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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. The LORD is the strength * of my life.

Monastic. Ditto.

Parisian. In GOD * my heart hath trusted, and I am helped, and in my song will I praise Him.

Quignon. The LORD is my light and my salvation.

Mozarabic. The LORD is my strength and my Redeemer, * my heart hath trusted in Him, and I am helped.

1 Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my strength: think no scorn of me; lest, if thou make as though thou hearest not, I become like them that go down into the pit.

They well say that the first verse contains a petition that the Divinity may not withdraw its affluence from the Humanity of our LORD; for that was the strength indeed by which the LORD Who came to suffer was enabled to conquer.* Think no scorn of me. The Nazarenes might think scorn when they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”* His relations might think scorn of Him when they said, “He is beside Himself.” It was for the FATHER to say, “This is My Beloved SON, in Whom I am well pleased.” And when at last the same FATHER did make as though He heard not, immediately there followed that great and bitter cry, the most bitter that the world ever knew, “My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”1 Unto Thee will I cry. They fail not to point out in how many ways CHRIST did cry: (Ay.) in the plain, sowing the good seed among the multitude; in the temple, preaching the law: He cried in the heart of others, turning them to GOD; He cried on the Cross, conquering death. From this they take occasion to discuss that most difficult question, why our LORD prayed for that which He knew would come to pass. And after all, perhaps it is beyond the limits of human comprehension to fathom; and the best answer that they can give is, that He would sanction by His example that which He commanded by His Word: as in the LORD’s Prayer, when He enjoins us to say, (C.) “Thy kingdom come,” which certainly will come whether it be prayed for or not. And notice: man cries to the end GOD may not be silent; for if we keep silence He will also be to us as He was to Saul in the day of his despair; “When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by Prophets.”*

2 Hear the voice of my humble petitions, when I cry unto thee: when I hold up my hands towards the mercy-seat of thy holy temple.

And what was the time when our LORD’s hands were thus held up, (D. C.) save those most holy hours in which He hung upon the Cross? The voice of My humble petitions, in the plural, not the singular; for we may piously believe, as Dionysius says, that though only one intercession of our LORD is mentioned, yet never did He pray so earnestly and so lovingly for the salvation of the world, as in the time of the world’s evening sacrifice. (G.) Hear the voice. It is as if He said, “I, Who kept silence before Pontius Pilate, before Annas, before Caiaphas,—I, Who replied never a word to the accusation of the false witnesses,—I now cry unto Thee, O My FATHER, Who canst hear the supplication of the heart as well as the voice of the mouth.” Towards the mercy-seat of Thy holy temple. For so indeed they were stretched out to that holy temple which is in heaven. But there was also a holy temple then being reduced to dissolution, and by its very reduction becoming the mercy-seat; that temple which, being destroyed, was to be raised again in three days. The words of Gerhohus are so striking, that I may well quote them entire.1 “I, the assumed Human Nature, will cry unto Thee, O LORD: Thou art My Deity, in which I, the Son of David, am the SON of GOD, equally as the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST are GOD: Thou art My Deity, and since Thou art the word of the FATHER, keep not silence from Me, from Me, the Human Nature, which Thou, O WORD, didst personally unite to Thyself. By the voice of My Blood, crying from the ground, do Thou, O WORD, so speak as to be heard even in hell, when My soul shall descend thither: make manifest that I am not like them that go down into the pit, from the weight of original, or the guilt of actual, sin. For I, untainted by any sin, shall so be ‘free among the dead,’ that I also shall be able to deliver others thence, (C.) and to insult even death itself, saying, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ ” And the tradition is, that as it was commanded the Jews, in whatever part of the earth they should be, (Z.) to pray towards the temple at Jerusalem,—as we find Daniel praying towards the place where that temple stood,—so the Cross was set up in such a manner, that our LORD’s dying eyes rested on that same temple in which He had so often taught, (A.) but the worship of which He had come to abolish. S. Augustine takes it yet in another sense, as if the LORD said, “While I am crucified for those who by My death shall become Thy holy temple.” They notice on this verse how very rarely CHRIST prayed for any individual. There is the exception addressed to Peter, (Ay.) “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not;” but that is hardly an exception, because in Peter He interceded for the other Apostles, as the very conclusion of that sentence shows: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Hence they take occasion to discuss the curious question,—whether the same prayer, if offered for one friend, has more value than it would have for each of three friends, if offered for them. And, notwithstanding the authority of S. Thomas Aquinas, the greater number of the schoolmen answer, that such is the virtue of charity, that each of the three is as much benefited as one would have been. Nay, they go further, and affirm that, if we pray for one person, our prayers are equally effectual for all those who are in the same condition as himself, whether they mention him or not: which they illustrate by the simile that if you light a candle for the benefit of a rich man sitting in his hall,* it equally illuminates all those who are in the same chamber. S. Albertus says,* neatly enough, that in these verses we have the model of all prayer: firstly, the oratio; secondly, the ratio.

3 O pluck me not away, neither destroy me with the ungodly and wicked doers: which speak friendly to their neighbours, but imagine mischief in their hearts.

They usually understand this of heretics, (L.) who seem to speak those things which are consonant with the words of GOD, (G.) and yet all the while are inspired by Satan to imagine mischief in their hearts. And how often did the enemies of CHRIST send forth those who should feign themselves just men, and so entangle Him! And, as Cassiodorus well observes, (C.) it is not only the voice of the LORD, but of the dying LORD: He knew that His time was come; He knew that they fools would soon “count His life madness, and His end without honour;”* and therefore He prayed not to have His inheritance with them. And as the same writer most truly says, “Where are they now who affirm that CHRIST had no human soul, when it is said here, according to the Italic version, ‘Destroy not my soul with the ungodly?’ ” And in that neither destroy Me with the ungodly, there is no doubt a reference to the fellow-prisoner of the LORD,* Barabbas. And this is more especially the case if we read the verse in S. Matthew as it ought to be read, according to the best MSS., “Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Jesus which is called Barabbas, or JESUS Which is called CHRIST?” Or they take it again in another sense, as the LORD’s prayer that His Flesh, (D. C.) naturally subject to corruption, should not be left to decay, but should be preserved by the especial and miraculous power of the Godhead from any the least yielding to the dominion of death.* For herein were the three Holy Children emblems of our LORD: not only were neither they nor their garments subject to the power of the flame, but neither had the smell of fire passed upon them.

4a (4) Reward them according to their deeds: and according to the wickedness of their own inventions.

4b (5) Recompense them after the work of their hands: pay them that they have deserved.

Here again we have some of those expressions which have been a stumbling-block to many a mind in its use of the Psalms. Nevertheless this we must constantly remember, that we may, if we will, take them in a future tense; or else as the great majority of commentators hold, interpreting them of GOD’s determined enemies, and conforming ourselves wholly to His will, (Ay.) that must happen to us which the Psalmist in another place says, “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance.”* It is a very pretty meaning which some mediæval writers deduce: that here we have the words of the LORD on the Cross. Reward them according to their deeds, not according to their designs: they intended to destroy a guiltless Man, but whatever they intended, (G.) their deed was to offer up the evening sacrifice of the world. And according to that deed, and according to the blessings it brought down, many of them at least were rewarded, as the centurion, and no doubt others. Notice that recompense them after the work of their hands is not in the Roman Psalter, (L.) though to be found in the LXX. and the Hebrew. There have not been wanting those, as the poet Apollinarius, who, by a very forced construction, apply the whole of the two verses to the good.

5 (6) For they regard not in their mind the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands: therefore shall he break them down, and not build them up.

Here we have ignorance alleged as the cause of the destruction of the wicked; (Ay.) as saith the Prophet, “Therefore My people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.”* The works of the Lord. And first and principally that His greatest work, the Incarnation, by which the very nature of matter has been changed, and all our relations with the visible world, and its relations with us, transfigured. And from the Incarnation, (C.) and the conversation of the Word Incarnate among men, arise the operations of His hands, those operations which the Scribes and Pharisees attributed to Beelzebub,—those operations which an evil and adulterous generation persisted in neglecting, and desiring a sign from heaven. How they regarded them let S. Peter explain: “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of Life, Whom GOD hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.… And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which GOD before had showed by the mouth of all His Prophets, that CHRIST should suffer, He hath so fulfilled.”* And in like manner Moses speaks to the Jews: “Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, yet the LORD hath not given you a heart to perceive,* and eyes to see, and ears to hear unto this day.”* Gerhohus enters into one of his curious discussions as to the understanding the works of the LORD, when it pleases Him to bring evil upon any place. Quoting that text, “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light,” he says, acutely enough, “Note the difference: it saith not, ‘He that doeth evil things hateth the light,’ but ‘He that doeth evilly hateth the light.’ There is a vast difference between the two. It is true, every one that doeth evilly doeth evil, but not true that every one that doeth evil doeth evilly. For there are evil works of GOD: and these are the most difficult to understand. As He Himself saith, ‘I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I, the LORD, do all these things.’ ”1 It is no wonder that the Christians of that time saw a marvellous fulfillment of this verse, (L.) when the plan of Julian the Apostate for rebuilding the Temple was miraculously frustrated. He indeed regarded not in his mind those prophecies that foretold that of the Temple there should not be left one stone upon another; and therefore GOD did break down and not build up his abortive attempt, causing the very heathen to confess that there was somewhat miraculous in his failure. And Origen very fitly applies this verse to those who can see and study the works of GOD,* and pass over all thought of the Workmaster; according to that saying of the Wise Man, “If they were able to know so much that they could aim at the world, how did they not sooner find out the LORD thereof?”* And we must observe the elegant paronomasia in the Hebrew between understood and build up, יָבִינוּ and יִבְנֵם.

6 (7) Praised be the LORD: for he hath heard the voice of my humble petitions.

Here, as the commentators tell us, (Ay.) we must distinguish between the prayers of CHRIST and the prayers of His people. The latter, though they are always heard in a sense, they are heard only so far as they are for the good of the petitioner; so that either that is given which is requested, or something that is better is given. But the prayers of our LORD are always heard exactly as they are offered; because nothing can be better than that for which He makes request. And here they dwell on the difference between the blessing which the Creator gives to the creature, and that which the creature gives to the Creator. “Note,”* says S. Albertus, “that the creature praises the Creator by attributing to Him the good things which it possesseth: the Creator blesseth the creature by doing good to it; the Creator blesseth the creature by increasing, whether its merit or its happiness. Hence it is that, after each Hour, desiring as it were to attribute to the LORD all the good that we have done, we say, ‘Let us bless the LORD;’ and immediately we add, doing that which we enjoin, ‘Thanks be to GOD.’ ” (C.) And Cassiodorus well says that the thanks in the text are paid before that for which GOD is thanked is wrought. For this is the work of faith,—to believe that that which is prayed for will be granted, and to return thanks for it as if it were already granted.

7 (8) The LORD is my strength, and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise him.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, Therefore my flesh hath flourished again, and with my whole will will I confess to Him. Eusebius very well observes that it is the usual custom of GOD’s providence to give an earnest to His petitioner that he has been heard, (L.) by impressing him with the feeling that he has not prayed in vain. And in this sense many and many a saint has said, My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped, long before that for which he prayed came to pass: just as our LORD Himself said, “FATHER, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me,”* before Lazarus was raised from the dead. And they notice the difference between the expressions, My strength and My shield. My strength, (G.) in enabling me to carry on an offensive warfare against Satan; my shield in giving me power to resist his temptations. So our LORD might say, “My strength, when I went forth into the land of darkness and in the shadow of death, when I preached, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ when the people that walked in darkness saw a great light. But My shield during the three temptations in the wilderness, and again when the prince of this world came and had nothing in Me.”* Therefore my flesh hath flourished again. Hear what S. Ambrose says on this text: “My flesh,” saith he, “hath flourished again.” Notice the verb which he uses. He saith not flourished, but flourished again. But nothing can flourish again, save that which has flourished before. Now the flesh of the LORD flourished for the first time when it sprang from the womb of Mary. As Isaiah saith, ‘There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.’* It flourished again when the flower had been cut down by the Jews,* and budded forth from the sepulchre with the reviving glory of His Resurrection.” Cardinal Hugo shows the resemblance between our LORD’s flesh and a flower in these verses:

Flos pulcher redolens spes fructus et brevis ævi;

Mel dat api; sertum capiti; sine semine nascens.”

And so in Isaiah we have, “And when ye see this your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish as an herb.”*

[And when our flesh has become weakened by sin, defiled with impurity, (D. C.) and enslaved by its passions, it can by repentance be made to flourish again with the blossom and fragrance of chastity.]

8 (9) The LORD is my strength: and he is the wholesome defence of his Anointed.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, The Lord is the Strength of His people, and the Protector of the salvations of His Christ. S. Augustine, we may be sure, (A.) would not lose so very favourable a text for preaching the necessity of accompanying and assisting grace. As it stands in our version, one cannot but notice as so often, (Ay.) the allusion to the Trinity. They observe also that the expression His people (plebis suæ) shows, in its very nature, how poor and contemptible they are in the sight of the world,—how many Lazaruses there are for one Dives, that are CHRIST’S. And nothing can more beautifully express the whole scheme of salvation than that expression, the Protector of the salvations of His Christ; the constant guiding, and guarding, and defence of those persons or those things (for, as they constantly tell us, we must take the phrase in its widest sense,) which CHRIST, by His precious sacrifice,* has won to Himself. S. Jerome takes this expression CHRIST to mean all CHRIST’S people; like Him, anointed; like Him, made to our GOD, kings and priests. And then the salvations of His CHRIST will be the poor little works which we, each in our own small way, may be privileged to do or to bear for Him. In the Septuagint it is, He that holds the shield over the salvations. Whence probably the old hymn:

Septrum tu tuum inclytum

Tuo defende clypeo.”*

9 (10) O save thy people, and give thy blessing unto thine inheritance: feed them, and set them up for ever.

O how often has this verse been repeated by the Church from one end of the world to the other! Save Thy people: (L.) those who lead the ordinary life of GOD’s servants; and bless Thine heritage: those who, like Levi, “hath no part nor inheritance, the LORD is his inheritance; according as the LORD thy GOD promised him.”* It is worth while to translate the beautiful explanation of Gerhohus. “According to this distinction of Thy people and of Thine heritage, from the very beginning of the Church, two kinds of lives have been followed: the one practised by the debility of the more infirm, the other perfected in the blessed virtue of the stronger; one remaining in the little city of Zoar, (G.) one ascending to the height of the mountains; one by tears and almsgivings atoning for daily sins, the other by the daily instancy of spiritual exercise acquiring eternal merits; the one inferior, the other superior; those that hold the inferior are engaged in earthly occupations; those who follow the superior despise earthly things altogether. The former are the people of God; the latter, His heritage.” Feed them: or, as it is in the Vulgate, Govern them. Here we have one of the clauses in that wonderful hymn, the author of which, like most of the other everlasting possessions of the Church, will never be known till the end of all things; for none can doubt that it is far older than its usually alleged parentage, (L.) which would attribute it to S. Ambrose and S. Augustine. Lift them up for ever. Hence they well gather the everlasting perfecting of righteous souls; that the Beatific Vision will be a state of perpetual progress, as well as of infinite happiness.* And Rupert well remarks that the way to be lifted up at last is to be governed at first; even as the Wise Man says, “Before honour is humility.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD our Strength; and to the SON, in Whom our heart hath trusted and we are helped: and to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the wholesome defence of His Anointed;

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

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