What does Zachariah’s joyful song (Luke 1:67-79) say about the incarnation of Christ? How can we experience the tender mercy of God? Why did Zachariah call Christ the rising Sun? How does Christ guide our feet into the way of peace?
Observe how Zachariah, in his joyful song, extolled the remission of sins, as one of the most extraordinary proofs of the tender mercy of our God. He had been dumb for a season, as a chastisement for his unbelief; and therefore he used his recovered speech to sing of pardoning mercy. No salvation is possible without forgiveness, and so Zachariah says, “To give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” The Lord could not forgive them on the ground of justice, and therefore he did so because of his tender mercy—the tender mercy of our God, who has made himself “our God” by the covenant of grace. He passes by the transgression of his people because he delights in mercy. He is so pitiful that he loves not to condemn the guilty, but looks with anxious care upon them to see how he can turn away his wrath and restore them to favour. For this reason alone there is remission of sins. Forgiveness comes not to us through any merit of ours, present or foreseen; but only through the tender mercy of our God, and the marvellous visit of love which came of it.
Remission of sins is a business into which the Lord throws his heart. He forgives with an intensity of will, and readiness of soul. God made heaven and earth with his fingers, but he gave his Son with his heart in order that he might save sinners. The Eternal God has thrown his whole soul into the business of redeeming men. If we desire to see God most Godlike, it is in the pardon of sin, and the saving of men. If we desire to read the character of God written out in capital letters, we must study the visitation of his love in the person of his dear Son, and all the wonderful works of infinite grace which spring therefrom. It is this watching to do us good, this eagerness to bless us, which is meant by the mercy of his heart. It is not only tenderness, but intensity, heartiness, eagerness, delight, and concentration of power. All this is to be seen in the dealing of God with guilty men when he visits them to grant them the remission of their sins.
Observe that God has not merely pitied us from a distance, and sent us relief by way of the ladder which Jacob saw, but he has himself visited us. It needs no studied language to preach from this text, the expressions themselves are full of holy thought. A visit from God, what must it be! “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visits him?” (Psalm 8:4) In what ways has the Lord shown his tender mercy in deigning to visit us?
First, God’s great visit to us is the incarnation of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Many visits of God to men had been paid before that; but the most wonderful visit of all was when he came to tarry here, some thirty years and more, to work out our salvation. What but “tender mercy,” hearty mercy, intense mercy, could bring the great God to visit us so closely that he actually assumed our nature? Kings may visit their subjects, but they do not think of taking upon themselves their poverty, sickness, or sorrow: they could not if they would, and would not if they could; this were more than we could expect from them. But our divine Lord, when he came hither, came into our flesh. He veiled his Godhead in a robe of our inferior clay. O children! the Lord so visited you as to become a babe, and then a child, who dwelt with his parents, and was subject unto them, and grew in stature, as you must do. O working men! the Lord so visited you as to become the carpenter’s son, and to know all about your toil, and your weariness, ay, even to hunger and faintness. O sons of men! Jesus Christ has visited you so as to be tempted in all points like as you are, though without sin. He really assumed our nature, and thus paid to us a very close visit. He took our sickness, and bare our infirmities. This was a kind of visit such as none could have thought of granting save the infinitely tender and merciful God. The man is our next kinsman, a brother born for adversity; in all our affliction he is afflicted; he is tenderness itself.
To this day we are visited of God in other respects, but with equal mercy. The proclamation of the gospel in a nation, or to any individual, is a visit of God’s mercy. Whenever we hear the gospel, whether we receive it or not, the kingdom of God has come unto us. Even if we stop our ears, and will have none of it, yet God has visited us in tender mercy, in that by the gospel he tells us that there is a way of salvation, that there is a plan for the remission of sin. It is a monstrosity of iniquity, that men having sinned, and God having done so much to work out a way of remission of those sins, men should refuse to accept God’s pardoning love. Men sin not only against God, but against their own interest, when they turn aside from the wooings of disinterested goodness, and refuse salvation through him who loved us even to the death.
God has visited some of us in a more remarkable manner still, for by the Holy Spirit he has entered into our hearts, and changed the current of our lives. He has turned our affections towards that which is right by enlightening our judgments. He has led us to the confession of sin, he has brought us to the acceptance of his mercy through the atoning blood; and so he has truly saved us. The indwelling of the Spirit of God is a wonderful condescension, for the Holy Spirit does not take a pure body of his own, but he makes our bodies to be his temples; he dwells not only in one of these, but in tens of thousands; and that not only by the space of thirty years, but throughout the whole life of the believer. He dwells in us notwithstanding all our provocations and rebellions. Therefore we adore the tender mercy which makes the Holy Spirit bear with us so long, and work in us so graciously till we have conformed ourselves to the image of the Firstborn. We are melted by the love of the Spirit—the communion of the Holy Spirit, by which the Lord has visited us.
I trust we all have had special visits from the Lord, bringing with them rapturous joys, singular deliverances, and countless blessings. We have enjoyed near and dear communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Have we not? This has often happened when we have been in great trouble. When we were depressed in spirit, burdened with unusual cares, or weeping over heart-breaking bereavements, the mercy of our God has made the dayspring from on high to visit us at just such times; and therein we have seen his tenderness. Our life is bright with these visits as the sky with stars.
God shows His tender mercy in that he visits us as the dayspring from on high. He does not come to us in Christ, or by His Spirit, as a tempest, as when He came from Paran, with ten thousand of His holy ones, in all the pomp of His fiery law; but He has visited us as smiling morn, which in gentle glory floods the world with joy. He has come, moreover, not as a blaze which will soon die down, but as a light which will last our day, yea, last forever. After the long dark and cold night of our misery, the Lord comes in the fittest and most effectual manner; neither as lightning, nor candle, nor flaming meteor, but as the sun which begins the day.
The visitation of the Lord to us is as the dayspring, because it suits our eye. Day, when it first breaks in the east, has not the blaze of burning noon about it; but peeps forth as a grey light, which gradually increases. So did Christ come; dimly, as it were, at first, at Bethlehem, but by and by He will appear in all the glory of the Father. So does the Spirit of God come to us in gradual progress. The revelation of God to each individual is made in form and manner tenderly agreeable to the condition and capacity of the favoured one. He shows us just so much of Himself as to delight us without utterly overwhelming us with the excess of brightness.
The visits of God are like the dayspring, because they end our darkness. Our night is ended once for all when we behold God visiting us in Christ Jesus. Our day may cloud over, but night will not return. Christ’s coming into the world is as the morning light, because He comes with such a largeness of present blessing. He appears as the light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world: there is no other light. Whosoever is willing to receive that light is free to do so: yea, he shines on blind eyes. This light comes even to those who hate it, and thus they are left without excuse. When the Lord comes to men, his blessings are infinite.
Christ’s coming is as the dayspring, because He brings us hope of greater glory yet to come. The dayspring is not the noon, but it is the sure guarantee of it; and so the First Advent is the pledge of the glory to be revealed. When we receive a visit from the Lord, it may be in the way of rebuke, or of feeble hope; but let us be patient, for the dawn shall grow with constant increase of light, and there is no fear of its dying down into the old sinful darkness. “Sacred, high, eternal noon” is the destiny of all those whose eyes have beheld the Christ, so as to rejoice in his light.
There is another instance of great tenderness in this, that the Lord vists us in our wry lowest estate. God comes to us as the morning, which does not wait for man, nor tarry for the sons of men. He gives with gladness to those who have no deservings of any kind (Romans 5:6, 8). He comes to us when we are in our sins, in darkness, and in the shadow of death. Does not this show the tender mercy of our God, that he does come to us in the darkness, and under the grim shadow of death, and there and then reveals his love to us?
Our God shows His tender mercy, in that he visits us with such wonderful and joyful results. When the Lord Jesus Christ visits us, he actually brings light to our darkness; really leads into the way, and makes that way a way of peace to us. Put all together, and remember what the Lord has done for us. We did not know the way once, and all the preaching in the world would not have made us know it, if Jesus had not by his Spirit visited us as the dayspring. When we did know the way, we could not reach it of ourselves: we saw it as from a distance, and could not enter upon it, but when Jesus came near, he actually guided our feet into that way. He put our feet upon a rock, and established our goings. That way, good as it was, would have been to us a way of doubt, and fear, and hesitation, if the Lord had not so sweetly shone upon us that our road became a way of perfect peace. Peace in our text means prosperity, plenty, rest, joy. I ask you, friends, whether you have not found it so. Since the Lord has visited you, have you not gone forth with joy, and been led forth with peace?
In conclusion, if the tender mercy of God has visited us, and done so much more for us than I can tell, or than you can hear, let us ourselves exhibit tender mercy in our dealings with our fellow-men. It is horrible to be living to be saved, living to get to heaven, living to enjoy religion, and yet never to live to bless others, and ease the misery of a moaning world. It is useless to hope for peace till we know how to love. Whence come wars and fightings but from a want of love? Unless our religion tears us away from ourselves, and makes us live for something nobler than even our spiritual good, we have not passed out of the darkness into the light of God. Only the way of unselfishness is the way of peace.
Let us praise God with the song “Christ Be Our Light”: