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verses therefore of his Gospel, naturally precede the accounts given by the other evangelists, whether of our Lord's conception, or of the conception of his forerunner the Baptist. 1. In the beginning, viz. of the creation; for the evangelist seems here to allude to the first word of Genesis, Bereshith, translated by the LXX. ev αgxx—was the Word: The word existed at the time of the creation (see verses 3. 10.) consequently from all eternity.— And the Word was with God; namely, before any created being had existed. Perhaps this is spoken in allusion to what the Wisdom of God says of himself, Prov. viii. 30.-* And the Word was God. It is observable that John's discourse rises by degrees. He tells us first, that the Word, in the beginning of the world, existed. Next, that he existed with God. And, last of all, that he was God, and made all things.-The divine person who has accomplished the salvation of mankind, is called The Word, and The Word of God, Rev. xix. 13. not only because God at first created, and still governs all things by him; but because as men discover their sentiments and designs to one another by the intervention of words, speech, or discourse, so God by his Son discovers his gracious designs in the fullest and clearest manner to men. All the various manifestations which he makes of himself, whether in the works of creation, providence, or redemption, all the revelations he has been pleased to give of his will, are conveyed to us through him, and therefore he is, by way of eminence, fitly styled The Word of God.-2. The same was in the beginning with God. The Socinians understand this of Christ's being taken up into heaven after his baptism, in order to be instructed in the will of God, for which they think they have Christ's own testimony, John iii. 3. ; but they mistake the
Ver. 1. And the word was God.] The Socinians affirm that the Word was God, not by nature, but by office, as being the legate or ambassador of God. But the apostle Paul, I think, has determined this point; for he insinuates that no being can be God, who is not God by nature, Gal. iv. 8. Grotius and Le Clerc affirm, that in the Old Testament the name Jehovah is sometimes given to angels; and, to prove this, they quote Gen. xviii. But it is replied, that the appearance of Jehovah to Abraham, mentioned in the first verse of the chapter, was very different from the appearance of the three angels in the form of men, spoken of, ver. 2. The appearance of Jehovah, was that of the Schechinah or visible symbol of the divine presence, as is evident from ver. 22. where we are told that after the Men, that is, the angels who appeared in the form of Men, turned their faces from thence and went toward Sodom, Abraham stood yet before the Lord, and conversed with him, to the end of the chapter. We may therefore suppose, that as often as Jehovah is represented speaking in the former part of the chapter, it was not any of the angels who spake, but a voice from the Schechinah. Accordingly, to intimate this, the historian in such cases makes use of the singular number: whereas when the angels speak, or are spoken to, the plural is used; see ver. 9. This solution, it is thought, will serve for all the other passages produced by the Socinians, in proof that the name Jehovah is given in Scripture to angels or created beings.
meaning of the passage: See the Commentary. Besides, the evangelist is here describing the existence of the Word before he was made flesh, ver. 14. and therefore he cannot be understood as speaking of any thing that happened after his incarnation. 3. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made; not so much as any single thing (de ) having existence, whether among the noblest or the meanest of God's works, was made without him. But if all things were made by him, he cannot be himself of the number of the things that were made. He is superior therefore to every created be ing. Besides, it should be remembered that, in the Old Testament, the creation of the heavens and the earth is often mentioned as the prerogative of the true God, whereby he is dis tinguished from the heathen idols. The design of the evange list in establishing so particularly and distinctly the dignity, but especially the divinity of Christ, was to raise in mankind the profoundest veneration for his instructions. And, without doubt, he who is the Word of God, the interpreter of the divine coun
Ver. 3. All things were made by him.] Although the word make is capable of a large sense, yet, as in other passages, Jesus is said to create all things (Col. i. 16. v auTW EXTION TO TAITα), we cannot doubt that John uses the word to in the sense of creation, a meaning which it often has in the Jewish Scriptures. It is true, this, and the other passages which speak of Christ's making all things, are, by some, explained of his erecting the Christian dispensation; and though the terms, thus understood, turn out very high metaphors, they fancy the genius of the Jewish language easily enough admits of such. Nevertheless, I would observe here, once for all, that if the Socinian explication of the texts which attribute unto Jesus the names, perfections, and actions of the true God, are admitted, it will be very difficult to clear the evangelists and apostles from the imputation of having laid in men's way a violent temptation to idolatry. For it is well known, that as in all ages men have been exceeding prone to worship false Gods, so it was the prevailing vice of the world when the New Testament was wrote; that the grossest corruptions of the morals of mankind have ever flowed from this poisonous spring, (Rom. i. 24.); and that to destroy idolatry, and bring mankind to the worship of the true God, was the great end proposed by God in all the revelations which he made of himself to men. This being the case, is it to be imagined that either Christ himself, who brought the last and best revelation of the divine will, or his apostles, who committed that revelation to writing, would, on any occasion, have ased such expressions as in their plain and obvious meaning could not fail to lead, at least the bulk of mankind, to think that the names, perfections, and actions of the true God, were ascribed to a creature, and that the worship due to the true God was due to him, (Heb. i. 6.) while in reality they meant no more but that he was miraculously formed, was commissioned to deliver a new religion to the world, was endowed with the power of miracles, and, in consideration of his exemplary death, was raised from the grave, and had divine honours conferred upon him? Instead of reforming the world, this was to have laid in their way such a temptation to idolatry as they could not well resist. Nor has the effect been any other than what was to be expected; for the generality of Christians, moved by these expressions, have all along considered Christ as God, and honoured him ac. cordingly, John v. 23.
sels, and who is himself God, ought to be heard with the deepest attention, and obeyed with the most implicit submission. It is this circumstance, that the Son of God, who is God, came down from heaven to earth, and in person instituted the Christian religion, which gives it a dignity beyond any thing that can be imagined by men.-4. In him was life. The life which the evangelist here speaks of, is the human life; for he adds, and the life was the light of men. The human life that was in the Word, was the light of Men: the Word, by becoming flesh, enlightened men in the knowledge of God. Hence Jesus called himself the light of the world, (John viii. 12.) his doctrine being to the understanding, what light is to the eye.-5. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. The last and best revelation of the divine will, wherewith the Word, in the days of his flesh, enlightened men, subsists still in great purity and splendour. It continues to shine in the midst of an ignorant and corrupt world, and that notwithstanding wicked men do not receive it.
III. The angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias in the temple, and foretels the conception and birth of John Baptist. Luke i. 5,-25.
THE Gospel first dawned when the angel Gabriel brought into the world the news of the birth of the Messiah's fore-runner. Luke, therefore, very properly begins his history, which came abroad before the other gospels, with an account of that remarkable transaction. 5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, *of the course of
Ver. 5. Herod the king of Judea.] This is he who is commonly known by the name of Herod the Great, a cruel ambitious man, who without any title obtained the crown of Judea from the Roman senate, to whom he was recommended by Mark Anthony. Under his government the Jews were very uneasy, because he was a foreigner. Nevertheless, the Roman generals in those parts having given him possession of the throne, by his own prudence and address he maintained himself in it for the space of forty years. His reign, though celebrated on many accounts, was remarkable for nothing so much as that towards the conclusion of it the Messiah and his fore-runner were born. Besides Herod the king, there are two others of this name mentioned in Scripture, viz. Herod the Tetrarch, sirnamed Antipas. He was Herod the king's son, and inferior to his father both in dignity and dominion, being only a Tetrarch, and having no dominions but Galilee and Perea. It was this Herod that beheaded the Baptist, and with his men of war mocked our Lord. The other was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the king by Aristobulus, and brother to Herodias PhiTip's wife. He killed James the apostle with the sword, and imprisoned Peter to please the Jews; and was himself eaten up of worms, for his affecting divine honours. Agrippa, before whom Paul pleaded his cause, was the son of this Herod, for which reason he is commonly called Agrippa the younger.
Ibid. Of the course of Abia.] i energias Abia. It seems the descendents of Aaron multiplied to such a degree, that they could not all do duty in
Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6. And they were both righteous before God; that is, righteous not by pretence but in reality; for such must they be who are righteous before God, who knows the heart. Walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. They were not only righteous before God, but they were faultless in the eye of men; a happiness that does not always befal the truly virtuous. They were possessed of real goodness, and behaved so prudently as to obtain an universally good character. This is Luke's meaning; not that they were absolutely free from sin, for he mentions a fault which Zacharias fell into on this very occasion, and which met with a remarkable chastisement. 7. And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years: they had no offspring, nor the least expectation of any, being both very old.
8. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's of fice in the order of his course: 9. According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10. And the whole multitude of * the
the temple at once. David, therefore, divided them into twenty-four courses, who ministered weekly in their turns. The time of their ministration was called Ong, as was likewise the course itself. But the name belonged originally to the Athenian magistrates, called Prytaneis, who being utty men chosen by lot out of a tribe, and each man governing the city a single day, the days which any tribe governed, as well as its fifty prytane is succeeding one another, were called auga Hence, because the Jewish courses of priests resembled the Athenian prytaneis in several respects, they had their name applied to them by those who wrote in Greek, but with some impropriety, as their ministry lasted not for a day but a week. Abia, the course to which Zacharias belonged, was the eighth in David's regulation; but whether the courses were the same now as at the first institution is impossible to determine.
Ver. 6. Commandments and ordinances.] evrorais nas dinaramas. The critics are generally agreed that these words signify, the one the moral, the other the ceremonial precepts of the divine law; but they are greatly di vided in fixing the particular sense of each. The truth is, undoubted examples may be produced to prove that both words were used promiscuously in both senses, for which reason, to dispute nicely about them is needless.
Ver. 9. His lot. Because some parts of the sacred service were more honourable than others, both the priests and Levites divided the whole among them by lot. The Jews tell us, that there were three priests employed about the service of the incense; one who carried away the ashes left on the altar at the preceding service; another who brought a pan of burning coals from the altar of sacrifice, and having placed it on the golden altar, departed; a third who went in with the incense, sprinkled it on the burning coals, and while the smoke ascended, made intercession for the people. This was the part that fell to Zacharias, and the most honourable in the whole service.
Ver. 10. The whole multitude of the people avere praying without.] Because it sometimes happened, that on ordinary week days few or none of
ple were praying without at the time of the incense. 11. * And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right. side of the altar of incense. 12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him: that is, according to the. Hebrew idiom, he was exceedingly afraid. The angel's form was such as shewed him plainly to be a being of a superior nature, (see Judges xiii. 6.); but Zacharias neither knew of what kind he was, nor on what errand he was come. No wonder then that he was exceedingly terrified, especially if he suspected him to be an evil spirit. See ver. 18, 19. 13. But the angel said, Fear not Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Eliza beth shall bear thee a son. We cannot imagine that this holy man, at so advanced an age, and on such an occasion, would for the pregnancy of his wife, who was likewise very old. The priests in this office considered themselves as the mouth of the people, and made the welfare of the nation the subject of their prayers. Wherefore, since it is reasonable to suppose that Zacharias now interceded for the coming of the Messiah, in whom
the people attended the morning and evening sacrifices, there were four and twenty men employed to attend this service, as representatives of the people of Israel, to lay their hands on the head of the sacrifice, to pray, and to receive the blessing. These were called, from their office, Stationary men. Wherefore the manner in which the evangelist has expressed himself on this occasion, the whole multitude of the people, shews that a more than ordinary concourse was in the temple, when Zacharias had the vision of the angel Gabriel. Probably the day on which he burnt the incense was a Sabbath, or some high festival, when there was always a great multitude assembled. This circumstance duly attended to, strengthens the credibi lity of the facts reported by the evangelist. Zacharias' tarrying in the temple beyond the usual time, must thus have been taken notice of by many, ver. 21. There were likewise many, who, upon his coming out dumb, conjectured that he had seen a vision, ver. 22. Matters of so public a nature, and the truth or falsehood of which so many must have known, would never have been thus openly appealed to by Luke, if they had been really faise.
Ibid. The people were praying without at the time of the incense.] As the daily sacrifice represented the sacrifice of Christ, and the incense the prayers of the saints, (Rev. viii. 1,-4.) the incense was ordered to be burnt while the sacrifice was offering, to teach mankind that it was through the sacrifice of Christ they had access to the Deity. Accordingly the sacrifices and incense, both morning and evening, were fitly accompanied with the prayers of the people, and that not in the temple only, but every where else; pious men chusing to put up their supplications at the hours of sacrifice, while the ministers of religion interceded for the nation. Hence these hours were called the hours of prayer, Acts iii. 1.
Ver. 11. And there appeared, &c.] It is altogether uncertain, whether this happened at the morning or evening sacrifice. Grotius thinks it was in the morning, others fancy it was in the evening; but neither opinion is properly supported. Perhaps, therefore, it may be more to the purpose to observe, that as all nations reckoned the right sides of their temples and altars fortunate, the historian has mentioned the angel's appearing on the right side of the altar, to signify that it was a lucky omen designed to en courage Zacharias, and raise in him the expectation of good tidings.