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David, but in a higher and better sense in Christ.” position that the psalm itself contains more senses than one seems to contradict all just views of the nature of language. In regard to some of the references * made to the Psalms by Paul and Peter, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, it seems necessary to suppose that they were not inspired as critics and interpreters, but that they argued according to a mode of reasoning and of interpretation which they held in common with their contemporaries, but which cannot be regarded as valid at the present day.
Now it is an indisputable fact, that the ancient Jews, without regard to any just laws of interpretation, and especially in pursuance of the typical or the allegorical method, applied hundreds of passages of the Old Testament to the Messiah, which no one in modern times can suppose to relate to him.f It would be singular, therefore, if we did not find traces of the same mode of applying Scriptural passages in the writers of the New Testament.
It is probable, that, in some cases, the reference in the New Testament to a passage in the Psalms is merely in the way of rhetorical illustration, or of argumentum ex concessis; for instance, in John xiii. 18, Matt. xxii. 44, &c. But this explanation cannot be applied to such passages as Acts iv. 25, xiii. 33, and several in the Epistle to the Hebrews, without doing violence to language.
These observations are offered for the consideration of those who can find no psalm of which, in its primary sense, the Messiah is the exclusive subject. There are, however, two or three psalms, such as Ps. ii. and Ps. cx., of which the Messiah is supposed to be the exclusive subject by some distinguished critics, who, in the exposition of the Scriptures, hold fast the established principles of interpretation which are applied to all other books. For those who agree with them, some of the preceding remarks may be less necessary.
Professor Tholuck, of Halle, observes, .“ It must be confessed that many psalms are called Messianic which are not so in reality. There are some, for example, in which the Messiah has been sup
* Acts iv. 25, xiii. 33, Heb. i. 5, 6, x. 5, &c.
posed to speak directly, and in the first person. But we are not authorized to consider any psalms as strictly Messianic except the second and the hundred and tenth ; and in these the Messiah does not himself speak, but is spoken of in the third person. Those psalms, in which the poet introduces himself in the first person, must be regarded as the songs of David, or of some other composer.
The peculiar religious character of the Psalms, which distinguishes them from the productions of other nations of antiquity, is well worthy of the attention of such as are disposed to doubt the reality of the Jewish revelation. I do not refer to the prophetic character which some of them are supposed to possess, but to the comparative purity and fervor of religious feeling which they manifest; the sublimity and justness of the views of the Deity, and of his government of the world, which they present ; and the clear perception of a spiritual good, infinitely to be preferred to any external possession, which is found in them. Let them be considered as the expression and fruit of the principles of the Jewish religion, as they existed in the minds of pious Israelites, and do they not bear delightful testimony to the reality of the revelation alleged to have been made to the Hebrew nation, and of the peculiar relation which the Most High is said to have sustained towards them?
Let the unbeliever compare the productions of the Hebrew poets with those of the most enlightened periods of Grecian literature. Let him explain how it happened, that, in the most celebrated cities of antiquity, which human reason had adorned with the most splendid trophies of art, whose architecture it is now thought high praise to imitate well, whose sculpture almost gave life to marble, whose poetry has never been surpassed, and whose eloquence has never been equalled, a religion prevailed so absurd and frivolous as to be beneath the contempt t of a child at the
See Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. I., p. 365. + I speak of the prevailing religion. I do not regard the excellent views of God and providence, entertained by a few of the Grecian philosophers, such, for instance, as those attributed to
present day; while in an obscure corner of the world, in a nation in some respects imperfectly civilized, were breathed forth those strains of devotion which now animate the hearts of millions, and are the vehicle of their feelings to the throne of God. Let him say if there be not some ground for the conclusion, that, whilst the corner-stone of the heathen systems of religion was unassisted human reason, that of the Jewish was an immediate revelation from the Father of lights.
The hearts of the pious for ages have felt the value of the Psalms, as helps to devotion; and many have labored for expressions in which to set forth their praise. For its truth, as well as beauty, we quote the following description by Bishop Horne, who yet saw some things in them which modern views of interpretation will not permit us to find.
“ In them,” says he, “ we are instructed to conceive of the subjects of religion aright, and to express the different affections which, when so conceived of, they must excite in our minds. They are, for this purpose, adorned with the figures, and set off with all the graces, of poetry; and poetry itself is designed yet farther to be recommended by the charms of music thus consecrated to the service of God; that so delight may prepare the way for improvement, and pleasure become the handmaid of wisdom, while every turbulent passion is calmed by sacred melody, and the evil spirit is still dispossessed by the harp of the son of Jesse. This little volume, like the paradise of Eden, affords us in perfection, though in miniature, every thing that groweth elsewhere,
every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food '; and above all, what was there lost, but is here restored, the tree of life in the midst of the garden. That which we read as matter of speculation in the other Scriptures is reduced to practice when we recite it in the Psalms; in those, faith and repentance are described, but in these they are acted ; by a perusal of the former we learn how others served God, but by using the latter we serve him ourselves."
Socrates in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, as inconsistent with the tenor of my remarks.
“ The hymns of David,” says Milman, "excel no less in sublimity and tenderness of expression than in loftiness and purity of religious sentiment. In comparison with them, the sacred poetry of all other nations sinks into mediocrity. They have embodied so exquisitely the universal language of religious emotion, that (a few fierce and vindictive passages excepted, natural in the warrior-poet of a sterner age) they have entered, with unquestioned propriety, into the ritual of the holier and more perfect religion of Christ. The songs, which cheered the solitude of the desert caves of Engedi, or resounded from the voice of the Hebrew people, as they wound along the glens or the hill-sides of Judea, have been repeated for ages in almost every part of the habitable world, in the remotest islands of the ocean, among the forests of America, or the sands of Africa. How many human hearts have they softened, purified, exalted! Of how many wretched beings have they been the secret consolation ! On how many communities have they drawn down the blessings of Divine Providence, by bringing the affections into unison with their deep devotional fervor!
Luther, in his preface to the Psalter, has the following just remarks: - "A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by high winds from the four quarters of the world. Here rush fear and anxiety on account of future calamity, there press affliction and sorrow, caused by present evil ; here blow hope and confidence in future prosperity, there come security and joy in present good. These high winds teach a man to speak with earnestness, to open his heart, and pour out the bottom of it. For he who is in fear and distress speaks of trouble very differently from one who is in joy; and he who is in joy speaks of joy very differently from one who is in fear. It comes not from the heart, it is said, when a sad man laughs, or a joyful man weeps ; that is, the bottom of his heart stands not open, and nothing comes forth. But what is the greater part of the Psalter, but such earnest speech in the midst of high winds of every kind? Where do we find a sweeter voice of joy than in the psalms of thanksgiving and praise ?. There you look into the heart of all the holy, as into a beautiful garden, as into heaven itself. What delicate, sweet,
and lovely flowers are there springing up of all manner of beautiful, joyous thoughts towards God and his goodness! On the other hand, where do you find more profound, mournful, pathetic expressions of sorrow than the plaintive psalms contain? There again you look into the heart of all the holy, as into death, yea, as into the pit of despair. How dark and gloomy is it there, in consequence of all manner of melancholy apprehension of God's displeasure ? So also when the Psalmists speak of fear or hope, they use such words, that no painter could so delineate, and no Cicero or eloquent orator so describe them.”
Perhaps the maledictions or imprecations, contained in some of the psalms, may appear inconsistent with the views which have been advanced. I am here willing to admit the unsoundness of some of the explanations which have been given of these imprecations. They cannot all, as has been supposed, be regarded as predictions or denunciations of the punishment which awaits evildoers. Some of them, at least, are wishes or prayers. See Ps. cxxxvii. 8. But on this subject it should be remembered that
I. Many prayers against enemies, contained in the Psalms, are equivalent to prayers for personal safety. They were composed by the head of the nation, in a state of war, when prayer for the destruction of enemies was equivalent to prayer for preservation and success. So Christian ministers are accustomed to pray for success for the arms of their country. So on our national festivals we are accustomed to thank God that he enabled our fathers to overcome their enemies. What is harsh, therefore, in prayers of this kind is incidental to a state of warfare. This explanation will also apply to the psalms composed by David during his persecution by Saul. These prayers should never be used by private Christians with respect to personal enemies.
II. Another consideration is, that those prayers are expressed in the strong language of poetry; and that some of the particular thoughts and expressions, which are connected with the general subject of the prayer, result from an effort for poetic embellishment and effect, rather than from vindictiveness of feeling.
III. The imprecations which are not included in the classes