Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
39. And Mary arising in those days went into the mountainous parts 36 with haste, into a city of Judah, 40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41. And it happened, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe started 37 in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, 42. And exclaimed with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44. For lo, when the voice of thy salutation was made 38 in my ears, the babe started for joy in my womb. 45. And blessed is she who believed: for there shall be a fulfillment 39 to those things which have been told her by the Lord. 40
39. And Mary arising This departure mentioned by Luke proves that Mary’s faith was not of a transitory nature: for the promise of God does not fade away with the presence of the angel, but is impressed upon her mind. The haste indicates a sincere and strong affection. We may infer from it that the Virgin disregarded every thing else and formed a just estimate of this grace of God. But it may be inquired, what was her object in undertaking this journey? It certainly was not made for the mere purpose of inquiry: for she cherished in her heart by faith the Son of God as already conceived in her womb. Nor do I agree with those who think that she came for the purpose of congratulating Elisabeth. 41 I think it more probable that her object was, partly to increase and strengthen her faith, and partly to celebrate the grace of God which both had received. 42
There is no absurdity in supposing, that she sought to confirm her faith by a view of the miracle, which had been adduced to her with no small effect by the angel. For, though believers are satisfied with the bare word of God, yet they do not disregard any of his works which they find to be conducive to strengthen their faith. Mary was particularly bound to receive the assistance which had been offered, unless she chose to reject what the Lord had freely given to her. Besides, the mutual interview might arouse both Elisabeth and herself to higher gratitude, as is evident from what follows. The power of God became more remarkable and striking by taking in at one view both favors, the very comparison of which gave no small additional luster. Luke does not name the city in which Zacharias dwelt, but only mentions that it belonged to the tribe of Judah, and that it was situated in a hilly district. Hence we infer that it was farther distant than Jerusalem was from the town of Nazareth.
41. When Elisabeth heard It is natural that sudden joy, on the part of a pregnant woman, should cause a motion of the child in her womb; but Luke intended to express an extraordinary occurrence. No good purpose would be served by involving ourselves in intricate questions, if the child was aware of the presence of Christ, or felt an emotion of piety: it is enough for us that the babe started by a secret movement of the Spirit. Luke does not say that the feeling belonged to the child, but rather intimates that this part of the Divine operation took place in the mother herself, that the babe started in her womb The expression, she was filled with the Holy Ghost, means that she was suddenly endued with the gift of prophecy to an unusual extent: for the gifts of the Spirit had not formerly been wanting in her, but their power then appeared more abundant and extraordinary.
42. Blessed art thou She seems to put Mary and Christ on an equal footing, which would have been highly improper. But I cheerfully agree with those who think that the second clause assigns the reason; for and often signifies because. Accordingly, Elisabeth affirms, that her cousin was blessed on account of the blessedness of her child. To carry Christ in her womb was not Mary’s first blessedness, but was greatly inferior to the distinction of being born again by the Spirit of God to a new life. Yet she is justly called blessed, on whom God bestowed the remarkable honor of bringing into the world his own Son, through whom she had been spiritually renewed. And at this day, the blessedness brought to us by Christ cannot be the subject of our praise, without reminding us, at the same time, of the distinguished honor which God was pleased to bestow on Mary, in making her the mother of his Only Begotten Son.
43. And whence is this to me? The happy medium observed by Elisabeth is worthy of notice. She thinks very highly of the favors bestowed by God on Mary, and gives them just commendation, but yet does not praise them more highly than was proper, which would have been a dishonor to God. For such is the native depravity of the world, that there are few persons who are not chargeable with one of these two faults. Some, delighted beyond measure with themselves, and desirous to shine alone, enviously despise the gifts of God in their brethren; while others praise them in so superstitious a manner as to convert them into idols. The consequence has been, that the first rank is assigned to Mary, and Christ is lowered as it were to the footstool. 43 Elisabeth, again, while she praises her, is so far from hiding the Divine glory, that she ascribes everything to God. And yet, though she acknowledges the superiority of Mary to herself and to others, she does not envy her the higher distinction, but modestly declares that she had obtained more than she deserved.
She calls Mary the mother of her Lord This denotes a unity of person in the two natures of Christ; as if she had said, that he who was begotten a mortal man in the womb of Mary is, at the same time, the eternal God. For we must bear in mind, that she does not speak like an ordinary woman at her own suggestion, but merely utters what was dictated by the Holy Spirit. This name Lord strictly belongs to the Son of God “manifested in the flesh,” (1Ti 3:16,) who has received from the Father all power, and has been appointed the highest ruler of heaven and earth, that by his agency God may govern all things. Still, he is in a peculiar manner the Lord of believers, who yield willingly and cheerfully to his authority; for it is only of “his body” that he is “the head,” (Eph. 1:22, 23.) And so Paul says, “though there be lords many, yet to us,” that is, to the servants of faith, “there is one Lord,” (1 Cor. 8:5, 6.) By mentioning the sudden movement of the babe which she carried in her womb, (ver. 44,) as heightening that divine favor of which she is speaking, she unquestionably intended to affirm that she felt something supernatural and divine.
45. And blessed is she that believed It was by a hidden movement of the Spirit, as is evident from a former statement of Luke, that Elisabeth spoke. The same Spirit declares that Mary is blessed because she believed, and by commending Mary’s faith, informs us generally in what the true happiness of men consists. Mary was blessed, because, embracing in her heart the promise of God, she conceived and brought forth a Savior to herself and to the whole which the Judges occupied; as when Cicero proposes to appeal from the Senate to the popular assembly, ”a subselliis in rem deferre.” Calvin may have had in his eye such a phrase as “imi subsellii vir,” and his meaning is fully brought out by his own version, “sur le marchepied.” — Ed world. This was peculiar to her: but as we have not a drop of righteousness, life, or any other benefit, except so far as the Lord presents them to us in his Word, it is faith alone that rescues us from the lowest poverty and misery, and makes us partakers of true happiness.
There is great weight in this clause, for there shall be a fulfillment to those things which have been told her The meaning is, faith gives way to the divine promises, that they may obtain their accomplishment in us. The truth of God certainly does not depend on the will of men, but God remains always true, (Ro 3:4,) though the whole world—unbelievers and liars—should attempt to ruin his veracity. Yet, as unbelievers are unworthy to obtain the fruit of the promises, so Scripture teaches us, that by faith alone they are powerful for our salvation. God offers his benefits indiscriminately to all, and faith opens its bosom 44 to receive them; while unbelief allows them to pass away, so as not to reach us. If there had been any unbelief in Mary, that could not prevent God from accomplishing his work in any other way which he might choose. But she is called blessed, because she received by faith the blessing offered to her, and opened up the way to God for its accomplishment; while faith, on the other hand, shuts the gate, and restrains his hand from working, that they who refuse the praise due to its power may not feel its saving effect. We must observe also the relation between the word and faith, from which we learn that, in the act of believing, we give our assent to God who speaks to us, and hold for certain what he has promised to us that he will do. The phrase, by the Lord, is of the same import with an expression in common use, on the part of God; for the promise had been brought by the angel, but proceeded from God alone. Hence we infer that, whether God employs the ministrations of angels or of men, he wishes equal honor to be paid to his Word as if he were visibly descending from heaven.
“In montana;” — “et s'en alla hastivement aux montagnes;” — “and went away hastily to the mountains.”
“Facta est;” — “est parvenue a mes aureilles;” — “reached my ears.”
“Car les choses qui luy ont este dites par le Seigneur luy seront accomplies.” — “For the things which were told her by the Lord shall be accomplished to her.”
“Gratulandi causa;” — “pour faire caresse a sa cousine.”
“Illustrandae ultro citroque gratiae Dei;” — “de celebrer et magnifier la grace de Dieu faite a l'une et a l'autre.”
“Christo velut in subsellium redacto.” Subsellium is evidently not employed here to convey a shade of the honor belonging to the seats.
“Sinum expandit;” — “mais la foy, par maniere dire, tend son giron pour les recevoir;” — “but faith, so to speak, holds its lap to receive them.”