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unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word;
3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to
observations by Clarke are worthy of consideration:-" Having accurately traced up-entered into the very spirit of the work, and examined everything to the bottom; in consequence of which investigation, I am completely convinc
God gives his Holy Spirit to all them who ask him, yet this gift was never designed to set aside the use of those faculties with which he has already endued the soul, and which are as truly his gifts, as the Holy Spirit itself is. The nature of inspiration in the case of St. Luke, we at once discover: he set himself by impartial inquiry and diligent investigation, to find the whole truth, and to relate nothing but the truth; and the Spirit of God presided over and directed his inquiries, so that he discovered the whole truth, and was preserved from every particle of error."
ly; but he does assert that certain things were absolutely performed, and had been delivered or testified by eyewitnesses. Of these things, many had attempted to compose histories; and they had performed their task with less or greater fidelity and perspicuity.ed of the truth of the whole. Though In short, the implied appeal to eye-witnesses and ministers of the word has relation to the facts themselves, and not to any former professed history of those facts. Eye-witnesses. Probably the apostles are here particularly intended. A general reference may be understood to the early disciples, of whom there seem to have been several who had closely attended on our Lord during his whole ministry. See Acts i. 21, 22. Having seen the things whereof they testified, they were competent witnesses. 1 John i. 1-3. Ministers of the word. The reference is still, chiefly, to the apostles. They were ministers of the gospel, which is here, as often elsewhere, called the word. The seventy disciples, of whom many suppose Luke to have been one, and perhaps some other of the early preachers of the gospel, may be included.
3. It seemed good, &c. As others had professed to relate these facts, it seemed good, or appeared proper and necessary, to Luke, that he should give a more perfect history of them, inasmuch as he was qualified to do so by the more accurate and perfect knowledge which he had acquired. Thus would the defects of former accounts be supplied, if this were their principal fault, or their errors be corrected, if they contained such. T Having had perfect understanding, &c. "Rather, having diligently traced out all things from the beginning; that is, having gotten an exact account of all those things which happened, at the beginning, especially, from eye-witnesses, &c."-Pearce. It is the general remark of commentators, that the common translation of this passage does not express its full force. The original implies, not only that Luke had full understanding of the important truths which he recorded, but that he had used active exertions to obtain that knowledge. The following
From the very first. This phrase is the translation of one word, which generally signifies from above. And hence some have supposed Luke intended to say, that he derived his information directly from heaven, or from God. But, however he obtained his knowledge, he seems only to assert that it extended to the whole period of our Lord's residence on the earth, and to all the events of his public ministry, even from the beginning. See the same I use of the word, Acts xxvi. 5, by the same writer. ¶ To write unto thee in order. "To write a particular account to thee."-Campbell. Le Clerc and some other Harmonists have understood the evangelist to refer here to the order of time, and hence have taken this gospel as the true standard, to which the others should be made to conform. But it is the general opinion, that the order time is not so closely observed by Luke as by Matthew; and that the word rendered in order does not imply an exact chronological arrangement. "From this word," says Campbell, "we cannot conclude, as some have hastily done, that the order of time is observed better by this than by any other evangelist. The word does not necessarily relate to time. See Acts xviii. 23. The proper import of it is distinctly, particularly, as opposed
write unto thee in order, most ex- | Judea, a certain priest named Zachcellent Theophilus,
4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
to confusedly, generally." No other sacred writer uses this word; and it occurs only in Luke i. 3; viii. 1; Acts iii. 24; xi. 4; xviii. 23. ¶ Theophilus. This is a Greek name, and literally signifies a lover of God. Some have supposed that Luke used this name, simply to denote Christians generally, without addressing any particular individual. But the epithet" most excellent" seems rather to denote an individual, and to be descriptive of his peculiar character, or rather of his rank or official station. It is not known what particular individual was intended. He is not elsewhere named, except in the dedication to him of the Book of Acts. On the subject of significant names, and their common use in the East, see note on Matt. i. 23. 4. That thou mightest know, &c. The definite object of the writer is here stated. He desired to confirm the faith of this disciple; and his testimony is equally important and valuable to all disciples. Stability of faith is essentially necessary to our peace. We should examine the doctrines of the gospel, until we attain a moral certainty of their truth. Then, and not before, may our faith become firm and abiding, able to sustain us in every trial. ¶ Instructed. Literally, catechised. The meaning is, however, sufficiently expressed in the text; for the evangelist probably refers rather to the fact that Theophilus had been taught, than to the peculiar manner in which he had received instruction.
5. Herod. Generally styled Herod the Great. See note on Matt. ii. 1. ¶ Zacharias. It may be observed, as one evidence of the fidelity of the sacred writers, that they are generally so careful to give names and dates ;-particulars in which fabulous narratives are notoriously deficient. We have no particular account of this Zacharias; but his name and the class of priests to which he belonged being mentioned, the Jews were able to identify him by their registers. "They are very little
arias, of the course of Abia and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the com
versed in the Holy Scriptures, and less in the Jewish learning, that could imagine this Zacharias to have been the high-priest, when he is said to have been but of the eighth course, and to have attained this turn of attendance by lot."-Lightfoot. ¶ Of the course of Abia. Abia here answers to the Hebrew Abijah; as Zacharias answers to Zachariah. For the reason of this difference in names, as written in the Hebrew and in the Greek, see note on Matt. i. 2. For the performance of the Temple-service, the priests were divided, by David, into twenty-four courses or classes; each class officiated one week, in its turn, thus performing the service two weeks in a year. 1 Chron. chap. xxiv. Of these classes, the eighth was that of Abijah. When the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon, it would seem that only four principal families of the priests were with them. See Ezra ii. 36-39. These are said by Jewish writers to have been distributed, as on the former occasion, into twenty-four classes, to which the original names were assigned. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron. The wives of the priests were ordinarily of the posterity of Levi, though marriage was allowed with any of the stock of Israel, if qualified in other respects. But it was regarded as most proper and honorable for the priests to take the daughters of Aaron for wives. This Zacharias had done. And thus John the Baptist, whose birth is here related, descended, both by his father and by his mother, from Aaron, the first high-priest of the Jews, and was legally entitled to his rank as a priest. God appointed him to a higher office ;-he made him a prophet, and the herald of our blessed Lord. T Elisabeth. See the foregoing remarks concerning precision in regard to names.
6. Righteous. The parents of John not only descended from what was regarded as a holy stock, and occupied a sacred station, but in their personal
mandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren; and they both were now well stricken in years.
character they were pure and uncorrupt. Honorable descent is doubtless to be prized, and an honorable station to be regarded; but true honor, nevertheless, depends on individual character. The righteous man is to be respected by men, and he is approved before God, however unrighteous his ancestors may have been, or however humble his own station in life. And the unrighteous man is guilty before God and men, notwithstanding the piety of his ancestors. Indeed, such a one is properly considered worthy of additional disgrace for having disregarded the good example of his parents and slighted their instructions; and if he occupy an honorable station, it serves only, and rightfully, to render his corruption more notorious, and to excite a more widespread and a deeper condemnation. Such, however, was not the case of John's parents. They were righteous; and their son did not disgrace their name. ¶ In all the commandments, &c. They were not of the number who despise all forms and ceremonies, asserting that religion consists entirely in other things. But believing that God has not commanded anything useless or unnecessary, and that all his requirements are designed for the benefit of his children, they were careful to walk in all his commandments and ordinances; that is, to obey them conscientiously.
7. In this verse, are mentioned two circumstances which rendered the birth of John the Baptist remarkable, if not absolutely miraculous. His parents, having never been blessed with children, were now well stricken in years; or, in more familiar terms, were old, or of advanced age.
8. Executed the priest's office before God, &c. In other words, while he was engaged in the public offices belonging to the priesthood, during one of the weeks allotted to his class. The ordinary duties of a priest were incumbent on him at all times. But reference is here evidently made to the public offices connected with the Temple-ser
8 And it came to pass, that. while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn vice. The phrase before God may mean, generally, that all acts of public worship, being addressed directly to God, are peculiarly before him, or performed in his presence in a sense in which other actions are not, though all are manifest in his sight. Or, perhaps, the meaning may be more restricted, indicating simply that Zacharias was performing the duties of his office in the Temple, which the Jews regarded as the peculiar dwelling-place of Jehovah.
9. According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was, &c. The order in which the several classes of priests served at the Temple was established by standing regulations. See note on ver. 5. But the particular duties of each individual in any class were determined by lot. On this subject, Lightfoot quotes from Jewish writers thus:-"The ruler of the Temple saith, come ye, and cast your lots, that it may be determined who shall kill the sacrifice, who sprinkle the blood, who sweep the inner altar, who cleanse the candlestick, who carry the parts of the sacrifice to the ascent of the altar; the head, the leg, the two shoulders, the tail of the back-bone, the other leg, the breast, the gullet, the two sides, the entrails, the flour, the two loaves, and the wine. He hath it, to whom it happens by lot." The lot was determined thus:-the priests "stood in a circle; and the ruler, coming, snatches off a cap from the head of this or that man; from him the lot begins to be reckoned, every one lifting up his finger at each number. The ruler also saith, In whomsoever the number ends, he obtains this or that office by lot; and he declares the number; for example, there is, it may be, the number one hundred, or three score, according to the multitude of the priests standing round. He begins to reckon from the person whose cap he snatched off, and numbers round, till the whole number is run out. Now, in whomsoever the number terminates, he obtains that office, about which the lot was concerned.
incense when he went into the tem- the people were praying without, ple of the Lord. at the time of incense.
10 And the whole multitude of
11 And there appeared unto him
fervently, while the thoughts of the people, like "the eyes of a fool, are in the ends of the earth." If they would receive benefit, they also must pray, uniting with the leader in his supplications, confessions, ascriptions, and thanksgivings, or pouring out the fulness of their own souls in their own language before God. Men cannot acceptably worship by proxy. Personal devotion is as indispensable as personal righteousness. See John iv. 23.
And so it is in all the lots." Such is those who personally united in them. the manner in which the lots of the It was not sufficient that the priest several priests is said to have been burned incense in the name and behalf determined. But the Jews evidently of the people; the people themselves had other methods of determining by must offer prayers, in order to obtain lot. Prov. xvi. 33, "the lot is cast into the full benefit designed. Much more, the lap," &c., or, more properly, as under the Christian dispensation, it is some say, into the cavity, that is, of an not sufficient that the minister of Christ urn or vessel often used for that pur-offer prayers in the sanctuary, however pose. See also Acts i. 23-26, where the method pursued was certainly different from that before described. To burn incense. The incense burned in the temple was composed of stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, in equal parts. Exo. xxx. 34. This mixture, when burned, emitted a very agreeable perfume. To burn this incense in the temple was regarded as the most honorable duty which a priest could perform. And it is said that this service was never allotted to any priest 11. An angel. A messenger. See a second time. T Temple of the Lord. note on Matt. i. 20. In this place, The word here used denotes rather the undoubtedly, a divine messenger is sanctuary, the holy place, than the tem- denoted. The place and general charple generally. The difference between acter of the interview, the declaration ton naon, (rov vaov,) here used, and to in ver. 19, the nature of the communiieron, (tò legòv,) in other places render- cation made, and the remarkable effect ed temple, may be seen in note on Matt. produced on Zacharias, all concur in xxi. 12. Briefly, the latter compre-proof that this messenger was not a man hended the various courts of the temple, in some of which the people were praying, ver. 10, while the former embraced only the vestibule, the holy place or sanctuary, into which none but priests might enter, and the most holy, accessible to the high-priest alone. In the sanctuary were placed the altar of incense, the table of show-bread, and the golden candlestick. This apartment was separated from the most holy by a vail, or, as some say, by two vails. See note on Matt. xxvii. 51.
10. People were praying without, &c. That is, in the courts, or other apartments, around the sanctuary. They were in the temple, in the common sense of that term. It was customary, when the burning of the incense commenced, to notify the people by the ringing of a bell; and they immediately commenced praying, in silence. It may not be impertinent to observe, that, according even to the Jewish law, acts of religious worship were not regarded as particularly efficacious to any except
like one of us, but a ministering spirit of a more exalted rank. ¶ Standing on the right side, &c. This was a good omen, according to the opinion of the ancients; while an unusual appearance on the left hand would be regarded as an indication of misfortune. As the altar of incense stood at the west end of the sanctuary, near the veil which concealed the most holy place, and as the priest must necessarily have stood with his face towards the altar, the angel was seen standing on the north side, where stood the table of show-bread, the golden candlestick being on the south side. Exo. xxvi. 35; xxx. 6. The altar of incense was made of shittim-wood, which, according to Jerome, "grows in the deserts of Arabia, like white-thorn in its color and leaves, but not in its size, for the tree is so large, that it affords very long planks. The wood is hard, tough, smooth, without knots, and extremely beautiful; so that the rich and curious make screws of it for their presses. It does not grow in cul
an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of in
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
tivated places, nor in any other places of the Roman empire, but only in the deserts of Arabia."-Calmet. The altar was eighteen inches square, on the top, and its height was three feet. Around the top was a crown, or elevated band, and at each corner a horn. On the sides were rings by which it might be removed. The whole altar, with its horns and rings, was overlaid or plated with pure gold. See Exo. xxx. 1-5. This altar was exclusively devoted to the burning of incense, morning and evening; neither burnt-sacrifice, nor meat-offering, nor drink-offering, belonged to it; nor was it to be stained with blood, except once a year, when it was to be legally purified by touching its horns with the blood of a bullock and a goat, and by sprinkling some of the same blood upon the altar itself. Exo. xxx. 7-10; Lev. xvi. 18, 19.
12. He was troubled, and fear fell upon him. It may be difficult to assign any satisfactory reason for the fact, yet I think it will not be disputed, that any supposed supernatural appearance uniformly excites fear in the human 'breast. Especially is this true, when such an appearance is witnessed by one who is alone, as was the case with Zacharias. Perhaps his fear was the more oppressive, through the influence of an opinion, common among the Jews, that the appearance of a divine messenger betokened speedy death. See Judges xiii. 21, 22. But, without any such apprehension of impending dissolution, the sudden and unexpected appearance of an angel would naturally trouble any one, and fill him with fear.
13. Fear not. It is worthy of remark, in regard to the supernatural appearances recorded in the scriptures, that as uniformly as men have expressed fear, so uniformly have the celestial messengers assured them there was no real cause for it. Fear not is a common salutation on such occasions. Judges vi. 22, 23; Dan. x. 12; Matt. xxviii. 5; Luke i. 30; ii. 10; v. 7-10; Rev. i. 17. In this is manifested the love of God, that when he makes extraordinary
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and communications to his children, as well as in the usual dispensations of his providence, he designs their benefit. This is one of the evidences that he is truly "good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." Ps. cxlv. 9. Even the events which usually inspire the most intense fear, if viewed aright, will be perceived to be blessings from God. Thy prayer is heard, &c. From what follows, it would seem, that, with his prayers for the people, Zacharias had mingled one petition for himself · individually. Some suppose he had been praying for the speedy manifestation of the Messiah, and that this was the prayer here mentioned. But the general purport of the angelic address indicates rather that he had prayed for offspring,-a blessing of which he had hitherto been destitute. The desire for posterity was peculiarly strong among the Jews; and it was considered the severest misfortune to die childless, and to have one's name perish from among the people. The hope of being a progenitor of the expected Messiah may have had an influence in making this desire more strong, and the disappointment more bitter. But whatever may have been the cause, the fact is perfectly evident in the scriptures. See Gen. xv. 2; xxx. 1; 1 Sam. i. 11, 27.
14. Thou shalt have joy and gladness. The desire of offspring being so strong, its gratification would produce joy and fill the heart with gladness. But in addition to this natural joy, Zacharias was assured he should experience the happiness of having a son, worthy of his love and his prayers; a son, illustrious beyond all his predecessors; Matt. xi. 11; a son, who, though not the promised Messiah, should be his herald, and should induct him into office by the rite of baptism. Well might a father rejoice in such a son; especially when that son's moral character was as pure as his office was honorable. Many shall rejoice at his birth. By birth should be understood not the mere event only, but its consequences, The character and conduct