Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 88: After the Massacre, a Cry From the Young French King’s Heart
After the massacre of St. Bartholomew…
…in 1572, and the death of Coligny, the Reformed party remained without a head. The young King of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV, seemed called by birth to take the vacant place, but he was a prisoner in the hands of Catherine De Medici, who tried to destroy his spirit, through sensual temptations, as she had succeeded in doing so with her own son. But young Henry was not quiet in conscience, and one night Agrippa d’Aubigne, his gentleman in waiting, heard him sighing and speaking to himself. He listened and heard the words of the 88th Psalm-
‘O Dieu Eternel, mon Sauveur, jour et nuit devant to je crie,’–
‘O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee.’ D’Aubigne said to him, ‘Sire, is it not true that the Spirit of God is still dwelling and working in you? While your friends are fighting against your enemies, you are serving your enemies. Your friends fear only God, and you a woman, before whom you crouch while they stand erect like men.’
The prince made his escape from Paris, and joined his party at Alecon. It was the hour of service and they were singing the 21st Psalm –the character and blessing of a true king. The prince was struck with it, for D’Aubigne had sung it to him during their flight.
The history of Henry IV is well-known –his gallant struggle for the crown of France, his renunciation of Protestantism to secure it, and his proclamation of the Edict of Nantes, which secured for a time a measure of religious liberty and peace. But it may be questioned whether the weakness of his apostasy furthered by the looseness of his moral character, did not ultimately bring as much harm to France as the persecuting policy of Louis XIV. It was the first great blow struck at the progress of the Reformation of France: it shook confidence in principle, opened wider the flood-gates of corruption in the court and among the nobility; and so this act of the first Bourbon prepared the ruin of the family with loss to the nation which has not yet been retrieved.
His daughter, Maria Henrietta, married to the English, Charles I, did much to embue her husband’s mind with that love of absolutism which cost the English a struggle to repel; and the love of sensual indulgence, from which Charles was free, reappeared in the later Stuarts, and, with their adherence to despotism and Rome, brought about their fall. It is instructive to mark the turning points in the history of nations.
Had Henry maintained the better frame which D’Aubigne observed in him, it might have been otherwise with France; and certainly his own place would have been a higher one in history.
The beauty and pathos of this 88th Psalm struck Wordsworth. He has put a passage from it into the funeral song in the ‘Solitary:’
‘A solemn voice
Or several voices in one Solemn sound,
Was heard ascending; mournful, deep, and slow,
The cadence as of Psalms—a funeral dirge!
We listened, looking down upon the hut,
But seeing no one; meanwhile, from below,
The strain continued, spiritual as before;
and now distinctly could I recognize
These words: —Shall in the grave thy love be known,
In death thy faithfulness?’
A song or Psalm of Heman the Ezrahite to give instruction, committed to the sons of Korah for him that excelleth upon Mahalath Leannoth.
O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before thee.
2 Let my prayer enter into thy presence: incline thine ear unto my cry.
3 For my soul is filled with evils, and my life draweth near to the grave.
4 I am counted among them that go down unto the pit, and am as a man without strength:
5 Free among the dead, like the slain lying in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from thine hand.
6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, and in the deep.
7 Thine indignation lieth upon me, and thou hast vexed me with all thy waves.
8 Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me, and made me to be abhorred of them: I am shut up, and cannot get forth.
9 Mine eye is sorrowful through mine affliction: Lord, I call daily upon thee: I stretch out mine hands unto thee.
10 Wilt thou shew a miracle to the dead? Or shall the dead rise and praise thee?
11 Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?
12 Shall thy wondrous works be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of oblivion?
13 But unto thee have I cried, O Lord, and early shall my prayer come before thee.
14 Lord, why doest thou reject my soul, and hidest thy face from me? 15 I am afflicted and at the point of death: from my youth I suffer thy terrors, doubting of my life.
16 Thine indignations go over me, and thy fear hath cut me off.
17 They came round about me daily like water, and compassed me together.
18 My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me, and mine acquaintance hid themselves.
Taken and adapted from, “The United Presbyterian Magazine,” 1884
Written by John Ker