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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm CXLIV.58385838     Lat. CXLIII. Sermon to the people.

1. The title of this Psalm is brief in number of words, but heavy in the weight of its mysteries. “To David himself against Goliath.” This battle was fought in the time of our fathers, and ye, beloved, remember it with me from Holy Scripture.…David put five stones in his scrip, he hurled but one. The five Books were chosen, but unity conquered. Then, having smitten and overthrown him, he took the enemy’s sword, and with it cut off his head. This our David also did, He overthrew the devil with his own weapons: and when his great ones, whom he had in his power, by means of whom he slew other souls, believe, they turn their tongues against the devil, and so Goliath’s head is cut off with his own sword.

2. “Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands for battle, my fingers for war” (ver. 1). These are our words, if we be the Body of Christ. It seems a repetition of sentiment; “our hands for battle,” and “our fingers for war,” are the same. Or is there some difference between “hands” and “fingers”? Certainly both hands and fingers work. Not then without reason do we take “fingers” as put for “hands.” But still in the “fingers” we recognise the division of operation, yet still a sort of unity. Behold that grace! the Apostle saith,58395839     1 Cor. xii. 8, etc. To one, this; to another, that; “there are diversities of operations; all these worketh one and the self-same Spirit;” there is the root of unity. With these “fingers” then the Body of Christ fighteth, going forth to “war,” going forth to “battle.”…By works of Mercy our enemy is conquered, and we could not have works of mercy unless we had charity, and charity we could have none unless we received it by the Holy Ghost; He then “teacheth our hands for battle, and our fingers for war:” to Him rightfully do we say, “My Mercy,” from whom we have also that we are merciful: “for he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.”58405840     Jas. ii. 13.

3. My Mercy and my Refuge, my Upholder and my Deliverer” (ver. 2). Much toileth this combatant, having his flesh lusting against his spirit. Keep what thou hast. Then shalt thou have in full what thou wishest, when “death shall have been swallowed up in victory;”58415841     1 Cor. xv. 54. when this mortal body has been raised, and is changed into the condition of the angels, and rises aloft to a heavenly quality.…There is life, there are good days, where nought lusteth against the spirit, where it is not said, “Fight,” but “Rejoice.” But who is he that lusteth for these days? Every man certainly saith, “I do.” Hear what followeth. I see that thou art toiling, I see that thou art engaged in battle, and in danger; hear what followeth:…“Depart from evil, and do good:” let not the poor first weep under thee, that the poor may rejoice through thee. For what reward, since now thou art fighting? “Seek peace, and ensue it.” Learn and say, “My Mercy and my Refuge, mine Upholder and my Deliverer, my Protector:” “mine Upholder,” lest I fall; “my Deliverer,” lest I stick; “my Protector,” lest I be stricken. In all these things, in all my toil, in all my battles, in all my difficulties, in Him have I hoped, “who subdueth my people under me.” Behold, our Head speaketh together with us.

4. “Lord, what is man, that Thou hast become known unto him?” (ver. 3). All is included in “that Thou hast become known unto him.” “Or the son of man, that Thou valuest him?” Thou valuest him, that is, Thou makest him of such importance, Thou countest him of such price, Thou knowest under what Thou placest him, over what Thou placest him. For valuing is considering the price of a thing. How greatly did He value man, who for him shed the blood of His only-begotten Son! For God valueth not man in the same way as one man valueth another: he, when he findeth a slave for sale, giveth a higher price for a horse than for a man. Consider how greatly He valued thee, that thou mayest be able to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” And how greatly did He value thee, “who spared not His own Son”? “How shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?”58425842     Rom. viii. 31, 32. He who giveth this food to the combatant, what keepeth He in store for the conqueror?…

5. “Man is made like unto vanity: his days pass away like a shadow” (ver. 4). What vanity? Time, which passeth on, and floweth by. For this “vanity” is said in comparison of the Truth, which ever abideth, and never faileth: for it too is a work of His Hand, in its degree. “For,” as it is written, “God filled the earth with His good things.”58435843     Ecclus. xvi. 29. What is “His”? That accord with Him. But all these things, being earthly, fleeting, transitory, if they be compared to that Truth, where it is said, “I Am That I Am,”58445844     Exod. iii. 14. all this which passeth away is called “vanity.” For through time it vanisheth, like stroke into the air. And why should I say more than that which the Apostle James said, willing to bring down proud men to humility, “What is,” saith he, “your life? It is even a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”58455845     Jas. iv. 14. …Work then, though it be in the night, with thine hands, that is, by good works seek God, before the day come which shall gladden thee, lest the day come which shall sadden thee. For see how safely thou workest, who art not left by Him whom thou seekest; “that thy Father which seeth in secret may reward thee openly.”58465846     Matt. vi. 4.

6. “Lord, bow Thy heavens, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke” (ver. 5). “Flash Thy lightning, and Thou shalt scatter them; send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shalt confound them” (ver. 6). “Send forth Thy Hand from above, and deliver me, and draw me out of many waters” (ver. 7). The Body of Christ, the humble David, full of grace, relying on God, fighting in this world, calleth for the help of God. What are “heavens bowed down”? Apostles humbled. For those “heavens declare the glory of God;” and of these heavens declaring the glory of God it is presently said, “There is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them,” etc.58475847     Ps. xix. 1, 3, 4. When then these heavens sent forth their voices through all lands, and did wonderful things, while the Lord flashed and thundered from them by miracles and commandments, the gods were thought to have come down from heaven to men. For certain of the Gentiles, thinking this, desired even to sacrifice to them.…But they commended to these the Lord Jesus Christ, humbling themselves, that God might be praised; because “the heavens” were “bowed,” that “God” might “come down.”…“Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.” So long as they are not touched, they seem to themselves great: they are now about to say, “Great art Thou, O Lord:”58485848     Ps. xlviii. 1. the mountains also are about to say, “Thou only art the Most Highest over all the earth.”58495849     Ps. lxxxiii. 18.

7. But there are some that conspire, that “gather themselves together against the Lord, and against His Christ.”58505850     Ps. ii. 2. They have come together, they have conspired. “Flash forth Thy lightnings, and Thou shalt scatter them.” Abound with Thy miracles, and their conspiracy shall be broken.…“Send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shalt confound them.” Let the unsound be wounded, that, being well wounded, they may be made sound; and let them say, being set now in the Church, in the Body of Christ, let them say with the Church, “I am wounded with Love.”58515851     Cant. ii. 5, LXX. “Send forth Thine Hand from on high.” What afterward? What in the end? How conquereth the Body of Christ? By heavenly aid. “For the Lord Himself shall come with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God shall He descend from heaven,”58525852     1 Thess. iv. 16. Himself the Saviour of the body, the Hand of God. What is, “Out of many waters”? From many peoples. What peoples? Aliens, unbelievers, whether assailing us from without, or laying snares within. Take me out of many waters, in which Thou didst discipline me, in which Thou didst roll me, to free me from my filth. This is the “water of contradiction.”58535853     Numb. xx. 13. …“From the hand of strange children.” Hear, brethren, among whom we are, among whom we live, from whom we long to be delivered. “Whose mouth hath spoken vanity” (ver. 8). All of you to-day, if ye had not gathered yourselves together to these divine shows58545854     Spectacula. of the word of God, and were not at this hour engaged in them, how great vanities would ye be hearing! “whose mouth hath spoken vanity:” when, in short, would they, speaking vanity, hear you speaking vanity? “And their right hand is a right hand of iniquity.” What doest thou among them with thy pastoral scrip with five stones in it? Say it to me in another form: that same law which thou hast signified by five stones, signify in some other way also. “I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God” (ver. 9). “A new song” is of grace; “a new song” is of the new man; “a new song” is of the New Testament. But lest thou shouldest think that grace departeth from the law, whereas rather by grace the law is fulfilled, “upon a psaltery of ten strings will I sing unto Thee.” Upon the law of ten commandments: therein may I sing to Thee; therein may I rejoice to Thee; therein may “I sing to Thee a new song;” for, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” 58555855     Rom. xiii. 10. But they who have not love may carry the psaltery, sing they cannot. Contradiction cannot make my psaltery to be silent.

8. “Who giveth salvation to kings, who redeemeth David His servant” (ver. 10). Ye know who David is; be yourselves David. Whence “redeemeth He David His servant”? Whence redeemeth He Christ? Whence redeemeth He the Body of Christ? “From the sword of ill intent deliver me.” “From the sword” is not sufficient; he addeth, “of ill intent.” Without doubt there is a sword of good intent. What is the sword of good intent? That whereof the Lord saith, “I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword.” 58565856     Matt. x. 34. For He was about to separate believers from unbelievers, sons from parents, and to sever all other ties, while the sword cut off what was diseased, but healed the members of Christ. Of good intent then is the sword twice sharpened, powerful with both edges, the Old and New Testaments, with the narration of the past and the promise of the future. That then is the sword of good intent: but the other is of ill intent, wherewith they talk vanity, for that is of good intent, wherewith God speaketh verity. For truly “the sons of men have teeth which are spears and arrows, and their tongue is a sharp sword.”58575857     Ps. lvii. 4. “From” this “sword deliver me” (ver. 11). “And take me out of the hand of strange children, whose mouth hath spoken vanity:” just as before. And that which followeth, “their right hand is a right hand of iniquity,” the same he had set down before also, when he called them “many waters.” For lest thou shouldest think that the “many waters” were good waters, he explained them by the “sword of ill intent.”

9. “Whose sons are like young vines firmly planted in their youth” (ver. 12). He wisheth to recount their happiness. Observe, ye sons of light, sons of peace: observe, ye sons of the Church, members of Christ; observe whom he calleth “strangers,” whom he calleth “strange children,” whom he calleth “waters of contradiction,” whom he calleth a “sword of ill intent.” Observe, I beseech you, for among them ye are in peril, among their tongues ye fight against the desires of your flesh, among their tongues, set in the hand of the devil wherewith he fighteth.58585858     Eph. vi. 12. …What vanity hath their mouth spoken, and how is their right hand a right hand of iniquity? “Their daughters are fitted and adorned after the similitude of a temple.” “Their garners are full, bursting out from one store to another: their sheep are fruitful, multiplying in their streets” (ver. 13): “their oxen are fat: their hedge is not broken down, nor their road, nor is their crying in their streets” (ver. 14). Is not this then happiness? I ask the sons of the kingdom of heaven, I ask the offspring of everlasting resurrection, I ask the body of Christ, the members of Christ, the temple of God. Is not this then happiness, to have sons safe, daughters beautiful, garners full, cattle abundant, no downfall, I say not of a wall, but not even of a hedge, no tumult and clamour in the streets, but quiet, peace, abundance, plenty of all things in their houses and in their cities? Is not this then happiness? or ought the righteous to shun it? or findest thou not the house of the righteous too abounding with all these things, full of this happiness? Did not Abraham’s house abound with gold, silver, children, servants, cattle? What say we? is not this happiness? Be it so, still it is on the left hand. What is, on the left hand? Temporal, mortal, bodily. I desire not that thou shun it, but that thou think it not to be on the right hand.…For what ought they to have set on the right hand? God, eternity, the years of God which fail not, whereof is said, “and Thy years shall not fail.”58595859     Ps. cii. 27. There should be the right hand, there should be our longing. Let us use the left for the time, let us long for the fight for eternity. “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.”58605860     Ps. lxii. 10.

10. “They have called the people blessed who have these things” (ver. 15). O men that speak vanity! They have lost the true right hand, wicked and perverse, they have put on the benefits of God inversely. O wicked ones, O speakers of vanity, O strange children! What was on the left hand, they have set on the right. What dost thou, David? What dost thou, Body of Christ? What do ye, members of Christ? What do ye, not strange children, but children of God?…What say ye? Say ye with us, “Blessed is the people whose Lord is their God.”


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