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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 twentieth letter, Resh, denotes the head, and it will be sufficient for its mystical exposition to cite part of the eloquent comment of S. Ambrose, in this instance, as in one or two others, correctly informed of the Hebrew meaning.* After pointing out that the head is the centre of the nervous organisation of the body, the vigour of the physical or intellectual life, and the crown of its beauty, he adds: CHRIST is the mystical Head, “He is before all things, and by Him all things exist, and He is the Head of the Body, the Church.”* Whoso loseth this Head, hath no more faculty of life, for hereby alone we differ from the brutes, formed by His power after the image of GOD and the likeness of virtues. He is the Head, too, of all our thought and action, of our employment, our hope, our strength. He is the whole sum of our thought, that we may be lowly, and follow the truth, since whoso does not is, “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, not holding the Head, from which all the body.… increaseth with the increase of GOD.”* And in the book of Isaiah, the LORD saith by the Prophet, “The LORD will cut off from Israel the head and the tail.”* This Head which Israel had, she lost, because she received not JESUS her LORD. Where there is faith, there we have both the beginning and the end. Where there is no faith, there is neither beginning nor end. The Church, in having CHRIST, hath the beginning; for CHRIST is the beginning of the Church, “the firstborn from the dead.”* She hath the end too, for He is the First and the Last.* He is the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth.* The Synagogue hath neither the beginning nor the end, because she found not in the beginning what to follow, nor in the end what to hope. Puffed up, therefore, she holdeth not the Head, that is, that humility of CHRIST whereby He descended to the Cross, descended to the grave. Therefore the Jew believed not, because he despised Him who said, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”* This humility is the head of all virtues, which does as it were nourish the whole body of our actions. A brief examination of this strophe will show a close resemblance between it and those Messianic Psalms, such as 35, 57, and 69, which foreshadow the Passion and Resurrection of CHRIST, so that the whole section is capable of being explained in the same manner, and of being applied to any member of the Body who is conformed to the sufferings of the Head.

153 O consider mine adversity, and deliver me: (ר) for I do not forget thy law.

The LXX. and Vulgate read humility in the first clause,* but the earliest commentators are agreed in taking it as meaning affliction,* brought on by the attacks of enemies,* spiritual or human. And accordingly S. Ambrose bids us see here not a boaster of his own lowliness, but an athlete of CHRIST, anointed with the oil of heavenly precepts, and summoned by his LORD to engage in various contests, for the offered prize of divers crowns. Now, worn out with countless struggles, and resisting with sorely exhausted strength, oppressed by the imminence of his peril, and seeing that the fight is not only against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places;* he cries out to his LORD, the spectator and judge of the combat, to aid him in his strife, to require no more such terrible contests from his worn and wounded body, but to give the promised crown of righteousness for this fulfilling of the unforgotten law. And the cry specially befits a martyr, tortured again and again, remanded to a gloomy dungeon, weighed down with ponderous fetters, strained in the stocks which confine his limbs, ruptured on the rack, torn with hooks, scorched with glowing plates of metal, and though persevering in his faith, yet wearying sorely because death, which brings his promised crown, is so long delayed. (A.) S. Augustine and several following him, however, take the word humility literally, and note that the law which the Psalmist does not forget is “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted;”* so that the verse is in this wise a prayer to CHRIST, from a servant of His who has learnt the lesson of His lowliness,* Who washed His disciples’ feet, and bore all the shame and sorrow of the Passion for our salvation, and knows that “before honour is humility.”* GOD looks upon or considers man in various ways,* and for different ends: to give him light; for “as JESUS passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth:”* to convert him; “He saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and He saith unto him, Follow Me;”* “And the LORD turned, and looked on Peter:”* to deliver him; “I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt:”* to advance him; “He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden:”* and to reward; “The LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering.”*

154 Avenge thou my cause, and deliver me: quicken, me, according to thy word.

It ought rather to be, as in A. V., Plead Thou my cause. If we take the words as those of the Head, it is the prayer of Him Who was silent before Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, making no attempt to defend Himself, that His Heavenly FATHER will do for Him what He did not on His own behalf, will grant Him victory in the conflict of the Cross, and quicken Him, after death, in the glory of the Resurrection. (G.) If the words are those of one of His members, then the Head is asked to act as the Patron of Roman days and the feudal superior of the Middle Ages were bound to do, take up the cause of His client or vassal, and defend it against all opponents, especially our spiritual foes. We ask Him of right to plead, our cause, even when we know that we are guilty, for “if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the FATHER, JESUS CHRIST the Righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins,”* so as to deliver us from bondage to them, (whence we have redeem here in the LXX. and Vulgate,) and to quicken us, by His own Resurrection, in newness of life. CHRIST pleads the cause of His servants also in another way, by putting into their mouths, by the inspiration of His SPIRIT, arguments against their opponents. And so He counselled His disciples: “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.”*

But the LXX. and Vulgate read: Judge Thou my judgment. (H.) It is the voice of a noble and tranquil conscience, to ask to have our judgment judged, to have one’s own decision and pleasure tested by divine examination. He who can say, “I have determined (ἔκρινα, judicavi) not to know anything among you save JESUS CHRIST, and Him crucified,”* has no reason to fear the judgment of his judgment; for he hastens,* in consciousness of innocence, to present himself before One who is not only a merciful Judge, but his own Redeemer, hoping to find acquittal there. It is Satan’s lot to have his judgment deferred, to be ever in the position of one charged with penal crimes, to be bound in the chains of his own guiltiness, to be ever passing sentence on himself, to be tortured with perpetual fear, to feel never safe. But those “whom the LORD loveth, He chasteneth,”* and that quickly, wherefore He spake to the avenging angel by the mouth of Ezekiel: “Begin at My sanctuary;”* and it is written in another place: “Judgment must begin at the House of GOD;”* punishing them in this world, that their souls may be saved in the day of the LORD. There is yet another deep lesson to be drawn from this verse. There is a Final Court of Appeal for all causes tried on earth, not biassed, temporising, corrupt, and lawless, as such courts of man’s constitution may prove to be, but righteous and unerring. A heavier sentence will be recorded there against judges who have decided unjustly than against the accused whom they have been set to try; and therefore it behoves every one who is called to sit in judgment on his fellows, to refer every cause to GOD, saying to Him, Judge Thou my judgment, O LORD, guide me that my sentence may be Thine, that I fall not at Thy tribunal under that sentence, “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”*

155 Health is far from the ungodly: for they regard not thy statutes.

This rendering is defective in two respects: (H.) Health ought to be salvation, and regard should be seek. There is no pardon, observes S. Hilary, for wilful ignorance, because to be ignorant amidst opportunity of knowing involves the charge of rejecting, rather than of failing to find the truth.* Salvation is thus far from the ungodly, because they do not seek GOD’S statutes, which have been committed to writing precisely that they may be easy of access to all. But GOD draws those near to Him who were far from salvation through no fault of their own, for “now in JESUS CHRIST ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the Blood of CHRIST.”* It is clear that those who perish do so because they flee from salvation,* not because it flees from them, “for the Son of Man”*—Who is Salvation—“is come to seek and to save that which was lost,”* and when He came to His own nation, they cried, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.”* And if we would know how far salvation is from the ungodly,* the LORD Himself will tell us by His prophet: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”* And there are two methods by which they can make it far from them:* by disbelieving that it has come in the first Advent of CHRIST, or that it will come in the second.

156 Great is thy mercy, O LORD: quicken me, as thou art wont.

Although salvation be far from the ungodly,* yet no one need despair, because many (LXX., Vulg., A. V. marg.) are Thy mercies, and they who are perishing in their own sin are delivered by Thy compassion, Who didst appear to them that sought Thee not, didst call them that fled from Thee, didst gather together them that knew Thee not, and gavest Thyself on behalf of all up to Thy Passion. Man’s mercy is to his near neighbour, GOD’S mercy is over all flesh, that all flesh may ascend to the LORD, through the gift of His pitying kindness. And because His mercies are many, the Psalmist prays Him: (Ay.) Quicken me, according to Thy judgments (A. V., Aquila, S. Hieron.)* in Thy manifold capacity of Judge, Shepherd, Advocate, King; help me by all these titles, and by Thy judgments of love and mercy. That is all we can cast ourselves upon, for we cannot pay GOD the debt we owe for our creation, salvation, and grace, we can give nothing to Him from Whom all things come, and can but pray that He will do as He is wont, and quicken His frail creatures into everlasting life, the one prayer of His Saints in all ages,* from righteous Abel to the present day.

157 Many there are that trouble me, and persecute me: yet do I not swerve from thy testimonies.

It is no great boast not to swerve from GOD’S testimonies when no one persecutes or troubles us,* for it is easy to be grateful for an unbroken sequence of abundant prosperity; but then the sneer may be repeated, “Doth Job fear GOD for nought? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee face to face.”* Yet when the Saint was tried by loss of children and wealth,* he did not swerve from his worship and love of GOD. Here there is mention not of one persecutor, but of many. But that is no cause for alarm, since “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of GOD.”* If there be many persecutors,* there are many trials; there are many contests, where there are many crowns; therefore it is for thy profit that there are many persecutions, that amongst so many persecutions thou mayest more readily find some way of being crowned. Who can expect to be exempt when the LORD Himself underwent persecutions? The devil has many agents to send against us, worse than any mortal foes,—avarice, pride, ambition, luxury, uncleanness; nay, there are many who resisted the human enemy, who were publicly crowned in the public persecutions, that nevertheless yielded in private to these more terrible foes, these more cruel tyrants; and they who boldly resist them are the daily hidden martyrs of JESUS CHRIST. (A.) S. Augustine, looking more to the literal text than his great teacher, reminds us here of the fierceness and unanimity of the Pagan attacks on the Faith, how every land had its crowds of martyrs, whose glorious memories, then fresh in the minds of men, told how very many their persecutors had been.* Cardinal Hugo sums up the many persecutors of the Church of individual Christians in his day as nine in number, enforcing each example with texts of Holy Scripture: they are, the flesh; the world; the devil; irreligious kindred; tyrants who plunder and oppress the Church; heretics who corrupt the faith of the Church, and harass confessors; false brethren, who corrupt the Church’s life by their evil example; lawyers who trouble the Church with ecclesiastical suits; and bishops, who import their own relations into their dioceses, (D. C.) and give them the best livings.1 And in addition to all these, there are the evil spirits. Nevertheless, “there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few;”* and “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”*

158 It grieveth me when I see the transgressors: because they keep not thy law.

Although the particular form which the guilt of the transgressors took was persecution of the Psalmist,* yet he declares here that his grief was not for this, his private wrong, but for the breach of GOD’S law involved in it. So a brave soldier would regret any advantage gained by the enemy more than any wounds or hardships he might himself undergo in a campaign, and would even cheerfully expose himself to both rather than suffer the capture of a flag, because representing to him the cause of his country. (G.) Gerhohus takes the words of the distress of the Church, or of any loyal son of hers, at seeing faith transgressed by sectaries, or morals by professing Catholics, citing those words of the Apostle, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”* And we may take the verse in the deepest sense as the lamentation of our Head over the Jews who rejected Him, (B.) or those Christians who denied Him through fear of death in the stress of persecution. What befitteth Him, as the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, also befits all Bishops and Pastors who find amongst their flocks those who refuse to serve the LORD.* Grief, and not anger, ought to be their feeling, that they may learn how to bring back the wanderers to the fold, instead of driving them further afield by unwise harshness.

159 Consider, O LORD, how I love thy commandments: O quicken me, according to thy loving-kindness.

No man saith Consider,* unless he think that he will be looked on with pleasure when he is considered and seen. It is well said, See, and according to the Law, for the Law ordained that every male should present himself thrice a year before the LORD.* The Saint presents himself daily, daily makes his appearance, and comes not empty, for no one is empty who hath received of GOD’S fulness. Now observe what it is he asks GOD to see,—not his outward doings, but his hidden thoughts. (A.) This is what thou shouldst offer to CHRIST, “and thy FATHER, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly”* for thy faithful love. He does not say, I have not denied Thy commandments, nor yet, I have kept them, but I have loved them, because though the Martyrs refused to deny them under torture, yet that denial was not the noblest thing in their passion, since the Apostle has said, “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing;”* because it is possible to obey GOD’S commandments through mere servile dread, (Ay.) without any true zeal for Him. Wherefore under the Law it was ordained that everything given for the construction and adornment of the Tabernacle was to be a free-will offering,* and not a compulsory tribute. And if I feel sorrow for those who transgress Thy law, it is meet that Thou shouldst in turn look on me who love and keep it,* and quicken me. Yet not after my deservings,* seeing that however my will may be set to obey Thy commandments, my performance fails constantly, but according to Thy loving-kindness and Thy free mercy and compassion. (G.)

160 Thy word is true from everlasting: all the judgments of thy righteousness endure for evermore.

The A. V. has in the first clause, from the beginning, and gives in the margin the literal rendering, which is that of LXX. and Vulgate, The beginning of Thy words is true. That is, either,* All Thy words have been true from the very outset, there never has been a time when they were false or doubtful; or else, The scope and object of Thy words, the motive with which Thou spakest them, is absolute truth; or yet again,* All Thy words proceed from truth as their sole fount and origin,* so that even in the beginning of their utterance their truth is manifest; or, best of all, The sum of Thy words is true. But many of the commentators have sought for some more concrete and precise meaning for the beginning of GOD’S words. (C.) Some will have it that the work of creation, “In the beginning GOD made the heaven and the earth,”* is meant;* or that His first pact with Adam is intended; another holds that the promises made to Abraham,* which were the beginning of the Hebrew nation, are denoted; a fourth view is that there is an allusion to the opening words of the Law, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our GOD is one LORD.”* But all are best summed up in the one reference to that Word which was in the beginning, (P.) and which was, in that beginning, with GOD.* All words spoken by GOD to man through Him are true, and will be true for evermore, for He is the Beginning, and the Word, and the Truth, the Righteousness of the LORD, and the Judge of men, Who is over all, GOD blessed for ever.

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