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I know not whether or not mine is, to a certainty, the true meaning of the Psalms, though I nevertheless hold no doubt, that what I have delivered is truth. For what Augustine, Hieronymus, Athanasius, Hilary, Cassiodorus, and others, have said upon the Psalms, is truth, though it is sometimes very far indeed from the literal meaning. And thus, this second exposition which I have undertaken, is very different from my first. And indeed there is not one book of the whole Bible in which I have been so much exercised as in the Psalms: till at last I came to this opinion,—that no man's interpretation, provided it be a godly one, should be rejected, unless he that rejects it submit himself to the same law of retaliation. One man may fall short in many things, and another in more. I may see many things which Augustine did not see. And I am persuaded that others will see many things which I do not see now.
What course then remains for us to pursue, but that we mutually assist each other, and pardon those who fail, knowing that we are liable to fail ourselves ? For let us not by any means follow the example of that most detestable and most vile race of men, who, though they cannot themselves perform one single thing that deserves not to be exposed, yet, when they find the least imperfection of a hair's or straw's value in the productions of another, immediately consider themselves worthy of being rewarded with all the triumphs of Pompey. I know it to be the most impudent height of temerity, for any one boldly to profess, that he understands any one book of the Scriptures fully in all its parts ! Nay, who will presume to maintain that he understands fully and perfectly any one single Psalm ? Our life is only a beginning, and a going on, and not a consummation. He rises the highest, who comes the nearest to the Holy Spirit. If I can touch the moon, I am not immediately to imagine that I have touched the sun also: nor am I to look with disdain upon the lesser stars. There are degrees in living and acting, and why not in understanding also ? The apostle says, that we are "changed from glory to glory.” And, to open my
design plainly,--I only write for the service of those, who know not these things, but wish to know them : and therefore, it will be at least a satisfaction to me to reflect, that I have hereby engaged myself and my hearers in a better employment of mind, than if I had been adding new clouds of darkness, and fresh toads and flies of corruption, to the books of human opinions.
This book of Psalms is, in my opinion, of a different nature from all the other books. For in the other books we are taught what we ought to do, both by precept and example. But this book not only teaches us, but shows us in what way and manner we may do the Word, and imitate the examples it contains. For it is not in our power or strength to fulfil the law of God, or to imitate Christ: all we can do, is, to desire and pray that we might be able to do the Word, and imitate Christ's example; and, when we have gained some power so to do, to praise, and give thanks unto God. What else then is the Psaltry, but praying to, and praising of, God? that is, a book of hymns ?
Therefore, the most gracious and blessed Spirit of God, the Father of his humble scholars, and the teacher of infants, well knowing that “we know not how to pray as we ought,” (as Paul saith,) in order to help our infirmities, (like schoolmasters who compose letters or subjects for their pupils to write home to their parents,) has prepared for us in this book words and feeling sensations, in which we may converse with our heavenly Father, and pray unto him concerning those things which he has taught us in the other books are to be done and imitated; that man may not want any thing that is necessary unto his eternal salvation. So great are the care of God over us, and his kindness to us !_Who is blessed for ever. And in whom, may your most gracious Highness live and prosper now and for evermore! Amen.
FIRST TWENTY-TWO PSALMS. .
P S A L M I.
Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of pestilence. There is a common inquiry among men concerning blessedness: and there is no one who does not wish that things may go well with him, and does not dread the thought that things should go ill with him. And yet all who have ever thus inquired have wandered from the knowledge of true blessedness: and they have wandered the most widely who have inquired with the greatest diligence: such as the philosophers: the greatest of whom have placed true blessedness in virtue, or in the actions of virtue: whereby, having rendered themselves more unhappy than the rest, they have deprived themselves of the blessings both of this life and of that which is to come. Whereas, the commonalty, though their ideas were the more grossly mad, by making blessedness to consist in carnal pleasure, enjoyed at least the good of this life.
This teacher, however, fetching his doctrine from heaven, detests all the devoted endeavours of men, and gives this only true definition of blessedness which is wholly unknown unto men :--that he is the “ blessed” man who loves the law of God. It is, indeed, a short definition, but it contains a savour that is contrary to all human ideas, and especially to human wisdom.-But, first of all, let us consider the grammatical signification of this passage, with respect to the Theology contained in it.
In the Hebrew, the word “blessed” is a plural noun, ASHRE (blessednesses): that is, all blessednesses are the portion of that man who has not gone away, &c. As though it were said, “ All things are well with that man who, &c. Why do you hold any dispute? Why draw vain conclusions? If a man has found that pearl of great price, to love the law of God and to be separate from the ungodly, all blessednesses belong to that man : but, if he does not find this jewel, he will seek for all blessednesses, but will never find one. For as all things are pure unto the pure, so all things are lovely unto the loving, all things good unto the good : and, universally, such as thou art thyself, such is God himself unto thee, though he is not a creature.--He is perverse unto the perverse, and holy unto the holy. Hence nothing can be good or saving unto him who is evil; nothing sweet unto him unto whom the law of God is not sweet.
It is well known that “to walk,” and “to go,' are used in the scripture mode of expression, figuratively, and are of the same signification, as to have to life and conversation. As in Psalm xv. 2, “He that walketh uprightly.” And Psalm ci. 6, “He that walketh in a perfect way he shall serve me.” And again, Rom. viii, 1,
. “ There is no condemnation to them who walk not after the flesh.”
The word “counsel" is without doubt here to be received as signifying decrees and doctrines : seeing that, no society of men exists without being formed and preserved by decrees and laws. David, however, by this term strikes at the pride and reprobate temerity of the ungodly. First, because they will not humble themselves so far as to walk in the law of the Lord, but rule themselves by their own counsel. And then, he calls it their “counsel," because it is their prudence, and the way that seems to them to be without error. For this is the destruction of the ungodly—their being prudent in their own eyes and in their own esteem, and clothing their errors in the garb of prudence and of the right way. For, if they came to men in the open garb of error, it would not be so distinguishing a mark of blessedness not to walk with them. But David does not here say ' in the folly of the ungodly’or in the error of the ungodly.' And therefore, he admonishes us to guard with all diligence against the appearance of what is right, that the devil transformed into an angel of light do not seduce us by his craftiness. And he contrasts the counsel of the wicked with the law of the Lord, that we may learn to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing; who are always ready to give counsel to all, to teach all, and to offer assistance unto all, when they are of all men the least qualified so to do.
The “ungodly” man, who in the Hebrew is called RASCH A, is by Hilary most rightly defined to be “he who thinks evilly concerning God. For ungodliness is properly the sin of unbelief, and is committed in the heart. But the term has been variously translated, and differently at different times. Do thou therefore always understand these two to be contrary the one to the nther,-faith in God, and ungodliness: even as also, the law of God, and the counsel of men. For when we speak of godliness and ungodliness, we do not speak of actions but of thoughts : that is, of the fountain-spring of actions. Because he who is rightly taught concerning God, cannot but do what is right, and show forth a good ile. For, if the just man fall even seven times a day, he stall rise again: but the ungoldly rush wholly into evil ad do not rise again. These, because they are in unbejet, do not one good work, though every thing that they G may have a fair appearance, being that shade that
Trers behemoth, Job xl. 22, whereby they deceive themselves and draw in the simple.—Hence, he is odly who lives by faith, and he who lives in unbelief is odly