The Magnificat of Mary

FFF 12:10 (Dec 1966)

The Magnificat of Mary

Leslie S. Rainey

Mary Luke 1:46-55

In the psalms of Mary on the threshold of the New Testament you have worship at its highest level. Whilst Matthew, Mark and John are silent as to songs, Luke gives to us several, The Magnificat of Mary; the Benedictus of Zechariah, and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon. The language of Mary is couched in the theology and prophecy of the Old Testament. As a woman Mary was at home in the Scriptures of the Jews and her poetic ability is expressed in quotations from the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. It is called the Magnificat from the opening words in the Vulgate text, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” The hymn of praise is in three stanzas (vs. 46-48, 49-50, 51-55).

The Discernment of God
First Stanza (Vs. 46-48)

The scriptural knowledge of Mary is seen in every line of her beautiful poem and it is obvious she had studied the prayers and praises of Hannah, (1 Sam. 2:1-10); David, (Psalm 136), and Moses, (Exodus 15), and even Habakkuk, (Hab. 3:18). The name of Mary is revered by Jew, Moslem and Christian. Over the world art has immortalized her on canvas, and architecture has built many cathedrals to her memory.

Six Marys are mentioned in the New Testament. Mary the wife of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of Mark, and the unknown Mary of Romans 16:6. But Mary the mother of Jesus is the greatest of them all. She was the chosen vessel for the incarnation of the Son of God. Her spiritual insight is revealed in the opening note of praise for personal salvation.

Her soul or mind, the self conscious aspect of her personality gives to the Lord His pre-eminent place, whereas her spirit, the God conscious part of her being rejoiced in the momentous news of the Saviour’s birth. The present tense, “doth magnify” is in contrast with the aorist, “hath rejoiced.” In all her life she sought to give the Lord full sway as a handmaiden of the Lord or one given over to His claims and Lordship. In the words, “my Saviour” Mary recognized her need of a personal Saviour and condemns forever the evil system of Mariolatry.

The Song is one of triumph and records 20 references to the Old Testament. The noun, “low estate” reveals that her family was poor and perhaps ranked least in her father’s house, nevertheless she was compassed about with the favor of God. Henceforth, “all generations” were to mark her out as blessed of the God of Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In the blessings made to Abraham they were personal, national and universal, and so it is in relation to His person and promise at His advent into the world. What spiritual perception and godly piety is manifested in the life of Mary and certainly in her psalm there is no warrant for mariolatry which is idolatry. Today we honor not Mary’s name above the name of Christ but rather say, “Blessed be His glorious name forever” (Psa. 72:19).

The Description of God
Second Stanza (Vs. 49-50)

Now follows a magnificent portrait of the Living and True God. Already Mary has made mention of the Self-Existent One in the word, “Lord” and the Sovereignty of God in His choice of the virgin. His Saviourship is seen in the use of the word, “Saviour” and His grace in considering her as the channel of the virgin birth.

Three great attributes of God are extolled in this second stanza. (1) His power, (v. 49); (2) His holiness, (v. 49), and (3) His mercy, (v. 50). Mary knew something of the manifestation of God’s power at the Exodus and the deliverance from oppression as in Psalms 126:3. She also knew that even though she might be despised and her innocence questioned she confessed the holiness of God. Finally she knew a good deal about the mercy of God.

Perhaps Mary had often meditated upon the mercy of God in Psalms 103 where it is displayed as tender, (v. 4); plenteous, (v. 8); great, (v. 11) and from everlasting to everlasting, (v. 17). It is unmerited for the mercy of the Lord is something we do not deserve and yet we cannot do without it. It is unique in that only those who are marked by godly fear experience such mercy. It is unending for it is “from generation to generation” and has for its scope the individual as well as the world.

The Declaration of God
Third Stanza (Vs. 51-55)

In this concluding stanza we behold the Sovereignty of God and the mighty acts of the Messiah of Israel as completed in the plan and purpose of Christ. There are seven aorist verbs which tell out completely the work of Christ as achieved. (1) He hath showed strength with His arms; (2) He hath scattered; (3) He hath put down; (4) He hath exalted; (5) He hath filled; (6) He hath sent away; (7) He hath holpen. Each verb is a revelation of what God can do for “with God” nothing shall be impossible.

Think of the revelation of His arm in the days of Moses at the Red Sea; the time of Joshua and the rule of the Judges. Think of how He has overthrown the Pharaohs, Sennacherib, Antiochus Ephiphanes until the time of Mary. During her days it mattered little whether it was Herod or Caesar or modern despots like Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini, or the coming Man of Sin, all will be put down and the Lord Jesus Christ will be God over all.

Here Mary contrasts the proud with the humble; the mighty with the low degree, and the rich with the poor. The word, “proud” is used in a bad sense, “looking down on others” and we are reminded by James who was of the family of Mary that, “God resisteth the proud.” The word “dunastas” signifies potentates and these God will abase and lift up the oppressed. Oh! to remember that God is still on the throne and as Judge He will attend to all things in His own time and way.

The “hungry” are those who are conscious of need and that in particular, “righteousness” (Matt. 5:6) and a life that pleases God. Their soul shall be satisfied for according to our desire so shall our need be met according to the riches and resources of our Lord. The “rich” represent the natural man careless of Heaven’s gifts and grace, devoid of spiritual truth and destitute of spiritual wealth.

The final verb brings out the faithfulness of God in relation to the chosen nation Israel. It means, “He hath laid hold of with a purpose of supporting.” Though the nation would be scattered, they would be succored and saved with an everlasting salvation by their Messiah. Israel as a servant will do the will of God. This is based on His mercy, His oath, (Micah 7:20), and His covenant to Abraham.

What a wonderful God and this mother in Israel knew Him as few do even in this frivolous and superficial age, yet possessing the light of the New Testament. Surely as those redeemed by blood and so graciously related to the Lord Jesus ought not our lives continually re-echo His Praise and in this world seek to be, “to the praise of His glory.”