Immagini della pagina

specially hope for the social order, the kingdom of God in the earth. Though the whole book of Psalms is called a book of praise by its Hebrew name, this is the only psalm which is expressly called one of praise in its title. It had a notable place in Hebrew thought. In the Talmud it is said that every one who repeats this psalm thrice a day may be sure that he is a child of the world to come. It gives two reasons: first, because the psalm is alphabetical and therefore covers the whole range of human language; and secondly, because the psalm celebrates God's care for all his creatures. But actually the psalm has no magic, except in its expressing the confidence which we have the right to feel about the future. Everything ahead looks bright in this mood. Tasks may be difficult, but there will be power for them when it is needed. Evil forces may seem dominant for a time, but it is only seeming. The real conquering forces of the social order belong to God and they are at work in the world. That is the tone of the psalm.

It is characteristic of this mood, as of every mood of joy, that we want to pass it on to others; we want to tell the story of the cause of it. Ruskin speaks of the peculiarity of a great truth, that when one really becomes aware of it he feels an irresistible desire to tell other people about it. When once we have seen the glory of a kingdom set up in this world that is on its way to conquest, we do not treat it as a secret but as a bit of the best news. The social order is not doomed except as it is bad. A good social order is on the way. We are sure of it because we are sure of God. We call it a social order; it is his kingdom.

First Week, Seventh Day

Jehovah is my strength and song;

And he is become my salvation.

The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous:

The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly.

The right hand of Jehovah is exalted:

The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly.


Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto thee:
Thou art my God, I will exalt thee.

Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good;
For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.

-Psalm 118: 14-16, 28, 29.

Here all the moods of the week blend in a strong assurance of the fellowship between God and men. It is right to think of God, not merely in terms of the universe but in terms of human life and need. If we read Tennyson's "Higher Pantheism" in the light of his other writing we have no fear of saying:

"The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains

Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?

Speak to Him thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can


Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

God is law, say the wise; O Soul, and let us rejoice,
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice.

Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool,
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool.

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot


But if we could see and hear, this Vision-were it not He?"

God is not the universe, yet the whole universe helps us to know him and to know that we are of concern to him. Notice the four great needs which he supplies constantly in human life. He brings strength when men face the big tasks of life or the long pull at the commonplace tasks; he brings cheer when men are depressed or heavy hearted, teaching them to sing instead of sigh; he guides men in their search for truth and away from the paths of falsehood, giving them a life law by which they may walk; he brings to men salvation when there settles down on them the sense of loss and ruin, when moral or social forces too strong for them seem to have them in their grip. All this God is in his fellowship with men.


The psalms were born out of the actual life of men and were meant to be used in that life. Historical events suggested most of them, though few can be definitely located. The songs themselves came out of hearts that burned in

the presence of events. Professor McFadyen speaks of the genius the Hebrews had "for seeing the universal in the particular." They had that genius, but it does not preclude their having wrought these songs out with pain and effort. It is a mistaken idea that inspiration is a substitute for work. Rather, it is an impetus to work. The Talmud says "a cithern used to hang above David's bed; and when midnight came, the north wind blew among the strings, so that th sounded of themselves; and forthwith he arose and busied himself with the Torah-the law-until the pillar of dawn ascended." So it tries to impress that his songs are the fruit of toil. These psalms are inspired; they show it in the fact that only so could their writers have dealt so soundly and completely with human life. They came out of an earlier period, but they fit all periods.


The psalms fit all periods in passing by the merely incidental, and getting down to the abiding elements in a condition. "Personal religion is the same in all ages," as Frederick W. Robertson said; "the deeps of our humanity remain unruffled by the storms that change the surface." The 51st psalm, "written 3000 years ago, might have been written yesterday-describes the vicissitudes of spiritual life in an Englishman as truly as in a Jew." That is characteristic of great thinking. You have heard two men discussing an incident or a problem of common life. One handles it by little details, sees it as an isolated event, without roots in any larger condition; the other deals with it on principle and finds the roots of it in wider phases of life. The method of one is to take a case at a time and devise means of correcting a wrong here and a failure there; the method of the other is to get at the causes and deal with a single situation as part of a whole. Politicians are always concerned to get around this or that obstacle; statesmen are concerned to get principles of national life into action. The psalms take the wide view, without missing any of the value of the narrow view. Recent years have emphasized the importance of the historical elements and background of Scripture, but the value of the psalms depends less upon their dates than does that of other parts of the Bible, because, while they

doubtless rose out of particular historical events and some of their details would be best understood in the light of these events, yet they go far deeper than any events in their meaning. Mrs. Browning says that poets are the only truthtellers left to God, by which she meant simply that they get down under the mere accidents of events to their meaning, which is always permanent. The death of Arthur Hallam was the occasion for writing "In Memoriam," but the application of the poem covers far more than that event. A shepherd boy might have written the 23rd psalm, but what he wrote covers a far wider field than a shepherd's life. The 133rd psalm may have been written to celebrate the coronation of David, but it means a far larger thing than the coming together of divided tribes.

This is one of the reasons why the psalms have such great social value. The social order with which the writers were familiar was widely different from our own. The enemies which they had to meet were not like ours. And it is notable that the particular enemies who may have been in mind are never named. Who were the oppressors (59:1-4), and who were the scoffers who sneered at distress (22:6, 7), and who was the familiar friend who betrayed (41:9; 55:12, 13), are purely matters of detail. We have no way of finding out at this distance. These men are not concerned over petty troubles; they are thinking in terms of principles. The name of the man who betrayed them is not important; the thing that counts is that friendship is betrayed, that fraternity brothers throw one down, that fellow church members turn one out. That is no matter of one time or another; it is a matter of any time. It does not make much difference who sneers at an honest effort to stand up for what one thinks is right (123:3, 4); it is the fact of being sneered at that counts. Whether it is a pious man toiling toward Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, or a young fellow taking a stand against some bad campus custom and being laughed at for it, or a girl practicing her religion in a group that laughs at religion, is only a matter of detail; the thing is the same at the heart of it. The same pluck, the same courage, the same renewal of purpose by keeping God in mind, must get into each case. As Kenyon Cox says about art: "To paint a simple, everyday occurrence, a part of the routine of life, and by one's treatment of it to reveal its deeper implications,

and to make manifest the dignity and romance of the life of which it forms a part—that is what Millet did for the tillers of the soil and what Winslow Homer does for the fisherman and the sailor." The psalmists do it for all the moods of life.

So with all national interests. Great national events always tend to start men singing or praying, and the psalms are both songs and prayers. A war brings victory and songs or defeat and prayer. Both imply a deepened sense of solidarity, a stronger feeling of need for God and for one's fellows. Early in the European war the story was told of the word of a farm toiler in England that he had changed all his thought of his employer since the lads of both of them went to war, because the employer had seemed so much more kind and human. People always draw together in great joy or in great sorrow. The deeper emotions are social. This would be magnified in the case of a people like the Hebrews to whom "the religious unit has been not the individual but the nation." Many psalms which are in personal terms are quite certainly meant nationally. The writers felt for the whole nation. What it suffered, they seemed to suffer. When it conquered, their hearts swelled. They became identified with their social group.

No amount of personal exultation can take the place of that social sense. No man has gotten out of his college training what it could have given him if he has not learned to think of himself as an element in a much larger whole, and to feel pain and joy which strike the whole of which he is part. Being comfortable or being disturbed just on one's own account is natural enough, but never worthy for long at a time. No wonder a religion of service and sacrifice like the one we profess has laid such firm hold on these songs. The Church could dispense with its gospels almost as easily as with the psalms.


The psalms are true to life in that few of them are dominated throughout by any one mood. Mountains and valleys, heights and depths, are on the same landscape of the soul. We move on the same level, high or low, for only short journeys. When we say of a man that he is always on the

« IndietroContinua »