Psalm LIX. 2217
1. As the Scripture is wont to set mysteries of the Psalms on the titles, and to deck the brow of a Psalm with the high announcement of a Mystery, 2218 in order that we that are about to go in may know (when as it were upon the door-post we have read what within is doing) either of whom the house is, or who is the owner of that estate: so also in this Psalm there hath been written a title, of a title. For it hath, “At the end, corrupt not for David himself unto the inscription of the title.” This is that which I have spoken of, title of Title. For what the inscription of this title is, which to be corrupted he forbiddeth, the Gospel to us doth indicate. For when the Lord was being crucified, a title by Pilate was inscribed and set, “King of the Jews,” 2219 in three tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin: 2220 which tongues in the whole world mostly do prevail.…Therefore “corrupt not” is most proper and prophetic; since indeed even those Jews made suggestion at that time to Pilate, and said, “Do not write King of the Jews, but write, that Himself said that He was King of the Jews:” 2221 for this title, say they, hath established Him King over us. And Pilate, “What I have written, I have written.” And there was fulfilled, “corrupt not.”
2. Nor is this the only Psalm which hath an inscription of such sort, that the Title be not corrupted. Several Psalms thus are marked on the face, but however in all the Passion of the Lord is foretold. Therefore here also let us perceive the Lords Passion, and let there speak to us Christ, Head and Body. So always, or nearly always, let us hear the words of Christ from the Psalm, as that we look not only upon that Head, the one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. 2222 …But let us think of Christ, Head and whole Body, a sort of entire Man. For to us is said, “But ye are the Body of Christ and members,” 2223 by the Apostle Paul. If therefore He is Head, we Body; whole Christ is Head and Body. For sometimes thou findest words which do not suit the Head, and unless thou shalt have attached them to the Body, thy understanding will waver: again thou findest words which are proper for the Body, and Christ nevertheless is speaking. In that place we must have no fear lest a man be mistaken: for quickly he proceedeth to adapt to the Head, that which he seeth is not proper for the Body.…
3. Let us hear, therefore, what followeth: “When Saul sent and guarded his house in order that he might kill him.” This though not to the Cross of the Lord, yet to the Passion of the Lord doth belong. For Crucified was Christ, and dead, and buried. That sepulchre was therefore as it were the house: to guard which the government of the Jews sent, when guards were set to the sepulchre of Christ. 2224 There is p. 237 indeed a story in the Scripture of the Reigns, of the occasion when Saul sent to guard the house in order that he might kill David. 2225 …But in like manner as Saul effected not his purpose of slaying David: so this could not the government of the Jews effect, that the testimony of guards sleeping should avail more than that of Apostles watching. For what were the guards instructed to say? We give to you, they say, as much money as ye please; and say ye, that while ye were sleeping there came His disciples, and took Him away. Behold what sort of witnesses of falsehood against truth and the Resurrection of Christ, His enemies, through Saul figured, did produce. Enquire, O unbelief, of sleeping witnesses, let them reply to thee of what was done in the tomb. Who, if they were sleeping, whence knew it? If watching, wherefore detained they not the thieves? Let him say therefore what followeth.
4. “Deliver me from mine enemies, my God, and from men rising up upon me, redeem Thou me” (Psa. 59.1). There hath been done this thing in the flesh of Christ, it is being done in us also. For our enemies, to wit the devil and his angels, cease not to rise up upon us every day, and to wish to make sport of our weakness and our frailness, by deceptions, by suggestions, by temptations, and by snares of whatsoever sort to entangle us, while on earth we are still living. But let our voice watch unto God, and cry out in the members of Christ, under the Head that is in heaven, “Deliver me from mine enemies, my God, and from men rising up upon me, redeem Thou me.”
5. “Deliver me from men working iniquity, and from men of bloods, save Thou me” (Psa. 59.2). They indeed were men of bloods, who slew the Just One, in whom no guilt they found: they were men of bloods, because when the foreigner washed his hands, and would have let go Christ, they cried, “Crucify, Crucify:” 2226 they were men of bloods, on whom when there was being charged the crime of the blood of Christ, they made answer, giving it to their posterity to drink, “His blood be upon us and upon our sons.” 2227 But neither against His Body did men of bloods cease to rise up; for even after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the Church suffered persecutions, and she indeed first that grew out of the Jewish people, of which also our Apostles were. There at first Stephen was stoned, 2228 and received that of which he had his name. For Stephanus doth signify a crown. Lowly stoned but highly crowned. Secondly, among the Gentiles rose up kingdoms of Gentiles, before that in them was fulfilled that which had been foretold, “There shall adore Him all the kings of the earth, all nations shall serve Him:” 2229 and there roared the fierceness of that kingdom against the witnesses of Christ: there was shed largely and frequently the blood of Martyrs: wherewith when it had been shed, being as it were sown, the field of the Church more productively put forth, and filled the whole world as we now behold. From these therefore, men of bloods, is delivered Christ, not only Head, but also Body. From men of bloods is delivered Christ, both from them that have been, and from them that are, and from them that are to be; there is delivered Christ, both He that hath gone before, and He that is, and He that is to come. For Christ is the whole Body of Christ; and whatsoever good Christians that now are, and that have been before us, and that after us are to be, are an whole Christ, who is delivered from men of bloods; nor is this voice void, “And from men of bloods save Thou me.”
6. “For behold they have hunted my soul.…There have rushed upon me strong men” (Psa. 59.3). We must not however pass on from these strong men: diligently we must trace who are the strong men rising up. Strong men, upon whom but upon weak men, upon powerless men, upon men not strong? And praised nevertheless are the weak men, and condemned are the strong men. If it would be perceived who are strong men, at first the devil himself the Lord hath called a strong man: “No one,” He saith, “is able to go into the house of a strong man, and to carry off his vessels, unless first he shall have bound the strong man.” 2230 He hath bound therefore the strong man with the chains of His dominion: and his vessels He hath carried off, and His own vessels hath made them. For all unrighteous men were vessels of the devil.…But there are among mankind certain strong men of a blameable and damnable strength, that are confident indeed, but on temporal felicity. That man doth not 2231 seem to you to have been strong, of whom now from the Gospel 2232 hath been read: how his estate brought forth abundance of fruits, and he being troubled, hit upon the design of rebuilding, so that, having pulled down his old barns, he should construct new ones more capacious, and, these having been finished, should say to his soul, “Thou hast many good things, soul, feast, be merry, be filled.”…There are also other men strong, not because of riches, not because of the powers of the body, not because of any temporally pre-eminent power of station, but relying on their righteousness. This sort of strong men must be guarded against, feared, repulsed, not imitated: of men relying, I say, not on p. 238 body, not on means, not on descent, not on honour; for all such things who would not see to be temporal, fleeting, falling, flying? but relying on their own righteousness.…“Wherefore,” say they, doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners? 2233 O ye strong men, to whom a Physician is not needful! This strength to soundness belongeth not, but to insanity. For even than men frenzied nothing can be stronger, more mighty they are than whole men: but by how much greater their powers are, by so much nearer is their death. May God therefore turn away from our imitation these strong men.…The same are therefore the strong men, that assailed Christ, commending their own justice. Hear ye these strong men: when certain men of Jerusalem were speaking, having been sent by them to take Christ, and not daring to take Him (because when he would, then was He taken, that truly was strong): Why therefore, say they, “could ye not take Him?” And they made answer, “No one of men did ever so speak as He.” And these strong men, “Hath by any means any one of the Pharisees believed on Him, or any one of the Scribes, but this people knowing not the Law?” 2234 They preferred themselves to the sick multitude, that was running to the Physician: whence but because they were themselves strong? and what is worse, by their strength, all the multitude also they brought over unto themselves, and slew the Physician of all.…
7. What next? “Neither iniquity is mine, nor sin mine, O Lord” (Psa. 59.4). There have rushed on indeed strong men on their own righteousness relying, they have rushed on, but sin in me they have not found. For truly those strong men, that is, as it were righteous men, on what account would they be able to persecute Christ, unless it were as if a sinner? But, however, let them look to it how strong they be, in the raging of fever not in the vigour of soundness: let them look to it how strong they be, and how as though just against an unrighteous man they have raged. 2235 But, however, “neither iniquity is mine, nor sin mine, O Lord. Without iniquity I did run, and I was guided.” Those strong men therefore could not follow me running: therefore a sinner they have deemed me, because my steps they have not seen.
8. “Without iniquity I did run, and was guided; rise up to meet me, and see.” To God is said this. But why? If He meet not, is He unable to see? It is just as if thou wast walking in a road, and from afar by some one thou couldest not be recognised, thou wouldest call to him and wouldest say, Meet me, and see how I am walking; for when from afar thou espiest me, my steps thou art not able to see. So also unless God were to meet, would He not see how without iniquity he was guided, and how without sin he was running? This interpretation indeed we can also accept, namely, “Rise up to meet me,” as if “help me.” But that which he hath added, “and see,” must be understood as, make it to be seen that I run, make it to be seen that I am guided: according to that figure wherein this also hath been said to Abraham, “Now I know that thou fearest God.” 2236 God saith, “Now I know:” whence, but because I have made thee to know? For unknown to himself every one is before the questioning of temptation: just as of himself Peter 2237 in his confidence was ignorant, and by denying learned what kind of powers he had, in his very stumbling he perceived that it was falsely he had been confident: he wept, and in weeping he earned profitably to know what he was, and to be what he was not. Therefore Abraham when tried, became known to himself: and it was said by God, “Now I know,” that is, now I have made thee to know. In like manner as glad is the day because it maketh men glad; and sad is bitterness because it maketh sad one tasting thereof: so Gods seeing is making to see. “Rise up, therefore,” he saith, “to meet me, and see” (Psa. 59.5). What is, “and see”? And help me, that is, in those men, in order that they may see my course, may follow me; let not that seem to them to be crooked which is straight, let not that seem to them to be curved which keepeth the rule of truth.
9. Something else I am admonished to say in this place of the loftiness of our Head Himself: for He was made weak even unto death, and He took on Him the weakness of flesh, in order that the chickens of Jerusalem He might gather under His wings, like a hen showing herself weak with her little ones. 2238 For have we not observed this thing in some bird at some time or other, even in those which build nests before our eyes, as the house-sparrows, as swallows, so to speak, our annual guests, as storks, as various sorts of birds, which before our eyes build nests, and hatch eggs, feed chickens, as the very doves which daily we see; and some bird to become weak with her chickens, have we not known, have we not looked upon, have we not seen? In what way doth a hen experience this weakness? Surely a known fact I am speaking of, which in our sight is daily taking place. How her voice groweth hoarse, how her whole body is made languid? The wings droop, the feathers are p. 239 loosened, and thou seest around the chickens some sick thing, and this is maternal love which is found as weakness. Why was it therefore, but for this reason, that the Lord willed to be as a Hen, saying in the Holy Scripture, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I willed to gather thy sons, even as a hen her chickens under her wings, and thou hast not been willing.” But He hath gathered all nations, like as a hen her chickens.…
10. “And Thou, Lord God of virtues, God of Israel.” Thou God of Israel, that art thought to be but God of one nation, which worshippeth Thee, when all nations worship idols, Thou God of Israel, “Give heed unto the visiting all nations.” Fulfilled be that prophecy wherein Isaiah in Thy person speaketh to Thy Church, Thy holy City, that barren one of whom many more are the sons of Her forsaken than of her that hath a husband. To Her indeed hath been said, “Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not,” 2239 etc., more than of the Jewish nation which hath a Husband, which hath received the Law, more than of that nation which had a visible king. For thy king is hidden, and more sons to thee there are by a hidden Bridegroom.…The Prophet addeth, “Enlarge the place of Thy tabernacle, and Thy 2240 courts fix thou: there is no cause for thee to spare, extend further thy cords, and strong stakes set thou again and again on the right and on the left.” 2241 Upon the right keep good men, on the left keep evil men, 2242 until there come the fan: 2243 occupy nevertheless all nations; bidden to the marriage be good men and evil men, filled be the marriage with guests; 2244 it is the office of servants to bid, of the Lord to sever. “Cities which had been forsaken Thou shall inhabit:” 2245 forsaken of God, forsaken of Prophets, forsaken of Apostles, forsaken of the Gospel, full of demons. For Thou shalt prevail; and blush not because abominable Thou hast been. Therefore though there have risen up upon thee strong men, blush not: when against the name of Christ laws were enacted, when ignominy and infamy it was to be a Christian. “Blush not because abominable Thou hast been: for confusion for everlasting Thou shalt forget, of the ignominy of Thy widowhood Thou shall not be mindful.”…
11. “Have not pity upon all men that work iniquity.” Here evidently He is terrifying. Whom would He not terrify? What man falling back upon his own conscience would not tremble? Which even if to itself it is conscious of godliness, strange if it be not in some sort conscious of iniquity. For whosoever doeth sin, also doeth iniquity. 2246 “For if Thou shalt have marked iniquities, O Lord, what man shall abide it?” 2247 And nevertheless a true saying it is, and not said to no purpose, and neither is nor will it be possible to be void, “Have not pity upon all men that work iniquity.” But He had pity even upon Paul, who at first as Saul wrought iniquity. For what good thing did he, whence he might deserve of God? Did he not hate His Saints unto death? 2248 did he not bear letters from the chief of the priests, to the end that wheresoever he might find Christians, to punishment he should hurry them? When bent upon this, when thither proceeding, breathing and panting slaughter, as the Scripture testified of him, was he not from Heaven with a mighty voice summoned, thrown down, raised up; blinded, lightened; slain, made alive; destroyed, restored? In return for what merit? Let us say nothing; himself rather let us hear: “I that before have been,” he saith, “a blasphemer, and persecutor; and injurious, but mercy I have obtained.” 2249 Surely “Thou wouldest not have pity upon all men that work iniquity:” this in two ways may be understood: either that in fact not any sins doth God leave unpunished; or that there is a sort of iniquity, on the workers whereof God hath indeed no pity.
12. All iniquity, be it little or great, punished must needs be, either by man himself repenting, or by God avenging. For even he that repenteth punisheth himself. Therefore, brethren, let us punish our own sins, if we seek the mercy of God. God cannot have mercy on all men working iniquity as if pandering to sins, or not rooting out sins. In a word, either thou punishest, or He punisheth.…
13. But let us see now another way in which this sentence may be understood. There is a certain iniquity, on the worker whereof it cannot be that God have mercy. Ye enquire, perchance, what that is? It is the defending of sins. When a man defendeth his sins, great iniquity he worketh: that thing he is defending which God hateth. And see how perversely, how iniquitously. Whatever of good he hath done, to himself he would have it to be ascribed; whatever of evil, to God. For in this manner men defend sins in the person of God, which is a worse sin.…Therefore thou defendest thy sin in such sort, that thou layest blame on God. So the guilty is excused, so that the Judge may be charged. However on men working iniquity God hath no pity at all.
14. “Let them be converted at the evening” (Psa. 59.6). Of certain men he is speaking that were once workers of iniquity, and once darkness, being converted in the evening. What is, “in the evening”? Afterward. What is “at the evenp. 240 ing”? Later. For before, before that they crucified Christ, they ought to have acknowledged their Physician. Wherefore, when He had been crucified—rising again, into Heaven ascending—after that He sent His Holy Spirit, wherewith were fulfilled they that were in one house, and they began to speak with the tongues of all nations, there feared the crucifiers of Christ; they were pricked through with their consciences, they besought counsel of safety from the Apostles, they heard, “Repent, and be baptized each one of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and your sins shall be remitted unto you.” 2250 After the slaying of Christ, after the shedding of the blood of Christ, remitted are your sins.…“Let these be converted,” therefore, they also “at evening.” Let them yearn for the grace of God, perceive themselves to be sinners; let those strong men be made weak, those rich men be made poor, those just men acknowledge themselves sinners, those lions be made dogs. “Let them be converted at evening, and suffer hunger as dogs. And they shall go around the city.” What city? That world, which in certain places the Scripture calleth “the city of standing round:” 2251 that is, because in all nations everywhere the world had encompassed the one nation of Jews, where such words were being spoken, and it was called “the city of standing round.” Around this city shall go those men, now having become hungry dogs. In what manner shall they go around? By preaching. Saul out of a wolf was made a dog at evening, that is, being late converted by the crumbs of his Lord, in His grace he ran, and went around the city. 2252
15. “Behold, themselves shall speak in their mouth, and a sword is on the lips of them” (Psa. 59.7). Here is that sword twice whetted, whereof the Apostle saith, “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” 2253 Wherefore twice whetted? Wherefore, but because smiting out of both Testaments? With this sword were slain those whereof it was said to Peter, “Slay, and eat.” 2254 “And a sword is on the lips of them. For who hath heard?” They all speak in their mouth, “Who hath heard?” That is, they shall be wroth with men that are slow to believe. They that a little before were even themselves unwilling to believe, do feel disgust from men not believing. And truly, brethren, so it is. Thou seest a man slow before he is made a Christian; thou criest to him daily, hardly he is converted: suppose him to be converted, and then he would have all men to be Christians, and wondereth that not yet they are. It hath chanced out to him at evening to have been converted: but because he hath been made hungering like a dog, he hath also on his lips a sword; he saith, “Who hath heard?” What is, “Who hath heard?” “Who hath believed our hearing, and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 2255 “For who hath heard?” The Jews believe not: they have turned them to the nations, and have preached. The Jews did not believe; and nevertheless through believing Jews the Gospel went around the city, and they said, “For who hath heard?” “And Thou, Lord, shall deride them” (Psa. 59.8). All nations are to be Christian, and ye say, “Who hath heard?” What is, “shall deride them”? “As nothing Thou shalt esteem all nations.” Nothing for Thee it shall be; because a most easy thing it will be for all nations to believe in Thee.
16. “My strength to Thee I will keep” (Psa. 59.9). For those strong men have fallen for this reason; because their strength to Thee they have not kept: that is, they that upon me have risen up and rushed, on themselves have relied. But I “my strength to Thee will keep:” because if I withdraw, I fall; if I draw near, stronger I am made. For see, brethren, what there is in a human soul. It hath not of itself light, hath not of itself powers: but all that is fair in a soul, is virtue and wisdom: but it neither is wise for itself, nor strong for itself, nor itself is light to itself, nor itself is virtue to itself. There is a certain origin and fountain of virtue, there is a certain root of wisdom, there is a certain, so to speak, if this also must be said, region of unchangeable truth: from this the soul withdrawing is made dark, drawing near is made light. 2256 “Draw near to Him, and be made light:” because by withdrawing ye are made dark. Therefore, “my strength, I will keep to Thee:” not from Thee will I withdraw, not on myself will I rely. “My strength, to Thee I will keep: because, O God, my lifter up 2257 Thou art.” For where was I, and where am I? Whence hast Thou taken me up? What iniquities of mine hast Thou remitted? Where was I lying? To what have I been raised up? I ought to have remembered these things: because in another Psalm is said, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord hath taken me unto Him.” 2258
17. “My God, the mercy of Him shall 2259 come before me” (Psa. 59.10). Behold what is, “My strength, to Thee I will keep:” on myself I will in no ways at all rely. For what good thing have I brought, that thou shouldest have mercy on me, and shouldest justify me? What in me hast Thou found, save sins alone? Of Thine there is nothing else but the nature which Thou p. 241 hast created: the other things are mine own evil things which Thou hast blotted out. I have not first risen up to Thee, but to awake me Thou hast come: for “His mercy shall come before me.” Before that anything of good I shall do, “His mercy shall come before me.” What answer here shall the unhappy Pelagius make? “My God hath shown to me among mine enemies” (Psa. 59.11). How great mercy He hath put forth concerning me, among mine enemies He hath showed. Let one gathered compare himself with men forsaken, and one elect with men rejected: let the vessel of mercy compare itself with the vessels of wrath; and let it see how out of one lump God hath made one vessel unto honour, another unto dishonour.
“For so God, willing to show wrath, and to manifest His power, hath brought in, in much patience, the vessels of wrath, which have been perfected unto perdition.” 2260 And wherefore this? “In order that He might make known His riches upon the vessels of mercy.” If therefore vessels of wrath He hath brought in, wherein He might make known His riches upon the vessels of mercy, most rightly hath been said, “His mercy shall come before me: My God hath showed to me among mine enemies:” that is however great mercy He hath had concerning me, to me He hath showed it among these men concerning whom He hath not had mercy. For unless the debtor be in suspense, he is less grateful to him by whom the debt hath been forgiven. “My God hath showed to me among mine enemies.”
18. But of the enemies themselves what? “Slay them not, lest sometime they forget Thy law.” He is making request for his enemies, he is fulfilling the commandment.…Slay not them of whom the sins Thou slayest. But what is it to be slain? To forget the law of the Lord. It is real death, to go into the pit of sin; this indeed may be also understood of the Jews. Why of the Jews, “Slay not them, lest sometime they forget Thy law”? Those very enemies of mine, that have slain me, do not Thou slay. Let the nation of the Jews remain: certes conquered it hath been by the Romans, certes effaced is the city of them, Jews are not admitted into their city, and yet Jews there are. For all those provinces by the Romans have been subjugated. Who now can distinguish the nations in the Roman empire the one from the other, inasmuch as all have become Romans and all are called Romans? The Jews nevertheless remain with a mark; nor in such sort conquered have they been, as that by the conquerors they have been swallowed up. Not without reason is there that Cain, on whom, when he had slain his brother, God set a mark in order that no one should slay him. 2261 This is the mark which the Jews have: they hold fast by the remnant of their law, they are circumcised, they keep Sabbaths, they sacrifice the Passover; they eat unleavened bread. These are therefore Jews, they have not been slain, they are necessary to believing nations. Why so? In order that He may show to us among our enemies His mercy. “My God hath shown to me in mine enemies.” He showeth His mercy to the wild-olive grafted on branches that have been cut off because of pride. Behold where they lie, that were proud, behold where thou hast been grafted, that didst lie: and be not thou proud, lest thou shouldest deserve to be cut off.
19. “Scatter them abroad in Thy virtue” (Psa. 59.11). Now this thing hath been done: throughout all nations there have been scattered abroad the Jews, witnesses of their own iniquity and our truth. They have themselves writings, out of which hath been prophesied Christ, and we hold Christ. And if sometime perchance any heathen man shall have doubted, when we have told him the prophecies of Christ, at the clearness whereof he is amazed, and wondering hath supposed that they were written by ourselves, then out of the copies of the Jews we prove, how this thing so long time before had been foretold. See after what sort by means of our enemies we confound other enemies. “Scatter them abroad in Thy virtue:” take away from them “virtue,” take away from them their strength. “And bring them down, my protector, O Lord.” “The transgressions of their mouth, the discourse of their lips: and let them be taken in their pride: and out of cursing and lying shall be declared consummations, in the anger of consummation, and they shall not be” (Psa. 59.12). Obscure words these are, and I fear lest they be not well instilled.…