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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, &c. Let my crying * come unto Thee, O LORD. Parisian. My drink * have I mingled with weeping, from the face of Thine indignation and wrath.

Mosarabic. First portion: In whatever day I call upon Thee, hear me right soon, O LORD my GOD. Second portion: The heathen shall fear Thy Name, O LORD, and all the kings of the earth Thy majesty.

This, the fifth of the Penitential Psalms, against avarice, was formerly recited daily in Lent at Nones after the Miserere, a custom retained in the last Sarum Breviary, but now disused in the Roman Office. In its first origin, it seems to have been composed towards the end of the Captivity, perhaps after the decree for the rebuilding of the Temple, but certainly before the restoration of the gates and walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. The private and personal character of the Psalm is marked by its title, which stands alone amongst the inscriptions of the Psalter, inasmuch as all the other examples are either musical or historical.

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD: and let my crying come unto thee.

The Church makes constant use of this verse,* as a preparation to other petitions, for she hath learnt from the Prophet, that we must ask a hearing from GOD, before our special petitions are set forth; not that GOD needs to be roused to hear, as though He were intent on other matters, but because we need that GOD give us the spirit of prayer; nay, that His own SPIRIT may make supplication for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Hear my prayer, make me so to pray that I may be worthy to be heard; and let my crying come unto Thee, that my prayer may be such an eager and fervid cry of the heart, that it faint not on the way, but although sent up from the deep may reach Thee, sitting on the throne most high. That a prayer may be able to effect this,* it should have certain properties:

Commoda, pura, volans, devota, tenax, pia, justa,

Communis, brevis, in CHRISTO, cum spe, locus, ardor.

Useful, pure, winged, devout, persistent, loving, just,

Common, brief, in CHRIST’S Name, with hope, place, zeal.

That is, it should be for some salutary object, free from all evil thoughts, uplifted by alms and fasting, humble, constant, with true affection for GOD, uttered for a righteous purpose, in the person of the Church, so as to be profitable for all, not made up of vain repetition, in faith and through the merits and mediation of CHRIST, if possible in a house of prayer, and with fervency of purpose.

My prayer, the Psalmist calls it, showing that it is not enough for us to have the intercession of others on our behalf, but we need to have a petition of our very own to prove our earnestness to GOD. He says prayer, moreover, in the singular, implying that it is one special petition. And if we take the poor man of the title, as so many do, (A.) of Him Who though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, we may then explain this prayer of His to be that Our FATHER which He taught His disciples,* or His supplication for the redemption of mankind. If the poor man be a type of the whole Jewish nation in Babylonian captivity,* then we may see in the literal sense an intreaty for the deliverance of Israel,* which we may spiritually apply to our ransom from the captivity of sin. (Z.) The manner in which this mournful cry follows on the jubilant tone of those Psalms immediately preceding it is an apt type of the manner in which joy and sorrow are blended in man’s earthly life.* It may be uttered fitly by any who are poor in spirit,* and yearn for the riches of the Heavenly Country,* or by any penitent soul which thinks with awe on the strictness of the Judgment to come; (D. C.) remembering that there are cries, like that of Sodom,* which come up to GOD, and bring down brimstone and fire from Him out of heaven; so that it behoves every one who makes his prayer to GOD to beware that wrath, reviling, cursing, falsehood, and the like evil things mingle not with his cry, lest the answer should be a chastisement.

2 Hide not thy face from me in the time of my trouble: incline thine ear unto me when I call; O hear me, and that right soon.

GOD is said to hide His face when men ask for things which it is not good that He should grant,* and therefore this petition is for a right spirit in prayer,* that He may cease to turn away,* and may show us His countenance in loving bestowal of that we ask. (A.) If the words are put into the mouth of CHRIST, it is only as pleading for His members that we can suppose Him to speak of the FATHER’S face being hidden from Him, but our low estate and sinfulness enable Him Who has identified Himself with us to speak in this wise. And therefore it is that He adds, In what day soever I am in trouble, for He saith to any one of His suffering members, “Thou art in trouble to-day, I am in trouble too; another is troubled to-morrow, I am in trouble; after this generation others who succeed are in trouble, I am in trouble unto the end of the world, for whosoever are troubled in My body, I am in trouble.”* But we may take it especially of the day of His bitter Passion, when the FATHER did incline His ear to Him when He called, and that right soon, by raising Him up on the third day; nay, in strictness, when but half the full space of that time had elapsed. Some will have it that there is a mystical stress on the word day here,* connoting light and clearness; and others that it implies calling on GOD in purity of heart and clearness of understanding; or again, (L.) that it is a reference to the greater ease and efficacy of prayer under the rays of the Gospel than under the shadows of the Law. Hear me right soon,* lest if Thou delay, (A.) there be none left for Thee to heal when Thou comest. And GOD’S reply is precise: “Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am.”*

3 For my days are consumed away like smote: and my bones are burnt up as it were a fire-brand.

This is the reason why GOD is asked to hear right soon,* lest there should be an end before His arrival to save. Some commentators, (Ay.) interpreting the Psalm as one of the Maccabee period, expound this passage with reference to the nearly successful attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to root out the Hebrew polity and worship. It may be more accurately referred to the gradual absorption of the exiled Jews into the heathen population amongst whom they dwelt, and the diminution of the faithful remnant.* And this view is forcibly confirmed by the language of the prophet Zechariah touching the high priest Joshua, one of the exiles who did return, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the burning?”* If,* as before, we ascribe the words to our LORD, they will be His expression of grief that His life and death have been in vain, so far as very many of His nominal followers are concerned, those teachers and priests who ought to be as days, giving light to the Church; those Religious, who ought to have been her strength and bones; the one darkened and defiled with the smoke of pride and vanity, (A.) the others burnt up by indevotion and greed; terms of reproach which every sinner who uses this Psalm in prayer on his own behalf, and is conscious that he has blackened his days with his evil living, may well apply to himself.

4 My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass: so that I forget to eat my bread.

This withering is from excess of heat, which may be either that of undue worldly prosperity or of crushing affliction,* each destructive to a weak and sapless mind. He who has basked too long in the sun of riches and luxury, (A.) whose heart has dried up with the cares of the world, may truly say, I forget to eat my bread, that bread of heavenly wisdom, which man calls mine, because it is not, like bodily food, common to him and the beasts; but which he ceases to relish, nay, begins to loathe as light and unsatisfying, when he is not sheltered under the overshadowing wings of GOD, and watered with the continual rain of divine grace.* The Chaldee paraphrase coincides in part with this explanation, reading (as all the old versions rightly do) because instead of so that. My heart is withered, because I have been forgetful of the teaching of the Law. And this interpretation squares precisely with those two sayings of the LORD, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of GOD;”* and again,* “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.”* Arnobius and some others interpret the verse literally of a physical fast,* but Cassiodorus justly objects that a complaint on the score of lack of bodily food is unworthy of the spiritual self-denial of the Psalmist, (C.) and that we should see here a confession of the suffering caused by the want of the Bread of Life, the royal banquet of the Eucharist, (L.) whether our own neglect or some cause external to us have occasioned our cessation of communion; an acknowledgment of the dryness and indevotion which comes of infrequent partaking of the Sacrament, so unlike the daily Eucharists of the Early Church.

5 For the voice of my groaning: my bones will scarce cleave to my flesh.

The latter clause ought to run as in A. V.,* My bones cleave to my flesh (marg.) or skin.* Some commentators see in these words the severity of the penance and mortification wherewith the returning sinner bewails the time of his forgetfulness and neglect of the Divine food of the Word; but most of the mediæval expositors prefer to follow the mystical gloss of S. Gregory;* that the voice of my groaning means the suggestions of the Evil One, who has caused all the grief and sighs of mankind, and that by reason of listening to that voice, Adam, the bones or strength of the human race, yielded to Eve, the flesh, or weaker vessel, and sinned; an event repeated every time that reason yields to fleshly emotion. There is a milder interpretation, (A.) which takes the voice of groaning to be the compassion of the righteous for the lapsed, which results in the bones, the vigorous Saints, attaching themselves firmly to the weaker brethren, denoted by the flesh, that they may aid and sustain them. There is a further exposition, taking this, as well as the previous and following verses, of the physical sufferings of our LORD in the Passion, though this partial literalism is here abandoned by one commentator,* who singularly expounds the verse of S. John, the firmest of the Apostles in his steadfastness, standing close to her whose flesh the SAVIOUR took, while He was uttering His dying groan upon the Cross.

6 I am become like a pelican in the wilderness: and like an owl that is in the desert.

7 I have watched, and am even as it were a sparrow: that sitteth alone upon the house-top.

There are three kinds and degrees of penitential retirement set before us under the types of the three birds mentioned here, the pelican,* seeking solitary places, being an apt emblem of the hermits of the Thebaid and other like solitaries; the owl, dwelling in ruins once occupied by men, denoting the Common Life in the cells of the cloister, bare of the comforts and luxuries of secular life; while the sparrow on the house-top signifies those living of necessity in the world, but withdrawing at times for secret prayer and contemplation, above the level of temporal concerns; watching anxiously over the spiritual interests of those with whom they have to do. Amongst the strange legends once current of the pelican, (L.) there are two which stand out conspicuously here in the notes of the mediæval commentators. One is that familiar idea of the “pelican in her piety,” feeding her young with blood from her own breast (a tale due to the bird’s red-tipped beak, and its custom of pressing this beak against the breast in order to disgorge the fish stored in the pouch under its lower mandible); the other, yet wilder, declaring that the mother-bird itself kills its young (or,* as others tell us, (A.) finds them killed by serpents,) and after mourning over them three days,* sprinkles them with blood from a wound it makes in its own side, and brings them to life again. These two stories are applied to CHRIST, feeding His children with His Blood, and reviving them, either after they have been slain by the old serpent, or after He has Himself killed sin in them. There is much else of a similar kind, but these are enough as examples.

An owl that is in the desert. For owl, which is most probably the correct reading here, the LXX. and Vulgate have nycticorax, the night-raven, whence Bellarmine,* comparing this bird, as mentioned above, to Religious of the Common Life, explains the word as denoting the vigils and midnight offices of the cloister; (C.) which is not dissimilar to the earlier view,* which sees in the word a reference to the secret good works and prayers of a penitent soul. The word desert ought to be ruins, and thus denotes the sorrow of the repentant sinner for the wasted years and slighted opportunities of his past life;* while those who take the word here as a type of CHRIST remind us how the Jews slew Him in the night of their ignorance and unbelief,* amidst the ruin and fall of their nation, partly standing in its observance of the Law and possession of the Prophets, but fallen as regards true and inward faith.

I have watched, in prayers and fastings and vigils, (D. C.) against all the snares of the enemy, (C.) and that as a sparrow on the house-top, uplifted in faith upon the Church as a secure watch-tower,* sitting alone, because separated from worldly companionship. Of CHRIST they take this watching to be His awaking at the Resurrection, His sitting on the housetop, to mean His Ascension into heaven, where He, alone of all mankind, sitteth in the highest; whereas, but a little before, He was lying, as a bird of night, in the darkness of the grave, amidst the ruins of those gates of hell which He smote down.

There are yet more allegories drawn from these two verses. (A.) S. Augustine will have it that three classes of preachers are designated by the three birds: the pelican of the wilderness standing for the missionary to those who have never heard the Gospel; the owl of the ruins, the seeker of lapsed Christians; the sparrow of the house-top to believers who have become tepid and fleshly, and who need therefore to be called to higher things by a voice from a loftier grade of spirituality than theirs.* Another prefers to see the hearers rather than the preachers in these types, and distinguishes them as Gentiles, dwelling in the wilderness, Jews, abiding amidst the ruins of their Law and nation, Christians, rising from secular habits to religious contemplation.

8 Mine enemies revile me all the day long: and they that are mad upon me are sworn together against me.

They take the words in the first place of the LORD JESUS, (A.) both as to the revilings and slander which He endured before His Passion,* and also the mocking and insults as He hung upon the Cross. The LXX. and Vulgate, instead of They that are mad upon me read They that praised me. (A.) And this is variously explained as feigned and hypocritical, (C.) or else as ironical, praise by some; while others suppose that a revulsion of feeling is indicated, so that those who were friends have been turned into enemies, and are now sworn together in conspiracy against the life of their former associate,* owing to their anger for his having adopted a stricter life than theirs; so that they exclaim, “Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous, because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our ways.”* (Z.) And Euthymius mentions a further meaning, as given by some expositors, that we have here a prophecy of S. Peter’s denial of his Master, confirmed with cursing and swearing. But in truth the latter clause is not given accurately by LXX., Vulgate, or the two English versions.* It ought to stand, as in Symmachus and S. Jerome, They swore by me, or They made me their oath.* That is, when imprecating curses on themselves or others, they took me, because of my misfortunes, as an example of misery. And in the literal sense of the passage, as referring to the sufferings of the Jews, either in the Captivity or under the persecution of Antiochus, according as the Psalm is dated,* it expresses very forcibly the contempt of the nations around for the oppressed and diminished remnant of Israel.

9 For I have eaten ashes as it were bread: and mingled my drink with weeping;

10 And that because of thine indignation and wrath: for thou hast taken me up, and cast me down.

Here is the special cause of the reviling mentioned just before. The commentators are at no small pains to discuss the literal meaning of the words, in order to give some plausible account of the eating of ashes.* Thus a Jewish expositor tells us that the Israelites in the Captivity were forced, by reason of their poverty, to eat bread roughly baked on the coals, without any proper oven, and that in consequence of this hasty preparation, it was mixed with cinders and pebbles.* Others, looking to the penitential custom of lying in sackcloth and ashes,* assume that food was taken in this attitude, so that it became sprinkled with the ashes from the hands and face of the penitent. A third view treats the act as a deliberate act of mortification, such as has been recorded of more than one Christian Saint, as S. Godric of Finchale,* or S. Francis of Assisi,* the latter of whom is said to have sprinkled ashes on any dainty food served him at great tables,* saying with a smile,* “Brother Ash is pure.” In the mystical sense, they take the words of that Master whom Francis served and imitated, in His tenderness and companionship with publicans and sinners, black with their guilt, and yet repentant,* because the fires of evil passions were burnt out in them: (C.) while He mingled His drink with weeping, when at the banquet in the house of Simon the Pharisee,* He permitted the sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears. And S. Augustine points out that the doctrine of penance and restoration of sinners was precisely the one heaviest charge which Pagans in his day brought against the Christian Church, (A.) as they alleged that the inevitable result of such treatment would be the multiplication of crimes in the confidence of future impunity. The Carmelite, answering this objection, (Ay.) reminds us very happily that the strongest lye for cleansing purposes is made with water poured through ashes, and that penitence does not merely hide, but removes sin. The notion of eating and drinking in this connection is, as they explain it, the incorporation of penitents into the Body of CHRIST or of the Church. Thus a Saint observes: “My penitence is His food, and my salvation is His food, I am myself His food: for does He not eat ashes as it were bread? For I, because I am a sinner, am ashes, that I may be eaten by Him; I am cleansed when I am rebuked, I am swallowed when instructed, I am digested when undergoing change, I am assimilated when I am shaped anew.”*

We too eat ashes for bread when we swallow down our sins,* now burnt out, so that they pass forth from us into the draught, we mingle our drink with weeping, when we approach the chalice of the Holy Eucharist with true penitence, or when our longing for the Heavenly Land causes us to burst into yearning tears.

For thee, O dear, dear country,*

Mine eyes their vigils keep,

For very love, beholding

Thy happy name, they weep.

And that because of Thine indignation and wrath. (L.) Here is the cause why CHRIST and the Church, His Bride, take sinners to themselves, that they may be sheltered from the face (LXX. and Vulg.) of Divine anger against evil; and it is likewise the cause why penitents humble themselves before the LORD their GOD, Who, that they might be saved, hath taken up His Only-Begotten on the Cross, and cast Him down into the grave. And as an eagle snatches turtles and shell-fish high into the air, and then dashes them down upon a rock to break their hard covering that he may eat, so CHRIST lifts the sinner up in prosperity, (C.) wealth, and security, (C.) that by a sudden fall the hard shell of worldliness and evil habit may be pierced, and the softer nature within be incorporated into His own Body. Happy is such a casting-down, as it is written in another place, “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, (A.) that I may learn Thy statutes.”* And while we may take the verse of man’s fall from that innocence and dignity up to which GOD took him out of the dust, we may yet remember that a better Eden, a nobler dominion is promised to the sons of Adam when repentant than Adam enjoyed before his sin.

11 My days are gone like a shadow: and I am withered like grass.

Our very mortality is a token of the casting-down which sin has brought upon us.* As a vase, flung from a height, does not merely lose its place of dignity, but is shattered to fragments by its fall, so man did not merely lose his high position by Adam’s transgression,* but was plunged into the ruin of the first death, and the peril of the second. And in comparing the days of man to a shadow, we have not only the idea of unsubstantiality and fleetingness put before us, but that of darkness.* If our days are like a shadow, what are our nights? If our clearest understanding, our holiest and warmest efforts after good are this, what are our errors and our sins? “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness?”* And consequently S. Bernard bids us note that it is not here said, My days have set like the sun, for the sun,* soon as his course is over, leaves tangible results behind him in the life and warmth he has bestowed, but a shadow in no way affects the objects over which it passes; and in like manner, the life of a sinner is of no profit to mankind. I am withered like grass.* For grass, when it has been cut down, is carried away in wagons, is given as food to cattle, is made into beds for men to lie on; and so we, when death comes with his scythe, are borne on a bier, given as food to worms, trodden under foot as wayfarers pass over our graves. And the suitability of the verse to the enfeebled and fading condition of age or sickness,* points the use of the Psalm in the Greek office for the dying.

12 But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever: and thy remembrance throughout all generations.

We have here not merely a confession of the distance between GOD and the sinner, (L.) an appeal to His mercy, in that He is so much the mightier, not to bear too hardly on His feeble creature, saying,* “Wilt Thou break a leaf driven to and fro;* and wilt Thou pursue the dry stubble?” but also a declaration of confidence in Him Who, being eternal, has the time and power to help always in His hands.* It is thus a cry for the Messiah to come for the deliverance and restoration of His people, (C.) and His remembrance may thus mean the promise of His Incarnation,* preserved from generation to generation in type and prophecy, and destined to everlasting continuance; or His own covenant with mankind to bestow eternal life upon them; or again, that Memorial which He has given His Church in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood,* wherewith He is with us from generation to generation, “alway unto the end of the world.”* Another,* reminding us that the phrase remembrance or memorial is technically applied to any brief document containing an abstract of pleadings, to assist the recollection of an advocate, tells us that the memorial of CHRIST, which endures from generation to generation, is the terse petition He has taught us as the sum of all prayer: “Our FATHER, which art in heaven,” &c., which is also, as it were, the title-deed of our inheritance above.

13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time that thou have mercy upon her, yea, the time is come.

Here,* in the literal sense, is the declaration of the close of the seventy years’ Captivity, (L.) and a prayer to GOD to fulfil the words of His prophets, by delivering Israel out of Babylon. And then, taking it of CHRIST, and of His mercy shown to His Church, they explain the word arise in three ways, as denoting His Incarnation,* whereby He did as it were stand up from His throne and repose of Godhead, (Ay.) to enter the battle for man; His Resurrection, when He had mercy on the small and panic-stricken remnant in the upper chamber in Jerusalem; (Z.) and His second Coming, when His earthly Sion shall see all evil crushed for ever, and the breaches of the heavenly Sion shall be repaired by filling up with ransomed men the ranks thinned by the fall of the rebel angels. (C.) The time is come.* The first advent of CHRIST was in that fulness of time when GOD sent forth His SON;* and His Advent to every faithful soul which He has tried sufficiently by tribulation before He comes to give it peace and comfort, is also in “the accepted time, (D. C.) the day of salvation.”*

14 And why? thy servants think upon her stones: and it pitieth them to see her in the dust.

The Rabbinical explanation of this verse is that the servants of GOD here mentioned are the sovereigns who granted permission for the rebuilding of Jerusalem; (L.) to wit, Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes.* But it seems far better to understand it of Ezra,* Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, with other zealous Jews, preferring the very ruins of their own dear city to the stately palaces and vast gardens of Babylon. And this sense is brought out more clearly by the true rendering of the first clause, as given by A. V., LXX., and Vulgate: Thy servants take pleasure in her stones. Mystically,* the words are taken of the Apostles, (A.) delighting in choosing out and hewing fitly choice and living stones for building up the Church of GOD,* in whom they can take pleasure, while their pity is reserved for the dust, the mere ruins from the fallen walls, the downtrodden Jews who crucified their LORD.* The Saints take pleasure too in the hardships they suffer in the Church Militant, and thus in one of the Antiphons at Lauds on the feast of the Protomartyr S. Stephen,* the Church says, “The stones of the torrent were sweet unto him, all righteous souls follow him.” Note too, that the servants of GOD delight in the thought of those foundations of sapphire,* those walls of costly jewels,* wherewith the Heavenly J Church,* contrasting its suffering condition with the glories of the City which is free,* the mother of us all; and pity too the misery of those who are content to be mere dust and earth here, in grovelling desires, rather than be as “the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon the land,”* built high in the crystalline battlements of the royal Sion.

15 The heathen shall fear thy Name, O LORD: and all the kings of the earth thy majesty;

16 When the LORD shall build up Sion: and when his glory shall appear;

The non-fulfilment of this prophecy at the restoration of the Jews and the erection of the second Temple,* albeit certain offerings were no doubt made to the GOD of the Hebrews by various Gentile monarchs,* on the renovation of the Temple,* and after its expiation under Judas Maccabeus, teaches us that we must look to a higher meaning than a literal one for the Psalm; and we see in it first, (C.) the victory of the Church over the Empire, and the barbarous nations and kings who overthrew the Roman sway; and then, the final revelation of the glory of CHRIST in Judgment.* And a Saint reminds us that the LORD, when He was laying Himself as the foundation of Sion, (A.) was not seen in glory, but in humility and sorrow, yet that His weakness has become our strength, so that He is seen now in glory in building up the Saints of His Church.

17 When he turneth him unto the prayer of the poor destitute: and despiseth not their desire.

These words are the completion of the two former verses,* and imply that the building-up of Sion is in answer to lowly supplication. And they will thus have their first literal sense in the restoration of the Jewish polity on the full repentance of the captive people; while their deeper import will be found in the Incarnation, as GOD’S reply to the orisons of the Prophets, and in His coming to judgment,* invoked by the cry of the Martyrs under the altar, “How long, O LORD, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”*

18 This shall be written for those that come after: and the people which shall be born shall praise the LORD.

The literal sense of the verse appears to be a direction for committing this prophecy to writing, (L.) in order that when it had been fulfilled by the restoration of Israel to Palestine, and the revival of the national polity almost by a new creation, (for the A. V. correctly reads here, with LXX. and Vulgate, created instead of born,) the memory of it might not be lost, but thanksgivings be offered to GOD in divine worship because of His wonderful truth and goodness. But a fuller sense is suggested by the words of the Apostle, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”* For we are that other generation (LXX. and Vulg.) which was to come, (A.) the people which have been created anew by the laver of regeneration, gathered out of heathenism to praise the LORD; and taught the full mysteries of the New Testament by means of that Old Testament which bade the former generation look in hope for that which we hold in fruition. “Therefore, if any man be in CHRIST, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”* And it is only for those who are willing to become a new generation,* unlike the children of this world, a fresh creation, of grace, not of nature, that the Gospels are written, that the law of the Most High is written, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshly tables of our hearts. There is no name of the writer given, because only One can so write on our hearts, the HOLY SPIRIT Himself.

19 For he hath looked down from his sanctuary: out of the heaven did the LORD behold the earth;

20 That he might hear the mournings of such as are in captivity: and deliver the children appointed unto death.

The A. V. reads correctly with LXX. and Vulgate,* the height of His sanctuary. (C.) And the general voice of the early expositors bids us see here a prophecy of CHRIST stooping from the exalted throne of His divine Majesty,* to take upon Him the clay of our human nature; beholding with His especial grace and favour that lowly and beauteous valley, the Blessed Mary, wherein He willed to abide.* A certain ambiguity in the Vulgate, de excelso sancto suo, which may refer to a person as well as a place, has led to some variety of exposition here amongst the Latins; of whom some refer the verse to the FATHER, looking lovingly on mankind from the Person of His “high and holy One,” the Eternal SON;* while others take the phrase tropologically of any saintly Prelate,* through whom GOD vouchsafes to instruct and guide His people.

That He might hear the mournings of such as are in captivity. And so He spake to Moses at the burning bush, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land into a good land and large.”* Again, He delivered them in like manner out of Babylon, and came Himself in person a third time to save them from the sorer bondage of sin, to bring them into a yet better country. Those in captivity to sin He hears, that He may let them go. These fetters of sin are manifold, and may be summed up thus:

Ignoro, nequeo, corrumpor, negligo, lassor,*

Hoste premor, consuetus agor, timeo, socius sum.

I know not, cannot, am tainted, idle, faint,

Forced by a foe, driven by custom, fear, am a mate.

That is, we are liable to sins of ignorance, of weakness, of the corrupt flesh, of omission, of weariness in well-doing, by actual compulsion from without, by the force of habit, through fear, and because of evil companionship. From all these the LORD came to set us free.* But He especially delights in hearkening to the petitions of those voluntary prisoners who have heeded the counsel of the Wise Man, preaching of Wisdom, “Put thy feet into her fetters, and thy neck unto her chain; bow down thy shoulder, and be not grieved with her bonds … then shall her fetters be a strong defence for thee, (Cd.) and her chains a robe of glory.”* And thus the words will fitly apply to those who have taken upon them the obligations of the Religious Life, and pass their time in making intercessions for others.* There is a further meaning to be drawn from the verse, namely, the deliverance of the souls of the Patriarchs from Hades and their introduction to Paradise when CHRIST harrowed hell.

The prey which Hell had gorged of old

Is torn for ever from its hold,*

And hosts from prison chains set free

With JESUS leave captivity.

The children appointed, unto death. The literal Hebrew is the children of death. And this metaphor may be taken either as above, or as meaning the children of slain parents. The former is the more exact, and thus indicates simply the imminence of the peril out of which GOD delivered His people, mystically or literally. But the majority of the expositors prefer the latter, and explain the words of Christians now, (Z.) either as spiritual descendants of those Jews who died in their sins as having rejected the Messiah,* or of Adam and Eve,* who brought death into the world; while another interpretation prefers to see us described as the descendants of the Apostles and Martyrs who died for the Faith,* and left their examples to us for imitation. This second meaning can defend itself by the literal history of the two great deliverances of Israel, seeing that it was the children of those that came out of Egypt, and not the first members of the Exodus themselves, who entered Canaan, inasmuch as all the six hundred thousand save two died in the wilderness; and similarly that but a very few scanty relics of the generation which had known the first Temple attained with the younger one to see the new one raised. There is a further distinction, that the Jews, possessed of life, though tied down by their traditions and blindness, are those in captivity, while the children of death signify the Gentile heathen,* cut off from all knowledge of immortality in CHRIST, and bound in the chains of the devil.

21 That they may declare the Name of the LORD in Sion: and his worship at Jerusalem;

22 When the people are gathered together: and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD.

Here, upon earth, in Sion, the Church Militant, (Ay.) our task is to preach CHRIST, to declare the Name of the Lord, till we make the people of the earth His disciples, till “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our LORD and of His CHRIST,* and that gathered together, in one faith,* one baptism, one body; while the heavenly Jerusalem will be the place for the everlasting worship or praise of the LORD, when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, and those crowned kings who have subdued the earth of their own bodies, the hosts of their own passions, cast their diadems in love and awe before the throne of the SON of GOD.

Come, O ye kings, ye nations,*

With songs of gladness hail Him,

Ye Gentiles all before Him fall,

The royal Priest in Salem.

O’er hell and death triumphant

Your conquering LORD hath risen,

His praises sound Whose power hath bound

Your ruthless foe in prison.

23 He brought down my strength in my journey: and shortened my days.

This is,* as the Rabbins allege,* a cry of weakness from those Jews whose place of exile was very distant from Jerusalem, and who feared that the long and toilsome journey would exhaust their powers before they could reach the Holy City, and share in the glory and happiness of reviving it anew from its ruins.* They differ as to the He of the verse, some taking it, as seems the natural order, to mean GOD, named but just before at the close of the previous verse, while others suppose that the Enemy is meant, cutting off the straggling bands of pilgrims on the way.* But it seems better to take the verse in a more general sense,* of the course of this life, wherein GOD suffers us to be afflicted and weakened, lest, loving the road too well, we should be insufficiently mindful of the Land to which we journey. But the LXX. and Vulgate, following a totally different reading of the Hebrew text, give a very dissimilar version here: He (or, she) answered Him in the way of His might, Tell me the fewness of my days.1 And there is a great variety of expositions due to the obscurity of this rendering. (A.) Thus, S. Augustine will have it, that the question is addressed by Jerusalem, by the Church, to CHRIST, after His Resurrection in power, asking how long her earthly sojourn is to last, before the day of eternity comes on. Another takes it that the earth, which the LORD beholds, answers Him in the way of virtue,* by becoming obedient to His precepts, and then prays of Him to teach her the shortness of human life, that she may be fitted with longing for immortality. (Z.) A third view ascribes the words to the “poor man” of whom we hear in the title of the Psalm, who, seeing that GOD has begun to show mercy upon Sion, (L.) is fearful of dying before he has seen the salvation fully wrought out, and beseeches GOD to remove his alarm by granting him a longer space.* Another explanation takes it thus: Jerusalem asked the LORD to tell her the fewness of her days, and He answered swered her in the way of His might,* as He was fast treading the road which led to His victorious Cross: “The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side.”*

24 But I said, O my GOD, take me not away in the midst of mine age: as for thy years, they endure throughout all generations.

It is not a mere prayer for life for its own sake,* but that the speaker may behold GOD’S redemption of Israel. (A.) And therefore S. Augustine takes it as the prayer of the Church that GOD will prolong her earthly existence to the end of the world, that she may do His work amongst mankind. And spoken by the individual believer, the words denote his prayer that GOD will permit him to see the great work accomplished; for,* on the one hand, being Eternal, He has the empire over time; and on the other, the brief prolongation of human life asked for brings man no nearer to the years of Him Who is before all time and to all ages.* And it is, further, an intreaty that GOD may not cut short the days of amendment, but permit penitence to have its full course and perfect work. But the Vulgate rendering here,* Call me not back, has led to a curious mystical exposition. I am running a race, the Psalmist would say, on the way of salvation, call me not back from that race to the sins of my hot youth, when I had as yet measured only half the span of my days;* call me not back from my exile before I am ready, lest I should have but that half of my life which belongs to this world,* which knows only half-days, because night claims a moiety of the hours as her own, and not attain to the fulness of those eternal days, which have no cloud nor evening, those years of the LORD which endure throughout all generations.

25 Thou, LORD, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.

26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: they all shall wax old as doth a garment;

27 And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

These verses hold an important place in Scripture,* for they are cited by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, obviously adopting a Messianic tradition of the Jews, as spoken of CHRIST, the Only-begotten SON, and not primarily of the Eternal FATHER.* Mystically, they teach us that GOD laid the foundation of the Church in Him Who is the Beginning and the End, none other foundation than which can any man lay, and that He lays the foundation of spiritual life in us while we are yet in the very beginning of our existence,* in that He suffers us to be brought to Him in baptism as infants. (A.) The heavens, the Apostles and Saints, raised high in contemplation, pouring down refreshing rains of doctrine upon the earth, are, in an especial manner,* the work of His hands, because only His efficient grace makes them what they are. They shall perish,* in that they must undergo the common lot of men,* for their earthly garment of flesh waxes old and faint, but He Who endures for ever changes them as a vesture, for “we shall be changed, for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”* And this is certain, for Thou art the same, “JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,”* the same Who hast said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away,”* and Thou, the Faithful and True, hast promised eternal life in the new heaven and new earth to them that are loyal to Thee, Whose years shall not fail, and Whose kingdom is therefore everlasting, so that it follows:

28 The children of thy servants shall continue: and their seed shall stand fast in thy sight.

S. Augustine, pointing out that these words seem to exclude the servants themselves, (A.) that is, the Apostles (whose spiritual children we are,) or any generation of Christians which takes the Psalm as its own; argues that we must interpret them mystically of the good works done by the disciples of CHRIST, which are their fruits borne to Him, the Bridegroom of their souls. The servants, then, must dwell by means of their works, by means of their children. Be not barren, if thou desire to dwell, send thine offspring before thee whither thou art following. Let the children lead thee into the land of promise, the land of the living, not of the dying; as Joseph went before his father Jacob into the land of Egypt, and said to him and to his brethren, “GOD did send me before you to preserve life.”* And their seed shall stand fast in Thy sight. That is, the future generations of Christians shall be confirmed in the faith, so that the Church will never be abolished nor die out till the end of the world,* but will be guided to eternity (Vulg.) by the same HOLY SPIRIT which has hitherto been the Teacher of the faithful; or, with the fuller spiritual meaning of the A. V., shall be established before Thee, strengthened in heaven against the possibility of fall, by gazing for ever on the countenance of CHRIST; so that there is not only the glory of the changed vesture, the royal apparel of the renovated body, but the perfect vigour and felicity of the ransomed soul.

If the body, once made glorious,*

Such high gifts and bright shall own,

What the beatification

Of the spirits round the throne,

When in perfect revelation

Shall the Bridegroom’s Face be shown?

Wherefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, the Maker of heaven and earth; glory be to the SON, Who shall build up Sion; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who heareth the prayer of the poor destitute.

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








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