Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Expositions on the Book of Psalms.: Psalm CXLII
Psalm CXLII. 5791
1. …“With my voice have I cried unto the Lord” (Psa. 142.1). It were enough to say, “with voice:” not for nothing perhaps has “my” been added. For many cry unto the Lord, not with their own voice, but with the voice of their body. Let the “inner man” then, in whom “Christ” hath begun to “dwell by faith,” 5792 cry unto the Lord, not with the din of his lips, but with the affection of his heart. God heareth not, where man heareth: unless thou criest with the voice of lungs and side and tongue, man heareth thee not: thy thought is thy cry to the Lord. “With my voice have I prayed unto the Lord.” What he meant by, “I have cried,” he explained when he said, “I have prayed.” For they too who blaspheme, cry unto the Lord. In the former part he set down his crying, in the latter he explained what it was. As though it were demanded, With what cry hast thou cried unto the Lord? Unto the Lord, saith he, I have prayed. My cry is my prayer, not reviling, not murmuring, not blaspheming.
2. “I will pour out before Him my prayer” (Psa. 142.2). What is, “before Him”? In His sight. What is, in His sight? Where He seeth. But where doth He not see? For so do we say, p. 649 where He seeth, as though somewhere He seeth not. But in this assemblage of bodily substances men too see, animals too see: He seeth where man seeth not. For thy thoughts no man seeth, but God seeth. There then pour out thy prayer, where He alone seeth, who rewardeth. For the Lord Jesus Christ bade thee pray in secret: but if thou knowest what “thy closet” is, and cleansest it, there thou prayest to God. “But thou,” saith He, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut the door, and pray to thy Father in secret, and He who seeth in secret shall reward thee.” 5793 If men are to reward thee, pour out thy prayer before men: if God is to reward thee, pour out thy prayer before Him; and close the door, lest the tempter enter. Therefore the Apostle, because it is in our power to shut the door, the door of our hearts, not of our walls, for in it is our “closet,”—because it is in our power to shut this door, saith, “neither give place to the devil.” 5794 But what is to “shut the door”? This door hath as it were two leaves, desire and fear. Either thou desireth something earthly, and he enters by this; or thou fearest something earthly, and he enters by that. Close then the door of fear and desire against the devil, open it to Christ. How dost thou open these folding doors to Christ? By desiring the kingdom of heaven, by fearing the fire of hell. By desire of this world the devil entereth, by desire of eternal life Christ entereth; by fear of temporal punishment the devil entereth, by fear of everlasting fire Christ entereth.…
3. “My tribulation I will proclaim in His sight.” There is a repetition, both in the two preceding sentences, and in these which follow: the sentiments are two, but both twice expressed.…For, “in His sight,” is the same as “before Him;” “I will proclaim my tribulation,” is the same as, “I will pour out my prayer.” When doest thou this? Being set in the midst of persecution, he saith, “while my spirit failed from me” (Psa. 142.3). Wherefore hath thy spirit failed, O martyr, set in tribulation? That I may not claim my strength as mine own, that I may know that Another worketh in me the goodness I have. And men perhaps have heard that my spirit hath failed within me, and have despaired of me, and have said, “we have taken him captive, we have overpowered him;” “and Thou hast known my paths.” They thought me cast down, Thou didst see me standing upright. They who persecuted me and had seized me, thought my feet entangled, “but their feet were entangled, and they fell, but we are risen, and stand upright.” 5795 For mine eyes are ever unto the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.” 5796 I have persevered in walking, for “he that shall persevere unto the end, the same shall be saved.” 5797 They thought me overpowered, but I continued walking. Where did I walk? In paths which they saw not, who thought me prisoner, in the paths of Thy righteousness, in the paths of Thy commandments.…For every path is a way, but not every way is a path. Why then are those ways called paths, save because they are narrow? Broad is the way of the wicked, narrow the way of the righteous. That which is “the way” is also “the ways,” just as “the Church” is also “the Churches,” the “heaven” also the “heavens:” they are spoken of in the plural, they are spoken of also in the singular. On account of the unity of the Church it is one Church; “My dove is one, she is the only one of her mother.” 5798 On account of the congregation of brethren in various places there are many Churches. “The Churches of Judæa which are in Christ rejoiced,” saith Paul, 5799 “and they glorified God in me.” Thus he spake of Churches; and of one Church he thus speaketh, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God.”…
4. “In this way, wherein I was walking, they hid a trap for me.” This “way wherein I was walking,” is Christ; there have they laid a trap for me, who persecute me in Christ, for Christs Names sake. There then “have they hid for me a trap.” What in me do they hate, what in me do they persecute? That I am a Christian.…For the heretics too wish to hide a stumbling-block for us in the Name of Christ, and are themselves deceived. What they think that they put in the way, they put outside the way, for they themselves are outside the way. They cannot set a trap where themselves are not.…The Pagan thinketh to put a stumbling-block in the way, when he saith to me, “Thou worshippest a crucified God.” He findeth fault with the Cross of Christ, which he understandeth not. He thinketh that he setteth in Christ, what he setteth near the way. I will not depart from Christ, so shall I not fall from the way into the trap. Let him mock at Christ crucified, let me see the Cross of Christ on the foreheads of kings. What he laugheth at, therein am I saved. Nought is prouder than a sick man, who laugheth at his own medicine. If he laughed not at it, he would take it, and be healed. The Cross is the sign of humility, but he through excess of pride acknowledgeth not that whereby may be healed the swelling of his soul. But if I acknowledge, I am walking in the way. So far am I from blushing at the Cross, that in no secret place do I keep the Cross of Christ, but bear it on my p. 650 forehead. Many sacraments we receive, one in one way another in another: some as ye know we receive with the mouth, some we receive over the whole body. But because the forehead is the seat of the blush of shame, He who said, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me before men, of him will I be ashamed before My Father which is in heaven,” 5800 set, so to speak, that very ignominy which the Pagans mock at, in the seat of our shame. Thou hearest a man assail a shameless man and say, “He hath no forehead.” What is, “He hath no forehead”? He hath no shame. Let me not have a bare forehead, let the Cross of my Lord cover it.…
5. “I considered upon the right hand, and saw” (Psa. 142.4). He considered upon the right hand, and saw: whoso considereth upon the left hand, is blinded. What is to consider on the right hand? Where they will be to whom shall be said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father,” etc., 5801 …He goeth on to say, “and there was none that knew me.” For when thou fearest all things, who knoweth what thou regardest, whether thou directest thine eyes to the right hand or to the left? If, in bearing, thou seekest the praise of men, thou hast regarded the left: if, in bearing, thou seekest the promises of God, thou hast regarded the right hand. Hast thou regarded the right hand, thou shalt see: hast thou regarded the left hand, thou shalt be blinded. But even when thou seest on the right hand, there will be none to know thee. For who comforteth thee save the Lord? “Flight hath perished from me.” He speaketh as though he were hemmed in. Let the persecutors rejoice over him; he is overpowered, he is taken, he is hemmed in, he is conquered. “Flight hath perished” from him who fleeth not. But he who fleeth not, suffereth whatever he can for Christ: that is, he fleeth not in soul. For in body it is lawful to flee; it is allowed, it is permitted; for the Lord saith, “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” 5802 He then who fleeth not in soul, from him “flight hath perished.” But it maketh a difference why he fleeth not; whether because he is hemmed in, because he is caught, or because he is brave. For both from him that is caught flight hath perished, and from him that is brave flight hath perished. What flight then is to be avoided? what flight shall we allow to perish from us? That whereof the Lord speaketh in the Gospel, “The Good Shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, when he seeth the wolf coming, fleeth.” When he seeth the ravager, why fleeth he? “Because he careth not for the sheep.” 5803 …In two ways a mans life is sought, either by his persecutors or by his lovers. 5804 So then “there is none to seek my life,” he said of them; verily they persecute my life, and they seek not my life. But if they seek my life, they will find it clinging to Thee: and if they know to seek it, they know also to imitate it.
6. “Unto thee have I cried, O Lord: I have said, Thou art my hope” (Psa. 142.5). When I endured, when I was in tribulation, “I said, Thou art my hope.” My hope here, therefore I endure. But “my portion,” not here, but “in the land of the living.” God giveth a portion in the land of the living; but not something from Himself without Himself. What will He give to one that loveth Him, save Himself?
7. “Give heed unto my prayer, for much have I been humbled” (Psa. 142.6). Humbled by persecutors, humbled in confession. He humbleth himself out of the sight of man: he is humbled by enemies in their sight. Therefore is he lifted up by Him both visibly and invisibly. Invisibly are the martyrs already lifted up; visibly shall they be lifted up, “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption” in the resurrection of the dead; when this very part of him, against which alone her persecutors could rage, shall be renewed. “Fear not them that kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” 5805 And what perisheth? what kill they?…Why then art thou anxious about the rest of thy members, when thou shalt not lose even a hair? 5806 “Deliver me from them that persecute me.” From whom thinkest thou that he prayeth to be delivered? From men who persecuted him? Is it so? are merely men our enemies? We have other enemies, invisible, who persecute us in another way. Man persecuteth, that he may slay the body; another persecuteth, that he ensnare the soul. 5807 …There are then other enemies of ours too, from whom we ought to pray God to deliver us, lest they lead us astray, either by crushing us with troubles of this world, or alluring us by its enticements. Who are these enemies? Let us see whether they are plainly described by any servant of the Lord, by any soldier, now perfected, who hath engaged with them. Hear the Apostle saying, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood:” 5808 as though he would say, Turn not your hatred against men; think not them your enemies; think not that it is by their hostility you are being bruised; these men whom ye fear are flesh and blood.…“For they are strengthened over me.” Who said, “they are strengthened over me”? The Body of Christ crieth out; it is the voice of the Church; the members of Christ cry out, “Much hath the number of sinners increased.” “Because iniquity hath abounded, the love of many waxeth cold.” 5809
8. “Bring forth my soul out of prison, that p. 651 it may confess to Thy Name” (Psa. 142.7). This “prison” has been variously understood by former writers. And perhaps it is the prison which is called in the title, “the cave.” For the title of this Psalm runneth thus: “Of understanding to David himself, a prayer when he was in the cave.” That which is the cave, the same is also the prison. Two things have we set before us to understand, but when we have understood one, both will be understood. A mans deserts make a prison. For in one dwelling place one man finds a house, another a prison.…To some then it has seemed that the “cave” and “prison” are this world; and this the Church prayeth, that it may be brought out of prison, that is, from this world, from under the sun, where all is vanity. 5810 Beyond this world then God promiseth that we shall be in some sort of rest; therefore perhaps do we cry concerning this place, “Bring my soul out of prison.” Our soul by faith and hope is in Christ; “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” But our body is in this prison, in this world.…But some have said, that this prison and cave is this body, so that this is the meaning of, “Bring my soul out of prison.” But this interpretation too is somewhat at fault. For what great thing is it to say, “Bring my soul out of prison,” bring my soul out of the body? Do not the souls of robbers and wicked men go forth from the body, and go into worse punishment than here they have endured? What great request then is this, “Bring my soul out of prison,” when, sooner or later, it must needs come forth? Perhaps the righteous saith, “Let me die now; bring forth my soul from this prison of the body.” If he be too hasty, he hath not love. He ought indeed to long for and desire, as the Apostle saith, “having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, which is far better.” But where is love? Therefore it followeth, “but to abide in the flesh is needful for you.” Let God then lead us forth from the body, when He will. Our body too might be said to be a prison, not because that is a prison which God hath made, but because it is under punishment and liable to death. For there are two things to be considered in our body, Gods workmanship, and the punishment it has deserved.…Perhaps then he meant by, “Bring my soul out of prison,” bring my soul out of corruption. If thus we understand it, it is no blasphemy, the meaning is consistent. Lastly, brethren, as I think, he meant this; “Bring my soul out of prison,” bring it out of straitness. For to one who rejoiceth, even a prison is wide; to one in sorrow, a field is strait. Therefore prayeth he to be brought out of straitness. For though in hope he have enlargement, yet in reality at present he is straitened.…It is not the body that weigheth down the soul, but the corruptible body. It is not the body then that maketh the prison, but the corruption. “Bring my soul out of prison, that it may give thanks to Thy Name.” Now the words which follow seem to come from the Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. And they are the same as yesterdays last words. Yesterdays last words, if ye remember, were, “I am alone, until I pass over.” And here what are the last words? “The righteous shall sustain me, until thou recompense me.”
Lat. CXLI. Sermon to the people.648:5792
Eph. iii. 17.649:5793
Matt. vi. 6.649:5794
Eph. iv. 27.649:5795
Ps. xx. 8.649:5796
Ps. xxv. 15.649:5797
Matt. x. 22.649:5798
Song of Sol. 6.8.649:5799
Gal. 1:22, 23.650:5800
Luke ix. 26.650:5801
Matt. 25:34, 41.650:5802
Matt. x. 23.650:5803
John x. 11, etc.650:5804
[i.e. “who seek to save it.”—C.]650:5805
Matt. x. 28.650:5806
[Luke xxi. 18.—C.]650:5807
Eph. ii. 2.650:5808
Eph. vi. 12.650:5809
Matt. xxiv. 12.651:5810
Eccles. i. 2, etc.
Next: Psalm CXLIII
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