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 119:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 18, 2015

1. From its commencement, dearly beloved, doth this great Psalm exhort us unto bliss, which there is no one who desireth not.… And therefore this is the lesson which he teacheth, who saith, “Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord” (ver. 1). As much as to say, I know what thou wishest, thou art seeking bliss: if then thou wouldest be blessed, be undefiled. For the former all desire, the latter fear: yet without it what all wish cannot be attained. But where will any one be undefiled, save in the way? In what way, save in the law of the Lord?…

2. Listen now to what he addeth: “Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and seek Him with their whole heart” (ver. 2). No other class of the blessed seemeth to me to be mentioned in these words, than that which has been already spoken of. For to examine into the testimonies of the Lord, and to seek Him with all the heart, this is to be undefiled in the way, this is to Walk in the law of the Lord. He then goeth on to say, “For they who do wickedness, shall not walk in His ways” (ver. 3). And yet we know that the workers of wickedness do search the testimonies of the Lord for this reason, that they prefer being learned to being righteous: we know that others also search the testimonies of the Lord, not because they are already living well, but that they may know how they ought to live. Such then do not as yet walk undefiled in the law of the Lord, and for this reason are not as yet blessed.…

3. It is written, and is read, and is true, in this Psalm, that “They who do wickedness, walk not in His ways” (ver. 3). But we must endeavour, with the help of God, “in” whose “hand are both we and our words,”3 that what is rightly said, by not being rightly understood, may not confuse the reader or hearer. For we must beware, lest all the Saints, whose words these are, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;”4 may either not be thought to walk in the ways of the Lord, since sin is wickedness, and “they who do wickedness, walk not in His ways;” or, because it is not doubtful that they walk in the ways of the Lord, may be thought to have no sin, which is beyond doubt false. For it is not said merely for the sake of avoiding arrogance and pride. Otherwise it would not be added, “And the truth is not in us;” but it would be said, Humility is not in us: especially because the following words throw a clearer light on the meaning, and remove all the causes of doubt. For when the blessed John had said this, he added, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”5 …

4. What meaneth, “Thou hast charged that we shall keep Thy commandments too much”? (ver. 4). Is it, “Thou hast charged too much”? or, “to keep too much”? Whichever of these we understand, the sense seems contrary to that memorable and noble sentiment which the Greeks praise in their wise men, and which the Latins agree in praising. “Do nothing too much.”6 … But the Latin language sometimes uses the word nimis in such a sense, that we find it in the holy Scripture, and employ it in our discourses, as signifying, very much. In this passage, “Thou hast charged that we keep Thy commandments too much,” we simply understand very much, if we understand rightly; and if we say to any very dear friend, I love you too much, we do not wish to be understood to mean more than is fitting, but very much.

5. “O that,” he saith, “my ways were made so direct, that I might keep Thy statutes” (ver. 5). Thou indeed hast charged: O that I could realize what thou hast charged. When thou hearest, “O that,” recognise the words of one wishing; and having recognised the expression of a wish, lay aside the pride of presumption. For who saith that he desireth what he hath in such a manner in his power, that without need of any help he can do it? Therefore if man desireth what God chargeth, God must be prayed to grant Himself what He enjoineth.…

6. “So shall I not be confounded, while I have respect unto all Thy commandments” (ver. 6). We ought to look upon the commandments of God, whether when they are read, or when they are recalled to memory, as a looking-glass, as the Apostle James saith1. This man wisheth himself to be such, that he may regard as in a mirror the commandments of God, and may not be confounded; because he chooses not merely to be a hearer of them, but a doer. On this account he desireth that his ways may be made direct to keep the statutes of God. How to be made direct, save by the grace of God? Otherwise he will find in the law of God not a source of rejoicing, but of confusion, if he hath chosen to look into commandments, which he doth not.

7. “I will confess unto Thee,” he saith, “O Lord, in the directing of my heart; in that I shall have learned the judgments of Thy righteousness” (ver. 7). This is not the confession of sins, but of praise; as He also saith in whom there was no sin, “I will confess unto Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth;”2 and as it is written in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, “Thus shalt thou say in confession, of all the works of God, that they are very good.”3, “I will confess unto Thee,” he saith, “in the directing of my heart.” Indeed, if my ways are made straight, I will confess unto Thee, since Thou hast done it, and this is Thy praise, and not mine.…

8. Next he addeth: “I will keep Thy ordinances” (ver. 8).… But what is it that followeth? “O forsake me not even exceedingly!” or, as some copies have it, “even too much,” instead of, “even exceedingly.”4 But since God had left the world to the desert of sins, He would have forsaken it “even exceedingly,” if so powerful a cure had not supported it, that is, the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ; but now, according to this prayer of the body of Christ, He forsook it not “even exceedingly;” for, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”5 …

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