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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. Ferial. A very present help * in trouble.

Epiphany. The rivers of the flood thereof, Alleluia, shall make glad the city of God, Alleluia.

Mozarabic. He chose out an heritage for us * even, the Great King over all the earth.

1 GOD is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble.

Well exclaims one of the Fathers,* on the flight of our LORD into Egypt, “What! shall our hope and strength fly? what! shall our very present help leave us? what! shall our only source of courage fear?”* Our helper in the troubles which have heavily fallen upon us. So the LXX. and the Vulgate. But the very present help is the truer, (Z.) as well as the dearer sense: and so some of the Greek Fathers. They take these troubles of sin: and so the present help is our “Advocate with the FATHER,* JESUS CHRIST the righteous.” Our refuge, (A.) the Vulgate says; and there we have the Rock in Whose cleft side we may hide ourselves, until this calamity be overpast: according to that saying, “The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats, and so are the stony rocks for the conies;” and again,* “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rock.”*

2 Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved: and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;

3 Though the waters thereof rage and swell: and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.

Well may they give this Psalm to the festivals of many martyrs; going through such deep waters of affliction,* tossed by such an Euroclydon of misery, only to pass into the eternal calm and the quiet harbour. (Ay.) But they see in these mountains the Apostles. They did indeed shake at the tempest when “they all forsook Him, and fled;”* the highest and most glorious summit of all troubled at the voice of one poor maid-servant: and much more have lesser saints been for the while utterly carried away with some sudden outburst of tempest, and carried into the midst of the sea of doubts and temptations. Others will have the mountains cast into the sea to be difficulties swept away by prayer; more especially evil spirits cast out by the mighty hand of GOD. And in this general confusion they liken the faithful soul to the halcyon,* that not only brings her own peace into the rage of the storm, but there also nourishes her young, cradling them as it were on the foaming waves. So have the billows of persecution cradled many a martyr and confessor,* till the time came that he should go home. S. Thomas takes it very mystically: waters,* he says,* signify prophecy: their being troubled is interpreted of the frustration and confusion of heathen prophets and soothsayers, according to that saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”*

4 The rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of GOD: the holy place of the tabernacle of the most Highest.

It is a noble idea, that of our Prayer Book version: that these very storms and billows—the flood thereof—shall make glad that Church which cannot fall,* for she is founded on the Rock. But the Hebrew cannot bear that signification, nor does any other translation so render the passage. So rather take the contrast between the flood of violence and uproar and destruction, and the peaceful river-flood of beauty, and green meadows, and smiling pastures. This is that flood which Ezekiel beheld in vision: the waters that came down from the right side of the house,* and rising first to the ancles,—then, as the Prophet passed onward, to the knees,—then to the loins,—became afterwards a river that he could not pass over; for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over. Shall we see in this,* with the Angelic Doctor, the river of grace which burst forth from Mount Calvary?—streams branching off hither and thither, the pelagim of the Hebrew—“to satisfy the desolate and waste ground, and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth.” O “fountain of gardens,”* “well of living waters,”* “streams from Lebanon!” how do you, “the nether springs” of this world, bring to us somewhat of the everlasting loveliness and peace of those “upper springs” by which the beautiful flock now feed and lie down, none making them afraid. Or, with S. Ambrose and S. Bernard,* understand the verse of the “River of Water of Life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of GOD and of the LAMB.” And then the rivers of that flood shall indeed make glad the city of God, the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, where is the Tree of Life, that beareth twelve manner of fruits, and yieldeth her fruit every month; that country and that river of which the old Liturgies say, “They who rest in the bosom of Abraham are in the tabernacles of joy and rest, in the dwellings of light, in the world of pleasure, in the Church of the True Jerusalem, where there is no place for affliction nor way of sadness,—where there are no wars with the flesh, and no resistance to temptation,—where sin is forgotten, and past danger is only remembered as a present pleasure.” The day on which he writes causes him who thus endeavours to enter into the meaning of the Psalms to remember one who,* as he firmly believes, now knows far more about those habitations than human tongue can tell or human thought can conceive; “those habitations,” to continue the words of the Liturgy, “where they who fought against sin in this world shall be far from it there, expecting the resurrection of the body, when both body and soul shall be joined together in the unwearied service of Him Who is both GOD and Man, JESUS CHRIST.”

5 GOD is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed: GOD shall help her, and that right early.

God is in the midst of her. So He was in the beginning,* in that which was then His Church—“the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden;” then, when Paradise was lost. So He was afterwards, when the second and better Tree of Life was set up between the penitent and the impenitent on Mount Calvary; then, when Paradise was regained. So in the ancient Tabernacle, when the Shekinah rested between the cherubim; so also in that Temple, of which it is said, “The glory of the latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former,” where His blessed Feet walked, Who, as the Prophet says, was born for our salvation in the midst of the earth. And that right early. Therefore notice that all the great deliverances wrought in Holy Scripture were wrought so early, (Ay.) as to have been brought to pass in the middle of the night. So Gideon, with his pitchers and lamps against the Midianites; so Saul, when he went forth against Nahash the Ammonite; so Joshua, when he went up to succour Gibeon; so Samson, when he carried off in triumph the gates of Gaza; so also the Associate Kings, under the guidance of Elisha, in their expedition against the Moabites, when they, according to GOD’S command, filled the wilderness “with ditches, and then beheld their enemies drawn to their destruction by the reflection of the rising sun upon the water. But as they explain it in a deeper and truer sense, the earlier prophecies of that eternal morning to which there shall be no night; that eternal spring to which there shall be no autumn. (Ay.) And, as the Angelic Doctor tells us, here is the difference between the help of GOD and the help of man: the one in time,* though not before the time; the other so often late,—late in hope, late in promise, late in effect.

6 The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved: but God hath showed his voice, and the earth shall melt away.

And notice here the two external enemies of man, (L.)—the heathen, that is, the world; the kingdoms, that is, the powers and principalities of the evil one. But GOD hath showed His voice. And first, (D. C.) they refer it to the Day of Pentecost: then GOD showed His voice, not as in Mount Sinai, from afar off, from the summit of the mountain, but in the room where the Apostles were gathered together; showed it, not in the dreadful lightnings, but in the quiet tongues of flames; showed it, not so as to terrify the surrounding multitudes—“Let not GOD speak to us, lest we die”—but so as to allure them to the unity of the faith. Well says S. Chrysostom: “The penalty of tongues dispersed men; the gift of tongues brought them,* when dispersed, (D. C.) together again.” And if we ask why it should be said, God hath showed His voice, rather than GOD hath caused His voice to be heard, they give this for the answer: that with Him to speak is to act; to utter a command is to be obeyed:

Ipse jussit et creata: dixit ipse,* et facta sunt;

Terra, cœlum, fossa ponti, trina rerum machina.

So that His order may be as truly said to be seen as to be heard. And then,* most truly of all, as the Master of the Sentences teaches, we speak of a visible WORD,—a WORD That “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” And the earth shall melt away. And herein those mediæval writers who have looked forward to the consummation of all things seem to themselves to find, not the destruction of the present world, but its regeneration and transfiguration into that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. It shall melt away. But that which melts is not lost,* only re-cast. And granting that the early belief of the Church is true,—that this very earth in which we now live, purified indeed by fire, (and so the baptism of water by John preceded the Pentecostal baptism by fire of the HOLY GHOST, as the earth, once overwhelmed by the deluge, will a second time be cleansed by flame,) but not destroyed, will be the future abode of the blessed, how gloriously fulfilled will be that petition in the LORD’S Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” How many millions of times has that petition been offered by hundreds and thousands of voices! and what a poor answer, according to our lower conception of the Church, will it have met with! But once look to the new earth as well as the new heaven of S. John, wherein dwelleth righteousness, and then the will of GOD will be done as well in the one as the other to ages of ages, and the supplications of time will be heard in the fulfilment of eternity.

7 The LORD of hosts is with us: the GOD of Jacob is our refuge.

We shall have better occasion to speak of this in the last verse of the Psalm.

8 O come hither, and behold the works of the LORD: what destruction he hath brought upon the earth.

9 He maketh wars to cease in all the world: he breaketh the bow, and knappeth the spear in sunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire.

They notice the difference of the two invitatories—this, (Ay.) and that of the 95th Psalm: the one to come and behold, the other to come and sing. “The two,” says a mediæval writer, “are separated on earth, and only to be joined in heaven. To behold here is to see sadness, iniquity, faithlessness, impurity; every sin, no goodness. To behold there is to see not only the gates of twelve several pearls, not only the streets of gold and the sea of glass, but to hear the universal song of all the ransomed, and that more especial anthem of them that are more especially redeemed; to hear it and to join in it, as who would not unite in that strain which knits together the unformed spirits of heaven, and those who, not only through much tribulation, but also through much sin, have been redeemed from the earth.” And notice that the invitation is only to those who shall be counted worthy to enter into that blessed place: Come hither. And it may be well said, Come hither: for in what other place can the works of the LORD be so fully seen as in that where they are perfectly glorious,* gloriously perfect; where they know neither limit to their efficiency, nor measure to their beauty? And who are they that shall be counted worthy of that invitation? Read further, and observe how he limits the call. What destruction hath He brought upon the earth? This: that these present bodies, formed out of clay, moulded from earth, must one day say to corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister; must utterly be taken to pieces; must be like the grain of wheat, which, except it die, yieldeth no fruit. And hence we learn why this verse is used in the Antiphon to one of the Psalms in some Office for the Dead. At first sight we might not catch the connection between it and that glorious 15th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. But this destruction so brought upon the earth, so consuming the corruptible,* will bring to pass the future glory of the incorruptible; the tabernacle, as of old time,* must be taken down, in order that the temple of the truer Solomon, King of everlasting Peace, may arise. He maketh wars to cease. And therefore is He rightly called the Prince of Peace; therefore rightly at His birth was peace proclaimed by the Angels; at His departure was peace bequeathed to the Apostles. The bow: the spear: the chariots. A trinity of evil,* here as so often. They differ as to the separate sense of each of the three; while the LXX. and the Vulgate, instead of chariots, translate it shields. The bow some take of the fiery darts of temptation, injected, as it were, from a distance by evil spirits into the fancy: the spears, of the hand to hand fight with the world that every faithful soul must carry on: the chariots, which it was forbidden to the Jews to multiply, (L.) of those carnal means of safety on which all are so apt to lean, forgetful of the GOD from Whom alone true help can come.

10 Be still then, and know that I am GOD: I will be exalted among the heathen, and I will be exalted in the earth.

Be still: like Mary at the LORD’S feet, go, with the Hebrews, three days’ journey (by the contemplation of the Blessed TRINITY) into the solitude,* before thou offerest sacrifice: like the Apostles, refuse to serve the tables of carnal appetites, that thou mayest give thyself wholly to the ministry; keep Sabbath,* as Rupert so beautifully says, not one day only out of seven, but every day of thy life.

Est et in hâc vitâ requies multis data Sanctis,*

Quorum animas mundus non tenet occiduus;

Quos desideriis nullis peritura fatigant,

Et quibus omne bonum est Christus, et omnis honor;

Utuntur terrâ ut cœlo: fugientia temnunt;

Quod credunt, quod amant, quod cupiunt, Deus est.

They nobly compare this double exaltation to the double declaration of our LORD,* “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” Or,* still more finely, “I will be exalted among the heathen,”—namely, by the preaching of that Cross whereon the Son of Man was lifted up—“and I will be exalted in the earth,”—the new earth, that is, the land of the living; the earth where the saints shall reign; the earth where there shall be no more sea: and that by means of CHRIST’S exaltation to the Right Hand of Power, in that Ascension of which the next Psalm is about to tell us.

11 The LORD of hosts is with us: the GOD of Jacob is our refuge.

He, the Captain of the LORD’S host is with us, that we may smite our Jericho, in that case to become a true “City of Palm Trees”* to us by the victory it enabled us to win; He, the LORD, Who caused the mountains round Dothan to be “full of chariots of fire and horses of fire” for the defence of His Prophet; He, one of Whose hosts smote in one night, in the camp of the Assyrians, a hundred fourscore and five thousand. But notice under what character as regards ourselves. The God of Jacob. Now Jacob is by interpretation a supplanter or wrestler. Our refuge He is not, then, unless we have wrestled with Him in prayer, as the Patriarch; wrestled in the night of affliction, as he in the darkness; wrestled by the brook of penitence, as he by the ford of Jabbok; wrestled alone, as he, when he had sent his family forward; wrestled,* and said, as he of old, “I will not let Thee go,* except Thou bless me.” The God of Jacob. Others take it in another sense: that we must be “supplanters” of wickedness, (Ay.)—stragglers against and conquerors of temptation, (D. C.)—if the God of Jacob is to defend us. This has the stronger authority,* but I confess the other seems the dearer meaning.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, our Hope and Strength; and to the SON, Whose City the River of Life maketh glad; and to the HOLY GHOST, the GOD Who is in the midst of her;

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

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