My Soul Magnifies the Lord
"And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, (because) he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; (because) he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."
Mary had heard some earth shattering news. Her life would never be the same again. She was a young woman who had grown up somewhat anonymously in a quiet out of the way, backwater but now she was about to be propelled onto the stage of world history in an astonishing manner. Whatever her hopes and dreams had been they were utterly transformed by the extraordinary message she had received from her unexpected visitor.
Mary was unmarried. She had not engaged in sexual relations and had no plans to do so before her planned marriage to her fiancé Joseph took place. And she was told that she was going to have a baby through the direct intervention of God in her life. Had she shown signs of scepticism who would have blamed her? This had never happened before, to anybody. What would Mary make of it all?
Well, she did ask a question. But the amazing thing about her question was that it focused on the mechanics of how this would come about. Her circumstances meant that a baby was, humanly speaking, an impossibility. But she believed the angel’s message would come to pass – she fully accepted that – she was just curious as to how!
Although Mary’s experience was to be unique the angel wanted to encourage Mary to believe that God was capable of causing her to have a baby without the intervention of a man. The angel couldn’t of course send Mary to another woman who had experienced what Mary was soon to experience but he could do the next best thing. He could send Mary to visit an old and barren cousin who had actually become pregnant in her old age and that because God wanted Elizabeth to bear Zechariah a son.
Mary accepted Gabriel’s message and humbly submitted herself to the sovereign purposes of the Lord her God. Having done so Mary then went to pay her elderly cousin a visit and to be encouraged by what she would learn from her.
Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s visit was very positive and how encouraging her words must have sounded to Mary. This is what Elizabeth said to her:
v.45 "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
And with those words ringing in her ears Mary turned to the Lord with words of praise and worship. We know those words under the title of "The Magnificat". We will think about the opening words of this praise-
Again and again at the beginning of her prayer Mary emphasises that this is a very personal business. She will move on to broaden things out as her prayer moves on but she begins with expressions of her personal involvement and commitment.
Mary speaks of:
And she mentions what God has done for her:
he has looked on my humble estate
he has done great things for me
How important it is for us to be able to fill our prayer and for our praise with a similarly personal experience of God in our lives! Will we ever begin to pray aright and to offer true worship if we do not know ourselves to be personal beneficiaries of God’s grace? Will we ever pray and praise aright if we do not feel ourselves to be personally involved in what we are doing?
Spiritual Prayer and Praise
Mary does not focus upon the outward formalities that may or may not accompany prayer and praise but instead she places a definite emphasis upon the spiritual nature of her prayer and praise.
We see that by the way in which she uses the twin expressions of soul and spirit in vv.47+48. We are not to try to discern a significant difference between these two terms as though they referred to totally different things in the human psyche. This is an example of the parallelism so loved by Hebrew poetry where the idea contained in one line is picked up and repeated in the next with different words or pictures.
In referring to her soul, to her spirit, Mary is speaking about her inner nature. She is talking about the higher part of her nature, the spiritual part as opposed to her physical or material being.
It is with her inner spiritual nature that Mary prays and worships and we must ensure that our prayer and worship is similar. It is not enough to say our prayers and sing our songs – unfortunately we can do that without engaging our innermost being, our heart and it is our heart that God wants. As it is put in the Book of Proverbs:
Prov.23:26 "My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways."
This inner nature, the heart, is not subject to growing frailty with the passing of the years but by God’s grace can constantly strengthened and renewed:
You’ll remember what Jesus said to the woman at the well about the type of worshippers God is searching for:
Mary’s prayer flowed from the spiritual depths of her being and as such it was just the kind of worshipful prayer that God looks for.
The Content of her Prayer and Praise
In the opening words of her prayer Mary expresses two things that she is doing and that she wants to do.
My soul magnifies the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
It is not possible to make God’s greatness any greater than it already is. Mary is not suggesting that she can but what she does do is to show and to declare just how great he is so that others might appreciate that greatness for what it is. She wants her soul to serve as a microscope that allows the beauty and intricate detail of the workings of God to become visible. She wants her soul to serve as a telescope that serves to bring a distant object clearly into sight.
To magnify means here in this context to praise greatly and to cause such majesty and greatness to be clearly perceived and appreciated.
Does your inner life function in a similar fashion? Do you want it to? Are you at all concerned with the whole matter of magnifying God of praising him so that others might come to see and appreciate him too for who and what he is?
It is not a matter of simply affirming a few truths – that can be done without any personal engagement or warmth and there is a way of describing that – it is dead orthodoxy with the emphasis upon dead.
Mary is not concerned with dead orthodoxy but with an orthodoxy that has thrilled and continues to thrill her own soul. She is filled with joy and she absolutely delights in her God. God has come to her, met with her and transformed her – how can she remain cold and indifferent? Indeed is it possible for a man or a woman to have truly met with God and be left indifferent? Yes, I know the soul can pass through dry and barren periods – such experiences have been referred to as the dark night of the soul and have found expression in some of our hymns as for example in William Cowper’s "Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?" But even here the hymnwriter’s current barrenness bears eloquent testimony to the fact that this is abnormal and he longs to experience once again "the soul-
We thought a little about this during the midweek Bible study when we considered what the psalmist meant by being satisfied with the Lord’s steadfast love.
We want to ask questions like:
how can we be satisfied in this way?
how can we magnify the Lord in our soul?
how can we rejoice in God our Saviour?
What does all this mean and what can we do practically to move in the right direction?
Well, we can exalt God in our souls by:
remembering all that he has done for us – Mary’s prayer follows descriptions of the Lord’s promises to her and encouragements to carry on believing
praising him for what he has done
Specifically Mary rejoiced in the fact that God was her Saviour! She had been brought to think about matters of salvation by the angel’s message concerning the son she was to bear. Her son was to sit on the throne of David – in other words her son was to be the Messiah, the One who would come to deliver his people and specifically to deliver them from their sin. Mary was told his name was to be called Jesus and we know the meaning of that name!
So Mary was brought to think about salvation matters. It’s only sinners who need a Saviour and Mary readily admitted her need. Like everyone else Mary needed a Saviour. She also knew that she had a one! Mary was in the unique position of being the one who would bear her own Saviour into the world!
Thinking about salvation matters and reflecting upon them led Mary to want to praise God greatly and to rejoice in him for his goodness not just to people in general but to her individually. So we too ought to turn our thoughts often to matters of salvation.
We should not assume that we will automatically experience joy in our own souls if we do not take the necessary steps of reminding ourselves of God’s promises. We need to think about God’s accomplishments and God’s personal dealings with us. Then, as we do so, let’s not forget to turn our thoughts into praise and to rejoice in his wonderfully bounteous provision for us. As the writer to the Hebrews put it:
Heb.2:3 "how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"
Thankful for Free Grace
As Mary reflected upon God’s promises to her concerning salvation and the Saviour she didn’t react as if she thought she deserved everything that was coming her way. Instead as she thought it all over she recognised that her status in life was lowly, she was merely a humble servant. But how wonderfully God was dealing with her and how wonderfully he would continue to deal with her too.
It was grace. The Mighty One had done great things for her. The privileges that were hers would lead to her being called "blessed" not merely by a close older relative but by men and women throughout the ages.
Sadly thousands have been duped into crediting her with far more than she deserves and have been drawn away from true faith in Christ by looking to the mother for what the Son alone can provide. Mary is to be regarded as blessed by God for the role she played in his plan of salvation. But we must never forget that she too was a sinner who needed to be a beneficiary of that salvation plan too. Let’s us call her blessed for responding so promptly and readily to God’s call but let us not make the mistake of treating her as somehow a co-