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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: O LORD, Thou hast searched me out * and known me. [Gregorian and Monastic. Comm. Apost.: Their principality is strengthened, Thy friends are made honourable. Ambrosian. Good Friday: I tell thee, Peter, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. K. K. K.]


Parisian. First portion: Thou hast laid Thine hand on me, O LORD * whither shall I flee then from Thy presence? Second portion: I will give thanks unto Thee, for Thou art fearfully magnified: my soul knoweth right well.

Lyons. First portion: As Gregorian. Second portion: Lead me in the way everlasting.

Mozarabic. Thou hast fashioned me, hast laid Thine hand upon me, O LORD.

1–2 (1) O LORD, thou hast searched me out and known me: thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thoughts long before.

Searched me out does not mean that GOD needs to do this before He can know,* but tells of the perfect exactness of His knowledge, of the impossibility of anything, however hidden, escaping His observation. The order of the words is borrowed from human experience, (Cd.) in which inquiry must precede knowledge, but with GOD they are simultaneous and identical. The Greek and Latin words for searched out are more exactly rendered proved, and upon this sense much of the exposition turns, showing that GOD does not prove us that He may know us, but that we may know ourselves and Him. And whereas the entire Psalm declares the relation in which man stands to GOD, (H.) they take it as spoken principally of the LORD JESUS, (A.) as the Head of the human race, (C.) so that we have here a foreshadowing of the manner in which the Captain of our salvation was tested and made perfect by suffering and humiliation,* and proved most holy, not to GOD, but to the Tempter and to doubting men. And in this sense they interpret the second clause, taking CHRIST’S down-sitting to be His Passion and lying in the grave, and His up-rising to be the Resurrection, which is the precise word used by the Vulgate here,* whence the liturgical use of the verse as the Introit for Easter Day. Applied to the members instead of the Head, down-sitting signifies the humble and penitential abasement of the sinner, up-rising his justification through grace, and arousing to the hope of everlasting life. And with this accords well the Chaldee paraphrase:* “Thou knowest my sitting down to study Thy Law, and my rising up to go into battle.” Long before. GOD knew the mind of CHRIST from all eternity, (C.) long before the Incarnation, long before the first promise of it to Eve. And whereas the literal rendering is afar off, it is not only true that GOD has foreseen everything which passes through the mind of man, (A.) but He beholds the sinner afar off from heaven in his pilgrimage, when he is feeding the world’s swine, like the prodigal son, and long before the words of penitent confession burst from the repentant lips, He is ready to meet the returning sinner with His grace, and to anticipate him with his pardon, as it is written, “But while he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and kissed him.”*

3 (2) Thou art about my path, and about my bed: and spiest out all my ways.

This further amplifies the confession of GOD’S omniscience:* Thou winnowest (A. V. marg., S. Jerome) man’s paths, that is, all his actions during the busy hours of day, and his bed, his time of repose and cessation from toil, not only tracing them out, (which is the sense of the LXX. ἐξινίασας and the Vulgate investigasti,) but subjecting them to severe scrutiny to prove how much of them is fruitful, and how much mere vanity. And observe that in the four occupations of time in these two verses,* there is a direct reference to the injunction twice given by GOD as to sedulous study of the Law, “These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”* But for bed the LXX. and Vulgate have σχοῖνον, funiculum, that is, rope or cord, and of this there are various explanations. One view is that it means a path as straight and narrow as a cord, or else roped in, as the line of a racecourse, and thus signifies the one special path which men ought to take out of the many open to them. A second theory is that the cord marks the end of the road, (A.) the goal of the journey, and the force in this case will not be very different from that of the true meaning, bed.* Again, they take the cord as a measuring line, and thus a type of careful judgment,* either that which GOD passes on man’s sin, or man’s own estimate of himself; (G.) and finally, as a lot or inheritance,* marked out, in ancient fashion, with a cord. And spiest out all my ways, those by-ways of thought and resolve, tending to a certain goal, which lead into the path or high road of practical action.

4 (3) For lo, there is not a word in my tongue: but thou, O LORD, knowest it altogether.

Another rendering of this passage, adopted by some Rabbins and modern critics,* is even more forcible,* Before a word is yet on my tongue,* Thou knowest it. And the force of this is twofold, as it denotes not only GOD’S foreknowledge, but man’s incapacity to utter, without GOD’S help, the very thoughts he has formed and has ready on his tongue. But the LXX. and Vulgate both depart from these senses, and coupling the words with the closing ones of the previous verse, read severally, Thou hast foreseen all my ways, that there is no unrighteous word in my tongue (LXX.), or, that there is no speech in my tongue (Vulg.) The Greek Fathers take their rendering to signify either solid purpose of speech or child-like innocence,* (and there is a variant δόλος, (A.) craft, which makes for this,) while the Latins for the most part explain theirs of the powerlessness of human speech to express the marvels of GOD’S wisdom. (C.) The Psalmist endeavours to tell of it, and is obliged to confess that words fail him. Those of the Latins who follow the Greek text, explain the words of CHRIST as the Truth, as having in Him no fault; and such of them as seek an interpretation of the Vulgate rendering which shall fit them, (G.) take speech upon the tongue as meaning “lip-service,” impenitent confession, in-devout prayer, all words, in short, which are not the genuine utterance of the heart.

5 (4) Thou hast fashioned me behind and before: and laid thine hand upon me.

The translation of the first clause here differs at once from the A. V. and from the ancient versions, except S. Jerome. The true sense is that of the A. V., Thou hast beset me, or pressed on me,* behind and before, that is, as a recent commentator happily illustrates it, the immanent Presence of GOD, (A.) in which “we live and move and have our being,”* presses us and compasses us equally on all sides, with an unseen, unfelt, and yet most real and powerful impact, like the atmosphere with which we are surrounded, whose enormous weight is unperceived because it is exerted equally in every direction at the same moment of time, upwards and downwards, vertically and horizontally, behind and before. But the LXX. and Vulgate translate the words differently, and connect this with the previous verse, thus: Thou knowest all things, the newest and the ancient, Thou hast formed me, and laid Thine hand upon me. Thou knowest man’s old fall, (A.) and his later penalty of death,* Thou knowest how I of old asked for my share of the inheritance, and later how I had to feed swine. Thou hast formed me for labour, and laid Thine hand upon me to cast me down when proud, to lift me up when humbled. (C.) And taking the words as spoken by CHRIST, GOD knows His latest acts, His Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and also those ancient things, when “in the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with GOD, and the WORD was GOD.”* Thou hast formed me, by generation, whereby the LORD JESUS was “in the form of GOD,”* and laid Thine hand upon me, showing the might of His power in the words and works of CHRIST, as it is written in another Psalm, “I have found David My servant, with My holy oil have I anointed Him; My hand shall hold Him fast, and My arm shall strengthen Him;”* or, as others take it, hypostatically united the WORD, the Hand of GOD, with the humanity of CHRIST.* And taking the words of any servant of GOD, (Ay.) the Carmelite bids us observe that there is much force in the position of the words, laid Thine hand upon me, after the words fashioned me, for a mortal workman, when he has formed anything, a house, a sword, and so on, takes his hand away from it, for he can be of no more use to it; but GOD’S hand is conservative as well as creative, and is needed to sustain the existence of all things that be. And finally, taken either of the Head or of the members, these last words denote the consecration to that royal priesthood after the order of Melchizedek,* whereof CHRIST Himself is the High Priest, and all others His ministers, since those whom GOD fashioned out of clay He hallows by spiritual grace and by the gift of the HOLY GHOST.

6 (5) Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me: I cannot attain unto it.

The Vulgate rendering of the verse has a special fitness when applied to CHRIST. (G.) Thy knowledge is made wonderful from (or, by) me, it is strengthened, and I cannot attain unto it. Thy knowledge was once despised, because the world, blinded by its sins, knew Thee not, O FATHER, but it was made wonderful by Me, giving the Spirit of wisdom and understanding when I sent down the HOLY GHOST, and was strengthened against all the tyrants, philosophers, sorcerers, and wizards, who endeavoured to resist and overthrow it. And the latter clause is not less applicable, for even the words, I cannot attain unto it, (C.) may be without irreverence applied to our Blessed LORD, (D. C.) in that His human soul, albeit perfectly holy, and wiser than all mankind, is yet, as finite and create, immeasurably below the height of the Divine Wisdom of the WORD. (A.) And they hold good of mankind collectively, specially of the Jews,* on whom GOD’S hand was laid, as on the eyes of Moses,* lest they should see His glory, and who in their blindness could not attain to the knowledge of the SON of GOD; answering to His question about Himself, like Abner to Saul’s question concerning His great forefather: “Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell;”* and of the Gentiles too, who with all their searching were unable to find out GOD, and were forced to wait for the revelation of the Gospel. And as for us singly, we can but exclaim with the Apostle, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD, how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! for who hath known the mind of the LORD? or who hath been His counsellor?”*

7 (6) Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit: or whither shall I go then from thy presence?

8 (7) If I climb up into heaven, thou art there: if I go down to hell, thou art there also.

9 (8) If I take the wings of the morning: and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 (9) Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.

The Spirit of the LORD filleth the world;”* who then can flee any whither in the world away from that Spirit wherewith the world is filled? (A.) What place can receive GOD’S fugitive? Men who take in fugitives ask of them from whom they have fled, and if they find it is from a master of slender power, they admit them without fear; but if they learn that the master is potent, they either do not admit them at all, or do so with considerable alarm; yet think that even a potent man may he outwitted. But where is GOD not? who outwits GOD? when does GOD not see? from whom does He fail to claim His runaway? Even here the LORD JESUS speaks, not as though He, consubstantial with FATHER and Spirit,* could seek to hide from either, but as our Head He teaches His members the impossibility of escaping from GOD. (A.) If in self-righteous pride I deem myself holy, and say in my heart,* as Lucifer, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of GOD,” I shall find Him there to check me,* and to say to me, “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.”* If by despair, or by making light of sin, I make my bed in hell (A. V.), I cannot there hide myself, for Thy power is present to punish me, as it is written in another place, “Though they be hid from My face in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them.”* “Never wilt thou be neglected by the Justice of the gods,”* says the great Athenian sage, “not even though thou wert small enough to sink into the depths of the earth, nor if exalted in thy flight to the height of heaven; but thou wilt suffer due penalty from them, either abiding here, or journeying to Hades, or borne to some yet more terrible place than those.” And terrible as the words are in one sense, they are full of the deepest comfort in another. If I go up to heaven, I shall not be lonely and strange there, amidst angels diverse from me in nature and properties,* for CHRIST my Brother, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, is there also, ascended to the right hand of GOD, to prepare a place for me. If I go down to hell, in sorrow, in sin even, into the grave, He has been there before me, and saith now, “Though they dig into hell, thence shall My hand take them.”* If I flee to the very end of this world’s ways, (A.) on the bright wings of love, the twin pinions of charity to GOD and my neighbour, there I shall find Him waiting to lead me, (C.) Who has passed on His swift healing wings,* Who is Sun of Righteousness, across the waves of this troublesome world, and is now shining for ever in that glorious land where there is “no more sea,”* waiting to give His hand,* as He stands on the shore, to us, when weary with rowing, we reach it on the Resurrection morning, to be upheld by His right hand in the blessed necessity of sinlessness for ever. (A.) So we flee with these wings from His face to His face, from the face of His wrath to the face of His mercy. A singular tradition of Christian mythology is cited here by Denys à Rykel, saying that CHRIST is the speaker, the wings of the morning denote His early rising before dawn on Easter Day, (D. C.) and that the uttermost parts of the sea signifies the earthly Paradise wherein He abode with the ransomed Fathers during the Great Forty Days, appearing thence at intervals to His Disciples, but always returning thither until His Ascension.

11 (10) If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me: then shall my night be turned to day.

12 (11) Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day: the darkness and light to thee are both alike.

GOD,”* says the Apostle, “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”*

It is recorded of the great Egyptian Saint,* Paphnutius, that he determined to attempt the conversion of Thais, a famous courtesan of Alexandria. Disguising himself, he visited her, and requested her to bring him into a private room, where they might converse uninterruptedly. She led him into one chamber after another, but to each he objected as not secure enough. At last, leading him into the most retired apartment of the house, she said, “It is certain that no human eye can penetrate hither, but if you wish to escape the presence of GOD, you cannot do it, no matter what corner of the house you withdraw to.” “What?” answered Paphnutius, “do you know that there is a GOD?” “Certainly,” replied Thais, “and I know too that there is a Paradise for the righteous, and a hell for the wicked.” “Then,” rejoined the Saint, “how dare you lead an evil life in the sight of a GOD who beholds you?” The rebuke pierced the sinner’s heart, she abandoned her depraved life, and died, after long penitence and austerity, a humble and trustful Christian.

And, (A.) as before, this thought, terrible to the sinner, is consoling to the Saint. He who is striving to wing his way on the pinions of devout contemplation, and fears that the darkness will tread him under foot, (the forcible rendering of LXX. and Vulgate,) that is, that the sins, troubles, errors, and temptations of the world will be too much for him to contend against, finds that the night is turned to day, and that this night is my illumination in my delights,1 (Vulg.,) because a candle is lighted, as in the Gospel parable, to search for that lost silverling which bears impressed upon it the Image of our King.* That candle, or rather, lamp, is the Godhead, of CHRIST in the earthen vessel of His human Body, the delights and rejoicing of His people; and that being so, the darkness and light of this world are both alike to the Saint,2 equally unmoved by prosperity and adversity, unexcited by the one, undepressed by the other. Nay, the very night of affliction itself becomes brightness to him in delights,* because he knows it comes from GOD for his profit, and therefore he receives it with a glad and thankful mind. So Apollinarius understands the passage:

εἶπα δὲ, μὴ τἀχα με στείψει φθισίμβροτος ὄρφνη,

νύκτα δὲ καίνυτο τέρψις, ἀτὰρ κνέφας ἤλασε φέγγος.

I said, The gloom which hurteth man perchance may trample me,

But gladness overcame the night, light made the darkness flee.

Putting the words into CHRIST’S mouth,* they explain them of His words of comfort to His doubting and timorous people. “You think,” He would say, “perchance the darkness will cover Me, that the sin and ignorance of evil men will prevail to bring the Gospel into oblivion. I tell you, Nay, the night itself, these very sinners, and even the dead in the grave, shall be brightness in My delights, shall be converted and enter into Paradise, after they have been chastened till they are no darkness with Me.* The night, even of Jewish unbelief, shall be as clear as the day of Apostolic faith and teaching, shall be brightness in My delights, shining amongst My dearest Saints, and as great as its darkness has been, so great shall its light be, both alike.” (Ay.) And finally they see here a prophecy of the Passion and the Resurrection of CHRIST,* a contrast between the mysterious darkness of the three hours, and the radiant brightness of Easter morning. (D. C.) The very night of His death was the cause of His glorification, and both alike were part of the same fore-ordained plan of GOD for man’s salvation.

13 (12) For my reins are thine: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.

The primary notion here is that as GOD has not become acquainted with man in any later stage of existence,* but is Himself his Maker, having knowledge of him from the very beginning, it is idle to think of hiding anything, however obscure and forgotten, from Him. (A.) And the reins are taken, they tell us, to denote the emotions and passions of man, all his fleshly appetites, (D. C.) which GOD possesses (A. V., LXX., Vulg.) in the case of His Saints, whom He has taught to subdue the flesh to the spirit. Spoken of the LORD JESUS, they take it as a confession by Him to His FATHER of the Divine power whereby His Body was not only so possessed by GOD as to be incapable of sin, but also of His miraculous conception by the HOLY GHOST in the womb of the Blessed Mary, (C.) making Him,* as S. Bruno the Carthusian here observes,* the only one free from original sin. Of the Christian Church they explain the words as meaning GOD’S election of His people from out of the Synagogue, their mother’s womb, (G.) as it is spoken by S. Paul of himself, “When it pleased GOD, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace to reveal His SON in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.”* And of the soul it is taken as deliverance out of native Babylon, (A.) out of vain and worldly conversation, to be brought into Sion and made a citizen in that free land.

14 (13) I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.

The Psalmist goes on to praise GOD for the wonders of His creation of man;* and as the Rabbins explain the verse, the latter clause denotes man’s distinction from all other earthly creatures as a reasoning being. All things that Thou hast fashioned are made with wonderful power and skill, but there is this, more wonderful and fearful in myself than in any of the forms I see around me, that Thou hast created in me a soul which knoweth it right well, which is able to take cognizance of its own existence and of Thine, and to give thanks to Thee. So interpreted, the verse is intimately connected with that which precedes and those which follow; and besides its literal meaning, applicable to all men, (H.) may be taken of the perfect Virgin-born Manhood of CHRIST, and also of the birth, amidst terrible wonders, (P.) of the Jewish nation, and its antitype, the Christian Church. But the Syriac, LXX., Vulgate, and Arabic agree in rendering, Thou hast been fearfully made wondrous (LXX.) or magnified (Vulg.), so that the current of thought is interrupted by a fresh idea. (A.) S. Augustine takes the words as denoting the mingled awe and love with which the faithful believer regards GOD, after his soul, which had been unable to attain to wisdom, had learnt to know it right well by GOD enlightening the darkness. (C.) Cassiodorus makes the verse CHRIST’S address to the FATHER in thanksgiving for the miracles which attended the Passion and Resurrection, and others extend it to the whole manifestation of the FATHER to mankind by the preaching and miracles of the SON,* fearfully to the Jews in judgment, wonderfully to the Gentiles in grace. (G.)

15 (14) My bones are not hid from thee: though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth.

The word fashioned here would be more exactly rendered woven or embroidered, (well paraphrased by the A. V. curiously wrought,) as the human body is here described as a marvel of artistic skill, wrought out of rough materials by a consummate workman,* who builds up the elaborate and variegated pattern out of unfigured threads, as man’s complex frame of nerves, veins, arteries, bones, muscles, membranes, and tissues is built up out of certain few and simple elements, having no visible likeness to that into which they are thus shaped. And whereas the earthly artist needs light to accomplish his delicate and intricate task, it is here put forward as the especial attribute of GOD, that His far more wonderful work is done in the darkness of the womb, ἐν σκότοισι νηδύος τεθραμμένη,* as the Greek tragedian expresses it.

The Latins, (C.) understanding the first clause of the verse, from an ambiguity of the Vulgate, My bones are not hidden by Thee, take these words of CHRIST’S thanksgiving for GOD’S manifestation of the Church, whose doctrines and sacraments were hidden in type and mystery till the Advent of CHRIST, and continues, My substance, the revelation of My Godhead and Manhood, is now known in the lower parts of the earth, amongst those very Gentile nations who were once in their ignorance and idolatry, so far below the Jews; and they also understand the bones and substance, (G.) that is, flesh, of the stronger and weaker members of CHRIST’S mystical Body. (D. C.) The Carthusian, though ascribing the verse to CHRIST, departs from the view that the Church is the subject-matter of His words, and applies them to His Person, Whose inward strength of Godhead was hidden from all save the FATHER, Whose mortal substance, after sojourning with mankind here below, went deeper yet into the lower parts of the earth, and rested in the grave, a sense apparently put upon this passage by S. Paul, saying, “Now that He ascended, what is it but that He descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”* Thou seest too, His true soldiers may say to Him, that which the world can no more see than it sees the bone covered with flesh and skin, the inward strength which I have from Thee, (A.) hidden from all others, and my substance, how it remains incorrupt through grace, albeit in the lower parts of the earth, amidst all the temptations of the world and the flesh, and of troubles here below.

16a (15) Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect: and in thy book were all my members written;

16b (16) Which day by day were fashioned: when as yet there was none of them.

My substance, (L.) yet being imperfect. This is but a single word in Hebrew, גָּלמִי, which means literally something rolled together as a ball. The most usual explanation of it is that it denotes the embryo or fœtus of the unborn infant,* but Hupfeld takes it as the ball or skein of life’s thread, unwound day by day. It is more probable that the metaphor of weaving or embroidering the body is here carried on, so that the ball does mean the embryo, as the indistinct and shapeless mass out of which the beautiful structure is soon to be developed, compared here to the ball of silk or thread which the artist at the loom weaves into the pattern he desires to form;1 that it is, in modern language, (L.) the “raw material” of the manufacture (exactly the LXX. ἀκατεργαστόν.) This shapeless material GOD fashions with unerring skill, having all its structure and proportions as it were in writing before Him, and builds it up day by day until the germ becomes a child ready for the birth.

There is great obscurity and difficulty about the whole passage after the first clause of verse 16a, and it is desirable to set down some of the chief renderings. The LXX. has In Thy book all [men] shall be written, they shall be fashioned [in the course of] days, and there is no one amongst them. The Vulgate reads, And in Thy book shall all be written, days shall be formed, and there is no one in them. The Syriac is, In Thy books shall all these things be written; Behold, the day is shortened, and there is no man in them. The Chaldee paraphrases, All my days are written in the book of Thy memory, in the day when the world was created, from the beginning were all creatures created, and as yet there was not one of them. It will be seen from these versions (and from others which might be cited, as Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, S. Jerome, Arabic, and Æthiopic), that the English stands alone in its interpretation, though it is that of R. Kimchi and other Rabbins.* The others all take that which is written in GODS book to be either the days of life or the men born in the course of those days, each coming from non-existence into being at His will.

S. Chrysostom and Theodoret,* abandoning the LXX. reading as inexplicable, and following that of Symmachus, understand the verse to mean, Thine eyes saw me, even before I was formed, as clearly as they saw all men that were fully formed and lacked not one day of their full development; but they obtain this rendering at some cost to the grammar of the sentence.* Another view, closer to the LXX. is: It is no marvel that Thou seest my imperfect form, seeing that all men who shall be made as long as time lasts, are written in Thy book, and there is not one omitted. SS. Hilary and Augustine follow other readings again, differing from one another and from the Vulgate, and Cassiodorus has yet a third variant. The resultant sense is however, that the Church, or CHRIST as Head of the Body, addresses the FATHER, (C.) “Thine eyes have seen My imperfections, on the one hand in the weakness of some of My members, on the other that the number of the elect is not yet made up. All who are to attain to everlasting blessedness shall be written in Thy book. Days, that is Saints shining with the brightness of the Sun of Righteousness, shall be formed, and there shall not be one in them left defective or unformed in the heavenly country.”* Vieyra, preaching one of his great sermons of call to repentance, and taking the verse as spoken by CHRIST to His FATHER touching all imperfect Christians, adds that one meaning which may be fairly put on the latter words is, that Lent after Lent, the special time of formation and reformation of souls, goes by, is written down in GOD’S book, but no names of repentant sinners are found inserted in it,* for none do repent. Arnobius takes the whole passage of the Resurrection, understanding, as he does, the previous verse of man’s death and burial, not of his generation and birth. Thine eyes, he interprets, see my imperfections, my body, now lacking bone, and skin, and nerves, and vital breath, and all, in short, which is my body to man’s eyes; and yet all the Saints who are to rise again are written in Thy book, the day will come when Thou wilt refashion the disintegrated bodies, and not one shall be lacking. Others take the days to be the Twelve Apostles,* one for each hour of sunlight,* formed themselves in CHRIST, and teaching in such fashion that no one of their hearers is fashioned in them,* in Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, but in CHRIST alone.

17 How dear are thy counsels unto me, O GOD: O how great is the sum of them!

There can be little doubt that this is the true sense of the verse,* though precious may also be translated difficult or weighty;* and denotes awe and wonder rather than delight and love; as the Psalmist contemplates the unceasing marvels of creation in their innumerable sum and variety.* But the Chaldee and all the other ancient versions with one voice translate רֵעֶיךָ Thy friends instead of Thy thoughts, and sums is taken for the most part as heads or chiefs.* The Vulgate is But Thy friends are exceedingly honoured by me, O God, their principality is exceedingly strengthened.* And the commentators, with one voice, explain the verse of the Saints of GOD, under the leadership of the Apostles. In the LXX. the word ἀρχαί, governments, is used more than once to denote a troop or division of an army; and the thought in this wise will be, How hast Thou honoured Thy intimate companions (Aquila, ἐταῖροι) the Apostles, and how vast a number of forces marches under their banners in the ranks of the white-robed army!* In this sense this verse has suggested the use of the Psalm in the Common of Apostles,* and has furnished its antiphon. But the Vulgate reads principality in the singular, and the first gloss on this which meets us is that of Cassiodorus, (C.) who explains the strengthened principality of GOD’S friends to be the Episcopal Sees founded by the Apostles, to continue their own headship in succession throughout the Churches.* S. Gregory, however, explains it quite differently,* that the elect subdue the flesh, strengthen the spirit, bear rule over devils, share with virtues, despise things of this life, preach in words and conduct the everlasting land,* love it even through death,* reach it through tortures,* and may be slain, but cannot be bent. And, as another adds, their principality is exceedingly strengthened,* since they are not only rulers here,* but shall even judge angels.* The LORD JESUS honoureth those whom He was pleased to call no longer servants, but friends, in several ways.* By calling them Himself in person,* by choosing them out of the world,* by giving them power to work miracles, by living familiarly with them, by teaching them personally, and not by the ministry of angels and prophets,* like the Old Testament Saints; by revealing hidden things to them; by giving them judicial authority;* by calling them His brethren; by intercourse with them after His Resurrection; by making them rulers of the Church;* and by constituting them His witnesses.* And He strengthened them with the HOLY GHOST,* so that they preached the Word of GOD without fear throughout the world. (Ay.)

18 If I tell them, they are more in number than the sand: when I wake up I am present with thee.

The Vulgate has I will number them, (D. C.) and it is explained of CHRIST’S foreknowledge of His elect. More in number. We look at the whole world,* it is full of martyrs. We who behold are hardly so many now as the witnesses we have. GOD can count them, but to us they are more in number than the sand, since, whatever the number be, it cannot be known by us. (H.) They are more in number than the sand, for GOD’S promise to Abraham was, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore.”* Abraham’s spiritual progeny, the Gentile Christians, made like the stars of heaven by their enlightenment and exaltation in CHRIST, countlessly surpass His natural offspring the Jews, barren and trodden, like the sand, under the feet of men. I wake up and am present with Thee. And first they are the words of our glorious Head, (A.) declaring not only His Resurrection,* but the further truth that while He seemed to the Jews to be dead and lying in the grave, (C.) He was even then, in right of His Godhead, throned with the FATHER in Heaven, where He is now in His Manhood also present with Him until such time as He is revealed to us once more in His second Advent.* Wherefore this verse forms the beginning of the Introit on Easter Day. Applied to the Saints, the primary sense undoubtedly is (taking the translation counsels or thoughts instead of friends in the previous verse) I pray myself all day in pondering in love and wonder on all Thy works, and the moment I wake up from sleep, I occupy myself with them again, as the first employment of my time; nay, I have been dreaming of them in my sleep,* so that they are still before my mind without effort as soon as I open my eyes; and the spiritual sense is the same under both versions, (D. C.) for it is a thanksgiving to GOD for rousing His Saint out of the sleep of sloth, out of the death of sin, and bringing him close to Himself in love; not only in this life, but more perfectly after death, in the Resurrection. “For this we say unto you by the word of the LORD, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the LORD shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the LORD Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of GOD: and the dead in CHRIST shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the LORD in the air: and so shall we ever be with the LORD.”*

19 Wilt thou not slay the wicked, O GOD: depart from me, ye blood-thirsty men.

Here,* as before, whether we take the crucial word to be friends or counsels, the connection of the sense is clear. In the one case, the Psalmist sees that countless as are the friends of GOD, His visible enemies are even more numerous, that their leaders and hosts are drawn up in battle array against the armies of heaven; nay, that some of them attempt to range themselves as pretended allies along with the forces of the Church, in order to betray them in the hour of conflict, and he therefore beseeches GOD to rout the one, while he takes himself the precaution of driving the others from him. In the other sense, GOD’S perfect knowledge of the thoughts and words of men, and His absolute mastery over their future are put before Him by the Psalmist as a reason why He should arise to destroy the power of evil. If even I, O LORD, myself a sinful man, compel the bloodthirsty to depart from me; wilt not Thou, as perfectly Holy, and as supreme Judge, with Whom are the issues of life and death,* slay the wicked one? And as this last is in the singular in Hebrew, it points to the great enemy of souls, whom the LORD will indeed slay at the last,* by casting him into the lake of fire. (A.) But the LXX. and Vulgate have the word in the plural, and it is explained of heretics, sinners, and false brethren in the Church. (C.) Yet how, asks Cassiodorus, can such a prayer befit His lips Who desireth not the death of a sinner, but Who came to save all such? Only by understanding it of His making them die to sin, and live unto the LORD. (D. C.) Yet, as amongst those whom He calls, there will be some who refuse to hear Him, them He will cause to depart by excommunication out of that Church of which they are no faithful members,* will bid at the last day depart from Him, as cursed, into everlasting fire.* All kinds of wilful and persistent sin are included under the term bloodthirsty, for as there was no sanctuary under the Law for the intentional murderer, so under the Gospel he who continues willingly in sin, and especially sin against his neighbour, has no place in CHRIST; wherefore the Apostle saith, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”*

20 For they speak unrighteously against thee: and thine enemies take thy Name in vain.

Here is the reason for slaying or banishing them,* because they attempt to lead men away from GOD to the worship of false divinities, idols or objects of worldly reverence; either on the ground that He is not GOD, or that He pays no regard to the affairs of mankind. The words Thy Name in the second clause of the verse are not in the Hebrew (although the Chaldee supplies them,* and explains the phrase of perjury), and the translation of LXX. and Vulgate is They shall take Thy cities in vanity. The Arabic version explains this, They will unrighteously pillage Thy cities, unless Thou destroy them beforehand.* Others understand, They teach people that Thy cities, wherein are no idols, have nothing to trust in, and urge them to adopt the tutelar gods of foreign towns as their protectors.* Yet again, They perjure themselves by the names of Thy cities,* as the Jews in our LORD’S time did with Jerusalem. These interpretations are all of the text as it stands in Hebrew. But the manner in which the LXX. and Vulgate severally translate the first clause, gives birth to a fresh crop of expositions. The LXX. is For Thou shalt say in discussion, They shall take Thy cities unto vanity. (Z.) That is, GOD’S judgment against men of this stamp is that their dwelling in their cities will be perfectly useless to them, they will reap no benefit from their stores, nor protection from their fortifications. And in this sense it may very well be explained not only of the vanity of their earthly life, but of the spiritual inutility of mere outward fellowship with the Church of GOD. The Vulgate, on the other hand, takes the final words as spoken by sinners, and therefore as referring to the righteous.* Depart from me, ye bloodthirsty men, because ye say in your thoughts. They shall receive Thy cities in vanity, that is, the whole of Christianity is but an idle dream of a visionary world to come, and therefore it is to no purpose that congregations are collected and churches built, as no advantage whatever can possibly come from so intangible and undemonstrable a creed. (C.) Several commentators, however, divide the verse differently, making a full stop after ye say in your thoughts, which they explain as a charge of mummery or of hypocrisy, and then interpret the remaining part of the words in the Greek fashion.

21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee: and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

22 Yea, I hate them right sore: even as though they were mine enemies.

There are occasions when the wise man will see fit to indulge pity and suppress indignation,* there are other occasions when he will gratify the indignation, and resist the impulses of pity. But he is not merciful unless he feels both. Thus the man who cannot be angry cannot be merciful. Of the two feelings which go to compose mercy the indignation requires to be satisfied first. The first impulse roused by the sight of vice should be the impulse of opposition and hostility. To correct it, to detect it, to contend with it, to put it down, is the first and indispensable thing. It is indeed a fair object of pity even when it remains undetected and prosperous, but such pity must be passive, and must not dare to express itself in deeds. It is not mercy, but treason against justice to relent towards vice so long as it is triumphant and insolent.… The Enthusiasm of Humanity does indeed destroy a great deal of hatred, but it creates as much more. Dull serpentine malice dies, but a new unselfish anger begins to live. The bitter feelings which so easily spring up against those who thwart us, those who compete with us, those who surpass us, are destroyed by the Enthusiasm of Humanity; but it creates a new bitterness, which displays itself on occasions where before the mind had reposed in a benevolent calm. It creates an intolerant anger against all who do wrong to human beings, an impatience of selfish enjoyment, a vindictive enmity to tyrants and oppressors, a bitterness against sophistry, superstition, self-complacent heartless speculation, an irreclaimable hostility to every form of imposture such as the uninspired, inhumane soul could never entertain.” (C.) Our own personal enemies are often roused against us with righteous indignation, and are angry because we have failed in our duty towards them, because we slander them, because we are jealous of their efforts for good. And we are rightly taught therefore to love our enemies, whom we have offended by our own fault, but there is no such excuse to be made for such as rebel against Him in Whom is no fault. Am not I grieved? The LXX.* and Vulgate are stronger, I pine away; with sorrow for the very sinners whom my duty to GOD forces me to hate, with deep grief for their wickedness and for the terrible doom awaiting them if they repent not; for, as a Saint says,* “In the wicked we rightly hate the wickedness and lore the man.” Yea, I hate them with a perfect hatred (A. V., Vulg.) “A perfect hatred of GOD’S enemies is to love them as men and to rebuke their acts, to bear hard on the conduct of the ungodly, and to do good to their lives. For we must consider, if we abstain from rebuke, what a sin it is to be at peace with the wicked, if such a Prophet as the Psalmist offered as a special oblation to GOD his having roused the enmity of the wicked against himself for GOD’S sake.”*

23 Try me, O GOD, and seek the ground of my heart: prove me, and examine my thoughts.

24 Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me: and lead me in the way everlasting.

There is only One who can dare to court inquiry in this way, (H.) with the certainty that no fault can be found, even He Who said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.”* But it may be spoken in another sense by His Bride, (A.) the Church, imploring GOD to sift and try her, to send the breath of His SPIRIT into her threshing-floor, to part the chaff from the wheat, to distinguish heretics and sinners from the faithful and the Saints. And lastly, (Ay.) it may be taken also of the members of CHRIST’S Church, not claiming to be righteous, but asking of GOD to search and try them, that He may take away what is evil, and leave only what is good, and if Ho see any trace of the way of sorrow, as some take it, that is, of a path which leads to punishment, or of the way of idols, (A.) as others explain it, in us, our own way of error and self-will, He will shut it up that we go not by it, and lead us in the way which alone leadeth to our country and to life everlasting, even JESUS CHRIST our LORD.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who knoweth the SON; glory be to the SON, Who went down into hell, and ascended up into heaven; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the SPIRIT of the LORD which filleth the world.

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

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