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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. Thou hast redeemed the rod * of Thine inheritance. [Maundy Thursday. They have pondered, and spoken wickedness * they have spoken unrighteousness in the high place.]

Parisian. In Thy will * Thou hast guided me, O LORD, and hast received me with glory.

Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.

Monastic. As preceding. [Maundy Thursday. As Gregorian.]

Lyons. Alleluia.

Mozarabic. First verse of the Psalm.

As the patristic and mediæval commentators on this, the first Psalm of the third book of the Psalter, agree in attaching to it the words which properly form the colophon of the preceding Psalm, The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended; it will be more convenient to take them here than in the critical order. And first let us hear S. Augustine: “What means, (A.) There have failed the hymns of David, son of Jesse? Hymns are praises of GOD accompanied with singing; hymns are songs containing the praise of GOD. If there be praise, and not of GOD, it is no hymn; if there be praise, and GOD’S praise, and it be not sung, it is no hymn. It must needs then, if it be a hymn, have these three things, praise, that of GOD, and singing. What is then, there have failed the hymns? The praises which are sung unto GOD have failed. He seemeth to tell of a painful and, so to speak, deplorable thing. For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but also praiseth with gladness; he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth Him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the utterance of one giving thanks; in singing, the affection of one loving. He saith then, The hymns of David have failed, and he hath added, the son of Jesse. For David was King of Israel, son of Jesse, at a certain time of the Old Testament, at which time the New Testament was therein hidden, like fruit in a root. For if thou seek fruit in a root, thou wilt not find it, and yet thou findest no fruit in the branches, save that which hath issued from the root. In like manner CHRIST Himself, yet to be born after the flesh, was hidden in the root, that is, in the seed of the Patriarchs, to be revealed at the set time, as it is written, ‘There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse.’* In the time of the Old Testament the promises of GOD to that carnal people were earthly and temporal. All that course of temporal promises was a figure and prophecy of things to come. Accordingly, when that kingdom where David, son of Jesse, reigned, was failing, the carnal people were praising GOD only for things which were passing away, and therefore the hymns of David—not the SON of GOD, but the son of Jesse, failed.” With this view, which is also that cited in Beda’s argument drawn from Cassiodorus, the great body of the commentators agree, and thus we may pass to the Psalm itself.

1 Truly GOD is loving unto Israel: even unto such as are of a clean heart.

Israel,” (G.) observes Gerhohus, following in the track of S. Augustine, “is the man who seeth GOD, or the Prince with GOD, who, having clear and pure eyes, rejoices in gazing on the eternal light of truth, righteousness, wisdom, and goodness, for that light which is torture to diseased eyes, is pleasant to pure and healthy ones. Wherefore he adds, unto such as are of a clean heart, because they, with gladness of the inner man delighting in the law of the LORD, recognize the goodness of GOD even in those things, which the evil, judging all, (A.) censure as done unjustly and out of due order.” And so it is written, “With the clean thou shalt be clean: and with the froward thou shalt learn frowardness.”* Not that GOD changes, but that we do, and we see Him as we are.

2 Nevertheless, my feet were almost gone: my treadings had well-nigh slipt.

My feet, (D. C.) that is my affections, or else my intellect and will, whereby I should attain towards GOD in contemplation and love. My treadings, the acts resulting from my will, and leading me out of the path of righteousness. Well-nigh, (G) because GODS grace was sufficient for me to rise again when I stumbled, (Cd.) that I might go on my way once more. And so S. John Climacus:

The prize, the prize secure!

The athlete nearly fell:

Bare all he could endure,

And bare not always well:

But he may smile at troubles gone,

Who sets the victor-garland on!

Slipt. The LXX. and Vulgate have poured out. As fluid spilt on the ground from a vessel, (B.) notes S. Bruno, which is wasted and comes to nothing, so are our acts without the grace of perseverance.

3 And why? I was grieved at the wicked: I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity.

I was grieved. The A. V., more truly, I was envious. And so the LXX., (Z.) ἐζήλωσα, and the Vulgate, zelavi. We may take it, observes Euthymius, of that anger and indignation, which, starting from a good reason, proceeds to attack something unreasonably. It was no true and good zeal, adds Corderius, (Cd.) but rather that which Ezekiel calls the “image of jealousy,”* whereby the, holiest minds are often tempted, but which is pardonable, because it does not prove a man guilty, nor make him so, as neither the will nor the reason assent to it. Wherefore David says only, My feet were almost gone. He adds the cause of his jealousy, the prosperity of the ungodly. The LXX. and Vulgate, more close to the Hebrew, read the peace of sinners. What peace? Earthly peace, (R.) changeful peace, peace not of grace, but of doom. They cannot be in peace, for it is written, “There is no peace, saith my GOD, to the wicked.”* But there is an inward peace,* that calmness of mind whereof it is said, “Peace I leave with you.”* And there is outward peace, security in sin and in worldly vanity, of which it is written. “Their houses are peace from fear.”* This is that miserable peace of which is said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”* This peace causes manifold troubling within, (C.) as Cassiodorus observes, for it is ever contending with conscience, is quarrelling within, and having no exterior foe, wars with itself. And observe, (Ay.) that sinners have three sorts of peace: the peace of impure association, which is that of carnal sinners; the peace of brotherhood in slander, which is that of worldly accomplices; the peace of slothful impunity; which belongs to negligent bishops. Of the first, Rome was an example, giving itself up to vice and luxury after peace came by the overthrow of Carthage. The second, that of men who plot together for evil to resist the good, of which the alliance of Herod and Pilate was a type. And so we may see that there is closer connection between barren thorns than between fruitful trees, as there is readier union between the bad for gangs and disputes, than amongst the good for good ends. So too Judas made peace with the Jews to betray CHRIST. Thirdly comes slothful peace. This is nothing but negligence in correction. For when a Bishop sees that an offence ought to be punished, yet takes no notice, and does not punish, then his dependents call him peaceable. So too when GOD sometimes does not punish the wicked, they say that they are at peace with GOD. And it is of this peace that the Psalmist speaks here. But let them take heed that it is written, “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them.”* Not till the SAVIOUR came was the good war begun, (G.) that such an evil peace should be broken.

4 For they are in no peril of death; but are lusty and strong.

This rendering is incorrect, and without authority. The A. V. is the true one. There are no bands in their death,* i.e., they die easily, and without bodily pain. So it is in the version of Aquila, οὐκ εἰσὶ δυσπάθειαι τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτῶν. Compare that other saying concerning the wicked, “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.”* We may take it of many of those who persecuted the Martyrs, (D. C.) of their long lives and quiet deaths amidst all household tendance and alleviation, compared with the fiery passage of their victims. In this wise also some of the commentators explain the Vulgate reading, (Ay.) There is no regard (respectus) to their death. That is, they feel no pain or alarm, they abound in wealth, and can obtain every resource of medicine and other help in their sickness. Or,* as others take it, they never think about death, nor prepare for their latter end. There is, however, a yet more terrible interpretation of the words. The mercy of GOD regards them not as they hasten to death, (G.) since it is of such that the saying is, “Let the dead bury their dead.”* The LXX. reading, ἀνάνευσις, is very obscure, and probably corrupt. It is diversely explained. Some, as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Hesychius, (Cd.) take it, There is no refusal of death on their part, for they have no idea of its peril to them. And with this agrees a reading declinatio, found in the Roman and Gallican Psalters, and similarly explained by some. The more general view, however, is that of S. Augustine, (A.) that there is no avoidance of death for them, They may keep it at bay by all measures, and may drive it from their thoughts, but it is inevitable. The Arabic Psalter reads, (L.) There is no rest in their death, (like the reading of S. Ambrose, reclinatio,) words which have an awful significance when compared with those of our LORD, “The rich man died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.”* But are lusty and strong. The LXX. and Vulgate here are very unlike this version: There is a strengthening in their scourge (καὶ στερέωμα ἐν μάστιγι αὐτῶν, (A.) et firmamentum in plagû eorum.) There is a firmament in their scourge, because their scourge is not temporal, but firm for everlasting. Their wounds, (G.) observes another, which have gangrened in their peace and prosperity, need to be cut away with vigorous surgery. But there is no firmament in their plague. Their sin is old and deep, but the knife has not gone far enough to reach the depths of the sore. The Carmelite, (Ay.) continuing to explain the words of the false security of the wicked, interprets it, There is no endurance in their plague, their earthly sufferings are short, (D. C.) and easily cured. Or, with the Carthusian, we may take it to mean that the wicked do not become firm and steadfast by accepting GOD’S chastisements as warnings to repentance, (Cd.) a sense in which he has been anticipated by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

5 They come in no misfortune like other folk: neither are they plagued like other men.

This verse also is read differently by the LXX. and Vulgate. They run: In the labours of men they are not, (A.) and they shall not be scourged with men. S. Augustine’s comment on these words is brief and pregnant: “Doth not the devil himself, for whom an eternal punishment is prepared, (G.) escape seourging with men?” They are not punished for their correction and profit, (Ay.) they have no share in the toils and labours of the righteous, (D. C.) they have no part in the lot of Lazarus and Paul. Toils of their own they have, doubtless, seeking this world’s riches, seizing them when found, guarding them carefully when seized. In toils such as these the righteous have no share, for they love not passing things, and therefore labour not in such heavy cares.* So too the evil are not in the labours of the righteous, for they care not for celestial things, and do not subdue the flesh for the sake of such things. They keep no vigils, (D. C.) they offer no pure devotions, (R.) they regard not fitting discipline, they reject fasts, they do not remember that “whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”* And that too, remembering that man is born to labour, and does not answer the end of his being if he shun it. Labour he must, and suffer too, but if he shrink from that which is appointed, heavier toils await him.* “I hold,” adds S. Bernard in another place, “that the words apply best to the clergy of our time. Every class of men has some labour and some pleasure. But note the cleverness of these, and marvel how with modern ingenuity they make a division, taking everything that is pleasant, shunning and refusing all that is troublesome. Like knights, they keep up great households, costly furniture, caparisons, hawks, dice, and the like, and borrow from women all their show and effeminacy. But they take excellent care to avoid the heavy corslet, the sleepless nights in camp, the doubtful issues of battle. They have none of woman’s modesty, discipline, and whatever else of toil belongs to that sex. Husbandmen sweat, and vine-dressers prune and dig; the clergy are sunk in sloth all the time. When the time of fruit comes round, they require new barns and have their cellars filled. Would that it were not more than the toilers have, or that it were shared with them.” And he goes on to draw a similar contrast with merchants and others who labour to get their living. All men, he concludes, will reject such drones, who will have all the profit and none of the trouble. They are not in the labour of men. Whither can they go, save to the place of unending dread?

6 And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride: and overwhelmed with cruelty.

More literally, pride is their collar, violence covers them as a garment. They are like a bull intended for sacrifice, notes S. Augustine, untamed, undisciplined, allowed to feed and wanton at their pleasure, (A.) only because slaughter awaits them. They are not merely proud, adds Gerhohus, sinful as that is, (G.) but they are the captive slaves of pride. They are not merely guilty of iniquity, but are so covered with it as a cloak of double folds, that they can neither see nor be seen. Their eyes are not opened, like those of our first parents, to see their nakedness, and to be ashamed, their prosperity hides their inner misery from the eyes of others. That garment of iniquity is bad itself, and comes from a bad loom,* remarks S. Albert: It gives no real covering nor warmth, as it is written, “They weave the spider’s web, their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works.”* It is doomed to destruction, for “He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people.”* It is no easy thing to get rid of it, adds Gilbert of Hoyland, for the habit of sin becomes a very skin, so that to remove it is not to strip, but to flay.* And another aptly compares it to the tunica molesta, (Cd.) the garment smeared with pitch in which Nero caused his victims to be clad, because, like it, the flames are its destiny.

7 Their eyes swell with fatness: and they do even what they lust.

Abundance of temporal prosperity has, (Cd.) as it were, closed up their eyes and darkened their understanding, so that they can no longer see GOD’S will, (L.) but hurry after their own enjoyment. Lorinus aptly cites the heathen poet:

Nam corpus onustum

Hesternis vitiis animum quoque prægravat ipsum,*

Atque affigit humo divinæ particulam auræ.

The Vulgate reads: Their iniquity hath come forth as though from fat. That is, (A.) inexcusably, because without the pressure of need. A beggar steals, but his hunger palliates his sin, but when a rich man plunders the goods of others, there is no excuse for him. The good deeds of the self-indulgent grow slowly and scantily out of a barren soil; the crop of their vices grows fast and rank from the rich ground, (Cd.) with no help from spades or harrows, and destined to be fatal to the owner. They have passed over unto the desire of their heart. Away from GOD’S will to their own,* as one Father observes. They have gone from the true faith to idolatry or to avarice, (C.) as another remarks. They have passed the limits of our common humanity, (A.) more pointedly says a third: and count themselves as of different clay from ordinary mortals. They have gone from sin to sin, from one vice unto another, till they fulfil all their desires,* is the explanation of a fourth.

8 They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy: their talking is against the most High.

The words at once suggest the Chief Priests, bribing Judas with the thirty pieces of silver, giving money to the guard at the sepulchre, and saying of Him Whose throne is for ever and ever, “He hath a devil and is mad.”* But this is not the true meaning of the passage, nor yet the Vulgate reading. The A. V. is closer to the original, but not exact. The translation ought to run: They scoff, they speak proudly of oppression, they talk from a high place.* And the Jewish commentators cite the examples of Pharaoh,* Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar as instances in point.* The Christian may add those of Diocletian and Maximian, when they erected the pillar to commemorate the annihilation of the Nazarene creed. But the Vulgate reads: They have meditated and spoken wickedness, they have spoken unrighteousness in the lofty place, (or with the LXX. to the height.) The words, (G.) as Gerhohus observes, rise to a climax. It was sin enough to have admitted the evil thoughts, it was yet worse to give them utterance, and the guilt is completed by the publicity and boastfulness of speech. “They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.”*

9 For they stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven: and their tongue goeth through the world.

The sheep,” (Cd.) quaintly comments an unknown writer, “bleats with its head downwards,* but the wolf lifts his head in the air, turning it to the sky, and so howls. Thus he who according to GOD’S will utters the voice of lowliness and confession, is a sheep, while he who howls against the truth of GOD with shameful blasphemy,* is a wolf.” The Yorkshire hermit puts it tersely: “They think and speak, in their pride and deceit, high things of themselves, as though with the authority of heaven, and yet all their thoughts and language aim only at wandering after the acquisition and enjoyment of earthly gain.” Cardinal Hugo boldly applies the words in a good sense to the priesthood: They stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven, in prayer to GOD;* their tongue goeth through the world, in preaching to sinners. Another, returning to the sterner interpretation, explains it, that the wicked spare neither GOD nor man in their reviling. And,* finally, Euthymius quaintly takes it of astrologers uttering foolish predictions. (Z.)

10 Therefore fall the people unto them: and thereout suck they no small advantage.

The words, so read, tell of the temporal success of the ungodly, drawing away the multitude for their own private interest, not for any general good, as Absalom first “stole the hearts of the men of Israel,”* and then made himself king: and as, in a later day, Jesus who is called Barabbas, after he had made insurrection, was delivered from death by the voices of the people instead of JESUS Who is called CHRIST. But the reading is incorrect, and varies widely from Hebrew, LXX., Vulgate, and A. V. The rendering of the last is, Therefore His people return hither, and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them; a version practically accepted, with minute variations, by later critics. The LXX. and Vulgate have, Therefore my people shall return [be converted, (A.) Vulg.] hither, and full days shall be found amongst them. That is, “when the fulness of the time was come, GOD sent forth His SON,”* to teach men to despise temporal things, to be the Way, to recall us to inward thought, to convert us to Himself. Hither, because it is in this life our conversion must take place, where our FATHER chasteneth us as sons; whereas they who continue in sin shall not be scourged with men, (G.) but shall go thither where the evil spirits dwell. Or,* hither, to the same estimate as mine of the prosperity of the wicked, learning to count it vain and unprofitable. (Ay.) They will do more than ponder on the instability of worldly gain, for they will turn to meditating on the sweetness of adversity to the Saints, as being the path which has led them through temptations to the love of GOD. Full days. Truly is it said full, for the life of Saints hath fulness,* but the days of the evil are empty. And in Holy Writ fulness of days is always taken in a good sense, (G.) as in speaking of the death of holy men, and of the births of the Forerunner and of Him of Whom he prophesied. On the other hand,* empty or half days are of evil import, as it is written, “The bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days;” and again, “In the half of my days I shall go to the gates of hell.” Thus, as we call that a “long day” in which we have accomplished,* by steady labour, the work of two or three days,* so length or fulness of true life is not to be computed by years and days, (Cd.) but by good works done for the love of GOD; whereas a life of many years spent in sin and idleness is short and empty, and leads to the gates of hell. Wherefore the Wise Man says, “For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age.… He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time.”* The later commentators, (L.) however, take the whole passage in a bad sense, and interpret it of the falling away of GOD’S people to the sinners, and partaking of their abundance. The waters of a full cup wrung out are diversely explained. One takes it of the cup of bitterness which the prosperity of the wicked is to the just. Another,* yet more strongly,* sees here the tears which are thus forced from righteous eyes. A third finds a reference to high living and copious drinking.* And we may, perhaps, taking this last view, dwell on the word wrung, as denoting the suffering of the many poor from which the luxury of the few rich is derived. The cup of the wealthy noble may have been filled by rackrenting his tenants, that of the yet richer trader by overworking or underpaying his operatives; the costly dress of the delicate lady may be paid for with the life of the seamstress.

Half ignorant, they turned an easy wheel,

That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.

11 Tush, say they, how should GOD perceive it: is there knowledge in the most High?

The commentators agree in taking these words as uttered by GOD’S people in their perplexity at the prosperity of the wicked, (C.) not by the wicked as the reason of their evil deeds. (D. C.) So in that most pathetic “Cry of the Children” we read: (L.)

‘Our FATHER!’ If He heard us, He would surely

(For they call Him good and mild)

Answer, smiling down the steep world very purely,

Come and rest with Me, My child.’

But no!’ say the children, weeping faster,

He is speechless as a stone;

And they tell us, of His image is the master

Who commands us to work on.

Go to!’ say the children; ‘up in heaven,

Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find.

Do not mock us; grief has made us unbelieving—

We look up for GOD, but tears have made us blind.’

Do you hear the children weeping and disproving,

O my brothers, what ye preach?

For GOD’S possible is taught by His world’s loving—

And the children doubt of each.”

12 Lo, these are the ungodly, these prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession: 13 and I said, Then have I cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.

14 (13) All the day long have I been punished: and chastened every morning.

The enigma is well explained by S. Gregory the Great,* commenting on the very similar language of Job: “How much such things are to be contemned, the righteous man considers, which Almighty GOD bestows, even on the froward. For if they were of primary importance, the Creator would by no means give them to His enemies; whence the righteous thinks it unworthy of him to crave after those advantages which he sees abounding for the evil, but turns his mind to the acquisition of heavenly things, which cannot be common to him and to the reprobate.”* But he who has not yet learnt this truth argues at first as the Psalmist, (Ay.) complaining that he not only suffers passively by missing the wealth which others win, but actively, by enduring direct persecution. It was the argument applied again and again to the confessors in Pagan days, never with such fatal effect as in the persecution of Decius. Cleansed my heart, by keeping it free from evil thoughts, (G.) or by confessing my sins. The Vulgate reading is justified my heart, (R.) whence Lorinus takes occasion to point out men’s co-operation with GOD in the work of their own salvation. (L.) Washed my hands. As the heart refers to thoughts,* so the hands imply actions, which need to be kept pure also. They note, (B.) however, that the words lay no claim to perfect sinlessness. They represent the steady desire, not the complete innocence of the Psalmist,* observes S. Ambrose. And another points out that they denote no more than freedom from grosser sins.* Lesser sins of desire or act, resembling the soiling of the feet, are not denied. All the day long. In this world, because the righteous is shaken by adversity throughout all his life, or at least a great part of it.* Every morning. The punishment has come early and swiftly. (Ay.) For when the elect fall into sin, GOD delays not their chastisement, but in His great mercy inflicts it soon. And so it is written: “It is a token of His great goodness, when wicked doers are not suffered any long time, but forthwith punished.”* And observe, that chastisement sometimes precedes sin, because GOD sometimes sends scourges, that sin may be shunned. So the Apostle said: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh.”* Sometimes it accompanies sin: “While the meat was yet in their mouths, the heavy wrath of GOD came upon them.”* Sometimes it follows on the sin, as was the case when the Jewish people was led into captivity.

15 (14) Yea, and I had almost said even as they: but lo, then I should have condemned the generation of thy children.

More exactly, (G.) with A. V. and Vulgate, If I say, I will speak thus: that is, that GOD does not know,* that there is not knowledge in the Most High; and hold with the wicked, that “it is vain to serve GOD: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?”* then I slander all the Saints of old, the Patriarchs and Prophets who have passed through tribulation for the love of GOD, (Ay.) by denying the truth of their teaching, the wisdom of their acts.

16 (15) Then thought I to understand this: but it was too hard for me,

17 (16) Until I went into the sanctuary of GOD: then understood I the end of these men.

It is the first step in knowledge, (C.) when we begin to think that we know less than we supposed. At first Asaph persuaded himself that GOD took no care of human affairs; now he begins to doubt this hasty conclusion, and applies himself to the task of inquiry,—a most difficult one for the toiler, to learn contempt of riches, to praise the wise providence of GOD. And so is added, (A.) This labour is before me. Yes, before me,* standing like a wall in my way; but “with the help of my GOD I shall leap over the wall.” And though it be labour before me, yet it is no labour in GOD’S sight. So, then, (G.) as He only opens, and none can shut, shuts, and none can open, that Sanctuary where all that now is dark shall be clearly seen, I add, Until I go into the sanctuary of God. That is, as Hugh of S. Cher tells us, until I, Adam’s descendant,* turn from that unprofitable knowledge of good and evil acquired by sin, to meditate on the Passion of JESUS, to know nothing save Him crucified. In Him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD, and we may enter into that Sanctuary by being incorporated amongst His members, being quickened and illuminated by His SPIRIT, may enter, in conforming to His sufferings, into His wounded Side, and there learn all we need to know. Well may we cry with the old poet—

O pleasant spot! O place of rest!*

O royal rift! O worthy wound!

Come harbour me, a weary guest,

That in the world no ease have found!

Or, (G.) in a sense lower than this, (D. C.) and than this only, we may take it of entrance into the hidden places of Holy Writ by pious contemplation. The Greek Fathers mostly interpret it in the far inferior sense of the return of the Jews to the Holy City from the Captivity,* and would teach thereby that it was not in vain that they had at last turned from idolatry. (Z.) S. Athanasius,* however, explains it of the Day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and every man shall be rewarded according to his works. And some of the later commentators will have it that the Church is intended, (L.) whose children learn a wisdom superior to that of this world. However we may take it,* the words of the most Scriptural of commentators will profit us. The first step into this sanctuary is lowly confession of sin: “O go your way into His gates with confession.”* Then we advance further by baptismal purity:* “I went on in my innocence.” We come up to the sanctuary itself in communion: “I will go unto the Altar of GOD.”* Then into His very presence by contemplation, even while here: “Come before His Presence with a song.”* And at last, when the glory is won, we go into the very innermost shrine: “Enter thou into the joy of thy LORD.”* And again: “They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage.” The end of these men. Their last things, says a variant of the LXX., as does the Vulgate. And we know what the last things are for all men—death, judgment, heaven, hell.

18 (17) Namely, how thou dost set them in slippery places, and castest them down, and destroyest them.

Dionysius à Rykel, (D. C.) commenting on the similar language in Jeremiah, “Thy friends have set thee on, and have prevailed against thee: thy feet are sunk in the mire, [slippery places, Vulg.,] and they are turned away back,”* expounds it thus: “They have led thee on to ruin and tottering. And it may be explained morally of all those who, made ductile by the flattery, promises, or instigation of others, oppose themselves to righteousness, fall and perish, because they plunge into the mire of the vilest iniquity, and set their affections in a slippery place, that is, in shifting and earthly things, not in the supreme and unchangeable good.” But the Vulgate reads, Truly, because of deceits Thou hast set for them, to which the Complutensian LXX. adds evils, to fill up the sense; while S. Augustine repeats the word deceits. Because they are crafty and deceitful, and thereby harm their neighbours,* not only does eternal death await them, but Thou hast set for them the gnawings of conscience, to afflict them even in this life. Thou, hast set for them a speedy end, observes another, a bound which they cannot pass; a death sudden to man’s eyes, (D. C.) but coming only when their iniquities are full. And castest them down, and destroyest them. The Vulgate reading is, Thou didst cast them down when they were being lifted up. Not because they were lifted up, nor after they were lifted up, (A.) but in the very act itself, since such exaltation is itself a fall. They are as a wheel whose revolutions bring one part down just as the other rises; (G.) and as their temporal prosperity is lifted up, so their hopes for the world to come sink into the pit of desolation. And that because of their pride, (D. C.) as it is written, “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest amongst the stars, thence will I bring thee down,* saith the LORD.” And so He dealt with Nebuchadnezzar, driving him from the intercourse of men; with Holofernes, (Ay.) slaying him by the hand of a woman; with Antiochus Epiphanes, hurling him from his chariot, to die of a loathsome disease; with Herod, giving him to be food for worms.

19 (18) O how suddenly do they consume: perish, and come to a fearful end!

20 (19) Yea, even like as a dream when one awaketh: so shalt thou make their image to vanish out of the city.

Consume. The LXX. and Vulgate have, Are made a desolation, (G.) (ἐρήμωσιν.) And the words are spoken in wonder, not as a question. So the Prophet speaks, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!”* They are desolate, stripped by death of all that pomp and service which once awaited them. “Where,” (C.) cries the Eastern Church in her Burial Office, “where are the world’s affections, where the vain dreams of passing delights,* where gold and silver, where the crowd and noise of attendants? All are dust, all ashes, all but a shadow that fleeteth away.” Come to a fearful end. Not that which causes fear in others,* but rather, as the A. V. runs, they are utterly consumed with terrors. For “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living GOD.”* And so S. Peter Damiani, in his awful hymn, the Dies Iræ of individual life, cries out—

O what terror in thy forethought,*

Ending scene of mortal life!

Heart is sickened, reins are loosened,

Thrills each nerve with terror rife,

When the anxious heart depieteth

All the anguish of the strife!

The LXX. and Vulgate, less strikingly, read, They have perished, by reason of their iniquity. And yet even these few words are so terrible, that we may well leave them, as S. Augustine does, to be their own comment. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”* Like as a dream when one awaketh. That is, as they diversely take it, either the wicked themselves shall vanish as completely as a dream, (Ay.) or all their prosperity shall disappear, as do the night visions of a beggar who fancies himself a king. And note, that there is another arousing from sleep, far unlike to this, of which it is said, “When I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.”* So shalt Thou make their image to vanish out of the city. They who brought to nothing the image of GOD in their earthly city, (A.) shall have their image brought to nothing in His city. And it is true whether we take it of them who slew Him, Who is the Image of GOD, once in Sion, or of those evil Christians who, in the spiritual Sion, “crucify to themselves the SON of GOD afresh, and put Him to an open shame.”* They take this image of theirs to be temporal glory, which, as well as earthly enjoyment of all kinds, cannot pass beyond this world. Then they who have degraded their human nature, (G.) and turned GOD’S image into that of a lion, by yielding to anger; into that of a swine, by coarse indulgence; into that of an ass, by sloth and obstinacy; shall vanish out of the City; for it is written, “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”* And for these happy ones the words hold good likewise, though in a blessed sense; for, leaving their old sins, and walking in newness of life, they shall become conformed to the Image of GOD, because, being made like unto CHRIST, they are the adopted children of the FATHER. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His SON, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.”* And as metal, melted in the fire, loses its former shape, and is interpenetrated with the fire itself, so we, (G.) delivered from our pilgrimage here, and brought to Jerusalem which is free, shall be filled with the heat and glow of that Divine Love, which is a consuming fire, burning up all our rust and dross, and leaving only pure gold, perfected by the SON, Who is the fire, splendour, and glory of the FATHER, with Whom He is Consubstantial. And therefore he who loved Him best says, “Now are we the sons of GOD, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”*

Non est ibi corruptela,*

Non defectus, non querela;

Non minuti, non deformes,

Omnes CHRISTO sunt conformes.

The Bible Version, however, with most modern critics, instead of out of the city, translates when Thou awakest, (sc. to judgment,) reading בְּהָעִיר instead of בָּעִיר.

21 (20) Thus my heart was grieved: and it went even through my reins.

The LXX. and Vulgate differ here from the English Version, and from one another. The former usually reads, My heart was delighted, which also appears in the Roman Psalter, and is adopted by SS. Ambrose and Augustine. The common Vulgate rendering, and that of some Greek texts, however, is was inflamed, and they agree in rendering the last clause, My reins were changed. When I delighted in GOD, explains the Doctor of Grace, my lusts were changed, and I became wholly chaste. Those who read inflamed, (A.) take it in various ways. With spiritual joy,* says one. With the love of GOD,* others maintain. With heavenly wisdom, observes S. Bruno. With holy zeal for righteousness, (Ay.) as his spiritual descendant and others take it. However we may explain the words, (B.) the cry of S. Augustine will suit all. (G.) “What fire is this that so warmeth my heart? What light is this that so enlighteneth my soul? O Fire, (D. C.) that always burnest, and never goest out, kindle me!* O Light, which ever shinest and art never darkened, illumine me! O that I had my heat from thee, most holy Fire! How sweetly dost thou burn! how secretly dost thou shine! how desirably dost thou inflame me!” And as the disciple can only follow afar off in the Master’s steps,* S. Jerome wisely tells us to find here the longing of CHRIST to do His FATHER’S will.* There are not wanting some who tell us to take the words of the ungodly, rather than of Saints,* and to understand the inflaming of envy and jealousy through a desire of worldly prosperity, and then the reins are changed from steadfastness to vacillation.

22 (21) So foolish was I, and ignorant: even as it were a beast before thee.

The Vulgate reads, in the first clause, (G.) And I was brought to nothing, and knew not. Brought to nothing, so long as I was envious; because,* while I have not charity, which envieth not, I am nothing: ignorant, because I knew not my sin. Brought to nothing, as being tried by adversity, to bring me to the love of GOD, till I knew not; till I confessed my ignorance, (Ay.) and counted myself as nought. Brought to nothing, by having the old man wholly stripped off, that I might no longer glory in earthly things,* and be ignorant of my wants and guiltiness. As a beast before Thee. The quasi Jerome, continuing to explain the whole passage of CHRIST,* Who made Himself nothing for us, and submitted, though the Eternal Wisdom, to take on Him human imperfection, reminds us that He bore the load of our sins, (Lu.) as though He were a beast of burden. And there are some who take the words accordingly in a good sense, (Ay.) of all who are ready to bear whatever GOD lays on them, obediently and without complaint, moving in the harness of His precepts, and advancing steadily on the road at His signal.* Others, however, (C.) interpret them of the sinner continuing in his animal desires, and letting evil passions ride upon him at their pleasure, so that he is counted in GODS sight “like to horse and mule, which have no understanding.”*

23 (22) Nevertheless, I am alway by thee: for thou hast holden me by my right hand.

If we continue,* with the quasi Jerome, to take the words of our dear LORD, we shall understand them of His continued Presence in heaven in the midst of His pilgrimage on earth, His throne at the Right Hand of the FATHER, even while He was hanging on the Cross of Calvary; of His being upheld in His descent into hell, His Resurrection, and Ascension. Cassiodorus takes it of the human nature of CHRIST, (C.) supported and uplifted by His Godhead. S. Athanasius sees here the doctrine of His Consubstantial nature; and Arnobius,* still taking it of CHRIST,* tells us how He took dead mankind by the right hand, as He did Jairus’ daughter, and lifted it up to glory. Gerhohus, most singularly, explains it that the right hand is CHRIST’S Godhead, (G.) the left hand His Manhood, and that the FATHER held the right hand bound by the duty of filial obedience, that it might not put forth its power to defend the left in all its bitter troubles. The Carmelite, (Ay.) adopting the common mystical explanation of the right hand, explains the passage of GOD’S delaying the reward of good works, prosperity, in this life; so that, instead of bidding His Saints stretch forth their right hands to receive the prize, He holds back these hands for the present, and leads us by them instead of filling them. Wherefore it follows:

24 (23) Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel: and after that receive me with glory.

As the Angel of GOD’S Presence was sent before Israel, to keep it in the way, and to bring it into the place which He had prepared, so now the Spirit of Counsel, dwelling in the Church, leads the pilgrims of JESUS on to the Land of Promise.*

Consolator piorum,* inspirator bonorum, consiliator mœstorum,

Purificator errorum, eruditor ignotorum, declarator perplexorum,

Debilem erigens, devium colligens, errantem corrigens,

Sustines labantem, promoves conantem, perficis amantem;

Perfectum educis de lacu fæcis et miseriæ,

Dedueis per semitam pacis et lætitiæ,

Inducis sub nube in aulam sapientiæ.

Dirigens rectum, formans affectum, firmans provectum,

Et ad portas Paradisi coronans dilectum.

The Vulgate reading is, (G.) Thou hast led me in Thy will. Me, Who am ever with Thee, Consubstantial, Co-eternal, Thou hast led down from heaven into the Virgin’s womb, from the womb into the world, from the world into hell, from hell back into the world, and from the world hast received Me with glory into heaven, there to reign with Thee henceforth in My glorified Manhood, as I reigned with Thee from all eternity in the everlasting glory of My Godhead. It is true of the servants too, as well as of the Master. “What is in Thy will? Not in my merits. Hear the Apostle, (A.) who was at first a beast longing for earthly things, and living according to the Old Testament: ‘I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy.’* What means, in Thy will?* ‘By the grace of GOD, I am what I am.’ And hast received Me with glory. To what glory He was received, and in what glory, what man can explain, or who can say? Let us wait for it, since it will appear in the Resurrection.” “Thanks be to Thee, (G.) O LORD,” exclaims Gerhohus, “Who, bridling me with curb and rein, hast made me, from being a dull and untamed beast, so docile, that I am ever before Thee; since Thou hast held my right hand, even my good works, which belong to the right, as evil ones do to the sinister hand. Thou heldest me by my right hand, lest I should sink altogether, as I began to do when walking to Thee upon the sea, where my footing would have been perilous, hadst Thou not held my right hand, and led me to a haven of safety, and from the haven to that firm shore, where peril is never henceforth to be feared. This I foretell by the Spirit of truth. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and after that receive me with glory. The counsel of GOD is a desirable bower for those fleeing from this vast and open sea. Virginity, voluntary poverty, and holy obedience in all things and through all things, which our fathers practised, and other like rules of the higher life, are the haven for those who fly from the billowy storms of the world, and early reach the shore of eternal steadfastness, where is glory everlasting.” And note, (Ay.) observes the Carmelite, that GOD receives the righteous in more ways than one. He receives them, preserving their innocence by His grace: “As for me, Thou upholdest [hast received, Vulg.] me in mine integrity, and settest me before Thy face for ever.”* He receives penitents by restorative grace: “Return again unto Me, saith the LORD, [and I will receive thee,” Vulg.] He receives to crowning glory those who bear tribulation; as it is written, “LORD JESUS, receive my spirit.”*

25 (24) Whom have I in heaven but thee: and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee.

In having nothing,”* says a Saint of old, “I have all things, because I have CHRIST. Having, therefore, all things in Him, I seek no other prize, for He is the universal prize Himself.”* So, too, our own poet, treading in the steps of S. Augustine:

CHRIST is a path,* if any be misled;

He is a robe, if any naked be;

If any chance to hunger, He is Bread;

If any be a bondman, He is free;

If any be but weak, how strong is He!

To dead men life He is, to sick men, health;

To blind men, sight; and to the needy, wealth;

A pleasure without loss; a treasure without stealth.

None else in heaven; for “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.”* None upon earth to be desired in comparison; for He is “fairer than the children of men,”* “the chiefest among ten thousand.”* Well then does S. Anselm exclaim, “O how good and sweet art Thou, LORD JESU, to the soul winch seeks Thee!* JESU, Redeemer of the captives, SAVIOUR of the lost, Hope of the exiles, Strength of the toiling, Ease of the unquiet spirit, sweet Consolation and pleasant Coolness of the tearful soul running after Thee in sweat, Crown of the victors, sole Reward and Gladness of the heavenly citizens, most abundant Fountain of all grace, glorious offspring of GOD most High, Thyself most High GOD, let all things which are in heaven above, and in the earth beneath, bless Thee; for Thou art great, and holy is Thy Name.”

Far lower than this, the true meaning of the Hebrew, is the Vulgate: What have I in heaven, or what have I desired of Thee on earth? And they take it, for the most part, of the contrast between the glory which awaits the victor, and the poor earthly things which are all the sinner has yet asked GOD to grant. What? That is, how great, how priceless is that reward prepared for me in heaven, (G.) if I love GOD, for He will give Himself to them that love Him. This, O GOD, Thou hast prepared for them that love Thee, and I, in my folly, have desired somewhat else instead of Thee. A miserable barter! mire for gold, earth for heaven, a short-lived creature for the Creator Himself! What have I in heaven? That great What cannot be set down in words: it may be gained, it cannot be priced.

26 (25) My flesh and my heart faileth: but GOD is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

My flesh faileth, (G.) because chastened with penance, to weaken it from doing evil. My heart faileth to pursue its former vain and idle thoughts. Others, remembering that it is written, (Ay.) “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which GOD hath prepared for them that love Him,”* interpret the words of the overpowering might of the thought of heavenly glory. So the Cluniae:

Urbs Sion aurea,* Patria lactea, cive decora,

Omne cor obruis, omnibus obstruis et cor et ora.

Nescio, nescio, quæ jubilatio, lux tibi qualis,

Quam socialia gaudia, gloria quam specialis.

Laude studens ea tollere, mens mea victa fatiscit,

O bona gloria, vincor; in omnia laus tua vicit.

But God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. “Thee, not Thine,” as two great Saints have said. The Carmelite here gives a quaint illustration, borrowed from the sport of falconry, at its height in his day. We see, he observes, when a bird of race takes flight from its master’s hand, and seizes the enemy, it expects to get the heart as its prey. So CHRIST, that noble Bird, Who flew from the FATHER’S hand into the Virgin’s womb, to the world, to the Cross, and who seized mankind as His prey out of hell, demands man’s heart as His share. Wherefore the Psalm taketh thought for this, and saith, “Pour out your hearts before Him.”* And He speaks Himself to each of us: “My son, give Me thine heart.”* “Thou art the GOD of my heart,” cries S. Albert, heaping up all loving epithets, “Who art Salvation,* Praise, Glory, Brightness, Prince, Light, Joy, Prize, Bridegroom, Rejoicing, Truth, Love, Sweetness, Reward, and Life.”* If He is to have our hearts, we too ask to be close to His. So the Bride: “Set me as a seal upon Thine heart;” and we, (L.) like her, may say,

Cor meum tibi dedo, JESU dulcissime!

En cor pro corde cedo, JESU suavissime!

Tu sola corda expetis,

Tu sola corda diligis,

Ah amem te, ut amas me,

JESU suavissime!

S. Augustine aptly points out that whereas both flesh and heart are said in one clause of the verse to fail,* yet in the second member GOD is said to be the GOD of our heart alone, and that because the heart, when purified, cleanses all the body. And if my heart be like His, seeing that GOD holds all His blessedness without need of heaven or earth,* so I can enjoy mine without any earthly thing, or heavenly thing. He, because He eternally holds His felicity entirely in Himself; I, because I shall eternally hold all mine in Him, for God is my portion for ever.

27 (26) For lo, they that forsake thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that commit fornication against thee.

Observe, (L.) with Hugh of S. Cher, it is not said “those whom GOD forsakes,”* but they that forsake Him. S. Chrysostom compares sinners who rebel against GOD’S chastisements to froward children who run away from the school where their parents have placed them, to avoid tasks or stripes, and who thus expose themselves to worse perils amongst strangers—hunger, sickness, and hard service. It is sin that puts us away,* as it is written, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your GOD;”* and again, “The LORD is far from the wicked.”* Not because of His will, but of theirs; for “they say unto GOD, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.”* The Vulgate is, They that put themselves far from Thee,* as did the Prodigal by going from his father into a far country. “What is further,”* asks S. Ambrose, “than to depart from oneself; to be separated by habits, not by countries; to be divided by desires, not by lands; and to have a divorce between one’s actions, as though the tide of worldly luxury flowed between? He who divides himself from CHRIST is an exile from his country, a citizen of the world.” The same Saint takes the words before us as spoken of those who shun partaking of the Holy Eucharist. “Of this Bread it is written, All they who go far from Thee shall perish. If thou goest from It, thou shalt perish; if thou drawest near to It, thou shalt live. This is the Bread of Life. He that eateth Life, cannot die.”* Fornication. It is idolatry, say most of the commentators, citing the many texts of Scripture which bear out this sense. The Carthusian, following S. Thomas Aquinas, takes it in a wider sense. There is, (D. C.) he says, a spiritual fornication, whereby a soul, marked with the image of the Most High Trinity, and which ought to be the daughter of GOD and the spouse of CHRIST, becomes unfaithful to her GOD, leaning on, delighting in, and enjoying creatures rather than the Creator.

28 (27) But it is good for me to hold me fast by GOD, to put my trust in the LORD GOD: and to speak of all thy works in the gates of the daughter of Sion.

To hold me fast. We cannot hold fast to Him directly,* but we may be joined to Him by some means. There are three bonds by which, and by which alone, all things are fastened to one another, and by which we may be united to Him. They are cords, nails of wood or metal, and glue. The first binds strongly and hardly, the second more strongly and hardly, the third gently and firmly. A man is bound with a cord to his SAVIOUR, if, when sorely tried by temptation, he sets before him the insight into what is honourable, and the memory of the promise; and he for the time holds himself by this cord, lest his resolution should be utterly broken. But hard and unpleasant as that bond is, it is precarious, and cannot last long. For the cords decay, and we forget, or break, the bond of shame. Another is fastened by the nails of the LORD’S majesty, as the fear of GOD binds him who fears not the looks of men, but the thought of hell torments; and it is not sin, but desire, which he fears. Yet he is more sternly and strongly impressed than the former, seeing that he does not lose his resolution, whereas the other wavers in it. A third is cemented with glue, that is, with lore, who, holding fast to GOD, as bound sweetly and surely to Him, is one spirit with Him. That last union, however, (G.) cannot be perfected here, and therefore the truest holding fast to GOD will be seeing Him face to face. That we may do so,* it is good for us to put our trust in Him. “For Thou, O LORD,” exclaims one of His great Saints, “art my hope,* whatever I have to refuse, whatever to endure, whatever to desire. Thou, O LORD, art my hope; this is for me the one cause of the promises, the whole reason of my expectation. Let another set forth his merit, let him boast of his abstinence, his bearing the burden and heat of the day; let him say that he fasts twice in the week; let him glory that he is not as other men are. But it is good for me to hold me fast by God, to put my trust in the Lord God.” There follows then: And to speak of all Thy works in the gates of the daughter of Sion. The reading of the old Latin Psalters and of S. Augustine is Thy praises, that of the Vulgate Thy preachings. All point to the same Gospel which preaches CHRIST and His works, and shows forth His praise. The last clause, in the gates, &c., is not in the Hebrew, and seems to have been interpolated from Psalm 9:14. They agree in explaining it, (A.) as does S. Augustine, that GOD, to be praised rightly, must be praised in the unity of the Church militant here in earth, (G.) the Sion of expectation and watching, whence we pass to Jerusalem, which is free. And the gates,* notes our English hermit-saint, are faith, hope, and charity. The daughter only as yet, soon the City which is above, the Mother of us all.


Glory be to the FATHER, the GOD of Israel, Who is loving unto such as are of a clean heart; glory be to GOD the SON, Whose right hand the FATHER hath holden, Whom He hath guided in His will, and received with glory; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is that Will of the FATHER, whereby He led His SON, willingly obedient in His Manhood, for the salvation of mankind.

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

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