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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 blessed, * O LORD, Thy land. [Christmas Day: Truth hath sprung up out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven. So in all the other uses. Sacred Heart: The LORD will show loving-kindness, and He shall speak peace unto His people.]

Monastic. The same.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 82.

Parisian. I will hearken * what the LORD GOD will say concerning me: for He shall speak peace unto His people and to His Saints.

Mozarabic. LORD, Thou wilt turn again and quicken us, * and Thy people shall rejoice in Thee.

1 LORD, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Whereas it was aforetime said to the first man, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return,”* and also, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake;”* and a certain Prophet hath said, “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of GOD in the land: cursing, and lying, and killing,* and stealing, and committing adultery are poured forth upon the earth, and blood toucheth blood;”* now, on the other hand, that the SON of GOD hath shone upon us by His Incarnation, He hath mended all things, and filled the earth with blessing instead of cursing, seeing that temples of GOD are erected in all parts of the earth, and the fertilising waters of Baptism are poured over its arid soil.* The LORD hath blessed the earth, that is, the whole of mankind, by taking earth to Himself, and making of it His holy Flesh, and He hath especially blessed one part of it, that garden inclosed, His own most blessed Virgin Mother,* who brought forth the fruit of salvation.* He is gracious also and gives blessing to every faithful soul which yields itself to His husbandry, “for the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from GOD.”* Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. (R.) That captivity is the bondage of original sin, (C.) whereby man lay fettered in the chains of the devil,* but now, saith the LORD of Hosts, “He shall let go My captives, but not for price or reward,”* for CHRIST hath turned away the captivity. Not, however, of all, but only of Jacob; (A.) that is, of the younger people, of all who are by true faith descendants, spiritual or lineal, of Abraham, of all who do not remain in slumber,* but rise and wrestle against their sins.

2 Thou hast forgiven the offence of thy people: and covered all their sins.

This, (A.) then, is the true explanation of the previous verse, teaching us what is the hardest of all captivity, what the most perfect of all freedom. And observe that the word forgiven denotes the bounty of GOD’S grace. He is not spoken of as accepting payment of our debt, (C.) but as remitting it freely. And covered all their sins,* by plunging them beneath the waters of baptism, so that our guilt, original and actual, lies hidden beneath those waves,* as the Egyptian foes of Israel did under the waters of the Red Sea.* He does not merely cover them, leaving them still there, albeit hidden, but takes them away altogether. As, remarks a great teacher,* fire covers the blackness of coal, when it has once made its way into the substance of the coal, and destroys it in the very act of so doing,* so the fire which the LORD came to send on the earth takes away that sin which causes it to be said of the fallen, “Their visage is blacker than a coal.”* This, then, is His tender love, that “charity which shall cover the multitude of sins.”* Others will have it that forgiven refers to the general remission in baptism, covered to the subsequent pardon in confession,* or, once more, that the former term applies to grave and deliberate guilt, (L.) the latter to casual and venial sins.

3 Thou hast taken away all thy displeasure: and turned thyself from thy wrathful indignation.

For taken away,* the Vulgate reads mitigated, and from this some of the Latin commentators take occasion to remark that GOD does still punish us for our sins, but gently, and not beyond our endurance; and that He does not give us everything here, so that we may have somewhat better to look for hereafter.* And whereas it is said all Thy displeasure, we are to understand on the one hand GOD’S wrath against both original and actual sin; (R.) and on the other His temporal and eternal punishments.* Observe that in these three verses we have six blessings of GOD set forth in six words.* Thou hast blessed the land, LORD JESU, by Thy birth; Thou hast turned the captivity by Thy preaching; Thou hast forgiven our offence by Thy dying; Thou hast covered all our sins by Thy Resurrection; Thou hast taken away Thy displeasure by sending the HOLY SPIRIT, Thou hast turned Thyself from wrathful indignation, by leading us to heaven, and averting from us the terrors of the Doom.* And that because the offering of the immaculate Lamb is sufficient ransom for the whole world, (Ay.) so that no penalty will remain to be exacted from such as accept the salvation which He offers to all. For He stands before His FATHER as our High Priest, and pleads on our behalf with prevalent intercession, as He spake Himself in the person of His Prophet: “Remember that I stood before Thee to speak good for them, and to turn away Thy wrath from them.”*

4 Turn us then, O God our Saviour: and let thine anger cease from us.

Here we learn that this Psalm is not altogether one of rejoicing, but that troubles and distresses force Israel to cry to their LORD, by the memory of His former and His recent bounties, to complete His work of salvation, and grant a final deliverance to His people.* Wherefore it seems most probable that the Psalm belongs to that period,* just after the first return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem,* when they were sorely harassed by the neighbouring tribes, (C.) and foresaw a fresh series of Divine chastisements. Cassiodorus will have it that the Prophet here, after giving thanks to GOD for the promised Incarnation of the SAVIOUR, looking onward into the future, sees the rejection and crucifixion of Him by the Jews, and prays that these new sins may be pardoned also, and that the blasphemers may be turned, like Saul of Tarsus, into saints.* Turn us, too, who have so ill requited Thy great bounty, from cursing to blessing, from captivity to freedom, from a bent towards sin to forgiveness, from continuance in sins to their covering and overwhelming. Make us, too,* defenders of Thy Church which we have persecuted, preachers of the Word we have blasphemed, disciples instead of gainsayers.

5 Wilt thou be displeased at us for ever: and wilt thou stretch out thy wrath from one generation to another?

Not for ever, (A.) as GOD’S displeasure means the punishment He inflicts on us for our sins. He made us, therefore, mortal and passible in Adam, but by renewing us in CHRIST, and giving us a promise of sharing His immortality and impassibility, He has shown us that His displeasure will pass away; “for as in Adam all die, even so in CHRIST shall all be made alive.”* From one generation to another. GOD might appear to the Jewish exiles to do this by delaying to send the Messiah as their Deliverer,* by allowing a fresh generation to pass away without beholding* the King in His beauty. We, too, may feel a doubt as to His entire good-will towards us, and fear lest He should visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, but we have His own word, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.”* Again, we may take the two generations to refer to the two great eras of man’s spiritual history, (C.) that which dates from Adam to CHRIST, including the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, and that from the Nativity of CHRIST, the Gospel dispensation, under which we live. We therefore beseech GOD not to be wroth with us as He was with that former generation, because we, though liable to fall into sin, desire to wash away its stains in baptism and confession, and to be reconciled to Him.

6 Wilt thou not turn again, and quicken us: that thy people may rejoice in thee?

The LXX. and Vulgate do not read this verse as a question, but state it as a prophecy. Thou wilt turn again, (Ay.) and Thy people shall rejoice in Thee. When a man is turned from us, we do not see his face, and cannot surely recognise him, but when he turns round and shows his face, we know him at once. So, before the Incarnation of CHRIST, GOD was, as it were, turned away from man, “for no man hath seen GOD at any time;”* but He turned His face towards us in the Incarnation, which is the cause of our justification and spiritual life, whereby we are quickened. Thus, when Peter fell, he continued in his denial till the LORD turned and looked on him,* and that one look quickened his dead heart, and brought a flood of penitential tears from the hard rock.* And thus too He deals with all other sinners who do not obstinately keep their faces averted from Him, so that they rejoice at last in Him, no longer in the world or in their sins.* He does not confine His mercy to this, but He will turn again and show Himself to us in glory at the last day, quicken us in the Resurrection,* and make us rejoice in immortality and blessedness.

7 Show us thy mercy, O LORD: and grant us thy salvation.

These words, so familiar in the daily office of the English Church, which applies them to ferial use instead of their former employment in the festival preces of the Sarum rite, are interpreted universally by the Fathers as a prayer for the manifestation of CHRIST. (D. C.) And our Anglican use in this particular carries out a precept here laid down by the Ecstatic Doctor, who observes: We also ought suitably to use this verse daily in prayer to this effect: Show us, O LORD, Thy mercy, that is, show forth clearly and plenteously in us the working of Thy loving-kindness; and grant us Thy salvation, that is, Thy healing redemption, or even CHRIST Himself, by giving Him to us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar, and by His spiritual coming unto us to dwell in us, as is written of Him under the name of Wisdom, “Give me Wisdom, that sitteth by Thy throne.”* Give Him to us, (A.) cries S. Augustine, after a burst of rejoicing comment, “Give us Thy CHRIST, let us know Thy CHRIST, let us behold Thy CHRIST, not as the Jews beheld Him, and crucified Him, but as the Angels behold Him, and rejoice.”* We may also very fitly explain the verse literally of that perfect salvation which shall be in the Resurrection, for then GOD will most exactly show us His mercy, so that we may see it, and as it were, touch it, when He shall crown us with His mercy and loving-kindness, and heal all our infirmities, and satisfy our desire with good things,* and renew our youth as the eagle. And He will then give us His salvation for an everlasting possession, when He shall manifest Himself to us.

8 I will hearken what the LORD GOD will say concerning me: for he shall speak peace unto his people, and to his saints, that they turn not again.

The words concerning me, or in me, as the LXX. and Vulgate have them, are not in the Hebrew, nor in any way essential to bring out its meaning; which is that the Psalmist, ceasing from his prayer, keeps silence for a time to wait GOD’S answer by the Spirit,* well assured that the answer will be one of peace. The Prophet is here,* observes a Greek Father, acting as a herald, proclaiming silence as the King is about to speak, and to make a declaration of peace. So Habakkuk saith: “I will watch to see what He will say in me,”* and again the Apostle Paul, “Since ye seek a proof of CHRIST speaking in me.”* Where observe that when CHRIST speaks in a man, He speaks to him, and what He speaks on this occasion is that peace which passeth all understanding, which is from GOD the FATHER and His SON JESUS CHRIST, bestowed on all those who render unto GOD that which is GOD’S, and who are truly His saints, because they are converted to Him, not feignedly, but from the depths of their heart. He says, I will hearken, (A.) because the roar and tumult of the world is all around him, and he must stop his ears to it, in order that he may commune secretly with GOD, and hear the still,* small voice. When evil thoughts arise within us, we speak ourselves; when good ones do so, it is GOD Who speaketh in us, our heart uttereth the first and hearkeneth to the second. The Peace which GOD speaks, (C.) the Word He utters, is the LORD JESUS Himself, the Prince of peace, the Eternal WORD of the FATHER,* thus sent unto mankind. He spake Him to His people and to His saints, that is, alike to those who served Him, believed in Him, and looked for Him under the old dispensation, and who at last heard the Voice in peace when He preached to their spirits in prison, and bore them from Hades unto Paradise; to the whole Jewish multitude; and to those who are more strictly His saints, who listened to Him on earth,* and loved the Gospel which He taught. So, on the one hand, at His Nativity, the Angels proclaimed “peace on earth to men of good will,”* embracing all His people, Jew and Gentile alike, while He Himself, arisen from the dead, hailed His own chosen disciples with the greeting, “Peace be unto you.”* That they turn not again. Here the A. V. rightly adds, to folly. The intention of the LORD in speaking peace,* is that His people may fall no more into vain idolatry, into worldliness and self-will; but may, as they walk in His footsteps, and look to JESUS, the Author and Finisher of their new being, always have their eyes fastened on Eternal Wisdom. But the LXX. reads, He will speak … to them who turn their heart unto Him, and the Vulgate, nearly alike, (Ay.) unto them who are converted at heart. And of these they make a third class, to wit, the Gentiles, who were converted to Him in heart, and abandoning their idols, served Him thenceforward. Cardinal Hugo, applying the whole verse to Christians, observes that the people here may well denote the laity, the saints,* the clergy, and those converted at heart, the members of Religious communities. He remarks also that the blessing of peace spoken to the Church is likewise threefold, peace with GOD, of which is written, “He shall make peace with me;”* peace within one’s own heart, whereof the LORD saith, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace;”* peace with one’s neighbour, as the Apostle teacheth, “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” The first of these is necessary to salvation, and is therefore, while addressed to all, specially fitted to the laity; the second, implying freedom from worldly cares and anxieties, befits the clergy, who are provided with ecclesiastical revenues precisely that they may not be mixed up in secular affairs in order to get their living; while the third agrees with the quiet contemplation of the cloister, and the brotherly love which should prevail amongst its inmates.* How effectual that speaking of peace was in the first fervour of the Bride’s love we easily learn, for we read that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul;”* and we find a yet further result, in that CHRIST has knit together in one the saints of earth and those of heaven in one common fellowship, as it is written, “It pleased the FATHER by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”* So runs the old Easter hymn:

He,* worthily enthroned as King,

In splendour now is triumphing,

The earth below, the sky above,

He makes one country in His love.

9 For his salvation is nigh them that fear him: that glory may dwell in our land.

Therefore He appeared first among the Jews, (A.) where there were some at least to fear Him, whereas the Gentile world was still given over to idolatry. Yet even the fear was a carnal one, a dread of temporal chastisements and loss, of exile, captivity, famine, or sterility. The Jew asked for just the same things in prayer as did the Pagan, the one difference was that he asked of the one true GOD. Nevertheless, even this imperfect knowledge and service was so far rewarded that glory should dwell in the land. For there were the Patriarchs and Prophets, there the first temple, there the sacrifices to GOD, there dwelt the Virgin who bore her LORD, there He Himself was born and manifested in our earthly nature, dwelling in it gloriously, there He walked and wrought His miracles; (Ay.) there He taught His Apostles and founded His Church, and showed such honour to His people that He said of them to the Canaanitish woman, “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”* His salvation is also nigh them that fear Him,* in that they are careful to watch lest they should fall, even when they stand,* that at the end of their trial, glory, the glory of immortality,* may be in that earth of their now mortal bodies. He makes another glory, that of a good conscience, dwell within His true servants, as the Apostle saith, “For our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience.”* Some of the Jewish commentators, alleging that the Shechinah,* or mysterious presence of GOD, which was the chief glory of the first temple, was not to be found in the second, but is again to fill the third, which Messiah shall erect, point to a deeper meaning than their own, in the second manifestation in glory of Him on Whom the Apostles looked, with Whom they talked face to face, but Who is now hidden from our eyes till such time as the temple of living stones is completed in the heavens. And yet even here and now, His salvation is nigh them that fear Him, His glory dwells in our land, in that He gives Himself to the faithful to abide within them sacramentally, as He feeds them from His altar with His own Body and Blood. Wherefore it is written, “The Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart.”* And finally, the glory of holiness and good works done by the saints dwells in the Church, in our land, (L.) and shines so before men that they glorify our FATHER which is in heaven.

10 Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

This,” comments the great Abbat of Clairvaux,* “is a deep mystery, and deserves to be diligently examined, unless understanding fail to cope with the secret, and words fail even the understanding. I fancy, beloved, that I see man in the first beginning of his creation, clothed with these four virtues, and, as the Prophet saith, clad in the garment of salvation. For the entirety of salvation lies in these four, nor can there be salvation without them, especially as they are not even virtues if they be parted from one another.… But man, to his own great hurt, and of his folly, went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, by whom,* as we read first of all, he was stripped of his garments. Nor could he be clad again, or recover his stolen garments, until CHRIST should lose His. See then, if it be not on account of these four parts of the garment which the first and old man lost, that the garments of the Second and new Man were divided into as many.… Man lost righteousness when Eve obeyed the serpent’s voice, and Adam the woman’s, rather than the Divine one. He lost mercy, in that Eve, to satisfy her desire, spared neither herself, nor her husband, nor her children, but bound all alike under the terrible curse and necessity of death. And Adam himself exposed the woman, for whom he had sinned, to the Divine wrath, trying to shun the arrow as it were behind her back. Woman and man lost truth, the first by perverting the warning she had heard, from ‘Thou shalt surely die’* into the milder ‘Lest ye die, and so to the serpent’s ‘Ye shall not surely die;’ while Adam offered a vain and false excuse. And, lastly, they lost peace, for there is no peace to the wicked, saith the LORD. Hence, after the fall, there was, as it were, a serious conflict between the four virtues, for truth and justice were for punishing the wretched sinner, while peace and mercy, less jealous, were for sparing him; and as the two former persevered in avenging, in scourging the rebel, and in aggravating present troubles with the threat of future punishment, the two latter withdrew into the FATHER’S Heart, returning to the LORD Who gave them. For He alone thought thoughts of peace, when all things seemed full of affliction. And hence mercy kept not silence within Him, but in loving whisper addressed His Fatherly tenderness, saying, ‘Will the LORD absent Himself for ever, and will He be no more intreated? Is His mercy clean gone for ever; and is His promise come utterly to an end for evermore?’* And although the FATHER long and in manifold ways appeared to hide His compassion, that He might meanwhile satisfy the jealousy of truth and righteousness, yet the importunity of the pleaders was not fruitless, but was heard at the fitting time.” Then the Saint continues, representing the pleadings and counterpleadings of the opposing virtues, and the final decision of the Judge, that the rights of all could be secured only in one way, by a perfectly holy death, suffered for love’s sake, and without any fault in the victim, so that the meeting and the kiss took place on Calvary at the Cross. How the four virtues, parted in the first man, met again in the Second, we may readily learn. (Z.) For CHRIST showed mercy in healing the sick, truth in teaching and speaking. The justice of CHRIST appeared in His righteous judgment, when He reproved the wicked, and praised men endued with holiness; and peace in His meekness and gentleness. Further, the Divine nature of CHRIST, which hath the power of forgiving sins and healing infirmities, may be called mercy; and His human nature truth, because there was no guile found in His mouth, and because He alone truly preserved that dignity and likeness of man whereby he was made after the image of GOD, and because He was Very Man, and no mere vision. And the phrase met together means, were blended in one, that is, united in one Person. Righteousness also is taken to be the Divine nature, for GOD alone is the righteous Judge. Peace, on the other hand, stands for the human nature, on account of CHRIST’S noble and innate meekness. Again, mercy and truth met together in the Incarnation, because it was mercy which drew the LORD down to His creatures,* that the truth of the promises made to the Fathers of the old Covenant might be fulfilled,* that the claims of justice might be satisfied by the obedience of the SON, and that He might make peace between GOD and man, giving man again that righteousness and peace with GOD which he had lost by his sin; and might, (Ay.) moreover, blend in one dispensation the strictness of the Law and the gentleness of Grace.

11 Truth shall flourish out of the earth: and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.

This is the verse which,* in its Vulgate form of the past tense, supplies the Antiphon for the Psalm in its use throughout the Western Church on Christmas Day. Truth, the Very Truth, the SON of GOD, hath sprung out of the earth, (A.) hath been born of His Virgin Mother; Righteousness looked down from heaven (C.) when the Eternal WORD stooped from His throne of glory and united Himself in hypostatic union to the nature of man.* Thus was fulfilled that prophetic prayer, “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation.”* That earth, that Virgin soil, is lowly, stable, fertile, and thirsting for the showers of Divine grace.

For GOD in earth she is the royal throne,*

The chosen cloth to make His mortal weed;

The quarry to cut out our Corner-stone,

Soil full of, yet free from, all mortal seed;

For heavenly Flower she is the Jesse Rod,

The child of Man, the parent of a GOD.

And an ancient Rabbinical gloss on this verse,* dwelling on the word flourish or spring, and interpreting the passage of the coming of Messiah, gives as the reason why the term born is not here used, that Messiah’s birth will be miraculous, and out of the usual course of human generation. There is yet another sense in which the words hold good. (A.) Now that man has been brought near to GOD, he is moved to confession of his sins, so that the truth springs up in frank acknowledgment of transgressions from the sinner who is but earth, and righteousness then looks down from heaven to pardon and wash away his offences.

12 Yea, the LORD shall show loving-kindness: and our land shall give her increase.

The Psalmist proceeds to explain the mystery of the Incarnation,* and shows that Truth will spring out of the earth, not in the manner that fruits spring out of ground ploughed and sown by the labour of man, but as flowers spring up in open plains without human culture, by the rain from heaven and the sunbeams which fall upon them. For, saith he, the Lord shall show loving-kindness, that is, shall send His HOLY GHOST from heaven, to overshadow the Virgin, and so our land, untilled, unsown, and altogether virgin undefiled, shall give her increase. Wherefore He saith Himself in the Canticles, “I am the Flower of the plain, and the Lily of the valley.”* Or again, the Divine nature of CHRIST is the loving-kindness of GOD, the human nature is the fruit of our land. But many of the early commentators are content to see here the result of CHRIST’S coming, (Cd.) in the fruits of penitence and good works put forth by men under the genial rays of the Sun of Righteousness,* when the rain of tears poured forth in sorrow for sin has caused the good seed sown in their hearts by the Sower to spring up and yield increase.* (A.) It is to be noted that the literal sense of the verse has caused the use of this Psalm in the Western Office for the Benediction of Crops. (C.)

13 Righteousness shall go before him: and he shall direct his going in the way.

The meaning of the latter clause of this verse comes out more clearly in the LXX.,* shall make His steps into a way, that is, shall go behind Him as well as before, deepening, as it were, His track, that they who follow may not miss it. Observe, that where righteousness goes first, GOD steadily follows,* and therefore most fitly did John Baptist, a type of righteousness, act as the forerunner of CHRIST, and prepare a way for Him in the wilderness of man’s sin by preaching the baptism of repentance.* Others take it that when righteousness hath so prepared the way for CHRIST, then He will Himself set His feet upon the road, and come to visit those who have thus made ready for His coming, as they clear the ground of all stones and thorns, and strew their garments and palm-branches in His path, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” (Ay.) He makes this road thenceforward a way for all those who would follow Him; and even in the works of penitence, He who did no sin was not content to be preacher only, but He gave us an example by His vigils, fasts, journeyings and other bodily toils. However, not a few suppose that righteousness is spoken of here not as going before CHRIST, but before His people,* or any who have turned to Him,* to show them the way to Him, and to set their feet in it, that they may not err. And thus it is said by the Prophet of those who keep the true spiritual fast of charity, “Thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.”* Yet once more, a mean interpretation between these two is found by taking righteousness here to mean CHRIST Himself,* Who went before His people as Leader and Example, and set His feet first in the way of sorrow and of holiness, of death and resurrection, that His disciples might follow confidently, in the Way, in likeness to Him, in union with Him, from Egypt through the Red Sea, traversing the wilderness, crossing Jordan, till at last they reach their Country.

Where our banner leads us,*

We may safely go;

Where our Chief precedes us,

We may face the foe.

His right Arm is o’er us,

He will guide us through;

CHRIST hath gone before us,

Christians, follow you.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who speaketh peace unto His Saints; glory be to the SON, in Whom mercy and truth are met together; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Loving-kindness of the LORD.

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

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