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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. Have mercy * upon me, and hearken unto my prayer.

Gregorian and Monastic. [Corpus Christi: The faithful, increased by the fruit of corn and wine, take their rest in the peace of CHRIST. All Saints: The LORD hath dealt wondrously with His Saints, and heard them when they called upon Him. Common of one Martyr: O ye sons of men, know this also, that the LORD hath dealt wondrously with His Saint. Common of a Confessor: The LORD heard His Saint when he called upon Him, the LORD heard him, and made him to dwell in peace.]

Parisian. His faithfulness shall be thy shield,* thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night.

Mozarabic. When I called upon Thee, Thou heardest me: O GOD of Righteousness, Thou hast set me free.

We must use this Psalm as David did.* It would seem to have been written when he had been concealed from the pursuit of Saul in a rock in the wilderness of Maon. And we, if we would say it aright,* must take refuge from our spiritual enemies in the true Rock, which is CHRIST: according to that saying, “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.”* This is a Compline Psalm all through the Western Church.

1 Hear me when I call, O GOD of my righteousness: Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble; have mercy upon me, and hearken unto my prayer.

God of my righteousness. For “this is His Name whereby He shall be called;” else it will be said to us, as it was to the Jews, “When ye make many prayers, I will not hear.”* Have mercy upon me, by removing evil, and hearken unto my prayer, by bestowing good. Have mercy, (Ay.) and therefore we must have mercy. In trouble. GOD therefore allows His people to fall into distress, that the trial of faith may be theirs,* and the glory of their deliverance His; even as it is written, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

[Set me at liberty. More exactly, with LXX. and Vulg., (C.) &c. Thou hast enlarged me. It is the Church which speaks, dwelling on the goodness of GOD in giving her the greatest increase of converts exactly in the time of trouble, when Martyrs and Confessors had to strive for their crowns.]

2 O ye sons of men, how long will ye blaspheme mine honour: and have such pleasure in vanity, and seek after leasing?

Still the Church cries to GOD in the time of her trouble. Sons of men, as distinguished from sons of GOD. Mine honour, that is, (B.) Him Who condescends to all shame for us, that we might obtain all glory through Him. In vanity: in the things of this world, which are “vanity of vanities,” or in the devices of your own hearts: for “the LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are but vain.”*

[Blaspheme mine honour. Literally, as A. V., turn my glory into shame.* And so, very nearly, the Syriac. But the LXX., Vulgate, and Æthiopic, read, How long will ye be heavy of heart? That is, they note, how long will ye be weighed down with mere temporal cares, (D. C.) instead of rising to divine contemplation? Following the Hebrew, we may remember how the idolatrous Jews, “turned their glory into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay;”* how too, later, they mocked and reviled the FATHER’s Splendour, and lastly, how evil Christians “blaspheme that worthy Name by the which ye are called.”*]

3 Know this also, that the LORD hath chosen to himself the man that is godly: when I call upon the LORD, he will hear me.

The man that is godly: even that Man Who did no sin, (G.) neither was guile found in His mouth. And it is because He is chosen to be our Intercessor, that, therefore, when we call upon the LORD, He will hear us. Know this. And how? By prophecies and types in the Old Testament: in the New, by the miracles of “Him that went about doing good,” and the victories of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

[Chosen to Himself. The LXX. and Vulgate have, He hath made His saint wonderful. His Saint,* or Holy One, is CHRIST the SON,* Whose Name shall be called Wonderful, Whom the FATHER made wonderful in His Conception, Nativity, Transfiguration, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. And therefore, because He, My Advocate, is throned on high, (D. C.) His FATHER will hear me when I call upon Him.]

4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still.

It is, therefore, only by standing in awe, (Ay.) that we can be free from sin. Commune with your own heart on the sins of the past day, following the disease with a remedy; and in your chamber, for—

I seek for JESUS in repose,*

When round my heart its chambers close,”

and be still: for “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest.”*

[Stand in awe. The Hebrew is, Tremble (denoting agitation from whatever cause.) But the ancient versions, with one voice, turn it, Be ye angry. And so the Apostle read the words, for he cites them exactly: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”* Angry, with your past sins, determining not to repeat them; (A.) angry with the first motions of sin, and resisting them steadily. Angry with the zeal which is jealous for GOD’s honour,* but not for your own wrongs. The verse runs on in the LXX. and Vulgate: Sin not; for that which ye say in your hearts, be smitten with compunction, (L.) (κατανύγητε, compungimini) upon your beds. That is to say, that impunity from earthly tribunals and public shame does not acquit us in the sight of GOD, and we must therefore try and judge ourselves in secret at the bar of conscience even when men count us innocent. Or it may be directed against lip-worship, and mean, What ye say outwardly, say again in the hidden recesses of your hearts, (A.) and that with piercing eagerness of prayer. And lastly, whereas the literal sense applies to secret cabals and treason against David, so the mystical sense warns against false teachers in the Church, who, rebels at heart against David’s Son,* have not the courage to express their unbelief openly, but are not the less guilty on that account.]

5 Offer the sacrifice of righteousness: and put your trust in the LORD.

Offer the sacrifice of righteousness. And in the first sense by restoring to GOD that of which we have defrauded Him: for we have robbed Him of many things. As it is written: “Will a man rob GOD? yet ye have robbed Me.”* We have robbed Him of the glory that is His due; of the love we should bear Him,* of the obedience we should pay Him, of the fear we should render to Him. And we must offer all these as just sacrifices before we can put our trust in the Lord. Note, sacrifice, not sacrifices, because they all spring from one root, which is, love, a sacrifice needing no altar, fire, nor victim but the heart alone. But in the higher sense, offer the sacrifice of righteousness,* by setting forth the LORD’s Death till His coming again; the sacrifice of Him Who is our Righteousness, the sacrifice by which holiness is increased: and put your trust in the Lord, Whose death you thus set forth, according to His own commandment.

6a (6) There be many that say: Who will show us any good?

This may be taken in two senses. There be many that say, despising GOD’s promises of eternal blessedness, Who will show us any earthly good? Again, (D. C.) there be many in heathen lands who long for some knowledge of future and eternal good, and yet, because none go forth to evangelise them, are compelled again and again to ask, Who will show us any good, who will show us any good? And the question is answered in another Psalm, “No good thing shall He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”*

6b (7) LORD, lift thou up: the light of thy countenance upon us.

In opposition to such vain inquiries after good, in this and the two following verses, we have the three sources whence the servants of GOD obtain it. In this verse,* light, in the 8th, gladness, in the 9th, peace. The light of Thy countenance, which is the true light; the Light of light; the pillar of fire to guide us through the wilderness of this world, which cannot mislead, and cannot fail: a light to show us the recesses of our own hearts, their sinfulness and vileness; the enemies that beset us, their malice and watchfulness; the defenders that fight for us, their love and power: the light of grace, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day, the light of glory.

[Lift Thou up. As a banner in the day of battle. But the LXX. and Vulgate read, The light of Thy countenance hath been signed upon us, O Lord. Signed, (Lu.) as the image of a king upon a coin, as his signet upon wax, because we have been stamped anew with the Image of GOD, formerly marred and worn by sin, and that through His mercy Who is the Light of GOD’s countenance. The word signed causes many of the commentators to look to the Cross, the especial badge of CHRIST’s victory, and type of His Passion, the seal which the servants of GOD receive in their foreheads at baptism. (G.) Seal or banner, we have it alike in the hymn:

Ave,* signum novæ legis,

Et vexillum summi Regis,

In te culpas sui gregis

Bonus Pastor abstulit:

Ipsum habeamus ducem

Ad cœlestis regni lucem,

Qui cruore suo crucem

Consecrare voluit.]

7 (8) Thou hast put gladness in my heart: since the time that their corn and wine and oil increased.

Since the time that our LORD left us His blessed Sacraments; the corn, namely, the Body which He took for us men, and which was born at Bethlehem, which is by interpretation the “house of bread;” the wine, His precious Blood, which indeed “maketh glad the heart of man,” and the oil, the graces of the HOLY GHOST; gladness is truly put into the heart of His servants, which shall lead on to that time, when they shall “obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”* The Vulgate translation is entirely different: “From the fruit of their corn, wine, and oil, they have been multiplied.” And they explain it, of course, of the multiplication of the Church’s graces in the multiplication of her Sacraments; (Ay.) all which Sacraments had their rise, as it were, in the Passion of our LORD, to which the next verse so beautifully leads us.

[Corn and wine, and oil. (R.) The wicked have their fruits as well as the Saints, the* corn of earthly riches, the wine of intoxicating pleasures, the oil of flattery and ease, with which, as the LXX. has it, they have been filled. With these they are busily engaged, but the Church, turning from such thoughts, looks to her rest in CHRIST alone. The true meaning of the passage is that given in the A. V. Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and wine were increased. That is, joyful and gladdening as is the Holy Eucharist upon earth, there is yet something better, a still more perfect union, awaiting us, when the Sacramental veils shall be withdrawn, and we shall see face to face.

JESU,* Whom thus veilèd I must see below,

When shall that be granted, which I long for so,

That at last beholding Thy uncovered Face,

Thou wouldst satisfy me with Thy fullest grace?]

8 (9) I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest: for it is thou, LORD, only that makest me dwell in safety.

And they who have all their life long been fed with the Body and Blood of their LORD, and been one with Him, as He is with them, may well say, when its evening is drawing on,* I will lay me down in peace in the grave where He Who is our Peace also lay, and, after the trials and temptations of this life, take my rest. It is a beautiful motto for the resting-place of a line of kings, “I sleep, but my heart waketh.”* To dwell in safety. In safety, amidst temptation while on earth; in safety, as respects the body from final dissolution in the grave; in perfect safety,—in heaven.

[In peace. The LXX. and Vulgate here add the phrase ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, in idipsum, that is, as they say, the same, unchangable, eternal. So the Cluniac:

The peace of all the faithful,*

The calm of all the blest,

Inviolate, unvaried,

Divinest, sweetest, best.

But far lovelier than this is the Æthiopic, which reads, In peace, in HIM, I will lay me down:

Pillow where, lying,

Love rests its head,

Peace of the dying,

Life of the dead:

Path of the lowly,

Prize at the end,

Breath of the holy,

SAVIOUR and Friend.]

Note: These first four Psalms contain in brief the whole Gospel. The first, the Life of CHRIST: “Blessed is the Man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly:”* the second, His Passion: “The rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed;” the fourth, His Precious Death and Burial: “I will lay me down in peace and take my rest;” the third, His Resurrection: “I laid me down and slept, and rose up again.”


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is the LORD; glory to the SON, Who is His Countenance; glory to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the Light of that Countenance.

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

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