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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. Because of men’s works* that are done against the words of Thy lips, I have kept hard paths.

Parisian. O hold Thou up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.

Mozarabic. Hear the right, O LORD, consider my complaint: hearken with Thine ears to my prayer.

1 Hear the right, O LORD, consider my complaint: and hearken unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.

It is a very beautiful idea of Pseudo-Dionysius regarding the efficacy of prayer,* that the case is as if we, standing on board a vessel, and holding in our hands a rope fastened to the shore, were to pull lustily at it. While endeavouring as it were to bring the shore to ourselves, we should indeed be bringing ourselves to it. And thus in prayer: while we seek in appearance, to bend GOD’s will to us, we are indeed bringing our will to His. Here CHRIST prays not for Himself alone, but for the instruction of all: and the right which is to be heard is that righteousness which He offers for us, that full and complete sacrifice which He presents for our sins. And if we take the words into our mouths,* S. Gregory Nyssen tells us that he will use it in vain whose debtor is in prison: the sound of his chains, says he, will be louder than the sound of your words. Or again applying the verse to the SON of GOD, (G.) “While,” says Gerhohus, “I hang in agony on the Cross, whose cross beams represent as it were a balance, I cry for justice in the sight of the FATHER and of the whole company of heaven, to wit, whether My misery be not sufficiently great to abolish the guilt of all that believe in Me. I, the SON of GOD, suffer for slaves; I, the Just, for the unjust.” Has not such a sacrifice a sweet-smelling savour by which the evil odour of sin may be destroyed? Has not such a sacrifice a voice that must be heard, not only on the part of mercy, but also of justice? That goeth not out of feigned lips. As they pray, who say, LORD, LORD, and do not the things which He commands.

2 Let my sentence come forth from thy presence: and let thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal.

My sentence, it is as if He said, in this world was, “Let Him be crucified;” “Not this Man, but Barabbas:” but let My true sentence come forth from Thy Presence, Thou Who hast said, “I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”* Not the sentence of My accusation set up over My Cross, (G.) but the sentence pronounced before the world was, “Thou art My SON, this day have I begotten Thee.” Let Thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal. It is equal or right, that, since the innocent suffered, the guilty should go free, that the innocent Lamb should atone for the wandering sheep; that since the Prince of Life submitted to the law of death, they that were all their life-time subject to his bondage should attain to everlasting life.

[From Thy presence. That is,* let men know of a surety that My condemnation to the Cross was not the work of the Jews and Pilate, to whom I said, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above;”* but that it was done of My free-will, and according to Thy decree and foreknowledge, for the salvation of My enemies.]

3 Thou hast proved and visited mine heart in the night-season; thou hast tried me, and shalt find no wickedness in me: for I am utterly purposed that my mouth shall not offend.

Proved, visited, tried: S. Thomas thus explains their difference. GOD proves when He puts a man to the test whether he will keep His laws or not. He visits, when by the indwelling of His HOLY SPIRIT, He would give him power to keep them. He tries, whether His servant will persevere to the end, or whether, having run well, he will cease to run at all. And that word try has the force of trial by fire which indeed is expressed both in the LXX.* and in the Vulgate. And that story is well known of him who, inquiring of the refiner of silver how he knew when the dross was sufficiently separated, received for answer, “When I can see my own image perfectly reflected in it.” In the night season. And what is that but saying “In the multitude of the sorrows that I have in my heart,” for night is mystically the season of affliction, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul?”* Thou shalt find no wickedness in me. And then manifestly, He That speaks is the SON of GOD. But take it in the other sense: put those words into the mouth of one of the members, which only the Head can really and truly say, and then notice how the next clause follows: for I am utterly purposed that my mouth shall not offend. What is this but S. James’s “If any man offend not in word, the same is also a perfect man?”* And well might S. Pambo say when he had come to one of the elder saints of the wilderness for instruction in the ascetic life, and had heard from him that verse, “I said, I will take heed to my ways that I offend not with my tongue,”* That is enough for a whole life’s practice; let me go home and attempt it.

4 Because of men’s works, that are done against the words of thy lips: I have kept me from the ways of the destroyer.

The Vulgate is quite different: That my mouth may not speak the words of men: because of the words of Thy lips, I have kept hard paths. And taking it in that sense He would not speak the words of men Who denounced the doings and the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees; Who exposed them for making clean the outside of the cup and the platter, while their inward parts were full of iniquity. I have kept hard paths. Hard indeed: hard, literally, in His manifold journeys among the mountains of Judæa and the plains of Galilee and the sea-coasts of Tyre and Sidon; hard, mystically, in that life which was but one sorrow from beginning to end; begun in the manger because there was no room for Him in the inn: ended between the two thieves on the Cross. And because of Thy words. Because—“Ought not CHRIST to have suffered these things?”—Because of the prophecies that He should be despised and rejected of men; because of the types, that He should be the Lamb sacrificed with fire, (Ay.) and together with hyssop and bitter herbs. It is to be noticed that some of the older translations give the passage thus: I have kept the ways of the transgressor: which they interpret to mean that He was numbered with them, reckoned among them, called a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber while He lived, and joined with the wicked in His death. I have kept hard paths. This is the Antiphon which the Church takes as the ordinary interpretation of the Psalm. And well it may be: for what is the whole of the Christian course but a succession of hard paths,—the strait gate and the narrow way which the martyrs and the confessors trod, and which they trod for the same reason, namely, love. Lorinus beautifully applies those words of the heathen poet:

Nam ubi amor condimentum inerit,* cuivis placiturum credo.

Neque salsum neque suave esse potest quicquam, ubi amor non admiscetur.

Fel quod amarum est, id mel faciet: hominem ex tristi lepidum et lenem.

5 O hold thou up my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps slip not.

Hold Thou up, or, as the Vulgate has it, Make perfect. That is, says Gerhohus, in the paths of eternity: because of Thy commandments, I have kept hard paths in this world; let their hardness and sorrow be turned into the joy and glory of the next. Hold Thou up my goings. And where were they so truly held up as on the Cross? There indeed stablished; (C.) there indeed made perfect. Or, again, others will have this expression of making perfect to refer to the example that He left us, that we should tread in His steps; and in this way a very beautiful meaning may be drawn forth. Hold Thou up My goings, that I may leave a pattern to them that shall come after Me to life everlasting, that My footsteps—that is, that their footsteps which are Mine, because taken in My strength, and based upon My example—slip not, notwithstanding all the infirmities of the flesh, and the assaults of the world and of Satan.

6 I have called upon thee, O GOD, for thou shalt hear me: incline thine ear to me, and hearken unto my words.

The Prophet, (Cd.) as Cajetan very well observes, sets us a memorable example in two respects. The one, his trust in GOD, Thou shalt hear me: the other, his acknowledgment that he has no merit of his own, (G.) Incline Thine ear to me, because my words have in themselves no power or force to reach it. Or, to apply these words to our LORD: I have called upon Thee, when I said, “The hour is come: glorify Thy SON, that Thy SON also may glorify Thee;” when I prayed, “FATHER, glorify Thy Name;” when I said, “FATHER, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am.” But now, as the hour of My Passion approaches, as the redemption or damnation of the human race depends upon My drinking or not drinking the cup, now in a different and deeper sense than before, incline Thine ear unto Me, and hearken unto My words, those seven words which I shall utter on the Cross; for others, “FATHER, forgive them; for they know not what they do:” for Myself, “FATHER, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

7 Show thy marvellous loving-kindness, thou that art the Saviour of them which put their trust in thee:

First let us separate the last clause from its present awkward junction, and refer it, as it ought to be referred, to the next verse. And then we take the words on our own lips, and having spoken of the LORD’s Passion, pray for that marvellous loving-kindness by which He said to the thief, (G.) “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise:” by which He made good the very title of His Cross—JESUS, in that He showed Himself to be the SAVIOUR, the King: in that He accepted the prayer, “Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Thou That art the Saviour of them that put their trust in Thee. Where notice the condition upon which only He becomes our SAVIOUR,—namely, that we trust in him. But yet observe how faint a degree of hope He sometimes rewards. The disciples had already got into the past tense, “We trusted that it had been He Which should have redeemed Israel,”* when He joined them in the way, and when He taught them of Himself.

From such as resist thy right hand, 8 Keep me as the apple of an eye: hide me under the shadow of thy wings, 9 From the ungodly that trouble me.

And they expound it of our LORD looking, (G.) in the fulness of His Omniscience, backwards and forwards, to the many times in which He, in His own people, was kept as the apple of an eye: the time when Pharaoh took counsel to oppress the chosen race with heavy burdens: when Satan moved them to murmur in the wilderness: when Saul pursued David for so many long years: when Antiochus stood up against the great and the holy people: when Herod sought to destroy the infants at Bethlehem: when, in the ten great persecutions, “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together,” and at length in the fulness of their joy struck the medal which declared the execrable superstition to have been crushed: and finally, in the time of Antichrist, when, if it were possible, the very elect should perish; but because they are elect they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand. Or, to take it in another sense, we ourselves ask to be kept as the pupil of GOD’s Eye,—that is, as the very and eternal SON of GOD; for the pupil of the eye,* as Hugh of S. Victor reminds us, has been from all antiquity the type of a son. Anastasius IV. found so great consolation in this expression, that Custodi me ut pupillum oculi was his motto. But, as mediæval writers love to tell us, the pupil of the eye, the true type of all GOD’s servants, is more especially so of those that have entered on the religious life. The eye lies, as it were, enshrined in its own little temple: so they, shut out and shut off from the cares and the allurements of this world. “The SAVIOUR,” says Salvian,* “desirous to have followers of the purest and holiest of all, commanded that by such the most trifling sins should be avoided: that the life of a Christian should be undefined, as is the pupil of our eye: to the end that, as the one cannot abide the smallest particle of dust, (G.) so our life should reject and abhor every spot of defilement.” Under the shadow of Thy wings. “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” There they see the two wings of which the Psalmist speaks: that which protects from temporal,* and that which shields from eternal, dangers. Others take it of the two Testaments: the promises and consolations of each. S. Basil sees in the type of wings the swiftness of GOD’s protection: others, from that expression, the shadow, would remind us that we are none the less safe in this world for a little temporary darkness.

[Thy right Hand.* The Right Hand of the FATHER is the SON, and the words therefore are spoken in His person against the Jews, (D. C.) and in that of the Church against the Pagan enemies of His Name. The apple of an eye. This type is used of CHRIST, because as the eye, itself very small, gives light to the whole body,* so CHRIST, Who appeared most lowly and obscure, is the “Light of the world”* and of His mystical body, the Church.]

9 Mine enemies compass me round about to take away my soul.

10 They are inclosed in their own fat: and their mouth speaketh proud things.

Compass me about. They refer very appositely to that verse, “Then came the Jews round about Him, (G.) and said unto Him, How long dost Thou make us to doubt?”* And notice that the fat was that part of the sacrifice which belonged to GOD only, and hence one of the sins of Hophni and Phinehas; that, when any man said, “Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth,”* the answer was, “Nay, but thou shalt give it me now.” And thus our LORD’s enemies, (C.) instead of rendering to GOD the things which were GOD’s, (R.) inclosed themselves in, kept back for their own, (B.) those very things. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of GOD.” “How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from GOD only?”* Others refer it to their sensuality, and being given over to the lusts of the flesh: others, again, as Theodoret and Ludolph, to their having shut themselves up from all compassion, and so they connect it with the next verse. Or, lastly, the expression may but mean such a delicate and luxurious life, as that of the rich man who fared sumptuously every day, and of whom, and of whom only, it is written, that “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”

[Their mouth speaketh proud things,* such as, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” and “We have no King but Cæsar;” and yet again, “He is guilty of death,” (D. C.) “Crucify Him.”* It is said, their mouth, (C.) because the wicked often condemn in their heart the very thing which they utter.]

11 They lie waiting in our way on every side: turning their eyes down to the ground;

12 Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey: and as it were a lion’s whelp, lurking in secret places.

[They lie waiting, &c. The LXX. and Vulgate read here, (D. C.) Casting me out, they compassed me. They cast Him out more than once, as when at Nazareth they “rose up, and thrust Him out of the city,”* intending to throw Him down a precipice.* They cast Him out of the city of Jerusalem, crucifying Him “without the gate,”* and compassing Him upon the Cross. The Syriac and Symmachus read, They praised Me, and now they have compassed Me. And this they did twice, when they tempted Him, saying, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of GOD in truth;”* and again, when they mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”*]

Turning their eyes down to the ground: for where the treasure is, (Ay.) there will the heart be also. Or, as others take it, “Watching My steps, if perchance they might find any occasion of stumbling in Me:” as when they sent out those that feigned themselves just men, to entangle Him in His talk. S. Thomas well reminds us how often Holy Scripture bids us to lift up our eyes,—“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills:”* “Lift up your eyes to the heavens:”* “Lift up your eyes on high,* and behold who hath created these things:” and again, “Lift up your eyes, and behold the fields:”* because we are of our own nature so apt to forget our country and our home, and to fix them on the place of our exile. The lion—that roaring lion, who goeth about seeking whom he may devour; the lion’s whelp, his followers and ministers, of whom it is well said that he lurketh in secret places, because it is written, “Every one that doeth good, cometh unto the light.”*

13 Up, LORD, disappoint him, and cast him down: deliver my soul from the ungodly, which is a sword of thine;

Here, again, the Vulgate entirely differs: Deliver my soul from the ungodly; Thy sword from the enemies of Thy Hand: where they interpret the sword of the LORD Himself. How many a time,* says S. Bonaventura, has the petition, Up, Lord, been uttered by the true of heart! How many a time has it seemed for the present unheard, that it might be answered the more gloriously hereafter! Disappoint him, or rather, be beforehand with him: and S. Jerome has an epistle on the way in which GOD thus snatches His children from the power of the enemy at the very moment when human hope seems over. So, most wonderfully of all, they were disappointed who remembered that that Deceiver had said, (G.) while He was yet alive, “After three days, I will rise again:” and themselves endeavouring to be beforehand with Him, by the watch and the seal, only rendered more glorious and more manifest the fulfilment of His own words, “I Myself will awake right early.” And if we are to take the last clause in the sense of our own version, the ungodly, which is a sword of Thine, then it can have no better commentary than GOD’s own words to Sennacherib, “Now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps: therefore their inhabitants were of small power.”*

[CHRIST is called the Sword of GOD,* “sharper than any two-edged sword,”* for He is two-edged in His twofold nature of GOD and Man. His soul is the sword wherewith the FATHER, drawing it out of the sheath of His Body, conquered hell.]

14a (14) From the men of thy hand, O LORD, from the men, I say, and from the evil world: which have their portion in this life, whose bellies thou fillest with thy hid treasure.

[From the men, I say, and from the evil world, &c. The best texts of the LXX. with the Vulgate read, quite differently,* Divide them, O Lord, in their life from the few, off the earth. Do not wait till the Judgment Day to part the sheep from the goats, (D. C.) but even now make the distinction between Goshen and Egypt. Save the little Christian flock when the guilty nation perishes in its own city, and is driven off its own land. Divide evil Christians in this life by excommunication from the Church Militant, that they may repent in time. S. Albert explains the words further of evil Bishops, who are set apart by rank and wealth from the lowly and obscure,* who heap up riches, and are guilty of nepotism.]

14b (15) They have children at their desire: and leave the rest of their substance for their babes.

It is not without reason that they see a terrible meaning in these words. The rest of their substance, (Ay.) that is, of the possessions of the Jews, the chief enemies of CHRIST, who indeed had their portion in this life, though once filled with the hidden treasure of His knowledge. The rest of the substance which they left to their descendants was none other than that curse, (L.) “His Blood be on us and on our children.” It is not worth while to go through the twelve meanings, partly literal, partly mystical, which the diligence of the commentators has discovered for the very obscure Vulgate: “O LORD, from the few of the land, divide them in their life: with Thy hid treasure is their belly filled.” That is, that the great mass of the Jews, left to their deserved perdition, should be separated from the few of the land who had heard the Apostles’ message, and had repented. But if we follow our own version, the men of Thy hand must be only an amplification of that which went before, “The ungodly, which is a sword of Thine:” the men who, while they seek to carry out their own devices, and to injure Thee and Thine, are indeed but passive instruments in Thine hand. With reference to GOD’s thus ordering the unruly wills and affections of sinful men, Vieyra says well: (he is speaking of the disciples who went to Emmaus:) “It was the LORD’s intention to send back those disciples with joy to Jerusalem. Why then,* if He purposed to send them to Jerusalem, did He go with them to Emmaus: Et ipse ibat cum illis? The road to Emmaus and the road to Jerusalem are precisely opposite: and does CHRIST go with the disciples to Emmaus when He wishes to take them to Jerusalem? Yes: for these are the marvels of Divine Providence, to conduct us to its own end by our own ways. To accomplish the designs of GOD by the straight ways of GOD, this might be anybody’s providence; but to accomplish the designs of GOD by the erring ways of men, this is GOD’s Providence. To go to Jerusalem by the road to Jerusalem is the ordinary road; to go to Jerusalem by the way of Emmaus, that is GOD’s road.”

[They have children at their desire. The Italic version reads here, (B.) very singularly,* They are filled with swine’s flesh,1 given up, as they are, to every uncleanness, and error forbidden by the Law, and leaving all their evil ways as a legacy to their posterity.]

15 (16) But as for me, I will behold thy presence in righteousness: and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.

With one consent all the mediæval commentators take the righteousness in this place to mean our LORD. I shall behold Thy Presence; (Ay.) but not for any merits of my own: I shall behold Thy Presence, because, as S. Paul says, (G.) I have put on CHRIST. Or, if the words be spoken by our blessed LORD Himself, then it is, I, Whom they call the Seducer; I, of Whom they said, “Nay, but He deceiveth the people;”* I shall behold Thy Presence in righteousness: righteousness in fulfilling My promises, that where I am, there My faithful people shall be also; in putting down the mighty from their seat, and exalting the humble and meek; and in giving possession to the meek-spirited of the heavenly land. O righteous FATHER, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee; and therefore, all My sufferings over, all My promises fulfilled, all My glory accomplished, I shall behold Thy Presence in righteousness. And when I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it. “But when,” says S. Bonaventura,* “O LORD JESU, when shall that when be?” And S. Augustine dwells upon that word satisfied, knowing, (A.) as he says, “that, without GOD, all is emptiness.” “This is that glorious satisfying which leaves nothing empty or hollow, nothing which the soul can desire or pursue. Blessed satisfaction without satiety, pleasure without weariness, the use of everlasting delight without softness, continual felicity without any labour. While we live, our eyes and ears are unsatisfied with seeing and hearing; the more they receive, the more they desire. We may have pleasure, but we are never filled: our merriment rises, at it were, to the summit; the depth below is all bitter. Well, therefore, said David, Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee.” So writes Drexelius; and I cannot better follow up his words, and end the Psalm, than by the beautiful verses of Bernard of Cluny:

O bona patria, num tua gaudia teque videbo?

O bona patria, num tua præmia plena tenebo?

Die mihi, flagito, verbaque reddito, dicque, Videbis.

Spem solidam gero: remne tenens ero? Die, Retinebis.

O sacer, O pius, O ter et amplius ille beatus,

Cui sua para Deus: O miser, O reus, hac viduatus!

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose Presence we shall behold in righteousness; and to the SON, Who awoke up after His likeness; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who is Himself that satisfaction, communicated in this world partly, that in heaven He may be bestowed fully and everlastingly.

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








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