A Psalm or Song of the sons of Korah.
It is evident, from constant observation, that, so long as the children of this world are in prosperity, they are well satisfied with their condition, and mightily extol it, while they look upon the Church with proud contempt; and even after having endured calamities, they are not so subdued by them as to renounce the foolish presumption by which they are intoxicated. Meanwhile they recklessly despise all religion, and the worship of God, because, contenting themselves with pleasures, riches, and the splendor of honor, they fancy themselves to be happy without him. And then it often happens, that the Lord pampers them with all kind of good things, purposing at length to inflict upon them merited punishment for their ingratitude, when the fit season shall have arrived; while, on the contrary, he loads his Church with various and grievous afflictions, or, at least, keeps her in a low and despised condition, so that she may seem to herself to be miserable, or she is at least exposed to the contempt of others. That the faithful may not be deceived with this shadowy appearance of things, it is of importance to recall their attention to a different subject, that they may be persuaded of the truth of what is stated in Psalm 33:12,
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance."
What we are taught in this psalm may be summed up in this, That the Church of God far excels all the kingdoms and politics of the world, inasmuch as she is watched over, and protected by Him in all her interests, and placed under his government; that, in the first place, amidst the violent commotions and dreadful storms with which the whole world is often shaken, she may continue safe; and, in the second place, and principally, that being wonderfully preserved by the protection of the same God, she may at length, after the toil and struggle of a protracted warfare, be crowned with the triumphant laurels of her high calling. It is in truth a singular benefit of God, and at the same time, a signal miracle, that, amidst the great and various revolutions of the kingdoms of this world, he enlarges her continually from age to age, and preserves her from destruction; so that in the whole world there is nothing enduring but the Church. As, however, it often happens, that whilst the wicked abound in riches, and have lavished upon them worldly possessions and authority, the afflicted Church is tossed amidst many dangers, or rather, is so overwhelmed with impetuous floods as to seem to be entirely shipwrecked, her happiness must be considered as consisting principally in this, that she has reserved for her an everlasting state in heaven.
An attention to the time when this psalm was composed will contribute, in no small degree, to a clear understanding of its contents. Although the people had returned from their captivity in Babylon; although the Church of God had been again gathered together, and united into one body after a long dispersion; although the temple had been rebuilt, the altar set up, and the service of God restored; yet, as of a vast multitude of people, there was only a small portion remaining, which made the condition of the Church very low and despised, -- as the number left was daily diminished by their enemies, -- and as the temple was far inferior in magnificence to what it originally was; -- all this being considered, the faithful had hardly any ground to entertain favorable hopes as to the future. It certainly seemed impossible that they would ever again be raised to their former state from which they had fallen. There was, therefore, reason to apprehend that the minds of the godly, both from the remembrance of the overthrow which they had already experienced, and from the weight of the present miseries with which they were oppressed, would faint and finally sink into despair. That they might not succumb under such heavy adversities, the Lord not only promises in this psalm that they would recover what they had lost, but also encourages them in the hope of an incomparable glory with which the Church should yet be invested, according to that prophecy of Haggai,
"The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former." (Haggai 2:9)
Last of all, it remains that we learn to accommodate this psalm to our own circumstances, and study to derive from it the lessons which it is fitted to convey. The consolation contained in it ought to have had such influence on the godly of that age, as to have made them not only stand erect in the midst of their adversities, but also to have raised them from the grave, and lifted them up to heaven. In the present day, when we know that whatever was foretold by the Spirit has been fulfilled, we are more than ungrateful if the experience of the fathers, added to the words of the Spirit, does not more powerfully confirm our faith. It is impossible to express in language adequate to the subject the glory with which Christ beautified his Church by his advent. Then the true religion which before had been shut up within the narrow limits of Judea was spread abroad through the whole world. Then God, who had been known only by one family, began to be called upon in the different languages of all nations. Then the world, which had been miserably rent in pieces by innumerable sects of superstition and error, was gathered together into a holy unity of faith. Then all men, vying with each other, associated themselves in companies to the society of the Jews, whom they had before abhorred. Then the kings of the earth and their people voluntarily yielded themselves to the yoke of Christ; wolves and lions were converted into lambs; the gifts of the Holy Spirit were poured out upon the faithful, -- gifts which far surpassed all the glory, all the riches, and grandeur, and precious ornaments of the world.1 The body of the Church also was gathered together out of countries far distant from each other, and was increased and preserved in a wonderful manner. The gospel was spread far and wide within a period of time incredibly short, and equally extraordinary was the rich harvest of fruit with which the preaching of it was succeeded. Although, therefore, the renown of the Church had never been celebrated by this prophecy, yet the goodly and unequalled condition of that age, which may be called the Golden Age, clearly demonstrate that she was truly the heavenly kingdom of God. It was however requisite, even at that period, that the faithful should form their estimate of her excellence by something higher than carnal sense or reason. At the time when she flourished most, it was not purple, gold, and precious stones, which imparted to her the splendor which invested her, but the blood of martyrs. Rich she was in the graces of the Spirit, and yet poor and destitute of earthly possessions. Beautiful and glorious in holiness before God and the angels, she was nevertheless contemptible in the eyes of the world. Without she had many avowed enemies, who either exercised towards her fierce and cruel persecution, or by indirect acts practiced against her, the worst that craft could suggest; while within were alarms and treachery. In short, her dignity, venerable indeed, but yet spiritual, lay as yet hidden beneath the cross of Christ. The consolation, therefore, contained in this psalm was very seasonable, even at that time, for encouraging the faithful to wait for a more perfect state of the Church But the case stands otherwise with us. It has already long ago come to pass,2 through the default of our fathers, that that renowned beauty of the Church has lain polluted and disfigured under the feet of the wicked. And at the present day, overwhelmed with the load of our sins, she groans under miserable desolation, under the scornful reproaches of the devil and the world, under the cruelty of tyrants, and under the wicked calumnies of enemies; so that the children of this world, who wish to live at ease, desire nothing less than to be accounted among the people of God. Whence we may perceive the more clearly how much benefit may be derived from this psalm; and, at the same time, how necessary it is to meditate upon it continually. The title does not so much refer to the authors of the psalm as to the chief musicians to whom it was committed to be sung. It is, however, possible that some Levite of the family of Korah composed it.
1 "Que des le ventre de sa mere il est serviteur domestique de Dieu, et comme nay d'un sien serviteur en la maison." -- Fr.
2 "Lesquels surmontoyent de beaucoup toute la gloire, toutes les richesses et magnificences et les precieux ornemens du monde." -- Fr.
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