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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm LVIII.21622162     Lat. LVII. Sermon to the Commonalty, wherein everywhere he confuteth the Donatists.

1. The words which we have sung must be rather hearkened to by us, than proclaimed. For to all men as it were in an assemblage of mankind, the Truth crieth, “If truly indeed justice ye speak, judge right things, ye sons of men” (ver. 1). For to what unjust man is it not an easy thing to speak justice? or what man if questioned about justice, when he hath not a cause, would not easily answer what is just? Inasmuch as the hand of our Maker in our very hearts hath written this truth, “That which to thyself thou wouldest not have done, do not thou to another.”21632163     Tob. iv. 15. Of this truth, even before that the Law was given, no one was suffered to be ignorant, in order that there might be some rule whereby might be judged even those to whom Law had not been given.21642164     [Matt. vii. 12. The quotation from the father of Tobias shows this maxim, negative in its form, and reflecting the Mosaic law, which “made nothing perfect.” It was probably Noahic, and was therefore known to Gentilism, as e.g. to Confucius. The glory of “the Golden Rule” is not merely that it gives a positive form to this law: Christ made it the energetic and characteristic principle of His Church towards humanity, and of all Christians towards all men.—C.] But lest men should complain that something had been wanting for them, there hath been written also in tables that which in their hearts they read not. For it was not that they had it not written, but read it they would not. There hath been set before their eyes that which in their conscience to see they would be compelled; and as if from without the voice of God were brought to them, to his own inward parts hath man been thus driven, the Scripture saying, “For in the thoughts of the ungodly man there will be questioning.”21652165     Wisd. i. 9. Where questioning is, there is law. But because men, desiring those things which are without, even from themselves have become exiles, there hath been given also a written law: not because in hearts it had not been written, but because thou wast a deserter from thy heart, thou art seized by Him that is everywhere, and to thyself within art called back. Therefore the written law, what crieth it, to those that have deserted the law written in their hearts? 21662166     Rom. ii. 15. “Return ye transgressors to the heart.”21672167     Isa. xlvi. 8. For who hath taught thee, that thou wouldest have no other man draw near thy wife? Who hath taught thee, that thou wouldest not have a theft committed upon thee? Who hath taught thee, that thou wouldest not suffer wrong, and whatever other thing either universally or particularly might be spoken of? For many things there are, of which severally if questioned men with loud voice would answer, that they would not suffer. Come, if thou art not willing to suffer these things, art thou by any means the only man? dost thou not live in the fellowship of mankind? He that together with thee hath been made, is thy fellow; and all men have been made after the image of God,21682168     Gen. i. 26. unless with earthly coverings they efface that which He hath formed. That which therefore to thyself thou wilt not have to be done, do not thou to another. For thou judgest that there is evil in that, which to suffer thou art not willing: and this thing thou art constrained to know by an inward law; that in thy very heart is written. Thou wast doing somewhat, and there was a cry raised in thy hands: how art thou constrained to return to thy heart when this thing thou sufferest in the hands of others? Is theft a good thing? No! I ask, is adultery a good thing? All cry, No! Is man-slaying a good thing? All cry, that they abhor it. Is coveting the property of a neighbour a good thing? No! is the voice of all men. Or if yet thou confessest not, there draweth near one that coveteth thy property: be pleased to answer what thou wilt have. All men therefore, when of these things questioned, cry that these things are not good. Again, of doing kindnesses, not only of not hurting, but also of conferring and distributing, any hungry soul is questioned thus: “thou sufferest hunger, another man hath bread, and there is abundance with him beyond sufficiency, he knoweth thee to want, he giveth not: it displeaseth thee when hungering, let it displease thee when full also, when of another’s hungering thou shalt have known. A stranger wanting shelter cometh into thy country, he is not taken in: he then crieth that inhuman is that city, at once among barbarians he might have found a home. He feeleth the injustice because he suffereth; thou perchance feelest not, but it is meet that thou imagine thyself also a stranger; and that thou see in what manner he will have displeased thee, who shall not have given that, which thou in thy country wilt not give to a stranger.” I ask all men. True are these things? True. Just are these things? Just. But hear ye the Psalm. “If truly therefore justice ye speak, judge right things, ye sons of men.” Be it not a justice of lips, but also of deeds. For if thou actest otherwise than thou speakest, good things thou speakest, and ill thou judgest.…

2. But now to the present case let us come, if ye please. For the voice is that sweet voice, so well known to the ears of the Church, the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the voice of His Body, the voice of the Church toiling, sojourning upon earth, living amid the perils of men speaking evil and of men flattering. Thou wilt not fear a threatener, if thou lovest not a flatterer. He therefore, of whom this is the voice, hath observed and hath seen, that all men speak justice. For what man doth dare not to speak it, lest he be called unjust? When, therefore, as though he were hearing the voices of all men, and were observing the lips of all men, he cried out to them, “If truly indeed justice ye speak,”—if not falsely justice ye speak, if not one thing on lips doth sound, whilst another thing is concealed in hearts,—“judge right things, ye sons of men.” Hear out of the Gospel His own voice, the very same as is in this Psalm: “Hypocrites,” saith the Lord to the Pharisees, “how are ye able good things to speak, when ye are evil men?.…Either make the tree good, and the fruit thereof good: or make the tree evil, and the fruit thereof evil.”21692169     Matt. xii. 33, 34. Why wilt thou whiten thee, wall of mud? I know thy inward parts, I am not deceived by thy covering: I know what thou holdest forth, I know what thou coverest. “For there was no need for Him, that any one to Him should bear testimony of man: for He knew Himself what was in man.”21702170     John ii. 25. For He knew what was in man, who had made man, and who had been made Man, in order that He might seek man.…

3. But now ye do what? Why these things to you do I speak? “Because in heart iniquities ye work on earth” (ver. 2). Iniquities perchance in heart alone? Hear what followeth: both their heart hands do follow, and their heart hands do serve, the thing is thought of, and it is done; or else it is not done, not because we would not, but because we could not, Whatever thou willest and canst not, for done God doth count it. “For in heart Iniquities ye work on earth.” What next? “Iniquities your hands knit together.” What is, “knit together”? From sin, sin, and to sin, sin, because of sin. What is this? A theft a man hath committed, a sin it is: he hath been seen, he seeketh to slay him by whom he hath been seen: there hath been knit together sin with sin: God hath permitted him in His hidden judgment to slay that man whom he hath willed to slay: he perceiveth that the thing is known, he seeketh to slay a second also; he hath knit together a third sin: while these things he is planning, perchance that he may not be found out, or that he may not be convicted of having done it, he consulteth an astrologer; there is added a fourth sin: the astrologer answereth perchance with some hard and evil responses, he runneth to a soothsayer, that expiation may be made; the soothsayer maketh answer that he is not able to expiate: a magician is sought. And who could enumerate those sins which are knit together with sins? “Iniquities your hands do knit together.” So long as thou knittest together, thou bindest sin upon sin. Loose thyself from sins. But I am not able, thou sayest. Cry to Him. “Unhappy man I, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”21712171     Rom. vii. 24. For there shall come the Grace of God, so that righteousness shall be thy delight, as much as thou didst delight in iniquity; and thou, a man that out of bonds hast been loosed, shall cry out to God, “Thou hast broken asunder my bonds.”21722172     Ps. cxvi. 16. “Thou hast broken asunder my bonds,” is what else but, “Thou hast remitted my sins”? Hear why chains they are: the Scripture maketh answer, “with the chains of his sins each one is bound fast.”21732173     Prov. v. 22. Not only bonds, but chains21742174     Criniculi. also they are. Chains are those which are made by twisting in: that is, because with sins sins thou wast knitting together.…

4. “Alienated are sinners from the womb, they have gone astray from the belly, they have spoken false things” (ver. 3). And when iniquity they speak, false things they speak; because deceitful is iniquity: and when justice they speak, false things they speak; because one thing with mouth they profess, another thing in heart they conceal. “Alienated are sinners from the womb.” What is this? Let us search more diligently: for perhaps he is saying this, because God hath foreknown men that are to be sinners even in the wombs of their mothers.21752175     Gen. xxv. 23. [Here foreknowledge precedes predestination. See Clement, vol. ii. p. 497, A.N.F.—C.] For whence when Rebecca was yet pregnant, and in womb was bearing twins, was it said, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”?21762176     Mal. i. 2; Rom. ix. 13. For it was said, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Hidden at that time was the judgment of God: but yet from the womb, that is, from the very origin, alienated are sinners. Whence alienated? From truth. Whence alienated? From the blessed country, from the blessed life. Perchance alienated they are from the very womb. And what sinners have been alienated from the womb? For what men would have been born, if therein they had not been held? Or what men to-day would be alive to hear these words to no purpose, unless they were born? Perchance therefore sinners have been alienated from a certain womb, wherein that charity was suffering pains, which speaketh through the Apostle, “Of whom again I am in labour, until Christ be formed in you.”21772177     Gal. iv. 19. Expect thou therefore; be formed: do not to thyself ascribe a judgment which perchance thou knowest not. Carnal thou art as yet, conceived thou hast been: from that very time when thou hast received the name of Christ, by a sort of sacrament thou hast been born in the bowels of a mother. For not only out of bowels a man is born, but also in bowels. First he is born in bowels, in order that he may be able to be born of bowels. Wherefore it hath been said even to Mary, “For that which is born in thee, is of the Holy Spirit.”21782178     Matt. i. 20; Luke i. 35. Not yet of Her It had been born, but already in Her It had been born. Therefore there are born within the bowels of the Church certain little ones, and a good thing it is that being formed they should go forth, so that they drop not by miscarriage. Let the mother bear thee, not miscarry. If patient thou shalt have been, even until thou be formed, even until in thee there be the sure doctrine of truth, the maternal bowels ought to keep thee. But if by thy impatience thou shalt have shaken the sides of thy mother, with pain indeed she expelleth thee out, but more to thy loss than to hers.

5. For this reason therefore have they gone astray from the belly, because “they have spoken false things”? Or rather have they not for this reason spoken false things, because they have gone astray from the belly? For in the belly of the Church truth abideth. Whosoever from this belly of the Church separated shall have been, must needs speak false things: must needs, I say, speak false things; whoso either conceived would not be, or whom when conceived the mother hath expelled. Thence heretics exclaim against the Gospel (to speak in preference of those whom expelled we lament). We repeat to them: behold Christ hath said, “It behoved Christ to suffer, and from the dead to rise again the third day.”21792179     Luke xxiv. 46. I acknowledge there our Head, I acknowledge there our bridegroom: acknowledge thou also with me the Bride.…

6. “Indignation to them after the similitude of a serpent” (ver. 4). A great thing ye are to hear. “Indignation to them after the similitude of a serpent.” As if we had said, What is that which thou hast said? there followeth, “As if of a deaf asp.” Whence deaf? “And closing its ears.” Therefore deaf, because it closeth its ears. “And closing its ears.” “Which will not hearken to the voice of men charming, and of the medicine medicated by the wise man” (ver. 5). As we have heard, because even men speak who have learned it with such research as they were able, but nevertheless it is a thing which the Spirit of God knoweth much better than any men. For it is not to no purpose that of this he hath spoken, but because it may chance that true is even that which we have heard of the asp. When the asp beginneth to be affected by the Marsian charmer, who calleth it forth with certain peculiar incantations, hear what it doeth.…Give heed what is spoken to thee for a simile’s sake, what is noted thee for avoidance.21802180     So. p. 133. So therefore here also there hath been given a certain simile derived from the Marsian, who maketh incantation to bring forth the asp from the dark cavern; surely into light he would bring it: but it loving its darkness, wherein coiled up it hideth itself, when it will not choose to come forth, nevertheless refusing to hear those words whereby it feeleth itself to be constrained, is said to press one ear against the ground, and with its tail to stop up the other, and therefore as much as possible escaping those words, it cometh not forth to the charmer. To this as being like, the Spirit of God hath spoken of certain persons hearing not the Word of God, and not only not doing, but altogether, that they may not do it, refusing to hear.

7. This thing hath been done even in the first times of the faith. Stephen the Martyr was preaching the Truth, and to minds as though dark, in order to bring them forth into light, was making incantation: when he came to make mention of Christ, whom they would not hear at all, of them the Scripture saith what? of them relateth what? “They shut,” he saith, “their ears.”21812181     Acts vii. 57. But what they did afterwards, the narrative of the passion of Stephen doth publish. They were not deaf, but they made themselves deaf.…For this thing they did at the point where Christ was named. The indignation of these men was as the indignation of a serpent. Why your ears do ye shut? Wait, hear, and if ye shall be able, rage. Because they chose not to do aught but rage, they would not hear. But if they had heard, perchance they would have ceased to rage. The indignation of them was as the indignation of a serpent.…

8. “God hath broken utterly the teeth of them in their own mouth” (ver. 6). Of whom? Of them to whom indignation is as the similitude of a serpent, and of an asp closing up its ears, so that it heareth not the voice of men charming, and of medicine medicated by the wise man. The Lord hath done to them what? “Hath broken utterly the teeth of them in their own mouth.” It hath been done, this at first hath been done, and now is being done. But it would have sufficed, my brethren, that it should have been said, “God hath broken utterly the teeth of them.” The Pharisees would not hear the Law, would not hear the precepts of truth from Christ, being like to that serpent and asp. For in their past sins they took delight, and present life they would not lose, that is, joys earthly for joys heavenly.…What is, “in their own mouth”? In such sort, that with their own mouth against themselves they should make declaration: He hath compelled them with their mouth against themselves to give sentence. They would have slandered Him, because of the tribute:21822182     Matt. xxii. 17, 18. He said not, “It is lawful to pay tribute,” or, “It is not lawful to pay tribute.” And He willed to break utterly their teeth, wherewith they were gaping in order to bite; but in their own mouth He would do it. If He said, Let there be paid to Cæsar tribute, they would have slandered Him, because He had spoken evil to the nation of the Jews, by making it a tributary. For because of sin they were paying tribute, having been humbled, as to them in the Law had been foretold. We have Him, say they, a maligner of our nation, if He shall have bidden us to pay tribute: but if He say, Do not pay, we have Him for saying that we should not be under allegiance to Cæsar. Such a double noose as it were to catch the Lord they laid. But to whom had they come? To Him that knew how to break utterly the teeth of them in their own mouth. “Show to Me the coin,”21832183     Matt. xxii. 19. He saith. Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites?” Of paying tribute do ye think? To do justice are ye willing? the counsel of justice do ye seek? “If truly justice ye speak, judge right things, ye sons of men.” But now because in one way ye speak, in another way judge, hypocrites ye are: “Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites?” Now I will break utterly your teeth in your mouth: “show to Me the coin.” And they showed it to Him. And He saith not, it is Cæsar’s: but asketh Whose it is? in order that their teeth in their own mouth might be utterly broken. For on His inquiring, of whom it had the image and inscription, they said, of Cæsar. Even now the Lord shall break utterly the teeth of them in their own mouth. Now ye have made answer, now have been broken utterly your teeth in your mouth. “Render unto Cæsar the things which are of Cæsar, and unto God the things which are of God.” 21842184     Matt. xxii. 21. Cæsar seeketh his image; render it: God seeketh His image; render it. Let not Cæsar lose from you his coin: let not God lose in you His coin. And they found not what they might answer. For they had been sent to slander Him: and they went back, saying, that no one to Him could make answer. Wherefore? Because broken utterly had been the teeth of them in their own mouth. Of that sort is also the following: “In what power doest Thou these things? I also will ask of you one question, answer me.”21852185     Matt. xxi. 23, 24; Mark xi. 28, 29. And He asked them of John, whence was the Baptism of John, from heaven, or of men? so that whatever they might answer might tell against themselves.…

9. The Lord displeased that Pharisee, who to dinner had bidden Him, because a woman that was a sinner drew near to His feet, and he murmured against Him, saying, “If this man were a prophet, He would know what woman drew near to His feet.”21862186     Luke vii. 39. O thou that art no prophet, whence knowest thou that He knew not what woman drew near to His feet? Because indeed He kept not the purifying of the Jews, which outwardly was as it were kept in the flesh, and was afar from the heart, this thing he suspected of the Lord. And in order that I may not speak at length on this point, even in his mouth He willed to break utterly the teeth of him. For He set forth to him: “A certain usurer had two debtors, one was owing five hundred pence, the other fifty: both had not wherewithal to pay, he forgave both. Which loved him the more?”21872187     Luke vii. 41, 42. To this end the one asketh, that the other may answer: to this end he answereth that the teeth of him in his mouth may be broken utterly.…

10. “The jaw-bones of lions the Lord hath broken utterly.”21882188     Ps. lviii. 6. Not only of asps. What of asps? Asps treacherously desire to throw in their venom, and scatter it, and hiss. Most openly raged the nations, and roared like lions. “Wherefore have raged the nations, and the peoples meditated empty things?”21892189     Ps. ii. 1. When they were lying in wait for the Lord. Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or is it not lawful?21902190     Matt. xxii. 17. Asps they were, serpents they were, broken utterly were the teeth of them in their own mouth. Afterwards they cried out, “Crucify, Crucify.”21912191     Matt. xxvii. 23; John xix. 6. Now is there no tongue of asp, but roar of lion. But also “the jaw-bones of lions the Lord hath broken utterly.” Perchance here there is no need of that which he hath not added, namely, “in the mouth of them.” For men lying in wait with captious questions, were forced to be conquered with their own answer: but those men that openly were raging, were they by any means to be confuted with questions? Nevertheless, even their jaw-bones were broken utterly: having been crucified, He rose again, ascended into heaven, was glorified as the Christ, is adored by all nations, adored by all kings. Let the Jews now rage, if they are able. We have also in the case of heretics this as a warning and precedent, because themselves also we find to be serpents with indignation made deaf, not choosing to hear the “medicine medicated by the wise man:” and in their own mouth the Lord hath broken utterly the teeth of them.…

11. “They shall be despised like water running down” (ver. 7). Be not terrified, brethren, by certain streams, which are called torrents: with winter waters they are filled up; do not fear: after a little it passeth by, that water runneth down; for a time it roareth, soon it will subside: they cannot hold long. Many heresies now are utterly dead: they have run in their channels as much as they were able, have run down, dried are the channels, scarce of them the memory is found, or that they have been. “They shall be despised like water running down.” But not they alone; the whole of this age for a time is roaring, and is seeking whom it may drag along. Let all ungodly men, all proud men resounding against the rocks of their pride as it were with waters rushing along and flowing together, not terrify you, winter waters they are, they cannot alway flow: it must needs be that they run down unto their place, unto their end. And nevertheless of this torrent of the world the Lord hath drunk. For He hath suffered here, the very torrent He hath drunk, but in the way He hath drunk, but in the passage over: because in way of sinners He hath not stood.21922192     Ps. i. 1. But of Him saith the Scripture what? “Of the torrent in the way He shall drink, therefore He shall lift up His Head;”21932193     Ps. cx. 7. that is, for this reason glorified He hath been, because He hath died; for this reason hath risen again, because He hath suffered.…

12. “Like wax melted they shall be taken away” (ver. 8). For thou wast about to say, all men are not so made weak, like myself, in order that they may believe: many men do persevere in their evil, and in their malice. And of the same fear thou nothing: “Like wax melted they shall be taken away.” Against thee they shall not stand, they shall not continue: with a sort of fire of their own lusts they shall perish. For there is here a kind of hidden punishment,21942194     Hidden punishment of sinners. of it the Psalm is about to speak now, to the end of it. There are but a few verses; be attentive. There is a certain punishment future, fire of hell, fire everlasting. For future punishment hath two kinds: either of the lower places it is, where was burning that rich man, who was wishing for himself a drop of water to be dropped on his tongue off the finger of the poor man, whom before his gate he had spurned, when he saith, “For I am tormented in this flame.” 21952195     Luke xvi. 24. And the second is that at the end, whereof they are to hear, that on the left hand are to be set: “Go ye into fire everlasting, that hath been prepared for the devil and his angels.”21962196     Matt. xxv. 41. Those punishments shall be manifest at that time, when we shall have departed out of this life, or when at the end of the world men shall have come to the resurrection of the dead. Now therefore is there no punishment, and doth God suffer sins utterly unpunished even unto that day? There is even here a sort of hidden punishment, of the same he is treating now.…We see nevertheless sometimes with these punishments just men to be afflicted, and to these punishments unjust men to be strangers: for which reason did totter the feet of him that afterwards rejoicing saith, “How good is the God of Israel to men right in heart! But my own feet have been almost shaken, because I have been jealous in the case of sinners, beholding the peace of sinners.”21972197     Ps. lxxiii. 1–3. For he had seen the felicity of evil men, and well-pleased he had been to be an evil man, seeing evil men to reign, seeing that it was well with them, that they abounded in plenty of all things temporal, such as he too, being as yet but a babe, was desiring from the Lord: and his feet did totter, even until he saw what at the end is either to be hoped for or to be feared. For he saith in the same Psalm, “This thing is a labour before me, until I enter into the sanctuary of God, and understand unto the last things.”21982198     Ps. lxxiii. 16, 17. It is not therefore the punishments of the lower places, not the punishments of that fire everlasting after the resurrection, not those punishments which as yet in this world are common to just men and unjust men, and ofttimes more heavy are those of just men than those of unjust men; but some punishment or other of the present life the Spirit of God would recommend to our notice. Give heed, hear ye me about to speak of that which ye know: but a more sweet thing it is when it is declared in a Psalm, which, before it was declared, was deemed obscure. For behold I bring forth that which already ye knew: but because these things are brought forth from a place where ye have never yet seen them, it cometh to pass that even known things, as if they were new things, do delight you. Hear ye the punishment of ungodly men: “Like wax,” he saith, “melted they shall be taken away.” I have said that through their lusts this thing to them is done. Evil lust is like a burning and a fire. Doth fire consume a garment, and doth not the lust of adultery consume the soul? Of meditated adultery when the Scripture was speaking it saith, “Shall one bind fire in his bosom, and his garments shall he not burn up?”21992199     Prov. vi. 27. Thou bearest in thy bosom live coals; burned through is thy vest; thou bearest in thought adultery, and whole then is thy soul? But these punishments few men do see: therefore them the Spirit of God doth exceedingly recommend to our notice. Hear the Apostle saying, “God hath given them up unto the lusts of their heart.”22002200     Rom. i. 24. Behold, the fire from the face of which like wax they are melting. For they loose themselves from a certain continence of chastity; therefore even these same men, going unto their lusts, as loose and melting are spoken of. Whence melting? whence loose? From the fire of lusts. “God hath given them up unto the lusts of their heart, so that they do those things which beseem not, being filled full of all iniquity.”…

13. “There hath fallen upon them fire, and they have not seen the sun.” Ye see in what manner he speaketh of a certain punishment of darkening. “Fire hath fallen upon them,” fire of pride, a smoky fire, fire of lust, fire of wrath. How great a fire is it? He upon whom it shall have fallen, shall not see the sun. Therefore hath it been said, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”22012201     Eph. iv. 26. Therefore, brethren, fire of evil lust fear ye, if ye will not melt like wax, and to perish from the face of God. For there falleth upon you that fire, and the sun ye shall not see. What sun? Not that which together with thee see both beasts and insects, and good men and evil men: because “He maketh His sun to rise upon good men and evil men.”22022202     Matt. v. 45. But there is another sun, whereof those men are to speak, “And the sun hath not risen to us, passed away are all those things as it were a shadow. Therefore we have strayed from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shone to us, and the sun hath not risen to us.”22032203     Wisd. v. 6.

14. “Before that the bramble22042204     Rhamnus. bringeth forth your thorns: as though living, as though in anger, it shall drink them up” (ver. 9). What is the bramble? Of prickly plants it is a kind, upon which there are said to be certain of the closest thorns. At first it is a herb; and while it is a herb, soft and fair it is: but thereon there are nevertheless thorns to come forth. Now therefore sins are pleasant, and as it were they do not prick. A herb is the bramble; even now nevertheless there is a thorn. “Before that the bramble bringeth forth thorns:” is before that of miserable delights and pleasures the evident tortures come forth. Let them question themselves that love any object, and to it cannot attain; let them see if they are not racked with longing: and when they have attained to that which unlawfully they long for, let them mark if they are not racked with fear. Let them see therefore here their punishments; before that there cometh that resurrection, when in flesh rising again they shall not be changed. “For all we shall rise again, but not22052205     So several early writers and mss. But the balance of authority as well as the sense is in favour of the received reading. all we shall be changed.”22062206     1 Cor. xv. 51. For they shall have the corruption of the flesh wherein to be pained, not that wherein to die: otherwise even those pains would be ended. Then the thorns of that bramble, that is, all pains and piercings of tortures shall be brought forth. Such thorns as they shall suffer that are to say, “These are they whom sometimes we had in derision:”22072207     Wisd. v. 3. thorns of the piercing of repentance, but of one too late and without fruit like the barrenness of thorns. The repentance of this time is pain healing: repentance of that time is pain penal. Wouldest thou not suffer those thorns? here be thou pierced with the thorns of repentance; in such sort that thou do that which hath been spoken of, “Turned I have been in sorrow, when the thorn was piercing:22082208     Or, “being made to pierce.” my sin I have known, and mine iniquity I have not covered: I have said, I will declare against me my shortcoming to the Lord, and Thou hast remitted the ungodliness of my heart.”22092209     Ps. xxxii. 5. Now do so, now be pierced through, be there not in thee done that which hath been said of certain execrable men, “They have been cloven asunder, and have not been pierced through.”22102210     Ps. xxxv. 15. These words are in the Vulgate, for “they did tear me, and ceased not;” but St. Augustin does not notice them in his comment on the Psalm. Observe them that have been cloven asunder and have not been pierced through.22112211     Against the Donatists. Ye see men cloven asunder, and ye see them not pierced through. Behold beside the Church they are, and it doth not repent them, so as they should return whence they have been cloven asunder. The bramble hereafter shall bring forth their thorns. They will not now have a healing piercing through, they shall have hereafter one penal. But even now before that the bramble produceth thorns, there hath fallen upon them fire, that suffereth them not to see the sun, that is, the wrath of God is drinking up them while still living: fire of evil lusts, of empty honours, of pride, of their covetousness: and whatsoever is weighing them down, that they should not know the truth, so that they seem not to be conquered, so that they be not brought into subjection even by truth herself. For what is a more glorious thing, brethren, than to be brought in subjection and to be overcome by truth? Let truth overcome thee willing: for even unwilling she shall of herself overcome thee.…

15. As yet the punishments of the lower places have not come, as yet fire everlasting hath not come: let him that is growing in God compare himself now with an ungodly man, a blind heart with an enlightened heart: compare ye two men, one seeing and one not seeing in the flesh. And what so great thing is vision of the flesh? Did Tobias by any means have fleshly eyes?22122212     Tob. iv. 3–19. His own son had, and he had not; and the way of life a blind man to one seeing did show. Therefore when ye see that punishment, rejoice, because in it ye are not.

Therefore saith the Scripture, “The just man shall rejoice when he shall have seen vengeance” (ver. 10). Not that future punishment; for see what followeth: “his hands he shall wash in the blood of the sinner.” What is this? Let your love attend. When man-slayers are smitten, ought anywise innocent men to go thither and wash their hands? But what is, “in the blood of the sinner he shall wash his hands”? When a just man seeth the punishment of a sinner, he groweth himself; and the death of one is the life of another. For if spiritually blood runneth from those that within are dead, do thou, seeing such vengeance, wash therein thy hands; for the future more cleanly live. And how shall he wash his hands, if a just man he is? For what hath he on his hands to be washed, if just he is? “But the just man of faith shall live.”22132213     Rom. i. 17. Just men therefore he hath called believers: and from the time that thou hast believed, at once thou beginnest to be called just. For there hath been made a remission of sins. Even if out of that remaining part of thy life some sins are thine, which cannot but flow in, like water from the sea into the hold; nevertheless, because thou hast believed, when thou shalt have seen him that altogether is turned away from God to be slain in that blindness, there falling upon him that fire so that he see not the sun—then do thou that now through faith seest Christ, in order that thou mayest see in substance (because the just man liveth of faith), observe the ungodly man dying, and purge thyself from sins. So thou shalt wash in a manner thy hands in the blood of the sinner.

16. “And a man shall say, If therefore there is fruit to a just man” (ver. 10). Behold, before that there cometh that which is promised, before that there is given life everlasting, before that ungodly men are cast forth into fire everlasting, here in this life there is fruit to the just man. What fruit? “In hope rejoicing, in tribulation enduring.”22142214     Rom. xii. 12. What fruit to the just man? “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, but patience probation, but probation hope: but hope confoundeth not: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, that hath been given to us.”22152215     Rom. v. 3–5. Doth he rejoice that is a drunkard; and doth he not rejoice that is just? In love there is fruit to a just man. Miserable the one, even when he maketh himself drunken: blessed the other, even when he hungereth and thirsteth. The one wine-bibbing doth gorge, the other hope doth feed. Let him see therefore the punishment of the other, his own rejoicing, and let him think of God. He that hath given even now such joy of faith, of hope, of charity, of the truth of His Scriptures, what manner of joy is He making ready against the end? In the way thus He feedeth, in his home how shall He fill him? “And a man shall say, If therefore there is fruit to the just man.” Let them that see believe, and see, and perceive. Rejoice shall the just man when he shall have seen vengeance. But if he hath not eyes whence he may see vengeance, he will be made sad, and will not be amended by it. But if he seeth it, he seeth what difference there is between the darkened eye of the heart, and the eye enlightened of the heart: between the coolness of chastity and the flame of lust, between the security of hope and the fear there is in crime. When he shall have seen this, let him separate himself, and wash his hands in the blood of the same. Let him profit by the comparison, and say, “Therefore there is fruit to the just man: therefore there is a God judging them in the earth.” Not yet in that life, not yet in fire eternal, not yet in the lower places, but here in earth.…

17. If somewhat too prolix we have been, pardon us. We exhort you in the name of Christ, to meditate profitably on those things which ye have heard. Because even to preach the truth is nought, if heart from tongue dissenteth; and to hear the truth nothing profiteth, if a man upon the rock build not. He that buildeth upon a Rock, is the same that heareth and doeth:22162216     Matt. vii. 24. but he that heareth and doeth not, buildeth upon sand: he that neither heareth nor doeth, buildeth nothing.…


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