Prayers and Praises of Women: Mary

Mary’s song, often called the Magnificat (from Latin), is a sublime expression of praise found in Luke 1:46-55. Because some have taken their views on Mary well beyond Scripture, perhaps we may have swung too far in the other direction and not considered her enough. If so, we have missed some vital truths contained in her lovely song.

First, it is helpful to understand a little about Mary. She was a young woman, likely 14-16 years of age when Gabriel the angel visited her to tell her she would bring forth the Son of God. With this stunning news, Mary immediately went to visit her older relative Elisabeth. When she arrived, Elisabeth felt John the Baptist leap in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (v41). Elisabeth then responded and “spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luk 1:42).[1] We can only imagine the fear Mary would have as surely rumors would begin to circulate around Nazareth and abroad. Therefore, it was wise for her to seek the presence and counsel of a godly older woman to help fortify her in challenging circumstances. Mary’s spirituality was evident as her trust in divine promises led her to burst out with this delightful hymn of praise.

One of the impressive features of this song is Mary’s evident knowledge of Scripture at such a young age. We see many references to Old Testament passages, including Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2. There are also echoes of numerous prophecies and Psalms throughout (e.g., Psa 9, 34, 35, 72, 103). May this be a practical thought for us that the more we meditate upon the Word, the more it will come out in our worship, as it did with Mary.

We could dwell on the opening line of this song at length, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (v46). The thought of magnifying may be likened to looking at a faraway planet through a powerful telescope. We see it larger than we do with our natural eye, and yet it is nowhere near as big as if we were close to it. In reality, the object does not expand in size because it is magnified; we can just see it better through the lens which provides an enhanced perspective.

Is there any greater activity for a believer than to magnify the Lord? While we as sinners fall short of God’s glory in many ways, at its root, we do not give God the place He deserves when we sin. However, once we have been shown a glimpse of His majesty at salvation, our objective should be to magnify the Lord from then on. C.H. Spurgeon referred to this habit of magnifying the Lord as a remedy for self-congratulation, a fruitful utterance for holy feelings, a reason for hopefulness, and a guide in our theology.

Mary then praised God because “he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (v48). Although she had great knowledge of the Scriptures and a lineage from Abraham and David, she was not well known or of high regard. We see ourselves in this same place at the point of our conversion. If we had been proud of our position, lineage or works, we would not have been saved. Often in testimonies we hear of the person “coming to an end of himself.” Mary had come to that point: she, a person of low estate, would soon give birth to the Lord Jesus. He would be the Savior of all who trust in Him and a Saviour for Mary’s soul as well (v47). Mary herself could see that all generations would call this handmaiden of low estate “blessed” (v48). And yet, she quickly balanced this elevated thought with a heavenly focus: “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name” (v49). While we can think about our low estate and remember the wretches we were prior to salvation and how blessed we have become, how much better it is to be occupied with the “Blesser,” the one who is mighty and holy. Like Mary, all generations will call us blessed as well for what we have received at salvation. Also, spiritually speaking, we have all been brought into as close a relationship with the Lord as Mary His mother had (see Mar 3:35).

Mary also extols the Lord’s mercy. Some that are taken up with a social gospel have made much of verses 51-53, but they miss that these thoughts are predicated by verse 50 where she says, “His mercy is on them that fear him.” Are there any that are proud (v51) that don’t first have to humble themselves to accept God’s mercy? Are there any mighty (v52) enough that they don’t need to come down from their high place? Did we not all have to come as poor, hungry, lost sinners (v53) in order to receive the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness? To interpret this in a way other than the humbling required for salvation is to miss the point of the Lord’s coming to the earth. He came to fill “the hungry with good things” (v53) in a spiritual sense, not just in a physical sense. Certainly, He would feed thousands, but as verse 50 states, His mercy is “from generation to generation.” We learn that Mary’s perspective is larger than simply the immediate fulfillment of need for food and justice in her day.

In the closing of this song, Mary speaks again of His mercy: “As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever” (v55). This draws our minds back to Genesis 3:15 where we read of the Seed of the woman and the enmity with Satan – “it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” We see God’s promises continue from Eve to Abraham and then to His Seed forever in the One Mary would soon deliver. Truly she was blessed, and truly we are blessed because of the truths contained here. Like Mary, all that have received His mercy can say today, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.