Изображения страниц

the peculiar subjects which he usually selects as the themes of his songs,these relating chiefly to war, to strong opposition or calumny of enemies, to the more sublime or striking appearances of external nature, or to the deep and varying agitations of his repentant and humbled spirit :-and lastly and chiefly, his Psalms may be recognised, by their almost constant allusion to affecting and well known incidents of his personal history,insomuch that it is scarcely possible to read one of his Psalms without having our minds carried back to some passage or other of those eventful incidents which composed his life.

The compositions of the other authors of the sacred Songs are remarkably devoid of this last characteristic,-there is, on no occasion, any such allusion to personal story or incident, as might lead to a sure identification of the actual writer of the hymn ;-the subjects, too, are commonly of a less highly lyrical, but more didactic kind,—and the tone adopted in the composition is softer, more uniform, and less characterised by those striking transitions which mark the lyric flow of "the great Minstrel's" melodies. But, admitting this difference, we are far from thinking that the compositions of these less celebrated writers are, as a whole, less valuable in their character, less beautiful in their management, or less entitled to the serious and repeated perusal of the pious reader ;and we further think, that from among those compositions usually attributed to Asaph, to Heman, to Jeduthun, to Moses, and some others, may be selected Psalms, the beauty and effect of which have never been surpassed by any contained in the sacred collection.

From among many others of almost equal merit, we select three for a very rapid review, the merits of which have been universally admitted to be of a very high order,—and which are respectively attributed to Asaph, to Moses, and to some other author whose title to the honour of the composition is not so well ascertained, but whose talents seem to have been of the very highest class, and whose work appears to bear the marks of a very early date.

The Psalm commonly attributed to Asaph is the FIFTIETH, and any reader who has carefully studied the preceding Psalms of the sacred collection will, at once, be struck by the altered, though still singularly beautiful, tone of the composition now under consideration.

The subject to be treated may be thus stated. In all ages, and in all countries, mankind have shewn a certain degree of fondness and of pride connected with the external symbols or ceremonies of their peculiar worship,-altars have been erected, temples have been adorned, victims have been offered, incense has been made to ascend, and every variety of external ceremony has been honoured and frequented, while the finer feelings of the heart, as relating to God and to duty, have been less the objects of cultivation or regard, and while great laxity of moral conduct has sometimes been the characteristic even of most devout worshippers. The folly and absurdity of this general characteristic of the human race, is then the subject to be treated in the Psalm now before us,-and surely every. reader will admit, that a more distinct, more energetic, and more convincing exhibition of the evil intended to be discouraged, could

not have been given by the most distinguished lyrist that ever addressed himself to the improvement of the pious sentiments of mankind.

The Psalm opens with one of those sublime invitations on the part of God, so common in the Hebrew poetry, and by which heaven and earth are called upon to witness a controversy between God and his human worshippers, and to listen to a definitive sentence which he is about to pronounce, and which is of supreme importance to them as his professing servants :

"The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken,
And called the earth, from the rising of the sun,
To the going down thereof.

Fire shall devour before him, it shall be very tempestuous
round about him.

Gather my saints together unto me,

Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.--
And the heavens shall declare his righteousness,

For God is judge himself."

To this sublime prelude follows the Diapsalma, or interlude,-accompanied with a solemn and altered tone of the music,-and preparatory to the important controversy and sentence which is to be conducted. It is as follows:

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak,

O Israel, and I will testify against thee.-
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices,

Or thy burnt-offerings, continually before me.
Every beast of the forest is mine,

And the cattle on a thousand hills;

The world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
Offer unto God thanksgiving,

And pay thy vows unto the Most High,-
And call upon me in the day of trouble,

I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."

True thankfulness of heart,—and above all, a faithful adherence to duty, are thus solemnly announced to be the only acceptable offering in the sight of God, and consequently, while a gracious promise is made to the sincere and obedient worshipper, the severest expressions of divine displeasure are uttered in the succeeding portions of the Psalm, against all those who, with whatever pomp of sacrifice, or apparent sincerity of intention, yet disregard the eternal laws of righteousness and truth.

"These things thou hast done, and I kept silence.

Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself;
But I will reprove thee, and will set thy sins before thee."

And the whole Psalm is wound up with this very luminous and most important declaration :

"He that offereth thankfulness is my true worshipper;
And to him that ordereth his conversation aright,

Will I shew the salvation of God."

A singularly beautiful style of instruction, considering the age in which it was produced, and the imperfect notions entertained by almost all contemporary nations on the subject treated of.

The NINETIETH Psalm has always been considered as the composition of the great and accomplished lawgiver of the chosen people ;—and from the style of the composition,-its singularly curt but deeply impressive phraseology, and from the grandeur and fine alternation of the views which it holds out,-there is every reason to believe that it was, indeed, the composition of him, who led the chosen people into the wilderness, who saw them successively falling around him, "like the grass that groweth up in the morning, and is cut down in the evening,"-while the everlasting hills retained their stability under the preserving care of "the ancient of days," and who himself was destined, after his long labours, to obtain but a distant view of the promised land, and to leave his still "unfinished work" to the sure providence and never-broken promise of God.

The subject of the Psalm is the eternal duration of God, compared with the fugitive existence of his earthly creatures,-the fearfulness of being the objects of the righteous indignation of so great and everlasting a Being, and the certainty of all the plans of the Omnipotent obtaining their final accomplishment, amidst all the fluctuations of the short-lived creatures to whom, as his instruments, in their successive generations, the partial carrying on of his purposes is temporarily entrusted.

"Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.-
Thou turnest man to destruction,

And sayest, Return, ye children of men,

For a thousand years are in thy sight but as yesterday,
And as a watch in the night.'

After some more beautiful imagery illustrative of the fugitive nature of
all human existence, the inspired prophet pathetically alludes to the
fearfulness that is attached to the essentially sinful nature of a being so
transient in his existence, yet exposed to so great responsibility:-
"Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,

Our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

Who knoweth the power of thine anger?

Who forms a just estimate of the fearfulness of thy displeasure?" As a natural consequence and prosecution of this train of most solemn thought, the prophet is led to conclude his high and devout train of meditation, with earnest prayer, that God, notwithstanding the feebleness and errors and short-lived existence of his servants, would still condescend to crown their efforts with his blessing, and would, in his own good time, perfect "the work," of which he had been pleased to make them the feeble, but not altogether disobedient ministers.

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Let thy work appear unto thy servants,

And thy glory unto their children.

And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,-
And establish thou the work of our hands upon us,

Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it."

On this Psalm we may remark, that the only verse in it, in which there is even the slightest tinge of obscurity, is the 11th,-"Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath." This latter clause is differently interpreted by different translators. Luther, whose translation is, in general, remarkably clear and beautiful, has given one version. Buchanan gives another somewhat different, and in our translation, the clause alluded to has scarcely any intelligible meaning. We, however, prefer the meaning given to the words by the Septuagint version,-and without troubling the reader with the Greek phraseology, we may only observe, that the second clause of the verse," even according to thy fear so is thy wrath,"-is really, a modified repetition, according to one of the usual parallelisms of Hebrew poetry, of the sentiment more clearly expressed in the preceding clause. -The whole verse is as we have translated it :

"Who knoweth the power of thine anger?"

Who justly estimates the fearfulness of thy displeasure?

[ocr errors]


We may further remark, regarding the conclusion of this Psalm, that it seems to us to have something very affecting in it, not only as applicable more immediately to the original composer, but to the appointed lot of every human being, as a transient minister of the great purposes of God. -Moses was not permitted to see the full accomplishment of "the work" which he had so long, and amidst so many perplexities, been selected to carry forward—" he died," after having obtained but a distant view of the promised inheritance--and was buried, "no man knowing the place of his rest"-yet "the work" was still carried forward by future vants" of the Most High-and "glorious manifestations" of the progressive purposes of the Almighty were still made to successive generations of" the children" of his people ;-and something of the same kind, though in a humbler style, is the appointed lot of every human being-even of those who have apparently been most successful in their task. We all "pass away" amidst purposes unaccomplished-and with "a work" broken off, so far as our exertions are concerned-we leave "our work” to our children, and "the glory" of the Lord, to be still carried forward by those who are to come after us ;-and how much beauty and interest, then, is there in the thought, that though our fleeting moment of existence and of useful labour is passing away from us, yet the great work of Providence will be perpetuated throughout all generations" that his work will still appear unto his servants, and his glory unto their children's children?"

It is curious to observe, in perusing these divine compositions, how naturally one train of pious and really healthful thought seems to pass into another--and, as it were, to adopt it as its legitimate offspring. We might thus almost consider the last of the Psalms which we proposed to review, in this section of our treatise, as a natural sequel of that

which we have just been examining. The Psalm now before us is the HUNDRED AND THIRTY-NINTH,-one of the most striking in itself-most rich in suggestive thoughts-and most indicative of high talent, and great powers of description of a peculiar and most valuable kind-of all the specimens of divine inspiration to which our attention has hitherto been directed. Its author has not been decidedly ascertained-some have thought, but without any evidence, that it should be attributed to Jeremiah-some, that it also, with the Psalm last under review, ought to be assigned as the work of Moses ;--but there are great objections, chiefly from the style used by the composer, to every one of these suppositions. There can be no question, however, as to the divine inspiration and singular beauty of the entire composition-and in all ages, accordingly, it has commended itself to the affectionate consideration of the pious, with a power corresponding to the excellence which we have now attributed to it.

Its subject is the Omniscience and Omnipresence of God—the former of which attributes we are commonly disposed to consider as but the vision of an eye far removed from us in space--and the other as but an influence, no doubt pervading all things, but yet only emanating from a tentre, where the divine presence is manifested in all the fulness of its glory and its power. In this Psalm, however, these two attributes, united in their operation, are brought home to the most secret recesses of our bosoms and our occupations--they are as a bright light encompassing our every path, and making clear all our thoughts and situations, -foreshewing our existence, with all its changes and incidents, before we were actually called into being,-continuing to guide us, individually, into paths which we do not on all occasions entirely select for ourselves,—and bringing us at all moments into the intimate presence of Him, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being”—who is daily "loading us with his benefits"--and to whom, if our ways were perfect, our whole thoughts and purposes, as well as our more solemn services, ought to be without failure devoted.

See how powerfully, and without prelude or hesitation, the Psalmist at once opens up the whole theme of his meditation :—

“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me ;
Thou knowest my downsitting, and mine uprising,
Thou understandest my thoughts afar off-

There is not a word in my tongue,

But, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether."

As a natural sequel to this preluding burst, the Psalmist extends his view of the omnipresence of God, over all the fields and varieties of nature, in the following lines of matchless beauty and energy :—

"Whither shall I go from thy presence?

Or whither shall I flee from thy Spirit?
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there ;
If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there shall thy hand lead me,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »