlighten and strengthen it. Without this desire He will do nothing for it. It will be sent empty away.
II. God gives to every single human soul a sort of provisional or preliminary endowment, which creates in the soul a longing for Himself. Even when our Lord stood before the Jewish people with His startling miracles; with His words such as never man spake; with the play and impress of a character that was unique and incomparable,—He knew and said that this alone would not exert over any human soul that decisive influence which results in conversion. "No man," He said, "can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him." This drawing—this original inward impulse towards religious truth and grace—is what we commonly call preventive grace. Like other tastes, a hunger for spiritual things is, to a great extent, within our power to encourage or repress, although at first it is the gift of God. There are many forms of appetite which we can well dispense with; with this, never. There are many banquets from which with impunity we may be sent empty away; from this, never. We cannot afford the eternal loss of God. Let us ask Him to give us a strong desire to enjoy Him for ever. He will do for us what He has done for thousands before us: He will give us this hunger here and its reward hereafter.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 900.
References: Luke 1:53.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 42. Luke 1:57-80.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 338.
Luke 1:64Dumbness removed by God.
The subject suggested by these words is, praise of God the fruit of sight and of present enjoyment. We are not to rest our praises on that which was and on that which shall be, but we have abundant material in that which is now.
I. Present reasons for praise: (1) The works of God. (2) The providence and government of God. (3) The gift to us of blessings for which we have had a strong desire, natural or acquired. (4) The gift of things which we have earnestly and importunately prayed for. (5) Gifts sought, but not found until after many days. These are as springs and wells to the traveller disappointed by the mirage. (6) Blessings remaining for a time in promise, and then being brought forth to our possession. (7) Good things, full of the power of doing good to others. (8) Hopes fructifying in possession and in enjoyment. (9) Visions of life and dreams of life changed into life actual and real. (10) Each particular day's blessings.
II. Restraints of prayer removed. This is effected by the strengthening of our faith, and by the enlarging of our hope, and by the increase of our love, and by the perfecting of our joy. Free praise! (1) This cannot be enclosed in forms, or imprisoned in psalms and hymns. (2) This has no hampering relations with time and place. It is in season winter and spring, summer and autumn. (3) It is beyond the imprisoning fingers of our fellowmen. (4) It involves freedom from ourselves. Praise ejects selfishness, and brings within proper bounds our self-love. In praise we think of the giver rather than of the gift. (5) It banishes littleness from life. (6) It sanctifies the worshipper. (7) It prepares and trains for free praise in heaven. Free praise comes from the Lord's freed men. Free praise is one fruit of the liberty of the sons of God. Free praise is cherished by the "mercies that are new every morning, and fresh every evening."
S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 90.
References: Luke 1:64.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 524. Luke 1:65, Luke 1:66.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 247. Luke 1:66.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xv., p. 365. Luke 1:68.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i., p. 64. Luke 1:76.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 225; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, vol. i., p. 219. Luke 1:77-79. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1907; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 93.
Luke 1:78There are four things which always attend the dayspring's visit, or the coming of the morning; and when Jesus came into our world He brought these four things; and when He comes into our souls He brings them there too.
I. The first thing that the visit of the dayspring brings with it is Light. In the very next verse Zacharias goes on to show that this would be the effect of Christ's coming into the world. The object of that coming will be to give light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. When Christ came into the world, He brought light into it; and it is so still wherever He comes with His Gospel. The business of those who are children of light is to scatter the light around them. There are two ways of doing this. One is by our example; the other is by helping to send the Gospel to those who are in darkness.
II. Beauty attends the dayspring when it comes. And when Jesus, "the Dayspring from on high," visited our world, He brought beauty with Him, and spread it around Him everywhere. He was spreading beauty around Him by the miracles He performed every day. When He healed the sick, and raised the dead; when He made the lame to walk, and the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak,—He was really giving beauty for ashes. When He comes into the souls of His people, He comes to make them beautiful, because He comes to make them like Himself.
III. The third thing that follows when the dayspring appears is Joy. The prophet Isaiah speaks of Christ as appearing to the joy of His people. It was so when He first appeared. And now when He comes into any heart, any home, any neighbourhood, He always brings joy with Him. The Dayspring's coming causes joy in two ways: the first is, by what He does for us; the second, by what He helps us to do for others.
IV. There is one other thing that always follows when the morning comes and the dayspring visits us, and that is Activity. When morning comes men wake from their sleep, and go forth to the labours and duties of another day. And so the dayspring, or the morning, when it comes, leads to activity. It was night in the world before Jesus entered it. And it is night in our souls till Jesus comes into them. But Jesus came, as the dayspring, to waken men out of sleep, and stir them up to activity, in working for their souls and for heaven. When He comes into our souls to dwell there, it is like morning coming after a long night. Then we begin to see what Jesus has done for us. We see His wonderful love, and the thought of that love stirs our hearts and souls to be active in His service.
R. Newton, Pebbles from the Brook, p. 50.
Luke 1:78-79Christ, the Ideal Man.
Man needs a perfect ideal,—an ideal that shall permanently defy criticism, a sample of what human goodness is in its truth and its completeness. We are sure—we men—that there is such a thing as this. How else, we ask, should there be so universal an aspiration towards that which would, upon this hypothesis, have no existence in fact? It is our Lord, and our Lord alone, who satisfies this human want of an ideal of goodness. He shows us what human goodness was meant to be. He offers us, in His life, the ideal life,—the life of man at his best, in his perfection.
I. In the ideal which His life presents to us, let us observe, first, the absence of any disturbing flaw. In the midst of a soiled and sinful world, He alone is absolutely sinless. He, too, is tempted, as was Adam. Unlike Adam, He resists temptation. We shall seek in vain for any trace of evil in that perfect Life,—for any word, any action, any gesture or movement which implies a will averted from good, which implies sin. He challenges His contemporaries to convince Him of sin if they could. The human conscience in all ages, like the conscience of His contemporaries, listens to that astonishing question in reverent silence, and whispers to itself, "He—He has a right to ask it, for He—He alone is without sin."
II. The ideal of goodness presented to us by our Lord is perfectly harmonious. We see in Him nothing of the narrowness or the one-sidedness which is traceable, more or less, in all merely great men. As a rule, we men can only appropriate one part of goodness at the cost of the rest. In our Lord there is no one predominating virtue that throws others into the shade. Every excellence is adjusted, balanced, illustrated, by other excellences. He is in His character, and as by the terms of His mediatorial office, at once the Lamb led forth to sacrifice withal the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
III. The type of goodness presented to us in the life of Jesus is a strictly universal type. It is flavoured, so to speak, by no race or clime or sect. He speaks to the human soul in all countries and ages with the authority of one in whom every soul finds at last its ideal representative. And if any have dared, of His grace, to say, with His Apostles, "Be ye followers of me," they have quickly added, "Even as I also am of Christ."
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 764.
Christ, the Authoritative Teacher.
I. We see in Christ the authority of certain knowledge. The Scribes argued, conjectured, balanced this interpretation against that; this tradition against the other. They were often learned and laborious, but they dealt with religion only as antiquarians might deal with old ruins or manuscripts, so that when it reached the people the underlying elements of truth were overlaid with a mass of doubtful disputations, of which none could see the precise value or drift. When, then, our Lord spoke with clear distinctness, as one who saw spiritual truth, who took the exact measure of the seen and of the unseen, who described without any ambiguities what He saw,—the effect was so fresh and so unlooked for as to create the astonishment which St. Matthew describes. Jesus, with His "Verily, verily, I say unto you," is the Teacher of teachers,—the most authoritative Teacher, pouring forth a flood of light upon all the great problems of human interest.
II. Observe in Him, too, that authority which among religious teachers has been comparatively rare. Many a man will occasionally say strong or paradoxical things, who is by no means continually fearless. If he fears not the world at large, or his declared opponents, he fears his friends, his supporters, his patrons. He fears them too much to risk their goodwill by telling them unpopular truth. Here, as elsewhere, our Lord is above all. Look at the Sermon on the Mount, in which the most comfortable glosses on the old awful law of Sinai are sternly exposed and set aside; in which the exigency of its spirit as distinct from the easy obedience to its literal requirements is insisted on; in which, as afterwards in those discourses reported by St. John, before the climax of the Passion, the great authority of the most powerful classes of Jerusalem is confronted with uncompromising resistance. Jesus enunciated truth as depending on its internal strength, harmony, necessity; as being no passing or local influence like opinion, but unchanging, eternal, and dear to God; and whether in the triumphs of its representatives, or their failure,—aye, their martyrdom,—holding from God a charter of ultimate victory.
III. Observe in Him, lastly, the authority of His pure, disinterested love. We miss in the prophets that tender love of individual souls which is so conspicuous in our Lord as a teacher. While His horizon of activity and aim is infinitely greater than theirs; while He is gazing steadily on a vast future of which they had only dim and imperfect presentiments, He devotes Himself, we may dare to say, to a publican, to a Syrophenician stranger, to a Nicodemus, to a Samaritan woman, to a family at Bethany, as if, for the time being, there were none others in the world to engage His attention. Nowhere, perhaps, is this aspect of His teaching so prominent as in His last discourse in the supper-room—the language, as that is, of the uncreated love speaking directly to human hearts in words which, at the distance of eighteen centuries, retain this, the secret of their matchless authority.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 768.
Christ, the Giver of Grace.
Living, as we do, in an age which is pre-eminently devoted to the philosophy of experience, we may be disposed to look askance at such a conception as that of grace. We do not see grace; we cannot catch it—examine it through a microscope. We only note that there are effects which presuppose some such cause, and then revelation steps in and tells us that that is the cause. First of all men noted the effects of grace; then they were informed of its reality, its source, its power. But in itself, and to the last, grace remains invisible,—invisible like the electric fluid, or like the force of attraction; yet assuredly, in the world of spirits, at least as real, at least as energetic, a force as they.
I. Jesus Christ reveals to us the nature, and He secures to us the gift, of supernatural grace. The immediate minister of grace is revealed as the holy and eternal Spirit. As from all eternity the Holy Spirit is revealed as proceeding from the Son as from the Father, so in time the Spirit is sent, not merely by the Father, but by the Son.
II. We are taught how it is that grace acts upon us, what is the secret of its enabling power. Never acting apart from Christ, the Spirit unites us to, makes us partake in, this Divine humanity, in the glorified human nature of the ascended Son of God. The Spirit's work is to unite us to Christ, to robe us in our Lord's perfect nature,—that new nature whereby the Second Adam would repair, and more than repair, what the first had lost. The Eternal Spirit does not act apart. He sets up in the Church and in the heart an inward presence, but that presence is the presence, not of Himself only, but of the Son of Man.
III. We Christians are taught that the certificated points of conduct—so to call them—with this stream of grace, administered by the Spirit and consisting in union with the manhood of our Lord, are the Christian Sacraments. The Gospel differs from the law as a substance differs from the shadow, and sacraments which are symbols, and nothing but symbols, are in no way better than the legal ordinances which preceded them, and therefore have no place in a system like that of the Gospel of Christ, where all is real. Christ's command to baptize all nations, and to do what He did in the supper-room to the end of time, of itself implies that the sacraments are solemn realities,—acts on His part toward us, and not mere instruments for raising our thoughts towards Him.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 788.
Christ, the Deliverer and Restorer.
Our Lord comes into the world, not merely to teach us how to live, not merely to lighten up the dark secrets of our existence and our destiny, but to take away our sins. He is a revelation alike of love and of justice, and of the true term of the reconciliation of love with justice in the counsels of God. The old moral law still holds, "The wages of sin is death." But the new revelation is, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish." And if it be asked, "How can He possibly stand in this relationship towards man?"—we answer it briefly as follows:—
I. In the first place He is qualified for it as the sinless One—the one sample in all history of an entirely spotless manhood. "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." One stain would have impaired His capacity for pleading for mercy on a world of sinners.
II. He is qualified for this work as the representative of man. It was not a distinct personal man, it was human nature, which the personal Son of God wrapped around Himself, that He might be, not one among many, but the natural representative of all. The acts and words of His life were representative. His active obedience is, if we will, ours. Purified, restored, believing humanity—restored and purified because believing—acts and speaks in Jesus; and before the eternal purity all the new generations of men are "accepted in the Beloved."
III. He was qualified for this work by offering Himself, voluntarily, to suffer. The notion of injustice attaching to the Atonement proceeds upon the idea—the grave misapprehension—that Jesus was dragged against His will to Calvary, just as the sacrificial beasts of the old covenant were driven to the altar. He was offered because it was His own will. There is all the difference in the world between a victim whose life is wrung out of him and a soldier who freely devotes himself to death.
IV. He was qualified for this tremendous work as more—infinitely more—than man. The value of the death of Christ extending itself in His intention, we know, to the whole human family, in all ages of the world, depends upon the fact that He is the Eternal Son of God. And hence every act and suffering of His is weighted, so to speak, with infinity.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 770.
References: Luke 1:78, Luke 1:79.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 66; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 174; J. Bagot, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 13. Luke 1:80.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 497. Luke 1-2—E. C. Gibson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 116.
Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
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:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.