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NOTES, EXPLANATORY AND PRACTICAL;
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DOMESTICK CHAPLAINS TO HIS GRACE THE LATE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY.
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THE BOOK OF
THE Book of Psalms, that is, the Book of Hymns, or Praises of the Lord, contains the productions of different writers. These productions are called however the Psalms of David, because a great part of them were composed by him. Some of them were perhaps penned before, and some after, the time of David; but all of them by persons under the influence of the Holy Ghost, since all were judged worthy to be inserted into the canon of Sacred Writ. Ezra probably collected them into one book, and placed them in the order which they now preserve. It appears that the 150 Psalms therein contained were selected from a much greater number, which, it may be presumed, were not suggested by the Holy Spirit. The authority of those, which we now possess, is established, not only by their rank among the sacred writings, and by the unvaried testimony of every age, but likewise by many intrinsick proofs of inspiration. Not only do they breathe through every part a Divine spirit of eloquence, but they contain numberless illustrious prophecies that were remarkably accomplished, and that are frequently appealed to by the evangelical writers. The sacred character of the whole book is established by the testimony of our Saviour and His Apostles; who in various parts of the New Testament apply the predictions of the Psalms as obviously apposite to the circumstances of their lives, and as expressly intended to describe them.
The Psalms are certainly not arranged with any regard to chronology. Nor are the titles prefixed to them always designed to point out the author, but often apply to the persons appointed to set them to musick. They likewise sometimes appear to be only names of instruments, or directions for the choice of tunes.
Moses may be considered as the first composer of sacred Hymns; all nations seem afterwards to have adopted this mode of expressing their religious sentiments, and to have employed hymns in celebrating the praises of their respective objects of worship, on the idea, derived perhaps from revealed truth, that they were acceptable to the Divine nature. The composition of sacred hymns was carried to great excellence by succeeding Prophets, but was improved to its highest perfection under David, who, if he did not introduce, certainly established the custom of singing them in the publick service, with alternate interchange of verse, as in our cathedral service. And the practice of Psalmody received the sanction of Christ and His Apostles, who themselves recommended the custom by their precept and example.
The version of the Psalms in our Bible, which was made by the translators employed under King James the First, is posterior to that printed in our Prayer Books, which was executed in 1539. This last, as very excellent and familiarized by custom, was retained in the Liturgy, though, being translated chiefly from the Greek, with some variation in conformity to the Hebrew, it does not so exactly correspond with the original, as does that in our Bibles.
The interesting life of David, who was the principal composer of the Book of Psalms, is described with peculiar minuteness in the historical books of Scripture; and many of his Psalms are so characteristick of the circumstances under which they were composed, that there cannot be a more engaging task, than that of tracing their connexion with the events of his history; of discovering the occasions on which they were severally produced, and of contemplating the feeling and descriptive sentiments which they contain. If in the successive scenes of his life we behold him active in the exercise of those virtues which his piety produced, we contemplate him in this Book of Psalms in a no less attractive point of view. We here find him a sincere servant of God, divested of all the pride of royalty; pouring out the emotions of his soul, and unfolding his pious sentiment in every vicissitude of condition. At one time we have the prayers of distress; at another, the praises and exultation of triumph. Hence are these Psalms admirably adapted to all the circumstances of life, and serve alike for the indulgence of joy, or the soothing of sorrow; they chase away despondence and affliction; and furnish gladness with the strains of holy and religious rapture. Dr. Gray.
Although David's main purpose in publishing these Divine hymns, setting them to suitable musick, and singing them in the publick worship of God, was to publish to the whole world his endless gratitude for the various and wonderful mercies of God bestowed upon him; yet had he a further, and, if possible, a nobler purpose, that of dispersing true religion throughout every part of his dominions; of inspiring the hearts of his people with a true and lively sense of gratitude to God, their Benefactor, Protector, and Saviour. David well knew, that true gratitude to God is the surest source of true religion, and of every duty enjoined by it: and that, when it is poured out for publick blessings, in which all partake, it naturally mixes with every social affection, and blends them, as it were, into its own being; and by these means becomes the very best bond of society. Therefore, by perpetually pouring out the praises of God in the most exalted and heavenly compositions, and taking all occasions to recount His endless mercies and deliverances wrought for His people from the beginning, he took the most effectual means to fill their hearts with gratitude to their great Benefactor; and, in consequence of that, to render them religiously observant of His laws; to make them humane, friendly, and affectionate to one another, and conscientiously faithful and dutiful to their sovereign. Dr. Delaney.