Publisher code of electronic edition, as assigned by the CCEL
CalvinAuthor ID as assigned by publisher
Comm_vol08Book ID as assigned by publisher
1.0Edition or version of electronic edition
Comments about editorial practices: whether spelling
was normalized, what was done with end-of-line
hyphens, corrections made, tagging practices, etc.
v0.99. Update for DTD 0.99. Main change: use DC record instead
of MARC. Significant changes to the head section.
v0.98. Update for DTD 0.98; delete some unneeded head elements; italicize Citation style
A list of published editions and changes
Current editorial/publication status of text
Commentary on Psalms - Volume 1
Commentary on the Book of Psalms - Volume 1
John Calvin, 1509-1564
Anderson, Rev. James
Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library
THE BOOK OF PSALMS BY JOHN CALVIN
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL LATIN, AND COLLATED
WITH THE AUTHOR'S FRENCH VERSION,
BY THE REV. JAMES ANDERSON
CHRISTIAN CLASSICS ETHEREAL LIBRARY
GRAND RAPIDS, MI
The Book Of Psalms, viewed merely as a poetical composition, has very high claims on our attention. Men of the most refined and cultivated taste have often been attracted to the study of it from the poetical beauties with which it abounds, and have admitted, in this respect, the superiority of its claims. The greatest of our English poets fa1 thus speaks of these sacred songs:“Not in their divine argument alone, but in the very critical art of composition, they may be easily made appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy to be incomparable.” Another elegant scholar fa2 speaking on the same subject, says, “In lyric flow and fire, in crushing force and majesty, that seems still to echo the awful sounds once heard beneath the thunder clouds of Sinai, the poetry of the ancient Scriptures is the most superb that ever burned within the breast of man.”
But the intrinsic excellence of this Book gives it still higher claims on our attention. written under the influence of the Spirit of inspiration, its subject-matter is worthy of its celestial origin. In general, it contains details of the national history of the Jewish people, records of particular portions of the life and experience of individuals, and predictions of future events. Each of these heads embraces a wide field, and they include illustrations of every religions truth which it is necessary for us to know, exemplifications of every devout feeling which it is our duty to cherish, and examples of every spiritual conflict which it is possible for us to experience. We meet with many disclosures of the greatness, majesty, and perfections of the only true God; his government of the world; and his special care over his chosen people. We meet with the varied exercises of the regenerated soul, and behold it at one time offering up fervent supplications to the Hearer of prayer, at another celebrating his perfections and works; at one time giving utterance to the ardent breathings of love to God, and trust in him, at another struggling with unbelief and corruption; at one time mourning under the divine chastisement on account of sin, at another rejoicing in a sense of forgiving mercy, and enjoying the peace which passeth all understanding. We have presented to us many wonderful predictions concerning the Messiah, his humiliation, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension to his Fatherright hand; his work in heaven as the intercessor of his people, and his authority as universal King; the effusion of the influences of the Holy Spirit, and the conversion of all nations to the faith of the Gospel. In short, we have unfolded to our view the final judgment, the gathering of all the righteous to God, and the eternal exclusion of the wicked from happiness and from hope.
These and similar topics which are set forth in the noblest strains of poetry, and in a diction whose magnificence and sublimity correspond to the importance and grandeur of the sentiments, constitute the materials of this Book; and while they afford an incontestable proof that it Is inspired, that it does not consist of the creations of mere human genius, but is an emanation from heaven, they show that its character and tendency are altogether different from the character and tendency of the most admired poetry, which the genius of heathen nations has ever produced. It ministers to no depraved passion; it fosters no fictitious virtue; it disdains to offer its delicious incense at the shrine of degrading superstition. It teaches the most exalted piety, and the purest morality. It tends only to refine and exalt the nature of man, to elevate the soul to God, and inspire it with the admiration and love of his character, to curb the passions, purify the affections, and excite to the cultivation of whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. It has guided the saint in doubt and difficulty; it has nerved him for self-denial and suffering; it has imparted support and comfort to him in the hour of death. This Book has accordingly been highly appreciated by the best of men in every age, and they have labored to find expressions in which to set forth its excellence. Athanasius styles it, “An epitome of the whole Scriptures;” Basil, “A compendium of all theology;” Luther, “A little Bible, and the summary of the Old Testament;” Melancthon, “The most elegant work extant in the world;” and for Calvin’s estimate of its value we refer to the excellent preface with which he introduces this department of his labors to the attention of the reader.
Calvin’s Commentary On The Psalms, a new Translation of which is now in course of being presented to the English reader, is distinguished by many of the excellencies which have acquired for his Commentaries on other parts of Scripture so great reputation. In this, as in his other Commentaries, his first and great object is to ascertain the mind of the Holy Spirit. To ascertain this, he proceeds on the principle laid down by Melancthon, “that Scripture cannot be understood theologically, unless it be first understood grammatically.” Before his time the mystical and allegorical method of explaining the Scriptures was very prevalent; according to which, the interpreter, dwelling very little or not at all upon the literal sense, sought for hidden and allegorical meanings. But rejecting this mode of interpretation, which contributed little to the right understanding of the word of God, and according to which the meaning was made to depend entirely upon the fancy of the interpreter, Calvin set himself to the investigation of the grammatical and literal sense, by a careful examination of the Hebrew test, and by a diligent attention to the drift and intention of the writer’s discourse.
This principle of interpretation cannot be too highly commended. It should first engage the attention of the commentator; and when it is neglected, the fundamental principle of sacred criticism is violated. Calvin was deeply alive to its importance. His only defect lies in his acting upon it too exclusively. Many of the Psalms, in addition to the literal meaning, have a prophetical, evangelical, and spiritual sense. While referring primarily to David and the nation of Israel, they have, at the same time, a reference to Christ and the New Testament Church, founded on the fact that the former were typical of the latter. Calvin, indeed, explains some of the Psalms on this principle. But he applies the principle less frequently than he might have done, without contravening the canons of sound hermeneutics. His great aversion to the mystical method of interpretation, and to the absurd andextravagant lengths to which it was carried by the Fathers, perhaps made him err on the other extreme of confining his attention too much to the literal meanings and directing his attention too little to the prophetical and spiritual character of the Book, and to the reference which it has to Christ and the Church. In consequence of this, his expositions have less unction, and contain less of rich evangelical sentiment, than would otherwise have distinguished them. There are, however, two principles of evangelical truth which he is at pains to inculcates whenever a fit opportunity presents itself —the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ without the works of the Law; and the necessity of personal holiness in order to salvation.
Another excellence of this commentary is its practical character. The author does not confine himself to the dry and lifeless detail of mere grammatical praxis, as if he had been commenting on a Greek or Roman classic. He turns all his explanations to practical account, and thus his work exhibits a happy combination of critical and philological remark with practical exposition.
Here, again, we find displayed the sound and penetrating judgment for which Calvin has been universally admired. This is manifest in the judicious selection which he makes from amongst a variety of interpretations of that which is evidently the true one, or which appears to be the most probable. Sometimes he pronounces a certain interpretation to be meagre and unsatisfactory. At other times, he simply states hit preference of one interpretation to another, when, after careful examinations it appeared to him to have the balance of arguments in its favor; without, however, expressing any decided opposition to the other, when the view which he preferred to it was supported only bit a slight preponderance of evidence. At other times, he does not decide between different interpretations, showing that with respect to certain words and expressions he had not come to a fixed opinion. In all these instances, fa3 he generally shows much penetration and judgment. He is, no doubt, sometimes mistaken in his interpretation of particular passages. But when it is considered that the Scriptures had long been a sealed book, and that his helps were few and imperfect compared with those which we now possess, the wonder is, that he should have succeeded so well in bringing out their true meaning. This was chiefly owing to vigor and acuteness of intellects combined with a sound and discriminating judgment. These, indeed, were the mental qualities by which he was peculiarly distinguished. We meet with no flashes of poetry, no brilliant coruscation of fancy, giving evidence of a powerful imagination. The eloquent passages which occur are the eloquence of reason, not the bursts of imagination. But his strength of thought, the vigor and perspicacity of his intellect, the extraordinary power of his judgment, command our willing admiration.
Since this commentary was first published, a great number of Translations of The Psalms, as well as numerous critical and explanatory works upon them, have made their appearance, while much new light has been thrown upon many passages from more extensive philological research, from an attention to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, fa4 and from the fuller information which we now possess, by the discoveries of modern travelers, of the natural history, customs, and mannered of the East, to which frequent allusion is made in The Psalms. But such id the acuteness of judgment, and success in discovering the mind of the Spirit which distinguish these prelections, that they are not superseded by any modern Commentary on the same subject:and though it is nearly three centuries since they were written, there are few separate works on The Psalms from which the student of the present day, who wishes critically to examine them, will derive more important assistance.
Nor is Calvin’s impartiality and integrity as an interpreter less apparent in this Work than his judgment. It being his first and leading object to ascertain the mind of the Holy Spirit, he came to the Word of God not for the purpose of finding arguments to establish some preconceived opinion or theory, but in the humble character of a learner, and we never find him perverting or twisting a passage to support even those doctrines which he most deeply cherished. So far from doing this, he not infrequently gives up a text which has been explained by other commentators as a proof of some important doctrine, and which he would have viewed in the same light had it not been for his aversion to put on Scripture a forced construction, and his determination rigidly to adhere to the principles of fair and logical interpretation. For example, these words in <190207>Psalm 2:7,
“Jehovah hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,”
have been quoted by Augustine and many other eminent divines, in proof of the eternal generation of the Son of God. But as Paul, in <441333>Acts 13:33, explains them as receiving their fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ, Calvin sets them aside from the class of proofs which support the doctrine of an eternal generation, although he held that doctrine, fa5 and considers them as referring merely to the manifestation afforded of Christ’s Sonship by his resurrection from the dead. fa6 Again, <190805>Psalm 8:5, etc.,
“Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and hast crowned him with glory and honor,” etc.,
has been often explained as prophetic of the temporary humiliation and subsequent exaltation of Christ, an opinion which is supported by reasons far from contemptible; but Calvin, judging from the scope of the passage, considers it as exclusively referring to man, and that when Paul quotes it in <580207>Hebrews 2:7, and applies it to Christ, he applies it to him only by way of accommodation. fa7 Again, these words in <193306>Psalm 33:6,
“By the word of Jehovah were the heavens established, and all the host of them by the spirit of his mouth,”
have been viewed by many judicious divines as a proof of the Trinity, “Jehovah,” denoting the Father, “the word of Jehovah,” the Son, and “the spirit of Jehovah’s mouth,” the Holy Spirit; but while Calvin admits that the “word of Jehovah” means the Eternal Word, the only begotten Son of God, yet reasoning from the sense which the phrase, “the spirit of Jehovah’s mouth,” ordinarily bears in Scripture, he argues that it does not there mean the third person of the adorable Trinity, but simply sermo, speech, although there were no truths which he held more firmly, and regarded as more essential to the Christian system, than the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. fa8 “It is very possible,” says Tholuck, “that in following this direction of mind, he may have unnecessarily sacrificed this and the other proof text; still the principle upon which he proceeded is in all cases to be approved.” This commentary, again, bears evident marks of the learning of its author. His intimate acquaintance with the Hebrew language, the knowledge of which is of so much importance to the interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures, is everywhere apparent. Father Simon, whom the acrimony of controversy led to indulge too much in depreciating and abusing those who differed from him, asserts, indeed, that Calvin was so ignorant of the Hebrew language, that he knew nothing more than the letters. But we have only to examine his Commentary on The Psalms, not to speak of his Commentaries on other parts of the Old Testament, to be convinced that his knowledge of the Hebrew language was accurate and minute, considering the age in which he lived He frequently enters into a critical examination of the original text, and manifests by his philological remarks, brief though they be, an intimate acquaintance with that language; arriving, in his interpretations, at the same results to which a more profound exegesis and a more minute attention to philology have conducted modern critics. Often, when he does not professedly criticise the Hebrew text, or make his statements in the form of criticisms the Hebrew scholar will perceive that his remarks are founded upon a close attention to the strict meaning of the Hebrew words, and that he frequently states their precise import with much force, felicity, and delicacy of expression. Nor is proof wanting, from this Commentary, that Calvin had traveled over the whole field of knowledge, in so far as it had been explored in his day. From ancient and modern systems of philosophy, from civil and ecclesiastical history, as well as from the Greek and Roman classical he draws materials, and shows how he could employ with ease and power, and yet without the least ostentation or pedantry, his varied acquisitions for the illustration of sacred truth.
In short this Work is pervaded by earnest piety and much Christian experience. Its whole tone evinces it to be the fruit of a soul which felt the deep workings of piety; of a Soul in which the love of God was extreme, which sought its rest and happiness in him alone, which recognised his hand and providence in every event, which confided in him in all circumstances, which looked to him as a Father and a friend for every blessing, and which, in all its powers, was consecrated with entire devotedness to Christ and the Gospel. It everywhere, too, bespeaks the man of large religious experience. Whether the author comments on the plaintive songs in which grief pours forth its bitterness, or on the triumphant and joyful songs in which the perfections and providence of God, individual and national deliverances are celebrated; whether he speaks of David’s religious exercises, or of the trials of his life, or of his inward conflicts, we perceive a mind which had itself experienced much of what it illustrates. This experience eminently qualified Calvin to be an interpreter of The Psalms. Placed often in circumstances similar to those of David, as he graphically describes in his Preface, he was thus enabled accurately to conceive of David’s train of thinking, to see things as it were with his eyes, to trace the complexion and character of his feelings, and thus to portray them in so just and natural a manner, that we are almost ready to think, in perusing the description of them, that they are described by David himself.
This Work has been translated from the original Latin, and collated with the French version, which was written by the author himself. The French edition which has been used, and which was doubtless the last corrected under the author’s eye, was printed in 1563, and is described on the title-page as “So carefully revised, and so faithfully compared with the Latin version, that it may be considered a new translation.” While the Translator has made the Latin version his text book, he has throughout carefully collated it with the French version, by which he has been greatly aided in giving a clearer and fuller representation of his author’s meaning. The French version having made its appearance after the Latin, and being written in Calvin’s native tongue, in which he might be expected to write with greater ease than in a dead language, admired though his Latin works are for the purity of their classic diction, it contains numerous expansions of thought and expression, by which he removes the occasional obscurities of the Latin version, which is written in a style more compressed and concise. Sometimes, though not often, we meet with a complete sentence in the French version which is not to be found in the Latin; but the cases are of frequent occurrence, in which, by inserting into the French version a clause at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a sentence, which does not occur in the Latin, he explains what is obscure in the latter version, or introduces a new thought or expresses his meaning with greater clearness and with greater copiousness of language. These additional clauses the Translator has introduced into the text in their Proper place, and indicated them by adding the original French in the form of notes at the foot of the page. He, however, sometimes translates from the French version where it seems fuller and more perspicuous than the Latin, without indicating this by foot-notes. In a few instances, where the expression in the two versions is different, he has given the expression of both, retaining that of the Latin version in the texts and transferring that of the French to the foot of the page.
With respect to the principle on which he has proceeded in the task of translating, it is sufficient simply to state, that he has endeavored to express the meaning of his author in language as true to the original as possible, avoiding being too literal on the one hand, and too loose on the other; as this, in his apprehension, is the method by which a translator can best succeed in faithfully representing to the reader the sense as well as the style and manner of his author.
Calvin’s version of the Sacred Text has been given in preference to that of our English Bible, as this was necessary to the clear understanding of his illustrations. The two versions, however, nearly resemble each other:often our English version is an accurate translation of Calvin’s, at other times the marginal readings which are in some of our English Bibles. He, however, not infrequently differs from both; and in some instances, though not in all, where he does differ, his translation appears to be superior in accuracy, and places the sentiment of the original in a clearer light, and with greater effect than is done in our English version. The Scriptural quotations which he makes have been given in the words of our English Bible, except in those cases in which his argument required his own translation of the passage to be retained.
This Work was translated into English some years after its first appearance by Arthur Golding, whose translation was published at London in 1571. Arthur Golding, who was of a gentleman’s family and a native of London, was one of the most distinguished translators of the Roman classics in the age of Queen Elizabeth, when the translation of these valuable works of antiquity into the English language employed every pen. He translated Justin’s History, Caesar’s Commentaries, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Seneca’s Benefits, and other classic authors; as well as various modern French and Latin works, among which are a number of Calvin’s writings, besides The Psalms. His only original work appears to have been, “A Discourse upon the Earthquake that happened through the Realme of Englande, and other places of Christendom, the sixt of Aprill 1580,” published in 16mo. “It is to be regretted,” says Warton, “that he gave so much of his time to translation.” fa9 Golding was no doubt a good classical scholar, and well acquainted with the style of Calvin; but as his translation was executed nearly three hundred years ago, it every where abounds with words and phrases which are become antiquated and obsolete, from the great change which the English language has undergone since that period. Being on this account frequently very obscure, often unintelligible, it fails in giving a just representation to an English reader of the present day of Calvin’s work, and leads him to form a less favorable estimate of its value than is due to its high merits. Besides, Golding does not appear to have seen the French version, which affords to a translator so much assistance in the faithful representation of Calvin’s meaning.
With respect to the Notes with which this Translation is accompanied, they are intended to enable the reader clearly to understand the meaning of such of Calvin’s philological remarks and criticisms as are obscure, from the brevity with which they are stated; or to exhibit Calvin’s merits as a commentator, by showing how frequently his interpretations are adopted and supported by the most eminent Biblical critics, or to illustrate the Sacred Text, by showing the precise meaning of the Hebrew words, or by explaining some portion of natural history, or some eastern custom or manner to which there is an allusion. The ancient versions afford important assistance in the explanation of difficult passages, and their rendering of particular texts has been occasionally given when this contributes to elucidate them, or to throw light on Calvin’s observations. Of these versions the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and Jerome’s, are the only ones which he appears to have consulted, and to the first he frequently refers.
As the Translations of The Calvin Society are intended for the whole Christian community, it has been deemed out of place to enter upon theological questions on which difference of opinion exists among the various denominations of the Christian community. In making these Notes, the Editor has often compared Calvin’s translation of the Sacred Text with the original Hebrew, and with the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Jerome’s versions. He has also consulted a considerable number of critical works on The Psalms by some of the most eminent Biblical scholars who have written on this book, either as a separate undertaking, or in common with the other books of Scripture. Of the rich stores of erudition thus supplied he has freely made use; as in the course of the work he has carefully marked his authorities, as this will give greater weight to his statements. Many of the authors who are quoted were men of distinguished learning, judgment, and piety, possessed a profound acquaintance with the Hebrew language, and had devoted years of laborious study to the investigation of the meaning of this sacred book; and it is wonderful to find how closely the results of Calvin’s investigations, even on the most difficult passages harmonise with the results to which modern critics guided by the principles of accurate hermeneutics, have arrived. This has often forced itself upon the attention of the Editor, and the more he has compared Calvin’s criticisms and interpretations with the labors of these learned men, the higher has been raised his admiration of the ingenuity, penetration, learning, and critical acumen of this great commentator. Not a few, indeed, of the most beautiful interpretations which are to be found in Commentaries and critical works were first given forth by Calvin, although the source in which they originated has been forgotten. It may here be stated that the examination of the philology of the Sacred Text, and of critical works on the subject, has led the Editor to observe how closely Calvin often adheres in his interpretations to the import of the original Hebrew, and enabled him in many cases in the course of the translation to represent the meaning of his author more correctly than he could otherwise have done as well as to avoid mistakes into which Golding has sometimes fallen, evidently from his not being acquainted with the philology of the passage, or the criticism which Calvin briefly states or refers took and which it is difficult for the reader clearly to understand, unless he find it more fully stated in some other critical work.
The Editor has to express his obligations to two of his friends who materially aided in the preparation of the latter part of this volume,—the late Revelation Alexander Duncan, A.M., formerly of Dundee, and the Revelation James M’lean, whose able translation of several of the Psalms left him little more to do than the labor of revision and annotation. The Editor and the Society have also been much indebted to the Revelation Thomas M’crie, Professor of Divinity, Edinburgh, not only in general for the benefit of his experience, but also for the trouble he has taken in examining the sheets of this Volume while passing through the press, and for many important suggestions. The Editor has great satisfaction in thus publicly acknowledging his obligations.
A facsimile of the Title-Page of the French version which we have used, and of the title-page of Arthur Golding’s translation, together with his Dedication, are prefixed to this Volume.
It remains only to be added, that the last Volume will contain copious Indices of the principal matters contained in the Commentary and Notes, of the passages of Scripture more or less illustrated, and of the Hebrew words referred to or explained.
Edinburgh, June 1845.
[IT has been thought proper to preserve The Dedication which is prefixed to the English Translation by Arthur Golding in the original orthography. Besides affording a vivid idea of the style and phraseology of this Translator, the slightest inspection of this singular composition will demonstrate how very unsuitable the publication of such a version would have been for general use in these times.
The only liberty which has been taken in reprinting this Dedication, is in reference to the supplying of modern punctuation, and the division of it into paragraphs; but in other respects it is given verbatim et literatim. There is only one paragraph in the whole of Golding’s Dedication. It isdated 20th October 1571.
Golding’s version of Calvin’s Commentary On The Psalms is throughout equally obscure and quaint; and it may justly be characterised as being wholly unfit for the perusal of all classes of readers of the present day, who do not happen to be minutely acquainted with the language and idiom of the sixteenth century its most uncouth and repulsive form.]