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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. As preceding Psalm. [Circumcision: In the beginning, and before the worlds, the WORD was GOD, * and He is born to-day the SAVIOUR of the world. Epiphany: Worship GOD. Alleluia, * all ye Angels of His, Alleluia. Ascension: He is exalted, Alleluia, * far above all gods, Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: The FATHER is true, the SON is truth, the HOLY GHOST is truth. O Blessed Trinity. Transfiguration: There is sprung up a light for the Righteous, * and joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted. Holy Name: According to Thy Name, O LORD, so is Thy praise unto the world’s end: Thy right hand is full of righteousness. Sacred Heart: Worship Him, all ye Angels of His,* Sion heard of it, and rejoiced. Feasts B.V.M.: Grant that I may praise thee, O hallowed Virgin; give me strength against thy foes. Michaelmas Day: There was given unto him much incense, that he might burn it upon the golden altar, which is before the eyes of the LORD. All Saints: O ye that love the LORD, rejoice in the LORD, and give thanks for a remembrance of His holiness. Common of Apostles: There is sprung up a light for the righteous, Alleluia, * and joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted, Alleluia. Common of Virgins: Draw me after Thee, * we will run after the savour of Thine ointments. Thy Name is as ointment poured out.]

Monastic. As Gregorian. [Christmas Day, as Circumcision. Trinity Sunday: In the FATHER abideth eternity, in the SON equality, in the HOLY GHOST the union of eternity and equality.]

Ambrosian. As Psalm 95. [Christmas Day and Epiphany: The heavens have declared * the righteousness of the LORD: and all the people have seen His glory. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. Circumcision: Confounded be all * they that worship carved images, and that delight in vain gods. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. Easter Eve: Horror hath come upon the heavens, day hath fled into night, the moon is darkened with the colour of blood.]

Parisian. O ye that love the LORD, * see that ye hate the thing that is evil: the LORD preserveth the souls of His Saints. [Christmas Day: There is sprung up a light for the righteous, * and joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted. Epiphany: The heavens have declared His righteousness, and all the people have seen His glory.]

Mozarabic. First verse.

1 The LORD is King, the earth may be glad thereof: yea, the multitude of the isles may be glad thereof.

This Psalm as one of the post-Captivity series,* begins with a glad proclamation of the restored sovereignty of GOD over Israel, displayed in the overthrow of the heathen power of Babylon, and the revival of the Temple worship.* It declares that the LORD has shown Himself stronger than those kings of the earth who warred against Sion, so that His people, however threatened with any calamity by earthly tyrants, can with a sure confidence trust in a King mightier than any of them.* Hence its deeper spiritual meaning points to the kingdom of CHRIST, as manifested in His Nativity, and yet more in His Resurrection, (A.) when the yoke of the enemy of souls was broken off the neck of mankind; and to be manifested once again in greater power at His second Advent. The earth may be glad thereof. (L.) Not the narrow territory of Judæa alone, but the whole face of the world and all the dwellers therein.* Tertullian explains the earth to denote especially the bodies of the Saints, to which such blessings come by reason of CHRIST’S victory. (L.) Again, the phrase may stand for the whole body of the Church Militant here on earth now, of the Church Triumphant hereafter in the Land that is very far off.* In this case, the multitude of the isles, literally denoting the islands of the Mediterranean Sea, (and perhaps also those of the Indian Ocean, standing for all unknown and heathen countries,) will here signify the local Churches, (A.) described as isles, because they are howled around by the waves of manifold temptation; yet just as an island, however it may be buffeted by the roaring billows, is not broken thereby, but rather breaks their force by its resistance: so the Churches of GOD which sprang up everywhere in the midst of persecutions raging about them, remained unbroken, and now rise high above the waters of a calm and glassy sea.* S. Gregory the Great, taking the earth, the solid land, to denote the assembly of the teaching Church, the firm belief of the Doctors, explains the isles as the multitude of believing souls firm in the midst of a sea of troubles,* parted from earth and its allurements. (L.) In the literal reference to the islands of the Ægean Sea, we may bear in mind that strange legend recorded by Eusebius, that at the moment when CHRIST died upon the Cross,* a voice was heard from the Isle of Paxo, exclaiming in a loud voice, “Great Pan is dead,”* and that the pilot of a passing ship was commanded to make proclamation of these words at a certain point: whereupon a sound as of the wailing of a great multitude was heard, and the heathen oracles ceased.

Twas the hour when One in Sion,*

Hung for love’s sake on the Cross—

When His brow was chill with dying,

And His soul was faint with loss:

When His priestly Blood dropped downward,

And His kingly eyes looked throneward—

Then, Pan was dead.

By the love He stood alone in,

His sole Godhead rose complete;

And the false gods fell down moaning,

Each from off his golden seat—

All the false gods with a cry

Rendered up their deity—

Pan, Pan was dead.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his seat.

The first and obvious meaning of the earlier clause of the verse is the invisible majesty of GOD,* Who dwelleth in light unapproachable, and whose revelation of Himself to Israel was first in the pillar of cloud,* out of which He looked when He troubled the host of the Egyptians, and then when He gave the Law from Sinai in the midst of darkness and thunderings.* On the mystical import of these clouds and darkness, themselves brighter and more resplendent than any natural light, the Pseudo-Dionysius dwells, as denoting, amidst much else, the abstraction from all earthly thoughts and sights which is necessary for perfect contemplation of the Divine glory;* and that confession of our own ignorance and incapacity for comprehending the Infinite which is a necessary preliminary for our reception of any special revelation of GOD.* They do not fail, however, to remind us that the Second Advent of CHRIST is to be in the clouds of heaven, (Ay.) even as was His Ascension, (D. C.) and that there is thus a second literal sense besides that referring to the earlier manifestations of GOD. (A.) Yet again, as He withdraws Himself from sinners, and refuses to show them His face, He is said in respect of them to be hidden in clouds and darkness. There are, besides, several mystical interpretations, which are conveniently summed up thus:* “These clouds and darkness overshadowed the Church when the Law and the Prophets made CHRIST known to her. The clouds were also the Apostles, who filled the restored earth with their teaching; the darkness those wise men, who understanding deep mysteries, explained them to the Church. The cloud is also the Body of the LORD, wherein the Sun of Righteousness was hidden; the darkness, His concealed Godhead, which appeared not to eyes of flesh.”

Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His seat. More exactly, the basis of His throne. (Aquila, ἕδρασμα, A. V. marg. establishment.) The direct meaning is, that when we have by faith and upward soaring penetrated the cloud of mystery which shrouds the Providence of GOD,* we find absolute truth and justice to be the very foundation of all His doings. Thus, after Moses had sprinkled the blood of the Covenant, and when he went up into the clouds which shadowed Sinai, along with “Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: they saw the GOD of Israel: and under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in purity.”* For habitation the LXX. and Vulgate have righting or correction.* And hence,* while some have understood the words literally as denoting the perfect equity of CHRIST’S judicial power in rewarding the just, and punishing the ungodly; others, taking the soul of each Saint to be GOD’S throne, explain that this throne is righted, and set straight by attentive consideration of His dealings with sinners,* which serve as its warning and guidance.

3 There shall go a fire before him: and burn up his enemies on every side.

This is,* they tell us for the most part, that fire which is to precede the Last Judgment, that which Daniel foresaw in vision, when the Ancient of Days did sit, and “a fiery stream issued and came forth before Him,”* of which S. Peter tells us that “the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”* It will burn up His enemies, the wood, hay, stubble, but it will do no more than purify His Saints,* the gold, silver, and precious stones reared on Him their foundation.

Flamma ignis anteibit justi vultum Judicis,*

Cœlum, terras et profundi fluctus ponti devorans.

Flames of fire before the visage of the Righteous Judge shall go,

Swallowing up the earth and heaven, and the ocean depths below.

But S. Augustine takes it of the first Advent of CHRIST, (A.) and of the flame of anger and persecution kindled everywhere by the preaching of the Gospel, a flame which burnt up the persecutors themselves, and not the Evangelists against whom they raged, just as a torch applied to green wood is itself consumed without effecting its aim.* There is besides these, more exactly still, that fire which CHRIST came to send upon the earth, the kindling blaze of the HOLY GHOST, which came down in tongues of fire at Pentecost, to burn freely throughout the world, for the destruction of obstinate unbelievers and the purifying of those who gladly received the Word. And of this the Prophet spake, saying, “I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the LORD.”* This divine flame goes still before the face of the LORD in His coming to every faithful soul,* as it kindles with longing for Him, and burns up all its sins therewith, as He heaps His coals of fire upon its head, to soften and purify it. “It must needs be,” teaches a great Saint,* “that the fervour of holy desire must go before His face to every soul to which He means to come, a flame which will burn up all the mildew of sin and make ready a place for the LORD. And then the soul knows that the LORD is at hand, when it feels itself kindled with that fire, and it saith with the Prophet, ‘From above hath He sent fire unto my bones, and it prevaileth against them;’ and again, ‘My heart was hot within me, and at the last I spake with my tongue;”* so that by the remission of sins, His aforetime enemies are kindled with love,* and break forth in praise of His Name.

4 His lightnings gave shine unto the world: the earth saw it, and was afraid.

Here again the literalist view sees a reference in the past to the thunderings of Sinai, (L.) and in the future to the words of S. Paul, that “the LORD JESUS shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty Angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not GOD, and that obey not the Gospel of our LORD JESUS CHRIST,”* a flame foreshown,* as they remind us, by falling stars and other similar portents.

But the mystical sense, (A.) referring to the preaching of the Apostles, those sons of thunder, to the clear shining and mingled threats and promises of the Gospel, (Z.) to the awe which fell on the nations at the mighty words and miraculous power of the new preachers, is more widely followed. So the Paris Breviary in the Common of Apostles:

All full of Thy Godhead,

While earth lieth still,

They thunder, they lighten,

The waters o’erflow.*

They thunder—their sound,

It is CHRIST the LORD!

Then Satan doth fear,

His citadels fall:

As when the dread trumpets

Went forth at Thy word,

And one long blast shattered

The Canaanite’s wall.

5 The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD: at the presence of the LORD of the whole earth.

So we read that when GOD came down to deliver the Law, “Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.”* They agree in the mystical sense, that the hills here denote all those eminent in station,* influence, power, wealth, or ability; who will be either converted to the LORD, (Ay.) and become plastic and ductile in His hands, like pure and yielding wax, so as to receive readily the impress of His image upon their souls; or else be destroyed, as by an earthquake, before His face, according to that saying, “The everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow.”* In the good sense,* a Saint points out that we have here a type of penitence, because the liquid form and level surface which wax assumes under heat fitly denote the tears and humility of a heart softened by the grace of GOD.

6 The heavens have declared his righteousness: and all the people have seen his glory.

The Angel carols at the Nativity, (L.) the Star of the Epiphany, the Voice at the Baptism and Transfiguration, the eclipse at the Crucifixion, (A.) the cloud of glory at the Ascension, the voices of the Apostles, all these declared the righteousness of the LORD; as Angels will again, uniting with the holy preachers of the Word,* be the heralds of His second coming, when all the people, those nations of the earth who have already heard of His glory, as well as those who actually beheld Him working miracles in the flesh, shall see Him in His regal Majesty upon the judicial throne.

7 Confounded be all they that worship carved images, and that delight in vain gods: worship him, all ye gods.

Has it not come to pass, (A.) asks S. Augustine, writing when the final overthrow of classical Paganism was fresh in the memory of living men, who had seen its last fierce struggle under Julian, its ignominious collapse when Eugenius was routed at Aquileia; were they not confounded, are they not confounded every day? Why are all they confounded that worship carved images? Because all the people have seen His glory. Now all the people confess the glory of CHRIST, and they who worship stones are ashamed, for those stones were dead ones, but we have found the Living stone. Nay, these stones were never alive, so that they cannot even be called dead, but our Stone is living, and hath ever been alive with the FATHER, and He died and lived again for us, and He lives now,* and death shall have no more dominion over Him. The people know of this His glory, they abandon the temples,* and hasten to the churches. So Theodoret tells us of S. Publia, the aged Abbess of a company of nuns at Antioch, who used to chant, as Julian went by in idolatrous procession, the Psalm, “Their idols are silver and gold, even the work of men’s hands.… they that make them are like unto them: and so are all such as put their trust in them;”* and he narrates how the angry Emperor caused his soldiers to buffet her till she bled, unable as he was to endure the sting of the old Hebrew song. There are other vain gods, mere phantom objects of worship, besides graven images, as they seasonably remind us;* for all assiduous court and homage paid to persons endowed with wealth and power, and all preference of earthly things to the will of GOD, is idolatry. Worship Him, all ye Gods. This may be taken as a direct challenge to the false deities of heathenism, (A.) and as a further claim on behalf of GOD upon such Pagans as acknowledge that an idol is nothing in itself, but allege that they worship the invisible deity which presides over it, the angel,* good or evil, whom they invoke. If the true GOD be so great that even these mighty beings are bound to do Him homage, then the case becomes even stronger than before against the graven images. The Syriac and LXX. both have here Angels for Gods: and this interpretation is strengthened by the citation of a precisely similar phrase from the LXX.* reading of Deut. 32:43, “When He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the Angels of GOD worship Him.”* The Angels did worship Him, as they sang at His Nativity, as they ministered to Him in the wilderness after the Temptation, (Z.) as they attended Him in His Ascension. It is sufficient to mention the allegory seen here by Cardinal Hugo,* of the special service of worship rendered to CHRIST by the ministry of the hierarchy of the Church, His Angels or messengers to mankind.

8 Sion heard of it, and rejoiced: and the daughters of Judah were glad, because of thy judgments, O LORD.

The Chaldee gives us the key-note here,* paraphrasing The Church of Sion. The whole Church Militant here on earth in its expectation, (R.) all the local daughter Churches, all the holy souls in each such Church, true children of praise, rejoice in the spread of the Gospel, in the proofs of CHRIST’S sovereignty, in the righteousness of His sway. (C.) And, with closer reference to the historical meaning, we may take the Church of Sion to mean that first small assembly in the upper chamber at Jerusalem,* and the subsequent clause to denote all those children whom their preaching bore to CHRIST, the Prince of the house of Judah. One commentator will have it that there is here a direct reference to the joy of the Apostles in Sion, and of the saintly women who abode with them, (P.) the Blessed Virgin, S. Mary Magdalene, and others, when they knew that all the Angels had worshipped and done homage to their LORD in His Ascension. And so we read, “They worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”* There may be, not improbably, a reference to the solemn processional dances of the Hebrew virgins, of which we read often in Holy Writ, beginning with that which was led by Miriam after the destruction of the Egyptian forces in the Red Sea. (L.)

9 For thou, LORD, art higher than all that are in the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.

The word for is here emphatic.* It is possible for us to rejoice with a sure gladness in CHRIST’S judgments, because He is supreme, and His findings cannot be overruled and set aside by any higher authority. It is even more a thought of rejoicing for the daughters of Judah, all tender and faithful souls, that it is their own Bridegroom, One of their own flesh and blood, Who is throned above the highest Archangels, and that He, now LORD and King of heaven, has thrown it open to us.

He hath gone up in clouds above,*

Bestowing hope on them who love,

And throweth open Eden’s door,

Which our first parents closed of yore.

O wondrous joy for all men won,

That He, a mortal Maiden’s SON,

Who bore the spitting, stripes, and Tree,

Now shares the FATHER’S Majesty!

10 O ye that love the LORD, see that ye hate the thing which is evil: the LORD preserveth the souls of his saints; he shall deliver them from the hand of the ungodly.

Here is a test of true love for GOD, not merely abstaining from evil, but hating it, shunning it for its own sake, and not only for the danger of indulging in it.* The evil, here assumed to be a thing, is by many commentators taken as a person, the Evil One. We may have a lower and imperfect love of GOD, (Ay.) mixed in character and motives, which does not involve a hatred of sin; but that love of Him which is pure, and for His own sake only,* includes this abhorrence of His opposite necessarily. And thus a Saint observes, “Let no man deceive himself, GOD and the devil cannot be loved alike by one person, for either the devil is hated, or GOD is loved; if the devil is loved, it must needs be that GOD is despised.”* How then can we apply a sufficient touchstone of our sincerity in love? Another of the Saints shall answer: “You must ask your heart, your tongue, your work, whether you truly love GOD.* Your heart, because the heart thinks often on what it loves, and if you do not often think of GOD, you cannot believe that you truly love Him; and if you think more of the world than of GOD, you love the world more than GOD. Ask your tongue if you love GOD; for the tongue gladly names what the heart loves; therefore he who speaks chiefly of the world is proved to love it more than GOD. Ask of your work, whether you love GOD, for fire cannot be among straw and not burn, and no more can the fire of divine love be in the heart without showing itself in action.”* The Lord preserveth the souls of His saints. Here we may note two things, that the LORD makes no promise as to the bodies, nor yet as to the souls of any save His Saints. He suffered the persecutors to work their will on the tortured bodies of His martyrs, but He did not permit their souls to be shaken by either threats or blandishments. But He offers His salvation to all who will accept it, and will not allow any soul which trusts in Him to be separated from His love. How freely He does give not only His help, but Himself, that He may be with us as our defence, we may gather from those words which the Western Church has for many centuries addressed to those who draw near His altar to receive Him under the form of bread and wine: “The Body of our LORD JESUS CHRIST preserve thy soul unto everlasting life. Amen.”* And He shall deliver them out of the hand of the ungodly, (D. C.) not only by His grace and the protection of His holy Angels here, (Ay.) but by saving them from the accusations of the enemy in the judgment, and appointing them to be where no servants of evil can ever trouble them more.*

11 There is sprung up a light for the righteous: and joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted.

Sprung up. The literal Hebrew is sown.* And this may mean simply widely diffused, scattered abroad, as we have the same figure in Milton, speaking of the dew at dawn,

Now Morn her rosy steps in th’ Eastern clime

Advancing, sowed the earth with Orient pearl.*

And Lucretius, more exactly,

Sol etiam summo de vertice dissipat omnes

Ardorem in partes,* et lumine conserit arva,

And the sun from mid-heaven sheds his heat

On every side, and sows the fields with light.

But we get a deeper meaning,* suggested by R. Kimchi, who explains the words of the sowing of the seeds of light and joy in this world for the righteous, which they are to reap abundantly in the harvest of Messiah.* We may take it first, then, of the seeds of Divine grace sown in the illumination of Baptism, and growing up ever more and more to the perfect day of true holiness; and then of CHRIST Himself, sown with tears in the grave, to rise again in glory, bringing gladness to His people. The Chaldee, LXX., and Vulgate, however, read simply sprung up, as above, or risen. And that we may take at pleasure as signifying the Incarnation or Resurrection of CHRIST the true Light,* or else as denoting the mission of the HOLY GHOST; the effect of either of which, (R.) or rather of both, is the enlightening of the heart with the inward illumination of Divine grace,* which is vouchsafed to the righteous and true-hearted; not to those who are naturally and inherently such, but to all who have washed their sins in the Blood of CHRIST. And all such may say with one of the truest of penitents:* “There was a great dart cloud of vanity before mine eyes, so that I could not see the Sun of Righteousness and the light of truth; I being the Son of darkness, was involved in darkness: I loved my darkness because I knew not Thy light: I was blind, and loved my blindness, and did walk from darkness to darkness: but, LORD, Thou art my GOD, Who hast led me out of darkness and the shadow of death, Who hast called me into this glorious light, and, behold, I see.”

12 Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous: and give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness.

Remembrance of His holiness.* The Chaldee paraphrases to the memory of His Holy Name; that is, that every time the Sacred Name of GOD occurs to our thoughts, it should be greeted with joy and thanksgiving. But the ambiguity of the Vulgate rendering, for the memory of His sanctification, has caused many of the commentators to see here, not an attribute of GOD, but a grace bestowed by Him on His people, for which they are to give thanks.* It is Justification by faith, (R.) say most of them; it is sacramental Confession, which cleanses our souls, as another will have it;* it is Holy Baptism, according to yet a third view. (D. C.) We may reconcile the two schools of interpretation by translating, (Ay.) literally enough, Give thanks to His holy memorial, (L.) and seeing in the words a prophecy of that Eucharistic worship, where we bless and thank Him in His own memorial rite, wherein He is Priest and Victim, Host and Guest. And thus S. Thomas,

O most sweet memorial of His death and woe,*

Living Bread, which givest life to man below,

Let my spirit ever eat of Thee and live,

And the blest fruition of Thy Sweetness give.


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD of the whole earth; glory be to the SON, Who preserveth the souls of His Saints; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the joyful gladness of the true-hearted.

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

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