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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. Shall not my soul be subject to GOD?

Monastic. Bless, ye nations, * our GOD.

Parisian. Unto Thee, O GOD, * do we give thanks, and we will call upon Thy Name; we will tell of Thy wondrous works.

Ambrosian. The GOD of my health, * and in GOD is my trust.

1 My soul truly waiteth still upon GOD: for of him cometh my salvation.

And so spake the dying patriarch, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O LORD.”* And that because it is sure to come, however our impatience may think it to linger. “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”* And the reward for those who do so wait is set forth by Isaiah. “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our GOD; we have waited for Him, and He will save us this is the LORD, we have waited for Him; we will be glad, and rejoice in His salvation.”* But the Hebrew is yet deeper. My soul is silent to God: implying the hushed and awful reverence which befits His servants,* and which the holy Cardinal Bona declares to be more fitting than any hymns or antiphons at the moment of the elevation of the LORD’S Body in the Mass. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, agree here in reading, Shall not my soul be subject to God?* For, as S. Gregory the Great observes, humility is the mother and mistress of all virtues, and we must begin by humbling ourselves in the sight of GOD, that He may lift us up.* And shalt thou not be subject unto Him, O my soul? “Is not He thy FATHER that hath bought thee? Hath He not made thee and established thee?”* (D. C.) “Let others, then,” saith Dionysius the Carthusian, “be subject to the desires of the flesh, others to the princes of the world, others again to the promptings of devils, and to divers sins: I and my soul will obey the LORD. For no man can serve two masters whose wills are opposed. Since, then, we cannot obey GOD and the world, I prefer to serve GOD rather than the world.” Whence it is written in Jeremiah, concerning disobedience, “Thou saidst, I will not serve;”* whereas CHRIST commandeth us, “Take My yoke upon you.”* And the Psalmist adds the reason of his obedience: For of Him cometh my salvation, because the SON, Who is my SAVIOUR, cometh from Him, since “GOD so loved the world, that He gave His Only-Begotten SON.”*

2 He verily is my strength and my salvation: he is my defence, so that I shall not greatly fall.

The ancient Versions here agree in departing from the Hebrew, and translate, He is my God. (G.) For my salvation, says Gerhohus, is GOD the SON, Who, like GOD the FATHER, is Most High and Incomprehensible. He is GOD of all by nature; He is my GOD by grace; and He is my taker up, when, leaping to Him,1 I leave the vanities of the world behind my back. And since I have so great a Salvation and Defence, than Whom there is no stronger, I, leaping to Him, taken up by Him, shall not be moved any more.2 And as the Manhood of CHRIST, (Ay.) united to Godhead, can no more be moved, so too the redeemed, when taken up by GOD to bliss, shall not be moved any more, because they cannot fall. And this is what the Schoolmen call Beata necessitas non peccandi.

3 How long will ye imagine mischief against every man: ye shall be slain, all the sort of you; yea, as a tottering wall shall ye be, and like a broken hedge.

If we read it thus, the reference will be to the final overthrow of the wicked by the second death; while the comparison of them to a bowing wall will suggest those lines,

Sic ubi Christus adest nobis, et aranea muro est:

At cui Christus abest, et murus aranea fiet.*

But the true meaning of the passage is lost here, and is but little clearer in the Bible Version. The Æthiopic reads correctly, How long Will ye attack a man, and slay him, all of you, [falling upon him] like a tottering wall, and an overthrown barrier? And so too Apollinarius:

Μέχρι τεῦ ἀνδρὶ μάχεσθε, ὅμως τʼ ἐναρίζετε πάντα

Τοίλῳ κεκλιμένῳ ἴκελοι φραγμῷ τε πεσόντι;

The Syriac is nearly identical. The LXX. and Vulgate are almost the same up to the last clause, which they read in the dative, as meaning, [dealing with him] as with a tottering wall and an overthrown barrier. The Psalm seems spoken in the first instance of David, when he alone was aimed at by the counsel of Ahithophel: “All the people that are with him shall flee, and I will smite the king only.”* And it thus points to CHRIST, Who said to the attendants of Judas, “I have told you that I am He; if, therefore, ye seek Me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled, which He spake, Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none.”* How long, then, do ye rush upon a man? or, as He words it Himself elsewhere, “But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth.”* I ask no partner in My Passion,* I, Who need no helper to save all. I want no ambassador, I send before Me no herald. I am Myself the herald to them that sought Me not: I gave Myself up to them that seized Me not, that I might free them who were bound in the cords of death. (Ay.) And the words how long denote the continuance of persecution, since from the blood of righteous Abel they ceased not to rush on that Man. Not merely on the members, as in the persecution of the Prophets and of the Fathers, (R.) but on the Head Himself, which is CHRIST. How long? For wars will never fail CHRIST’S soldier, because the two cities are now mingled together, the one Jerusalem, the other Babylon, each at unity with itself. Here there is one king, there also but one; here there is one people, one there likewise; the one fights for righteousness, the other for unrighteousness; the one for truth, the other for error; the one that it may build up what is cast down, the other that it may cast down that which is built: and yet our City is gathered out of that other one. Wherefore the Cluniac says:

And now we fight the battle,*

But then shall wear the crown,

Of full, and everlasting,

And passionless renown.

And now we watch and struggle,

And now we live in hope,

And Syon, in her anguish,

With Babylon must cope.

Ye slay, all of you. And they explain it of the suicide of their own souls which the persecutors commit when aiming at the ruin of the Church.* Of them Lactantius speaks: They who wrestled against GOD lie low; they who overthrew His holy Temple have fallen in greater ruin; they who butchered the righteous breathed out their guilty souls amidst heaven-sent plagues and well-earned torments: tardily, but terribly.

As though [I were] a tottering wall and a falling barrier. (P.) In your ignorance, not knowing that I, Whom ye “esteem stricken of GOD, smitten, and afflicted,”* am in truth a “defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land;”* that the Man on Whom ye are rushing is the Eternal WORD of the FATHER. Others, referring the whole passage to the spiritual enemies of mankind, compare the soul of man, loosened by sin, and prone to evil, to a wall which needs but a little to ruin it altogether.* For the unhappy flesh, observes S. Peter Chrysologus, can of itself bring about its own ruinous fall. Whereupon we may add that saying of S. Basil,* that when, through sin, the wall of human nature has bulged out, it must be taken down, and built up again by GOD Himself. (H.) With living stones, adds S. Hilary, in the House of GOD.* S. Ambrose sees in the tottering wall that middle wall of partition which CHRIST, our Peace, hath broken down.* But, as we have seen, the whole figure is more truly interpreted of those persecutors who are ready to overwhelm the righteous, even at the cost of their own ruin.

4 Their device is only how to put him out whom GOD will exalt: their delight is in lies; they give good words with their mouth, but curse with their heart.

The first clause of this verse differs alike from the Bible Version, (which, adhering closely to the Hebrew, runs, They only consult to cast him down from his excellency;) from the Syriac and Æthiopic, which are nearly the same; and from the LXX. and Vulgate, which agree in reading here, They have counselled to repel my price, or honour.* (LXX. τιμήν, Vulg. precium.) My price. For when the. traitor Judas brought back His price, the Jews refused to put it into the treasury, saying, “It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.”* Mine honour, because “His citizens hated Him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us,”* and yet again, “they sought the more to kill Him, because He said that GOD was His FATHER, making Himself equal with GOD.”* My price, because the sinner who rejects the salvation offered to him “hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, (R.) an unholy thing.”* Or, as Remigius will have it, applying the words to CHRIST’S soldier, they endeavour to turn me from my crown, my reward, by declaring the way to be too difficult, the task impossible. Not unlike this is the explanation of Cardinal Hugo,* who takes it of seducers leading men away from paying that price in good works which GOD asks from them who would buy Him. Their delight is in lies. So the Hebrew, followed by Symmachus and S. Jerome, and the Syriac Psalter. And it will then refer to the Jewish slanders against CHRIST, as also to the Pagan calumnies against His followers. Of these lies, such as the worship of an ass’s head, the murder of children, nocturnal orgies, and the like,* we may read in Minucius Felix. But the Vulgate and Æthiopic read, I have run in thirst. It is true,* observes S. Ambrose, that our LORD JESUS thirsted. Blessed is that thirst of the LORD, because He thirsted for us, and chiefly in His Passion. And then it was that He at length said, “I thirst.”* For He thirsted at the moment when He was pouring from His Side streams of living water, to quench the thirst of all. And I have run: that is, I have hastened to take on Myself the thirst of all, that I might satisfy all with the abundance of My perennial fountain, for, as was said to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever shall drink of the water which I shall give him, shall never thirst.”* And what is true of the Master is true also of His servants.* For saints, too, run and thirst. They run, as S. Paul says, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”* They thirst, as it is spoken, “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”* It is also true, notes S. Ambrose, (following the LXX., They ran in thirst,) in another sense, of sinners. For “they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”* They give good words with their mouth, but curse with their heart. And this was fulfilled,* says Cardinal Drogo, in the greeting of Judas. It had been so even before in that speech of the Pharisees, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of GOD in truth.”* The ungodly gave good words with their mouth to the martyrs, (P.)—flatteries, caresses, and promises of wealth, honour, and dignity, on condition of abandoning the faith of CHRIST; but cursed with their heart, because their object was simply evil and perverse. And so Adam of S. Victor:

Ad cruenta Datiani

Dei servus inhumani

Rapitur prætoria.*

Præses sanetum prece tentat,

Nunc exterret, nunc præsentat

Mundana fastigia.

5 Nevertheless, my soul, wait thou still upon GOD: for my hope is in him.

6 He truly is my strength and my salvation: he is my defence, so that I shall not fall.

In this repetition of the opening thoughts of the Psalm the Fathers agree in seeing the inculcation of patience under affliction, of perseverance in the good way. And they dwell the more on this, because the LXX. and Vulgate both read, My patience is from Him. And there is another phrase wherein these versions agree. The words לֹא־אֶמּוֹט, which they rendered in verse 2, I shall not be moved, they here translate, I shall not emigrate,1 I shall not change my city.2 Most fitly is it said of those who seek the one Country, who yearn for the freedom of the Heavenly Jerusalem, whence they shall never depart.

In Urbe meâ, Jerusalem summâ,

Sunt en tot luees, Quot insunt felices,

Quas et illustro Jugiter me ipso

Lumine vero.

7 In GOD is my health, and my glory: the rock of my might, and in GOD is my trust.

Saved I shall be in GOD, glorious I shall be in GOD; (A.) for not only saved, but also glorious: saved, because a just man have I been made out of an ungodly man, by Him justified; but glorious, because not only justified, but also honoured. For “whom He did predestinate, them He also called.”* Calling them, what hath He done here? “Whom He hath called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” For the rock of my might, the LXX. and Vulgate read the God of my help. For, adds S. Augustine, He giveth help to men striving. To men striving against whom? “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers.”* God therefore is my help, and my trust is in God. And because He saved me of His free grace, observes S. Bruno, and glorified me, and is also my helper to do good works, my trust is in God, Who hath already bestowed such blessings upon me; (B.) and I have the hope of gaining those which are in GOD only—immortality and impassibility.

8 O put your trust in him alway, ye people: pour out your hearts before him, for GOD is our hope.

The LXX. and Vulgate strengthen the first clause by reading,* All the congregation of the people. And it is explained of the assembly of the Church. The Psalmist speaks thus, because “Whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he;”* and yet more when this trust is the joint action of a larger number, for “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”* The blessing did come on them, as it is written, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.”* Pour out your hearts before Him.* He who puts on faith, comments S. Ambrose, ought first to strip off unbelief, and empty his heart of every pollution of sin, that his heart may be fit to contain spiritual grace. Therefore the Apostle says, “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your minds.”* For when the old wickedness is poured out, the new grace is received, whereby each man is renewed. Therefore the SON of GOD saith, Pour out your hearts before Him, because He knew that the FATHER would say, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.”* And S. Basil adds that the counsel is that of a wise physician,* who prescribes purging medicines to clear the system, before he gives restoratives; or like the housewife who washes a foul-smelling vase carefully before attempting to put perfumed unguents into it. And this must be thoroughly done, observes Cardinal Hugo; for it is written, “Pour out thy heart like water before the LORD,”* that there may be in external signs no colour, in words no smell, in desire no taste, before the LORD, in order that He may deal with it according to His will. Like water,* adds S. Albert, not like wine, which leaves a smell in the vase; nor like honey, leaving a taste; nor milk, leaving its colour. (C.) Yet, again, He pours out his heart before the LORD, who confesses his sins with copious tears. For the heart can no otherwise be poured out than by an abundant shower of weeping, as is spoken in the 42nd Psalm, “My tears have been my meat day and night: I pour out my heart by myself.”* For God is our hope. Wherefore we ought to make full confession to Him of our sins, knowing that He will in no wise east out any that cometh to Him on account of their past wickedness. Do not keep back your hearts within your hearts: Pour out your hearts before Him. That perisheth not which ye pour out. For He is my Taker up. If He taketh up, why fear ye to pour out? (A.) “O cast thy burden upon the LORD.”*

9 As for the children of men, they are but vanity: the children of men are deceitful upon the weights, they are altogether lighter than vanity itself.

Whence we learn by contrast the steadfastness of the children of GOD.* If the children of men be vanity, if they be deceitful, the sons of GOD may easily not be vain, since they are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of GOD.”* For the children of men seem to themselves to weigh equity, and to test justice by the accuracy of strict judgment, when they are hard to others and lax to themselves, unjust in their deeds, and censorious in their words. And note that the balance on which the sons of men are deceitful is threefold: to wit, (Ay.) the balance of redemption; the balance of buying and selling, and the balance of words or outward show. The first of these balances is CHRIST Himself, Who weighs all our merits and demerits, the one with rewards, the other with penalties. This is the balance of which Job speaks, “Oh that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together.”* We are deceitful in this balance, notes S. Gregory,* when we vainly hope that He is too merciful to punish sins, and therefore continue adding one fault to another. The second balance is that of merchants, by which is understood fair dealing in buying and selling. And of this is said, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances and just weights shall ye have.”* And this is spoken against all tricks of trade; for he has not a just balance who sells a bad article as good, a small one as large, and who keeps one weight for selling and another for buying. Against such it is written, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.”* The third is the balance of speech, or outward seeming. He has a true balance herein who deceives not by word or sign. Of this balance of words and deeds is written, “Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth.”* Flatterers are deceitful on it who say one thing with their heart and another with the mouth, because the balance is not true between heart and mouth. And so too of hypocrites, who make one kind of show outside, and are very different within. But in truth the Hebrew does not imply deceit, but lightness; and the passage means that the children of men, when weighed in GOD’S balance, will mount rapidly in the scale. And so it is written, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.”* And with this agrees the last clause, They are altogether lighter than vanity itself, where the LXX. and Vulgate read, They deceive [going] from vanity unto the same; that is, as the commentators note, from one vain act to another, not returning to better things.

10 O trust not in wrong and robbery, give not yourselves unto vanity: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.

Vain is iniquity, naught is iniquity, mighty is nothing save righteousness. Truth may be hidden for a time; (A.) conquered it cannot be. Iniquity may flourish for a time; abide it cannot. Thou art not rich, and wilt thou rob? What findest thou? what losest thou? O losing gain! thou findest money, thou losest righteousness. What thou robbest thou seest: by whom thou art robbed seest thou not? Knowest thou not thine, enemy goeth about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour?”* That prey which thou desirest to rob is in a trap: thou seizest, and art seized. For robbery, therefore, be not covetous, O poor man; but fix thy desires upon GOD, “Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”* He shall feed thee that hath made thee. Shall He that feedeth a robber not feed an innocent man? He shall feed thee that “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and on the unjust.”* Therefore for robbery be not covetous. This hath been said to a poor man, that perchance will steal something out of necessity. Let the rich man come forth: I have no necessity, he saith, to rob; to me nothing is wanting, all things abound. And do thou, too, hear: if riches flow, set not your heart upon them. Seest thou not that, if there the heart thou shall have set, thou also wilt flow? And the rich, too, may rob,* as S. Prosper observes; for he who gives not alms, robs the poor. And the warning extends, wisely teaches Gerhohus, (G.) to spiritual riches. Pour out your hearts before GOD, so as to store up with Him your treasure of riches, whether bodily or spiritual; and store up your heart also therewith, because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”* Not well nor prudently did he pour out his heart, who, counting up his riches, said, “GOD, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”* The thanksgiving was, as it were, a channel which might have borne this Pharisee’s riches along with his heart into heaven, had it not been gaping with the fissure of pride, whereby, in his contempt for others, he so boasted, as to take more pleasure in the shortcomings of others than in his own amendment.

11 GOD spake once, and twice I have also heard the same: that power belongethunto GOD.

He spake once, (C.) in that He begat His SON, Who is the Eternal WORD. And He spake on this wise: “Thou art My SON; this day have I begotten Thee.”* I have heard it once, because He spake in the Law; I have heard it twice, because He “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His SON,”* manifest in the flesh. But the LXX. and Vulgate translate, I have heard these two things, namely, that power belongeth unto God—

12 And that thou, LORD, art merciful: for thou rewardest every man according to his work.

That is, (A.) that the power of GOD is His justice and mercy, of which all the Scripture treats, (Ay.) because of which the Law and the Prophets were given, because of which CHRIST Himself was sent, (G.) and the Apostles. Let His power, then, be feared; let His mercy be loved; nor let His power be contemned because of His mercy, nor His mercy despaired of because of His power and justice. The Psalmist, therefore, says of the Incarnate WORD, I have heard these two things, that He is the Power of GOD, and also that He is the Justice of GOD; according to that Psalm, “Give the King Thy judgments, O GOD, and Thy righteousness unto the King’s Son.”* And because it is so, the Psalmist turns to the SON, beseeching Him, Who is Himself Mercy,* not to suffer him to be tempted above that he is able to bear; but to deliver him, knowing that “the FATHER judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the SON,”* and that the Judge of all the earth shall do right.*

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, of Whom cometh my salvation; and to the SON, Who is my Salvation, and the Rock of my might; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who spake by the Prophets of the power and mercy of GOD.

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

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