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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. O bless * our GOD, ye people.

Monastic. [Transfiguration. The disciples, coming to the LORD JESUS, fearing the Voice of the FATHER, fell on their faces.]

Parisian. O come * hearken, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.

Ambrosian. First verse of the Psalm.

Mozarabic. Sing a Psalm to His Name, give glory to His praise, say unto GOD, O how terrible are Thy works.

The occasion of this Psalm, as of the preceding one, is the subject of much doubt. A few commentators ascribe it to the later years of David; the Greek Fathers generally to the return from Babylon, perhaps at the dedication of the Second Temple; others count it as a Maccabee thanksgiving; and others again, followed by some modern critics, assume it to speak of the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib. The words of the LXX. and Vulgate title, Of the Resurrection, are not in the Hebrew or Chaldee, and Leo Castro charges the Jews with erasing them. But although they are cited by various early Fathers, yet their absence from S. Hilary’s Psalter and from the Hexapla seems to mark them as a late addition. They are, however, much commented on by the ancient and mediæval expositors, who interpret the whole Psalm by them as a key.

1–2 (1) O be joyful in GOD, all ye lands: sing praises unto the honour of his Name, make his praise to be glorious.

S. Hilary, commenting on the word ἀλαλάξατε, (H.) with which the LXX. opens this Psalm, reminds us that it is a battle-cry, and calls on all the Christian world to do its duty manfully in the fight, that it may chant the song of victory at the end. (Ay.) And because it is CHRIST’S Resurrection which hath put the enemy to flight, let His Name be praised, and give the glory to His praise alone, and not to any works of man. But the praise must be the active praise of holy works, (D. C.) not merely the recitation of holy words.

3 (2) Say unto GOD, O how wonderful art thou in thy works: through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies be found liars unto thee.

For wonderful, the early versions read terrible. And fitly, however we regard those works. Terrible in the expulsion from Eden, terrible in the Flood, (D. C.) terrible in the overthrow of the Egyptians. More terrible still in the stupendous mystery of the Incarnation,* whereby the Creator of Angels endured to become a mortal, invisible in Himself, visible in our nature; Incomprehensible, Who willed to be comprehended; before all time, yet beginning to be in time. (P.) Terrible in the eclipse of the sun at His crucifixion, the three hours’ darkness, and the rent rocks; terrible in the broken gates and bars of hell; (A.) terrible in His Resurrection. Not less so in the judgment by which He broke off the branches of His own olive-tree, that the wild Gentile boughs might be graffed in, an awful warning to us not to be high-minded, but to fear, and not to boast ourselves either against Jews, broken off of old, or against heretics, fallen later. We pray you to beware, says S. Augustine, whosoever ye are in the Church, do not revile them that are not within; but pray ye rather, that they too may be within; for GOD is able to graff them in again. Thine enemies shall be found liars. (D. C.) As when they ascribed the greatness of CHRIST’S power to diabolic agency, saying “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, (Ay.) the prince of the devils.”* And yet again when they bribed the soldiers to spread a false report of the stealing of His Body from the sepulchre.* Still more in our own day, when the very existence of CHRIST as a personage belonging to history has been denied, on the express ground of the miraculous acts ascribed to Him.

4 (3) For all the world shall worship thee: sing of thee, and praise thy Name.

5 (4) O come hither, and behold the works of GOD: how wonderful he is in his doing toward the children of men.

At the end of the third verse some copies of the LXX. and the Roman Psalter add, O most Highest. (A.) Vain have been the lies of the Jews; He Whom they branded as a deceiver is worshipped and praised over all the Gentile world, and not only there, but in the courts of heaven, because His Name is above every name. A little before, most lowly, now Most Highest; most lowly in the hands of lying enemies, Most Highest above the heads of praising Angels. Come hither, (D. C.) then, to hear the word of GOD: come to His Church, and behold, by truer contemplation, by the light of Faith, by the irradiation of the HOLY GHOST, (C.) how wonderful He is in His doing towards those Apostles whom He made the channels of His miracles; wonderful in His election to grace; wonderful in His judgment of sinners in the rejection of the Jews, (A.) in the call of the Gentiles.

6 (5) He turned the sea into dry land: so that they went through the water on foot; there did we rejoice thereof.

Spoken first of the Red Sea triumph, (A.) it tells of a greater triumph of GOD’S power and grace. The world, notes S. Augustine, was a sea, bitter with saltness, troubled with tempest, raging with waves of persecution. Truly, the sea hath been turned into dry land, and now, the world that was filled with salt water thirsteth for water that is sweet, so that now the Gentile world cries: “My soul gaspeth unto Thee as a thirsty land.”* What He did for all the world He does for every soul flooded with the salt sea of penitential tears, drying it up, (Ay.) and making it able to bear fruit for Him. Next, the Vulgate reads, They shall go through the river on foot. And it is spoken of the courage with which the faithful shall pass through this life, (A.) not affected by the flood of worldliness, and yet on foot, because lowly, and not lifted up with pride, thus following more safely Him of Whom it is written in mystery: “With my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.”* He went with His Cross alone, and returned LORD of Jews and Gentiles, of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, of men and angels. We did rejoice at the exodus from Egypt, at the entrance into Canaan; (D. C.) we shall rejoice, as the Vulgate reads, far more truly in passing from the way to our Country, from the waters of sin to the haven of quiet and safety. (A.) For even if we are joyous now, in hope we are joyous, but then in Him shall we be joyous. Even now in Him, yet through hope, but then “face to face.”*

7 (6) He ruleth with his power for ever; his eyes behold the people: and such as will not believe shall not be able to exalt themselves.

So He joins the two ideas Himself, (H.) “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST.”* And thus His beholding is the look of compassion which He turns on His suffering people. Such as will not believe. (D. C.) The LXX. and Vulgate have, They that embitter, or that exasperate, the A. V. more exactly, the rebellious. They cannot exalt themselves, because a “haughty spirit goeth before a fall,”* and “the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, the same reproacheth the LORD, and shall be cut off from among His people.”* But they may be exalted by Him Who beareth His people on His wings.*

8 (7) O praise our GOD, ye people: and make the voice of his praise to be heard;

Make it heard, by declaring it to others, that he who loves GOD may show his love to his neighbour also,* by bringing him profitable tidings. Wherefore the priests bless GOD in the churches with a loud voice. For which reason it is said, “Behold now, praise the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD ye that by night stand in the house of the LORD.”* S. Augustine reads, Hear ye the voice of His praise, listen to the glad news of His Gospel.

9 (8) Who holdeth our soul in life: and suffereth not our feet to slip.

The Vulgate runs, Who hath set my soul unto life. And that not only by breathing into man the breath of life,* but by giving him the natural law, which, had Adam kept it, would have preserved him alive. (P.) More than this, He set our soul unto the higher life of grace and glory, by means of faith. Nay, more than all, He has made us look to Himself, Who is emphatically the Life.* And suffereth not our feet to slip, because He hath set those feet upon a Rock, firm and unshaken, and ordered our goings thereon. Not like Cain,* who “went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod,”* which means wandering, but like Moses, to whom was said, “Stand thou here by Me,”* and of whom those words were then true, “His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold.”*

10 (9) For thou, O GOD, hast proved us: thou also hast tried us, like as silver is tried.

With fire, first of persecutions and sufferings, and then with the more searching fire of heavenly love. For the odour of a saintly life needs the divine fire to make its perfume known,* as incense requires glowing coals to quicken its properties. As silver, which is purified by heat, not as stubble, which is burnt up by it. (A.) And note, that the precise moment when silver is truly refined, is that in which the finer can see his face exactly mirrored in the molten surface. Whereby we know that our purification is complete, when CHRIST can see His Image reflected in our hearts. And as earthen vessels continue porous and friable till they are baked, (R.) so we, who are earth in the hand of the potter, need fire to make us fit to be the receptacles of grace. The early Fathers, holding the doctrine of a purgatorial fire through which the very Saints,* and even the Mother of GOD herself, must pass at the Last Day, dwell on this verse, and compare it with that saying of S. Paul, “The fire shall try every man’s work.”*

11 (10) Thou broughtest us into the snare: and laidest trouble upon our loins.

Being crafty, He caught us with guile, and when He had so taken us, He put His yoke on our shoulders, and His burden on our backs, that in this world we might have tribulation. And literally, (H.),. (C.) His martyrs were brought into the snare of dungeons, chains, and strangulation, and had scourges, heavy weights, and even plates of red-hot metal, laid upon their sides as they were extended upon the rack.

12 (11) Thou sufferedst men to ride over our heads: we went through fire and water, and thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.

It is spoken of the persecuting Emperors, and of evil rulers, temporal and spiritual, (L.) in all ages. Lorinus, writing at a time when the Turkish corsairs ravaged the Mediterranean coasts, and even at times the shores of Northern Europe, applies the text to the hard lot of the Christian captives in Algiers and Morocco. Through fire and water. Again we are told of the sufferings of the martyrs, some winning their crown in fire, like S. Polycarp; some in water, as S. Clement of Rome. Or you may take it, as S. Ambrose does, of the first purification of the soul in Baptism,* and the second cleansing by the fire of purgatory. Or it may be explained, with S. Augustine, (A.) of the mingled sorrows and pleasures of this life. S. Bernard expands this idea,* and observes of a Saint lately departed, “He passed over right manfully, yea, and happily; he passed over through fire and water, he whom sorrow could not break, nor ease delay. The knowledge of good and evil lies in this mean, and this is to make trial here of pleasure and of trouble. Happy is that soul, which passes through both alike, neither clinging to pleasure, nor failing in trouble.” Once more, the water of penitential tears, and the fire of divine love, are the fit preparation for entrance into the wealthy place of unity with GOD. A wealthy place. The Vulgate reads, a cool place. And it will then tell us of that shelter with Him Who is a refuge from the heat, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, of those cool waters and green pastures which wait for the Saints who have followed their Shepherd in this life. But if we take our English reading, a wealthy place, it will tell of that field of the Church wherein the treasure of grace is hidden, and of that more glorious Church where the treasure is no more hid, but open to all gazing eyes.

About the Holy City rolls a flood

Of molten crystal,* like a sea of glass;

On which bright stream a strong foundation stood,

Of living diamonds the building was;

That all things else it wholly did surpass,

Her streets, the stars, instead of stones, did pave,

And little pearls for dust it seemed to have,

On which soft streaming manna like pure snow did wave.

The two preceding verses of the Psalm have been applied with much ingenuity to the vocation for the claustral life. Thou hast brought us into the snare of the cloister, binding us with the threefold cord of the monastic vow,* and laidest trouble, the regular tasks and enforced duties of the convent, upon our loins. Thou hast set men, abbats and prelates, over our heads, whom we must obey: we go through fire and water in the various trials of that obedience, and then Thou hast brought us into a cool place, where we are free from the heat and anxiety of this world, and look forward to the coolness of the life to come.

13–14 (12) I will go into thine house with burnt-offerings: and will pay thee my vows, which I promised with my lips, and spake with my mouth, when I was in trouble.

Into Thine house, (D. C.) either by withdrawing into myself for secret communion with Thee, remembering that my body is the temple of the HOLY GHOST, or into the place of Thy public worship, (A.) or at last into the heavenly City. With burnt-offerings, having consumed all that is mine, by victory over self, and leaving only what is GOD’S. So the Paris Breviary, singing of Confessors:

Corpus subegit castitas,*

Et liberam mentem fides;

Amor supernis ignibus

Totam litavit hostiam.

It is true of the Martyrs also, (H.) and chiefly of Him, their King, (P.) Who ascended into the Holy of holies with the whole burnt-offering of Himself. My vows, whether of baptism, of the religious or priestly life, or of self-dedication of any kind. And the word pay marks that such vows are debts,* not mere voluntary offerings which need not be made. Which I promised with my lips. The Vulgate reads, which my lips distinguished (i.e. articulated.) Where note, (Ay.) says Ayguan, that he distinguishes his vows, who vows discreetly, but he who vows indiscreetly, does not distinguish, because distinguishing belongs to discretion, and he distinguishes his vows of GOD’S praise, who says in his heart that he is nothing, and GOD is all, that he needs GOD, not GOD him. And spake with my mouth, implying a distinct contract made with GOD, not a mere passing resolution of the mind, but a positive action of the will, binding itself to future performance. When I was in trouble. So the Patriarch, “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If GOD will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my GOD.”* And to all this He answers, to the first request, “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee;”* to the second, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way;”* to the third He replies, “The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”* For raiment, He declares, “Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment,”* and will say to His servants, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him;”* and last of all, that we may come to our FATHER’S House in peace, He says, “In My FATHER’S house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.”* Wherefore let us keep the vow, and have the LORD for our GOD.

15 (13) I will offer unto thee fat burnt-sacrifices, with the incense of rams: I will offer bullocks and goats.

The LXX. and Vulgate read here marrowy burnt-offerings. Within may I keep Thy love, comments S. Augustine, (A.) it shall not be on the surface, in my marrow it shall be that I love Thee. For there is nothing more inward than our marrow; the bones are more inward than the flesh, the marrow is more inward than those same bones. Whosoever therefore on the surface loveth GOD, desireth rather to please men, but having some other affection within, he offereth not holocausts of marrow.* The fat burnt-offerings are also explained of the Martyrs, as strong and resolute under torture. With the incense of rams. The rams are the rulers of the Church; the whole Body of CHRIST is speaking, this is what it offereth to GOD. (Ay.) The incense of rams is therefore the prayer offered as incense before GOD by the rulers of the Church. Bullocks, which labour in the LORD’S field, signify doctors and preachers; while the goats are repentant sinners. Sinners, because of the LORD’S own distinction between sheep and goats; repentant ones,* because goats were the victims used in sin-offerings.

16 (14) O come hither, and hearken, all ye that fear GOD: and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul.

He calls not only the living,* but the Patriarchs and Prophets of old time, who longed to see these things, to hearken to the Gospel tidings, (L.) and to rejoice with us. The Gentiles who serve GOD by the law of nature, are also summoned in these words to join the Church, that the law of grace may be explained to them. The soul which has been healed is eager to point out the Great Physician to those which are still suffering from disease.

17 (15) I called unto him with my mouth: and gave him praises with my tongue.

I, a man, was crying to a stone, I was crying to a deaf stock, (A.) to idols deaf and dumb I was speaking; now, the image of GOD hath turned to the Creator thereof; I that was “saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth,”* now say, “Our FATHER, “Which art in heaven.”* I called unto Him with my mouth. With my mouth now, not with the mouth of another. When I was crying to stones in the “vain conversation received by tradition from the fathers,”* with the mouth of others I was crying; when I have cried unto the LORD with that cry which Himself hath given, which Himself hath inspired, I called unto Him with my own mouth. And gave Him praises with my tongue. The LXX. and Vulgate read, (A.) And have exalted Him under my tongue. That is, notes S. Augustine, confessed Him secretly in my heart, as well as preached Him openly. Many Psalters, and the majority of mediæval expositors read, I have exulted under my tongue. And they explain it of spiritual joy within the heart. (G.) It is like the Bride, says one, “Honey and milk are under thy tongue;” so that my tongue may be busied with the praise of GOD and with holy prayers, and my spirit within rejoice in GOD my SAVIOUR. I exulted under my tongue, while that tongue was the pen of a ready writer uttering good words without, and within my heart was inditing a good word wholly in harmony with those outer words. The Hebrew would be more closely rendered, A song of praise was under my tongue, and it will then imply the absolute certainty of GOD’S answer to prayer, and that the believer has his thanksgiving ready even while he is uttering his cry of supplication.

18 (16) If I incline unto wickedness with mine heart: the LORD will not hear me.

Not merely, (H.) notes S. Hilary, if I have actually done an evil deed, but if I have thought on it with pleasure, and given the assent of my will. And the Vulgate puts this very forcibly, If I have beheld iniquity in my heart.

19 (17) But GOD hath heard me: and considered the voice of my prayer.

20 (18) Praised be GOD who hath not cast out my prayer: nor turned his mercy from me.

Because I have not inclined to wickedness with my heart, for thus speaks the Apostle, (Lu.) “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards GOD. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him;”* and it therefore urges us to perseverance. Not to vain confidence, for GOD, notes Lorinus, sometimes does cast out prayer. (L.) Moses was not heard for his sister, nor Samuel for Saul, nor Antiochus for himself, and there is a sin unto death, for which it is not said that we are to pray.* Praised be God. Let all His Angels and Saints praise Him; (G.) heaven and earth, the sea and all that is therein. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, for He hath given me perseverance in crying unto Him, and turned not His mercy far from my prayer, and I have found it true, that, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”*


Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath heard my prayer; and to the SON, my Resurrection and Life, through Whose mediation my prayer hath reached the FATHER; and to the HOLY GHOST, the Mercy of FATHER and SON, which hath not been turned from me as I prayed.

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

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