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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.

Gregorian. Blessed are all they * that fear the LORD. [Corpus CHRISTI: Like the olive-branches are the children of the Church round about the table of the LORD.]

Ambrosian. As Gregorian.

Parisian. First verse. [Maundy Thursday: By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.]

Lyons. As Gregorian.

Mozarabic. Thou shalt eat the labours of thy fruits; O well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.

1 Blessed are all they that fear the LORD: and walk in his ways.

The Jewish expositors take the two members of this verse as severally denoting those who avoid acts forbidden by the negative precepts,* and those who fulfil such as are prescribed by the positive ones.* There is a stress on all,* teaching that no disparity of sex or condition,* of rank or wealth,* affects the degree of happiness granted by GOD to every one of His true servants in their several stations.* It is to be observed, (H.) further, that whenever the fear of the LORD is mentioned in Holy Writ, it is never set by itself, as though sufficient for the consummation of our faith, but always has something added or prefixed, by which to estimate its due proportion of perfection, according as it is stated by Solomon in the Proverbs, “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures: then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD.”* It is not spoken of that common timidity of human weakness, fearing to suffer something which it is unwilling should happen. This comes to us of itself, from our natural feebleness, and is not a matter of teaching and study. But of the fear of the LORD it is written, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”* Therefore it is a thing we ought to learn, because it has nothing to do with affright, but with reasonable instruction, and is to be entered upon not with physical alarm, but with obedience to precepts, with the works of a blameless life, and with the knowledge of the truth. For if the only reason of fearing GOD is because many places have been struck and fired by thunder and lightning, have fallen and been swallowed up by earthquakes, there is nothing of the merit of faith in our fear, since it is merely roused by dread of something happening. (C.) Nor is it fear of the world, nor yet servile fear, neither of which is holy or profitable. But all our fear of GOD is pure and filial, (H.) and is in our love of Him, perfect love is the consummation of that awe; a love which makes us walk in His ways.* For it is quite possible to hold the Faith quite correctly, and yet live an evil life; as many do, who are the most wretched of beings. And though there be only one way, CHRIST Himself, yet here many ways are spoken of, to show us that entrance is easy, and not limited to any particular calling or mode of serving GOD.* Nevertheless, all these subordinate ways are reducible to two, “for all the ways of the LORD are mercy and truth;”* both of which must be followed together, because mercy without truth leads to laxity, and truth without mercy degenerates into sternness.

2 For thou shalt eat the labours of thine hands: O well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.

There is a fourfold literal sense here:* Thou shalt live by honest, peaceful labour, not by rapine and violence on that produced by the toil of others, nor yet indolently and luxuriously;* thou shalt eat, and not penuriously stint thyself and others; thy crops shall not be blighted, but shall bring forth abundantly; and no enemy shall destroy or carry off thy harvest.* And these two latter interpretations accord best with the converse punishments threatened to the disobedient by Moses. Thou shalt eat the labours of thy hands. But he who hates labour, does not eat of it, nor can he say, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”* On the other hand, (G.) he to whom such labour is a delight, does not merely look forward in hope to the future fruits or rewards of labour, but even here and now finds sustenance and pleasure in toiling for GOD; so that it is well with him in this world, even amidst all its cares and troubles, and he shall be happy in that which is to come, (D. C.) whence sorrow is banished for ever, as it is written in the Gospel: “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of heaven;”* on which the Apostle’s words serve as a warning gloss, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.”* The whole passage is applied by some of the commentators to the LORD JESUS Himself, (P.) who, according to His manhood, did fear His heavenly FATHER and walk in all His ways, and Who had His reward in the virtues of His Militant Church on earth and the glories of His triumphant Church in heaven. And a mystical reference to the first institution of the Holy Eucharist, and to CHRIST’S perpetual action as the true Consecrator and celebrating Priest at every renewal thereof, may be found here. For that holy Sacrament does come indeed from the labours of those Hands which were nailed on the Cross for our salvation, and He is the Head of that mystical Body which eats and drinks of Him daily therein;* as He will be, in another fashion, the Food of His elect in Heaven; and then shall be fulfilled that prophecy which Isaiah spake of Him: “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.”*

3a (3) Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine: upon the walls of thine house.

Two things are noted here as the qualities of a good wife,* fertility, at once in good works, and in childbearing; and homekeeping, denoted by the phrase upon the walls of thine house, which ought rather to be the inner courts of thine house,* literally the sides of the interior court or quadrangle, where the women’s apartments were situate, thus marking off the habits of a good wife from those of the idle gossip, of whom the Wise Man writes that “She sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city.”* Further, the dutiful affection of a good wife to her husband is signified by the vine, which does not stand alone, but desires to be trained against some stronger support, which it adorns with its foliage and enriches with its fruit.

The whole figure is taken of the Church, (A.) as the Bride of CHRIST, an interpretation enforced by His styling Himself, in His capacity of Head of the Body, the Vine.* Close to Him, to His sides, the sacred walls of His Human Body, His Bride clings, and then only can flourish and bring forth fruit. And turning from the Head to His members, (C.) two streams of interpretation are found side by side. According to one,* the wife here is the bodily frame, subjected with all its affections,* and passions to the reason; and bearing (as it is trained against the walls of thought and action within the recesses of the mind,* towards each of the four cardinal points, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) abundant fruit of holy aspirations and good works. (G.) The other view is that Wisdom is meant, as we read, “I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty,”* and the remainder of the gloss agrees with that just given. (H.)

3b (4) Thy children like the olive-branches: round about thy table.

Not branches,* but with A. V. plants, for the figure is here different from that of the one spreading vine, and points rather to separate growth and vigour. The olive is chosen as a type of prosperity, because evergreen, strong, and fruitful;* and the children of the servant of GOD are in no fear of being led away captive, like those of rebels against His commands, but are round about his table, clustering at his modest board; like young trees planted round the sides of the very court whose walls are mantled by the leafy vine. Round about,* as all in their father’s sight, and as being ready to wait on him for any service.* These earthly children are figures of the spiritual children of the Church; (A.) fruitful, peaceful, (H.) gathered round GOD’S altar to feed there (whence this verse is the Antiphon to the Psalm on Corpus CHRISTI), gathered about the table of Holy Scripture to taste of the sweets which it furnishes to them. (C.) And observe that we have here in the inner courts of the mystical house both the vine and the olive, because oil and wine are needful to be poured into the wounds of those whom the Good Samaritan brings to be tended there;* the strength and severity of the Old Testament,* the softness and tenderness of the New. So too, in those good works of ours which are as it were our children, (Ay.) justice and mercy shall meet, and they should be gathered round Him Who is Himself the Table of the LORD’S House, looking to Him only, and waiting to minister to His wishes.

4 (5) Lo, thus shall the man be blessed: that feareth the LORD.

5 (6) The LORD from out of Sion shall so bless thee: that thou shalt see Jerusalem in prosperity all thy life long.

The purport of the first verse is repeated, (C.) to impress the lesson that only those who fear the LORD can reasonably look for His blessing. And then, to show that there is much more to come, not yet named in the enumeration of good things, unspoken, because unspeakable, blessings of GOD are invoked and promised.* Out of Sion, in the literal sense, from the Temple, as the centre of Jewish hope and worship (since though actually on Mount Moriah, it was within the limits of the region of the city named from Mount Zion), whence the benediction of the LORD diffused itself over and through the whole of Jerusalem; keeping her safe from the approach of foes so long as He was obeyed and honoured. In the mystical sense we have here, as so often, the contrast and yet connection between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant; and the thought is, (D. C.) GOD shall so help thee with the grace and strength stored up in His Church below,*—that Zion where David’s armoury was—that thou shalt overcome all enemies and obstacles in thy way, and attain to the unending joys of Jerusalem which is above.

6 (7) Yea, that thou shalt see thy children’s children: and peace upon Israel.

In one sense,* the words may be spoken to the Synagogue, which did see her children’s children, the Gentile converts of her own sons, the Apostles, and the peace which passeth all understanding won by that true Israel, prevalent with GOD. Spoken of the Christian Church, (L.) it tells of the long succession of rulers and teachers raised up in the spiritual posterity of the Apostles; (G.) applied to preachers of righteousness, we have the promise of imitators of their doctrine; and of the individual Christian, the gladness of seeing the fruit of his own good works. (Cd.) And peace upon Israel, the crowning joy of the Beatific Vision, when, after we have ceased to wrestle as Jacob, and have become the Israel of GOD,* we shall see Him, Who is our Peace, face to face.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who blesseth us out of Zion; glory be to the SON, Who feeds His wife and children round His table; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the giver of peace upon Israel.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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