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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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On the Second Part of the Psalm.873873     Preached at another time.

1. Then follow these words: “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth” (ver. 12): “But the Lord shall laugh at him” (ver. 13). At whom? Surely at the sinner, “gnashing upon” the other “with his teeth.” But wherefore shall the Lord “laugh at him”? “For He foreseeth that his day is coming.” He seems indeed full of wrath, while, ignorant of the morrow that is in store for him, he is threatening the just. But the Lord beholds and “foresees his day.” “What day?” That in which “He will render to every man according to his works.” For he is “treasuring up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God.”874874     Rom. ii. 6, 5. But it is the Lord that foresees it; thou dost not foresee it. It hath been revealed to thee by Him who foresees it. Thou didst not know of the “day of the unrighteous,” in which he is to suffer punishment. But He who knows it hath revealed it to thee. It is a main part of knowledge to join thyself to Him who hath knowledge. He hath the eyes of knowledge: have thou the eyes of a believing mind. That which God “sees,” be thou willing to believe. For the day of the unjust, which God foresees, will come. What day is that? The day for all vengeance! For it is necessary that vengeance should be taken upon the ungodly, that vengeance be taken upon the unjust, whether he turn, or whether he turn not. For if he shall turn from his ways, that very thing, that his “injustice is come to an end,” is the infliction of vengeance.…

2. “The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright heart” (ver. 14). “Their weapon shall enter into their own heart” (ver. 15). It is an easy thing for his weapon, that is, his sword, to reach thy body, even as the sword of the persecutors reached the body of the Martyrs, but when the body had been smitten, “the heart” remained unhurt; but his heart who “drew out the sword against” the body of the just did not clearly remain unhurt. This is attested by this very Psalm. It saith, Their weapon, that is, “Their sword shall,” not go into their body, but, “their weapon shall go into their own heart.” They would fain have slain him in the body. Let them die the death of the soul. For those whose bodies they sought to kill, the Lord hath freed from anxiety, saying, “Fear not them who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”875875     Matt. x. 28.

3. “And their bows shall be broken.” What is meant by, “And their bows shall be broken”? Their plots shall be frustrated. For above He had said, “The wicked have drawn out the sword and bent their bows.” By the “drawing out of the sword” he would have understood open hostility; but by the“ bending of the bow,” secret conspiracies. See! His sword destroys himself, and his laying of snares is frustrated. What is meant by frustrated? That it does no mischief to the righteous. How then, for instance (you ask), did it do no mischief to the man, whom it thus stripped of his goods, whom it reduced to straitened circumstances by taking away his possessions? He has still cause to sing, “A little that a righteous man hath, is better than great riches of the ungodly” (ver. 16).

4. …“For the arms of the wicked shall be broken” (ver. 17). Now by “their arms” is meant their power. What will he do in hell? Will it be what the rich man had to do, he who was wont “to fare sumptuously” in the upper world, and in hell “was tormented”?876876     Luke xvi. 19, 23. Therefore their arms shall be broken; “but the Lord upholdeth the righteous.” How does He “uphold” them? What saith He unto them? Even what is said in another Psalm, “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage; and let thine heart be strengthened. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”877877     Ps. xxvii. 14. What is meant by this, “Wait on the Lord”? Thou sufferest but for a time; thou shalt rest for ever: thy trouble is short; thy happiness is to be everlasting. It is but for “a little while” thou art to sorrow; thy joy shall have no end. But in the midst of trouble does thy “foot” begin to “slip”? The example even of Christ’s sufferings is set before thee. Consider what He endured for thee, in whom no cause was found why He should endure it? How great soever be thy sufferings, thou wilt not come to those insults, those scourgings, to that robe of shame, to that crown of thorns, and last of all to that Cross, which He endured; because that is now removed from the number of human punishments.878878     [Sozomen, b. i. cap. 8. This author tells us that Constantine made this change, dictated alike by reverence and humanity.—C.] For though under the ancients criminals were crucified, in the present day no one is crucified. It was honoured, and it came to an end. It came to an end as a punishment; it is continued in glory. It hath removed from the place of execution to the foreheads of Emperors. He who hath invested His very sufferings with such honour, what doth He reserve for His faithful servants?…

5. But observe whether that was fulfilled in his case which the Psalm now speaks of. “The Lord strengtheneth the righteous.—Not only so” (saith that same Paul, whilst suffering many evils), “but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience; and experience hope; but hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” 879879     Rom. v. 3–5. Justly is it said by him, now righteous, now “strengthened.” As therefore those who persecuted him did no harm to him, when now “strengthened,” so neither did he himself do any harm to those whom he persecuted. “But the Lord,” he saith, “strengtheneth the righteous.”…

6. Therefore “the Lord does strengthen the righteous.” In what way does He strengthen them? “The Lord knoweth the ways880880     E.V. and Vulgate, “days.” of the spotless ones” (ver. 18). When they suffer ills, they are believed to be walking ill ways by those who are ignorant, by those who have not knowledge to discern “the ways of the spotless ones.” He who “knoweth those ways,” knoweth by what way to lead His own, “them that are gentle,” in the right way. Whence in another Psalm he said, “The meek shall He guide in judgment; them that are gentle will He teach His way.”881881     Ps. xxv. 9. How, think you, was that beggar, who lay covered with sores before the rich man’s door,882882     Luke xvi. 20. spurned by the passers by! How did they, probably, close their nostrils and spit at him! The Lord, however, knew how to reserve883883     Al. “knew that Paradise was in store.” Paradise for him. How did they, on the other hand, desire for themselves the life of him who was “clad in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day!”884884     Luke xvi. 19. But the Lord, who foresaw that man’s “day coming,” knew the torments, the torments without end, that were in store for him. Therefore “The Lord knoweth the ways of the upright.”

7. “And their inheritance shall be for ever” (ver. 18). This we hold by faith. Doth the Lord too know it by faith? The Lord knoweth those things with as clear a manifestation, as we cannot speak of even when we shall be made equal to the Angels. For the things that shall be manifest to us, shall not be equally manifest to us as they are now to Him, who is incapable of change. Yet even of us ourselves what is said? “Beloved, now are we the sons of God: and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”885885     1 John iii. 2. There is therefore surely some blissful vision reserved for us; and if it can be now in some measure conceived, “darkly and through a glass,”886886     1 Cor. xiii. 12. yet cannot we in any way express in language the ravishing beauty of that bliss, which God reserves for them that fear Him, which He consummates in those that hope in Him. It is for that destination that our hearts are being disciplined in all the troubles and trials of this life. Wonder not that it is in trouble that thou art disciplined for it. It is for something glorious that thou art being disciplined. Whence comes that speech of the now strengthened righteous man: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us”?887887     Rom. viii. 18. What is that promised glory to be, but to be made equal to the Angels and to see God? How great a benefit doth he bestow on the blind man, who makes his eyes sound so as to be able to see the light of this life.…What reward then shall we give unto that Physician who restores soundness to our inward eyes, to enable them to see a certain eternal Light, which is Himself?…

8. “They shall not be ashamed in the evil time” (ver. 19). In the day of trouble, in the day of distress, they shall not be “ashamed,” as he is ashamed whose hope deceives him. Who is the man that is “ashamed”? He who saith, “I have not found that which I was in hopes of.” Nor undeservedly either; for thou didst hope it from thyself or from man, thy friend. But “cursed is he that putteth his trust in man.”888888     Jer. xvii. 5. Thou art ashamed, because thy hope hath deceived thee; thy hope that was set on a lie. For “every man is a liar.”889889     Ps. cxvi. 11. But if thou dost place thy hopes on thy God, thou art not made “ashamed.” For He in whom thou hast put thy trust, cannot be deceived.890890     Al. “deceive.” Whence also the man whom we mentioned just above, the now “strengthened” righteous man, when fallen on an evil time, on the day of tribulation, what saith he to show that he was not “ashamed”? “We glory in tribulation; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; but hope maketh not ashamed.” Whence is it that hope “maketh not ashamed”? Because it is placed on God. Therefore follows immediately, “Because the love of God is spread in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us.”891891     Rom. v. 3–5. The Holy Spirit hath been given to us already: how should He deceive us, of whom we possess such an “earnest” already? “They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.”…

9. “For the wicked shall perish. But the enemies of the Lord, when they shall begin to glory, and to be lifted up, immediately shall consume away utterly, even as the smoke” (ver. 20). Recognise from the comparison itself the thing which he intimates. Smoke, breaking forth from the place where fire has been, rises up on high, and by the very act of rising up, it swells into a large volume: but the larger that volume is, the more unsubstantial does it become; for from that very largeness of volume, which has no foundation or consistency, but is merely loose, shifting and evanescent, it passes into air, and dissolves; so that you perceive its very largeness to have been fatal to it. For the higher it ascends, the farther it is extended, the wider the circumference which it spreads itself over, the thinner, and the more rare and wasting and evanescent does it become. “But the enemies of the Lord, when they shall begin to glory, and to be lifted up, immediately shall consume away utterly even as the smoke.” Of such as these was it said, “As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the Truth; men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.”892892     2 Tim. iii. 8. But how is it that they resist the Truth, except by the vain inflation of their swelling pride, while they raise themselves up on high, as if great and righteous persons, though on the point of passing away into empty air? But what saith he of them? As if speaking of smoke, he says, “They shall proceed no farther, for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, even as theirs also was.”…

10. “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again” (ver. 20). He receiveth, and will not repay. What is it he will not repay? Thanksgiving. For what is it that God would have of thee, what doth He require of thee, except that He may do thee good? And how great are the benefits which the sinner hath received, and which he will not repay! He hath received the gift of being; he hath received the gift of being a man; and of a being highly distinguished above the brutes; he hath received the form of a body, and the distinction of the senses in the body, eyes for seeing, ears for hearing, the nostrils for smelling, the palate for tasting, the hands for touching, and the feet for walking; and even the very health and soundness of the body. But up to this point we have these things in common even with the brute; he hath received yet more than this; a mind capable of understanding, capable of Truth, capable of distinguishing right from wrong; capable of seeking after, of longing for, its Creator, of praising Him, and fixing itself upon Him. All this the wicked man hath received as well as others; but by not living well, he fails to repay that which he owes. Thus it is, “the wicked borroweth, and payeth not again:” he will not requite Him from whom he hath received; he will not return thanks; nay, he will even render evil for good, blasphemies, murmuring against God, indignation. Thus it is that he “borroweth, and payeth not again; but the righteous showeth mercy, and lendeth” (ver. 21). The one therefore hath nothing; the other hath. See, on the one side, destitution: see, on the other, wealth. The one receiveth and “payeth not again:” the “other showeth mercy, and lendeth:” and he hath more than enough. What if he is poor? Even so he is rich; do you but look at his riches with the eyes of Religion. For thou lookest at the empty chest; but dost not look at the conscience, that is full of God.…

11. “For such as shall bless Him893893     E.V. “such as be blessed.” shall inherit the land” (ver. 23), that is,894894     Scilicet, Ben. Conj. for sicut. they shall possess that righteous One: the only One who both is truly righteous, and maketh righteous: who both was poor in this world, and brought great riches to it, wherewith to make those rich whom He found poor. For it is He who hath enriched the hearts of the poor with the Holy Spirit; and having emptied out their souls by confession of sins, hath filled them with the richness of righteousness: He who was able to enrich the fisherman, who, by forsaking his nets, spurned what he possessed already, but sought to draw up what he possessed not. For “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”895895     1 Cor. i. 27. And it was not by an orator that He gained to Himself the fisherman; but by the fisherman that He gained to Himself the orator; by the fisherman that He gained the Senator; by the fisherman that He gained the Emperor. For “such as shall bless Him shall inherit the land;” they shall be fellow-heirs with Him, in that “land of the living,” of which it is said in another Psalm, “Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living.”896896     Ps. cxlii. 5.

12. Observe what follows: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; and he delighteth in His way” (ver. 23). That man may himself “delight in the Lord’s way,” his steps are ordered by the Lord Himself. For if the Lord did not order the steps of man, so crooked are they naturally, that they would always be going through crooked paths, and by pursuing crooked ways, would be unable to return again. He however came, and called us, and redeemed us, and shed His blood; He hath given this ransom; He hath done this good, and suffered these evils. Consider Him in what He hath done, He is God! Consider Him in what He hath suffered, He is Man! Who is that God-Man? Hadst not thou, O man, forsaken God, God would not have been made Man for thee! For that was too little for thee to requite, or for Him to bestow, that He had made thee man; unless He Himself should become Man for thee also. For it is He Himself that hath “ordered our steps;” that we should “delight in His way.”…

13. Now if man were to be through the whole of his life in toil, and in sufferings, in pain, in tortures, in prison, in scourgings, in hunger, and in thirst, every day and every hour through the whole length of life, to the period of old age, yet the whole life of man is but a few days. That labour being over, there is to come the Eternal Kingdom; there is to come happiness without end; there is to come equality with the Angels; there is to come Christ’s inheritance, and Christ, our “joint Heir,”897897     Rom. viii. 17. is to come. How great is the labour, for which thou receivest so great a recompense? The Veterans who serve in the wars, and move in the midst of wounds for so many years, enter upon the military service from their youth, and quit it in old age: and to obtain a few days of repose in their old age, when age itself begins to weigh down those whom the wars do not break down, how great hardships do they endure; what marches, what frosts, what burning suns; what privations, what wounds, and what dangers! And while suffering all these things, they fix their thoughts on nothing but those few days of repose in old age, at which they know not whether they will ever arrive. Thus it is, the “steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in His way.” This is the point with which I commenced. If thou dost “delight in the way” of Christ, and art truly a Christian (for he is a Christian indeed who does not despise the way of Christ, but “delighteth in” following Christ’s “way” through His sufferings), do not thou go by any other way than that by which He Himself hath also gone. It appears painful, but it is the very way of safety; another perhaps is delightful, but it is full of robbers. “And he delighteth in His way.”

14. “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth his hand” (ver. 24). See what it is “to delight in” Christ’s “way.” Should it happen that he suffers some tribulation; some forfeiture of honour, some affliction, some loss, some contumely, or all those other accidents incident to mankind frequently in this life, he sets the Lord before him, what kind of trials He endured! and, “though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth his hand,” because He has suffered before him. For what shouldest thou fear, O man, whose steps are ordered so, that thou shouldest “delight in the way of the Lord”? What shouldest thou fear? Pain? Christ was scourged. Shouldest thou fear contumelies? He was reproached with, “Thou hast a devil,”898898     John vii. 20, viii. 48. who was Himself casting out the devils. Haply thou fearest faction, and the conspiracy of the wicked. Conspiracy was made against Him. Thou canst not make clear the purity of thy conscience in some accusation, and sufferest wrong and violence, because false witnesses are listened to against thee. False witness was borne against Him first, not only before His death, but also after His resurrection.…


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