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THE Psalms are an epitome of the Bible, adapted to the purposes of devotion. They treat occasionally of the creation and formation of the world; the dispensations of Providence, and the economy of grace; the transactions of the patriarchs; the exodus of the children of Israel; their journey through the wilderness, and settlement in Canaan; their law, priesthood, and ritual; the exploits of their great men, wrought through faith; their sins and captivities; their repentances and restorations; the sufferings and victories of David; the peaceful and happy reign of Solomon; the advent of Messiah, with its effects and consequences; his incarnation, birth, life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, kingdom, and priesthood; the effusion of the Spirit; the conversion of the nations; the rejection of the Jews; the establishment, increase, and perpetuity of the Christian church; the end of the world; the general judgment; the condemnation of the wicked, and the final triumph of the righteous with their Lord and King. These are the subjects here presented to our meditations. We are instructed how to conceive of them 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 bere 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, repentance and faith 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. "What
is there necessary for man to know," says the pious and judicious Hooker," which the Psalms are not able to teach? They are to beginners an easy and familiar introduction, a mighty augmentation of all virtue and knowledge in such as are entered before, a strong confirmation of the most perfect among others. Heroical magnanimity, exquisite justice, grave moderation, exact wisdom, repentance unfeigned, unwearied patience, the mysteries of God, the sufferings of Christ, the terrors of wrath, the comforts of grace, the works of Providence over this world, and the promised joys of that world which is to come, all good necessarily to be either known, or done, or had, this one celestial fountain yieldeth. Let there be any grief or disease incident unto the soul of man, any wound or sickness named, for which there is not, in this treasurehouse, a present comfortable remedy at all times ready to be found."* In the language of this divine book, therefore, the prayers and praises of the church have been offered up to the throne of grace, from age to age. And it appears to have been the Manual of the Son of God in the days of his flesh; who, at the conclusion of his last supper, is generally supposed, and that upon good grounds, to have sung a hymn taken from it; who pronounced on the cross the beginning of the xxiid Psalm; "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And expired with a part of the xxxist Psalm in his mouth; "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." Thus He, who had not the spirit by measure, in whom were hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and who spake as never man spake, yet chose to conclude his life, to solace himself in his greatest agony, and at last to breathe out his soul, in the Psalmist's form of words, rather than his own. No tongue of man or angel, as Dr. Hammond justly observes, can convey a higher idea of any book, and of their felicity who use it aright.
Proportionable to the excellency of the Psalms, hath been the number of their expositors. The ancients were chiefly taken up in making spiritual or evangelical applications of them; in adapting their discourses on them to the general exigencies of the Christian church, or to the particular necessities of the age in which
Hooker's Ecclesiast. Pol. B. v. Sect. 37.
St. Matthew informs us, Chap. xxvi. 30. that he and his apostles sung an hymn;" and the hymn usually sung by the Jews, upon that occasion, was, what they called the “great Hallel,” consisting of the Psalms from the cxiiith to the cxviiith inclusive.
The moderns have set themselves to investigate with diligence, and ascertain with accuracy, their literal scope and meaning. Piety and devotion characterize the writings of the ancients; the commentaries of the moderns display more learning and judgment. The ancients have taught us how to rear a goodly superstructure; but the moderns have laid the surest foundation. To bring them in some measure together, is the design of the following work; in which the author has not laboured to point out what seemed wrong in either, but to extract what he judged to be right from both; to make the annotations of the latter a ground-work for improvements, like those of the former; and thus to construct an edifice, solid, as well as specious. Materials, and good ones, he cannot be said to have wanted; so that if the building should give way, the cement must have been faulty, or the workman unskilful.
The right of the Psalter to a place in the sacred canon hath never been disputed; and it is often cited by our Lord and his apostles in the New Testament, as the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether David, therefore, or any other prophet, were employed as the instrument of communicating to the church such or such a particular Psalm, is a question, which, if it cannot always be satisfactorily answered, needs not disquiet our minds. When we discern, in an epistle, the well-known hand of a friend, we are not solicitous about the pen with which it was written.
The number of Psalms is the same in the original, and in the version of the LXX; only these last have, by some mistake, thrown the ninth and tenth into one, as also the hundred and fourteenth and the hundred and fifteenth, and have divided the hundred and sixteenth into two, as also the hundred and fortyseventh. The Hebrews have distributed them into five books; but for what reason, or upon what authority, we know not. This is certain, that the apostles quote from "the book of Psalms,*” and that they quote the "second" psalm of that book, in the order in which it now stands. That division, which our own church hath made of them, into thirty portions, assigning one to each day of the month, it hath been thought expedient to set down in the margin; as persons may often choose to turn to the commentary on those Psalms, which occur in their daily course of reading.
In the titles, prefixed to some of the Psalms, there is so much obscurity, and in the conjectures which have been made concerning them, both in a literal and spiritual way, so great a variety
and uncertainty, that the author, finding himself, after all his searches, unable to offer any thing which he thought could content the learned, or edify the unlearned, at length determined to omit them; as the sight of them, unexplained, only distracts the eye and attention of the reader. The omission of the word SELAH must be apologized for in the same manner. The information obtained from the historical titles will be found in the argument placed at the head of each Psalm; though even that is not always to be relied on.
Where this information failed, the occasion and drift of the Psalm were to be collected from the internal evidence contained in itself, by a diligent perusal of it, with a view to the sacred history; the light of which, when held to the Psalms, often dissipates the darkness that must otherwise for ever envelope allusions to particular events and circumstances: sometimes, indeed, the descriptions are couched in terms more general; and then, the want of such information is less perceived. If it appear, for instance, that David at the time of composing any Psalm, was under persecution, or had been lately delivered from it, it may not be of any great consequence, if we cannot determine with precision, whether his persecution by Saul and Doeg, or that by Absalom and Ahitophel, be intended and referred to. The expres sions either of his sorrow or his joy, his strains whether plaintive or jubilant, may be nearly the same, in both cases respectively. This observation may be extended to many other instances of calamities bewailed, or deliverances celebrated in the Psalms, sometimes by the prince, sometimes by the community, and frequently by both together. Upon the whole, it is hoped, that the design of each Psalm hath been sufficiently discovered, to explain and apply it for the instruction and comfort of believers.
The result of such critical inquiries as were found necessary to be made, is given in as few words as possible; often only by inserting into a verse, or subjoining to it, that sense of a word, or phrase, which seemed upon mature deliberation, to be the best; as it was deemed improper to clog, with prolix disquisitions of this kind, a work intended for general use. The reader will, however, reap the benefit of many such, which have been carefully consulted for him. And he will not, it is presumed, have reason to complain, that any verse is passed over, without a tolerably consistent interpretation, and some useful improvement. Where the literal sense was plain, it is noticed only so far as was necessary to make an application, or form a reflection. Where there appeared any obscurity, or difficulty, recourse was had to