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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. I will praise * my GOD in my life.

Ambrosian. I will sing unto my GOD * as long as I have any being.

Parisian. I will in my life praise the LORD * Who helpeth them to right that suffer wrong.

Mozarabic. The LORD lifteth up those that are down, looseth the prisoners, giveth sight to the blind.

1–2 (1) [Alleluia!] Praise the LORD, O my soul; while I live will I praise the LORD: yea, as long as I have any being, I will sing praises unto my GOD.

It is man’s reason calling upon his affections,* the intellectual part urging the emotional to pay homage and reverence to Him only Whose due it is, instead of giving earthly potentates that honour which He alone can justly claim. And the answer promises compliance, that henceforth holy thoughts and resolutions shall be the plan of the soul’s life; and that not at intervals, nor yet in meditation only, but in active operation, (H.) and continuously throughout the whole span of existence. And that because our life here and hereafter is truly one, albeit divided by the veil of death. While I live here, short as the time is, I will begin to praise the LORD, (B.) and learn the lesson of rejoicing worship which is to go on as long as I have any being, that is, since CHRIST has brought life and immortality to light,* throughout all eternity. Here, our praise is not only interrupted by many other things, but is itself often no more than mechanical, the utterance of the lips only when the heart is far away, engrossed in its own concerns, (A.) and thereby offends GOD instead of glorifying Him; but there, heart, and voice, and will shall be at one, and nothing distract us from the thought of GOD, because the three obstacles which impede praise on earth will have vanished, imperfect knowledge, bodily corruption, and halting love,* and with them that admixture of tears and prayers which prevents the act of praise from being absolutely pure, spontaneous,* disinterested, and exulting, as it will be in the kingdom of heaven.

3 (2) O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.

If this Psalm belong, as is most probable, to the post-Captivity era, there is in all likelihood a reference here to the disappointment of the returned exiles in their hopes of a speedy restoration of the Temple by reason of the favour and decrees of Cyrus, when the hired counsellors of the people of the land succeeded in frustrating the plans of the builders all through the reigns of Cyrus and Ahasuerus, down to the second year of Darius.* Put not your trust in princes, for they cannot save themselves from peril, sorrow, disease, and death; how much less then can they help others? What they do, even if they do anything, is but as a conduit yields water, as a town-crier gives liberty to a prisoner. The conduit does but convey the waters of a living fountain, (A.) the crier merely echoes the voice of the Judge, nor may any child of man, save One, give help, and He because He is not only Son of man, but SON of GOD, since if even He were only Man He could not be our SAVIOUR. Not even those great princes of GOD, the Apostles and the Angels, may be made objects of trust, observes here the English hermit Saint,* for to GOD only in CHRIST does that belong; much less, therefore, any ministers of His Church on earth, who are no more than the instruments whereby He communicates grace to His people. (A.) And if it be so even with those who are princes in spiritual things, how much less confidence is to be placed in those whose rank, wealth, and power are of the earth, earthy, doomed to a brief span and total disappearance? Albeit, experience teaches us that if a man in trouble is told that some powerful fellow-creature will come to his aid, he is at once cheered and roused, but if GOD’S help is promised, the words are received with coldness and indifference, although GOD Himself has said by His Prophet, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and departeth from the LORD.”* And the reason follows.* It is not, as so often understood, from any special capriciousness in the favour of earthly princes,1 (the Hebrew word here, נְדִיבִים, may be correctly enough translated benefactors or free-will givers,) but from their frail tenure of existence.

4 (3) For when the breath of man goeth forth he shall turn again to his earth: and then all his thoughts perish.

However assured the good will of an earthly monarch towards a subject may be,* yet he can never insure its operation beyond his own life, and often not during it. Death must come, and cannot be averted,* and with death vanish all his thoughts, all the plans and dispositions made beforehand, since the dead sovereign has no means of enforcing their execution, nor of protecting his friends against his successor.1 And it is recorded of the great Saladin, that every evening in his camp an officer on horseback lifted up a black shroud as a standard upon a lance, while one of two mollahs made proclamation, “Saladin, king of kings, Saladin, conqueror of conquerors, Saladin must die.” And the other made response, “Extolled be the perfection of the Living Who dieth not!”* The slave in the chariot of a Roman general during a triumph, with his repeated phrase, “Remember that thou art a man,” was not so impressively solemn a warning as this.

5 (4) Blessed is he that hath the GOD of Jacob for his help: and whose hope is in the LORD his GOD.

For there is no change in the politics of heaven.* No cry there Le Roi est mort, Vive le Roi! ushers in a displacement, perhaps a revolution. No need was there for the LORD JESUS, when crowned King of Heaven, while wielding in His right hand the sceptre of the Cross, to bear in His left, like the Eastern Emperors at their coronation,* a purple bag containing a little earth, to remind Him that royalty is mortal, for “death hath no more dominion over Him,”* and “of His kingdom there shall be no end.”* Blessed is he that hath Him, the GOD of Jacob, of every pilgrim and wrestling soul, for His help, (G.) for even in the night of struggle and tears, He will manifest Himself as the Angel of the Great Counsel, and make of Jacob an Israel, who shall see Him in the morning face to face. (Ay.) And it is noteworthy that this title God of Jacob is more frequent in Holy Writ than that which mentions Abraham or Isaac, albeit they worshipped Him too; and the reason may be that Jacob was the first to make a voluntary covenant with the LORD to serve Him,* and have Him only as his GOD. And whereas Isaac alone of Abraham’s sons, and Jacob alone of Isaac’s, inherited the promise; all the twelve sons of Jacob were co-heirs, and formed but one people of GOD, so that the title God of Jacob denotes no longer relationship to one person, but to a whole race, the entire of that “chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, peculiar people,”* whom CHRIST hath purchased to Himself for a possession. So then, “cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of? But trust ye in the LORD for ever; for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.”*

6 (5) Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: who keepeth his promise for ever;

All worshippers, (A.) even in false religions, have hope in their God, whoever he may be, but only those who trust in the Creator of all things can be sure of the power of Him they serve, (Cd.) Who keepeth truth for ever (A. V., Vulg.) stored in His inexhaustible treasury as the most costly jewel even there. (D. C.) And that because the Truth which He so keeps, and which is the sustaining power which preserves the fabric of creation, (Ay.) is the Eternal WORD, His Only-begotten SON, JESUS CHRIST.* He too, if we follow the Prayer Book rendering, is the Promise made to Adam and Eve, and again and again pledged to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David by the mouth of GOD Himself or by the voice of His Prophets.

7a (6) Who helpeth them to right that suffer wrong: who feedeth the hungry.

By all the tokens given in this and the succeeding verses wherewith to identify the LORD, (C.) it is made clear that He is the Incarnate SON. CHRIST is the true Judge and Ruler eternal,* Who avenges the oppressed for His Name’s sake. And as there is no wrong so grievous as the attempt to deprive us of our just rights as fellow-citizens of the Saints and of the Kingdom of GOD, so this is the first thing which He corrects, destroying the power of the devil. And He helped His own servants when they suffered wrong at the hands of the Jews who cast them out, and will help them more wondrously at His second coming, according to that saying, “Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at His word, Your brethren that cast you out for My Name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but He shall appear to your joy, (C.) and they shall be ashamed.”* Who feedeth the hungry. He did it literally in the repeated miracle of the loaves and fishes, and spiritually too, when that famine foretold by Amos was in the land, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD,”* He fulfilled the promise of His own Beatitude,* “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled;”* by feeding the multitude with the words of life.

7b–8a (7) The LORD looseth men out of prison: the LORD giveth sight to the blind.

These words of glad thankfulness,* probably first uttered when the decree went forth that Israel might return to his own land,* set forth the glory of the LORD Who delivered men from the bondage of sin,* and enlightened their understandings to receive His law; Who descending into Hades, broke the gates of brass and smote the bars of iron asunder,* releasing the prisoned Fathers, and irradiating the land of the shadow of death with His glorious light; and Who, in the act of making His new revelation to the world, did away with the restraints and bondage of the ceremonial law; an interpretation given to this passage by some Rabbinical authorities,* who cite it as a proof that the Mosaic code is not of perpetual obligation. Daily still He looseth men out of the prison of their sins,* and having thus brought them to the purgative way, gives them light enough to advance in the illuminative way also; which He prefigured in miracle by His frequent restoration of sight to the blind; a special token of Messiah’s power which the Prophet had foretold;* while His deliverance of Peter from one dungeon, and Paul and Silas from another, showed that the Hand which had brought Joseph from a prison to a throne, and had led Israel out of Egypt, was not shortened so as to be unable to save. (Ay.) And what He has thus done by grace, He will do yet more perfectly by glory, delivering us out of the prison of this world, (A.) and touching our eyes, who have been born blind, that we may see the King in His beauty face to face, (C.) He Who even here, is “the Light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.”*

He comes the prisoners to release,*

In Satan’s bondage held;

The gates of brass before Him burst,

The iron fetters yield.

He comes from thickest films of vice

To clear the mental ray,

And on the eye-balls of the blind

To pour celestial ray.

He comes the broken heart to bind,

The bleeding soul to cure,

And with the treasures of His grace

To enrich the humble poor.

8b (8) The LORD helpeth them that are fallen: the LORD careth for the righteous.

There are two faults in this version; fallen ought to be bowed down, and careth for should be loveth. Yet again we are called to gaze upon Him Who healed the woman bent for eighteen years,* the Friend Who loved John,* and Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus; Who mates “the crooked straight and the rough places plain” in the souls of His people by correcting their perverted and depraved wills,* when their powers for good are broken and their will enfeebled, or when pride has put them out of the right way, or caused them to be dashed down, (Ay.) as the Vulgate reads. The Lord careth for the righteous.* “If the gods,” says the greatest of heathen philosophers, “have any interest in human affairs, as seems to be the case, it is reasonable to suppose that they take pleasure in that which is best, and nearest akin to themselves.… and those who loved and honoured this most, they would requite, as interested in things dear to themselves, and acting rightly and honourably. And that this is so with a wise man is not hard to see, wherefore he is dearest of all to GOD, and consequently, (D. C.) the happiest also.” What the Pagan thought out in abstract speculation, the Evangelist will give us in concrete fact. It is written of the young man, to whom CHRIST enjoined the commandments of the moral law, that he answered, “Master, all these things have I observed from my youth. Then JESUS beholding him, loved him.”*

9 The LORD careth for the strangers; he defendeth the fatherless and widow: as for the way of the ungodly, he turneth it upside down.

The first clause of this verse is quaintly styled by an old German commentator,* “GOD’S trefoil,” a flower growing nowhere else in the Psalter. (A.) The LXX. word here for strangers is proselytes, whence S. Augustine interprets the reference as being to the whole Gentile Church, while a Greek expositor, agreeing with him herein, (Z.) considers the righteous of the previous verse to be limited to the Saints of the Old Covenant. (C.) But the more usual interpretation takes the meaning to be that they are the special charge of GOD who regard themselves as “strangers and pilgrims”* here, having no continuing city, but seeking one to come, as they journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. And what He does for these strangers we learn in another place:* “He loveth the stranger in giving him food and raiment,” the righteousness, (D. C.) and the Body and Blood of CHRIST. The fatherless are all those who are alone in the world, “calling no man their father on earth,”* or else far away from GOD their Father, and not knowing Him as such, (A.) albeit He knows well that they are His children, and neither forsakes nor forgets them. He says, as He said on the night before His Passion, “I will not leave you orphans, I will come unto you.”* The widow, in like manner,* is the Church which waits desolate here till her Bridegroom come.

The Church has waited long

Her absent LORD to see;*

And still in loneliness she waits,

A friendless stranger she.

Age after age has gone,

Sun after sun has set,

And still in weeds of widowhood

She weeps a mourner yet.

Come, then, LORD JESU, come.

We long to hear Thy Voice,

To see Thee face to face,

To share Thy crown and glory then,

As now we share Thy grace.

Should not the loving Bride

The absent Bridegroom mourn?

Should she not wear the weeds of grief

Until her LORD return?

Come, then, LORD JESU, come.

As for the way of sinners, &c.* This way is said by an early commentator to be Satan, who is the way, and the lie, and the death, as the opposite to CHRIST, while others take it more simply of any course of evil conduct, or even of a depraved conscience. He turneth it upside down. The A. V. more tersely has overthroweth. It may well be that the metaphor is taken from the destruction of a raised causeway by a flood or a landslip, when the road is literally overthrown, but the Hebrew root עָות implies “twisting,” and therefore it is better to understand here causing sinners to miss the goal at which they are aiming, by turning, as it were, their very road out of the true direction, or else entangling them in the intricate maze of their own plots, so that they cannot escape from them.* But, as usual, the gentler exposition finds supporters, and we are reminded that it is the way of sinners, not the sinners themselves, which is destroyed; and that when this is done, the aforetime sinners will walk in the way of the Saints.

10 The LORD thy GOD, O Sion, shall be King for evermore: and throughout all generations. [Alleluia!]

Rejoice then, (A.) O Sion, Church Militant on earth, for He will reign over thee, thou shalt he His Kingdom. He will reign for ever, (C.) and He will not reign without thee. And in that it is said shall be, not is King, we are forced to remember that His empire over our thoughts and hearts here is at best a divided one, but when this mortal shall have put on immortality, then CHRIST will reign perfectly in His Saints, “that GOD may be all in all,”* ruling over the two generations of Jew and Gentile in one Church Universal, and that not for a brief span, like earthly kings, but for evermore, so that His Saints will never need to raise the wail of sorrow, but will have as their song the unending Alleluia.

Joy to His ancient people,*

Your bonds He comes to sever,

The work is done, the LORD hath won,

And ye are free for ever.

Joy to the ransomed nations,

The foe, the raging lion,

Is bound in chains while JESUS reigns

The LORD of all in Sion.

Joy to the Church triumphant,

The SAVIOUR’S throne surrounding,

They see His face, adore His grace,

O’er all their sin abounding.

Crowned with the mighty Victor,

His royal glory sharing;

Each fills a throne, His Name alone

To heaven and earth declaring.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; glory be to the SON, Who is King for evermore in Sion; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who defendeth the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

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

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