Preface to Volume 6, Psalms 119-124
I am finally able to present the Christian public with another part of The Treasury of David. It has demanded more labor than its predecessors, but that labor has been freely given. To the best of my ability, I have kept this volume up to the same level of quality as the earlier ones. In producing this exposition, I would rather be long than lax. I know from experience the disappointment that comes to readers when, after a promising beginning, they see a serious decline toward the end.
The acceptance given this commentary has placed me under a heavy obligation to do my best; and toward that end I am continuing with all possible diligence. It is with great pleasure that I look forward to publishing the seventh and last volume of this work. Many labors distract me from this favorite employment, but I hope to press on with more speed if God spares my life. It would be foolhardy to make a guarantee, for the most fragile Venice glass is less brittle than life:
The spider's most attenuated thread
Is cord, is cable, to the tender film
Which holds our soul in life.
I have been longer on this portion of my task because I have been bewildered at the expanse of Psalm 119, which makes up the bulk of this particular volume. Its dimensions and depth overcame me. It spread out before me like a vast, rolling prairie in which I could see no boundary, and this alone created a feeling of dismay. Its expanse was unbroken by hill or shore line, and so it threatened to be a monotonous task, although that fear has not been realized.
This marvelous poem seemed like a great sea of holy teaching; it moved its many verses wave upon wave without an island of special and remarkable statement to break it up. I hesitated to launch on it.
Other Psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the largest ocean. It is a continent of sacred thought. Every inch is as fertile as the garden of the Lord. It is an amazing level of abundance, a mighty stretch of harvest fields. I have now crossed the great plain, not without both persevering and pleasurable toil.
Several great authors have traveled this region, justify their tracks, and made the journey easier for me. Yet to me and my helpers, it has been no small feat of patient authorship and research.
This great Psalm is a book in itself. Instead of one among many Psalms, it is worthy to be published alone as a Poem of unsurpassed excellence. Those who have never studied it may pronounce it commonplace and complain of its repetitions. But to the thoughtful student, it is a great deep, too full to be measured and so varied as to never weary the eye. Its depth is as great as its length. Its mystery is concealed beneath the simplest statements. May I say that it is experience allowed to prattle, to preach, to praise, and to pray like a child-prophet in his father's house?
My venerable friend, Mr. Rogers, has been spared to help me with his admirable suggestions. But Mr. Gibson, who so industriously translated from the Latin authors, has fallen asleep leaving copious notes. Aid in the homiletic department has been given by several ministers who were educated at the Pastor's College. Their names are appended to the hints and skeletons that they have supplied. In this department, the present volume is superior to the previous ones; if it proves to be really useful, my desire is fulfilled. I know so well the use of a homiletic hint when searching subject, so I have felt a special pleasure in supplying my readers with a full measure of these helps.
In hunting rare authors and in making extracts, Mr. Keys has given me great assistance. I am also a debtor to others who have cheerfully given me service when I have sought it. Burdened with the care of many institutions and the oversight of a large church, I cannot do justice to my theme. Learned leisure would be far more accurate than my busy pen can ever hope to be. If I had nothing else to think of, I would have thought of nothing else, and undivided energies could have accomplished at spare strength can never perform. Therefore, I am glad for the help, so glad that I am happy to acknowledge it. Not only in this but also in all other labors, I first owe all to God and, second, very, very much to those generous friends who are happy in making my efforts successful.
Above all, I trust that the Holy Spirit has been with me in writing and compiling these volumes. I expect that He will bless them in a way that the unrenewed will be converted and believers edified. This writing has been a means of grace to my heart. I have enjoyed what I have prepared for my readers. The Book of Psalms has been a royal banquet. Feasting on its contents, I have seemed to eat the food of angels.
It is no wonder that old writers called it by many names, such as: the school of patience, the soul's soliloquies, the little Bible, the anatomy of conscience, the rose garden and the pearl island. It is the Paradise of devotion, the Holy Land of poetry, the heart of Scripture, the map of experience, and the tongue of saints.
It speaks feelings that otherwise find no expression. Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly what our hearts delight in?
No one needs better company than the Psalms. There, you may read and commune with friends human and divine with friends who know the heart of man toward God and the heart of God toward man, with friends who perfectly sympathize with us and our sorrows, with friends who never betray or forsake. Oh, to be shut up in a cave with David, with no other occupation but to hear him sing and to sing with him! Well might a Christian monarch lay aside his crown for such enjoyment, or a believing pauper find a crown in such bliss.
It is feared that the Psalms today are not as prized as in the early church. Time was when the Psalms were not only repeated daily in all the churches but were so universally sung that the illiterate knew them, even if they did not know the letters which they were written. Time was when bishops would ordain no one to the ministry unless they knew "David" from end to end and could correctly repeat each Psalm. Church councils have decreed that no one could hold ecclesiastical office unless that person had memorized the Psalter. Other practices of those ages are best forgotten but this memory leaves an honorable record.
Jerome tells us that the labors sang Hallelujah while he plowed, that the tired reaper refreshed himself with the Psalms, and that the vine-dresser, while trimming the vines with his curved hook, sang something of David. He tells us that in his part of the world, the Psalms were the Christian's ballads. Could they have had better? They were the love songs of God's people. Could any others be so pure and heavenly? These sacred hymns express all moods of holy feeling. They are proper for childhood and old age; they furnish maxims for entrance into life and serve as watchwords at the gates of death. The battle of life, the Sabbath rest, the hospital bed, the guest room of a mansion, the church, the oratory, yes, even Heaven itself may be entered with Psalms.
My next portion will continue the Pilgrim Psalms, of which five are in this volume. I regret having to break these golden steps. My preference was to present the glittering ascent in one volume, so that all might see at a glance "the stairs of the City of David at the ascent of the wall." Yet the book must be divided somewhere, and as there was no convenient place, I was compelled to separate these Songs of the Steps, or "Songs of the High Key," as Luther calls them. It was impossible to cut the great Psalm in two; it is a far lesser evil to separate the members of a group. I trust the arrangement will not cause serious inconvenience or prevent meditating on each Song of Degrees, not only as it sparkles as a separate star, but also as it shines in its own constellation.
Finally, when I reach the last Psalm, it is my firm conviction that I will find no truer closing words than those of Bishop Horne. I take the liberty of quoting him, using his words as if they were my own, for they admirably express my present feelings and experiences.
"If the author could flatter himself that anyone would take half the pleasure in reading the following exposition as he had in writing it, he would not fear the loss of his labor. The work detached him from the bustle and hurry of life, the din of politics, and the noise of folly. Vanity and vexation flew for a season, and care and unrest did not come near his dwelling. He rose as fresh as the morning to his task. The silence of the night invited him to pursue it, and he can truly say that food and rest were not preferred to it. Every Psalm improved infinitely on his acquaintance with it, and no Psalm made him uneasy, except for the last, when he grieved that his work was done. Happier hours than those that have been spent on the meditations of the songs of Zion, he never expects to see in this world. Pleasantly, they passed and moved smoothly and swiftly along, and when so engaged, he did not count time. The meditations are gone, but they have left a relish and a fragrance on the mind, and the memory of them is sweet."
I am yours to serve for Christ's sake,
C. H. Spurgeon
Westwood, September 1882