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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. [Easter Eve: He shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, * He shall rest upon Thy holy hill. All Saints: LORD, they who have done the thing which is right, shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, and rest upon Thy holy hill. Common of a Martyr: He shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, he shall rest upon Thy holy hill. Many Martyrs: I will give to My Saints the promised place in the Kingdom of My FATHER, saith the LORD.]

Parisian. Who shall rest upon Thy holy hill, O LORD? He that worketh righteousness and hath done no harm to his neighbour.

Mozarabic. LORD, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?

The question has been asked why this is only called A Psalm of David: not, as so often, A Psalm of David to the end. S. Chrysostom answers that this Psalm has reference, not to the end, but to the very beginning, of the Christian life. Ruffinus sees a mystery in the very number of the Psalm: the Paschal Lamb was slain on the fourteenth day of the month at even: the number fifteen, as the day of the full moon, implies the fulness of light which followed the completion of the sacrifice, that fulness of light which will be the portion of the citizen of Sion, described in this Psalm.

The Psalmist in the last Psalm had declared:* “They are all gone out of the way,* there is none that doeth good;” and so, as if in despair, he turns to GOD that he may put the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” Standing then as a Priest before the Holy of Holies, and waiting for the words of the Living Oracle CHRIST, (G.) the whole world lying in wickedness behind him, the House of GOD in all its blessedness before him, he thus begins:1

1 LORD, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon thy holy hill?

We must understand the tabernacle of the Church militant; the holy hill of the Church triumphant.2 And in this sense it is well said, (B.) the tabernacle or tent, because tents are the habitation of them that are engaged in war, not of those who are at rest. By the mountains, as the Gloss beautifully says, eternal beatitude is represented, where is the vision of peace, and the perfection of love, where none contends in the vehemence of the conflict,—but every one rests in eternity of peace: the mountain in which it pleased the LORD to dwell, yea, the LORD will abide in it for ever. He asks not, (G.) Who shall rest in Thy tabernacle? because he well knows that rest here is impossible: “without are fightings, within are fears:”* “if Joshua had given them rest, then would He not afterwards have spoken of another day.”* Who shall dwell or abide: for he well knew how difficult it is to abide in grace. Adam had two sons, and one was a murderer: only eight persons were preserved in the ark, and one was a blasphemer: Abraham had two sons, and one was rejected: Isaac had two sons, and one was reprobate: Jacob had twelve, (Ay.) and ten banded together to sell their brother for a slave. We may find a reference here to the ark, which for centuries dwelt in the tabernacle, being carried hither and thither, but never found any rest till removed to the holy hill of Sion. S. Basil takes the tabernacle of our flesh, laying the emphasis on the word Thy: who shall dwell in this body of infirmity and sin, so as to make it Thy tabernacle?

[This whole Psalm sets before us the perfect Manhood of CHRIST,* and describes the holiness and obedience whereby He merited, even as the Son of Man, the throne of Heaven. And as He rested in more than one place during His pilgrimage on earth, so the tabernacle is variously explained. And first, it is taken of His Virgin Mother:

Sic quievit in Mariâ,*

Dum ipsius in hac viâ

Virgo fit hospitium.

Or,* with the Vulgate reading of Ecclus. 24:8: “He that made me rested in my tabernacle.” Then the grave which held Him for a time is so called, in accordance with that saying,* “His rest (Vulg. grave) shall be glorious.” Wherefore this Psalm is recited on Easter Eve. And, thirdly, His abode in Paradise before His Resurrection is referred to, as He was the first of mankind to enter there. Finally, He, coming to His people in the Blessed Sacrament, dwells in that true tabernacle of GOD, a cleansed heart.

O dulcis JESU,* veni

In cordis lectulum,

In quo nil sit obscœni;

Fac tibi ferculum

Virtutibus ornatum,

Et caritate stratum,

Me tibi præparatum

Fac tabernaculum.]

2 Even he, that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart.

As ten commandments were given from Mount Sinai, (Ay.) which they who would enter into eternal life must keep: so here we have ten marks or characteristics of those that shall enter into the same life. The first is, He that leadeth an uncorrupt life; or as it is in the Vulgate, He that walketh without blemish. Walketh, that is, in the same state in which he has been placed by holy Baptism; leading “the rest of his life according to this beginning.” But this keeping himself unspotted from the world, this passive service of GOD, is not enough, unless he bring forth the fruits of actual righteousness: (G.) and therefore it follows in the second place, and doeth the thing which is right. They observe that of the four cardinal virtues, Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude, David only mentions Justice, because this of necessity must include all the others. And then there follows thirdly, speaketh the truth from his heart. Where notice that truth is here mentioned as the first-fruit of working righteousness, just as it is put first in the catalogue of Christian graces by S. Paul: “finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,”* &c.

3 He that hath used no deceit in his tongue, nor done evil to his neighbour: and hath not slandered his neighbour.

They notice well that there are three kinds of truth; (Ay.) truth in heart, truth in word, truth in deed. Truth in heart, of which the Apostle says, “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.”* Truth in word, of which the Prophet writes, “These are the things which ye shall do; speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour.”* Truth in deed; of which Hezekiah pleads, “Remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart.”* And we have them all here. Truth in heart: speaketh the truth from his heart. Truth in word: he that hath used no deceit in his tongue. Truth in deed: nor done evil to his neighbour. And these are the third, fourth and fifth marks of the citizen of Sion. S. Augustine, the Doctor of Truth, who so strenuously teaches that a falsehood can never be justified by any necessity, even of life or death, dwells at great length from this Psalm in his treatise De Mendacio, on the subject of truth.

And notice the examples of truth spoken with the lips but not from the heart; (L.) because either spoken unwillingly or guilefully. Caiaphas spoke the truth concerning CHRIST: “It is expedient that one man should die for the people;”* but,—“this spake he not of himself;” and therefore not from his heart. The priests of the Philistines spake truth concerning the ark; Balaam concerning the people of GOD; the devils concerning CHRIST; but again not from the heart. The sixth note: and hath not slandered his neighbour. S. Augustine’s practical commentary on this clause is well known; how over the table at which he entertained his friends, he caused these two verses to be written:

Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere vitam

Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi.

He that is wont to slander absent men,

May never at this table sit again:

And in his Confessions, he takes occasion to celebrate the abhorrence which S. Monica always felt and expressed for everything like slander. The seventh characteristic follows:

4a (4) He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes: and maketh much of them that fear the LORD.

Here the Vulgate is entirely different from our own translation: The malicious one hath been brought to nought in his sight: or as it is in our Bible translation, In whose eyes a vile person is contemned. If we take that translation, the Psalmist only tells us what the Apostle also commands: “Be strong in the LORD, and in the power of His might:” thus being able to contemn him that is indeed the vile person, him that is indeed the malicious, namely, Satan. Hence came the courage of the martyrs; hence they could despise the bribes and seductions of the devil on the one side, (Ay.) for the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” offered them on the other. And not only the devil, but his instruments: witness the words of brave Mattathias:* “Thus consider ye throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in Him shall be overcome. Fear not thou the words of a sinful man, for his glory shall be dung and worms. To-day he shall be lifted up, and to-morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing.” Yes: and thus indeed Satan was contemned by Him Whose abode is from everlasting to everlasting on the heavenly hill, (G.) when the evil one showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them in a moment of time: and received for his answer, “Get thee behind Me, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the LORD thy GOD, and Him only shalt thou serve.” And maketh much of them that fear the Lord. Beautifully in the same spirit is it said by our own Bishop Montague, “Those blessed ones with GOD, that have fought the good fight,* kept the faith, finished their course, as they are now regnant in glory with their Redeemer, so are they honourable amongst the righteous upon earth for ever. They have left a name behind them so that their praise shall be remembered for evermore. The LORD hath gotten great glory by them, and therefore with renown He will reward them. No Christian will deny or envy them their due; and for myself, I say with Nazianzen, It doth me good at heart to see them honoured: I admire, reverence, adore them in their kind: their triumphs and trophies over death and hell, my tongue and pen shall most willingly set forth to light with all the poor skill and faculty I have.”

4b (5) He that sweareth unto his neighbour, and disappointeth him not: though it were to his own hindrance.

This is the eighth characteristic of the citizen of Sion. Where notice that there was once a disposition on the part of some of the greatest doctors of the Church, as S. Augustine and S. Basil, to consider all swearing of whatever kind, forbidden by the law of Christianity. S. Basil says on this very place: “What is this? Here an oath is mentioned among those virtues which belong to a perfect man; while in the Gospel it is entirely forbidden. What then are we to say? This: that the LORD has everywhere the same end, not only to prevent the completed efforts of sin, but to cut up iniquity from its very first beginnings. For, as the old law says, Thou shalt not commit adultery, but the LORD’s commandment is, Thou shalt not desire: so here, the Prophet is satisfied if an oath be taken with truth; but the LORD cuts up all possibility of perjury by forbidding an oath.”* S. Augustine says: “A false oath is destruction; a true oath is perilous: no oath is secure.” And so S. Ambrose: “It is GOD’s will that thou shouldest not swear, lest thou shouldest commit perjury.” But the teaching of the Church is rather that of S. Thomas: An oath is like medicine; not to be taken every day and on common occasions, nor without the advice of a wise physician; but with that advice necessary.

[And observe,* that as the word Sacrament denotes the military oath, so this verse holds of the Christian soldier who keeps the pledge sworn to his Captain in Baptism, and confirmed in the Eucharist, disappointing Him not, Who is so eager for our salvation, but abiding faithful even when constancy seems to be to his own hindrance, loss of friends, spoiling of goods, peril of life itself. And it is well said, his neighbour, because the “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother,”* the LORD our GOD,* is nigh unto us in all things that we call upon Him for.]1

5a (6) He that hath not given his money upon usury: nor taken reward against the innocent.

The first clause of this verse contains no doubt the most* intensely difficult subject in Christian morals.* Whether the law against usury was one intended for the Jews alone, in the strictness of the letter,* and the Early Church was mistaken in applying it to the new dispensation: or whether the later Church has mistaken in allowing it under certain,* and those very lax, rules, rules rather dictated by the civil authority than self-evident, is a question which it would be the height of presumption to attempt to solve.* Only this must be remembered: that there has been great error on the one side or on the other; either in the present practice of allowing, without a scruple, funds, debentures, and the like; or in the early prohibition to a priest to buy a field in which the seed had just been sown, with the intention of selling the crop, because in so doing he sold time, GOD’s free gift to everyone. But let this law mean what it may; let it be taken in the literal sense, or like the fourth commandment be utterly spiritualised, there can be no doubt as to the next clause, nor taketh reward against the innocent. And then we are carried back at once to His trial, Who was indeed, Who was only, innocent; to His own words quoted against Him, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again;” to the confession of Judas, (G.) “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” And this last characteristic of the perfect man, seems to fix the interpretation of the whole on Him Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; on Him Who shall indeed dwell in GOD’s tabernacle and rest upon His holy hill, when all enemies shall be subdued to Him and He shall reign for ever and ever. And in this sense, most fully, most completely, does the last verse apply;

5b (7) Whoso doeth these things: shall never fall.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose is the holy hill; and to the SON, Who shall abide in it for ever: and to the HOLY GHOST, by Whom only we are to reach it.

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

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