Augustin on Psalms 142
1. ... "With my voice have I cried unto the Lord" (verse 1). It were enough to say, "with voice: "not for nothing perhaps has" my" been added. For many cry unto the Lord, not with their own voice, but with the voice of their body. Let the "inner man" then, in whom "Christ" hath begun. to "dwell by faith," s cry unto the Lord, not with the din of his lips, but with the affection of his heart. God heareth not, where man heareth: unless thou criest with the voice of lungs and side and tongue, man heareth thee not: thy thought is thy cry to the Lord. "With my voice have I prayed unto the Lord." What he meant by, "I have cried," he explained when he said, "I have prayed." For they too who blaspheme, cry unto the Lord. In the former part he set down his crying, in the latter he explained what it was. As though it were demanded, With what cry hast thou cried unto the Lord? Unto the Lord, saith he, I have prayed. My cry is my prayer, not reviling, not murmuring, not blaspheming.
2. "I will pour out before Him my prayer" (verse 2). What is, "before Him"? In His sight. What is, in His sight? Where He seeth. But where doth He not see? For so do we say, 'where He seeth,' as though somewhere He seeth not. But in this assemblage of bodily substances men too see, animals too see: He seeth where man seeth not. For thy thoughts no man seeth, but God seeth. There then pour out thy prayer, where He alone seeth, who rewardeth. For the Lord Jesus Christ bade thee pray in secret: but if thou knowest what "thy closet" is, and cleansest it, there thou prayest to God. "But thou," saith He, "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut the door, and pray to thy Father in secret, and He who seeth in secret shall reward thee."(1) If men are to reward thee, pour out thy prayer before men: if God is to reward thee, pour out thy prayer before Him; and close the door, lest the tempter enter. Therefore the Apostle, because it is in our power to shut the door, the door of our hearts, not of our walls, for in it is our "closet,"--because it is in our power to shut this door, saith, "neither give place to the devil."(2) But what is to "shut the door"? This door hath as it were two leaves, desire and fear. Either thou desireth something earthly, and he enters by this; or thou fearest something earthly, and he enters by that. Close then the door of fear and desire against the devil, open it to Christ. How dost thou open these folding doors to Christ? By desiring the kingdom of heaven, by fearing the fire of hell. By desire of this world the devil entereth, by desire of eternal life Christ entereth; by fear of temporal punishment the devil entereth, by fear of everlasting fire Christ entereth. ...
3. "My tribulation I will proclaim in His sight." There is a repetition, both in the two preceding sentences, and in these which follow: the sentiments are two, but both twice expressed. ... For, "in His sight," is the same as "before Him;. ... I will proclaim my tribulation," is the same as, "I will pour out my prayer." When doest thou this? Being set in the midst of persecution, he saith, "while my spirit failed from me" (verse 3). Wherefore hath thy spirit failed, O martyr, set in tribulation? That I may not claim my strength as mine own, that I may know that Another worketh in me the goodness I have. And men perhaps have heard that my spirit hath failed within me, and have despaired of me, and have said, "we have taken him captive, we have overpowered him;" "and Thou hast known my paths." They thought me cast down, Thou didst see me standing upright. They who persecuted me and had seized me, thought my feet entangled, "but their feet were entangled, and they fell, but we are risen, and stand upright."(3) For mine eyes are ever unto the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net."(4) I have persevered in walking, for "lie that shall persevere unto the end, the same shall be saved."(5) They thought me overpowered, but I continued walking. Where did I walk? In paths which they saw not, who thought me prisoner, in the paths of Thy righteousness, in the paths of Thy commandments. ... For every path is a way, but not every way is a path. Why then are those ways called paths, save because they are narrow? Broad is the way of the wicked, narrow the way of the righteous. That which is "the way" is also "the ways," just as "the Church" is also "the Churches," the "heaven" also the "heavens:" they are spoken of in the plural, they are spoken of also in the singular. On account of the unity of the Church it is one Church; "My dove is one, she is the only one of her mother."(6) On account of the congregation of brethren in various places there are many Churches. "The Churches of Judaea which are in Christ rejoiced," saith Paul,(7) "and they glorified God in me." Thus he spake of Churches; and of one Church he thus speaketh, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God." ...
4. "In this way, wherein I was walking, they hid a trap for me." This "way wherein I was walking," is Christ; there have they laid a trap for me, who persecute me in Christ, for Christ's Name's sake. There then "have they hid for me a trap." What in me do they hate, what in me do they persecute? That I am a Christian. ... For the heretics too wish to hide a stumbling-block for us in the Name of Christ, and are themselves deceived. What they think that they put in the way, they put outside the way, for they themselves are outside the way. They cannot set a trap where themselves are not. ... The Pagan thinketh to put a stumbling-block in the way, when he saith to me, "Thou worshippest a crucified God." He findeth fault with the Cross of Christ, which he understandeth not. He thinketh that he setteth in Christ, what he setteth near the way. I will not depart from Christ, so shall I not fall from the way into the trap. Let him mock at Christ crucified, let me see the Cross of Christ on the foreheads of kings. What he laugheth at, therein am I saved. Nought is prouder than a sick man, who laugheth at his own medicine. If he laughed not at it, he would take it, and be healed. The Cross is the sign of humility, but he through excess of pride acknowledgeth not that whereby may be healed the swelling of his soul. But if I acknowledge, I am walking in the way. So far am I from blushing at the Cross, that in no secret place do I keep the Cross of Christ, but bear it on my forehead. Many sacraments we receive, one in one way another in another: some as ye know we receive with the mouth, some we receive over the whole body. But because the forehead is the seat of the blush of shame, He who said, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me before men, of him will I be ashamed before My Father which is in heaven,"(1) set, so to speak, that very ignominy which the Pagans mock at, in the seat of our shame. Thou hearest a man assail a shameless man and say, "He hath no forehead." What is, "He hath no forehead"? He hath no shame. Let me not have a bare forehead, let the Cross of my Lord cover it ...
5. "I considered upon the right hand, and saw"(verse 4). He considered upon the right hand, and saw: whoso considereth upon the left hand, is blinded. What is to consider on the right hand? Where they will be to whom shall be said, "Come, ye blessed of My Father," etc.,(2) ... He goeth on to say, "and there was none that knew me." For when thou fearest all things, who knoweth what thou regardest, whether thou directest thine eyes to the right hand or to the left? If, in bearing, thou seekest the praise of men, thou hast regarded the left: if, in bearing, thou seekest the promises of God, thou hast regarded the right hand. Hast thou regarded the right hand, thou shalt see: hast thou regarded the left hand, thou shalt be blinded. But even when thou seest on the right hand, there will be none to know thee. For who comforteth thee save the Lord? "Flight hath perished from me." He speaketh as though he were hemmed in. Let the persecutors rejoice over him; he is overpowered, he is taken, he is hemmed in, he is conquered. "Flight hath perished" from him who fleeth not. But he who fleeth not, suffereth whatever he can for Christ: that is, he fleeth not in soul. For in body it is lawful to flee; it is allowed, it is permitted; for the Lord saith, "When they persecute you in one city, flee to another."(3) He then who fleeth not in soul, from him "flight hath perished." But it maketh a difference why he fleeth not; whether because he is hemmed in, because he is caught, or because he is brave. For both from him that is caught flight hath perished, and from him that is brave flight hath perished. What flight then is to be avoided? what flight shall we allow to perish from us? That whereof the Lord speaketh in the Gospel, "The Good Shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, when he seeth the wolf coming, fleeth." When he seeth the ravager, why fleeth he? "Because he careth not for the sheep."(4) ... In two ways a man's life is sought, either by his persecutors or by his lovers.(5) So then "there is none to seek my life," he said of them; verily they persecute my life, and they seek not my life. But if they seek my life, they will find it clinging to Thee: and if they know to seek it, they know also to imitate it.
6. "Unto thee have I cried, O Lord: I have said, Thou art my hope" (verse 5). When I endured, when I was in tribulation, "I said, Thou art my hope." My hope here, therefore I endure. But "my portion," not here, but "in the land of the living." God giveth a portion in the land of the living; but not something from Himself without Himself. What will He give to one that loveth Him, save Himself?
7. "Give heed unto my prayer, for much have I been humbled (verse 6). Humbled by persecutors, humbled in confession. He humbleth himself out of the sight of man: he is humbled by enemies in their sight· Therefore is he lifted up by Him both visibly and invisibly. Invisibly are the martyrs already lifted up; visibly shall they be lifted up, "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption" in the resurrection of the dead; when this very part of him, against which alone her persecutors could rage, shall be renewed. "Fear not them that kill the body, but cannot kill the soul."(6) And what perisheth? what kill they? ... Why then art thou anxious about the rest of thy members, when thou shall not lose even a hair?(7) "Deliver me from them that persecute me." From whom thinkest thou that he prayeth to be delivered? From men who persecuted him? Is it so? are merely men our enemies? We have other enemies, invisible, who persecute us in another way. Man persecuteth, that he may slay the body; another persecuteth, that he ensnare the soul.(8) ... There are then other enemies of ours too, from whom we ought to pray God to deliver us, lest they lead us astray, either by crushing us with troubles of this world, or alluring us by its enticements. Who are these enemies? Let us see whether they are plainly described by any servant of the Lord, by any soldier, now perfected, who hath engaged with them. Hear the Apostle saying, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood:"(9) as though he would say, Turn not your hatred against men; think not them your enemies; think not that it is by their hostility you are being bruised; these men whom ye fear are flesh and blood. ... "For they are strengthened over me." Who said, "they are strengthened over me"? The Body of Christ crieth out; it is the voice of the Church; the members of Christ cry out, "Much hath the number of sinners increased." "Because iniquity hath abounded, the love of many waxeth cold."(10)
8. "Bring forth my soul out of prison, that it may confess to Thy Name" (verse 7). This "prison" has been variously understood by former writers. And perhaps it is the prison which is called in the title, "the cave." For the title of this Psalm runneth thus: "Of understanding to David himself, a prayer when he was in the cave." That which is the cave, the same is also the prison. Two things have we set before us to understand, but when we have understood one, both will be understood. A man's deserts make a prison. For in one dwelling place one man finds a house, another a prison. ... To some then it has seemed that the "cave" and "prison" are this world; and this the Church prayeth, that it may be brought out of prison, that is, from this world, from under the sun, where all is vanity. Beyond this world then God promiseth that we shall be in some sort of rest; therefore perhaps do we cry concerning this place, "Bring my soul out of prison." Our soul by faith and hope is in Christ; "Your life is hid with Christ in God." But our body is in this prison, in this world. ... But some have said, that this prison and cave is this body, so that this is the meaning of, "Bring my soul out of prison." But this interpretation too is somewhat at fault. For what great thing is it to say, "Bring my soul out of prison," bring my soul out of the body? Do not the souls of robbers and wicked men go forth from the body, and go into worse punishment than here they have endured? What great request then is this, "Bring my soul out of prison," when, sooner or later, it must needs come forth? Perhaps the righteous saith, "Let me die now; bring forth my soul from this prison of the body." If he be too hasty, he hath not love. He ought indeed to long for and desire, as the Apostle saith, "having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, which is far better." But where is love? Therefore it followeth, "but to abide in the flesh is needful for you." Let God then lead us forth from the body, when He will. Our body too might be said to be a prison, not because that is a prison which God hath made, but because it is under punishment and liable to death. For there are two things to be considered in our body, God's workmanship, and the punishment it has deserved. ... Perhaps then he meant by, "Bring my soul out of prison," bring my soul out of corruption. If thus we understand it, it is no blasphemy, the meaning is consistent. Lastly, brethren, as I think, he meant this; "Bring my soul out of prison," bring it out of straitness. For to one who rejoiceth, even a prison is wide; to one in sorrow, a field is strait. Therefore prayeth he to be brought out of straitness. For though in hope he have enlargement, yet in reality at at present he is straitened. ... It is not the body that weigheth down the soul, but the corruptible body. It is not the body then that maketh the prison, but the corruption. "Bring my soul out of prison, that it may give thanks to Thy Name." Now the words which follow seem to come from the Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. And they are the same as yesterday's last words. Yesterday's last words, if ye remember, were, "I am alone, until I pass over." And here what are the last words? "The righteous shall sustain me, until thou recompense me."
1. ... The title of the Psalm is, "To David himself, when his son was pursuing him." We know from the Books of Kings(3) that this happened: ... but we must recognise here another David, truly "strong in hand," which is the explanation of David, even our Lord Jesus Christ. For all those events of past time were figures of things to come. Let us seek then in this Psalm our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, announcing Himself beforehand in His prophecy, and foretelling what should happen at this time by things which were done long ago. For He Himself foretold Himself in the Prophets: for He is the Word of God. Nor did they say ought of this kind, save when filled with the Word of God. They announced then Christ, being filled with Christ? they went before Him about to come, and He deserted not them going before. ...
2. Let then our Lord speak; let Christ with us, whole Christ, speak. "Lord, hear my prayer, receive with Thine ears my entreaty" (verse 1). "Hear" and "receive with ears" are the same thing. It is repetition, it is confirmation. "In Thy truth hear me, in Thy righteousness." Take it not without emphasis when it is said, "in Thy righteousness." For it is a commendation of grace, that none of us think his righteousness his own. For this is the righteousness of God, which God hath given thee to possess. For what saith the Apostle of them, who would boast of their own righteousness? Speaking of the Jews, he saith, "they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."(5) ... Thou art perverse, because thou imputest what thou hast done ill to God, what well to thyself: thou wilt be right, when thou imputest what thou hast done ill to thyself, what well to God. ... Behold, "in Thy righteousness hear me." For when I look upon myself, nought else do I find mine own, save sin.
3. "And enter not into judgment with Thy servant" (verse 2). Who are willing to enter into judgment with Him, save they who, "being ignorant of the righteousness of God, go about to establish their own? ... Wherefore have we fasted, and Thou hast not seen; wherefore have we afflicted our souls, and Thou takest no knowledge?"(1) As though they would say," We have done what Thou hast commanded, wherefore dost Thou not render to us. what Thou hast promised?" God answereth thee: I will give to thee to receive what I have promised: I have given thee that thou shouldest do that whereby thou mayest receive. Finally, to such proud ones the Prophet speaketh; "Wherefore will ye plead with Me? ye have all transgressed against Me, saith the Lord."(2) Why will ye enter into judgment with Me, and recount your own righteousnesses? ... "For before Thee every one living shall not be justified." "Every one living;" living, that is, here, living in the flesh, living in expectation of death; born a man; deriving his life of man; sprung from Adam, a living Adam; every one thus living may perhaps be justified before himself, but not before Thee. How before himself? By pleasing himself, displeasing Thee. Enter not then into judgment with me, O Lord my God. How straight soever I seem to myself, Thou bringest forth a standard from Thy storehouse, Thou fittest me to it, and I am found crooked. Well is it said, "with Thy servant." It is unworthy of Thee to enter into judgment with Thy servant, or even with Thy friend.(3) ... What of the Apostles themselves? ... That ye may perceive it at once, they learnt to pray what we pray: to them was given the pattern of prayer by the heavenly Counsellor. "After this manner," saith He, "pray ye."(4) And having set down certain things first, He laid down this too to be said by the leaders of the sheep, the chief members of the Shepherd and Gatherer(5) of the one flock; even they learnt to say, "Forgive us our debts."(6) They said not, "Thanks be to Thee, who hast forgiven us our debts, as we too forgive our debtors," but," Forgive, as we forgive." But surely the faithful prayed then, surely the Apostles prayed then, for this Lord's Prayer was given rather to the faithful. If those debts only were meant which are forgiven by Baptism, it would befit catechumens rather to say, "Forgive us our debts." Let the Apostles then say, yea let them say, "Forgive us our debts." And when it is said to them, "Wherefore say ye this? what are your debts?" let them answer, "for in Thy sight every one living shall not be justified."
4. "For the enemy hath persecuted my soul: he hath humbled my life on the earth" (verse 3). Here we speak, here our Head speaketh for us. Manifestly both the devil persecuted the Soul of Christ and Judas the Soul of his Master: and now too the same devil remaineth to persecute the Body of Christ, and one Judas succeedeth another. There lacketh not then of whom the Body too may say, "For the enemy hath persecuted my soul." For what doth each one who persecuteth us endeavour save to make us abandon our heavenly hope, and savour of the earth, yield to our persecutor, and love earthly things? "They have laid me in dark places, as the dead of the world." This ye hear more readily from the Head; this ye perceive more readily in the Head. For He died indeed for us, yet was He not one of the "dead of the world." For who are the "dead of the world "? And how was not He one of the "dead of the world"? "The dead of the world" are those who have died of their own desert, receiving the reward of iniquity, deriving death from the sin transmissed to them; according as it is said, "For I was conceived in iniquity."(7) ... In dying, saith He, I do the will of My Father, but I am not deserving of death. Nought have I done wherefore I should die, yet is it Mine own doing that I die, that by the death of an innocent One, they may be freed who had wherefore they should die. "They set me in places," as though in Hades, as though in the tomb, as though in His very Passion, "as the dead of the world."(8)
5. "And My Spirit within me," saith He, "suffered weariness" (verse 4). Remember, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death."(9) Here we see one voice. Do we not see plainly the transition from the Head to the members, from the members to the Head? ...
6. But we too were there. He goes to the members. "I have called to mind the days of old" (verse 5). Did He "call to mind the days of old," by whom every day was made? No, but the body speaketh, each one who has been justified by His grace, who dwelleth in Him in love and devout humility, speaketh and saith, "I have meditated upon all Thy works:" plainly because Thou hast made all things good, and nothing would have stood fast, which was not established by Thee. Thy creation is made a spectacle unto me: I have sought in the work the Artificer, in all that is made the Maker. Wherefore this, to what purpose this, save that he might understand, that whatever there was of good in himself was made by Him. ... Look back then upon the Framer of thy life, the Author of thy substance, of thy righteousness, and of thy salvation: "meditate upon the works of His hands," for the righteousness too which is in thee, thou wilt find to pertain to His hand. Hear the Apostle teaching thee this, "not of works," he saith, "lest any should boast." Have we no good work? Plainly we have: but see what follows; "for we are His workmanship,"(1) saith he. "We are His workmanship:" perhaps in thus speaking of workmanship, he meant to mention the nature whereby we are men? Evidently not: he was speaking of works. But let us not make conjectures; let the text go on, "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." Think not then that thou thyself doest anything, save in so far as thou art evil. ... "Work out your own salvation," saith the Apostle, "with fear and trembling."(2) If we do work out our own salvation, wherefore with fear, wherefore with trembling, when what we work is in our own power? Hear wherefore with fear and trembling: "for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure." Therefore "with fear and trembling," that it may delight our Maker to work in the lowly valley. ...
7. "I stretched forth," saith he, "my hands to Thee: my soul is as a land without water to Thee" (verse 6). Rain upon me, saith he, to bring forth from me good fruit. "For the Lord shall give sweetness, that our land may give her fruit."(3) "I have stretched forth my hands to Thee; my soul is as a land without water," not to me, but "to Thee." I can thirst for Thee, I cannot water myself.
8. "Speedily hear me, Lord" (verse 7). For what need of delay to inflame my thirst, when already I thirst so eagerly? Thou didst delay the rain, that I might drink and imbibe, not reject, Thy inflowing. If then Thou didst for this cause delay, now give; for "my spirit hath failed." Let Thy Spirit fill me. This is the reason why Thou shouldest speedily hear me. I am now become "poor in spirit," make Thou me "blessed in the kingdom of heaven."(4) For he in whom his own spirit liveth, is proud, is puffed up with his own spirit against God. ...
9. "Turn not Thou away Thy Face from me." Thou didst turn it away from me when proud. For once I was full, and in my fulness I was puffed up. Once "in my fulness I said, I shall never be moved." "I said in my fulness, I shall not be moved," knowing not Thy Righteousness, and establishing mine own; but "Thou, Lord, in Thy Will hast afforded strength to my beauty." "I said in my fulness, I shall not be moved," but from Thee came whatever) fulness I had. And to prove to me that it was from Thee, "Thou didst turn away Thy Face from me, and I was troubled."(5) After this trouble, where into I was cast, because Thou didst turn away Thy Face, after the weariness of my spirit, after my heart was troubled within me, because Thou didst turn away Thy Face, then became I "like a land without water to Thee: turn not Thou away Thy Face." Thou turnedst it away from me when proud; give it back to me now I am humble. Because, if Thou turn it away, "I shall be like to them that go down into the pit. What is, that go down into the pit"? When the sinner has come into the depth of sins, he will show contempt. They "go down into the pit," who lose even confession; against which is said, "Let not the pit close her mouth over me."(6) This depth Scripture calleth mostly "a pit," into which depth when a sinner hath come, "he showeth contempt" What is, "he showeth contempt"? He no longer believeth in Providence, or if he do believe, he thinketh that he has no longer aught to do with it. ...
10. "Make me to hear in the morning Thy mercy, for in Thee have I hoped" (verse 8). Behold, I am in the night, yet "in Thee have I hoped," until the iniquity of the night pass away. "For we have," as Peter saith, "a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the daystar arise in your hearts." "Morning" then he calleth the time after the end of the world, when we shall see what in this world we believe. But what here, until the morning come? For it is not enough to hope for the morning; we must do somewhat. Why do somewhat? God is to be sought with the hands in the night. What is, "with the hands"? By good works. Since then we must thus hope for the morning, and bear this night, and persevere in this patience until the day dawn, what meanwhile must we do here? lest perchance thou think that thou wilt do aught of thyself, whereby thou mayest earn to be brought to the morning. "Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I must walk." Therefore did He kindle the lamp of prophecy, therefore did He send the Lord in the vessel,(7) as it were, of the flesh, who should even say, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd."(8) Walk by prophecy, walk by the lamp of future things predicted, walk by the word of God. ...
11. "Deliver me from mine enemies, O Lord, for unto Thee have I fled for refuge" (verse 9). I who once fled from Thee, now flee to Thee. For Adam fled from the Face of God, and hid himself among the trees of Paradise, so that of him was said in the Book of Job, "As a servant that fleeth from his Lord, and findeth a shadow."(9) He fled from the Face of his Lord, and found a shadow. Woe to him, if he continue in the shade, lest it be said afterward, "All things are passed away like a shadow."(10) The rulers of this world, of this darkness, the rulers of the wicked; against these ye wrestle. Great is your conflict, not to see your enemies, and yet to conquer. Against the rulers of this world, of this darkness, the devil, that is, and his angels not the rulers of that world, whereof is said, "the world was made by Him," but that world whereof is said, "the world knew Him not." "For unto Thee have I fled for refuge." . . Whither should I flee? "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?"(2)
12. "Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God" (verse 10). Glorious confession! glorious rule! "For Thou," saith he, "art my God." To another will I hasten to be re-made, if by another I was made. Thou art my all, "for Thou art my God." Shall I seek a father to get an inheritance? "Thou art my God," not only the Giver of mine inheritance, but mine Inheritance itself. "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance."(3) Shall I seek a patron, to obtain redemption? "Thou art my God." Lastly, having been created, do I desire to be re-created? "Thou art my God," my Creator, who hast created me by Thy Word, and recreated me by Thy Word. "Teach Thou me:" for it cannot be that Thou art my God, and yet I am to' be mine own master. See how grace is commended to us. This hold fast, this drink in, this let none drive out of your hearts, lest ye have "a zeal, of God, but not according to knowledge."(4) Say then this: "Thy good Spirit," not my bad one, "Thy good Spirit shall lead me into the right land." For my bad spirit hath led me into a crooked land. And what have I deserved? What can be reckoned as my good works without Thy aid, through which I might obtain and be worthy to be led by Thy Spirit into the right land?
13. Listen, then, with all your power, to the commendation of Grace, whereby ye are saved without price. "For Thy Name's sake, O Lord, Thou shalt quicken me in Thy righteousness" (verse 11); not in mine own: not because I have deserved, but because Thou hast mercy. For were I to show mine own desert, nought should I deserve of Thee, save punishment. Thou hast pruned off from me mine own merits; Thou hast grafted in Thine own gifts. "Thou shalt bring forth my soul out of tribulation." "And in thy mercy shalt bring mine enemies to destruction: and thou shalt destroy all them that afflict my soul; for I am Thy servant" (verse 12).
1. The title of this Psalm is brief in number of words, but heavy in the weight of its mysteries. "To David himself against Goliath." This battle was fought in the time of our fathers, and ye, beloved, remember it with me from Holy Scripture. ... David put five stones in his scrip, he hurled but one. The five Books were chosen, but unity conquered. Then, having smitten and overthrown him, he took the enemy's sword, and with it cut off his head. This our David also did, He overthrew the devil with his-own weapons: and when his great ones, whom he had in his power, by means of whom he slew other souls, believe, they turn their tongues against the devil, and so Goliath's head is cut off with his own sword.
2. "Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands for battle, my fingers for war" (verse 1 ). These are our words, if we be the Body of Christ. It seems a repetition of sentiment; "our hands for battle," and "our fingers for war," are the same. Or is there some difference between "hands" and "fingers"? Certainly both hands and fingers work. Not then without reason do we take "fingers" as put for "hands." But still in the " fingers" we recognise the division of operation, yet still a sort of unity. Behold that grace! the Apostle saith,(6) To one, this; to another, that; "there are diversities of operations; all these worketh one and the self-same Spirit;" there is the root of unity. With these "fingers" then the Body of Christ fighteth, going forth to" war," going forth to "battle." ... By works of Mercy our enemy is conquered, and we could not have works of mercy unless we had charity, and charity we could have none unless we received it by the Holy Ghost; He then "teacheth our hands for battle, and our fingers for war:" to Him rightfully do we say, "My Mercy," from whom we have also that we are merciful: "for he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy."(7)
3. My Mercy and my Refuge, my Upholder and my Deliverer" (verse 2). Much toileth this combatant, having his flesh lusting against his spirit. Keep what thou hast. Then shalt thou have in full what thou wishest, when "death shall have been swallowed up in victory;"(8) when this mortal body has been raised, and is changed into the condition of the angels, and rises aloft to a heavenly quality. ... There is life, there are good days, where nought lusteth against the spirit, where it is not said, "Fight," but "Rejoice." But who is he that lusteth for these days? Every man certainly saith, "I do." Hear what followeth. I see that thou art toiling, I see that thou art engaged in battle, and in danger; hear what followeth: ... "Depart from evil, and do good:" let not the poor first weep under thee, that the poor may rejoice through thee. For what reward, since now thou art fighting? "Seek peace, and ensue it." Learn and say, "My Mercy and my Refuge, mine Upholder and my Deliverer, my Protector:" "mine Upholder," lest I fall; "my Deliverer," lest I stick; "my Protector," lest I be stricken. In all these things, in all my toil, in all my battles, in all my difficulties, in Him have I hoped, "who subdueth my people under me." Behold, our Head speaketh together with us.
4. "Lord, what is man, that Thou hast become known unto him?" (verse 3). All is included in "that Thou hast become known unto him." "Or the son of man, that Thou valuest him?" Thou valuest him, that is, Thou makest him of such importance, Thou countest him of such price, Thou knowest under what Thou placest him, over what Thou placest him. For valuing is considering the price of a thing. How greatly did He value man, who for him shed the blood of His only-begotten Son! For God valueth not man in the same way as one man valueth another he, when he findeth a slave for sale, giveth a higher price for a horse than for a man. Consider how greatly He valued thee, that thou mayest be able to say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" And how greatly did He value thee, "who spared not His own Son"? "How shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?(1) He who giveth this food to the combatant, what keepeth He in store for the conqueror? ...
5. "Man is made like unto vanity: his days pass away like a shadow" (verse 4). What vanity? Time, which passeth on, and floweth by. For this "vanity" is said in comparison of the Truth, which ever abideth, and never faileth: for it too is a work of His Hand, in its degree. "For," as it is written, "God filled the earth with His good things."(2) What is "His"? That accord with Him. But all these things, being earthly, fleeting, transitory, if they be compared to that Truth, where it is said, "I Am That I Am,"(3) all this which passeth away is called "vanity." For through time it vanisheth, like stroke into the air. And why should I say more than that which the Apostle James said, willing to bring down proud men to humility, "What is," saith he, "your life? It is even a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."(4) ... Work then, though it be in the night, with thine hands, that is, by good works seek God, before the day come which shall gladden thee, lest the day come which shall sadden thee. For see how safely thou workest, who art not left by Him whom thou seekest; "that thy Father which seeth in secret may reward thee openly."(5) ...
6. "Lord, bow Thy heavens, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke" (verse 5). "Flash Thy lightning, and Thou shall scatter them; send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shall confound them" (verse 6). "Send forth Thy Hand from above, and deliver me, and draw me out of many waters" (verse 7). The Body of Christ, the humble David, full of grace, relying on God, fighting in this world, calleth for the help of God. What are "heavens bowed down"? Apostles humbled. For those "heavens declare the glory of God;" and of these heavens declaring the glory of God it is presently said, "There is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them," etc.(6) When then these heavens sent forth their voices through all lands, and did wonderful things, while the Lord flashed and thundered from them by miracles and commandments, the gods were thought to have come down from heaven to men. For certain of the Gentiles, thinking this, desired even to sacrifice to them. ... But they commended to these the Lord Jesus Christ, humbling themselves, that God might be praised; because "the heavens" were "bowed," that "God" might "come down." ... "Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke." So long as they are not touched, they seem to themselves great: they are now about to say," Great art Thou, O Lord:"(7) the mountains also are about to say, "Thou only art the Most Highest over all the earth."(8)
7. But there are some that conspire, that "gather themselves together against the Lord, and against His Christ."(9) They have come together, they have conspired. "Flash forth Thy lightnings, and Thou shall scatter them." Abound with Thy miracles, and their conspiracy shall be broken. ... "Send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shall confound them." Let the unsound be wounded, that, being well wounded, they may be made sound; and let them say, being set now in the Church, in the Body of Christ, let them say with the Church, "I am wounded with Love." (10) "Send forth Thine Hand from on high." What afterward? What in the end? How conquereth the Body of Christ? By heavenly aid. "For the Lord Himself shall come with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God shall He descend from heaven,"(11) Himself the Saviour of the body, the Hand of God. What is, "Out of many waters"? From many peoples. What peoples? Aliens, unbelievers, whether assailing us from without, or laying snares within. Take me out of many waters, in which Thou didst discipline me, in which Thou didst roll me, to free me from my filth. This is the "water of contradiction."(12) ... "From the hand of strange children." Hear, brethren, among whom we are, among whom we live, from whom we long to be delivered. "Whose mouth hath spoken vanity" (verse 8). All of you to-day, if ye had not gathered yourselves together to these divine shows(1) of the word of God, and were not at this hour engaged in them, how great vanities would ye be hearing! "whose mouth hath spoken vanity:" when, in short, would they, speaking vanity, hear you speaking vanity? "And their right hand is a right hand of iniquity." What doest thou among them with thy pastoral scrip with five stones in it? Say it to me in another form: that same law which thou hast signified by five stones, signify in some other way also. "I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God" (verse 9). "A new song" is of grace; "a new song" is of the new man; "a new song" is of the New Testament. But lest thou shouldest think that grace departeth from the law, whereas rather by grace the law is fulfilled, "upon a psaltery of ten strings will I sing unto Thee." Upon the law of ten commandments: therein may I sing to Thee; therein may I rejoice to Thee; therein may "I sing to Thee a new song;" for," Love is the fulfilling of the law."(2) But they who have not love may carry the psaltery, sing they cannot. Contradiction cannot make my psaltery to be silent.
8. "Who giveth salvation to kings, who redeemeth David His servant" (verse 10). Ye know who David is; be yourselves David. Whence "redeemeth He David His servant"? Whence redeemeth He Christ? Whence redeemeth He the Body of Christ? "From the sword of ill intent deliver me." "From the sword" is not sufficient; he addeth, "of ill intent." Without doubt there is a sword of good intent. What is the sword of good intent? That whereof the Lord saith, "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword."(3) For He was about to separate believers from unbelievers, sons from parents, and to sever all other ties, while the sword cut off what was diseased, but healed the members of Christ. Of good intent then is the sword twice sharpened, powerful with both edges, the Old and New Testaments, with the narration of the past and the promise of the future. That then is the sword of good intent: but the other is of ill intent, wherewith they talk vanity, for that is of good intent, wherewith God speaketh verity. For truly "the sons of men have teeth which are spears and arrows, and their tongue is a sharp sword."(4) "From" this "sword deliver me" (verse 11). "And. take me out of the hand of strange children, whose mouth hath spoken vanity:" just as before. And that which followeth, "their right hand is a right hand of iniquity," the same he had set down before also, when he called them "many waters." For lest thou shouldest think that the "many waters" were good waters, he explained them by the "sword of ill intent."
9. "Whose sons are like young vines firmly planted in their youth" (verse 12). He wisheth to recount their happiness. Observe, ye sons of light, sons of peace: observe, ye sons of the Church, members of Christ; observe whom he calleth "strangers," whom he calleth "strange children," whom he calleth "waters of contradiction," whom he calleth a" sword of ill intent." Observe, I beseech you, for among them ye are in peril, among their tongues ye fight against the desires of your flesh, among their tongues, set in the hand of the devil wherewith he fighteth.(5) ... What vanity hath their mouth spoken, and how is their right hand a right hand of iniquity? "Their daughters are fitted and adorned after the similitude of a temple." "Their garners are full, bursting out from one store to another: their sheep are fruitful, multiplying in their streets" (verse 13): "their oxen are fat: their hedge is not broken down, nor their road, nor is their crying in their streets" (verse 14). Is not this then happiness? I ask the sons of the kingdom of heaven, I ask the offspring of everlasting resurrection, I ask the body of Christ, the members of Christ, the temple of God. Is not this then happiness, to have sons safe, daughters beautiful, garners full, cattle abundant, no downfall, I say not of a wall, but not even of a hedge, no tumult and clamour in the streets, but quiet, peace, abundance, plenty of all things in their houses and in their cities? Is not this then happiness? or ought the righteous to shun it? or findest thou not the house of the righteous too abounding with all these things, full of this happiness? Did not Abraham's house abound with gold, silver, children, servants, cattle? What say we? is not this happiness? Be it so, still it is on the left hand. What is, on the left hand? Temporal, mortal, bodily. I desire not that thou shun it, but that thou think it not to be on the right hand. ... For what ought they to have set on the right hand? God, eternity, the years of God which fail not, whereof is said, "and Thy years shall not fail."(6) There should be the right hand, there should be our longing. Let us use the left for the time, let us long for the fight for eternity. "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them."(7)
10. "They have called the people blessed who have these things" (verse 15). O men that speak vanity! They have lost the true right hand, wicked and perverse, they have put on the benefits of God inversely. O wicked ones, O speakers of vanity, O strange children! What was on the left hand, they have set on the right. What dost thou, David? What dost thou, Body of Christ? What do ye, members of Christ? What do ye, not strange children, but children of God? ... What say ye? Say ye with us, "Blessed is the people whose Lord is their God."
Augustin on Psalms 142