Luke 1:19

What would we give to our beloved? asks one of our poets. What would we ask for our children if we might have our hearts' desire? When the young father or mother looks down on the little child, and then looks on to the future, what is the parental hope concerning him? What is that which, if it could only be assured, would give "joy and gladness"? The history of our race, the chronicles of our own time, even the observation of our own eyes, give abundant proof that the child may rise to the highest distinction, may wield great power, may secure large wealth, may enjoy many and varied pleasures, and yet be a source of sorrow and disappointment. On the other hand, these same authorities abundantly prove that if the parent is only true to his convictions and avails himself of the resources that are open to him, there is every reason to expect that his child will be such an one as to yield to him a pride that is not unholy, a joy that nothing can surpass. Not on the same scale, but alter the same manner, every man's child may become what Gabriel told Zacharias his son should be -

1. ONE TAKING HIGH RANK WITH GOD. "Great in the sight of the Lord." By faith in Jesus Christ our child may become a "son of God" in a sense not only true but high (see John 1:12). "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God" (Romans 8:17). Obedience will ensure the friendship of God (see John 14:23; John 15:14). Earnestness will make him a fellow-laborer with God (1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1). The acceptance of all Christian privilege will make him a "king and priest unto God" (Revelation 1:6). Who can compute how much better it is to be thus "great in the sight of the Lord" than to be honored and even idolized by men?

II. ONE IN WHOM GOD HIMSELF DWELLS. "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost." God desires to dwell with and in every one of his human children; and if there be purity of heart and prayerfulness of spirit, he will dwell in them continually (Luke 11:13; John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Revelation 3:20).

III. ONE THAT IS MASTER OF HIMSELF. "He shall drink neither wine," etc. By right example and wise discipline any man's child may be trained to control his own appetites, to regulate his tastes, to form temperate and pure habits, to wield the worthiest of all scepters - mastery of himself.

IV. ONE IN WHOM THE BEST AND NOBLEST LIVES AGAIN. "He shall go in the spirit and power of Elijah." In John the Baptist there lived again the great Prophet Elijah - a man of self-denying habit; of dauntless courage, that feared the face of no man, and that rebuked kings without flinching; of strong and scathing utterance; of devoted and heroic life. In any one of our children there may live again that One who "in all things in which John was great and noble, was greater and nobler than he." In the little child who is trained in the truth and led into the love of Christ there may dwell the mind and spirit of the Son of God himself (Romans 8:9; Philippians 2:5).

V. ONE THAT LIVES A LIFE OF HOLY USEFULNESS. What nobler ambition can we cherish for our children than that, in their sphere, they should do as John did in his - spend their life in the service of their kind? Like him, they may:

1. Make many a home holier and happier than it would have been.

2. Prepare the way for others to follow with their higher wisdom and larger influence.

3. Be instrumental in turning disobedient hearts from the way of folly to the path of wisdom.

4. Earn the benediction of" many" whom they have blessed (verse 14). To ensure all this, there must be:

1. Parental example in righteousness and wisdom.

2. Parental training as well as teaching.

3. Parental intercession. - C.

I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God.
The name Gabriel signifies "The mighty messenger of God." The Bible knows of only two heavenly personages who are invested with a name: Gabriel (Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21), and Michael (Daniel 10:13; Jude 1:9, &c.). This latter name signifies, "Who is like God? "Here the critic asks sarcastically whether Hebrew is spoken in heaven? But these names are evidently symbolical; they convey to us the character and functions of these personalities. When we speak to any one, it is naturally with a view to be understood. When heaven communicates with earth, it is obliged to borrow the language of earth. According to the name given him, Gabriel is the mighty servant of God, employed to promote His work here below. It is in this capacity that he appears to Daniel when he comes to announce to him the restoration of Jerusalem; it is he also who promises Mary the birth of the Saviour. In all these circumstances he appears as the heavenly evangelist., The part of Gabriel is positive; that of Michael is negative. Michael is, as his name indicates, the destroyer of every one who dares to equal, i.e., to oppose God. Such is his mission in Daniel, where he contends against the powers hostile to Israel; such also is it in Jude and in the Apocalypse, where he fights, as the champion of God, against Satan, the author of idolatry. Gabriel builds up; Michael overthrows. The former is the forerunner of Jehovah the Saviour; the latter, of Jehovah the Judge.

(F. Godet, D. D.)

The circumstances under which Zacharias doubted, seem to have been very much like those under which Abraham believed; and as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness; so Zacharias disbelieved, and it was counted to him for sin. And if it be thought that such a sin was heavily punished, it is to be observed(1) that we are not sufficient judges of any sin and of the punishment due to it;(2) that the dumbness of Zachariah was not merely a punishment, but also a sign; it was a punishment for want of faith, but it was at the same time a medicine to strengthen and confirm him. So it may often be, in the merciful providence of God, that the bitter draughts of His displeasure are tonics for the soul's health.

(Bishop Goodwin.)

We have heard of this angel before, and we lose something unless we look back to the circumstances with which he was previously connected. This, then, was the same angel who appeared to Daniel, to explain to him the time that was to elapse until the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9:21-27). This being the case, we see at once the special fitness that the same angel should be employed to announce the near accomplishment of that which he had so long predicted. It is the same angel, moreover, who was sent a few months later to announce the birth of the Messiah Himself, as now of His harbinger. The same considerations apply to both transactions.

(Dr. Kitto.)

Zacharias is a striking example of the ills a good man may have to suffer as the result of his unbelief.

I. CONSIDER HIS CHARACTER AND POSITION. He was a genuine believer. He was well instructed and greatly enlightened. He held a high office as priest. He had been peculiarly favoured. Soothing comfort had just been administered to him. This comfort had been given in answer to his own petition. He staggered at a promise which others implicitly believed.

II. WHAT THEN WAS THE FAULT OF ZACHARIAS? His fault was that he looked at the difficulty.

III. CONSIDER HIS PENALTY. Mercy tempered judgment. He was not struck dead, and the chastisement did not invalidate the promise. Do not be satisfied with being weak in faith. Let the utter unbeliever tremble. If a good man was struck dumb for unbelief, what will become of you who have no faith at all?

(C. H. Spurgeon.)If incredulity, much more open doubt and disbelief, were now thus dealt with, how awfully numerous would be the additions to the family of the dumb!

(A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)

But evidently this was not the ecstasy of a visionary man who imagined simply what he desired; for when the promise was made, he doubted and questioned.

(Lyman Abbot.)

To have a child thou deem'st so strange a thing,

That thou art made a child for wondering.

Whilst for a sign too eagerly thou dost call,

Except by sign thou canst not ask at all.

(Richard Crashaw.)

That tongue which moved the doubt, must be tied up. He shall ask no more questions for forty weeks.

(Bishop Hall.)

I can conceive the rapid gladness with which Zacharias, when his office for the week was fulfilled, sped up Olivet and across the rolling plain towards Bethlehem, and up to the hill-country of Judaea, with the strange and wondrous message that a twenty or thirty years' old prayer was about to be answered in God's gift of a son to them. How Elisabeth received the intelligence is left, with fine modesty, in silence. His "stylus" would tell what his tongue could not.

(A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)

1. Christians are saying to the world either that God is false to his promises, or that God is true. You dishonour him by unbelief. You honour him by faith, the utmost honour you can give him. A German writer gives this incident in the life of Johannes Bruce, the founder of the order of the Carmelites, who, though a Romish priest, was a saint indeed, distinguished for his love to God and his faith. The convent was poor; and the friars, dependent on charity for daily bread, were often compelled to console themselves with the passage, "Man does not live by bread alone." One day the brethren found, when they had assembled for dinner, that their whole stock of food was a single piece of dry bread. They sat down; they asked God's blessing upon their crust. Then Johannes arose, and poured forth such words of encouragement and consolation concerning the love of Christ and the great promises He had given His people, that all of them arose delighted and refreshed, and, without partaking of their bread, returned to their cells. They had scarcely reached them, when the bell rang at the convent-gate, and a man entered with a large basket of provisions, which were carried, with a letter, to the prior, who was on his knees praying. He read, the letter dropped from his hands, and he began to weep bitterly. The porter, surprised, said, "Why do you weep? Have you not often said that we should weep for nothing but our sins?" Johannes replied, "Brother, I do not weep without reason. Think how weak the Lord must see our faith to be, since He is unwilling to see us suffer want a single day without sending visible aid. He foresaw that before evening we should despond, unless He sent immediate help to our faith by means of this charitable gift. It is because we possess so little confidence in the rich Lord in whom we are encouraged to trust, that my tears flow."

(From sermon by Charles Finney.)

Mr. Marshall, author of a treatise on Sanctification, in his early years, was under great distress for a long time, through a consciousness of guilt and a dread of the Divine displeasure. At last, mentioning his case to Dr. Thomas Goodwin, and lamenting the greatness of his sins, that able divine replied, "You have forgotten the greatest sin of all, the sin of unbelief, in refusing to believe in Christ, and rely on His atonement and righteousness for your acceptance with God." This word in season banished his fears. He looked to Jesus, and was filled with joy and peace in believing!

(Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)

A friend of mine once asked the wife of Havelock how her husband bore himself during the terrible conflicts in India. She replied, "I know not. But I know he is trusting in God and doing his duty." These glorious words may bind us all together; wherever we are, if those who know us best can say with certainty, when asked about us, " They are trusting in God and doing their duty," we shall have the blessed peace that was given to Havelock.

(Dean Stanley.)

An artilleryman at Waterloo was asked what he had seen. He replied that he saw nothing but smoke. The artilleryman was next asked what he had been doing. He replied that he had "just blazed away at his own gun."

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Here is a sign for incredulity: he had been as good have believed without a sign.

(Bishop Andrewes.)

If, then, utter unbelief is utter repression of the best in man, and if further partial belief is partial escape from this galling bondage, what must complete faith in God be, entire acceptance of His Son as Eternal Righteousness, unclouded hope in the perpetuated life of the soul, but the free expression, the joyous utterance, the complete realization of the whole spiritual life of man? Whatever destroys the best in human life cannot be true. It is impossible to believe that the best life of the individual, the family, the nation; it is impossible to believe that the heroism of the solitary soul fighting its solitary but momentous battles, the purity and sweetness and selfsacrifice of home, the advancing righteousness of our land and all lands — spring out of beliefs that are a fountain of lies. Whatever destroys human life must be a lie; whatever builds it into strength and beauty must be true. Human life, in order to complete realization of its best possibilities, needs a God, needs a Christ, needs a hereafter, needs Supreme Love as its minister, needs a supreme manifestation of that Love, and a timely future in which to do its will and enjoy its ministrations. The Jewish priest asked for a sign whereby he might know the angel's message to be true. The sign came. Dumbness was his sign. The amazed soul, trying to believe, and yet afraid, in accepting the faith of its fathers, of building its hope upon a dream, asks for a sign. The sign is given; the dumbness that falls upon the speaking, singing spirit is the sign that unbelief is disease. The priest silent at the altar, with his prayers unsaid, his thoughts unspoken, his praise unsung, his worship unuttered, is but the type of the soul in the dumbness of doubt, in the paralysis of unbelief, its whole best life denied expression, and shrivelling under the doom of an eternal sentence of repression and death. The priest at the altar, but no longer silent; the priest at the altar, naming his firstborn, his tongue loosed and uttering in sublime, prophetic strains his whole grateful life — is a type of the soul that has found the utterance of faith, from which all paralysis, all dumbness, has passed away, whose thought, feeling, and volition, mind, heart, and will, are winning their noblest expression; whose whole life is in the attainment of its eternal satisfaction.

(G. A. Gordon.)

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