Augustin on Psalms 11918


11918 (Ps 119,73-80)

72. ..."Thy hands have made me, and fashioned me" (verse 73). The hands of God are the power of God. Or if the plural number moveth them, since it is not said, Thy hand, but, "Thy hands;" let them understand by the hands of God the power and wisdom of God, both of which titles are given to one Christ,(1) who is also understood under the figure, Arm of the Lord.(2) Or let them understand by the hands of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit; since the Holy Spirit worketh conjointly with the Father and the Son: whence saith the Apostle, "But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit:"(3) he said, "one and the self-same;" lest as many spirits as works might be imagined, not that the Spirit worketh without the Father and the Son. It is easy therefore to see how the hands of God are to be understood: provided, at the same time, that He be not denied to do those things through His Word which He doth by His hands: nor be considered not to do those things with His hands, which He doth through His word. ... But is this said in respect of Adam? from whom since all men were propagated, what man, since Adam was made, may not say that he himself also was made by reason of procreation and generation from Adam? Or may it rightly be said, in this sense, "Thy hands have made me, and fashioned me," namely, that every man is born even of his parents not without the work of God, God creating, they generating? Since, if the creative(4) power of God be withdrawn from things, they perish: nor is anything at all, either of the world's elements, or of parents, or of seeds, produced, if God doth not create it. ...

73. The Greek version hath a more concise expression for our, "Give me understanding," sunetison me, expressing "give understanding" by the single word senetison, which the Latin cannot do; as if one could not say, Heal me; and it were necessary to say, Give me health, as it is here said, "Give me understanding;" or, make me whole, as here it may be said, make me intelligent. This indeed an Angel could do: for he said to Daniel, "I am come to give thee understanding;"(5) and this word is in the Greek, as it is here also, sentisai se; as if the Latin translator were to render qerapeusaai se by sanitatem dare tibi. For the Latin interpreter would not make a circumlocution by saying, to give thee understanding, if, as we say from health, "to heal thee," so one could say from intellect, "to intellectuate thee." But if an Angel could do this, what reason is there that this man should pray that this be done for him by God? Is it because God had commanded the Angel to do it? Just so: for Christ is understood to have given this command to the Angel.(6) ...

74. "That I may learn Thy commandments." Since Thou, saith he, hast formed me, do Thou new form me; that that may be done in Christ's Body, which the Apostle speaks of, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."(7)

75. "They that fear Thee," he saith, "will see me, and be glad" (verse 74): or, as other copies have it, "will be joyful: because I have hoped in Thy word:" that is, in the things which Thou hast promised, that they may be the sons of promise, the seed of Abraham, in whom all nations are blessed.(8) Who are they who fear God, and whom will they see and be glad, because he hath put his trust in the word of God? Whether it be the body of Christ, that is, the Church, whose words these are through Christ, or within it, and concerning it, these are as it were the words of Christ concerning Himself; are not they themselves among those who fear God? ... The same persons, who see the Church and are glad, are the Church. But why said he not, They who fear Thee see me, and are glad: whereas he hath written, "fear Thee," in the present tense; while the verbs "shall see," and shall "be glad," are futures? Is it because in the present state there is fear, as long as "man's life is a temptation upon earth;"(9) but the gladness which he desired to be understood, will be then, when "the righteous shall shine in the kingdom of their Father like the sun."(10)

76. "I know," she saith, "O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in Thy truth Thou hast humbled me" (verse 75). "O let Thy merciful kindness be my comfort, according to Thy word unto Thy servant" (verse 76). Mercy and truth are so spoken of in the Divine Word, that, while they are found in many passages, especially in the Psalms, it is also so read in one place, "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth."(11) And here indeed he hath placed truth first, whereby we are humbled unto death, by the judgment of Him whose judgments are righteousness: next mercy, whereby we are renewed unto life, by the promise of Him whose blessing is His grace. For this reason he saith, "according to Thy Word unto Thy servant:" that is, according to that which Thou hast promised unto Thy servant. Whether therefore it be regeneration whereby we are here adopted among the sons of God, or faith and hope and charity, which three are built up in us, although they come from the mercy of God; nevertheless, in this stormy and troublesome life they are the consolations of the miserable, not the joys of the blessed.

77. But since those things are destined to happen after and through these, he next saith, "O let Thy loving mercies come upon me, and I shall live" (verse 77). For then indeed I shall truly live, when I shall not be able to fear lest I die. This is styled life absolutely and without any addition; nor is any life save that which is everlasting and blessed understood, as though it; alone were to be called life, compared with which. that which we now lead ought rather to be called death than life: according to those words in the Gospel, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."(1) ...

78. He then goeth on as follows: "Let the proud be confounded, for they have unrighteously practised iniquity against me: but I will be occupied in Thy commandments" (verse 78). Behold, what he saith, the meditation of the law of God, or rather, his meditation the law of God.

79. "Let such as fear Thee," he saith, "and have known Thy testimonies, be turned unto me"(2) (verse 79). But who is he who saith this? For no mortal will venture to say this, or if he say it, should be listened to. Indeed, it is He who above also hath interposed His own words, saying, "I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee." Because He was made sharer in our mortal state, that we might also become partakers in His Divine Nature, we became sharers in One unto life, He a sharer in many unto death. He it is unto whom they that fear God turn, and who know the testimonies of God, so long before predicted of Him through the Prophets, a little before displayed in His presence through miracles.

80. "O let my heart," he saith', "be unspotted in Thy righteousnesses, that I be not ashamed" (verse 80). He returneth to the words of His body, that is, His holy people, and now prayeth that his heart may be made unspotted, that is, the heart of His members; "in the righteousnesses of God," not in their own strength: for He hath prayed for this, not presumed upon it. In the words he hath added, "that I be not ashamed," there is a resemblance to some of the earlier verses of this Psalm.(3) Whereas there, in the words, "O that," he signifieth a wish, he hath here expressed himself in the more open words of one praying: "O let my heart be sound:" so that in neither of these two sentences, each of which is one and the same, there is found the boldness of one who trusteth in his own free will against grace. While he saith there, "so shall I not be confounded:" he saith here, "that I be not ashamed." The heart then of the members and the body of Christ is made unspotted, through the grace of God, by means of the very Head of that Body, that is, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the "layer of regeneration,"(4) wherein all our past sins have been blotted out; through the aid of the Spirit, whereby we lust against the flesh, that we be not overcome in our fight;(5) through the efficacy of the Lord's Prayer, wherein we say, "Forgive us our trespasses."(6) Thus regeneration having been given to us, our conflict having been aided, prayer having been poured forth, our heart is made unspotted, so that we be not ashamed.(7)


11920 (Ps 119,81-88)

81. "My soul hath failed for Thy salvation: and I have hoped because of Thy word" (verse 81). It is not every failing that should be supposed to be blameable or deserving punishment: there is also a failing that is laudable or desirable. . . For it is said of a good failing: "My soul hath a desire and failing to enter into the courts of the Lord."(8) So also here he saith not, faileth away from Thy salvation, but "faileth for Thy salvation," that is, towards Thy salvation. This losing ground is therefore good: for it cloth indicate a longing after good, not as yet indeed gained, but most eagerly and earnestly desired. But who saith this, save the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the peculiar people,(9) longing for Christ from the origin of the human race even unto the end of this world, in the persons of those who, each in his own time, have lived, are living, or are to live here? ... The first seasons of the Church, therefore, had Saints, before the Virgin's delivery, who desired the advent of His Incarnation: but these times, since He hath ascended into heaven, have Saints who desire His manifestation to judge the quick and the dead. ..."And I have hoped because of Thy word:" that is, of Thy promise; a hope which causeth us to await with patience that which is not seen by those who believe. Here also the Greek hath the word ephlpisa, which some of our translators have preferred rendering by, "hoped-more;" since beyond doubt it will be greater than can be described.

82. "Mine eyes," he saith, "have failed for Thy word, saying, O when wilt Thou comfort me?" (yet. 82). Behold that praiseworthy and blessed failing, in the eyes again, but his inner eyes, not arising from infirmity of mind, but from the strength of his longing for the promise of God: for this he saith, "for Thy word." But in what sense can such eyes say, "When wilt Thou comfort me?" save when we pray and groan with such earnestness and ardent expectation? For the tongue, not the eyes, is wont to speak: but in some sense the voice of the eyes is the longing of prayer. But in the words, "When wilt Thou comfort me?" he showeth that he endureth as it were delay. Whence is this also, "How long, Lord, wilt Thou punish me?"(1) And this is done either that the happiness may be the sweeter when deferred, or this is the sentiment of those who long, since the space of time, which may be short to Him who cometh to their aid, is tedious to the loving. But God knoweth what He doth and when, for He "hath ordered all things in measure and number and weight."(2)

83. But when spiritual desires burn, carnal desires without doubt cool: on this account followeth, "Since I am become like a bottle in the frost, I do not forget Thy righteousnesses" (verse 83). Truly he desireth this mortal flesh to be understood by the bottle, the heavenly blessing by the frost, whereby the lusts of the flesh as it were by the binding of the frost become sluggish; and hence it ariseth that the righteousnesses of God do not slip from the memory, as long as we do not meditate apart from them; since what the Apostle saith is brought to pass: "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."(3) "And I do not forget Thy righteousness:" that is, I forget them not, because I have become such. For the fervour of lust hath cooled, that the memory of love might glow.

84. "How many are the days of Thy servant? when wilt Thou be avenged of them that persecute me?" (verse 84). In the Apocalypse? these are the words of the Martyrs, and long-suffering is enjoined them until the number of their brethren be fulfilled. The body of Christ then is asking concerning its days, what they are to be in this world, and that no man might suppose that the Church would cease to exist here before the end of the world came, and that some time would elapse in this world, while the Church was now no more on earth; therefore, when he had enquired concerning the days, he added also respecting the judgment, showing indeed that the Church would exist on earth until the judgment, when vengeance shall fall upon Her persecutors. But if any one wonder why he should ask that question, to which when asked by the disciples, their Master replied, "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons;"(5) why should we not believe that in this passage of the Psalm it was prophesied that they should ask this very question, and that the words of the Church, which were so long before uttered here, were fulfilled in their question?

85. In what followeth: "The wicked have told me pleasant tales: but not like Thy law, O Lord" (verse 85): the Latin translators have endeavoured to render the Greek adoleskias, which cannot be expressed in one Latin word, so that some have rendered it "delights," and others "fablings," so that we must understand to be meant some kind of compositions, but in discourse of a nature to give pleasure. Both secular literature, and the Jewish book entitled Deuterosis,(6) containing besides the canon of divine Scripture thousands of tales, comprise these in their different sects and professions; the vain and wandering loquacity of heretics holds them also. All these he wished to be considered as wicked, by whom he saith that adoleskiai were related to him, that is, compositions which gave pleasure solely in their style: "But not," he addeth, "as Thy law, O Lord;" because truth, not words, pleases me therein.(7)

86. Lastly, he addeth, "All Thy commandments are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly; O be Thou my help" (verse 86). And the whole sense dependeth upon the foregoing: "How many are the days of Thy servant: when wilt Thou be avenged of them that persecute me?"(8) For that they may persecute me, they have related to me these pleasant tales; but I have preferred Thy law to them, which on that account hath pleased me more, because all Thy commandments are true; not as in their discourses, where vanity aboundeth. And for this reason "they have persecuted me falsely," because in me they have persecuted nothing save the truth. Therefore help Thou me, that I may struggle for the truth even unto death; because this is at once Thy commandment, and therefore it is also the truth.

87. When the Church acted thus, She suffered what he hath added, "They had almost made an end of me upon earth" (verse 87): a great slaughter of martyrs having been made, while they confess and preach the truth. But since it is not in vain said, "O help Thou me;" he addeth, "But I forsook not Thy commandments."

88. And that She might persevere unto the end, "O quicken me," he saith, "after Thy loving mercy: and so shall I keep the testimonies of Thy mouth" (verse 88); where the Greek hath Marturia. This was not to be passed over in silence, on account of that sweetest name of Martyrs, who beyond doubt when so great cruelty of the persecutors was raging, that the Church was almost made an end of upon earth, would never have kept the testimonies of God, unless that had been vouchsafed them which is here spoken of, "O quicken me after Thy loving-kindness." For they were quickened, lest by loving life, they should deny the life, and by denying it, should lose it: and thus they who for life refused to forsake the truth, lived by dying for the truth.


11921 (Ps 119,89-97)

89. The man who speaketh in this Psalm, as if he were tired of human mutability, whence this life is full of temptations, among his tribulations, on account of which he had above said, "The wicked have persecuted me;"(1) and, "They have almost made an end of me upon earth"(2) (verse 89); burning with longings for the heavenly Jerusalem; looked up to the realms above, and said, "O Lord, Thy word endureth for ever in heaven;" that is, among Thy Angels who serve everlastingly in Thine armies, without desertion.

90. But the next verse, after heaven, pertaineth consequently to earth. For this is one verse of the eight which relate to this letter. For eight verses are appended to each of these Hebrew letters,(3) until this long Psalm be ended. "Thy truth also remaineth from one generation to the other: Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth" (verse 90). Beholding therefore the earth next after heaven with the gaze of a faithful mind, he findeth in it generations which are not in heaven, and saith, "Thy truth remaineth from one generation to the other:" signifying all generations by this expression, from which the Truth of God was never absent in His saints, at one time fewer, at one time more in number, according as the times happened or shall happen to vary; or wishing two particular generations to be understood, one pertaining to the Law and the Prophets, another to the Gospel. ...

91. "Day continueth according to Thy ordinance" (verse 91). For all these things are day: "and this is the day which the Lord hath made: let us rejoice and be glad in it:"(4) and "let us walk honestly as in the day."(5) "For all things serve Thee." He said all things of some: "all" which belong to this day "serve Thee." For the ungodly of whom it is said, "I have compared thy mother unto the night,"(6) do not serve Thee.

92. He then looketh back towards the source of this earth's deliverance, which caused it to abide when founded; and addeth, "If my delight had not been in Thy law, I should perchance have perished in my humiliation" (verse 92). This is the law of faith, not a vain faith, but that which worketh through love.(7) Through this grace is gained, which maketh men courageous in temporal tribulation, that they may not perish in the humiliation of mortality.

93. "I will never forget," he saith, "Thy righteousnesses, for with them Thou hast quickened me" (verse 93). Behold how it was that he did not perish in his humiliation. For, save God quickeneth, what is man, Who can indeed kill, but cannot quicken himself?

94. He next addeth: "I am Thine: O save me, for I have sought Thy righteousnesses" (verse 94). We must not understand lightly the words, "I am Thine." For what is not His?(8) Why then is it that the Psalmist hath commended himself unto God somewhat in a more familiar sense, in these words, "I am Thine: O save me;" save because he wished it to be understood that he had desired to be his own only to his harm, which is the first and the greatest evil of disobedience? and as if he should say, I wished to be my own, and I lost myself: "I am Thine," he saith, "O save me, for I have sought Thy righteousnesses;" not my own inclinations, whereby I was my own, but "Thy righteousnesses," that I might now be Thine.

95. "The ungodly," he saith, "have awaited me that they might destroy me; but I have understood Thy testimonies" (verse 95). What meaneth, "that they might destroy me"? Did he then fear that he should perish altogether at the death of his body? God forbid! and what meaneth, "have awaited me," save that he should consent with them unto iniquity? For then they would destroy him. And he hath said why he hath not perished: "I understood Thy testimonies." The Greek word, Martuia, soundeth more familiarly to the ears of the Church. For though they should slay me not consenting unto them, yet while I confessed Thy testimonies (martyria) I should not perish; but they who, that they might destroy me, were waiting till I should consent unto them, tortured me even when I did confess them. Yet he did not leave that which he had understood, looking on it and seeing an end without end, if only he should persevere unto the end.

96. Lastly, he next saith, "I have seen an end of all consummation: but Thy commandment is exceeding broad" (verse 96). For he had entered into the sanctuary of God, and had understood the end) Now "all consummation" appeareth to me in this place to signify, the striving even unto death for the truth,(10) and the endurance of every evil for the true and chief good: the end of which consummation is to excel in the kingdom of Christ, which hath no end; and there to have without death, without pain, and with great honour, life, acquired by the death of this life, and by sorrows and reproaches. But in what he hath added, "Thy commandment is exceeding broad;" I understand only love. For what would it have profited him, whatever death impended over him, in the midst of whatsoever torment, to confess those testimonies, if love were not in the confessor? ... Broad therefore is the commandment of charity, that twofold commandment, whereby we are enjoined to love God and our neighbour. But what is broader than that, "on" which "hang all the Law and the Prophets"?(1)


Ps 118,97-105)

97. We have frequently admonished you, that love was to be understood by that praiseworthy breadth, by means of which, while we do the commandments of God, we feel no straitness. On this account also after saying above in this great Psalm, "Thy commandment is exceeding broad:"(2) in the following verse he showeth wherefore it is broad: "what love have I unto Thy law, O Lord!" (verse 97). Love is therefore the breadth of the commandment. For how can it be that what God commandeth to be loved, be loved, and yet the commandment itself be not loved? For this itself is the law; "in all the day," he saith, "is my study in it." Behold how I have loved it, that in the whole day my study is in it; or rather, as the Greek hath it, "all the day long," which more fully expresses the continuance of meditation. Now that is to be understood through all time; which is, for everse By such love lust is driven out: lust, which repeatedly opposeth our performing the commandments of the law, when "the flesh lusteth against the spirit:"(3) against which the spirit lusting, ought so to love the law of God, that it be its study during the whole day. ...

98. And he then addeth: "Thou hast made me to understand Thy commandment above mine enemies; for it is ever with me" (verse 98). For "they have indeed a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge," etc.(4) But the Psalmist, who understandeth the commandment of God above these his enemies, wishes to be found with the Apostle, "not having" his "own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, which is of God;"(5) not that the Law which his enemies read is not of God, but because they do not understand it, like him who understandeth it above his enemies, by clinging to the Stone upon which they stumbled. For "Christ is the end of the law," etc.,(6) "that they may be justified freely through His grace;"(7) not like those who imagine that they obey the law of their own strength, and are therefore, though by God's law, yet still endeavouring to set up their own righteousness; but as the son of promise, who hungering and athirst after it,(8) by seeking, by asking, by knocking,(9) as it were begs it of the Father, that being adopted he may receive it through His only-begotten Son. ... His enemies sought from the same commandment temporal rewards; and therefore it was not unto them for ever, as it was unto this man. For they who have translated "for ever" have rendered better than they who have written "for an age," since at the end of time there can be no longer a commandment of the law. ...

99. But what meaneth the following verse," I have more understanding than my teachers"? (verse 99). Who is he who had more understanding than all his teachers? Who, I ask, is he, who dareth to prefer himself in understanding above all the Prophets, who not only by speaking taught with so excellent authority those who lived with them, but also their posterity by writing? ... What is here said, could not have been spoken in Solomon's person. ... I recognise plainly Him who had more understanding than His teachers, since when He was a boy of twelve years of age, Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and was found by His parents after three days' space, "sitting in the temple among the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions."(10) The Son Himself hath said, "As My Father hath taught Me, I speak these things."(11) It is very difficult to understand this of the Person of the Word; unless we can comprehend that it iS the same thing for the Son to be taught as to be begotten of the Father. ... "He took upon Himself the form of a servant;"(12) for when He had assumed this form, men of more advanced age might think Him fit to be taught as a boy; but He whom the Father taught, had more understanding than all His teachers. "For Thy testimonies," He saith, "are my study." For this reason He had more understanding than all His teachers, because He studied the testimonies of God, which, as concerning Himself, He knew better than they, when He spoke these words: "Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man," etc.(13)

100. But these teachers may be understood very reasonably to be those aged men, of whom he presently saith, "I am wiser than mine elders" (verse 100). And this seemeth to me to be repeated here thus, that that age of His which is well known to us in the Gospel might be called to our remembrance; the age of boyhood, during which He was sitting among the aged, understanding more than all His teachers. For the smaller and the greater in age are wont to be termed younger and elder, although neither of them hath arrived at or approached old age; although if we are concerned to seek in the Gospel the express term, elders, more than whom He understood, we find it when the Scribes and Pharisees said unto Him, "Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread."(1) Behold the transgression of the tradition of the elders is objected to Him. But He who was wiser than His elders, let us hear what answer He made them. "Why do ye also, He asked, "transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?"(2) ...

101. But what cometh next, doth not seem to apply to the Head, but to the Body: "I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy words" (verse 101). For that Head of ours, the Saviour of the Body Himself, could not be borne by carnal lust into any evil way, so that it should be needful for Him to refrain His feet, as though they would go thither of their own accord; which we do, when we refrain our evil desires, which He had not, that they may not follow evil ways. For thus we are able to keep the word of God, if we "go not after our evil lusts,"(3) so that they attain unto the evils desired; but rather curb them with the spirit which lusteth against the flesh,(4) that they may not drag us away, seduced and overthrown, through evil ways.

102. "I have not shrunk," he saith," from Thy judgments: for Thou hast laid down a law for me" (verse 102). He hath stated what made him fear, so that he refrained his feet from every evil way. ... Thou, more inward than my inmost self, Thou hast laid down a law within my heart by Thy Spirit, as it were by Thy fingers, that I might not fear it as a slave without love, but might love it with a chaste fear as a son, and fear it with a chaste love.

103. Consider then what followeth: "O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat!" (verse 103). Or, as it is more literally rendered from the Greek, "Thy utterances, above honey and the honeycomb unto my mouth." This is that sweetness which the Lord giveth, "So that the earth yield her increase:"(5) that we do good truly in a good spirit, that is, not from the dread of carnal evil, but from the gladness of spiritual good. Some copies indeed do not read "honeycomb: "but the majority do. Now the open teaching of wisdom is like unto honey; but that is like the comb which is squeezed from the more recondite mysteries, as if from cells of wax, by the mouth of the teacher, as if he were chewing it: but it is sweet to the mouth of the heart, not to the mouth of the flesh.

104. But what mean the words, "Through Thy commandments I get understanding"? (verse 104). For the expressions, I have understood Thy commandments: and, "I get understanding through Thy commandments;" are different. Something else then he signifieth that he hath understood from the commandments of God: that is, as far as I can see, he saith, that by obeying God's commandments he hath arrived at the comprehension of those things which he had longed to know. ... These then are the words of the spiritual members of Christ, "Through Thy commandments I get understanding." For the body of Christ rightly saith these words in those, to whom, while they keep the commandments, a richer knowledge of wisdom is given on account of this very keeping of the commandments. "Therefore," he addeth, "I hate all evil ways." For it is needful that the love of righteousness should hate all iniquity: that love, which is so much the stronger, in proportion as the sweetness of a higher wisdom doth inspire it, a wisdom given unto him who obeyeth God, and getteth understanding from His commandments.


11923 (Ps 119,105-112)

105. "Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my paths" (verse 105). The word "lantern" appears in the word "light;" "my feet" are also repeated in "my paths." What then meaneth "Thy Word"?(6) Is it He who was in the beginning God with God, that is, the Word by whom all things were made? It is not thus. For that Word is a light, but is not a lantern. For a lantern is a creature, not a creator; and it is lighted by participation of an unchangeable light. ... For no creature, howsoever rational and intellectual, is lighted by itself, but is lighted by participation of eternal Truth: although sometimes day is spoken of, not meaning the Lord, but that "day which the Lord hath made,"(7) and on account of which it is said, "Come unto Him, and be lightened."(8) On account of which participation, inasmuch as the Mediator Himself became Man, He is styled lantern in the Apocalypse.(9) But this sense is a solitary one; for it cannot be divinely spoken of any of the saints, nor in any wise lawfully said of any, "The Word was made flesh,"(10) save of the "one Mediator between God and men."(11) Since therefore the only-begotten Word, coequal with the Father, is styled a light; and man when enlightened by the Word is also called a light, who is styled also a lantern, as John, as the Apostles; and since no man of these is the Word, and that Word by whom they were enlightened is not a lantern; what is this word, which is thus called a light and a lantern at the same time, save we understand the word which was sent unto the Prophets, or which was preached through the Apostles; not Christ the Word, but the word of Christ, of which it is written, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"?(1) For the Apostle Peter also, comparing the prophetical word to a lantern, saith, "where-unto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lantern, that shineth in a dark place."(2) What, therefore, he here saith, "Thy word" is the word which is contained in all the holy Scriptures.

106. "I have sworn, and am stedfastly purposed to keep Thy righteous judgments" (verse 106): as one who walked aright in the light of that lantern, and kept to straight paths. For he calleth what he hath determined by a sacrament, an oath; because the mind ought to be so fixed in keeping the righteous judgments of God, that its determination should be in the place of an oath. Now the righteous judgments of God are kept by faith; when, under the righteous judgment of God, neither any good work is believed to be fruitless, nor any sin unpunished; but, because the body of Christ hath suffered many most grievous evils for this faith, he saith, "I was humbled above measure" (verse 107). He doth not say, I have humbled myself, so that we must needs understand that humiliation which is commanded; but he saith, "I was humbled above-measure;" that is, suffered a very heavy persecution, because he swore and was steadfastly purposed to keep the righteous judgments of God. And, lest in such trouble faith herself might faint he addeth, "Quicken me, O Lord, according to Thy word:" that is, according to Thy promise. For the word of the promises of God is a lantern to the feet, and a light to the paths. Thus also above, in the humiliation of persecution, he prayed that God would quicken him.(3) ...

107. "Make the freewill offerings of my mouth well pleasing, O Lord" (verse 108): that is, let them please Thee; do not reject, but approve them. By the freewill offerings of the mouth are well understood the sacrifices of praise, offered up in the confession of love, not from the fear of necessity; whence it is said, "a freewill offering will I offer Thee."(4) But what doth he add? "and teach me Thy judgments"? Had he not himself said above, "From Thy judgments I have not swerved"? How could he have done thus, if he knew them not? Moreover, if he knew them, in what sense doth he here say, "and teach me Thy judgments"? Is it as in a former passage, "Thou hast dealt in sweetness with Thy servant:" presently after which we find, "teach me sweetness"? This passage we explained as the words of one who was gaining in grace, and praying that he might receive in addition to what he had received.

108. "My soul is alway in Thy hand" (verse 109). Some copies read, "in my hand:" but most, "in Thy hand;" and this latter is indeed easy. For "the souls of the righteous are in God's hand:(5) in whose hand are both we and our words."(6) "And I do not forget Thy law:" as if his memory were aided to remember God's law by the hands of Him in whose hands is his soul. But how the words, "My soul is in my hands," can be understood, I know not. For these are the words of the righteous, not of the ungodly; of one who is returning to the Father, not departing from the Father? ... Is it perhaps said, "My soul is in my hands," in this sense, as if he offered it to God to be quickened? Whence in another passage it is said, "Unto Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul."(8) Since here too he had said above, "Quicken Thou me."

109. "The ungodly," he saith, "have laid a snare for me: but yet I swerved not from Thy commandments" (verse 110). Whence this, unless because his soul is in the hands of God, or in his own hands is offered to God to be quickened?

110. "Thy testimonies have I gained in heritage for ever" (verse 111). Some wishing to express in one word what is put in one word in the Greek, have translated it hereditavi. Which although it might be Latin, yet would rather signify one who gave an inheritance than one who received it, hereditavi being like ditavi. Better, therefore, the whole sense is conveyed in two words, whether we say," I have possessed in heritage," or, "I have gotten in heritage:" not gotten heritage, but "gotten in heritage." If it be asked, what he gained in heritage, he he replieth, "Thy testimonies." What doth he wish to be understood, save that he might become a witness of God, and confess His testimonies, that is, that he might become a Martyr of God, and might declare His testimonies, as the Martyrs do, was a gift bestowed upon him by the Father, of whom he is heir? ... But even their wish was prepared by the Lord. For this reason he saith he hath gained them in heritage, and this "for ever;" because they have not in them the temporal glory of men who seek vain things, but the eternal glory of those who suffer for a short season, and who reign without end. Whence the next words, "Because they are the very joy of my heart:" although the affliction of the body, yet the very joy of the heart.

111. He then addeth: "I have applied my heart to fulfil Thy righteousness for ever, for my reward" (verse 112). He who saith, "I have applied my heart," had before said, "Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies:"(1) so that we may understand that it is at once a divine gift, and an act of free will. But are we to fulfil the righteousnesses of God for ever? Those works which we perform in regard to the need of our neighbours, cannot be everlasting, any more than their need; but if we do not do them from love, there is no righteousness; if we do them from love, that love is everlasting, and an everlasting reward is in store for it.


Augustin on Psalms 11918