Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

Whenever there is a work of grace in souls they are drawn together in the bonds of divine love. So was it with Mary and Elizabeth. Gabriel had revealed to Mary that God had also visited her cousin Elizabeth, and with the sense of what was to be accomplished through herself, whether she understood or not the full import of the communication she had received, she had been made to feel that there was one friend to whom she could pour out her soul. Accordingly she "arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth."

Burdened with her tidings - tidings which told, moreover, of God's faithfulness to His word, and of His unquenchable love to His people - it could not be otherwise than that she should go "in haste." And what thoughts would fill her adoring heart as she sped on her mission! As one of the holy women of Judah, she well knew the scriptures that spake of the coming King and the glory of His kingdom. Such scriptures, for example, as, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem" (Isaiah 52:7-9); or again, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee." (Zechariah 9:9.) The very words the angel had employed could not fail to remind her of these glorious predictions, and to cause her heart to overflow with praise in that she, a humble virgin, should be connected with their fulfilment.

That her visit to Elizabeth was of the Lord is seen from the greeting she received - a greeting, moreover, which must have, in a remarkable manner, confirmed her faith. As soon as Elizabeth heard the salutation of her kinswoman she was reminded of her own condition, and at the same time, filled with the Holy Ghost, she was inspired to proclaim the blessedness of the one whom the Lord had so distinguished by His grace. "She spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."

Before considering Mary's response to Elizabeth, a few observations may be made upon these remarkable words. It will be at once observed that Elizabeth, as "filled with the Holy Ghost," is in entire communion with the mind of God as to Mary. Gabriel had said to her, "Blessed art thou among women," and Elizabeth now says, "Blessed art thou among women," adding, "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." With her eyes opened by the power of God, she saw as God saw, and pronounces His own estimate upon the one He had chosen for this singular favour. As filled with the Spirit, moreover, she in meekness and humility acknowledged the exaltation of Mary by the grace of God. "And whence," she proceeded, "is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? "Herself the object of the divine favour, she yet took the lowest place before the one who was to become the mother of her Lord.

Let the instruction sink deeply into our hearts, that when the Spirit of God is working in souls all envy, strife, and jealousy are banished. Love then flows out unhinderedly, and humility is the fruit of love. Then, after describing the effect upon her of Mary's salutation, she proclaimed a third character of blessedness. Mary was blessed as the object of God's sovereign favour, she was blessed as the vessel for the incarnation of our Lord, and she was blessed on account of her faith - faith which surmounted all obstacles, and reposed upon the almighty power of God. Like Abraham, she staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but "found strength in faith," giving glory to God. She had thus unfalteringly laid hold of God's word, unhesitatingly concluding that what He had promised He would certainly perform. She honoured God in this way, and now she was met with a divine assurance, through the lips of Elizabeth, that there should be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

The Magnificat.

(This is a name which was attached to Mary's utterance in the early age of the Church - from the Latin word to magnify.)

Let these words of Mary be given in their entirety, that the reader may perceive more fully their divine meaning and beauty: -

"My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden:
For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on them that fear Him
From generation to generation.
He hath showed strength with His arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
And exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
And the rich He hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy;
As He spake to our fathers,
To Abraham, and to his seed for ever."

It has been said by a well-known writer that "it is remarkable that we are not told that Mary was full of the Holy Ghost. It appears to me," the writer proceeds, "that this is an honourable distinction for her. The Holy Ghost visited Elizabeth and Zacharias in an exceptional manner. But, although we cannot doubt that Mary was under the influence of the Spirit of God, it was a more inward effect, more connected with her own faith, with her piety, with the more habitual relations of her heart with God (that were formed by this faith, and by this piety), and which consequently expressed itself more as her own sentiments. It is thankfulness for the grace conferred on her, the lowly one, and that in connection with the hopes and blessing of Israel." These remarks will help us in our consideration of this striking song of praise - a song which has been well described as "the proper celebration of Israel's joy in the gift of Christ." For while it is the utterance of the feelings which had been produced in Mary's heart by the Holy Ghost, and feelings which were suited and responsive to the distinguishing grace bestowed upon her, Mary herself was lost, so to speak, in her being a type of Israel. (See verse 54.)

As may be seen at a glance, the song is Jewish in its character; that is, it does not go beyond Abraham and his seed. In this respect it has often been compared with that of Hannah, for she also, without going back as Mary did to God's promises to Abraham, surveys the whole of His dealings with His people, and triumphantly anticipates their complete deliverance, through Jehovah's intervention, as she says, "The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven He shall thunder upon them: the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength unto His King, and exalt the horn of His Anointed." Mary, on the other hand, regards the deliverance as already effected - effected in the One who was about to be born - and thus she says that "God has holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."

Two things will not fail to arrest the attention in Mary's song. First, that she ascribes everything to God; and that, taking the place of nothingness, she celebrates His grace. Concerning these points we cannot refrain from citing the following words, "She acknowledges God her Saviour in the grace that has filled her with such joy; whilst, at the same time, she owns her utter littleness. For whatever might be the holiness of the instrument that God might employ - and that was found really in Mary - yet she was only great so long as she hid herself, for then God was everything. By making something of herself she would have lost her place; but this she did not. God kept her, in order that His grace might be fully manifested." May we all give heed to this blessed instruction, inasmuch as it is impossible that grace can have its full sway in our souls if we are not in our true place of nothingness before God.

Entering into these thoughts, the reader will readily understand the language of this song of praise. Whenever there is a real work of the Spirit of God in the souls of His people, their hearts ascend to the source whence their blessing has come. So with Mary; her first thought is the Lord who had visited her with such ineffable grace. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." Her individuality was merged for the moment, under the mighty action of the Holy Ghost, in Israel,. and thus she rejoices in Israel's God and Saviour. It is true that she speaks of herself in the next verse, and says that God has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (bondsmaid), and that all generations will henceforth call her blessed; but even so it is only as the chosen instrument of the blessing which was coming upon Israel. It was the thought of Israel's salvation out of their low estate which filled her soul when she said, "He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name." For she immediately adds, "And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation," showing, moreover, that it was God's elect Israel that occupied her mind - the Israel that Balaam was constrained to speak of when he said God did not behold iniquity in Jacob nor see perverseness in Israel - the Israel, in a word, of God's purpose and according to His thoughts.

The next three verses set forth the principles of God's actings in grace, and the condition of soul requisite for its reception. The proud in the imagination of their hearts, the mighty on their thrones, and the rich, the self-sufficient, cannot stand before a holy God in judgment. It is to the poor that the gospel is ever preached; and thus it is those of low degree whom God exalts, and the hungry whom He fills with good things. The Lord Himself proclaimed the same lesson when He said, "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh … ."; and then, turning to the other side, "Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep." (Luke 6:20-26.) Far and wide let these solemn words run - encouragement and comfort to the poor, the suffering, and afflicted people of God, and as loud warnings to those who are seeking their satisfaction and exaltation in this world.

Mary concludes her song with the language already referred to, "He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." Faith is the "substantiating" of things hoped for, and Mary at this moment, dreary as were the spaces that Israel would have to traverse before these words were fulfilled, surveyed the accomplishment of all God's purposes of grace for His earthly people. Indeed, everything was both secured and established in the person of Him who was about to be born into this world, even as the angels in their praises say in the next chapter, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill [pleasure or delight] in men."

For three months Mary continued with her aged* kinswoman, and then returned to her own house. Scripture draws the veil over the communings of these holy women; but we may be sure that they were helpers of one another's faith and joy in the Lord. The visit ended, Mary went back to her home, "to follow humbly her own path, that the purposes of God may be accomplished." Meanwhile, that home was the one spot on earth that attracted and concentred the attention of heaven.

*She, with her husband, was well stricken in years.

It is only in loving one another that believers realize and express their unity; for then their hearts are knit together in love.