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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm CXVI.50765076     Lat. CXV. A sermon to the common people.

1. “I have loved, since the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer” (ver. 1). Let the soul that is sojourning in absence from the Lord sing thus, let that sheep which had strayed sing thus, let that son who had “died and returned to life,” who had “been lost and was found;”50775077     Luke xv. 6, 24. let our soul sing thus, brethren, and most beloved sons. Let us be taught, and let us abide, and let us sing thus with the Saints: “I have loved: since the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer.” Is this a reason for having loved, that the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer? and do we not rather love, because He hath heard, or that He may hear? What then meaneth, “I have loved, since the Lord will hear”? Doth he, because hope is wont to inflame love, say that he hath loved, since he hath hoped that God will listen to the voice of his prayer?

2. But whence hath he hoped for this? Since, he saith, “He hath inclined His ear unto me: and in my days I have called upon Him” (ver. 2). I loved, therefore, because He will hear; He will hear, “because He hath inclined His ear unto me.” But whence knowest thou, O human soul, that God hath inclined His ear unto thee, except thou sayest, “I have believed”? These three things, therefore, “abide, faith, hope, charity:”50785078     1 Cor. xiii. 13. because thou hast believed, thou hast hoped; because thou hast hoped, thou hast loved.…

3. And what are thy days, since thou hast said, “In my days I have called upon Him”? Are they those perchance, in which “the fulness of time came,” and “God sent His Son,”50795079     Gal. iv. 4. who had already said, “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee”?50805080     Isa. xlix. 8. …I may rather call my days the days of my misery, the days of my mortality, the days according to Adam, full of toil and sweat, the days according to the ancient corruption. “For I lying, stuck fast in the deep mire,”50815081     Ps. lxix. 2. in another Psalm also have cried out, “Behold, Thou hast made my days old;”50825082     Ps. xxxix. 5. in these days of mine have I called upon Thee. For my days are different from the days of my Lord. I call those my days, which by my own daring I have made for myself, whereby I have forsaken Him: and, since He reigneth everywhere, and is all-powerful, and holdeth all things, I have deserved prison; that is, I have received the darkness of ignorance, and the bonds of mortality.…For in these days of mine, “The snares of death compassed me round about, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me” (ver. 3): pains that would not have overtaken me, had I not wandered from Thee. But now they have overtaken me; but I found them not, while I was rejoicing in the prosperity of the world, in which the snares of hell deceive the more.

4. But after “I too found trouble and heaviness, I called upon the Name of the Lord” (ver. 4). For trouble and profitable sorrow I did not feel; trouble, wherein He giveth aid, unto whom it is said, “O be Thou our help in trouble: and vain is the help of man.”50835083     Ps. lx. 11. For I thought I might rejoice and exult in the vain help of man; but when I had heard from my Lord, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted:”50845084     Matt. v. 4. I did not wait until I should lose those temporal blessings in which I rejoiced, and should then mourn: but I gave heed to that very misery of mine which caused me to rejoice in such things, which I both feared to lose, and yet could not retain; I gave heed to it firmly and courageously, and I saw that I was not only agonized by the adversities of this world, but even bound by its good fortune; and thus “I found the trouble and heaviness” which had escaped me, “and called upon the Name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.” Let then the holy people of God say, “I called upon the Name of the Lord:” and let the remainder of the heathen hear, who do not as yet call upon the Name of the Lord; let them hear and seek, that they may discover trouble and heaviness, and may call upon the Name of the Lord, and be saved.…

5. “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (ver. 5). He is gracious, righteous, and merciful. Gracious in the first place, because He hath inclined His ear unto me; and I knew not that the ear of God had approached my lips, till I was aroused by those beautiful feet, that I might call upon the Lord’s Name: for who hath called upon Him, save he whom He first called? Hence therefore He is in the first place “gracious;” but “righteous,” because He scourgeth; and again, “merciful,” because He receiveth; for “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth;” nor ought it to be so bitter to me that He scourgeth, as sweet that He receiveth. For how should not “The Lord, who keepeth little ones” (ver. 6), scourge those whom, when of mature age, He seeketh to be heirs; “for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” 50855085     Heb. xii. 6, 7. “I was in misery, and He helped me.” He helped me, because I was in misery; for the pain which the physician causeth by his knife is not penal, but salutary.

6. “Turn again then unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath done good to thee” (ver. 7): not for thy deservings, or through thy strength; but because the Lord hath done good to thee. “Since,” he saith, “He hath delivered my soul from death” (ver. 8). It is wonderful, most beloved brethren, that, after he had said that his soul should turn unto rest, since the Lord had rewarded him; he added, since “He hath delivered my soul from death.” Did it turn unto rest, because it was delivered from death? Is not rest more usually said of death? What is the action of him whose life is rest, and death disquietude? Such then ought to be the action of the soul, as may tend to a quiet security, not one that may increase restless toil; since He hath delivered it from death, who, pitying it, said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” etc.50865086     Matt. xi. 28–30. Meek therefore and humble, following, so to speak, Christ as its path, should the action of the soul be that tendeth towards repose; nevertheless, not slothful and supine; that it may finish its course, as it is written, “In quietness make perfect thy works.”50875087     Ecclus. iii. 19. “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” Whoever feeleth the chain of this flesh, chanteth these things as fulfilled in hope towards himself. For it is truly said, “I was in misery, and He delivered me;” but the Apostle saith this also truly, that we are saved by hope.50885088     Rom. viii. 24. And that we are delivered from death, is well said to be already fulfilled, so that we may understand the death of unbelievers, of whom he saith, “Leave the dead to bury their dead.”50895089     Matt. viii. 22. …He will then clear our eyes of tears, when He shall save our feet from falling. For there will then be no slipping of our feet as they walk, when there will be no sliding of the weak flesh. But now, however firm our path, which is Christ, be; yet since we place flesh, which we are enjoined to subdue, beneath us; in the very work of chastening and subduing it, it is a great thing not to fall: but not to slip in the flesh, who can attain? “I shall please in the sight of the Lord, in the land of the living” (ver. 9).…We “labour” indeed now, because we are awaiting “the redemption of our body:”50905090     Rom. viii. 23. but, “when death shall have been swallowed up in victory, and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality;”50915091     1 Cor. xv. 53, 54. then there will be no weeping, because there will be no falling; and no falling, because no corruption. And therefore we shall then no longer labour to please, but we shall be entirely pleasing in the sight of the Lord, in the land of the living.

7. …“I believed,” saith he, “and therefore did I speak. But I was sorely brought down” (ver. 10). For he suffered many tribulations, for the sake of the word which he faithfully held, faithfully preached; and he was sorely brought down; as they feared who loved the praise of men better than that of God. But what meaneth, “But I”? He should rather say, I believed, and therefore I have spoken, and I was sorely brought down: why did he add, “But I,” save because a man may be sorely brought down by those who oppose the truth, the truth itself cannot, which he believeth and speaketh? Whence also the Apostle, when he was speaking of his chain, saith, “the word of God is not bound.”50925092     2 Tim. ii. 9. So this man also, since there is one person of the holy witnesses, that is, of the Martyrs of God, saith, “I believed, and therefore will I speak.” “But I;” not that which I believed, not the word which I have delivered; “but I was sorely brought down.”

8. “I said in my trance, All men are liars” (ver. 11). By trance he meaneth fear, which when persecutors threaten, and when the sufferings of torture or death impend, human weakness suffereth. For this we understand, because in this Psalm the voice of Martyrs is heard. For trance is used in another sense also, when the mind is not beside itself by fear, but is possessed by some inspiration of revelation. “But I said in my haste, All men are liars.” In consternation he hath had regard to his infirmity, and hath seen that he ought not to presume on himself; for as far as pertaineth to the man himself, he is a liar, but by the grace of God he is made true; lest yielding to the pressure of his enemies he might not speak what he had believed, but might deny it; even as it happened to Peter, since he had trusted in himself, and was to be taught that we ought not to trust in man. And if every one ought not to trust in man, surely not in himself; because he is a man. Rightly therefore in his fear did he perceive that every man was a liar; since they also whom no fear robs of their presence of mind, so that they never lie by yielding to the persecutors, are such by the gifts of God, not by their own strength.…

9. “What,” he asketh, “what reward shall I give unto the Lord, for all the benefits that He hath returned unto me?” (ver. 12). He saith not, for all the benefits that He hath done unto me but “for all the benefits that He hath returned unto me.” What deeds then on the man’s part had preceded, that all the benefits of God were not said to be given, but returned? What had preceded, on the man’s part, save sins? God therefore repayeth good for evil, whilst unto Him men repay evil for good; for such was the return of those who said, “This is the heir: come, let us kill him.” 50935093     Matt. xxi. 38.

10. But this man seeketh what he may return unto the Lord, and findeth not, save out of those things which the Lord Himself returneth. “I will receive,” he saith, “the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord” (ver. 13). “My vows will I render to the Lord, before all His people” (ver. 14). Who hath given thee the cup of salvation, which when thou takest, and callest upon the Name of the Lord, thou shalt return unto Him a reward for all that He hath returned unto thee? Who, save He who saith, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I shall drink of?”50945094     Matt. xx. 22. [He omits ver. 14.—C.] Who hath given unto thee to imitate His sufferings, save He who hath suffered before for thee? And therefore, “Right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints” (ver. 15). He purchased it by His Blood, which He first shed for the salvation of slaves, that they might not hesitate to shed their blood for the Lord’s Name; which, nevertheless, would be profitable for their own interests, not for those of the Lord.

11. Let therefore the slave purchased at so great a price confess his condition, and say, “Behold, O Lord, how that I am Thy servant: “I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid” (ver. 16).…This, therefore, is the son of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is above, the free mother of us all.50955095     Gal. iv. 26. And free indeed from sin she is, but the handmaid of righteousness; to whose sons still pilgrims it is said, “Ye have been called unto liberty;”50965096     Gal. v. 13. and again he maketh them servants, when he saith, “but by love serve one another.”…Let therefore that servant say unto God, Many call themselves martyrs, many Thy servants, because they hold Thy Name in various heresies and errors; but since they are beside Thy Church, they are not the children of Thy handmaid. But “I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid.” “Thou hast broken my bonds asunder.”

12. “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of praise” (ver. 17). For I have not found any deserts of mine, since Thou hast broken my bonds asunder; I therefore owe Thee the sacrifice of praise; because, although I will boast that I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid, I will glory not in myself, but in Thee, my Lord, who hast broken asunder my bonds, that when I return from my desertion, I may again be bound unto Thee.

13. “I will pay my vows unto the Lord” (ver. 18). What vows wilt thou pay? What victims hast thou vowed? what burnt-offerings, what holocausts? Dost thou refer to what thou hast said a little before, “I will receive the cup of salvation, and will call upon the Name of the Lord;” and, “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving”? and indeed whosoever well considereth what he is vowing to the Lord, and what vows he is paying, let him vow himself, let him pay himself as a vow: this is exacted, this is due. On looking at the coin, the Lord saith, “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s:”50975097     Matt. xxii. 21. his own image is rendered unto Cæsar: let His image be rendered unto God.

14. “In the courts,” he saith, “of the Lord’s house” (ver. 19). What is the Lord’s house, the same is the Lord’s handmaid: and what is God’s house, save all His people? It therefore followeth, “In the sight of all His people.” And now he more openly nameth his mother herself. For what else is His people, but what followeth, “In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem”? For than that which is returned grateful, if it be returned from peace, and in peace. But they who are not sons of this handmaid, have loved war rather than peace.…


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