Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Beth signifies a house; and as the first octonary Aleph taught us the blessedness of following the doctrine of CHRIST, (G.) so here we learn that the only sure safeguard of that doctrine and of ourselves is to abide in His house, (B.) the Church, in our appointed order, complying with the laws He has ordained for His family,* and living in charity one with another.* And thus Beda gives the argument of this section in these words: The faithful people explains what delights it enjoys in the words of the LORD, showing that it is itself the LORD’S House, and the store of His commandments, which mystery the second letter contains.

9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way: (ב) even by ruling himself after thy word.

A young man.* We may take it literally, as denoting the age when the passions are strongest and the judgment weakest, and when having been thus hurried into sin, the culprit turns to thoughts of repentance and amendment. (A.) Or we may see here the younger son of the parable, who has wasted his substance in riotous living, and seized with the pangs of famine, bethinks himself of his father’s house. Yet again, if we read the words as those of a Saint, desiring more perfect conformity to the will of GOD, the young man will fitly denote the Gentile Church, that spiritual and younger people, which is fashioned after the new man, not after the old, and which does and can cleanse its way only by ruling itself in all its outward sacraments and ordinances, in all its inward righteousness, according to the commands and after the example of the Incarnate Word of GOD, the LORD JESUS CHRIST Himself. (C.) The Vulgate, reading sermones in the plural instead of verbum in the singular, for word, has led the Latin commentators for the most part aside from this best and highest meaning; but they have come as near it as they can by explaining sermones to be the Gospel teaching, and especially the works and words of CHRIST. And reading further, (G.) as they do, keeping Thy word, they lay stress on the need of close and unremitting obedience to these Divine precepts. And so the Wise Man teaches, saying, “My son, gather instruction from thy youth up; so shalt thou find wisdom till thine old age.”* Thus we,* who are mere children in knowledge, and are carried about with every wind of doctrine so long as we walk by our own guidance, shall “come to a perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST.”* And taking the verse in its more obvious and literal sense,* they remind us that youth is prone to carnal vices which defile its path through life, and therefore that there is a special fitness in the word cleanse.

10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not go wrong out of thy commandments.

Not in a half-hearted fashion,* nor yet with a double heart, which proffers insincere devotion, but with the whole powers of mind and affections.* And that, because GOD does not accept the negligent, saying of them, as to the Angel of the Laodiceans, “I would thou wert cold or hot; so then, because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.”* It is not out of pride or boastfulness that the Psalmist says,* With my whole heart, but through a deep sense of his own need and longing, and also in contrast with those who divide their attention with worldly cares and foolish pleasures. Let me not go wrong. The Vulgate uses a stronger phrase, Repel me not, that I be not driven from the Tree of Life by the flaming sword of the Cherubim, (G.) according to that threat: “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.”* But the English reading is more exact,* and comes in the end to the same meaning; since the prayer is in any case that GOD will not leave us undefended by His grace, which can alone keep us in the right way. And therefore the penitent soul cries to Him,* “O LORD, why hast Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear? Return, for Thy servants’ sake, the tribes of Thine inheritance.”*

11 Thy words have I hid within my heart: that I should not sin against thee.

It is not merely storing the words of the LORD in the memory,* albeit this is the primary sense on which they lay stress, but constantly and lovingly meditating on them. And that too in silence, for it is not well, by speaking too freely or too often of the deep mysteries of the Faith, to fall into Hezekiah’s error,* when in his pride he showed the treasures of his house to the Babylonian ambassadors. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.”* And that, remembering that the LORD hath told us that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth.”* Thus S. Paul acted when he fed his converts with milk, (H.) as babes, and not with strong meat.* That I should not sin against Thee, by transgressing Thine own precept, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”* And this sin may take four different forms:* We may commit it to curry favour, or to gain temporal advantages, or out of boastfulness, or again from immoderate love of talking. (G.) But the Saint will make his heart a casket, to keep his LORD’S treasure safe from robbers; he will make his heart a nest, in which the Divine words shall be cherished as eggs, till they wing their way, as devout meditations and prayers, up to Heaven itself. (Ay.) And thus it is written of the Mother of GOD: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”*

12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: O teach me thy statutes.

The Jewish commentators explain this verse in two different ways.* They take it either as a thanksgiving to GOD for having already taught, followed by a prayer for more teaching;* or else as an act of direct worship, with a petition based on that act, thus: I confess that Thou art blessed and adorable, and because I prove myself in this wise to be Thy servant, (Ay.) reward me by teaching me. And if it be asked why the Psalmist intreats to be taught, when he has just before been declaring his knowledge, the answer is that he seeks instruction as to the practical working of those principles which he has learnt theoretically. He blesses GOD for His bounty, (G.) and then asks for information how he may best put out the loan with the money-changers, that when his LORD returns, He may receive His own again with usury, and find no cause of blame for sloth and negligence in His servant. And there is a further sense, according to which the first half of the verse is the reason of the other half. Blessed art Thou,* O Lord, unspeakably wonderful, glorious, and loveable, and therefore union with Thee is the most priceless of all boons. That I may win it, O teach me Thy statutes. He asks of GOD to teach what man cannot teach.* “If this were practised now,”* says a pious Bishop, “to join prayer with hearing, that when we offer ourselves to be taught of men, we would therewith send up prayer to GOD, before preaching, in time of preaching and after preaching, we would soon prove more learned and religious than we are.”

13 With my lips have I been telling: of all the judgments of thy mouth.

Above,* he said that he kept GOD’S words in his heart. But though “there is a time to keep silence,”* there is also a “time to speak;” and it is true of holy things that “it is a pleasant thing to keep them within thee, they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.”* And there is need of a right choice of time,* which is the season of grace, of the right persons, who are those that will not spurn GOD’S word, and of the right matter, which is here laid down, not as all the judgments GOD has decreed, but all the judgments of His mouth, that is, all which He has made verbally known by the writings and preachings of His Prophets and Apostles. All His judgments are an abyss too deep and vast for man’s speech and understanding, (C.) so that even His great Apostle is forced to exclaim: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of GOD! how unsearchable are His judgments, (Ay.) and His ways past finding out!”* It is well said, I have been telling, not I have been teaching, for all the preacher can do is to speak plainly all the judgments which GOD has declared in Holy Writ.* He cannot be sure of teaching, of really touching the heart of a single hearer, but that does not lessen his duty of sowing the seed whenever he can.

14 I have had as great delight in the way of thy testimonies: as in all manner of riches.

The testimonies of GOD which delight the pious soul are the tokens of His tender love towards mankind, (A.) of His yearning for our salvation, of His methods of deliverance. And the Way of these testimonies is His own dear SON. It is therefore meditation upon the events of the Gospel story, the Incarnation, Nativity, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of CHRIST, which is an unfailing spring of gladness to the Saints of GOD. (C.) And this title of the Way of the Testimonies is given to CHRIST, because all the prophecies and types, all the sayings of Holy Writ lead up to Him, Who is the sure and unwearying Way to our Country. As in all manner of riches. That is, as they mostly take it, as much as worldly minds delight in temporal wealth; but others, reminding us that the true Saint treats this world’s goods as dross, bid us see here the deep truth that all spiritual riches are found in CHRIST and in Him only, so that to delight in Him is to delight in all manner of riches. For in Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”* And therefore the Apostle thanks GOD on behalf of his converts, (Ay.) saying, “In everything ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of CHRIST was confirmed in you.”* And we too, having a like hope, entertain a like gladness, for “He that spared not His own SON, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall not He with Him also freely give us all things?”* If we take the words in the other sense of the precepts of Holy Scripture, (H.) there can be no greater proof of habitual innocency of life than delight in them. For they are witnesses against us if we go wrong, witnesses of our good fight when we keep in the way; and as a guilty conscience fears the presence of witnesses, a pure one, on the contrary, either does not heed them or takes actual pleasure in their presence. (P.) And in this wise the examples of the Saints, that innumerable cloud of witnesses ever around us, serve, when we imitate them, to heap up riches for us, jewelling the crown which the LORD the Righteous Judge hath laid up for His servants:* especially for those Martyrs of His who found the way of His testimonies pass through fierce tortures before bringing them to their home, and yet delighted in that painful road.

15 I will talk of thy commandments: and have respect unto thy ways.

S. Augustine, (A.) noting that this reading talk is found with two others, meditate and exercise, observes that the first holds good of the Church, when, without losing hold of inner devotion and practical action, she yet pits herself against false teachers in controversial disputations. But these are never safe, or other than hurtful to spiritual progress, save when carried on with respect to GOD’S ways, which are mercy and truth in CHRIST, obliging us to be gentle even with heretics, and never to advance any argument which is not pellucidly true and fair. But meditate (as A. V.) or exercise (as Vulgate) gives a better sense, and on this let us hear S. Gregory: “What does he mean by these ways,* save that he cared not to look upon the paths of human conversation? He saith, therefore, I will exercise in Thy commandments, and will consider Thy ways. It is as though he were openly promising and saying: ‘What are mine I now refuse to look upon, because I burn to tread with my steps in the way of conduct which is imitative of Thee. For he who gainsays this present world, keeps before the eyes of his heart by the constant practice of love the ways of his Redeemer, so that his mind shuns prosperity, is ready for adversity, longs for no indulgences, fears nothing which may be thought able to affright, counts sorrow joy, and the joys of this life to be loss and sorrow, fears no loss from casting them away, but seeks in this fashion a place of abiding glory. These are the ways which the Truth Himself set before the eyes of His followers, when He said, ‘If any man serve Me, let him follow Me.’ ”*

16 My delight shall be in thy statutes: and I will not forget thy word.

As the previous verse gave the promise of constant practice, (P.) so this one pledges the Psalmist to assiduous meditation and the exercise of memory in pondering the statutes of the LORD. And while the rendering above is delight, and that of the Vulgate brings in the word meditate again, they tell us that the two notions blend in the verse, and imply that the pleasure of a Saint in GOD’S law is such that he continually recites or sings it,* as it were,* under his breath, as men do with snatches of favourite melodies. (C.) And the practical use of this is to counteract that forgetfulness which is part of the inherited weakness of human nature, often leading to far worse ills. (D. C.) Wherefore Moses gave a precept to the Jews, saying, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:* and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com