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1. This Psalm hath an inscription, that is, a title, “There have failed the hymns of David, the son of Jesse.32513251 This sentence in our version and in the Vulgate stands at the end of the previous Psalm. [Where it is more significant. David can prophesy no further concerning the glory that shall be revealed. See A.N.F. vol. i. p. 211, note 3.—C.] A Psalm32523252 Title of Psalm lxxiii. of Asaph himself.” So many Psalms we have on the titles whereof is written the name David, nowhere there is added, “son of Jesse,” except in this alone. Which we must believe hath not been done to no purpose, nor capriciously. For everywhere God doth make intimations to us, and to the understanding thereof doth invite the godly study of love. What is, “there have failed the hymns of David, the son of Jesse”? Hymns are praises of God accompanied with singing: hymns are songs containing the praise of God. If there be praise, and it be not of God, it is no hymn: if there be praise, and God’s praise, and it be not sung, it is no hymn. It must needs then, if it be a hymn, have these three things, both praise, and that of God, and singing. What is then, “there have failed the hymns”? There have failed the praises which are sung unto God. He seemeth to tell of a thing painful, and so to speak deplorable. For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but only praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving. “There have failed” then “the hymns of David,” he saith: and he hath added, “the son of Jesse.” For David was king of Israel, son of Jesse,32533253 1 Sam. xvi. 19. at a certain time of the Old Testament, at which time the New Testament was therein hidden, like fruit in a root. For if thou seek fruit in a root, thou wilt not find, and yet dost thou not find any fruit in the branches, except that which hath gone forth from the root.…And in like manner as Christ Himself to be born after the flesh was hidden in the root, that is in the seed of the Patriarchs, and at a certain time must be revealed, as at the fruit appearing, according as it is written, “there hath flourished a shoot from the root of Jesse:”32543254 Isa. xi. 1. so also the New Testament itself which is in Christ, in those former times was hidden, being known to the Prophets alone, and to the very few godly men, not by the manifestation of things present, but by the revelation of things future. For what meaneth it, brethren (to mention but one thing), that Abraham sending his faithful servant to espouse a wife for his only son, maketh him swear to him, and in the oath saith to him, “Put thy hand under my thigh, and swear”? 32553255 Gen. xxiv. 2. [See p. 148, note 11, supra.—C.] What was there in the thigh of Abraham, where he put his hand in swearing? What was there there, except that which even then was promised to him, “In thy seed shall be blessed all nations”?32563256 Gen. xxii. 18. Under the name of thigh, flesh is signified. From the flesh of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, and not to mention many names, through Mary was our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. But that the root was in the Patriarchs, how shall we show? Let us question Paul. The Gentiles now believing in Christ, and desiring as it were to boast over the Jews who crucified Christ; although also from that same people there came another wall, meeting in the corner, that is, in Christ Himself, the wall of uncircumcision, that is, of the Gentiles, coming from a different quarter: when, I say, the nations were lifting up themselves, he doth thus depress them. “For if thou,” he saith, “being cut out of the natural wild olive, hast been graffed in among them, do not boast against the branches: for if thou boastest, thou dost not bear the root, but the root thee.”32573257 Rom. xi. 17, 18. Therefore he speaketh of certain branches broken off from the root of the Patriarchs because of unbelief, and the wild olive therein graffed in, that it might be partaker of the fatness of the olive, that is, the Church coming out of the Gentiles. And who doth graff the wild olive on the olive? The olive is wont to be graffed on the wild olive; the wild olive on the olive we never saw. For whosoever may have done so will find no berries but those of the wild olive. For that which is graffed in, the same groweth, and of that kind the fruit is found. There is not found the fruit of the root but of the graft. The Apostle showing that God did this thing by His Omnipotence, namely, that the wild olive should be graffed into the root of the olive, and should not bear wild berries, but olive—ascribing it to the Omnipotence of God, the Apostle saith this, “If thou hast been cut out of the natural wild olive and against nature hast been graffed into a good 32583258 Ben. notes that the word “good” is not in the mss.; it is found at Oxford, and probably in mss. used for earlier editions. olive, do not boast,” he saith, “against the branches.”32593259 Rom. xi. 24, 18. …
3. In the time then of the Old Testament, brethren, the promises from our God to that carnal people were earthly and temporal. There was promised an earthly kingdom, there was promised that land into which they were also led, after being delivered from Egypt: by Jesus32603260 [i.e., Joshua the son of Nun.—C.] son of Nave they were led into the land of promise, where also earthly Jerusalem was builded, where David reigned: they received the land, after being delivered from Egypt, by passing through the Red Sea.…Such were also those promises, which were not to endure, through which however were figured future promises which were to endure, so that all that course of temporal promises was a figure and a sort of prophecy of things future. Accordingly when that kingdom was failing, where reigned David, the son of Jesse, that is, one that was a man, though a Prophet, though holy, because he saw and foresaw Christ to come, of whose seed also after the flesh He was to be born: nevertheless a man, nevertheless not yet Christ, nevertheless not yet our King Son of God, but king David son of Jesse: because then that kingdom was to fail, through the receiving of which kingdom at that time God was praised by carnal men; for this thing alone they esteemed a great matter, namely, that they were delivered temporally from those by whom they were being oppressed, and that they had escaped from persecuting enemies through the Red Sea, and had been led through the desert, and had found country and kingdom: for this alone they praised God, not yet perceiving the thing which God was designing beforehand and promising in these figures. In the failing therefore of those things for which the carnal people, over whom reigned that David, was praising God, “there failed the hymns of David,” not the Son of God, but the “son of Jesse.”…
4. Whose voice is the Psalm? “Of Asaph.”32613261 See Title of Psalm. What is Asaph? As we find in interpretations from the Hebrew language into the Greek, and those again translated to us from the Greek into the Latin, Asaph is interpreted Synagogue. It is the voice therefore of the Synagogue. But when thou hast heard Synagogue, do not forthwith abhor it, as if it were the murderer of the Lord. That Synagogue was indeed the murderer of the Lord, no man doubteth it: but remember, that from the Synagogue were the rams whereof we are the sons. Whence it is said in a Psalm, “Bring ye to the Lord the sons of rams.”32623262 Ps. xxix. 1, Gr. and Lat. What rams are thence? Peter, John, James, Andrew, Bartholomew, and the rest of the Apostles. Hence also he too at first Saul, afterwards Paul: that is, at first proud, afterwards humble.…Therefore even Paul came to us from the Synagogue, and Peter and the other Apostles from the Synagogue. Therefore when thou hast heard the voice of the Synagogue, do not look to the deserving thereof, but observe the offspring. There is speaking therefore in this Psalm, the Synagogue, after the failing of the hymns of David, the son of Jesse that is, after the failing of things temporal, through which God was wont to be praised by the carnal people. But why did these fail, except in order that others might be sought for? That there might be sought for what? Was it things which were not there? No, but things which were there being hidden in figures: not which were not yet there,32633263 Oxf. mss. add, “not which,” etc. but which there as it were in a sort were concealed in certain secret things of mysteries. What things? “These,” saith the Apostle himself, “were our figures.”32643264 1 Cor. x. 6. …
5. It was the Synagogue therefore, that is, they that there worshipped God after a godly sort, but yet for the sake of earthly things, for the sake of these present things (for there are ungodly men who seek the blessings of present things from demons: but this people was on this account better than the Gentiles, because although it were blessings present and temporal, yet they sought them from the One God, who is the Creator of all things both spiritual and corporal). When therefore those godly men after the flesh were observing—that is that Synagogue which was made up of good men, men for the time good, not spiritual men, such as were the Prophets therein, such as were the few that understood the kingdom heavenly, eternal—that Synagogue, I say, observed what things it received from God, and what things God promised to that people, abundance of things earthly, land, peace, earthly felicity: but in all these things were figures, and they not perceiving what was there concealed in things figured, thought that God gave this for a great matter, and had nothing better to give to men loving Him and serving Him: they remarked and saw certain sinners, ungodly, blasphemers, servants of demons, sons of the Devil, living in great naughtiness and pride, yet abounding in such things earthly, temporal, for which sort of things they were serving God themselves: and there sprang up a most evil thought in the heart, which made the feet to totter, and almost slip out of God’s way. And behold this thought was in the people of the Old Testament: I would it be not in our carnal brethren, when now openly there is being proclaimed the felicity of the New Testament.…
6. “How good is the God of Israel!” But to whom? “To men right in heart” (ver. 1). To men perverse what? Perverse He seemeth. So also in another Psalm He saith: “With a holy man holy Thou shalt be, and with the innocent man innocent Thou shalt be, and with the perverse man perverse Thou shalt be.”32653265 Ps. xviii. 25. What is, perverse Thou shalt be with the perverse man? Perverse the perverse man shall think Thee. Not that by any means God is made perverse. Far be it: what He is, He is. But in like manner as the sun appeareth mild to one having clear, sound, healthy, strong eyes, but against weak eyes doth dart hard spears, so to say; the former looking at it it doth invigorate, the latter it doth torture, though not being itself changed, but the man being changed: so when thou shalt have begun to be perverse, and to thee God shall seem to be perverse, thou art changed, not He. That therefore to thee will be punishment which to good men is joy. He calling to mind this thing, saith, “How good is the God of Israel to men right in heart!”
7. But what to thee? “But my feet were almost moved” (ver. 2). When were the feet moved, except when the heart was not right? Whence was the heart not right? Hear: “My steps were well nigh overthrown.” What he hath meant by “almost,” the same he hath meant by “well nigh:” and what he hath meant by “my feet were almost moved,” the same he hath meant by “my steps were overthrown.” Almost my feet were moved, almost my steps were overthrown. Moved were the feet: but whence were the feet moved and the steps overthrown? Moved were the feet to going astray, overthrown were the steps to falling: not entirely, but “almost.” But what is this? Already I was going to stray, I had not gone: already I was falling, I had not fallen.
8. But why even this? “For I was jealous,” he saith, “in the case of sinners, looking on the peace of sinners” (ver. 3). I observed sinners, I saw them to have peace. What peace? Temporal, transient, falling, and earthly: but yet such as I also was desiring of God. I saw them that served not God to have that which I desired in order that I might serve God: and my feet were moved and my steps were almost overthrown. But why sinners have this, he saith briefly: “Because there is no avoidance of their death, and there is a firmament in their scourge” (ver. 4). Now I have perceived, he saith, why they have peace, and flourish on the earth; because of their death there is no avoidance, because death sure and eternal doth await them, which neither doth avoid them, nor can they avoid it, “because there is no avoidance of their death, and there is a firmament in their scourge.” And there is a firmament in their scourge. For their scourge is not temporal, but firm for everlasting. Because of these evil things then which are to be to them eternal, now what? “In the labours of men they are not, and with men they shall not be scourged” (ver. 5). Doth not even the devil himself escape scourging with men, for whom nevertheless an eternal punishment is being prepared?
9. Wherefore on this account what do these men, while they are not scourged, while they labour not with men? “Therefore,” he saith “there hath holden them pride” (ver. 6). Observe these men, proud, undisciplined; observe the bull, devoted for a victim, suffered to stray at liberty; and to damage whatever he may, even up to the day of his slaughter. Now it is a good thing, brethren, that we should hear in the very words of a prophet of this bull as it were, whereof I have spoken. For thus of him the Scripture doth make mention in another place: he saith that they are, as it were, made ready as for a victim, and that they are spared for an evil liberty.32663266 Prov. vii. 22. “Therefore,” he saith, “there hath holden them pride.” What is, “there hath holden them pride”? “They have been clothed about with their iniquity and ungodliness.” He hath not said, covered; but, “clothed about,” on all sides covered up with their ungodliness. Deservedly miserable, they neither see nor are seen, because they are clothed about; and the inward parts of them are not seen. For whosoever could behold the inward parts of evil men, that are as it were happy for a time, whosoever could see their torturing consciences, whosoever could examine their souls racked with such mighty perturbations of desires and fears, would see them to be miserable even when they are called happy. But because “they are clothed about with their iniquity and ungodliness,” they see not; but neither are they seen. The Spirit knew them, that saith these words concerning them: and we ought to examine such men with the same eye as that wherewith we know that we see, if there is taken from our eyes the covering of ungodliness.…
10. At first these men are being described. “There shall go forth as if out of fat their iniquity” (ver. 7).…A poor beggar committeth a theft; out of leanness hath gone forth the iniquity: but when a rich man aboundeth in so many things, why doth he plunder the things of others? Of the former the iniquity out of leanness, of the other out of fatness, hath gone forth. Therefore to the lean man when thou sayest, Why hast thou done this? Humbly afflicted and abject he replieth, Need hath compelled me. Why hast thou not feared God? Want was urgent. Say to a rich man, Why doest thou these things, and fearest not God?—supposing thee to be great enough to be able to say it—see if he even deigneth to hear; see if even against thyself32673267 Ed. in teipso; Ben. conj. and Oxf. mss. in teipsum. there will not go forth iniquity out of his fatness. For now they declare war with their teachers and reprovers, and become enemies of them that speak the truth, having been long accustomed to be coaxed with the words of flatterers, being of tender ear, of unsound heart. Who would say to a rich man, Thou hast ill done in robbing other men’s goods? Or perchance if any man shall have dared to speak, and he is such a man as he could not withstand, what doth he reply? All that he saith is in contempt of God. Why? Because he is proud. Why? Because he is fat. Why? Because he is devoted for a victim. “They have passed over unto purpose of heart.” Here within they have passed over. What is, “they have passed over”? They have crossed over the way. What is, “they have passed over”? They have exceeded the bounds of mankind, men like the rest they think not themselves. They have passed over, I say, the bounds of mankind. When thou sayest to such a man, Thy brother this beggar is; when thou sayest to such a man, Thy brother32683268 The words from “this beggar,” added from Oxf. mss. this poor man is; the same parents ye have had, Adam and Eve: do not heed thy haughtiness, do not heed the vapour unto which thou hast been elevated; although an establishment waiteth about thee, although countless gold and silver, although a marbled house doth contain thee, although fretted ceilings cover thee, thou and the poor man together have for covering that roof of the universe, the sky; but thou art different from the poor man in things not thine own, added to thee from without: thyself see in them, not them in thee. Observe thyself, how thou art in relation to the poor man; thyself, not that which thou hast. For why dost thou despise thy brother? In the bowels of your mothers ye were both naked. Forsooth, even when ye shall have departed this life, and these bodies shall have rotted, when the soul hath been breathed forth, let the bones of the rich and poor man be distinguished! I am speaking of the equality of condition, of that very lot of mankind, wherein all men are born:32693269 [See A.N.F. vol. vii. p. 151.—C.] for both here doth a man become rich, and a poor man will not alway be here: and as a rich man doth not come rich, so neither doth he depart rich; the very same is the entrance of both, and like is the departure. I add, that perchance ye will change conditions. Now everywhere the Gospel is being preached: observe a certain poor man full of sores, who was lying before the gate of a rich man,32703270 Luke xvi. 19. and was desiring to be filled with crumbs, which used to fall from the table of the rich man; observe also that likeness32713271 Al. “father.” of thine who was clothed with purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. It chanced, I say, for that poor man to die, and to be borne by the Angels into the bosom of Abraham: but the other died and was buried; for the other’s burial perchance no one cared.…Brethren, how great was the toil of the poor man! Of how long duration were the luxuries of the rich man! But the condition which they have received in exchange is everlasting.…Deservedly too late he will say, “Send Lazarus,”32723272 Luke xvi. 27. “let him tell even my brethren;” since to himself there is not granted the fruit of repentance. For it is not that repentance32733273 Used, of course, in the lower sense. [The sense, i.e., of mere attrition. See Roman doctrine, Liguori, vol. iv. p. 245, ed. Paris, 1852.—C.] is not given, but everlasting will be the repentance, and no salvation after repentance. Therefore these men “have passed over unto purpose of heart.”
11. “They have thought and have spoken spitefulness” (ver. 8). But men do speak spitefulness even with fear: but these men how? “Iniquity on high they have spoken.” Not only they have spoken iniquity; but even openly, in the hearing of all, proudly; “I will do it;” “I will show you;” “thou shalt know with whom thou hast to do;” “I will not let thee live.” Thou32743274 Oxf. mss. and some of Ben. “Thou proud man, thou,” etc. mightest have but thought such things, not have given utterance to them! Within the chambers of thought at least the evil desire might have been confined, he might have at least restrained it within his thought. Why? Is he perchance lean? “There shall go forth as if out of fatness the iniquity of them.” “Iniquity on high they have spoken.”
12. “They have set against Heaven their mouth, and their tongue hath passed over above the earth” (ver. 9). For this, “hath passed over above the earth” is, they pass over all earthly things? What is it to pass over all earthly things? He doth not think of himself as a man that can die suddenly, when he is speaking; he doth menace as if he were alway to live: his thought doth transcend earthly frailty, he knoweth not with what sort of vessel he is enwrapped; he knoweth not what hath been written in another place concerning such men: “His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth, in that day shall perish all his thoughts.”32753275 Ps. cxlvi. 4. But these men not thinking of their last day, speak pride,32763276 Oxf. and other mss. “proud things.” and unto Heaven they set their mouth, they transcend the earth. If a robber were not to think of his last day, that is, the last day of his trial, when sent to prison, nothing would be more monstrous than he: and yet he might escape. Whither dost thou flee to escape death? Certain will that day be. What is the long time which thou hast to live? How much is the long time which hath an end, even if it were a long time? To this there is added that it is nought: and the very thing which is called long time is not a long time, and is uncertain. Why doth he not think of this? Because he hath set against Heaven his mouth, and his tongue hath passed over above the earth. “And full days shall be found in them.”
13. “Therefore there shall return hither My people” (ver. 10). Now Asaph himself is returning hither. For he saw these things abound to unrighteous men, he saw them abound to proud men: he is returning to God, and is beginning to inquire and discuss. But when? “When full days shall be found in them.” What is “full days”? “But when there came the fulness of time, God sent His Son.”32773277 Gal. iv. 4. This is the very fulness of time, when He came to teach men that things temporal should be despised, that they should not esteem as a great matter whatever object evil men covet, that they should suffer whatever evil men fear. He became the way, He recalled us to inward thought, admonished us of what should be sought of God. And see from what thought reacting upon itself, and in a manner recalling the waves of its impulse, he doth pass over unto choosing true things.
14. “And they said, How hath God known, and is there knowledge in the Most High?” (ver. 11). See through what thought they pass. Behold unjust men are happy, God doth not care for things human. Doth He indeed know what we do? See what things are being said. We are inquiring, brethren, “How hath God known,” etc. (no longer let Christians say it). For how doth it appear to thee that God knoweth not, and that there is no knowledge in the Most High? He replieth, “Lo! themselves they are sinners, and in the world they have gotten abundant riches” (ver. 12). Both sinners they are, and in the world they have gotten abundant riches. He confessed that he willed not to be a sinner in order that he might have riches. A carnal soul for things visible and earthly would have sold its justice. What sort of justice is that which is retained for the sake of gold, as if gold were a more precious thing than justice herself, or as if when a man denieth the deposit of another man’s goods, he to whom he denied them should suffer a greater loss, than he that denieth them to him. The former doth lose a garment, the latter fidelity. “Lo! they are themselves sinners, and in the world they have gotten abundant riches.” On this account therefore God knoweth not, and on this account there is no knowledge in the Most High.
15. “And I said, therefore32783278 mss. want “therefore.” without cause I have justified my heart” (ver. 13). In that I serve God, and have not these things; they serve him not, and they abound in these things: “therefore without cause I have justified my heart, and have washed among the innocent my hands.” This without cause I have done. Where is the reward of my good life? Where is the wage of my service? I live well and am in need; and the unjust man doth abound. “And I have washed among the innocent my hands. And I have been scourged all the day long” (ver. 14). From me the scourges of God do not impart. I serve well, and I am scourged; he serveth not, and is honoured. He hath proposed to himself a great question. The soul is disturbed, the soul doth pass over things which are to pass away unto despising things earthly and to desiring things eternal. There is a passage of the soul herself in this thought; where she doth toss in a sort of tempest she will reach the harbour. And it is with her as it is with sick persons, who are less violently sick, when recovery is far off: when recovery is at hand they are in higher fever; physicians call it the “critical32793279 mss. creticam. accession” through which they pass to health: greater fever is there, but leading to health: greater heat, but recovery is at hand. So also is this man enfevered. For these are dangerous words, brethren, offensive, and almost blasphemous, “How hath God known?” This is why I say, “and almost;” He hath not said, God hath not known: he hath not said, there is no knowledge in the Most High: but as if inquiring, hesitating, doubting. This is the same as he said a little before, “My steps were almost overthrown.”32803280 Ps. lxxiii. 2. He doth not affirm it, but the very doubt is dangerous. Through danger he is passing to health. Hear now the health: “Therefore in vain I have justified my heart, and have washed among the innocent my hands: and I have been scourged all the day long, and my chastening was in the morning.” Chastening is correction. He that is being chastened is being corrected. What is, “in the morning”? It is not deferred. That of the ungodly is being deferred, mine is not deferred: the former is too late or is not at all; mine is in the morning.
16. “If I said, I shall declare thus; behold, the generation of Thy sons I have reprobated” (ver. 15): that is, I will teach thus. How wilt thou teach? that there is no knowledge in the Most High, that God doth not know? Wilt thou propound this opinion, that without cause men live justly who do live justly; that a just man hath lost his service, because God doth more show favour to evil men, or else He doth care for no one? Wilt thou tell this, declare this? He doth restrain himself by an authority repressing him. What authority? A man wisheth some time to break out in this sentiment: but he is recalled by the Scriptures directing us alway to live well, saying, that God doth care for things human, that He maketh a distinction between a godly man and an ungodly man. Therefore this man also wishing to put forth this sentiment, doth recollect himself. And what saith he? “I have reprobated the generation of Thy sons.” If I shall declare thus, the generation of just men I shall reprobate. As also some copies have it, “Behold, the generation of thy sons with which I have been in concert:” that is, with which consisting of Thy sons I have been in concert; that is, with which I have agreed, to which I have been conformed: I have been out of time with all, if so I teach. For he doth sing in concert who giveth the tune together; but he that giveth not the tune together doth not sing in concert. Am I to say something different from that which Abraham said, from that which Isaac said, from that which Jacob said, from that which the Prophets said? For all they said that God doth care for things human, am I to say that He careth not? Is there greater wisdom in me than in them? Greater understanding in me than in them? A most wholesome authority hath called back his thought from ungodliness. And what followeth? That he might not reprobate, he did what? “And I undertook to know” (ver. 16). May God be with him in order that he may know. Meanwhile, brethren, from a great fall he is being withheld, when he doth not presume that he already knoweth, but hath undertaken to know that which he knew not. For but now he was willing to appear as if knowing, and to declare that God hath no care of things human. For this hath come to be a most naughty and ungodly doctrine of unrighteous men. Know, brethren, that many men dispute and say that God careth not for things human, that by chances all things are ruled, or that our wills have been made subject to the stars, that each one is not dealt with according to his deserts, but by the necessity of his stars,—an evil doctrine, an impious doctrine. Unto these thoughts was going that man whose feet were almost moved, and whose steps were all but overthrown, into this error he was going; but because he was not in tune with the generation of the sons of God, he undertook to know, and condemned the knowledge wherein with God’s just men he agreed not. And what he saith let us hear; how that he undertook to know, and was helped, and learned something, and declared it to us. “And I undertook,” he saith, “to know.” “In this labour is before me.” Truly a great labour; to know in what manner both God doth care for things human, and it is well with evil men, and good men labour. Great is the importance of the question; therefore, “and this labour is before me.” As it were there is standing in my face a sort of wall, but thou hast the voice of a Psalm, “In my God I shall pass over the wall.”32813281 Ps. xviii. 29.
17. …And he hath done this; for he saith how long labour is before him; “until I enter into the sanctuary of God, and understand upon the last things” (ver. 17). A great thing it is, brethren: now for a long time I labour, he saith, and before my face I see a sort of insuperable labour, to know in what manner both God is just, and doth care for things human, and is not unjust because men sinning and doing wicked actions have happiness on this earth; but the godly and men serving God are wasted ofttimes in trials and in labours; a great difficulty it is to know this, but only “until I enter into the Sanctuary of God.” For in the Sanctuary what is presented to thee, in order that thou mayest solve this question? “And I understand,” he saith, “upon the last things:” not present things. I, he saith, from the Sanctuary of God stretch out mine eye unto the end, I pass over present things. All that which is called the human race, all that mass of mortality is to come to the balance, is to come to the scale, thereon will be weighed the works of men. All things now a cloud doth enfold: but to God are known the merits of each severally. “And I understand,” he saith, “upon the last things:” but not of myself; for before me there is labour. Whence “may I understand upon the last things”? Let me enter into the Sanctuary of God. In that place then he understood also the reason why these men now are happy.
18. To wit, “because of deceitfulness Thou hast set upon them” (ver. 18). Because deceitful they are, that is fraudulent; because deceitful they are, they suffer deceits. What is this, because fraudulent they are they suffer a fraud? They desire to play a fraud upon mankind in all their naughtinesses, they themselves also suffer a fraud, in choosing earthly good things, and in forsaking the eternal. Therefore, brethren, in their very playing off a fraud they suffer a fraud. In that which but now I said, brethren, “What manner of wit32823282 Cor. hath he who to gain a garment doth lose his fidelity?” hath he whose garment he hath taken suffered a fraud, or he that is smitten with so great a loss? If a garment is more precious than fidelity, the former doth suffer the greater loss: but if incomparably good faith doth surpass the whole world, the latter shall seem to have sustained the loss of a garment; but to the former is said, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”32833283 Matt. xvi. 26. Therefore what hath befallen them? “Because of deceitfulness Thou hast set for them: Thou didst throw them down while they were being exalted.” He hath not said, Thou didst throw them down because they were lifted up: not as it were after that they were lifted up Thou didst throw them down; but in their very lifting up they were thrown down. For thus to be lifted up is already to fall.
19. “How have they become a desolation suddenly?” (ver. 19). He is wondering at them, understanding unto the last things. “They have vanished.” Truly like smoke, which while it mounteth upward, doth vanish, so they have vanished. How doth he say, “They have vanished”? In the manner of one who understandeth the last things: “they have perished because of their iniquity.” “Like as the dream of one rising up” (ver. 20). How have they vanished? As vanisheth the dream of one rising up. Fancy a man in sleep to have seen himself find treasures; he is a rich man, but only until he awaketh. “Like as the dream of one rising up:” so they have vanished, like the dream of one awaking. It is sought then and it is not: there is nothing in the hands, nothing in the bed. A poor man he went to sleep, a rich man in sleep he became: had he not awoke, he were a rich man: he woke up, he found the care which he had lost while sleeping. And these men shall find the misery which they had prepared for themselves. When they shall have awoke from this life, that thing doth pass away which was grasped as if in sleep. “Like as the dream of one rising up.” And that there might not be said, “What then? a small thing doth their glory seem to thee, a small thing doth their state seem to thee, small things seem to thee inscriptions, images, statues, distinctions, troops of clients?” “O Lord,” he saith, “in Thy city their image32843284 Oxf. mss. “images.” Thou shalt bring to nothing.”…He hath taken away the pride of rich men, he giveth counsel.32853285 [He uses the word ferimus in the omitted paragraph.—C.] He seems to mean, that such teaching, addressed to any one in common intercourse, would be “smiting.” As if they32863286 Oxf. mss. “the rich.” were saying, We are rich men, thou dost forbid us to be proud, dost prohibit us from boasting of the parade of our riches: what then are we to do with these riches? Is it come to this, that there is nothing which they may do therewith? “Be they rich,” he saith, “in good works; let them readily distribute, communicate.”32873287 1 Tim. vi. 18. And what doth this profit? “Let them treasure unto themselves a good foundation for the future, that they may lay hold of true life.”32883288 1 Tim. vi. 19. Where ought they to lay up treasure for themselves? In that place whereunto he set his eye, when entering into the Sanctuary of God. Let there shudder all our rich brethren, abounding in money, gold, silver, household, honours, let them shudder at that which but now hath been said, “Thou shalt bring to nothing their image.” Are they not worthy to suffer these things, to wit that God bring to nothing their image in His city, because also they have themselves brought to nothing the image of God in their earthly city?
20. “Because my heart was delighted” (ver. 21). He is saying with what things he is tempted: “because my heart was delighted,” he saith, “my reins also were changed.” When those temporal things delighted me, my reins were changed. It may also be understood thus: “because my heart was delighted” in God, “my reins also were changed, that is, my lusts were changed, and I became wholly chaste. “My reins were changed.” And hear how. “And I was brought unto nothing, and I knew not” (ver. 22). I, the very man, who now say these things of rich men, once longed for such things: therefore “even I was brought to nothing” when my steps were almost overthrown. “And I was brought unto nothing, and I knew not.” We must not therefore despair even of them, against whom I was saying such things.
21. What is, “I knew not”? “As it were a beast I became to Thee, and I am alway with Thee” (ver. 23). There is a great difference between this man and others. He became as it were a beast in longing for earthly things, when being brought to nothing he knew not things eternal: but he departed not from his God, because he did not desire these things of demons, of the devil. For this I have already brought to your notice. The voice is from the Synagogue, that is, from that people which served not idols. A beast indeed I became, when desiring from my God things earthly: but I never departed from That my God.
22. Because then, though having become a beast, I departed not from my God, there followeth, “Thou hast held the hand of my right hand.” He hath not said my right hand, but “the hand of my right hand.” If the hand of the right hand it is, a hand hath a hand. “The hand Thou hast held of my right hand,” in order that Thou mightest conduct me. For what hath he put hand? For power. For we say that a man hath that in his hand which he hath in his power: just as the devil said to God concerning Job, “Lay to Thine hand, and take away the things which he hath.”32893289 Job i. 11. What is, lay to Thine hand? Put32903290 Lit. “give.” forth power. The hand of God he hath called the power of God: as hath been written in another place, “death and life are in the hands of the tongue.”32913291 Prov. xviii. 21. Hath the tongue hands? But what is, in the hands of the tongue? In the power of the tongue. What is, in the power of the tongue? “Out of thy mouth thou shalt be justified, and out of thy mouth thou shalt be condemned.”32923292 Matt. xii. 37. “Thou hast held,” therefore, “the hand of my right hand,” the power of my right hand. What was my right hand? That I was alway with Thee. Unto the left I was holding, because I became a beast, that is, because there was an earthly concupiscence in me: but the right was mine, because I was alway with thee. Of this my right hand Thou hast held the hand, that is, hast directed the power. What power? “He gave them power to become sons of God.” 32933293 John i. 12. He is beginning now to be among the sons of God, belonging to the New Testament. See in what manner the hand of his right hand was held. “In Thy will Thou hast conducted me.” What is, “in thy will”? Not in my merits. What is, “in Thy will”? Hear the apostle, who was at first a beast longing for things earthly, and living after the Old Testament. He saith what? “I that at first was a blasphemer, and persecutor, and injurious: but mercy I obtained.”32943294 1 Tim. i. 13. What is, “in Thy will”? “By the grace of God I am what I am.”32953295 1 Cor. xv. 10. “And in32963296 So mss.; Ben. “with.” glory Thou hast taken me up.” Now to what glory he was taken up, and in what glory, who can explain, who can say? Let us await it, because in the Resurrection it will be, in the last things it will be.
23. And he is beginning to think of that same Heavenly felicity, and to reprove himself, because he hath been a beast, and hath longed for things earthly. “For what have I in Heaven, and from Thee what have I willed upon earth?” (ver. 25). By your voice I see that ye have understood.32973297 [Here there were voluntary “amens,” or the like, from the people. See p. 207, supra.—C.] He compared with his earthly will the heavenly reward which he is to receive; he saw what was there being reserved for him; and while thinking and burning at the thought of some ineffable thing, which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor into the heart of man hath ascended,32983298 1 Cor. ii. 9. he hath not said, this or that I have in Heaven, but, “what have I in Heaven?” What is that thing which I have in Heaven? What is it? How great is it? Of what sort is it? “And,” since that which I have in heaven doth not pass away, “from Thee what have I willed upon earth?”32993299 [Here he interpolates: “I will speak as I am able, but forgive me; accept my endeavour, mine earnestness to attempt; for to explain it I have not power.”—C.] …Thou reservest, he saith, for me in Heaven riches immortal, even Thyself, and I have willed from Thee on earth that which even ungodly men have, which even evil men have, which even abandoned men have, money, gold, silver, jewels, households, which even many wicked men have: which even many profligate women have, many profligate men: these things as a great matter I have desired of my God upon earth: though my God reserveth Himself for me in Heaven!
24. “My heart and my flesh hath failed, O God of my heart” (ver. 26). This then for me in Heaven hath been reserved, “God of my heart, and my portion is my God.” What is it, brethren? Let us find out our riches, let mankind choose their parts. Let us see men torn with diversity of desires: let some choose war-service, some advocacy, some divers and sundry offices of teaching, some merchandise, some farming, let them take their portions in human affairs: let the people of God cry, “my portion is my God.” Not for a time “my portion;” but “my portion is my God for everlasting.” Even if I alway have gold, what have I? Even if I did not alway have God, how great a good should I have? To this is added, that He promiseth Himself to me, and He promiseth that I shall have this for everlasting. So great a thing I have, and never have it not. Great felicity: “my portion is God!” How long? “For everlasting.” For behold and see after what sort He hath loved him; He hath made his heart chaste: “God of my heart, and my portion is God for everlasting.” His heart hath become chaste, for nought now God is loved, from Him is not sought any other reward. He that doth seek any other reward from God, and therefore is willing to serve God, more precious doth make that which he willeth to receive, than Him from whom he willeth to receive. What then, is there no reward belonging to God? None except Himself. The reward belonging to God, is God Himself. This he loveth, this he esteemeth; if any other thing he shall have loved, the love will not be chaste. Thou art receding from the Fire immortal, thou wilt grow cold, wilt be corrupted. Do not recede. Recede not, it will be thy corruption, it will be thy fornication. Now he is returning, now he is repenting, now he is choosing repentance, now he is saying, “my portion is God.” And after what sort is he delighted with that Same, whom he hath chosen for his portion.
25. “Behold, they that put themselves afar from Thee shall perish” (ver. 27). He therefore departed from God, but not far: for “I have become as it were a beast,” he saith, and “I am alway with Thee.”33003300 Ps. lxxiii. 21. But they have departed afar, because not only things earthly they have desired, but have sought them from demons and the Devil. “They that put themselves afar from Thee shall perish.” And what is it, to become afar from God? “Thou hast destroyed every man that committeth fornication away from Thee.” To this fornication is opposed chaste love. What is chaste love? Now the soul doth love her Bridegroom: what doth she require of Him, from Her Bridegroom whom she loveth? Perchance in like manner as women choose for themselves men either as sons-in-law or as bridegrooms: she perchance chooseth riches, and loveth his gold, and estates, and silver and cattle and horses, and household, and the like. Far be it. He doth love Him alone, for nought he doth love Him: because in Him he hath all things, for “by Him were made all things.”33013301 John i. 3.
26. But thou doest what? “But for me to cleave to God is a good thing” (ver. 28). This is whole good. Will ye have more? I grieve at your willing. Brethren, what will ye have more? Than to cleave to God nothing is better, when we shall see Him face to face.33023302 1 Cor. xiii. 12. But now what? For yet as a stranger I am speaking: “to cleave,” he saith, “to God is a good thing:” but now in my sojourning (for not yet hath come the substance), I have “to put in God my hope.” So long therefore as thou hast not yet cloven, therein put thy hope. Thou art wavering, cast forward an anchor to the land.33033303 Oxf. mss. “Wavering, from the earth cast an anchor before thee upward.” Not yet dost thou cleave by presence, cleave fast by hope. “To put in God my hope.” And by doing what here wilt thou put in God thy hope? What will be thy business, but to praise Him whom thou lovest, and to make others to be fellow-lovers of Him with thee? Lo, if thou shouldest love a charioteer, wouldest thou not carry along other men to love him with thee? A lover of a charioteer whithersoever he goeth doth speak of him, in order that as well as he others also may love him. For nought are loved abandoned men, and from God is reward required in order that He may be loved? Love thou God for nought, grudge God to no one.…For what followeth? “In order that I may tell forth all Thy praises in the courts of the daughter of Sion.” “In the courts:” for the preaching of God beside the Church is vain. A small thing it is to praise God and to tell forth all His praise. In the courts of the daughter of Sion tell thou forth. Make for unity, do not divide the people; but draw them unto one, and make them one. I have forgotten how long I have been speaking. Now the Psalm being ended, even judging by this closeness,33043304 Odore, lit. “smell;” one ms. ardore, “heat;” Ben. conj. sudore. I suppose I have held a long discourse: but it doth not suffice for your zeal; ye are too impetuous.33053305 [P. 341, note 4, supra.—C.] O that with this impetuosity ye would seize upon the kingdom of Heaven.
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