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smelling savour of the holy incense, an angel suddenly appeared to Zacharias as he was executing his office in the temple; that being the place to which those blessed spirits, when they visit these lower regions, ever delight to resort, as bearing the nearest resemblance to the happy mansions from which they descend.
But, whether it be that the glory of celestial spirits overpowers the faculties of human nature, or that man, conscious of having sinned against heaven, naturally trembles at the sight of a messenger from thence, we find the appearance of an angel had the same effect upon Zacharias, the blessed virgin, and the shepherds; they were all "sore afraid." Their minds must be first composed, and put into a capacity of receiving the heavenly tidings brought them by the good angels, who, like good men, manifest themselves by the gracious and encouraging manner of their address, and having removed all misconceived apprehensions, proceed to instruct and comfort those to whom they are sent: "Fear not, "Zacharias; for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife "Elizabeth shall bear thee a son." Zacharias had prayed for the redemption of Israel by Messiah, and therefore was honoured by being made, in a wonderful manner, the father of his illustrious forerunner. The priest was anxious for the welfare of the church, and the man was blessed in his own private concerns. He sought "first the kingdom of God, and his righ"teousness," and the blessing of a son was. " added
• Luke, i. 13.
" unto him."-" Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name JOHN," that is, being interpreted, the grace or gift; "and many "shall rejoice at his birth :" not only thou shalt rejoice, and Elizabeth with thee, at the birth of a son so long despaired of, and such a son too, but it shall be matter of joy, at the time, to all who look for redemption; and afterwards, thousands and millions shall rejoice at the remembrance of it; the day shall be kept as a festival throughout all generations; with joy and gladness shall it be kept, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. Encouraged by the example of Zacharias, let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, be never weary of waiting for his loving kindness in the midst of his temple. Let it be the delight of their lives to execute their office, every one in that order and station in which he is placed. So will God make them to hear of joy and gladness, and grant them to behold the success of their labours for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of his people. The church, like Elizabeth, shall bring forth fruit in her old age; and her friends shall rejoice greatly when they hear that the Lord hath showed mercy on her P.
Distrust of Providence and the accomplishment of its designs, when appearances are on the other side, will sometimes invade the hearts of the best of men; and Zacharias himself so far partook of the incredulous spirit which at that period had possessed the synagogue, that he "sought after a sign."-"Whereby
Luke, i. 58,
"shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my "wife well stricken in years." How different, in a parallel case, was the behaviour of his father Abraham, of which St. Paul has left us the following exalted description:-" Who against hope believed in
hope, that he might become the father of many "nations, according to that which was spoken, So "shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, "he considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb. He staggered "not at the promise of God through unbelief, but "was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded, that what he had promised he was "able also to perform." The demand of Zacharias, however, was complied with, and a sign was granted him in the punishment of his unbelief. The use of that tongue, which, instead of giving glory to God, had been employed in raising objections, was taken from him, and a silence of some months was imposed as a penance for the abuse of speech'.
But when the wonderful child was born, who, even before his birth, entered upon his prophetical office, and gave testimony to his Saviour in the womb, then declaring, by his exultation, what he afterward did by words, "Behold the Lamb of God;" and Zacharias had acknowledged the GIFT of God, by direct
Rom. iv. 18.
Conticescere paulatim oportuit omne Levitici apparatus Choragium, quod ominoso hoc Sacerdotis silentio prefiguratum est; ut sola Messiæ docentis et benedicentis vox in Ecclesiâ audiretur. -Witsii Miscell. Sacr. II. 494.
ing that his name should be JOHN; then the mouth of the father was opened; and, to show us the proper employment of the tongue when heaven grants the use of it, he "praised God." Faith restored what incredulity had taken away; "he believed, and there"fore he spake." And his heart having been prepared, by silence and retirement, for the reception of celestial influences, he was now "filled with the 'Holy Ghost," and brake forth into that divine hymn, which shall be the subject of the next section.
Considerations on the Hymn of Zacharias.
AMONG the alterations in nature which notify the return of spring, no one is more pleasing, than the exchange of a long and melancholy silence, for that melody which then resoundeth on every side of us in the woods and fields. Solomon hath not forgotten this circumstance, in his short but lovely description of that delightful season: "Lo, the winter “is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers ap
pear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds "is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our "land"." The advent of Messiah was announced, in a similar manner, to the church; and we may say of it, in the words of the Roman poet, which, like
Cant. ii. 11.
those of Caiaphas, contained much more than he was aware of who uttered them,
Aspice, venturo lætentur ut omnia sæclo! For now, the blessed virgin "magnifieth the Lord, "and her spirit rejoiceth in God her Saviour:" the father of the Baptist "blesseth the Lord God of "Israel, for having visited and redeemed his people:" the angels themselves descend in full choir, to perform an anthem in honour of their Lord and ours: and old Simeon closeth all with his affecting farewell to the world; "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.' Thus did all break forth into joy, and sing together, because "the Lord had comforted his people, and redeemed "Jerusalem;" because the Sun of righteousness, by his visitation of the earth, was putting a period to a dreary winter, and introducing, in its stead, a new and more glorious spring. And as spring is the morning of the year, Cowley's address to the material light, which is but a faint copy, may be applied to the great original himself:
When thou lift'st up thy radiant head
Thy choir of birds about thee play,
And all the joyful world salutes the rising day.
The hymn which we are at present to consider, is that of Zacharias. The occasion on which it was indited, was the birth of St. John: the subject is the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus: the language is that of the Old Testament, old terms being trans