Psalm LIII. 1925
1. Of this Psalm we undertake to treat with you, as far as the Lord supplieth us. A brother biddeth us 1926 that we may have the will, and prayeth that we may have the power. If anything in haste perchance I shall have passed over, He that even to us deigneth to give what we shall be enabled to say, will supply it in you. The title of it is: “At the end, for Maeleth, understanding to David himself.” “For Maeleth,” as we find in interpretations of Hebrew names, seemeth to say, For one travailing, or in pain. But who there is in this world that travaileth and is in pain, the faithful acknowledge, because thereof they are. Christ here travaileth, Christ here is in pain: the Head is above, the members below. For one not travailing nor in pain would not say, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” 1927 Him, with whom when persecuting He was travailing, being converted, He made to travail. For he also was himself afterwards enlightened, and grafted on those members which he used to persecute; being pregnant with the same love, he said, “My little children, of whom again I travail, until Christ be formed in you.” 1928 For the members therefore of Christ, for His Body which is the Church, 1929 for that same One Man, that is, for that very unity, whereof the Head is above, this Psalm is sung.…Who are they, then, amid whom we travail and groan, if in the Body of Christ we are, if under Him, the Head, we live, if amongst His members we are counted? Who they are, hear ye.
2. “The unwise man hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psa. 53.1). Such sort is it of men amid whom is pained and groaneth the Body of Christ. If such is this sort of men, of not many do we travail; as far as seemeth to occur to our thoughts, very few there are; and a difficult thing it is to meet with a man that saith in his heart, “There is no God;” 1930 nevertheless, so few there are, that, fearing amid the many to say this, in their heart they say it, for that with mouth to say it they dare not. Not much then is that which we are bid to endure, hardly is it found: uncommon is that sort of men that say in their heart, “There is no God.” But, if it be examined in another sense, is not that found to be in more men, which we supposed to be in men few and uncommon, and almost in none? Let them come forth into the midst that live evil lives, let us look into the doings of profligate, p. 203 daring, and wicked men, of whom there is a great multitude; who foster day by day their sins, who, their acts having been changed into habit, have even lost sense of shame: this is so great a multitude of men, that the Body of Christ, set amid them, scarce dareth to censure that which it is not constrained to commit, and deemeth it a great matter for itself that the integrity of innocence be preserved in not doing that which now, by habit, either it doth not dare to blame, or if it 1931 shall have dared, there breaketh out the censure and recrimination of them that live evil lives, more readily than the free voice of them that live good lives. And those men are such as say in their heart, “There is no God.” Such men I am confuting. Whence confuting? That their doings please God, they judge. He doth not therefore affirm, “some say,” but “The unwise man hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Which men do so far believe there is a God, that the same God they judge with what they do to be pleased. But if thou being wise dost perceive, how “the unwise man hath said in his heart, There is no God,” if thou give heed, if thou understand, if thou examine; he that thinketh that evil doings please God, Him he doth not think to be God. For if God is, He is just; if He is just, injustice displeaseth Him, iniquity displeaseth. But thou, when thou thinkest that iniquity pleaseth Him, dost deny God. For if God is one Whom iniquity displeaseth, but God seemeth not to thee to be one whom iniquity displeaseth, and there is no God but one whom iniquity displeaseth, then when thou sayest in thy heart, God doth countenance my iniquities, thou sayest nothing else than, “There is no God.”
3. Let us advert also to that sense, which concerning Christ our Lord Himself, our Head Himself, doth present itself. For when Himself in form of a servant 1932 appeared on earth, they that crucified Him said, “He is not God.” Because Son of God He was, truly God He was. But they that are corrupted and have become abominable said what? “He is not God:” let us slay Him, “He is not God.” Thou hast the voice of these very men in the book of Wisdom. 1933 For after there had gone before the verse, “The unwise man hath said in his heart, There is no God;” as if reasons were required why the unwise man could say this, he hath subjoined, “Corrupted they are, and abominable have become in their iniquities” (Psa. 53.2). Hear ye those corrupted men. “For they have said with themselves, not rightly thinking:” 1934 corruption beginneth with evil belief, thence it proceedeth to depraved morals, thence to the most flagrant iniquities, these are the grades. But what with themselves said they, thinking not rightly? “A small thing and with tediousness is our life.” 1935 From this evil belief followeth that which also the Apostle hath spoken of, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” 1936 But in the former passage more diffusely luxury itself is described: “Let us crown us with roses, before they be withered; in every place let us leave the tokens of our gladness.” 1937 After the more diffuse description of that luxury, what followeth? “Let us slay the poor just man:” 1938 this is therefore saying, “He is not God.” Soft words they seemed but now to say: “Let us crown us with roses, before they be withered.” What more delicate, what more soft? Wouldest thou expect, out of this softness, Crosses, swords? Wonder not, soft are even the roots of brambles; if any one handle them, he is not pricked: but that wherewith thou shalt be pricked from thence hath birth. “Corrupted,” therefore, are those men, “and abominable have become in their iniquities.” They say, “If Son of God He is, let Him come down from the Cross.” 1939 Behold them openly saying, “He is not God.”…
4. “The Lord from Heaven hath looked forth upon the sons of men, that He might see if there is one understanding and seeking after God” (Psa. 53.3). What is this? “Corrupted they are,” all these that say, “There is no God”? And what? Did it escape God, that they were become such? Or indeed to us would their inward thought be opened, except by Him it were told? If then He understood, if then He knew, what is this which hath been said, “that He might see”? For the words are of one inquiring, of one not knowing. “God from Heaven hath looked forth,” etc. And as though He had found what He sought by looking upon, and by looking down from Heaven, He giveth sentence: “All men have gone aside, together useless they have become: there is not one that doeth good, not so much as one” (Psa. 53.4). Two questions arise somewhat difficult: for if God looketh out from Heaven, in order that He may see if there is one understanding or seeking after God; there stealeth upon an unwise man the thought, that God knoweth not all things. This is one question: what is the other? If there is not one that doeth good, is not so much as one; who is he that travaileth amid bad men? The former question then is solved as followeth: ofttimes the Scripture speaketh in such manner, that what by the gift of God a creature doth, God is said to do.…For hence has been said the following also, “For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the depth of God;” 1940 not because He that knoweth all things searcheth, but because to thee hath been given the Spirit, p. 204 which maketh thee also to search: and that which by His own gift thou doest, He is said to do; because without Him thou wouldest not do it: therefore God is said to do, when thou doest.…And because this by the gift of God thou doest, God from heaven is “looking forth upon the sons of men.” The former question then, according to our measure, thus hath been solved.
5. What is that which looking forth we acknowledge? What is that which looking forth God acknowledgeth? What (because here He giveth it) doth He acknowledge? Hear what it is; that “All have gone aside, together useless they have become: there is not one that doeth good, there is not so much as one.” What then is that other question, but the same whereof a little before I have made mention? If, “There is not one that doeth good, is not so much as one,” no one remaineth to groan amid evil men. Stay, saith the Lord, do not hastily give judgment. I have given to men to do well; but of Me, He saith, not of themselves: for of themselves evil they are: sons of men they are, when they do evil; when well, My sons. For this thing God doth, out of sons of men He maketh sons of God: because out of Son of God He hath made Son of Man. See what this participation is: there hath been promised to us a participation of Divinity: He lieth that hath promised, if He is not first made partaker of mortality. For the Son of God hath been made partaker of mortality, in order that mortal man may be made partaker of divinity. He that hath promised that His good is to be shared with thee, first with thee hath shared thy evil: He that to thee hath promised divinity, showeth in thee love. Therefore take away that men are sons of God, there remaineth that they are sons of men: “There is none that doeth good, is not so much as one.”
6. “Shall not all know that work iniquity, that devour My people for the food of bread”? (Psa. 53.5).…There is therefore here a people of God that is being devoured. Nay, “There is not one that doeth good, there is not so much as one.” We reply by the rule above. But this people that is devoured, this people that suffereth evil men, this that groaneth and travaileth amid evil men, now out of sons of men have been made sons of God: therefore are they devoured. For, “The counsel of the needy man thou hast confounded, because the Lord is his hope.” 1941 For ofttimes, in order that the people of God may be devoured, this very thing in it is despised, that it is the people of God. I will pillage, he saith, and despoil; if he is a Christian, what will he do to me?…But what followeth? “I will convince thee, and will set thee before thy face.” Thou wilt not now know so as thou shouldest be displeasing to thyself, thou shalt know so as thou mayest mourn. For God cannot but show to the unrighteous their iniquity. If He is not to show, who will they be that are to say, “What hath profited us pride, and what hath boasting of riches bestowed upon us?” 1942 For then shall they know, that now will not know. “Shall not all know?” etc. Why hath He added, “for the food of bread”? As it were as bread, they eat My people. For all other things which we eat, we can eat now these, now those; not always this vegetable, not always this flesh, not always these apples: but always bread. What is then, “Devour My people for the food of bread”? Without intermission, without cessation they devour.
7. “On God they have not called.” He is comforting the man that groaneth, and chiefly by an admonition, lest by imitating evil men, who ofttimes prosper, they delight in evil doing. There is kept for thee that which to thee hath been promised: their hope is present, thine is future, but theirs is transient, thine sure; theirs false, thine true. For they “upon God have not called.” Do not daily such men ask of God? They do “not” ask of God. Give heed, if I am able to say this by the aid of God Himself. God gratuitously will have Himself to be worshipped, gratuitously will have Himself to be loved, that is chastely to be loved; not Himself to be loved for the reason that He giveth anything besides Himself, but because He giveth Himself. He then that calleth upon God in order that He may be made rich, on God doth not call: for upon that He calleth which to himself he willeth to come.…But now thou wouldest have coffer full, and conscience void: God filleth not coffer, but breast. What do outward riches profit thee, if inward need presseth thee? Therefore those men that for the sake of worldly comforts, that for the sake of earthly good things, that for the sake of present life and earthly felicity, call upon God, do not call upon God.
8. For this reason what followeth concerning them? “There have they feared with fear, where there was no fear” (Psa. 53.6). For is there fear, if a man lose riches? There is no fear there, and yet in that case men are afraid. But if a man lose wisdom, truly there is fear, and in that case he is not afraid.…Thou hast feared to give back money, and hast willed to lose fidelity. The Martyrs took not away property of other persons, but even their own they despised that they might not lose fidelity: and it was too little to lose money, when they were p. 205 proscribed; they took also their life when they suffered: they lost life, in order that unto everlasting life they might find it. 1943 Therefore there they feared, where they ought to have been afraid. But they that of Christ have said, “He is not God,” have there feared where was no fear. For they said, “If we shall have let Him go, there will come the Romans, and will take away from us both place and kingdom.” 1944 O folly and imprudence saying in its heart, “He is not God”! Thou hast feared to lose earth, thou hast lost Heaven: thou hast feared lest there should come the Romans, and take away from thee place and kingdom! Could they take away from thee God? What then remaineth? what but that thou confess, that thou hast willed to keep, and by keeping ill hast lost? For thou hast lost both place and nation by slaying Christ. For ye did will rather to slay Christ, than to lose place; and ye have lost place, and nation, and Christ. In fearing, they have slain Christ: but wherefore this? “For God hath scattered the bones of them that please men.” 1945 Willing to please men, they feared to lose their place. But Christ Himself, of whom they said, “He is not God,” willed rather to displease such men, as they were: sons of men, not sons of God, He willed rather to displease. Thence were scattered their bones, His bones no one hath broken. “They were confounded, for God hath despised them.” In very deed, brethren, as far as regardeth them, great confusion hath come to them. In the place where they crucified the Lord, whom for this cause they crucified, that they might not lose both place and nation, the Jews are not. “God,” therefore, “hath despised them:” and yet in despising He warned them to be converted. Let them now confess Christ, and say, He is God, of whom they said, “He is not God.” Let them return to the inheritance of their fathers, to the inheritance of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, let them possess with these very persons life eternal: though they have lost life temporal. Wherefore this? Because out of sons of men have been made sons of God. For so long as they remain, and will not, there is not one that doeth good, there is not so much as one. “They were confounded, for God hath despised them.” And as though to these very persons He were turned, He saith, “Who shall give out of Sion salvation to Israel?” (Psa. 53.7). O ye fools, ye revile, insult, buffet, besmear with spittings, with thorns ye crown, upon the Cross ye lift up; whom? “Who shall give out of Sion salvation to Israel?” Shall not That Same of whom ye have said, “He is not God”? “In Gods turning away the captivity of His people.” For there turneth away the captivity of His people, no one but He that hath willed to be a captive in your own hands. But what men shall understand this thing? “Jacob shall exult, and Israel shall rejoice.” “Israel;” the true Jacob, and the true Israel, that younger, to whom the elder was servant, 1946 shall himself exult, for he shall himself understand.
Wisd. ii. 18-20. [See p. 172, supra.—C.]203:1934 203:1935 203:1936 203:1937 203:1938 203:1939 203:1940 204:1941 204:1942 205:1943 205:1944 205:1945 205:1946
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