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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.

The third letter,* Daleth, means a door, and is explained by Beda as the opening of the door of the soul by poverty in this world, for the reception of true riches. But as the key-note of the section is a petition for help in time of trouble, it seems better to take the opposite notion, that of the LORD’S closing the gateways of our soul and sense against the assaults of danger. So we read that when Noah had entered into the Ark “the LORD shut him in.”* And the door of the Ark is CHRIST.*

25 My soul cleaveth unto the dust: (ד) O quicken thou me, according to thy word.

This is the verse which the Emperor Theodosius the Great recited,* as he lay prostrate on the floor of the great Church of Milan when doing penance for the massacre of Thessalonica.

The cleaving may be due either to misery or humility in prayer,* and so voluntary or involuntary.* And so too the dust may be taken to mean simply the ground,—as the LXX. and Vulgate, (A.) the latter of which reads pavement,—or it may be taken of near approach to the grave, the “dust of death.” It is,* say they, a confession of sin, of too eager clinging to things of this world, the floor or pavement of that great house of which the visible heaven is the roof. Or yet more ingeniously, (C.) and according more perfectly with the true meaning dust, My soul cleaveth to my body, by yielding consent to its appetites and desires. (G.) And this he says not as contradicting what he had said just before of his delight in GOD’S testimonies, but as confessing with the Apostle, “I delight in the law of GOD after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.”* In this sense we may compare the Latin satirist:

Corpus onustum

Hesternis vitiis animum quoque prægravat unà,*

Atque affigit humo divinæ particulam auræ.

The body, loaded

With yesterday’s excess, weighs down the mind,

And pins to ground a part of breath divine.

For when we yield to the wiles of the old serpent, we are no longer upright, and fed with divine food, but fall under the curse, “Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat.”* And further,* as the dust of the summer road blinds the eye, and obscures the prospect,* so does this earthliness of soul darken our view of the SAVIOUR, dims the eye of faith, and hides the glorious prospect which, when beheld in the clear horizon, enlivens the weary pilgrim on his way.

Quicken me. (A.) That is, give me spiritual life, for “man shall not live by bread alone,* but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of GOD.”* Quicken me, that I may not,* like worldlings, continue to follow the serpent’s example, crawling in the dust and eating of it,* but rise to have my conversation in heaven. For after the resurrection, instead of the soul cleaving to the dust, the glorified body will cleave to the soul, (A.) and the soul to GOD. According to Thy word. That is, as S. Augustine reminds us, Thy promise, not Thy laws; (C.) or as another yet more deeply says, according to Thy Christ, “for as in Adam all die, even so in CHRIST shall all be made alive.”*

26 I have acknowledged my ways, and thou heardest me: O teach me thy statutes.

Here we have the confession of sin, (A.) made in the dust, of those ways which are not GOD’S but my ways, and therefore paths of sin. (H.) And this open confession is a mark of grace, for the wicked neither will nor dare acknowledge the ways of GOD;* because as an eye which is hurt dares not look to the light, so neither can the conscience of one who is doing evil dare look to the LORD.* Whereas S. Ambrose tells us, he that accuses himself first, stops the mouth of the accuser who stands ready with his charge, prepared to heighten and exaggerate it: nay, turns evidence against the very accuser as being also the tempter to the sin now truly sorrowed for. And Thou heardest me. And here follows the reward of confession, for heardest means pardonedst. Then follows, O teach me Thy statutes; for confession is not sufficient unless we learn how to avoid falling into the same or similar sins again. (A.) Teach me, not merely to know Thy statutes, but to do them;* that is, give me not only mercy, but grace.

27 Make me to understand the way of thy commandments: and so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.

Note the order here. In the previous verse the Psalmist prayed that GOD would teach him His statutes; that is, declare their name and import.* Now he asks for detailed information, (G.) and for the way, that is, the regular order in which these commandments are to be observed.* And not merely to know it, but to understand it, lest he should cling to the letter and miss the spirit, (Ay.) observe the type and fail to discern the mystery. So shall I talk. So the A. V. and S. Jerome, but it is better to take it as meditating, which is the force of the Vulgate exercebor.* It is a promise to dwell in thought on those precepts of GOD which are wondrous, as surpassing the power of man to fulfil, or again on the inner and mystic sense of Scripture, and the great doctrines of the faith. Or if we keep to the rendering talk, he prays that he may so learn as to be able to teach others also.

28 My soul melteth away for very heaviness: comfort thou me according unto thy word.

Melteth away, that is, dissolves into tears, as some take it; or loses strength and substance,* as others, with more reason, prefer.* But the LXX. and Vulgate have here the curious reading hath slumbered,1 and for heaviness read weariness, (ἀκηδίας, tœdio.)* Hence the Greek Fathers take the verse as a prayer against spiritual sloth and neglect of devout meditation. (C.) But some of the Latins see here only exhaustion from long vigils, and patient waiting for that teaching asked for in the previous verse, but delayed for His own wise purpose by GOD, (A.) and now almost despaired of by the watcher.

The two notions of sleep and of tears lie very near one another,* for we read that when the soul of the LORD JESUS had been melting away in the bloody sweat for very weariness, and “when He rose up from prayer and was come to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow.”* Comfort Thou me according to Thy word. The LXX. and Vulgate have Stablish me in Thy words, (B.) that is, make me firm in faith and in observance of Thy commandments, and encourage me with the exhortations and blessings of Holy Writ. (D. C.) But the sense is rather Strengthen me according to Thy promise; or, more deeply, according to the might of CHRIST the Word of GOD, that I may say with the Apostle, “I can do all things through CHRIST which strengtheneth me.”*

29 Take from me the way of lying: and cause thou me to make much of thy law.

The way of lying.* Not false speech towards men, but unfaithfulness and disloyalty towards GOD, is the meaning here, the sin of following and repeating errors in matters of faith or morals. The LXX. and Vulgate read the way of iniquity,* but the meaning is the same, since iniquity is false and deceitful, and walking in it is to go out of the way, not along it.* And observe that it is not said, Take me from the way of lying, but Take the way of lying from me, denoting that this way is now within me and part of my sinful self,* so that it needs to be expelled by the powerful medicine of Divine grace.

And cause, &c. This is incorrect. The clause may be turned either as A. V., Grant me Thy law graciously, or else, With Thy law be gracious unto me, which is the LXX. and Vulgate rendering, save that they read be merciful. What law then is this wherein he asks mercy? What can it be save the law of faith? Hear the Apostle: “Where is boasting then? (A.) It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.”* This is the law of faith, whereby we believe and pray that we may be vouchsafed through grace to do that which we cannot fulfil of ourselves, (C.) lest ignorant of the righteousness of GOD,* and going about to establish our own righteousness, we shall not be subject to the righteousness of GOD. So thus in the law of works there is the justice of GOD Who commandeth, but in the law of faith, the mercy of GOD Who helpeth. It is right therefore to ask for mercy where we know we cannot be loosed by the bonds of the law. And the words with Thy law be merciful, imply showing mercy with justice and wisdom,* pardoning whatever may justly be pardoned, not dealing as one would who when showing mercy made himself punishable by the law, as was Saul’s hap for sparing Agag. For there mercy was a fault, and led him into other faults later. There is a curious interpretation of the Vulgate reading found in some of the commentators, who turn the words de lege as though meaning apart from the law, (G.) and say that the prayer is, Deal not with me according to the law. Give me not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby I may cry, Abba, Father.* Lay not on me, O Thou true Elisha, Thou “Salvation of GOD,” dead as I am, the dead staff of the law, which can smite the sinner, but not quicken him.* Come to me Thy very self, and press Thyself close to me, putting Thy mouth on my mouth, and Thine eyes on mine eyes, and Thine hands upon mine hands, till I wax warm, and am quickened through Thy reviving grace.

And if we take the other rendering, Grant me Thy law graciously, it will not mean merely outward acquaintance with the precepts, of which the Psalmist cannot be supposed ignorant,* but is a prayer that GOD’S law may be so written on the fleshy tables of the heart as to be indelible in memory and will.

30 I have chosen the way of truth: and Thy judgments have I laid before me.

The true doctrines of the faith are the ways and path of truth, (Z.) for by them, as straight roads, we journey to GOD. And as CHRIST is the Way, and the Truth, He is also the way of truth, and a life guided according to the Gospel, as ordained by CHRIST, is here lauded in prophecy, while the judgments refer to the Gospel precepts and counsels. And the force of the word chosen lies in the freedom of our will,* and in the great variety of false creeds and superstitions which compete with the Gospel, (C.) but which the faithful soul rejects in its favour. Nevertheless, we may not forget the LORD’S own words, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you,”* and must understand the words here as signifying that GOD first chose us, and then gave us grace to choose Him. I have not forgotten Thy judgments, is the LXX. and Vulgate reading of the next clause of the verse, but the Prayer Book rendering is closer to the Hebrew. Howbeit, the words before me are not in the original,* and though they give the most probable sense, it is possible to fill the hiatus with the words before others. That is, I have not only kept the law before my eyes as a chart to guide me in the way of truth, but I have endeavoured, whether as teacher or judge, to make others also rule their lives by it. And observe, (A.) he says, I have chosen the way of truth as the road to run in. I have laid Thy commandments before me that I may be able to run at all; and therefore he continues:

31 I have stuck unto Thy testimonies: O LORD, confound me not.

This is the manner in which I have run, and therefore I beseech Thee, (A.) O LORD, not to disappoint me, that I may go straight in my running, and attain whither I am going, for “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of GOD that showeth mercy.”* He is not unconscious nor unthankful for his advance in holiness. But just a while back he had said, My soul cleaveth to the dust; now he has risen from the dust, (C.) and is cleaving to GOD’S testimonies. Yet he prays that he may not forget that this blessing has come to him by Divine grace, not by his own merit, and therefore asks that he may not lose it by security and carelessness.* He who hath stuck unto GOD’S testimonies renounces the world, forgets those things which are behind, and presses forward to those which are before, that he may attain the prize which is the badge of victory. And he is not confounded, since the lures of the world cannot snare him; he is not confounded, even if he have committed deeds to be blushed for, if only he ask CHRIST for pardon. For then the answer will be made him, “Thy sins are forgiven, go in peace.”*

32 I will run the way of thy commandments: when thou hast set my heart at liberty.

The second clause should run, as in LXX., Vulgate, and A. V., when Thou shalt enlarge my heart. (A.) I could not run, if Thou didst not enlarge my heart. It is not as though I could do it of my own will, without needing Thy help, but only when Thou hast enlarged my heart. And that enlarging is delight in righteousness. It is the gift of GOD, that in obeying His precepts we should not be straitened with fear of punishment, but enlarged with love and delight for righteousness. This enlargement and breadth of His is promised in His saying, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them.”* How wide must be that place where GOD walks! In this wide place “love is shed abroad in our hearts by the HOLY GHOST which is given unto us.”* Wherefore it is also said, “Let there be rivers of waters in the streets.”*

And there is a further sense of enlarging the heart, that of making it wider in knowledge and understanding of wisdom, (as we read of Solomon, that “GOD gave him wisdom and understanding exceeding much, (H.) and largeness of heart,”*) so as not to take up narrow and inadequate notions concerning the mysteries of the Faith, (C.) for it is written, “Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets.”* Under either interpretation,* that is a deep saying of a Saint, “Narrow is the way unto life, but no man can run in it save with widened heart.” The Prayer Book rendering set my heart at liberty is not a bad paraphrase, since the original meaning is that of giving a sense of cheerfulness and freedom, which lends vigour for the race. (G.) For that man does not run here in the way who is slow in forgiving or in bestowing, according to that fault censured by the Apostle, “grudgingly, or of necessity.”* He runs who giveth with simplicity, and showeth mercy with cheerfulness,* from the very joy of a loving mind, looking for eternal things in return for temporal things, not tepidly, not sluggishly, but readily and promptly, with a good and ready will in charity which never faileth. But here we, too many of us, may stand and lament. Alas, we do not run with the Psalmist: would that we could even halt to Canaan with Jacob,* or at least creep forward like children to our Father’s house. Many, instead of running, lie down, or go back, like carnal Israelites, to the flesh-pots of Egypt, for whom it had “been better not to have known the way of righteousness,”* than to refuse, in such fashion, to run therein. And we may sum up the whole force of the verse in a pithy saying of one commentator:* That is a truly wide heart which has room enough in it for all, friends or enemies, alike.

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