Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
67. And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying: 68. Blessed be the Lord God of israel, because he hath visited, and hath brought redemption to his people: 69. And he hath raised up the horn 68 of salvation to us in the house of his servant David, (70. As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, who have been from every age,) 69 71. Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hated us: 72. To perform the mercy to our fathers, and to have remembrance of his holy covenant, 73. According to the oath, 70 which he sware to Abraham our father, to give to us, 74. That, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear, 75. In holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
67. Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost We have lately explained this phrase to mean, that the servants of God received more abundantly the grace of the Spirit, of which, at other times, they were not destitute. Thus we read, that the Spirit was given to the prophets: not that on other occasions they wanted it, but that the power of the Spirit was more fully exerted in them, when the hand of God, as it were, brought them into public view, for the discharge of their office. We must observe, therefore, the manner in which Luke connects the two clauses: he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied This implies that divine inspiration, at that time, rested upon him in an extraordinary measure, in consequence of which he did not speak like a man or private person, but all that he uttered was heavenly instruction. Thus also Paul connects prophecy with the Spirit.
“Quench not the Spirit: despise not prophesyings,”
(1 Thess. 5:19, 20.)
which teaches us that to despise instruction is to “quench” the light of “the Spirit.” This was a remarkable instance of the goodness of God, that not only did Zacharias recover the power of speech, which he had not enjoyed for nine months, but his tongue became the organ of the Holy Spirit.
68. Blessed be the Lord God Zacharias commences with thanksgiving, and in the raptures of the prophetic spirit describes the fulfillment of the redemption formerly promised in Christ, on which the safety and prosperity of the church depended. The reason why the Lord, to whose government the whole world is subject, is here called the God of Israel, will more fully appear from what follows, that to the seed of Abraham, in a peculiar manner, the Redeemer had been promised. Since, therefore, God had deposited with one nation only his covenant, of which Zacharias was about to speak, he properly mentions the name of that nation, for which the grace of salvation was especially, or at all events in the first instance, designed.
The word ἐπεσκέψατο, he hath visited, contains an implied contrast: for the face of God had been turned away for a time from the unhappy children of Abraham. To such a depth of calamity had they sunk, and with such a mass of distresses were they overwhelmed, that no one entertained the thought that the eye of God was upon them. This visitation of God, which Zacharias mentions, is declared to be the cause and origin of redemption. The statement may be resolved in this manner. God looked upon (ἐπεσκέψατο) his people, that he might redeem them Now, as those whom God redeems must be prisoners, and as this redemption is spiritual in its nature, we conclude from this passage, that even the holy fathers were made free from the yoke of sin and the tyranny of death, only through the grace of Christ; for it is said that Christ was sent as a Redeemer to the holy and elect people of God. But it will be objected, if redemption was brought by Christ at that time when he appeared clothed in flesh, it follows, that those believers who died before he came into the world were “all their lifetime” slaves of sin and death: which would be highly absurd. I reply, the power and efficacy of that redemption, which was once exhibited in Christ, have been the same in all ages.
69. He hath raised up the horn of salvation That is, saving power: 71 for, when the throne of David was cast down, and the people scattered, the hope of salvation had to all appearance perished. Zacharias alludes to the predictions of the prophets, which hold out that a sudden revival would take place, when the state of affairs should have become melancholy and desperate. This mode of expression is borrowed from the passage,
“There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed,” (Ps 132:17.)
But if it is only in Christ that God has put forth his power to save us, we are not at liberty to depart from that method, if we desire to obtain salvation from God. Let it be also observed, that this horn brings salvation to believers, but terror to the ungodly, whom it scatters, or bruises and lays prostrate.
Of his servant David He is so denominated, not only because, like any one of the godly, he worshipped God, but for this other reason, that he was his chosen servant to rule and save his people, and thus to represent, along with his successors, the person and office of Christ. Though there remained among the Jews, at that time, no trace of a kingdom, Zacharias, resting on the promises of God, does not hesitate to call David the servant of God, in whom God gave an example of the salvation which was to come. 72 Now that the throne of Christ is erected amongst us, that thence he may govern us, it follows that he is actually appointed to us the author of salvation.
70. As he spake That the salvation which is said to have been brought by Christ may not be thought doubtful on the score of novelty, he adduces as witnesses all the Prophets, who, though they were raised up at different times, yet with one consent teach, that salvation is to be expected from Christ alone. Nor was it the sole design of Zacharias to celebrate the truth and faithfulness of God, in performing and fulfilling what he formerly promised. His object rather was to draw the attention of believers to the ancient predictions, that they might embrace, with greater certainty and cheerfulness, the salvation offered to them, of which the Prophets from the beginning had testified. When Christ comes forth adorned, 73 with the testimonies of all the Prophets, our faith in him rests on a truly solid foundation.
He calls them holy prophets, to secure for their words greater authority and reverence. They were not inconsiderable or ordinary witnesses, but were of the first rank, 74 and furnished with a public commission, having been separated from the common people, for that purpose, by divine authority. To inquire minutely how each of the prophets gave testimony to Christ, would lead us into a long dissertation. Let it suffice for the present to say, that they all uniformly make the hope of the people, that God would be gracious to them, to rest entirely on that covenant between God and them which was founded on Christ, and thus speak plainly enough of the future redemption, which was manifested in Christ. To this purpose are many striking passages, which contain no dark prophecies respecting Christ, but point him out, as it were, with the finger. But our chief attention is due to the signature of the divine covenant; for he that neglects this will never understand any thing in the prophets: as the Jews wander wretchedly 75 in reading the Scripture, in consequence of giving their whole study to words, and wandering from the main design.
71. Salvation from our enemies Zacharias explains more clearly the power and office of Christ. And certainly it would be of little or no advantage to learn that Christ was given to us, unless we also knew what he bestows. For this reason he states more fully the purpose for which the horn of salvation was raised up: that believers may obtain salvation from their enemies Unquestionably, Zacharias was well aware, that the principal war of the church of God is not with flesh and blood, but with Satan and all his armament, by which he labors to accomplish our everlasting ruin. Though the Church is also attacked by outward foes, and is delivered from them by Christ, yet, as the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is chiefly to Satan, the prince of this world, and all his legions, that the present discourse relates. Our attention is also directed to the miserable condition of men out of Christ, lying prostrate under the tyranny of the devil: otherwise, out of his hand, out of his power, Christ would not deliver his own people. This passage reminds us that, so long as the Church continues her pilgrimage in the world, she lives amongst her foes, and would be exposed to their violence, if Christ were not always at hand to grant assistance. But such is the inestimable grace of Christ, that, though we are surrounded on every side by enemies, we enjoy a sure and undoubted salvation. The mode of expression may seem harsh, salvation from our enemies; but the meaning is obvious. No machinations or power, no wiles, no attacks will prevent our being delivered from them and saved “in the Lord with an everlasting salvatlon,” (Isa 45:17.)
72. To perform the mercy Zacharias again points out the fountain from which redemption flowed, the mercy and gracious covenant of God. He assigns the reason why God was pleased to save his people. It was because, being mindful of his promise, he displayed his mercy. He is said to have remembrance of his covenant, because there might be some appearance of forgetfulness during that long delay, in which he allowed his people to languish under the weight of very heavy calamities. We must carefully attend to this order. First, God was moved by pure mercy to make a covenant with the fathers. Secondly, He has linked the salvation of men with his own word. 76 Thirdly, He has exhibited in Christ every blessing, so as to ratify all his promises: as, indeed, their truth is only confirmed to us when we see their fulfillment in Christ. Forgiveness of sins is promised in the covenant, but it is in the blood of Christ. Righteousness is promised, but it is offered through the atonement of Christ. Life is promised, but it must be sought only in the death and resurrection of Christ. This too is the reason why God commanded of old, that the book of the law should be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, (Ex 24:8; Heb. 9:19, 20.) It is also worthy of notice, that Zacharias speaks of the mercy performed in his own age, as extending to the fathers who were dead, and who equally shared in its results. Hence it follows, that the grace and power of Christ are not confined by the narrow limits of this fading life, but are everlasting; that they are not terminated by the death of the flesh, for the soul survives the death of the body, and the destruction of the flesh is followed by the resurrection. As neither Abraham, nor any of the saints, could procure salvation to himself by his own power or merits, so to all believers, whether living or dead, the same salvation has been exhibited in Christ.
73. According to the oath There is no word in the Greek original for the preposition according to: but it is a common and well understood principle of language, that when the accusative case is put absolutely, there is a preposition to be understood, by which it is governed. The oath is mentioned, for the purpose of expressing more fully the firmness and sacredness of his truth: for such is his gracious condescension, that he deigns to employ his name for the support of our weakness. If his bare promises do not satisfy us, let us at least remember this confirmation of them; and if it does not remove all doubt, we are chargeable with heinous ingratitude to God, and insult to his holy name.
To give to us Zacharias does not enumerate the several points of God’s covenant, but shows that God’s purpose, in dealing so kindly and mercifully with his people, was to redeem them.
74. That being delivered out of the hand of our enemies His purpose was, that, being redeemed, they might dedicate and consecrate themselves entirely to the Author of their salvation. As the efficient cause of human salvation was the undeserved goodness of God, so its final cause is, that, by a godly and holy life, men may glorify his name. This deserves careful attention, that we may remember our calling, and so learn to apply the grace of God to its proper use. We must meditate on such declarations as these:
“God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness,”
We are “redeemed with a great price,” (1Co 6:20,) “the precious blood of Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19,) not that we may serve “the lusts of the flesh,” (2Pe 2:18,) or indulge in unbridled licentiousness, but that Christ may reign in us. We are admitted by adoption into the family of God, that we, on our part, may yield obedience as children to a father. For “the kindness and love (φιλανθρωπία) of God our Savior toward man,” (Titus 3:4,) “hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly,” (Titus 2:11,12.) And so Paul, when he wishes powerfully to exhort believers to consecrate themselves to God, “in newness of life,” (Ro 6:4,) and, “putting off, concerning the former conversation, the old man,” (Eph 4:22,) to render to him a “reasonable service,” “beseeches them by the mercies of God,” (Ro 12:1.) Scripture is full of declarations of this nature, which show that we “frustrate the grace” (Ga 2:21) of Christ, if we do not follow out this design.
That we may serve him without fear This deserves our attention: for it implies that we cannot worship God in a proper manner without composure of mind. Those who are ill at ease, who have an inward struggle, whether God is favorable or hostile to them, whether he accepts or rejects their services,—in a word, who fluctuate in uncertainty between hope and fear, will sometimes labor anxiously in the worship of God, but never will sincerely or honestly obey him. Alarm and dread make them turn from him with horror; and so, if it were possible, they would desire that there were, “no God,” (Ps 14:1.) But we know, that no sacrifice is acceptable to God, which is not offered willingly, and with a cheerful heart. Before men can truly worship God, they must obtain peace of conscience, as David speaks, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” (Ps 130:4:) for those to whom God has given peace are graciously invited and led to approach him willingly and with a cheerful desire to worship him. Hence too Paul deduces that maxim, that “whatsoever is undertaken without faith is sin,” (Ro 14:23.) But since God reconciles men to himself in Christ, since by his protection he keeps them safe from all fear, since he has committed their salvation to his own hand and guardianship, we are justly declared by Zacharias to be delivered by his grace from fear. And so the prophets describe it as peculiar to his reign, that,
“they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid,” (Mic 4:4.)
75. In holiness and righteousness As the rule of a good life has been reduced by God to two tables, (Exod. 31:18, Exod. 34:1,) so Zacharias here declares, that we serve God in a proper manner, when our life has been framed to holiness and righteousness. Holiness, beyond all question, denotes—as even Plato knew the duties of godliness, 77 which relate to the first table of the law. Righteousness, again, extends to all the duties of charity: for God requires nothing more from us in the second table of the law, than to render to every one what belongs to him. It is added, before him, to instruct believers, that it is not enough if their lives are decently regulated before the eyes of men, and their hands, and feet, and whole body, restrained from every kind of open wickedness: but they must live according to the will of God, who is not satisfied with professions of holiness, but looks chiefly on the heart.
Lastly, That no man may consider his duties to be at an end, when he has worshipped God for a certain period, Zacharias declares that men have been redeemed on the condition 78 that they shall continue to devote themselves to the worship of God all the days of their life And certainly, as redemption is eternal, the remembrance of it ought never to pass away; as God adopts men into his family for ever, their gratitude ought not to be transitory or of short continuance; and, in a word, as “Christ both died and rose, and revived” for them, it is proper that he should be “Lord both of the dead and living,” (Ro 14:9.) So Paul, in a passage which I lately quoted, enjoins us to
“live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,”
“La corne de salut.”
“De tout temps.” — “From all time.”
“Secundum jusjurandum“ — “(Qui est) le jurement,” — “which is the oath.”
“C'est a dire, une vertu et puissance pleine de salut.” — “That is, a power and might full of salvation
“Specimen futurae salutis;” — “pource que Dieu l'avoit dresse pour figure et tesmoignage du salut a venir;” — “because God had set him up for a figure and proof of the salvation to come.”
“Ornatus;” — “revestu et garni d'excellens tesmoignages de tous les Prophetes;” — “clothed and adorned with excellent testimonies of all the Prophets.”
“Classicos testes.” This is a fine allusion to the Roman division into classes, (mentioned by Livy, 1:43,) from the first of which classes, as carrying greater weight and respectability, “testes,” witnesses were selected for signing Testaments, — a department of Conveyancing, which all civilized nations have guarded by the most careful provisions, and in which authenticity is peculiarly and indispensably necessary. Calvin's vernacular brings out, though with less elegance, the meaning in which classicos testes is here used, — “bons, suffisans, et sans reproche;” — “good, sufficient, and without reproach.” — Ed.
“Misere vagantur.” — “Les Juifs ne font que tracasser et se tormenter sans profit toute leur vie;” — “the Jews do but vex and tease themselves without advantage all their life.”
“Il a lie le salut des hommes avec sa parole, comme dependant d'icelle.” — “He has bound the salvation of men with his word, as depending on it.”
“Le mot de Sainctete comprend tout ce dont nous sommes redevables a Dieu pour adorer et honorer sa majeste.” — “The word Holiness includes all that we owe to God for adoring and honoring his majesty.”
“Hac lege redemptas esse homines.” — “Zacharie dit que les hommes ont este rachetez a la charge de s'appliquer a servir Dieu tout le temps de leur vie.” — “Zacharias says that men have been redeemed upon condition of applying themselves to serve God all the time of their life.”