aA
aA
aA
NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
« Prev Psalm LI Next »

Psalm LI.18031803     From a sermon to the people of Carthage. See below, § 11.

1. Neither must this multitude’s throng be defrauded, nor their infirmity burthened. Silence we ask, and quiet, in order that our voice, after yesterday’s labour, be able with some little vigour to last out. It must be believed, that your love hath met together in greater numbers to-day for nothing else, but that ye may pray for those whom an alien and perverse inclination doth keep away. For we are speaking neither of heathens nor of Jews, but of Christians: nor of those that are yet Catechumens, but of many that are even baptized, from the Laver of whom ye do no wise differ, and yet to their heart ye are unlike. For to-day how many brethren of ours we think of, and deplore their going unto vanities and lying insanities, to the neglect of that to which they have been called. Who, if in the very circus from any cause they chance to be startled, do immediately cross themselves,18041804     [On the sign of the Cross, see (Tertullian) A.N.F. vol. iii. p. 104; also vol. vii. (Lactant.) p. 130, note 3.—C.] and stand bearing It on the forehead, in the very place, from whence they had withdrawn, if they had borne It in heart. God’s mercy must be implored, that He may give understanding for condemning these things, inclination to flee them, and mercy to forgive. Opportunately, then, of Penitence a Psalm to-day has been chanted. Speak we even with the absent: there will be to them for our voice your memory. Neglect not the wounded and feeble, but that ye may more easily make whole, whole ye ought to abide. Correct by reproving, comfort by addressing, set an example by living well, He will be with them that hath been with you. For now that ye have overpassed these dangers, the fountain of God’s mercy is not closed. Where ye have come they will come; where ye have passed they will pass. A grievous thing it is indeed, and exceeding perilous, nay ruinous, and for certain a deadly thing, that witting they sin. For in one way to these vanities doth he run that despiseth the voice of Christ; in another way, he that knoweth from what he is fleeing. But that not even of such men we ought to despair, this Psalm doth show.

2. For there is written over it the title thereof, “A Psalm of David himself, when there came to him Nathan the prophet, when he went in unto Bersabee.” Bersabee was a woman, wife of another. With grief indeed we speak, and with trembling; but yet God would not have to be hushed what He hath willed to be written. I will say then not what I will, but what I am obliged; I will say not as one exhorting to imitation, but as one instructing you to fear. Captivated with this woman’s beauty, the wife of another, the king and prophet David, from whose seed according to the flesh the Lord was to come,18051805     Rom. i. 3. committed adultery with her. This thing in this Psalm is not read, but in the title thereof it appeareth; but in the book of Kings18061806     2 Sam. xi. 2–17. it is more fully read. Both Scriptures are canonical, to both without any doubt by Christians credit must be given. The sin was committed, and was written down. Moreover her husband in war he caused to be killed: and after this deed there was sent to him Nathan the prophet;18071807     2 Sam. xii. 1. sent by the Lord, to reprove him for so great an outrage.

3. What men should beware of, we have said; but what if they shall have fallen they should imitate, let us hear. For many men will to fall with David, and will not to rise with David. Not then for falling is the example set forth, but if thou shalt have fallen for rising again. Take heed lest thou fall. Not the delight of the younger be the lapse of the elder, but be the fall of the elder the dread of the younger. For this it was set forth, for this was written, for this in the Church often read and chanted: let them hear that have not fallen, lest they fall; let them hear that have fallen, that they may rise. So great a man’s sin is not hushed, is proclaimed in the Church. There men hear that are ill hearers, and seek for themselves countenance for sinning: they look out for means whereby they may defend what they have made ready to commit, not how they may beware of what they have not committed, and they say to themselves, If David, why not I too? Thence that soul is more unrighteous, which, forasmuch as it hath done it because David did, therefore hath done worse than David. I will say this very thing, if I shall be able, more plainly. David had set forth to himself none for a precedent as thou hast: he had fallen by lapse of concupiscence, not by the countenance of holiness: thou dost set before thine eyes as it were a holy man, in order that thou mayest sin: thou dost not copy his holiness, but dost copy his fall. Thou18081808     Al. “Love this in David which in himself David hated not.” dost love that in David, which in himself David hated: thou makest thee ready to sin, thou inclinest to sin: in order that thou mayest sin thou consultest the book of God: the Scriptures of God for this thou hearest, that thou mayest do what displeaseth God. This did not David; he was reproved by a Prophet, he stumbled not over a Prophet. But others hearing to their health, by the fall of a strong man measure their weakness: and desiring to avoid what God condemneth, from careless looking do restrain their eyes. Them they fix not upon the beauty of another’s flesh, nor make themselves careless with perverse simpleness; they say not, “With good intent I have observed, of kindness I have observed, of charity I have long looked.” For they set before themselves the fall of David, and they see that this great man for this purpose hath fallen, in order that little men may not be willing to look on that whereby they may fall. For they restrain their eyes from wantonness, not readily do they join themselves in company, they do not mingle with strange women, they raise not complying eyes to strange balconies, to strange terraces. For from afar David saw her with whom he was captivated.18091809     2 Sam. xi. 2. Woman afar, lust near. What he saw was elsewhere, in himself that whereby he fell. This weakness of the flesh must be therefore minded, the words of the Apostle recollected, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.”18101810     Rom. vi. 12. He hath not said, let there not be; but, “let there not reign.” There is sin in thee, when thou takest pleasure; there reigneth, if thou shalt have consented. Carnal pleasure, especially if proceeding unto unlawful and strange objects, is to be bridled, not let loose: by government to be tamed, not to be set up for government. Look and be without care, if thou hast nothing whereby thou mayest be moved. But thou makest answer, “I contain with strong resolution.” Art thou any wise stronger than David?18111811     [Compare the author’s Confessions, vol. i. of this series, pp. 126, 153, 154, and book viii. passim.—C.]

4. He admonisheth, moreover, by such an example, that no one ought to lift himself up in prosperous circumstances. For many fear adverse circumstances, fear not prosperous circumstances. Prosperity is more perilous to soul than adversity to body. First, prosperity doth corrupt, in order that adversity may find something to break. My brethren, stricter watch must be kept against felicity. Wherefore, see ye after what manner the saying of God amid our own felicity doth take from us security: “Serve ye,” He saith, “the Lord in fear, and exult unto Him with trembling.”18121812     Ps. ii. 11. In exultation, in order that we may render thanks; in trembling, lest we fall. This sin did not David, when he was suffering Saul for persecutor.18131813     1 Sam. xxiv. 5, xxvi. 9. When holy David was suffering Saul his enemy, when he was being vexed by his persecutions, when he was fleeing through divers places, in order that he might not fall into his hands, he lusted not for her that was another’s, he slew not husband after committing adultery with wife. He was in the infirmity of his tribulation so much the more intimate with God as he seemed more miserable. Something useful is tribulation; useful the surgeon’s lancet rather than the devil’s temptation. He became secure when his enemies were overthrown, pressure was removed, swelling grew out. This example therefore doth avail to this end, that we should fear felicity. “Tribulation,” he saith, “and grief I found, and on the name of the Lord I called.”18141814     Ps. cxvi. 3, 4.

5. But it was done; I would say these words to those that have not done the like, in order that they should watch to keep their uncorruptness, and that while they take heed how a great one has fallen, they that be small should fear. But if any that hath already fallen heareth these words, and that hath in his conscience any evil thing; to the words of this Psalm let him advert; let him heed the greatness of the wound, but not despair of the majesty of the Physician. Sin with despair is certain death. Let no one therefore say, If already any evil thing I have done, already I am to be condemned: God pardoneth not such evil things, why add I not sins to sins? I will enjoy this word in pleasure, in wantonness, in wicked cupidity: now hope of amendment having been lost, let me have even what I see, if I cannot have what I believe. This Psalm then, while it maketh heedful those that have not believed, so doth not will them that have fallen to be despaired of. Whoever thou art that hast sinned, and hesitatest to exercise penitence18151815     [Here I have corrected the feeble translation, “do penance,” which is unjust to the author’s entire system of thought. See Confessions, book viii. vol. i. this series.—C.] for thy sin, despairing of thy salvation, hear David groaning. To thee Nathan the prophet hath not been sent, David himself hath been sent to thee. Hear him crying, and with him cry: hear him groaning, and with him groan; hear him weeping, and mingle tears; hear him amended, and with him rejoice. If from thee sin could not be excluded, be not hope of pardon excluded. There was sent to that man Nathan the prophet, observe the king’s humility. 18161816     Al. “The pride of royalty.” He rejected not the words of him giving admonition, he said not, Darest thou speak to me, a king? An exalted king heard a prophet, let His humble people hear Christ.

6. Hear therefore these words, and say thou with him: “Have pity upon me, O God, after Thy great mercy” (ver. 1). He that imploreth great mercy, confesseth great misery. Let them seek a little mercy of Thee, that have sinned in ignorance: “Have pity,” he saith, “upon me, after Thy great mercy.” Relieve a deep wound after Thy great healing. Deep is what I have, but in the Almighty I take refuge. Of my own so deadly wound I should despair, unless I could find so great a Physician. “Have pity upon me, O God, after Thy great mercy: and after the multitude of Thy pities, blot out my iniquity.” What he saith, “Blot out my iniquity,” is this, “Have pity upon me, O God.” And what he saith, “After the multitude of Thy pities,” is this, “After Thy great mercy.” Because great is the mercy, many are the mercies; and of Thy great mercy, many are Thy pitying. Thou dost regard mockers to amend them, dost regard ignorant men to teach them, dost regard men confessing to pardon. Did he this in ignorance? A certain man had done some, aye many evil things he had done; “Mercy,” he saith, “I obtained, because ignorant I did it in unbelief.”18171817     1 Tim. i. 13. This David could not say, “Ignorant I did it.” For he was not ignorant how very evil a thing was the touching of another’s wife, and how very evil a thing was the killing of the husband, who knew not of it, and was not even angered. They obtain therefore the mercy of the Lord that have in ignorance done it; and they that have knowing done it, obtain not any mercy it may chance, but “great mercy.”

7. “More and more wash me from mine unrighteousness” (ver. 2). What is, “More and more wash”? One much stained. More and more wash the sins of one knowing. Thou that hast washed off the sins of one ignorant. Not even thus is it to be despaired of Thy mercy. “And from my delinquency purge Thou me.” According to the manner in which He is physician, offer a recompense. He is God, offer sacrifice. What wilt thou give that thou mayest be purged? For see upon whom thou callest; upon a Just One thou callest. He hateth sins, if He is just; He taketh vengeance upon sins, if He is just; thou wilt not be able to take away from the Lord God His justice: entreat mercy, but observe the justice: there is mercy to pardon the sinner, there is justice to punish the sin. What then? Thou askest mercy; shall sin unpunished abide? Let David answer, let those that have fallen answer, answer with David, and say, No, Lord, no sin of mine shall be unpunished; I know the justice of Him whose mercy I ask: it shall not be unpunished, but for this reason I will not that Thou punish me, because I punish my sin: for this reason I beg that Thou pardon, because I acknowledge.

8. “For mine iniquity I acknowledge, and my delinquency is before me ever” (ver. 3). I have not put behind my back what I have done, I look not at others, forgetful of myself, I pretend not to pull out a straw from my brother’s eye, when there is a beam in my eye;18181818     Matt. vii. 5. my sin is before me, not behind me. For it was behind me when to me was sent the Prophet, and set before me the parable of the poor man’s sheep.18191819     2 Sam. xii. 1, 2, etc. For saith Nathan the Prophet to David, “There was a certain rich man having very many sheep; but a poor man his neighbour had one little ewe sheep, which in his bosom and of his own food he was feeding: there came a stranger to the rich man, nothing from his flock he took, for the lithe ewe sheep of the poor man his neighbour he lusted; her he slew for the stranger: what doth he deserve?” But the other being angry doth pronounce sentence: then the king, evidently knowing not wherein he had been taken,18201820     Al. “he was captive,” or, “was held captive.” declared the rich man deserving of death, and that the sheep be restored fourfold. Most sternly and most justly. But his sin was not yet before him, behind his back was what he had done: his own iniquity he did not yet acknowledge, and therefore another’s he did not pardon. But the Prophet, being for this purpose sent, took from his back the sin, and before his eyes placed it, so that he might see that sentence so stern to have been pronounced against himself. For cutting and healing his heart’s wound, he made a lancet of his tongue.…

9. “Against Thee alone have I sinned, and before Thee an evil thing have I done” (ver. 4). What is this? For before men was not another’s wife debauched and husband slain? Did not all men know what David had done?18211821     2 Sam. xi. 4, 15. What is, “Against Thee alone have I sinned, and before Thee an evil thing have I done.” Because Thou alone art without sin. He is a just punisher that hath nothing in Him to be punished; He is a just reprover that hath nothing in Him to be reproved. “That thou mayest be justified in Thy sayings, and conquer when Thou art judged.” To whom he speaketh, brethren, to whom he speaketh, is difficult to understand. To God surely he speaketh, and it is evident that God the Father is not judged. What is, “And conquer when Thou art judged”? He seeth the future Judge to be judged, one just by sinners to be judged, and therein conquering, because in Him was nothing to be judged. For alone among men could truly say the God-Man, “If ye have found in Me sin, say.”18221822     John viii. 46. But perchance there was what escaped men, and they found not what was really there, but was not manifest. In another place18231823     John xiv. 30. He saith, “Behold there cometh the Prince of the world,” being an acute observer of all sins; “Behold,” He saith, “there cometh the Prince of this world,” with death afflicting sinners, presiding over death: for, “By the malice of the devil death came into the world.”18241824     Wisd. ii. 24. “Behold,” He saith, “there cometh the Prince of the world:”—He said these words close upon His Passion:—“and in Me he shall find nothing,” nothing of sin, nothing worthy of death, nothing worthy of condemnation. And as if it were said to Him, Why then dost Thou die? He continueth and saith, “But that all men may know that I do the will of My Father; arise, let us go hence.” I suffer, He saith, undeserving, for men deserving, in order that them I may make deserving of My Life, for whom I undeservedly suffer their death. To Him then, having no sin, saith on the present occasion the Prophet David, “Against Thee only have I sinned, and before Thee an evil thing have I done, that Thou mayest be justified in Thy sayings, and conquer when Thou art judged.” For Thou overcomest all men, all judges; and he that deemeth himself just, before Thee is unjust: Thou alone justly judgest, having been unjustly judged, That hast power to lay down Thy life, and hast power again to take it.18251825     John x. 18. Thou conquerest, then, when Thou art judged. All men Thou overcomest, because Thou art more than men, and by Thee were men made.

10. “For, behold, in iniquities I was conceived” (ver. 5). As though he were saying, They are conquered that have done what thou, David, hast done: for this is not a little evil and little sin, to wit, adultery and man-slaying. What of them that from the day that they were born of their mother’s womb, have done no such thing? even to them dost thou ascribe some sins, in order that He may conquer all men when He beginneth to be judged. David hath taken upon him the person of mankind, and hath heeded the bonds of all men, hath considered the offspring of death, hath adverted to the origin of iniquity, and he saith, “For, behold, in iniquities I was conceived.” Was David born of adultery; being born of Jesse,18261826     1 Sam. xvi. 18. a righteous man, and his own wife? What is it that he saith himself to have been in iniquity conceived, except that iniquity is drawn from Adam? Even the very bond of death, with iniquity itself is engrained? No man is born without bringing punishment, bringing desert of punishment. A Prophet saith also in another place,18271827     Job xiv. 5, LXX. “No one is clean in Thy sight, not even an infant, whose life is of one day upon earth.” For we know both by the Baptism of Christ that sins are loosed, and that the Baptism of Christ availeth the remission of sins. If infants are every way innocent, why do mothers run with them when sick to the Church?18281828     Against the Pelagians. What by that Baptism, what by that remission is put away? An innocent one I see that rather weeps than is angry. What doth Baptism wash off? what doth that Grace loose? There is loosed the offspring of sin. For if that infant could speak to thee, it would say, and if it had the understanding which David had, it would answer thee, Why heedest thou me, an infant? Thou dost not indeed see my actions: but I in iniquity have been conceived, “And in sins hath my mother nourished me in the womb.”

Apart from this bond of mortal18291829     So most mss. Ben. “carnal,” but see below. concupiscence was Christ born without a male, of a virgin conceiving by the Holy Ghost. He cannot be said to have been conceived in iniquity, it cannot be said, In sins His mother nourished Him in the womb, to whom was said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Virtue of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”18301830     Luke i. 35. It is not therefore because it is sin to have to do with wives that men are conceived in iniquity, and in sins nourished in the womb by their mother; but because that which is made is surely made of flesh deserving punishment.18311831     [The mother need not be conceived of as sinning in her passive relations to an act which is undefiled in itself (Heb. xiii. 4); but she is a sinner like all mortals, and in that estate of sinfulness her offspring is begotten and nourished in the womb. So he argues.—C.] For the punishment of the flesh is death, and surely there is in it liability to death itself. Whence the Apostle spoke not of the body as if to die, but as if dead: “The body indeed is dead,” he saith, “because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”18321832     Rom. viii. 10. How then without bond of sin is born that which is conceived and sown of a body dead because of sin? This chaste operation in a married person hath not sin, but the origin of sin draweth with it condign punishment. For there is no husband that, because he is an husband, is not subject to death, or that is subject to death for any other reason but because of sin. For even the Lord was subject to death, but not on account of sin: He took upon Him our punishment, and so looseth our guilt. With reason then, “In Adam all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive.”18331833     1 Cor. xv. 22. For, “Through one man,” saith the Apostle, “sin hath entered into this world, and through sin death, and so hath passed unto all men, in that all have sinned.”18341834     Rom. v. 12. Definite is the sentence: “In Adam,” he saith, “all have sinned.” Alone then could such an infant be innocent, as hath not been born of the work of Adam.

11. “For, behold, truth Thou hast loved: uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom, Thou hast manifested to me” (ver. 6). That is, Thou hast not left unpunished even the sins of those whom Thou dost pardon. “Truth Thou hast loved:” so mercy Thou hast granted first,18351835     Prærogasti. as that Thou shouldest also preserve truth. Thou pardonest one confessing, pardonest, but only if he punisheth himself: so there are preserved mercy and truth: mercy because man is set free; truth, because sin is punished. “Uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom Thou hast manifested to me.” What “hidden things”? What “uncertain things”? Because God pardoneth even such. Nothing is so hidden, nothing so uncertain.18361836     i.e., as His mercy is to us beforehand. For this uncertainty the Ninevites repented, for they said, though after the threatenings of the Prophet, though after that cry, “Three days and Nineve shall be overthrown:”18371837     Jonah iii. 4. they said to themselves, Mercy must be implored; they said in this sort reasoning among themselves, “Who knoweth whether God may turn for the better His sentence, and have pity?”18381838     Jonah iii. 9. It was “uncertain,” when it is said, “Who knoweth?” on an uncertainty they did repent,18391839     [Here the translator has “did penance,” which has no meaning at all apart from ecclesiastical discipline, to which the men of Nineve were certainly not subjected.—C.] certain mercy they earned: they prostrated them in tears, in fastings, in sackcloth and ashes they prostrated them, groaned, wept, God spared. Nineve stood: was Nineve overthrown? One way indeed it seemeth to men, and another way it seemed to God. But I think that it was fulfilled that the Prophet had foretold. Regard what Nineve was, and see how it was overthrown; overthrown in evil, builded in good; just as Saul the persecutor was overthrown, Paul the preacher builded. 18401840     Acts ix. 4. Who would not say that this city, in which we now are, was happily overthrown, if all those madmen, leaving their triflings,18411841     [See p. 166, note 3, supra.—C.] were to run together to the Church with contrite heart, and were to call upon God’s mercy for their past doings? Should we not say, Where is that Carthage? Because there is not what there was, it is overthrown: but if there is what there was not, it is builded. So is said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I will give to thee to root up, to dig under, to overthrow, to destroy,” and again, “to build, and to plant.”18421842     Jer. i. 10. Thence is that voice of the Lord, “I will smite and I will heal.”18431843     Deut. xxxii. 39. He smiteth the rottenness of the deed, He healeth the pain of the wound. Physicians do thus when they cut; they smite and heal; they arm themselves in order to strike, they carry steel, and come to cure. But because great were the sins of the Ninevites, they said, “Who knoweth?” This uncertainty had God disclosed to His servant David. For when he had said, before the Prophet standing and convicting him, “I have sinned:” straightway he heard from the Prophet, that is, from the Spirit of God which was in the Prophet, “Thy sin is put away from thee.”18441844     2 Sam. xii. 13. “Uncertain and hidden things” of His wisdom He manifested to him.18451845     [The English Version is not sustained by Jerome, whose rendering is (happier than that so beautifully expounded by our author), absconditum et arcanum sapietatiæ manifestasti.—C.]

12. “Thou shalt sprinkle me,” he saith, “with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed” (ver. 7). Hyssop we know to be a herb humble but healing: to the rock it is said to adhere with roots. Thence in a mystery the similitude of cleansing the heart has been taken. Do thou also take hold, with18461846     Oxf. mss. radice. the root of thy love, on thy Rock: be humble in thy humble God, in order that thou mayest be exalted in thy glorified God. Thou shalt be sprinkled with hyssop, the humility of Christ shall cleanse thee. Despise not the herb, attend to the efficacy of the medicine. Something further I will say, which we are wont to hear from physicians, or to experience in sick persons. Hyssop, they say, is proper for purging the lungs. In the lung is wont to be noted pride: for there is inflation, there breathing. It was said of Saul the persecutor as of Saul the proud, that he was going to bind Christians, breathing slaughter:18471847     Acts ix. 1. he was breathing out slaughter, breathing out blood, his lung not yet cleansed. Hear also in this place one humbled, because with hyssop purged: “Thou shalt wash me,” that is, shalt cleanse me: “and above snow I shall be whitened.” “Although,” he saith, “your sins shall have been like scarlet, like snow I will whiten.”18481848     Isa. i. 18. Out of such men Christ doth present to Himself a vesture without spot and wrinkle.18491849     Eph. v. 27. Further, His vesture on the mount, which shone forth like whitened snow,18501850     Matt. xvii. 2. signified the Church cleansed from every spot of sin.

13. But where is humility from hyssop? Hear what followeth: “To my hearing Thou shall give exultation and gladness, and bones humbled shall exult” (ver. 8). I will rejoice in hearing Thee, not in speaking against Thee. Thou hast sinned, why defendest thou thyself? Thou wilt speak: suffer thou; hear, yield to divine words, lest thou be put to confusion, and be still more wounded: sin hath been committed, be it not defended: to confession let it come, not to defence. Thou engagest thyself as defender of thy sin, thou art conquered: no innocent patron hast thou engaged, thy defence is not profitable to thee. For who art thou that defendest thyself? Thou art meet to accuse thyself. Say not, either, “I have done nothing;” or, “What great thing have I done?” or, “Other men as well have done.” If in doing sin thou sayest thou hast done nothing, thou wilt be nothing, thou wilt receive nothing: God is ready to give indulgence, thou closest the door against thyself: He is ready to give, do not oppose the bar of defence, but open the bosom of confession. “To my hearing Thou shalt give exultation and gladness.”…

14. “Turn Thou away Thy face from my sins, and all mine iniquities blot out” (ver. 9). For now bones humbled exult, now with hyssop cleansed, humble I have become. “Turn Thou away Thy face,” not from me, but “from my sins.” For in another place praying he saith, “Turn not away Thy face from me.”18511851     Ps. xxvii. 9. He that would not that God’s face be turned away from himself, would that God’s face be turned away from his sins. For to sin, when God turneth not Himself away, he adverteth: if he adverteth, he animadverteth. “And all mine iniquities blot out.” He is busied18521852     Satagit. Oxf. mss. Sategit, “he hath done enough for.” with that capital sin: he reckoneth on more, he would have all his iniquities to be blotted out: he relieth on the Physician’s hand, on that “great mercy,” upon which he hath called in the beginning of the Psalm: “All mine iniquities blot out.” God turneth away His face, and so blotteth out; by “turning away” His face, sins He blotteth out. By “turning towards,” He writeth them. Thou hast heard of Him blotting out by turning away, hear of Him by turning towards, doing what? “But the countenance of the Lord is upon men doing evil things, that He may destroy from the earth the remembrance of them:”18531853     Ps. xxxiv. 16. He shall destroy the remembrance of them,18541854     Oxf. mss. add, perdet de terrâ memoriam eorum. not by “blotting out their sins.” But here he doth ask what? “Turn away Thy face from my sins.” Well he asketh. For he himself doth not turn away his face from his own sins, saying, “For my sin I acknowledge.” With reason thou askest and well askest, that God turn away from thy sin, if thou from thence dost not turn away thy face: but if thou settest thy sin at thy back, God doth there set His face. Do thou turn sin before thy face, if thou wilt that God thence turn away His face; and then safely thou askest, and He heareth.

15. “A clean heart create in me, O God” (ver. 10). “Create”—he meant18551855     So mss. Ben. “He meant not,” but “as it were” seems to meet the difficulty. to say, “as it were begin something new.” But, because repentant he was praying (that had committed some sin, which before he had committed, he was more innocent), after what manner he hath said “create” he showeth. “And a right spirit renew in my inner parts.” By my doing, he saith, the uprightness of my spirit hath been made old and bowed. For he saith in another Psalm, “They have bowed my soul.”18561856     Ps. lvii. 6. And when a man doth make himself stoop unto earthly lusts, he is “bowed” in a manner, but when he is made erect for things above, upright is his heart made, in order that God may be good to him. For, “How good is the God of Israel to the upright of heart!”18571857     Ps. lxxiii. 1. Moreover, brethren, listen. Sometimes God in this world chastiseth for his sin him that He pardoneth in the world to come. For even to David himself, to whom it had been already said by the Prophet, “Thy sin is put away,”18581858     2 Sam. xii. 13. there happened certain things which God had threatened for that very sin.18591859     [Compare 2 Sam. xii. 10.—C.] For his son Abessalom against him waged bloody war, and many ways humbled his father.18601860     2 Sam. xv. 10. He was walking in grief, in the tribulation of his humiliation, so resigned to God, that, ascribing to Him all that was just, he confessed that he was suffering nothing undeservedly, having now an heart upright, to which God was not displeasing. A slanderous person and one throwing in his teeth harsh curses18611861     2 Sam. xvi. 10. he patiently heard, one of the soldiers on the opposite side, that were with his unnatural son. And when he was heaping curses upon the king, one of the companions of David, enraged, would have gone and smitten him; but he is kept back by David. And he is kept back how? For that he said, God sent him to curse me. Acknowledging his guilt he embraced his penance, seeking glory not his own, praising the Lord in that good which he had, praising the Lord in that which he was suffering, “blessing the Lord alway, ever His praise was in his mouth.”18621862     Ps. xxxiv. 1. Such are all the upright in heart: not those crooked persons who think themselves upright and God crooked: who when they do any evil thing, rejoice; when they suffer any evil thing, blaspheme; nay, if set in tribulation and scourging, they say from their distorted heart, “O God, what have I done to Thee?” Truly it is because they have done nothing to God, for they have done all to themselves. “And an upright spirit, renew in my inner parts.”

16. “Cast me not forth from Thy face” (ver. 11). Turn away Thy face from my sins: and “cast me not forth from Thy face.” Whose face he feareth, upon the face of the Same he calleth. “And Thy Holy Spirit take not away from me.” For in one confessing there is the Holy Spirit. Even now, to the gift of the Holy Spirit it belongeth, that what thou hast done displeaseth thee. The unclean spirit sins do please; the Holy One they displease. Though then thou still implore pardon, yet thou art joined to God on the other part, because the evil thing that thou hast committed displeaseth thee: for the same thing displeaseth both thee and Him. Now, to assail thy fever, ye are two, thou and the Physician. For the reason that there cannot be confession of sin and punishment of sin in a man of himself: when one is angry with himself, and is displeasing to himself, then it is not without the gift of the Holy Spirit, nor doth he say, Thy Holy Spirit give to me, but, “Take not away from me.”

17. “Give back to me the exultation of Thy salvation”18631863     Salutaris tui. (ver. 12). “Give back” what I had; what by sinning I had lost: to wit, of Thy Christ. For who without Him can be made whole? Because even before that He was Son of Mary, “In the beginning He was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;”18641864     John i. 1. and so, by the holy fathers a future dispensation of flesh taken upon Him, was looked for;18651865     [Credebatur.—C.] as is believed by us to have been done. Times are changed, not faith. “And with Principal Spirit confirm me.” Some have here understood the Trinity in God, Itself God; the dispensation of Flesh being excepted therefrom: since it is written, “God is a Spirit.”18661866     John iv. 24. For that which is not body, and yet is, seemeth to exist in such sort as that it is spirit. Therefore some understand here the Trinity spoken of: “In upright Spirit,” the Son; in “Holy Spirit,” Holy Ghost; in “Principal Spirit,” Father.18671867     Jerome on the Epist. to Gal. iv. 6. It is not any heretical opinion, therefore, whether this be so, or whether “upright Spirit” He would have to be taken of man himself (when He saith, “An upright spirit renew in my inner parts”), which I have bowed and distorted by sinning, so that in that case the Holy Spirit be Himself the Principal Spirit: which also he would not have to be taken away from him, and thereby would have himself to be confirmed therein.

18. But see what he annexeth: “With Principal Spirit,” he saith, “confirm Thou me.” Wherein “confirm”? Because Thou hast pardoned me, because I am secure, that what Thou hast forgiven is not to be ascribed, on this being made secure and with this grace confirmed, therefore I am not ungrateful. But I shall do what? “I would teach unrighteous men Thy ways” (ver. 13). Being myself of the unrighteous18681868     Ex iniquo. Oxf. mss. ex iniquus. (that is, one that was myself an unrighteous man, now no longer unrighteous; the Holy Spirit not having been taken away from me, and I being confirmed with Principal Spirit). “I would teach unrighteous men Thy ways.” What ways wilt thou teach unrighteous men? “And ungodly men to Thee shall be converted.” If David’s sin is counted for ungodliness, let not ungodly men despair of themselves, forasmuch as God hath spared an ungodly man; but let them take heed that to Him they be converted, that His ways they learn. But if David’s deed is not counted for ungodliness, but this is properly call ungodliness, namely, to apostatize from God, not to worship one God, or never to have worshipped, or to have forsaken, Him whom one did worship, then what he saith hath the force of superabundance, “And ungodly men shall to Thee be converted.” So full art thou of the fatness of mercy, that for those converted to Thee, not only sinners of any sort, but even ungodly, there is no cause for despair. Wherefore? That believing on Him that justifieth an ungodly man, their faith may be counted for righteousness.18691869     Rom. iv. 5.

19. “Deliver me from bloods, O God, God of my health” (ver. 14). The Latin translator hath expressed, though by a word not Latin, yet an accuracy from the Greek.18701870     [ἐξ αἱμ€των, Sept.—C.] For we all know that in Latin, sanguines (bloods) are not spoken of, nor yet sanguina (bloods in the neuter), nevertheless because the Greek translator hath thus used the plural number, not without reason, but because he found this in the original language the Hebrew, a godly translator hath preferred to use a word not Latin, rather than one not exact. Wherefore then hath he said in the plural number, “From bloods”? In many bloods, as in the origin of the sinful flesh, many sins he would have to be understood. The Apostle having regard to the very sins which come of the corruption of flesh and blood, saith, “Flesh and blood shall not possess the kingdom of God.”18711871     1 Cor. xv. 50. For doubtless, after the true faith of the same Apostle, that flesh shall rise again and shall itself gain incorruption, as He saith Himself, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality.”18721872     1 Cor. xv. 53. Because then this corruption is of sin, by the name thereof sins are called. In like manner as both that morsel of flesh and member which playeth in the mouth when we articulate words is called a tongue, and that is called a tongue which by the tongue is made, so we call one tongue the Greek, another the Latin; for the flesh is not diverse, but the sound. In the same manner, then, as the speech which is made by the tongue is called a tongue; so also the iniquity which is made by blood is called blood. Heeding, then, his many iniquities, as18731873     Some mss. ut. in the expression above,18741874     Ps. li. 9. “And all my iniquities blot out,” and ascribing them to the corruption of flesh and blood, “Free me,” he saith, “from bloods:” that is, free me from iniquities, cleanse me from all corruption.…Not yet is the substance, but certain hope. “And my tongue shall exult of Thy righteousness.”

20. “O Lord, my lips Thou shalt open, and my mouth shall tell of Thy praise” (ver. 15). “Thy praise,” because18751875     Most mss. “whereby” throughout. I have been created: “Thy praise,” because sinning I have not been forsaken: “Thy praise,” because I have been admonished to confess: “Thy praise,” because in order that I might be secured I have been cleansed.

21. “Because if Thou hadst willed sacrifice, I would have given it surely” (ver. 16). David was living at that time when sacrifices of victim animals were offered to God, and he saw these times that were to be. Do we not perceive ourselves in these words? Those sacrifices were figurative, foretelling the One Saving Sacrifice. Not even we have been left without a Sacrifice to offer to God. For hear what he saith, having a concern for his sin, and wishing the evil thing which he hath done to be forgiven him: “If Thou hadst willed,” he saith, “sacrifice, I would have given it surely. With holocausts Thou wilt not be delighted.” Nothing shall we therefore offer? So shall we come to God? And whence shall we propitiate Him? Offer; certainly in thyself thou hast what thou mayest offer. Do not from without fetch frankincense,18761876     [So Lactantius, A.N.F. vol. vii. p. 193, note 1, and the whole chapter.—C.] but say, “In me are, O God, Thy vows, which I will render of praise to Thee.”18771877     Ps. lvi. 12. Do not from without seek cattle to slay, thou hast in thyself what thou mayest kill. “Sacrifice to God is a spirit troubled, a heart contrite and humbled God despiseth not” (ver. 17). Utterly he despiseth bull, he-goat, ram: now is not the time that these should be offered. They were offered when they indicated something, when they promised something; when the things promised come, the promises are taken away. “A heart contrite and humbled God despiseth not.” Ye know that God is high: if thou shalt have made thyself high, He will be from thee; if thou shalt have humbled thyself, He will draw near to thee.

22. See who this is: David as one man was seeming to implore; see ye here our image and the type of the Church.

“Deal kindly, O Lord, in Thy good will with Sion” (ver. 18). With this Sion deal kindly. What is Sion? A city holy. What is a city holy? That which cannot be hidden, being upon a mountain established. Sion in prospect, because it hath prospect of something which it hopeth for. For Sion is interpreted “prospect,” and Jerusalem, “vision of peace.” Ye perceive then yourselves to be in Sion and in Jerusalem, if being sure ye look for hope that is to be, and if ye have peace with God. “And be the walls of Jerusalem builded.” “Deal kindly, O Lord, in Thy good will with Sion, and be the walls of Jerusalem builded.” For not to herself let Sion ascribe her merits: do Thou with her deal kindly, “Be the walls of Jerusalem builded:” be the battlements of our immortality laid, in faith and hope and charity.

23. “Then Thou shalt accept the sacrifice of righteousness” (ver. 19). But now sacrifice for iniquity, to wit, a spirit troubled, and a heart humbled; then the sacrifice of righteousness, praises alone. For, “Blessed they that dwell in Thy house, for ever and ever they shall praise Thee:”18781878     Ps. lxxxiv. 4. for this is the sacrifice of righteousness. “Oblations and holocausts.” What are “holocausts”? A whole victim by fire consumed. When a whole beast was laid upon the altar with fire to be consumed, it was called a holocaust. May divine fire take us up whole, and that fervour catch us whole. What fervour? “Neither is there that hideth himself from the heat thereof.”18791879     Ps. xix. 6. What fervour? That whereof speaketh the Apostle: “In spirit fervent.”18801880     Rom. xii. 11. Be not merely our soul taken up by that divine fire of wisdom, but also our body; that18811881     mss. omit ut, “also let our body earn,” etc. it may earn their immortality; so be it lifted up for a holocaust, that death be swallowed into victory. “Oblations and holocausts.” “Then shall they lay upon thine altar calves.” Whence “calves”? What shall He therein choose? Will it be the innocence of the new age, or necks freed from the yoke of the law?…


« Prev Psalm LI Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |