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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 4
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PSALM 119

As this psalm treats of various matters, it is difficult to give an epitome of its contents. There are, however, two things which the prophet mainly aims at; the exhorting of the children of God to follow godliness and a holy life; and the prescribing of the rule, and pointing out the form of the true worship of God, so that the faithful may devote themselves wholly to the study of the Law. Along with these he frequently blends promises for the purpose of animating the worshippers of God to live more justly and piously; and, at the same time, he introduces complaints respecting the impious contempt of the Law, lest they should become tainted by bad examples. In short, he frequently passes from one topic to another, and prosecutes no one particular subject continuously; 395395     It is, however, a mistake to suppose, that no connection of thought is observed throughout this lengthened composition, as has sometimes been asserted even by writers of note. “It has been too commonly assumed,” says Jebb, that the 119th psalm is a collection of unconnected thoughts. To this opinion, even that most profound religious philosopher, Dr Barrow, inclines, (Sermon 48, on Psalm 119:60;) and his eloquent words must, in this instance, be received with no small caution. ‘this psalm,’ he says, ‘no less excellent in virtue than large in bulk, containeth manifold reflections on the nature, the properties, the adjuncts, and effects of God’s law; many sprightly ejaculations about it, conceived in different forms of speech; some in way of petition, some of thanksgiving, some of resolution, some of assertion or aphorism; many useful directions many zealous exhortations to the observance of it; the which are not ranged in any strict order, but, like a variety of wholesome herbs in a fair field, do, with a grateful confusion, lie dispersed, as they freely did spring in the heart, or were suggested by the devout spirit of him who indicted this psalm; where no coherence of sentences being designed, we may consider any one of them absolutely or singly by itself.’ The fine imagination of this eminent writer justly recognizes the beautiful variety, the variegations of thought, the πολυποίκιλος σοφία exhibited in this psalm; but too much seems to be conceded to the prevalent opinion of a want of connection. I willingly allow, that the sentiments are not limited and enthralled by any exact or Procrustean rule; that there are no measures of intellectual geometry adhered to, reducing this divine poem to a rigid didactic system: that the mind of the prophet is free, and flowing, and discursive. Still this very flow of thought implies connection and association, and forbids the frigid idea that the psalm is a mere canto of reflections, like Lord Bacon’s collection of aphorisms, or the maxims of Isocrates. I do not intend to maintain what could not be proved, that a consecutive order can be traced throughout; but instances can, undoubtedly, be drawn of passages which maintan a beautiful sequence and connection between their several members.” — Jebbs Literal Translation of the Book of Psalms, with Dissertations, volume 2, pages 274-276. and therefore it will be best to discuss each subject in its proper place.


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