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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 and Monastic. Let my portion, * O LORD, be in the land of the living. [Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: I looked upon my right hand and saw * that there was no man that would know Me.]

Ambrosian. I will pour out my complaint before Thee,* O LORD, deliver me. K. K. K. [Good Friday: as Gregorian, and K. K. K.]

Parisian. The righteous wait for me, until Thou repay me, O LORD. [Good Friday: There was a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it to His mouth.]

Lyons. [Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: as Gregorian.]

Mozarabic. Second verse.

1 I cried unto the LORD with my voice: yea, even unto the LORD did I make my supplication.

2 I poured out my complaint before him: and showed him of my trouble.

The words here, (H.) more true of David’s Son than of David himself, are set in beautiful order. First the voice utters its cry of pain; then this cry is shaped by faith and longing into a supplication; thirdly, it does not come merely from the lips, but is poured out from the deep fountain of the heart; next, it is before Him, not carelessly, but with the reverence due to GOD’S presence; lastly, it is trouble which he shows to GOD, as his one defence and refuge in time of need.* Nor is it necessary to understand an audible cry; rather the secret call of the heart, (Z.) because, whether we take the cave to be Engedi or Adullam, David was in sore peril, and a cry heard by his pursuers might have led to his seizure and execution. (A.) And therefore my voice, the voice of my inward heart and affection, is different from the voice of my body, and clearer, for devout thought is a cry to GOD. That prayer which the SON of GOD poured out, did not sink into the ground, trying to bury itself, but rose as a pure and sparkling fountain upwards to the height of Divine love. Our prayer should be a fountain too,* fed by those four springs of mercy, grace, wisdom, and love, which rise from the wounds of CHRIST’S hands and feet; while He gives us Himself the fount of life from the wound of His Heart, whence flowed the twin great Sacraments of the Church. And those words poured out teach us that in prayer we should not try to keep anything back from GOD, (C.) but should show Him all that is in our hearts,* and that in His presence in our closet, with the door shut, but not before men. (Ay.) And the Carmelite adds that there is much force in the words with my voice, twice repeated (as in Heb., A. V., Vulgate, &c.) to show us that we ought to pray to GOD directly for ourselves, and in person, and not be contented with an Ora pro me addressed to some one else. And my voice for another reason, (D. C.) that when men cry to GOD for revenge, or for injury to any of their fellowmen,* they cry with the voice of a wild beast, or of a serpent.

3 When my spirit was in heaviness, thou knewest my path: in the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.

It is the Agony followed by the Betrayal.* His spirit was in heaviness, (R.) when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;”* but His FATHER knew His path, “and there appeared unto Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him:”* In the way wherein He walked there “was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples. And Judas also which betrayed Him, knew the place: for JESUS ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples.”* It was there they privily laid a snare for Him; since “he that betrayed Him gave a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; hold Him fast.”* Because of the Vulgate rendering,* In the failing of my spirit from me, some of the Latins who interpret the verse of the LORD JESUS, (B.) take it either of His yielding up His human will, or of His giving up the ghost on the Cross, rather than of the Agony, and apply the latter clause to the whole series of plots against Him, especially such as aimed at proving Him an offender against the Law of Moses, that way in which He ever walked.* But they more commonly follow the view that spiritual weakness and proneness to fall away in time of temptation is meant, (C.) and therefore that CHRIST speaks as the Head of His feeble members. (A.) S. Augustine takes the words to be a martyr’s prayer, that he may not trust in his own strength, but rely on that counsel and promise: “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your FATHER, which speaketh in you.”* GOD knows the paths of such an athlete, and sees him to be standing valiantly in fight when his enemies suppose him to be cast down; to be walking in paths which they cannot see, deeming him a bound and motionless captive; paths, not roads, narrow and straight, such as they have never trod on. There, in the way, in the confession of CHRIST, it is that they lay the snare for the martyr;* yet not in the very way itself, but close beside it, as we had it in a previous Psalm, by upbraiding him with adoring a crucified GOD. Spoken by one of the members of CHRIST’S Body, it may be taken either as the acknowledgment of true humility, not trusting in human strength or merit, yet sure that GOD knows and approves all the ways of righteousness and charity in which His Saint has striven to walk; (G.) or as the confession of frailty and proneness to fall;* in either case looking to GOD for protection against the snares privily laid in this way, in the pilgrimage of this world,* such as heresies, schisms, vices, and the like, (D. C.) by our ghostly foes. Cardinal Hugo sums up the most frequent snares in the ways of our Christian calling; hypocrisy in the way of continence;* vain-glory, in that of bodily austerity; rigorism in the way of righteousness; false pity in that of mercy; lavishness in bounty; carnal affection in love, presumption in hope; despair in fear; rage in zeal; rashness in courage; cunning in prudence; slowness in counsel; obstinacy in firmness.

The whole prayer well befits a servant of GOD in the time of sore sickness and approaching death, (L.) when the thought that He knows every hidden path, every secret deed and thought, every forgotten action of the past, flashes on the soul, and when the evil spirits strive to the very last to shake all confidence in Divine love and mercy.

4a (4) I looked also upon my right hand: and saw there was no man that would know me.

It is rather an appeal to GOD to behold his desolate condition: (C.) Look upon my right hand and see. Then all the disciples “forsook Him and fled,” and Peter “began to curse and to swear, saving, I know not this Man of Whom ye speak.”* They upon His right hand,* His own disciples, and the very chief even amongst them, who will be at His right hand once again in glory, they all fulfilled that prophecy, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.”* That would know me. They knew only the Man of sorrows, the Carpenter’s Son; for had they known the Eternal WORD, doubtless they would have remained beside Him. Spoken of the Saint on earth, (Ay.) when he looks upon his right hand, when he turns his gaze on JESUS, the Right Hand of GOD, when he neglects and turns from earthly and temporal things, which belong to the left hand, then no man will know him; if they do not hate and persecute him to the death, as they did to the martyrs of old time, they will at the least neglect, despise, and vilify him. And taking the verse, like the previous one, of the dying Christian, it may be fitly understood of the uselessness of all help save from GOD Himself. So goes up that cry of the Holy Eastern Church for the departed:

Woe, for the bitter struggle

That racks the parting soul;*

Woe, for the tears she poureth

When none can make her whole!

She looketh to the Angels,

But supplicates in vain;

Her hands to man she stretcheth,

But thence no help may gain.

Then mindful, dearest brethren,

How soon this life must cease,

Pray we to CHRIST for mercy,

And for our brother’s peace.

4b (5) I had no place to flee unto: and no man cared for my soul.

The literal Hebrew is Refuge,* or flight, perished from me, which, is the rendering of the Vulgate. (G.) Flight perishes from a man in two ways; when he is safely lodged in prison, and cannot escape; when he is firm in valour and constancy, and will not. The LORD JESUS had a place to flee unto, when Herod pursued Him in His childhood, and He was carried into Egypt,* because His hour was not yet come; but when that hour did come, and the traitor came with the soldiers to lay hold of Him, “JESUS knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered Him, (D. C.) JESUS of Nazareth. JESUS saith unto them, I am He.”* (R.) No man cared for His soul, for on the one hand, Pilate had not courage to abide by his first acquittal, and there was not a single voice raised to defend His innocence, to ask that He might be spared when the sentence of death was recorded against Him: “They all say unto him, Let Him be crucified;” “then answered all the people and said, His Blood be upon us, and on our children.”* No man cared for His soul, (C.) for there was none to speak a word of comfort to Him in His Passion, (A.) when He was left alone to die for all. As regards His Saints, He has Himself given them two counsels; “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye unto another;”* and then, lest they should flee when it is their duty to stand firm, He saith in another place, “He that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth.”* Wherefore His Apostle teaches us, “Hereby perceive we the love, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”* When it is needful to do this, flight perishes from the Saint, for he will not move, and even if he must move in body, will remain unshaken in mind. No man careth for his soul, either in the way of endeavouring to save him from an unjust death; or taking the more literal rendering, No man seeketh after his soul, because if any one did so seek, he would find the soul clinging close to CHRIST, and that he could not discover till he had himself come near to CHRIST by imitating the life of one of His Saints.

5 (6) I cried unto thee, O LORD, and said: Thou art my hope, and my portion in the land of the living.

He did so cry, (H.) and that “with a loud voice,” when He said, “FATHER, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit;” He claimed His portion in the land of the living, His rights over that good land as the King’s Son, when He said to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”* In this land of the dying, (G.) GOD is our hope, as He was of our Head, for we do not as yet see Him, but in that land very far off, where our eyes shall see the King in His beauty,* there He will be our portion. GOD, observes S. Augustine, (A.) gives a portion in the land of the living, but makes no gift from Himself save Himself. For what could He give to any one that loves Him, except Himself? In that land of the living, (B.) His Church, built up of living stones, and unlike the dead and vanished Synagogue, CHRIST is our portion even upon earth, giving Himself, as He does, to each and all of His people in the Sacrament of His love; and blessing them in a manner that those who are not within His Church know not; just as in the first sense of the words land of the living,* it was only in Canaan that the worship of the True GOD could be found, and an exile from it had to dwell in the midst of idolaters, and yearn for the time when he could again join in the solemn rites of the sanctuary.

6a (7) Consider my complaint: for I am brought very low.

He was indeed brought very low, (H.) for “He humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was obedient unto the death of the Cross.”* And it is true of His Saints also, (A.) humbled outwardly by their persecutors with afflictions, humbled inwardly by themselves in holy confession; and therefore to be lifted up by GOD both visibly and invisibly, here in this life, invisibly by the firmness He gave their souls, visibly, in the Resurrection, when even that part of them on which their enemies were able to wreak their will, shall be restored to more than its first vigour and beauty.

6b (8) O deliver me from my persecutors: for they are too strong for me.

It is not as though the SON could not deliver Himself, (H.) for He saith, “I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”* But out of filial reverence to the FATHER, He does homage to His Majesty in this wise, not pleading any weakness of His own, but declaring the almightiness of Him that begat Him. (C.) By His own abdication of the powers He had in Himself, or could have obtained by prayer, He suffered His enemies to become too strong for Him, to lead Him away and crucify Him; (B.) and therefore He asks for that deliverance at His FATHER’S hands which He would not achieve with His own; (A.) and yet, because of the perfect conformity of His will with the FATHER’S, (Ay.) He was delivered out of their hands when He pleased and as He pleased. The Saints, when they use this prayer, do so for the deliverance of the soul rather than of the body, albeit both are assailed by their enemies; who are usually too strong for them in this world in two different ways; temporal prosperity, so as to be able to bring rank, power, wealth, and popular favour to bear against the servants of GOD; and criminal malignity, so as to be unscrupulous about the means of persecution. And as we wrestle not only “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickednesses in high places,”* we have indeed sore need of crying to GOD to deliver us from such powerful foes.

7 (9) Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks unto thy Name: which thing if thou wilt grant me, then shall the righteous resort unto my company.

If the words are David’s,* then they are a prayer that he may come safely out of the cave which served as his prison, (Z.) may pay his worship publicly in GOD’S holy place, and be surrounded at once, in making his appearance, with a band of tried and valiant friends, ready to maintain his cause against all the forces of Saul. But spoken by the Son of David, they have a deeper meaning, of resurrection from that new tomb hewn out in the rock, (H.) to the mouth of which a great stone was rolled.* That I may give thanks unto Thy Name, because the Resurrection of the SON is the proclamation of the FATHER’S power displayed in Him. (A.) The righteous wait for Me, until Thou repay Me (LXX., Vulg.) for My Apostles and other disciples are waiting, in fear and trembling, indeed, but not without hope, till Thou raise Me up again.* But the words of the last clause ought rather to run either as in A. V., shall compass me about, or, with Chaldee, Symmachus, and S. Jerome, shall make a crown, either of praise to GOD, or a crown for themselves in the Name of their victorious King. And thus we come to the prayer of the Church, Bring my soul out of the miseries and straits of this world’s prison, that I may give thanks unto Thy Name in the glorious liberty of the children of GOD. Many interpreters understand the prison to be the body, (A.) but S. Augustine, although he mentions this gloss, and admits that there is something to be said for it, on the ground of the liability of our body to pain and corruption, yet does not altogether approve it, on the other ground that the human body is GOD’S creation, destined to future glory, and that moreover unrepentant criminals, going out of the body, are not thereby delivered from prison, but rather cast into worse confinement. But Arnobius protests more strongly,* saying, “We cannot be so bold as to call the human body a prison, though some think so, for the Apostle Paul bears witness that it is the ‘Temple of GOD.’* But we suffer imprisonment, when we have no delight in prayer, when we have a distaste for spiritual dainties, and fail, shut in sometimes by the bars of earthly needs, and sometimes by the gates of pleasure. The true prison of the soul is within thee, and there is need to cry with all thy might to CHRIST, to bring thee out of it.” Too great haste to be out of the world is not charity, (A.) and we ought to desire what the Apostle says of himself, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with CHRIST, which is far better; nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”* But the prayer may be taken without any doubt as a petition for deliverance from the sin which is in the world, (D. C.) and also for the promise of the Resurrection; that on the one hand the soul may duly advance by holy contemplation of divine things in spiritual life even here, and constantly join in GOD’S worship, and on the other may pass from the gates of the grave into a joyful eternity of praise, for which the righteous are waiting, until GOD repays them for all the toil and pain they have borne for Him here below; or taking the truer sense of the passage, that when that Bride of CHRIST, whom He loves as His own soul, is brought finally out of the prison of earth, then, whether we take the last words as denoting the wreaths which the rejoicing victors put upon their brows, or the circle they form around their Monarch’s throne, we shall find both meanings fulfilled in the exulting hymn which the Church puts in the mouth of her LORD Himself:

The Virgins walk in beauty

Amidst their lily bowers,*

The coronals assuming

Of amaranthine flowers;

The Penitents, attaining

Full pardon in My sight,

Leave off the vest of sackcloth,

And don the robe of white.

The bondsman and the noble,

The peasant and the king,

All gird one glorious Monarch

In one eternal ring.

And so:

Glory be to the FATHER, our Hope, to Whom we make our supplication; glory be to the SON, our portion in the land of the living; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who comforteth our spirit when in heaviness.

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

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