Magnificat of Mary by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” published in 1998.
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:
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
from generation to generation.
He hath showed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud
in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy;
as he spake to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
LUKE 1:46-55 KJV
This statement, this bursting forth of Mary into worship and praise and adoration, which we call “The Magnificat,” is something that is worthy of our most careful consideration. There is perhaps no better way of approaching the season of Christmas than to do so in terms of a consideration of this particular passage. Indeed, I think we can say there is no better test of our understanding of the meaning of the Incarnation, everything we think of and celebrate during these days, than our reaction to this song of Mary; because, as I want to try to show you, here in this short compass, in a very extraordinary manner, she brings us face to face with some of the many central matters in connection with our salvation.
There are many things that are of great interest on which we cannot dwell; I merely note them in passing. It is very interesting, for instance, to notice the stages through which Mary herself passed in connection with this momentous event that was to take place. When, first of all, the archangel Gabriel went to her and made his announcement, Mary was incredulous; she was skeptical, she stumbled. The thing, of course, was so staggering, so unusual, so amazing that she could not receive it, and she made her protestation. Indeed, she virtually suggested to the angel that what he was saying was quite impossible. But the angel reminded her that “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37); that she must not think in those terms and in those categories. She must realize that in this situation she was in a different realm; that he was no ordinary human emissary, nor the bearer of a message from any earthly or human power but rather was the messenger of God.
Then, as a result of that, Mary moved on to a second stage in which she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” This is a most interesting process, so typical and characteristic of the way in which the Gospel tends to come to all of us. At first it seems impossible. But then we feel rebuked for that, and we say, “Well, I don’t understand it, but I will submit.” That is what Mary did. “All right,” she seems to say. “I hear what you have said to me, and I know that what you say is right concerning God, and that with God nothing is impossible. I therefore leave myself in God’s hands, still not understanding, but ready to wait and to listen and to follow.” This is a most important step.
But then she went and visited her cousin Elisabeth, and as the result of what happened to Elisabeth, and especially as the result of what Elisabeth said to her, Mary burst forth into this great song, this great hymn of praise, the Magnificat. Elisabeth turned to Mary 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? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:42-45).
We see that God used those very words of Elisabeth to confirm to Mary the announcement that had already been made by the archangel. They brought her to a real understanding, because the moment Elisabeth said that to her, we are told that Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” She poured forth her heart in this extraordinary praise and adoration of God, and it is to this that I want to call your attention.
Let us look at some of the characteristics of these words uttered by Mary.
First, let us notice the depth of feeling with which she spoke and which is conveyed in these words. She said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Now, she drew a distinction between her soul and her spirit. This is a very interesting theological point. Again we must not dwell on this, and we must not build too much upon it; but at any rate I think we are reminded here and elsewhere in Scripture that whether the soul and spirit are essentially one or not, there is a distinction between them. When the expression soul is used in this way in contradistinction to spirit, it is meant to refer to the intellect, to the feelings, to the way in which we correspond with one another and have fellowship and relationship with one another. The soul is essentially the rational part of man.
Spirit represents the perception. There is a difference between ability and understanding. There is a difference between knowledge and perception. The spirit is a higher faculty, a higher aspect of this possession that we all have. It includes the capacity for worship. The soul, in other words, is that which links us to all that is around us—to man and to animals, to history and to the world and all we can see. That is the soul. Even if you want to argue that there are only two parts in man (body and soul) and not three, you must say nevertheless that there is this compartment, as it were, of the soul that enables one to appreciate the unseen and the spiritual—the spirit, everything that is greatest and uppermost in man.
So Mary uses the two expressions “my soul” and “my spirit,” by which she means that she is moved in the very depth and center of her being. She is not merely pleased in a general sense and on the surface. This is not merely something of general interest to her. She has a realization of something that, she says, has touched her in the very center and the most vital part of her personality. That is why all this is so important; that is the effect of the good news of salvation upon the soul. This is the effect to which it has always led when people have really understood what it is all about.
This is like the passage in Ephesians 5:19, which makes all the difference between mere “singing” and “making melody” in our hearts. The heart includes these same things—the soul and the spirit, the very center of man’s whole personality. And it is there that this response to the Gospel really comes forth. That is where it has its origin. So we find Mary obviously stirred to the very depths of her soul, and the result is that she speaks with a sense of dignity and of greatness, for she is aware of something profound. You cannot read through what she said without sensing her feeling of awe and of wonder, of worship and of amazement. “This,” she seems to be saying, “is the most amazing thing I have ever known. I am beyond and beside myself in my soul and my spirit.”
There, then, is the first thing that emerges and the first thing, therefore, by which we test ourselves. You have but to read the New Testament to see that all the men and women who truly have understood the Gospel have said something similar. Even the psalmist, looking forward to it, said, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).
I could quote hymns to you; I could quote statements to you from the saints throughout the centuries. They are all saying the same thing. If we really understand what happened when the Son of God left the courts of heaven and came into the world in this way and manner, if we grasp something of the eternal significance of the Incarnation, of its profundity, its amazing character, how can it fail to move us, especially in our souls and in our spirits?
The Christmas season can be so abused, even in the church, with men and women talking about themselves and about one another. But it is not just a feeling of goodwill and of friendliness and of happiness; it is something, if we really get hold of it, that moves us in the soul and in the spirit.
Then, second, look for a moment at the manifestation of this feeling. Two words stand out. The first is the element of adoration: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Now this is an extraordinary expression. It means to make great and to make glorious. “But,” says someone, “what a foolish term.How can one magnify God? How can a human being, a creature, one who is but a Creator-created being, how can such a one magnify, make great, multiply, as it were, the Lord God Almighty?” Of course, in an ultimate sense it cannot be done, and Mary realizes that, just as all the psalmists who used the term realized it. And yet there is a sense in which it is very true because while we cannot do anything as such to God in His greatness and in His majesty, we can help other people to see it. We can, as it were, act as a kind of lens that makes Him greater in the eyes and in the esteem and in the sight of other people.
And that is what Mary was trying to express. It is as if she were saying, “How can I make known what I have seen of the greatness and the glory of God? I want everybody to know this-I want everybody to see it. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.’ I am clutching at every word that I can get hold of in order to express something of His greatness and His glory.”
This is a very profound way of giving expression to this depth of desire that God might be known and might be seen; that what He is might be shown in a large way and painted on an enormous canvas; that the whole world may see it and look at it and bow before Him in adoration and in praise. “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
So what about us? I am simply taking these words and holding them before you in order that we may examine ourselves in the light of them. Do our souls magnify the Lord? Is this our innermost desire? The psalmist has expressed it in this way: “0 magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). “Let us do it together,” he says. “Let everybody join in. Let us make His name great. Let us hold it before the nations and the peoples.”
The other word is rejoiced. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Now the English word rejoice is not quite good enough; it is not quite strong enough. The word really means to exult in Him or to boast of Him. This is the thing in which I exult. The world is always exulting in various things, and men make their proud boast of themselves. But Mary says, “My spirit exults in God. And here is the theme of my rejoicing–God my Saviour.”
Third, let us go on to see the full significance of this. What is the cause of this feeling within her? And here we come to what I want to emphasize particularly. Why is Mary magnifying the Lord? Why does her spirit exult in God her Saviour? And she supplies us with the answer. It is not primarily because of what has happened to her. She does mention that; but that is merely an incident in her hymn of praise. So what is the cause of her adoration, of her praise? It is because God Himself is who and what He is, and because of what He is doing with respect to the world. Mary’s eye, in other words, is not upon herself. . . . .She refers to herself as what she is “the low estate of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:48). . . . . Mary is not thinking about herself. Mary has seen something that makes her forget herself. And this is the ultimate test of a true understanding of what happened when God in the fullness of time “sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
Mary is rejoicing not so much in the fact that she is to be given this great privilege. Yes, she has been reminded by Elisabeth of what that is and of how people are going to call her blessed, and she repeats that: “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” But that is not the thing that really moves her. It is what God is doing—this historic event, this climactic action of God Himself. She is humbled and grateful at the thought of the fact that she is to be given a part and a place in this, but it is the thing itself that moves her and makes her sing and worship. She is filled with a sense of amazement, worship, adoration, and utter astonishment. She sees the inner meaning of the action. She has a glimmering of understanding of the whole purpose of salvation, what God is doing in bringing forth His Son into the world, even out of her womb.
That is the secret of this song. And it is also the secret of the whole Christian position. What is it that leads to worship and praise, to exultation, to adoration? The answer is that it is always the understanding. The only singing that is of any value in the sight of God is that which is based upon the understanding of truth. That is why we must take this occasion to remind ourselves, therefore, that we must never go for the emotions directly. We must never go for the will directly. The emotions and the will are the result of something seen by the understanding.
That is what Elisabeth shows as well. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, we are told, and she spoke forth with understanding—the enlightenment of the Spirit. And exactly the same thing is true of Mary. What Mary sees is not that she is to be made great because she has this privilege, but the greatness of the God who is acting and the greatness of the action that He is taking.
So, fourth, let us follow her in the expression of her feeling.
What does she say? The main thing here, of course, is that Mary is telling us certain things about God as He is. She is adoring God for being what He is, and this is the very essence of Christian worship and Christian praise. Alas, in our weakness and frailty we are often so concerned with benefits that we forget the giver. But here is adoration and worship at its very best. . . . .
Here Mary is expressing the very heart and soul of Christian praise and worship and adoration—God Himself. First and foremost, His greatness and His glory: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” There is nothing above that; we will never rise above magnifying the Lord. That is the first term she uses here. Whom do we magnify? The Lord is Jehovah, and He is to be magnified and praised and worshiped because of that. Who is He? He says, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). There is the element in it also of “I am what I shall become.” But the central thing is that He is God from eternity to eternity. “I am that I am”—He is the Lord. “Great is the LORD,” says the psalmist, “and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 48:1).
So we have not understood the meaning of Christmas unless we come here. We do not stop in the stable and with the manger. Of course we must go there, but what we see there is this great God, the Lord. And the moment we do that, we get the right perspective, we get a right way of looking at things. Have we not reached a terrible pass when it is essential to remind Christian people that they must not allow their thinking to be governed by the world, but rather by the Scripture and its teaching? That is the scriptural way: You start with the Lord, you magnify Him. He is responsible for everything that has happened and will happen through Mary. It is His action. He is the one who is ultimately to be praised.
Then take the second term she uses, Saviour. “My soul,” she says, “doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” What does the term Saviour mean? It is a great term used everywhere in the Bible concerning God. It means the one who delivers, the one who keeps. We have a wonderful summary of Old Testament history in this Magnificat. What Mary is saying, in effect, is this: “0 God, my soul magnifies You, because I can see now that You are doing what You have always done. You are always the same. You have been doing it throughout the centuries, but now here is the climax, and it is the climax of all that has gone before.”
“Saviour.” That was God’s character with respect to Israel, was it not? Read the Old Testament. It is a history of God ever delivering these people. Look how He delivered them out of the captivity and the bondage of Egypt. They would have perished there; it would have been the end otherwise. So how did they come out? How did they go to the land of Canaan, the land of possession? God the Saviour brought them out with His strong arm. The Saviour! Of course!
And so He continued to be. How often did He deliver them from their cruel enemies? How often did He vanquish mighty enemy armies when His people were comparatively defenseless? Read the historical books and you will see God the Saviour. Mary sees all this. And then go on and see how He brought back a remnant from the captivity of Babylon to carry on His purpose. It is always God the Saviour. And thus the psalmist says very rightly: “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). Even when they were rebellious and sinful, He kept his eye upon them. He allowed things to go so far but never further. He allowed enemies to arise and conquer them, but never to destroy them. He is the Saviour of His people; He is the shepherd of the flock—“my Saviour.” Mary sees this, and now she suddenly sees that God is doing this on an infinitely bigger scale. “What is this action? What is He doing to me?” she seems to say. “Ah! this is a part of His salvation for the world. God my Saviour.”
Third, she pays special attention to His power. She is very impressed by this. Listen to her: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things” (v. 49). And again in verse 51: “He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” “He that is mighty”! It is not surprising that she emphasizes this. It is this, if I may so put it, that enables God to be the Saviour. If this were not true of God, He could not be the Saviour. And this is what is especially needed by the world; it is the thing that is so especially needed by all of us.
Why does she magnify the Lord for His greatness, for His power, and for His strength? Well, she contrasts it with her own weakness and with the utter weakness and helplessness and hopelessness of the world. The hope for the world is the power of God, the strength of His arm. “He that is mighty.” He is almighty. The angel had reminded her of that. She had stumbled; she had said in essence, “How can this be? You are telling me that I am to bring forth a son, but I am a virgin-I have never known a man. How can this be? This thing is impossible.” And the answer is, “With God nothing shall be impossible.” Thank God!
Here is the assurance of salvation. It is the might and strength of God. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” says Paul. Why? “For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). “The power”! Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord because of this—and so should ours!
Look at it like this: The world is as it is because it is in the grip and under the power of the devil and of hell. The devil is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2), and his power is a mighty power. Read your Old Testament. Look at him as he tempts the greatest patriarchs and saints. They fell before him in utter weakness and helplessness. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Is there any hope for the world? If so, does it lie in international conferences? No, it does not! The world goes around and around in circles; it lacks the power to deal with the situation. But thank God, we are reminded of One who is mighty. “He has showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (v. 51). He is the Almighty One.
The first and primary name used with respect to God in the Bible is the word El, and it means “the strong one.” When God revealed Himself to the people, that is the name He used: “I am the strong one, the almighty.”
So the archangel Gabriel is reminding Mary of something that is crucial and vital in this whole situation. There would be no salvation for this world were it not that God is the mighty one, the almighty, and there in Bethlehem He is manifesting His power, “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is an extraordinary thing, but that is what He is doing. God is putting into motion His plan, and it is working out according to His power.
Then, fourth, she speaks of His holiness. “He that is mighty hath done to me great things”—and then—“and holy is his name” (v. 49). I wonder whether you have ever asked, Why does she say that? Why does she bring that in at all? And you notice especially that she connects it with His power by means of the word “and.” “I magnify the Lord,” she says, “not only for His power but also for His holiness.” This, again, is one of the keys to understanding the whole purpose of salvation. Why is there salvation? Why did God ever send His only Son into this world? Why was He on a cross on Calvary’s hill?
And in the last analysis this is the answer: because God is holy, because “holy is his name.” The Bible puts this in many ways: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). That is an expression of God’s holiness. “But what has that got to do with salvation?” asks someone. It is this: God is eternally opposed to sin. He hates it. And it is because He hates it that there is salvation. God made the world, made it perfect; there was nothing wrong; there was no blemish. He looked at it and saw that it was all good. But then sin came in. The devil introduced evil; sin has become rampant; evil is widespread. And God in His holiness cannot tolerate it. It is because God hates sin with all the intensity of His holy nature that there is salvation.
Indeed, I do not hesitate to make a statement like this: It is because His name is holy that He must deal with sin, that He must bring in redemption. God, being God, cannot leave the world as it is, in sin, under the power of the devil, ruled by the god of this world. No, no, sin is utterly opposed to Him, and He hates it, and He will get rid of it. His name is holy, and because it is, He has done what He has done. And everything God does is holy. It is not merely powerful, it is holy.
Notice how the archangel Gabriel put it to Mary herself: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.” And then that amazing expression, “that holy thing which shall be born of thee” (Luke 1:35). Everything about this salvation is holy. Jesus Christ was perfect. There was no sin in Him. He did not inherit the sin that was in Adam’s nature. He was pure, He was holy; and right through the whole of His teaching and in everything that He did, this element of holiness always comes out. There he was, born as a baby; yes, but He was not an ordinary baby. He was separate from sin, separate from sinners; there was no sin in Him—He was holy.
Then move on to the cross—what is happening there? Ah, we see the same element of holiness. It is God’s hatred of sin—God punishing sin, God getting rid of sin. “Holy is his name.” Everything in connection with this great movement of salvation, from beginning to end, is characterized by holiness.
Fifth, Mary used yet another term. It is the wonderful term mercy. “And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” Once more I ask you to notice the word and at the beginning of that fiftieth verse: “And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” Thank God for this “and.” If God were only almighty and holy, there would be no hope for us at all. If it were only true to say of God that He is the mighty one, that He is holy and of such a pure countenance that He cannot even look upon sin, we would not be considering this together now. We would not sing hymns of praise in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because if God were only almighty and holy, we would all be blotted out; the whole world would be destroyed, and there would be no salvation. But thank God for this little “and.” He is mighty, great in power, glorious in holiness and in majesty, and full of mercy and full of compassion. This is what saves us.
What does mercy mean? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to consider it in light of the word grace. Grace and mercy go together, and grace comes before mercy. Grace is love and favor toward those who do not deserve it because of their guilt. Grace is kindness and goodness revealed to those who do not deserve it because they are guilty. That is what grace means.
What is mercy? Well, mercy means love toward those who are not merely guilty but who are miserable in their guilt. That is the difference between grace and mercy. Grace is more general; mercy is particular. God’s mercy means that He looks down and sees men and women in their misery, in their agony, in their pain and is kind toward them.
Now, of course, as I have already reminded you, Mary is summarizing the whole history of the Old Testament. God said to Moses when he called him to deliver the children of Israel, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7). If that does not melt us and break us, what can? That is mercy. This great, self-existent God from eternity to eternity is everlasting in His holiness and in His glory, the God who could exist apart from man and who does not need man. He created man, and man in his folly fell into sin, and there he is in his misery and unhappiness and wretchedness, and this august, eternal God says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people.”
That is why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. That is why He came so willingly. That is why He laid aside the signs of His glory and humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation. God had seen our misery. Not only our guilt, but our misery also, our unhappiness, our wretchedness, the state of the world as the result of sin. As John Milton puts it in his hymn:
He hath with a piteous eye,
Looked upon our misery.
For His mercies aye endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.
Mary praises God for His mercy, His compassion, His “piteous eye.”
Finally, Mary praises His faithfulness. “He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever” (vv. 54-55). God never forgets His promises. He had promised that He would visit and redeem His people, and Mary suddenly sees that what is happening to her is a part of this fulfillment of the promises of God.
All the Old Testament prophets had been waiting and longing and crying out, as it were, “0 come, 0 come, Immanuel.” When will He come? God has promised Him. When will He appear? She realizes that at last He is about to appear, that the holy thing that is to be born out of her womb is God’s yea and amen to all the promises that He had made, beginning in the Garden of Eden itself and continuing through prophets and seers and sages and kings and psalmists. Even unto this very hour God has visited and redeemed His people.
That is why Mary speaks as she does. That is why she says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” She praises the almighty. The holy one. The one who has mercy and compassion, who for His great love wherewith He loved us has sent His only Son not only into the world but even to the death of the cross. Great in might; great in mercy. Oh, the riches of His grace, the unsearchable riches of His grace toward us in his Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!
Have you seen this? Mary saw it in a flash. She had stumbled at first; she could not see it. But at last she sees it, the movement of God in salvation, and that is her response: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
Has it come to you like that? Meditate upon it. Meditate upon it in terms of Scripture. See that it ever leads you to God who in His glory, in His majesty, has looked upon us and the world with such a piteous eye as to send His only Son into it for our redemption. [7-23]