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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 and Monastic. Commit * thy way unto the LORD.

Parisian. The righteous * is ever merciful and liberal, and his seed is blessed.

Ambrosian. As before.

Mozarabic. Delight thou in the LORD, and He shall give thee thy heart’s desire.

1 Fret not thyself because of the ungodly: (א) neither be thou envious against the evil doers.

2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass: and be withered even as the green herb.

Origen seems to have valued this Psalm above all others, calling it the most precious medicine of the human soul. S. Ambrose, on the other hand, compares it with the 34th, as both admirable specimens of that which he calls the ethic Psalm, but gives the preference to that. S. Augustine’s commentary is chiefly remarkable on this account: that from its perusal S. Fulgentius is said to have been converted.* Fret not thyself. Æmulari is the Latin word; and that which is involved in this expression is recited in a line of Cardinal Hugo’s:

Æmulus inflatur, amat, invidet, ac imitatur.

All the Fathers tell us how this has been the sin which from the beginning of the world has principally beset GOD’s servants,—the envying the temporal and external prosperity of the wicked.* “This,” says one, “is a brave confession, yet not altogether so open, so unpalliated, as that of Asaph in the 73rd Psalm. Had I been the Priest,” he continues, “who had had to hear these two confessions, Asaph should have gone down to his house justified rather than the other.” But on the other hand they observe, that here, no sooner is the difficulty propounded, than the remedy is pointed out. Like the grass; and why? “Because it springs up,” says the same Philip, “under the parching sun of concupiscence; is cut down in a moment by the sickle of death; is heaped up together with others that have fallen like itself, in bundles, to be burnt; is carried away by the wagon that creaks and groans, as the judgments of GOD make themselves heard in their execution.” They see in the two comparisons,* cut down like the grass, withered as the green herb,—or as it is in the Vulgate, the pot-herb which is good for meat,—two kinds of temptation to sin: those from show, and those from profit. Ayguan dwells on the different likenesses which Holy Scripture finds for the temptation arising from earthly prosperity: the withering grass, as here; the flying arrow, the departing shadow. And into the latter similitude he enters at great length; showing that all shadows must be in their shape, either equal throughout, or pyramidal, or reversed pyramidal, which he calls conoïdal. In the first of these he sees original, in the second venial, in the third mortal, sin. It would take us too far from our subject to follow him in his ingenious exposition.

3 Put thou thy trust in the LORD, and be doing (ב) good: dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

4 Delight thou in the LORD: and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire.

The first clause was taken as the motto of one of the most powerful monarchs the world ever knew, D. Manoel of Portugal; Spera in Domino, or as he chose to spell it, Sphera: therefore all the churches of his epoch are surmounted by the Sphere instead of the Cross,—not, as the casual visitor is so apt to take it, in the sense of the world, but as the expression of hope. Here, they say, (Ay.) is the first time that we are commanded to make an ark of hope; and it is well connected with that which follows, Dwell in the land. What land, save that which is our true country? the land of the saints,* the land where there are many mansions for us. And the second precept, Be doing good, in like manner hangs on to the succeeding promise, Thou shalt be fed: fed here with the bread of angels; fed hereafter by that Beatific Vision which is at once continual hunger and continual satiety. They take it,* however, in another sense;* so that dwell in the land shall mean, so dwell, as to cultivate and rule over the territory of their own soul. Or again, S. Augustine will have it to apply to the Church, and then the translation of the Vulgate comes in very well: Dwell in the land, and thou shall be satisfied in its riches. “But what will that be,” cries a mediæval writer, (D. C.) when we are called to dwell in the true land of gold, uniting in itself the excellencies of the various regions in this world, where we have at once the gold of Havilah, of Ophir, and of Parvaim; and the gold of that land is indeed good? This is the only gold that can satisfy and not increase the desire which it seems to allay.” Or, if you will, take the exhortation as if addressed to our dear LORD. Be doing good: (Ay.) even as when He went about doing good, and healing all manner of sicknesses; Himself taking our infirmities and bearing our diseases. Dwell in the land: that land to which it pleased Him to limit His own work, and at first to confine the ministrations of His Apostles; as He said Himself, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not.” And thou shalt be satisfied in its riches; those riches as yet unseen; those many pearls of great price, which He lived to seek, and having found them, which He died to buy. And with equal force it goes on: Delight thou in the Lord,—even as it is written, “I knew that Thou hearest Me always;” and again, “This is My Beloved SON, in Whom I am well pleased,”—and He shall give thee thy heart’s desire; that desire, led by which He said, in the same night in which He was betrayed, “I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am.” And on the Cross itself, “FATHER, forgive them;” and again, “I thirst,” namely, for the salvation of the human race. Thy heart’s desire: the desire of that heart which, having all His life long desired the hour of His Passion, was at length pierced with the spear, both that it might shed forth its life-blood for our redemption, and might open a cleft wherein we might take refuge from danger.

5 Commit thy way unto the LORD, and put thy trust in him: (ג) and he shall bring it to pass.

Commit thy way,” says a mediæval writer, “to the Lord,* and then thy Way shall guard thee in all peace; namely, He Who is the Way, without Whom no man cometh unto the FATHER.” (D. C.) They take it not only of the way that lies before us, with all its difficulties and dangers, but of that way or disposition of our natural heart, which must be kept under, if ever we would enter into life.* Or, again, you may take it in the sense of that way in which, however it be opposed, each Christian has to walk for himself; the way that leads up the golden steps, in spite of the lions that stand on this side and on that. Commit this way to Him, and He shall bring it to pass; shall bring Ezra in safety, without any earthly guard, from the river of Ahava to the Temple of Jerusalem;* shall lead Elijah without fear from the juniper-tree in the wilderness to Sinai, (C.) which is the mount of GOD. They dwell on the force of the Vulgate reveal, where we read commit, and hence speak of confession. “A way it is,” says one, “covered with clouds and thick darkness, wrapt up and enfolded in manifold vain excuses, palliated and covered from human eyes. Reveal it, therefore, to Him Whose vision, as the wise man says, is ten thousand times brighter than the sun; and whatever be the depth of its iniquity, put thy trust in Him still for pardon. Thou canst only offend His mercy by doubting His readiness to forgive.” Bring it to pass.* “O blessed word,” cries another, “that it! If he had mentioned this for the other good thing, nay, even if he had drawn out a catalogue of ten thousand good things, yet it, the thing on which thou, O Christian, hast set thine heart, the thing that thou must have, or perish. But now, let it be what it may, this promise abundantly covers it: be it never so difficult, never so strange, never so impossible to human energy,* He shall bring it to pass.” And in its highest sense the LORD Himself committed His way, the last thorny way that those blessed Feet ever trod, into His FATHER’s hands; and having said this, He gave up the ghost. And how was it brought to pass, as the LORD of glory hung on the Cross? How, but by that last sentence, by which He summed up both the actions and sufferings of His life? Set the two one over against the other: He shall bring it to pass: “It is finished.”

6 He shall make thy righteousness as clear as the light: and thy just dealing as the noon-day.

Are we to take it of the light* by which the LORD our Righteousness was heralded to the Gentiles, was made clear to the wise men who came up from the east to Jerusalem? Or again, of the marvellous brightness which glittered forth from Him on the Mount of Transfiguration? And notice: He was no less LORD of the darkness than LORD of the light, for never was He more manifestly proclaimed Almighty GOD than when there was darkness over all the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. Thy just dealing as the noon-day. Hugh of S. Victor understands it of the Last Judgment. “The righteousness of good men,” says he, “is now concealed, because the justification which they seek for is not visible by human eyes. And although the example of good works shines forth from them even in this world, yet the brilliancy of the intention from which those good works proceed must now be concealed. But in the world to come that glory shall also be made manifest; because He for Whom, and by Whose grace they directed all their works, will proclaim it before men and angels.”

7 Hold thee still in the LORD, (ד) and abide patiently upon him: but grieve not thyself at him, whose way doth prosper, against the man that doeth after evil counsels.

8 Leave off from wrath, and let go displeasure: (ה) fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil.

9 Wicked doers shall be rooted out: and they that patiently abide the LORD, those shall inherit the land.

Hold thee still. “And this,” says S. Jerome, “is the hardest precept that is given to man; insomuch that the most difficult precept of action sinks into nothing when compared with this command to inaction.”* And they show how our LORD Himself fulfilled this command perfectly; how, during the time that He wrought at Nazareth, in obedience to His supposed father, He held Him still, notwithstanding all the miseries of His people, notwithstanding all the many sicknesses which He might have healed by a word, notwithstanding the many sinners whom He might have called to repentance, and did not. And again: when the zeal of His relations pressed upon Him that advice, “If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world,” He held Himself still by the reply, “My time is not yet come.” And again before Pilate, and yet once more before Herod, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. Him whose way doth prosper.* Whose way, that is, as distinct from GOD’s way; the way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof is the place of death; the way that begins in ease and ends in bitterness.* And who is it whose way prospers above all others? Who but he, the great enemy of GOD and man, the lord of the broad gate and the wide way leading to destruction. And notice the distinction between the two; (A.) Him whose way doth prosper,—the man that doeth after evil counsels: the former, the chief and suggester of all wickedness, not him that doeth after, but that deviseth evil; the latter, those who have entered on his service, and must expect his wages, which is death. Then in the next verse observe the three steps of evil: 1, wrath; 2, displeasure; 3, fret thyself. He begins with the highest, wrath, that is, its expression by action; displeasure, that is, its expression by word; fretting, that is, when it is confined to the mind,* but exists there. And why not fret thyself? Because they say, GOD has a most beloved SON, namely, our LORD JESUS; and a most evil servant, namely, the fallen nature of man. If thou wilt have thy portion with the SON, what is it but to cast in thy lot with Him Who was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? If thou desirest the companionship of the servant, thus it is written, “The way of the wicked doth prosper.”* Shall inherit the land.* What land, save the region of the blessed,—the land of the Tree of Life,—the land where the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick. (C.) Shall inherit.* Blessed inheritance, which shall be denied to none that is worthy,* given to none that is unworthy; nay, rather, which none that is unworthy ever desires to have, if he might. Glorious inheritance, where there is adversity neither from oneself nor from others; where the reward of goodness will be He Who is the Author of goodness, nay rather, Who is goodness itself; the reward, than which He hath nothing higher to give, nor we to receive. What else is this inheritance but that of which it is written by the prophet, “I will be to them a GOD, and they shall be to Me a people.” I will be all things that they desire,—life, salvation, food, glory, honour, and peace. So rightly do we understand that which is written by the Apostle, “that GOD may be all in all:”* may be seen without end, may be loved without weariness, may be praised without fatigue.

10 Yet a little while, (ו) and the ungodly shall be clean gone: thou shalt look after his place, and he shall be away.

11 But the meek-spirited shall possess the earth: and shall be refreshed in the multitude of peace.

They all admire the faith of the Psalmist,* in that he calls this season of trial and temptation a little while.* It were much to call it so were it only his own sufferings of which he spoke; but now that he looks forward to the time when the warfare of all GOD’s saints shall be accomplished, the iniquity of all GOD’s people shall be pardoned, much more is this an act of faith to regard that time as short.* Thou shalt look after his place. And what is the place, the place assigned in GOD’s Providence that the wicked has? (L.) What but the trying and proving of the just? The place of Pontius Pilate and Herod before our LORD; the place of the accusers in regard to S. Stephen. But then in the next world the gold shall have been purified, and shall shine forth without any further trial. (C.) Notice how David here and Job tell of the same thing: “Thou shalt look after his place,” says one; “Surely there is a place for gold where they fine it,” says the other. And further observe this: the entireness of that victory, the ungodly shall be clean gone; not beaten down for a moment, and then rising again, as here; but abolished, annihilated for ever.* And further observe how David and the Son of David teach the same thing. The meek-spirited shall possess the earth. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And they yet further note this: that that which David mentions merely as a fact,—they shall possess,—our LORD elevates to a beatitude, Blessed, for they shall inherit. It is the triumph of the New Testament over the Old: just as we saw the sermon on the Mount commence with eight Beatitudes the Psalter with only one. And shall be refreshed—or, as it is in the Vulgate, And shall be delighted—in the multitude of peace.* And observe the parallel passage in another Psalm, “Abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.” And what is the moon? The Church: the giver of partial peace in this world; the enjoyer of eternal and unbroken peace in the next.* For consider, says one, what will be that multitude of peace, when all are loving, and all loved; when all enjoy the happiness and the grace of each; when there is none to envy, and none occasion to be envied; when, as the hymn says,

Though each one’s respective merit*

Hath its varying palm assigned,

Love takes all as his possession

Where his power has all combined:

So that all that each possesses

All partake in unconfined.

12 The ungodly seeketh counsel against the just: (ז) and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.

13 The LORD shall laugh him to scorn: for he hath seen that his day is coming.

And first we think of Satan presenting himself before the LORD to accuse Job; (P.) then of the same adversary standing at the right hand of Joshua the son of Josedech, to resist him; and then, lastly, watching every action and saying of our blessed LORD on the Cross, when, as He Himself testified, “the Prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.”* And gnasheth upon him with his teeth. As it was when the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning; (Ay.) as it was when Zechariah heard the words, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan, even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”* And as it was in the Antitype of both these, when that Consummatum est crushed all the open attacks and secret wiles of Satan for ever. Neither is it possible to pass over the resemblance between this verse and that which relates to the martyrdom of S. Stephen. And indeed this is the Psalmellus in the Ambrosian office for that saint. The Lord shall laugh him to scorn.* Well says Vieyra: “What is that laughter of GOD, of Him Whose smile is life? What is that saying, ‘I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh?’ I read of the wrath of the Lamb against which they that are lost shall in that day call upon the hills to hide them, and the mountains to protect them; and I used to think it the most terrible passage in Scripture. But truly, when I remember for how many days, years, decades of years, GOD’s long-suffering with the sinner lasts; what enormous sins He overlooks and prætermits;* how, as the Apostle saith, He winks at the crimes of ignorance, and turns away from wilful offences; then, at last, to see all this mercy turned, not into calm, austere judgment,—not into silent condemnation of those things for which mercy ventures no longer to plead,—but into exultation, as it were, at the overthrow of the sinner,—but into that laughter, which, save GOD, none dares attribute to GOD;—this, I say, thrills me through with such horror, that I know not what can be imagined more terrible; that all other dread in comparison with this seems easily borne.”

14 The ungodly have drawn out the sword, (ח) and have bent their bow: to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as are of a right conversation.

15 Their sword shall go through their own heart: and their bow shall be broken.

The Angelic Doctor reads us a moral lesson,* taking the sword here for auger. We are not to have a sword at all, if we can help it; but if we cannot, at all events let us keep it in the sheath: and if we keep it there it will become rusty, and we shall not be able to draw it at any future time. By the sword and the bow some would distinguish between immediate and mediate temptations;* between those which lead us at once to sin, and those which only conduce to a proximate occasion of sin. Others, again, take the sword of open, (Ay.) the bow of secret, attacks. The ungodly drew out the sword against our LORD when He said, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” He bent the bow when they tempted Him with “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar or not?”* Again: S. Ambrose understands the sword of an evil tongue; and it was well said by the heathen Diogenes, (Cd.) when he heard some young man distinguished for his beauty indulging in impure language, “How foul a sword to come out of that ivory sheath!”* Origen, in his own inimitable way, contrasts the bow of Satan with that of GOD: the former the instrument by which the world is set on fire, when otherwise it would be at rest; the latter the sign and promise of grace even in the midst of the tempest. “Beware, above all things,”* says a mediæval writer, “of the spiritual Tubal-cain; still forging, as he forged at first, weapons of quarrel and slaughter.” And notice the difference between the poor and needy. A man may be poor, though he be not needy; for his poverty may content him:* a man may be needy though he be not poor, for his riches may discontent him. The LORD of all things vouchsafed to be both poor and needy. Poor, as it is written, “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head;” needy, in that He seeketh, O Christian, for thy love.* Of a right conversation. For remember always that it is the cause, and not the suffering, that makes the martyr; even as our LORD pronounces not them to be blessed who have all manner of evil spoken against them, unless it be both falsely and for His Name’s sake. Their sword shall go through their own heart. And first they naturally remind us of the great battle between Theodosius and Eugenius, the last struggle that Paganism made for the empire of the world; (L.) when such was the force of the storm that burst in the faces of the heathen, when the Emperor, advancing to rally his shattered forces, had exclaimed with a loud voice, “Where is the GOD of Theodosius?” that their darts and arrows were turned back upon themselves. But here we have the whole mystery of redemption:

Multiformis proditoris*

Ars ut artem falleret.

First we think of the prophecy, “All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword;” (Ay.) then of Goliath, whose head was smitten off by his own weapon; of Saul,* who drew the sword against David, and fell upon it himself; of Doeg; who did the like; of the Egyptian whom Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, slew by his own spear; of Haman, hanged upon the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai; of Holofernes, whose head was struck off by his own faulchion; of the mighty rulers of Persia, slain by the fire by which they had intended that the three children should be consumed; and finally, of the courtiers of Darius, over whom the lions by which they had proposed that Daniel should be devoured had the mastery. And therefore well may the Eastern Church exclaim, “Thou hast gone forth,* O SON of GOD, to destroy the enemy with his own weapon; by that in which he trusted hast Thou overthrown him, beheading him with his own sword, piercing him with his own spear. Wherefore we cry, Glory, O LORD, to Thy Passion, and honour to Thy Resurrection.”

16 A small thing that the righteous hath: (ט) is better than great riches of the ungodly.

A small thing. And they think first of the grain of mustard seed, that small thing that is the least of all seeds, and at length branches into the large tree, where the fowls of the air shelter. Others, (C.) again, take it of the Blessed Eucharist, small and mean to outward appearance, but in reality a treasure greater than any that Satan has to offer. Or,* pursuing the idea of the mustard seed, they show how the righteous founded that small thing the Church in the large upper room at Jerusalem, and how it was better—that is, (P.) stronger than—and prevalent over all that the ungodly, namely Satan, gathered together to oppose it.

17 For the arms of the ungodly shall be broken: and the LORD upholdeth the righteous.

18 The LORD knoweth the days of the godly: (י) and their inheritance shall endure for ever.

19 They shall not be confounded in the perilous time: and in the days of dearth they shall have enough.

Origen, taking the ungodly for Satan, understands by his arms those chief ministers of his, the Pharaohs, the Sennacheribs, the Herods, that are types of Antichrist. And the Lord upholdeth the righteous: (Ay.) as He did when, by stretching out His own arms on the Cross, and having thereby broken the arms of the ungodly, our LORD was raised again the third day from the dead. Of which Cross it is well said, (D. C.) that the Lord knoweth the days of the godly; for there hanging He beheld, as from a watchtower, the advance and the victories of His evangelists and other saints, as they went forth conquering and to conquer: and how, confiding in His promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world,” they should so increase and multiply that their inheritance should endure for ever.* We may take the perilous times of those persecutions which, one after another, have beset the Church; in some of which it would seem, that if those days had not been shortened, the very elect must have fallen. And the days of dearth are those epochs of spiritual declension when, in the Church itself, it has appeared as if there were scarcely any life; such as the eleventh century, when, as the great Latin historian says,* “The LORD seemed asleep in the barque of Peter;” and again, the eighty years which elapsed between the Council of Florence and the outburst of the Reformation, when worldliness was eating out the very essence of religion; and again, the miserable eighteenth century, the dreariest time of all ecclesiastical history. They shall have enough: for even in the worst of these years GOD raised up His own saints; and they were all followed by seasons when a more than usual blessing seemed to have been poured down by the HOLY GHOST.* Origen, mystically expounding the manna’s ceasing to fall on the seventh day, and being gathered in a double portion on the sixth, exhorts us in this sixth age of the world to lay up in store for ourselves against the season of Antichrist, when spiritual manna will cease; when the elect must live, so to speak, on what they have already provided; when there will be a famine of GOD’s Word throughout the earth; and when, so far from signs and miracles being testimonies to the true faith, infidels and persecutors will perform great and mighty wonders, and they that are persecuted for CHRIST’S sake will be able to perform none; when that fearful verse will be accomplished in a sense of which at present we can have no idea, “He doth ravish the poor, when he getteth him into his net.” Yet even then, in the days of dearth, they shall have enough: for the LORD Himself speaks of the elect who shall stand firm notwithstanding all; and S. John tells of those who will be beheaded because they will not receive the mark of the beast. They shall have enough till the time comes when the last spark of goodness will be crushed out of the earth by the slaughter of the two witnesses, and then immediately shall the end be.

20 As for the ungodly, they shall perish: (כ) and the enemies of the LORD shall consume as the fat of lambs: yea, even as the smoke shall they consume away.

Notice this:* that there is a distinction made here between the ungodly—that is, between those who only follow their own lusts; who are wicked, not for the sake of wickedness, but because they will not exercise self-denial—and the enemies of the Lord: that is, those hardened sinners who match themselves, as it were, against GOD, setting their strength against His, and defying Him, as it were, to do His worst Of the former it is only said, They shall perish; of the; latter, they shall consume as the fat of lambs. That is, as a sacrifice is offered to the honour of GOD, in like manner, their destruction shall conduce to His glory also: as it was with Korah and his company; with Pharaoh in the Red Sea; with the host of Sennacherib; with Antiochus and Galerius; and other the like bold enemies of GOD. As the smoke. Cardinal Hugo gives these verses as illustrative of the similarity between smoke and the destruction of the wicked:

Ascendit: niger est: tenuis: lacrymosus ab igne:*

Deficit: ostendit ventum: fingit: tenebrosus.

That is, sudden ascent in prosperity; blackness of sin; unreality of supposed prosperity; the tears occasioned by it; its rapid failure; showing which way the wind of worldly popularity sets; the fantastic nature of its schemes; and its having to do with the shades of everlasting darkness.* These are favourite reflections of mediæval writers. Compare what S. James says concerning the vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.*

21 The ungodly borroweth, (ל) and payeth not again: but the righteous is merciful, and liberal.

22 Such as are blessed of GOD shall possess the land: and they that are cursed of him shall be rooted out.

It is a marvellous parable of the whole life of man; (C.) being in general what the parable of the talents is in particular. The ungodly borroweth.* First take it of Satan, (A.) whose glorious position above the rest of the heavenly host was only lent to him, that by it he might add to the glory of GOD. And next of mankind, remembering that we must all borrow time, health, strength, influence, everything that is symbolised by the talents of one parable and the pounds of another. And payeth not again: either payeth as the unprofitable servant, the principal alone without increase, or utterly wastes it in the service of sin.* Borroweth: not only from GOD, but also from the ministers of GOD. From them the sinner borrows our LORD’s Body and Blood, and ought to repay it in all those good works which are prepared for him to walk in: he borrows absolution, and ought to return it by obeying the precept, “Go and sin no more:” be borrows consolations, and rebuke, and advice, according to his need, and he ought to repay it by doing the good work recommended, or eschewing the evil against which warning has been given, and then he payeth not again. But the righteous is merciful. Take it, in the first place, of His mercy, Who only is righteous; and then, imitating His kindness to them, the kindness of His followers towards each other.* And liberal. And they take this clause of the saints whose delight it is to follow not only the direct precepts, but also the evangelical counsels which He has left behind Him. Unprofitable servants in one sense they are, and must be, in that they can never do that which, but for the fall of Adam, they might have done—that which He, according to His humanity, did for them. But yet, in another sense, they do more than they need to secure their own salvation, when they observe not only that which He has made necessary to the entrance into eternal life, but also the counsels which He recommends to those who would most closely tread in His footsteps, but which He leaves free to do or not to do to the great majority of His servants in this world. Observe that, in the Vulgate, the latter verse is translated, They that bless God, and they that curse Him. And how, (P.) says a mediæval writer, can we bless GOD so effectually, as by suffering or dying for Him? “Bless GOD and die” in this sense is to turn the advice of Job’s wife into the holiest of all exhortations.* And they observe how completely the verse takes for granted that we are already citizens enrolled and inscribed in the heavenly country. They that are blessed shall inherit, they that are cursed shall—not fall short of, nor be counted unworthy of, but shall be rooted out of: as if it were already theirs, and rent away from them.

23 The LORD ordereth a good man’s going: (מ) and maketh his way acceptable to himself.

24 Though he fall, he shall not be cast away: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.

Or as it is much more strikingly in the Hebrew,* The Lord ordereth the going of the man, and He will have delight in his way. So that at once we are led to Him Whose goings forth have been of old, even from everlasting,*

Egressus ejus a Patre,*

Regressus ejus ad Patrem,

Excursus usque ad inferos;

Recursus ad sedem Dei:

as S. Ambrose magnificently says.* Going. And how does He go save with that Cross in His hand which we are to imitate Him in taking up, and in following Him? Be thou therefore sure of this, O Christian, that if thy going be not ordered in the same way, thou art no true servant of His: as it is written not only that when He putteth forth His own sheep He goeth before them, but that the sheep follow Him also.* Though he fall:* for he shall fall into the hands of his enemies, into the net laid for him, into the pit opened for him: the Morning Hind shall be taken in the toils: the innocent Lamb shall become a prey to the raging lions. He shall not be cast away. Not though His enemies say, “There is no help for Him in His GOD;” (D. C.) not though they seal the stone and set the watch. And so of His followers: they also have fallen by all kinds of terrible deaths; nevertheless “their souls,” as the wise woman speaks, “were bound up in the bundle of life with the LORD.”*

Dum sic torti cedunt morti*

Carnis per interitum,

Ut electi sunt adepti

Beatorum præmium.

The Lord upholdeth him with His hand. So, (L.) even in the very depth of His earthly sufferings, the Only-begotten SON was not forsaken. But a hundredfold more has that SON, now exalted to the right hand of Power, Himself upholden those that were suffering in His Name and for His cause. Whether miraculously, as when He sent the Angel who, assuming the form of a comely young man, wiped with a napkin the limbs of the Cappadocian confessor, so that he felt no manner of pain, but grieved when he was taken down from the rack; or whether, (A.) as more frequently, instead of annihilating pain, He caused the courage of His servants to triumph over it. Or, if you will, now looking away from the Head, and to the members only, you may take though he fall of sin: and then how often has the promise been made true, “Satan hath desired to have thee, that he might sift thee as wheat;* but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” And notice the reason why: not from any power that the fallen man has to turn himself,—no, but for this reason only; for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand. It was to be expected that the great Doctor of Grace should from this passage dwell at great length on the triumphs of grace; but, wresting his words, as they do those of Scripture also, those who falsely profess to be his followers have abused this verse in support of their doctrine of final perseverance; namely, that he that has once been elect may indeed, to use their own expression, fall, but neither fatally nor finally. Hence such fearful self-delusion as that which renders the death-bed of a Cromwell so terrible.

25 I have been young, and now am old: (נ) and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.

26 The righteous is ever merciful, and lendeth: and his seed is blessed.

The greater number of the Fathers assert that the first of these verses cannot be taken in a literal sense; because, to omit other instances, Elijah begged bread of a woman of Sarepta. The Patriarchs went down into Egypt for food,* and Lazarus desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. But, in its literal sense, we must no doubt confine the promise, as S. Ambrose tells us,* to the theocracy of the Jews. Vieyra well says (he is preaching on GOD’s promise,* “All these things shall be added unto you:”) “It would seem that I have experience against me: you will tell me that we often see many good persons who are left in great distress: therefore it is not true that the way to obtain bread is to serve GOD. But allow me to say, I had rather believe David’s assertion than yours. See what he affirms, Junior fui, et enim senior, &c. If you had eyes as enlightened as David’s, you would probably say the same thing. Sometimes we think that those are righteous who are not righteous; that those serve GOD truly who do not serve Him truly; and therefore it seems that GOD’s promise fails, when the failure is in them. That men may be one thing and seem another is easy; that GOD should fail in His word is impossible. In conclusion: with respect to those who appear to serve GOD and who suffer necessity, one of two things is certain: either they are not good, or GOD is proving that they are. Christians and Christianesses of my soul! if ye are serving GOD, and yet are in want, my word for it, that GOD is proving you: ‘Tarry thou the LORD’s leisure,’ says David. Look at former examples: Abraham was rich for serving GOD, but he was first proved by exile; Joseph was rich for serving GOD, but he was first proved by captivity; David was rich for serving GOD, but he was first proved by persecutions; Jacob was rich for serving GOD, but he was first proved by labour. And to those in Gospel times the same thing happened. CHRIST gave them not to eat the first day, nor the second day, but the third day: quia jam triduo sustinent Me. After He had proved the constancy and patience with which they followed Him, then He gave them of the miraculous bread; first He proved,* then He provided. When He proves, then He provides.” And this, perhaps, is the best literal explanation which can be given of the text. But now take it in the truer and mystical sense. Yet saw I never the righteous forsaken: not even on the Cross; not even when He uttered that lamentable cry, in which He complained of being for the moment deserted.* Nor his seed begging their bread. For when did a Priest ever seek the Bread that cometh down from heaven in the words and according to the rites which the LORD Himself taught, without receiving that Angels’ Food, that Manna of all souls? This is the true meaning of the passage: that however much, for wise and good reasons, GOD may sometimes appear not to hear the petition, literally taken, “Give us this day our daily bread,” yet, spiritually understood, never did He shut His ear against it, nay, never, for one moment did He keep the petitioner waiting. And observe that this must have been one of David’s latest Psalms: (Ay.) I have been young, and now am old. And notice how beautifully it applies to the testimony borne by the Church as she draws near the end of her militant existence; that for all those centuries,—from the time that the LORD, changing the old into the new Sacrifice, said, “This is My Body, this is My Blood,” to that which has been offered in ten thousand different churches this very morning—still the saying is true, Yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. Is ever merciful and lendeth. This, (Ay.) as it were, depends on what went before; when we were told that “the ungodly borroweth, and payeth not again.” Not, however, that this appears the full meaning of the Hebrew, which is rather, All the day long he GIVETH and lendeth. The word righteous is not in the Hebrew, nor in the Italic nor Vulgate: it is supplied by a variant of the LXX. and by the Ambrosian. And his seed. Namely, that countless seed from all people, and languages, and nations, and tongues, which the Blood of Him Who is the Martyr of martyrs raised up for the Church.* So that what was true in the highest sense of Abraham is also true of our dear LORD, “In Thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”*

27 Flee from evil, (ס) and do the thing that is good: and dwell for evermore.

28a (28) For the LORD loveth the thing that is right: he forsaketh not his that be godly, but they are preserved for ever.

The first clause of the 27th verse has occurred before (Psalm 34:14.) It is singular that the duration only, not the place, of dwelling is here mentioned.1 Hence some take it not as a promise, (D. C.) but as a command: Dwell in the precepts of GOD to thy life’s end. Others receive it as the reward of those who have departed from evil. Behold, says Ludolph, their reward: they shall dwell in the land of the riving, in eternal beatitude, in the companionship of Angels. S. Thomas remarks on Flee from evil, that there are two kinds of evil: the one that makes man wicked, and which alone is truly evil, namely, sin; the other that which does not make man wicked, namely, punishment. And this no man either can or ought to desire to flee entirely in this world. “For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Tertullian, writing to his wife, dwells at some length on this sense: He is said to flee from evil who doth not that which may injure the cause of GOD:* He is said to do the thing that is good, who worketh that which may profit it. And S. Jerome and S. Thomas dwell at great length on the distinction between these two. And then follows that great basis of all Christian morality, The Lord loveth the thing that is right. It is not right because He loves it; but because there is an intrinsic good and evil,* the nature of which, to speak with all reverence, it is not in the power of Omnipotence itself to alter, therefore He abhors this and chooses that. And observe how all the great lights of the Middle Ages lay down this truth as the very foundation of morality. Dominus amat judicium: it is the very text of Alan of Lisle, of Ockham, of Bradwardine, of S. Thomas, of Ruysbroek. He forsaketh not His that be godly. Because the SON was for a moment forsaken, (L.) therefore not even for a moment shall the followers of the SON be left. But they are preserved for ever. In a little wrath, the face of the FATHER was hidden from the SON for a moment, but with everlasting mercies has He gathered and will He gather the elect through the sufferings of the SON.

28b (29) The unrighteous shall be punished: as for the seed of the ungodly, it shall be rooted out.

29 (30) The righteous shall inherit the land: and dwell therein for ever.

Here notice the distinction between the Father of Evil and his posterity.* The unrighteous shall be punished, as it is written: “And then shall that Wicked be revealed whom the LORD shall consume with the Spirit of His Mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.”* And then follows what we have already had four times, namely, at verses 9, 11, 18, and 22; that the righteous shall inherit the land; to which look back for what is said upon it.

30 (31) The mouth of the righteous is exercised in wisdom: (פ) and his tongue will be talking of judgment.

31 (32) The law of his GOD is in his heart: and his goings shall not slide.

A strange thing, says Vieyra, we have here; meditation is attributed to the mouth, and judgment to the tongue (is exercised, or, as it is in the Vulgate, meditabitur,) whereas it is the judgment that meditates and the tongue that speaks. But the righteous man in such a manner joins meditation to prayer, and the mental exercise of judgment with the vocal exercise of words, that he may even be said to meditate with his tongue; and he is righteous, not because he speaks much, but because he meditates much. He is not righteous because he speaks much, as it is written, “A man full of words shall not be counted righteous,” but because he meditates much: The mouth of the righteous shall meditate wisdom.1 The law of his God is in his heart. And see how that was fulfilled, (Ay.) when with three quotations only from GOD’s word, and those all from one book, (P.) Satan was put to flight. Is exercised. And how can that be save by temptation? It is that which brings out the strength and virtue of Holy Scripture; just as it is only the storm that can prove the strength of the oak’s roots. Therefore it well follows, His goings shall not slide.* For by means of those words of GOD, His goings, Whose footsteps we are to imitate, were kept straight in the direct road to eternal life. Or, (D. C.) if we take it in a higher sense, let the righteous now be, not the One Sinless Man, but every Christian, and then, when it is said, he is exercised in wisdom, it means that he is exercised in the Eternal Wisdom, the Consubstantial and Co-eternal SON of GOD. It is this verse which one of those who have entered most lovingly and most boldly into the sanctuary of the LORD’s Passion, Luis of Granada,* prefixes to his “Meditations on the Life and Passion of CHRIST.” And then observe how the two clauses of the verse are thus connected: exercised in wisdom; that is, in the LORD’s first Coming in great humility: talking of judgment, that is, of His Second Advent in great glory.

32 (33) The ungodly seeth the righteous: (צ) and seeketh occasion to slay him.

33 (34) The LORD will not leave him in his hand: nor condemn him when he is judged.

Seeth. But it means more than this: watches or observes, or pries into. The Hebrew word tzaphah is curiously enough preserved in the name of the Venetian officers, called the tzaffi, (L.) a kind of police whose business it was in the darkest days of the Doges to pry into the occupation and wealth of such citizens as were considered dangerous to the republic. And observe how true the verse was of Joseph, of Susanna, of David, of Daniel: and in like manner it is written in the book of Wisdom, “Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous, because he is not for our turn,* and he is clean contrary to our doings:”* a verse which S. Cyril, writing on this Psalm, curiously enough quotes from Isaiah. And as the sinner considers or narrowly observes the righteous, (Ay.) so, as mediæval writers tell us, the righteous ought to keep watch on the machinations of the sinner; as it is written in the book of Joshua, “Go view the land and Jericho.”* What is the land, save the human body, made of clay? And Jericho, which by interpretation is the moon,1 signifies the changes and chances of this mortal life, with respect to which it is the Christian’s duty to be perpetually on the watch. Shall not leave him in his hand. Witness Job: how of him the LORD said in the first place,* “Only upon himself put not forth thine hand;” and then, “He is in thine hand, but save his life.”* Nor condemn him when he is judged. So of Joshua the son of Josedech, when Satan appeared as his adversary to resist him, it follows: “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan, even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”* When he is judged. They interpret this clause in five different ways. Either: When the righteous is judged by the sinner: (A.) and so Symmachus takes it. In this sense S. Augustine finely says of S. Cyprian: “The Proconsul pronounced Cyprian’s condemnation, from the inferior Judge that Martyr received his sentence; from the Superior, his Crown.” (D. C.) And in the same way S. Gregory says of the Saints, They can be slain and cannot be bent: therefore they are mightier than the Judge, and more powerful than the slaughterer.1 The second would interpret it, When the righteous is judged by GOD. The third is, When GOD is judged by the world; and this is the meaning which S. Ambrose supports, basing it on that verse, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.”* The fourth would interpret it, The LORD shall not condemn him, the righteous, when he, the sinner, is judged; the final separation of the sheep from the goats. And, lastly, some see in the Latin,* Cum judicabitur illi, the favourable termination of the Judgment itself.

34 (35) Hope thou in the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall promote thee, (ק) that thou shalt possess the land: when the ungodly shall perish, thou shalt see it.

Hitherto we have been speaking of hope; (C.) now we come to perseverance in hope. Keep His way. So our translation rightly gives, following the Hebrew, though others read, His ways. But keep His way: the one way, Him That is the Way,* (A.) the Truth, and the Life. O marvellous force that there is in the word to keep! So keep that neither by pain nor by death itself canst thou be separated from Him; (C.) so keep that He may lie all the night of this world in thy bosom;* so keep that He in His turn may,* in the evil hour, keep thee. That thou shalt inherit the land. The heavenly land; else never would it have been said:* He shall promote thee. A poor promotion that would be which would give us this earth as our possession. But I do not understand why the same S. Thomas says of the first clause, Expecta Dominum, that if refers to those who are in tribulation, while the second, Keep His way, has to do with prosperity. Certainly in our translation it is not so,* the former being Hope thou in the Lord. From this verse in the latter part, they take occasion to inquire what will be the order of the justification of the righteous and condemnation of the wicked, at the Last Day. If, in this account of their appearance before the judgment seat, our LORD speaks of the righteous as first judged, yet in the parable of the tares He appears to teach the contrary order, “Gather ye first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them;” with which also the last verse of that account in S. Matthew seems to agree, where we read first, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment;” and then, (A.) “the righteous into life eternal.” All the conclusion that we can arrive at must be shut up in this: “The secret things belong to the LORD our GOD.” Thou shalt see it. And so says the Hymn:

Suum cernunt Temptatorem

In pœnis perpetuo:*

Suum pium Salvatorem

Collaudant in jubilo;

Quem et remuneratorem

Sentiunt in præmio.

35 (36) I myself have seen the ungodly in great power: (ר) and flourishing like a green bay-tree.

36 (37) I went by, and, lo, he was gone: I sought him, but his place could no where be found.

It is as if David said: (L.) “I have taught you that these things will happen; now furthermore I tell you that I have seen them myself.”* The ungodly. Some take it of Judas Iscariot, who, for a time, certainly was in great power, when he received, like the other Apostles, the gifts of healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and casting out devils. And there is something very striking in beholding, as we do in the early Christian pictures, the nimbus of Apostolic power attributed not less to the Apostate than to any other of the twelve. Others,* again, understand the expression of Satan. He, too, was in great power when,* as it is written, “Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people;”* and again, when “Death reigned from Adam to Moses.”* Flourishing like a green bay-tree.1 It is difficult to say why in the Vulgate we have elevated like the cedars of Libanus; and so in the LXX. and in the Italic. I went by. A great many read, He passed away;* but the other lection is received by the greater number of the Fathers. I went by, but how! By passing, they say, from earthly to heavenly things: by looking, not at the things which are seen,* but to the things which are not seen. And in this same sense they take that expression,* “So that they who go by say not so much as, The LORD prosper you;”* that is, those who look away from the present prosperity to the future condemnation of the wicked. And lo, he was gone.* And as it is written, “The beast whom thou sawest was, and is not.”* S. Peter Damiani warns us lest we should ever think, from this passage,* that of Satan in this world it can ever so be said, He is gone, as that we may feel secure against his assaults. He was gone. As it is written in the book of Wisdom:* “The hope of the ungodly is like dust,” or, as it should be, thistledown, “that is blown away with the wind; like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm, like as the smoke which is dispersed now and then with a tempest, and passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day.” His place.* For he had a place once, above the highest of the Archangels: which losing by his pride, and falling like lightning from heaven to earth, (C.) he could indeed nowhere be found, in the rank and glory which he once possessed. I went by.* And they well tell us how it is our duty always to do so by passing away from man’s thoughts and desires, and fixing our eyes on that which GOD commands, and on that which He thinks.

37 (38) Keep innocency, (ש) and take heed unto the thing that is right: for that shall bring a man peace at the last.

Or, as it is in the Ambrosian Psalter, and in the reading of Cassiodorus, Keep trust. Keep it, says S. Augustine, (A.) as the miser keeps his money, defending it with bolts arid bars, always imagining it in danger, guarding it the most securely, when others are taking their rest. They work out the idea at great length and by way of allegory; (Ay.) showing how the soul of man is, as it were, a castle, which cannot be taken by assault, but must be surrendered, if it ever fall into the power of the enemy, by treachery. Again,* others understand—whether you choose to read innocency or truth—Him Who is the Immaculate Lamb,* Him Who is the Truth, as well as the Way and the Life.* Keep Him, that is, in such a way as never to permit Him to be separated from thee; clinging fast to the Hand which is able to raise thee up above the billows of this world, and to assist thee through and over all difficulties, in the ascent to the Heavenly Hill.* And it is not ill put by some of the later Schoolmen, that the reason why we are to keep innocency is because it was the request, so to speak, which our LORD left us on the Cross, when He fulfilled in its completest sense His own promise, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”* At the last. But, in all probability, not till the last. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”* For thou canst not, says one,* have peace at the first and at the last also; thou canst not have the peace which is from GOD above, save at the price of contest with Satan below. For this is the fruit of that; as much as the flowers of the summer and productions of the autumn have, as a foregoing necessity, the tempests of the winter. It is in the Vulgate, For there are remains to the pacific man; that is, there is an hereafter for him, in which the peace that he has desired all through this life shall at length be possessed. Our Bible translation, however, comes nearest to the Hebrew, Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.

38 (39) As for the transgressors, they shall perish together: and the end of the ungodly is, they shall be rooted out at the last.

This clause comes over and over again as an Antiphon in the Psalm. And in fact it is this which is the key-note to the whole. See what is said of it in previous verses.

39 (40) But the salvation of the righteous cometh of the LORD: (ת) who is also their strength in the time of trouble.

40 (41) And the LORD shall stand by them and save them: he shall deliver them from the ungodly, and shall save them, because they put their trust in him.

The salvation of the righteous. And who or what is this, (Ay.) save the Only-begotten SON of GOD? Their strength, the strength of all that trust in Him, at all times, but more especially in the time of trouble. For He had so well learned the lesson of tribulation Himself,* that none as He can sympathise, as well as help in time of trouble. Their strength. They ask whether Calvary is the source rather of strength or of love, whether the Cross is to be regarded chiefly as the Fountain whence flowed all that might which enabled the Martyrs to overcome the world, or of that love which could not be quenched by the many abysses of the deepest tribulation. And therefore notice that the Rock,* the type of the Cross, was smitten twice, in order that these two things might flow forth abundantly: the strength that gives victory, the love that brings felicity. Shall stand by them. Never more truly fulfilled than when the Proto-Martyr saw JESUS standing at the Right Hand of GOD; and the Church, gathering confidence from this insight into celestial things, claims the same sympathy for the same sufferings, to the end of the world: “Who standest at the Right Hand of GOD, to succour all those that suffer for Thee.” And notice the four steps of that help which is here promised. He shall stand by them, save them, deliver them from the ungodly, save them. And it is not without a deep meaning that that which seems tautology is here set down. Because He stands by them, as by Stephen, He saves them in this world. In that He finally delivers them from the ungodly, He saves them in the world to come. Here, says S. Thomas, from the act and consequences of sinning; there, from the very possibility of sinning. And the reason is set down why they can sin no more: as it is written, “He that is dead hath ceased from sin.” Because they are delivered from the ungodly, namely, Satan; and from that which the ungodly can alone lay hold of, the corrupted and tainted part of their own nature. And all for the reason which forms, as it were, the subject-matter of the Psalm, because they put their trust in Him. It begins by exhorting the Christian to do that which it concludes by taking for granted that he has done; and his struggle in turning the commandment into the act is the subject which fills so long a Psalm.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who ordereth a good man’s going, and to the SON, Who forsaketh not His that be godly; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who is also their Strength in the time of trouble;

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

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