Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Expositions on the Book of Psalms.: Psalm CXXIX
Psalm CXXIX. 5546
1. The Psalm which we have sung is short: but as it is written in the Gospel of Zacchæus p. 611 that he was “little of stature,” 5547 but mighty in works; as it is written of that widow who cast two mites into the treasury, little was the money, but great was her charity; 5548 thus also this Psalm, if thou count the words, is short; if thou weigh the sentiments, is great.…Let the Spirit of God speak, let It speak to us, let It sing to us; whether we wish or wish not to dance, let It sing. For as he who danceth, moveth his limbs to the time; so they who dance according to the commandment of God, in their works obey the sound. What therefore saith the Lord in the Gospel to those who refuse to do this? “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” 5549 Let Him therefore sing; we trust in Gods mercy, for there will be those by whom He consoleth us. For they who are obstinate, continuing in wickedness, although they hear the Word of God, by their offences daily disturb the Church. Of such this Psalm speaketh; for thus it beginneth.
2. “Many a time have they fought against me from my youth up” (Psa. 129.1). The Church speaketh of those whom She endureth: and as if it were asked, “Is it now?” The Church is of ancient birth: since saints have been so called, the Church hath been on earth. At one time the Church was in Abel only, and he was fought against by his wicked and lost brother Cain. 5550 At one time the Church was in Enoch alone: and he was translated from the unrighteous. 5551 At one time the Church was in the house of Noah alone, and endured all who perished by the flood, and the ark alone swam upon the waves, and escaped to shore. 5552 At one time the Church was in Abraham alone, and we know what he endured from the wicked. The Church was in his brothers son, Lot, alone, and in his house, in Sodom, and he endured the iniquities and perversities of Sodom, until God freed him from amidst them. 5553 The Church also began to exist in the people of Israel: She endured Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The number of the saints began to be also in the Church, that is, in the people of Israel; Moses and the rest of the saints endured the wicked Jews, the people of Israel. We come unto our Lord Jesus Christ: the Gospel was preached in the Psalms. 5554 …For this reason, lest the Church wonder now, or lest any one wonder in the Church, who wisheth to be a good member of the Church, let him hear the Church herself his Mother saying to him, Marvel not at these things, my son: “Many a time have they fought against me from my youth up.”
3. “Now may Israel say.” She now seemeth to be speaking of herself: for she seemed not to have commenced herself, but to have answered. But to whom hath she replied? To them that think and say, How great evils do we endure, how great are the scandals that every day thicken, as the wicked enter into the Church, and we have to endure them? But let the Church reply through some, that is, through the voice of the stronger, let her reply to the complaints of the weak, and let the stable confirm the unstable, and the full-grown the infant, and let the Church say, “Many a time have they vexed me from my youth up” (Psa. 129.2). Let the Church say this: let her not fear it. For what is the meaning of this addition, “From my youth up,” after the words, “Many a time have they fought against me”? At present the old age of the Church is assailed: but let her not fear. Hath she then failed to arrive at old age, because they have not ceased to fight against her from her youth up? have they been able to blot her out? Let Israel comfort herself, let the Church console herself with past examples. Why have they fought against me? “For they could not prevail against me.”
4. “Upon my back have sinners built; they have done their iniquity afar off” (Psa. 129.3). Why have they fought against me? Because “they could not prevail upon me.” What is this? They could not build upon me. I consented not with them unto sin. For every wicked man persecuteth the good on this account, because the good man consenteth not with him to evil. Suppose he do some evil, and the Bishop censure him not, the Bishop is a good man: suppose the Bishop censure him, the Bishop is a bad man. Suppose he carry off anything, let the man robbed be silent, he is a good man: let him only speak and rebuke, even though he doth not reclaim his goods, he is everything bad. He is bad then who blameth the robber, and he is good who robbeth!…Heed not that such an one speaketh to thee: it is a wicked man through whom It speaketh to thee; but the word of God, that speaketh to thee, is not wicked. 5555 Accuse God: accuse Him, if thou canst!
5. Thou accusest a man of avarice, and he accuseth God on the ground that He made gold. Be not covetous. And God, thou repliest, should not make gold. This now remaineth, because thou canst not restrain thine evil deeds, thou accusest the good works of God: the Creator and Architect of the world displeaseth thee. He ought not to make the sun either; for many contend concerning the lights of their windows, and p. 612 drag each other before courts of law. O if we could restrain our vices! for all things are good, because a good God made all things: and His works praise Him, when their goodness is considered by him who hath the spirit of considering them, the spirit of piety and wisdom. 5556 …
6. Lend not money at interest. Thou accusest Scripture which saith, “He that hath not given his money upon usury.” 5557 I wrote not this: it went not forth first from my mouth: hear God. He replieth: let not the clergy lend upon usury. Perchance he who speaketh to thee, lendeth not at interest: but if he do so lend, suppose that he doth so lend; doth He who speaketh through him lend at interest? If he doth what he enjoineth thee, and thou dost it not; thou wilt go into the flame, he into the kingdom. If he doth not what he enjoineth thee, and equally with thee doth evil deeds, and preaches duties which he doth not; ye will both equally go into the flames. The hay will burn; but “the word of the Lord abideth for evermore.” 5558 …
7. “The righteous Lord shall hew the necks of the sinners” (Psa. 129.4).…Which of us doth not fix his eyes upon the earth, like the Publican, and say, “Lord, be merciful unto me a sinner”? 5559 If therefore all are sinners, and none is found without sin; all must fear the sword that hangs above their neck, because “the righteous Lord shall hew the necks of the sinners.” I do not imagine, my brethren, of all sinners; but in the member which He striketh, He marks what sinners He striketh. For it is not said, The righteous Lord will hew the hands of the sinners; or their feet; but because proud sinners were meant to be understood, and all proud men carry lofty necks, and not only do evil deeds, but even refuse to acknowledge them to be such, and when they are rebuked, justify themselves: 5560 …as it is written in Job (he was speaking of an ungodly sinner), “he runneth against God, even upon his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers;” 5561 so he here nameth the neck, because it is thus thou exaltest thyself, and dost not fix thine eyes upon the ground, and beat thy breast. Thou shouldest cry unto Him, as it is cried in another Psalm, “I said, Lord, be merciful unto me, for I have sinned against Thee.” 5562 Since thou dost not choose to say this, but justifiest thy deeds against the Word of God; what followeth in Scripture cometh upon thee: the righteous Lord shall hew the necks of sinners.
8. “Let them be confounded and turned backward, as many as have evil will at Sion” (Psa. 129.5). They who hate Sion, hate the Church: Sion is the Church. And they who hypocritically enter into the Church, hate the Church. They who refuse to keep the Word of God, hate the Church: “Upon my back have they built:” what will the Church do, save endure the burden even unto the end?
9. But what saith he of them? The next words are, “Let them be even as the grass of the house tops: that withereth before it be plucked up” (Psa. 129.6). The grass of the house tops is that which groweth on house tops, on a tiled roof: it is seen on high, and hath not a root. How much better would it be if it grew lower, and how much more joyfully would it bloom? As it is, it riseth higher to a quicker withering. It hath not yet been plucked up, yet hath it withered: not yet have they received sentence from the judgment of God, and already they have not the sap of bloom. Observe their works, and see that they have withered.…The reapers will come, but they fill not their sheaves from these. For the reapers will come, and will gather the wheat into the barn, and will bind the tares together, and cast them into the fire. Thus also is the grass of the house tops cleared off, and whatever is plucked from it, is thrown into the fire; because it had withered even before it was plucked up. The reaper filleth not his hands thence. His next words are, “Whereof the reaper filleth not his hand; neither he that bindeth up the sheaves his bosom” (Psa. 129.7). And, “the reapers are the angels,” 5563 the Lord saith.
10. “So that they who go by say not so much as, The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we have blessed you in the name of the Lord” (Psa. 129.8). For ye know, brethren, when men pass by others at work, it is customary to address them, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” 5564 And this was especially the custom in the Jewish nation. No one passed by and saw any one doing any work in the field, or in the vineyard, or in harvest, or anything of the sort; it was not lawful to pass by without a blessing.…Who are the passers by? They who have already passed hence to their country through this road, that is, through this life: the Apostles were passers by in this life, the Prophets were passers by. Whom did the Prophets and Apostles bless? Those in whom they saw the root of charity? But those whom they found lifted on high on their house tops, and proud in the bosses of their bucklers, they declared against these what they were doomed to become, but they gave them no blessing. Ye therefore who read in the Scriptures, find all those wicked men whom the p. 613 Church beareth, who are declared cursed, pertain unto Antichrist, pertain unto the devil, pertain to the chaff, pertain to the tares.…But they who say, None save God sanctifieth, nor is any man good save by the gift of God; they bless in the name of the Lord, not in their own name: because they are the friends of the bridegroom, 5565 they refuse to be adulterers of the bride.
Lat. CXXVIII. A sermon to the people.611:5547
Luke xix. 2-9.611:5548
Mark 12:42, 44.611:5549
Matt. xi. 17.611:5550
Gen. iv. 8.611:5551
Gen. v. 24.611:5552
Ps. 40:5, Heb. 4:2.—C.]611:5555
Oxf. mss. “Heed not through whom It speaketh to thee, but take heed that it is That which speaketh to thee. He is evil through whom It speaketh to thee, but the Word of God that speaketh to thee is not evil.”612:5556
Song of Three Children, ver. 35, etc.612:5557
Ps. xv. 5.612:5558
Isa. xl. 8. [On this subject see p. 99, note 2, supra. But it is well to study this and other Fathers passim on this most perplexing matter. Comp. Acts 15:28, 29, Deut. 23:20, Matt. 25:27.—C.]612:5559
Luke xviii. 13.612:5560
Oxf. mss. add, “I did not this, but the stars.”612:5561
Job xv. 26.612:5562
Ps. xli. 4.612:5563
Matt. xiii. 39.612:5564
[Note this Christian usage of the fifth century.—C.]613:5565
John iii. 29.
Next: Psalm CXXX
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