The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, for the sons of Korah, Maschil, A Song of loves. My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.Psalms 45
[Note.—This is a psalm for a special occasion, that occasion being none other than the nuptials of an anointed king. The king is described as beautiful and gracious and blessed for evermore, and as a conqueror whose objects are not dominion and glory, but truth, humility, and righteousness; he is even described as a divine person, worthy of the name of God; he is seated on an everlasting throne, anointed with the oil of gladness, and received with the strains of harps in ivory palaces. The bride is a king's daughter, one of a foreign race, beautiful and glorious; her attendants are pure virgins, her children are to be princes in all the earth. As to the particular king referred to, some have suggested Ahab, others Jehoram; but the suggestion scarcely needs refutation. The only satisfactory interpretation of all the terms of the psalm is to be found in its Messianic character. The daughter of the king is the Church, the attendants of the bride represent foreign nations brought into willing submission to the Messiah. The psalm is inscribed "To the chief musician upon Shoshannim," the meaning of which word is lilies. This may be the name of the tune to which the psalm was recited; or the word may be metaphorical, equivalent to lily-like maidens or bridesmaids; and the meaning may be, a psalm to be recited to a melody adapted to a bridal solemnity. It has been pointed out that a certain sacredness attached to the lily; for example, there was lily-work on the capitals of the pillars, Jachin and Boaz, and on the brim of the molten sea (1Kings 7:19, 1Kings 7:22, 1Kings 7:26).]
The King's Daughter
"The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold" (Psalm 45:13).
The Psalmist says, "My heart is inditing a good matter." We should think that he was dictating something to a writer. That is not the meaning of the word. Literally, My heart is bubbling all over with a song of loves. Not a song of love even, but genuine Hebrew,—a song of loves. Different languages have established their own rights: there is an independence as well as a unity of human language. What would be bad syntax in one language is excellent grammar in another. The Hebrew will pluralise in its own way, and make grammar. My heart is springing up,—my heart is like a well, a spring, a fountain, rising, shooting high into the blue sky, and I must tell you what I think and feel about the king's daughter. It is an advantage to listen to a man when he is in his best mood. This man has no fault to find with the mood in which he is about to sing; he feels at his very best. We know what it is to be dejected and in fear and in weakness, and to be unable to find words to express our uppermost thought; and we also know what it is to have great liberty of speech, as if we knew all words, and could make more, and could talk on with rising eloquence, until we had spoken out all that we felt of love and hope and life.
Let us take it that the man is talking about the Church and kingdom of Christ. The Psalmists did not always know the subjects of their own song. There is an unconsciousness that touches the sublimest genius. It is sometimes when we do not know what we are doing that we are doing most. Men think we are insane, because they are in cold blood, and we are filled with the very fire and life of Heaven. The prophets did not know what they were prophesying; their words were as strange to themselves as to those who listened to them; they wondered what manner of Man and time was signified, as the Holy Spirit wrought within them the mystery of the evangelical forecast; they wondered what was meant by the sufferings of Christ and by the glory that should follow. Probably the poet did not know that he was in reality talking about an ideal daughter, the Church, redeemed, washed with the precious blood of Christ, made without spot or wrinkle or any such thing—what the apostle calls a "glorious church," gleaming, burning, effulging at every point; a mystery to herself; not conscious of her own beauty, yet often wondering that the world should stop in fascination to express wonder and to render homage.
Here are two aspects of the king's daughter—the internal and the external; within all glorious, without covered with wrought gold,—a magnificent congruity, a spiritual miracle of consistency. "Glorious," not commonplace; separated from every other institution or mode of life by a dazzling, gleaming brightness above the shining of the sun. The Church is not a club, meeting at regular times, bound by certain agreed stipulations, living a decent, ordinary, enjoyable life: the Church is a miracle, or she is nothing; the Church is glorious, or she has no right to exist. Not that the Church has already upon the earth realised all her highest possible glory, but she is living in that direction; so that no sun-ray shall be lost upon her, she shall catch all the descending beams and hold them as an increase of her own brightness. Because the Church has lost its distinctiveness it has lost its power. The Master of the Church continually walks up and down, saying, "What do ye more than others?" because it is in the "more than others" that our Christianity begins. We have not begun to be Christians whilst we are simply as good as other people, whilst we are only baptised pagans, whilst we are living upon the husks of moral maxims. We may be regarded as amiable and useful and kindly and neighbourly, but that is not Christianity, that has no relation to Christianity, that is often foisted upon society as a simulation of Christianity. Christianity is in its uniqueness, in its doing things that nobody else ever thought of doing, in its insanity, its holy, beneficent madness. Some men are not Christians, they are only professors of Christianity.
"All glorious,"—not one shadow, not one indication of love of darkness. There is no adulteration in this glory; wherever a beam of light is present, or wherever a beam of light can issue forth, that beam of light is visible. "All glorious" in doctrine, in conduct, in speech, in thought, in the innermost recesses of the heart—"all glorious within." There the glory cannot be seen by outward observers,—an internal, spiritual glory. How neglectful some persons are of out-of-the-way places, of matters which do not come under public criticism! How anxious to be right externally, and how indolent about spiritual cleanliness and beauty, not to say glory! What a love of applause! what a spirit of ostentation! what a decoration for the passing moment! The peculiarity of the king's daughter was that she was good all through and through; glorious where she could least be seen,—glorious in her spirit, in her motive, in the whole conception of life; just as glorious as if there were not one human eye to look upon her brightness. We are so prone to do much that other people may look upon; we wonder what they will think of us. Many expenses are incurred to please critics who mayhap may never bestow a thought upon us. It is our public attitude, our social relation, our neighbourly environment, that we think about Under certain limitations such solicitude is right; but it is worse than a mistake, if it be put in substitution for spiritual, internal, invisible beauty and brightness. Probably the poet only meant that the innermost chamber of the bride was a beautiful room; his thought may not have risen above that comparatively mean conception: but the higher thought, translated into the idealism of the Church, is that the Church of the living Christ is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, a glorious Church—glorious within.
Why? Because of a conscious realisation of the divine presence. Have we made our preparation for the Chief of Guests? Has the housewife made no arrangement to receive her visitor with becoming care and distinction? Will any place do for one whose head is illuminated with divine light, whose heart is filled with the love of Calvary, whose presence is an indication of an ineffable and immortal kingliness? The king's daughter will receive the King in a prepared chamber; she will say, This habitation must be made worthy of him; he himself is glorious, and such glory as I can supply must be furnished against the time of his coming. So, who would receive God into an unprepared heart? We must make the heart-house as worthy as we can of the King's coming. This we can do—we can pray God the Holy Ghost to make us what we ought to be, to take possession of our heart, to cleanse it, purify it, elevate its every impulse, and consecrate it as the guest-chamber in which God himself shall abide with us. Consciousness of the divine presence implies conscious communion with God; taking ourselves up to our highest estate; sharing the very thought and passion of divine love,—a marvellous transfiguration of our lower selves into our ideality. Mystery of mysteries is this, that the mortal can talk with the Eternal; that the creature can commune with the Creator; that a life so low that presently it will be cut down and burned like grass in the oven can go right up to eternal Kingliness and say, Let us commune together, concerning the mystery of being and the mystery of destiny, the mystery of conduct and the mystery of service: O Eternal King, let me, poor, poor me, talk with thee a long time! Out of this must come a growing solicitude to be transformed into the divine likeness. When we can see God we can be satisfied with no other beauty; all other beauty then sinks into its right relation, and becomes but a dim type or emblem of the ineffable loveliness; having seen God, we can bear the sight of nothing lower, except that which is of kindred quality, and that which we can help to the level to which the Holy Spirit has exalted our own souls. Given the conscious divine presence, conscious communion with God, conscious desire to be transformed into his likeness, and you have given, if not noontide, yet heavenly dawn; such consciousness shall grow like the advancing sun, until it has reached the zenith of its power and splendour.
What is the king's daughter without? Look at her clothing, that will answer the inquiry,—"Her clothing is of wrought gold." The internal glory is proved by the external beauty. There is a clothing which we are called upon to admire,—the clothing of the king's daughter is of wrought gold: no dress can be too beautiful, if it express a beautiful character. You cannot be too lovely in your costume (assuming that you. can afford it) if the costume proclaim the man. Say frankly, is there any irony so palpable and detestable as that represented by an expensively dressed fool? There is an incongruity which amounts to wickedness. Some persons are nothing but clothes. A man has no right to make himself a palpable self-contradiction,—he is a whited sepulchre. No bad man has a right to wear a good coat,—he is a liar. No bad man has a right to put a flower in his button-hole,—he spoils the flower, he dishonours the summer, he is a living, and ought to be an instructive, paradox. If you see a flower in the garment of a bad man you should cry, "Stop thief!" Do not imagine that flowers have no feeling, that nature would just as soon decorate a fool as a philosopher. Nature is God's; nature bears a divine stamp and seal; nature is but an emblem, and if the emblem be upon the wrong person what mischief may ensue! Who can calculate the effect of a paradox so palpable and so mischievous?
In the case of the king's daughter we have a beautiful congruity. Because she is all glorious within, she has a right to a covering of wrought gold. It would be wrought gold, even if the goldsmith had never touched it. She might be in poverty, yet her poverty would be as an image of wrought gold. We are not to be too literal in our construction of these sentences,—there is a transfiguring process of soul upon cloth, if you will have it so; there is a possibility that a carpenter's raiment may become white and glistering. The internal light illumines the external robe. The wise soul has a wise face. The foolish observer may not see it, because he judges by false or transient canons; but there never yet was a wise man that had not a wise countenance, a great man that had not somehow a great face. There never was a good man that did not vindicate his goodness externally, in some way, in some measure; not always instantaneously, but people have said concerning a good man, "The longer you know him the more you love him; he may not be very taking at first, but, oh, what he is to rest upon! He is slow of speech, but having given his word he has given his soul." So if the king's daughter had been from a worldly point of view poor, yet there is a grace of poverty when it is associated with internal pureness, and large wisdom, and burning aspiration after God and God's eternity. Here is a man who has been a long time in prayer, he comes down the hill as morning might come down the quickly illuminated mountain; speak to the man, and he wists not that his face doth shine. It is not a painted splendour, it is not a decoration brought from some remote market of the world; it is a shining that comes from within, because the man has been enjoying that consciousness of the divine presence, and that consciousness of divine communion, of which we have just spoken. This is the beauty of heaven; this is not formal beauty; this is the light that springeth from within, which will be as beauteous in the morning as it is at night, in the winter as in the summer: how trying soever the circumstances through which the man may pass, he will throw a sacred radiance upon his whole condition, and make a space for himself by the power of wisdom.
The costliest environment is balanced by the character, and brought into harmony by the soul. Sometimes we are conscious of incongruity as between the man and his own estate. We wonder whether this estate has been come by honestly; it is bigger than the owner, it overwhelms him, it is his one subject; he is always surveying his own land and making a new map of his own estate. We say, Who is this man? and how came he to have all these tens of thousands of acres, and all these various palaces?—one in the mountains, one at the seaside, one in the metropolis, one far away which he calls his hunting-place, with a garden miles long of heather that is ashamed of its owner. This is palpable and shocking incongruity. Sometimes we have seen a man surrounded by estates, and have felt that the man was greater than the property; we have said, What a soul this man has! Listen to his thoughts, hear his conversation; presently he will rise into prayer, or utter himself in sacred song, or speak lovingly and redeemingly about the poor and those who have no helper; and then the environment falls away into its right perspective, and we say, Would God this man owned the whole world! for then the poor would be made to rejoice, and the sad of heart would know what a friend they had. If there is any disparity it should be on the spiritual side, so that we shall say concerning a man, however much he has, he ought to have more; he is a faithful steward, a generous administrator: appoint him the guardian of society. In the costume as described by the poet we have no contradiction, no irony, no sense of incongruity; we have a massive, simple, beautiful, beneficent consistency. Think of a man who has plenty of clothes and no ideas, a well dressed body and a naked soul! Pity him. Think of a man who has a large wardrobe, and no library, no course of reading, no education at home! Another wardrobe! he says; never Another book! That is the man to describe as poor. Think of a man who has a glutton's appetite and a miser's soul!
What is the miracle that Jesus Christ wants to work? It is the miracle of congruity, the miracle of harmony, the miracle of music; it is to make us internally right that he may make us externally beautiful and noble. He will not begin at the external point; he does not care about our manners, he cares about our souls: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit!" Then the hand shall be clean, and the physical form itself shall bear evidence that even we carry the stamp of the divine substance.
Lord, increase our faith. Faith is the gift of God; Lord, give unto us such faith as overcomes the world. We would live the faith-life, that uppermost, divinest life, that trusts all to God, that has no selfish will, that gains its life by losing it Gladly would we enter into the mystery of this process. Whoso would gain his life shall lose it, and whoso would lose his life for Christ's sake shall find it. We would get by giving, we would grow by serving, we would become refined by the loss which is created by suffering. Thou hast made us in thine own image, but we have covered up thy personality with immeasurable deceit. Lord, cause us to sustain a great loss, to shed all that we have done: ourselves, until thine own presence shines forth within us, and we become as those who have been transformed. Show us that man can hold nothing in his hands. Canst thou deliver us from this great fallacy, that we can really heap up unto ourselves anything and assure it? Lord, if thou canst work this miracle of faith in us, we would say, Let this be the accepted time, and the day of salvation; we would be rid of all this care, anxiety, and foolish solicitude, and would fall into God's hands, assured that all things work together for good in reply to human love. Thou didst never disappoint the earnest heart; the soul that burned for thee was always gratified by a revelation of thy presence: Lord, increase our faith. We would be rid of these senses which deceive us and mock us every day, and make fools of us seven times a week; and we would live in the soul, in the spirit, in the upper nature, dwelling and walking and living with God. This desire is created in us by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the very gift of the Cross of Christ. Once we had no such desire, the world was enough, and time sufficient, and what our own hands could do was more than enough; but now we see how little all things are, how great is the future, how immeasurable is heaven, how transcendent and precious is love. Thou art taking us through the valleys of life: we are weary of the long walk; give us strength that we may finish the mile or two yet remaining, without impious reproach or fault-finding with God. But the way is long, and the lights are uncertain, the misery is positive, and the occasional enjoyment is never enough. Yet the valleys are of thy making, time is thy road into eternity; we would accept thy dispensations, and murmur not. If thou canst find any joy for us in this place of graves, and in this air loud with lamentation, good Lord, neglect us not in the time of our best desires. Show us that we know nothing, yet show us that the veil which keeps us from perfect knowledge is very thin and may in one moment be dissolved, and we may be face to face with God. In this high expectancy keep our souls, then we shall have no time for folly, no taste for wickedness, and no relish for the things that do not minister to the soul's life. The Lord expel all evil by the incoming of all good; and because of the presence of burning and purifying love may all things unholy be banished or consumed. Thou hast given us a long schooling,—in the cradle, in helpless infancy, in the school where everything was difficult, in the house where will clashed with will, and the heart was often stung with disappointment; thou hast also trained us in the marketplace, where man is endeavouring to outwit his fellow day by day, and boasting himself when he has accomplished his nefarious purpose. All this is hard upon us, the devil is always against the soul, and those that would help the spirit are often in such cloudy distances that we cannot realise their ministry. Yet it is all well; the prophets said so, and the apostles; our fathers and mothers taught us so when we knew little or nothing of life; now this thing is wrought into our very thought, so that we constantly say, It will be well in the latter end, though the beginning was cloudy and the beginning was small. Lord, help every man to do his day's work well, to carry his load as if the Lord himself had just put the burden upon the weakening back; and give every one courage to say, Judge not yet, nor to-morrow, but on the third day behold the revelation of God. We thank thee for all that helps us, for everything that gives us even momentary delight; for the household hearth, the warm hospitable fire: we bless thee for any inch of garden we have, enough to hold one flower, which is the beginning and the pledge of paradise. For all musical voices, and tender ministries, and friendships that heal us when our hearts are sore, for all the thousand elements that point towards reconstruction and immortality, we bless thee as for so many angels Pity us for our lost estate; thou who hast made the day hast also made the night; thou knowest the tragedy of darkness, thou knowest the powers of evil, there is no fire in perdition that thou hast not known, and there is no temptation in the air rending it and tearing it with cruel force which thou hast not measured, and which thy Son our Saviour has not undergone. Help us to escape the little, the narrow, the mean, and the foolish, and to live in the infinite and the eternal. We pray at the Cross, because there it is good to pray,—there is the angel of purity, there is the angel of pardon, there is the angel that keeps the gate of heaven. Amen.