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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.

Vau,* the sixth letter, signifies a nail or hook. And as this section is, (C.) by the common agreement of the old commentators, an eager cry for the coming of the Messiah, we shall find the best explanation of the mystical intent in that prophecy which, applied first to Eliakim son of Hilkiah, found its full accomplishment only in JESUS the Son of David. “He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons.”*

41 Let thy loving mercy come unto me, (ו) O LORD: even thy salvation, according unto thy word.

There can be no doubt Whom he prays to behold,* in Whom the fruit of mercy and salvation is to come, for CHRIST is the mercy and salvation of GOD. (D. C.) It is the prayer of Jews and Gentiles alike, going up daily through the ages till that day of the Purification when the aged Simeon declared that his eyes had at last seen that Salvation they had so long desired, and that other day when the Wise Men laid their treasures at the feet of the Child.* It is the prayer for CHRIST’S Advent, for the cry is Come; it is a petition that He may come without more delay, for unto me is added; it intreats that He may not come only with bountiful gifts, as the loving mercy of GOD, but also as the strong Deliverer from present and future peril and woe, because He is GOD’S salvation. To me, to the solitary sinner who needs His personal help, as well as to mankind in general. And this, (D. C.) according to Thy word, or promise, the pledge given of old time to Eve, and renewed to Abraham; Isaac, Jacob, and David, and by the long line of Prophets from Moses to John the Baptist.

42 So shall I make answer unto my blasphemers: for my trust is in thy word.

It is well said answer, (A.) for it is not enough to have CHRIST in the heart if we have Him not in the mouth also, as it is written, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”* And it is our duty to answer those blasphemers who reproach us with worshipping a crucified malefactor, (C.) or a Being who is less than Very GOD, and not to keep silence in face of their crafty arguments, lest the worse cause should seem to prevail.* Or my blasphemers may be taken in that other sense of those who reproach the Saint because of that very holiness of life which they hate.* I will answer evil spirits with the words of my heart, refusing the consent of my will to them; to false teachers I will answer with the word of wisdom, defending the Faith; revilers with the word of patience, overcoming evil with good; slanderers with the word of action, (Ay.) living a godly life. And that because of perfect reliance on GOD’S will and power to help in time of need. For my trust is in Thy word, that is, I believe what Holy Writ reveals concerning the LORD JESUS, and I find there too the promise for this life, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, (D. C.) which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist;”* and the promise for the life to come, (G.) “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man confess before the angels of GOD.”* And whereas the Hebrew runs, So shall I have a word, (or thing, דָּבָר,) to answer, &c., or else So shall I have an answer for him who reproacheth me with a word, while the LXX. has λόγον, and the Vulgate Verbum, they take occasion to tell us that the Incarnate WORD, (A.) our crucified LORD, “unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness,”* is Himself, whichever way we read the sentence, the reproach made against His people,* and the triumphant and all-sufficient answer to that reproach. For we can answer with the help of His Word either by prayer for our blasphemers, or by preaching to them, and he cannot feel a curse who possesseth that Word, nor retort the curse if he have that Word ever in his mouth. Wherefore is added

43 O take not the word of thy truth utterly out of my mouth: for my hope is in thy judgments.

Let us never deny Him, (A.) even for a moment, as S. Peter did, albeit he repented speedily with tears. It is the prayer of the whole Church of GOD, that in time of rebuke and blasphemy, when many fall away and become renegades to their LORD, or are deceived by false teaching, there may be some strong ones left to vindicate His honour. And so the LORD Himself spake to Peter, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not;”* that is, that the word of truth be not taken utterly out of thy mouth. This punishment falls upon us when our actions no longer square with our words, and begin by their unrighteousness to bring discredit on the teaching we have received.* The word is taken out of our mouth when GOD saith to the sinner, “Why dost thou preach My laws?”* Then eloquence itself grows dumb when the conscience is disordered. The birds of the air come and take the word out of thy mouth, as they carry away the seed of the Word from the rock, lest it should bear fruit.

It is also the cry of the martyrs, (C.) intreating that no extremity of torture may wring from them any concession dishonouring to their LORD, but that they may be victorious in their passion, by reason of their hope in God’s judgments, in the love that suffereth them to be tortured, and that will crown them at the last. It is, moreover, a special warning to the preachers of the Church to live devout and godly lives,* lest GOD should take from them the power of declaring His word, or refuse to give that word free course and its natural influence when coming from their lips.* And there is a stress on the phrase word of truth, since there are many found who in their zeal for GOD,* not according to knowledge, maintain for His sake the word of falsehood, and refuse to listen to better instructed Christians, (D. C.) or to receive correction at their hands. But a true humility will keep the word by hoping in GOD’S judgments, remembering the saying of the Master: “I thank Thee, O FATHER, LORD of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”*

44 So shall I alway keep thy law: yea, for ever and ever.

That must mean, (A.) observes S. Augustine, the highest law of all, whereof we read, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”* For though alway, standing by itself, might mean only till the end of this world, the words for ever and ever cannot be so counted, but must extend unto the everlasting kingdom to come, where precepts, and sanctions, and sacraments and ordinances will all be swallowed up in the abyss of Divine love,* when in the full light of the Beatific Vision we lose even the very power of sinning; because “charity never faileth.”* And it also holds as a promise to observe GOD’S laws in all respects,* and through all the stages of life, learning it in childhood, practising it in youth, ripening in it in age, and loving it always.

45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy commandments.

At liberty. The LXX. and Vulgate give the literal sense, (H.) which is, in a wide place.* That is, as they for the most part explain it, (A.) in the width of charity and love, which spreads out so as to give room for all. In a wide place, because he has no motive for concealing his actions, but can do them frankly in the full light of day,* beneath the gaze of any spectators.* A wide place, because the true Saint does not need to be hemmed in, like the sinner, on each side by threats and terrors, to make him keep in the right way, but presses on directly forward, albeit untrammelled, because his eyes are riveted on the goal. And therefore it follows, for I seek Thy commandments. Were he looking for anything else, this liberty might prove a snare to him, but in searching for the will of GOD, he must needs look to heaven, and then he is safe, not only for his journey, but for his reward.

No resting place we seek on earth,*

No loveliness we see,

Our eyes are on the royal crown

Prepared for us and Thee.

And therefore the Wise Man saith: (L.) “When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened, and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.”*

46 I will speak of thy testimonies also, even before kings: and I will not be ashamed.

It is the answer the martyrs of CHRIST make to Him in return for that His prophecy and promise: (A.) “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your FATHER which speaketh in you.”* (L.) Nor did the Apostles lack examples to tell them how to bear themselves before the great ones of the earth. (D. C.) Elijah, Micaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and John Baptist, (G.) had shown them the way; and countless thousands followed them in it, including tender maidens and little children. Will not be ashamed of the reproach of the Cross, nor ashamed later in the presence of the angels for having yielded and denied the LORD.* Nor should we forget that other and primary meaning of the verse, of the difficulty and duty of maintaining the law of GOD as a standard before the eyes of princes who, without being active persecutors, as were the Pagan emperors, are yet unaccustomed to have their will contradicted by a higher law, and are tempted by the pomp and splendour of their courts to give themselves entirely to worldly things. In such cases, the example of an Anselm at the court of Rufus, or that of a Louise de Bourbon in the circle of Louis XV., gives us as true a lesson as the patience of a martyr did to Christians in the earlier days of the Church. (D. C.) And in either case, it holds true that GOD’S champion shall not be ashamed, but that the shame will fall on them who “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spake.”* Note,* moreover, the teaching which this verse gives against common faults of the priesthood and others whose duty it is to proclaim GOD’S will. I will speak. There is a protest against the untimely silence of those blind watchmen, “dumb dogs that cannot bark.”* Next there is a contrary warning against vain prating, for the speaking is limited by the words of Thy testimonies.* For, as a saint warns priests, “Thou hast consecrated thy mouth to the Gospel, beware of opening it with trifles or fables.” Thirdly, there is a protest against cowardice. Before kings: as it is written, “Seek not to be judge, being not able to take away iniquity; lest at any time thou fear the person of the mighty, and lay a stumblingblock in the way of thine uprightness.”* Lastly, there is a rebuke of false shame: and will not be ashamed, for it is written in another place, “The LORD GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”*

47 And my delight shall be in thy commandments: which I have loved.

He promises here the service of the affections,* as something higher and better than the external observance already pledged, because due to good-will and not to compulsion or fear. But the LXX. and Vulgate have, less forcibly, I meditated in Thy commandments.* Nevertheless, the two notions combine, for it has been truly said by a great philosopher that the chief pleasure of man consists in contemplation.* And the order of the words in this verse and the following one is admirable,* that we should first meditate, and that our meditation on those commandments which we love should be habitual. For it is by diligent meditation on the divine statutes that the practice of good works grows into a habit; since as memory is the end of meditating on words, so practical action is the end or aim of meditation on heavenly precepts, and immediate action in their fulfilment, while no man can attain to this fulfilment unless he loves them, and that exceedingly. And this love can be tested in two ways; (Ay.) the degree of sorrow felt at leaving any commandment undone, which fixes the quantity of love; and the ready delight felt in fulfilling any of GOD’S commandments, which tests its quality. The Christian is like a steed which knows and loves its master, and not merely carries him gladly, but dislikes to be mounted by any other rider. And as some horses will simply be less spirited and ready when feeling a stranger in the saddle, so some Christians will experience a sense of depression and sorrow at permitting sin to master them, while others, more loyal and more spirited, will cast the stranger to the ground and suffer no other hand than their master’s to guide them. Again, on the word loved, the Carmelite quotes two sayings of ancient philosophers, which he commends to the acceptance of those who have learnt the truer philosophy of the Gospel. The first is Aristotle’s answer to the question of what profit he had derived from philosophy: “I have learnt to do without constraint that which others do from fear of the law.” The second a very similar saying of Aristippus: “If the laws were lost, all of us would live as we do now that they are in force.” And for us the whole verse is summed up in the words of a greater Teacher than they: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words.”*

48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved: and my study shall be in thy statutes.

My hands, (C.) denotes action, the result of previous meditation and delight. Lift up, because GOD’S commandments are not earthly, so that we should thrust down our hands to grasp them, but heavenly, and requiring that we should stretch upwards towards them. Lift up, because the rewards which GOD offers are not temporal but eternal blessings, (G.) so that we must also look upwards for them. Again, (Ay.) we lift up our hands in prayer, as the prophet counsels: “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto GOD in the heavens;”* as Moses did,* supported by Aaron and Hur in the battle with Amalek in Rephidim, and as the LORD JESUS lifted up His hands in work and prayer together for us upon the Cross. Wherefore also the Apostle saith, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.”* There is yet another sense in which we may take the words, that of stretching out our hands up towards heaven to receive from GOD the precious gift of His law,* that we may embrace and treasure it.* They assign various other reasons for lifting up the hands,* such as in proof of innocency, showing that they are clean; swearing allegiance and loyalty to GOD;* straining towards something which is above natural power;* preparing to strike a vigorous blow in defence of the truth; or, summoning, as it were, the commandments of GOD to stand by us in our need. And that because we have loved them, (L.) and are ready to do His commandments with gladness and joy,* not with sorrow and reluctance, because that which a slave does unwillingly, a friend does with good-will, and we shall strive to have it said to us, “Henceforth I call you not servants; but I have called you friends.”*

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