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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 co-agents 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 dumbness. Zachary would fain have spoken, and could not: with us too many are dumb, and need not. Neg. Tigence, fear, partiality, stop the mouths of many,
wbich sball 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 has ceased to speak, yet he 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 straight take occasion 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. The gospel, which is all for the soul, regards those inward powers, which, while they are vigorous, exclude all excuses of our ministration.
The Annunciation of Christ. 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 dependeth. 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 excellency. 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 the womb of the earth. No less than an archangel was worthy to bear these 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 restauration, 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 iniracle 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 virgin mother. 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 inarriage.
Whither doth this glorious angel come to find the mother of him that was God, but to obscure Galilee? A part, which cven 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 prophets and angels descends to be conceived in that Galilee out of which no prophet ariseth! He, that filleth all places, makes no difference of places; it is the person which gives honour and privilege to the place, not the place to the person ; as the presence of God makes the heaven, the heaven doth not make the honour glorious. No blind corner of Nazareth can hide the blessed Virgin from the angel. The favours of God will find out his children, wheresoever they are withdrawn.
It is the fashion of God to seek out the most despised, on whom to bestow his honours : we cannot run away as from the judgments, so not from the mercies of our God. The cottages of Galilee are preferred by God to the famous palaces of Jerusalem; he cares not how homely he converse
with his own. Why should we be transported with the outward glory of places, while our God regards it not? We are not of the angel's diet, if we had not rather be with the blessed Virgin at Nazareth, than with the proud dames in the court of Jerusalem. It is a great vanity to respect any thing above goodness, and to disesteem goodness for any want. The angel salutes the Virgin, he prays not to her: he salutes her as a saint, he prays not to her as a goddess. For us to salute her, as he did, were gross presumption : for neither are we as he was, neither is she as she was. If he that was a spirit, saluted her that was flesh and blood here on earth, it is not for us, that are flesh and blood, to salute her who is a glorious spirit in heaven. For us to pray to her, in the angel's salutation, were to abuse the Virgin, the angel, the salutation.
But how gladly do we second the angel, in the praise of her, which was more ours than bis! How justly do we bless her, whom the angel pronounced blessed! How worthily is she honoured of men, whom the angel proclaimeth beloved of God! O blessed Mary, he cannot bless thee, be cannot honour thee too much, that deifies thee not! That which the angel said of thee, thou hast prophesied of thyself; we believe the angel and thee. All generations shall call thee blessed, by the fruit of whose womb all generations are blessed. If Zachary was ainazed with the sight of this angel, much more the Virgin. That very sex hath more disadvantage of fear: if it had been but a man that had come to her in that secrecy and suddenness, she could not but have been troubled; how much more, when the shining glory of the person doubled the astonishment!
The troubles of holy minds end ever in comfort. Joy was the errand of the angel, and not terror. Fear, as all passions, disquiets the heart, and makes it, for the time, unfit to receive the messages of God. Soon hath the angel cleared these troublesome mists of passions, and sent out the beams of heavenly consolation in the remotest corner of her soul, by the glad news of her Saviour. How can joy but enter into her heart, out of whose womb shall come salvation! What room can fear find in that breast, that is assured of favour? “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God.” Let those fear, who know they are in displeasure, or know not they are gracious. Thine happy estate calls for confidence, and that confidence for joy. What should, what can they fear, who
are favoured of Him, at whom the devils tremble? Not the presence of the good angels, but the temptations of the evil, strike many terrors into our weakness; we could not be dismayed with them, if we did not forget our condition. have not received the spirit of bondage to fear again, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” If that spirit, O God, witness with our spirits, that we are thine, how can we fear any of those spiritual wickednesses ! Give us assurance of thy favour, and let the powers of hell do their worst.
It was no ordinary favour that the Virgin found in heaven: no mortal creature was ever thus graced, that he should take part of her nature, that was the God of Nature; that he, which made all things, should make his human body of hers; that her womb should yield that flesh which was personally united to the Godhead; that she should bear him that upholds the world. “Lo, thou shalt conceive and bear a soi, and shalt call his name Jesus.” It is a question, whether there be more wonder in the conception, or in the fruit; the conception of the virgin, or Jesus conceived. Both are marvellous; but the former doth not more exceed all other wonders, than the latter exceedeth it. For the child of a virgin is the reimprovement of that power which created the world: but that God should be incarnate of a virgin was an abasement of his Majesty, and an exaltation of the creature beyond all example. Well was that child worthy to make the mother blessed. Here was a double conception; one in the womb of her body, the other of the soul : if that were more miraculous, this was more beneficial ; that was her privilege, this was her happiness; if that were singular to her, this is common to all his chosen. There is no renewed heart, wherein thou, O Saviour, art not formed again. Blessed be thou, that hast herein made us blessed. For what woinb can conceive thee, and not partake of thee? Who can partake of thee, and not be happy?
Doubtless, the Virgin understood the angel, as he meant, of a present conception, which made her so much more inquisitive into the manner and means of this event : “How shall this be, since I know not a man?” That she should conceive a son by the knowledge of man, after marriage consummate, could have been no wonder ; but how then should that son of hers be the son of God? This demand was higher ; how her present virginity should be instantly fruitful, might be well