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him which was the seed of the woman. Both had the Gospel for their errand : one, as the messenger of it; the other, as the author: both are foretold by the same mouth.
When could it be more fit for the angel to appear unto Zachary, than when prayers and incense were offered by him? Where could he more fitly appear, than in the temple? In what part of the temple more fitly, than at the altar of incense? and whereabout, rather than on the right side of the altar? Those glorious spirits, as they are always with us, so most in our devotions; and, as in all places, so most of all in God's house. They rejoice to be with us, while we are with God; as, contrarily, they turn their faces from us, when we go about our sins.
He, that had wont to live and serve in the presence of the master, was now astonished at the presence of the servant. So much difference there is betwixt our faith and our senses, that the apprehension of the presence of the God of Spirits by faith goes down sweetly with us, whereas the sensible apprehension of an angel dismays us. Holy Zachary, that had wont to live by faith, thought he should die, when his sense began to be set on work. It was the weakness of him, that served at the altar without horror, to be daunted with the face of his fellowseryant. In vain do we look for such ministers of God as are without infirmities, when just Zachary was troubled in his devotions, with that wherewith he should have been comforted.
was partly the suddenness, and partly the glory, of the apparition, that affrighted him.
The good angel was both apprehensive and compassionate of Zachary's weakness; and presently encourages him with a cheerful excitation, Fear not, Zacharias. The blessed spirits, though they do not often vocally express it, do pity our human frailties; and secretly suggest comfort unto us when we perceive it not.
Good and evil angels, as they are contrary in estate, so also in disposition. The good desire to take away fear; the evil, to bring it. It is a fruit of that deadly enmity, which is betwixt Satan and us, that he would, if he might, kill us with terror; whereas, the good spirits, affecting our relief and happiness, take no pleasure in terrifying us, but labour altogether for our tranquillity and cheerfulness.
There was not more in the face, than comfort in the speech; Thy prayer is heard. No angel could have told him better Our desires are uttered in our prayers.
What can we wish, but to have what we would ?
Many good suits had Zachary made, and, amongst the rest, for a son. Doubtless, it was now some of
since he made that request : for he was now stricken in age, and had ceased to hope ; yet had God laid it up all the while ; and,
when he thinks not of it, brings it forth to effect. Thus doth the mercy of our God deal with his patient and faithful suppliants. In the fervour of their expectation, he many times holds them off; and, when they least think of it, and have forgotten their own suits, he graciously condescends. Delay of effect may not discourage our faith. It may be, God hath long granted, ere we shall know of his
grant. Many a father repents him of his fruitfulness, and hath such sons as he wishes unborn; but to have so gracious and happy a son, as the angel foretold, could not be less comfort than honour to the age of Zachary. The proof of children makes them, either the blessings or crosses of their parents. To hear what his son should be before he was, to hear that he should have such a son, a son, whose birth should concern the joy of many, a son that should be great in the sight of the Lord, a son that should be sacred to God, filled with God, beneficial to man, a harbinger to him that was God and man, was news enough to prevent the angel, and to take away that tongue with amazement, which was after lost with incredulity.
The speech was so good, that it found not a sudden belief. This good news surprised Zachary. If the intelligence had taken leisure, that his thoughts might have had time to debate the matter, he had easily apprehended the infinite power of him that had promised; the pattern of Abraham and Sarah ; and would soon have concluded the appearance of the angel more miraculous, than his prediction : whereas now, like a man masked with the strangeness of that he saw and heard, he misdoubts the message, and asks, How shall I know ? Nature was on his side; and alleged the impossibility of the event, both from age and barrenness. Supernatural tidings, at the first hearing, astonish the heart; and are entertained with doubts by those, which, upon further acquaintance, give them the best welcome.
The weak apprehensions of our imperfect faith are not so much to be censured, as pitied.
It is a sure way for the heart, to be prevented with the assurance of the omnipotent power of God, to whom nothing is impossible ; so shall the hardest point of faith go down easily with us.
If the eye of our mind look upward, it shall meet with nothing to avert or interrupt it ; but if right forward, or downward, or round about, every thing is a block in our way.
There is a difference, betwixt desire of assurance and unbelief. We cannot be too careful, to raise up ourselves arguments to settle our faith ; although it should be no faith, if it had no feet to stand upon, but discursive. In matters of faith, if reasons may be brought for the conviction of the gainsayers, it is well : if they be helps, they cannot be grounds, of our belief.
In the most faithful heart there are some sparks of infidelity. So to believe, that we should have no doubt at all, is scarce incident unto flesh and blood. It is a great perfection, if we have attained to overcome our doubts.
What did mislead Zachary, but that which uses to guide others, reason? I am old, and my wife is of great age : as if years and dry loins could be any let to him, which is able of very stones to raise
up children unto Abraham. Faith and reason have their limits : where reason ends, faith begins; and if reason will be encroaching upon the bounds of faith, she is straight taken captive by infidelity. We are not fit to follow Christ, if we have not denied ourselves; and the chief piece of ourselves, is, our reason. We must yield God able to do that, which we cannot comprehend; and we must comprehend that by our faith, which is disclaimed by reason. Hagar must be driven out of doors, that Sarah may rule alone.
The authority of the reporter makes way for belief in things, which are otherwise hard to pass ; although, in the matters of God, we should not so much care who speaks, as what is spoken, and from whom. The angel tells his name, place, office, unasked ; that Zachary might not think any news impossible, that was brought him by a heavenly messenger.
Even where there is no use of language, the spirits are distinguished by names; and each knows his own appellation, and others”. He, that gave leave unto man, his image, to give names unto all his visible and inferior creatures, did himself put names unto the spiritual ; and as their name is, so are they mighty and glorious.
But, lest Zachary should no less doubt of the style of the messenger, than of the errand itself, he is, at once, both confirmed and punished with dumbness. That tongue, which moved the doubt, must be tied up. He shall ask no more questions for forty weeks, because he asked this one distrustfully.
Neither did Zachary lose his tongue for the time, but his ears also. He was not only mute but deaf; for otherwise, when they came to ask his allowance for the name of his son, they needed not to have demanded it by signs but by words. God will not pass over slight offences, and those which may plead the most colourable pretences, in his best children, without a sensible check. It is not our holy entireness with God that can bear us out in the least sin; yea rather, the more acquaintance we have with his majesty, the more sure we are of correction when we offend. This may procure us more favour in our well-doing, not less justice in evil.
Zachary staid, and the people waited. Whether some longer discourse, betwixt the angel and him than needed to be recorded, or whether astonishment at the apparition and news withheld him, I inquire not. The multitude thought him long; yet, though
they could but see afar off
, they would not depart till he returned to bless them. Their patient attendance without shames us, that are hardly persuaded to attend within, while both our senses are employed in our divine services, and we are admitted to be coagents with our ministers.
At last, Zachary comes out speechless; and more amazes them with his presence, than with his delay. The eyes of the multitude, that were not worthy to see his vision, yet see the signs of his vision, that the world might be put into the expectation of some extraordinary sequel. God makes way for his voice by silence. His speech could not have said so much as his dumb
Zachary would fain have spoken, and could not; with us too many are dumb, and need not. Negligence, fear, partiality stop the mouths of many, which shall once say,
“ Woe to me, because I held my peace!
His hand speaks that, which he cannot with his tongue; and he makes them by signs to understand that, which they might read in his face. Those powers we have we must use.
· But though he had ceased to speak, yet heo ceased not to minister. He takes not this dumbness for a dismission, but stays out the eight days of his course ; as one that knew the eyes and hands and heart would be accepted of that God, which had bereaved him of his tongue. We may not take slight occasions of withdrawing ourselves from the public services of our God; much less under the Gospel. The Law, which stood much upon bodily perfection, dispensed with age for attendance.
, which is all for the soul, regards those inward powers, which, while they are vigorous, exclude all excuses of our ministration.
CONTEMPLATION II.—THE ANNUNCIATION OF
The Spirit of God was never so accurate in any description as that, which concerns the Incarnation of God. It was fit no circumstance should be omitted in that story, whereon the faith, and salvation, of all the world depend. We cannot so much as doubt of this truth, and be saved. No, not the number of the month, not the name of the angel, is concealed. Every particle imports not more certainty, than excellence.
The time is the sixth month after John's conception, the prime of the spring. Christ was conceived in the spring; born, in the solstice. He, in whom the world received a new life, receives
life in the same season, wherein the world received his first life from him; and he, which stretches out the days of his Church and lengthens them to eternity, appears after all the short and dim light of the law, and enlightens the world with his glory.
The Messenger is, an angel. A man was too mean to carry the news of the conception of God. Never any business was conceived in heaven, that did so much concern the earth, as the Conception of the God of Heaven in Womb of Earth. No less than an archangel was worthy to bear this tidings ; and never any angel received a greater honour, than of this embassage. It was fit our reparation should answer our fall
. An evil angel was the first motioner of the one to Eve, a virgin, then espoused to Adam, in the garden of Eden ; a good angel is the first reporter of the other to Mary, a virgin, espoused to Joseph, in that place, which, as the garden of Galilee, had a name from flourishing
No good angel could be the author of our restoration, as that evil angel was of our ruin. But that, which those glorious spirits could not do themselves, they are glad to report as done by the God of Spirits. Good news rejoices the bearer. With what joy did this holy angel bring the news of that Saviour, in whom we are redeemed to life, himself established in life and glory!
The first preacher of the Gospel was an angel. That office must needs be glorious, that derives itself from such a predecessor. God appointed his angel to be the first preacher; and hath since called his preachers, angels.
The message is well suited. An angel comes to a virgin ; Gabriel to Mary ; he, that was by signification the Strength of God, to her that was by signification exalted by God to the conceiving of him that was the God of Strength : to a maid, but espoused; a maid, for the honour of virginity; espoused for the honour of marriage. The marriage was in a sort made, not consummate ; through the instinct of him, that meant to make her not an example, but a miracle of women.
In this whole work God would have nothing ordinary. It was fit that she should be a married virgin, which should be a virginmother. He, that meant to take man's nature without man's corruption, would be the Son of Man without man's seed; would be the Seed of the Woman without man; and amongst all women of a pure virgin ; but amongst virgins, of one espoused, that there might be at once a witness and a guardian of her fruitful virginity. If the same God had not been the author of virginity and marriage, he had never countenanced virginity by marriage. Whither
doth this glorious angel come, to find the mother of him that was God, but to obscure Galilee ? a part, which even the Jews themselves despised, as forsaken of their privileges ; Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. Behold an angel comes to that Galilee, out of which no prophet comes ; and the God of Pro