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A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

ARG. THOMAS. That CHRIST, without sin, for the sins of His people, was judged and overthrew His judges. The voice of the penitent. This Psalm is to be read at the lection of Isaiah the Prophet, and of the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul is chosen. The voice of CHRIST for penitent people, and the voice of Paul, and of every one that believeth and doeth penitence. The doctrine of Confession, and a prophecy of the Church. Of martyrdom.

VEN. BEDE. The history is known.… Where we must earnestly observe, that to this end have the greatest saints been sometimes permitted to fall into such crimes, and their faults and penitence are recorded in Scripture, that to us, poor weak creatures, and following them at such a distance, fear and caution may be commended; and in their reformation an example of penitence and a hope of life may be given. But since even the evil deeds of saints work out the mystery of salvation, David signifies CHRIST: Bathsheba (which by interpretation is the Well of Satiety) figures the Church: Uriah (which by interpretation is My Light of God) sets forth the devil, who desired fraudulently to seize the Light of the Godhead, but being overthrown by the LORD, lost the kingdom of the world, and put away the Church of the faithful to be governed by CHRIST.

[The usual mediæval interpretation is more ingenious. Hildebert thus writes:

Bersabee Lex est; Rex David,* Christus; Urias,

Judæus;—regi nuda puella placet.

Nuda placet Christo Lex non vestita figuris;

Aufert Judæis hanc, sociatque sibi.

Vir non vult intrare domum, nec spiritualem

Intellectum plebs Israel ingreditur.

Scripta gerit, per scripta perit deceptus Urias;

Sic et Judæus scripta sequendo perit.]

This Psalm is divided into five clauses. The first is the satisfaction of most perfect humility (1–6). The second, the confidence of heavenly mercy (7, 8). The third, that the LORD may turn away His Face from David’s sin (9–12). The fourth, that other sinners will be encouraged if his terrible iniquity should be pardoned (13–17). The fifth, he commemorates the rise of the Church, which even then he looked for (18, 19).

EUSEBIUS OF CÆSAREA. The doctrine of Confession.

S. JEROME. This fiftieth Psalm echoes the voice of him that is penitent; showing, how he who has fallen into sin, may, by confessing that sin, rise again to good.

1 Have mercy upon me, O GOD, after thy great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.

I can only begin, as Hugh of S. Victor begins, with this prayer: that what I should have felt of the evil of sin, standing under the cross of the penitent thief on Calvary, and seeing the penalty of man’s guilt in that central Cross, and understanding the actual existence of human malice from the mockers and blasphemers around,*—that, so far as is possible, I may feel in writing of that Psalm concerning which it may of a truth be said: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” And first of all they observe,—they, the theological commentators, in their way,—just as they, the mediæval artists in their way,—that in the very origin of this Psalm, we have the trinity of evil; that diabolical parody in working out iniquity of the operations of the GOD Who saw everything that He had made, (L.) and behold it was very good. David abused the power of a king, by giving command that Uriah should be slain. He abused the wisdom of a wise man by plotting the deceit which gave him over into the hands of the Ammonites. He took advantage of the goodness and purity of a righteous man, when he sent Uriah back again to the camp without allowing him to enter into his house. So we have the Omnipotence of the FATHER; the Wisdom of the SON; the Holiness of the HOLY GHOST, betrayed; and by each and all great occasion given to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme. According to the multitude of Thy mercies. And they almost all, those great primitive and mediæval writers take it of the Incarnation. And they well argue that sins,* those sins of which David’s were the type, were utterly inexpiable under the old law; that S. Paul spoke most simply the entire truth of these, when he said that for such there remained only a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. But,* on the other hand, they delight, those heralds of GOD’S mercy, to heap up the different promises by which that mercy is assured to penitents, even in the Old, how much more in the New, Testament. “Thou hast magnified Thy mercy,”* so Abraham says. “The LORD is long-suffering, and of great mercy,”* Moses pleads, when the spies returned. “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,”* says Joel. “Thou hast shewed great mercy unto David,”* says Solomon, in the beginning of his reign. “Thy lovingkindness is better than the life itself,”* David tells us. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment,”* as S. James teaches us. And the 136th Psalm finds on the one side those like S. Ambrose who would principally see in it the Incarnation; on the other, those who like Innocent III., S. Thomas, S. Chrysostom, S. Cyril, and Hugo Cardinalis, would take it of the Passion. The multitude of Thy mercies. And they observe from this; that, although the one sin was now that which was the hardest to bear,* which, to use the saint’s own expression, bit the hardest, yet many and many another sin, when once he was roused to a sense of his guilt, also, as S. Hildebert says, fastened on him like fiery serpents, he having made way to their incursion by that first original venom of the ancient guile. And how could one pass over this verse without quoting the words of S. Bernard? “Do away mine offences. How shouldst Thou not, O good JESUS, do them away? How should we not run after Thee? when we perceive that Thou despisest not the poor, abhorrest not the evil-doer, didst not keep off from the penitent thief, didst allow Thy feet to be kissed by her that was a sinner, didst receive the Syrophenician woman, didst accept her that was taken in adultery, in the very act; didst turn Levi the publican into Matthew the Evangelist; didst, out of the very spectators of Thy crucifixion, call one who was to be among the very chiefest of Thine Apostles.” This is what S. Bernard takes as the innermost meaning of our first verse; and all the saints, and all the holy commentators whom I might reckon up by hundreds, have but repeated, have but diluted, his words; have but, knowing what they know of the terrible struggle between the new and the old nature—between the first and the Second Adam, said something, each according to his own capability, which might throw some small light on the first verse of the most wonderful of Psalms.

[Of all single Commentators on the Psalms, Ayguan is, I will not say the lengthiest, because that involves the idea of tediousness, but, the fullest. His work is included in two folio volumes, of a thousand pages each. But were he to dwell on the whole Psalter at the same length as he does on the verse of which we have now been speaking, forty folio volumes would not be sufficient to carry out what he had thus begun.]

2 Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.

And here, (L.) notice first: how, great as David’s sins were, lust to begin with, adultery to go on with, murder to end with: yet, it is not from these great sins, but also from the small transgressions which the world would think little of that he,—he, with all the enormous weight of that former guilt,—prays to be freed. And observe further,* that it is from the guilt, and not from the punishment, that he thus asks deliverance. That the sword should never depart from his house;* that the sin, begun, not only secretly even in its full accomplishment, but far more secretly in the recesses of David’s heart, should be punished before all Israel and before the sun; that the child so dear to David should be made one great punishment of his offence; these things, so far as this Psalm is concerned, might, or might not be. It is of the offence against GOD; of the defiling, although it were not then so expressly declared, GOD’S temple by impurity, that David speaks,—speaks, as S. Fulbert says, commenting on that word throughly, as if, more or less, longer or shorter, to him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, it were one and the same thing. And we must not wonder if, in these latter days, when the love of many is waxed cold, and because it has so waxed cold, every possible excuse is looked for, every possible palliation is found in, the Old Testament; we must not wonder if that which was written by GOD to preserve from despair, is turned by Satan into the means to lead on to presumption. “So David sinned;” thus Hildebert speaks: “So David, having sinned, is pardoned. And I, I, may I not sin as far as David in impunity, and stop short of him in bloodthirstiness? May I not with him break the seventh, and yet keep the sixth Commandment? And, if I break both, the man after GOD’S own heart, did the same.” And, as the same S. Hildebert says, “Ah, King of Israel, ah, ancestor of the CHRIST, is not this of GOD’S infinite mercy toward thee, that, since thou hast occasioned, and wilt occasion, to the end of the world, so many, and so horrible, blasphemies, that thou shouldst also be the channel, through whose words the grace of GOD has descended to so many penitents; by whoso teaching the GOD who is Himself a consuming fire, should draw His followers on to the eternal light of heaven; through whose attraction, the lamp to guide the feet of His servants in this, should become the same which never can go down or withdraw itself in that world?”

3 For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.

The heathen philosopher said: “What great truth is there in acknowledging the faults that a man has committed?” But here we have a more real appreciation of the difficulty. As S. Augustine says: if there be one madness greater than another,* it is this, (A.)—not to be ashamed of the wound, but to be ashamed of the bandage. They collect together the passages of Holy Scripture in which men confess that they have sinned; none better or more earnestly than S. Bernard. On the one side—S. Peter,* S. Mary Magdalene, the Penitent Thief, the Prodigal Son, the King of Nineveh, the Jews at S. Peter’s first sermon,* the jailor at Philippi, Saul, afterwards S. Paul. But others have confessed like the former Saul; again like Antiochus. Thence they go on to show how the power of confession first of all depends on the power of spiritual sight;* first of all you must perceive yourself guilty, (L.) before you can own that you are. For Satan, like Nahash the Ammonite, is wont to put out the eyes of those whom he leads captive. And then those deep writers on turning from sin,* and the love of GOD, warn us of this, that the latter part of the verse, my sin is ever before me is, in and by itself,* a very questionable kind of repentance. They may be so remembered as to be taken pleasure in again; they remark how many and many a prisoner has remembered his sins in prison, lived in them again, acted them over again, longed for the time when he might repeat them. Whereas the most perfect example of deep penitence,* namely, that of S. Peter, is one as entirely separate from every re-inducement to sin. On the other hand, however much that blessed Apostle would grieve, without any mixture of any feeling but sorrow, when he remembered that crowing of the cock, and the more he dwelt on each particular circumstance of this sin, the self-assertion in presence of his dear Master on the preceding evening,—the presence of a cock in Jerusalem when, save by accident or negligence none could be there,—the hearing it once and not even then remembering, nay, the hearing it again, and not even so calling to mind what his LORD had said, till the same dear “LORD turned and looked upon Peter;” the more he followed out (as no doubt in those, to him, miserable hours, he did) the whole series of his fall, most certainly,* the truer repentance. But, as Pinusius says, whoever should have advised David to go through all the steps of his sin in the same way and with the same detail would only have shown how little he knew of the human heart. Therefore; they proceed; here is one of the great lessons to be—taught in the first place, learnt in the next—when the committed sin should be ever before the sinner in its details; when only in its general substance and weight. My sin is ever before me; or,* as it is in the Vulgate, though not in the LXX.,1 my sin is ever against me. And therefore in that phrase the fathers of the Western Church have exercised themselves in exploring the full meaning. And again; S. Jerome takes the words: my sin is ever against me; in this sense, that sin separates GOD and man; therefore, that as man to be the true servant of his LORD, must seek Him by prayer, so “those iniquities which,”* as the Prophet says, “have separated between you and your GOD,” and “that sin which hath hid His face from you that He will not hear;” these are indeed against us.

4 Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.

And first of all we ask, in what sense it can be said that he had only sinned against GOD, when he had sinned both against Bathsheba and Uriah; and to this they add a different question: whether he sinned most against her or him. And this is to be observed beyond everything else; and so they who lived in the earlier and in the mediæval ages of the Church,* seem to have felt most strongly how far higher the law that our LORD came to lay down soars above even his law,* whose present Psalm has been the support,* comfort, guide, guardian, of so many thousand penitents. Take it in the words of a mediaeval saint. “O my GOD! Thou knowest how often, how innumerable times, I myself, with ten thousand-fold the grace of this Thy saint,—of this, the man that was well-pleasing to Thee, have given Thee thanks for this Psalm. But this also: for this I thank Thee, that Thou hast given to the meanest of Thy servants now, the power to do,—the wisdom to know this in the Church, as compared to that in the synagogue—that which Thy servant and saint, only did not, because he knew not. I thank Thee, O LORD, that to us it is not allowed, to enjoy that which we have unlawfully coveted, when possession becomes lawful. I thank Thee that Thou hast from Thy true and faithful servants,* in this Thy better kingdom, closed that which, had it been still allowable to them, might have been a further incentive to sin.” He means of course that to a Christian man, after the previous sin, Bathsheba would have been forbidden; and yet that, so far from this, she, of all David’s wives, to the very last, had the greatest influence over him; and which they most truly observe,* seems to have been, in that most corrupt generation, one of GOD’S truest servants. But there are several ways in which the difficulty is resolved. Against Thee only. Some will have it that we only learn from the parable of the infinite ten thousand talents, and the poor hundred pence,* how a sin immediately committed against his neighbour may yet be man’s infinitely more terrible accusation before his GOD. Others look at David’s anointing; and there see a special grace given, and therefore a special power received; and therefore a special sin in the neglecting the inward strength which that bestowed power gave. Others—later in the mediæval Church—remembering how the dear Bridegroom and the dear Bride are one, (W.) will have it that a sin against the latter is equally an offence against the former. To which it is answered: that the synagogue can scarcely claim the same love from, the same union with our LORD, that His Church now can.1 And perhaps on the whole, the parable of the ten thousand talents most probably gives the true meaning: murder, as regards Urias; pollution, as regards Bathsheba; but what, either one or the other, as respects the LORD of Life, or the GOD of Purity? Then there comes a still greater difficulty: how the fact of David’s having sinned against GOD alone should justify Him in His sayings. And therefore it is not wonderful that they should have attempted a different reading,* which the Chaldee paraphrase gives rise to: that Thou mightest justify me in, or with respect to, Thy commandments. And again, some will have it: so that Thou art just in Thy decree, unspotted when Thou judgest. That is, that the sin of David, though not followed up by the avenger of blood, as, according to the Levitical law, it ought to have been, was nevertheless rightly, according to that law,* punished by the GOD Who gave it. But, as those deeper interpreters teach us, here faintly and weakly, the great sacrifice for sin is set forth. David has committed a sin which must be punished by death; according to the Mosaic law,* not even, were the avenger of blood pacified,* might the murderer live. Then next; by the mouth of GOD’S prophet, GOD gives His pardon; “the LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”* But not absolute and unconditional pardon; the sentence of death on the child follows. We must not here work out that type; but over and over again it has been shown how the Child of Bethlehem, born to this end, that He might take on Himself the sins of the whole world, was faintly and afar off typified by this, whose death was so involved in his father’s prolonged life.

5 Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.

On this verse the whole multitude of early and mediæval Commentators have diverged this way and that into all kind of questions regarding the soul and body of man: when each was first created;* when the two joined together. For my own part, leaving for this time those who have thus disputed,—their names are in the margin—and a host of others, I will only quote what Tauler in his’ commentary on the Passion says: “Let others, O LORD, dispute how sin entered into the world—how sin entered into man; this, rather, this only would I ask Thee, that Thou Who, of a very truth, didst take our perfect nature, albeit without sin, on Thyself,—that Thou, Who knowest whereof we are made, and rememberest that we are but dust, wouldst have pity on all mine infirmities, wouldst compassionate all my weaknesses, wouldst, even in this body of sin, as Thy Church has learnt to say, not weighing my merits, but pardoning my offences, frame such a spirit as may be found worthy to enter the gates of Paradise; such a body as may have part in the first resurrection: so that body, soul, and spirit, renewed, transfigured, reinstated; I say not in their first, but in their more than first dignity, may together rejoice in the ineffable glory of the Beatific vision.”1

6 But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

I cannot but see with Lorinus; the more deeply we enter into this Psalm, (L.) the more utterly we feel how unworthy we are to penetrate into the shrine of his heart, who, sinner though he were, yet, nevertheless, was the man after GOD’S own heart. But first; we must notice the difference of the Vulgate from our own translation. But lo, Thou requirest truth: the uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom Thou hast made manifest to me.2 We ought the more diligently to listen to S. Thomas, seeing that he will be so soon taken away from helping us. So I cannot do better than quote his own words: Behold thou hast loved the truth. Here—this being taken in connection with the whole history of repentance, as written in this Psalm,—you have the sum of each portion, and of the whole put together. Thou hast loved the truth. The truth in true sorrow as regards thyself: the truth in true confession as regards thy priest: the truth in true restitution as regards thy neighbour. The uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom Thou hast made known unto me. Of Thy wisdom? And who am I, O LORD GOD, that Thou shouldest make manifest “to me” that wisdom Who saith, “I dwell in the highest, and My throne is in the cloudy pillar.”* Thou hast made manifest to me1 in the triple way of prophecy: the supernatural is when the prophet speaks, “I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up:” the next, supernatural, and yet revealed to the bodily eye, as well as to the spiritual sight, of which we hear where that is written; “The LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders:”* and lastly, when, without any revelation supernatural either to bodily or mental sense, the manifestation was only to the deepest and inmost spirit, as where it is so often written in the Prophets, “The word of the LORD came unto me, saying.” Thus it is that the greatest doctor of all saints, the greatest saint of all doctors, teaches us on this matter; and were there any especial reason why we should value what he thus writes, it is to be found in this—that his commentary on the Psalms was the latest of all his works; was, as his immediate follower so loved to say, his swan’s song; and that, while engaged in composing it,—most probably, in writing the very portion of which we have just heard the abstract,—he fell into that fainting fit which his dear sister, the Countess of Grandella, prophesied would end his work on earth.

7 Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Here, they all say,* that which was merely confession by word before, becomes confession in action. Any one can submit to the former; it requires a far greater grace, though still not the crowning grace of all—that we shall come to by-and-by—to receive the latter. Look at all the ritual purifications of the Jews: the cleansing of the leper,* that of the leprous house,* the water of separation by the ashes of the red heifer: and then see how,* even so early as the great doctor of the Western Church has taught, (A.)—even amidst a people who had been educated in the belief that temporal promises,* that earthly pleasure, were the heritage of those who truly served GOD,—how even they were, in the types and parables of their offices, shown—according to that far higher Christian teaching, that it is by suffering, not by pleasure, that we may hope to draw nearest to Him That was the Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

8 Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate,—and therefore this Psalm has its especial force, as one of those for the dead,—the bones which Thou hast humbled. But those words are taken in more senses than one: each of them so precious; each of them, in this or in that way, having reference to the Incarnation. And the bones which Thou hast humbled. Humbled, in the fall of man; that is which Thou hast permitted—as the type of the endurance of man against temptation—so to feel their own weakness: they—in that day known to Thee—they, in the regeneration of all things, shall, as the Prophet says,* “rejoice and flourish as an herb.” It shows what was the depth of meaning believed by the early and mediæval Church to lie concealed under these words, (C.) with different interpretations of them,* that the references which they have been supposed to bear to our LORD’S miracles and sayings in the Gospels should so entirely vary. But perhaps what S. Clement of Alexandria says is the most striking. They are to be humbled by faith and repentance,* not to be broken by despair; they, the bones, shall hereafter rejoice—not the flesh, the seat and type of earthly passion and luxury. And he proceeds: “In the first and second Adam the case was thus far the same. In the first Adam, his bones were humbled by the loss of one of them, in order that out of it the help meet for him might be made. In the second Adam so humbled, that they might all be told: in the one case, by GOD’S especial miracle of creation; in the other by (as with all reverence we may say it) the yet more especial and foretold miracle of His Providence.”* Let us hear, at the end of this verse, a noble passage of S. Jerome, in a work in which he certainly did not always write nobly:—“The bones which Thou hast humbled shall rejoice. I honour,* in the flesh of the martyr, the scars received for the Name of CHRIST; I honour the power of Him That liveth for ever and ever in the everlasting memorial of His servant; I honour the ashes hallowed by the confession of the LORD; I honour, in those ashes, the seeds of eternity; I honour the body which hath showed me how to love my LORD,—the body which hath taught me, for my LORD, not to fear death; I honour the body which CHRIST hath honoured on earth,—the body with which CHRIST will reign in heaven.” There cannot be a better commentary on that word rejoice.

9 Turn thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.

They say very well how here David rightly asks that which S. Peter, (Ay.) intending to ask rightly, so made request for as, had his petition been granted, it would have proved his eternal ruin. David says, Turn, Thy face—not from me, but—from my sins. S. Peter, mixing the two together, petitioned, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” Rather, as they teach us, the prayer of the centurion comes far nearer to this: “LORD,* I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” And they remind us of that ancient type of turning away the face from sin, when Shem and Japheth, turning their backs on their father, so sympathized with his weakness,* so suffered for him in his sin. And in like manner they quote—and the reader may at his leisure refer to them—those passages which tell of Ezekiel’s vision,* and of Rachel’s artifice.

10 Make me a clean heart, O GOD: and renew a right spirit within me.

It is wonderful—or rather, perhaps, considering the malice of Satan, it is not wonderful—that the great texts which ought to be, and in themselves are, the greatest comfort for the earnest servants of our LORD, are the chief battle-fields of scholastic divinity. On this verse, as every scholar knows, the Scotists and the Thomists find, each of them, a principal argument for their respective tenets about the mediate source of grace. Volumes would not suffice even to give an abstract of their arguments; and perhaps, as a commentator on this Psalm who lived very near to GOD says,* were the matter settled, the decision on one side or on the other would neither bring to pass the conversion of one sinner, nor the edification of one saint. The difficulty, of course, lies in the word create: Create in me a clean heart, O God: how far, and in what sense, that spirit can be said to be created which is only turned from darkness to light; given over from the power of Satan into that of GOD; regenerated in baptism, (B.) if it so be—otherwise, after baptism, turned round in conversion from the slavery of Satan to the light yoke and easy burden of its dear LORD. That is, how the poor kine, with their affections in the Philistines’ country, may nevertheless, lowing as they go,* be—not forced, but—drawn, to bring up the ark of GOD to its own place: how, as another mediæval commentator tells us, the man with the measuring line in his hand may see what is the length as well as the breadth of Jerusalem.* It is a fault rather of our language than of our teaching, that the identity of spirit and wind, or breath, is not at once perceptible. For in connection with this verse we should otherwise at once catch those: “He bloweth with His wind, and the waters flow;”* “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” and, “Whither the spirit was to go, they”—the Living Creatures—“went,* thither was their spirit to go;” and, to sum up the whole, “As many as are led by the Spirit of GOD, they are the sons of GOD.” Then this also has to be observed, to which I for one should never have dared to allude, did not almost all the saintly commentators on the Psalms point it out—renew a right spirit: “Take not Thy HOLY SPIRIT;” “Stablish me with Thy free Spirit.” And so they say, taught, in the first place, (so far as I know,) by S. Bernard, that the HOLY SPIRIT is, according to His proper Name, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity; the right Spirit is spoken of the SON; the free, or princely, or royal Spirit, of the FATHER: of the FATHER, because He only is not GOD of GOD, Light of Light, very GOD of very GOD, but GOD of Himself, Light of Himself, very GOD in and of His own eternal essence: the self-existent JEHOVAH, (Ay.) a title which, in these days, so many, with more zeal and love than knowledge,* would apply to our Blessed LORD. How this verse is the seventh foundation of the Church, and answers to the Chrysolite, I may well leave to those whose studies lie in that direction.

11 Cast me not away from thy presence: and take not thy HOLY SPIRIT from me.

From this verse the Church has taken one of the most common and most encouraging petitions. If we ask that the HOLY SPIRIT may not be taken from us, it follows that we must have received Him. “Now, then,” as one of the great preachers of the seventeenth century says,* “now, then, ye who say that the HOLY GHOST is not given in Baptism, what will ye? If He is not, then are our children manifestly in a worse condition than those of the Jews. Take not, saith David, Thy Holy Spirit from me. How had David that HOLY SPIRIT? Will you answer that it was as GOD’S Prophet, as GOD’S Psalmist, as GOD’S vicegerent upon earth? And what poor miserable culprit, standing even before an earthly tribunal, would remind the judge of the especial reasons there were that he should not have fallen into the crime for which he now stood in peril of his life? And David now was capitally condemned, according to the law of the Jews, on a double charge—adultery and murder; and would he then have pleaded, Take not That HOLY SPIRIT Which has so taught me to sing Thy praises—take not That HOLY SPIRIT by Which I have been anointed king over this great people—from me? Verily, what would this have been but to stir up the hot anger of GOD even to a higher degree than it had been before kindled? No, thus it is: Because I, the son of Abraham, was, as an infant, admitted into the fellowship of Thy children, take not That HOLY SPIRIT from me, which, outwardly, at all events, then sealed me to be Thine own. Now, therefore, O disciple, not of the Catholic Church, but of Calvin,—now, then, O follower, not of the confession of the Apostles, but of that of Augsburg,—are thy children to be better or worse off than those of the Jews? If worse, whereto serves the New Testament? If better, thank that LORD Who died for thee and for all men, that verily and truly they are regenerate; and that the multitude who died in their infancy, having received Baptism which is not that of the Church, found that That HOLY SPIRIT was not taken from them in the hour of their death, and now follow the LAMB whithersoever He goeth.”

12 O give me the comfort of thy help again: and stablish me with thy free Spirit.

And here they say—why need I make a list of those who merely reiterate what every Priest knows, (A.) or ought to know?—how much that comfort is needed by those who either awake to a sense of their own sins,* or have to bear the sins of others. No one can speak better than S. Eucherius: “Who would undertake that most terrible office of announcing the mercy of GOD to men,* if they knew what was that office of standing in the place of GOD to men? There are the four Beasts round about the Throne,* there are numberless beasts on earth;* men like beasts; men worse than beasts; men learned in that of which beasts are altogether ignorant. I know not how this office could be undertaken, were it not that the LORD saith, ‘Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.’ To ask implies learning; to seek implies devotion; to knock implies self-denial. All these things must meet in the person of a Priest: the seeking, the asking, the knocking. And observe how. How, dost thou say? Both from heaven and from earth. What that seeking, asking, knocking of the sinner is, ye, brethren,” (for he was addressing a synod of his Priests,) “are not ignorant. What it is as regards the great High Priest—knowledge must ask, love must seek, operation must knock; the beginning of the work is from necessity; its perseverance is in love; its action in rest; its rest in labour: this is what we owe as Priests, on the one hand, to penitents; on the other, to the great High Priest.” And stablish me with Thy free Spirit. And free is such a poor translation of the word. Liberal, or royal, or better still, which the Vulgate has, princely spirit. They discuss, those great Doctors both of the Eastern and Western Church, what especial grace—if one may use the expression without irreverence—what favourite grace is signified by this epithet of the HOLY GHOST. It is singular to observe, by all the commentators on the Psalms, reaching down from almost Apostolic ages to this, how that especial grace, which the world then chiefly set at nought, is the Princely Spirit signified. For example: in an age of heresy,* S. Ambrose will have it to be the true faith; in an age of luxury,* S. Chrysostom understands it of the grace of purity; later down, in an age of feudal tyranny, it is interpreted of the freedom which, in spite of earthly bonds and fetters, the servant of GOD enjoys; the foretaste of that Jerusalem which is free; and still later, in an age of scholastic disputation,* the Spirit of Wisdom is the Princely Spirit. In the same way that, during the many centuries of the Church’s existence, that doctrine has been, above all others, the Catholic doctrine which the world, for the time being, agreed to hate: as in the fourth century, the CONSUBSTANTIAL; in the fifth, the Incarnation; in the present, all Sacramental teaching.

13 Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

And why should he set forth this as one great end and aim of his life? And they all with one consent answer, Because, after his sin, till his repentance, he had taught to all his subjects, and to all the nations round, as he has taught to all future generations, by that one sin, Satan’s ways. So the stress is to be laid on THY ways. Up to this time I have taught any ways but Thine; up to this time I have given great occasion to Thine enemies to blaspheme; but then—then, (L.) when Thou shalt have not only bestowed on me, but stablished me with Thy Princely Spirit,* then shall I teach Thy ways. A Spirit so Princely in forgiveness as to remit my own transgressions; a Spirit so Princely in strength, as to trample under foot all future assaults of the enemy. And sinners shall be converted unto Thee. “How little he thought,” (D. C.) so says the Carthusian, “what thousands and hundreds of thousands of sinners should learn repentance from this Psalm, who when,” the words are worth noting, “they see Priests, highly educated, prepared with all the array of this world’s learning, professing to give up themselves and their lives to the instruction and conversion of others, find them all so utterly fail; because they speak not with the fire of the HOLY GHOST, but so coldly, so drily, so wretchedly; instead of those sharp, penetrating, red-hot words, which they who have taken in hand to bring men from darkness to light—from the slavery of Satan into the liberty of the LORD—ought to have. As saith the Apostle, ‘Thou art confident that thou thyself art a guide to the blind.… Thou, therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?’ ” Sinners shall be converted unto Thee. They ask,* Who are the three great Doctors of the Catholic Church? Surely, take them all in all, we should answer, David, the murderer; Peter, the denier; Paul, the blasphemer. And here is fulfilled what so long before the Mosaic dispensation had been written for our learning; how the Unicorn is now willing to serve us,* will bring home our seed, and gather it into our barn. “See,” says S. Gregory the Great, “what remission of sins this is, which not only frees the converted, but converts the bondsman. See what wisdom this is which turns the serpent’s malice on himself, and out of which his very venom produces the saving efficacy of redemption as theriac out of poison.”

14 Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O GOD, thou that art the GOD of my health: and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.

We must not take this text—for, except in the Vulgate, it never could be interpreted in that lovely sense—Deliver me by means of blood-shedding: that is,* by the one Offering of Calvary. They give eight other interpretations: all of them, except this, connected with the Jewish law; whether as having to do with the punishment of death inflicted, under the Mosaic dispensation,* both for murder and for adultery, or the vengeance which had been threatened, that the sword should never depart from the house of David, might be removed from his family. And it would be useless to dwell on the senses which the ingenuity of the middle ages affixed to this petition. But perhaps that which will come more nearly and dearly home to the heart of those who most frequently recite this Psalm, is this: Deliver me from the guilt of the Blood of Calvary. Where notice this: that the petition of the Jews, as they intended it, the most awful that human lips ever uttered, “His Blood be on us and on our children,” is, in another sense, that one supplication on which all our dearest hopes hang—“Not by water only, but by water and blood.” And so now, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness: that is, not, GOD forbid! from having any interest in that most precious Blood poured forth for us on the Cross; but from having, as S. Paul says, crucified that same LORD afresh, and put Him to an open shame.

15 Thou shalt open my lips, O LORD: and my mouth shall show thy praise.

Marvellous verse, which has merited to begin so many myriads of services, since the Church first began to lead a liturgical life!

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris

Mira gestorum famuli tuorum, (L.)

Solve polluti labii reatum,

Sancte Redemptor.

Say,* as of old, Ephphatha: touch my lips with the burning coal from off the altar; give me an elect tongue, a “pure language, that”* I “may call upon the Name of the LORD;” give me a learned tongue,* that I may “speak as the oracles of GOD;” “O let my mouth be filled with Thy praise, that I may sing of Thy glory and honour all the day long.” They call to mind those noble African confessors,* who, when their tongues were cut out by the persecuting Arians, spoke none the less plainly: they point to the cloven tongues as of fire, which had no sooner sat on the Apostles, than they began to speak in divers languages the wonderful works of GOD.

Thou shalt open my lips: the Chaldee adds, (Ay.) in Thy law. They find a singular allegory in the history of the five kings hid in the cave of Machpelah. The cave is the mouth: the five kings are the sins of taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing. Our True Joshua commands us to open our mouths in the confession of them; and when we have done so, then, and not till then, He bids us be of good courage, and put our “feet on the necks of those kings.” And my mouth shall show Thy praise. S. Augustine.: “Thy praise, (A.) because I have been created; Thy praise, because, sinning, I have not been forsaken; Thy praise, because I have been admonished to confess; Thy praise, because, in order that I might be succoured, I have been cleansed.”

And finally,* O LORD, so open my lips, that I may come to Sion with songs, and everlasting joy.

16 For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee: but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.

17 The sacrifice of GOD is a troubled spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O GOD, shalt thou not despise.

Hence in many places, (A.) though not especially in his commentary on this verse, S. Augustine takes occasion to write gloriously concerning “the New Sacrifice of the New Law;” all his teaching being so marvellously bound up by S. Thomas in that almost first of Christian hymns, the sequence for Corpus Christi. One could, in spite of history, long to believe the story, (which, however, is not so undoubtedly a legend but that even at the present day it finds critical supporters), that when the new feast was instituted against the rationalising heretics of the time, Peter Abælard, Peter the Eater, and the rest, the composition of the service was entrusted equally to the Angelic and to the Seraphic Doctor: that to the former we owe those hymns, beyond all earthly praise—Pange Lingua gloriosi Corporis; Verbum supernum prodiens, Nec; and Sacris solemniis: while to the latter we are indebted for that noble sequence, Lauda Syon Salvatorem. But, in point of fact, Thomas proved himself as much the first Christian poet of his age, as—it may be with the single exception of S. Augustine—he is the Christian doctor of all ages.

From this verse even the Rabbis take occasion to teach us how there is a higher Sacrifice than that of sacrificed victims. For David’s sin,* wilfully carried on from that first eye-glance from the house-roof, to the bloody death under the wall of Rabbath, the LORD provided no remedy: it was a hopeless offence. This is what the great mediæval writers, (L.) in their Passion sermons, so loved to dwell on: this is why, like S. Thomas, they so constantly, with reference to the Levite that “came and looked upon the wounded man, and passed by upon the other side,” point us to the “certain Samaritan,”

Cujus una stilla salvum facere

Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.*

A Rabbi Jehoshua had enough insight into the true meaning of the law,* to teach his disciples that a truly contrite heart was more acceptable to GOD than one million of lambs. And notice this: David, after his sin, never—so far as we are told—offered any sacrifice for it. He felt, no doubt, that he must let that alone for ever. Yet, as we have seen, it was a not unusual subject of disputation, whether his great fall, taken together with its consequences, had, on the whole, been a hindrance or a help to the Church. This we must remember: that the injury is far more visible and palpable. We partly know how,* from the very beginning of the Church till the present time, the reproach has always been; “What! this the man after GOD’S own heart! the man who, to adultery, added murder, and that murder at second hand, involving himself in the guilt, but putting off the odium to another?” As S. Ambrose says, “O David, O David, so glorious a saint, so miserable a sinner, of a verity thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme!” More than S. Ambrose knew, more than he could have imagined: fifteen hundred years’ longer scandal, and in the latest of them the pencil employed as well as the pen to scandalise those who, from the Psalms of David, have learnt to come to the Son of David. But then, on the other side, as one well worthy of his name has taught,* golden-worded indeed in this respect. Who can tell how many penitents, all but driven to desperation, all but entering into the pains of hell, all but ready to rush out of this world into the next,—who can tell how many that have despaired of GOD’S pardon, lost all trust in His love, all but cast away the latest remnant of hope, have not taken these most divine words into their mouths, and been turned again? have not been baptized in this Jordan, and recovered from the leprosy? have not bathed in this Siloam, and received their sight? O most dear, most precious words; words, if any, worthy to be written in letters of gold; words meriting to be inscribed with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! It is not so much in the public mouth of the Church,—it is not so much in the great congregation,—it is not so much when the priests, the ministers of the LORD, have stood between the porch and the altar, that ye, as sweet-smelling frankincense, have gone up to heaven. No: it was when she of old wiped those Blessed Feet with the hairs of her head, after she had anointed them with her ointment; it was when a greater sinner than even this rejoiced to offer the body so polluted with guilt to the stake, in the presence of the heathen judges; it was when merciless men, steeped up to the lips in blood, have, with all the strength and agony of their repentance, appealed to the Blood of Calvary; it was then, and in a thousand thousand like cases, that ye, O most blessed, O most glorious words, O words that none save He, in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, could have inspired,—it was then that ye have merited to prevail!

18 O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

Up to this time David has prayed for himself: now, (L.) as every true penitent ought to do, he ends by interceding for others. And here we have one of the examples which, to a casual view, would seem to confuse the two terms: nay, and even if we take the literal sense, may seem confined to that. For consider how David had, at the time when this Psalm was written, but just fortified himself in Sion; while the walls of Jerusalem, long ago ruined in more than one siege, had not so much to be built, as to be rebuilt. But, keeping to that rule, so infallible in the enormous majority of cases, that we are bound to believe it our failure in understanding when one instance out of fifty seems not to obey the law; and then, what is the lesson?1 And surely this most glorious one: that,* in proportion as our LORD helps forward His earthly Church, in the same degree does He build the walls of that Jerusalem, concerning which it is written,

Many a blow and biting sculpture,

Polished well those stones elect.”

And why two epithets to that same dear LORD’S dealings with Sion? Be favourable and gracious:2 favourable,* in every little help that He gives His servants in this world militant; gracious, in the entire manifestation of Himself to those in that world triumphant; favourable, and there may be still much of sin, more of infirmity; gracious, and there shall be what the schoolmen call the blessed necessity of sinlessness on the one hand, and on the other, “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.” Be favourable: so now That LORD is, to all who are taking up His Cross, following His banner, fighting the good fight; gracious, so He now is to those blessed ones who are at all events nearest—not here to debate the question whether the martyrs at once enjoy the Beatific Vision—to His Throne. Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem. I know not that a heathen poet has ever been to my mind quoted with more exquisite beauty than Virgil here: (L.)

O fortunati, quorum jam mœnia surgunt.”

And what kind of walls those shall be,* let Tobit tell us. “Jerusalem shall be built up with sapphires, and emeralds, and precious stones; thy walls, and towers, and battlements with pure gold; and the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl, and carbuncles, and stones of Ophir; and all her streets shall say, Alleluia.”

Hierusalem! Hierusalem!

GOD grant I once may see

Thy endless joys; and of the same

Partaker aye to be.

Thy walls are made of precious stones,

Thy bulwarks diamonds square;

Thy gates are of right orient pearl,

Exceeding rich and rare.

Thy turrets and thy pinnacles

With carbuncles de shine;

Thy very streets are paved with gold,

Surpassing clear and fine.

Thy houses are of ivory,

Thy windows crystal clear;

Thy tiles are made of beaten gold;—

O GOD, that I were there!

Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness. They ask, Why is it said then? why not now? And they, in the first place, who take this sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist, (D. C.) see the fulfilment, entire, eternal, perfect, of that Sacrifice in the sight of the Lamb as it had been slain. They who would rather take the sacrifice of righteousness to refer solely to that of Calvary,* see in this prophecy,* the end and aim of our dear LORD’S Passion. Therefore He tasted of death, that we should never taste of it; therefore He died,* that we might live; therefore the Cross to obtain the Crown.1 Then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar. And the third among the Evangelistic symbols tells us of the highest sense in which we are to take the promise: (Ay.)

Rictus bovis Lucæ datur,

In quâ formâ figuratur

Nova Christus hostia;

Ara crucis mansuëtus

Hic mactatus, sic et vetus

Transit observantia.

And in the plural, (L.) as they tell us, we are to see those followers of the One True Victim who, for His sake, and keeping the two thousand cubits behind the very Ark, nevertheless, in their time, and after their degree, were sacrifices to GOD of a sweet-smelling savour: firstly and chiefly, the Martyrs; then, the Confessors; then, the Virgins; then, the Doctors; then, every righteous soul that shall have had the grace of perseverance to the end; among which GOD grant both those that shall read, and him that writes this book, to find a place, for JESUS CHRIST’s sake.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who, according to the multitude of His mercies, does away our offences; and to the SON, That is the GOD of our health: and to the HOLY GHOST, the Free Spirit by Whom we are established;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.








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