Preface to Volume 5, Psalms 104-118
It has been three and a half years since we published volume four of The Treasury of David. We have had many inquiries as to when volume five would appear. Our publishers have given hopeful replies, but their patience has been strained with our slow progress and long intervals of inactivity. The book is finally ready, much to the author's relief, though he is not as satisfied with this volume. There is more work in it, but less to show for the effort. Equal diligence has been given, but the material has been extremely slender and the research has had to go further afield to discover notes and expositions. Where there was much material there was more freedom of selection and the extracts were rich and suggestive. But now that the supply is scarce, what we have discovered after much hunting, is not always of the highest value.
As most commentators on the Psalms proceed, they grow sloppy, appear to write hurriedly, and think superficially, either because they grow weary of their huge task or because they have already said their best things. This makes the compiler's work more difficult. Another source of the increasing "famine in the land" is the lazy practice of referring to a parallel passage in a previous Psalm, or, what is worse, writers fall into the habit of repeating what they had previously said.
Our greatest trouble is that the expounders are partial. They spend all their love or at least their energies, on favorite parts of the sacred volume, passing over other passages with scarcely a remark, as if all Scripture were not equally inspired. Why should so much be written on Psalm 116, and so little on Psalm 118? Everyone seems to have written on certain passages. But having passed through these few frequent places, we travel a new road. With many texts, we have sighed, "Few there are that find it."
We are writing about the Psalms, the best portion of the Old Testament, and so the fact is all the more singular. We have thousands of writers, of one kind or another, but they go in flocks, like sheep, traveling only the same texts and passages. The lack of a conscientious effort to expound all Scripture, causes much of it to appear as if it had never been written for our instruction.
This is not the only reason why this volume has taken so long, though we judge it to be quite sufficient. We want to complete this work at our best, and not allow the close of it to exhibit signs of fatigue and decline. We have often sat to write comments on a Psalm and have risen from the task because we did not feel at home with it. It is useless compelling the mind, for such a production is like forced fruits, disappointing without flavor.
We like to write after the style of John Bunyan, who said, "As I pulled, it came." We prefer that the pulling should be as gentle as possible, and so we have at times lingered for months over a Psalm, feeling unfit to enter it. This was the case with Psalm 109. We would never have been able to handle it, had it not been for the Bulgarian massacres. These threw us into a righteous indignation; while we were pondering, the fire burned. We melted the sentences and wished we could put them boiling on the monsters. Later news made us feel that the other side might be favored with a similar visitation.
Other Psalms have been difficult, though none can compare with Psalm 109. The grand cosmos of Psalm 104 could not be dismissed in a few days, and, even now, after putting our best efforts to it, we feel dissatisfied with the poor results. We have done our best, however, and have grappled honestly with all the hard places. We are a long way through our labor and look for full deliverance. If some friends have had to wait, we hope they will gain by obtaining fruit all the riper and better, because it came in due season.
This volume is shorter than the others. This is due to Psalm 119, which is far too long to be incorporated in this volume. It is also too long for the next volume, so we will attempt it by itself, if health and strength permits. We plan that Psalm 120 to Psalm 150 will be a volume of the usual size. Then, The Treasury will be complete, Lord willing, in seven sections.
Innumerable thanks makes the continuation of this work a happy engagement. Free to take as much time as we please, this work will never degenerate into a task, nor will it be executed "by the piece," as too much literary work is evidently done. If we die before it is completed, it will have been better that what we finished was executed with care, rather than to make a hurried close with inferior workmanship.
In this volume, as in all the rest, we have had the indefatigable assistance of Mr. J. L. Keys, who, in addition to vast amounts of copying, has visited various libraries and museums to select from rare works that could not be found in any other place. Our venerable friend, George Rogers, has all along contributed his invaluable sermon outlines, for which we are deeply grateful. Mr. Gracey, the classical tutor of the Pastor's College, helped through the earlier Psalms by making selections from the Latin authors. When he was obliged to decline, owing to the pressure of his engagements, his place was ably filled by Mr. Gibson, formerly of Crayford, to whom we also owe certain notes from German authors. The immense mass of work that has been done in translating does not appear in the volume; only here and there has an extract been selected from the immense area of Latin that had to be traveled.
Many of the voluminous authors are so fanciful as to be frequently ridiculous in their interpretations; amid acres of words, one can hardly find a grain of reasonable comment. Worst still, if worse it can be, their translations are not reliable. They generally throw the most weight on the slenderest threads, hanging ponderous teaching on doubtful interpretations.
Furthermore, Latin authors, like the English, greatly degenerate as they proceed, and the quotable portions become rare. We have enlarged on this point so that our readers may see that this smaller volume represents far more work than any of its predecessors. Driven to the Latin authors by the poverty of the English, we have not used a tenth of what has been selected. It has hardly been encouraging to do more work with less apparent results. Yet, it must be more useful to give even hints at the interpretation of neglected passages, than to merely present our readers with what they could easily have found concerning familiar passages. Reflecting on this, we thank God and take courage.
Though frequently interrupted by ill health, we hope to proceed with all possible fathers, the libraries of his brethren will remain enriched and that other minds helped in wetting the infinite fullness of this incomparable portion of God's word.
The best and most laborious comments are superficial when compared with the bottomless depths of the sacred Word. Nor can we refrain from uttering our growing conviction that the Scriptures possess a verbal as well as a complete inspiration. Indeed, we are quite unable to see how they could have one without the other. So much meaning dwells in the turn of an expression, the tense of a verb, or the number noun that we believe in the inspiration of the words themselves. Certainly, the words are the things written, and the only things that can be written—for the refined spirit of a passage is not the creature of pen and ink. Our Lord's favorite sentence, "It is written," must apply to words, for only words are written. The words that the Holy Spirit teaches are not to be regarded as mere words. Besides their office of conserving the inner meaning, as the shell preserves the mystic germ in the egg, they are spirit and life. From all of them, we gather life, and they breathe fire into our souls.
May the enlightening Spirit rest on all students of the Psalms and grant them to see far more deeply into the hidden meaning of these sacred hymns than we have been able to do. We rise from our perusal of each holy passage abashed at our short sight and almost overwhelmed at our audacity to have dared undertake such work. May he who accepts us according to what a person has, and not according to what they bless our unworthy labor to His own glory, for Christ's sake.
Yours very heartily,
C. H. Spurgeon
Clapham, August 1878