Luk_1:46-47. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
THE characteristic features of the unregenerate man are pride and selfishness. If the distinctions of others are superior to his own, he regards them with envy; if inferior, with contempt. The reverse of this is universally produced by the grace of God. That teaches us to “seek not our own things only, but also the things of others;” and to “prefer others in honour before ourselves:” being ready at all times to acknowledge and commend what is good in them, and to give God the glory of whatever good there may be in us. No where will this be found more beautifully exemplified than in the interview which took place between Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary. Immediately after the blessed Virgin had been informed of God’s gracious design respecting her, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who had, by the immediate influence of Heaven, been enabled to conceive a son in her old age. On her very first appearance, Elizabeth, neither elated with her own honour, nor envious of Mary’s, broke forth into the warmest congratulations; losing all sight, as it were, of her own mercies, and rejoicing altogether in those which had been vouchsafed to her pious friend. The Virgin too, in her reply, shewed clearly on what her mind was fixed, and what was the main desire of her heart. Not a single word savouring of self-exaltation escaped her lips: but with devoutest gratitude she ascribed unto God the honour due unto his name.
In considering these first effusions of her soul, it will be proper to notice,
The grounds of her joy—
[Doubtless she had some respect to the peculiar mercy vouchsafed to her [Note: ver. 48, 49.]: nor could she without base ingratitude have overlooked it. But it is evident that her views were directed to “God” himself, as the Benefactor, the “Saviour,” of mankind.
If we consider God the Father as the object in whom she rejoiced, still it was in him as sending his Son into the world, and by him reconciling the world unto himself. It was in him also as her Saviour. Here then we see her sentiments in relation to the state of her soul before God. Holy as she was, she saw herself a sinner before God, and justly obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. She was convinced also that she could not by any means make atonement for her sins, or reconcile herself to God. She felt that she needed a Saviour as much as the vilest of the human race: and she looked for salvation solely as the gift of God through the merits of her Redeemer.
Were such her views? what ought to be ours? what should be our estimate of our own state? How vain must be that conceit, which the more chaste and sober amongst us are prone to indulge, that they do not deserve the wrath of God; or that they shall find acceptance with God because of their comparative goodness!
If we consider the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of her joy, (which we may well do,) then do we see what her views were of that child, whom she was in due time to bring into the world. “David, in and by the Spirit, had called him Lord,” at the time that he spoke of him as his son, who should in due time arise to sit upon his throne [Note: Compare Psa_110:1. with Mat_22:43-45.]. And Elizabeth had directly acknowledged that holy Being that was but just formed in the Virgin’s womb, as “her Lord;” and had declared that the infant in her own womb had leaped for joy at his approach [Note: ver. 43, 44.]. The Virgin herself too knew his Divine origin, and that he was “the Son of the Highest.” Well therefore might she “magnify” him for his astonishing condescension, and “rejoice in” him as her deliverer from the wrath to come. It is probable enough that her views of his work and offices were much less distinct than ours: but, whether more or less clear, they were manifestly the ground of her joy. She knew that he was sent to be the Saviour of the world; and she had no doubt but that he would “finish the work which God had given him to do.”
And have not we the same ground of joy [Note: Luk_2:10-11.]? or rather, ought not our joy in him to be more sublime, in proportion as our knowledge of him is more clear? O let not our views of him be less exalted, or our affiance in him less firm! — — —]
From viewing the grounds of her joy, let us turn our attention to,
The expressions of it—
[Here we behold a blessed mixture of admiration, gratitude, and joy. It is evident that her mind was full of her subject: the abruptness of her speech shews, that she had “mused in her heart till the fire kindled; and then she spoke with her tongue.” She was naturally of a ruminating thoughtful turn [Note: Luk_1:29; Luk_2:19; Luk_2:51.]: and, from the moment when the angel announced to her the Divine purpose, we doubt not but that her meditations had been on this subject night and day. Here then, overwhelmed, as it were, with the greatness of this mystery, she gives vent to her feelings, and magnifies him as her Saviour, whom by faith alone she knew to have been formed in her womb.
Fain would she have presented to her God a tribute of praise adequate to the occasion. Her soul and spirit “were engaged to the uttermost:” but the language of mortality was too feeble for such a theme. Yet, as far as she could, she “magnified” her Lord, and rendered to him the acknowledgments so justly due.
As to the joy she felt, that also, no less than her theme, exceeded the powers of language to express. Even if she could have expressed it, her words would not convey to us any precise ideas, unless we had correspondent feelings within our own bosom.
If such, then, was her state, we ask, what can any man know of this mystery, who has not been filled with wonder at it? What can any man know of it, who does not rejoice in it with most exalted joy, and bless God for it from his inmost soul? — — — As a speculative truth, indeed, it may have received our assent, even though we have never contemplated it with any suitable emotions: but if the excellency of the truth have been ever felt, we have found that we sunk under it as ineffable, incomprehensible; and were constrained to adore in silence the mercies which we could not utter — — —]
From this instructive history we may learn,
[Persons readily acknowledge their obligation to do as they would be done unto, or even to perform some religious duties: but they can live all their days without rejoicing in God, and yet never feel any sense of guilt on account of it. But are not the commands on this head as clear, and as forcible, as on any subject whatever? “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice [Note: Php_4:4.];” “Rejoice evermore, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you [Note: 1Th_5:16; 1Th_5:18.].” Indeed the exercise of this heavenly disposition is represented as characteristic of the true Christian, insomuch that no person can claim that honourable appellation, who is a stranger to it: “We are the circumcision, who rejoice in Christ Jesus [Note: Php_3:3.].” Let not any then imagine that they are in a state acceptable to God, while they continue to have such low thoughts of the Saviour, and are so insensible to all the wonders of redeeming love — — —]
[We are almost ashamed to have spoken of joy in Christ under the name of duty. What would a glorified saint feel, if exhorted to it as a duty? He would spurn at the idea: he would say, ‘It is not my duty, but my privilege: it constitutes the very happiness of heaven.’ O that we could learn to think of it in that view! It is in this very light that St. Peter speaks of it, not as an object to be desired, but as an attainment common to the saints: “Believing in Christ,” says he, “ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1Pe_1:8.].” Look at the Psalmist, and behold his state: he determined to praise his God with every faculty of his soul [Note: Psa_103:1-2.], and every member of his body [Note: Psa_35:9-10. “My soul — — — yea, all my bones shall say, &c.”], if we may so speak; and to spend every day, (I had almost said, every hour,) to the end of life, in this blessed employment [Note: Psa_145:1-2; Psa_146:1-2; Psa_119:164; Psa_119:62.]. Let us imitate his example. “Let them give thanks, whom the Lord hath redeemed:” if we do not, “the very stones will cry out against us.” We are not advocates for enthusiasm: but if to resemble the holy Virgin, to be filled with admiring thoughts of the Saviour, and to anticipate the felicity of heaven, be enthusiasm, let us be enthusiasts: such enthusiasts will God approve. Yet, that we give no just occasion for that reproach, let us combine discretion with devotion; according to the exhortation of the Psalmist, “Sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing ye praises with understanding [Note: Psa_47:6-7.].”]