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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm CXXXVIII.57005700     Lat. CXXXVII.

1. The title of this Psalm is brief and simple, and need not detain us; since we know whose resemblance David wore, and since in him we recognise ourselves also, for we too are members of that Body. The whole title is, “To David himself.” Let us see then, what is to David himself. The title of the Psalm is wont to tell us what is treated of within it: but in this, since the title informs us not of this, but tells us only to Whom it is chanted, the first verse tells us what is treated of in the whole Psalm, “I will confess to Thee.” This confession then let us hear. But first I remind you, that the term confession in Scripture, when we speak of confession to God, is used in two senses, of sin, and of praise. But confession of sin all know, confession of praise few attend to. So well known is confession of sin, that, wherever in Scripture we hear the words, “I will confess to Thee, O Lord,” or, “we will confess to Thee,” forthwith, through habitually understanding in this way, our hands hurry to beating our breast: so entirely are men wont not to understand confession to be of aught, save of sin. But was then our Lord Jesus Christ Himself too a sinner, who saith in the Gospel, “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth”?57015701     Confiteor Tibi. Matt. xi. 25. He goeth on to say what He confesseth, that we might understand His confession to be of praise, not of sin, “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” He praised the Father, he praised God, because He despiseth not the humble, but the proud. And such confession are we now going to hear, of praise of God, of thanksgiving. “With my whole heart.” My whole heart I lay upon the altar of Thy praise, an whole burnt-offering57025702     [He adds: “A whole burnt offering is a sacrifice where the whole is burnt, for the Greek word ὅλον, (holocaustum, Lat.) meaneth ‘whole.’”—C.] of praise I offer to Thee.…“I will confess to Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: for Thou hast heard the words of my mouth” (ver. 1). What mouth, save my heart? For there have we the voice which God heareth, which ear of man knoweth not at all. We have then a mouth within, there do we ask, thence do we ask, and if we have prepared a lodging or an house for God, there do we speak, there are we heard. “For He is not far from every one of us, for in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”57035703     Acts xvii. 27, 28. Nought maketh thee far off from God, save sin only. Cast down the middle wall of sin, and thou art with Him whom thou askest.

2. “And before the Angels will I sing unto Thee.” Not before men will I sing, but before the Angels. My song is my joy; but my joy in things below is before men, my joy in things above before the Angels. For the wicked knoweth not the joy of the just: “There is no joy, saith my God, to the wicked.”57045704     Isa. xlviii. 22, lvii. 21. The wicked rejoiceth in his tavern, the martyr in his chain. In what did that holy Crispina rejoice, whose festival is kept to-day? She rejoiced when she was being seized, when she was being carried before the judge, when she was being put into prison, when she was being brought forth bound, when she was being lifted up on the scaffold,57055705     Catasta. when she was being heard, when she was being condemned: in all these things she rejoiced; and the wretches thought her wretched, when she was rejoicing before the Angels.

3. “I will worship toward Thy holy Temple” (ver. 2). What holy Temple? That where we shall dwell, where we shall worship. For we hasten that we may adore. Our heart is pregnant and cometh to the birth, and seeketh where it may bring forth. What is the place where God is to be worshipped?…“The Temple of God is holy,” saith the Apostle, “which Temple ye are.”57065706     1 Cor. iii. 17. But assuredly, as is manifest, God dwelleth in the Angels. Therefore when our joy, being in spiritual things, not in earthly, taketh up a song to God, to sing before the Angels, that very assembly of Angels is the Temple of God, we worship toward God’s Temple. There is a Church below, there is a Church above also; the Church below, in all the faithful; the Church above, in all the Angels. But the God of Angels came down to the Church below, and Angels ministered to Him on earth,57075707     Matt. iv. 11. while He ministered to us; for, “I came not,” saith He, “to be ministered unto, but to minister.”57085708     Matt. xx. 28. …The Lord of Angels died for man. Therefore, “I will worship toward Thy holy Temple;” I mean, not the temple made with hands, but that which Thou hast made for Thyself.

4. “And I will confess to Thy Name in Thy mercy and Thy truth.”…These also which Thou hast given to me, do I according to my power give to Thee in return: mercy, in aiding others; truth, in judging. By these God aideth us, by these we win God’s favour. Rightly, therefore, “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.” No other ways are there whereby He can come to us, no other whereby we can come to Him. “For Thou hast magnified Thy holy Name over everything.” What sort of thanksgiving is this, brethren? He hath magnified His holy Name over Abraham. Of Abraham was born Isaac; over that house God was magnified; then Jacob; God was magnified, who said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then came his twelve sons. The name of the Lord was magnified over Israel. Then came the Virgin Mary. Then Christ our Lord, “dying for our sins, rising again for our justification,” 57095709     Rom. iv. 25. filling the faithful with His Holy Spirit, sending forth men to proclaim throughout the Gentiles, “Repent ye,” etc.57105710     Matt. iii. 2. Behold, “He hath magnified His holy Name above all things.”

5. “In what day soever I call upon Thee, do Thou quickly hear me” (ver. 3). Wherefore, “quickly”? Because Thou hast said, “While yet thou art speaking I will say, Lo, here I am.”57115711     Isa. lviii. 9. Wherefore, “quickly”? Because now I seek not earthly happiness, I have learnt holy longings from the New Testament. I seek not earth, nor earthly abundance, nor temporal health, nor the overthrow of my enemies, nor riches, nor rank: nought of these do I seek: therefore “quickly hear me.” Since Thou hast taught me what to seek, grant what I seek.…

6. Let us see then what he seeketh, with what right he hath said, “quickly hear me.” For what seekest thou, that thou shouldest quickly be heard? “Thou shalt multiply me.” In many ways may multiplication be understood.…For men are multiplied in their soul with cares: a man seemeth to be multiplied in soul, in whom vices even are multiplied. That is the multiplication of want, not of fulness. What then dost thou desire, thou who hast said, “quickly hear me,” and hast withdrawn thyself entirely from the body, from every earthly thing, from every earthly desire, so as to say to God, “Thou shalt multiply me in my soul”? Explain yet further what thou desirest. Thou shalt multiply me, saith he, in my soul “with virtue.”…

7. “Let all the kings of the earth confess to Thee, O Lord” (ver. 4). So shall it be, and so it is, and that daily; and it is shown that it was not said in vain, save that it was future. But neither let them, when they confess to Thee, when they praise Thee, desire earthly things of Thee. For what shall the kings of the earth desire? Have they not already sovereignty? Whatever more a man desire on earth, sovereignty is the highest point of his desire. What more can he desire? It must needs be some loftier eminence. But perhaps the loftier it is, the more dangerous. And therefore the more exalted kings are in earthly eminence, the more ought they to humble themselves before God. What do they do? “Because they have heard all the words of Thy mouth.” In a certain nation were hidden the Law and the Prophets, “all the words of Thy mouth:” in the Jewish nation alone were “all the words of Thy mouth,” the nation which the Apostle praiseth, saying, “What advantage hath the Jew? Much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” These were the words of God.57125712     Rom. iii. 1, 2. …What meant Gideon’s fleece? It is like the nation of the Jews in the midst of the world, which had the grace of sacraments, not indeed openly manifested, but hidden in a cloud, or in a veil, like the dew in the fleece.57135713     Judg. vi. 37, 39. The time came when the dew was to be manifested in the floor; it was manifested, no longer hidden. Christ alone is the sweetness of dew: Him alone thou recognisest not in Scripture, for whom Scripture was written. But yet, “they have heard all the words of thy mouth.”

8. “And let them sing in the paths of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord” (ver. 5). Let all the kings of the earth sing in the paths of the Lord. In what paths? Those that are spoken of above, “in Thy mercy and Thy truth.” Let not then the kings of the earth be proud, let them be humble. Then let them sing in the ways of the Lord, if they be humble: let them love, and they shall sing. We know travellers that sing; they sing, and hasten to reach the end of their journey. There are evil songs, such as belong to the old man; to the new man belongeth a new song. Let then the kings of the earth too walk in Thy paths, let them walk and sing in Thy paths. Sing what? that “great is the glory of the Lord,” not of kings.

9. See how he willed that kings should sing on their way, humbly bearing the Lord, not lifting themselves up against the Lord. For if they lift themselves up, what follows? “For the Lord is high, and hath respect unto the lowly” (ver. 6). Do kings then desire that He have respect unto them? Let them be humble. What then? if they lift themselves up to pride, can they escape His eyes? Lest perchance, because thou hast heard, “He hath respect unto the lowly,” thou choose to be proud, and say in thy soul, God hath respect unto the lowly, He hath not respect unto me, I will do what I will. O foolish one! wouldest thou say this, if thou knewest what thou oughtest to love? Behold, even if God willeth not to see thee, dost thou not fear this very thing, that He willeth not to see thee?…The lofty then, it seemeth, He hath not respect unto, for it is the lowly He respecteth. “The lofty”—what? “He considereth from afar.” What then gaineth the proud? To be seen from afar, not to escape being seen. And think not that thou must needs be safe on that account, for that He seeth less clearly, who seeth thee from afar. For thou indeed seest not clearly, what thou seest from afar; God, although He see thee from afar, seeth thee perfectly, yet is He not with thee. This thou gainest, not that thou art less perfectly seen, but that thou art not with Him by whom thou art seen. But what doth the lowly gain? “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart.” Let the proud then lift himself up as much as he will, certainly God dwelleth on high, God is in heaven: wishest thou that He come nigh to thee? Humble thyself. For the higher will He be above thee, the more thou liftest thyself up.

10. “If I walk in the midst of tribulation, Thou shalt revive me” (ver. 7). True it is: whatsoever tribulation thou art in, confess, call on Him; He freeth thee, He reviveth thee.…Love the other life, and thou shalt see that this life is tribulation, whatever prosperity it shine with, whatever delights it abound and overflow with; since not yet have we that joy most safe and free from all temptation, which God reserveth for us in the end, without doubt it is tribulation. Let us understand then what tribulation he meaneth here too, brethren. Not as though he said, “If perchance there shall any tribulation have befallen me, Thou shalt free me therefrom.” But how saith he? “If I walk,” etc.; that is, otherwise Thou wilt not revive me, unless I walk in the midst of tribulation.

11. “Thou hast stretched forth Thine hand over the wrath of mine enemies, and Thy right hand hath made me safe.” Let mine enemies rage: what can they do? They can take my money, strip, proscribe, banish me; afflict me with grief and tortures; at last, if they be allowed, even kill me: can they do aught more? But over that which mine enemies can do, Thou hast stretched forth Thine hand. For mine enemies cannot separate me from Thee: but Thou avengest me the more, the more Thou as yet delayest.…Yet not to make me despair; for it follows, “and Thy right hand hath made me safe.”

12. “Thou, Lord, shalt recompense for me” (ver. 8). I recompense not: Thou shalt recompense. Let mine enemies rage their full: Thou shalt recompense what I cannot.…“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves,” saith the Apostle, “but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.”57145714     Rom. xii. 19. There is here another sense not to be neglected, perhaps even to be preferred. “Lord” Christ, “Thou shalt repay for me.” For I, if I repay, have seized; Thou hast paid what Thou hast not seized. Lord, Thou shalt “repay for me.” Behold Him repaying for us. They came to Him, who exacted tribute:57155715     Matt. xvii. 24–26. they used to demand as tribute a didrachma, that is, two drachmas for one man; they came to the Lord to pay tribute; or rather, not to Him, but to His disciples, and they said to them, “Doth not your Master pay tribute?” They came and told Him. He saith unto Peter, “lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up: and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a stater: 57165716     That is, two didrachmas. that take, and give for Me and thee.” The first that riseth from the sea, is the First-begotten from the dead. In His mouth we find two didrachmas, that is, four drachmas: in His mouth we find the four Gospels. By those four drachmas we are free from the claims of this world, by the four Evangelists we remain no longer debtors; for there the debt of all our sins is paid. He then hath repaid for us, thanks to His mercy. He owed nothing: He repaid not for Himself: He repaid for us.…

13. “Lord, Thy mercy is for everlasting.”…Not for a time only do I desire to be freed. “Thy mercy is for everlasting,” wherewith Thou hast freed the martyrs, and so hast quickly taken them from this life. “Despise not Thou the works of Thine own hands.” I say not, Lord, “despise not the works of my hands:” of mine own works I boast not. “I sought,” indeed, “the Lord with my hands in the night season before Him, and have not been deceived;” but yet I praise not the works of mine own hands; I fear lest, when Thou shalt look into them, Thou find more sins in them than deserts. Behold in me Thy Work, not mine: for mine if Thou seest, Thou condemnest; Thine, if Thou seest, Thou crownest. For whatever good works there be of mine, from Thee are they to me; and so they are more Thine than mine.57175717     Eph. ii. 8–10. Therefore whether in regard that we are men, or in regard that we have been changed and justified from our iniquity, Lord, “despise not Thou the works of Thine own hands.”


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