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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: H. Hastings Weld :: The Women of the Scriptures

H. Hastings Weld :: The Virgin Mary

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THE VIRGIN MARY

MRS. CLARA LUCAS BALFOUR


The character of the highest importance, and most spiritual significance, in the New Testament, is the Virgin mother of our Lord:-"the Mater Dolorosa of eternal sympathies;" the lowly maiden of the house of David, of whom all generations, taking up the salutation of the angel, exclaim, "Blessed art thou among women." (Luk 1:28.) If by woman sin first entered our world, and death by sin, it is a blessed contemplation that woman was honoured as the means of giving life to the human nature of our Divine Redeemer. Womanhood itself was for ever elevated and dignified by the sublime mystery of the birth of Him who was "made of a woman," "made under the law," (Gal 4:4) who "was God manifest in the flesh." (1Ti 3:16.)

We learn that the Blessed Virgin dwelt in the city of Nazareth, and her personal history commences with the salutation of the angel, "Hail! thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." (Luk 1:28; 1:42.) No words could convey a higher idea of the Divine approbation than these. Mary was highly favoured; the Lord was with her. The highest aim of spiritualized human nature is to obtain the favour and realize the presence of God. This, in her opening womanhood, was the blissful portion of the holy Virgin. In contemplating her life, therefore, it becomes us to observe her peculiarities, and learn from thence to deduce what qualities of mind and conduct are likely to secure the favour of God and to evidence His presence in our hearts. There is one primary characteristic of the mother of our Lord that does not appear in anything like an equal degree in any of the Old Testament heroines: this was HUMILITY. Many of the illustrious women of the former dispensation were gentle in word and deed, but gentleness and humility are not synonymous terms. Gentleness is an outward manifestation of a calm and equable spirit, subdued and regulated by reason, and it is sometimes merely the result of a kindly and genial temperament. Humility is a far nobler virtue; it involves both self‐examination and self‐knowledge; it fixes its adoring gaze on the perfections of Deity, and the moral requirements of a pure and holy faith, and is the result of a just comparison of human faults and frailties with abstract principles of Christian virtue. There may be gentleness without humility, but there cannot be true humility without gentleness. It was meet that the Virgin mother of our Lord should be the first to exemplify the primary principle of her Divine Son's hallowed system. The heathen world, with all its moral theories and philosophical precepts, knew of no such quality as humility; and the religion of the Jews but feebly embodied this great virtue. Hence, though Miriam and Deborah were gifted and noble women; Hannah and the Shunamite, gentle, tender, and benevolent; Esther, grateful and patriotic; and each spiritual and energetic; we should not say of all or any of them that they were humble. The Virgin's character was essentially so. When the heavenly visitor appeared before her, and the glorious salutation fell on her wondering ear, we find her "troubled at his saying." (Luk 1:29.) That serene spirit which had humbly performed the various duties of life in "cheerful godliness," had never thought of any other reward than the testimony of a good conscience; and we can feebly imagine how her perplexed thoughts caused her "to cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be." Speech seems to have failed her when the celestial presence stood before her, but thought was busy and "troubled." The angel speedily reassures her perturbed spirit, exclaiming, "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God;" (Luk 1:30) and then came the glorious announcement of the advent of Him of whom all the ceremonials of the law and all the predictions of the prophets had testified. Never had benign ministering spirits such a message to communicate before. Mary, evidently acquainted with the writings and predictions of the holy seers, was overwhelmed with natural astonishment, not at the announcement of the greatness of Him who should, as the angel declared, "be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luk 1:32-33.) Mary knew that the Messiah-the consolation of Israel-when he appeared should be called "Wonderful, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;" (Isa 9:6) but her humility reverted to herself. Should she, a lowly virgin, become the mother of the Saviour? Had not numberless devout and distinguished women of Israel hoped for that honour? And amazed she hesitatingly exclaims, "How shall this be?" (Luk 1:34)-an ejaculation of wonder, or an inquiry of surprise, by no means to be deemed an evidence of incredulity. The angel then informs her of the miraculous conception of the Son of God by the influence of the Holy Spirit; and also that her pious aged cousin, Elizabeth, would speedily become a mother, concluding his important annunciation with the solemn truth, "For with God nothing shall be impossible." (Luk 1:37.) With a sublime faith Mary replied, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word." (Luk 1:38.)

This reply contains matter for extended reflection. Mary, with humble boldness, speaks of herself as a servant of the Lord, and acknowledges that the first condition of that service is perfect subordination to the will of her Divine Master. It was fit that such a sentiment should proceed from the lip of one destined to be the mother of Him who fulfilled "all righteousness," (Mat 3:15) and who, in the mysterious agony of his human nature, exclaimed in his hour of trial, "Not my will, but thine be done." (Luk 22:42.) Religion has not completed its perfect work in us until it has subordinated our wills. The very first operation of faith in the soul is to raise our confidence from our frail selves, and fix it on Him "who is too wise to err," with unquestioning and perfect reliance. The pious ejaculation of the Virgin shows not only complete submission, but an absence of all human weakness-in reference to fear of man, or selfish considerations. As a betrothed maiden, the law required of her the undeviating chastity of an espoused wife. Her life, according to Jewish institutions, would pay the penalty of any substantiated charge against her conjugal fidelity. And yet no such thought shades the brightness of her faith. Let human malice or legal severity say or do what they will, "Be it unto me according to thy word," (Luk 1:38) is the serene reply of the holy maiden.

It is a beautiful instance of the yearning of her youthful heart for human sympathy, and pious communion in her extraordinary circumstances, that "Mary arose," and "went into the hill country with haste," (Luk 1:39) to that aged relative of whom the angel had testified. The contemplative character which subsequent events prove her to have possessed, was not the result of a cold, unsocial temperament; in her complete dedication of herself to God, she yet found the comfort, nay, the necessity, of communion and fellowship with the excellent of the earth, and thus "with haste" she sought the presence of that pious relative, whose virtuous age demanded honour, and whose similarity of circumstances invited sympathy. To give and to receive counsel and comfort was the object of the Virgin's prompt visit.

How beautifully are the characters of Mary and the priest Zacharias, the husband of Elizabeth, contrasted! The good old priest had "walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luk 1:6) during a long life; still when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the temple, and announced the birth of a son, Zacharias doubted the testimony of the holy visitant. Yet the event was not unprecedented; every pious Jew remembered that Sarah in her old age became a mother, and that Abraham's faith was counted to him for righteousness. Yet Zacharias doubts, and dumbness for a time was permitted to afflict him. (Luk 1:18-20.) Mary, to whom a far more miraculous event was announced, who might in vain call upon memory to tell of any parallel case, yet in all humility believes; and, as the first evidence of her full belief, departs on a long journey of nearly a hundred miles, to commune with her cousin, Elizabeth, on the event.

The salutation of these two holy women is unequalled in the Divine records for beauty and sublimity. The honoured age of Elizabeth, her long course of piety, necessarily gave her a high preeminence in social dignity over her youthful relative Mary. Yet under the influence of the Holy Spirit, lifted far above all worldly sentiments of self‐esteem, all spiritual pride of long established piety, she no sooner hears the gentle voice of Mary, as the Virgin entered her dwelling, than she utters a rapturous and prophetic blessing-a blessing which fully assures Mary that her miraculous visitation, and its holy consequences, are known to Elizabeth: since she says, "And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luk 1:43.) The faith of Mary as well as her office, is also commended in a lofty strain of admiration: "And blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." (Luk 1:45.) This hallowed welcome, so sympathetic and soul‐refreshing to the humble and devout Mary, called up all the deep emotions of her spirit, unfolded all the energies of her mind. Previously to this, though we might infer that the blessed Virgin possessed all lovely gifts and graces in a supereminent degree, her being "highly favoured of God" sufficiently attesting her varied excellencies, yet we have no personal manifestation of unusual mental powers: now, we find her pouring forth her thoughts in strains equal to the loftiest utterances of the Sweet Singer of Israel, and rendered more deeply interesting from the event to which they refer, and from the tender, lowly, feminine grace that pervades them.

There is a similarity, in some of the thoughts expressed, to the song of Hannah-a similarity by no means involving a servile imitation of that sacred ode, uttered by maternal piety, but sufficient to mark the fact, that Mary was well read in the sacred writings, and fully conversant with the prophecies relating to Him who was to be born of her, and with the poetic treasures of inspired antiquity.

The visit of the Virgin to Elizabeth continued three months; at the expiration of that time a severe trial awaited Mary on her return to Nazareth. She became the subject of the suspicions of her betrothed husband, who, reasoning from apparent evidences, naturally came to conclusions unfavourable to the chastity of Mary. There is no trial that humanity is subjected to, equal in bitterness to that of being suspected and misunderstood by near and dear friends. The censure of the world is painful; scandal and malice are weapons of no ordinary torture: but when a loving heart, whose affections we prize as beyond all earthly recompense, and whose esteem is necessary to our every enjoyment,-when such a one, under the influence of misapprehension, withdraws love and respect from us, "it wakes the nerve where agonies are born." We cannot suppose so womanly a character as the Blessed Virgin was indifferent to the sentiments she excited in the mind of one with whom her future destiny was to be united; yet we perceive in her conduct on this trying occasion a serenity of holy innocence, a sweet maidenly reserve, that enhances our admiration. She never communicated to Joseph the Divine annunciation of the angel. It became not her humility to proclaim the honour conferred on her, still less to vindicate her innocence, by speaking of the sacred mystery of which she was the depository. He who had "remembered" her "low estate" (Luk 1:48) would not suffer her purity to be questioned, but would Himself bring forth her "righteousness as the light." Even on her speedy visit to her aged cousin, and when evidently yearning for sympathy, Mary had not been the first to speak of the celestial visitant, or his tidings. Elizabeth was supernaturally endowed with a knowledge of the event, and was permitted by her first salutation to do away with the necessity for that reserve, which, like a graceful veil, was thrown over Mary's bright perfections. What the Virgin was not the first to speak of, even to a beloved relative of her own sex, she was far less likely to name to Joseph. Yet, doubtless, many perplexed thoughts must have visited her, when she found that "Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily." (Mat 1:19.) As an act of mercy, due to his own benevolent character and former love, he would interpose between her and the public executioner; but an obscure retirement to hide her degradation from the world was to be her portion. And this holy maiden, whom a glorified spirit, chief among those who minister before the throne, recently saluted as "highly favoured of God," had to endure this trial! And with quiet, devout serenity uttered no explanation, preferred no plea! Well may erring mortals endure patiently reviling and misconstruction, when the spotless innocence of the immaculate Virgin was not unsuspected. The angel, whose glorious mission it was to proclaim to Mary the incarnation of the Redeemer, visited Joseph in a dream, and related the miraculous event, removing the perplexities of that just man, as the light of the sun removes the morning mist. And he forthwith fulfils the Divine injunction, "to take unto him Mary his wife." (Mat 1:19.)

The next important circumstance in the history of the Virgin was caused by a great political event, by which an important prophecy in reference to our Lord's birth‐place was accurately fulfilled. The prophet Micah, seven hundred years before, had expressly said, "Thou, Beth‐lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth to me, that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Mic 5:2.)

The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem was between sixty and seventy miles. The habitation, kindred, and employment of Joseph and Mary, were all in Nazareth. How unlikely, then, that the holy child should be born at Bethlehem! But in the arrangements of Providence for the accomplishment of the Divine purposes, "it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed (and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)." (Luk 2:1-2.) Twenty‐seven years previously this taxing had been determined, but had been delayed. Bishop Hall remarks, "There needs no other proof of Christ than Caesar and Bethlehem. His government, his edict, pleads the truth of the Messiah. His government: now was the deep peace of all the world, under that quiet sceptre which made way for him who was the Prince of Peace. If wars be a sign of his second coming, peace was a sign of his first. His edict: now was the sceptre departed from Judah. It was time for Shiloh to come. No power was left in the Jews but to obey. Augustus is the emperor of the world; under him Herod is the king of Judea, Cyrenius is president of Syria; Jewry hath nothing of her own."

The whole empire being included in this decree, it affected every family; "and all went to be taxed, every one to his own city." (Luk 2:3.) Joseph and Mary, being of the house of David, had to go up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David. Four days' weary journeying was accomplished by the mother of our Lord; and when arrived at their destination, the travellers found there "was no room for them in the inn;" (Luk 2:7) and they were fain to seek shelter in the stable. Poverty cannot show a meaner environment, or sorrow a more cheerless dwelling; human endurance could not exceed this trial; and had her faith flagged, or her energies sunk, it would have been but natural. The spirit of lofty faith and serene quietude were, however, still manifest. In that lowly stable, an outcast from the dwellings of man, the holy Child was born. Heaven rejoiced, and hell quailed at the event; but earth offered no home, and man no welcome, at the mightiest birth this world has ever seen.

Mary is not long left to lonely yet blessed contemplations of her holy Child. That birth, unnoted on earth, is being proclaimed from heaven. A serene midnight sky spread over the plains of Bethlehem as the shepherds watched their flocks; the solemn stillness of the hour was felt in all its deep tranquillity,-the silent stars watching with loving eyes the sleeping earth, and "quietly shining to the quiet moon,"-when the heavens were suddenly opened, streams of light from the glory of the Lord spread over the horizon, and a sun‐bright angel appeared before the wondering and trembling shepherds. Their fears were speedily allayed, for the angelic visitant condescended to encourage them, saying, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling‐clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good‐will toward men." (Luk 2:10-14.) The celestial song still thrilled in their wondering ears, when the shepherds arose to enter Bethlehem, and seek the holy Child whose birth was thus announced. They found him as described, and these lowly men were the first to pay homage to the Redeemer; they were the first‐fruits of that mighty harvest of adoring hearts, which the Prince of Peace was to reap in the remote valleys of the earth among the masses of mankind.

With grateful homage they told the wondrous story of the angelic vision, and, full of joyful faith, communicated the glad tidings, to the astonishment of many. Mary, the contemplative Mary, "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (Luk 2:19.) Nothing was mentioned, nothing forgotten, that related to the mission of her Divine Son; too sacred for words, it was food for holy contemplation and devout thought. A distinguished modern poet has beautifully described the visit of the shepherds to the Babe of Bethlehem and his Virgin mother.

"The shepherds went their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable‐shed
Where the Virgin mother lay:
And now they check'd their eager tread,
For to the Babe that at her bosom clung
A mother's song the Virgin mother sung.

"They told her how a glorious light,
Streaming from a heavenly throng,
Around them shone, suspending night!
While, sweeter than a mother's song,
Blest angels heralded the Saviour's birth,
Glory to God on high! and peace on earth.

"She listened to the tale divine,
And closer still the Babe she press'd;
And while she cried 'The Babe is mine!'
The milk rushed faster to her breast.
Joy rose within her like a summer morn,
Peace, peace on earth!-the Prince of Peace is born.

"'Thou mother of the Prince of Peace,
Poor, simple, and of low estate!
That strife should vanish, battle cease,
Oh, why should this thy soul elate?
Sweet music's loudest tone, the poet's story,
Didst thou ne'er love to hear of fame and glory?'

"'Oh, wisely is my soul elate,
That strife should vanish, battle cease.
I'm poor, and of a low estate,
The mother of the Prince of Peace.
Joy rises in me like a summer's morn:
Peace, peace on earth!-the Prince of Peace is born.'"

As Jesus was destined to make his grave with the wicked and the rich in his death, so, opposite conditions of humanity were to salute his infancy. The unlettered shepherds were directed by an audible voice and full announcement. A star in the heavens is set as a sign for the guidance of the Eastern magi-"the wise men;" following its light, and the prophecies of the Jews being known to them, that a king should arise who should be the deliverer of Israel, they came to Jerusalem and inquired of the cruel tyrant, Herod, "Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" (Mat 2:2.) This mysterious inquiry startled the ambition of the crafty king, and he called his priests and wise men, "and demanded of them where Christ should be born." (Mat 2:4.) They replied by quoting the prophecy of Micah that named Bethlehem. Then Herod held a private conference with the Eastern astronomers, and sent them to Bethlehem, charging them when they had found the child to acquaint him, professing that he would then visit and worship him. The wise men then departed, and, guided by the wondrous star, whose reappearance they hailed with exceeding great joy, were conducted to the stable at Bethlehem, where they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him. These worshippers were the first‐fruits of the Gentile world; their homage an instalment of the vast amount of adoration due to Him in whom all the nations of the earth were blessed; they also presented rich gifts to him. The dedication of the heart was followed by an appropriate consecration of their worldly treasures: and being supernaturally warned not to return to the tyrant Herod, they departed to their own country by another way, leaving him for a time in uncertainty.

We next find Mary, in accordance with the law, going up to Jerusalem to present her first‐born in the temple, and to offer sacrifice. Ever since the judgment of the Most High had descended on the first‐born of Egypt, as a commemoration of that solemn event, the first‐born of Israel were consecrated specially to the Lord. Mary, though conscious that no sin‐offering or sacrifice was needed for her holy Child, yet, with humble obedience, performed all the requirements of the law, claiming no exemption, and assuming no superiority. In this instance she practically carried out the maxim afterwards uttered by her Son and Saviour, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." (Mat 3:15.) Not for any merit in the ceremonies themselves, but as evidences of the humility and obedience of our own spirits, we should strive to walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless.

A sublime manifestation awaited the Virgin mother and her babe in the temple. The venerable Simeon, whose "just and devout" life had been protracted to an unusual age; and who, being acquainted with the ancient prophecies, was "waiting for the consolation of Israel," (Luk 2:25-26) recognised in the holy Child Jesus the fulfilment of that which had been revealed to him, "that he should not see death until he had seen the Lord's Christ." With hallowed rapture the good old man took the babe in his arms, and poured out his soul in thanksgiving. It is said, "Joseph and his mother marvelled" (Luk 2:33) at the things predicted of the babe; and, as if to temper Mary's joy and wonder with a shade of apprehension, Simeon in blessing them said, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall he spoken against (yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also)." (Luk 2:24-25.) Hitherto Mary had heard only of the glory of her son-that he was to be a deliverer, a king. The angels of God, the shepherds of Bethlehem, the wise men of the East, had all testified of his greatness. From the venerable lips of devout old age, and surrounded by the sanctities of the temple, she had to learn that though he was "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of my people Israel," (Luk 2:32) he was also to cause many commotions, and to be a sign spoken against; and her maternal sorrow was to be so great that it would penetrate the inmost recesses of her spirit. From that time the Virgin mother must have had a dim prescience of a destiny sorrowful in proportion to its sublimity, and her character would take a deeper tone from the trials and solemnities awaiting her. We can suppose her dedicating herself afresh in the temple to perfect unquestioning obedience-taking up her discipleship to her Divine son, and consecrating her whole life entirely to him.

This principle of unquestioning obedience was soon to be put to a severe trial. Herod, impatient of hearing no more of the wise men, suspecting that they wilfully disobeyed him, with all the cruelty that invariably accompanies guilty fear, determined on that slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem which covers his name with deserved infamy. Before this murderous edict went forth, Joseph received an angelic warning, commanding him to take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, alleging as a reason that Herod would seek the young child to destroy him. Again, we find the Virgin mother on a toilsome journey with her sacred infant. How full of vicissitudes had been her maternal career! From the time of her journey to her cousin Elizabeth, she appears to have had a multiplicity of sorrow. First, her innocence doubted; then a toilsome journey, when her wearied frame most required rest; then the exposure of her holy babe to the rude accommodations shared equally by the beasts of the field; then the journey to Jerusalem; and now, when, with all her sex's love of home and quietude, she might hope to be permitted the discharge of her maternal duties in peace and safety, the sudden mandate comes, and in the dead of night, in silence and secresy, she departs for a strange land. When we think of all these trials, and the harsh grasp of poverty, constantly making every trouble more bitter, we may understand a small portion of the Virgin mother's early sufferings.

After the flight into Egypt, commenced that awful tragedy in Bethlehem, predicted by the prophet, which has thrilled all maternal hearts from that time till now with horror-the slaughter of the babes of two years old and under. Innocent offering on the altar of sacrifice! Lovely unconscious heralds of the noble army of martyrs! In vain the painter, with transcendant skill, has often essayed to portray the scene of your murder, and the frantic agony of maternal grief. No delineation can represent that unimaginable deed.

The avenging arm of Deity speedily smote the odious tyrant with a signal punishment: making him a loathsome horror to all around, and forestalling in this world the dread torments of the lost. When this royal monster was removed, an angel visited Joseph in a dream, announcing the event, and commanding his return to Israel. Joseph immediately took the Child and his Virgin mother and returned; but hearing that the son of Herod reigned in his father's stead, he feared to go thither. How great must have been the dread of the tyrant's name, that fear predominated in Joseph's mind, though he returned under supernatural direction! Yet these fears were made to work out a fulfilment of prophecy. The holy family turned aside into the region of Galilee, to their former residence, the city of Nazareth, where they were known.

And now commenced the first interval of rest and security, of any continuance, that Mary enjoyed. In her lowly Nazarene home she beheld the gradual unfolding of that holy mind, which combined angelic innocence and seraphic wisdom with human affections and sympathies. "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him." (Luk 2:40.)

The blessed Virgin, during these intermediate years, had zealously fulfilled the requirements of the law, in reference to the annual visit to Jerusalem; she had not availed herself of the immunity conceded to the weakness of her sex, and the inevitable interruptions of domestic duty, but had year after year accompanied Joseph in his pious visits to the temple. When Jesus was twelve years old, he went up with them; and that was the period of the first anxiety which ever the holy Child had caused his mother. It is probable that on the conclusion of the sacred rites of the Passover, Jesus commenced returning with his reputed parents. It is not likely that Mary set out without assuring herself of her holy charge being in safety with the company. But the divinity stirred within the youthful Saviour, and he left the company unperceived, and returned to the temple, to listen to the wisdom of the learned sages of Israel. There, hearing them, and proposing questions, time flew rapidly; while all that heard were astonished at the understanding and answers of the marvellous child. Meanwhile, at the conclusion of the first day's journey, when each family doubtless assembled together, Jesus was missing. With eager haste and anxiety Mary sought among the different groups of kindred and friends for the child, and, not finding him, returned immediately to Jerusalem. On the third day they found him in the temple among the doctors. It is said, when Joseph and Mary saw him they were "amazed:" (Luk 2:48) it might be their astonishment was caused at the apparent eccentricity of the proceeding in a child "so full of wisdom," so obedient, and gentle; or they might have been "amazed" at the unwonted urbanity of so learned and dignified an assembly; but it is not likely they were surprised at the manifestations of the holy Child's intelligence, for they must have had frequent opportunities of witnessing and profiting by his grace and wisdom. Nevertheless, maternal anxiety-the full heart of the mother-speaks out, even to the Redeemer: "Son, why hast thou dealt thus with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing," is the tender remonstrance addressed to him. That mention of the word "father" seems to have suggested an important portion of our Lord's reply, for he said first, "How is it that ye sought me?" (Luk 2:49) as though he would appeal to their knowledge of the peculiar endowments he possessed as an assurance that he would be preserved in safety; and concluded with, "Wist ye not that I must be about MY FATHER'S business?" As if he reminded Mary that his heavenly Parent must be served rather than his reputed father; and that his mission to the world admitted no delay from personal feeling or apparent duty. They understood not the full meaning of the words addressed to them. What would be his business in the world's history, what the manifestation of his ultimate glory, they knew not; but they knew that his mission as well as his origin was Divine and mysterious, therefore they made no further remonstrance or reply; and the gracious Child, with lovely humility, went down with them to Nazareth, "and was subject unto them." (Luk 2:51.) Filial obedience, the true glory of youth, found in him a perfect model for the imitation of all posterity.

In the mean time, it is recorded that "his mother kept all these sayings in her heart." They were dimly apprehended by her understanding, but faith and feeling fully appreciated them, and they were treasured in her heart. Oh! for a religion that dwells in the heart: that abides there-kept safe alike from all intrusion and all wandering! It was fit that the pious Mary, as Christ's first disciple, should keep his savings in her heart, and "ponder them" there; her soul being nurtured by holy contemplation, while her human affection was daily gratified as her Sacred Son "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luk 2:52.)

An interval of eighteen years elapsed from the time that Jesus stood in the midst of the doctors in the temple until the period of his baptism and the commencement of his ministry. As Joseph is never mentioned after that commencement, the inference is plain that Mary, who is often brought before us, was a widow when our Lord's sacred work began. We hear of the Virgin as a guest at a marriage‐feast at Cana of Galilee, and Jesus, with his recently called disciples, was bidden also to the nuptial festival. It appearing that either the number of guests exceeded expectation, or that the circumstances of the parties making the feast were straitened, so that they could not provide adequately for the company, Mary, with ready perception of the deficiency, and a kind desire to spare the feelings of the entertainers, and also conscious of the marvellous power that dwelt in Jesus, ventured to tell him privately, "They have no wine." (Jhn 2:3.) Our Lord's reply to this remark of Mary's at first sounds harsh, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." (Jhn 2:4.) It is the misfortune, rather than the merit, of modern refinement, that terms noble in their plain simplicity have sunk into contempt. The word "woman" is, in reality, a superior appellation to Lady or Madam, or any other conventionalism or title. The general name of the half of the human race can never sound either harsh or coarse, unless the ear has become vulgarized with tawdry phrases of fleeting fashion. At the time our Lord spoke, the name "woman" was honourable, and conveyed no disrespect. His reply was addressed privately to Mary, in answer to a private suggestion; and, from the tenour of the whole of it, it may be gathered that our Lord's ministry having commenced, he mildly asserted his authority, and gently remonstrated against any prompting as to what he should do, the relationship subsisting between the Virgin and himself rendering such a course in the outset necessary. Mary replied not to his words, but, full of sacred confidence, with characteristic piety, she addressed the attendants at the feast, saying, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." (Jhn 2:5.) How important is the injunction of that short sentence! It contains the essence of all practical divinity and vital christianity. We have seen that a woman was favoured to be among the earliest prophesiers of our Lord's coming, and the first to apply the term Saviour to him. A woman also was undoubtedly his first disciple, for when the Virgin mother ministered to him in infancy, and kept all his sayings in her heart, she was fulfilling the office of a disciple: and now we find her the first to proclaim his divine mission by counselling obedience to him. Many volumes of sermons could not exhaust the richness of the sentence Mary uttered on this memorable occasion. The wondrous miracle was wrought;-"The conscious water saw its God and blushed;" and the assembled guests beheld the commencement of that series of miracles which attested that "the day‐spring from on high" (Luk 1:78) had visited our world.

The mother of our Lord, after this manifestation, accompanied Jesus and his disciples to Capernaum. She seems during his ministration to have kept with or near him, except at short intervals. The babe of Bethlehem-the child of Nazareth-the youthful querist of the temple-the being "full of grace and truth" (Jhn 1:14)-whom she had tended through years of helplessness, and shielded in many dangers, was wound too closely round her heart in his human nature for her to quit him more than circumstances or his will directed; while his utterances as her teacher, his miracles as her Saviour, must have had a sublime significance to one who from her early youth "had found favour with God."

We hear of her on another occasion, when our Lord was delivering his instructions in a private house; he was told that his mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. The Redeemer took occasion to make their visit a source of instruction and encouragement to those who surrounded him, exclaiming, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" (Mat 12:48.) Then pointing to his disciples, as he spoke to the people, he added, "Behold my mother and my brethren; for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, my sister, and mother." (Mat 12:50.) His mission was to the world; every believer had a portion in him, and he was anxious to show that dearly as he valued family ties and kindred affections, and had shown that feeling by the subjection and obedience of his early years, he equally valued spiritual kindred.

We hasten to the last solemn scene, when the prediction of good old Simeon was fulfilled in the holy Virgin's history, when the "sword pierced through her soul." (Luk 2:34.) The "hour" of which her sacred son had so often spoken "was come." He had frequently adverted to his death, and always with dignified composure-occasionally with benevolent complacency,-"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished;" (Luk 12:50) but we cannot suppose that the maternal heart ever contemplated such an awful termination of that pure, gentle, divine life, which had scattered blessings in such rich profusion, and embodied wisdom in such bright perfection. How with each successive event in that stupendous tragedy her spirit must have agonized! The treachery of Judas, the rude seizure of the soldiers, the malignity of the priests, the mean subserviency of Pilate, the clamour of the populace, the timid flight of the disciples; the scourging, the mockery, the cross‐bearing, the crucifixion;-each, in succession, must have been a bitter stroke of that torturing sword to the faithful maternal heart. We perceive the immense power of her love in the effort she made at the last crisis; being present at a scene so agonizing, when human nature would shrink appalled; yet when strong men had fled, panic‐stricken, and deserted their Divine Master,-the weak, worn, tender, affectionate mother, made her way through the brutal crowd; unheeding their ribald scoffs, fearless she stood among the rude soldiery, and gazing up to the fearful cross, saw that holy brow convulsed with the awful pangs of a lingering and dreadful death. Yes; she who had wept glad tears of pious joy over the babe of Bethlehem, now stood in the rigid, tearless extremity of grief beside the cross of the "man of sorrows." (Isa 53:3.) But she stood not there alone; her sorrows were shared by devout women, who, like herself, braved every peril, and were faithful unto death. And there also was the youthful disciple whom Jesus loved. Womanhood and youth met and mourned at that cross! The world has theories which say these are weak and changeable, and little to be trusted; yet in this, the most solemn event our earth ever witnessed, they proved brave and true, and all else faint‐hearted and false.

While the faithful few sympathized with Mary's sorrow, a divine manifestation of sympathy was given to her. Her son beheld that anguish‐stricken face; how changed from the serene brow that his infant eyes had gazed on with delight! He understood-he only could understand-the amount of her sorrow; the last throb of human affection thrilled in his sacred heart, and he exclaimed, looking on his mother and the youthful disciple "whom he loved," "Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother." (Jhn 19:26-27.) How tender the bequest-how exquisite the consolation conveyed in those hallowed words! The most faithful, gentle, heavenly-minded of the disciples was selected for the performance of filial duty to the sorrowing mother. "From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home;" her age found shelter, and her sorrows sympathy, in that friendly dwelling: the Redeemer's dying charge binding each to the other with a love "strong as death."

It seems as though the scene at Calvary was such a climax to the Virgin's anguish, that she was present only till her son and Saviour cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. "From that very hour" she was taken to the house of John. We hear nothing of her at the glorious event of the resurrection. Worn out with sorrow, she was not a watcher at the grave; though, doubtless, the good tidings soon reached her of the risen Lord, and her mourning was turned into joy, thankfulness, and adoration.

The last record of Mary delightfully harmonizes with her whole character. In the Acts of the Apostles it is recorded that in an upper room at Jerusalem "abode Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James; these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus." (Act 1:13-14.) Her history commenced with heavenly annunciations, and ends, appropriately, with prayer. Her parentage and birthplace, her death and burial, are not recorded. The event and personage that reflect sublime honour on her name are fully made known; before and after the holy advent, are equally left in obscurity. Her youth was distinguished by the favour of God; her maturity by active piety and faithful discipleship-her age by fervent devotion, and hallowed communion with the first church. Happy the life that is rich in deeds of piety, rather than chronological detail,-whose records are not those of birth and death, and dwelling‐place, but of holy acts and heroic fidelity! When the Sun of Righteousness arose, Mary was like a graceful shadow tracking His glorious path, and called up by His brightness; when He departed, she vanished.





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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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