Matthew 1:20. But while he thought on these things While he was revolving them in his mind, in the night season, ignorant as he then was of the divine conception in Mary; while he was inclined to divorce her in this private way, but had not absolutely determined upon it; and while there was a conflict in his breast from opposite considerations; justice showing, on the one hand, what was due to himself; and on the other, what was due to one of Mary’s character; while he was thus deliberating with himself, and in danger of innocently doing wrong, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him Here we have a remarkable instance of the care which God takes of good men, both in keeping them from sin, and in affording them direction in time of need. Joseph had formed that determination which every prudent and wise man would have formed in similar circumstances; and yet, if he had executed his design, he would have greatly injured the holy virgin, in deserting her, and exposing her to censure and reproach. He kept the matter in his own breast, and discovered it to no living creature. But it was not concealed from God, who is privy to the most secret things, and who cannot suffer any that fear him, and look for his direction, to take any step that will be to the injury or loss of the innocent. So constantly does the divine providence superintend the affairs of men, and watch for the salvation of the righteous, even while they sleep. An angel foretold to Mary, that she should be the mother of Christ; and an angel appointed Joseph to be the foster-father of the child, when born; angels ministered to Christ after his temptation; angels strengthened him in his agony; angels bore testimony, as to his nativity, so also to his resurrection, for it was proper that they should pay a peculiar respect to him by whom they had been created, and to whom they were, and were to be, subject.
In a dream The angel appeared to Mary while awake, because faith and consent were required in her that she might conceive by the Holy Ghost; but he appeared to Joseph while sleeping, because that was sufficient in his case, and he was about to believe easily. For we more easily believe those things possible to have been done, which are done already by the divine power, and contrary to the law of nature, than the things which are yet to be done. Hence it was, that the matter was not signified to Joseph before the virgin had conceived, which, indeed, if it had been, might have left room for suspicion. In proportion as Joseph was the more and the longer perplexed with doubt, so much the stronger and more weighty is his testimony, after he is informed of the truth. Saying, Joseph, thou son of David The angel reminds Joseph of the nobility of the stock from whence he sprung, that he might not think of any thing mean, but might raise his mind to the expectation of great things. He who made David, who was the son of a shepherd, a king, why should he not also give a carpenter a son that should be a king? Who promised David that the Messiah should arise from his posterity, He will certainly make his promise good, and will sooner change the whole order of nature than suffer what he hath foretold to fail of accomplishment. Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife i.e, Who is betrothed to thee to be thy wife. For it is a mistake to interpret these words, as some have done, as if she had been already married to Joseph, and he had abstained from all conjugal intercourse with her, in consequence of some vow he had made. Dr. Waterland reads this clause, Scruple not the taking of Mary thy wife. It seems that Joseph had been induced, by a fear of offending God, to think of divorcing his wife, either because he thought she belonged to another man, or because he knew it was by no means lawful or honourable for him to cherish an adulteress. The angel’s words imply, Fear not to take her home to thee, and treat her kindly as a wife ought to be treated, according to the espousals that have passed between you, though there may seem to be some danger of bringing a reflection on thyself and family; for that which is conceived in her is of no human original, but produced by the miraculous and unexampled operation of the Holy Ghost. Thus, after Matthew has related how Christ was of royal descent, he now shows that he was also of much higher birth, and had a divine original. Now, although no example be extant of such a wonderful nativity, it nevertheless ought not to be rashly called in question by any especially by the Jews, since they believe that Abraham, the father of the nation, had a son by Sarah after she was past child-bearing; since they believe that Adam, the first man, was produced without father or mother; and that all the dead will be restored to life. That Joseph’s scruples about taking Mary did not proceed, as some of the fathers supposed, from veneration, appears from the reason here given by the angel why he should take her, which, in that case, would have been the only reason against taking her. And we may observe, too, that the angel’s terming her his wife, and encouraging him to take her, shows on what a flimsy foundation the belief of her perpetual virginity, entertained by the papists and others, is built.
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