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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: P. C. Headley :: Women of the Bible

P. C. Headley :: The Virgin Mary

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XVII. THE VIRGIN MARY.

Gabriel figures so conspicuously in celestial vision, that the mind naturally takes the impression, he is a favorite angel in the embassage of Heaven to earth. He appeared twice to Daniel-talked with Zacharias while engaged in the temple service at evening, and not long afterward, "was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth," to Mary. (Luk 1:26.) When he entered her lonely dwelling, he shouted in the transport of his own full heart, "Hail thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women!" (Luk 1:28.) That bright form, and the startling salutation excited her fears, and she waited tremblingly for a farther disclosure. "Fear not, Mary," (Luk 1:30) broke the silence and suspense of the scene, and in glowing language he announced to her the honor which could be given to but one woman in the universe-that of becoming the mother of "the Lord of Glory, the Prince of peace," in his humanity.

And here Mary forms a sublime contrast with Sarah and even the good old Zacharias, when visited by angels. There was no utterance of unbelief, no smile of incredulity; although there seemed to be an impossibility of fulfilment, without sinking hopelessly her reputation, and perhaps her untimely removal to a grave of infamy. For she was betrothed to Joseph, a worthy young man, and the appearance of infidelity would alienate him and expose her to the penalty of violated Law. Her sensitive spirit simply inquired, "How shall this be?" and Gabriel replied, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, and the holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God: For with God nothing shall be impossible." (Luk 1:34-37.) All was yet folded in mystery-like one entering the "dark valley," she could lean alone on the Almighty, and walk trustingly under the cover of his wings.

Never in Heaven or in time, was there sweeter resignation-a more hopeful consecration amid unexplained difficulties, deep as human degradation, and wonders rising like vast shadows to the "clouds and darkness that environ the Throne:" Fixing her gentle eye on the angel, she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Luk 1:38.) There was a solemn stillness of that maiden's heart, and a thrill of unutterable joy when the struggle was over, and she felt that her destiny was so nearly linked with the predicted Messiah. And as Gabriel departed from her for the skies, his last look toward the kneeling virgin, must have been full of tenderness and admiring love. We know not the interest and the high converse in glory as often as the messenger re‐entered the unfolding gates, and repeated to the seraphim the story of his mission-then swept his lyre and sang "Alleluiah!" But what a murmur of wonder, and strange suspense passed over that throng, when their King laid down his sceptre, and his crown, and putting off the unsullied robes he had worn before a worshipper bowed at his feet, deserted the burning Throne for the form of Mary, and the helplessness of infancy in a world of enemies, and of gloom.

Mary was bewildered with the strange and crowding events of her hitherto quiet life in Nazareth, and turned her sympathy to her cousin Elizabeth, who was mature in holy experience, and, as the angel had said, soon to be the mother of Messiah's gifted herald-breaking the silence of centuries by the "voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord!" (Mat 3:3; Mar 1:3; Luk 3:4.) She received a joyful welcome-and the months passed on, to those humble dwellers in Hebron, with the solemn march of ages-for four thousand years flung their light and shadow upon them; they closed the long drama of preparation, and opened upon the world the glories of a new life, "and immortality."

And now came Joseph's trial. When he perceived that Mary would be a mother, his first thought was to set aside the engagement, and leave her without exposure, to seclusion. But while hesitating amid the conflicting emotions exerted by his affection, which clung to apparently an unworthy object, and his honor involved in the result, Gabriel came to him in his restless slumbers and bade him dismiss his fears, and as a son of David, in accordance with prophecy, become the reputed father of Emanuel. Joseph arose from his repose, and with restored confidence and love, sought Mary and made her his wife. (Mat 1:18-24.)

Here the infidel may curl his impious lip, and in the affected majesty of reason and purity, lift his hand to blot out the hope of a weeping world; but not until he can stay the woeful ravages of sin, hush the cry of the soul for a Redeemer, and offer rest to the weary and sorrowing, can he mantle with shame these touching miracles, that heralded the advent of "God manifest in the flesh." (1Ti 3:16.)

"Actions are the glorious oratory of God!" and he speaks more eloquently and loudly in the incidents on which he hinges his designs, than in the roll of all his gathered thunders, or the roar of ocean rising in wrath at his whisper.

The Roman Emperor Augustus, just at this time, after a delay of twenty years, commanded that a census of the population of his vast empire be taken, and "each person be enrolled in the chief city of his family or tribe." (Luk 2:1-3.) This edict sent Mary and her husband to Bethlehem, the capital of the Davidic family.

Upon their arrival, the inns were full, and no place offered them but a manger, among the beasts of the stall. (Luk 2:4-7.) The night came down, and the hum of the little city ceased-the money‐changers slept in their goodly dwellings, and even the shelterless found rest beneath the mild sky of Judea. Peace brooded over the earth from whose bosom contending armies had retired-the preparatory work was finished;-the still hour of midnight came on, and the friendless Mary gave birth to a SAVIOUR!

On the slopes of surrounding hills, shepherds kept the nightly watch of their folded flocks. They sat in musing mood, or gazing at the flashing spheres above, when the air grew luminous about them, and an Angel swept down the starry road in a flood of radiance that streamed from the opening sky, till the green pastures glowed like the very pavement of Heaven, and the faces of those watchers were white as marble, while they shook like Belteshazzar before the mystic hand that wrote his doom.

This angel, doubtless Gabriel, who said to Mary, "Fear not," with the same language broke the silence, and with the "Good tidings of great joy" upon his lips, pointing to Bethlehem which lay in the shadow of distance, told the wandering shepherds they would "Find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger." Then suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host thronged the illumined sky, and poured their melody along the hills until they took up the swelling anthem and sent it back to the "Eternal City," and then again with the new notes of gratulation the song of jubilee rolled down upon the brightening summits. (Luk 2:8-14.)

It is not strange, that the sinless choir who had sung together with "the morning stars" (Job 38:7) when the world hung in unmarred perfection, in the dawn of creation, and who walked in the beautiful garden-who held their harps in sadness when the frown of God darkened upon the sphere, he pronounced "very good," (Gen 1:31) and his curse withered even the flowers upon its scathed and riven bosom, while the centuries wore away amid tears and blasphemy; that they should strain every string, and in their loftiest harmonies, lift the halleluiah "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward men." (Luk 2:14.)

Those glittering ranks returned to Paradise, and the melody died away on the ear of the shepherds hastening to Bethlehem. They bent adoringly over the child, and repeated the burden of that song. Mary, meditative and retiring, silently pondered the marvellous sayings that flew with the morning light from lip to lip of the gathering crowd. She named the infant JESUS, and according to the Mosaic ritual, passed the days of symbolical purification, and went up to the Temple with her sacrifice of turtle‐doves. (Luk 2:21-24.) Here she found aged Simeon, waiting for "the consolation of Israel," and filled with the Holy Ghost, he took the babe in his arms, and raising his fading eyes toward Heaven he "blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." (Luk 2:25.)

He spoke of the Saviour's mission in a higher sense than Joseph or Mary could understand, and turning to her, alluded to "the contradiction of sinners" (Hbr 12:3) that Son would endure, and to his fearful martyrdom, in words although dimly apprehended, that must have conveyed a mournful meaning to her anxious heart, "Yea a sword shall pierce through thy soul also." (Luk 2:30-35.) Anna, a prophetess eighty years old, also came in and joined Simeon in his devout ascription. (Luk 3:36-38.) And the infant Christ understood it all, and needing not the homage of men or of angels, he permitted Mary to caress him as fondly as ever a mother clasped the treasure of offspring to her breast. "One would like if he could, to lift the veil that hangs over the experience of Mary; and to learn of her who had the maternal care and guidance of the holy child Jesus; and to know what was the precise complexion of that moral dawn, which preceded the pure and perfect effulgence that shone forth on the history of his riper years; and to be told how richly all her tenderness was repaid, by smiles more lovely than ever before played on the infant countenance, and in his hours of anguish by such calm and unruffled serene as not one cry of impatience, and one moment of fretfulness, ever broke in upon."

During the stay at Bethlehem, the magi, led by a star, journeyed from the East to Jerusalem, inquiring for the Messiah, of whose predicted appearance they had heard from travelling Jews. Thence visiting the infant Saviour, they offered with their homage, the frankincense of Araby, and gifts of gold. Disregarding Herod's command to bring him word if Christ were found, they returned by another way. (Mat 2:1-12.) Herod, a sanguinary and heartless tyrant, was enraged at the insult, and commanded the slaughter of innocents, to destroy the future "King of the Jews." (Luk 2:16-18.) Oh! who can tell Mary's grief as their wail fell on her ear, and her agony of fear while flying from the dripping sword, to a strange land? (Luk 2:13-15.)

Upon the death of the royal infanticide, the hunted family retired again to Nazareth, their old place of residence. There Mary lived quietly, while Jesus grew up to youth, "waxing strong in spirit, and filled with wisdom." (Luk 2:40.) And who can doubt that in his humanity under, the training of so pure a mother, whose intellectual power was exhibited in her splendid magnificat when she met Elizabeth, he was regarded as a rare example of early piety, and that mother was the more admired and loved for the Son's sake. His manner always amiable-his language never breathing an unhallowed thought, or wayward impulse, or even the levity of juvenile pastimes, could not fail to impress his companions, and win their warmest affection, and the admiration of the Nazarines who frequented the lowly habitation of Joseph. When he was twelve years old, the family went, according to national custom, to the Holy City to keep the annual festival of the Passover. They worshipped with wonted solemnity, and offered their oblations. (Luk 2:41-43.)

Returning in company with others to their own country, they had journeyed all day from Jerusalem without missing the Saviour, who unobserved went back to the Temple. (Luk 2:44-45.) The parents were troubled, and hastened to seek for the lost one in the streets of the crowded city. After three days of fruitless effort, at last they entered the consecrated edifice, where lingered the proud Pharisee, and the strangers who came to admire the splendid sanctuary of the Most High. And there, in the midst of venerable doctors, with the open Law and Prophets before them, sat Jesus, silencing their wise interpretations, by his greater wisdom. The sight amazed his weary and anxious parents, to whom there evidently seemed a change in his docile nature, distinguished for obedience, which ever before anticipated their request. There is a tone of rebuke in Mary's questioning, which has all the fulness of a mother's love-"Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." His reply was the first hint of Divine commission and Deity to them-"Wist ye not that I must go about my Father's business?" This was above their comprehension, for they had regarded him simply as Messiah-appointed by Jehovah, and committed to their care for the deliverance from Roman dominion, of their captive nation. (Luk 2:46-50.)

But Mary was deeply and devoutly contemplative. Jesus went with them to Nazareth, and was again a beautiful example of subjection, while she dwelt in earnest thought, upon the import of his words, and the God‐like spirituality of his life. (Luk 2:51.) In the maturity of youth, he entered on his work, but did not forget his mother. And soon after, we find them with the disciples at a marriage festival in Cana, where the Saviour evidently mingled with his friends in the cheerful intercourse of such an occasion.

From some oversight or want of means, there was no wine for the guests. Mary had witnessed miracles enough to know his word could supply them-and calling him aside, suggested the exercise of his power. (Jhn 2:1-3.) His answer to the superficial readers of the narration seems harsh-"Woman, what have I to do with thee, mine hour is not yet come." (Jhn 2:4.) But the form of address was common, and perfectly respectful. It is as if he had said, while his beaming eye and benign countenance were eloquent with affection, "Mother, why anticipate and direct in my designs-I know my mission and every step of its fulfilment." Mary evidently became weary of travel in following her Son, and would have him retire from his public activity; for while he was in the synagogue at Capernaum, she waited at the door, while a messenger called him. The result of the entreaty is not recorded, but he tenderly employed the incident to express his higher and living union with his people-that relation which should abide, when human associations have vanished, and "earth, like a pebble, is sunk in the ocean of a past eternity."

She was in the train that accompanied the Saviour to Jerusalem, before his martyrdom-but all unconscious of the weight of sorrow under which his mighty heart was sinking.

We do not know where she was when the stars looked down upon his wrestling in Gethsemane, while the crimson dew of his agony started from every pore-when he received unresistingly the traitor's, kiss, and high‐priest's buffeting-when in the hall, where justice was a mockery, and insult the sentence of condemnation-and when he bore up the rugged summit the instrument of torture, till crushed by its weight-but we find that mother beside the Cross, while the warm blood was gushing from the sacred form she cradled in infancy, and without a cheering voice, he trod the wine‐press of his Father's wrath. She beheld the drooping head-the brow wrung with anguish, and the quivering lips. She listened to the cry, while hell was in suspense, and Heaven bent with wonder over the scene, "My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34.)

Mary could offer no relief, and her maternal solicitude would not permit a withdrawal from the Mount of Crucifixion. Oh! the suffering of that loving spirit, when not only her Son was expiring in unutterable agonies, but the hope of his followers, was going out in rayless midnight. By her side was the youthful John, sympathizing with his Master, and weeping with Mary. The eye of the Sufferer, though the penalty of eternal Law was tearing its way through this sinless bosom, and he sustained alone a world's redemption, rested upon her he loved before he took up his abode with her; and pointing to John, he said with dying affection, "Woman, behold thy Son!" (Jhn 19:26.)

Those accents and that last look expressed it all. It was saying amid the throes of agony unknown to man, "My mother, I must leave you, but he shall cheer your mournful years-give him my place as son, in your holy love." Turning to the Beloved Disciple, he said, "Behold thy mother!" (Jhn 19:27.) It would seem from the words "that very hour," that John immediately obeyed, and induced her to leave the scene of deepening and accumulating horrors.

Who could fathom her grief when she heard of that death amid taunts and sneers, the rocking earth and blackening skies; and finally of his unattended burial. And oh! how her drooping spirit smiled out through tears of joy, when the news of his resurrection spread, and once more she beheld the immaculate Jesus!

We next hear of Mary when returning from Mount Olivet, from whose shining top the Saviour ascended to the Throne of his Glory in a chariot of cloud, the disciples joined the circle of prayer in the "upper room" at Jerusalem. She was there before the Mercy Seat, drawn thither by the clearer rays of Divinity from the Son of God, that taught her how to pray.

That Mary was a maiden of remarkable loveliness, is inferable from her selection by Jehovah as the mother of his "Only‐begotten and well‐beloved Son." Her maternal character is without a blemish;-"Blessed art thou among women!" is the epitaph every devout heart would inscribe on her tomb.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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