And Mary said,
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.
No fact is more attested by wide experience, and few facts are more pregnant with significance and warning, than the tendency of the human mind to lose its hold of the sense and power of language, especially of religious language, after constantly repeating it. Words, although sacred, and designed for universal use by the Highest of all authorities, and richly endowed with spiritual power, do yet become to us, through the process of constant usage, barren and unfruitful, unless an effort be made from time to time to recover and reassert the human mind their original sense and import it is even with that most sacred Prayer which Lord Himself prescribed for the use of His disciples. Neither the associations of ages, nor the varied experiences of our own souls, which have gathered round the several petitions of the Lord's Prayer, will avail to save us from saying it in a thoughtless and formal way, unless we constantly remind ourselves of what it means; of what it has meant to millions, of what it might mean to ourselves. And as this is true of words which our Lord Himself bids us use, so it is no less true of other inspired words, which His Church has selected from the Sacred Records, as being especially suited for constant employment in public worship. It holds good of those psalms which, like the ninety-fifth or the hundredth, or the seven psalms of Penitence, have been chosen for frequent use on account of their spiritual intensity; and even of those three hymns in which the earliest saints of the New Testament heralded the Birth of the Divine Redeemer--the song of Zacharias, or the Benedictus; the song of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis; and the song of Mary, or the Magnificat. In view of this tendency to lose our hold on the sense of language which on account of its excellence we repeat most frequently, it may be well to devote the Sunday afternoons of the present month, to such consideration as time will permit, of the familiar, but not always well-understood words of the first in order and the greatest of Christian hymns--the Magnificat.
There is no mistaking the prominence assigned in the English Prayer-book, as in many older Prayer-books of the Christian Church, to the Hymn of Mary. It is the centre and heart of our Evening Service. All else leads up to it, or expands it, or radiates from it. We mount upwards to it by successive steps; by confession of the sins which disqualify the soul of man for true communion with God; by the great prayer which makes all communion with God easy and natural; by psalms which express the longings of the human heart for some nearer contact with God, or which sadly deplore whatever may hinder it, or which joyfully anticipate its realization. We mount yet a step higher as we listen to some Lesson from the Old Testament, which, whether it be history or prophecy, narrative or moral teaching, poetry or prose, everywhere and always speaks of Jesus Christ, to those who have to hear; suggesting Him as the contrast to the failures, or as the crown of the human excellences which it describes; or announcing Him as the Heavenly Visitant Who, by-and-by, will still man's fears and warrant his hopes. Now, as of old, unless there be a vail over the heart in the reading of the Old Testament, the Great Teacher accompanies us through its pages, and, beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, expounds to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. And thus we approach the Hymn which proclaims that all for which Psalmists and Prophets have yearned has in very truth and deed come to be. Mary might seem evening by evening to stand in the church of her Divine Son, while in strains which we shall consider, she celebrates an event compared with which all else in human history is insignificant indeed. As from her thankful heart the incense of praise ascends to the Eternal Throne, first in one and then another incense-wreath, each having its own beauty of tint and form, we reflect that the hardest questions of man's mind have been answered, and that the deepest yearnings of his heart have been satisfied. The Only Begotten Son has come down from heaven to be born of a human Mother, to die at the hands of His creatures, and to rise again. After this all else might seem, in some sense mast seem, pale and poor; but it is this great truth, set forth or latent in every line of the Magnificat which carries us on to the end of the Evening Service; through the Second Lesson, in which the Incarnate God speaks to us Himself or by the lips of His Apostles; to the Nunc Dimittis, in which we take leave of His message with thankful joy; to the Creed, in which we brace ourselves for the toils and pains of life by a new profession of our faith in Him; to the concluding prayers, in which His omnipotent Intercession is at once the warrant of our praying at all, and of the confidence that we shall be heard, not for our merits, but for His.
It may seem strange that, from time to time, persons who have felt no difficulty about the use of the old Hebrew psalms in Christian worship, have been disposed to take offence at the public use of the Magnificat, or, indeed, of all the Christian hymns which are preserved for us in St. Luke's Gospel. Such a feeling, however, found expression shortly after the Book of Common Prayer had come into use. [The permission to sing the psalms Cantata Domino and Misereatur, instead of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, from 1553. But even this serious concession did not appease the Judaizing temper which was offended by any use the Evangelical Canticles.] It was maintained that unless we could all be in the exact circumstances of Zacharias at the birth of the Baptist, or of Simeon after seeing our Lord in the Temple, or of Mary at the Visitation, we had no adequate reason for singing their hymns. [Cf. Hooker, Eccl. Pol., v. 40. See I Adm. apud Whitg. Def. 494, quoted, by Keble. Some Puritans objected to the frequent use of the Venite; cf. A parte of a register, oontayninge sundrie memorable matters, Edinburgh, 1593, p. 73.] This amounts to saying that no hymn or psalm is to be used by any other person than its composer, unless the circumstances of the composer can be exactly reproduced in the case of the man or the Church which sings his hymn. Not to enquire how this rule would apply to modem and uninspired compositions which are largely in use among us, we may observe that it would forbid any use whatever of the Psalter itself in public or private devotion--a use to which, however, oddly enough, those old objectors who have been referred to, do not seem to have objected. For every psalm was composed in a special set of circumstances, some of which can, while some cannot, be ascertained; and yet it does not seem to have been argued that, because we cannot make these circumstances our own, we are precluded from using the psalms. We are none of us in the position of David persecuted by a jealous sovereign, or insulted and rebelled against by a favourite son, or bringing the ark to the sanctuary of Zion, or ordering a royal household according to the Divine Law. The glories of Solomon, the conquest and humiliation of Rehoboam, the repulse of Sennacherib, the ruin and desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonian conqueror, the sadness of the captives weeping by the waters of Babylon, the laying the corner-stone of the new temple after the exile,--these, and many other like subjects or events, are the occasions of psalms, which yet we use at this day to express the fears, or hopes, or resolves, or aspirations of our own souls. Clearly, if such a difference of circumstances does not forbid the recitation of Hebrew psalms, it cannot preclude us from using New Testament hymns; which, as Richard Hooker has said, "concern us so much more than the songs of David, as the Gospel toucheth us more than the Law, the New Testament than the Old." But in truth, whether it be Jewish psalm or Christian hymn, we Christians use them because their inspiration lifts them above the limits of the time, the place, the events which witnessed , their composition. As a work of natural genius, whether it be poem, or speech, or painting, or statue, has that in it which detaches it from the study of the poet, the audience of the speaker, the workroom of the artist, and makes it belong to all times and countries; so much more do words that are super-naturally inspired carry with them the certificate of an universal applicability, which is independent of places, and events, and epochs, and authorship, and, indeed, of everything save His Mind from Whom they proceed, and that heart and understanding of His creatures which needs and welcomes them.
The Magnificat, then, is the Hymn of the Incarnation. It was uttered in circumstances the like of which had never before, and have never since, surrounded any human being whatever. Mary had been told at Nazareth by a heavenly messenger that she was to be the Mother of Him in Whom all God's best promises to Israel and to the human race were to be fulfilled. And she was to be His Mother, not in the ordinary way of nature, but, as became His pre-existing glory, and as was needed in order to cut off the entail of evil which came down from the first father of our race, in a new and supernatural way. "The Holy Ghost"--so ran the prediction--"shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing Which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Mary knew that she was to be the Mother of the Divine Messiah, when she traversed the land from Nazareth to a country house some few miles from Jerusalem, on a visit to her cousin Elisabeth, the future mother of the Baptist. It was their meeting which was the immediate occasion of the Magnificat. Elisabeth had no sooner heard from the lips of Mary the wonted salutation, of "Peace be to thee!" with which religious Jews greeted each other after a long absence, than, under the influence of the holy spirit of prophecy which filled her soul, she broke out into words which mark the high significance of Mary's destiny scarcely less clearly than does Mary's own Magnificat. "She spake 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?" The Mother of my Lord! Elisabeth was the elder woman, and, as the wife of Zacharias, she was in a higher social position than Mary; but few things in religious history are more beautiful than her ready and unstinted recognition of the loftier vocation of her younger relative. Her next sentence was at once a blessing and a prophecy; but they touched a secret spring in the illuminated soul of Mary, and she forthwith uttered her hymn of praise.
She uttered it, as might seem, in a single jet; but as it passed from her lips, as is usual with eastern poetry, it fell, not of set design, but by an instinct of intrinsic fitness, into divisions of unequal length, which we moderns should call strophes.
Mary begins by offering up to God, with the whole strength and resource of her spiritual being, that praise which she knows to be His due at all times, and especially in view of the signal privilege and honour that has been vouchsafed to her--
"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."
Then, in a second strophe, she dwells for a moment on the singular and gracious distinction whereby she has been chosen to be the Mother of the Incarnate Son---
"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 throughout all generations."
But during these moments of thankful exultation her vision has widened to embrace new horizons, and, in a third strophe, she sets forth some relations of the Birth of her Son to the action of God's Providence in the history of human nations and human lives--
"He hath showed strength with His Arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down princes from their thrones,
And hath exalted men of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
And the rich He hath sent empty away."
Once more, in a concluding strophe, she traces the great gift which, through her, has been bestowed on the race of man, up to its sources in the Compassion and the Faithfulness of God.
"He remembering His Mercy
Hath holpen His servant Israel;
As He promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed, for ever."
It has more than once been suggested that such a Hymn as this is not the kind of response which it would be natural for us to make in reply to such a congratulation as Elisabeth's; [Strauss, Leben Jesu, I, 3, § 31, cannot understand how two friends, visiting one another, should "even in the midst of the most extraordinary occurrences, break out into long hymns."] and it is hinted that the composition may be really due to some later writer, whether the Evangelist or another.
Upon this we may remark that "natural" is a term of varying import; and that what is natural to one person, or people, or age, is far from being natural to another. We have only to look around us in order to discover that persons of different temperaments meet similar occasions very differently. One man is reserved and sparing of his words, another is effusive; this man checks his feelings, that man indulges them; one is as literal and prosaic as may be, another almost inevitably expresses himself in the language of poetry. Then the Eastern and Western nations differ now in these respects as they have always differed. To many an Arab at this hour it is perfectly natural to discuss an everyday occurrence in words which have the form and rhythm of a poetical composition. That which an European would put into a sentence, the Arab will expand into what is virtually a poem, with rhythmic rise and fall, and refrains and repetitions, and appeals to all kinds of higher considerations, not perhaps foreign to the subject, but not necessary to its due discussion. No Englishman who had just lost his king and his friend would forthwith break out into an effusion such as that in which David laments the death of Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa; but in David, as in many another Eastern, ancient or modern--apart from any question of inspiration--it was almost a matter of course to do so. And Mary, instinct with the spirit of prophecy, answers Elisabeth's congratulations in a burst of inspired poetry, based on older words which she has known from infancy, and which she so transfigures as to make them express the fact which fills her grateful soul with wonder and joy. To measure her utterance by the prosaic rules of our Western temperament, is to forget the most obvious laws of equitable criticism.
Nor, we may confidently add, is there any real ground for the assertion that Mary's Magnificat was the work of any other than Mary. Like the songs of Zacharias and Simeon, it is something more than a psalm, and something less than a complete Christian hymn. A Christian poet, living after the Resurrection of Christ, would surely have said more; a Hebrew psalmist would have said less than Mary. In this Hymn of hers we observe a consciousness of nearness to the fulfilment of the great promises, to which there is no parallel even in the latest of the psalms; and yet even Mary does not speak of the Promised One as an Evangelist or an Apostle would have spoken of Him, by His Human Name, and with distinct reference to the mysteries of His Life and Death and Resurrection. [Cf. Mill, Observations on the Attempted Application of Pantheistic Principles to the Theory and Historic Criticism of the Gospels, p. 119.] Her Hymn was a native product of one particular moment of transition in sacred religious history, and of no other; when the twilight of the ancient dispensation was melting, but had not yet melted, into the full daylight of the new.
Certainly the Magnificat is an inspired Psalm; it belongs to the highest degree of inspiration, and yet it does not claim, an absolute originality. It is, in truth, modelled very largely, although not altogether, on an older Psalm, which Hannah had sung many a century before at the door of the tabernacle in Shiloh, when she brought to it her infant son Samuel, as she said, to "lend him to the Lord as long as he liveth." Hannah's history had an especial place in the heart and thoughts of every Jewish woman. Not only because she was the mother of the great and austere prophet, who may claim in some respects an unrivalled importance in the history of the people of Revelation, but also and because her deferred hopes, her bitter disappointments, the rough misunderstanding to which she was exposed even at the hands of the gentle and weak old man who then held the office of high priest in Israel, have a human pathos that is all their own. At last her longings were fulfilled, and when, in accordance with the terms of her vow, she consecrated her son as a Nazarite to the lifelong service of God, her thankful heart found vent in a Hymn of Praise, in repeating which many a Jewish mother and maiden from that time forth associated herself with the sorrows and the joys of Hannah. Listen to Hannah first and then to Mary, and you will perceive how closely their hymns are related to each other. Each of these inspired women finds her joy in God; each traces God's Hand in the exaltation of the humble and in the humiliation of the proud; each closes her song by dwelling on God's fulfilment of His promises. Mary, we see plainly, has reproduced the very ideas, the order of ideas, nay, sometimes the very phrases, of the older hymn; but she has made them subservient to a truth which was seen, if at all, very dimly, across the ages, by the older songstress, and which, is close and clear to herself. When Strauss observes that if the Virgin's Hymn had been inspired from on high we might expect in it more of originality, it is not out of place to reflect that God the Holy Ghost is not bound to adopt the exact standard of originality which may approve itself to a modern literary man of a sceptical turn of mind. [Leben Jesu, u.s. Strauss thinks it "surprising that a discourse emanating immediately from the Divine Source of inspiration should not he more striking for its originality, but should be interlarded with reminiscences from the Old Testament."] Originality does not consist always and only in the production of new material, new thoughts, new phrases; the truest originality may display itself when old ideas and old phrases are enlisted in the service of some newly proclaimed truth. When, in her inspired Magnificat, Mary draws so largely upon the ancient Hymn of Hannah, she is only doing what inspired souls had done again and again before her. We cannot read the Bible carefully, without noting how Psalmist borrows from Psalmist, Prophet from Prophet, nay, it even might seem, one Evangelist from another; the first object with all the sacred writers being not the creation or the vindication of a poor reputation for one .species of originality, but the clear exhibition of truth through the employment of those precise words and thoughts which are best able to do it justice.
The first strophe of Mary's Hymn is a burst of praise. And we may note here three matters for consideration.
I. There is, to begin with, the fact that in the order of Mary's thoughts the praise of God comes first. To give God His due is not, with Mary, an afterthought; it is not appended to something relating to her friends or to herself. In Mary's soul God takes precedence of all besides. And therefore, in her Hymn, the praise of God takes the lead of all other topics. This, be it observed, is the case, although her Hymn is also an answer to the congratulations of a near relative. She is replying to Elizabeth, but she instinctively, inevitably, turns the eye of her soul upwards. She addresses her first words to God.
Now let us consider what would, in all probability, have been our own course of procedure.
You have achieved., let us suppose, some considerable success, or you have escaped some disaster, or some position or distinction has been conferred on you. Friends surround you with congratulations; some of them conventional and perfunctory; many of them, let us be assured, sincere. Your friends paraphrase, after an earthly fashion, the words of Elisabeth to Mary. They tell you that your success, your escape, your distinction, is a gain and a joy to them. They associate themselves, by the expression of a warm and intimate sympathy, with your satisfaction and delight; they are honoured, they are decorated, they have succeeded and been distinguished, because you, their friend, have won distinction and success.
How do you reply? You begin by thanking them for their kindness. To succeed in a world where no friends are left to express their joy, would be success robbed of two-thirds of its value. The old sometimes observe, pathetically, that success and honours have come to them too late. And so you tell your friends with perfect sincerity that their congratulations are more precious to you than anything that has been done by or done to yourself, and that your first thought on this auspicious occasion is the satisfaction which you have given them. The first verse of your real Magnificat, if it were written out, might perhaps run thus: "My soul doth magnify the kindness and sympathy of my friends, and my spirit hath rejoiced in the pleasure which they have enjoyed on my account."
Or, it may be, you give your first thoughts to yourself. You do not wish to say too much about yourself, but at the same time you will not affect a false modesty. You cannot deny--that is the form which a sense of personal merit takes when tempered with some misgivings as to the wisdom of expressing it--you cannot deny that it is a great satisfaction to you that efforts, long persevered in without success, have at last succeeded; that merits, which it might have seemed were entirely overlooked, have at last been recognized. You do not wish to dwell too much on the subject; but, on the other hand, your conviction of what is the fact, and what you call a "proper pride," compels you to say thus much. With this view you would make the first verse of your Magnificat something of this sort: "My soul doth magnify myself, and my spirit hath rejoiced in the efforts or merits which have at length been rewarded as they deserve."
But you are a Christian, or at least a Theist. You remember that, after all, there is such a Being as God. If the truth is to be told, you do not feel Him to be very near to you, but you do not wish to forget Him altogether. If He exists,--and you believe that lie does exist,--He must have something to do with everything that goes on. It is only right that you should recognize this. You recognize it somewhat tardily, and as a matter to be touched on lightly; because, in fact, God is less real to you than you are to yourself, or than your friends are. You would not ignore God; still less would you deny His existence. But you think of Him, in many of your moods of mind, as an idea or conception rather than as a living Being; a conception from which man's mind can really subtract something, or to which it can add something, as the ages pass. You do not think of Him as of One Who is entirely independent of you, but Who is also as near to you as are the influences which you can measure and the creatures which you can touch, about which you talk to other men, or of which you read in the newspapers. He is there; but on a somewhat distant and dim horizon of your thought. He is there, and something must be said about Him; but that something must befit your very thin and precarious idea of what He is. And so at last, you say your Magnificat after a third fashion: "A sense of intellectual fitness leads me to magnify the Lord; and I experience a satisfaction in admitting that now, as at other times, something may be due to a higher Power than myself."
How pathetically is all this in contrast with Mary! No doubt, to Mary, the joy of Elizabeth was a real joy; and she cannot but have known that by lineage and training she herself had been prepared for her own high destiny. But her first thought is of Him from Whose goodness all else proceeds; both the warm hearts, and kindness of friends, and the gifts, whether of nature or of grace, which she had herself received. God must claim her first acknowledgments. Before Him she is as nothing; and yet He, in His condescending Mercy, had deigned to visit her, as none of His creatures had been visited before. She can only think of the contrast between her nothingness and His Magnificence. If she glances for a moment at herself, it is to wonder that she should have been noticed at all by her Creator. "He hath regarded"--not the humility, not the lowly temper; these graces were undoubtedly hers in a very eminent degree, but she is not thinking of them; the original word will not lend itself to such a sense.--"He hath regarded the low condition of His handmaiden." [tapeinwsin. The word may have been chosen to express among other things the reduced circumstances of the House of David. Meyer, in loc., takes it more generally: "Maria meint die Niedrigkeit ihrer Person."] Because the contrast between Him and herself is thus present to her; because she is convinced that she has exerted no claim on Him, and that whatever she has received has come from Him; she must begin with praise--
"My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
2. Then Mary praises God with all the faculties and resources of her spiritual being. "My soul doth magnify," "my spirit hath rejoiced." "Soul" and "spirit" are not two different names for the same thing. When St. Paul prays that the " whole spirit and soul and body of the Thessalonian Christians may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," he does not use two words where one would have sufficed. No doubt, alike in Biblical and popular language, both soul and spirit are sometimes used alone for the whole immaterial part of man; as when our Lord asks, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" or when the Preacher says "that the spirit shall return to God Who gave it." But when, as here, the words occur together, in more or less obvious contrast with each other, they stand for the lower and higher parts of that invisible half of man which accompanies his body, yet is distinct from it. [Delitzsch, Bibl. Psychol., p. 179.] Soul is nearer to the bodily nature; spirit nearer to the nature of God. Soul in man is analogous to the higher life of the animals; the animals have in them nothing that corresponds to spirit. Soul receives impressions both from the external world and from spirit: and so, as here, it utters through the bodily organs that thought or emotion which has previously been present to spirit. [Observe the present megalunei to express the action of yuch, in contrast with the aorist, hgalliasen, which describes that of pneuma. Cf. Meyer, in loc.] Soul is the seat of passion, of imagination, of impulse; spirit, while, as we see in this Hymn, it is, like pure thought, capable of sublime joys all its own, is specially the seat of the self-measuring and reflective reason, of memory, of deliberate and imperative will. Soul, it is plain, lives not far from the frontier of the things of time and sense; spirit belongs to a sphere on which the things of time and sense need not, and often do not, intrude. Between them soul and spirit include the whole incorporeal nature of man, with all its powers; and Mary summons them all, the highest and the lowest, the faculties which traverse the world of sense, and the faculties which live among the highest and most abstract truths, to the solemn work of praise. Her "soul" must magnify the Lord, because, as she sings, her "spirit" has rejoiced in God her Saviour.
Is there not here also a lesson to be learnt from Mary? Some men appear to think that a single power of the soul may be told off, like a domestic servant or a soldier, when sent on a particular errand, to discharge the duty of praise. One man bids his fancy engage in the work; and another his affections; and another his reasoned sense of the fitness of things; and another his instinct of beauty, turned towards the higher horizons. Nay! it might sometimes seem as though no mental or spiritual faculty was bidden to engage in praise at all; and Christians who make a serious effort to pray, and would be shocked at the neglect to do so, leave the duty of praising the great Creator to their neighbours, to the choir, to the choristers, or, it might almost seem, to the organ. And yet what a demand on all the faculties of our being is made by one simple and oft-repeated act of praise, such as, for instance, the Gloria Patri! We say it before we begin the Psalms; we repeat it at the end of each Psalm and each Canticle, excepting the Te Deum. It consists only of two verses, and yet what infinite spheres does it bid us traverse! Our souls rise first to the Three Almighty Incomprehensible Subsistences within the Being of the Godhead--"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost." And then, remembering that the Eternal Three have ever been and ever will be what They are, our thought reaches backwards into an unbegun, and forwards into an unending eternity, while seeking for an instant to touch the present, which, as we touch it, has already mingled with the past--"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." If any of us should have cause to think that we have paid but scant attention and embarked little or no spiritual effort in this oft-repeated act of praise, let us bethink ourselves of the import of Mary's words. She would summon the whole mental and moral nature to the work of praise; a work in which, as in a vast orchestra, each mental faculty has its place, and may bring its due and needed contribution to swell the harmony of the mighty whole. No variety of emotion is so poor and lowly that it cannot utter something in honour of the Creator; no power or resource of thought is so great that it is humbled by joining in the tribute which is due from all finite minds to the Infinite. The old exhortation to the Temple choir may be paraphrased as addressed to the faculties of the Christian soul--
"Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet,
Praise Him upon the lute and harp.
Praise Him in the cymbals and dances:
Praise Him upon the strings and pipe.
Praise Him upon the well-tuned cymbals:
Praise Him upon the loud cymbals.
Let everything that hath breath Praise the Lord."
3. Lastly, observe the title under which Mary praises God. "My Saviour." "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
This designation, as you would know, although associated by Christian faith, in an especial manner, with our Lord Jesus Christ, is much older than the New Testament. It grew naturally out of Israel's faith in God's especial and protecting Providence. "It is Thou that savest us from our enemies," was the voice of the chosen people from age to age. But the enemies were generally political foes, and the salvation was victory in the field or deliverance from bondage. This outward and temporal salvation was, indeed, also a religious salvation. Israel was the people of God; the defeat of Israel was the defeat of the cause of God; the victory or salvation of Israel was the. victory or the triumph of that cause. But it is probable that a new impulse was given to this more spiritual meaning by what would have seemed to pious Jews the profane assumption of the title of Saviour by the pagan kings, who, after the death of Alexander the Great, founded dynasties in Syria and in Egypt. [Antiochus I., of Syria, the son of Seleucus Nicanor, took the title of swthr, after his victory over the Gauls. It was also assumed in Egypt, by Ptolemy I., the son of Lagus.] If henceforth the God of Israel was to be addressed as Saviour, it must be in a lofty and spiritual sense; and thus Mary praises God as the Saviour, not of her country from temporal ruin, but of her own soul from eternal death. The expression cannot be explained by the clause, "He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden;" which, while it assigns the motive for Mary's praise, does not explain the title she gives to God. The honour put on her by the Incarnation might be described by many other names. But high office is one thing, personal salvation another; and if Mary calls God her Saviour, it is for reasons independent of the rank and duties which He has assigned to her.
Let us reflect on the meaning of this expression on Mary's lips. Unique as was her office, magnificent as was the endowment of grace bestowed on her, singular as were her humility, her purity, her likeness to the Most Holy, she has and she needs a Saviour. She does not stand outside that universal law, that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Hers is not a soul which finds its way to the courts of heaven without recourse to that One "Name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." There is, in fact, no intermediate position in the kingdom of grace between the Saviour and the saved; no neutral post, in which nothing is received and from which nothing is bestowed. There is one Saviour, and all others are simply saved, be their place in the spheres of glory what it may, and whatever the graces that may have been here bestowed on them. Mary owed, and owes what she was on earth, what she is in heaven, no less entirely to the merits and the Precious Blood of her Divine Son, than does the humblest Christian among us at this hour; and she offers the best praises that her soul can offer to God, not as manifested first or only in the awful attributes of Knowledge or Power, but as her Saviour.
And in this, too, most assuredly she is a model for us. It is well indeed that we should think deeply and often on other aspects of the Divine Nature, each one of which is a fitting object of adoring praise. It is meet and right that we should give thanks to God for the great glory of His Power, His Intelligence, His Love. But the sense of natural gratitude which He has put in our hearts bids us remember that "God commendeth His love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." There is much else for which we may praise God; we must bless Him "for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life." But if we know what indeed we are, and what has been done and may yet be done for us, we shall do more than thank Him for these fruits of His bounty. We shall bless Him, above all, for His "inestimable love in the Redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory," which, through that Redemption, He has bestowed on us.