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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.

Gregorian. As preceding Psalm. [Good Friday: Thou hast put away Mine acquaintance far away from Me, * I was delivered up, and I came not forth. Easter Eve, and Seven Dolours: I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead. Dedication: Jacob set up a stone for a pillar,* and poured oil upon the top of it.]

Monastic. Let my prayer enter * into Thy presence, O LORD. [Good Friday, &c., as Gregorian.]

Mozarabic. Unto Thee have I cried, O LORD,* and early shall my prayer come before Thee.

This Psalm stands alone in all the Psalter for the unrelieved gloom, the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variation of key, some strains of hopefulness; here only all is darkness to the close. Hence it is clear that only some most overwhelming disaster, national or personal, could have given birth to it, and this fact sets aside at once any such literal acceptance of the title as would refer the Psalm to that Heman the Kohathite whom David set along with Asaph in the first place of the Temple-singers. Nor is there any internal evidence for a date which shall be more than conjectural. But it seems most reasonable to take it, with the Hebrew and early Christian commentators, as written during the first shock of the Captivity, and before the exiles had in any degree formed a polity or established a worship among themselves to preserve their national existence amidst their heathen masters.

1–2 (1) O LORD GOD of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: O let my prayer enter into thy presence, incline thine ear unto my calling.

It is the cry of the SON of GOD in the bitterest hour of His Passion. (Z.) As Man, He calls on His FATHER as His LORD and GOD; (R.) as the GOD, further, of His salvation, of His perfect pureness of body and soul, and reminds Him of the persevering prayers offered up with strong crying and tears throughout His life, and especially in the day of His Crucifixion and the night of His Agony in the garden.* And as He speaks on behalf of His people Israel, He uses epithets suited to GOD’S care for them: He calls Him LORD, as King and Ruler; GOD, as Creator; of salvation, because of the deliverance out of Egypt, the greater deliverance which He desires for them from the Babylonian captivity of sin. (C.) O let my prayer enter into Thy presence. Here we may see the mighty force of earnest prayer, in that its utterances are not dissipated in the winds, but it enters, like a living person, into the actual presence of GOD, and discharges there that office for us which the body cannot do, since it is unable to penetrate thither. As, (L.) then,* a good messenger is swift, and goes at once by the straightest road to his goal, that he appear not robbed and naked before him to whom he bears a missive; as he must have a thorough understanding of the message, so as to deal fitly with him to whom its execution belongs, and with all those who have influence with that person; as he should not ask what should not be asked, nor be foolish in his asking, nor yet apply to any one who has no power to do the thing wanted; as he should know who are his opponents, and should have some method of resisting or conciliating them; as he should not contradict himself, nor speak with wandering thoughts or averted face, and should utter what he says with a distinct and clear voice; even such should be the qualities of a prayer which is to enter into GOD’S presence, and find acceptance with Him. Here, then, the Christian may see how, following the Master’s example, he may prevail with the Most High.* He must pray devoutly, acknowledging Him to Whom he prays as LORD and GOD; he must pray wisely, asking for salvation; he must pray personally for himself, asking for my salvation; he must do it perseveringly, day and night, in prosperity and adversity alike; he must do it fervently, before GOD;* he must do it with such purity of intention that the prayer may enter into the presence of GOD, (D. C.) whither nothing defiled can make its way; he must do it with such trustfulness, that GOD, the Great Physician, may bow down His ear to the sick man who cries to Him from the death-bed of sin.

3 (2) For my soul is full of trouble: and my life draweth nigh unto hell.

The soul of CHRIST was full of trouble, (A.) though there was no fault in Him, because He bore not only the betrayal, the reproaches, the stripes, the cross, and all other details of personal suffering, but still more, (Ay.) the sins and sorrows of all mankind, especially of those very Jews who had conspired against Him, so that His life drew nigh unto hell, as the death which they had plotted came hourly nearer. (L.) Herein we may see the reality of CHRIST’S Passion, as against those early sectaries who maintained that He merely seemed in outward show to suffer, but that His Divine impassibility extended to His human nature; whereas He saith Himself, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”* And He declares Himself to be nigh unto hell, not merely nigh unto death, because Hades, not Paradise, was the dwelling of the departed Patriarchs till He, by entering their prison,* released them. His members may take these words as their own,* when their soul is full of trouble, not only by reason of the sorrows of this world, but when they think on their own sins, and fear the wrath to come, knowing that by reason of those sins, their life draweth nigh unto hell. But by descending thither in thought and in devout meditation while living, we may be wise in time, and escape from it when dead.

4 (3) I am counted as one of them that go down into the pit: and I have been even as a man that hath no strength.

That is,* literally, I am so near death, that I am counted as already dead, so that men are even now making ready for my burial, although I be alive. And applied to CHRIST, (A.) the words denote not only the set purpose of His enemies to slay Him, but their belief that He would thenceforth vanish, like all other dead men, and be without help or power to return, or to nerve His disciples to further resistance;* nay, that He would even undergo punishment in the place of torment, because by His blasphemies He had on earth gone down amongst sinners into the pit and depth of iniquity.* He was counted as without help in another sense, (Z.) because all His disciples forsook Him and fled, for His enemies knew not of that which He said to Peter, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray unto My FATHER, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of Angels.”* They counted Him as without that FATHER’S help, when they said, “He trusted in GOD, let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him.”* And as with the King of Martyrs, (D. C.) so with His soldiers. The tyrants who slew them, thought to destroy them and their faith by so doing, and counted them amongst the worst of malefactors, according to their LORD’S own saying, “Ye shall be hated of all men for My Name’s sake.”* And finally, it may be taken of any tempted one over whom the spiritual enemy is confident of victory, counting him as already dead in trespasses and sin, and with, no help for him in his GOD.

5 (4) Free among the dead, like unto them that are wounded, and lie in the grave: who are out of remembrance and are cut away from thy hand.

Free among the dead. The LORD was free from corruption, (Z.) and free, too, in that He was not led by Angels, but went down Himself alone into the grave. (A.) He was free too from sin, the cause, near or remote, of death to all other men. He was free, because while others die unwillingly, and on compulsion, He died of His own accord and willingly. “I,”* saith He, “lay down My life. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.” He was free, yet again, because He was not bound by the fetters of death,* but descended thither with authority and dignity, and burst the chains of others. He was free, because inseparably united unto the Manhood which descended was the Godhead which is not subject unto death. But though this is the higher sense of the phrase as applied to CHRIST by His servants, it is plain that it cannot be the meaning as intended by His enemies. The word חָפְשִׁי is found also in 2 Kings 15:5, applied to the leper’s house to which King Uzziah was confined, and it is there translated “several,” that is “isolated.” Free among the dead, then, means turned adrift, homeless, free from the organic bonds of life and of society,* loosed and therefore lost; nay, as He hung upon the Cross,* free for every one to insult and wound at pleasure, being out of the pale and fence of the law’s protection. In both senses the words hold good of the members as well as of the Head. That man is free among the dead,* who walks in newness of life in a wicked world, amidst those who are dead in their sins; free, (D. C.) because he is subject to Him Whose service is perfect freedom, because he has “not received the spirit of bondage again unto fear, but the Spirit of adoption,”* because he is “no more a servant, but a son;”* and yet the ungodly think him free among the dead, as cut off from all the pleasures of life, and turned adrift from all social ties and amenities into a hard and mortified existence, which is but a living death; the view commonly taken of the Religious Life by those who know not its enjoyments. Like unto them that are wounded, and lie in the grave. That is,* not merely cut off by a sudden and violent death,* but executed by the officers of justice in punishment for crime, because “He was wounded for our transgressions and numbered with the transgressors,”* and most literally wounded with nails and spear; and like too to those wounded by the darts of the enemy, (A.) by the smitings of sin, who lie, persisting in wickedness,* in the grave of dead works, and are not alive to GOD. Once again, (R.) the words hold good in a favourable sense of those whom the wicked hate; for they, wounded with the love of GOD,* sleep (Vulg. and LXX.), in that they close their eyes to vanities and evil desires, and are buried, because they withdraw into retirement,* and hide their works from the praise of men. Who are out of remembrance, or rather, with A. V., LXX., and Vulg., whom Thou rememberest no more. As GOD cannot forget, (A.) most of the commentators agree with S. Augustine’s reading, whom Thou hast not yet remembered; that is, those who must wait till the general resurrection before rising again, (R.) instead of doing so on the third day. Some, however, take it as expressing those sinners whom GOD delivers over to their own evil will, never chastising them, but as it were forgetting their offences and their very existence. And are cut away from Thy hand.* That is, who no longer need GOD’S providential care, (L.) as having lost those bodies which He provided with food, shelter, and clothing, and other visible proofs of His care and governance, which do not appear in the case of the dead; or again, that the thread of their life has been as it were cut off from the hand of GOD, and thus separated from the web of life. This figure of speech is not peculiar to the Pagan fable of the Parcæ, for Hezekiah exclaims, “I have cut off, like a weaver, my life.”* But in their special reference to CHRIST,* the words obviously point to the Jewish belief in His rejection by GOD as a sinner, whereas, instead of being cut off from Him, the heavenly voice had declared Him to be the beloved SON, in Whom the FATHER was well pleased. (R.) It was to those who slew Him that the words in this sense apply, for GOD no more remembers the obstinately impenitent,* but cuts them off from His hand, even from fellowship and part in His Only-Begotten.

6 (5) Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit: in a place of darkness, and in the deep.

This verse does not refer to the entombment of CHRIST,* as some would take it,* for the grave has already been named in the preceding clause,* and though it may well be called a place of darkness, (Z.) yet it is not the lowest pit. (P.) That may better be explained of the descent into Hades,* although there is no reason to reject absolutely the various steps of that descent which they enumerate; the bitter sorrow and misery, (A.) the prison along with the thieves,* the Cross itself; the abyss of sin which the Jews in their false accusations charged Him with plunging into, all made part of the descent into that depth, all made yet rougher His sharp passage to the grave. And this interpretation squares well with the LXX. and Vulgate versions, which read,* They have put me, &c. But there is a truer beauty in the Hebrew text, which tells us that all the Passion was the act of GOD the FATHER, Who spared not His own SON, but delivered Him up for us. For in the deep they read In the shadow of death. (Ay.) And they teach that this phrase has a threefold sense; oblivion, sin, and bodily death. The Jews strove to put our LORD into the shadow of death in these three ways: first, by attempting to destroy His teaching and very memory; next by coupling Him with malefactors, and loading Him with false accusations; lastly, by the Crucifixion itself. Yet for Him, as S. Gregory observes, it was but the shadow of death,* the bare suffering of the body, and that suffering did away for ever with the reality of death, the spiritual destruction of the soul, for all who believe in Him. And GOD permits His servants to be similarly tried in their degree,* when He puts them into the midst of sore trouble, of darkness and doubt,* and above all,* of false accusation,* to test their endurance. The literal sense found here by some early commentators is by no means improbable, that it has special reference to the Captivity,* and perhaps to the blinding and imprisonment of the unhappy Zedekiah,* the last king of the line of David.

7 (6) Thine indignation lieth hard upon me: and thou hast vexed me with all thy storms.

And that because CHRIST bore in His own person the sins of the whole world, (D. C.) which are under the just indignation of Almighty GOD; as it is written by the Prophet, “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”* And while this metaphor of a solid crushing weight is employed when speaking of GOD’S share in bringing about the Passion;* on the other hand, the raging winds and waves are used as the type of human passion and the ill-will of evil spirits loosed against the Most Holy; yet called Thy storms, because even so they were but the ministers accomplishing the Divine will. The quaint mediæval legend of S. Christopher brings this double idea of the verse very forcibly before the mind. After narrating how the Child’s voice summoned the giant to carry him over the river, the story continues: “Christopher,* therefore, lifting the Child on his shoulders, and taking his staff, entered the river to cross it. And, lo, the water of the river began to swell little by little, and the Child weighed most heavily, as it were of lead; and the further he proceeded, the waves waxed the higher, and the Child pressed more and more on the shoulders of Christopher with weight unbearable, so that Christopher was in a sore strait, and dreaded that he was in peril. But when he had now just come forth and had crossed the river, he set down the Child on the bank, and said unto Him: ‘Child, Thou hast set me in sore peril, and didst weigh so grievously that if I had the whole world upon me, I could scarce have felt it heavier.’ And the Child answered him: ‘Marvel not, Christopher, for thou hast had upon thee not the whole world only, but thou hast borne upon thy shoulders Him Who created it, for I am CHRIST thy King.’ ” (D. C.) And thus we have the trials of the Church and of every faithful soul set before us in the double type. The hard pressure from above stamps on the patient believer, who has melted like wax in the fire of GOD’S tenderness, the Image of the Only-begotten, sealed with the HOLY SPIRIT of promise, the waves below wash away the defiling stains of sin, and turn the brief sorrow into everlasting joy.

8a (7) Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me: and made me to be abhorred of them.

They dwell on the various fulfilments of this saying, (L.) reminding us of the rejection of the LORD by the whole Jewish nation, (R.) His kinsmen according to the flesh; of the flight of His disciples,* when they all forsook Him;* of the suffering at the place of Crucifixion itself, when His bitterest enemies crowded round Him to accomplish their evil deed, (Z.) and to jeer Him, whereas “all His acquaintance, and the women that followed Him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.”* And made Me to be abhorred of them, as even His chief Apostle denied Him with curses; as the Name of CHRIST is still loathed and blasphemed by His unhappy and blinded kinsmen.* How exactly the same trial was accomplished in His members we may read again and again in the story of His early martyrs, abandoned, denounced, slaughtered, by their own near relatives and acquaintance, and abhorred as guilty of the vilest secret crimes.* Cardinal Hugo applies the verse to those who, abandoning the world, sought the religious life at the call of GOD, but against the will of their secular friends. And observe,* that the whole verse, as well as that which follows, aptly depicts the position of a leper, cut off from human companionship, an object of disgust and reviling, and thus a fit type of Him Who was despised and rejected of men. The leper was not merely an exile, but a prisoner, unfettered indeed to the eye, but limited to a narrow boundary, to pass which was forbidden under severe penalties, amounting, in later ages, sometimes to death. It follows, therefore:

8b (8) I am so fast in prison: that I cannot get forth.

In the literal sense,* they explain it either of an actual dungeon, such as that into which Zedekiah was thrust, and then of calamities hedging a man round like walls from which there is no escape; or again,* of such shame and confusion as to prevent the sufferer from daring to show his face in public. Interpreting the place of CHRIST, they say, and rightly, that the sufferings of the Passion, laid on Him by the eternal desire of the FATHER,* and by His own free will, (L.) formed that narrow prison whence His tender love to man would not permit Him to come forth till He had borne all to the very uttermost. And S. Gregory the Great, commenting on the kindred passage in Job, “I kept silence, and went not out of the door,”* observes, “He kept silence and went not out of the door,* Who just before the hour of His Passion, when He was suffering the weaknesses of humanity, would not exercise the power of Deity. And when He was despised, because He seemed mere man, He could have gone forth, had He willed to disclose His hidden majesty, but as He showed His weakness, and concealed His power, He went not out to His persecutors, in that He remained unknown to them.” The LXX. and Vulgate read, however, in the first clause, I was delivered up, or, as it may be turned, betrayed, whence many of the commentators explain the words to refer to Judas Iscariot, (A.) and to the Jews who delivered the LORD up to Pilate. They also give other interpretations of the closing words,* I came not forth: namely, that He made no attempt to escape out of the garden from the soldiers, (D. C.) nor to avoid His FATHER’S will, nor yet to show the actual power of the Christ, nor, once more, to hasten His own Resurrection,* but abode in the grave long enough to leave no doubt as to the fact of His death. The Carmelite gives a somewhat forced explanation of the phrase, (Ay.) taking it of the concealment and silence which CHRIST observed as to the name of the traitor, until such time as he had accomplished his guilt, giving him full room for repentance, and shielding him from the indignation of the other Apostles.* They give another meaning of the whole passage when spoken of the faithful soul, which GOD has been pleased to call to affliction in this world. In the prison of repentance for all, in the prison of the religious life for a few, there is no coming forth, at least here. So it is written, “None of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning;”* and again, “Whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be on his head.”* All the night of this life must, then, be spent in constant repentance for past sins, until the morning breaks of the everlasting day.

9 My sight faileth for very trouble: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched forth my hands unto thee.

The first clause seems literally to mean the soreness and dimness of sight caused by excessive weeping,* and is so taken by many of the commentators, (L.) and Lorinus aptly quotes a Latin poet in illustration—

Mœsta neque assiduo tabescere lumina fletu Cessarent.*

Nor my sad eyes to pine with constant tears Could cease.

The Carthusian adds, however, other reasons, such as the blindfolding of the LORD’S Face, (D. C.) the buffets He received, the spitting on His countenance, the droppings of blood from the crown of thorns, as all working to the same end, and still more when to all was added the agony of the Cross. The LXX. and Vulgate reading, Mine eyes languish because of poverty, has led to a mystical interpretation, for, (A.) as S. Augustine observes, it cannot be taken literally of CHRIST’S bodily eyes, since His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion took place in quick succession immediately after the Paschal Supper, so that famine had no opportunity of wasting His physical faculties, and the metaphorical sense is excluded also, because the inner eyes of His mind were filled with unwaning light. Wherefore it is necessary to find a different meaning from these two, and to apply the words mystically to His Body the Church, whose eyes are the Apostles, His seers, and the “light of the world,”* made faint and weak in the time of the Passion by the withdrawal of the true Light, the Bread of heaven, from them. But I have called daily [or, (A.) all day] upon Thee, in the seven voices from the Cross, and in the prayer for Resurrection, and because the perpetual intercession of CHRIST ascends for His people, even when the Church becomes weak in faith and slack in prayer. I have stretched forth My hands unto Thee,* is said in that CHRIST ceased not to perform His acts of power and mercy,* symbolized by the hands, throughout His earthly ministry, in that He continued fervent in prayer,* in that He spread out His loving-kindness to embrace man as though with His arms, and finally,* in that His sacred hands were literally strained upon the bitter Cross, (D. C.) stretched out all the day long,* through the weary hours of that sad Good Friday,* to a disobedient and gainsaying people.*

10 Dost thou show wonders among the dead: or shall the dead rise up again, and praise thee?

11 Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave: or thy faithfulness in destruction?

12 Shall thy wondrous works be known in the dark: and thy righteousness in the land where all things are forgotten?

The object of this passionate cry is not so much the private advantage of the petitioner, (L.) as the vindication of GOD’S might, glory, and goodness, that He may so disclose them by His dealing with the suppliant, as to draw others to His worship;* and thus it resembles the prayer of Moses on behalf of the rebellious Israelites, lest their destruction should further harden the Egyptians in their unbelief. And therefore the verses are most fitly applied to Him of Whom the great Jewish lawgiver was but a type and forerunner, (Z.) and depict Him as expressing the fear of death entertained by His human nature, and also the necessity of His Resurrection,* foreseen by His divine nature to be required,* in order that the Apostles might have power to work miracles and preach His Name amidst the deadness and darkness of heathenism. For the most part, the expositors pass very lightly over the literal interpretation of these three verses, (A.) and prefer to follow S. Augustine in taking them allegorically of those who lie in the grave of sin,* and asking what may be GOD’S purpose towards them, whether He have provided any means of reaching and delivering them. In the tenth verse, the second clause in LXX. and Vulgate runs, Shall the physician raise [thee] up? (C.) which is mystically explained to be a reference to the Apostles and other holy preachers, physicians of the soul, sent to proclaim the Gospel to sinners. S. Jerome reads in this clause, (A.) Shall the giants arise?1 said by S. Augustine to imply that no skill or might of physicians,* however gigantic, is enough; and by others, that the words refer to the antediluvian giants or any other, and thus they are explained of peculiarly grievous and obstinate sinners, respecting whose capability of repentance the question is asked. They remind us, too, that the loving-kindness and faithfulness of GOD are only titles of the LORD JESUS, (R.) and that He did make His way into the very heart of the grave and of destruction, to show His wondrous work of salvation in the dark of Hades; though there are some found to suggest that the grave here means the “open sepulchre” (Ay.) of the tongue of the Pharisees and Chief Priests, and the land where all things are forgotten, not merely the abode of the finally lost,* but that ungrateful Judæa which kept not in mind either the testimonies of the Prophets or the marvellous works of the Redeemer Himself, when it cried aloud for His crucifixion. And, spoken of one sinful soul, it is true that a man of earthly mind, who pays no regard to spiritual things, is himself a land, (L.) a mere piece of earth, where all things divine are forgotten, and where even GOD Himself can do no mighty works, because of its unbelief.

13 Unto thee have I cried, O LORD: and early shall my prayer come before thee.

This is the third time in the Psalm that the suppliant declares that he has cried to the LORD,* doing so first, day and night; next, all the day; and now, early; and, as is usual in such triple repetitions, there is a peculiar stress to be looked for here.* This is alleged by several very early commentators to be the petition of CHRIST,* at the early beginning of the Passion, for His Resurrection, so that they who saw Him stretching out His hands all day long upon the Cross,* may now behold Him in the morning glory of His arising, according to that universal tradition of the Church that He rose immediately after midnight. But many of the Latins, (A.) having regard to the words that follow, urge that though CHRIST is the speaker, yet He is speaking in the person and on behalf of His Church, crying to the FATHER, Who alone is a physician strong enough to deliver the dead, for salvation in the morning of the Gospel revelation which followed the clouds and darkness of idolatry; that when the blazing noontide of the Judgment comes,* when the hidden things of darkness shall be brought to light, and the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, a noontide compared with which even the morning itself is as night, (C.) His suppliants may find grace with Him. In the morning of this life, the morning promise of good works, Christians must make their prayer to GOD. We are reminded,* too, how often in Holy Writ the early morning is the time when GOD bestowed some great favour on His people; how then the Egyptians were drowned, the Law was given, the manna rained down, the Ammonites vanquished by Saul, and how even in the lower creation, the birds begin their song of praise, and the wild beasts flee to their coverts. We have then the literal sense that the first-fruits of the day should be hallowed to the service of GOD, for it is a shame, observes S. Augustine, that the sun’s rays should find a Christian slothful in his bed. And so one of our own poets:

When first thine eyes unveil,* give thy soul leave

To do the like; our bodies but forerun

The spirit’s duty. True hearts spread and heave

Unto their GOD, as flowers do to the sun.

Give Him thy first thoughts then, so shalt thou keep

Him company all day, and in Him sleep.

Yet never sleep the sun up. Prayer should

Dawn with the day. There are set, awful hours

Twixt heaven and us. The manna was not good

After sun-rising; far-day sullies flowers.

Rise to prevent the sun; sleep doth sins glut,

And heaven’s gate opens when this world’s is shut.

Come before Thee. The LXX., Vulgate, and A. V., prevent,* that is, anticipate. Yet how? for as S. Bernard observes, GOD may be sought, and may be found, but He cannot be prevented, (L.) and a prayer which He has not Himself inspired must needs be cold and poor. We cannot prevent His grace or His blessings,* but we may prevent His judgments and His rewards, (R.) by making our prayer in this life, by confessing our sins before He chastises, by giving Him praise and honour before He bestows gifts, (Ay.) nay, even when He sends chastisements.

14 LORD, why abhorrest thou my soul: and hidest thou thy face from me?

Here we may find the foretaste of that supreme hour on the Cross,* when it seemed to the human nature of CHRIST as though that soul which He was making an offering for sin was rejected by the FATHER, and not received as an oblation of a sweet-smelling savour; nay, that GOD, instead of showing His Face in benign acceptance of the Sacrifice, hid Himself, and forced out the lamentable cry, “My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”*

But the LXX. and Vulgate read,* Why rejectest Thou My prayer? and this is explained of that petition, “O MY FATHER, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.”* They raise, in order to answer, the question of how the FATHER can be said to reject the prayer of the SON, seeing that CHRIST Himself saith, (B.) “I know that Thou hearest Me always.” And they reply that it is spoken of delay on GOD’S part, not of denial; and also that CHRIST’S absolute prayer,* that for the redemption of mankind, was heard, but the cry of His lower will, for escape from death, was not. Spoken of His members, many reasons are assigned for GOD’S delay in granting prayers. It is to make them more ardent, (C.) like the breeze which seeming to extinguish a flame,* only fans it. It is sometimes because the thing we ignorantly ask for is dangerous, and GOD purposes to give us something better. It is often for our fault, in various ways.* Either the prayer is too late, like that of the foolish virgins; or false, like that of those who content themselves with crying, “LORD, LORD,” but do not the will of their FATHER in heaven; or that of obstinate sinners, of whom is written, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination;”* or cruel, like the desire of James and John to bring down fire on the guilty village: or lacking in perseverance, as when Abraham ceased to petition for Sodom; or because it lacks the wings of almsgiving and fasting, for “prayer is good with fasting, and alms, and righteousness;* or because it is made for an undeserving person, for the LORD saith, “Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me, for I will not hear thee,”* or because it is idle, for “Surely GOD will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.”* But we may well bear in mind the loving-kindness rather than the judgments of GOD in this hiding of His face, (Ay.) and remember how He delayed that Incarnation for which the Fathers of the Old Covenant looked so yearningly, (C.) and lengthened out the pangs of the Martyrs of the New Covenant in order to increase their reward.

15 I am in misery, and like unto him that is at the point to die: even from my youth up thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind.

The words, from my youth up, belong to the first clause, as the A. V., not to the second,* as here. Lest we should fancy that the Passion of CHRIST was but of three hours, or of a single day, the HOLY GHOST reveals to us here that CHRIST never lived without suffering in the days of His flesh. (Z.) For besides the cup of His most bitter death, which He had ever before His mind’s eye, He was throughout His life in toils and troubles. I, saith He, am poor and in labours from My youth, (LXX. Vulg.) for though I was blessed and rich in the form of GOD, I became needy for the sake of you men, and that from Mine infancy, as the manger, and the cave of Bethlehem,* and the flight into Egypt testify. Wherefore the sorrows of His nativity are fitly commemorated in the great Passiontide hymn of the Western Church as the beginning of His woes in the glorious battle against sin.

Laid an Infant in the manger,*

In the stable poor and dim,

Wrapped in swaddling-clothes enfolding

Every helpless infant limb,

Thus the Blessed Virgin Mother,

Mother’s care bestowed on Him.

Whence we too may take pattern not to put off austerity and self-denial till mature age, remembering that the Prophet hath said, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”* (A.) The words fitly betoken also the sufferings of the Church from Abel under the Old Covenant and Stephen under the New, through all the trials, vicissitudes, and struggles against her enemies, ghostly and bodily. As her LORD was poor, in that He had no place to lay His head, so she is poor also, in hunger and thirst, here in exile, for the good things of her country, and her Saints are poor in voluntary poverty and in their humble estate in this world.1 Thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind. And this we may most fitly take first of the Agony in the garden, when the LORD said,* “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” But the LXX. and Vulgate, following a different sense of the text here,* read, Being exalted, I was humbled, and troubled. He was exalted by His FATHER in miraculous power, humbled in human weakness and mortality, exalted on the Cross, as on the throne of His kingdom, having over His head a title written,* “JESUS of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” He was humbled even unto death, and troubled because of the blindness of His people, and their coming ruin. He was exalted by the people when they cried aloud, “Blessed is the King Who cometh in the Name of the LORD,”* and humbled before His judges, doomed to the scourge and the Cross. (L.) It may not only be taken of the vicissitudes of the Church, which has always had to undergo troubles and persecutions after any great spiritual victory, but it may well be applied to the history of the workings of grace in each soul, (C.) which is exalted in pride while puffed up with earthly thoughts, then humbled to confession by the sense of sin, and troubled or confounded at the thought of judgment to come.

16 Thy wrathful displeasure goeth over me: and the fear of thee hath undone me.

17 They came round about me daily like water: and compassed me together on every side.

Because the wrath of GOD against the countless and varied sins of all mankind passed over them on to the head of CHRIST,* Who was smitten for the transgressions of His people, He was exalted on the Cross, and humbled unto death. The terrors (A. V., LXX., Vulg.) of GOD, (L.) whether in the form of the anticipation of the Passion during the Agony, (R.) or the permitted attacks of evil spirits, or the plots of the chief priests and angry cries of the multitude, encompassed the LORD; and that like water,* not merely because it drowns, but because it searches every crevice, goes to the very bottom, and makes its way on all sides once it can obtain any entrance, thus fitly denoting the penetrating force of temptation and trouble. They remind us, too, that the words aptly tell us of the awe which the terrible thought of judgment to come brings upon the souls of even righteous men; (Cd.) but take comfort from the phrase goeth over, (διῆλθον, transierunt) as implying that GOD’S chastisements do not abide permanently upon His people, (C.) but pass away from and over them when their work is accomplished.* The curses and terrors of the Law encompassed in like manner the Jews of old, and it was only the same SAVIOUR Who can deliver us from the judgment that could free them from its sore bondage.

18 My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me: and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.

Herein, so far as our LORD was Man,* was the crown of His sorrows, that He had to drink His bitter cup alone, with no fellow and partner to share His grief. Lover and friend, (A. V., Vulg.) GOD put from Him when Judas became a traitor and an enemy, and when His nearest acquaintance, the Apostles themselves, forsook Him and fled, so that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled to the letter: “I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with Me.”* Out of my sight. The LXX. and Vulgate read from misery, that is, that the reason why His acquaintance fled was to avoid sharing in the troubles which He endured. But the true rendering is My acquaintance are darkness.* This may be taken, literally, as equivalent to the Prayer Book version, implying that they had concealed themselves, so as to be unseen; or again, as referring to the darkness on Calvary, the only thing which, while it lasted, met the dying eyes of JESUS; or yet again, that the only friend left,* the only intimate who would hold to Him, was—the grave; as His martyrs and confessors have found many a time in the midst of a hostile and blaspheming world.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD GOD of our salvation; glory be to the SON, Who was free among the dead, and showed His loving-kindness in the grave; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Whose wondrous works are known in enlightening the dark hearts of sinners.

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

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