Ode to the Psalms, or, Back to Reality

Discussion in 'Daily Devotional Forum' started by Ed Walsh, May 18, 2019.

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  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Greetings Pilgrims,

    Psalm 119:1-6 [ASV]
    First, David pronounces the blessing of God on those mythical perfect saints. The ones who do not exist:

    1 Blessed are they that are perfect in the way,
    Who walk in the law of Jehovah.
    2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies,
    That seek him with the whole heart.
    3 Yea, they do no unrighteousness;
    They walk in his ways.
    4 Thou hast commanded us thy precepts,
    That we should observe them diligently.

    Next, Back to reality. David turns his thoughts to his own fallen heart:

    5 Oh that my ways were established
    To observe thy statutes!
    6 Then shall I not be put to shame,
    When I have respect unto all thy commandments.

    Is this not the heart’s desire of all true saints?

    When the churches return to the Psalms it will be the sign of them returning to the true knowledge of the only true God.

    For me, Hengstenberg captures the apparent mixture of the faith and doubt in the prayers of the Psalmists in the last sentence of the quotation below. Here is that line.

    "How along with that voice of the flesh in the Psalms there was perpetually raised also the voice of the spirit, appears even from the single fact, that the writers pour out their supplications before the very God who hears and sees and regards not."​

    Hengstenberg, E. W.,
    Commentary on the Psalms vol.3,

    The Book of Psalms is full of the noblest testimonies to the being of God, and his perfections. It has contributed, in this respect, vast materials for developing the consciousness of mankind, and the Christian church rests far more upon it for her apprehensions of God than might at first sight be supposed. To perceive to what an extent this is the case, we have only to search out the traces of the Psalms in our liturgies and church-songs. Even the French Deists, the theo-philanthropists, sworn enemies of the Bible, could only make out their liturgy by the help of the Psalms. This is one chief reason why the Psalter is so precious to the afflicted. It presents God so clearly and vividly before their eyes, that they see him, in a manner, with their bodily sight, and find thereby the sting taken from their pains. In this, too, lies one great element of the importance of the Psalter for the present times. What men now most of all need is, that the blanched image of God should again be freshened up in them. This, not the denial of particular tenets of revelation, which is only a consequence of the other, and which can never be thoroughly eradicated so long as the fundamental evil remains, is the deepest grief of the church, and one which believers will still have to bear with. Those who would strive to effect, in this respect, a reformation in themselves or others, will find in the Psalms a mighty help. The more closely we connect ourselves with them, the more will God cease to be to us a shadowy form, which can neither hear, nor help, nor judge us, and to which we can present no supplication.

    Among the heathen, every divine perfection has its contrast (see Nägelsbach, Homer. Theol. p. 13.) Here everything is of one piece and mould. From the calls, indeed, which we so often meet with in these writers of inspired song, upon God to hear, to see, to think of them, not to forget—and their complaints, that he does not hear, &c., the accusation has often been brought against them, of gross and childish representations of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and superintending providence. But we have only to look somewhat deeper in order to discover the agreement that exists between these passages and others which contain the most elevated representations of God’s omnipresent being and providential agency. In the latter, the voice of the Spirit makes itself heard; in the former, that of the flesh. The radical character of the Psalms is feeling. This is uttered in faithfulness and truth before God, as it arose in the heart of the singers, and it is precisely through this that they exercise so strong an influence. We are drawn to them in the first instance by finding our own weakness, our own fainting under tribulation repeating itself, and then suffer ourselves to be gently conducted by them to the strength of God. The feeling, however, in weak man is often very different from the conviction. He may be firmly convinced of God’s providence, may be ready to defend it with vigour against all who assail it, and yet if tribulation befall him, if God withdraw from him the tokens of his favour, it then comes to be in the feelings of his soul, as if God knew nothing of him, as if he concerned himself not at all in the conflict of joy and sorrow, as if there were an impassable gulf fixed between heaven and earth. In this contest faith must be strengthened. It exists in the godly of the New, not less than in those of the Old Covenant, and that superficiality and strangeness to spiritual experience, which accuses David and other sacred bards of having had gross ideas of God’s ever present and watchful providence, may with equal propriety be brought against a Luther and Paul Gerhard, and against all our religious poets and men of devotion. How along with that voice of the flesh in the Psalms there was perpetually raised also the voice of the spirit, appears even from the single fact, that the writers pour out their supplications before the very God who hears and sees and regards not.

    Hengstenberg, E. W., Thomson, J., & Fairbairn, P. (1869). Commentary on the Psalms (Vol. 3, pp. liv–lv). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
  2. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Along with these wonderful thoughts from Hengstenberg has come an increasing awareness of the Trinitarian nature of the Psalms, with the mission of the Son highlighted- God the Father and Christ and his church the actors and speakers in all of the Psalms, not just the ones usually designated as messianic. I think this aspect is an important one that needs to be brought to the forefront in our day, since the pushback “but I want to sing about the person and work of Christ” is now a barrier in people’s minds. See thoughts from Augustine, John Chrysostom, John Gill, William Binnie, and many others.
  3. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Interesting you should mention the Trinity in the Psalms. In the very next paragraph after the one I quoted above, Hengstenberg continues with a brief discussion of the Trinity in the Psalms. I think more can be said but he hits some of the major points, even if he is a bit limited in scope.

    The mystery of the Trinity is still not plainly declared in the Psalms. This doctrine, as to its finished form, belongs to the times of the New Testament. It presupposes historical developments, which could then only come into being. The fuller understanding of it and its blessed practical operation rests upon the incarnation of the Word. Its too early manifestation would have been attended with the worse consequences, as Israel was surrounded on every hand by heathen neighbours and was itself inclined to polytheism. Under the Old Covenant it was of importance primarily to lay stress upon the unity of God, and to have the knowledge and belief of this deeply impressed upon the minds of the people, so that they might courageously maintain it against all the formidable assaults of the spirit of the world as it then was. By this means the best foundation was laid for the doctrine of the Trinity. Still, however, we find here, as in the case of all the doctrines, the full revelation of which was reserved for the New Testament, the germ and point of connection for the New Testament dogma. How even the divine name Elohim is to be viewed in this light, since it indicates that the unity of God is not one of poverty, but of richness and fulness, has already been pointed out in the second part of my Contributions. In unison with Gen. 1:2, the Spirit of God, whose personality was certainly not yet recognised, appears as the source of all physical life, Ps. 104:30, as penetrating and filling all things, Ps. 139:7, as the creative principle that made the world, Ps. 33:6, as the administrative power and presence of God in Israel, Ps. 106:33, finally, as the source of all moral life, Ps. 51:12, 143:10. But the most direct indication of the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in those passages which contain a reference to the superhuman nature of the Messiah,—passages on which we must the less think of forcing another meaning, as in the prophets (for example, in Isa. 9, where even Hitzig is obliged to recognise it), there is found something unquestionably similar. Such indications pervade all the Messianic Psalms; and quite naturally. For the more deeply the knowledge of human sinfulness, impotence, and nothingness sunk in Israel (comp. for example Ps. 103:14–16), the less could men remain satisfied with the thoughts of a merely human redeemer, who, according to the Israelitish manner of contemplation, could do extremely little. A human king (and all the strictly Messianic Psalms have to do with Messias as king), even of the most glorious description, could never accomplish what the idea of the kingdom of God imperiously required, and what had been promised even in the first announcement respecting the Messiah, viz., the bringing of the nations into obedience, blessing all the families of the earth, and acquiring the sovereignty of the world. In Ps. 2:12, the Messiah is presented as emphatically the Son of God, as he in whom confidence brings salvation, whose wrath is perdition. In Ps. 45:6–7 he is named God, Elohim. In Ps. 72:5, 7, 17, eternity of dominion is ascribed to him. In Ps. 110:1, he at last appears as the Lord of the community, of saints, and of David himself, sitting at the right hand of the Almighty, and installed in the full enjoyment of divine authority over heaven and earth.

    Hengstenberg, E. W., Thomson, J., & Fairbairn, P. (1869). Commentary on the Psalms (Vol. 3, pp. lv–lvi). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
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