The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 37

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 5, 2012

Due to the sheer length of this post I was unable to edit, add scripture references, etc.

Introduction: With terror do they hear of the coming of the last day, who will not be secure by living well: and who fain would live ill, long. But it was for useful purposes that God willed that day to remain unknown; that the heart may be ever ready to expect that of which it knows it is to come, but knows not when it is to come. Seeing, however, that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent to us to be our “Master,’ He said, that “of the day not even the Son of Man knew,” because it was not part of His office as our Master that through Him it should become known to us. For indeed the Father knoweth nothing that the Son knoweth not; since that is the Very Knowledge of the Father Itself, which is His Wisdom; now His Son, His Word, is “His Wisdom.” But because it was not for our good to know that, which however was known to Him who came indeed to teach us, though not to teach us that which it was not good for us to know, He not only, as a Master, taught us something, but also, as a Master, left something untaught. For, as a Master, He knew how both to teach us what was good for us, and not to teach us what was injurious. Now thus, according to a certain form of speech, the Son is said not to know what He does not teach: that is, in the same way that we are daily in the habit of speaking, He is said not to know what He causes us not to know. …

This it is that disturbs you who are a Christian; that you see men of bad lives prospering, and surrounded with abundance of things like these; you see them sound in health, distinguished with proud honours; you see their family unvisited by misfortune; the happiness of their relatives, the obsequious attendance of their dependants, their most commanding influence, theirs life uninterrupted by any sad event; you see their characters most profligate, their external resources most affluent; and your heart says that there is no Divine judgment; that all things are carried to and fro by accidents, and blown about in disorderly; and irregular motions. For if God, thou sayest, regarded human affairs, would his iniquity flourish, and my innocence suffer? Every sickness of the soul hath in Scripture its proper remedy. Let him then whose sickness is of that kind that he says in his heart things like these, let him drink this Psalm by way of potion. …

“Be not emulous of evil-doers, nor envy them that work iniquity” (ver. 1). “For they shall shortly wither away as grass, and as the green herb shall quickly fall” (ver. 2). That which to thee seemeth long, is “soon” in the sight of God. Conform thou thyself to God; and it will be “soon” to thee. That which he here calls “grass,” that we understand by the “herbs of the meadow.” They are some worthless things, occupying the surface only of the ground, they have no depth of root. In the winter then they are green; but when the summer sun shall begin to scorch, they will wither away. For now it is the season of winter. Thy glory cloth not as yet appear. But if thy love hath but a deep root, like that of many trees during winter, the frost passes away, the summer (that is, the Day of Judgment) will come; then will the greenness of the grass wither away. Then will the glory of the trees appear. “For ye” (saith the Apostle) “are dead.” even as trees seem to be in winter, as it were dead, as it were withered. What is our hope then, if we are dead? The root is within; where our root is, there is our life also, for there our love is fixed. “And your life is hid with Christ in God.” When shall he wither who is thus rooted? But when will our spring be? When our summer? When will the honour of foliage clothe us around, and the fulness of fruit make us rich? When shall this come to pass? Hear what follows: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” And what then shall we do now? “Be not envious because of the evil-doers, neither be envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon wither like the grass, and fade like the herb of the meadow.”

What shouldest thou do then? “Trust in the Lord” (ver. 3). For they too trust, but not “in the Lord.” Their hope is perishable. Their hope is short-lived, frail, fleeting, transitory, baseless. “Trust thou in the Lord.” “Behold,” thou sayest, “I do trust; what am I to do?

“And do good.” Do not do that evil which thou beholdest in those men, who are prosperous in wickedness. “Do good, and dwell in the land.” Lest haply thou shouldest be doing good without “dwelling in the land.” For it is the Church that is the Lord’s land. It is her whom He, the Father, the tiller of it, waters and cultivates. For there are many that, as it were, do good works, but yet, in that they do not “dwell in the land,” they do not belong to the husbandman. Therefore do thou thy good, not outside of the land, but do thou “dwell in the land.” And what shall I have?

“And thou shalt be fed with its riches.” What are the riches of that land? Her riches are her Lord! Her riches are her God! He it is to whom it is said, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.” In a late discourse we suggested to you, dearly beloved, that God is our possession, and that we are at the same time God’s possession. Hear how that He is Himself the riches of that land.

Delight in the Lord” (ver. 4). As if thou hadst put the question, and hadst said “Show me the riches of that land, in which thou biddest me dwell”, he says, “Delight in the Lord.”

“And He will give thee the requests of thy heart.” Understand in their proper signification, “the desires of thine heart.” Distinguish the “desires of thine heart” from the desires of thy flesh; distinguish as much as thou canst. It is not without a meaning that it is said in a certain Psalm, “God is” (the strength) “of mine heart.” For there it says in what follows: “And God is my portion for ever.” For instance: One labours under bodily blindness. He asks that he may receive his sight. Let him ask it; for God does that too, and gives those blessings also. But these things are asked for even by the wicked. This is a desire of the flesh. One is sick, and prays to be made sound. From the point of death he is restored to health. That too is a desire of the flesh, as are all of such a kind. What is “the desire of the heart”? As the desire of the flesh is to wish to have one’s eyesight restored, to enable him, that is, to see that light, which can be seen by such eyes; so “the desire of the heart” relates to a different sort of light. For, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Delight thou thyself in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

“Behold” (you say), “I do long after it, I do ask for it, I do desire it. Shall I then accomplish it?” No. Who shall then? “Commit thy way to the Lord: and trust in Him, and He will do it” (ver. 5). Mention to Him what thou sufferest, mention to Him what thou dost desire. For what is it that thou sufferest? “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” What is it then that thou dost desire? “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And because it is He “Himself” that “will bring it to pass,” when thou shall have “committed thy ways unto Him;” hear what follows: “The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What is it then that He is to bring to pass, since it is said, “Commit thy way unto Him,…and He will do it”? What will He bring to pass?

“And He will bring forth thy justice as the light” (ver. 6). For now, “thy justice” is hid. Now it is a thing of faith; not yet of sight. You believe something that you may do it. You do not yet see that in which you believe. But when thou shall begin to see that, which thou didst believe before, “thy justice will be brought forth to the light,” because it is thy faith that was thy righteousness. For “the just lives by faith.”

“And thy judgment as the noon-day.” That is to say, “as the clear light.” It was too little to say, “as the light.” For we call it “light” already, even when it but dawns: we call it light even while the sun is rising. But never is the light brighter than at mid-day. Therefore He will not only “bring forth thy righteousness as the light,” but “thy judgment shall be as the noon-day.” For now dost thou make thy “judgment” to follow Christ. This is thy purposé: this is thy choice: this is thy “judgment.”

“What should I do then?” Hear what thou shouldest do. “Be subject to the Lord, and pray to Him” (ver. 7). Be this thy life, to obey His commandments. For this is to submit thee to Him; and to entreat Him until He give thee what He hath promised. Let good works “continue;” let prayer “continue.” For “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Wherein dost thou show that thou art “submitted to Him”? In doing what He hath commanded. But haply thou dost not receive thy wages as yet, because as yet thou art not able. For He is already able to give them; but thou art not already able to receive them. Exercise thou thyself in works. Labour in the vineyard; at the close of the day crave thy wages. “Faithful is He” who brought thee into the vineyard. “Be subject to the Lord, and pray to Him.”

“See! I do so; I do `submit to the Lord, and I do entreat.’ But what do you think? That neighbour of mine is a wicked man, living a bad life, and prosperous! His thefts, adulteries, robberies, are known to me. Lifted up above every one, proud, and raised on high by wickedness, he deigns not to notice me. In these circumstances, how shall I hold out with patience?” This is a sickness; drink, by way of remedy. “Envy not the man who prospereth in his way.” He prospereth, but it is “in his way:” thou sufferest, but it is in God’s way! His portion is prosperity on his way, misery on arriving at its end: yours, toil on the road, happiness in its termination. “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; and the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Thou walkest those ways which “the Lord knoweth,” and if thou dost suffer toil in them, they do not deceive thee. The “way of the ungodly” is but a transitory happiness; at the end of the way the happiness is at an end also. Why? Because that way is “the broad road;” its termination leads to the pit of hell. Now, thy way is narrow; and “few there be” that enter in through it: but into how ample a field it comes at the last, thou oughtest to consider. “Envy not the man who prospereth in his way; the man who doth unjust things.”

“Cease from anger, and leave rage” (ver. 8). Wherefore art thou wroth? Wherefore is it that, through that passion and indignation, thou dost blaspheme, or almost blaspheme? Against “the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass, cease from anger, and leave rage.” Knowest thou not whither that wrath tempts thee on? Thou art on the point of saying unto God, that He is unjust. It tends to that. “Look! why is that man prosperous, and this man in adversity?” Consider what thought it begets: stifle the wicked notion. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:” so that now returning to thy senses, thou mayest say, “Mine eye is disturbed because of wrath.” What eye is that, but the eye of faith? To the eye of thy faith I appeal. Thou didst believe in Christ: why didst thou believe? What did He promise thee? If it was the happiness of this world that Christ promised thee, then murmur against Christ; yes! murmur against Him, when thou seest the wicked flourishing. What of happiness did He promise? What, save in the Resurrection of the Dead? But what in this life? That which was His portion. His portion, I say! Dost thou, servant and disciple, disdain what thy Lord, what thy Master bore? …

“For evil-doers shall be cut off” (ver. 9). “But I see their prosperity.” Believe Him who saith, “they shall be cut off;” Him who seeth better than thou, since His eye anger cannot cloud. “For evil-doers shall be cut off. But they that wait upon the Lord,”-not upon any one that can deceive them; but verily on Him who is the Truth itself,-”But they that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the land.” What “land,” but that Jerusalem, with the love of which whosoever is inflamed, shall come to peace at the last.

“But how long is the sinner to flourish? How long shall I have to endure?” Thou art impatient; that which seems long to thee, will soon come to pass. It is infirmity makes that seem long, which is really short, as is found in the case of the longings of sick men. Nothing seems so long as the mixing of the potion for him when athirst. For all that his attendants are making all speed, lest haply the patient be angry; “When will it be done? (he cries). When will it be drest? When will it be served?” Those who are waiting upon you are making haste, but your infirmity fancies that long which is being done with expedition. Behold ye, therefore, our Physician complying with the infirmity of the patient, saying, “How long shall I have to endure? How long will it be?

“For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be” (ver. 10). Is it certainly among sinners, and because of the sinner, that thou murmurest? “A little while, and he shall not be.” Lest haply because I said, “They that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the land,” thou shouldest think that waiting to be of very long duration. Wait “a little while,” thou shalt receive without end what thou waitest for. A little while, a moderate space. Review the years from Adam’s time up to this day; run through the Scriptures. It is almost yesterday that he fell from Paradise! So many ages have been measured out, and unrolled. Where now are the past ages? Even so, however, shall the few which remain, pass away also. Hadst thou been living throughout all that time, since Adam was banished from Paradise up to this present day, thou wouldest certainly see that the life, which had thus flown away, had not been of long duration. But how long is the duration of each individual’s life? Add any number of years you please: prolong old age to its longest duration: what is it? Is it not but a morning breeze? Be it so, however, that the Day of Judgment is far off, when the reward of the righteous and of the unrighteous is to come: your last day at all events cannot be far off. Make thyself ready against this! For such as thou shall have departed from this life, shalt thou be restored to the other. At the close of that short life, you will not yet be, where the Saints shall be, to whom it shall be said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father: inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” You will not yet be there? Who does not know that? But you may already be there, where that beggar, once “covered with sores,” was seen at a distance, at rest, by that proud and unfruitful “rich man” in the midst of his torments. Surely hid in that rest thou waitest in security for the Day of Judgment, when thou art to receive again a body, to be changed so as to be made equal to an Angel. How long then is that for which we are impatient, and are saying, “When will it come? Will it tarry long?” This our sons will say hereafter, and our sons’ sons will say too; and, though each one of these in succession will say this same thing, that “little while” that is yet to be, passes away, as all that is already past hath passed away already! O thou sick one! “Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: and thou shalt seek his place, and shalt not find it” …

“But the meek shall inherit the land” (ver. 11). That land is the one of which we have often spoken, the holy Jerusalem, which is to be released from these her pilgrimages, and to live for ever with God, and on God. Therefore, “They shall inherit the land.” What shall be their delight? “And shall delight in abundance of peace.” Let the ungodly man delight himself here in the multitude of his gold, in the multitude of his silver, in the multitude of his slaves, in the multitude, lastly, of his baths, his roses, his intoxicating wines, his most sumptuous and luxurious banquets. Is this the power thou enviest? Is this the glory that delights thee? Would not his fate be worthy to be deplored, even if he were to be so for ever? What shall be thy delights? “And they shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Peace shall be thy gold. Peace shall be thy silver. Peace shall be thy lands. Peace shall be thy life, thy God Peace. Peace shall be to thee whatsoever thou dost desire. …

Then follow these words: “The sinner shall watch the just man: and gnashupon 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 shall come.” 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.” 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. …

“The wicked have drawn out the sword: they have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to kill the upright of heart” (ver. 14). “Let their sword enter into their own hearts” (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.” …

“And their bows shall be broken.” What is meant by, “And their bows shall be broken”? Their plots shall be frustrated. For above He haft 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).

…”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”? 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.” 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. 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? …

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.” 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.” …

Therefore “the Lord does strengthen the righteous.” In what way does He strengthen them? “The Lord knoweth the ways 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.” How, think you, was that beggar, who lay covered with sores before the rich man’s door, spurned by the passers by! How did they, probably, close their nostrils and spit at him! The Lord, however, knew how to reserve 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!” 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.”

“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.” 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,” 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”? 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? …

“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.” Thou art ashamed, because thy hope hath deceived thee; thy hope that was set on a lie. For “every man is a liar.” 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. 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.” 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.” …

“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.” 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.” …

“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. …

“For such as shall bless Him shall inherit the land” (ver. 23), that is, 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.” 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.” …

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.” …

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,” 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.”

“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,” 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. …

“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (ver. 25).
If it is spoken but in the person of one single individual, how long is the whole life of one man? And what is there wonderful in the circumstance, that a single man, fixed in some one part of the earth, should not, throughout the whole space of his life, being so short as maws life is, have ever seen “the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” although he may have advanced from youth to age. It is not anything worthy of marvel; for it might have happened, that before his lifetime there should have been some “righteous man seeking bread;” it might have happened, that there had been some one in some other part of the earth not where he himself was. Hear too another thing, which makes an impression upon us. Any single one among you (look you) who has now grown old, may perhaps, when, looking back upon the past course of his life, he turns over in his thoughts the persons whom he has known, not find any instance of a righteous man begging bread, or of his seed begging bread, suggest itself to him; but nevertheless he turns to the inspired Scriptures, and finds that righteous Abraham was straitened, and suffered hunger in his own country, and left that land for another; he finds too that the son of the very same man, Isaac, removed to other countries in search of bread, for the same cause of hunger. And how will it be true to say, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread”? And if he finds this true in the duration of his own life, he finds it is otherwise in the inspired writings, which are more trustworthy than humanlife is.

What are we to do then? Let us be seconded by your pious attention, so that we may discern the purpose of God in these verses of the Psalm, what it is He would have us understand by them. For there is a fear, lest any unstable person, not capable of understanding the Scriptures spiritually, should appeal to human instances, and should observe the virtuous servants of God to be sometimes in some necessity, and in want, so as to be compelled to beg bread: should particularly call to mind the Apostle Paul, who says, “In hunger and thirst; in cold and nakedness;” and should stumble thereat, saying to himself, “Is that certainly true which I have been singing? Is that certainly true, which I have been sounding forth in so devout a voice, standing in church? `I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’” Lest he should say in his heart, “Scripture deceives us;” and all his limbs should be paralyzed to good works: and when those limbs within him, those limbs of the inner man, shall have been paralyzed (which is the more fearful paralysis), he should henceforth leave off from good works, and say to himself, “Wherefore do I do good works? Wherefore do I break my bread to the hungry, and clothe the naked, and take home to mine house him who hath no shelter, putting faith in that which is written? `I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread;’ whereas I see so many persons who live virtuously, yet for the most part suffering from hunger. But if perhaps I am in error in thinking the man who is living well, and the man who is living ill, to be both of them living well, and if God knows him to be otherwise; that is, knows him, whom I think just, to be unjust, what am I to make of Abraham’s case, who is commended by Scripture itself as a righteous person? What am I to make of the Apostle Paul, who says, `Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.’ What? that I should myself be in evils such as he endured, `In hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness’?”

Whilst therefore he thus thinks, and whilst his limbs are paralyzed to the power of good works, can we, my brethren, as it were, lift up the sick of the palsy; and, as it were, “lay open the roof” of this Scripture, and let him down before the Lord? For you observe that it is obscure. If obscure therefore, it is covered. And I behold a certain patient paralytic in mind, and I see this roof, and am convinced that Christ is concealed beneath the roof. Let me, as far as I am able, do that which was praised in those who opened the roof, and let down the sick of the palsy before Christ; that He might say unto him, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” For it was so that He made the inner man whole of his palsy, by loosing his sins, by binding fast his faith. …

But who is “the righteous” man, who “hath never been seen forsaken, nor his seed begging bread”? If you understand what is meant by “bread,” you understand who is meant by him. For the “bread” is the Word of God, which never departs from the righteous man’s mouth. …See now if “holy meditation doth `keep thee’” in the rumination of this bread, then “hast thou never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

“He is always merciful, and lendeth” (ver. 26). “Foeneratur” is used in Latin indeed, both for him who lendeth, and for him who borroweth. But in this passage the meaning is more plain, if we express it by “foenerat.” What matters it to us, what the grammarians please to rule? It were better for us to be guilty of a barbarism, so that ye understand, than that in our propriety of speech ye be left unprovided. Therefore, that “righteous man is all day merciful, and (foenerat) lendeth.” Let not the lenders of money on usury, however, rejoice. For we find it is a particular kind of lender that is spoken of, as it was a particular kind of bread; that we may, in all passages, “remove the roof,” and find our way to Christ. I would not have you be lenders of money on usury; and I would not have you be such for this reason, because God would not have you. …Whence does it appear that God would not have it so? It is said in another place, “He that putteth not out his money to usury.” And how detestable, odious, and execrable a thing it is, I believe that even usurers themselves know. Again, on the other hand, I myself, nay rather our God Himself bids thee be an usurer, and says to thee, “Lend unto God.” If thou lendest to man, hast thou hope? and shalt thou not have hope, if thou lendest to God? If thou hast lent thy money on usury to man, that is, if thou hast given the loan of thy money to one, from whom thou dost expect to receive something more than thou hast given, not in money only, but anything, whether it be wheat, or wine, or oil, or whatever else you please, if you expect to receive more than you have given, you are an usurer, and in this particular are not deserving of praise, but of censure. “What then,” you say, “am I to do, that I may `lend’ profitably?” Consider what the usurer does. He undoubtedly desires to give a less sum, and to receive a larger; do thou this also; give thou a little, receive much. See how thy principal grows, and increases! Give “things temporal,” receive “things eternal:” give earth, receive heaven! And perhaps thou wouldest say, “To whom shall I give them?” The self-same Lord, who bade thee not lend on usury, comes forward as the Person to whom thou shouldest lend on usury! Hear from Scripture in what way thou mayest “lend unto the Lord.” “He that hath pity on the poor, lendeth unto the Lord.” For the Lord wanteth not aught of thee. But thou hast one who needs somewhat of thee: thou extendest it to him; he receives it. For the poor hath nothing to return to thee, and yet he would himself fain requite thee, and finds nothing wherewith to do it: all that remains in his power is the good-will that desires to pray for thee. Now when the poor man prays for thee, he, as it were, says unto God, “Lord, I have borrowed this; be Thou surety for me.” Then, though you have no bond on the poor man to compel his repayment, yet you have on a sponsible security. See, God from His own Scriptures saith unto thee; “Give it, and fear not; I repay it. It is to Me thou givest it.” In what way do those who make themselves sureties for others, express themselves? What is it that they say? “I repay it: I take it upon myself. It is to me you are giving it.” Do we then suppose that God also says this, “I take it on Myself. It is unto me thou givest it”? Assuredly, if Christ be God, of which there is no doubt, He hath Himself said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat.” And when they said unto Him, “When saw we Thee hungry?” that He might show Himself to be the Surety for the poor, that He answers for all His members, that He is the Head, they the members, and that when the members receive, the Head receiveth also; He says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these that belong to Me, ye have done it unto Me.” Come, thou covetous usurer, consider what thou hast given; consider what thou art to receive. Hadst thou given a small sum of money, and he to whom thou hadst given it were to give thee for that small sum a great villa, worth incomparably more money than thou hadst given, how great thanks wouldest thou render, with how great joy wouldest thou be transported! Hear what possession He to whom thou hast been lending bestows. “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive” -What? The same that they have given? God forbid! What you gave were earthly things, which, if you had not given them, would have; become corrupted on earth. For what could you have made of them, if you had not given them? That which on earth would have been lost, has been preserved in heaven. Therefore what we are to receive is that which hath been preserved. It is thy desert that hath been preserved, thy desert hath been made thy treasure. For consider what it is that thou art to receive. Receive-” the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” On the other hand, what shall be their sentence, who would not “lend”? “Go ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” And what is the kingdom which we receive called? Consider what follows: “And these shall go into everlasting burning; but the righteous into life eternal.” Make interest for this; purchase this. Give your money on usury to earn this. You have Christ throned in heaven, begging on earth. We have discovered in what way the righteous lendeth. “He is alway merciful, and lendeth.”

“And his seed is blessed.” Here too let not any carnal notion suggest itself. We see many of the sons of the righteous dying of hunger; in what sense then will his seed be blessed? His seed is that which remains of him afterwards that wherewith he soweth here, and will here-after reap. For the Apostle says, “Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. As we have therefore time,” he says, “let us do good unto all men.” This is that “seed” of thine which shall “be blessed.” You commit it to the earth, and gather ever so much more; and dost thou lose it in committing it to Christ? See it expressly termed “seed” by the Apostle, when he was speaking of alms. For this he saith; “He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth in blessings, shall also reap in blessings.” …

Observe therefore what follows, and be not slothful. “Depart from evil, and do good” (ver. 27). Do not think it to be enough for thee to do, if thou dost not strip the man who is already clothed. For in not stripping the man who is already clothed, thou hast indeed “departed from evil:” but do not be barren, and wither. So choose not to strip the man who is clothed already, as to clothe the naked. For this is to “depart from evil, and to do good.” And you will say, “What advantage am I to derive from it?” He to whom thou lendest has already assured thee of what He will give thee.He will give thee everlasting life. Give to Him, and fear not! Hear too what follows: “Depart from evil, and do good, and dwell for evermore.” And think not when thou givest that no one sees thee, or that God forsakes thee, when haply after thou hast given to the poor, and some loss, or some sorrow for the property thou hast lost, should follow, and thou shouldest say to thyself, “What hath it profited me to have done good works? I believe God doth not love the men who do good.” Whence comes that buzz, that subdued murmur among you, except that those expressions are very common? Each one of you at this present moment recognises these expressions, either in his own lips, or on those of his friend. May God destroy them; may He root out the thorns from His field; may He plant “the good seed,” and “the tree bearing fruit”! For wherefore art thou afflicted, O man, that thou hast given some things away to the poor, and hast lost certain other things? Seest thou not that it is what thou hast not given, that thou hast lost? Wherefore dost thou not attend to the voice of thy God? Where is thy faith? wherefore is it so fast asleep? Wake it up in thy heart. Consider what the Lord Himself said unto thee, while exhorting thee to good works of this kind: “Provide yourselves bags which wax not old; a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth.” Call this to mind therefore when you are lamenting over a loss. Wherefore dost thou lament, thou fool of little mind, or rather of unsound mind? Wherefore didst thou lose it, except that thou didst not lend it to Me? Wherefore didst thou lose it? Who has carried it off? Thou wilt answer, “A thief.” Was it not this, that I forewarned thee of? that thou shouldest not lay it up where the thief could approach? If then he who has lost anything, grieves, let him grieve for this, that he did not lay it up there, whence it could not be lost.

“For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His Saints” (ver. 28). When the Saints suffer affliction, think not that God doth not judge, or doth not judge righteously. Will He, who warns thee to judge righteously, Himself judge unrighteously? He “loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His Saints.” But (think) how the “life” of the Saints is “hid with Him,” in such a manner, that who now suffer trouble on earth, like trees in the winter-time, having no fruit and leaves, when He, like a newly-risen sun, shall have appeared, that which before was living in their root, will show itself forth in fruits. He does then “love judgment, and doth not forsake His Saints.” …

“But the unrighteous shall be punished; the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.” Just as the “seed of the” other “shall be blessed,” so shall the “seed of the wicked be cut off.” For the “seed” of the wicked is the works of the wicked. For again, on the other hand, we find the son of the wicked man flourish in the world, and sometimes become righteous, and flourish in Christ. Be careful therefore how thou takest it; that thou mayest remove the covering, and make thy way to Christ. Do not take the text in a carnal sense; for thou wilt be deceived. But “the seed of the wicked”-all the works of the wicked-”will be cut off:” they shall have no fruit. For they are effective indeed for a short time; afterwards they shall seek for them, and shall not find the reward of that which they have wrought. For it is the expression of those who lose what they have wrought, that text which says, “What hath pride profited us, or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” “The seed of the wicked,” then, “shall be cut off.”

“The righteous shall inherit the land” (ver. 29). Here again let not covetousness steal on thee, nor promise thee some great estate; hope not to find there, what you are commanded to despise in this world. That “land” in the text, is a certain “land of the living,” the kingdom of the Saints. Whence it is said: “Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living.” For if thy life too is the same life as that there spoken of, think what sort of “land” thou art about to inherit. That is “the land of the living;” this the land of those who are about to die: to receive again, when dead, those whom it nourished when living. Such then as is that land, such shall the life itself be also: if the life be for ever, “the land” also is to be thine “for ever.” And how is “the land” to be thine “for ever”

“And they shall dwell therein” (it says) “for ever.” It must therefore be another land, where “they are to dwell therein for ever.” For of this land (of this earth) it is said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”

“The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom” (ver. 30). See here is that “bread.” Observe with what satisfaction this righteous man feedeth upon it; how he turns wisdom over and over in his mouth. “And his tongue talketh of judgment.”

“The law of his God is in his heart” (ver. 31). Lest haply thou shouldest think him to have that on his lips, which he hath not in his heart, lest thou shouldest reckon him among those of whom it is said, “This people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” And of what use is this to him?

“And none of his steps shall slide.” The “word of God in the heart” frees from the snare; the “word of God in the heart” delivers from the evil way; “the word of God in the heart” delivers from “the slippery place.” He is with thee, Whose word departeth not from thee. Now what evil doth he suffer, whom God keepeth? Thou settest a watchman in thy vineyard, and feelest secure from thieves; and that watchman may sleep, and may himself fall, and may admit a thief. But “He who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” “The law of his God is in his heart, and none of his steps shall slide.” Let him therefore live free from fear; let him live free from fear even in the midst of the wicked; free from fear even in the midst of the ungodly. For what evil can the ungodly or unrighteous man do to the righteous? Lo! see what follows.

“The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him” (ver. 32). For he says, what it was foretold in the book of Wisdom that he should say, “He is grievous unto us, even to behold; for his life is not like other men’s.” Therefore he “seeks to slay him.” What? Doth the Lord, who keepeth him, who dwelleth with him, who departeth not from his lips, from his heart, doth He forsake him? What then becomes of what was said before: “And He forsaketh not His Saints”?

“The wicked therefore watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. But the Lord will not leave him in his hands” (ver. 33). Wherefore then did He leave the Martyrs in the hands of the ungodly? Wherefore did they do unto them “whatsoever they would”? Some they slew with the sword; some they crucified; some they delivered to the beasts; some they burnt by fire; others they led about in chains, till wasted out by a long protracted decay. Assuredly “the Lord forsaketh not His Saints.” He will not “leave him in his hands.” Lastly, wherefore did He leave His own Son in “the hands of the ungodly”? Here also, if thou wouldest have all the limbs of thy inner man made strong, remove the covering of the roof, and find thy way to the Lord. Hear what another Scripture, foreseeing our Lord’s future suffering at the hands of the ungodly, saith. What saith it? “The earth is given into the hands of the wicked.” What is meant by “earth” being “given into the hands of the ungodly”? The delivering of the flesh into the hands of the persecutors. But God did not leave “His righteous One” there: from the flesh, which was taken captive, He leads forth the soul unconquered. …

“The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when there shall be judgment for him” (ver. 33). Some copies have it, “and when He shall judge him, there shall be judgment for him.” “For him,” however, means when sentence is passed upon him. For we can express ourselves so as to say to a person, “Judge for me,” i.e. “hear my cause.” When therefore God shall begin to hear the cause of His righteous servant, since “we must all” be presented “before the tribunal of Christ,” and stand before it to receive every one “the things he hath done in this body,” whether good or evil, when therefore he shall have come to that Judgment, He will not condemn him; though he may seem to be condemned in this present life by man. Even though the Proconsul may have passed sentence on Cyprian, yet the earthly seat of judgment is one thing, the heavenly tribunal is another. From the inferior tribunal he receives sentence of death; from the superior one a crown, “Nor will He condemn him when there shall be judgment for him.”

“Wait on the Lord” (ver. 34). And while I am waiting upon Him, what am I to do?-”and keep His ways.” And if I keep them, what am I to receive? “And He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” “What land”? Once more let not any estate suggest itself to your mind:-the land of which it is said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” What of those who have troubled us, in the midst of whom we have groaned, whose scandals we have patiently endured, for whom, while they were raging against us, we have prayed in vain? What will become of them? What follows? “When the wicked are cut off, thou shall see it.”…

“I have seen the ungodly lifted up on high, and rising above the cedars of Libanus” (ver. 35). And suppose him to be “lifted up on high;” suppose him to be towering above the “rest;” what follows?

“I passed by, and, lo, he was not! I sought him, and his place could nowhere be found!” (ver. 36). Why was he “no more, and his place nowhere to be found”? Because thou hast “passed by.” But if thou art yet carnally-minded, and that earthly prosperity appears to thee to be true happiness, thou hast not yet “passed by” him; thou art either his fellow, or thou art below him; go on, and pass him; and when thou hast made progress, and hast passed by him, thou observest him by the eye of faith; thou seest his end, thou sayest to thyself, “Lo! he who so swelled before, is not!” just as if it were some smoke that thou wert passing near to. For this too was said above in this very Psalm, “They shall consume and fade away as the smoke.” …

“Keep innocency” (ver. 37); keep it even as thou usedst to keep thy purse, when thou wert covetous; even as thou usedst to hold fast that purse, that it might not be snatched from thy grasp by the thief, even so “keep innocency,” lest that be snatched from thy grasp by the devil. Be that thy sure inheritance, of which the rich and the poor may both be sure. “Keep innocency.” What doth it profit thee to gain gold, and to lose innocence?

“Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing which is right.” Keep thou thine eyes “right,” that thou mayest see “the thing which is right;” not perverted, wherewith thou lookest upon the wicked; not distorted, so that God should appear to thee distorted and wrong, in that He favours the wicked, and afflicts the faithful with persecutions. Dost thou not observe how distorted thy vision is? Set right thine eyes, and “behold the thing that is right.” What “thing that is right”?. Take no heed of things present. And what wilt thou see?

“For there is a remainder for the man that maketh peace.” What is meant by “there is a remainder”? When thou art dead, thou shall not be dead. This is the meaning of “there is a remainder.” He will still have something remaining to him, even after this life, that is to say, that “seed,” which “shall be blessed.” Whence our Lord saith, “He that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live;” -”seeing there is a remainder for the man that maketh peace.”

“But the transgressors shall be destroyed in the self-same thing” (ver. 38). What is meant by, “in the self-same thing”? It means for ever: or all together in one and the same destruction.

“The remainder of the wicked shall be cut off.” Now there is “(a remainder) for the man that maketh peace:” they therefore who are not peace-makers, are ungodly. For, “Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

“But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord, and He is their strength in the time of trouble” (ver. 39). “And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the sinners” (ver. 40). At present therefore let the righteous bear with the sinner; let the wheat bear with the tares; let the grain bear with the chaff: for the time of separation will come, and the good seed shall be set apart from that which is to be consumed with fire. The one will be consigned to the garner, the other to “everlasting burning;” for it was for this reason that the just and the unjust were at the first together; that the one should lay a stumbling-block, that the other should be proved; that afterwards the one should be condemned, the other receive a crown. …

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2 Responses to “St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 37”

  1. […] St Augustine’s Notes on Today’s Responsorial (Ps 37). […]

  2. […] St Augustine’s Notes on Today’s Responsorial (Ps 37). […]

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