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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 12

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 12.—To Whose Person the Entreaty for the Promises is to Be Understood to Belong, When He Says in the Psalm, “Where are Thine Ancient Compassions, Lord?” Etc.

But the rest of this psalm runs thus:  “Where are Thine ancient compassions, Lord, which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?  Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants, which I have borne in my bosom of many nations; wherewith Thine enemies have reproached, O Lord, wherewith they have reproached the change of Thy Christ.” 1067   Now it may with very good reason be asked whether this is spoken in the person of those Israelites who desired that the promise made to David might be fulfilled to them; or rather of the Christians, who are Israelites not after the flesh but after the Spirit. 1068   This certainly was spoken or written in the time of Ethan, from whose name this psalm gets its title, and that was the same as the time of David’s reign; and therefore it would not have been said, “Where are Thine ancient compassions, Lord, which Thou hast sworn unto David in Thy truth?” unless the prophet had assumed the person of those who should come long afterwards, to whom that time when these things were promised to David was ancient.  But it may be understood thus, that many nations, when they persecuted the Christians, reproached them with the passion of Christ, which Scripture calls His change, because by dying He is made immortal.  The change of Christ, according to this passage, may also be understood to be reproached by the Israelites, because, when they hoped He would be theirs, He was made the Saviour of the nations; and many nations who have believed in Him by the New Testament now reproach them who remain in the old with this:  so that it is said, “Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants;” because through the Lord’s not forgetting, but rather pitying them, even they after this reproach are to believe.  But what I have put first seems to me the most suitable meaning.  For to the enemies of Christ who are reproached with this, that Christ hath left them, turning to the Gentiles, 1069 this speech is incongruously assigned, “Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants,” for such Jews are not to be styled the servants of God; but these words fit those who, if they suffered great humiliations through persecution for the name of Christ, could call to mind that an exalted kingdom had been promised to the seed of David, and in desire of it, could say not despairingly, but as asking, seeking, knocking, 1070 “Where are Thine ancient compassions, Lord, which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?  Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants, that I have borne in my bosom of many nations;” that is, have patiently endured in my inward parts.  “That Thine enemies have reproached, O Lord, wherewith they have reproached the change of Thy Christ,” not thinking it a change, but a consumption. 1071   But what does “Remember, Lord,” mean, but that Thou wouldst have compassion, and wouldst for my patiently borne humiliation reward me with the excellency which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?  But if we assign these words to the Jews, those servants of God who, on the conquest of the earthly Jerusalem, before Jesus Christ was born after the manner of men, were led into captivity, could say such things, understanding the change of Christ, because indeed through Him was to be surely expected, not an earthly and carnal felicity, such as appeared during the few years of king Solomon, but a heavenly and spiritual felicity; and when the nations, then ignorant of this through unbelief, exulted over and insulted the people of God for being captives, what else was this than ignorantly to reproach with the change of Christ those who understand the change of Christ?  And therefore what follows when this psalm is concluded, “Let the blessing of the Lord be for evermore, amen, amen,” is suitable enough for the whole people of God belonging to the heavenly Jerusalem, whether for those things that lay hid in the Old Testament before the New p. 352 was revealed, or for those that, being now revealed in the New Testament, are manifestly discerned to belong to Christ.  For the blessing of the Lord in the seed of David does not belong to any particular time, such as appeared in the days of Solomon, but is for evermore to be hoped for, in which most certain hope it is said, “Amen, amen;” for this repetition of the word is the confirmation of that hope.  Therefore David understanding this, says in the second Book of Kings, in the passage from which we digressed to this psalm, 1072 “Thou hast spoken also for Thy servant’s house for a great while to come.” 1073   Therefore also a little after he says, “Now begin, and bless the house of Thy servant for evermore,” etc., because the son was then about to be born from whom his posterity should be continued to Christ, through whom his house should be eternal, and should also be the house of God.  For it is called the house of David on account of David’s race; but the selfsame is called the house of God on account of the temple of God, made of men, not of stones, where shall dwell for evermore the people with and in their God, and God with and in His people, so that God may fill His people, and the people be filled with their God, while God shall be all in all, Himself their reward in peace who is their strength in war.  Therefore, when it is said in the words of Nathan, “And the Lord will tell thee what an house thou shalt build for Him,” 1074 it is afterwards said in the words of David, “For Thou, Lord Almighty, God of Israel, hast opened the ear of Thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house.” 1075   For this house is built both by us through living well, and by God through helping us to live well; for “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” 1076   And when the final dedication of this house shall take place, then what God here says by Nathan shall be fulfilled, “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant him, and he shall dwell apart, and shall be troubled no more; and the son of iniquity shall not humble him any more, as from the beginning, from the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel.” 1077



Ps. 89.49-51.


Rom. 3:28, 29.


Acts 13.46.


Matt. 7:7, 8.


Another reading, “consummation.”


See above, chap. viii.


2 Sam. 7.19.


2 Sam. 7.8.


2 Sam. 7.2.


Ps. 127.1.


2 Sam. 7:10, 11.

Next: Chapter 13

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