Augustine on the Psalms. Psalms 89 - 92
1. Understand, beloved, this Psalm, which I am about to explain, by the grace of God, of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and be of good cheer, because He who promised, will fulfil all, as He has fulfilled much: for it is not our own merit, but His mercy, that gives us confidence in Him. He Himself is meant, in my belief, by "the understanding of AEthan the Israelite:"(7) which has given this Psalm its title. You see then, who is meant by AEthan: but the meaning of the word is "strong." No man in this world is strong, except in the hope of God's promises: for as to our own deservings, we weak, in His mercy we are strong. Weak then in himself, strong in God's mercy, the Psalmist thus begins: "I will sing of Thy mercies, O Lord, for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy truth unto all generations" (ver. 1).
2. Let my limbs, he saith, serve the Lord: I speak, but it is of Thine I speak. "With my mouth will I make known Thy truth:" if I obey not Thee, I am not Thy servant: if I speak on my own part, I am a liar. To speak then from Thee,(8) and in my own person, are two things: one mine, one Thine: Truth Thine, language mine. Let us hear then what faithfulness he maketh known, what mercies he singeth.
3. "For Thou hast said, Mercy shall be built up for ever" (ver. 2). It is this that I sing: this is Thy truth, for the making known of which my mouth serveth. In such wise Thou sayest, I build, as not to destroy: for some Thou destroyest and buildest not; and some whom Thou destroyest Thou dost rebuild. For unless there were some who were destroyed to be rebuilt, Jeremiah would not have written, "See, I have this day set thee to throw down and to build."(9) And indeed all who formerly worshipped images and stones could not be built up in Christ, without being destroyed as to their old error. While, unless some were destroyed not to be built up, it would not be written, "He shall destroy them, and not build them up."(10)... In what follows, he joins these two words, mercy and faithfulness; "For Thou hast said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy truth shall be established in the Heavens:" in which mercy and truth are repeated, "for all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth,"(11) for truth in the fulfilment of promises could not be shown, unless mercy in the remission of sins preceded. Next, as many things were promised in prophecy even to the people of Israel that came according to the flesh from the seed of Abraham, and that people was increased that the promises of God might be fulfilled in it; while yet God did not close the fountain of His goodness even to the Gentiles, whom He had placed under the rule of the Angels, while He reserved the people of Israel as His own portion: the Apostle expressly mentions the Lord's mercy and truth as referring to these two parties. For he calls Christ "a minister of the Circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers."(1) See how God deceived not; see how He cast not off His people, whom He foreknew. For while the Apostle is treating of the fall of the Jews, to prevent any from believing them so far disowned(2) of God, that no wheat from that floor's fanning could reach the granary, he saith, "God hath not cast away His people, whom He foreknew; for I also am an Israelite."(3) If all that nation are thorns, how am I who speak unto you wheat? So that the truth of God was fulfilled in those Israelites who believed, and one wall from the circumcision is thus brought to meet the corner stone. But this stone would not form a corner, unless it received another wall from the Gentiles: so that the former wall relates in a special manner to the truth, the latter to the mercy of God. "Now I say," says the Apostle, "that Jesus Christ was a minister of the Circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promise made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy."(4) Justly then is it added, "Thy truth shall Thou stablish in the Heavens:" for all those Israelites who were called to be Apostles became as Heavens which declare the glory of God: as it is written by them, "The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handywork."(5) . . . Since, although they were taken up from hence before the Church tilled the I whole world, yet as "their words reached to the ends of the world," we are right in supposing this which we have just read, "Thy truth shalt Thou stablish in the Heavens," fulfilled in them.
4. "Thou hast said, I have made a covenant with My chosen" (ver. 3). What covenant, but the new, by which we are renewed to a fresh inheritance, in our longing desire and love of which we sing a new song. "I have made a covenant with My chosen," saith the Psalmist: "I have sworn unto David My servant." How confidently does he speak, who understands, whose mouth serves truth! I speak without fear; since "Thou hast said." If Thou makest me fearless, because Thou hast said, how much more so dost Thou make me, when Thou hast sworn! For the oath of God is the assurance of a promise. Man is justly forbidden to swear:(6) lest by the habit of swearing, since a man may be deceived, he fall into perjury. God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible.
5. Let us see then what God hath sworn. "I have sworn," He saith, "to David My servant; thy seed will I establish for ever" (ver. 4). But what is the seed of David, but that of Abraham. And what is the seed of Abraham? "And to thy seed," He saith, "which is Christ."(7) But perhaps that Christ, the Head of the Church, the Saviour of the body,(8) is the seed of Abraham, and therefore of David; but we are not Abraham's seed? We are assuredly; as the Apostle saith, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."(9) In this sense, then, let us take the words, brethren, "Thy seed will I stablish for ever," not only of that Flesh of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, but also of all of us who believe in Christ, for we are limbs of that Head. This body cannot be deprived of its Head: if the Head is in glory for ever, so are the limbs, so that Christ remains entire for ever. "Thy seed will I stablish for ever: and set up thy throne to generation and generation." We suppose he saith, "for ever," because it is "to generation and generation:" since he has said above, with "my mouth will I ever be showing Thy truth to generation and generation." What is "to generation and generation"? To every generation: for the word needed not as many repetitions, as the coming and passing away of the several generations. The multiplication of generations is signified and set forth to notice by the repetition. Are possibly two generations to be understood, as ye are aware, my beloved brethren, and as I have before explained? for there is now a generation of flesh and blood: there will be a future generation in the resurrection of the dead. Christ is proclaimed here: He will be proclaimed(10) there: here He is proclaimed, that He may be believed in: there, He will be welcomed, that He may be seen. "I will set up Thy throne from one generation to another." Christ hath now a throne in us, His throne is set up in us: for unless he sate enthroned within us, He would not rule us: but if we were not ruled by Him, we should be thrown down by ourselves. He therefore sits within us, reigning over us: He sits also in another generation, which will come from the resurrection of the dead. Christ will reign for ever over His Saints. God has promised this; He hath said it: if this is not enough, God hath sworn it. As then the promise is certain, not on account of our deservings, but of His pity, no one ought to be afraid in proclaiming that which he cannot doubt of. Let that strength then inspire our hearts, whence AEthan received his name, "strong in heart:" let us preach the truth of God, the utterance of God, His promises, His oath; and let us, strengthened on every side by these means, glorify God, and by bearing Him along with us, become Heavens.
6. "O Lord, the very Heavens shall praise Thy wondrous works" (ver. 5). The Heavens will not praise their own merits, but Thy wondrous works, O Lord. For in every act of mercy on the lost, of justification of the unrighteous, what do we praise but the wondrous works of God? Thou praisest Him, because the dead have risen: praise Him yet more, because the lost are redeemed. What grace, what mercy of God! Thou seest a man yesterday a whirlpool of drunkenness, to-day an ornament of sobriety: a man yesterday the sink of luxury, to-day the beauty of temperance: yesterday a blasphemer of God, to-day His praiser: yesterday the slave of the creature, to-day the worshipper of the Creator. From all these desperate states men are thus converted: let them not look at their own merits: let them become Heavens, and praise the wondrous works of Him by whom they were made Heavens. ...
7. "For who is he among the clouds, who shall be compared unto Thee, Lord!" (ver. 6). Is this to be the praise of the Heavens, is this to be their rain? What? are the preachers confident, because "none among the clouds shall be compared unto the Lord"? Does it appear to you, brethren, a high ground of praise, that the clouds cannot be compared with their Creator? If it is taken in its literal, not in its mystical meaning, it is not so: what? are the stars that are above the clouds to be compared with the Lord? what? can the Sun, Moon, Angels, Heavens, be even compared with the Lord? Why is it then that he says, as if he meant some high praise, "For who is he among the clouds?" etc. We understand, my brethren, those clouds, as the Heavens, to be the preachers of truth; Prophets, Apostles, the announcers of the word of God. ... If therefore the clouds are the preachers of the truth, let us first enquire why they are clouds. For the same men are Heavens and clouds: Heavens from the brightness of the truth, clouds from the hidden things of the flesh: for all clouds are obscure, owing to their mortality: and they come and go. It is on account of these very obscurities of the flesh, that is, of the clouds, that the Apostle saith, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness."(1) You see at this moment what a man is saying: but what he has in his heart, you cannot see: what is forced from the cloud, you see, what is kept within the cloud, you see not. For whose eyes pierce the cloud? The clouds therefore are the preachers of the truth in the flesh. The Creator of all things Himself came in the flesh. ... We are called clouds on account of the flesh, and we are preachers of the truth on account of the showers of the clouds: but our flesh comes in one way, His by another. We too are called sons of God, but He is the Son of God in another sense. His cloud comes from a Virgin, He is the Son from eternity, co-eternal(2) with the Father. "Who is he then among the clouds, that shall be compared unto the Lord? and what is he among the sons of God, that shall be like unto the Lord?" Let the Lord Himself say whether He can find one like unto Himself. "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" Because I appear, because I am seen, because I walk among you, and perhaps at present I am become common; say, whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? Surely when they see a son of man, they see a cloud; but say, "Whom do men say that I am?" In answer they gave Him the reports of men; "Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Many clouds and sons of God are here mentioned: for because they were righteous and holy, as the sons of God, Jeremias, Elias, and John are called also sons of God: in their character of preachers of God, they are styled clouds. Ye have said what clouds men imagine Me to be: do ye too say, "Whom say ye that I am?" Peter replying in behalf of all, one for those who were one,(3) answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;"(4) not like those sons of God who are not made equal to Thee: Thou hast come in the flesh: but not as the clouds, who are not to be compared unto Thee.
8. ... "God is very greatly to be feared in the counsel of the righteous, and to be had in dread of all them that are round about Him" (ver. 7). God is everywhere; who therefore are round about Him, who is everywhere? For if He has some round about Him, He is represented as finite on every side. Moreover, if it is truly said to God s and of God, "of His greatness there is no end;"(6) who remain, who are round about Him, except because He who is everywhere, chose to be born of the flesh on one spot, to dwell among one nation, in one place to be crucified, from one spot to rise again and ascend into Heaven. Where He did this, the Gentiles are round about Him. If He remained where He did these things, He would not be "great, and be had in dread of all them that are round about Him;" but since He preached when there in such a manner as to send preachers of His own name through all nations over the whole world; by working miracles among His servants, He is become "great, and to be had in dread of all them that are round about Him."
9. "O Lord God of Hosts, who is like unto Thee? Thy truth, most mighty Lord, is on every side" (ver. 8). Great is Thy power Thou hast made Heaven and earth, and all things that in them are: but greater still is thy loving-kindness, which has shown forth Thy truth to all around Thee. For if Thou hadst been preached only on the spot where Thou didst deign to be born, to suffer, to rise again, to ascend; the truth of that promise of God would have been fulfilled, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: but the promise, "that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy,"(1) would not have been fulfilled, had not that truth been explained, and diffused to those around Thee from the spot where Thou didst deign to appear. On that spot Thou didst thunder out of Thy own cloud: but to scatter rain upon the Gentiles round about, Thou hast sent other clouds. Truly in Thy power hast Thou fulfilled what Thou hast said, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven."(2)
10. ... For ye have heard, like men accustomed to the watering of the clouds of God, "Thy truth" then "is in the circuit of Thee." But when without persecutions, when without opposition, since it is said, that "He was born for a sign which shall be spoken against"?(3) Since then that nation, where Thou didst deign to be born, and to dwell, was as a land separated from the waves of the heathen, so that it appeared dry and ready for watering with rain, while the rest of the nations were as a sea in the bitterness of their sterility; what do Thy preachers who scatter Thy truth in circuit of Thee, when the waves of that sea rage furiously? "Thou rulest the power of the sea" (ver. 9). For what was the result of the sea raging thus, but the day which we are now keeping holy? It slew Martyrs, scattered seeds of blood, the harvest of the Church sprang up. Safely then let the clouds go forth: let them diffuse Thy truth in circuit of Thee, let them not fear the savage waves. "Thou rulest the power of the sea." The sea swells, buffets, and roars: but "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted beyond what ye are able:"(4) and so, "Thou stillest the waves thereof when they rise."
11. Lastly, what hast Thou done in the sea itself, to pacify its rage, and to weaken it? "Thou hast humbled the proud(5) as one that is wounded" (ver. 10). There is a certain proud serpent in the sea, of which another passage of Scripture speaks, "I will command the serpent, and he shall bite him;"(6) and again, "There is that Leviathan, whom Thou hast made to mock him,"(7) whose head He bruises above the water. "Thou," he says," hast humbled the proud, as one that is wounded." Thou hast humbled Thyself, and the proud was humbled: for the proud held the proud ones through pride: but the great One is humbled, and by believing in Him become small. While the little one is nourished by the example of One who from greatness descended to humility, the devil has lost what he held: because the proud held only the proud. When such an example of humility was displayed before them, men learned to condemn their own pride, and to imitate the humility of God. Thus also the devil, by losing those whom he had in his power, has even himself been humbled; not chastened, but thrown prostrate. "Thou hast humbled the proud like one that is wounded." Thou hast been humbled, and hast humbled others: Thou hast been wounded, and hast wounded others: for Thy blood, as it was shed to blot the handwriting of sins,(8) could not but wound him. For what was the ground of his pride, except the bond which he held against us. This bond, this handwriting, Thou hast blotted out with Thy blood: him therefore hast Thou wounded, from whom Thou hast rescued so many victims. You must understand the devil wounded, not by the piercing of the flesh, which he has not, but by the bruising of his proud heart. "Thou hast scattered Thine enemies abroad with Thy mighty arm."
12. "The heavens are thine, the earth also is Thine" (ver. 11). From Thee, over Thy earth they rain. Thine are the heavens, by whom is preached Thy truth in circuit of Thee; "Thine is the earth," which has received Thy truth in circuit of Thee; and what has resulted from that rain? "Thou hast laid the foundation of the round world, and all that therein is." "Thou hast created the north and the seas" (ver. 12). For nothing has any power against Thee, against its Creator. The world indeed may rage through its own malice, and the perversity of its will; does it nevertheless pass over the bound laid down by the Creator, who made all things? Why then do I fear the north wind? Why do I fear the seas? In the north indeed is the devil, who said, "I will sit in the sides of the north; I will be like the Most High;"(1) but Thou hast humbled, as one wounded, the proud one. Thus what Thou hast done in them has more force for Thy dominion, than their own will has for their wickedness. "Thou hast created the north and the seas."
13. "Thabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name." Those mountains are here understood, but they have a meaning. "Thabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name." Thabor, when interpreted, signifies an approaching light. But whence comes the light of which it is said, "Ye are the light of the world,"(2) unless from Him concerning whom it is written, "That was the true light, which lighteth every man coming into the world"?(3) The light then which is the light of the world comes from that light which is not kindled from any other source, so that there is no fear lest it be extinguished. The light then comes from Him, who is that candle which is not set beneath the bushel, but on a candlestick, Thabor the coming light. Hermon means his curse. Justly the light comes and is made the curse of him. Of whom but the devil, the wounded one, the proud one? Our illumination then is given from Thee; that he is held accursed of us, who kept us in his own error and pride, is from Thee. "Thabor and Hermon, therefore, shall rejoice," not in their own merits, "but in Thy name." For they shall say, "Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give the praise," on account of the raging sea: lest "the heathen say, Where is now their God?"(4)
14. "Thou hast a mighty arm" (ver. 13). Let no man arrogate anything to himself. "Thou hast a mighty arm:" by Thee we were created, by Thee we have been defended. "Thou hast a mighty arm: strong be Thy hand, and high be Thy right hand."
15. "Righteousness and judgment are the preparation of Thy seat" (ver. 14). Thy righteousness and judgment will appear in the end: they are now hidden. Of Thy righteousness it is treated in another Psalm,(5) "on the hidden things of the Son." There will then be a manifestation of Thy righteousness and judgment: some will be set on the right, others on the left hand:(6) and the unbelieving will tremble, when they see what now they mock at, and believe not: the righteous will rejoice, when they shall see what they now see not, yet believe. "Righteousness and judgment are the preparation of Thy seat:" especially in the Day of Judgment. What then now? "mercy and truth go before Thy face." I should fear the preparation of Thy seat, Thy justice, and Thy coming judgment, did not mercy and truth go before Thee: why should I at the end fear Thy righteousness, when with Thy mercy going before Thee Thou blottest out my sins, and by showing forth Thy truth fulfillest Thy promises? "Mercy and truth go before Thy face." For "all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth."(7)
16. In all these things shall we not rejoice? or shall we contain our joy? or shall words suffice for our gladness? or shall the tongue be able to express our rejoicing? If therefore no words suffice, "Blessed is the people, O Lord, that knoweth glad shouting" (ver. 15). O blessed people! dost thou conceive aright, dost thou understand, glad shouting? For except thou understand glad shouting, thou canst not be blessed. What do I mean by understanding glad shouting? Whether thou knowest the source of that rejoicing which is beyond words to express. For this joy is not of thyself, since "he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."(8) Rejoice not then in thy own pride, but in God's grace. See that that grace is such, that the tongue fails to express its greatness, and then thou understandest glad shouting. ... O Lord, "they shall walk in the light of Thy countenance." "They shall rejoice in Thy name all the day "(ver. 16). That Thabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name: all day shall they rejoice, if they will, in Thy name; but if they will rejoice in their own name, they hall not rejoice all day: for they shall not continue in their joy, when they shall delight in themselves, and fall through pride. That they may rejoice all day, therefore, "they shall rejoice in Thy name, and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted." Not in their own, but in Thine: lest they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For some are noted by the Apostle, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own," and not rejoicing in Thy light, and thus "not submitting themselves unto the righteousness of God."(9) And why? because "they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." But the people who knoweth glad shouting (for the former err from want of knowledge, but blessed is the people not that knoweth not, but that knoweth glad shouting), whence ought it to shout, whence to rejoice, but in Thy name, walking in the light of Thy countenance? And it shall deserve to be exalted, but in Thy righteousness: let every man take away altogether his own righteousness, and be trembled: the righteousness of God shall come, and he shall be exalted, "and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted."
17. "For Thou art the glory of their strength: and in Thy good pleasure Thou shall lift up our horns" (ver. 17): because it has seemed good to Thee, not because we are worthy.
18. "For of the Lord is our taking up" (ver. 18). For I was moved like a heap of sand, that I might fall; and I should have fallen, had not the Lord taken me up. "For of the Lord is (our(1)) taking up: and of the Holy One of Israel our King." Himself is thy taking up, Himself thy illumination: in His light thou art safe, in His light thou walkest, in His righteousness thou art exalted. He took thee up, He, guards thy weakness: He gives thee strength of Himself, not of thyself.
19. "Thou spakest sometime in vision unto Thy sons, and saidst" (ver. 19). Thou spakest in thy vision. Thou didst reveal this to Thy Prophets. For this reason Thou spakest in vision, that is, in revelation: whence Prophets were called seers. They saw something within, which they were to speak without: and secretly they heard what they preached openly.(2) Then "Thou spakest in vision unto Thy sons, and saidst, I have laid help upon One that is mighty." Ye understand Who is meant by mighty? "I have exalted One chosen out of the people." And Who is meant by chosen? One who, ye rejoice, is already exalted.
20. "I have found David My servant:" that David from David's seed: "with My holy oil have I anointed Him" (ver. 20): for it is said of Him, "God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows."(3)
21. "My hand shall hold Him fast, and My arm shall strengthen Him" (ver. 21): because there was a taking up of man; because flesh was assumed in the Virgin's womb,(4) because by Him who in the form of God is coequal with the Father, the form of a servant was taken, and He became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.(5)
22. "The enemy shall not be able to do him violence" (ver. 22). The enemy rages indeed but he shall not be able to do Him violence: he is wont to hurt, but he shall not hurt. How then shall he afflict Him? he will exercise Him, but he shall not hurt Him. There shall be profit in his raging; for those against whom he rages shall be crowned in their conquering. For how is he conquered, if he rages not against us? or where is God our helper, if we fight not? The enemy therefore shall do what is in his power; but "he shall not be able to do Him violence: the son of wickedness shall not come nigh to hurt Him."
23. "I will cut in pieces His enemies before His face" (ver. 23). They are cut in pieces from their conspiracy, and in that they believe they are cut in pieces; for they believe by degrees; as when the calf's head was ground small, they will come to be the drink of God's people. For Moses ground down the calf's head, and sprinkled it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink it.(6) All the unbelieving are ground: they believe by degrees; and they are drunk by the people of God, and pass into Christ's body. "I will cut in pieces His foes before His face: and put to flight them that hate Him."
24. "My truth also and My mercy is with Him" (ver. 24). All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth. Remember, as much as ye can, how often these two attributes are urged upon us, that we render them back to God. For as He showed us mercy that He might blot out our sins, and truth in fulfilling His promises; so also we, walking in His path, ought to give back to Him mercy and truth; mercy, in pitying the wretched; truth, in not judging unjustly. Let not truth rob you of mercy, nor mercy hinder truth: for if through mercy you shall have judged contrary to truth, or by rigorous truth shall have forgotten mercy, you will not be walking in the path of God, where "mercy and truth meet together."(7) "And in My name shall His horn be exalted." Why should I say more? Ye are Christians, recognise Christ.
25. "I will set His hand also in the sea" (ver. 25): that is, He shall rule over the Gentiles; "and His right hand in the floods." Rivers run into the sea: avaricious men roll onwards into the bitterness of this world: yet all these kinds of men will be subject to Christ.
26. "He shall call me, Thou art My Father, and the lifter up of My salvation" (ver. 26).
"And I will make Him my first-born; higher than the kings of the earth" (ver. 27). Our Martyrs, whose birthdays we are celebrating, shed their blood on account of these things, which were believed though not yet seen; how much more brave ought we to be, as we see what they believed? For they had not yet seen Christ raised on high among the kings of the earth: as yet princes were taking counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed: what follows in the same Psalm was not then fulfilled, "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be learned, ye that are judges of the earth."(8) Now indeed Christ has been exalted among the kings of the earth.
27. "My mercy will I keep for Him for ever: and my Testament faithful with Him" (ver. 28). On His account, the Testament is faithful: in Him the Testament is mediated: He is the Sealer, the Mediator of the Testament, the Surety of the Testament, the Witness of the Testament, the Heritage of the Testament, the Coheir of the Testament.
28. "His seed will I make to endure world without end" (ver. 29). Not only for this world, but unto the world without end:(1) whither His seed, which is His heritage, the seed of Abraham, which is Christ, will pass.(2) But if ye are Christ's, ye are also Abraham's seed: and if ye are destined His heirs for ever, "He will establish His seed unto world without end: and His throne as the days of Heaven." The thrones of earthly kings are as the days of the earth: different are the days of Heaven from those of earth. The days of Heaven are those years of which it is said, "Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail."(3) The days of the earth are soon overtaken by their successors: those which precede are shut out from us: nor do those which succeed remain: but they come that they may go, and are almost gone before they are come. Such are the days of earth. But the days of Heaven, which are also the "One day" of Heaven,(4) and the never failing years, have neither beginning nor end: nor is any day there narrowed between yesterday and to-morrow: no one there expects the future, nor loses the past: but the days of Heaven are always present, where His throne shall be for ever and ever.(5) ...
29. This is a strong pledge of the promise of God. The sons of this David are the children of the Bridegroom; all Christians therefore are called His sons. But it is much indeed that God promises, that if Christians, that is, "If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments" (ver. 30); "if they profane My statutes, and keep not My commandments" (ver. 31); I will not spurn them, nor will I send them away from Me in perdition: but what will I do? "I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges" (ver. 32). It is not the mercy of one that calls them only; but also that chastises and scourges them. Let therefore thy Father's hand be upon thee, and if thou art a good son, repel not chastening; for "what son is there, to whom his father giveth not chastening?"(6) Let Him chasten him, so long as He takes not from him His mercy: let Him beat him when obstinate, as long as He does not disinherit him. If thou hast well understood the promises of thy Father, fear not to be scourged, but to be disinherited: "for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth: and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."(7) Does the sinful son spurn chastening, when he sees the only Son without sin scourged? "I will visit their offences with the rod." Thus too the Apostle threatens: "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod?"(8) Let not pious sons say, if Thou art coming with a rod, come not at all. For it is better to be taught with the Father's rod, than to perish in the caresses of the robber.
30. "Nevertheless, My mercy will I not utterly take from Him" (ver. 33). From whom? From that David to whom I gave these promises, whom "I anointed with my holy oil of gladness above His fellows."(9) Do you recognise Him from whom God will not utterly take away His mercy? That no one may anxiously say, since He speaks of Christ as Him from whom He will not take away His mercy, What then will become of the sinner? Did He say anything like this, "I will not take My loving-kindness utterly from them"? "I will visit," He saith, "their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges." Thou didst expect for thy own security, "I will not utterly take my loving-kindness from" them. And indeed this is the reading of some books, but not of the most accurate: though, where they have it, it is a reading by no means inconsistent with the real meaning. For how can it be said that He will not utterly take His mercy from Christ? Has the Saviour of the body committed aught of sin either in Heaven or in earth, "who sitteth even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us"?(10) Yet it is from Christ: but from His members, His body which is the Church. For in this sense He speaks of it as a great thing that He will not take away His mercies from Him, supposing us not to recognise the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father;(11) for there the Man is not counted for His Person, but the One Person is God and Man. He therefore does not utterly take His mercies from Him, when He takes not His mercy from His body, His members,(12) in which, even while He was enthroned in Heaven, He was still suffering persecutions on earth; and when He cried from Heaven, "Saul, Saul," not why persecutest thou My servants, nor why persecutest thou My saints, nor My disciples, but, "why persecutest thou Me?" 13 As then, while no one persecuted Him when sitting in Heaven, He cried out, "Why persecutest thou Me?" when the Head recognised its limbs, and His love allowed not the Head to separate Himself from the union of the body: so, when He taketh not away His mercies from Him, it is surely that He taketh it not from us, who are His limbs and body. Yet ought we not on that account to sin not without apprehension, and perversely to assure ourselves that we shall not perish, be our actions what they may. For there are certain sins and certain offences, to define and discourse of which it is either impossible for me, or if it were possible, it would be too tedious for the time we have at present. For no man can say that he is without sin; for if he says so, he will lie; "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."(1) Each one therefore is needfully scourged for his own sins; but the mercy of God is not taken away from him, if he be a Christian. Certainly if thou committest such offences as to repel the hand of Him who chasteneth, the rod of Him who scourgeth thee, and art angry at the correction of God, and fliest from thy Father when He chasteneth thee, and wilt not suffer Him to be thy Father, because He spares thee not when thou dost sin; thou hast estranged thyself from thy heritage, He has not thrown thee off; for if thou wouldest abide being scourged, thou wouldest not abide disinherited. "Nor will I do hurt in My truth." For His mercy in setting free shall not be taken away, lest His truth in taking vengeance do harm.
31. "My covenant will I not profane, nor reject the thing that is gone out of my lips" (ver. 34). Because his sons sin, I will not on this account be found false: I have promised; I will do. Suppose they choose to sin even as past hope, and so fall into sins as to offend their Father's countenance, and deserve to be disinherited; is it not still God Himself, of whom it is said, "From these stones" He "will raise up sons to Abraham"?(2) Therefore I tell you, brethren, many Christians sin venially,(3) many are scourged and so corrected for their sin, chastened, and cured; many turn away altogether, striving with a stiff neck against the discipline of the Father, even wholly refusing God as their Father, though they have the mark of Christ, and so fall into such sins, that it can only be announced against them, "that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."(4) Nevertheless, Christ shall not be destitute of an inheritance on their account: not for the chaff's sake shall the wheat also perish:(5) nor on account of bad fish shall nothing be cast into the vessels from that net.(6) "The Lord knows them that are His."(7) For He who predestined us before we were born, promised undoubtingly: "For whom He did predestinate, them. He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified."(8) Let desperate sinners sin as far as they choose: let the members of Christ reply, "If God is with us, who shall be against us?" God will not therefore do hurt in His truth, nor will He "profane His Testament." His Testament remains immovable, because in His foreknowledge He predestined His heirs; and "He will not reject the thing that is gone out of His lips."
32. Listen for thy confirmation in hope, for thy security, if thou knowest thyself to be among the members of Christ. "I have sworn once by My holiness that I will not lie unto David" (ver. 35). Dost thou wait till God swear a second time? How often is He to swear, if in one oath He is false? One oath He made for our life, who sent His Only One to die for us. "I have sworn once by My holiness, that I will not lie unto David." "His seed shall endure for ever" (ver. 36). His seed endures for ever; because the Lord knows them that are His. "And His seat is like as the sun before me:" "and as the moon perfect for evermore: and the faithful witness in heaven" (ver. 37). They are His seat, in whom He sits and reigns. But if His seat, His members also; because even our members are the seat of our head. See how all our other members sustain our head: but the head supports nothing above itself, but is itself supported by the rest of our limbs, as if the whole body of a man were the seat of his head. His seat, therefore, all in whom God reigns, "shall be like as the sun before Me," He saith: because the righteous in the kingdom of My Father "shall shine like the sun."(9) But the sun is meant in a spiritual, not a bodily sense, as that which shines from Heaven, which He maketh to rise upon the just and unjust.(10) Finally, that sun is not before men's eyes only, but even those of cattle and the smallest insects; for which of the vilest animals sees not that sun? What does he say to distinguish the sun meant here? "Like as the sun before Me." Not before men, before the flesh, before mortal animals, but "before Me, and as the moon." But what moon? one "that is perfect for evermore." For although that moon which we know becomes perfect, the next day she begins to wane, after her orb is full. "He shall be as the moon perfect for evermore," He saith. His seat shall be made perfect as the moon, but that moon is one which will be perfect for evermore. If as the sun, why also as the moon? the Scriptures usually signify by the moon the mortality of this flesh, because of its increasings and decreasings, because of its transitory nature. The moon is also interpreted as Jericho: one who was descending from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among robbers:(11) for he was descending from immortality to mortality. Similar then is the flesh to that moon, which every month suffers increase and decrease: but that flesh of ours will be perfect in the resurrection: "and a faithful witness in heaven." Thus then, if it was our mind only that would be perfected, he would compare us only to the sun: if our body only, to the moon; but as God will perfect us in both, in respect of the mind it is said, "like as the sun before Me," because God only seeth the mind: and "as the moon," so is the flesh: which "shall be made perfect for evermore," in the resurrection of the dead: "and a faithful witness in Heaven," because all that was asserted of the resurrection of the dead was true. I beseech you, hear this again more clearly, and remember it: for I know that some understated, while others are yet enquiring perhaps what I meant. There is no article of the Christian faith which has encountered such contradiction as that of the resurrection of the flesh. Finally, He who was born for a sign that should be spoken against,(1) resumed His own flesh after death to meet the caviller; and He who could have so completely cured His wounds that their scars would have entirely vanished, retained those scars in His body, that He might cure the wounds of doubt in the heart. Indeed nothing has been attacked with the same pertinacious, contentious contradiction, in the Christian faith, as the resurrection of the flesh. On the immortality of the soul many Gentile philosophers have disputed at great length, and in many books they have left it written that the soul is immortal: when they come to the resurrection of the flesh, they doubt not indeed, but they most openly deny it, declaring it to be absolutely impossible that this earthly flesh can ascend to Heaven. Thus that moon shall be perfect for evermore, and shall be the faithful witness in heaven against all gain-sayers.
33. These promises, so sure, so firm, so open, so unquestioned, were made concerning Christ. For although some are mysteriously veiled, yet some are so clear, that all that is obscure is easily revealed by them. Such being the case, see what follows: "But Thou hast approved and brought to nothing and forsaken Thine Anointed" (ver. 38). "Thou hast overthrown the testament of Thy servant, and profaned His holiness on the ground" (ver. 39). "Thou hast broken down all His hedges, and made His strongholds a terror" (ver. 40). ... How is this? Thou hast promised all those things: and Thou hast brought to pass their reverse. Where are now the promises which but a little before filled us with delight? which we so joyfully applauded, which we so fearlessly made our boast of? It is as if one promised, and another destroyed. And this is the mystery: for the words are not "another," but "Thou," Thou who didst promise, who didst even swear in condescension to human doubt, Thou hast promised this, and done thus! Whence shall I get Thy oath, where shall I find Thy promise fulfilled? Would then God promise, or swear thus falsely? and yet why then these promises, and these acts? I answer, that He acted thus in fulfilment of those promises. But who am I, to say this? Let us see therefore whether it is the language of the Truth; what I say will not then be without foundation. It was David to whom the fulfilment of these promises in his seed, that is, in Christ, was promised: and as they were addressed to David, men expected their completion in David. Further, lest when any Christian asserted these promises to have referred to Christ, another by applying them to David, because he described the fulfilment of all of them in David, might thus err; He cancelled them in David, thus obliging us when we see them unfulfilled in David, to look to another quarter for their fulfilment. Thus also in the case of Esau and Jacob, we find the elder worshipped by the younger, though it is written, "The eider shall serve the younger;"(12) so when you see it unfulfilled in those two brothers, you look for two peoples in whom to discover the completion of what God in His truth deigns to promise. "From the fruit of thy body," saith the Lord unto David, "shall I set upon thy sea."(3) He promised from his seed something for evermore: and, Solomon, born to him, became master of such wisdom? that the promise of God respecting the fruit of David's body was believed to have been fulfilled in him; but Solomon fell,(5) and gave room for hoping for Christ; that since God can neither be deceived nor deceive, He might not make His promise to rest in one who He knew would fall, but you might after the fall of Solomon look back to God, and demand His promise. Hast Thou, O Lord, deceived? Hast Thou failed to fulfil Thy promise? Dost Thou not exhibit what Thou hast sworn? Perhaps God might reply, I swore and promised: but Solomon would not persevere. What then? Didst not Thou, Lord God, know beforehand that he would not persevere? Indeed Thou didst know. Why then didst Thou promise me what should be eternal in one who would not persevere? Hast Thou not answered; "But if his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they keep not My statutes, and profane My testament;" yet My promise shall remain, and My oath shall be fulfilled: "I have sworn once in My Holiness," within, in a certain mystery, in the very spring whence the Prophets drank, whence they burst forth to us of these things, "I have sworn once "that I will not fail David. Show forth then what Thou hast sworn, give us what Thou hast promised. The fulfilment is taken from that David, that it might not be looked for in that David: wait therefore for what I have promised.
34. Even David himself knew this. Consider his words; "Thou hast rejected and brought him down to nothing." Where then is Thy promise? "Thou hast put off Thine anointed." This expression cheers us, among much that is sorrowful: for the promise of God is still valid; for(1) Thou hast put off Thine Anointed, not taken Him away. See then what was the fate of that David, in whom the ignorant hoped for the fulfilment of the promises of God, in order that those promises might be more firmly relied upon for their fulfilment in another. "Thou hast put off Thine Anointed: Thou hast overthrown the testament of Thy servant." For where is the Old Testament of the Jews? where that land of promise, in which they sinned while they dwelt in it, on the overthrow of which they wandered afar? Ask you for the kingdom of the Jews; it exists not: you ask for the altar of the Jews; it is not: you ask for the sacrifice of the Jews; it is not: you ask for the priesthood of the Jews; it is not. "Thou hast overthrown the testament of Thy servant, and profaned his holiness on the earth." Thou hast shown that what they thought holy, was earthly. "Thou hast broken down all his hedges," with which Thou hast entrenched him: for how could he have been spoiled unless his hedges had been broken down? "Thou hast made his strongholds a terror." Why terror? That it should be said to the sinners, "For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee."(2)
"All they that go by the way have spoiled him:" that is, all the heathen that go by the way, meaning, all who pass through this life, have spoiled Israel, have spoiled David. First of all, see his fragments in all nations: for it is of the Jews that it is said, "They shall be a portion for foxes."(3) For the Scripture calls wicked, crafty, and cowardly kings, whom another's virtue terrifies, foxes. Thus when our Lord Himself was speaking of the threatening Herod, He said, "Go ye, and tell that fox."(4) The king who fears no man, is not a fox: like that Lion of Judah, of whom it is said, "Stooping down Thou didst rise up, and didst sleep as a lion."(5) At Thy will Thou didst stoop down, at Thy will didst rise; because Thou wouldest, Thou didst sleep. And thus in another Psalm he says, "16 slept."(7) Was not the sentence complete, "I slept, and took rest, and rose up again, because the Lord shall uphold Me"? Why is the word ego added? and thus with a strong emphasis on the word I, they raged against Me, they troubled Me: but had I not willed, I had not slept. Those then concerning whom it was declared that they should be a portion for foxes, are now spoken of as follows; "All they that go by have spoiled him: and he is become a reproach to his neighbours" (ver. 41). "Thou hast set up the right hand of his enemies, and made all his adversaries to rejoice" (ver. 42). Look at the Jews, and see all things fulfilled that were predicted. "Thou hast turned away the help of his sword." How they were used to fight few in number, and to strike down many. "Thou hast turned away the help of his sword, and Thou givest him not victory in the battle" (ver. 43). Naturally(8) then is he conquered, naturally taken prisoner, naturally made an outcast from his kingdom, naturally scattered abroad: for he lost that land, for which he slew the Lord. "Thou hast loosed him from cleansing" (ver. 44). What is this? Amongst all the evils, this is a matter for great fear; for howsoever God may beat, howsoever He may be wroth, howsoever He may flog and scourge, yet let Him scourge him bound, whom He is to cleanse, not "loose him from cleansing." For if He loose him from being purified, he becomes incapable of cleansing, and must be an outcast. From what cleansing then is the Jew loosed? From faith; for by faith we live:(9) and it is said of faith, "purifying their hearts by faith:"(10) and as it is only the faith of Christ that cleanses; by disbelief in Christ, they are loosed from purification. "Thou hast loosed him from cleansing, and cast his throne down to the ground." And so Thou hast broken it. "The days of his seat hast Thou shortened" (ver. 45). They imagined that they should reign for ever. "And covered him with confusion." All these things happened to the Jews, Christ yet not being taken away, but His advent deferred.
35. Let us therefore see whether God fulfils His promises. After these stern penalties which have been recorded as having been inflicted upon this people and kingdom, that God might not be supposed to have fulfilled His promises in it, and so not to grant another kingdom in Christ, of which kingdom there shall be no end; the Prophet addresses Him in these words, "Lord, how long wilt Thou hide Thyself unto the end?" (ver. 46). For possibly it was not from them and to the end; because "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved."(1) But in the mean while "shall Thy wrath burn like fire."
36. "O remember what my substance is" (ver. 47). That David, who was placed among the Jews in the flesh, in Christ in hope, speaks "Remember what is my substance." For not because the Jews fell away, did my substance fail: for from that people came the Virgin Mary, and from her the flesh of Christ; that Flesh sins not, but purifies sins; there, saith David, is my substance. "O remember what my substance is." For the root has not entirely perished; the seed shall come to whom the promise was made, ordained by Angels in the hand of a Mediator.(2) "For Thou hast not made all the sons of men for nought" (ver. 47). Lo! all the sons of men have gone into vanity: yet Thou hast not made them for nought. If then all went into vanity, whom Thou hast not made for nought; hast Thou not reserved some instrument to purify them from vanity? This which Thou hast reserved to Thyself to cleanse men from vanity is Thy Holy One, in Him is my substance: for from Him are all, whom Thou hast not made for nought, purified from their own vanity. To them it is said, "O ye sons of men, how long are ye heavy in heart? Wherefore have ye such pleasure in vanity, and seek after leasing?"(3) Perhaps they might become anxious, and turn from their vanity, and when they found themselves polluted with it, might seek for purification from it: then help them, make them secure. "Know this also, that the Lord hath made wonderful His Holy One."(4) He has made His Holy One to be admired: thence He has purified all from their vanity: there, saith David, is my substance: O remember it! "For Thou hast not made all the sons of men for nought." Thou hast therefore reserved something to purify them: and who is He whom Thou hast reserved? "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?" This man then who shall live and not see death, shall purify them from nothingness. For He made not all men for nought, nor can He who made them so despise His own creatures, as not to convert and purify them.
37. "What man is he that shall live, and shall not see death?" (ver. 48). For being raised from the dead He dieth no more, and death hath no more dominion over Him.(5) And as in another Psalm it is said, "Thou shalt not leave my soul in Hell, neither shalt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption,"(6) the Apostolic teaching takes up this testimony, and in the Acts of the Apostles(7) thus argues against the unbelieving; Men and brethren, we know that the patriarch David is dead and buried, and his flesh hath seen corruption. Therefore it cannot be said of him, "neither shall Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption." Of whom then is it said? "What man is he that shall live, and shall not see death?" Perhaps there is no man such. Nay, but "who is it?" is said to make thee inquire, not despair. But perhaps there may be some man "that shall live, and shall not see death," and yet perhaps he did not speak of Christ, who died? There is no man "that shall live, and shall not see death," except Him who died for mortals. That thou mayest be assured that it is said of Him, consider the sequel; "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?" Did He never die then? He did. How then shall He live, and never see death? "He shall deliver His own soul from the hands of Hell." He is spoken of alone indeed, in that He alone of all others "shall live, and shall not see death: He shall deliver His own soul from the hand of Hell," because although the rest of His faithful shall rise from the dead, and shall themselves live for evermore, without seeing death; yet they shall not themselves deliver their own souls from the hands of Hell. He who delivers His own soul from the hands of Hell, Himself delivers those of His believers: they cannot do so of themselves. Prove that He delivers His own soul. "I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. No man taketh 'it from Me;' for I Myself slept, but I lay it down of Myself, and take it again,"(8) because it is He Himself who delivers His own soul from the hands of Hell.
38. But in the very faith in Christ great difficulties occurred, and the heathen in their rage long said, "When shall he die, and his name perish?" On account of these then who have now long believed in Christ, but were destined to doubt for some time, these words follow, "Lord, where are Thy old loving-kindnesses?" (ver. 49). We have now acknowledged Christ our purifier, we now possess Him in whom Thy promises were to be fulfilled; show forth in Him what Thou hast promised. It is He Himself that shall live, and not see death: Himself who delivers His own soul from the hand of Hell: and yet we are still in suffering. Thus spoke the Martyrs, whose birthdays we are celebrating. He shall live, and not see death: He delivers His soul from the hands of Hell: yet "for Thy sake we are killed all the day long: and are counted as sheep appointed to be slain."(9) "Lord, where are Thy old loving-kindnesses which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?"
39. "Remember, Lord, the rebuke that Thy servants have" (ver. 50). Even while Christ was living, and while He was sitting on His Father's right hand, reproaches were cast against the Christians: they long were reproached with the name of Christ. That widowed one who brought forth, and whose children were more than those of the married wife,(1) heard ill names, heard reproaches: but the Church, multiplied as she is, extending right and left, no longer remembers the reproach of her widowhood. "Remember, Lord," in the memory of whom there is abundant sweetness. "Remember," forget not. Remember what? "the rebuke that Thy servants have: and how I do bear in my bosom the rebukes of many people." I went, saith he, to preach of Thee, and I heard reproaches, and bore them in my bosom, because I was fulfilling the prophecy. "Being defamed we entreat: we are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day."(2) Long the Christians bore reproaches in their bosom, in their heart: nor dared resist their revilers; before, when it was a crime to answer a heathen: it is now a crime to remain a heathen. Thanks be to the Lord! He remembered our rebukes: He raised the horn of His Anointed on high, He made Him the Wonderful among the kings of the earth. Now no one insults Christians, or if he does, it is not in public: he speaks as if he were still more fearful of being heard, than anxious to be believed. "I bear in my bosom the rebukes of many people."
40. "Wherewith Thine enemies have blasphemed Thee, O Lord" (ver. 51), both Jews and Pagans. "Wherewith they have blasphemed." Wherewith have they blasphemed Thee? "With the change of Thine Anointed."(3) They objected that Christ died, and was crucified. Madmen, what is your reproach? Although there is now no one to use it: yet supposing some still remaining that so speak, what is your reproach? that Christ died? He was not destroyed, but changed. He is styled "dead" on account of the three days. Wherewith then have thine enemies blasphemed Thee? Not with the loss, not with the perdition of Thine Anointed, but with His "change." He was changed from temporal to eternal life: He was changed from the Jews to the Gentiles; He was changed from earth to heaven. Let then Thy vain enemies blaspheme Thee still for the change of Thine Anointed. Would that they may be changed: they will not in that case blaspheme the change of Christ, which displeases them since they themselves will not be changed. "For there is no change with them, and they fear not God."(4)
41. They have blasphemed the change of Christ; but what dost thou answer? "The blessing of(5) the Lord for evermore. Amen and Amen" (ver. 52). Thanks to His mercy,(6) thanks to His grace. We express our thanks: we do not give them, nor return them, nor repay them: we express our thanks in words, while in fact we retain our sense of them.(7) He saved us for no reward, He heeded not our impieties: He searched us out when we searched not for Him, He found, redeemed, emancipated us from the bondage of the devil and the power of his wicked angels: He drew us to Him to purify us by that faith, from which He releases those enemies only who believe not, and who for that reason cannot be purified. Let those who still remain infidels say every day what they choose; day by day they shall be fewer and fewer that remain; let them revile, mock, accuse, not the death, but the change of Christ. Do they not see that, when they say these things, they fail in purpose either by believing or by dying? For their curse is temporal: but the blessing of the Lord "for evermore." To confirm that blessing is added, "Amen and Amen." This is the signature of the bond of God. Secure then of His promises, let us believe the past, recognise the present, hope for the future. Let not the enemy lead us astray from the way, that He, who gathers us like chickens under His wings, may foster us: lest we stray from His wings, and the hawk of the air carry us off while yet unfledged. For the Christian ought not to hope in himself: if he hopes to be strong, let him be reared by his mother's warmth. This is the hen who gathers her young together; whence is the reproach of our Saviour against the unbelieving Jerusalem. "Behold, your house shall be left unto you desolate."(8) Hence was it said, "Thou hast made his strongholds a terror." Since then they would not be gathered together under the wings of this hen, and have given as a warning to teach us to dread the unclean spirits that fly in the air, seeking daily what they may devour; let us gather ourselves under the wings of this hen, the divine Wisdom, since she is weakened even unto death of her chickens. Let us love our Lord God, let us love His Church: Him as a Father, Her as a Mother: Him as a Lord, Her as His Handmaid, as we are ourselves the Handmaid's sons. But this marriage is held together by a bond of great love: no man offends the one, and wins favour of the other. Let no man say, "I go indeed to the idols, I consult possessed ones and fortune-tellers: yet I abandon not God's Church; I am a Catholic." While thou holdest to thy Mother, thou hast offended thy Father. Another says, Far be it from me; I consult no sorcerer, I seek out no possessed one, I never ask advice by sacrilegious divination, I go not to worship idols, I bow not before stones; though I am in the party of Donatus. What does it profit you not to have offended your Father, if he avenges your offended Mother? what does it serve you, if you acknowledge the Lord, honour God, preach His name, acknowledge His Son, confess that He sitteth by His right hand; while you blaspheme His Church? Does not the analogy of human marriages convince you? Suppose you have some patron, whom you court every day, whose threshold you wear with your visits, whom you daily not only salute, but even worship, to whom you pay the most loyal courtesy; if you utter one calumny against his wife, could you re-enter his house? Hold then, most beloved, hold all with one mind to God the Father, and the Church our Mother. Celebrate with temperance the birthdays of the Saints, that we may imitate those who have gone before us, and that they who pray for you may rejoice over you; that "the blessing of the Lord may abide on you for evermore. Amen and Amen."
1. This Psalm is entitled, "The prayer of Moses the man of God," through whom, His man, God gave the law to His people, through whom He freed them from the house of slavery, and led them forty years through the wilderness. Moses was therefore the Minister of the Old, and the Prophet of the New Testament. For "all these things," saith the Apostle, "happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the world come."(2) In accordance therefore with this dispensation which was vouchsafed to Moses, this Psalm is to be examined, as it has received its title from his prayer.
2. "Lord," he saith, "Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another" (ver. 1): either in every generation, or in two generations, the old and new: because, as I said, he was the Minister of the Testament that related to the old generation, and the Prophet of the Testament which appertained to the new. Jesus Himself, the Surety of that covenant, and the Bridegroom in the marriage which He entered into in that generation, saith, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me."(3) Now it is not to be believed that this Psalm was entirely the composition of that Moses, as it is not distinguished by any of those of his expressions(4) which are used in his songs: but the name of the great servant of God is used for the sake of some intimation, which should direct the attention of the reader or listener. "Lord," he saith, "Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to the other."
3. He adds, how He became our refuge, since He began to be that, viz. a refuge, to us which He had not been before, not that He had not existed before He became our refuge: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made: and from age even unto age Thou art" (ver. 2). Thou therefore who art for ever, and before we were, and before the world was, hast become our refuge ever since we turned to Thee. But the expression, "before the mountains," etc., seems to me to contain a particular meaning; for mountains are the higher parts of the earth, and if God was before even the earth were formed (or, as some books have it, from the same Greek word, "framed"(5)) , since it was by Him that it was formed, what is the need of saying that He was before the mountains, or any certain parts of it, since God was not only before the earth, but before heaven and earth, and even the whole bodily and spiritual creation? But it may certainly be that the whole rational creation is marked by this distinction; that while the loftiness of Angels is signified by the mountains, the lowliness of man is meant by the earth. And for this reason, although all the works of creation are not improperly said to be either made or formed; nevertheless, if there is any propriety in these words, the Angels are "made;" for as they are enumerated among His heavenly works, the enumeration itself is thus concluded: "He spake the word, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created;"(6) but the earth was "formed," that man might thence be created in the body. For the Scripture uses this word, where we read, God made, or "God formed man out of the dust of the ground."(7) Before then the noblest parts of the creation (for what is higher than the rational part of the Heavenly creation) were made: before the earth was made, that Thou mightest have worshippers upon the earth; and even this is little, as all these had a beginning either in or with time; but "from age to age Thou art." It would have been better, from everlasting to everlasting: for God, who is before the ages, exists not from a certain age, nor to a certain age, which has an end, since He is without end. But it often happens in the Scripture, that the equivocal Greek word causes the Latin translator to put age for eternity and eternity for age. But he very rightly does not say, Thou wast from ages, and unto ages Thou shalt be: but puts the verb in the present, intimating that the substance of God is altogether immutable. It is not, He was, and Shall be, but only Is. Whence the expression, I Am that I am; and, I am "hath sent me unto you;"(1) and, "Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail."(2) Behold then the eternity that is our refuge, that we may fly thither from the mutability of time, there to remain for evermore.
4. But as our life here is exposed to numerous and great temptations, and it is to be feared lest we may be turned aside by them from that refuge, let us see what in consequence of this the prayer of the man of God seeks for. "Turn not Thou man to lowness" (ver. 3): that is, let not man, turned aside from Thy eternal and sublime things, lust for things of time, savour of earthly things. This prayer is what God has Himself enjoined us, in the Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation,"(3) He adds, "Again Thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men." As if he said, I ask of Thee what Thou hast commanded me to ask: giving glory to His grace, that "he that glorieth, in the Lord he may glory:"(4) without whose help we cannot by an exertion of our own will overcome the temptations of this life. "Turn not Thou man to lowness: again thou sayest, Turn again, ye children of men." But grant what Thou has enjoined, by hearing the prayer s of him who can at least pray, and aiding the faith of the willing soul.
5. "For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, which is past by" (ver. 4): hence we ought to turn to Thy refuge, where Thou art without any change, from the fleeting scenes around us; since however long a time may be wished for for this life, "a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday:" not as to-morrow, which is to come: for all limited periods of time are reckoned as having already passed. Hence the Apostle's choice is rather to aim at what is before,(6) that is, to desire things eternal, and to forget things behind, by which temporal matters should be understood. But that no one may imagine a thousand years are reckoned by God as one day, as if with God days were so long, when this is only said in contempt of the extent of time: he adds, "and as a watch in the night:" which only lasts three hours. Nevertheless men have ventured to assert their knowledge of times, to the pretenders to which our Lord said, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power:"(7) and they allege that this period may be defined six thousand years, as of six days. Nor have they heeded the words, "are but as one day which is past by:" for, when this was uttered, not a thousand years only had passed, and the expression, "as a watch in the night," ought to have warned them that they might not be deceived by the uncertainty of the seasons: for even if the six first days in which God finished His works seemed to give some plausibility to their opinion, six watches, which amount to eighteen hours, will not consist with that opinion.
6. Next, the man of God, or rather the Prophetic spirit, seems to be reciting some law written in the secret wisdom of God, in which He has fixed a limit to the sinful life of mortals, and determined the troubles of mortality, in the following words: "Their years are as things which are nothing worth: in the morning let it fade away like the grass" (ver. 5). The happiness therefore of the heirs of the old covenant, which they asked of the Lord their God as a great boon, attained to receive this Law in His mysterious Providence. Moses seems to be reciting it: "Their years shall be things which are esteemed as nothing." Such are those things which are not before they are come: and when come, shall soon not be: for they do not come to be here, but to be gone. "In the morning," that is, before they come, "as a heat(8) let it pass by;" but "in the evening," it means after they come, "let it fall, and be dried up, and withered" (ver. 6). It is "to fall" in death, be "dried up" in the corpse, "withered" in the dust. What is this but flesh, wherein is the accursed lust of fleshly things? "For all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness of man as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of the Lord abideth for ever."(9)
7. Making no secret that this fate is a penalty inflicted for sin, he adds at once, "For we consume away in Thy displeasure, and are troubled at Thy wrathful indignation" (ver. 7): we consume away in our weakness, and are troubled from the fear of death; for we are become weak, and yet fearful to end that weakness. "Another," saith He, "shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not:"(10) although not to be punished, but to be crowned, by martyrdom; and the soul of our Lord, transforming us into Himself, was sorrowful even unto death: for "the Lord's going out" is no other than in "death."
8. "Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee" (ver. 8): that is, Thou hast not dissembled Thine anger: "and our age in the light of Thy countenance." "The light of Thy countenance" answers to "before Thee," and to "our misdeeds," as above.
9. "For all our days are failed, and in Thine anger we have failed (ver. 9). These words sufficiently prove that our subjection to death is a punishment. He speaks of our days failing, either because men fail in them from loving things that pass away, or because they are reduced to so small a number; which he asserts in the following lines: "our years are spent in thought like a spider."(1) "The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is more of them but labour and sorrow" (ver. 10). These words appear to express the shortness and misery of this life: since those who have reached their seventieth year are styled old men. Up to eighty, however, they appear to have some strength; but if they live beyond this, their existence is laborious through multiplied sorrows. Yet many even below the age of seventy experience an old age the most infirm and wretched: and old men have often been found to be wonderfully vigorous even beyond eighty years. It is therefore better to search for some spiritual meaning in these numbers. For the anger of God is not greater on the sins of Adam (through whom alone "sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men"),(2) because they live a much shorter time than the men of old; since even the length of their days is ridiculed in the comparison of a thousand years to yesterday that is past, and to three hours: especially since at the very time when they provoked the anger of God to send the deluge in which they perished, their life was at its longest span.
10. Moreover, seventy and eighty years equal a hundred and fifty; a number which the Psalms clearly insinuate to be a sacred one. One hundred and fifty have the same relative signification as fifteen, the latter number being composed of seven and eight together: the first of which points to the Old Testament through the observation of the Sabbath; the latter to the New, referring to the resurrection of our Lord. Hence the fifteen steps in the Temple. Hence in the Psalms, fifteen "songs of degrees." Hence the waters of the deluge overtopped the highest mountains by fifteen cubits:(3) and many other instances of the same nature. "Our years are passed in thought like a spider." We were labouring in things corruptible, corruptible works were we weaving together: which, as the Prophet Isaiah saith, by no means covered us.(4) "The days of our years are in themselves," etc. A distinction is here made between themselves and their strength:(5) "in themselves," that is, in the years or days themselves, may mean in temporal things, which are promised in the Old Testament, signified by the number seventy; "but if" not in themselves, but "in their strength," refers not to temporal things, but to things eternal, "fourscore years," as the New Testament contains the hope of a new life and resurrection for evermore: and what is added, that if they pass this latter period,(6) "their strength is labour and sorrow," intimates that such shall be the fate of him who goes beyond this faith, and seeks for more. It may also be understood thus: because although we are established in the New Testament, which the number eighty signifies, yet still our life is one of labour and sorrow, while "we groan within ourselves, awaiting the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body; for we are saved by hope; and if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."(7) This relates to the mercy of God, of which he proceeds to say, "Since thy mercy cometh over us,(8) and we shall be chastened:" for "the Lord chasteneth whom He loveth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,"(9) and to some mighty ones He giveth a thorn in the flesh, to buffet them, that they may not be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, so that strength be made perfect in weakness.(10) Some copies read, we shall be "taught," instead of "chastened," which is equally expressive of the Divine Mercy; for no man can be taught without labour and sorrow; since strength is made perfect in weakness.
11. "For who knoweth the power of Thy wrath: and for the fear of Thee to number Thine anger?" (ver. 11). It belongs to very few men, he saith, to know the power of Thy wrath; for when Thou dost spare, Thy anger is so far heavier against most men; that we may know that labour and sorrow belong not to wrath, but rather to Thy mercy, when Thou chastenest and teachest those whom Thou lovest, to save them from the torments of eternal punishment: as it is said in another Psalm,(11) "The sinner hath provoked the Lord: He will not require it of him according to the greatness of His wrath." With this also is understood, "Who knoweth?" Such is the difficulty of finding any one who knoweth how to number Thine anger by Thy fear, that he adds this, meaning that it is to the purpose that Thou appearest to spare some, with whom Thou art more angry, that the sinner may be prospered in his path, and receive a heavier doom at the last. For when the power of human wrath hath killed the body, it hath nothing more to do: but God hath power both to punish here, and after the death of the body to send into Hell, and by the few who are thus taught, the vain and seductive prosperity of the wicked is judged to be greater wrath of God.(1) ...
12. "Make Thy right hand so well known" (ver. 12). This is the reading of most of the Greek copies: not of some in Latin, which is thus, "Make Thy right hand well known to me." What is, "Thy right hand," but Thy Christ, of whom it is said, And to whom is the Arm of the Lord revealed?(2) Make Him so well known, that Thy faithful may learn in Him to ask and to hope for those things rather of Thee as rewards of their faith, which do not appear in the Old Testament, but are revealed in the New: that they may not imagine that the happiness derived from earthly and temporal blessings is to be highly esteemed, desired, or loved, and thus their feet slip,(3) when they see it in men who honour Thee not: that their steps may not give way, while they know not how to number Thine anger. Finally, in accordance with this prayer of the Man that is His,(4) He has made His Christ so well known as to show by His sufferings that not these rewards which seem so highly prized in the Old Testament, where they are shadows of things to come, but things eternal, are to be desired. The right hand of God may also be understood in this sense, as that by which He will separate His saints from the wicked: because that hand becomes well known, when it scourgeth every son whom He receiveth, and suffers him not, in greater anger, to prosper in his sins, but in His mercy scourgeth him with the left,(5) that He may place him purified on His right hand.(6) The reading of most copies, "make Thy right hand well known to me," may be referred either to Christ, or to eternal happiness: for God has not a right hand in bodily shape, as He has not that anger which is aroused into violent passion.
13. But what he addeth,(7) "and those fettered in heart in wisdom;" other copies read, "instructed," not "lettered:" the Greek verb, expressing both senses, only differing by a single syllable.(8) But since these also, as it is said, put their "feet in the fetters" of wisdom, are taught wisdom (he means the feet of the heart, not of the body), and bound by its golden chains(9) depart not from the path of God, and become not runaways from him; whichever reading we adopt, the truth in the meaning is safe. Them thus lettered, or instructed in heart in wisdom, God makes so well known in the New Testament, that they despised all things for the Faith which the impiety of Jews and Gentiles abhorred; and allowed themselves to be deprived of those things which in the Old Testament are thought high promises by those who judge after the flesh.
14. And as when they became so well known, as to despise these things, and by setting their affections on things eternal, gave a testimony through their sufferings (whence they are called witnesses or martyrs in the Greek), they endured for a long while many bitter temporal afflictions. This man of God giveth heed to this, and the prophetic spirit under the name of Moses continues thus, "Return, O Lord, how long? and be softened concerning Thy servants" (ver. 13). These are the words of those, who, enduring many evils in that persecuting age, become known because their hearts are bound in the chain of wisdom so firmly, that not even such hardships can induce them to fly from their Lord to the good things of this world. "How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me, O Lord?"(10) occurs in another Psalm, in unison with this sentence, "Return, O Lord, how long?" And that they who, in a most carnal spirit, ascribe to God the form of a human body, may know that the "turning away" and "turning again" of His countenance is not like those motions of our own frame, let them recollect these words from above in the same Psalm, "Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee, and our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance." How then does he say in this passage, "Return," that God may be favourable, as if He had turned away His face in anger; when as in the former he speaks of God's anger in such a manner, as to insinuate that He had not turned away His countenance from the misdeeds and the course of life of those He was angry with, but rather had set them before Him, and in the light of His countenance? The word, "How long," belongs to righteousness beseeching, not indignant impatience. "Be softened," some have rendered by a verb, "soften." But "be softened" avoids an ambiguity; since to soften is a common verb: for he may be said to soften who pours out prayers, and be to whom they are poured out: for we say, I soften thee, and I soften toward thee.(11)
15. Next, in anticipation of future blessings, of which he speaks as already vouchsafed, he says, "We are satisfied with Thy mercy in the morning" (ver. 14). Prophecy has thus been kindled for us, in the midst of these toils and sorrows of the night, like a lamp in the darkness, until day dawn, and the Day-star arise in our hearts.(12) For blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God: then shall the righteous be filled with that blessing for which they hunger and thirst now,(1) while, walking in faith, they are absent from the Lord.(2) Hence are the words, "In Thy presence is fulness of joy:"(3) and, "Early in the morning they shall stand by, and shall look up:"(4) and as other translators have said it, "We shall be satisfied with Thy mercy in the morning;" then they shall be satisfied. As he says elsewhere, "I shall be satisfied, when Thy glory shall be revealed."(5) So it is said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us:" and our Lord Himself answereth, "I will manifest Myself to Zion;"(6) and until this promise is fulfilled, no blessing satisfies us, or ought to do so, lest our longings should be arrested in their course, when they ought to be increased until they gain their objects. "And we rejoiced and were glad all the days of our life." Those days are days without end: they all exist together: it is thus they satisfy us: for they give not way to days succeeding: since there is nothing there which exists not yet because it has not reached us, or ceases to exist because it has passed; all are together: because there is one day only, which remains and passes not away: this is eternity itself. These are the days respecting which it is written, "What man is he that lusteth to live, and would fain see good days?"(7) These days in another passage are styled years: where unto God it is said, "But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail:"(8) for these are not years that are accounted for nothing, or days that perish like a shadow: but they are days which have a real existence, the number of which he who thus spoke, "Lord, let me know mine end" (that is, after reaching what term I shall remain unchanged, and have no further blessing to crave), "and the number of my days, what it is" (what is, not what is not): prayed to know. He distinguishes them from the days of this life, of which he speaks as follows, "Behold, Thou hast made my days as it were a span long,"(9) which are not, because they stand not, remain not, but change in quick succession: nor is there a single hour in them in which our being is not such, but that one part of it has already passed, another is about to come, and none remains as it is. But those years and days, in which we too shall never fail, but evermore be refreshed, will never fail. Let our souls long earnestly for those days, let them thirst ardently for them, that there we may be filled, be satisfied, and say what we now say in anticipation, "We have been satisfied," etc. "We have been comforted again now, after the time that Thou hast brought us low, and for the years wherein we have seen evil" (ver. 15).
16. But now in days that are as yet evil, let us speak as follows. "Look upon Thy servants, and upon Thy works" (ver. 16). For Thy servants themselves are Thy works, not only inasmuch as they are men, but as Thy servants, that is, obedient to Thy commands. For we are His workmanship, created not merely in Adam, but in Christ Jesus, unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them:(10) "for it is God which worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure."(11) "And direct their sons:" that they may be right in heart, for to such God is bountiful; for "God is bountiful to Israel, to those that are right in heart." ...
17. "And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us" (ver. 17); whence the words, "O Lord, the light of Thy countenance is marked upon us."(12) And, "Make Thou straight the works of our hands upon us:" that we may do them not for hope of earthly reward: for then they are not straight, but crooked. In many copies the Psalm goes thus far, but in some there is found an additional verse at the end, as follows, "And make straight the work of our hands." To these words the learned have prefixed a star, called an asterisk, to show that they are found in the Hebrew, or in some other Greek translations, but not in the Septuagint. The meaning of this verse, if we are to expound it, appears to me this, that all our good works are one work of love: for love is the fulfilling of the Law.(13) For as in the former verse he had said, "And the works of our hands make Thou straight upon us," here he says "work," not works, as if anxious to show, in the last verse, that all our works are one, that is, are directed with a view to one work. For then are works righteous, when they are directed to this one end: "for the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned."(14) There is therefore one work, in which are all, "faith which worketh by love:"(15) whence our Lord's words in the Gospel, "This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He hath sent."(16) Since, therefore, in this Psalm, both old and new life, life both mortal and everlasting, years that are counted for nought, and years that have the fulness of loving-kindness and of true joy, that is, the penalty of the first and the reign of the Second Man, are marked so very clearly; I imagine, that the name of Moses, the man of God, became the title of the Psalm, that pious and right-minded readers of the Scriptures might gain an intimation that the Mosaic laws, in which God appears to promise only, or nearly only, earthly rewards for good works, without doubt contains under a veil some such hopes as this Psalm displays. But when any one has passed over to Christ, the veil will be taken away:(1) and his eyes will be unveiled, that he may consider the wonderful things in the law of God, by the gift of Him, to whom we pray, "Open Thou mine eyes, and I shall see the wondrous things of Thy law.(2)
1. This Psalm is that from which the Devil dared to tempt our Lord Jesus Christ: let us therefore attend to it, that thus armed, we may be enabled to resist the tempter, not presuming in ourselves, but in Him who before us was tempted, that we might not be overcome when tempted. Temptation to Him was not necessary: the temptation of Christ is our learning, but if we listen to His answers to the devil, in order that, when ourselves are tempted, we may answer in like manner, we are then entering through the gate, as ye have heard it read in the Gospel. For what is to enter by the gate? To enter by Christ, who Himself said, "I am the door:"(4) and to enter through Christ, is to imitate His ways. ... He urges us to imitate Him in those works which He could not have done had He not been made Man; for how could He endure sufferings, unless He had become a Man? How could He otherwise have died, been crucified, been humbled? Thus then do thou, when thou sufferest the troubles of this world, which the devil, openly by men, or secretly, as in Job's case, inflicts; be courageous, be of long suffering; "thou shall dwell under the defence of the Most High," as this Psalm expresses it: for if thou depart from the help of the Most High, without strength to aid thyself, thou wilt fall.
2. For many men are brave, when they are enduring persecution from men, and see them openly rage against themselves: imagining they are then imitating the sufferings of Christ, in case men openly persecute them; but if assailed by the hidden attack of the devil, they believe they are not being crowned by Christ. Never fear when thou dost imitate Christ. For when the devil tempted our Lord, there was no man in the wilderness; he tempted Him secretly; but he was conquered, and conquered too when openly attacking Him. This do thou, if thou wishest to enter by the door, when the enemy secretly assails thee, when he asks for a man that he may do him some hurt by bodily troubles, by fever, by sickness, or any other bodily sufferings, like those of Job. He saw not the devil, yet he acknowledged the power of God. He knew that the devil had no power against him, unless from the Almighty Ruler of all things he received that power: the whole glory he gave to God, power to the devil he gave not. ...
3. He then who so imitates Christ as to endure all the troubles of this world, with his hopes set upon God, that he falls into no snare, is broken down by no panic fears, he it is "who dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, who shall abide under the protection of God" (ver. 1), in the words with which the Psalm, which you have heard and sung, begins. You will recognise the words, so well known, in which the devil tempted our Lord, when we come to them. "He shall say unto the Lord, Thou art my taker up, and my refuge: my God" (ver. 2). Who speaks thus to the Lord? "He who dwelleth under the defence of the Most High:" not under his own defence. Who is this? He dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, who is not proud, like those who ate, that they might become as Gods, and lost the immortality in which they were made. For they chose to dwell under a defence of their own, not under that of the Most High: thus they listened to the suggestions of the serpent? and despised the precept of God: and discovered at last that what God threatened, not what the devil promised, had come to pass in them.
4. Thus then do thou say also, "In Him will I trust. For He Himself shall deliver me" (ver. 3), not I myself. Observe whether he teaches anything but this, that all our trust be in God, none in man. Whence shall he deliver thee? "From the snare of the hunter, and from a harsh word." Deliverance from the hunter's net is indeed a great blessing: but how is deliverance from a harsh word so? Many have fallen into the hunter's net through a harsh word. What is it that I say? The devil and his angels spread their snares, as hunters do: and those who walk in Christ tread afar from those snares: for he dares not spread his net in Christ: he sets it on the verge of the way, not in the way. Let then thy way be Christ, and thou shall not fall into the snares of the devil. ...
But what is, "from a harsh word"? The devil has entrapped many by a harsh word: for instance, those who profess Christianity among Pagans suffer insult from the heathen: they blush when they hear reproach, and shrinking out of their path in consequence, fall into the hunter's snares. And yet what will a harsh word do to you? Nothing. Can the snares with which the enemy entraps you by means of reproaches, do nothing to you? Nets are usually spread for birds at the end of a hedge, and stones are thrown into the hedge: those stones will not harm the birds. When did any one ever hit a bird by throwing a stone into a hedge? But the bird, frightened at the harmless noise, falls into the nets; and thus men who fear the vain reproaches of their calumniators, and who blush at unprovoked insults, fall into the snares of the hunters, and are taken captive by the devil... Just as among the heathen, the Christian who fears their reproaches falls into the snare of the hunter: so among the Christians, those who endeavour to be more diligent and better than the rest, are doomed to bear insults from Christians themselves. What then doth it profit, my brother, if thou occasionally find a city in which there is no heathen? No one there insults a man because he is a Christian, for this reason, that there is no Pagan therein: but there are many Christians who lead a bad life, among whom those who are resolved to live righteously, and to be sober among the drunken, and chaste among the unchaste, and amid the consulters of astrologers sincerely to worship God, and to ask after no such things, and among spectators of frivolous shows will go only to church, suffer from those very Christians reproaches, and harsh words, when they address such a one,"Thou art the mighty, the righteous, thou art Elias thou art Peter: thou hast come from heaven." They insult him: whichever way he turns, he hears harsh sayings on each side: and if he fears, and abandons the way of Christ, he falls into the snares of the hunters. But what is it, when he hears such words, not to swerve from the way? On hearing them, what comfort has he, which prevents his heeding them, and enables him to enter by the door? Let him say; What words am I called, who am a servant and a sinner? To my Lord Jesus they said, "Thou hast a devil."(1) You have just heard the harsh words spoken against our Lord: it was not necessary for our Lord to suffer this, but in doing so He has warned thee against harsh words, lest thou fall into the snares of the hunters.
5. "He shall defend thee between His shoulders, and thou shall hope under His wings" (ver. 4). He says this, that thy protection may not be to thee from thyself, that thou mayest not imagine that thou canst defend thyself; He will defend thee, to deliver thee from the hunter's snare, and from an harsh word. The expression, "between His shoulders," may be understood both in front and behind: for the shoulders are about the head; but in the words, "thou shalt hope under His wings," it is clear that the protection of the wings of God expanded places thee between His shoulders, so that God's wings on this side and that have thee in the midst, where thou shalt not fear lest any one hurt thee: only be thou careful never to leave that spot, where no foe dares approach. If the hen defends her chickens beneath her wings; how much more shalt thou be safe beneath the wings of God, even against the devil and his angels, the powers who fly about in mid air like hawks, to carry off the weak young one? For the comparison of the hen to the very Wisdom of God is not without ground; for Christ Himself, our Lord and Saviour, speaks of Himself as likened to a hen; "how often would I have gathered thy children," etc.(2) That Jerusalem would not: let us be willing. ... If you consider other birds, brethren, you will find many that hatch their eggs, and keep their young warm: but none that weakens herself in sympathy with her chickens, as the hen does. We see swallows, sparrows, and storks outside their nests, without being able to decide whether they have young or no: but we know the hen to be a mother by the weakness of her voice, and the loosening of her feathers: she changes altogether from love for her chickens: she weakens herself because they are weak. Thus since we were weak, the Wisdom of God made Itself weak, when the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us,(3) that we might hope under His wings.
6. "His truth shall surround thee with a shield" (ver. 5). What are "the wings," the same is "the shield:" since there are neither wings nor shield. If either were literally, how could the one be the same as the other? can wings be a shield or a shield wings? But all these expressions, indeed, are figuratively used through likenesses. If Christ were really a Stone,(4) He could not be a Lion; if a Lion,(5) He could not be a Lamb: but He is called both Lion, and Lamb,(6) and Stone, and Calf, and anything else of the sort, metaphorically, because He is neither Stone, nor Lion, nor Lamb, nor Calf, but Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all of us, for these are likenesses, not literal names. "His truth shall be thy shield," it is said: a shield to assure us that He will not confound those whose trust is in themselves with those who hope in God. One is a sinner, and the other a sinner: but suppose one that presumes upon himself is a despiser, confesses not his sins, and he will say, if my sins displeased God, He would not suffer me to live. But another dared not even raise his eyes, but beat upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."(7) Both this was a sinner, and that: but the one mocked, the other mourned: the one was a despiser, the other a confessor, of his sins. But the truth of God, which respects not persons, discerns the penitent from him who denies his sin, the humble from the proud, him who presumes upon himself from him who presumes on God. "Thou shall not be afraid for any terror by night."
7. "Nor for the arrow that flieth by day, for the matter(1) that walketh in darkness, nor for the ruin and the devil that is in the noonday" (ver. 6). These two clauses above correspond to the two below; "Thou shall not fear" for "the terror by night, from the arrow that flieth by day:" both because of "the terror by night," from "the matter that walketh in darkness:" and because of "the arrow that flieth by day," from "the ruin of the devil of the noon-day." What ought to be feared by night, and what by day? When any man sins in ignorance, he sins, as it were, by night: when he sins in full knowledge, by day. The two former sins then are the lighter: the second are much heavier; but this is obscure, and will repay your attention, if, by God's blessing, I can explain it so that you may understand it. He calls the light temptation, which the ignorant yield to, "terror by night:" the light temptation, which assails men who well know, "the arrow that flieth by day." What are light temptations? Those which do not press upon us so urgently, as to overcome us, but may pass by quickly if declined. Suppose these, again, heavy ones. If the persecutor threatens, and frightens the ignorant grievously, I mean those whose faith is as yet unstable, and know not that they are Christians that they may hope for a life to come; as soon as they are alarmed with temporal ills, they imagine that Christ has forsaken them, and that they are Christians to no purpose; they are not aware that they are Christians for this reason, that they may conquer the present, and hope for the future: the matter that walketh in darkness has found and seized them. But some there are who know that they are called to a future hope; that what God has promised is not of this life, or this earth; that all these temptations must be endured, that we may receive what God hath promised us for evermore; all this they know: when however the persecutor urges them more strenuously, and plies them with threats, penalties, tortures, at length they yield, and although they are well aware of their sin, yet they fall as it were by day.
8. But why does he say, "at noon-day"? The persecution is very hot; and thus the noon signifies the excessive heat. ... The demon that is "in the noon-day," represents the heat of a furious persecution: for these are our Lord's words, "The sun was up; and because they had no root, they withered away:" and when explaining it, He applies it to those who are offended when persecution ariseth, "Because they have not root in themselves." We are therefore right in understanding by the demon that destroyeth in the noon-day, a violent persecution. Listen, beloved, while I describe the persecution, from which the Lord hath rescued His Church. At first, when the emperors and kings of the world imagined that they could extirpate from the earth the Christian name by persecution, they proclaimed, that any one who confessed himself a Christian, should be smitten. He who did not choose to be smitten, denied that he was a Christian, knowing the sin he was committing: the arrow that flieth by day reached him. But whoever regarded not the present life, but had a sure trust in a future one, avoided the arrow, by confessing himself a Christian; smitten in the flesh, he was liberated in the spirit: resting with God, he began peacefully to await the redemption of his body in the resurrection of the dead: he escaped from that temptation, from the arrow that flieth by day. "Whoever professes himself a Christian, let him be beheaded;" was as the arrow that flieth by day. The "devil that is in the noon-day" was not yet abroad, burning with a terrible persecution, and afflicting with great heat even the strong. For hear what followed; when the enemy saw that many were hastening to martyrdom, and that the number of fresh converts increased in proportion to that of the sufferers, they said among themselves, We shall annihilate the human race, so many thousands are there who believe in His Name; if we kill all of them, there will hardly be a survivor on earth. The sun then began to blaze, and to glow with a terrible heat. Their first edict had been, Whoever shall confess himself a Christian, let him be smitten. Their second edict was, Whoever shall have confessed himself a Christian, let him be tortured, and tortured even until he deny himself a Christian. ...Many therefore who denied not,(2) failed amid the tortures; for they were tortured until they denied. But to those who persevered in professing Christ, what could the sword do, by killing the body at one stroke, and sending the soul to God? This was the result of protracted tortures also: yet who could be found able to resist such cruel and continued torments? Many failed: those, I believe, who presumed upon themselves, who dwelt not under the defence of the Most High, and under the shadow of the God of Heaven; who said not to the Lord, "Thou art my lifter up:" who trusted not beneath the shadow of His wings, but reposed much confidence in their own strength. They are thrown down by God, to show them that it is He that protects them, He overrules their temptations, He allows so much only to befall them, as each person can sustain.
9. Many then fell before the demon of the noon-day. Would ye know how many? He goes on, and says, "A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee" (ver. 7). To whom, brethren, but to Christ Jesus, is this said? ... For the members, the body, and the head, are not separate from one another: the body and the head are the Church and her Saviour. How then is it said," A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand by thy right hand"? Because they shall fall before the devil, that destroyeth at noon. It is a terrible thing, my brethren, to fall from beside Christ, from His right hand but how shall they fall from beside Him? Why the one beside Him, the other at His right hand? Why a thousand beside Him, ten thousand at His right hand? Why a thousand beside Him? Because a thousand are fewer than the ten thousand who shall fall at His right hand. Who these are will soon be clear in Christ's name; for to some He promised that they should judge with Him, namely, to the Apostles, who left all things, and followed Him. ... Those judges then are the heads of the Church, the perfect. To such He said, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor."(1) What means the expression, "if thou wilt be perfect"? it means, if thou wilt judge with Me, and not be judged. ...Many such at that period, who had distributed their all to the poor, and already promised themselves a seat beside Christ in judgment of the nations, failed amid their torments under the blazing fire of persecution, as before the demon of the noon-day, and denied Christ. These are they who have fallen "beside" Him: when about to sit with Christ for the judgment of the world, they fell.
10. I will now explain who are they who fall on the right hand of Christ. ... And because many have fallen from that hope of being judges, but yet many, many more from that of being on His right hand, the Psalmist thus addresses Christ, "A thousand shall fall beside Thee, and ten thousand at Thy right hand." And since there shall be many, who regarded not all these things, with whom, as it were with His own limbs, Christ is one, he adds, "But it shall not come nigh Thee." Were these words addressed to the Head alone? Surely not; surely neither (doth it come nigh) to Paul, nor Peter, nor all the Apostles, nor all the Martyrs, who failed not in their torments. What then do the words," it shall not come nigh," mean? Why were they thus tortured? The torture came nigh the flesh, but it did not reach the region of faith. Their faith then was far beyond the reach of the terrors threatened by their torturers. Let them torture, terror will not come nigh; let them torture, but they will mock the torture, putting their trust in Him who conquered before them, that the rest might conquer. And who conquer, except they who trust not in themselves? ... Who will not fear? He who trusts not in himself, but in Christ. But those who trust in themselves, although they even hope to judge at the side of Christ, although they hoped they should be at His right hand, as if He said to them, "Come, ye blessed of My Father," etc.; yet the devil that is at noon overtook them, the raging heat of persecution, terrifying with violence; and many fell from the hope of the seat of judgment, of whom it is said, "A thousand shall fall beside thee;" many too fell from the hope of reward for their duties,(2) of whom it was said, "And ten thousand at thy right hand." But this downfall and devil that is at noon-day "shall not come nigh thee," that is, the Head and the body; for the Lord knows who are His.(3)
11. "Nevertheless, with thine eyes shall thou behold, and see the reward of the ungodly" (ver. 8). What is this? Why "nevertheless"? Because the wicked were allowed to tyrannize over Thy servants, and to persecute them. Will they then have been allowed to persecute Thy servants with impunity? Not with impunity, for although Thou hast permitted them, and Thine own have thence received a brighter crown, "nevertheless," etc. For the evil which they willed, not the good they unconsciously were the agents of, will be recompensed them. All that is wanting is the eye of faith, by which we may see that they are raised for a time only, while they shall mourn for evermore; and to those into whose hands is given temporal power over the servants of God, it shall be said, "Depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."(4) But if every man have but eyes in the sense in which it is said, "With thine eyes shalt thou behold," it is no unimportant thing to look upon the wicked flourishing in this life, and to have an eye to him, to consider what will become of him in the end, if he fail to reform his ways: for those who now would thunder upon others, will afterwards feel the thunderbolt themselves.
12. "For Thou, Lord, art my hope" (ver. 9). He has now come to the power Which rescues him from falling by the "downfall and the devil of the noon-day." "For Thou, Lord, art my hope: Thou hast set Thy house of defence very high." What do the words "very high" mean? For many make their house of defence in God a mere refuge from temporal persecution; but the defence of God is on high, and very secret, whither thou mayest fly from the wrath to come. Within "Thou hast set thine house of defence very high. There shall no evil happen unto Thee: neither shall any plague come nigh Thy dwelling" (ver. 10).
13. The Holy City is not the Church of this country only, but of the whole world as well: not that of this age only, but from Abel himself down to those who shall to the end be born and believe in Christ, the whole assembly of the Saints, belonging to one city; which city is Christ's body, of which Christ is the Head. There, too, dwell the Angels, who are our fellow-citizens: we toil, because we are as yet pilgrims: while they within that city are awaiting our arrival. Letters have reached us too from that city, apart from which we are wandering: those letters are the Scriptures, which exhort us to live well. Why do I speak of letters only? The King himself descended, and became a path to us in our wanderings: that walking in Him, we may neither stray, nor faint nor fall among robbers, nor be caught in the snares that are set near our path. This character, then, we recognise in the whole Person of Christ, together with the Church. ... He Himself is our Head, He is God, co-equal with the Father, the Word of God, by whom all things were made:(1) but God to create, Man to renew; God to make, Man to restore. Looking upon Him, then, let us hear the Psalm. Listen, beloved. This is the teaching and doctrine of this school, which may enable you to understand, not this Psalm only, but many, if ye keep in mind this rule. Sometimes a Psalm, and all prophecy as well, in speaking of Christ, praises the Head alone, and sometimes from the Head goes to the Body, that is, the Church, and without apparently changing the Person spoken of: because the Head is not separate from the Body, and both are spoken of as one ...
14. What then, my brethren, what is said of our Head? "For Thou, Lord, art my hope," etc. Of this we have spoken, "for He hath given His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways" (ver. 11). You heard these words but now, when the Gospel was being read; attend therefore. Our Lord, after He was baptized, fasted. Why was He baptized? That we might not scorn to be baptized. For when John said to our Lord, "Comest Thou to me to be baptized? I ought to be baptized by Thee;" and our Lord replied, "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness;"(2) He wished to fulfil all humility, so that He should be washed, who had no defilement. ... Our Lord, then, was baptized, and after baptism He was tempted; He fasted forty days, a number which has, as I have often mentioned, a deep meaning. All things cannot be explained at once, lest needful time be too much taken up. After forty days He was an hungred. He could have fasted without ever feeling hunger; but then how could He be tempted? or had He not overcome the tempter, how couldest thou learn to struggle with him? He was hungry; and then the tempter said, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." Was it a great thing for our Lord Jesus Christ to make bread out of stones, when He satisfied so many thousands with five loaves? He made bread out of nothing. For whence came that quantity of food, which could satisfy so many thousands? The sources of that bread are in the Lord's hands. This is nothing wonderful; for He Himself made out of five loaves bread enough for so many thousands? who also every day out of a few seeds raises up on earth immense harvests. These are the miracles of our Lord: but from their constant operation they are disregarded. What then, my brethren, was it impossible for the Lord to create bread out of stones? He made men even out of stones, in the words of John the Baptist himself, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."(4) Why then did He not so? That he might teach thee how to answer the tempter, so that if thou wast reduced to any straits and the tempter suggested, if thou wast a Christian and belongedst to Christ, would He desert thee now? ... Listen to our Lord: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Dost thou think the word of God bread? If the Word of God, through which all things were made, was not bread, He would not say, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."(5) Thou hast therefore learnt to answer the tempter, when pressed with hunger.
15. What if he tempt thee in these words: If thou wast a Christian, thou wouldest do miracles, as many Christians have done? Thou, deceived by a wicked suggestion, wouldest tempt the Lord thy God, so as to say to Him, If I am a Christian, and am before Thine eyes, and Thou dost account me at all in the number of Thine own, let me also do something like the many works which Thy Saints have done. Thou hast tempted God, as if thou weft not a Christian, unless thou didst this. Many who desired such things have fallen. For that Simon the sorcerer desired such gifts of the Apostles, when he wished to buy the Holy Spirit for money.(6) He loved the power of working miracles, but loved not the imitation of humility. ... What then, if he tempt thee thus, "work miracles"? that thou mayest not tempt God, what shouldest thou answer? What our Lord answered. The devil said to Him, "Cast Thyself down; for it is written, He shall give His Angels charge concerning Thee," etc. If Thou shalt cast Thyself down, Angels shall receive Thee. And it might indeed, my brethren, happen, if our Lord had cast Himself down, the attending Angels would receive our Lord's flesh; but what does He say to him? "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."(1) Thou thinkest Me a man. For the devil came to Him with this view, that he might try whether He were the Son of God. He saw His Flesh; but His might appeared in His works: the Angels had borne witness. He saw that He was mortal, so that he might tempt Him, that by Christ's temptation the Christian might be taught. What then is written? "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Let us not then tempt the Lord, so as to say, If we belong to Thee, let us work a miracle.
16. Let us return to the words of the Psalm. "They shall bear Thee in their hands, lest at any time Thou hurt Thy foot against a stone" (ver. 12). Christ was raised up in the hands of Angels, when He was taken up into heaven: not that, if Angels had not sustained Him, He would have fallen: but because they were attending on their King. Say not, Those who sustained Him are better than He who was sustained. Are then cattle better than men, because they sustain the weakness of men? And we ought not to speak thus either; for if the cattle withdraw their support, their riders fall. But how ought we to speak of it? For it is said even of God, "Heaven is My throne."(2) Because then heaven supports Him, and God sits thereon, is therefore heaven the better? Thus also in this Psalm we may understand it of the service of the Angels: it does not pertain to any infirmity in our Lord, but to the honour they pay, and to their service. ...What the finger of God is, the Gospel explaineth to us; for the finger of God is the Holy Ghost. How do we prove this? Our Lord, when answering those who accused Him of casting out devils in the name of Beelzebub, saith, "If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God;"(3) and another Evangelist, in relating the same saying, saith, "If I with the finger of God cast out devils."(4) What therefore is in one stated clearly, is darkly expressed in another. Thou didst not know what was the finger of God, but another Evangelist explains it by terming it the Spirit of God. The Law then written by the finger of God was given on the fiftieth day after the slaughter of the lamb, and the Holy Ghost descended on the fiftieth day after the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lamb was slain, the Passover was celebrated, the fifty days were completed, and the Law was given. But that Law was to cause fear, not love: but that fear might be changed into love, He who was truly righteous was slain: of whom that lamb whom the Jews were slaying was the type. He arose from the dead: and from the day of our Lord's Passover, as from that of the slaying of the Paschal lamb, fifty days are counted; and the Holy Ghost descended, now in the fulness of love, not in the punishment of fear.(5) Why have I said this? For this then our Lord arose, and was glorified, that He might send His Holy Spirit. And I said long ago that this was so, because His head is in heaven, His feet on earth. If His head is in heaven, His feet on earth; what means our Lord's feet on earth? Our Lord's saints on earth. Who are our Lord's feet? The Apostles sent throughout the whole world. Who are our Lord's feet? All the Evangelists, in whom our Lord travelleth over all nations. ... We need not therefore wonder that our Lord was raised up to heaven by the hands of Angels, that His foot might not dash against a stone: lest those who on earth toiled in His body, while they were travelling over the whole world might become guilty of the Law, He took from them fear, and filled them with love. Through fear Peter thrice denied Him,(6) for he had not yet received the Holy Ghost: afterwards, when he had received the Holy Spirit, he began to preach with confidence. ... Our Lord so dealt with him, as if He said, thrice thou hast denied Me through fear: thrice confess Me through love. With that love and that charity He filled His disciples. Why? Because He hath set His house of defence very high: because when glorified He sent the Holy Ghost, He released the faithful from the guilt of the Law, that His feet might not dash against a stone.
17. "Thou(7) shall go upon the asp and the basilisk; the lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet" (ver. 13). Ye know who the serpent is, and how the Church treadeth upon him, as she is not conquered, because she is on her guard against his cunning. And after what manner he is a lion and a dragon, I believe you know also, beloved. The lion openly rages, the dragon lies secretly in covert: the devil hath each of these forces and powers. When the Martyrs were being slain, it was the raging lion: when heretics are plotting, it is the dragon creeping beneath us. Thou hast conquered the lion; conquer also the dragon: the lion hath not crushed(8) thee, let not the dragon deceive thee. ... A few women in the Church have bodily virginity: but the virginity of the heart all the faithful have. In the very matter of faith he feared that the heart's virginity would be corrupted by the devil: and those who have lost it, are uselessly virgins in their bodies. What does a woman who is corrupt in heart preserve in her body? Thus a Catholic married woman is before a virgin heretic. For the first is not indeed a virgin in her body, but the second has become married in her heart; and married not unto God as her husband, but unto the dragon. But what shall the Church do? The basilisk is the king of serpents, as the devil is the king of wicked spirits.
18. These are the words of God to the Church. "Because he hath set his love in me, therefore will I deliver him" (ver. 14). Not only therefore the Head, which now sits in heaven, because He hath set His house of defence very high, to which no evil shall happen, neither shall any plague come nigh His dwelling; but we also who are toiling on earth, and are still living in temptations, whose steps are feared for, lest they fall into snares, may hear the voice of the Lord our God consoling us, and saying to us, "Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my name."
19. "He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble" (ver. 15). Fear not when thou art in trouble, as if the Lord were not with thee. Let faith be with thee, and God is with thee in thy trouble. There are waves on the sea, and thou art tossed in thy bark, because Christ sleepeth. Christ slept in the ship, while the men were perishing.(1) If thy, faith sleep in thy heart, Christ is as it were sleeping in thy ship: because Christ dwelleth in thee through faith, when thou beginnest to be tossed, awake Christ sleeping: rouse up thy faith, and thou shalt be assured that He deserts thee not. But thou thinkest thou art forsaken, because He rescueth thee not when thou thyself dost wish. He delivered the Three Children from the fire?(2) Did He, who did this, desert the Maccabees?(3) God forbid! He delivered both of these: the first bodily, that the faithless might be confounded; the last spiritually, that the faithful might imitate them. "I will deliver him, and bring him to honour."
20. "With length of days will I satisfy him" (ver. 16). What is length of days? Eternal life. Brethren, imagine not that length of days is spoken of in the same sense as days are said to be long in summer, short in winter. Hath he such days to give us? That length is one that hath no end, eternal life, that is promised us in long days. And truly, since this sufficeth, with reason he saith, "will I satisfy him." What is long in time, if it hath an end, satisfieth us not: for that reason it should not be even called long. And if we are covetous, we ought to be covetous of eternal life: long for such a life, as hath no end. Lo, a line in which our covetousness may be extended. Dost thou wish money without limit? Long for eternal life without limit. Dost thou wish that thy possession may have no end? Seek for eternal life. "I will show him my salvation." Nor is this, my brethren, to be briefly passed over. "I will show him my salvation:" He means, I will show him Christ Himself. Why? Was He not seen on earth? What great thing hath He to show us? But He did not appear such as we shall see Him. He appeared in that shape in which those who saw Him crucified Him: behold, those who saw Him, crucified Him: we have not seen Him, yet we have believed. They had eyes, have not we? yea, we too have the eyes of the heart: but, as yet we see through faith, not by sight. When will it be sight? When shall we, as the Apostle saith, see Him "face to face"?(4) which God promiseth us as the high reward of all our toils. Whatever thou toilest in, thou toilest for this purpose, that thou mayest see Him. Some great thing it is we are to see, since all our reward is seeing; and our Lord Jesus Christ is that very great sight. He who appeared humble, will Himself appear great, and will rejoice us, as He is even now seen of His Angels. ... Let us love and imitate Him: let us run after his ointments, as is said in the Song of Solomon: "Because of the savour of thy good ointments, we will run after thee."(5) For He came, and gave forth a savour that filled the world. Whence was that fragrance? From heaven. Follow then towards heaven, if thou do not answer(6) falsely when it is said, "Lift up your hearts," lift up your thoughts, your love, your hope: that it may not rot upon the earth. ... "For wherever thy treasure is, there will be thy heart also."(7)
1. ... We are not Christians, except on account of a future life: let no one hope for present blessings, let no one promise himself the happiness of the world, because he is a Christian: but let him use the happiness he hath, as he may, in what manner he may, when he may, as far as he may. When it is present, let him give thanks for the consolation of God: when it is wanting, let him give thanks to the Divine justice. Let him always be grateful, never ungrateful: let him be grateful to his Father, who soothes and caresses him: and grateful to his Father when He chasteneth him with the scourge, and teacheth him: for He ever loveth, whether He caress or threaten: and let him say what ye have heard in the Psalm: "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord; and to sing praises unto Thy Name, Thou Most Highest" (ver. 1).
2. This Psalm is entitled, a Psalm to be sung on the Sabbath day. Lo, this day is the Sabbath, which the Jews at this period observe by a kind of bodily rest, languid and luxurious. They abstain from labours, and give themselves up to trifles; and though God ordained the Sabbath, they spend it in actions which God forbids. Our rest is from evil works, theirs from good; for it is better to plough than to dance. They abstain from good, but not from trifling, works. God proclaims to us a Sabbath. What sort of Sabbath? First consider, where it is. It is in the heart, within us; for many are idle with their limbs, while they are disturbed in conscience. ... That very joy in the tranquillity of our hope, is our Sabbath. This is the subject of praise and of song in this Psalm, how a Christian man is in the Sabbath of his own heart, that is, in the quiet, tranquillity, and serenity of his conscience, undisturbed; hence he tells us here, whence men are wont to be disturbed, and he teaches thee to keep Sabbath in thine own heart.
3. ... Accuse thyself, and thou receivest indulgence. Besides, many do not accuse Satan but their fate. My fate led me, saith one when you ask him, why did you do it? why did you sin? he replies, by my evil fate. Lest he should say, I did it; he points to God as the source of his sin: with his tongue he blasphemes. He saith not this indeed openly as yet, but listen, and see that he saith this. You ask of him, what is fate: and he replies, evil stars. You ask, who made, who appointed the stars; he can only answer, God. It follows, then, that whether he doth so directly or indirectly,(1) still he accuseth God, and when God punisheth sins, he maketh God the author of his own sins. It cannot be that God punishes what He hath wrought: He punisheth what thou doest, that He may set free what He hath wrought. But sometimes, setting aside everything else, they attack God directly: and when they sin, they say, God willed this; if God had not willed it, I should not have sinned. Does He warn thee for this, that not only He may not be listened to, to keep thee from sin, but even be accused because thou dost sin? What then doth this Psalm teach us? "It is a good thing to confess(2) unto the Lord." What is to confess unto the Lord? In both cases: both in thy sins, because thou hast done them; and in thy good works, confess unto the Lord, because He hath done them. Then shalt thou "sing unto the Name of God, the Most Highest:" seeking the glory of God, not thine own; His Name, not thine. For if thou seekest the Name of God, He also seeketh thy name; but if thou hast neglected the Name of God, He also doth blot out thine. ...
4. "To tell of Thy mercy early in the morning, and of Thy truth in the night season" (ver. 2). What is the meaning of this; that the mercy of God is to be told us in the morning, and in the night the truth of God? The morning is, when it is well with us; the night, the sadness of tribulation. What then did he say in brief? When thou art prosperous, rejoice in God, for it is His mercy. Now, perhaps thou wouldest say, If I rejoice in God, when I am prosperous, because it is His mercy; what am I to do when I am in sorrow, in tribulation? It is His mercy, when I am prosperous; is it then His cruelty, when I am in adversity? If I praise His mercy when it is well with me, am I then to exclaim against His cruelty when it is ill? No. But when it is well, praise His mercy: when ill, praise His truth: because He scourgeth sins, He is not unjust. ... During the night Daniel confessed the truth of God: he said in his prayer, "We have sinned, and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee: but unto us confusion of face."(3) He told of the truth of God during the night-season. What is it to tell of the truth of God in the night-season? Not to accuse God, because thou sufferest aught of evil: but to attribute it to thy sins, His correction: to tell of His loving-kindness early in the morning, and of His truth in the night-season. When thou doest this, thou dost always praise God, always confess to God, and sing unto His Name.
5. "Upon a psaltery of ten strings, with a song, and upon the harp" (ver. 3). Ye have not heard of the psaltery of ten strings for the first time: it signifies the ten commandments of the Law. But we must sing upon that psaltery, and not carry it only. For even the Jews have the Law: but they carry it: they sing not. ... "And upon the harp." This means, in word and deed; "with a song," in word; "upon the harp," in work. If thou speakest words alone, thou hast, as it were, the song only, and not the harp: if thou workest, and speakest not, thou hast the harp only. On this account both speak well and do well, if thou wouldest have the song together with the harp.
6. "For Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy works; and I will rejoice in giving praise for the operations of Thy hands" (ver. 4). Ye see what he saith. Thou hast made me living well, Thou hast formed me: if by chance I do aught of good, I will rejoice in the work of Thy hands: as the Apostle saith, "For we are His workmanship, created unto good works."(1) For unless He formed thee to good works, thou wouldest not know any works but evil. ... Because thou canst not have truth from thy own self, it remains that thou drink it thence, whence it floweth: as if thou hast gone back from the light, thou art in darkness: as a stone glows not with its own heat, but either from the sun or fire, and if thou withdraw it from the heat, it cools: there it appears, that the heat was not its own; for it became heated either by the sun or by fire: thus thou also, if thou withdraw from God, wilt become cold; if thou approach God, thou wilt warm: as the Apostle saith "fervent in spirit."(2) Also what saith he of the light? If thou approach Him, thou wilt be in light; therefore saith the Psalm, "Look upon Him, and be lightened; and your faces shall not be ashamed."(3) Because therefore thou canst do no good, unless lightened by the light of God, and warmed by the spirit of God; when thou shalt see thyself working well, confess unto God, and say what the Apostle saith; say unto thyself, that thou be not puffed up, "For what hast thou that thou didst not receive?"(4) ...
7. That wretched man who doeth good, and suffereth evils, seeth him, becometh disturbed, and saith, O God, the wicked, I imagine, please Thee, and Thou hatest the good, and lovest those who work iniquity. ... The Sabbath being now lost in the inner man, and the tranquillity of his heart being shut out, and good thoughts repelled, he now beginneth to imitate him whom he seeth flourishing amid his evil deeds; and turneth himself also to evil works. But God is long-suffering, because He is eternal,(5) and he knoweth the day of His own judgment, where He weigheth all things.
8. Teaching us this, what saith he?"O Lord, how glorious are Thy works: Thy thoughts are made very deep" (ver. 5). Verily, my brethren, there is no sea sodeep as these thoughts of God, who maketh the wicked flourish, and the good suffer: nothing so profound, nothing so deep: therein every unbelieving soul is wrecked, in that depth, in that profundity. Dost thou wish to cross this depth? Remove not froth the wood of Christ's Cross: thou shall not sink: hold thyself fast to Christ. What do I mean by this, hold fast to Christ? It was for this reason that He chose to suffer on earth Himself. Ye have heard, while the prophet was being read, how He "did not turn away His back from the smiters, and His face from the spittings of men," how "He turned not His cheek from their hands;"(6) wherefore chose He to stiffer all these things, but that He might console the suffering? He could have raised His flesh at the last day: but then thou wouldest not have had thy ground of hope, since thou hadst not seen Him. He deferred not His resurrection, that thou mightest not still be in doubt. Suffer then tribulation in the world with the same end as that which thou hast observed in Christ: and let not those who do evil, and flourish in this life, move thee. "Thy thoughts are very deep." Where is the thought of God? Rejoice not as the fish who is exulting in his bait: the fisherman hath not drawn his hook: the fish hath as yet the hook in his jaws. And what seemeth to thee long, is short; all these things pass over quickly. What is the long life of man to the eternity of God? Dost thou wish to be of long-suffering? Consider the eternity of God. For thou regardest thy few days, and in thy few days thou dost wish all things to be fulfilled. What things? The condemnation of all the wicked: and the crowning of all the good: dost thou wish these things to be fulfilled in thy days? God fulfilleth them in His own time. Why dost thou suffer weariness? He is eternal: He waiteth: He is of long-suffering: but thou sayest, I am not of long-suffering, because I am mortal. But thou hast it in thy power to become so: join thy heart to the eternity of God, and with Him thou shalt be eternal. ...
9. For this reason, after saying," Thy thoughts are very deep," he at once subjoins: "An unwise man doth not well consider this, and a fool doth not understand it" (ver. 6). What are the things which an unwise man cloth not well consider, and which a fool doth not understand? "When the ungodly are green as the grass." What is, "as the grass"? They flourish when it is winter, but they will wither in the summer. Thou observest the flower of the grass? What more quickly passeth by? What is brighter? What is greener? Let not its verdure delight thee, but fear its withering. Thou hast heard of the ungodly being green as the grass: hear also of the righteous: "For lo." In the mean while, consider the ungodly; they flourish as the grass; but who are they who understand it not? The foolish and unwise. "When the ungodly are green as the grass, and all men look upon the workers of iniquity" (ver. 7). All who in their heart think not aright of God, look upon the ungodly when they are as green as grass, that is, when they flourish for a time. Why do they look upon them ? "That they may be destroyed for ever." For they regard their momentary bloom, they imitate them, and wishing to flourish with them for a time, perish for evermore: this is, "That they may be destroyed for ever."
10. "But Thou, Lord, art the Most Highest for evermore" (ver. 8). Waiting above in Thy eternity until the season of the wicked be past, and that of the just come. "For lo." Listen, brethren. Already he who speaketh (for he speaketh in our person, in the person of Christ's body, for Christ speaketh in His own body, that is, in His Church), hath joined himself unto the eternity of God: as I a little before was saying unto you, God is long-suffering and patient, and alloweth all those evil deeds which He seeth to be done by wicked men. Wherefore? because He is eternal, and seeth what He keepeth for them. Dost thou also wish to be long-suffering and patient? Join thyself to the eternity of God: together with Him wait for those things which are beneath thee: for when thy heart shall have cleaved unto the Most Highest, all mortal things will be beneath thee: say then what follows, "For lo, thine enemies shall perish." Those who now flourish, shall afterwards perish. Who are the enemies of God? Brethren, perhaps ye think those only enemies of God who blaspheme? They indeed are so, and those wicked men who neither in tongue nor in thought cease to injure God. And what do they do to the eternal, most high God? If thou strike with thy fist upon a pillar, thou art hurt: and thinkest thou that where thou strikest God with thy blasphemy, thou art not thyself broken? for thou doest nothing to God. But the enemies of God are openly blasphemers, and daily they are found hidden. Beware of such enmities of God. For the Scripture revealeth some such secret enemies of God: that because thou knowest them not in thy heart, thou mayest know in God's Scriptures, and beware of being found with them. James saith openly in his Epistle, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?"(1) Thou hast heard. Dost thou wish not to be an enemy of God? Be not a friend of this world: for if thou art a friend of this world, thou wilt be an enemy of God. For as a wife cannot be an adulteress, unless she be an enemy to her own husband: so a soul which is an adulteress through its love of worldly things, cannot but be an enemy to God. It feareth, but loveth not: it feareth punishment but is not delighted with righteousness. All lovers of the world, therefore, are enemies of God, all the curious after trifles, all consulters of diviners astrologers, and evil spirits. Let them enter, or not enter, Churches: they are enemies of God. They may flourish for a season like grass, but they will perish, when He beginneth to visit them, and pronounce His sentence upon all flesh. Join thyself to the Scripture of God, and say with this Psalm, "For lo, thine enemies shall perish" (ver. 9). Be not found there, where they shall perish. "And all the workers of iniquity shall be destroyed."
11. ... "But mine horn shall be exalted like the horn of an unicorn" (ver. 10). Why did He say, "like the horn of an unicorn"? Sometimes an unicorn signifies pride, sometimes it means the lifting up of unity; because unity is lifted up, all heresies shall perish with the enemies of God. And" mine horn shall be exalted like an unicorn." When will it be so? "And mine old age shall be in the fatness of mercy."(2) Why did he say, "my old age"? He means, my last days; as our old age is the last season in our lives, so the whole of what the body of Christ at present suffereth in labours, in cares, in watchings, in hunger, in thirst, in stumbling-blocks, in wickednesses, in tribulations, is its youth: its old age, that is, its last days, will be in joy. And beware, beloved, that ye think not death meant also, in that he hath spoken of old age: for man groweth old in the flesh for this reason, that he may die. The old age of the Church will be white with good works, but it shall not decay through death. What the head of the old man is, that our works will be. Ye see how the head groweth old, and whiteneth, as fast as old age approacheth. Thou sometimes dost seek in the head of one who groweth old duly in his own course a black hair, yet thou findest it not: thus when our life shall have been such, that the blackness of sins may be sought, and none found, that old age is youthful, is green, and ever will be green. Ye have heard of the grass of sinners, hear ye of the old age of the righteous: "My old age shall be in the fathers of mercy."
12. "And Mine eye hath beheld on mine enemies" (vcr. 11). Whom doth he call his enemies? All the workers of iniquity. Do not observe whether thy friend be wicked: let an occasion come, and then thou provest him. Thou beginnest to go contrary to his iniquity, and then thou shalt see that when he was flattering thee, he was thy enemy; but thou hadst not yet knocked, not to raise in his heart what was not there, but that what was there might break out. "Mine eye also hath looked upon mine enemies: and mine ear shall hear his desire of the wicked that rise up against me." When? In my old age. What is, in old age? In the last times. And what shall our ear hear? Standing on the right hand, we shall hear what shall be said to them that are on the left.(3)
13. The grass withereth, the flower of sinners dieth away: what of the righteous? "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree" (vcr. 12). The ungodly are green as grass; "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree." By the palm tree he signifieth height. Possibly he had also this meaning in the palm, that in its extremities it is beautiful: so that thou mayest trace its beginning from the earth, its end in its topmost branches, wherein its whole beauty dwelleth. The rough root appeareth in the earth, the beautiful foliage toward the sky. Thy beauty too, then, shall be in the end. Thy root is fixed fast: but our root is upward. For our root is Christ, who hath ascended into heaven. Humbled, he shall be exalted; "he shall spread abroad like a cedar in Libanus." See what trees he spoke of: the righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree: and shall spread abroad like a cedar in Libanus. When the sun hath gone forth, doth the palm-tree wither? Doth the cedar die? But when the sun hath been glowing for some hours, the grass drieth up. The judgment, therefore, shall come, that sinners may wither, and the faithful flourish.
14. "Such as are planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God" (vcr. 12). "They shall be yet more increased in fruitful old age, and shall be quiet, that they may show it forth" (vcr. 13). Such is the Sabbath, which but a little while ago I commended unto you, whence the Psalm hath its title. "They shall be quiet, that they may show it forth." Wherefore are they quiet that show it forth? The grass of sinners moveth them not: the cedar and palm-tree not even in tempests are bent. They are therefore quiet, that they may show it forth: and with reason, since at present they must show it forth even unto men who mock at it. O wretched men, who are lovers of the world! Those who are planted in the house of the Lord, show it to you: those who praise the Lord with song and lute, in word and deed, show it forth to you, and tell you. Be not seduced by the prosperity of the wicked, admire not the flower of grass: admire not those who are happy only for a season, but miserable unto eternity. ... If ye wish to flourish like a palm-tree, and to spread abroad like a cedar in Libanus, and not to wither like grass when the sun is hot; as those who appear to flourish when the sun is absent. If then ye wish not to be as grass, but as the palm-tree and the cedar, what will ye show forth? "How true the Lord my strength is: and that there is no unrighteousness in Him." How is it there is no unrighteousness? A man committeth so great crimes; he is well, he hath sons, a plentiful house, he is full of pride, is exalted by his honours, is revenged on his enemies, and doeth every evil deed; another man, innocent, attending to his own affairs, not robbing another's goods, doing nothing against any one, suffereth in chains, in prison, tosseth and sigheth in poverty. How is it that there is no unrighteousness in Him? Be quiet, and thou shall know: for thou art disturbed, and in thy chamber thou dost darken thy light. The eternal God doth wish to shine upon thee: do not then make thee cloudy weather from thy own disturbed mind. Be quiet within thyself, and see what I say unto thee. Because God is eternal, because for the present He spareth the bad, bringing them to repentance: He scourgeth the good, instructing them in the way unto the kingdom of heaven: "There is no unrighteousness in Him:" fear not. ...What, if He leaveth this man unpunished now, because he is doomed to hear, "Depart into everlasting fire." But when? when thou shalt be placed at the right hand, then shall it be said to those placed on the left, "Depart into the everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels." Let not therefore those things move thee: Be quiet, keep Sabbath, and show "how true the Lord my strength is: and that there is no unrighteousness in Him."
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