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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. In Thy truth * hear me, O LORD. [Good Friday: My spirit is vexed within me, and my heart within me is desolate.]

Ambrosian. [Tuesday before Easter: Deliver me * O LORD, from mine enemies, for I flee unto Thee. K. K. K.]

Parisian. [Easter Eve: I will penetrate into the lower parts of the earth, and I will behold all that sleep, and I will give light to them that hope in the LORD, (Ecclus. 24:45, Vulg.)]

Lyons. [Good Friday: as Gregorian.]

Mozarabic. O let me hear Thy loving-kindness betimes in the morning.

1 Hear may prayer, O LORD, and consider my desire: hearken unto me for thy truth and righteousness’ sake.

In this, (H.) the last of the seven Penitential Psalms, (A.) the Fathers have unanimously seen a prophecy of CHRIST’S Passion,* and have dwelt on the LXX. title, as foreshadowing, in the ungrateful rebellion of Absalom against David, the rejection of CHRIST by the Jewish nation, His own peculiar children. The Psalm opens with a suppliant request for an audience of GOD, (H.) not venturing to present the petition till this has been accorded. Then the petitioner asks that GOD may hear him in His truth, because He is Very GOD, eternal, Almighty, and the Creator of all things, and no mere false dream of man’s imagination; of wood, or stone, or metal. Next he asks to be heard in GOD’S righteousness, knowing that with Him there is neither the arbitrary caprice nor the wanton injustice of earthly kings and magistrates, but a thorough knowledge of man’s frivolity, and a just and ready willingness to make all due allowance for it. And if it be asked, how the sinner, conscious of his own falsehood and iniquity, (and deprecating the divine judgment in the next verse,) can ask GOD to hear him in such a manner; the answer is, that the force of the appeal is not in man’s character, but in GOD’S,* and it lays claim to the promises which He has made of amnesty to the repentant sinner. Wherefore the Apostle in almost the same words teaches us,* “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”1

GOD hears us in His truth and righteousness by accepting our prayers in and through His Only-Begotten SON,* in Whom all His promises were made true and fulfilled, by Whose life and death He justifies sinners and makes them righteous.

2 And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

When GOD is said to enter into judgment with man,* it does not mean that He takes His seat as Judge to examine him, but that He becomes man’s opponent in a suit, (H.) to try their several rights: and against any such contest as this the Saints ever make their prayer, knowing how unfit they are to be brought for an instant into comparison with Him, (A.) how unavailing the effort would be to establish their own righteousness and take no account of His. And it is therefore well said with Thy servant, for it is below GOD’S dignity to plead against one who is no more than His slave, albeit He has deigned to call him friend.* That runaway slave returns to his Master, and throws himself on His compassion, knowing full well that if the rule he has broken be produced against him,* he has no counter plea to adduce, and that such is not only his own case, but that of the holiest and wisest Saint when brought into contrast with the absolute perfection of God; and that because of the remaining taint of original sin,* the acquired defect of actual sin, the number of separate acts of wrong-doing, the continuance in faultiness, and finally, because if there be any good thing to set against all this evil, it is none of our own, but the gift of GOD Himself. Nor is this unfitness to come into contention with GOD confined to man, for the Hebrew and all the older versions have simply every living [creature],* and thus even the Angels are included, for their righteousness, pure, strong, and exalted though it be, is not only unspeakably beneath GOD’S, but is conferred on them by Him, so that their nature is not of itself inherently incapable of unrighteousness, but is sustained by the grace of Him Who is primal and essential holiness of Himself alone. And therefore the words are not to be understood as though declaring that there is no way in which any man ever will be justified, (D. C.) seeing that the Saints will at the day of Judgment be not only justified in GOD’S sight, but by GOD Himself; but to teach us of ourselves that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;”* and of GOD, “Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not clean in His sight. How much less then man, a worm, and the son of man, a worm?”* It is in this sense, therefore, and this only, that the words can be ascribed, as they are, by so many Saints, to the LORD JESUS, for He speaks here of the derived and conferred holiness of His Humanity, not of His natural holiness as the Eternal WORD.

3 For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground: he hath laid me in the darkness, as the men that have been long dead.

For.* The position of this word, coming as it does immediately after the confession of faultiness in the preceding verse, is an acknowledgment of the justice of the chastisement as sent from GOD, a lesson which is lost if the for be taken merely as the reason of the prayer of the first verse. If we take the words as CHRIST’S, (A.) then we may remember how the enemy, even Satan, persecuted His soul, and Judas pursued after his Master’s life; while, understanding them of CHRIST’S Body, the Church, the same ghostly enemy persecutes men still, and one Judas succeeds another in the ranks of her foes. Their aim is the same throughout all ages, to smite the life down to the ground, to turn away our thoughts and hopes from heavenly things, and bow them down to the decaying joys of earth,* to lay us in the darknesses of ignorance and sin, like the men that have been long dead in their trespasses, and have hardened themselves against repentance, or, as the Vulgate reads, like the dead of the world (sæculi),* those who have no thought or desires beyond this present life.* It is some plea for GOD’S help and mercy that man can say that “an enemy hath done this,”* that the Fall was not spontaneous and wilful, like that of the rebel Angels, but the result of strong temptation from a crafty and powerful foe. Spoken by CHRIST, (Ay.) the words, As the men that have been long dead,* point to Satan’s error touching Him,* as believing that slaying Him and casting Him into the grave would blot out His teaching and efface His memory; just as those who have been long dead fade away from the recollection of those who knew them best,* and the very epitaphs on their graves grow illegible by little and little: nay, adds a Greek Father, (Z.) buried under one layer of earth after another, with many another grave overlying them, and so utterly forgotten.

4 Therefore is my spirit vexed within me: and my heart within me is desolate.

His spirit was vexed within Him, (A.) when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;”* and He adds, My heart within Me is desolate, because He was left alone and deserted by those who had been His disciples, and who found their faith exceeded by that of a robber. Vexed spirit signifies the near approach of danger; (C.) desolate heart points to the confusion and baffling of human wisdom, and that there remains no confidence in any aid, save GOD’S. And spoken of the returning sinner,* in awe of Divine judgment, the words denote the trouble of man’s intellect and affections when finding himself far from GOD,* for the spirit is vexed and wearied at being dragged downward by earthly corruption from reaching those heavenly things to which it aspires,* while the heart is desolate and troubled at the remembrance of its sin and at the distance it has wandered from GOD. And within me adds to the stress, because it tells us that so long as a sinner neglects and despises all which makes for his eternal health, he is as it were beside himself, is unconscious of his malady, and thinks that he sees when he is blind; but the first movements of penitence cause him to return within himself.

5 Yet do I remember the time past; I muse upon all thy works: yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands.

The time past. Rather, the days of old (A. V., LXX., Vulg., &c.) It is no little consolation in time of trouble to cast one’s eyes backward and consider that the same GOD Who guides the course of events now is He Who wrought all the deliverances in times past,* to bid oneself “Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in the LORD, and was confounded? or did any abide in His fear, and was forsaken? or whom did He ever despise that called upon Him?”* And we have not only the past of history to fall back upon for comfort, (C.) but the present around us, the whole visible creation with its constant lessons of GOD’S power, wisdom, and love; for “He left Himself not without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”* When the words are put in the mouth of the LORD JESUS, He speaks as the Eternal Wisdom, “which knoweth Thy works, and was present when Thou madest the world, and knew what was acceptable in Thy sight, and right in Thy commandments;”* and thus the Divine memory and knowledge of the WORD, understanding the whole plan of man’s salvation, the entire order of GOD’S Providence, constrained the Man CHRIST JESUS.* Spoken by one of CHRIST’S members, (D. C.) man recalls the state of innocence from which he fell, and the penalty inflicted, ponders GOD’S dealings in the past, and is awed and penitent as he considers them.

6 I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.

Albeit the Psalmist has in countless places foretold the Coming of the LORD the SAVIOUR, (C.) here he has further shown us, in the stretching forth of the hands, the effigy of the Holy Cross. For he who prays with outstretched hands, imitates that Cross of the Redeemer, which though inflicted as a punishment by the unbelieving Jews, was granted to believers for their salvation.* So did Moses, when he fought with Amalek, prevailing when he stretched out his hands, yielding when he lowered, them. We too may, like our LORD, stretch out our hands to GOD, (G.) and that in three ways, by bringing Him sacrifice,* by making our prayers, by busying ourselves in good works. And thus it is said of the virtuous woman, “She stretcheth out her hands unto the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.”* And what is the reward of those who do so, who see the Poor and Needy in His suffering members? “Then saith He to the man [which had his hand withered], Stretch forth thine hand; and he stretched it forth, and it was restored whole.”* As a thirsty land. Three things befall land which lacks moisture. It becomes either hard or barren, (G.) unclothed with herbage, undecked with leaves and flowers;* it turns to light dust, so as to be swept away by the winds; and it is full of great fissures. So the heart which is dry and unnurtured by the grace of GOD becomes unmerciful, unfruitful in good works, frivolous and easily carried away by every change, and lacking in unity. Well for us if our soul does gasp to GOD, and to none other, if we can say in the spirit of our Master when He stretched out His hands, (A.) “I thirst.”* We have water in abundance, but it is the salt and unfertilizing sea of bitterness and sin. (G.) Nothing but the fresh rain of heaven, the sweet irrigating streams sent forth by the LORD among the hills can be of any avail. Pray ye therefore: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation.”* GOD’S desire to grant the prayer is not less than man’s to make it, as we are told that,

ἐρᾷν μὲν ὄμβρου γαῖαν ξηρανθείσαν,*

ἐρᾷν δὲ σεμνὸν οὐρανὸν πληρούμενον ὄμβρου

πεσεῖν εἰς γαῖαν.

The parched earth loves the rain,

And holy heaven, which is full of rain,

Loves upon earth to fall.

And therefore the Psalmist confidently urges his petition:

7 Hear me, O LORD, and that soon, for my spirit waxeth faint: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

It is the dying prayer of CHRIST on the Cross, (L.) before commending His spirit into His FATHER’S hands, asking not only to be heard, but that soon, lest if His Resurrection should be delayed, the faith of His disciples might utterly fail, and the unbelief of the Jews be confirmed, accounting Him as having fallen under the general lot of mankind, and as having descended into a grave whence He should not return. (A.) In the mouth of the penitent, thirsting for GOD’S grace and pardon, these same Words express his confession that his pride and self-will are gone, that he is down in the dust, (A.) in fear of spiritual death, lest if even a little delay intervene before the LORD’S face is again turned to him, he may fall into that pit of sin which is the loss of all wish to confess sin, whereof is written, “The pit hath shut her mouth upon me;”* and may so pass into that other pit of the grave, (C.) and thence into the worst of all, (G.) the pit of doom for impenitent sinners. And that a prayer may be heard soon, (Ay.) it needs these qualities: It should be faithful, not timid; lowly, not proud; fervid, not lukewarm. Fear ties the prayer down to earth,* and scarcely allows it to come forth at all, not to say ascend. Rash and proud prayers do not ascend, but deserve chastisement, not grace, for GOD resisteth the proud. And a tepid prayer goes up a little way, becomes chill and feeble, and falls back again from lack of strength, while the faithful, lowly, and fervent prayer passes into heaven.

8 O let me hear thy loving-kindness betimes in the morning, for in thee is my trust: show thou me the way that I should walk in, for I lift up my soul unto thee.

Betimes in the morning, (H.) in the early dawn of My Resurrection, before the rising of the sun. The way that I should walk in, in the triumphal march of My Ascension, which I need to be shown to Me, for as Man, I know not the path, but I lift up My soul unto Thee, and My Body will follow it. For us, (C.) it is a prayer that after the dark night-time of sin, the LORD will let us hear His loving-kindness, saying to us, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee,”* in the bright early morning of pardon and grace, and will teach us what man cannot know of himself, the way of GOD’S commandments, in which we are bound to walk, (L.) from the morning time of early youth to the evening of old age, and with prayer daily offered to GOD in the early hours, thus seeking first the kingdom of GOD and His righteousness.* GOD does make His way known to man in three manners; by the illumination of the HOLY GHOST, by the secret monitions of guardian angels, by the public teaching of the Church. (D. C.) And in making this prayer, we do but call on GOD to fulfil His promise, “I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go; and I will guide thee with Mine eye.”* But we can ask for this guidance only when we can say, I lift up my soul unto Thee,* when by penitence, meditation, and zeal for good works, we have turned our eyes from the downward paths of earth upwards to the LORD, seeking instruction from Him. And then: (A.) when the night of this world is over, when the bright morning of the Resurrection dawns, make me to hear Thy loving-kindness betimes, saying, “Come, ye blessed of MY FATHER, inherit the Kingdom,”* and lead me on gently then from strength to strength to the noontide where Thou feedest,* and makest Thy flock to rest in perfect light,* those ninety-and-nine sheep to which Thou addest that hundredth one, (G.) brought back from destruction when it had gone astray,* because even in the wilderness I yearned for Thee and lifted up my soul on the wings of contemplation and the upward flight of ardent love,* (D. C.) with the buoyancy of hope and the perseverance of patience.

9 Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: for I flee unto thee to hide me.

For the LORD JESUS it is a prayer for deliverance from the Jews, (A.) and from Judas, and still more for victory over those mightier spiritual foes who had prompted them, and against whom He went out to battle. For the man who has just begun to walk in the way by which he should go,* it is a petition to be delivered from all foes, ghostly or mortal, that may beset that road, (C.) and especially from evil thoughts and suggestions. (A.) For I flee unto Thee to hide me. Unlike Adam, who fled from Thee to hide himself, “I have counted Thy WORD as my Redeemer,”* as the Chaldee paraphrase reads in this place. The last clause runs in Hebrew, Unto Thee have I hidden, and there is no word supplied. Hence three meanings besides that of the English rendering (which is practically the same as that of the older versions) have been suggested, of which the most probable is that to hide to a person is the exact reverse of hiding from a person,* so that the Psalmist here declares that he made no attempt to resist or publicly answer his adversaries,* but revealed his cause to GOD only.* And then it will fit with that place where we read: “And when He was accused of the Chief Priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee? And He answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.”*

10 Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my GOD: let thy loving Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness.

The thing, &c. More tersely and accurately, Thy will.* Where note that the Psalmist does not ask merely that GOD will teach him His will, but how to do it, to carry theory into practice, and not to idle on the road of which he speaks in the last clause of the verse. For Thou art my God. I would hasten elsewhere for restoration, (A.) had any other made me. I seek my Creator, because I need to be created anew, I seek my Redeemer, Who delivered me by taking flesh for me. If Thou teach me not, I shall do my own will, and my GOD will leave me. Teach me, for it cannot be that I should be my own master when Thou art my GOD. Let Thy loving Spirit,* not my own perverse spirit, nor yet the spirit of another man, weak and sinful like myself, nor even the spirit of an angel, able to advise, but not to persuade, but Thy princely and free Spirit, lead me out of my own evil and barren land of self, bringing forth no good fruits,* but only the thorns of evil works, into the Church of GOD, into a life of holiness,* into a “level land,” (Heb.) where there is no stumbling, (Z.) a fertile plain abounding in the harvests of grace; and so onward into that true “Land of uprightness,”* the land of the living, where the righteous dwell with GOD. And this prayer befits also the human soul of our LORD as the CHRIST,* for as at the beginning of His ministry “JESUS was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness,”* an evil land, “to be tempted of the devil,” so it was fitting that He should be led at the close of it by the same Spirit into Paradise, the land of righteousness, out of the darkness of the grave.

11 Quicken me, O LORD, for thy Name’s sake: and for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.

It is a renewed prayer for the Resurrection, for the glorification of the FATHER by the arising of the SON; (G.) and that for His righteousness’ sake, that as death had entered into the world by the first Adam, in whom all die,* so life might enter in by the new Adam,* in Whom all live. The Body cries even as the Head, Quicken me, O Lord, and that not for my merits, or because of my righteousness, but for the sake of that Name of JESUS which makes Thee a SAVIOUR, for that righteousness’ sake which is pledged for the rescue of sinners. And the Apostle will tell us the answer, “Even when we were dead in sins,* He hath quickened us together with CHRIST, (by grace ye are saved,) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in CHRIST JESUS.”* These last words tell us what is the truest bringing of the soul out of trouble, out of the consciousness of sin, (H.) out of the weakness and pain of this world, whence we fain would flee away and be at rest, and hence it is not only the prayer of all the faithful now, but was also that of the Patriarchs in Hades who waited eagerly for the coming of the Deliverer.*

12 And of thy goodness slay mine enemies: and destroy all them that vex my soul; for I am thy servant.

It is of no human enemies that he speaks in the chief place, albeit the fearful punishment which fell upon the guilty Jewish nation teaches that we may not forget how GOD chastises rebellious man, but of death and hell,* of the devil and his angels,* of all evil thoughts and wicked examples. These destroy Thou utterly, and human enemies destroy in another sense by slaying sin and self within them, (Ay.) and making Apostles out of persecutors,* as with Saul of Tarsus. For I am Thy servant. And to be Thy servant is to reign over the passions by grace here, and in glory hereafter. For, as the Virgin Martyr S. Agatha replied, when upbraided with stooping to tasks unworthy her high birth,* “Our nobility consists in this, that we are the servants of CHRIST.”

It is just and reasonable,* then, that a good servant should be aided by a good LORD against all enemies, and be guarded from all peril. And that will be in the happy life of the blessed, where we shall have no adversary and fear no enemy, because death will be swallowed up in victory,* and the last enemy of all, death itself, shall be destroyed, and the Saints shall praise GOD evermore in that City, glorious, free, everlasting, irradiated with the true, inaccessible, and boundless light of the Sun of righteousness; the City into which no one that is ungodly can enter, no one that is unjust can dwell, no one that is filthy can pass. There is light without waning, joy without sighing, desire without suffering, love without sadness, fulness without loathing, safety without sin, life without death, health without disease, and there all the citizens of that heavenly land see the King in His beauty,* and rejoice in the glory of His might.

And so:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who hearkeneth in this Psalm unto His SON, the true David; glory be to the SON, Who prayeth here for His members; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who leadeth every David, every true penitent, into the land of righteousness.

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

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