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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.




              Ferial: Out of the deep * have I called unto Thee, O LORD. [Christmas Day and Sacred Heart: With the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. Office of Dead: If Thou, LORD, wilt mark what is done amiss, O LORD, who may abide it?]


Ambrosian. O let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.

Parisian. My soul hath waited on His word, * my soul hath hoped in the LORD.

Mozarabic. From the morning watch until the night * let Israel hope in the LORD.

1 Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD: LORD, hear my voice.

This Psalm, (A.) eleventh in number of the Graduals, sixth of the Penitentials,* and consisting of eight verses, is meant to teach us, they say, that no man can so live throughout the perfect time of his working life here, denoted by the six week-days of creation, as not to transgress the moral law of GOD laid down in the Decalogue, and so to pass on to eleven, the symbol of evil; but that by persevering in penitential supplication to GOD, the sinner may reach at last that octave of the Resurrection, when CHRIST shall redeem Israel from all his sins.

It is spoken, in the first historical sense, by the Hebrew people, out of the deep of their captivity in Babylon, imploring pardon and obedience from GOD, and not obscurely intreating for the Advent of the promised Messiah. (A.) For us it is the cry of any one striving to ascend out of the abyss of sin;* even as Jonah cried unto the LORD out of the belly of the fish. The deep in which we find ourselves is this mortal life, and every one who thoroughly understands that he is in the deep, cries, groans, and sighs, till he be delivered out of it, and come to Him Who sitteth over all the depths, and upon the Cherubim.* Whence then does the cry come? Out of the deep. Who is it that cries? A sinner. And with what hope does he cry? Because He, Who came to loose the bonds of sin, hath also given hope even to a sinner in the deep. Man must needs call too out of the deep of humility, since GOD beholdeth the proud afar off, and out of the deep of his heart, not honouring the LORD with his lips only while his heart is far from Him. Out of the deep, moreover, of his present misery,* and above all, out of the deep of GOD’S infinite compassion and mercy. Note, too, that it is said, I have called, not “I am calling,” teaching us not to leave off our prayer if it seem at first to be unheard, but to persevere till it has been answered. GOD loves to be asked, to be constrained, to be overcome, as it were, by our importunity. And therefore He saith to us, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by storm.* That is a righteous violence, wherewith GOD is not offended, but pleased; especially when, as here, the eager repetition of His holy Name marks the loving affection of His petitioner, and confidence in His goodwill and power.* The use of the Psalm in the Western Church at burials, and in the Office of the Dead, points to another sense of it, the prayer of all expectant souls, whether of martyrs under the altar or others further from their consummation, that they may be taken up by the LORD out of their state of waiting, into the bliss of His Presence. It has been well said that the verse puts before us six conditions of true prayer:* it is lowly, out of the deep; fervent, have I called; direct to GOD Himself, unto Thee; reverent, O Lord; awed, Lord is again said; one’s very own, hear my voice.

2 O let thine ears consider well: the voice of my complaint.

It is not enough to cry with a loud voice in order to be heard;* for it is also needful that the person called upon may give heed. For it often happens that one is so buried in thought about something else as not to attend to the voice of another speaking to him; and in that case the sound of the words strikes in vain on his ears. It is true that GOD sees and hears everything, but when He does not perform what we ask, He appears as though not attending to the voice of the petitioners, but thinking of something else, and therefore the Psalmist is not satisfied with crying loudly, but further prays that GOD will consider, that is, accept his prayers, (Ay.) and give him what is asked. GOD is said to bow down His ears, that is, His readiness and mercy, to us, but we, on the other hand, to lift up ours to Him. And it is to be noted that the form of the human ear teaches three silent lessons. It is always open, unlike the eyes, closed with lids, and the mouth, with lips; signifying that we should be more ready to hear than either to see or to speak; it is small, unlike that of the ass and other lower animals, warning us to “take heed how ‘we’ hear,”* and not to receive everything which is spoken; it is erect, unlike the hanging ears of dogs, because we ought to listen for words which come from heaven, rather than to those uttered from earth below.

3 If thou, LORD, wilt he extreme to mark what is done amiss: O LORD, who may abide it?

This verse is one of the great texts used by the Catholics in the controversy against the Novatians,* who in an unwise zeal for the purity of the Church,* denied all power of returning, even after severe penance, to those who had fallen away under the stress of persecution. (A.) For, as they note, the Psalmist does not say, “I cannot abide it,” but who may abide it? seeing that no man is safe from sins which howl around him, none is of perfectly spotless conscience, none pure in heart because of his own righteousness. Abide it, or, literally, with an idiom common to English and Hebrew, stand.* That is, either endure it without being flung down in prostrate ruin,* or stand, as an accused before a tribunal, to make any plea in defence. For “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”* Wherefore we beseech GOD not to act as Judge only,* but to exert, as King, His prerogative of mercy, and add:

4 For there is mercy with thee: therefore shalt thou be feared.

5 I look for the LORD;

Therefore, &c. Or, more literally, with A. V., that Thou mayest be feared.* For if Thou wert to be strict in judgment, no one could abide it, all would perish in the severity of such a trial, and there would be no subjects left to serve, fear, and thankfully love Thee.* Therefore, if Thou desirest to be feared,* forgive; and drive not miserable sinners into the gulf of despair, (A.) wherein they cease to fear, because they have lost all. Thou wilt forgive, for there is forgiveness with Thee, since He Who was in the beginning with GOD,* is now, as Man, at Thy right hand, and “He is the propitiation (Vulg.) for our sins;”* the Sacrifice once offered to take away the guilt of the world. The LXX. and the Vulgate read the latter clause of the verse differently: For Thy Name’s sake I have waited for Thee, O Lord, (LXX.:) Because of Thy law I have waited for Thee, O Lord, (Vulg.) The exposition of the Greek reading is:* Albeit I could not of myself abide Thy judgment, (Z.) nevertheless, I wait patiently, knowing that Thine honour is concerned in delivering Thy servant, despite of my sins, lest those who are not Thy servants should think Thee too feeble or too indifferent to protect Thy worshippers. It is exactly the argument of Moses when GOD threatened to consume the Israelites in a moment for their worship of the golden calf: “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did He bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?”*

The Latin version is explained as referring to GOD’S law of mercy and love, (A.) in confidence of which the Psalmist awaits the LORD’S coming, (G.) although well aware of his own unworthiness to abide it. The Apostle has said, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of CHRIST.”* And as CHRIST binds Himself by His own law, we can wait for Him, patiently expecting till He come to remove the heavy fardel of sin from our shoulders, and transfer it to His own, giving us renewed life and strength thereby.* Or, as others will have it, I endured Thee, I bore uncomplainingly all Thy chastisements, because of Thy law, knowing that Thou wast doing not only what was perfectly righteous, but also what was perfectly merciful, and that mercy, freedom, and righteousness would come in due time to me from Thy hands.

my soul doth wait for him: in his word is my trust.

6 My soul fleeth unto the LORD: before the morning watch, I say, before the morning watch.

7 O Israel, trust in the LORD;

These verses are divided so differently in the Vulgate from the Masoretic punctuation, that it is necessary to group them together in this fashion. And first, the remainder of the fifth verse appears thus: My soul hath waited in His word: on which follows: My soul hath hoped in the Lord. That is, (A.) GOD has promised mercy, through the Incarnation and sacrifice of the WORD, (C.) His Only-begotten SON, and the Psalmist declares that he has been patiently waiting for the fulfilment of GOD’S promise, knowing that it cannot fail (as man’s pledges might do,) and therefore gives as the reason for his unruffled expectation, that it is the LORD, not in any one less than He, that his soul has hoped. The Hebrew pointing, however, gives the sentence as marked in the sixth verse above, which is not quite exactly rendered by the Prayer Book. It ought to run, My soul is unto the Lord, more than they which watch for the morning. That is, my yearning for the coming of CHRIST is greater than the longing wherewith they who have to wake all night (whether as sentinels or as invalids) look for the welcome break of day. It is in this sense, coupled with the previous reference to the forgiveness or propitiation that is with GOD, that the Psalm finds its place in the Vespers of Christmas Day. But the whole clause runs in the Vulgate, From the morning watch until night, (A.) let Israel hope in the Lord. S. Augustine, taking at once the Messianic interpretation,* explains this of the trust of CHRIST’S spiritual Israel in Him from the early morning of His Resurrection (or as some prefer, of the Nativity) until that night cometh when no man can work,* to be followed by that other Resurrection morning for us all.* Others,* applying the words to the individual soul, explain it of a Christian’s confidence in GOD from the first dawnings of faith in the heart,* (whether in baptism, in early youth, or in the time before we have fallen into deadly sin) till the very close of life; working, as a great Father reminds us, (H.) in GOD’S vineyard from the early morning, through all the burden and heat of the day,* until the evening of dismissal and reward has come.

for with the LORD there is mercy: and with him is plenteous redemption.

8 And he shall redeem Israel: from all his sins.

Here is the wondrous reason for Israel to hope in the LORD, (C.) because in His hand is mercy which can make the sinner righteous, the weak immortal, the fleshly like unto the Angels; and there is also plenteous redemption, because that Precious Blood was so copious in its abundance as to redeem the sins of the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike,* and wash the entire globe from its defilement with a flood of salvation. Nay, seeing that it was the Blood of GOD, Who is infinite, it far excelled the value of all that it redeemed, and would have sufficed for a million worlds. (G.) Nor is the power of that Blood exhausted, CHRIST not only has redeemed, (R.) but shall redeem, shall go on daily ransoming sinners from the curse, (B.) feeding them with His own Body and Blood,* leading a continual exodus out of the Egyptian bondage of sin, original and actual, venial and mortal, into the Canaan of a renewed and holy life. This mercy and redemption were with the Lord, in His secret counsels, long before the Incarnation of the WORD, but now they are not only with the LORD, but with us, and the earth is full of His mercy; even since the word came to Joseph in a dream, “Thou shalt call His Name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins.”* And that He did with plenteous redemption,* pouring out all His precious life-Blood upon the Cross, (L.) to the last few roseate drops, and sparing none of it, so that He was red in His apparel, and stained all His raiment.* From all his sins. Not from temporal captivity and suffering, but from the sorer bondage of evil; and as they tell us, not the younger and spiritual Israel alone is here meant, but that elder people which rejected and crucified Him, (C.) shall be cleansed from its crowning guilt by His plenteous redemption, and joined in one rejoicing fellowship with the servants of the Cross.


Glory be to the FATHER, unto Whom we call from the deep; glory be to the SON, His WORD, mercy, and redemption, Who redeems Israel from all his sins; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who considers well the voice of our complaint.

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

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