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A commentary on the book of Psalms (Volume 2) online

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ate eulogy on the blessedness of his ministers and servants ;
8 — 10. a fervent prayer for a participation of that blessedness;
and, 11, 12, an act of faith in his power and goodness, whicli
render him both able and willing to grant requests of this na-

1. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of
hosts !

Thus ardently doth a banished Israelite express
liis love for Sion, his admiration of the beauty of
holiness. Nay, Balaam himself, when from the
top of Peor he saw the children of Israel abiding
in their tents, with the Glory in the midst of them,
could not ^elp exclaiming, " How goodly are thy
tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!"
Numb. xxiv. 5. " How amiable" then, may the

Ps. 84] 261

Christian say, are those eternal mansions, from
whence sin and sorrow are excluded; how goodly
that camp of the saints, and that beloved city,
where righteousness and joy reign triumphant, and
peace and unity are violated no more; where^thou,

blessed Jesus, ^* Lord of hosts,'* King of men
and angels, dwellest in glorious majesty, constitut-
ing by thy presence the feHcity of thy chosen !

" 2. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the
courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth
out, ovy shouteth, for the living God."

It is said of the queen of Sheba, that upon be-
holding the pleasantness of Jerusalem, the splen-
dour of Solomon's court, and, above all, the mag-
nificence of the temple, with the services therein
performed, " there was no more spirit in her:"

1 Kings X. 5. What wonder, therefore, if the soul
should be affected, even to sickness and fainting,
while, from this land of her captivity, she beholdeth,
by faith, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city and court
of the great King, with all the transporting glories
of the church triumphant: while, in her meditations,
she draweth the comparison between her wretched
state of exile upon earth, and the unspeakable bles-
sedness of being delivered from temptation and af-
fliction, and admitted into the everlasting " courts
of Jehovah?" Whose " heart and flesh" doth not
exult, and " shout" aloud for joy, at a prospect of
rising from the bed of death, to dwell with " the
living God;" to see the &ce of him, " in whom is
life, and the life is the " light of men ?" John i.
4«. Did the Israelites, from all parts of Judea, go


262 [Ps. 84.

up, with the voice of jubilee, to keep a feast at Je-
rusalem ; and shall Christians grieve, when the time
is come for them to ascend, and to celebrate an eter-
nal festival in heaven ?

" 3. Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and
the swallow, or, ringdove, a nest for herself, where
she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord
of hosts, my King and my God."

The Psalmist is generally supposed, in this verse,
to lament his unhappiness, in being deprived of all
access to the tabernacle, or temple, a privilege en-
joyed even by the birds, who were allowed to build
their nests in the neighbourhood of the sanctuary.
It is evidently the design of this passage to intimate
to us, that in the house, and at the altar of God, a
faithful soul findeth freedom from care and sorrow,
quiet of mind, and gladness of spirit; like a bird,
that has secured a little mansion, for the reception
and education of her young. And there is no heart,
endued with sensibility, which doth not bear its tes-
timony to the exquisite beauty and propriety of this
affecting image.

" 4. Blessed ar^ they that dwell in thy house :
they will be, or, are, still praising thee."

Here the metaphor is dropped, and the former
sentiment expressed in plain language. " Blessed
are," not the mighty and opulent of the earth, but
" they that dwell in thy house," the ministers of the
eternal temple in heaven, the angels and the spirits
of just men made perfect; there every passion is re-
solved into love, every duty into praise ; hallelujah

Ps. 84.] 263

succeeds hallelujali; " they are still," still for
ever, " praising thee." And blessed, next to them,
are those ministers and members of the church here
below who, in disposition, as well as employment, do
most resemble them,"

** 5. Blessed is the man whose strenfjth is in
thee: in whose heart are the ways of them; Heb.
the ways are in the heart of them."

Not only they are pronounced blessed who
'* dwell" in the temple, but all they also who are
" travelling" thitherward (as the whole Jewish na-
tion was wont to do three times in a year), and who
are therefore meditating on their "journey," and on
the " way" which leadeth to the holy city, trusting
in God to " strengthen," and prosper, and conduct
them to the house of his habitation, the place where
his glory dwelleth. Such a company of sojourners
are Christians, going up to the heavenly Jerusalem:
such ought to be their trust in God, and such the
subject of their thoughts.*

" 6. WTio, passing through the valley of Baca,
make it a well : the rain also filleth the pools.

* In ejus animo versantiir semitae ferentes ad templum quo
properat. Morali sensu; quicunque saiictus est, quotidie in pri-
ora extenditur, et prseteritorum obliviscitur, cum Puulo, Phil. iii.
13 : Bossuet. Jerusalem is represented in the New Testament
as a type of heaven. I see nothing irrational, therefore, in sup-
posing, that the inspired writer, in describing the ascent to Je-
rusalem, might have in view also that spiritual progress, leading
to the city which is above, the mother of us all. Tiie words be-
fore us are certainly very applicable to the advances made, in this
progress, from strength to strength, from one stage of Christian
perfection to another. Merrick,



7. They go from strength to strength, ex)ei^ one of
them in Zion appeareth before God; or^ the God of
gods appeareih, that is, to them in Zion."

After numberless uncertain conjectures offered
by commentators upon the construction of these two
verses, it seemeth impossible for us to attain to any
other than a general idea of their true import; which
is this, that the Israelites, or some of them, passed,
in their way to Jerusalem, through a valley that had
the name of " Baca," a noun, derived from a verb
which signifies to " weep;" that in this valley they
were refreshed by plenty of water; that with re-
newed vigour they proceeded from stage to stage,
until they presented themselves before God in Zion.
The present world is to us this valley of weeping;
in our passage through it, we are refreshed by the
streams of divine grace, flowing down from the
great fountain of consolation ; and thus are we en-
abled to proceed from one degree of holiness to
another, until we come to the glorified vision of
God in heaven itself. Mr. Merrick's poetical ver-
sion of this passage is extremely beautiful, and ap-
plies at once to the case of the Israelite, and to that
of the Christian :

Blest wlio, their strength on thee reclin'd,
Thy seat explore ^vith constant mind,
And, Salem's distant towers in view.
With active zeal their way pursue :
Secure the thirsty vale they tread,
While, call'd from out their sandy bed
(As, down in grateful showers distill'd,
The heavens their kindliest moisture yield),
The copious springs their steps beguile,
And bid the cheerless desert smile.

Ps. 84.] ^65

From stage to stage advancing stUl,
Behold them reach fair Sion's hill.
And, prostrate at her liallow'd slirine,
Adore the Majesty divine.

" 8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer:
give ear, O God of Jacob. 9. Behold, O God our
shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed."

After extolling the happiness of those who dwelt
in the temple, and of those who had access to it, the
Psalmist breaks forth into a most ardent prayer to
his God, for a share in that happiness. He addres-
seth him as *' the Lord of hosts," almighty in
power ; as " the God of Jacob," infinite in mercy
and goodness to his people ; as their " shield," the
object of all their trust for defence and protection ;
and beseecheth him to " look upon the face of his
lUiointed," that is, of David, if he were king of
Israel when this Psalm was written; or rather of
Messiah,*' in whom God is always well pleased; for
whose sake he hatli mercy upon us, through whose
name and merits our prayers are accepted, and the
kingdom of heaven is opened to all beUevers.

" 10. For a day in thy courts is better than a
thousand : I had rather be a door-keeper in the
house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wick-

One day spent in meditation and devotion, af-
fbrdeth a pleasure, &r, far superior to that which
an age of worldly prosperity could give. Happier

* " Christu tui;" regis, qui Christi figura. Bossuet.


[Ps, Si.

is the least and lowest of the servants of Jesus, than
the greatest and most exalted potentate who knoweth
him not. And he is no proper judge of blessedness,
who hesitates a moment to prefer the condition of a
penitent in the porch, to that of a sinner on the
throne. If this be the case upon earth, how much
more in heaven? O come that one glorious day,
whose sun shall never go down, nor any cloud ob-
scure the lustre of his beams ; that day, when the
temple of God shall be opened in heaven, and we
shall be admitted to serve him for ever therein !

" 11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield:
the Lord will give grace and glory : no good thing
will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."

Jesus Christ is our " Lord," and our " God;"
he is a " sun" to enlighten and direct us in the way,
and a " shield" to protect us against the enemies of
our salvation; he will give " grace" to carry us on
" from strength to strength," and " glory" to
crown us when we "appear before him in Zion:"
he will " withhold" nothing that is " good" and
profitable for us in the course of our journey, and
will himself be our reward when we come to the end
of it.

" 12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that
trusteth in thee."

While, therefore, we are strangers and sojourners
here below, far from that heavenly country where
we would be, in whom should we trust to bring us
to the holy city, new Jerusalem, of which the Lord
God and the Lamb are the temple, but in thee, O

Ps. 85.] 267

Saviour and Redeemer, who art the Head of every
creature, the Captain of the armies of heaven and
earth, the Lord of hosts, and the King of glory?
" Blessed," thrice " blessed, is the man that trust-
eth in thee."


ARGUMENT. — This Psalm, appointed by the church to be
used on Christmas-day, 1 — 3. celebrateth the redemption of
the Israel of God from their spiritual captivity under sin and
death ; 4 — 7. teacheth us to pray for the full accomplishment
of that redemption in ourselves; 8 — 11. describeth the in-
carnation of Ciirist, with the joyful meeting of Mercy and
Truth, Righteousness and Peace, at his birth, and, 12, 13. the
blessed eifects of his advent.

" L Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy
land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.
2. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people,
thou hast covered all their sin. 3. Thou hast taken
away all thy wrath : thou hast turned thyself from
the fierceness of thine anger."

These three verses speak of the deliverance from
captivity, as already brought about; whereas, in the
subsequent parts of the Psalm, it is prayed for and
predicted, as a thing future. To account for this,
some suppose that the Psalmist first returns thanks
for a temporal redemption, and then prophesies of
the spiritual salvation by Messiah. Others are of
opinion, that the same eternal redemption is spoken
of throughout, but represented, in the beginning of
the Psalm, as already accomplished in the divine de-


[Ps, 85.

cree, though the eventual completion was yet to
come. The difficulty, perhaps, may be removed, by
rendering these first three verses in the present
time; " Lord, thou art favourable to thy land, thou
bringest back the captivity of thy people," &c. that
is. Thou art the God whose property it is to do this,
and to show such mercy to thy people, who there-
fore call upon thee for the same. But, indeed, to
us Christians, who now use the Psalm, the differ-
ence is not material ; since a part of our redemption
is past, and ai part of it is yet to come, for the has-
tening of which latter we daily pray. God hath
already been exceedingly gracious and " favourable"
to the whole " earth," in " bringing back," by the
resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual " captivity of"
his people; he hath himself, in Christ, "borne,"
and so taken away, "the iniquity of his people;"
he hath " covered all their sins," that they should
no more appear in judgment against them: propi-
tiated by the Son of his love, he hath removed his
** wrath," and " turned himself from the fierceness
of his anger." So exactly and literally do these
words describe the means and method of Gospel sal-
vation, that a Christian can hardly affix any other
ideas to them.

" 4. Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause
thine anger towards us to cease. 5. Wilt thou be
juigry with us for ever? Wilt thou draw otit thine
anger to all generations? 6. Wilt thou not revive
us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? 7.
Sliow us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy sal"

Ps. 85.] ^69

The ancient church is here introduced as peti-
tioning for the continuation and completion of those
blessings which had been mentioned in the foregoing
verses, namely, that God would " turn" his people
from their captivity, and " cause his anger towards
them to cease;" that he would " revive" them from
sin and sorrow, and give them occasion to " rejoice
in him," their mighty deliverer; that he would
" show them" openly that " mercy" of which they
had so often heard, and "grant them that salvation,"
or that " Saviour," that Jesus, who had been so
long promised to mankind. And although it be
true that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, and hath
virtually procured all these blessings for the church,
yet do " we" still continue to pray, in the same
words, for the actual application of them all to our-
selves, by the conversion of our hearts, the justifica-
tion of our persons, the sanctification of our souls,
and the glorification of our bodies. For this last
blessing of redemption, " the whole creation waiteth,
groaning, and travailing in pain together, UNTIL
NOW." Rom. viii. 22.

" 8. I will hear what God the Lord will speak:
for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his
saints; but let them not turn again to folly: or, that
they may not turn again to folly."

The prophet having prayed, in the name of the
church, that Jehovah would " show^ them his mercy,
and grant them his salvation," declares himself re«
solved, concerning this " salvation, to inquire and
search diligently, what, or what manner of time the
Spirit of Christ which was in him did signify, when

270 [Ps. 85.

it testified beforehand the coming of Christ, and the
glory that should follow;" see 1 Pet. i. 10. he
would attend to " what God the Lord should say,"
and report it to the world. Now, what was the
message which the prophets had commission to de-
liver from God, but that he would " speak peace,"
or reconciliation through a Saviour, " to his people,
and to his saints?" The Gospel is accordingly
styled by St. Peter, " the word which Ood sent
unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus
Christ:" Acts x. 36. And what was the end of
this reconciliation between God and men, but that
men should become and continue the servants of
God; that, being washed from their sins by the blood
of Christ, and renewed in their minds by the grace
of Christ, they should walk in the paths of wisdom
and holiness, and " turn not again to the folly"
they had renounced ?

" 9. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear
him, that glory may dwell in our land."

God, who " calleth things that be not as though
they were," teacheth his prophets to do likewise.
The Psalmist therefore speaks with assurance of the
" Saviour," as if he then saw him before his eyes,
healing, by the word of his power, the bodies and
the souls of men upon earth, and manifesting forth
his " glory," in human nature, to all such as, with
a holy " fear," and filial reverence, believed on
him. St. John himself hardly useth plainer lan-
guage when he saith, " the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt, or tabernacled, among us; and we beheld
his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the

Ps. 85.] 271

Father, full of grace and truth:" John i. 14. The
body of Christ was the true " tabernacle," or tem-
ple; his Divinity was the glory which resided
there, and filled that holy place. The church is his
mystical "body;" by his Spirit he now and ever
" dwelleth in our land; and his salvation is always
nigh them that fear him :" as saith the holy Virgin
in her song, " His mercy is on them that fear him,
throughout all generations."

'' 10. Mercy and truth are met together: righ-
teousness and peace have kissed each other. 11.
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteous-
ness shall look down from heaven."

These four divine attributes parted at the fall of
Adam, and met again at the birth of Christ.
Mercy was ever inclined to save man, and Peace
could not be his enemy; but Truth exacted the
performance of God's threat, " The soul that sin-
neth, it shall die ;" and Righteousness could not but
give to every one his due. Jehovah must be true
in all his ways, and righteous in all his works.
Now there is no religion upon earth, except the
Christian, which can satisfy the demands of all these
claimants, and restore an union between them; which
can show how God's word can be true, and his work
just, and the sinner, notwithstanding, find mercy,
and obtain peace. Mahomet's prayer, were it the
prayer of a righteous man and a prophet, could not
satisfy divine justice; the blood of bulls and goats
was always insufficient for that purpose, being a
figure only for the time then present, which ceased

^72 [Ps. 85.

of course when tlie reality appeared. " Sacrifice
and burnt-offering thou wouldst not; then said I,
Lo, I come," A God incarnate reconciled all things
in heaven and earth. When Christ appeared in
our nature, the promise was fulfilled, and " Truth
sprang out of the earth." And now Righteousness,
" looking down from heaven," beheld in him every-
thing that she required; an undefiled birth, a holy
life, an innocent death; a spirit and a mouth with-
out guile, a soul and a body without sin. She saw,
and was satisfied, and returned to earth. Thus all
the four parties met again in perfect harmony: Truth
ran to Mercy, and embraced her; Righteousness to
Peace, and kissed her. And this- could happen
only at the birth of Jesus, in whom " the tender
Mercy of our God visited us, and who is the Truth ;
who is made unto us Righteousness, and who is our
Peace." See Luke i. 78. John xiv. 6. 1 Cor. i. 30.
Ephes. ii. 14. Tliose that are thus joined, as at-
tributes, in Christ, ought not, as virtues, to be sepa-
rated in a Christian, who may learn how to resemble
his blessed Lord and Master, by observing that
short, but complete, rule of life, comprehended in
the few following words : Show Mercy, and speak
Truth : do Righteousness, and follow Peace. See
St, Bernard, in his Sermon on the Annunciation;
and, from him, bishop Andrews on these two verses
of our Psalm.*

* Soluta captivitate, felicem populi statiim desi^at, omni
bonorum copia et viitutibus florentis ; quae maxime irapleta sunt,
postquam Christus, ipsa Veritas, idemque pax nostra, terra ortiu
est. BossiTET.

Ps. 85.1 273

" 12. Yea, the Lord shall give that "jchick is
good: and our land shall yield her increase.'*

Unless God vouchsafe a gracious rain from above,
the earth cannot " yield her increase." The effects
of the incarnation of Christ, the descent of the Spi-
rit, and the publication of the Gospel among men,
are frequently set forth in Scripture under images
borrowed from that fruitfulness caused in the earth
by the rain of heaven. Thus Isaiah : " Drop down
ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down
righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring
forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up to-
gether, xlv. 8. I will pour water upon him that is
thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground : I will pour
my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon
thine offspring. And they shall spring up as among
the grass, as willows by the water courses, xliv. 3.
As the rain cometh down from heaven, and watereth
the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud; so
shall my word be," &c. Iv. 10. Give us evermore,
O Lord, " that which is good, that our land may
yield her increase;" give us that good gift, the gift
of thy Spirit, that we be " neither barren nor un-
fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Pet. i. 8.

" 13. Righteousness shall go before him, and
shall set us in the way of his steps; or, and shall set
his steps in the way.

Upon the appearance of the Redeemer, " Righ-
teousness" is represented " as going before him,"
like his harbinger the Baptist, to prepare and make

274 [Ps. 86.

ready his way. In that way, the way of righteousT
ness, " he set his steps," and walked therein, with-
out the least deviation, until he had finished his ap-
pointed course. Draw us, blessed Jesus, and we
will run after thee, in the path of life; let thy mercy
pardon us, thy truth enlighten us, thy righteousness
direct us, to follow thee, O Lamb of God, whither-
soever thou goest, through poverty, affliction, per-
secution, and death itself; that our portion may be
for ever in thy kingdom of peace and love.


Seventeenth Day. — Morning Prayer.

ARGUMENT.— This Psalm is entitled, " A prayer of David,"
and supposed to have been written in some of his gieat dis-
tresses. Like others of the same kind, it is calculated for the
use of the church during her sufferings here below, by which
$he is conformed to the image of the true David, that man of
sorrows. It contains, 1. an earnest supplication, grounded on
the poverty, 2. the holiness, faith, 3. importunity, and, 4. the
devotion, of the suppliant; and on, 5 — 7. the goodness, and,
8. power of God, 9, 10. to be one day acknowledged by all
nations, at their conversion. After this, follow, 11. a petition
for wisdom, strength, and singleness of heart; 12, 13. a thanks-
giving for redemption ; 14. a complaint of persecution from
the wicked ; 15. an act of faith ; 16, 17. a prayer for help and

" L Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear
me: for I am poor and needy."

All prayer is founded on a sense of our own
wants, and God's ability to supply them. In the

Ps. 86.] 275

sight of his Maker, every sinner is " poor and needy;"
and he must become so in his own, that his petitions
may be regarded; he must pray, with the humihty
and importunity of a starving beggar, at the gate of
heaven, if he expect the great King " to bow down
his ear and hear him." " The prayer of the hum-
ble," saith the wise son of 8irach, " pierceth tlic
clouds: and till it come nigh, he will not he com-
forted; and will not depart till the Most High shall
behold:" Ecclus. xxxv. 17. The blessed Jesus,
*' though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor,
and had not where to lay his head;" nor is it to be
doubted, but that, in his state of humiliation, he
oftentimes made his prayer to the Father in these
very words; " Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and
hear me; for I am poor and needy." If he sued
in such a form of words for us, shall we think of su-
ing in any other form for ourselves?

" 2. Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy; O
thou my God, save thy servant, that trusteth in

The word here translated " holy," is, "TiDn, the
same which is used in the xvith Psalm; " Thou
shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."
And indeed, if we understand " holiness" in its
strict sense, no one but " he whom the Father sanc-
tified, and sent into the world," to redeem lost man,
could say to him, " Preserve my soul, for I am holy."
But the word properly signifies, " good, merciful,
pious, devoted to the service of God," &c. The
Christian, therefore, only pleads, in this expression,
his relation to Christ, as being a member of Christ's

276 [Ps. 86.

body, the church, and a partaker of the gifts, which,
by virtue of that membership, he has received through
the Spirit of holiness. So that this first part of the
verse, " Preserve my soul, for I am holy," when
repeated by us, is equivalent to another passage in
the Psalms, " I am thine, O save me:" cxix. 94.

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