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heights, always joyous, always cheerful, we are saying either a very poor or a very fine thing of him. It is very poor if he is the kind of man who persists in throwing off trouble or difficulty and takes the bright, easy way all the while. The philosophy of life that refuses to admit the presence of things that disturb is not valuable enough to make one a helpful factor in real life. But we say a fine thing if by it we mean that the man has schooled himself to face fairly and yet bravely anything that comes, knowing that only so can he serve the need of the world. That is, a man can shut his eyes and be cheerful, which is cheap; or he can open his eyes and be sure of God and so be cheerful, which is courageous. With most men moods are recurrent as they are in the psalms. Moods of confidence and depression, of trust and of question, of assurance and doubt, come one after the other. there just as they do in life.
In some of them the same mood is recurrent. In the 42nd and 43rd psalms, originally one, there is a refrain, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God." It comes not once but three times. The writer's spirit rose, but the old gloom settled down again on him. The man has a peculiar temperament who does not know what that means. Psychologists have a term for it-perseveration, the tendency of a particular phrase or melody to persist in the mind or for a mood to reassert itself in spite of efforts to throw it off. The books generally say that such perseveration is strongest in the feeble-minded, but it appears often in times when a strong mind is jaded. Heroic efforts to cast it off are successful for a time; change of mental direction, introduction of a new line of thought, will help. But sometimes it recurs in spite of such effort. There is no corrective, except a powerful corrective thought on which the mind can dwell, as in these two psalms. Perowne says that the 90th psalm is like the pillar which led Israel through the desert-it is both dark and light. Its darkness comes from looking at men; its light from looking at God. So it is with the psalms that foretell a Messiah; some of their expressions are of the mood which applies to Christ, others are impossible of that application.
Two dominating lines in the psalms are those of assurance
of God and of the social group and order. The two unite in the sense of God's law as the final social bond. Society is not a human device or a whim of men. It is part of the plan of God (68:6) and he is concerned with the affairs of men. The longest psalm (119) has the peculiarity that without exception-unless possibly vs. 121, 122-each verse refers in some term to the law or the will of God, claiming personal allegiance to it or promising obedience to it, and basing every word of hope on it. Several of the verses may have national reference (119:23, 161) but many take account of a social group of friends or foes. And the general attitude toward that law is one of clear-cut devotion. There is no dread of it nor wish to escape it. The writers love it (119:97) and delight in it (119: 16, 47). Their hope of the social order is bound up in God and not in princes or other men (118:8, 9), and all hope for prosperity is in his blessing (106:4, 5). They explain the movements of history by the relation of the acts of men to the will of God (44:1-3; 78 and 106 throughout). As we shall have occasion to see (Chapter XIII) there are few details of the new social order given, but the broad lines of righteousness and peace and prosperity make the psalms available and inspiring for any man who wants to help toward the better order which the Christian hope expects.
In the light of their utter truth to the human heart and of their expression of its abiding moods, all disputing about particular authors and occasions of writing must be kept secondary. The psalms cover a thousand years of human feeling and desire. Fragments, possibly one psalm entire (90), come to us from the time before David, and several from his own time, the eleventh century before Christ. The latest show signs of the period after the exile and some scholars think a few may have been written in the second century before Christ. Those are important details for critical study of the book, but they have no direct bearing on our purpose in this study. Here are the songs of a thousand years, not issuing in a continuous current through that whole period, but scattered down the way around certain singing periods, as in the time of David, of Hezekiah, of the return from the exile. For the most part they were probably collected for use in the temple described in Ezra 3, a hymnbook for the services of instruction and worship. Like
all hymnbooks, there are many writers and many moods. No one ought to condemn himself if he is not always ready to respond to every psalm and the mood it expresses. There are times for one hymn and times when it would be very much out of place; yet the hymn is true to human need. Life is too complex to be shut down to a few expressions. This great song book has in it some songs which are only once in a while needed, but at those times the songs must be available or the book would fail a seeking spirit.
Perhaps it is only fair to stop for a word about a group of psalms which are sometimes said to have no place in the Christian life. They are called the imprecatory psalms, or psalms of cursing-all or part of psalms 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137. Professor McFadyen gathers up the word of most of the writers on the subject in reminding us of these four facts about them: 1. They are not the spiteful expression of personal enmity. 2. It is the cause of God that is at stake; the prayer is that God may be avenged rather than that any personal injury be made good. 3. The men on whom the curses are to fall are guilty of cruelty and immorality; they are downright bad men, who slay the fatherless and widows (94:6), not mere personal enemies with whom the writers have fallen out. 4. Confusion of such wicked men was a necessary postulate of the writers' faith in God. If good men were defeated and the wicked were to triumph without interference, God would then be defeated, and these men had a passion for the moral order. There could be no hope for a sound social order if moral order was not maintained.
To this can be added the question whether it is not possible to become soft in the effort to be sweet. Most of us do not dare use the imprecatory element in the psalms because we cannot trust our spirits. We grow personal and vindictive. In so far as these psalms may have that element, they are not Christian, and they may well be in the book as a revelation of a human mood which is just as real as the best mood of life. But that element need not be marked in them. It is possible for a man to take such high, fine views of the moral order that for the sake of bad men as well as good men he can ask nothing better than its vindication. Even the
bitterest curse of all-"happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock" (137:9)—is at its worst only a return to cruel Babylon of the treatment which it had itself given to others. It is no gratuitous curse. It is a rough plea for the equalizing of the moral order. There is no group of any character which does not have limits on the kind of misconduct it will allow. Any of them will cut off a member who persists in passing that limit. The moral order must surely be as sound as that. There comes a time when it must cut off men who persist in outraging it.
These psalms seem reasonable enough when certain evils come to light. They get their meaning in the social order. The badness of a bad deed is not confined to the man who committed it. The whole group has to share it. As our sense of social unity develops, we find it harder to be patient with a man who wrongs the order and tries to be blithe about it. It makes no possible difference to us personally, but it does make a difference to us morally.
But there is not much of imprecation in the psalms. For the most part they express the moods of men who live a daily life of need and who mean to help where they can to get God's will done, who feel themselves bound up with other lives and look forward to the correction of all kinds of social evils and the triumph of all right social purposes. It is the study of some of these moods and of these social factors as they appear in these songs of a thousand years that concerns us now.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER THOUGHT AND STUDY
Study the psychology of the fact that all wars or similar strains on the spirit of a nation bring certain songs into popularity. What is the social meaning involved in it?
Value of songs in teaching religious truth. Can you trace the origin of the fundamental things you believe to direct or to indirect teaching? How much have the hymns you have sung contributed to what you believe?
In your observation, is the attitude of men toward evil conditions generally so vigorous as that of the writers of these imprecatory psalms?
The Solitary Mood
Second Week, First Day
I cry with my voice unto Jehovah;
I show before him my trouble.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,
- In the way wherein I walk
Have they hidden a snare for me.
No man careth for my soul..
-Psalm 142: 1-4, 7.
According to the heading of this psalm, it was written in a cave at a time of great distress when David was fleeing from Saul. He felt himself utterly solitary. About the hardest thing a man has to face is that he does not count for anybody. Everybody wants to be of concern to some other people, and it is a dark hour when a man feels that no one really cares what happens to him. It is even darker when he has to admit that those who do think of him are thinking more of themselves and what they can get out of him. It is a bad mood, one in which it is necessary for us to take ourselves firmly in hand. Even if the facts are as they look to us, it is still true that we do count to God and