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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.

Mozarabic. LORD, I have loved the beauty of Thine house, and the place of the glory of Thy Majesty.

Monastic. Mine eyes * are ever unto the LORD.

1 Be thou my judge, O LORD, for I have walked innocently: my trust hath been also in the LORD, therefore shall I not fall.

It is a serious and seemingly perilous wish, which he expresses for himself,—that he may be judged!2 But all the commentators1 take it, if spoken by David, of the judgment or separation from others, not of decision as regards himself;—in the same sense, that is, with the opening of the 43rd Psalm,—“Give sentence with me, O GOD, and defend my cause from the ungodly people.” But we choose to apply it to the Son of David: (D. C.) and then indeed from that unrighteous tribunal He may well make His appeal: “What think ye? They all condemned Him to be guilty of death.” “Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.” Be THOU My Judge, (G.) O Lord, for I have walked innocently: or in My innocency, as the Vulgate has. My innocency, says Gerhohus, in the same way in which we speak of our FATHER, or our daily bread. Ours because given to us. By two kinds of steps, he adds, we approach the LORD; those of intention, and those of action. My trust. When?—or rather, when not? For present assistance: “I knew Thou hearest Me always.”* For future preservation: “Thou shalt not leave My Soul in hell.”* All through that troubled and sorrowful Life: all through that agonised and living Death, “JESUS would not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men.”* No: My trust hath been in the Lord; I shall in no wise fall: or, as a reading of the LXX. has it, be weak.2 Yet Thou wast weak, (G.) O Lamb of GOD, for our sakes! Yea, that we might be strong to the keeping of Thy commandments, Thou didst gird Thyself with the fleshly vesture of our weakness: that we might be strong to agonize at the entrance of the strait gate, Thou wast weak in that mortal agony in the Garden: that we might be strong to cast off the dominion of death, Thou wast wounded to the death on the Cross! I shall not fail. Because He failed, Who is our Strength: He was sick, Who is our Health: He died, Who is our Life.

2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me: try out my reins and my heart.

Examine me, (G.) or as the Vulgate has it, tenta me—probando, non reprobando. But they ask, Can it ever be a lawful prayer, (C.) that we may be tempted? There are two kinds of temptations, replies Cassiodorus. The one of the LORD, by which He tries the good, that He may lead them; as it is written, “GOD did tempt Abraham:”* and again, “The LORD your GOD tempteth you.”* The other of the devil, which always leads to evil, and concerning which we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” “GOD tempts that He may crown:* the devil that he may subvert,” says S. Ambrose. And S. Augustine dwells at great length on the difference of the two temptations; how,* by the one, the man comes out as silver purified in the fire: how, by the other, it is of the Lord’s goodness that we are not consumed, (D. C.) because His compassions fail not. Or it is the Lamb of GOD that speaks. For how was He not examined, (Ay.) how was He not proved, from the temptation in the wilderness to the last and most fearful trial of the Cross? From the if Thou be the Son of GOD” of Satan, to the “that the world may know that I love the FATHER” of Himself. My reins and my heart. The one the seat of pleasure, the other of business; my recreations, and my work: that which I eschew, and that which I engage in. Try out. In the Vulgate it is Burn. And with what heat? asks S. Augustine. Surely with the fire of the SPIRIT: (A.) of which it is said, “None can hide himself from the heat thereof.”* And again: “I am come to send fire on the earth.”* And that this purification is the effect of GOD’s mercy, not of His severity, He continues:

3 For thy lovingkindness is ever before mine eyes: and I will walk in thy truth.

None can explain this verse better than Hugh of S. Victor.* “It is the mercy of GOD which spares: it is His truth which corrects. By His mercy He repelleth not penitents from indulgence; by His truth, while He punisheth sin, He hath respect to the crime, not to the person. It is needful therefore that he, who would attain to salvation, contemn not these two remedies of the medicine of GOD. For without mercy, he cannot obtain pardon: without truth, he cannot be amended. But there are some who, while with hasty presumption they expect their faults to be pardoned by the mercy of God, will not patiently endure the scourges of correction: and if perchance they acknowledge that they have suffered as the punishment of their sin, they are forthwith puffed up with the swelling of pride, and on that account think that they have no occasion for the mercy of GOD, because, by their own performance, they are fully justified before the Divine tribunal. Against these let us hear what the Psalmist says: Thy lovingkindness is ever before mine eyes: and I am well pleased in Thy truth. I see that Thy lovingkindness is everywhere necessary to me; and the strokes of Thy correction, by which Thou closely punishest my sin, I not only do not shrink from, but receive with joy: nay, even in these, I acknowledge that Thy mercy is not wanting. I am well pleased (saith he) in Thy truth. Elegantly said, laudably said: a saying worthy of imitation. As if he said, I have no complacency in myself except in Thy truth; because that which displeaseth Thee in me, this even I myself reprehend. In Thy truth I have complacency with myself: because, while Thou pursuest my sins with the scourge, Thou makest me glad with the love of correction. For why should I not be complacent with myself in Thy truth, who formerly had an evil complacency with myself in my own falsehood?”

[Thy lovingkindness,*—and now it is the sinner speaking to GOD—is ever before mine eyes in the story of the Passion,* and I am well pleased in Thy truth, because all my delight is in conforming myself to the likeness of Thy SON,* Who is the Truth. And, taking the exacter English rendering, I will walk in Thy truth, we can keep to the same interpretation, remembering that He Who is the Truth is also the Way.]

4 I have not dwelt with vain persons: neither will I have fellowship with the deceitful.

He pleads for Himself,*—the Son of David here speaking,—first, from His freedom from sin; next, from His fulness of good. The former, I have not dwelt with vain persons: the latter, “I will wash my hands in innocency.” And the former,—first as regards GOD: next as respects the righteous. Again: in the former we have the action,—have not dwelt: the word,—neither will I have fellowship: the thought,—“I have hated the congregation of the wicked.” The Vulgate has it, (C.) I sat not with the counsel of vanity. No, of a truth, O LORD JESU; Thou didst stand before it, Thou wast smitten at its command, but sat with it, never! And so, after Thy example, Thy followers may sometimes be called to draw nigh an assembly of wickedness, but never will they dwell with it, or take part in it. The abuse of this verse by the Donatists is well known;* and the rebuke they incurred from S. Augustine for refusing to sit in a Catholic Council, when, to be consistent, they should have carried out the latter part of the verse also,* and not have appeared there at all. Tertullian also abuses the text to the support of his Montanist dogma, (L.) that adulterers were not to be reconciled to the Church. The council of vanity is taken by primitive writers to mean that of idolaters, idols being so often called by the name of vanities in Holy Scripture. “They have provoked Me to anger with their vanities.”* “Turn ye not aside; for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain.”* “What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?”* The deceitful. And how did He reject them with,1 “Woe unto you, Scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites!”—“Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites?”

5 I have hated the congregation of the wicked: and will not sit among the ungodly.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, The Church, of the malignant: (Ay.) a fearful Church indeed: Satan’s parody of the Immaculate Bride. That reprobate Church, as the wise man says, “is like tow wrapped together, and the end of them is a flame of fire to destroy them.”* The Church. They observe that, except in one passage of the Acts, (L.) this word is always taken in a good sense; yet S. Ambrose remarks that the Apostle does well to salute the Churches of CHRIST,* because there are also churches of the devil. And the hatred of GOD’s enemies, quà. His enemies—“yea, I hate them right sore”—so entirely opposed to the indifferentism of the present day, has always been one distinguishing mark of His ancient servants. Witness Phinehas; “and that was counted unto him for righteousness among all posterities for evermore:”* Samuel with Agag: Elias with the priests of Baal. And notice the commendation of the Angel of Ephesus, “Thou canst not bear them that are evil.”*

6 I will wash my hands in innocency, O LORD: and so will I go to thine altar.

Two principal explanations are given of this altar. The one that it is our own heart: (Ay.) that altar on which the “fire” of love is always to be burning:* “it shall never go out.” Hence they run into all the richness of mediæval theology, to explain how the various altars of which Scripture tells, of wood,* of brass, of stone, of earth, of gold, can apply to ourselves. So S. Bruno of the altar of earth, which he explains of humility. So Ven. Bede, of the altar of shittim-wood,* which he understands of purity. So Solomon’s brazen altar, of constancy. So Joshua’s altar of unhewn stones,* of earnestness and the rejection of vain glory. And so, finally, the golden altar of incense is interpreted of love. Others, again, understand the altar to be our LORD; as Him by Whom all our prayers must be offered, (D. C.) in Whom all our oblations must be made; Himself Priest, Altar, Victim, and the God to Whom the offerings are made. But by far the greater number of expositors take it in the former sense. In innocency. Because it is possible to wash them among the guilty, (C.) and say, with Pilate, “I am innocent of the Blood of this Just Person,” while the Church of GOD replies with one voice, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”* This verse no doubt suggested the rite of the Lavabo in the Western Church; what millions of times, by what multitudes of lips, must it have been repeated, by those who have now put off the corruptible and put on the incorruptible! So will I go to. Or, as it is in the Vulgate, (L.) So will I go round: as they say the Jews did on great festivals, with green boughs, whence the idea of the procession of palms.

[So will I compass Thine altar,* (A.V.) Origen, explaining the altar to be the soul of man, further adds, “When the soul nods not outwards, but looks towards herself, and to her own centre, she compasses the altar of GOD, framing no angle which can retain corruption, for the wise Solomon tells us that folly ‘lieth in wait at every corner.’ ”*]

7 That I may show the voice of thanksgiving: and tell of all thy wondrous works.

Or, as it is more truly in the Vulgate, (Ay.) That I may hear the voice of praise. For GOD must teach us, they say, first, before we can hear, secondly, tell of His works. Even as the LORD taught His disciples, before He sent them forth to convert the world; even as the LORD Himself sat among the doctors, both hearing and asking them questions, before He Himself “began to do and to teach.”* And notice, up to this verse we have the righteous man’s actions as regarding himself; negatively, forsaking evil; (A.) actively, doing good: now we come to his deeds as regards others. He must teach. “So hear the voice of praise,” says S. Augustine, “as not to praise thyself even when thou art good. For, in praising thyself as good, thou art become evil.” But what is this? “I will wash my hands”—that I may hear? Yes: for it is only the pure that can hear so as to understand: it is only they who are cleansed from sin to whom the voice of praise will speak. The voice of praise. (G.) They take it in a most blessed signification of that voice, “Come, ye blessed of My FATHER,” that voice of heavenly and conclusive praise for which all earthly blame were well and happily borne.

O beati tunc lugentes

Et pro CHRISTO patientes!*

Quibus sæculi pressura

Regna semper dat mansura!

And may tell of all Thy wondrous works, in that glorious land, whose eternity, and that only, will suffice for the relation of all. If that may be gained, most willingly “I will go to Thine altar,” O LORD, even though it be as the victim myself, even if Thou hast need of me, not as the worshipper, but as the burnt-offering!

8 LORD, I have loved the habitation of thine house: and the place where thine honour dwelleth.

I have loved. For

How lovely and true,* how full of grace,

O LORD, Thou God of Hosts, Thy dwelling-place!

How elect each architect!

How serene its walls remain!

Never moved by, rather proved by,

Wind, and storm, and surge, and rain!

The two clauses may be taken of the material and the spiritual Church: (C.) the one, those walls which are raised by earthly hands: the other, the house not made with hands, where each of the LORD’s saints is an elect stone, in heaven. Or, if you will, of the Church militant and the Church triumphant. And when we think how low the habitation of God’s house seems to have fallen,—how thieves and robbers have come up into it,—how that which we build, if a fox go up, he shall break down our stone wall, it may be a comfort to know that the cry of GOD’s servants, in all ages, has been the same; as here S. Albertus,* writing in the tenth century, in the full fervour of so many monastic institutes, makes grievous complaints of the dishonour done to the habitations of His house, and the ruins in which it lay. But, applying this verse to the material temple, the author of the Opus Imperfectum would nevertheless understand the beauty of the spiritual sacrifice,* of the ardent love, the earnest praises, that there abound; not of the glory of shining marbles and precious metals. “O house of GOD,” S. Augustine bursts forth,* “luminous and beautiful! I have loved thy beauty, and the place of the habitation of my GOD, thy Builder and Possessor! To thee my exile belongs; night and day to thee my heart yearns; to thee my mind stretches forth; to the partnership of thy blessed my spirit desires to attain.” “LORD,” whispered the dying Paula,* “I have loved the habitation of Thine house, and the place where Thine Honour dwelleth; O how amiable are Thy dwellings, Thou LORD of Hosts!” Yes, we have a better right than had Balaam to cry, (L.) How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! we,* who see that ministration of the SPIRIT,* which is “rather glorious.”1 “Our bed is green,” quotes Gerhohus; “the beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters fir;”* and then continues, “But thou who readest or hearest these words of the HOLY GHOST, canst thou apply to thyself any of them? Dost thou recognize in thyself any of the felicity of the Bride, (G.) described by the SPIRIT in. this song of love; or hearest thou His voice, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth?” It is the sum of his lucubrations—most precious and beautiful they are—on the text: would only we could follow him through the whole!

[The Carthusian sees in the beauty of GOD’s house the devoutness of priest and people in divine worship, (D. C.) and in the place where His glory dwelleth the desire of Saints to approach their LORD when veiled on His altar under the forms of Bread and Wine. The English version, rendering habitation instead of beauty, is in accord with the Hebrew text. The Rabbins agree in explaining it of the Ark of the Covenant,* whence we may well transfer it to the higher and deeper love which the Saints bear to the Man of Sorrows, in Whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”* “O good JESU,” exclaims the Illuminate Doctor,* “whose heart is there that would not be softened, kindled into love, roused to devotion, moved to sympathy, when we consider Thy deepest poverty, wondrous humility, and most ardent love towards us!” And loving Him so, we shall remember too where His honour dwelleth,* namely, in the bodies and souls of those who are called by His Name, and love our own selves with that true and unselfish love which makes us adorn ourselves, for His sake, with all holy words and works, that He may tabernacle gladly in us.

Make us those temples pure and fair

Thy glory loveth well,*

The spotless tabernacles where

Thou mayest vouchsafe to dwell.]

9 O shut not up my soul with the sinners: nor my life with the bloodthirsty;

10 In whose hands is wickedness: and their right hand is full of gifts.

The sinners: (L.) offenders against GOD: the bloodthirsty, against their neighbour.* And they see a connection between the two clauses of the eighth and the ninth verses: the former in each having rather a reference to the present, the latter to the future, life. The commentators have singularly little to say on these verses; (A.) the almost only noticeable note being that of Hugh of S. Victor. Leaving the natural sense in their right hand is full of gifts, which S. Augustine applies, with terrible minuteness, to those judges whose sentence is influenced, not by bribes indeed properly so called, but by any consideration of popular applause, or the like, he understands it thus. He would see two classes of the wicked; the first,* in whose hand is wickedness, those who give themselves wholly to Satan’s work: the second, those who for a certain time, and to a certain extent, serve GOD, and who for that service will obtain a certain temporal reward; so that it may be said, their right hand, that is, their labour, is full of this kind of gifts, which the merciful LORD bestows on them whom His Justice debars from higher reward. Thus Jehu, though he “took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD GOD of Israel with all his heart, yet because he did well in executing that which was right”* on the house of Ahab, had the crown of Israel secured to his family for four generations.

11 But as for me, I will walk innocently: O deliver me, and be merciful unto me.

In innocentiâ meâ ingressus sum. It was Innocent the Eighth’s motto. For my own part, (L.) I would rather say with S. Bernard: “My merits are Thy mercies.” And in this verse we have working out our own salvation—I will walk innocently, and GOD working in us—O deliver me. Cassiodorus sees an antithesis between this and the last verse. They may bring gifts, (C.) such as they are,—a multitude of sacrifices, countless money cast into the treasury: I will walk innocently: so as to give the same sense as that noble passage of Juvenal,

Hæc cedo ut admoveam sacris; et farre litabo.

But if innocent, why need to be delivered? Because, they say, (Ay.) I will walk in MY innocency, implies the Blood which alone can be our innocence, the Blood of that Lamb Who taketh away the sins of the world. And they dwell on that world-famous passage of S. Augustine, which the Master of the Sentences has made his own: “Omnes justi, sive ante Incarnationem Christi,* sive post, nec vixerunt, scilicet spiritualiter, nec vivent, nisi ex fide Incarnationis JESU CHRISTI, profecto; quia scriptum est: Non aliud nomen sub cœlo, in quo oporteat nos salvos fieri.”

12 My foot standeth right: I will praise the LORD in the congregations.

What are the feet, but the affections of the soul? If thy foot offend thee, (Ay.) cut it off, and cast it from thee. What is the right way, the shortest, most compendious route to heaven, but love, without which nothing can save, but which can alone save without anything else? My foot standeth right, then, or my affections are settled in love. In the congregation: or, as the Vulgate has it, In the Churches. And so, (C.) while yet the Church of GOD is scattered over and divided into so many various nations, before we attain to the one “general assembly and Church of the first-born,” oh how truly have these words been fulfilled! Oh how truly has David praised the LORD in the Churches, when not one among the countless office books of the Christian world, but is based on the Psalms! They also take the foot of fixed resolutions,* like that of the Apostle: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith: quit you like men: be strong.” But the former meaning is the best; because, as Albertus observes, when once we have this love, we cannot contain it within us, we must communicate it to others;* and thence we get to—I will praise the Lord in the congregations. But more blessedly still, in that one congregation, in that one general assembly and Church,* when, as S. Augustine says, “We shall be at leisure and shall see, we shall see and shall love, we shall love and shall praise. Behold, joy without end! To which leisure, seeing, loving, He bring us Who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, to Whom we seek for judgment; and to the SON, the Truth in Which we walk; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who is merciful unto us.

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

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