Luke 1:8
A very beautiful picture, though on a very small canvas, is here painted; it is a picture of domestic piety. As we think of Zacharias and Elisabeth spending their long life together in the service of Jehovah, attached to one another and held in honor by all their kindred and friends, we feel that we have before our eyes a view of human life which has in it all the elements of an excellent completeness.

I. THE DOMESTIC BOND. Here we have conjugal relationship in its true form; established in mutual respect; justified and beautified by mutual affection; made permanently happy by common affinities and common aims; elevated and consecrated by the presence of another and still nobler bond - that of a strong and immovable attachment to God. A human life is quite incomplete without such tender ties of God's own binding, and these ties are immeasurably short of what they were meant to be if they are not enlarged and ennobled by the sanctities of religion.

II. HUMAN AND DIVINE ESTIMATION. These two godly souls enjoyed the favor of their Divine Father and of their human friends and neighbors: "They were both righteous before God," and they were "blameless" in the sight of men. God accepted them, and man approved them. He to whom they were responsible for all they were and did saw in them, as he sees in all his children, the imperfections which belong to our erring and struggling humanity; but he accepted their reverence and their endeavor to please and to obey him, forgiving their shortcomings. And their kindred and their friends recognized in them those who were regulating their life by God's holy will, and they yielded to them their fullest measure of esteem. No human life is complete without the possession of these two things:

(1) the favor of the living God; and

(2) the esteem of those amongst whom we live.

To walk in the shadow of conscious estrangement from God, to miss the sweet sunshine of his heavenly favor, - this is to darken our life with a continual curse, this is to bereave ourselves of our purest joy and most desirable heritage. And while some of the very noblest of our race, following thus in the footsteps of the Master himself, have borne, in calm and heroic patience, the obloquy of the ignorant and the malice of the evil-minded, yet it is our duty, and it should be our desire and aspiration, so to walk in rectitude and in kindness that men will bless us in their hearts, will esteem us for our integrity, will hold us in their affection. The man who "wears the white flower of a blameless life" is the man who will be a power for good in the circles in which he moves.

III. SACRED SERVICE. It may be questionable whether any distinction is intended between "ordinances" and "commandments;" but there can be no question at all that both together cover religious observances and moral obligations. The Law which these two faithful souls obeyed enjoined the one as well as the other. And no human life is complete which does not include both these elements of piety.

1. The worship of God, in private prayer, in family devotion, in public exercises, is a serious and important part of a good man's experience.

2. And certainly not less so is the regulating of conduct by the revealed will of God; the walking, day by day, in uprightness and integrity, in sobriety and purity, in truth and in love. Beautifully complete, fashioned in spiritual symmetry, attractive and influential, is that human life which is spent in the home of hallowed love, which is bright with the favor of God and man, and which is crowned with the sovereign excellences of piety and virtue. - C.

While he executed the priest's office.
The duties of the priests were many and various. It was their awful and peculiar honour to "come near the Lord" (Exodus 19:22). None but they could minister before Him in the Holy place where He manifested His presence: none others could "come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary or the altar." It was death for any one not a priest to usurp these sacred prerogatives. They offered the morning and evening incense; trimmed the lamps of the golden candlestick, and filled them with oil; kept up the fire on the great altar in front of the Temple; removed the ashes Of the sacrifices; took part in the slaying and cutting up of victims, and especially in the sprinkling of their blood, and laid the offerings of all kinds on the altar. They also announced the new moons, which were sacred days like the Sabbaths, by the blowing of trumpets. But this was a small part of their duties. They had to examine all cases of ceremonial uncleanness, especially leprosy, clearing those who were pure, and pronouncing others unclean; to estimate, for commutation, the value of the countless offerings made to the Temple, and to watch the interior of the Temple by night. They were required, moreover, to instruct the people in the niceties of the law, and to give decisions on many points reserved, among us, to magistrates, The priests, in fact, were, within certain limits, the judges and magistrates of the land, though the Sanhedrim, which was the supreme court in later Jewish history, was composed of chief priests, laymen, and scribes, or Rabbis, in apparently equal numbers.

(Dr. Geikie)

When a course came up to relieve the one that had served the preceding week, the particular services of the priests were determined by lot. Certain services were accounted more honourable than others, and in this way all contention respecting them was avoided. The most honourable of all was that of going into the Holy place to offer incense upon the golden altar. And on the occasion before us this distinguished office devolved upon the aged Zacharias.

(Dr. Kitto.)

How often it happens that that which falls to our lot by apparent chance, does in reality so fall by the guidance of God's hand!

(Bishop Goodwin.)

How solemn the service in which Zacharias is now employed! The sacrifice being slain, whose smoke was now ascending to heaven, and every preparation being made in the court, he proceeds to transact for the nation, and particularly for the assembled multitude, whom he leaves behind him. Advancing with slow and solemn step, and with the smoking censer in his hand, towards the sanctuary, he puts aside the outer curtain and disappears from their sight. Imagination follows him in, where, except on pain of destruction, no other mortal could enter. What must be his feelings in going on with the service of the incense! All without is silent as death, and all within is so stilly impressive, that he is almost afraid to draw his breath. No mortal eye beholds his conduct; but the eternal Jehovah, who will be sanctified in them that draw nigh, surrounds him with His more immediate presence. Take heed, Zacharias, to thy demeanour, lest thou be smitten in the greatness of thine iniquity, or lest thy hand, stretched forth rashly, be withered; or lest, through any fault of thine, the Lord deny His blessing to the people. He places on the golden altar the censer with the incense, with whose cloudy perfume the apartment is filled and rendered fragrant, that the Lord may smell a sweet savour.

(James Foote, M. A.)

The answer to Zachariah's prayer was —

1. Earnestly desired.

2. Long delayed.

3. Promised in a surprising manner.

4. Incredulously waited for.

5. Gloriously vouchsafed.

(Van Oosterzee.)

Here note —

1. That none but a son of Aaron might offer incense to God in the temple; and not every son of Aaron either; nay, not any of them at all seasons. God is a God of order, and hates confusion no less than irreligion. And as under the law of old, so under the gospel now, no man ought to take this honour upon him but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

2. That there were courses of ministration in the legal services, in which the priests relieved one another weekly. God never purposed to burden any of His servants with devotion, nor is He pleased when His service is made burdensome, either to or by His ministers.

3. That morning and evening, twice a day, the priests offered up their incense to God, that both parts of the day might be consecrated to Him who was the Maker and Giver of their time. This incense offered under the law, represents our prayers offered to God under the gospel. The ejaculatory elevations of our hearts should be perpetual; but if twice a day we do not present God with our solemn invocations, we make the gospel less officious than the law; and can we reasonably think that Almighty God will accept of less now that would content Him then?

(W. Burkitt, M. A.)

1. While the incense was burning, the people were praying: while the priest sends up his incense in the temple within, the people send up their prayers in the court without. The incense of the priest and the prayers of the people meet, and go up to heaven together. It is a blessed thing when both minister and people jointly offer up their prayers for each other at the same throne of grace, and mutually strive together in their supplications, one with, and one for, another.

2. Observe how both priest and people keep their place and station: the priest burns incense in the holy place, and the people offer up their prayers in the outward court. The people might no more go into the Holy place to offer up their prayer, than Zachary might go into the Holy of Holies to burn incense. Whilst the partition-wall stood betwixt Jew and Gentile, there was also a partition betwixt the Jews themselves. But now under the gospel, every man is a priest to God, and may enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus. But, Lord! what are we the better for this great and gracious freedom of access to Thee, if we want hearts to prize and improve our privilege from Thee?

(W. Burkitt, M. A.)

At the moment when the effectual work of propitiation and intercession goes forward within the temple — what is seen without? The whole multitude of the people, bending in silent awe, seconding the priestly office and making it in some sense their own, joining their faith to the sacrifice, and lifting their hearts with the rising incense-cloud, are in supplication before God. This can represent nothing else than the power of the united prayers of the Christian congregation, aiding and supporting the official work of the threefold ministry and the holy offices of the Church, in declaring Christ to the world The question before us, then, thrown open in its broadest form, will be this: Are we using the devotional power of the Church in due proportion to its other powers? If in any of our undertakings we fail, there is very little doubt that we fail because we did not expect enough and ask enough of God — for that expectation is only another name for faith; and that asking is prayer. Men say, "Religion is a thing between a man and his Maker"; and though it is often said to palliate some inexcusable neglect of an open religious confession before men, yet it is profoundly true. There are two parties, and only two. The business of religion, therefore, is to bring offerings to Him, and, in answer to our prayers, to take blessings from Him. This, with the sacred sentiments, affections, and actions which belong to that holy intercourse, is the first business of the Church. So, Christians, we stand, in this sacred and redeemed creation, always at a temple door. No doubt there are mysteries. What temple was ever without its suggestion of mystery? Even a very deep and strong human love has its mysteries. But nevertheless, the Light falls down from the Throne. God is there. The door is swung open. We are near to Him; He is near to us. The Mediator and Intercessor is praying there for us. Our prayers are joined with His. The reconciliation is accomplished. The next step follows irresistibly. Every movement of religious life among us must get its power and direction from the Spirit of God. If you would find the true secret of spiritual success, you need not seek for it in the admirableness of the plan, the shrewdness of the management, the numbers that subscribe, or the eloquence of the advocates. You might better seek it in some very obscure chambers, some out-of-the-way corners, some closets with the doors shut, where men or women, or children in whose breasts God has a Temple of His own-never heard of at the public meetings, poor and simple-hearted and of stammering lips — kneel with their great-hearted and prevailing petitions, not discouraged by the slowness of the answer, trusting not in themselves but only in the Lord Almighty. These are the "multitude praying without." The finest and firmest machinery in the world is so much dead material without these prayers. I suppose most of you have seen some elaborate and costly specimen of mechanism, standing still: every little screw and bolt of the complicated system in its place; every post and bar, flange and transom, secure; every bright lever and arm, wheel and tooth, tempered and tested — the whole a splendid embodiment and trophy of intellectual ingenuity and determination — yet silent and inert as icicles, till some lifted gate or open valve lets in the mysterious motive-power which makes it a sure and mighty servant of a purpose beyond it. So are all our best religious measures, till the breath of the church's prayers joins them to the Spirit from on high. We look into the Bible records of the beginnings and growth of God's kingdom on the earth. On every spot where that kingdom struck root we see a group of men bending in prayer. When the Eastern magi were brought by the star to Bethlehem, all their intellectual strength bowed itself down to a little Child; they taught nothing, proposed nothing — they did not even speak; it was simply an offering; the signification of it was the submission of knowledge to faith. It was worship. From page to page, in the Acts of the Apostles, they are shown to us together looking upward. When an order in the ministry, an apostle, or a missionary, was to be set apart or sent out, special prayer signalized the ceremony. At the meeting and parting of Christian friends, on their sacred errands, they knelt and prayed. If one of their number was imprisoned, prayer was made for him day and night. The whole fiery heart of the Church of Christ was in instant communication with its ascended Head. And what followed? Why, this was the period when the Church grew before men's eyes with such swiftness that a thousand converts were gathered in the time that it takes us to gather ten. And so the periods of prayer have always been the periods of life. A lingering doubt casts up its faithless suggestion at these words: "Is not the Church constantly praying? Yet where is the fulfilment of the promise?" The answer is found under another word, "the prayers of faith." We may be sure that the measure of the faith is the measure of the power of the prayer, and that the measure of such prayer is, sooner or later, the measure of the blessing we receive. We very often mistake the strength of our desire for the strength of our faith.

(Bishop F. D. Huntingdon.)

In some of our most familiar illustrated newspapers there were, a little while ago, beautiful pictures of the recently-completed Cologne Cathedral. Looking at it very attentively there came back to mind thoughts and suggestions which are always started by the presence of a large Gothic building; and these have been so long associated with our cathedrals and spired churches, that we have almost ceased to question whether they really embody the essential idea of the Gothic architecture. Surely such a building as we have in mind is the illustration in stone of the idea of "United Prayer." It is a series of points and pinnacles, from the ground to the top of the great spire. Every window is a pointed arch; every buttress goes up to a point; every roof ridge is guided off into little uplifting spires; the great roof itself points up; and the whole building seems to unite in the great spire, which pierces away into the sky, and seems to carry the united cry of the whole building up to God.

(R. Tuck.)

Well-known are the immediate and lasting effects of the sermon, entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which President Edwards preached at the time of "The Great Awakening." It was believed that the sermon owed much of its success to the earnest petitions of a few believing persons, who spent the whole of the previous night in a prayer-meeting in the vicinity (Enfield). These prayers were made the more earnest by the fear that God, who was blessing other places, would in just indignation pass them by.

(Hervey's "Manual of Revivals.")

If we were all cold units like stones, and could take cur places side by side with no sense or consciousness of the presence of another, how chilled the thing would bet If, coming together, each was conscious that on his right or left was an enemy present — a carping critic, a cold atheist — how those who care at all for the thing would be chilled and withered! You all feel that, having a common purpose and a living sympathy, heart blends with heart and mind with mind. Ay, and thus Divine mercy uses and sanctifies one of the mightiest forces of human life. Men never know the fulness of their life and force except in sympathy. They catch the contagion of a prevailing temper. They grow warm by friction with those who are in active movement. They become confident and resolved by reason of the concensus of numbers. The drops that make up the ocean wave become mighty and resistless when united and swayed in one direction.

(J. Aldis.)

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