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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.

Parisian. Praise ye the LORD in His Saints, praise Him according to the multitude of His greatness.

Lyons. In His Saints * praise ye the LORD.

1 [Alleluia.] O praise GOD in his holiness; praise him in the firmament of his power.

To the Jewish mind,* the first meaning of this verse would be that the Temple was intended by the earlier phrase,* the Ark of the Covenant by the latter. To us, it is a call for earth and heaven to join in GOD’S praise, men in His sanctuary of the Church Militant here on earth, angels in that which is the chief visible token of Divine power, the spacious firmament of heaven.* Yet again, it is not impossible to take the Prayer Book rendering,* and so to understand GOD’S holiness as the first ground of praise, and His power as the second.

But the LXX. and Vulgate rendering, In His holy [ones or places], usually understood as In His Saints, is that which has been the theme of the Church for many ages, and that without any departure from the truest sense.* For our bodies are the Temple of the HOLT GHOST,* a shrine more beautifully and skilfully formed than any which a mortal architect can rear, and the earliest Fathers are never tired of telling us that a pure soul is the truest sanctuary of the LORD, (C.) in which His spiritual altar stands. But even in praising His most eminent servants, we are praising Him, their LORD, for all their holiness consists of their imitation of Him, and their power to imitate Him comes of His justifying grace: while the firmament of His power is that He, undergoing death for the salvation of all men, overcame death itself with its wicked author by the power of His might,* burst asunder the gates of hell, healed the doubting by His Resurrection, and brought them that believe finally to the kingdom of heaven, stablishing them there so surely that there is no room left in them for weakness or failure; so that the most illustrious of His Saints, especially the Apostles, (B.) who resisted bravely every adversary, may well be styled the firmament of His power, (Ay.) starry with resplendent virtues.

2 Praise him in his noble acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

GOD is to be praised,* not merely because He dwells in Heaven, but because He dwells there as Almighty ruler and LORD of all; He is to be praised for His great manifestations of power on behalf of Israel,* in the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquest of Canaan, and the like; and also, rising from these tangible proofs of His might, because of the infinite majesty which He thus shadowed forth.* It is thus the LORD JESUS calls on us to recognize and adore His Godhead:* “Believest thou not that I am in the FATHER, and the FATHER in Me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the FATHER that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me that I am in the FATHER, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto MY FATHER. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the FATHER may be glorified in the SON. If ye shall ask any thing in My name,* I will do it.” And thus, keeping to the key-note of the first verse, we are here bidden to praise GOD for every great deed of holiness or power wrought by His Saints, and the more eminent such appears, the more bound are we to refer it to the unseen worker by and in Whose Name they were all done.* If it be asked, How can we praise GOD according to His excellent greatness, in any sort of proportion to what is infinite, S. Gregory will answer: “We most truly give in full the acts of Divine power when we know ourselves unable to give them fully. We speak most eloquently, when we are silent in amazement at them. When our feebleness tries to narrate the works of God, the way to use the tongue is to praise by adequate silence what we are not able adequately to comprehend, and he praises GOD according to His excellent greatness who feels that he utterly breaks down in any effort at fulfilling His praise.” (B.) And we can do this in another way also, by referring to Divine grace, not to our own strength, whatever good thing is wrought in or by us.

Non tua, vir, virtus, quâ pugnas, sed tibi CHRISTUS

In cruce donavit quando moriens superavit.

Thy strength in fight is not thine own, CHRIST gave it unto thee,

His dying gift, O man, what time He conquered on the Tree.

3 Praise him in the sound of the trumpet: praise him upon the lute and harp.

Nunquam nostrarum sileat vox alta tubarum, (B.)

Est tuba vox alta, sonus est laudatio sancta.

O never let in silence fall our trumpets’ high and thrilling call,

For as the trumpet’s note is high, so holy praise makes melody.

The trumpet is the warrior instrument, (C.) and either calls to the battle or proclaims a victory.* Hence the trumpet praises CHRIST as He is our Captain and King. He is praised by the trumpet-voice of His great preachers, whom He bids “to cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice as a trumpet,”* whom He sends to compass the walls of the spiritual Jericho to make them totter to their ruin,* that the armies of the LORD may go up and take the city.

They thunder—their sound*

It is CHRIST the LORD!

Then Satan doth fear,

His citadels fall!

As when the dread trumpets

Went forth at Thy word,

And one long blast shattered

The Canaanite’s wall.

The trumpet needs to be held with the hand, and so the preacher must work as well as speak. And, whereas the mouth-piece of the trumpet is much smaller than its bell, whence its voice finally issues, we learn the lesson that the preacher ought to be far stricter with himself than with his hearers.* The trumpet is also the signal of victory, and thus when the sound of the Archangel’s trump shall proclaim the final overthrow of Satan, (G.) death, and sin, the Saints will praise the LORD for His triumph. (C.) The lute, or psaltery, as LXX. and Vulgate have it, as specially used in religious music, denotes service to GOD.* They take it as the decachord, and remind us that it sounds from above, so that it denotes the glorification of the soul. (C.) The harp, a more secular instrument, used at weddings and other festivals, (A.) praises CHRIST the Bridegroom, and summons to His marriage-feast. Sounding from below, it praises Him for deliverance from sorrow,* and rejoices in the glorification of the body.

4 Praise him in the cymbals and dances: praise him upon the strings and pipe.

Cymbals ought to be, as in A. V. timbrel, or drum, as LXX. and Vulgate; meaning the small tabret or tambourine played with the hand:

Tympana nos elare mortalia mortificatæ

Membra docent carnis, (B.) corii quia sunt animalis.

Drums clearly teach how mortal flesh ought to be mortified

In all its members, seeing they are made of dead beasts’ hide.

Strained to the wood on every side, dry, and sounding under blows, they serve as a type of the Martyrs, and of all who are crucified to the world, uttering praise to GOD most clearly when most severely afflicted. (A.) And dances, or, as LXX. and Vulgate, choir, denoting peaceful fellowship, and joint harmonious action, which, S. Gregory reminds us, cannot be safely disregarded by those who play the drum.* Strings, as very thin and strained with great tension, are types of all those who macerate the body with fasts and vigils, and are tightly fastened by the nails of the Cross, straining upwards towards GOD, and giving forth sweet tones when touched by His fingers. The pipe, or hand-organ, formed of several tubes of unequal length fastened together, signifies the harmonious concord of different graces and virtues, whether in one person or in many, united together by the band of charity.

5 Praise him upon the well-tuned cymbals: praise him upon the loud cymbals.

The difference of these instruments seems to be that the former were smaller and clearer-toned,* intended to accompany the voice;* the latter louder and deeper, such as are used to clash in military music.* Haymo very happily points out that as cymbals are always used in pairs, they may fitly denote those who “consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works,”* and to the praise of GOD.* They are well-tuned, from the holiness of their deeds and words in accordance with the Divine will, (B.) loud in their clear boldness and in their full rejoicing. (A.) The Old and New Testaments, too, in their wondrous agreement and harmony, are well-tuned cymbals; as are also the heart and lips of a Saint when in prayer or praise.* And when the two great choirs of Angels and men shall join together,* blending in concord, and filling heaven and earth with melody, then GOD shall be praised upon the loud cymbals. (A.) In this great concert for the marriage-feast of the Lamb, (C.) all the modes of producing musical tunes are named, breath for the trumpet and pipe, vibration of strings in psaltery and harp, blows for the beat of drum and clash of cymbals, all which are spiritual types of ourselves, and then, lest aught should be lacking, lest the understanding should fail to accompany the voice, the Psalmist ends his great song with the words:

6 Let every thing that hath breath: praise the LORD. [Alleluia.]

When, at the creation of man, God made him a sentient and rational being, it is written that “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul;”* and that same breath is meant here: so that the words ought to run, Let every breath [or with Vulgate, spirit] praise the Lord.* It is with a most deep significance that those words form the antiphon to this Psalm when it is used in the Office of the Dead, as teaching us that when the body is crumbling in the grave, the soul is alive to God, and the whole being of mart can say, “I sleep, but my heart waketh,”* which stands as the noble epigraph over the tombs of the kings of Spain in the Escurial. (A.) And as this vital breath comes directly from God, there is a deep truth in S. Augustine’s interpretation, that those who live the true life of the soul, those who are spiritual, are chiefly called on here to praise the LORD, and to praise Him not here alone, where the drum and stringed instruments toll of mortification and suffering, (G.) and the cymbals teach the need of mutual aid, but in the full glory of heaven, where flesh, now incorruptible, and spirit are agreed, and the song of one is that of both.

This great “Book of the Wars of the LORD,”* in which, as in no other, are set forth all the combats and victories of the spirit over the flesh,* and of the Saints over Satan and his angels, began with a beatitude, “Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsels of the ungodly,”* and leads the advancing pilgrim along the Way to the Land of everlasting blessedness and praise. The first, and second, and third Books of the Psalter close with “Amen, Amen,” noting man’s perseverance in prayer, and firm confidence in GOD. The fourth book, with its foretaste of glory, blends the song of Moses and of the Lamb, and ends with “Amen, Alleluia;” but the fifth, wherein the wars have ceased for ever, terminates in that song of heaven alone, which has itself no termination, coming as the crown of CHRIST’S victories and judgments, as it is written, “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the LORD our GOD: For true and righteous are His judgments: And again they said, Alleluia. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many nations, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the LORD GOD omnipotent reigneth.”* So, with the melody of heaven echoing around me, I, by the waters of Babylon, hang up this harp of the LORD, after striving to sing His song in a strange land, saying to Him as I do so: “And now,* O LORD GOD, if in this work, I have said anything which is Thine, Thine own will recognize it; and if I have said anything which is mine, (C.) do Thou and Thine forgive it.” What I have said of Thine, receive; what I have ignorantly uttered of mine own,* pardon; and bring us to that vision where we can no longer err, O LORD JESU CHRIST, to that happy life of praise and blessing where the unending song is uplifted.

Now from all men be outpoured

Alleluia to the LORD;*

With Alleluia evermore

The SON and SPIRIT we adore.

Praise be done to the Three in One.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wherefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, in the firmament of His power; glory be to the SON, for His noble acts wrought for the salvation of mankind; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, in Whose might every spirit praiseth the LORD, and saith, Alleluia.

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








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