The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Study of the First Psalm
by T. G. Rooper
(Notes of a Lesson for Older Children.)
Biblical studies occupy a large portion of the time which is devoted to the education of nearly all children. Many of those who think most carefully about education are anxious that children should in future exercise the constructive powers of the mind rather more than they do at present, even if they have, in consequence, less time to spend in storing up information. While a child is mastering a skeleton outline of the History of Israel, his mind is receptive rather than constructive throughout the process. The question is, Can any course of Biblical study be arranged in which the child shall be called upon to exercise his imagination, fancy and judgement? Can a child be set to any task, the result of which will be a production of his own, however imperfect, and not a reproduction of somebody else's work, however excellent. In the following brief notes of a lesson on the First Psalm, I have endeavoured to indicate a method by which the child can learn the pleasure of constructive mental efforts in Biblical as in other subjects. I do not suppose that such lessons can be given to large classes in a school; but in the confidence of a family circle or of a very small class, I think the experiment would be attended with success.
THE BEATITUDE PSALMS AND THE BEATITUDES.
"Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly." There are several Psalms which commence like the first with the expression, "Blessed is the man." These are sometimes called the Beatitude Psalms, because they remind us of the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount.
Psalm xxxii.--Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven.
After a study of these Psalms, the first ten verses of the Sermon on the Mount become much fuller and richer in meaning, according to the old proverb which thus compares together the Old and New Testaments:
"The New in the Old is concealed.
To-day we will read these five Psalms and the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps during the next few days each of us may find leisure to read all this over again alone, and the first Psalm several times. Each of you should write out in your own language what you think is the meaning of the first Psalm before the next lesson, when you shall read out what you have written.
PSALM I.--ITS GENERAL MEANING.
In the last lesson we learnt to put together several Psalms which open with the word "Blessed"--that is, "happy"--and to compare them with the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. To-day we will study the first Psalm by itself. The sacred poet begins his song with an exclamation, "Happy is the man"! It is as though he had been thinking, and suddenly interrupted his chain of thought with this cry, "Happy is the man." What had been present to his thoughts? It seems as if he had been pondering over the conduct and mode of life of men and women. He seems to see in his mind many different people pursuing many different aims in life. He watches the movement of the crowd and studies what it is that each one strives to attain. He sees, as we also may, how varied are the hopes and aspirations of mankind. Who is happy, and what is happiness? If each got what he wanted, what would it be? Some would be happy, they think, if they had nothing to do and were able to live quite idly. Other would have all they want if they only had abundance of money. Some would accept as happiness success in a favorite pursuit. A many-coloured patchwork rapidly forms itself in our minds as soon we ask ourselves what is the treasure which men set the greatest store by. Looking on at the busy, restless scene amid which men must needs pass their time in striving after something, whatever it may be, the Psalmist singles out one among the crowd, and says: "Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly." The poet contrasts a man who attaches himself to corrupting and low-minded associates, with one whose constant habit it is to keep present to his mind the high resolves and constant search after goodness which were suggested to those who read (or heard read) such parts of our Bible as then existed. Next, the eye of the poet seems to rest on the picture of two trees, one on the top of a scorched rock and the other near a watercourse, and sees the one shrivelled and withered, the other bursting forth with fresh leafage and bearing fruit. The two trees resemble the happy and the unhappy man. Again, the poet sees another picture. Men are threshing corn on a breezy hill-top. As the strokes of the flail separate the grain from its husk, the breeze carries away the chaff to the ends of the earth. The grain resembles the happy man, the unhappy man is the chaff.
The poet looks forward like the prophet, and compares the future fate of the two men. God is the punisher of sin. His punishment is misfortune and death. Sorrow or death will dog the steps of the "unhappy" man, while prosperity will bless the happy one who has chosen the law of God for his daily exercise. The fortunes of the happy man are the care of God, who knows the paths which he follows and forgets him not, while the path of the wicked are like lost tracts in the desert, which end in destruction.
TRANSLATIONS OF THE FIRST PSALM.
In the last lesson we expressed in language of our own, and therefore in a very imperfect way, the meaning of the first Psalm. To-day we will study the renderings which poets have made. I will read you Milton's version of the first Psalm, and afterwards another version by Sir Philip Sidney, and then we will talk them over and consider which we prefer. Perhaps some of you may like to attempt a version of your own before the next lesson, when it can be read aloud. At any rate, you can bring a copy of some other version.
MILTON'S VERSION OF THE FIRST PSALM.
Blest is the man who hath not walked astray
SIR P. SIDNEY"S VERSION OF THE FIRST PSALM
He is blessed who neither loosely treads
He shall be like a freshly planted tree.
Such blessings shall not wicked wretches see,
FOREIGN TRANSLATIONS OF THE FIRST PSALM.
In the last lesson we studied some of the renderings of the first Psalm which have been made by English poets. To-day we will examine some of the renderings which have been made into other languages than English. Perhaps after reading them, some of you may like to try a version in German or Latin. (It is needless to specify further, since the translations of Luther and the Vulgate are well know, and others can be easily found in various tongues without extended research.)
PRAYERS BASED ON THE FIRST PSALM.
We have already spent a good deal of time over the first Psalm, but there yet remains one thing more which we may do. The Hebrew poets, when they wrote their songs, not only sang of the conduct and fortunes of man and of the beauties of Nature, but of these things in their relation to God. Their songs, beautiful as they are in themselves, are more than beautiful works of art. They are religious musings. What we admire we strive to be like. What we ardently wish to be we can by the aid of words express in prayer. Thus Bishop Taylor has written us a prayer which is based upon the first Psalm. I will read it to you, and then you can perhaps write one on the same model, only in your own words:
"A Prayer that we may continually meditate in God's Law, and have no fellowship with wicked persons in their manner of living and dying.
"O holy Jesus, Fountain of all blessing, the Word of the Eternal Father, be pleased to sow the good seed of Thy word in our hearts, and water it with the dew of Thy divinest Spirit; that while we exercise ourselves in it day and night we may be like a tree planted by the water side, bringing forth in all times and seasons the fruits of a holy conversation, that we may never walk in the way of sinners nor have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but that when this life is ended, we may have our portion in the congregation of the righteous, and may be able to stand upright in judgement, through the supporting arm of Thy mercy, O blessed Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus, Amen."
As I have treated the first Psalm so I should continue with each of the Beatitude Psalms, comparing them with each other and the parallel or contrasted passages in the New Testament. In every case I should illustrate the Psalm by reference to translations by English poets, to translations in other languages with which the children might be even slightly acquainted, and by encouraging them to make hymns and prayers for themselves after the models of the English poets and Bishop Taylor. The recently published "Dictionary of Hymnology" will supply the names of all the translators of the Psalms. Perowne, Cheyne, "The Speaker's Commentary," and other works will offer explanations for the text. Bishop Taylor's "Psalter of David, with Titles and Collects," will be found very useful and suggestive in dealing with the last exercise which I propose.