George Horne.

A commentary on the book of Psalms online

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As in political affairs the enlightened Scottish patriot and statesman, iQ
order to work upon the people, asked for the songs of a nation, rather than
its profound and laborious literature ; and, in ecclesiastical affairs, the poli-
tic churchmen of Rome apprehended more danger to their craft and mys-
tery, from Luther's spiritual songs, than from all his writings of contro-
versial and popular theology ; so, in spiritual affairs, it is to be believed
that no book of the sacred canon seizeth such a hold upon the spiritual
man, and engendereth in the church so much fruitfulness of goodness
and truth, of comfort and joy, as doth the Book of Psalms. We say not
that the Psalms are so well fitted as the pure light of the Gospel by John,
and Paul's Epistles, which are the refraction of that pure light over the
fields of human well-being, to break the iron bone, and bruise the mill-
stone heart of the natural man ; but that they are the kindliest medicine
for healing his wounds, and the most proper food for nourishing the new
life which comes from the death and destruction of the old. For, as the
songs and lyrical poems of a nation, which have survived the changes of
time by being enshrined in the hearts of a people, contain the true form,
and finer essence of its character, and convey the most genial moods of
its spirit, whether in seasons of grief or joy, down to the children, and
the children's children, perpetuating the strongest vitality of choice spirits,
awakened by soul-moving events, and holding, as in a vessel, to the lips
of posterity, the collected spirit of venerable antiquity: so the Psalms,
which are the songs and odes, and lyrical poems of the people of God,
inspired not of v/ine, or festal mirth, of war, or love, but spoken by holy
men as they were moved by the HOLY GHOST, contain the words of
GOD'S SPIRIT taught to the souls of his servants, when they were ex-
ercised with the most intense experiences, whether of conviction, peni-
tence, and sorrow : or faith, love, and joy ; and are fit not only to express
the same most vital moods of every renewed soul, but also powerful to
produce those broad awakenings of spirit, to create those overpowering
emotions, and propagate that energy of spiritual life in which they had
their birth.

Be it observed, moreover, that these Songs of Zion express not only
the most remarkable passages which have occurred in the spiritual ex-
perience of the most gifted saints, but are the record of the most wonder-
ful dispensations of God's providence unto his church : — containing
pathetic dirges sung over her deepest calamities, jubilees over her mighty
deliverances, songs of sadness for her captivity, and songs of mirth for
her prosperity, prophetic announcement of her increase to the end of time,
and splendid anticipations of her ultimate glory. Not indeed the exact
narrative of the events as they happened, or are to happen, nor the pro


saic improvement of the same to the minds of men ; but the poetical form
and monument of the event, where it is laid up and embalmed in honour-
able-wise, after it had been incensed and perfumed with the spiritual
odours of the souls of inspired men. And if they contain not the code
of the divine law, as it is written in the Books of Moses, and more briefly,
yet better written in our Lord's Sermon on the mount, they celebrate the
excellency and glory of the Law, its light, life, wisdom, contentment, and
blessedness, with the joys of the soul which keepeth it, and the miseries
of the soul which keepeth it not. And if they contain not the argument
of the simple doctrines, and the detail of the issues of the gospel, to reveal
which the word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us : yet now that
the key is given, and the door of spiritual life is opened, where do wc
find such spiritual treasures as in the Book of Psalms, wherein are re-
vealed the depths of the soul's sinfulness, the stoutness of her rebellion
against God, the horrors of spiritual desertion, the agonies of contrition,
the blessedness of pardon, the joys of restoration, the constancy of faith,
and every other variety of Christian experience? And if they contain
not the narrative of Messiah's birth, and life, and death ; or the labours
of his apostolic servants, and the strugglings of his infant church, as
these are written in the books of the New Testament; where, in the
whole Scriptures, can we find such declarations of the work of Christ,
in its humiliation and its glory, the spiritual agonies of his death, and
glorious issues of his resurrectifjn, the wrestling of his kingdom with the
powers of darkness, its triumph over the heathen, and the overthrow of
all its enemies, until the heads of many lands shall have been wounded,
and the people made willing in the day of his power?

And where are there such outbursting representations of all the attri-
butes of Jehovah, before whom, when he rideth through the heavens, the
very heavens seem to rend in twain to give the vision of his going forth,
and we seem to see the haste of the universe to do her homage, and to
hear the quaking of nature's pillars, the shaking of her foundations, and
the horrible outcry of her terror ? And oh ! it is sweet in the midst of
these soarings into the third heavens of vision, to feel that you are borne
upon the words of a man, not upon the wings of an archangel ; to hear
ever and anon the frail but faithful voice of humanity, making her trust
under the shadow of His wdngs, and her hiding-place m the secret of His
tent ; and singing to Him in faithful strains, '* For as the heaven is high
above the earth, so great is his mercy to them that fear him. As far as
the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from
us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that
fear him." So that, as well by reason of the matter which it contains, as
of the form in which it is expressed, the Book of Psalms, take it all in
all, may be safely pronounced one of the divinest books in all the Scrip-
tures ; which hath exercised the hearts and lips of all saints, and become
dear in the sight of the church ; which is replenished w^ith the types of
all possible spiritual feelings, and suggests the forms of all God-ward emo-
tions, and furnishing the choice expressions of all true worship, the utter-
ances of all divine praise, the confession of all spiritual humility, with the
raptures of all spiritual joy.

If now we turn ourselves to consider the manner or style of the Book
and to draw it into comparison with the lyrical productions of cuhivated
and classical nations, it may well be said, that as the heavens are high
above the earth, so are the son^s of Zion high above the noblest strains


^vhich have been sung in any land. For, take out of the lyrical poetry of
Greece and Rome, the praises of women, and of wine, the flatteries of men,
and idle invocations of the muse and lyre, and what have we left? What
dedication of song and music is there to the noble and exalted powers of
the human spirit — what to the chaste and honourable relations of human
society— what to the excitement of tender emotions towards the widow
and the fatherless, the stranger and the oppressed— what to the awful
sanctity of law and government, and the practical forms of justice and
equity' We know, that in the more ancient time, when men dwelt
nearer to God, the lyre of Orpheus was employed to exalt and pacify the
soul • that the Pythagorean verse contains the intimations of a deep theol-
ogy a divine philosophy and a virtuous life ; that the lyre of Tyrtoeus
was used by the wisdom of Lycurgus, for accomplishmg his great work
of formino- a peculiar people, a nation of brave and virtuous men ; but in
the times'^which we call classical, and with the compositions of which we
embue our youth, we find little purity of sentiment, little elevation of soul,
no spiritual representations of God, nothing pertaining to heavenly knowl-
edcre or holy feeling : but, on the other hand, impurity of hfe, low sensual
idelis of God, and the pollution of religion, so often as they touch it. ^ But
the Sono-s of Zion are comprehensive as the human soul, and varied as
human life ; where no possible state of natural feeling shall not find itself
tenderly expressed and divinely treated with appropriate remedies; where
no condition of human life shall not find its rebuke or consolation : be-
cause they treat not life after the fashion of an age or people, but life m
its rudiments, the life of the soul, with the joys and sorrows to which it is
amenable, from concourse with the outward necessity of the fallen world
Which breadth of application they compass not by the sacrifice of lyrical
propriety, or poetical method : for if there be poems strictly lyrical, that
is whose spirit and sentiment move congenial with the movements of
music, and which, by their very nature, call for the accompaniment of
music, these Odes of a people despised as illiterate, are such. For pure
pathos and tenderness of heart, for sublime imaginations, for touchmg pic-
tures of natural scenery, and genial sympathy with nature's various
moods • for patriotism, whether in national weal or national wo, for beau-
tiful im'ao-ery, whether derived from the relationship of human life or the
forms of ''the created universe, and for the illustration, by their help, oi
spiritual conditions: moreover, for those rapid transitions in which the
lyrical muse delighteth, her lightsome graces at one lime her deep and
full inspiration at another, her exuberance of joy and her lowest falls of
^rief and for every other form of the natural soul, which is wont to be
shadowed forth by this kind of composition, we challenge anythiri^g to be
produced from the literature of all ages and countries, worthy to be com-
pared with what we find even in the English version of the Book ot

Psalms • 1

Were the distinction of spiritual from natural life, the dream of mystical
enthusiasts, and the theology of the Jews, a cunningly devised f^ble, like
the mythologies of Greece and Rome, these few O^^^^^hould be to
the man of true feeling and natural taste, than all which have been
derived to us from classical times, though they could be lifted of the.
abominations, and cleansed from the incrustation of impurity ^^'^ich ^emcs
their most exquisite parts. But into these questions of style n e enter no
further, our present aim being higher Paulo ..njora cammvs^ Let us
employ the few pages which we have devoted to this Essay, on scmething


more noble than questions of taste, and more enduring than the gratifies
tions of the natural man.

These Songs of Zion have always been very dear unto Zion's children
and the various churches of the Christian faith, as by one harmonious and
universal consent, have adopted the Psalms as the outward form by which
they shall express the inward feelings of the Christian life. However
much the infinitely varying expositors of Christian doctrine may differ in*
the opinions and views which they deduce from the Scripture at large, in
this they are agreed, that the effusions of the inspired Psalmist must al-
ways be the true and expressive language of the believing soul. An
organ of utterance well and rightly attuned to every aspiration, and to
every emotion of that soul which hath been quickened from spiritual death,
and made alive in Christ Jesus the Lord.

The pious ARMINIAN, who resteth content with the infant state of
Christ, and seeth no more in the rich treasures of God's word than a free
gift to all men, shrinking back with a feeling of dismay from such parts
of the sacred volume as favour a system of doctrine suited to the manly
state of Christian life, can yet trust himself without dismay or doubt to
give back, from his inmost spirit, the sentiments and thoughts which he
finds embodied in the Book of Psalms, veiled with no obscurity of speech,
and perplexed with no form of controversy. He delighteth to read that
"the Lord is loving unto every one, and that his tender mercy governs
all his works." His spirit hath its liberty amidst those unlimited declara-
tions of the divine beneficence, sung by Zion's King, when he calleth upon
all nature's children to take part with him in his song of praise, and in
his liberality includeth the lower creatures, and the very forms of inani-
mate nature ; gathering the voice of all the earth into one, and joining it
in symphony with the hosannas of the unfallen and redeemed spirits
which are around the throne of God. And the more enlightened and
not less pious CALVINIST, who is not content evermore to dwell in the
outer court of the holy temple, but resolveth for his soul's better peace and
higher joy, to enter into the holy and most holy place, which is no longer
veiled and forbidden, finds in this Book of Psalms, a full declaration of
the deepest secrets of his faith, expression for his inmost knowledo-e of the
tiuth, and forms for his most profound feelings upon the peculiar, and
appropriate, and never-failing love of a covenant God towards his own
peculiar people ; and in concert with David, the fluher of a spiritual seed,
he doth celebrate the praises of that God, who freely and for his own
sake hath loved his people with an everlasting love ; "visiting their trans-
gressions with a rod, and their iniquities with stripes, but not suffering
his loving-kindness to fail, or his goodness to depart for evermore." And
from whatever point between these two extremes of spiritual life (the
former the infancy, the latter the mature and perfect manhood) any church
hath contemplated the scheme of its doctrine — by whatever name they
have thought good to designate themselves, and however bitterly opposed
to one another in church government, observance of rites, or administra-
tion of sacraments, you still find them with one voice consenting to employ
those inspired songs, as well fitted to express the emotions of their spirits,
when stirred up to devout and holy aspirations of prayer and praise.
The reason why the Psalms have found such constant favour in the sight
of the Christian church, and come to constitute a chief portion of every
missal and liturgy, and form of worship, public or private, while forms
of doctrine and discourse have undergone such manifold changes, ia


order to rej»resent the changing spirit of the ago, and the diverse condi-.
lions of the human mind, is to be found in this — that they address them
selves to the simple instinctive feelings of the renewed soul, which are its
most constant and permanent part, whereas, the forms of doctrine and
discourse address themselves to the spiritual understanding, which dif-
fers in ages and countries according to the degree of spiritual illumina-
tion, and the energy of spiritual life. For as those instincts of our nature,
which put themselves forth in infancy and early life, towards our parents,
and our kindred, and our friends, and derive thence the nourishment upon
which they live, are far more constant, than those opinions which we
afterwards form concerning society, civil polity, and the world in general ;
and, as those impressions of place, and scene, and incident, which come
in upon us in our early years, are not only more constant in their endu-
rance, but more uniform in their effect upon the various minds which are
submitted to them, than any which are afterwards made by objects better
fitted to affect us both permanently and powerfully — so we reckon that
there is an infancy of the spiritual man, which, with all its instincts,
wanders abroad over the word of God, to receive the impressions thereof,
and grow upon their wholesome variety, into a maturity of spiritual reason,
when it becomes desirous to combine and arrange into conceptions, and
systems of conceptions, the manifoldness and variety of those simple im-
pressions which it hath obtained. During those days of its spiritual
infancy, the soul rejoiceth as a little child at the breast of its mother;
feeds upon the word of God with a constant relish ; delights in the views
and prospects which open upon every side, and glories in its heavenly
birth-right and royal kindred ; and considereth with wonder the kingdom
of which it is become a denizen, its origin, its miraculous progress and
everlasting glory: and as the infant life opens itself to the sun of right-
eousness, it delights in its activity, and exhales on all around the odour
of its breathing joy.

To this season of the spiritual mind, the Psalms come most opportunely
as its natural food. We say not that they quicken the life, to which no-
thing is so appropriate as the words of our Lord recorded in the Gospels,
but being quickened, they nourish up the life to manhood, and when its
manly age is come, prepare it for the strong meat which is to be found in
the writings of the prophets and the apostles. But ever afterwards the
souls of believers recur to these Psalms as the home of their childhood,
where they came to know the loving-kindness of their heavenly Father,
the fatness of his house, and the full river of his goodness, his pastoral
carefulness, his sure defence, and his eye slumbereth not, nor sleepeth,
with every other simple representation of divine things, to the simple af-
fections of the renewed soul. Therefore are these Psalms to the Chris-
tian, what the love of parents and the sweet affections of home, and the
clinging memory of infant scenes, and the generous love of country, are
to men of every rank and order, and employment ; of every kindred, and
tongue, and nation. This principle, which binds these Psalms with cords
of love to the renewed soul, and the right use and application of theni to
the bringing up of spiritual children, will be more clearly manifested, if,
from the varieties of Christian experience, we select those great leading
features, which are common to all, and show how fitly they are expressed
in the Book of Psalms, with how much beauty and tenderness of feeling
with how much richness of allusion to the ancient history of the church
and with whatever other accompaniments which can make them sweet tc



the present perusal of the soul, easy and delightful to it in its reiolloctive
and reflective mood. Thereby we shall give, as it were, a fit spiritual in-
troduction to the excellent Commentary of the good Bishop Horne,
whose book is full of the particulars of such spiritual apphcation.

Without dispute or controversy upon minor points ofdifference, the church
of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, meet upon the com-
mon ground of a fallen nature. Once they had supposed themselves up-
right before God, strong in natural integrity, possessing an undoubted
claim to the final approbation of a righteous judge. But it was in the
days of their ignorance that they thus conceived of their own worth ; and
now that the rays of divine light and truth have penetrated the darkness
in which their souls were shrouded, they see an end of that perfection
which was heretofore their boast. The breadth of the divine command-
ment is revealed to them, and being sorely pressed with an ever present
sense of their defilement, they afflict their souls together, falling prostrate
before the thrice Holy Majesty, who is of purer eyes than to behold ini-
quity ; and confess with the royal penitent, " Behold, I was shapen in
iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Whatever point of
faith or doctrine any one of Zion's children may seem to be deficient in,
if he be but a babe of Christ, able to feed only upon the nourishment of
babes, and rejecting the food of riper years, yet shall he have to come to
the knowledge of the plagues of his own heart, and he moved to spread
forth his hands in supplication towards the temple of the Lord, and tr
say, " 1 acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me."
The universal Church afflicteth her soul under the abiding sense of the
loss of her original beauty, and under a deep feeling of her present misery,
she deploreth her bondage to the powers of darkness and the God of this
world ; and her children mingle their tears together by the waters of their
captivity, and wail because of the oppression of their mother, and they
cry out'of the depths of their desolation, " Let the sighing of the prison-
ers come before thee, and according to the greatness of thy power preserve
those that are appointed unto death." " Save us, O Lord, by thy name,
judge us by thy strength, for strangers are risen up against us, and op-
pressors seek after our souls." Oh, how do the true mourners with one
accord come unto the Lord weeping and with supplication, " that their
captivity may be turned, and salvation brought them out of Zion !" How
do they beseech the Lord, " giving him no rest till he make Jacob to re-
joice, and Israel to be glad ; till he do good in his good pleasure unto
Zion, and build up again the walls of Jerusalem !" And when the Lord
hath hearkened unto the voice of the cry of his people, and turned their
captivity, delivering them from the strong enemy that held them, bringing
them forth also into a large place, and subduing under them the foes that
were too mighty for them ; how do they with one accord magnify the
Lord, and extol his name together, and with one harmonious voice, cele-
brate the praise of him who, strong to save them, hath trodden upon the
lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon hath trampled under
foot. "Oh Lord of Hosts, who is a strong God like unto thee? Thou
hast a mighty arm, strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. Thou
hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that was slain. Justice and judg-
ment are the habitation of thy throne, mercy and truth shall go before thy
face." The true Israel of God, the spiritual worshippers under the gos-
pel dispensation, beinq- rescued from this worse than Egyptian bondage,
by the strong hand and outstretched arm of the Goi of their salvation, com


memorate in many a song sung in Zion of old, the interposition of divine
love and grace, and oft looking back upCiU .he raging sea, which was fain
to yield them a safe passage ; they proceed onward in their course through
the weary wilderness, to the abode of their rest, and the promised city of
their habitation: and they had hoped they were safe from the power of
their cruel adversary, and that their foot was safely planted upon their own
land. But now they find, to the travail of their souls, that though they
be no longer the willing slaves of Satan, but partakers of the glorious lib-
erty wherewith Christ hath set his people free, they must use the arms of
freemen to retain their newly acquired liberty, march militant, and build
the wall of their city in troublous times, and abide unto the death the
faithful soldiers of the Captain of their salvation. " Each one had said in
his prosperity, I shall never be moved, thou, Lord, of thy favour hast
made my mountain to stand strong." But ere long, each one for himself
exclaims, " Oh, God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance, thy holy
temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem a heap of stones." — " Send
thine hand from above, rid me and deliver me from the hand of strange
children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right
hand of falsehood." And oh, how do Zion's children cry out ever and
anon together, in pain to be delivered from the remaining and continually
reviving power of that sin which cleaveth to them with all the force of
nature, and is only kept in check and brought under subjection, by the
more powerful operation of the spirit of grace which dwelleth in them !

Online LibraryGeorge HorneA commentary on the book of Psalms → online text (page 1 of 72)