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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.

The twenty-first letter, Schin, is believed to mean teeth, from שָׁנַן, he whetted, whence the word שֵׁן, tooth. The mystical sense of tooth in Holy Writ is twofold, a bad and a good one.* In the first place, teeth are used, because of their crushing and cutting power, to signify persecutors, spiritual or human, as more than once in the Book of Job: “He teareth me in his wrath who hateth me, he gnasheth upon me with his teeth;” again, “I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth;”* and of Leviathan, “His teeth are terrible round about;” while the same notion reappears in the Psalter, “Break their teeth, O GOD, in their mouths.”* Next, the teeth are taken in a good sense to denote the preachers of the Church, and especially the Apostles, because as the teeth chew and prepare the food which is to be swallowed and digested by the body, so the Doctors of the Church grind,* as it were, the hard dogmas and sayings of the Faith to fit them for reception by the general body of Christians;* and also cut away their converts from their former superstitions, as the teeth bite a piece of food away from the whole mass.* The marks of good preachers accord with those of good teeth: they are white with innocence, joined together in charity, even in justice, firm in constancy, living in vigour, biting into sin with doctrine and truth.* And S. Bernard works out the metaphor further as a type of the Religious Life with much beauty and ingenuity. Another form of this interpretation takes the teeth to mean the inward operation of the soul,* whereby it gradually assimilates divine truth, transmitting its thoughts to memory to be there retained and digested. It will be seen that these meanings are shadowed in the present strophe, wherein the main idea is the perseverance of the Saints in meditation of the Law in despite of their persecutors.*

161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause: (ש) but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.

We know, (A.) comments S. Augustine, what persecutions the Body of CHRIST, that is, Holy Church, hath suffered from the kings of the earth. What wrong did Christians do to earthly kingdoms, albeit their own King had promised them the Kingdom of Heaven? Did their King ever forbid His soldiers to pay and discharge their duty to earthly kings? Did He not say to the Jews when they were plotting calumny against Him on this very point, “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto GOD the things that are GOD’S?”* Did He not pay tribute out of the fish’s mouth Himself? Did not His Forerunner reply, when asked by this world’s soldiers what they should do to gain eternal salvation, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse falsely, and be content with your wages?”* He never said, Loose your belts, cast down your arms, desert your king, that you may be the LORD’S soldiers. Did not one of His soldiers and dearest officers say to his fellow-soldiers, so to speak, the provincial troops of CHRIST,* “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers?” and a little further on, “Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” “Owe no man anything, but to love one another?”* And did he not enjoin that the Church should make supplication for kings?

How then did Christians offend them? what debt did they fail to pay? in what particular did Christians disobey earthly kings? Therefore the kings of the earth persecuted Christians without a cause. But note what is added: But my heart standeth in awe of Thy word. They too had threatening words, I exile, proscribe, slay, torture with hooks, roast with fire, expose to wild beasts, rend the limbs. But Thy words awed me more: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”* My heart standeth in awe of those words, and therefore I overcame man my persecutor and Satan my tempter. “Would that I might be like this,”* exclaims S. Ambrose, after a vivid picture of a martyrdom, “that if the persecutor should increase his rage, I might not count the bitterness of my sufferings, not measure my torments and pains, but esteem them all as trifles; and yet be in awe lest CHRIST should deny me, lest CHRIST should shut out. Rather let Him look on me, shaken indeed with the terror of bodily pangs, but more in awe of judgment to come. And if He should say to me, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”* let Him nevertheless stretch out His right hand, and stablish me, as I am affrighted with the huge rising billows of this world, in faithful steadfastness of mind.”

And there are also princes of this world, rulers of darkness, who strive to oppress thee in thy heart, and inflict the cruelties of persecution within thee, promising thee earthly kingdoms, honours, and riches, if thou yield with feeble mind, and think thyself obliged to obey their behests. These princes sometimes persecute without a cause, and sometimes not so. They persecute him without a cause in whom they find nothing that is theirs, and strive to subdue him; but it is not without a cause that they persecute him who gives himself up to their power, and thoroughly enters into the possession of the world, for they justly claim to rule over their own subjects, and exact from them the price of their guilt. And against such persecutors as this the one bulwark is the fear of the LORD. Our Head hath said of Himself,* “They hated Me without a cause,”* and when He was brought by reason of their hate before Pilate, (L.) the verdict of the judge was, “I find in Him no fault at all.”* If His members obey Him and follow His example, they then may take this verse as their own.

162 I am as glad of thy word: as one that findeth great spoils.

Just now the Psalmist spoke of his fear of yielding in the contest, (H.) but now he speaks of finding spoils, which, is the language of a conqueror, as to yield spoils is certainly the act of the vanquished. For he knows from the Gospel that the strong man hath been bound in his palace,* stripped of the armour and his power wherein he trusted, and forced to give up his spoils to be divided by the faithful. S. Ambrose, amongst several other comments on this verse, aptly takes the words of the delight of the Gentile Church in those books of Holy Scripture which were taken by CHRIST from the Jews and handed over to more faithful custodians;* who have thus, under a greater than Moses, spoiled the Hebrews of their precious jewels, even as they had spoiled the Egyptians, save that in that case the booty was mere earthly gold, whereas in this the true spiritual riches have passed from one holder to another,* according to those words of the LORD,* “The kingdom of GOD shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”* Given, yes, but how?* As a victorious general gives up a conquered city to be pillaged by the troops which have shared in the dangers of the siege and assault, for it is written, “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by storm.”* And therefore great will be the rejoicing of the triumphant army in that day, (G.) in Thy presence, O Captain of our salvation; “they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.”* So runs that noble old chant of triumph at the storm of the earthly Jerusalem by the crusading host under King Godfrey, a cento from whose numerous stanzas follows here.

Hoc præmium Rex dabit

Quod se manifestabit,*

Huic qui bene pugnavit.

Jerusalem, exulta!

Cur ergo creatura

Non militet secura

Cum hoc sit adeptura?

Jerusalem, exulta!

Urbs regia, gaudeto,

Corde resulta læto,

Et secura maneto,

Jerusalem, exulta!

Rex præcipit ut gentes

Gladiis renitentes,

Te visitent gaudentes;

Jerusalem, exulta!

Procedunt ipsæ tute,

Signo crucis indutæ,

Cœli Regem secutæ,

Jerusalem, exulta!

Cœtus Christianorum,

Pro vobis stant cunctorum

Catervæ superorum,

Jerusalem, exulta!

Rex pugnat et præcedit,

Sic neminem mors lædit,

Qui moritur dum cedit,

Jerusalem, exulta!

Urbs capitur hac hora,

Nulla sit ergo mora,

Nostra sit vox canora,

Jerusalem, exulta!

This prize the King bestoweth,

His very self He showeth

To him whose valour gloweth,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

We then, His creatures purely,

Should we not fight securely,

With such reward fixed surely?

Jerusalem, be joyful!

O royal City, sounding

With joy, and with heart’s bounding,

Abide with peace surrounding,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

The King commands the nations

With arms and acclamations

To seek thy habitations,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

In that safe march proceeding,

The Cross-decked hosts are speeding,

Where Heaven’s own King is leading,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

O hosts of CHRIST’S allegiance,

On your side are the regions

Of Heaven with all their legions,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

The King our storm is heading,

None therefore death is dreading,

Which smites but those back-treading,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

The City’s ta’en, and ours!

Seek we at once her bowers,

And sing with all our powers,

Jerusalem, be joyful!

163 As for lies, I hate and abhor them: but thy law do I love.

A Jewish interpretation of this verse is that lies denotes all acts prohibited by the negative precepts of the Mosaic code,* while the law signifies the positive precepts enjoining other actions. And this accords sufficiently well with the LXX. and Vulgate rendering in the first clause, iniquity.

It is no marvel that love and hate should be close together in one heart, (G.) for the LORD Himself hath taught us, (C.) saying, “No man can serve two masters, for he will hate the one, and love the other,”* and of Himself the Psalmist saith, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.”* There are some who hate iniquity, (D. C.) not for its own sake, but for the punishment which follows on it. These are imperfect, for they do good out of servile fear, which has no meritorious character, though it may be useful in preparing the soul for the grace of holy fear. Others hate iniquity because of its ugliness and deformity; and this is an advance on the former. But the perfect hate it because they love GOD, and know that it displeases, dishonours, and offends Him, whom we are bound to love, honour, and obey as our LORD and FATHER, for else He will say to us, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a Father, where is Mine honour? and if I be a Master, where is My fear?”*

164 Seven times a day do I praise thee: because of thy righteous judgments.

This is one of the classical passages in the Psalter which has either originated or else helped to establish the usage, (L.) common to East and West alike, of dividing the Daily Office into the Seven Canonical Hours,* a custom which was gradually developed out of the three stated times of prayer which,* in compliance with Jewish custom as set by the Prophet Daniel, were adopted by the Early Christians, and seems to have been known at the time when the Apostolical Constitutions were compiled, and certainly at the period when the Ambrosian hymns were written, since one of them runs thus:

Ut septies diem vere

Orantes cum Psalterio,*

Laudes cantantes Deo,

Læti solvamus debitum.

That truly seven times a day

With psalms and prayer in glad accord,

Our bounden duty we may pay,

By singing praises to the LORD.

They delight in finding mystical reasons for the choice of the number seven; and tell us how the Breviary, (L.) with its seven hours, is the seven-branched candlestick of the Church, ever burning in honour of GOD, how man’s seven times of prayer are his thanksgivings to GOD for the seven Sacraments and the seven gifts of the HOLY GHOST,* how they are his weapons against the seven more wicked spirits of the deadly sins, his risings after the seven daily falls of the just man, how they answer to the seven stages of man’s own life, to the seven petitions of the LORD’S Prayer,* to the recurring seven days into which all earthly time is distributed (whence the Greek Fathers, almost unanimously, agreeing with S. Augustine and many of the Latins, (A.) teach here that seven is not to be taken exclusively, (C.) as a limit to the seasons of prayer,* but as equivalent to constantly,* unfailingly,* though especially at the Church’s own times;) but above all, to the seven stages of the LORD’S Passion on Good Friday, seized at Matins, led before Pilate at Prime, demanded for Crucifixion at Terce, Crucified at Sext, giving up the ghost at None, taken down from the Cross at Vespers, buried at Compline. And whereas there are actually eight separate offices, albeit Matins and Lauds are practically said together to make the number seven,* they cite those words of the Wise Man, “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight.”*

165 Great is the peace that they have, who love thy law: and they are not offended at it.

Not external peace,* for that does not lie in our power, nor does GOD promise it to us, but peace which dwells in our thoughts, when they are free from passion and disturbance, for this gift we receive from GOD as the pledge of the mutual love He and we have plighted; and “being justified by faith, we have peace with GOD through our LORD JESUS CHRIST,”* that peace which He bequeathed to His disciples as a parting gift, (C.) saying, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”* It is great peace, (G.) but not full and perfect peace here below, but it will be so in the world to come, where it has no end. And so the Cluniac:

The peace of all the faithful,*

The calm of all the blest,

Inviolate, unvaried,

Divinest, sweetest, best.

That peace—but who may claim it?

The guileless in their way,

Who keep the ranks of battle,

Who mean the thing they say.

Tis fury, ill, and scandal,

And peaceless peace below;

Peace endless, strifeless, ageless,

The halls of Sion know.

And they are not offended at it.* More exactly, with. A. V. margin, And they shall have no stumbling-block. That is, either as the Prayer Book implies, they shall find none of those difficulties in the Bible or in the doctrines of the Church which uninstructed and unspiritual persons do, (for it is written, “The LORD of Hosts shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel,”*) or they themselves shall walk void of all offence in their ways,* held up by the Angels of GOD, so as not to hurt their foot against any stone;* in such wise that any who take offence at them prove themselves thereby to be Pharisees and no true believers. (D. C.) But this again is reserved in its fulness for the quiet rest of heaven, as S. Peter Damiani sings:

Pace multa perfruentes, scandalum non perferunt.*

Dwell they now in peace eternal, with all stumbling they have done.

And this because “the Son of Man shall send forth His Angels, (G.) and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend.”*

166 LORD,* I have looked for thy saving health: and done after thy commandments.

The best comment on this verse is one passage of the Gospels: (H.) “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel: and the HOLY GHOST was upon him. (A.) And it was revealed unto him by the HOLY GHOST that he should not see death till he had seen the LORD’S CHRIST.” The verse holds also of the Saints of the New Testament as well as those of the Old, for “we look for the SAVIOUR,* the LORD JESUS CHRIST, Who shall change our vile body that it may become like unto His glorious Body.”*

167 My soul hath kept thy testimonies: and loved them exceedingly.

It is a better thing to love than to keep,* because keeping is sometimes a matter of necessity or of fear, (Cd.) but love is of affection. For which reason CHRIST the LORD called not His disciples servants, but friends,* to teach them freewill obedience by love instead of compulsory service. It is only a reasonable return to GOD, for the FATHER loved me so exceedingly as not to spare His own SON, but to give Him up for me; (G.) and the SON loved me so exceedingly that He gave Himself to me, and gave me back to myself when I was lost in my sins,* original and actual. And although love is here put in the second place, it is the first in the spiritual order, as the reason and means of keeping the testimonies of GOD. For love works great things,* and if it refuse to work, it is not love. Wherefore the LORD saith: “He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My sayings.”* And His Apostle tells us further: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”* There are three things, observes the Carmelite, (Ay.) which chiefly hinder wayfarers in accomplishing a journey; a heavy burden, burning heat, and pressure of hunger. And so in going the way of GOD’S Commandments, the burden of sin, the passions and desires of the heart, and the lack of divine nourishment are the Christian’s difficulties; and therefore the three things which are profitable as remedies, are confession of sins, to unload the burden of the soul, active employment in holy actions, which are as it were a shelter to the head against the heat, and constant reception of that most sacred nutriment whereby CHRIST is ministered to us, and which is rightly called the Viaticum, or travellers’ food. And because proof of all these matters pertaining to salvation is to be found in the words of Holy Writ; (D. C.) “therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard lest at any time we should let them slip,”* rather striving to keep them in tenacious memory and in praiseworthy holiness of life.

168 I have kept thy commandments and testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.

Happy is the man who can say to GOD,* All my ways are before Thee, who has no wish to hide any of his thoughts and actions. Adam tried to hide his way, Eve hid herself after her fault, Cain hid his brother’s murder. We have the will to hide, but not the power. The bad faith of the hider is complete, albeit there is no concealment with GOD. And though GOD sees all the secrets of the heart,* yet it is a good thing for every one to open and spread out his soul before Him, and go to meet His light and heat. Wherefore His own command to Abraham was, “Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.”* Courtiers are careful about their conduct in the presence of their sovereign. (D. C.) What reason we have then to walk carefully and reverently before GOD our Judge! For he who misconducts himself in the presence of a judge who forbids him, exhibits the greatest contempt of court. So we, who know that GOD beholds all our acts, most grievously dishonour Him, if we have our conversation in His presence without diligent warding of our heart. Therefore Boethius said very well,* “There is a great need laid upon you of uprightness, if you have no wish to dissemble, because ye do all before the eyes of a Judge Who seeth everything.” And then, there is another sense, for he who has opened all the ways of his heart to GOD, and walked before Him faithfully in this life, shall have the Golden City for his very own, and can call her streets my ways, since he is free to go where he will along them, and they are all before GOD, since He is in the midst of that City, and its Light.

Grant me, with the happy nation,*

In those streets to find a station;

There with Moses and Elias

Chanting endless Alleluias.

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