Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VIII/Expositions on the Book of Psalms/Psalm XXXVII/Part 1
On the first part of the psalm.
1. With terror do they hear of the coming of the last day, who will not be secure by living well: and who fain would live ill, long. But it was for useful purposes that God willed that day to remain unknown; that the heart may be ever ready to expect that of which it knows it is to come, but knows not when it is to come. Seeing, however, that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent to us to be our “Master,” He said, that “of the day not even the Son of Man knew,” because it was not part of His office as our Master that through Him it should become known to us. For indeed the Father knoweth nothing that the Son knoweth not; since that is the Very Knowledge of the Father Itself, which is His Wisdom; now His Son, His Word, is “His Wisdom.” But because it was not for our good to know that, which however was known to Him who came indeed to teach us, though not to teach us that which it was not good for us to know, He not only, as a Master, taught us something, but also, as a Master, left something untaught. For, as a Master, He knew how both to teach us what was good for us, and not to teach us what was injurious. Now thus, according to a certain form of speech, the Son is said not to know what He does not teach: that is, in the same way that we are daily in the habit of speaking, He is said not to know what He causes us not to know.…
2. This it is that disturbs you who are a Christian; that you see men of bad lives prospering, and surrounded with abundance of things like these; you see them sound in health, distinguished with proud honours; you see their family unvisited by misfortune; the happiness of their relatives, the obsequious attendance of their dependants, their most commanding influence, their life uninterrupted by any sad event; you see their characters most profligate, their external resources most affluent; and your heart says that there is no Divine judgment; that all things are carried to and fro by accidents, and blown about in disorderly and irregular motions. For if God, thou sayest, regarded human affairs, would his iniquity flourish, and my innocence suffer? Every sickness of the soul hath in Scripture its proper remedy. Let him then whose sickness is of that kind that he says in his heart things like these, let him drink this Psalm by way of potion.…
3. “Be not envious because of evil-doers, neither be envious against the workers of iniquity” (ver. 1). “For they shall soon wither like the grass, and shall fade like the herbs of the meadow” (ver. 2). That which to thee seemeth long, is “soon” in the sight of God. Conform thou thyself to God; and it will be “soon” to thee. That which he here calls “grass,” that we understand by the “herbs of the meadow.” They are some worthless things, occupying the surface only of the ground, they have no depth of root. In the winter then they are green; but when the summer sun shall begin to scorch, they will wither away. For now it is the season of winter. Thy glory doth not as yet appear. But if thy love hath but a deep root, like that of many trees during winter, the frost passes away, the summer (that is, the Day of Judgment) will come; then will the greenness of the grass wither away. Then will the glory of the trees appear. “For ye” (saith the Apostle) “are dead,” even as trees seem to be in winter, as it were dead, as it were withered. What is our hope then, if we are dead? The root is within; where our root is, there is our life also, for there our love is fixed. “And your life is hid with Christ in God.” When shall he wither who is thus rooted? But when will our spring be? When our summer? When will the honour of foliage clothe us around, and the fulness of fruit make us rich? When shall this come to pass? Hear what follows: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” And what then shall we do now? “Be not envious because of the evil-doers, neither be envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon wither like the grass, and fade like the herb of the meadow.”
4. What shouldest thou do then? “Trust in the Lord” (ver. 3). For they too trust, but not “in the Lord.” Their hope is perishable. Their hope is short-lived, frail, fleeting, transitory, baseless. “Trust thou in the Lord.” “Behold,” thou sayest, “I do trust; what am I to do?”
“And do good.” Do not do that evil which thou beholdest in those men, who are prosperous in wickedness. “Do good, and dwell in the land.” Lest haply thou shouldest be doing good without “dwelling in the land.” For it is the Church that is the Lord’s land. It is her whom He, the Father, the tiller of it, waters and cultivates. For there are many that, as it were, do good works, but yet, in that they do not “dwell in the land,” they do not belong to the husbandman. Therefore do thou thy good, not outside of the land, but do thou “dwell in the land.” And what shall I have?
“And thou shalt be fed in its riches.” What are the riches of that land? Her riches are her Lord! Her riches are her God! He it is to whom it is said, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.” In a late discourse we suggested to you, dearly beloved, that God is our possession, and that we are at the same time God’s possession. Hear how that He is Himself the riches of that land.
“Delight thyself in the Lord” (ver. 4). As if thou hadst put the question, and hadst said “Show me the riches of that land, in which thou biddest me dwell,” he says, “Delight thyself in the Lord.”
5. “And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Understand in their proper signification, “the desires of thine heart.” Distinguish the “desires of thine heart” from the desires of thy flesh; distinguish as much as thou canst. It is not without a meaning that it is said in a certain Psalm, “God is” (the strength) “of mine heart.” For there it says in what follows: “And God is my portion for ever.” For instance: One labours under bodily blindness. He asks that he may receive his sight. Let him ask it; for God does that too, and gives those blessings also. But these things are asked for even by the wicked. This is a desire of the flesh. One is sick, and prays to be made sound. From the point of death he is restored to health. That too is a desire of the flesh, as are all of such a kind. What is “the desire of the heart”? As the desire of the flesh is to wish to have one’s eyesight restored, to enable him, that is, to see that light, which can be seen by such eyes; so “the desire of the heart” relates to a different sort of light. For, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Delight thou thyself in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
6. “Behold” (you say), “I do long after it, I do ask for it, I do desire it. Shall I then accomplish it?” No. Who shall then? “Reveal thy way unto the Lord: trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (ver. 5). Mention to Him what thou sufferest, mention to Him what thou dost desire. For what is it that thou sufferest? “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.”  What is it then that thou dost desire? “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And because it is He “Himself” that “will bring it to pass,” when thou shalt have “revealed thy ways unto Him;” hear what follows: “The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What is it then that He is to bring to pass, since it is said, “Reveal thy way unto Him, and He will bring it to pass”? What will He bring to pass?
“And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light” (ver. 6). For now, “thy righteousness” is hid. Now it is a thing of faith; not yet of sight. You believe something that you may do it. You do not yet see that in which you believe. But when thou shalt begin to see that, which thou didst believe before, “thy righteousness will be brought forth to the light,” because it is thy faith that was thy righteousness. For “the just lives by faith.”
7. “And He shall bring forth thy judgment as the noon-day.” That is to say, “as the clear light.” It was too little to say, “as the light.” For we call it “light” already, even when it but dawns: we call it light even while the sun is rising. But never is the light brighter than at mid-day. Therefore He will not only “bring forth thy righteousness as the light,” but “thy judgment shall be as the noon-day.” For now dost thou make thy “judgment” to follow Christ. This is thy purpose: this is thy choice: this is thy “judgment.”…
8. “What should I do then?” Hear what thou shouldest do. “Submit thee to the Lord, and entreat Him” (ver. 7). Be this thy life, to obey His commandments. For this is to submit thee to Him; and to entreat Him until He give thee what He hath promised. Let good works “continue;” let prayer “continue.” For “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Wherein dost thou show that thou art “submitted to Him”? In doing what He hath commanded. But haply thou dost not receive thy wages as yet, because as yet thou art not able. For He is already able to give them; but thou art not already able to receive them. Exercise thou thyself in works. Labour in the vineyard; at the close of the day crave thy wages. “Faithful is He” who brought thee into the vineyard. “Submit thee to the Lord, and entreat Him.”
9. “See! I do so; I do ‘submit to the Lord, and I do entreat.’ But what do you think? That neighbour of mine is a wicked man, living a bad life, and prosperous! His thefts, adulteries, robberies, are known to me. Lifted up above every one, proud, and raised on high by wickedness, he deigns not to notice me. In these circumstances, how shall I hold out with patience?” This is a sickness; drink, by way of remedy. “Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way.” He prospereth, but it is “in his way:” thou sufferest, but it is in God’s way! His portion is prosperity on his way, misery on arriving at its end: yours, toil on the road, happiness in its termination. “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; and the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Thou walkest those ways which “the Lord knoweth,” and if thou dost suffer toil in them, they do not deceive thee. The “way of the ungodly” is but a transitory happiness; at the end of the way the happiness is at an end also. Why? Because that way is “the broad road;” its termination leads to the pit of hell. Now, thy way is narrow; and “few there be” that enter in through it: but into how ample a field it comes at the last, thou oughtest to consider. “Fret not thyself at him who prospereth in his way; because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.”
“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath” (ver. 8). Wherefore art thou wroth? Wherefore is it that, through that passion and indignation, thou dost blaspheme, or almost blaspheme? Against “the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass, cease from anger, and forsake wrath.” Knowest thou not whither that wrath tempts thee on? Thou art on the point of saying unto God, that He is unjust. It tends to that. “Look! why is that man prosperous, and this man in adversity?” Consider what thought it begets: stifle the wicked notion. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:” so that now returning to thy senses, thou mayest say, “Mine eye is disturbed because of wrath.” What eye is that, but the eye of faith? To the eye of thy faith I appeal. Thou didst believe in Christ: why didst thou believe? What did He promise thee? If it was the happiness of this world that Christ promised thee, then murmur against Christ; yes! murmur against Him, when thou seest the wicked flourishing. What of happiness did He promise? What, save in the Resurrection of the Dead? But what in this life? That which was His portion. His portion, I say! Dost thou, servant and disciple, disdain what thy Lord, what thy Master bore?…
“For evil-doers shall be cut off” (ver. 9). “But I see their prosperity.” Believe Him who saith, “they shall be cut off;” Him who seeth better than thou, since His eye anger cannot cloud. “For evil-doers shall be cut off. But those that wait upon the Lord,”—not upon any one that can deceive them; but verily on Him who is the Truth itself,—“But those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the land.” What “land,” but that Jerusalem, with the love of which whosoever is inflamed, shall come to peace at the last.
10. “But how long is the sinner to flourish? How long shall I have to endure?” Thou art impatient; that which seems long to thee, will soon come to pass. It is infirmity makes that seem long, which is really short, as is found in the case of the longings of sick men. Nothing seems so long as the mixing of the potion for him when athirst. For all that his attendants are making all speed, lest haply the patient be angry; “When will it be done? (he cries). When will it be drest? When will it be served?” Those who are waiting upon you are making haste, but your infirmity fancies that long which is being done with expedition. Behold ye, therefore, our Physician complying with the infirmity of the patient, saying, “How long shall I have to endure? How long will it be?”
“Yet a little while, and the sinner shall not be” (ver. 10). Is it certainly among sinners, and because of the sinner, that thou murmurest? “A little while, and he shall not be.” Lest haply because I said, “They that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the land,” thou shouldest think that waiting to be of very long duration. Wait “a little while,” thou shalt receive without end what thou waitest for. A little while, a moderate space. Review the years from Adam’s time up to this day; run through the Scriptures. It is almost yesterday that he fell from Paradise! So many ages have been measured out, and unrolled. Where now are the past ages? Even so, however, shall the few which remain, pass away also. Hadst thou been living throughout all that time, since Adam was banished from Paradise up to this present day, thou wouldest certainly see that the life, which had thus flown away, had not been of long duration. But how long is the duration of each individual’s life? Add any number of years you please: prolong old age to its longest duration: what is it? Is it not but a morning breeze? Be it so, however, that the Day of Judgment is far off, when the reward of the righteous and of the unrighteous is to come: your last day at all events cannot be far off. Make thyself ready against this! For such as thou shall have departed from this life, shalt thou be restored to the other. At the close of that short life, you will not yet be, where the Saints shall be, to whom it shall be said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father: inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” You will not yet be there? Who does not know that? But you may already be there, where that beggar, once “covered with sores,” was seen at a distance, at rest, by that proud and unfruitful “rich man” in the midst of his torments. Surely hid in that rest thou waitest in security for the Day of Judgment, when thou art to receive again a body, to be changed so as to be made equal to an Angel. How long then is that for which we are impatient, and are saying, “When will it come? Will it tarry long?” This our sons will say hereafter, and our sons’ sons will say too; and, though each one of these in succession will say this same thing, that “little while” that is yet to be, passes away, as all that is already past hath passed away already! O thou sick one! “Yet a little while, and the sinner shall not be. Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and thou shalt not find him.”…
11. “But the meek shall inherit the land” (ver. 11). That land is the one of which we have often spoken, the holy Jerusalem, which is to be released from these her pilgrimages, and to live for ever with God, and on God. Therefore, “They shall inherit the land.” What shall be their delight? “And they shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Let the ungodly man delight himself here in the multitude of his gold, in the multitude of his silver, in the multitude of his slaves, in the multitude, lastly, of his baths, his roses, his intoxicating wines, his most sumptuous and luxurious banquets. Is this the power thou enviest? Is this the glory that delights thee? Would not his fate be worthy to be deplored, even if he were to be so for ever? What shall be thy delights? “And they shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Peace shall be thy gold. Peace shall be thy silver. Peace shall be thy lands. Peace shall be thy life, thy God Peace. Peace shall be to thee whatsoever thou dost desire.…
- Lat. XXXVI. This is a sermon which was delivered at Carthage, as well as the two following. It should be noticed that in the life of St. Fulgentius, c. 3, we are told that, “having some time before resolved with himself to renounce the world, he was so roused and moved by St. Augustin’s exposition of this Psalm that he determined to make his vow public, and earnestly desired to adopt the religious habit.”—Ben.
- Magister Magisterio. Master, in sense of teacher or guide; Καθηγητὴς, in Matt. xxiii. 8, being in the Latin translated “Magister,” as in English, “Master.”
- Mark xiii. 32.
- Al. “Son of Man,” as below.
- [Here he enlarges; but our common use of the word “ignore” sufficiently explains the use here. We ignore what it is needless to say.—C.]
- Col. iii. 3.
- Col. iii. 3.
- Ps. xvi. 5.
- See Disc. 2 (omitted) on Ps. 33, delivered at Carthage in the Church of St. Cyprian.
- Signanter accipe.
- Gal. v. 17.
- Rom. vii. 24.
- Al. “shall be.”
- Perseveret, alluding to a word in the portion omitted. Matt. xxiv. 13.
- Luke xviii. 1.
- Ps. i. 6.
- Matt. vii. 13, 14.
- Ps. vi. 7.
- [Few consider how very short is the span of all human history. Daily we read of men and women who live a hundred years. Eighteen such lives go back to the age of Christ and His Apostles. Official lives of fifty years are not uncommon, and six-and-thirty such cover the entire Christian era.—C.]
- Matt. xxv. 34.
- Luke xvi. 20, 23.
- [Comp. St. Matt. v. 5. The earlier Fathers believed in the “regeneration” of this earth. See A.N.F. vol. i. 240, 435, and (Apocryphal Revelation) viii. 584, vii. 218, 254, iv. 211, 212, 218, and conversely, 274, 275. Our author, after sharing this early opinion, gave it up, and founded a new school.—C.]