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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. Saturday: O be joyful in the LORD, * all ye lands.

Monastic. The same.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 98.

Parisian. Serve the LORD * with gladness: be ye sure that the LORD He is GOD.

Lyons. O go * into the gates of the LORD with confession, and into His courts with hymns.

Mozarabic. First verse.

This Psalm, observes S. Augustine, (A.) is brief, and by no means obscure. Its verses are few, but weighty in the importance of their matter; let them bring forth seed in your hearts, that a granary may be prepared for the harvest of the LORD. This Psalm of Confession commands and exhorts us for this end, that we rejoice in GOD. Nor does it exhort any one corner of the earth, nor yet any one or other dwelling or assembly of mankind, but because He knows that He hath sown blessing everywhere, He requires rejoicing on all sides.

The Psalm is properly a liturgical one,* and from its wording appears to have been especially intended for the sacrifices of thank-offering, made with an oblation of fine flour; and it is thus a prophecy of the one offering of the Holy Eucharist, to be made, not by Aaronic priests in Jerusalem alone, but by Gentile priests and Levites in every country of the world.

1–2 (1) O be joyful in the LORD, all ye lands: serve the LORD with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.

As when the younger son returned,* the whole household joined in the dance and sang a heavenly melody, so we ought to take this Psalm, give the timbrel, touch the merry harp with the lute. What is it that demands such rejoicing? Why should earth be called to exultation and gladness after the utterance of the terrible and wonderful precepts of GOD? Because that awful Deity chose as His own the office of the meek shepherd, and clad Himself in a shepherd’s form, to gather, in His mercy, the wandering nations, the straying people, the tribes scattered far and wide, as lost sheep into one fold. As the terrible trumpet summons the warrior to battle, so the sweet sound of rejoicing calls the sheep to their pasture. And as CHRIST, coming to earth, cries out, “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep;”* He seeks for helpers and companions in His charge of all that world whereof He is Master, saying, O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.* All are invited, there is no acceptance of persons, the summons is to all that labour and are heavy laden, that they may rejoice, and trust in no perishable good, (C.) but in the LORD. The plural verb, joined to a singular noun, as the text stands in Hebrew, LXX., and Vulgate, points to the union of all the races of mankind in one harmonious chorus of praise. (A.) Serve the Lord. All service is full of bitterness, all who are tied down to a servile condition serve and murmur. Be not afraid that GOD’S service will be such; there will be in it no sighing, no mourning, no wrath. None will ask to be sold from thence, for it is sweet to know that we all are ransomed. It is great happiness to be a servant in that house, even if fettered. The LORD’S service is free, because not necessity but love serves therein, for, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”* Let love make thee a servant,* because the truth hath made thee free.* With gladness, “not grudgingly, or of necessity, for GOD loveth a cheerful giver;”* with gladness, because “the sorrow of the world worketh death.”* There is good reason for this gladness, because man has passed from his wretched,* hopeless, fearful slavery under sin, idols, evil spirits, to the easy yoke of his Maker, to the tenderness of a FATHER,* to the free service of the one good LORD.* And thus the Saints observe in a phrase embodied since in the Collects of the Western Church, that to serve Him is to reign, and as Boëthius says very well,* to be guided by His bridle is perfect freedom. With gladness, for he who serves unwillingly makes a slavery for himself, but if thou put good-will into thy service, thou wilt find that thou art not GOD’S servant, but His son. (Ay.) And fitness for GOD’S service involves many things: bodily purity and cleanliness, reputableness of character, orderliness, sparingness in living and substance, humility and reverence, cheerfulness and gladness, since all these qualities answer to attributes of the Master we propose to serve.

And come before His presence. (Ay.) It is come in before His presence in LXX. and Vulgate, denoting entrance within the Temple bounds.* And hereupon we are reminded of the several ways of coming in to GOD. We should come, as doves into the windows of CHRIST’S wounds, “Come away, O my dove, into the clefts of the rock,”* “as the doves to their windows.”* As a flock into the sheepfold,* “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.” As the timid into a fortified camp, “Let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there.”* As men pardoned, into penitence,* “I will give him the valley of Achor for a door of hope.”* As a prince into his dignity, “The prince shall enter in by the way of the porch.”* “There shall enter into the gates of the city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David.” As conquerors into a captured city, “They said, Show us the entrance into the city.”* And JESUS said,* “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by storm.” As a procession into a church, “They shall enter into My sanctuary, and they shall come near to My table.”* As the elect into glory, The LORD saith, “Enter thou into the joy of thy LORD,”* and we add, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.”* This we are to do with a song, the fit wedding garment for the marriage of the King’s SON. (L.) And yet Archangels tremble, Angels fear, Powers are filled with dread,* the elders fall down in the face of heaven, the elements fly, the rocks melt, the mountains flow down, the earth quakes, and shall man, who is earth, enter thus fearlessly, and stand upright, rejoicing? How can the Prophet be bold to say that this is what we ought to do? Because of the words which follow:

3 (2) Be ye sure that the LORD he is GOD: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

The Complutensian LXX., Syriac, and some copies of the Vulgate read He is our God, although this is not essential to the meaning, which comes out with sufficient clearness in the last clause. There is also an important variant in several Hebrew copies, supported by the Targum, Aquila, S. Jerome, and R. Saadia, which, instead of not we ourselves, runs and we are His.1 It is because the LORD JESUS is GOD,* Who was a little child in our flesh, Who lay cradled as a mortal babe, Who, rocked peacefully on His Mother’s bosom, was gentle and meek in His converse with us, laying aside all the terrors of His Godhead, all His awfulness as Judge, that we are bold to enter into His presence with a song, going to meet the welcome embraces of a loving FATHER, (A.) not the searching examination of our secret faults. Think not meanly of that LORD, for though ye crucified Him, scourged Him, spat upon Him, crowned Him with thorns, clad Him in a robe of scorn, hung Him on a tree, pierced Him with nails, smote Him with a lance, set guards at His sepulchre, He is GOD.

JESUS is GOD!* the glorious bands

Of golden Angels sing

Songs of adoring praise to Him,

Their Maker and their King.

He was True GOD in Bethlehem’s crib,

On Calvary’s Cross True GOD,

He Who in heaven eternal reigned,

In time on earth abode.

JESUS is GOD! If on the earth

This blessed faith decays,

More tender must our love become,

More plentiful our praise.

We are not Angels, but we may

Down in earth’s corners kneel,

And multiply sweet acts of love,

And murmur what we feel.

It is He that hath made us, for “by Him were all things made, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”* He made us in our first creation of nature,* He made us also in the second and more glorious creation of grace. Human pride or human science may speak in the spirit of “Pharaoh,* king of Egypt, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself;” but the servants of GOD will say, Not we ourselves, for “O LORD, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and we all are the work of Thy hand.”* Not less precise is the testimony of Holy Writ to the sole operation of GOD in that creation of grace whereby we are made His people, for He saith by the Prophet,* “Bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth; every one that is called by My Name; for I have created him for My glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” If we take the other reading, And we are His, it teaches us that He not only made us, but made us for Himself, to be His very own, and that He has not resigned His claims over us, nor we chosen Him first. And therefore, because of this close mutual relation, the Bride exclaims, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”* This it is to be His people, serving Him with intelligent obedience, with confident love, and the sheep of His pasture,* because we constitute His inheritance and His wealth; we need His guidance, are ruled, cared for, and preserved by Him. We find Him so loving and tender that we cannot forget Him, we seek Him with sighs and yearning, we know and hear His voice, and follow Him, but no other. The Carmelite, (Ay.) by reason of the liturgical expressions in the succeeding verse, is inclined to limit the latter clause of this one to the Christian ministry, GOD’S people, as specially engaged in His service, the sheep of His pasture, as living upon the tithes and oblations offered in His honour by the body of the faithful. (D. C.) But, bearing in mind that all Christians are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people,”* we shall not need so to restrict the phrase, and will rather see in the pasture a reference to the food of His own Body and Blood, wherewith the Good Shepherd feeds us in the wide and pleasant meadows of His Church,* as He once fed Israel in the pleasant fields of Canaan.

4 (3) O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.

The Rabbinical interpretation of this verse is that,* in the days of Messiah,* all the sacrifices of the Law will be done away save the thank-offering of flour or bread,* so that the coarse rites of the slaughter of animal victims, suggestive of pollution and sin, shall have no place under the New Covenant. How precisely this accords with the accomplished fact of the substitution of the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the bulls, sheep, and goats of the Law, in accordance with the prophecy of Malachi,* need not be dwelt on at length.

Enough the blood of victims flowed of old,*

The shadows pass, and legal offerings;

Now higher ministries Thou, LORD, dost mould,

On which a holier shade Thy Priesthood flings.

Elias from the heavens called down the flame;

One greater than Elias, hid from sight,

Is here: obedient to His awful Name,

Of Him we make the dread memorial-rite.

Great office, the mysterious Cup to bear

In which the guilty world’s salvation lies,

And with our trembling hands full of deep fear

To offer up the bloodless Sacrifice.

The ambiguity of the term confession, here put, as usual, for thanksgiving by LXX. and Vulgate, leads to various other expositions of the verse.

S. Augustine teaches us wisely that repentance must be the outset of the service of GOD, (A.) into whose gates we enter with confession of sins, not attempting to burst forth in the language of praise till in the advance of our spiritual improvement we penetrate into His courts.* Not essentially different from this is the view which takes the gates to be the Sacraments of the Church, especially Holy Baptism, as the entrance of that Church, each of which is fittingly preceded by confession of sins.* Another reminding us, that the LORD has called Himself the Door, explains these gates of the Apostles and other holy teachers, His messengers, to bring men to Him,* by whom, therefore, they enter in to Him, making confession first and renunciation of all their sins in the time of their ignorance. And after this strait and painful entrance, we should go at once into the spacious courts of charity, passing from the narrow exclusiveness of the question, “What must I do to be saved?”* to the embracing love of that other saying, “My heart’s desire and prayer to GOD for Israel is that they might be saved,”* (D. C.) passing into the width of heavenly contemplation, (P.) and that in the secret recesses of our hearts and consciences.* There is a stress on His gates, which are many, that we may learn to distinguish them from gates which are not His, by which men often enter in confession. There is the gate of hypocrisy; of which we read,* “This people draw near with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me,* but have removed their heart far from Me.”* Pride: “I am not as other men are.” Despair: “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” Treachery: “Master,* we know that Thou art true.” Flattery: “Thou art good in my sight as an angel of GOD.” Mockery: “Hail, King of the Jews.”* Compulsion: “I know Thee Who Thou art,* the Holy One of GOD.” Sacrilege: “Unto the ungodly saith GOD, Why dost thou preach My laws?”*

Opposed to all these gates of the evil one, are the twelve gates of the City of GOD,* named from the twelve tribes of Israel. On the north, the type of sin, lie Reuben, Judah, and Levi. Reuben, “behold a son,” is the prodigal returning to show himself to his FATHER;” Judah, “confession” or “praise,” the giving GOD the glory by acknowledgment of sin; Levi, “joined,” is the being united to the Church of GOD by the abandonment of pagan error. On the east, the region of light and progress, are Joseph, the “increase” in good works; Benjamin, trust in the “right hand” of GOD alone, and desire for the good things set there; Dan, reverent thought of the coming of the “Judge.” On the south, where the warmest rays fall, and thus the emblem of those perfected in love, are Simeon, Issachar, Zebulon. Simeon, “heard” in prayer; Issachar, the “hireling,” who has accepted the summons of the householder, and has entered His vineyard to labour in certainty of reward; Zebulon, “dwelling,” because they shall go out no more, but dwell in the courts of the LORD’S house. And on the west, towards the sunsetting, type of death, are Gad, Asher, Naphthali. Gad, the “troop,” denotes the “innumerable company of angels”* and saints. Asher, their “blessedness” in the vision of GOD. Naphthali, “a wrestler,” reminds us that the violent have taken His kingdom by storm, and that no one is crowned unless he have conquered. And these are the gates through which GOD’S true servants must enter in confession.

Be thankful unto Him, and speak good of His Name.* This is a higher praise than our songs while we were still passing through the courts; (L.) it is the thank-offering in the Holy Place itself, where we approach the presence of GOD. And thus it here denotes the service of heaven,* to which the local Churches of earth are but the courts and vestibules, that service wherein the redeemed will praise for ever the Name of JESUS, in that

endless evening that remains

Amongst those white flocks and celestial trains

That feed upon their Shepherd’s eyes,* and frame

That heavenly music of so wondrous fame,

Psalming aloud the holy honours of His Name!

5 (4) For the LORD is gracious, his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

He is gracious, (Ay.) for He can never be so wroth with a sinner as not at once to be appeased by sincere confession of sin, (Z.) gracious with that tender compassion which induced Him to take away the sins of the world.* He is sweet (Vulg.) for in Him is no bitter at all, and thus an ancient Christian poet invokes Him:

O nomen perdulce mihi, lux, et decus, et spes,*

Blandus in ore sapor, fragrans odor, irriguus fons.

O Name, sweetest to me, my light, my hope, and my glory,

Savoury taste in the mouth, true fragrancy, watering fountain.

His mercy is everlasting,* because, on the one hand, He extends the acceptable time, the day of salvation, to the end of the world for all, to the end of life for each sinner, rejecting none, and not closing the door of grace till the last necessary moment; and on the other, He will keep His redeemed in heaven secure in the blessed necessity of sinlessness.* And His truth endureth from generation to generation, because the promise He made to the Patriarchs He fulfilled in their descendants,* by coming in person, no longer in type and prophecy; (D. C.) because His words in Holy Writ shall never pass away, (A.) even when heaven and earth are gone; because He keeps to the uttermost in this world and the next the pledge He has given to His disciples of bestowing everlasting blessedness.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is gracious, for He hath given His Son for us; glory be to the SON, Whose mercy is everlasting, as He ever pleads for us the death which He endured for our sakes; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Comforter and Teacher of the Church, Whose truth endureth from generation to generation of Christians unto the end of the world.

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

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