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 40:2, 3, 4, 18

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 14, 2013

This post is not yet edited (I have not yet included the footnotes).

Let us say then what this Psalm says. “I waited patiently for the Lord” (ver. 2). I waited patiently for the promise of no mere mortal who can both deceive and be himself deceived: I waited for the consolation of no mere mortal, who may be consumed by sorrow of his own, before he gives me comfort. Should a brother mortal attempt to comfort me, when he himself is in sorrow likewise? Let us mourn in company; let us weep together, let us “wait patiently” together, let us join our prayers together also. Whom did I wait for but for the Lord? The Lord, who though He puts off the fulfilment of His promises, yet never recalls them? He will make it good; assuredly He will make it good, because He has made many of His promises good already: and of God’s truth we ought to have no fears, even if as yet He had made none of them good. Lo! let us henceforth think thus, “He has promised us everything; He has not as yet given us possession of anything; He is a sponsible Promiser; a faithful Paymaster: do you but show yourself a dutiful exactor of what is promised; and if you be “weak,” if you be one of the little ones, claim the promise of His mercy. Do you not see tender3 lambs striking their dams’ teats with their heads, in order that they may get their fill of milk?… “And He took heed unto me, and heard my cry.” He took heed to it, and He heard it. See thou hast not waited in vain. His eyes are over thee. His ears turned towards thee. For, “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.”4 What then? Did He not see thee, when thou usedst to do evil and to blaspheme Him? What then becomes of what is said in that very Psalm, “The face of the Lord is upon them that do evil”?5 But for what end? “That He may cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” Therefore, even when thou wert wicked, He “took heed of thee;” but He “took no heed to thee.”6 So then to him who “waited patiently for the Lord,” it was not enough to say, “He took heed of me, He says, “He took heed to me;” that is, He took heed by comforting me, that He might do me good. What was it that He took heed to? “and He heard my cry.”

And what hath He accomplished for thee? What hath He done for thee? “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (ver. 3). He hath given us great blessings already: and still He is our debtor; but let him who hath this part of the debt repaid already, believe that the rest will be also, seeing that he ought to have believed even before he received anything. Our Lord has employed facts themselves to persuade us, that He is a faithful promiser, a liberal giver. What then has He already done? “He has brought me out of a horrible pit.” What horrible pit is that? It is the depth of iniquity, from the lusts of the flesh, for this is meant by “the miry clay.”1 Whence hath He brought thee out? Out of a certain deep, out of which thou criedst out in another Psalm, “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord.”2 And those who are already “crying out of the deep,” are not absolutely in the lowest deep: the very act of crying is already lifting them up. There are some deeper in the deep, who do not even perceive themselves to be in the deep. Such are those who are proud despisers, not pious entreaters for pardon; not tearful criers for mercy: but such as Scripture thus describes. “The sinner3 when he comes into the depth of evil despiseth.”4 For he is deeper in the deep, who is not satisfied with being a sinner, unless instead of confessing he even defends his sins. But he who has already “cried out of the deep,” hath already lifted up his head in order that he might “cry out of the deep,” has been heard already, and has been “brought out of the horrible pit, and out of the mire and clay.” He already has faith, which he had not before; he has hope, which he was before without; he now walks in Christ, who before used to go astray in the devil. For on that account it is that he says, “He hath set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” Now “that Rock was Christ.”5 Supposing that we are “upon the rock,” and that our “goings are ordered,” still it is necessary that we continue to walk; that we advance to something farther. For what did the Apostle Paul say when now upon the Rock, when his “goings had now been established”? “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.”6 What then has been done for thee, if thou hast not apprehended? On what account dost thou return thanks, saying, “But I have obtained mercy”?7 Because his goings are now established, because he now walks on the Rock?… Therefore, when he was saying, “I press forward toward the prize of my high calling,” because “his feet were now set on the Rock,” and “his goings were ordered,” because he was now walking on the right way, he had something to return thanks for; something to ask for still; returning thanks for what he had received already, while he was claiming that which still remained due. For what things already received was he giving thanks? For the remission of sins, for the illumination of faith; for the strong support of hope, for the fire of charity. But in what respects had he still a claim of debt on the Lord? “Henceforth,” he says, “there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” There is therefore something due me still. What is it that is due? “A crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.” He was at first a loving Father to “bring him forth from the horrible pit;” to forgive his sins, to rescue him from “the mire and clay;” hereafter he will be a “righteous Judge,” requiting to him walking rightly, what He promised; to him (I say), unto whom He had at the first granted that power to walk rightly. He then as a “righteous Judge” will repay; but whom will he repay? “He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved.”8

“And He hath put a new song in my mouth.” What new song is this? “Even a hymn unto our God” (ver. 4). Perhaps you used to sing hymns to strange gods; old hymns, because they were uttered by the “old man,” not by the “new man;” let the “new man” be formed, and let him sing a “new song;” being himself made “new,” let him love those “new” things by which he is himself made new. For what is more Ancient than God, who is before all things, and is without end and without beginning? He becomes “new” to thee, when thou returnest to Him; because it was by departing from Him, that thou hadst become old; and hadst said, “I have waxed old because of all mine enemies.”9 We therefore utter “a hymn unto our God;” and the hymn itself sets us free. “For I will call upon the Lord to praise Him, and I will be safe from all mine enemies.” For a hymn is a song of praise. Call on God to “praise” Him, not to find fault with Him.…

If haply any one asks, what person is speaking in this Psalm? I would say briefly, “It is Christ.” But as ye know, brethren, and as we must say frequently, Christ sometimes speaks in His own Person, in the Person of our Head. For He Himself is “the Saviour of the Body.”10 He is our Head; the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin, suffered for us, “rose again for our justification,” sitteth “at the right hand of God,” to “make intercession for us:”11 who is also to recompense to the evil and to the good, in the judgment, all the evil and the good that they have done. He deigned to become our Head; to become “the Head of the Body,” by taking of us that flesh in which He should die for us; that flesh which He also raised up again for our sakes, that in that flesh He might place before us an instance of the resurrection; that we might learn to hope for that of which we heretofore despaired, and might henceforth have our feet upon the rock, and might walk in Christ. He then sometimes speaks in the name of our Head; sometimes also He speaks of us who are His members. For both when He said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat,”1 He spoke on behalf of His members, not of Himself: and when He said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”2 the Head was crying on behalf of its members: and yet He did not say, “Why dost thou persecute My members?” but, “Why persecutest thou Me?” If He suffers in us, then shall we also be crowned in Him. Such is the love of Christ. What is there can be compared to this? This is the thing on account of which “He hath put a hymn in our mouth,” and this He speaks on behalf of His members.

“The just shall see, and shall fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” “The just shall see.” Who are the just? The faithful; because it is “by faith that the just shall live.”3 For there is in the Church this order, some go before, others follow; and those who go before make themselves “an example” to those who follow; and those who follow imitate those who go before. But do those then follow no one, who exhibit themselves as an ensample to them that come after? If they follow no one at all, they will fall into error. These persons then must themselves also follow some one, that is, Christ Himself.… “The just,” therefore, “shall see, and shall fear.” They see a narrow way on the one hand; on the other side, “a broad road:” on this side they see few, on the other many. But thou art a just man; count them not, but weigh them; bring “a just balance,” not a “deceitful” one: because thou art called just. “The just shall see, and fear,” applies to thee. Count not therefore the multitudes of men that are filling the “broad ways,” that are to fill the circus to-morrow; celebrating with shouts the City’s Anniversary,4 while they defile the City itself by evil living. Look not at them; they are many in number; and who can count them? But there are a few travelling along the narrow road. Bring forth the balance, I say. Weigh them; see what a quantity of chaff you lift up on the one side, against a few grains of corn on the other. Let this be done by “the just,” the “believers,” who are to follow. And what shall they who precede do? Let them not be proud, let them not “exalt themselves;” let them not deceive those who follow them. How may they deceive those who follow them? By promising them salvation in themselves. What then ought those who follow to do? “The just shall see, and fear: and shall trust in the Lord;” not in those who go before them. But indeed they fix their eyes on those who go before them, and follow and imitate them; but they do so, because they consider from Whom they have received the grace to go before them; and because they trust in Him.5 Although therefore they make these their models, they place their trust in Him from whom the others have received the grace whereby they are such as they are. “The just shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Just as in another Psalm, “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills,”6 we understand by hills, all distinguished and great spiritual persons in the Church; great in solidity, not by swollen inflation. By these it is that all Scripture hath been dispensed unto us; they are the Prophets, they are the Evangelists; they are sound Doctors: to these “I lift up mine eyes, from whence shall come my help.” And lest you should think of mere human help, he goes on to say, “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. The just shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” …

“But I” (ver. 18). I for whom they were seeking evil, I whose “life they were seeking, that they might take it away.” But turn thee to another description of persons. But I to whom they said, “Well done! Well done!” “I am poor and needy.” There is nothing in me that may be praised as mine own. Let Him rend my sackcloth in sunder, and cover me with His robe. For, “Now I live, not I myself; but Christ liveth in me.”9 If it is Christ that “liveth in thee,” and all that thou hast is Christ’s, and all that thou art to have hereafter is Christ’s also; what art thou in thyself? “I am poor and needy.” Now I am not rich, because I am not proud. He was rich who said, “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are;”10 but the publican was poor, who said, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!” The one was belching from his fulness; the other from want was crying piteously, “I am poor and needy!” And what wouldest thou do, O poor and needy man? Beg at God’s door; “Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee.”11—“As for me, I am poor and needy. Yet the Lord careth for me.”—“Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall bring it to pass.”12 What canst thou effect for thyself by taking care what canst thou provide for thyself? Let Him who made thee “care for thee.” He who cared for thee before thou wert, how shall He fail to have a care of thee, now that thou art what He would have thee be? For now thou art a believer, now thou art walking in the “way of righteousness.” Shall not He have a care for thee, who “maketh His sun rise on the good and on the evil, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”?13 …

“Thou art my Help, and my Deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God” (vs 18 ). He is calling upon God, imploring Him, fearing lest he should fall away: “Make no tarrying.” What is meant by “make no tarrying”? We lately read concerning the days of tribulation: “Unless those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.”1 The members of Christ—the Body of Christ extended everywhere—are asking of God, as one single person, one single poor man, and beggar! For He too was poor, who “though He was rich, yet became poor, that ye through His poverty might be made rich.”2 It is He that maketh rich those who are the true poor;3 and maketh poor those who are falsely rich. He crieth unto Him; “From the end of the earth I cried unto Thee, when my heart was in heaviness.” There will come days of tribulations, and of greater tribulations; they will come even as the Scripture speaks: and as days advance, so are tribulations increased also. Let no one promise himself what the Gospel doth not promise.…

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