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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 twelfth letter,* Lamed, means an ox-goad, and thus S. Jerome’s explanation discipline is not very wide of the mark,* since the signification of the goad in Scripture is correction and incitement in the path of duty. And as the chief idea in this strophe is the praise of the dignity of the Word of GOD, (L.) we may compare that saying, “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd;”* namely, that LORD JESUS CHRIST, the Good Shepherd, that nail of which we heard in the sixth strophe, Who is the Master and Teacher of His assembly (ἐκκλησία) the Church. Heart, or slave, is the interpretation of the mediævalists, for the most part following S. Ambrose.

89 O LORD, thy word: (ל) endureth for ever in heaven.

The Jewish commentators explain this verse very forcibly,* saying,* that it points not merely to the immutability of GOD’S decrees; but to the continual immanence in creation of that Word whereby He made the heavens and the earth, as the sustaining force which is the life of all things. And thence two lessons are drawn; (H.) one the contrast of the shifting and uncertain condition of earthly persons and things with the unchanging steadfastness of GOD; and next, the witness which the heaven itself in its visible frame is of the truth of His word, (G.) seeing that He once commanded it to be, and it continues ever since in the unchanging revolution of the planets. But in a yet deeper and more solemn sense,* we have here set before us the eternal generation of the Consubstantial WORD, so that the Psalmist all but bursts forth into that same glorious proclamation of His Godhead which opens the Gospel of S. John. “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with GOD, and the WORD was GOD.”* Hence S. Fulgentius takes occasion to point out that even when the WORD became flesh,* He in no wise quitted His throne in heaven.* And it is worthy of notice that the Greek Fathers,* contending against the Arians, argue from this verse for the Eternity of the SON,* on the ground that a human word does not remain at all, but is dissipated into air in the very act of utterance, whereas “the SON abideth ever.”*

JESUS is GOD!* the glorious band

Of golden Angels sing

Songs of adoring praise to Him,

Their Maker and their King.

He was True GOD in Bethlehem’s crib,

On Calvary’s Cross True GOD,

He Who in heaven eternal reigned,

In time on earth abode.

JESUS is GOD! there never was

A time when He was not:

Boundless, eternal, merciful,

The WORD the SIRE begot!’

Backward our thoughts through ages stretch,

Onward through endless bliss,—

For there are two eternities,

And both alike are His!

The interpretation which finds most favour with the Fathers is, (D. C.) however,* a gloss on that clause of the Our FATHER, “Thy will be done on earth, (H.) as it is in heaven;” that whereas man’s falseness and rebellion make the abode of GOD’S Word on earth precarious, (A.) yet in heaven, the perfect obedience of the Angelic powers, who faint not in their watches, makes it permanent there. (C.) Others extend the meaning to Saints of GOD even on earth,* whose conversation is in heaven, and who abide, even as the Angels do, faithfully in the service of GOD, so that CHRIST the Word dwelleth in them alway, and they in Him.* And because He is the aim and glory of all His Saints, the truth that He abideth in heaven points the meaning of His own saying: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”* Thy treasure then is faith,* gentleness, mercy, thy treasure is CHRIST. And observe, that Satan too was once in heaven, but could not remain there.* And if heaven was too narrow for him and the WORD of GOD to continue together in, how fancy you that your heart is large enough for a divided allegiance and habitation? So it has been well said, Man’s heart is either the ark of GOD or of the devil; and if it would be GOD’S ark, let it give itself to GOD’S keeping.

90 Thy truth also remaineth from one generation to another: thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth.

Some draw here a distinction between the for ever of the previous verse,* applicable only to heaven, and the one generation to another of this, where the earth is spoken of, because while the angel-hosts remain always constituted of the same individuals, GOD’S will has to be taught to successive births of men; for “one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever.”* But the favourite interpretation of the commentators is to see here the LORD JESUS, (H.) the Truth of GOD, remaining from the one generation of the Fathers of the Old Covenant, as their promised Messiah, (A.) to the other generation of the Saints of the New Testament, who know Him as their manifested SAVIOUR. He hath laid the foundation of the earth,* whether we take that to denote the Church Militant or the faithful soul,* on Himself, the chief corner-stone, and it abideth, because that basis is too firm to be shaken or removed,* and on it Jews and Gentiles are “builded together for a habitation of GOD through the Spirit.”*

91 They continue this day according to thine ordinance: for all things serve thee.

This is the interpretation of the verse according to the Rabbins and S. Jerome.* And observe how that very sequence of natural law, which is to GOD’S saints amongst the surest evidences of His creative and sustaining power, is to His opponents or deniers an argument against the truth of revelation; for the scoffers say, “Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”* The Heaven and the Earth of the Church, that is, the Head and King, Who is eternal in the heavens, the succession of Saints militant on earth from one generation to another,* continue this day in despite of all snares and wiles of the enemy, all false Apostles and Prophets, all persecutions, and all coldness and falling away, and thus the existence and perennial vigour of the Church is the standing miracle and witness to GOD in a rebellious and gainsaying people. And the reason of that permanence of the Church, as contrasted with the rapid rise, fall, and disappearance of so many sects, heresies, and philosophies, is because all, Head and members alike, CHRIST in His Manhood, and all His servants, are Thy servants (A. V.) O heavenly FATHER.

But the great majority of the old versions read thus, The day abideth by Thine ordinance.* And that, they tell us, means the one day of eternity,* which hath no night, whose true sun is CHRIST, never setting. For whereas it is said in another Psalm, “The day is Thine, and the night is Thine;”* if the natural day were here intended, some mention of the night would follow; but this day abideth, changes not, and has no end. (A.) The words are also true of that light of faith and Gospel illumination in which we now walk who follow CHRIST, “honestly, as in the day,”* for He saith, “I am the Light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”* Some commentators have therefore restricted the meaning of day, which they read in the plural, to those great Saints, whether angels or men, true “children of light,”* who always obey the will of GOD, and serve Him, for “if any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of the world.”* The literal sense of the orderly succession of day and night, (D. C.) as part of the system of the universe and a proof of GOD’S providence, is not forgotten, and they remind us how though time passes on in a perpetual flux,* yet it so continues by continual reproduction that each to-morrow as it arrives becomes to-day, and so abides continually. Whence the Apostle uses the phrase as identical with this present life, saying, “Exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day.”* And that only by exhorting to persevere in JESUS CHRIST, (Ay.) the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”*

For all things serve Thee.* Here is a proof that the day of eternity must needs be intended, for it is only too true that all things do not as yet serve Him. It is only when CHRIST “shall have delivered up the kingdom to GOD, even the FATHER,”* that “all things shall be subdued unto Him, that GOD may be all in all.”* And a great mediæval preacher bids us observe that CHRIST chose to be born into the world just as the days grow longer after the winter solstice, in order to teach us how the day of righteousness should increase in our hearts with the rising of that Sun. A Christian poet many centuries before had anticipated this interpretation:

Wherefore doth the circling sun

Cease the downward course to run?*

Is it that the CHRIST is born,

Lengthening out the path of morn?

Ah, how swift the hurrying day

Seemed of late to fleet away!

Almost might the torch appear

Quenched, of the declining year.

Now the Heaven in livelier glow

Flames o’er gladdening earth below,

Mounting now the day-beam shines,

Gradual on the former lines.

Spring to light, all-lovely Child!

Spring from Mother undefiled,

Maid from sponsal contract free,

Bearing GOD and Man in Thee.

92 If my delight had not been in thy law: I should have perished in my trouble.

The Psalmist passes from the general to the particular statement.* GOD’S Word and will are not only the life and support of all the universe, but of the individual soul, and that same power which is exercised in maintaining the fabric of creation is equally engaged in comforting and reviving a lonely sufferer in his affliction. And if any prefer to take the words of the consoling effect of Holy Scripture, S. Ambrose will help them,* saying, When we are in a season of affliction, and are shaken by adversity, let our meditation be in the law, lest the storm of temptation burst on us unawares. No athlete attempts to enter a contest unless he have been first trained by the exercises of the gymnasium. Let us then anoint the arms of our soul with the oil of reading, let us have regular exercise day and night in that gymnasium of Holy Scripture, and let the wholesome diet of spiritual dainties strengthen the joints of our minds. And therefore, because Holy Scripture is such a storehouse of sweets,* the literal Hebrew is fitly here, My delights, the plural marking the number and variety of the pleasures to be drawn from it by the faithful soul.

O Book! infinite sweetness,* let my heart

Suck every letter, and a honey gain,

Precious for any gift in any part,

To clear the breast, to mollify all pain.

Thou art all health, health thriving, till it make

A full eternity, thou art a mass

Of strange delights, where we may wish and take.

And our chief gladness and comfort therein is to learn the blessedness of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, (D. C.) and follow the footsteps of CHRIST, abiding firm in temptation; as also the love and mercy of GOD towards penitent sinners.

93 I will never forget thy commandments: for with them thou hast quickened me.

And so, in the sorrow of the Captivity, (D. C.) one was found to say of the teaching of Wisdom, “This is the book of the commandments of GOD, and the law that endureth for ever: all they that keep it shall come to life, but such as leave it shall die.”* And I was dead, (G.) says Gerhohus, and the staff of fear of the law laid upon me was of no avail, there was neither voice nor motion.* But when the teaching of the Incarnation showed me how much Thou lovest me, Who gavest Thy SON to ransom the slave, at once, by the contact of His Body, our true Elisha, “GOD of salvation,” as He cherished me, I began to live, as delivered from the bondage of sin and death, whose law it is that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”*

I will never forget, not even in Heaven.* For as the children of Israel all through their sojourn in Canaan kept up the memory of their deliverance out of Egypt, so the ransomed Saints in glory will be mindful of all out of which they have been redeemed, and unceasingly praise GOD for His great salvation, (C.) in the everlasting Easter of the Land of Promise.* The Vulgate word for commandments here is justificationes, and hereupon S. Ambrose, citing that teaching of the Apostle, “No man is justified by the law in the sight of GOD,”* points out that the term can be used here only by anticipation and shadow, looking forward to justification by faith in CHRIST.* And in this sense a Greek Father comments: I shall have life in them, (Thy commandments,) as Thou hast Thyself said unto me: “Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them.”* For only the righteous lives, even though he seem to be dead. The unrighteous, on the other hand, are dead, though they may seem to live. But the righteous have the nature of life within themselves, that is, righteousness, which righteousness is the LORD Himself, Who declares that He is Life, and that they who are not partakers of Him have no life in them, for in truth our SAVIOUR’S death is not merely life, but the quickener of men, and undertaken to destroy death; whereas the others, not possessing this, are like inanimate things which cannot move themselves, but are affected by outward impact.* And as a man who has been healed of a dangerous sickness bears in mind the kindness and skill of his physician, and the remedies which he employed, so the ransomed Saint, dwelling with the angels through eternity, will never forget how the LORD healed him of his sore disease and gave him life and health for ever.

Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race,*

Ye ransomed from the Fall,

Hail Him Who saves you by His grace,

And crown Him LORD of all.

Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget

The wormwood and the gall,

Go spread your trophies at His feet,

And crown Him LORD of all.

94 I am thine, O save me: for I have sought thy commandments.

I am Thine,* O GOD the FATHER, by creation, for Thou madest me; I am Thine, O GOD the SON, by redemption, for Thou savedst me;* I am Thine, O GOD the HOLY GHOST, by right of service, for Thou hast sanctified me, and made me the temple of Thine abode. (A.) I am Thine, for I serve Thee only, and not two masters; I am Thine, for I am weary of being my own, through that first and greatest evil, disobedience, and now give myself to Thee, and take on me Thy light burden and easy yoke.* No worldling can say, I am Thine, for he has many masters. Lust comes, and says, Thou art mine, for thou desirest bodily pleasures, thou hast sold thyself to me for carnal love, and I have paid thy price. Avarice comes, and says, The gold and silver thou hast are the price of thy bondage; the possessions thou holdest have made thee sell thy freedom to buy thine ownership. Luxury comes: Thou art mine; one day’s revel is the price of thy life; that outlay on banquets is the bidding for thy head, the sum of the bargain made for thee; and what is worse, thou art bought as so much flesh, cheaper than thy very food, since thy table for one day is more valuable to thee than a life for all time. I have purchased thee amongst thy wine-cups; I have acquired thee amidst thy feastings. Ambition comes and saith to thee: Surely thou art mine. Knowest thou not that I have made thee rule others, that thou mightest serve me? Dost thou not know that the prince of this world said to the LORD, the SAVIOUR Himself, when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me?”* All the sins come, and each of them saith, Thou art mine. What a worthless slave is that whom so many claim at once! How then canst thou, who art of this sort, say to CHRIST, I am Thine? He will answer thee: “Not every one that saith unto Me, LORD, LORD, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven;”* it is not every one who saith to Me, I am Thine, who is Mine. Thou art Mine if thy conscience does not convict thy voice; if thy mind or works do not refute thy language. I choose not to have a servant who serves many masters. He whom lust inflames is not Mine, for purity is Mine. He is none of Mine who is eager to rob the weak, for honesty is Mine. He is not Mine whom sudden anger rouses, for calmness is Mine. The drunkard, whether intoxicated with wine, with ambition, or with excitement in peril, is not Mine, for I am peace. Nor can one of a variable and shifting character call himself CHRIST’S servant, for anger, or mournfulness, or hasty speech, can come forward and say, He was mine an hour ago, and will return to my service soon again.* The sinner, therefore, who calls himself CHRIST’S servant is a liar,* and if he pleads at His tribunal to be received as His subject, Satan will come forward and say as of Judas,* after entering into him, “He is not Thine, JESU, but mine; he thinks my thoughts, and ponders my suggestions in his heart; he eats with Thee, but feeds with me; he takes Bread from Thee, and coin from me; he drinks with Thee, and sells Thy Blood to me; he is Thine Apostle, and my hireling.” (C.) He who may justly put forward this plea, I am Thine, is he who can truly say with the Apostle, “To me to live is CHRIST, and to die is gain,”* and “I live, yet not I, but CHRIST that liveth in me;”* and who, though declaring himself the LORD’S, is yet lowly enough not to feel certain of heaven, but cries O save me, here from folly, there by admission to everlasting blessedness, for I have sought Thy commandments. Others seek for honours, wealth, family ties, earthly joys; I seek only the priceless riches of Thy revealed will.

95 The ungodly laid wait for me to destroy me: but I will consider thy testimonies.

The aim of Satan and his emissaries, (H.) whether spiritual or human, is to destroy the soul of man, by taking faith away from it, and against this form of attack the only sure defence is steadfast meditation on and perseverance in GOD’S testimonies. S. Ambrose, writing when the memory of Julian’s persecution was still recent, and when old men could remember the close of the fiercer storm under Diocletian, says that the verse aptly describes the passion of martyrdom, wherein the tortured Saint gives thanks to CHRIST,* enabling him to triumph over his persecutors, and to feel that if the ungodly wait for him here on earth, the choirs of rejoicing angels are waiting also to be his escort into everlasting joy, the LORD JESUS is waiting for him to bestow his crown.

Cassiodorus shrewdly observes that the term waited, (C.) here in the Vulgate expectaverunt, implies the use of persuasion and flattery in order gradually to draw away the Saint from his purpose, rather than of violent torture, which would be hastening, not waiting. For he adds, that is a heavier persecution which delays the crown of martyrdom and ceases not to recommend death to the soul. (A.) But the obvious literal sense of lying in ambush, to overcome by means of a sudden and unexpected onset as the unsuspecting wayfarer passes on, is also followed,* and interpreted as pointing to the snares of heresy rather than to the open violence of Paganism.

Gerhohus comments at length on the verse, (G.) contrasting the fate of those who go down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fall among thieves, with that of such as go in procession with CHRIST from Olivet to Jerusalem, throwing their garments, that is, their bodily passions and appetites, under the feet of CHRIST, nay, giving their bodies themselves up to martyrdom, and carrying olive-branches, the rich and peaceful teachings gathered from the olive-yard of Holy Writ, steadily in their hands. In the twofold sense of escape from earthly and from spiritual foes,* this verse is used as the Introit on the feasts of S. Agnes and S. Mary Magdalene. (L.)

96 I see that all things come to an end: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.

This rendering,* which does not practically differ from that of Symmachus and the Targum, signifies the contrast between the finite range of all created things and the boundless extent and duration of GOD’S decrees. The same notion is brought out even more forcibly by the LXX. and A. V. I have seen the end of all perfection;* noting that the strongest, most beautiful, and elaborate things pass on to decay and destruction,* and however they may seem to prolong their existence, must perish at last; while the law of GOD abides for ever.

And there is also a possible construction of the sentence thus: (B.) I have seen that Thine exceeding broad commandment is the summit of all perfection.* But the Vulgate reads, I have seen the end of all consummation, and the obscurity of this phrase has given rise to a great variety of treatment. S. Ambrose, noting that consummation means not only the end of anything, but also bringing anything, good or evil, to its highest possible point,* tells us that either way that end of all consummation which the Psalmist saw is the LORD JESUS, the end of the most grievous sin, which He has taken away by His Cross, the end and perfection of all holiness, wisdom, righteousness, and power in His own person. (A.) S. Augustine, in a sense lower only than this, takes the words of striving to the death for truth, and bearing all evils for the sake of the highest good,* so that the end of this consummation is glory in the unending kingdom of CHRIST.* Not very different is the view that the words mean, I have seen what will be the last end of the man who perfectly keeps Thy commandments.* S. Albert, however, by glossing consummation as that which can be or is brought to completion and bounded by fixed limits, takes it as equivalent to finite and mortal, and thus comes back by another road to the meaning of the Hebrew, agreeing with the first explanation given above. But Thy commandment is exceeding broad. (A.) That commandment is the precept of charity, for what can be more broad than that which contains all the Law and the Prophets? (D. C.) what can be more broad than that which covers a multitude of sins?* Nothing is broader than to admit all into the bosom of charity, and not to endure any of the narrowness of dislike. For charity is so wide that it can hold even enemies in the breadth of its good will.* Whence it is commanded, “Love your enemies,* do good unto them that hate you.” GOD’S commandment is exceeding broad, because it can give space and freedom to those who are in trouble and distress; because it affords the widest range to the intellectual powers of man; (Z.) because it is easy and pleasant for all who undertake it cheerfully, and because it has no end whatsoever. To the Saint, therefore, it does not appear narrow, steep, and difficult,* but pleasant, easy, and level, like a broad and even way which is convenient for the traveller; wherefore one of the Saints says:

Et tamen hi calles,* quos mundi vana pavescunt,

Quædam magnificis æquora sunt animis.

And yet these paths, which this world’s vain ones fear,

As level roads to noble minds appear.

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