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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. Sing * unto the LORD, and praise His Name. [Christmas Day: Let the heavens rejoice * and let the earth be glad before the LORD, for He cometh. Circumcision: Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the face of the LORD, for He cometh, Epiphany: Worship the LORD * Alleluia: in His holy hall. Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: The FATHER is love; the SON is grace; the HOLY SPIRIT is communion, O Blessed Trinity. Holy Name: Sing unto the LORD, and praise His Name,* be telling of His salvation from day to day. Feasts of the Cross: We adore Thee, O CHRIST, and bless Thee, * because by Thy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Sacred Heart: Be telling of His salvation from day to day. Feasts B. V. M.: Rejoice, O Virgin Mary * thou only hast slain all heresies throughout the world. Michaelmas Day: Michael, the Archangelic Angel, messenger of GOD for righteous souls. Alleluia. Comm. of Virgins: I am black * but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, therefore the King loved me, and brought me into His chamber. Dedication: The temple of the LORD * is holy, it is GOD’S structure, it is GOD’S building.]

Monastic. As Gregorian. [Ascension Day: Let the heavens rejoice * and let the earth be glad, for the LORD cometh. Alleluia. Dedication: Jacob set up a stone for a pillar * pouring oil upon it.]

Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.

Parisian. Bring offerings * and worship the LORD, for He hath corrected the round world. [Christmas Day: As Gregorian. Epiphany: Declare His honour unto the heathen * and His wonders unto all people.]

Lyons. As Gregorian.

Mozarabic. Tell the good tidings * from day to day, of the salvation of the LORD.

1 O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the whole earth.

This new song, framed,* as the LXX. title informs us, for the ceremony of dedicating the Second Temple after the Captivity, is a simple recasting of the latter part of David’s owe psalm for the bringing up of the Ark out of the house of Obed-Edom to the tabernacle in Jerusalem. The alterations are very slight,* and do not introduce any fresh ideas, and the absence of any special reference in the earlier draft of it to the Ark,* or in this to the new building, has led the Rabbins to interpret it of a yet future Temple to be erected by Messiah Himself;* which accords precisely with the spiritual application to the kingdom of CHRIST insisted on by the early Christian expositors on precisely the same grounds. (A.) S.* Chrysostom applies it directly to the Church Militant,* other Greek Fathers to the two comings of CHRIST,* but the majority agree in taking it of the gradual rise in the heavens of that building of lively stones, made without hands, eternal,* the Church Triumphant. This is the City of GOD, which rises, like the walls of Thebes in the Grecian legend, to the sound of sweet music;* built up with song, founded on belief,* raised high by hope,* completed in love, dedicated at the end of the world. The Targum assumes the Psalmist to address the heavenly spirits, inasmuch as it adds the words exalted Angels to the first half of the verse.* Hence Christian expositors have seen here a call for that burst of new song which was heard by the shepherds of Bethlehem on the morning of the Nativity; (Z.) and that, whereas it was not possible,* it may be not lawful,* for the Jew to sing any of the old songs of the LORD in a strange land, this new song,* unrestrained by any such scruple or precept, was to be chanted in every quarter of the globe, by every nation of the world, wherefore is added, Sing unto the Lord, all the whole earth. It is a new song for all us Gentiles,* in that we sing the song of Baptism, which brings us regeneration;* of repentance, which cleanses us afresh when we fall; of glory yet to come, when all things shall be made new. It is new,* in celebrating the Incarnation,* because then GOD created a new thing, (D. C.) in that a woman compassed a man. Our old songs were those of pride, of gluttony, of luxury, in hope of gain, prosperity,* or harm to others; our new song is of praise, reverence, and obedience, and love of GOD,* in newness of life, in the spirit that quickeneth, no longer in the letter that killeth, but keepeth that new commandment, that we love one another,* not with the narrow patriotism and fellow-feeling of a small tribe,* or a mere national Church, (R.) but with a citizenship which embraces all the whole earth.

2 Sing unto the LORD, and praise his Name: be telling of his salvation from day to day.

In this triple injunction to sing unto the Lord, (C.) they bid us see the worship of the Blessed Trinity, and one further tells us to note that there are,* moreover, just three new songs in the Gospel,* added to the ancient Psalter and Canticles; the Benedicts, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis, daily sung in the Church. (R.) And praise His Name. Herein the Unity of Essence is denoted, as the Trinity of Persons by the threefold mention of the LORD which precedes. So in the Breviary Preces at Compline we have the  .* “Let us bless the FATHER, and the SON, with the HOLY GHOST,” followed by the  .* “Let us praise and highly exalt Him for ever.” It is not enough to sing, unless we also bless the LORD’S Name, for it is possible to have songs wherein that Name is mentioned without reverence or love.* We bless His Name by a pure and holy life, because thereby we make His honour known to aliens, and bring them to submit themselves to His sway; and it may be that here only His Name, and not Himself in very deed is specified, (Ay.) because the WORD was not yet made flesh; and in that case the Name we are bidden to praise is that holy one, JESUS. (Z.) Be telling of His salvation. The LXX. using here the specific term εὐαγγελίζεσθε, evangelize, preach the Gospel, and the Roman Psalter, rendering this as closely as it can,* bene nunciate, fix definitely for us the spiritual meaning of the verse, as directed first to the Apostles, and then to all preachers of the kingdom of CHRIST. And as we have the Holy Name itself hid for us in the Hebrew word here for His salvation יְשׁוּעָתו̇, we can be at no loss to tell what is that salvation, or as the Chaldee reads,* that redemption, which is to be preached. From day to day. For He is Light of Light, Very GOD of Very GOD;* so that when we preach the FATHER truly, we must preach the SON, and when we preach the SON, must preach the FATHER. Praise the LORD JESUS always in the light of the day,* not in the darkness of sin, but in the brightness of virtue. Let Him, the Sun of Righteousness, always rise in thy soul, that the new light may ever spring up in thee. Praise Him from day to day, in the Old Testament and in the New, two days which make one light, in both of which He shines. Praise Him not in the Old alone, like Jews, nor in the New alone, like Manichees, but remember that the Apostles went out two by two as preachers of His Gospel. (R.) Praise Him from strength to strength,* from one bright lesson of power and holiness to another yet brighter,* pressing on in the way of salvation, lest when ye have preached to others, ye become yourselves castaways; praise Him, and tell of His salvation, literally, each day as it comes,* that none may rise and set without His kingdom being extended; praise Him from the day of the Gospel to the yet brighter day of the Resurrection.

3 Declare his honour unto the heathen: and his wonders unto all people.

Some will have it that honour,* or rather glory, as A. V., LXX., and Vulg., here denotes the Godhead of CHRIST, as salvation tells us of the work of His Manhood; but the more usual exposition,* from S. Justin Martyr downwards, has been of the Passion, wherein the hour came that the Son of Man was glorified, (Z.) that His people might thenceforth glory in nothing save His Cross.* The wonders of which the Psalmist speaks are not only the miracles of healing and other works of CHRIST recorded in the Gospels,* but more especially His Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension. And one who was himself a great preacher draws three salutary lessons for preachers from this verse.* It is His Glory which should be proclaimed, not the learning, ability, and eloquence of the orator who professes to speak for Him; it is His glory, the loving beauty, the attractiveness of His Gospel, the lavish promises to repentant sinners, the blessedness of heaven which should be the chief themes of discourse; not threats, menaces, sermons on hell and torment, to affright men, and at best make them GOD’S trembling slaves, not His loving friends. The preaching is to be unto all people, in obscure country districts, amongst unpolished and illiterate congregations, and not to be confined, as fashionable preachers like to confine it, to the cultivated and critical audiences of the capital.

4 For the LORD is great, and cannot worthily be praised: he is more to be feared than all gods.

It is of that LORD JESUS CHRIST, (A.) Who came to us as a little Child, that these words are spoken. Despise Him not when little, understand how great He is. He became little, because ye were little; but let His greatness be understood, and you shall become great in Him. So uprises the building of the House, so the very stones for the edifice increase and are lifted up. Cannot worthily be praised. The Hebrew is simply, greatly to be praised; but the Prayer Book here is trying to render the force of the Vulgate, laudabilis nimis, that is, praiseworthy, too much for our faculties; for what, asks S. Augustine, can a little tongue do towards praising the Great One? In saying too much, he suggests the thought,* Ponder what I cannot utter, and when thou hast pondered, it will be all too little. “O LORD,”* exclaims S. Anselm, “Thou art not only He than Whom no greater can be the object of thought, but Thou art something which is greater than any thought.” And therefore He is to be feared above all gods, which are but the creatures of man’s thoughts, those idols of the heathen which He can overthrow, or those earthly potentates whom He sets up and pulls down at His will.

5 As for all the gods of the heathen, they are but idols: but it is the LORD that made the heavens.

Idols. The literal Hebrew אֱלִילִים is nothings,* (Symm. ἀνυπάρκτοις) mere phantasms having no real existence. And so the Apostle: “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other GOD but one.” (D. C.) But the LXX. and Vulgate translate it demons, a word implying less dignity than that of a God, and therefore suited to the graven images, the deified men, and the sacred animals of heathenism; implying besides the notion of evil and fraud, as connected with the ancient oracles, which has been bound up with that word ever since the proclamation of Christianity. But it is the Lord that made the heavens:* a claim on behalf of His Almighty power exceeding that made for their divinities by any of the heathen nations known to the ancient Jews; inasmuch as they either accepted the heaven as itself a god, or left its origin shrouded in doubt, unable as they were to rise to the height of conceiving GOD as the Creator of the universe. (C.) Mystically they explain, as usual, the heavens in this verse to denote the Apostles, and other holy preachers, superior in spiritual might to the evil spirits against which they contend.

6 Glory and worship are before him: power and honour are in his sanctuary.

As the previous verse told us of the supreme power of GOD,* so this one speaks of the regal pomp and dignity which attends Him,* either in His heavenly court, where He is encompassed by the shining ranks of the angelic hierarchy, or in His earthly Temple, with its rich gifts and stately ceremonial. The Vulgate turns the words a little differently, so as to give room for additional matter of reflection: (A.) Confession and beauty are in His sight, holiness and magnificence in His sanctification. And S. Augustine, taking the first word as signifying acknowledgment of sin, points out how it precedes beauty, how it is the washing and purifying of a disfigured face, necessary before we can recognize the true grace of the features, or loveliness of the complexion. He also bids us observe how holiness, as the only way to heaven, is the precursor of magnificence,* which can be attained there alone in His sanctification, that is, amongst the glorified Saints; whereas those who seek to be magnificent first, and without holiness, do but fall into destruction. (D. C.) In our Country, there are in full perfection that confession of GOD’S praise and glory which we make so imperfectly here in the way, and that inner beauty of soul which is now marred and defaced by sin; because in His sight, in the Beatific Vision, there can be nothing defective, since the holiness and magnificence thereof surpass all words and imagination. A further meaning, closer to the letter, is the absence in the Gospel rites not only of the obscenities which attended the worship of many heathen deities, (Ay.) but also of the grossness and coarseness which necessarily beset even the sacrifices of the Law, making a shambles of the very Temple itself, that sanctuary which the Psalmist here lauds.* This word, it may be noted in passing,* is one of the chief variations from the first draught of the Psalm by David, wherein, as there was as yet no fixed Temple, we find only the term place.* Two other explanations of the sanctuary, closely akin to each other, (Cd.) see in it the human Body of the LORD JESUS, endowed with spotless purity and miraculous power;* or the bodies of His Saints, hallowed by His indwelling and that of the HOLY GHOST, and thus showing, in their degree, those attributes of His humanity. Euthymius, explaining the words of any Christian churches dedicated to the service of GOD, (Z.) reminds us of the cleanliness, purity, and costliness which befit them, an interpretation which agrees with the version of Apollinarius here:

νηῷ ἀκηρασίη καὶ ἀριπρεπὲς ἥρμοσεν εὖχος.

Pureness and stately glory fit His shrine.

7 Ascribe unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people: ascribe unto the LORD worship and power.

8 Ascribe unto the LORD the honour due unto his Name: bring presents, and come unto his courts.

There is a peculiar force, observes an early commentator, (C.) in this phrase, kindreds of the people, much more than if we had the word peoples alone; for in every nation there are at all times strangers, aliens, sojourners abiding permanently or for a time, but not reckoned amongst the natives; while the phrase here includes all such, and provides that no one shall be shut out because of his origin.* And as it was the custom of the Jews to come up on great festivals to the Temple in Jerusalem, literally divided into companies according to their tribes, so all the nations of the world are to do the like spiritually, (Z.) by flocking into the Church of CHRIST, and that with the triple ascription of glory and worship to the Eternal Trinity,* as in the song of the redeemed in the Apocalypse. The kindreds of the people heard and obeyed this call, when in the Epiphany the wise men ascribed glory to their GOD, offering Him frankincense,* power to their King, with gold, honour to the mighty dead, with myrrh for His embalming. We can do the like, in true repentance for our sins, giving glory to GOD by contrition, as it is written, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD GOD of Israel, and make confession unto Him;”* power by actual confession, made in the strength of God’s grace, alone mighty enough to deliver us from the bonds of sin; and honour in making satisfaction, fitly the honour of His Name (A. V.) because His credit is impeached when any of His professed followers fail in their duties. Bring presents. It is rather, Take an offering, the minchah, or unbloody sacrifice of fine flour.* And for us this means two things:* the oblation of the Holy Eucharist, the one sacrifice left when all others were abolished, and the living oblation of ourselves, our souls and bodies, (Z.) the dedication of all our faculties and powers, the offering of prayer, confession, fasting, and almsgiving to GOD in His courts,* that is. His local Churches here in earth, (Z.) the Religious houses of His contemplative servants,* or the inner recesses of our own hearts, (D. C.) when we withdraw into silence and meditation.

9 O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: let the whole earth stand in awe of him.

In the beauty of holiness. There are three interpretations of this clause. First is that of the A. V. margin, in His glorious sanctuary, which is practically identical with the LXX. and Vulgate, holy court; next, that it means bowing before His awful majesty,* taking the words as descriptive of His attributes; thirdly,* and most correctly, Worship the LORD in the sacred vestments, in the solemn attire of the priesthood. So we read of the High Priest, Simon Bar-Onias, “When he put on the robe of honour, and was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar, he made the garment of holiness honourable.”* And in calling on the Gentiles to act thus, the Psalmist does not merely foretell the ceremonial usages of the Church, but that mystery of which they are but the type, the being clothed with the gifts of the SPIRIT, and with the righteousness of CHRIST, our Great High Priest.

Accepting the first explanation, we are met by the contrast of the plural courts of the previous verse, and the one court of this, and of this they give us two expositions;* that we pass from the many Patriarchs, seers, and Prophets of the Old Dispensation, each being but an imperfect type, to the fulfilment of all in the One Man Who is the tabernacle of GOD under the New Covenant; and that we pass from the outer courts, the Churches militant and local here on earth,* into one vast sanctuary of the Church universal and triumphant in heaven. Let all the earth stand in awe of Him. This is a second proclamation of the herald,* as the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving begins, that there may be no sound to break the solemn stillness of the rite. So we read in the Prophet, “The LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.”* But the LXX. and Vulgate read, Let all the earth be moved before His face. (Z.) And this is explained first of the stir and expectation which preceded the first coming of CHRIST, so that the world was moved and shaken from its deeply rooted error, and turned to the LORD; whereof the earthquake at the Crucifixion was a type. (C.) Then it is taken also of the second coming of CHRIST to judgment;* and finally of the alarm raised in the souls of earthly and carnal sinners, and the thought of the wrath to come, (R.) so that they turn to repentance, in fear and trembling of heart.

10 Tell it out among the heathen that the LORD is King: and that it is he that hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved; and how that he shall judge the people righteously.

In the time of S. Justin Martyr, and for a long time subsequently, the reading in the first member of this verse was,* The Lord hath reigned from the Wood, and that Saint explicitly charges the Jews with having quite recently cut out the latter words, as well as some expressions in Ezra and Jeremiah, as being too distinctly prophetic of CHRIST.1 Certain it is that while Tertullian, S. Cyprian, and Lactantius, as well as S. Augustine, adopted them, they were not to be found in the Hebrew MSS.* which S. Jerome consulted, and Genebrardus inclines to the view that they were a paraphrase introduced by the Seventy into the Greek text. The original reference, assuming their genuineness, was probably to the wood of the Ark of the Covenant, from which went forth the might which overthrew Dagon, the Philistine idol, and brought about the restoration of the Ark itself to Israel. The later reference, to the Cross, is embodied by the Church in the Passiontide hymn:

Fulfilled is all that David told

In true prophetic song of old;*

Amidst the nations God, saith he,

Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

It was amongst the heathen that these tidings were to be spread,* as the Jews refused to hear them; and the proclamation of the LORD as King denotes not the beginning of His power and rule,* but the recognition of it in faith and worship by His new subjects. And observe that it was a heathen governor who made this proclamation by the very form of that title which he set up on the Cross, (L.) in despite of the remonstrances of the Jews, He hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved. (Cd.) They agree in explaining this of that Church which is firm and steadfast,* because founded on Himself, the Rock. The LXX. and Vulgate read He hath righted (LXX.) or corrected (Vulg.) the round world;* whence they argue that the Psalmist does not here speak of the first creation of nature,* but of the new creation of grace, whereby that which had been injured was corrected and made good anew;* that which was out of shape brought into a perfect sphere. CHRIST came that He might correct mankind (aforetime corrupted,) that it might never be moved. His Cross is the pillar of mankind, and on that pillar His house is reared;* that house which is built on the foundation of those Apostles whom He corrected, (L.) after their doubt, by His Resurrection, and stablished firmly by the HOLY GHOST at Pentecost, so that they were never moved again.* He shall judge the people righteously. It is not spoken of the Second Coming only, but of the first also, as the words denote the whole course of CHRIST’S providential government, the absolute righteousness of the laws which He has laid down in the Gospel for the guidance of mankind.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth he glad: let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is.

13a (12) Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD.

The Chaldee explains the first clause,* Let the Angelic hosts rejoice, and the righteous upon earth be glad; and a favourite Christian explanation sees in the heavens the Apostles and other Gospel preachers,* and in the earth their hearers thirstily drinking in the rain of doctrine; while the sea denotes sinners, restless, bitter, and barren, and the fulness (A. V.) of it the proud and wealthy, who despise the Gospel. The field is the precise contrast to the sea, being level, stable, fruitful,* and thus a type of the lowly Saints who are diligent in good works, and especially the first Jewish converts, as already brought unto salvation, (Z.) while the trees of the wood are the yet unreclaimed and wild stocks of the Gentiles. (Ay.) The heavens rejoiced at the Nativity of CHRIST, because of His Divine nature, and showed their gladness by the shining of a star and the songs of the Angels; the earth was glad because of His Manhood; the sea, and all waters, because of their hallowing as the medium of Baptism, the fields, because of His presence in

those holy fields

Over whose acres walked those blessed feet

Which ‘eighteen’ hundred years ago were nailed

For our advantage on the bitter Cross;*

while all the trees of the wood rejoiced in that one of them was to be wrought into the instrument of man’s redemption. And after all, there is no better interpretation of the words than the literal one, which sees the exultation of the universe in the appearing of its Creator, as we read in that marvellous, yet unconscious Gentile prophecy of His Nativity:

Aspice, convexo nutantem pondere mundum,*

Terrasque, tractusque maris cœlumque profundum:

Aspice, venturo lætentur ut omnia sæclo.

See the world nodding with its convex weight,

The lands, the sweeps of sea, the vaulted sky:

See how all things in this new time are glad.

The same idea recurs in many hymns, especially for Paschaltide, culminating in the Alleluiatic Sequence. Here is an example, less beautiful, but also less known:

Away,* O night, away, O cloud,

Ye stars of mourning, flee away;

Let heaven and earth rejoice aloud,

And depths beneath as well as they;

Let air and water join their voice,

And all the finny tribes rejoice.

Let praise be heard from woods and fields,

And from the groves with joyance gay;

Let all things that the meadow yields

Blend with the laud glad rivers pay;

Let hills and vales the strain prolong,

Buds, flowers and fountains, swell the song.

Let praise by rocks and floods be paid,

And all things CHRIST the LORD extol,

Our foes and barriers low are laid,

And conquered Hell bewails its fall;

The broken bar gives joy to earth,

And all the Fathers join her mirth.

13b (13) For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: and with righteousness to judge the world, and the people with his truth.

In the twofold use of the words He cometh,* they see a reference to both Advents of CHRIST, that in which He came to judge between us and the enemy who held us in bondage,* against whom He gave sentence, casting the prince of this world out; and that wherein He shall come again for the distribution of rewards and punishments, according as His conditions of salvation have been accepted or rejected. (Z.) Some too distinguish between the world and the people, as denoting Gentiles and Jews. He will judge in righteousness, as without any partiality or acceptance of persons, and in truth, (D. C.) because He knows all things, and cannot be deceived;* and yet more, because He fulfils His true promises made to His people, who shall be received into everlasting glory when the world is judged, and will therefore rejoice before the LORD, flourishing as green olive-trees, no longer in the wild wood, but in the Paradise of heavenly bliss.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is more page to be feared than all gods; glory be to the SON, Who reigneth from the Tree; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the beauty of the holiness of GOD.

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

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