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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.





              In the sight* of the Angels will I sing unto Thee, my GOD. Gregorian. [Sacred Heart: Because of Thy mercy, O LORD, I will give thanks unto Thee with my whole heart. Michaelmas Day: Angels, Archangels,* Thrones and Dominions, Princedoms and Powers, Virtues of the Heavens, praise the LORD of heaven. All. SS. Guardian Angels: Praise GOD * all ye Angels of His, praise Him, all His hosts. Office of the Dead: The works * of Thine hands despise not, O LORD.]


Ambrosian. The works of Thine hands * despise not, O LORD.

Parisian. I will give thanks unto Thy Name, O LORD, because of Thy lovingkindness and truth.

1 I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, with my whole heart: even before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.1

There is much diversity in the meaning assigned to gods in this verse. It may mean literally in an idolatrous country, in the very temples of false gods, as so many Christian martyrs bore testimony to the Faith.* The LXX., Vulgate, Æthiopic, and Arabic translate angels.* The Chaldee has judges, the Syriac kings, (Z.) and the earlier Greek Fathers explain the reference of the choirs of Priests and Levites in the Temple. All these notions may well be united in the sense which the words bear for us: a promise to do homage to the LORD, undismayed by the presence of earthly potentates who disregard Him: “I will speak of Thy testimonies also, even before kings, and will not be ashamed,”* to do this homage publicly in His temple, when His ministers are celebrating Divine Service, (H.) and to do it remembering that the Angelic hosts are joining in that worship, so that we men should be careful to let our attention, devotion, love, and reverence be like theirs, that there be no dissonance, instead of harmony, in the united song of praise.* And in this way S. Chrysostom explains the LXX. ἐναντίον, opposite the Angels; as though they formed one half of the choir, and men the other half, facing each other, and provoking one another to emulation in the good work of praise and devotion.* This notion of the presence of the Angels as a check upon careless or irreverent behaviour during worship is that adduced by S. Paul,* saying, that a woman ought “to have a covering on her head because of the Angels;”* while Tertullian and S. Bernard alike cite the same truth as a reason against any unseemly demeanour in church.* Before the Angels too, for another reason, (A.) because the joy which makes the Psalmist sing is divine. Earthly happiness would cause him to sing before men, spiritual gladness makes him sing before the Angels; for the ungodly know nothing of the joys of the righteous. (C.) The wicked rejoice in the tavern, the martyr in his chain. And the whole thought may well be a looking forward to that happy time when Angels and men shall be joined together into one choir of praise after the resurrection of the just.* Before the Angels, with the same purity of heart and steadfastness of intention which they exhibit in adoration. They draw the usual distinction between give thanks, (R.) as vocal devotion, and song, (ψαλῶ, psallam) as practical service of GOD, alike thankofferings for answered prayers.

2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy Name, because of thy lovingkindness and truth: for thou hast magnified thy Name, and thy word above all things.

If it were an earthly temple which is here spoken of, (H.) we should have in, not towards;* but as Daniel in Babylon opened his windows towards Jerusalem, and knelt down in prayer;* we here in Babylonian exile, bow ourselves in prayer and longing towards GOD’S dwelling in the heavens. (D. C.) And as all the sacredness which encompassed the Temple was due to the indwelling Presence which made it, with its created exterior and uncreated inhabitant,* a type of the Incarnation,* so the deepest meaning of these words for us is adoration of the Sacred Humanity of our LORD JESUS CHRIST,* in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of Godhead bodily, (C.) which Presence we daily adore in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar:

In the sight of the Angels I sing to Thee,*

In Thy holy temple I bend the knee,

Thy Name shall my lips, O LORD, confess,

And praise Thy mercies numberless:

From the eastern gates of the rising sun

To the goal where he rests when his course is run,

The Offering pleads to the throne of grace

With holy incense in every place.

Because of Thy lovingkindness and truth. (A.) Lovingkindness, or mercy (Vulg.) in predestination, truth in judgment, mercy in forgiveness of sinners, truth in reward of the righteous; and still more, because of the coming in the flesh of Him Who is Himself the mercy and truth of GOD. For Thou hast magnified Thy Name, and Thy Word, above all things. There has been some difficulty raised about the construction of this clause. The Hebrew runs (as in A. V.) Thou, hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name. The LXX.: Thou hast magnified Thy Holy Name above everything. Syriac: Thou hast magnified Thy Word above every name; and the Vulgate may be either taken as the LXX., or Thou hast magnified Thy Holy One above every name, (which is also a possible but less probable rendering of the Greek.*) There need have been no perplexity,* for each and all of these versions are but so many ways of expressing the blessed truth proclaimed by the Apostle of the Gentiles: “Wherefore GOD also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of JESUS every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST is LORD, to the glory of GOD the FATHER.”* There is a special force in magnified, (Ay.) because this magnifying accrued to the LORD JESUS chiefly in the work of our redemption. Magnificence is more than liberality; coming short of waste and consumption, it yet denotes lavish and splendid outlay, and they who are magnificent in their expenditure are so in four ways, towards GOD, towards the general community, towards special persons, and towards themselves. CHRIST was magnificent towards GOD, being obedient unto His FATHER, even to the death of the Cross; He was magnificent towards the general community, because He gave the price of His Blood not to redeem one nation only, but all; He was magnificent to single persons, as when He gave the Church to Peter, and His own dear Mother to John; and He was magnificent towards Himself, by doing such wondrous works as to draw upon Himself the love and worship of mankind.

JESUS, in glory high renowned,*

JESUS, by all men fruitful found,

JESUS, with every virtue crowned,

Gives comfort infinite.

Above all might, the mightiest,

Above all honour, lordliest,

Above all love, the loveliest,

All praise to Him pertains.

In wisdom everything He knows,

In compass all things doth enclose,

By love He captureth His foes,

And holds their hearts in chains.

3 When I called upon thee, thou heardest me: and enduedst my soul with much strength.

When, &c. It ought to run, as in A. V., In the day when I called, Thou answeredst me. (C.) Some call on GOD in the day, and others in the night.* They who walk as children of light, in a pure, bright conscience, (A.) unclouded by secret sin; who ask GOD not for earthly and carnal blessings, but for grace, (C.) glory, immortality, such as these cry in the day. It is a prayer, Hear me [quickly LXX.] in whatsoever day I call, in the LXX. and Vulgate, and it is well said that as night is the time when we seem specially in need of prayer, so that no exclusion of it can be intended, the spiritual sense of day becomes more prominent. And enduedst my soul with much strength, to confer power of resistance to the many troubles and temptations Thou knowest to await me; giving me whatsoever day, (G.) whatever ray of Thy glory, whatever special grace I may need to overcome any given obstacle; eloquence,* in the presence of rulers and enemies, against aspersions cast on the Faith; courage to endure tortures; zeal and perseverance in spreading the Gospel; that the prophecy of the next two verses may be fulfilled:

4 All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O LORD: for they have heard the words of thy mouth.

5 Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the LORD: that great is the glory of the LORD.

Whether these words referred originally to the subjugation of the tribes around Palestine by David,* or to the awe of their descendants at the unlooked for restoration of exiled Israel to their own land;* at any rate,* the first meaning for us here is the conversion of the Gentiles, and their entrance into the fold of CHRIST.* But the Latins almost unanimously understand the words of those spiritual Kings, (H.) Apostles, Saints, (C.) and rulers of the Church, not Jews alone, but of every nation, who have heard the words of God’s mouth in the sayings of Holy Writ,* and other such, who celebrate the mercy and truth of GOD,* which are all His ways, and they sing as men near the end of their journey.

6 For though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: as for the proud, he beholdeth them afar off.

Therefore if the kings of the earth wish GOD to have respect unto them, (A.) they must needs be lowly. And lest any one of the proud should say, If GOD looks only on the lowly, I may do as I please, because He will not see me, forgetting that though it certainly is said that the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, yet it is added that “His ears are open unto their prayers,”* so that if they be wronged, the injurer will not escape; and forgetting also that though man cannot see plainly things which are afar off,* GOD can, He sees thee perfectly, but He is not with thee, He beholdeth thee, but it is afar off, far from His grace and mercy. Afar off, too, at the last,* if they repent not, as far as the depth of hell is from His throne in heaven. And, on the contrary, that one human creature to whom GOD came nearer than to any other, (L.) gave the reason for it, saying, “My soul doth magnify the LORD, for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.”* The interpretation of the verse by Arnobius is very striking,* taking it, as he does, of the LORD JESUS, high upon the Cross, looking down thence in the same moment of time on the lowly mourners near His feet, on whom He looked in tender compassion, and at the proud rebellious spirits in the far depths below, whom He was about to triumph over and spoil, whom He keeps ever at a distance from Him, as He does those who are too proud to come to the feet of the carpenter’s Son, but try to find GOD out by their reason only.

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, yet shalt thou refresh me: thou shalt stretch forth thy hand upon the furiousness of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.

Though I walk. The Vulgate turns it If I walk, (C.) and the expositors take walking as the condition of the subsequent reviving. If I walk, (G.) if I persevere, if I continue in penitence, if I brave temptations and persecutions, if I turn not back out of the battle because there are armed enemies around me, (Ay.) if I continue faithful unto death,* Thou wilt revive me (LXX., Vulg., and A. V.) and give me a crown of life.* And note how there is here a prophecy of trouble awaiting the Church even after the conversion of the kings of the earth. Those very monarchs and people who embraced the Cross, afterwards by heresy, by apostasy, by hurtful encroachments, and yet more hurtful gifts, brought straits and troubles on the Bride of CHRIST. Thou shalt stretch forth Thine hand, &c. The wonderful change, still fresh in the memory of the Christian writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, (A.) exhibited when the very men who had shared in the execution of the martyrs, now vied in building churches in their honour, (C.) is the staple of exposition on this part of the verse, and they complete the picture by noting that CHRIST, the Right hand of GOD, saved His Saints in the persecutions, not with the left hand of temporal deliverance from torture and death, but with the right hand of perseverance to the end, by a glorious death and a more glorious reward, all foreshown by that Right Hand Himself, Whom the FATHER revived by the Resurrection, after He had walked through the deep waters of His Passion and Death; when the evil spirits in Hades, the Guards at the sepulchre, the Chief Priests in their council, were alike overcome, and the Almighty Power of GOD exalted the SON to the throne of the kingdom.

8 The LORD shall make good his loving-kindness toward me: yea, thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever; despise not then the works of thine own hands.

The first clause is, literally, The Lord shall perfect concerning me; that is, fulfil all His promises on my behalf. The LXX. (A.) and Vulgate read, The Lord shall repay for me, and S. Augustine hereupon allegorizes the miracle of the tribute-money which CHRIST paid for Himself and for S. Peter, saying that He paid what He never took and did not owe,* that He, the first-born from the dead, was the fish that came up first out of the sea,* and that as in the mouth of the fish S. Peter caught, there was a stater, which makes four drachmas, so in CHRIST’S mouth, and given by Him, were the four Gospels, which contain the price of our redemption from the troubles of this world. And this He did, because His mercy endureth for ever, and because, so far from despising the work of His hands, He condescended to take on Him the form of a servant,* and to be found in fashion as a man,* wherefore He is not ashamed to call us brethren, and we may pray Him to show that everlasting mercy not only upon us, (D. C.) by bringing to perfection within us these beginnings of faith, hope, and charity, which are the work of His hands, not of ours,* but upon all our enemies, repaying for us in this wise, by bringing them to repentance and to salvation, remembering that they too are His creatures, and have thus a claim on His compassion and mercy.

And so:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath magnified His Word above all things; glory be to the SON, the WORD so magnified above every name, Whom the FATHER hallowed and sent into the world; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who is the mercy that endureth for ever.

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

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