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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. GOD is a Righteous Judge, &c.

Monastic. First portion: as Gregorian. Second portion: Up, LORD, and let not man have the upper hand.

Parisian. And they that fear Thy Name shall put their trust in Thee, for Thou, LORD, hast never failed them that seek Thee.

Lyons. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee, O LORD.

Mozarabic. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee; yea, my songs will I make in Thy Name, O Thou Most Highest.

1 I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, with my whole heart: I will speak of all thy marvellous works.

2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: yea, my songs will I make of thy Name, O thou most Highest.

This is the first of the many Psalms which may be applied to both the Head of the Church, (Ay.) and to the Church herself. It is the voice of CHRIST, say a great crowd of commentators. It is the voice of the Church, say an equal number. But in truth it is both one and the other: for how shall that which is said by the Head, not also be capable of being said by the members? With my whole heart. For as with His whole heart He entered on His Passion, according to that saying, “How am I straitened till it be accomplished,”*—so also with His whole heart, when the good fight had been fought, the course finished, and the faith kept, He said, “FATHER, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me!”* Or, if you will take it as the words of the Church, it is a Psalm for every season of the Christian year. All Thy marvellous works: the Incarnation, no less than the Passion; the Ascension, equally with the Resurrection. My songs will I make of Thy Name. For which of the hymns of the Church is not directly or indirectly made of the Name which is above every Name? And it is well said, O Thou Most Highest, when it was that Name which was once set up as the title of His accusation, and is, therefore, now exalted, to the end that, on hearing it, every knee should bow.

3 While mine enemies are driven back: they shall fall and perish at thy presence.

And notice how it follows: My songs will I make of Thy Name, while mine enemies are driven back. Even so, when the multitude that went forth with swords and staves had demanded JESUS of Nazareth, and the LORD answered them, I am He, “As soon as He had said unto them, I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground.”* And if it is the Church that speaks, how many righteous souls have departed out of this life, with that most sweet Name on their lips! How many martyrs have pronounced It the last of all earthly words! (G.) In how many sudden accidents has there been time for that one blessed word, and for no more! And in all these cases, their enemies were driven back for ever, according to that saying, “The Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”* They shall fall and perish at Thy Presence. Even as the band and officers in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the guards that watched the tomb. At Thy Presence, here in this world, under the form of Bread and Wine; hereafter, when they shall hear those words, “Depart, ye cursed, from the Throne of GOD.”

[Mine enemies. The LXX. and Vulgate read in the singular,* mine enemy. And they take it then especially of Satan, compelled to get him behind the servant of GOD, as he was forced to do before in the Temptation. The reading in the second clause is plural, referring, say they, to the ministers and snares which the evil one employs for his bad ends.]

4 For thou hast maintained my right and my cause: thou art set in the throne that judgest right.

It is still the Eternal SON that speaks. Thou hast maintained My right to reassume that life which I voluntarily laid down, (Ay.) and My cause, the cause of them that are Mine; the cause of once fallen, but now ransomed, mankind. Thou art set in the throne that judgest right. Annas and Caiaphas in their tribunal, Herod in his palace, Pilate in the prætorium, pronounced their unrighteous judgment on Good Friday, and the morning of Easter Day reversed it for ever. And much more may the Church thus speak to her only SAVIOUR. Thou hast maintained My right, the right which was Mine by Thine own promise, and My cause against the adversary of Thy people. Thou art set in the throne, the triumphal throne of the Cross, that judgest right, even then dividing between the good and the bad, and setting the penitent thief on Thy right hand: in the throne at the right hand of the FATHER, still to maintain the right won by Thy Passion: and Thou shalt sit on Thy throne of judgment at the end of the world, (Ay.) to separate for ever between the unrighteous and the just.

5 Thou hast rebuked the heathen, and destroyed the ungodly: thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.

And notice the difference. By that Cross and Passion, the heathen were rebuked, that so they might be brought to the knowledge of salvation: even as the Centurion, when he had seen the earthquake and the darkness, glorified GOD, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”* But the ungodly, namely the Prince and source of all ungodliness, was destroyed: the strong man was bound, and his goods spoiled: the death of the Prince of Life made the destruction of the Prince of death. Thou, hast put out their name. And notice the contrast. As soon as the Name of JESUS of Nazareth was exalted on the Cross, it was proclaimed throughout the world, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other Name under heaven given among men, whereby we may be saved, but only the Name of our LORD JESUS CHRIST.”*

[Put out their name. As regards the Gentiles, (P.) by taking away that title of reproach, and calling them Christians instead; as regards the Jews, by destroying their kingdom, temple, sacrifices and ceremonial law.]

6 O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: even as the cities which thou hast destroyed; their memorial is perished with them.

The Church, calling Satan by his true name, speaks of his destructions, because from the beginning they were twofold; death of the body and death of the soul. Both now come to an end: for the Blood that was shed on the Cross was the quickening of the soul; (C.) and the rising again on Easter morning, the pledge of the general Resurrection. Both come to a perpetual end: for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Even as the cities which Thou hast destroyed. Literally, the five cities of the plain, (G.) “which, giving themselves over unto fornication, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”* Mystically, these cities are the same as those which our LORD calls houses of the strong man, namely, human souls: their memorial perishing with them, in the multitudes of those whom before the coming of our LORD,* Satan destroyed at his will. “Hast thou never read,” asks Satan of S. Antony, “ ‘O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end, and thou hast destroyed their cities?’ See, I have now no territory; I now possess no city; I have no longer any arms: the Name of CHRIST echoes through every nation, through all provinces: the very solitudes are filled with the choirs of the monks.” So truly could the father of lies apply this verse to his overthrown kingdom.

[O thou enemy. This does not reproduce either the Hebrew or the old versions. The real sense is, The enemies are gone, in ruins for ever, the cities Thou hast destroyed, the memory of them has perished. The LXX. and Vulgate read: The swords of the enemy have failed for ever, and Thou hast destroyed their cities, their memory hath perished with a sound. They tell us that the swords are the torments employed by earthly foes against the bodies of the Saints,* and the temptations of ghostly ones against their souls. With a sound, (Z.) as the devils cried out when expelled from the possessed. With the noise of arms and trumpets, (P.) as befell the Jews before Titus, remarks another. Best of all, that the walls of those citadels which were raised up against holiness,* fell, like those of Jericho, at the sound of the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles. And so the Paris Breviary:

CHRISTUM sonant:* versæ ruunt

Arces superbæ dæmonum:

Circum tubis clangentibus

Sic versa quondam mœnia.]

7 But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath also prepared his seat for judgment.

Having set forth the work of our LORD on the Cross, he proceeds to set forth His abiding work in heaven. He endured the suffering of the Cross but for a few hours; His intercession at the Right Hand of the FATHER, shall last until He prepares His seat for judgment, at the end of all things. For thus the Psalmist proceeds:

8 For he shall judge the world in righteousness: and minister true judgment unto the people.

Where notice, that the LORD obtained the power of judgment by the patience of His humility: (Ay.) so that He Who was judged upon the Cross should judge on the Throne. He shall judge the world: namely, the sinners: in righteousness: and minister true judgment, namely, that judgment mixed with mercy, in which He delights, to the people, His own peculiar people: according to that saying, “We are His people, and the sheep of His Pasture.”* And observe, that the judgment of the wicked is here put before that of the righteous, even as it is in that parable, “Gather ye together first the tares: but gather the wheat into my barn.”*

9 The LORD also will be a defence for the oppressed, even a refuge in due time of trouble.

In due time, but not before. “My time is not yet come, but your time is alway ready.”* For, “LORD, wilt Thou at this time?” is as natural a question to us, as ever it was to the Apostles. The due time, when, but not till, the feet of the Priests are dipped in the edge of the water:* the due time, when, but not till, the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees is heard:* the due time, when, but not till,* Gideon shall break his own pitcher, and the light it contains shall flash confusion on the hosts of the Midianites. It is for Saul to offer his sacrifice before the due time shall have arrived, and Samuel shall come; and his sentence is, “Thou hast done foolishly: now thy kingdom shall not continue.”*

10 And they that know thy Name, will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast never failed them that seek thee.

That Name Which is above every Name, which is exalted to give salvation to Israel and remission of sins. That seek Thee. But how, says S. Chrysostom,* can He be sought Who is everywhere present? Present though He be, worldly thoughts will so blind us that we find Him not. Even as the men of Sodom sought for the door of Lot, and through their miraculous blindness could not discover it, so shall the worldly man grope for the true Door, but in vain. Hast never failed. “O most sweet promise!” says one who had been in afflictions and perils times without number, (G.) “worthy to be all our salvation and all our desire! Never, not even when the snares of death compass me about, and the pains of hell got hold upon us. Never, though there be ‘the choking of fire on every side, from the midst of the flame which we kindled not:’* never but once, and that once to the intent that one single failure might for ever make such failure impossible; when the Only-begotten SON cried from the Cross, ‘My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ that His faithful people might seek Him from their own crosses, with the assured certainty that He will be their ‘Hope and Strength, a very present Help in trouble.’ ”*

11 O praise the LORD which dwelleth in Sion: show the people of his doings.

It well follows when the Prophet has been speaking of help required, that he should forthwith mention Sion, whence that help comes. And so it is written in another place,* “Strengthen Thee out of Sion.” Help, of what marvellous power, the deeds of the Martyrs and Confessors may speak; help, no less wonderful in its variety than admirable in its might; adapting itself to each several need as the manna to every different taste: like a true Tree of Life,* bearing its twelve fruits, one for every month of man’s sorrows. And with such help, what ought to be the praise! The Prophet not only exhorts us to praise the Lord, Which dwelleth in Sion, but himself has assisted every generation of faithful souls to fulfil his own exhortation, Show the people of His doings. For notice, as Gerlach Petersen says, how love desires to speak of that which it loves; the leper that was cleansed, to spread abroad the LORD’s doing throughout all that country; the man out of whom the devils were cast, to make known that beloved Name to his kinsfolk and acquaintance.* “Come hither and hearken, ye that fear GOD, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.” This it is that has sent out many and many a missionary to die for the Name of CHRIST. “If CHRIST Himself,” the great missionary, Gaspar Barzeo, used to say, “had not established a mission in a heart then worse I than any Mahometan land, I should never have been preaching the Gospel in Persia.”

12 For when he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: and forgetteth not the complaint of the poor.

Remembereth them: but whom? The martyrs who poured forth that blood: the righteous souls that continually cry under the altar, (Ay.) “How long, O LORD, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge?”* He remembereth them, making the blood of the martyrs the seed of the Church. If Stephen is crushed to death with stones, Paul shall supply his place in the armies of the Living GOD. And naturally, from the martyrs, the Prophet ascends to the Martyr of martyrs. He forgetteth not the complaint of the poor. That complaint or petition, “FATHER, forgive them,” uttered on the Good Friday, which in the week of Pentecost brought in eight thousand souls to the Church. Woeful inquisition for blood, which fulfilled the Jewish prayer, “His blood be on us and on our children:”* Blessed inquisition, which, when the Destroying Angel is passing by, shall find that Blood consecrating and protecting the habitations of our hearts! They are beholding that blood in which we place all our confidence, they are acknowledging the scarlet line which is the pledge of our deliverance: “Remember us, O LORD, with the favour that Thou bearest unto Thy people.”*

13 Have mercy upon me, O LORD, consider the trouble which I suffer of them that hate me: thou that liftest me up from the gates of death.

Thus spoke the Eternal SON of GOD in the days of His humiliation. For what trouble was there which He did not suffer from them that hated Him? (C.) The trouble of treacherous lips and a false tongue; (G.) of their assaults when they took up stones to stone Him, and led Him to the brow of the precipice; lastly, the trouble, the like to which the world never saw, of the Pavement and Calvary. But not less may the words be put into the mouth of our glorified LORD. Though in Himself He can suffer no more, yet as regards His members it is, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”* In that beloved Bride Whom He purchased by the effusion of His own Blood, still He suffers trouble from them that hate Him and that hate her: in every faithful soul He is troubled by the temptation of Satan and the attacks of an evil world. Yet as, in His own person, He was once for all lifted up from the gates of death, so in that dear Church “which is His Body,” so in that soul which so fondly clings to Him, He is again and again lifted up, in every fresh deliverance, assistance, triumph which is given to her. Or, if you like to take the verse as the prayer not of the Head, (A.) but of the members, then the gates of death may well be, as S. Augustine says, “All depraved desires, for that through them is the road to death.”

14 That I may show all thy praises within the ports of the daughter of Sion: I will rejoice in thy salvation.

We had the deliverance in the last verse; we have the reason of that deliverance in the present: That I may show all Thy praises within the ports of the daughter of Sion. From the gates of death to the gates of Sion, (G.) O glorious change! From the broad portal that leadeth to destruction, to the strait and narrow entrance whereby we go into life. For like those of her prototype, Jerusalem, the gates of the earthly Sion shall not be shut at all; ever ready to receive him that would enter in, ever joyful to welcome the poor wanderer. I will rejoice in Thy salvation; as Simeon, when he took the Desire of all nations in his arms, and prayed to depart in peace. Will rejoice with that joy which may begin indeed on earth, but which, like that good old man’s, can only have its full completion in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem.

[The ports of the daughter of Sion. They are three: faith, hope, and charity.* In the ports, that outer vestibule of the Church Militant, wherein we must abide for a time, (D. C.) before we pass into the secret chambers of the King’s palace.]

15 The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the same net which they hid privily, is their foot taken.

16 The LORD is known to execute judgment: the ungodly is trapped in the work of his own hands.

So from the very beginning, the works of Satan and of all his servants have, by the deep counsel of GOD, been turned against himself: from that very first victory when by death Death was destroyed. Hear how joyously Cosmas, the sweet poet of the Eastern Church, exults over that antithetical justice by which the ungodly was trapped in the work of his own hands. “O thrice blessed wood,” says he, “on which CHRIST, the LORD and King was stretched; by which he was overthrown that had deceived by the tree; on which he was taken as it were with a hook,* by the GOD Who assumed our flesh! In Paradise, of old time, the Enemy by the fruit of the tree stripped us of immortality; by the Tree, was man invested again, through the Giver of Life, with the garb of incorruption. Hither, O ye people, approach and behold this great wonder! The tree that in Paradise brought forth death; the tree that on Calvary blossomed into immortality! Here was that sinless LORD nailed, from Whom every nation, as from a glorious wine-press, rejoices itself with the wine of everlasting Life.”1 And as with the Chief, so also with His followers. “In the thing wherein they dealt proudly, He was above them,”* said Moses. “Wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished,”* says the Wise Man: and again, “Whereas men had lived dissolutely and unrighteously, Thou hast tormented them with their own abominations.”* So the Egyptians that had cast the Israelite children into the river, found the waters of that river changed into blood: so Haman, that had raised the gallows fifty cubits high, was hanged on those very gallows; so Holofernes, that sought the ruin of Judith, by the hand of Judith was cut off in the midst of his sin; so the Egyptian, the goodly man (and no ill type of him, the Lord of that land which is signified by Egypt, once the goodliest of Archangels,) that thought to have slain Benaiah with his spear, was by that very spear himself destroyed: so they that had laid the false accusation against Daniel, were themselves cast into the den of lions, “and the lions had the mastery over them, and brake all their bones in pieces, or ever they came at the bottom of the den:”* so, in later times, Galerius and Maximian, inventors of unheard-of and fearful tortures, perished by diseases unknown to physicians, and horrible beyond the power of words to describe: so Ægeas, that sentenced S. Andrew to the Cross; so Quintian, that inflicted on S. Agatha such extremity of torture, were themselves, almost in the very act of unrighteous judgment, summoned to appear before the righteous bar of GOD. He that should desire an extended commentary on these two verses, let him read the work of Lactantius concerning the “Deaths of the Persecutors.” Then indeed, he may well exclaim, The Lord is known to execute judgment.

17 The wicked shall he turned into hell: and all the people that forget GOD.

Oh words, first and easiest among those taught to a child, last and most dreadful that shall be pronounced before the good and bad are finally and for ever separated! Actual sin, the wicked: negative guilt, all the people that forget. “Here,”* says a mediæval commentator, “I would rather tremble than comment. From that wrath to come, Good LORD, deliver me.”

18 For the poor shall not alway be forgotten: the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever.

Not always. It seemed as though He was forgotten by the FATHER, (Ay.) when He uttered that great and exceeding bitter cry on the Cross; by His disciples, when they all forsook Him and fled; by all the Jews when He was laid in the sepulchre, when He was counted as one of them that go down to the pit, reckoned among the men that have been long dead. “We fools counted His life madness, and His end to be without honour:”* but because of that brief forgetfulness, therefore it is that He now bears the Name that is above every name, and the remembrance that is dearer than all other remembrance. O LORD JESU, so poor in Bethlehem, where there was no room for Thee in the inn, so poor on the Cross that they parted Thy garments and cast lots for Thy vesture, if Thou art forgotten by the world still, (G.) if Thou art put out of sight by those who will not give Thee one moment, though Thou didst give them all that Thou hadst,—grant that we, at least, may remember Thee, may hold Thy remembrance as sweeter than the life itself, may remember Thee as the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely, may so remember Thee here, that hereafter Thou mayest remember us in Thy kingdom! Where notice, as Hugh of S. Victor says,* it is not the poverty of the meek, or the labour of the meek, or the afflictions of the meek; but the patient abiding. This is the grace which is dearest of all in GOD’s sight. This is the grace which is emphatically said to crown and to be crowned. And as He said Himself, so we also, altering but one word, may say of the LORD: There is none meek, save one, that is GOD. This is the true Moses, who was indeed meek above all the men that were on the face of the earth. And His patient abiding,—the long months during which He did not abhor the Virgin’s womb1—the patient years before He entered on His public ministry,—before He began to be about thirty years old,—the patient abiding of all misery, all insult, the most cruel death, did not perish for ever, though it might seem to perish on the night of that first Good Friday. We have seen how the sapless wood of the Cross has blossomed, how the glory of Lebanon has been added to it: we can appreciate the force of that wherefore in S. Paul’s argument,—“Wherefore GOD also hath highly exalted Him.”*

19 Up, LORD, and let not man have the upper hand: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.

[Let not the outer man, (R.) the old Adam, have the upper hand over the inner,* spiritual man, nor let mere earthly thoughts lead us down from higher things.]

20 Put them in fear, O LORD: that the heathen may know themselves to be but men.

Here again, the Vulgate differs widely from our translation: Thou shalt appoint a legislator over them, O Lord. And if we follow that interpretation, it is an easy step from the “patient abiding of the meek” in His Passion, to the glory of the Legislator in His exaltation. Or, if you will, you may take the legislator in S. Augustine’s sense, as referring to Antichrist; (A.) that since man has so far forsaken GOD and so resolutely persisted in his “We will not have this man to reign over us,”* such continued rejection of the King of Peace shall be followed by the tyranny of Antichrist. But if we are to follow our own version, still it applies naturally to our LORD. At the conclusion of the last verse, we left Him in the grave, when His patient abiding seemed to have perished: rightly and meetly it proceeds, Up, Lord; up, and burst the bars of death; up, and become the first fruits of them that sleep; up, (L.) and let not man have the upper hand: let not the guard, and the seal, and the great stone prevail against Thine own Word. And then again, Put them in fear, O Lord: as indeed it follows, four times in the Acts of the Apostles:* “Fear came upon every soul;” “Great fear came on all them that heard these things;” “Great fear came upon all the Church;” “Fear fell on them all, and the Name of the LORD JESUS was magnified.” That the heathen may know themselves to be but men. As the Prophet said of old: “Now the Egyptians are men and not gods, and their horses flesh and not spirit:”* that all the devices, all the efforts, of the heathen, the laws of their emperors, the eloquence of their philosophers, the violence of their rabble, may be but the feeble endeavours of mortal men, against the omnipotence of a wise and ascended GOD.

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