THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
1 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.'—Luke i. 38.
TITE have often had occasion to notice the
n -wonderful oneness of mother and child, and to what extent the former, in her life and character, influences and decides what the child is to be. The life she imparts is her own life, in the deepest meaning of the term. When God gave His Son to be born of a woman, this law was not violated, and the mother He chose for His Son was doubtless all that grace could make her to be the fit vessel through whom He should receive His human nature and disposition.
And so, just as Jesus Himself is in everything our example, so we may naturally expect that in His mother God has given us one of His servants who may be an example to our mothers. If the child Jesus be an example to our children, there will be something for mothers to learn from His mother. She to whom the heavenly messenger said, 'Hail! thou highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women;' and to whom Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Ghost, also said, 'Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, and blessed is she that believed,' will surely in her words and ways have left an example for every mother who yields herself like Mary to the Lord, to bear a child that can be called a son of the Most High. Were there more mothers like Mary,—this we may confidently say, without forgetting the infinite distance between her child and ours,—there would be more children like the holy Child Jesus.
And what, looked at from the human side, constitutes the most marked feature of Mary's motherhood? It is the childlike simplicity of faith in which she surrenders herself to the Divine purpose: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' She calls herself the Lord's slave or bondwoman ; she gives her will, herself, up to Him, to do what pleaseth Him; in quiet trust and expectancy she will look to Him to do what He has said. It is the same spirit of obedient faith which had once fitted Abraham to be the father of the promised seed, which now prepares her to become the mother of Him in whom the promise is to be fulfilled. Not that there were no difficulties or questionings. We read, 'She was greatly troubled at the saying of the angel, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.' When again he bad spoken, she feared not to ask, 'How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?' But when once the angel had spoken to her of the power of the Most High overshadowing her, she yielded herself to the Divine word. And she became an example to every mother who would like her share the benediction, 'Blessed is she that believeth, for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.' It is the surrender of faith that makes a blessed motherhood: 'Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.'
'Behold the bondmaid of the Lord.' Mary teaches a mother to yield herself to God for the service of His kingdom, that in her His purpose and glory may be made manifest. It was not by the birth of Mary's son alone that God's kingdom was to come. Believing parents may look upon their children as the stones of the great temple of which Jesus was the corner-stone. Not less than with the birth of Isaac, and every child of the chosen race down to Christ, is the birth of each of our children under God's guardianship a link in the golden chain of the good pleasure of God's will. Over all the impulses of human love and the instincts of a God-given maternity, there hovers a Divine purpose using them for the carrying out of His plan. And nothing will do more to sanctify the life of the wife and the mother than when she realizes herself to be the Lord's bondwoman, redeemed for this too, that from her the chosen seed may be multiplied, that from her may be born a generation to serve the Lord. Human love will receive a Divine consecration; what otherwise appears to be only nature and earthly is elevated into the heavenlies, the region of God's will and God's favour; the expectant mother knows herself to be like the angels, one of His servants, doing His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.
'Be it unto me according to Thy word.' Such is the faith that gives the strength to surrender oneself to God's service. It looks no longer at difficulties or impossibilities; it counts upon God to carry out His purpose, and to give the grace and the strength for the work to which He has called us. And it is just this faith that above everything fits for the blessed duties of motherhood, that gives that quiet rest of body and spirit which to mother and babe is health and strength. Or what mother is there who, as she first becomes conscious of her new vocation, is not at times with Mary 'greatly troubled,' and does not feel the question come many a time, 'How can all this be V She finds no rest so sure or sweet as to cast her troubles on her Lord, —let Him do what seemeth to Him good. If the God of nature has created her for a calling, and the God of grace has redeemed her to fulfil that calling in the interests of His kingdom, she assuredly may trust His power and love not to forsake her in her hour of need. 'What hour I am afraid I will trust in Thee; in God have I put my trust, I will not be afraid:' such words have a thousand times over been the stay of the trembling but trusting handmaid of the Lord.
'Be it according to Thy word :' to understand fully the teaching of Mary's example here, there is one trait of her character we must not omit to notice. Twice it is said of her,'Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.' It is in the holy quiet of meditation and reflection on what God has said that the spirit of trust is cultivated. It is only as God's words are kept and pondered in the heart that they can quicken and deepen a living faith in Him who spake them. Every mother who searches Holy Scripture will find there many a saying of God with reference to her sacred calling, which, if truly drunk in, will fill the heart with confidence and joy. They will teach her to regard everything connected with the birth of the child as a matter of deepest interest to the Father in heaven, and of great importance to His kingdom, as the ushering in of a new member into its number. She will see how all the exceeding great and precious promises may be claimed by her for the little one, ere ever yet it has seen the light. She will see how her receiving the little one in the name of Jesus has the promise of Jesus' presence for herself and for it. She will find that all the ordering and training of the child has been provided for in regulations of Divine wisdom and love, and that all the grace needed for carrying out these orders is most surely given to each one who, like Mary, will but be a bondmaid of the Lord, and will believe what He hath spoken. All of care and fear, of danger and pain in the life of motherhood, all the help and joy and rich reward God has connected with it,— all is written in the Book of the Lord; the mother who listens, and waits, and believes, will, in view both of what she fears and what she hopes, be able to say, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.' As she bides her time, let quiet retirement, in which she not only hides herself from the world but opens her whole being to the rays of heaven, let thoughtful, trustful pondering of God's words engage the heart, she will find how true the word is, 'Blessed is she that believed.'
What a holy and what a blessed thing the birth of a child becomes in the light of the birth of Jesus! What a holy and what a blessed task that of the mother becomes in the light of the favour of the Most High God, as the means of the fulfilment of His purpose, the promotion of His glory, the experience of His special grace and mercy! As the mother ponders these things, she will understand something of the deep meaning of that word of Paul, 'She shall be saved through the childbearing, if they continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.' Just as labour in the sweat of his brow was given to man, to be in his fallen state one of his greatest blessings, so the labour of childbearing to the woman, that through it and its blessed discipline the salvation of Christ might the more effectually be inwrought into her whole character and disposition. It calls and helps to a continuance in that blessed life of faith and trustful dependence, of love and gentleness and motherly kindness, of holiness in the indwelling and sanctification of the Spirit, of sobriety and self-restraint and temperance, in which true blessedness is found. It helps, to them who are rightly exercised thereby, to form that perfect womanly character which is one of God's most beautiful gifts on earth. It is in this path of loving acceptance of God's appointment, and trustful resting in His promise, that the word will come true, as a greeting to each expectant mother: 'Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.'
Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Yes, Lord! as Thou hast already looked upon her in Thy mercy, and set her apart for the sacred work of bearing and bringing up a seed for Thee, still continue to look upon her to give her all that she needs, and to work in her all that is well pleasing in Thy sight. 1 As the pye of a maid unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look unto the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us.' Grant to Thy child an ever-increasing clearness, the blessed assurance that in this holy calling of motherhood she is indeed Thy handmaiden, called to the fulfilment of Thy purposes, set apart for the service of Thy kingdom. Let this thought teach me to look upon everything connected with the birth of my child as of deepest interest to my Father.' Let it encourage me to cast every fear and burden, every care and pain, on Him in whose service they come. Let it sanctify all the hope and joy with which Thou dost so wonderfully sweeten the sorrow with which sin had filled our cup.
And so let it be unto me according to Thy word. In childlike faith, O my Lord, I would take Thy blessed Word, with all its teachings and its promises, as my light and strength. In the time of patient waiting, or in the hour of anguish, Thy Word shall be my stay. Let Thy Holy Spirit unfold to Thy handmaiden what treasures Thy Word contains for her as mother, that she may know at the right time to receive what Thou hast provided for her. May she so be prepared that the child which has been received according to Thy word may be trained according to that Word, and enter into the full enjoyment of all that Thy Word holds out in promise to the seed of Thy people. Behold the handmaid of the Lord! be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.