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PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION.
Having been invited by the translator of this Commentary to write a Preface to the English version, it affords me pleasure from the outset to familiarise the British public with my object in laying this Commentary before the public of my native country.
Debarred of the privilege of christian instruction and christian example, I shared, up to my nineteenth year, the then prevalent rationalistic views. My scientific (theological) studies did not result in my conversion to the faith of the Gospel. It was brought about by the instrumentality of a noble christian layman, who belonged to the small number of those who, under the influence of Matthias Claudius of Hamburg, and the coöperation of the brethren (unitas fratrum), had in that period of universal infidelity kept alive the faith in the word of God's truth. His luminous example of a christian walk, more than what he told me, led me to think, and assured me at least of this, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his doctrine and example make up a complete moral ideal, which man must appropriate for the purpose of attaining to rest and finding peace. Then I believed in Christ; I was able to kneel before Him and to pray to Him. Then He became the friend of my soul, whom I learned to consult in all things, as I had formerly consulted my conscience. But how far remote was I at that time from the position of a doctrinally correct christian! Only some portions of the New Testament fell in with my taste: these were the Gospel of John and the Epistle of James: the Old Testament, I am constrained to make the confession, I loathed, like Marcion of old. I had till that time studied the Oriental languages only. Not a long time after this, I was, without my having taken any steps to that effect, requested by the religious department of Government (Ministerium des Cultus) to deliver theological lectures on the Old Testament, in the place of De Wette, who had been deposed. I found myself in a great strait. I went to solicit the help of Neander.
He knew how to meet my doubts and scruples relating to Christianity, with wisdom and gentleness; but though himself a Jew, he shared, respecting the Old Testament, the universally diffused rationalistic views,—with this exception, that his religious zeal prompted him to search in its pages for those religious truths which are allied to Christianity. The share of christian feeling which entered into my faith, placed me in strong opposition to rationalism, and I held it my duty to combat in my lectures on the Old Testament also, every view advanced by the rationalistic school.
I gradually arrived at the conviction that the criticism and exegesis on the Old Testament, as set forth by the old theologians, did not in any way hold good in every instance. I endeavoured for some time, while the struggle between my religious and my scientific conscience was going on, to justify those old views only; but at last I could no longer continue blind to such a contradiction, and the thing to be done was to reconstruct in a new spirit that old theology, as in fact it had already been done with reference to the New Testament. I derived considerable aid in that task from Calvin's Commentary on the Psalms : it disclosed to me a religious depth in this one book of the Old Testament, which opened my eyes for many other glories of the Old Testament scriptures.
Progressing in this knowledge, I learned to understand that the christian Revelation is indeed a tree without a root, as long as it is not understood in its intimate connexion with God's revelation of salvation in the Old Testament. My newly-prepared editions of the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, and the Sermon on the Mount, which have recently been published, contain further proof of this fact.
I had to continually perceive that the students had no other available help in their study of the Book of Psalms than the Commentary of De Wette, which just on this Book of the Old Testament is particularly meagre in religious knowledge. The explicit and valuable Commentary of Hengstenberg had then not yet appeared, and owing to its great bulk is hardly circulated among students. Our christian laity feel the want of a more intimate familiarity with the Old Testament, for which Hengstenberg's Commentary is not at all designed. In writing my Commentary on the Psalms, my object was this: to interpret the Book of Psalms in the spirit of Calvin; and basing it on the helps derived from the newly-gained views of modern times, to adapt the volume to the wants of the people, but also to professional men, who, besides strictly grammatical Commentaries, look for a guide to the spiritual understanding of this portion of Holy Writ.
I am hardly in a position to say whether similar wants exist in England. I must in this respect rely on the judgment of the translator. I should think that there is such a want; there are in England and Scotland many laymen especially, who are little acquainted with the Old Testament itself, or with its traditional exegesis.
The main misgiving I entertained about a translation of my Commentary on the Psalms, arose from the circumstance that my Exposition was based on Luther's version, and only then deviated from it when the sense rendered it unavoidably needful. The relation of my version to that of Luther is similar to that which the criticism of Wetstein and Griesbach, in the editions before
Lachmann's time, sustains to the New Testament, namely, to leave Luther's version intact, even where it was not quite happy, and only then to alter when positive errors occurred. The English authorised version of the Bible, composed at a later period, and supported by a richer exegetical apparatus, is better than Luther's, as far as the correct rendering of the sense is concerned, although Luther's excels it in richness of expression. I wholly confide in the judgment of the translator to meet this difficulty in the best manner.
It is my heart's desire that this English version may prove to many English readers the means of producing an attachment for this precious Book of the Psalms like that which I formed while this volume was preparing.
DR. THOLUCK. Halle, March 29th, 1856.
PREFACE TO THE GERMAN EDITION.
Soon after the commencement of my academical course, some twenty or more years ago, I began to lecture on the Psalms. I felt at that time, and have done ever since, on re-delivering the said Lectures or on reading the Psalms, the want of a Commentary which should familiarise our cotemporaries with the religious contents of these immortal songs, as Calvin's work had done in his days. From that time I have encouraged and desired those, whose special vocation I thought to lie in that direction, to execute such a work.
But my desire, which I know was also that of many others, has all this time remained ungratified. I have therefore myself undertaken the present work on the Psalms. It has been my intention to familiarise not only theologians, but the public at large, with their religious contents: the learned and linguistic investigations necessarily connected with such a work have, so far as the understanding of the text is concerned, been either received according to the results to which they have led, or been referred to in separate notes. I have written this Commentary with a view to the great boon which these songs have been for more than three thousand years to pious Jews and Christians, and with the elevating knowledge that even now there are millions of human beings, who just in the words of the Psalms express in their prayers the longings of their souls and the gratitude of their hearts to God. May it tend to give to all who lack it, the firm conviction that the Psalter comprises indeed a treasure of the most diverse and of the most holy religious experience, and that it deserves to continue, in every epoch of time, the Prayer-book of the christian world! It is indeed true that the knowledge of the Psalmists is not in all points equal to the knowledge which flows from Christian illumination. The interpretation of the Old Testament in particular, is in this respect too a want, especially for the laity, to the end that they may not confound the stand-points of the different periods of the revelations of God. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the christian church finds in the Psalms for many of her wants an appropriate, a truly christian, or as I should like to say, a truly human expression, and that they constitute, for the liturgical use of the people, and for the private devotion of individuals, a treasury, sacred by its antiquity, for which it is impossible to substitute any other.