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HYMN of ZACHARIAS
LUKE, i. 68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed
THE preface to this divine hymn, blessed be the Lord God, is never used but upon the most important occasions,* and the hymn itself is a kind of prophetic summary of all the things which were written in the
*"• Blessed,' says Noah, be the Lord God of Shem. Why the God of Shem, and not the God of Japhet? whose pious office to his father was equally deserving of a blessing: if any preference was due to either, it was to Japhet, his first-born. The blessing therefore peculiar to Shem was, that Noah foresaw that the covenant that should restore man to himself and to his maker, Gen. iii. 15, should be conveyed through the posterity of Shem.” Bishop Sherlock; see, also, Leland. " Postquam gentes pleræque ad falsorum deorum cultus erant delapsæ, cæpit nomen illud ad unum Israelis populum restringi. Ps. xli. 13, lxxii. 18, cvi. 48.” Grotius. Grotius does not assign the more especial reason for this peculiar title; but it is certain, that, as the covenant of the promise made to Abraham was repeated to Isaac and Jacob, and it was decreed, and therefore revealed to the latter, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah until Shiloh came, i. e. the Messiah, who it is evident, as the apostle says, sprang out of Judah, the Jewish polity was preserved by a series of miracles from one end of it to the other, till that seed of Abraham came, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed; who himself foretold the destruction of the Jewish nation, which was accomplished in a very few years after they had crucified the Lord of Life and Glory, the true King of Israel.
law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Christ; and, whether we consider the great moment of the subject, which is the redemption of the whole world from eternal misery, or the truly sublime manner in which it is treated, it may be very justly affirmed to be a composition at least equal, if not superior, to any that ever has or ever will appear in the world; and, to excite our most ardent attention and diligent application to the weighty matter it contains, the sacred penman informs us, that the prophet Zacharias, who was miraculously struck dumb for his incredulity to the message of the angel Gabriel, was now as miraculously restored to his speech; and, being filled with the Holy, spake, as the spirit gave him utterance, this song of triumph: “ Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hatli visited and redeemed his people.”.
Now this expression, of being filled with the Holy Ghost, implies the highest degree of the prophetic spirit. * It is impossible, therefore, to employ our time and thoughts more properly, or more profitably, than in a due consideration of, and a pious meditation upon, the several parts of this spiritual song, which consists of two remarkable prophecies concerning the two most cminent persons who have ever existed, the blessed Jesus and John the Baptist.t And it is very observable that, though, according to the true course of things and the dictates of nature, Zacharias might have been expected to begin his hymn of praise with thanksgiving for the unspeakable and unerpected gift of a son in his old age, being transported with the spirit of prophecy to bear testimony unto Jesus, though not yet born, he, expresses himself in words which suppose rather the actual completion than the prediction of this event : “ Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited 1 and
*"Novo dono et gradu gratie, ut prophetam ageret.” Luc. Brugensis.
Visitavit. " Non ad puniendum, sicut Lev. xxvi. 16, &c. ut verba sequentia docent, sed ad benefaciendum, ut Gen. xxi. 1, &c. idque non, ut olim, per prophetam, angelum, &c. sed per seipsum, ut promiserat Ezec. xxxiv. 12. Confer Luc. vii. 16, and xix. 44.” Brugensis, &c.
redeemed* his people.” Exactly similar to which is the procedure of the evangelical prophet, Isaiah, on the very same occasion; where, perhaps, intending to speak of the deliverances' to be wrought during the infancy of his son, Maher, shalal, hash baz, being wrapt into future time, he declares rather than foretels. the birth of the Messialı, in the most lofty and exalted strains: “Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and he sliall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it, with judgement and with justice, from henceforth even for ever. *" To the latter part of which prediction the following words of Zacharias exactly correspond;
" And hath raised
ир a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant, David." And it is most probable that this circumstance of the Messiah's being, according to this and several other prophecies, to descend from the family of David, gave rise to that fatal opinion of the Jews, that Christ's kingdom was to consist in temporal power and grandeur. Which expectation of a temporal deliverer made them so ready in their answer to that demand of Herod, Matt. ii. 4, where Christ should be born: for they immediately replied, in Bethlehem of Judæa; “ for thus it is written by the prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a governor
* Redemit. “Non vi, ut olim ex Ægypto; nec cum bonâ hostium gratia, ut e Babylone; sed justo pretio persoluto, non Satanæ, sed Deo patri; ut liberaremur a captivitate peccati et Satanæ.” Brugensis. .
+ For ever. " Omnia sub cælo regna mutabilia sunt, &c. nec ullum unquam erat cujus amplificatio et pax erat infinita : unde constat principatum hunc non esse mundanum, sed cælestem.” Musculus, &c.
"Omnis potentia cornu Hebræis dicitur, Deut. xxxiii. 17, &c. præcipuè verò potentia regalis, Dan. vii. 24, &c. Atque ideo vocem inp, 1 Sam. ii. 10, et alibi veteres paraphrasta vertunt nuosp aut inuaba. Ita et h. I. designatur regnum Christi.” Grotius, &c.
that shall rule my people, Israel:*” though, at another time, being exasperated with rage and malice at the blessed Jesus for curing the lame man, they had the effrontery to say, that, “ When Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is."
But they could not have entertained this erroneous opinion concerning the nature of Christ's kingdom had they consulted impartially, as they ought, the sacred oracles of God, which he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began. For the sure word of promise made to Adam, immediately after the fall, by God himself, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, very plainly points out the nature of that redemption which was to be effected; and, however dark and intricate it might be at the delivery of it, is the true key and clue to open and discover the genuine meaning of all the future prophecies relating to this
great event. For, as the Prince of darkness had, by his artful and wicked suggestions under the form of a serpent, instigated our first parents to an impious revolt against their maker, and thereby introduced Sin and Death into the world, that the great purpose of creation might not be frustrated, and mankind given over to their adversary, the devil, the strongest assurances are made that the power of Satan should be again vanquished, and that the souls of men should be rescued from
* There is a manifest contradiction between the evangelist and the prophet Micah, c. v. 2, from whom these words are quoted; and various methods have been taken to reconcile them. The principal of which are the following. Grotius proposes to read interrogatively, according to the Syr. “ Parvane sis, i. e. habearis, a populo Judæ ? aut verti potest, parum est (per neutrum) ut sis, &c.?” Which is followed by De Dieu, Lightfoot, and many others; (for which see Poole.) The learned Dr Randolph supposes that a false reading has crept into the Hebrew text, and that, instead of neab, it should be nun ab, which makes the prophet and the evangelist perfectly to agree. But the easiest method of removing the difficulty is to supply the negative particle is, in the prophet, with Dr Kennicott, from the Arabic version, who produces several authorities, likewise, for it from the fathers: “Uti (says he) nonnulla vitia Græcæ versiuni ante origenis tempora illata sunt; ita et alia postea introducta sunt. Ille, pariter ac Justinus, constanter citat Mic. v. 1, cum particula negationis, quæ postea fuit omissa." And, that the quotations of the evangelists and apostles from the Old Testament are more to be depended upon than the present Hebrew text, see his 2d Dissertation, p. 103 — 108, and his General Diss. to his Hebrew Bible, sect. 63. There was a remarkable propriety in Christ's being born at Bethlehem, the house of bread, as he was the true bread, which came down from heaven and gave life unto the world. E 2
the dominion of sin, as well as their bodies ransomed from the prison of the grave; and God, who in the midst of judgement remembers mercy, even in passing sentence on the criminal, gives him every reason to hope that his iniquity will be pardoned and his sin covered. But, as the great personage, who was to accomplish this great salvation, was not to make his appearance on the earth for several thousand years, though the influence of this mighty work was to extend itself, faith in a Saviour to come, to the earliest period of time, the sacrifice of slain beasts was appointed by God himself as typical and prophetical of the great expiatory sacrifice of the blood of Christ, and to shew forth the Lord's death till he came. And for this reason he is stiled the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world :* and St Paul says, that the blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel; i. e. than the blood of the sacrifice of Abel,+ which, though more excellent than that of Cain, because offered up in the faith of a Saviour to come, was as much inferior to the offering of Jesus as the type is to the antitype, or the shadow to the substance. And this faith in the promised seed was preserved in the world, through tradition and the use of sacrificial types, from Adam even to Abraham, who, for the eminence and singular exemplariness of his belief in this great mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh, was distinguished with the highest marks of divine favour, and vouchsafed still farther and clearer revelations of this important event: for, as a sure earnest and pledge that he would perform the mercy promised to our fathers, God enters into a holy
Respectu victimarum veterum, quæ erant ipse Agnus sacramentaliter; et virtutis et efficaciæ istius occisionis quæ viguit ab origine mundi.” Paræus. Pol. Synop.
+ “Legendum est mage to AB<a, ut subaudiatur aspa, ex membro antitheto; et sic legerunt Græci veteres et Syrus.” Grotius et Pisc. “Si legas pòr, referri possit ad pårtiopov, ut Abel sit casûs genitivi. Sic vertas, quam illa aspersio Abelis, i. e. aspersio sanguinis in primo illo sacrificio Abelis, Gen. iv. 4." Knachbull, &c.
“The apostle says, c. xi. 4, that Abel's sacrifice was rendered excellent by faith. · What could this faith be, but a reliance on the promises and appointments of God, that the seed, &c. which was the grand charter of mercy after the fall." Bishop Sherlock, Shuckford, &c.