Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VIII/Expositions on the Book of Psalms/Psalm XXXVII/Part 3
On the Third Part of the Psalm.
1. “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (ver. 25).
If it is spoken but in the person of one single individual, how long is the whole life of one man? And what is there wonderful in the circumstance, that a single man, fixed in some one part of the earth, should not, throughout the whole space of his life, being so short as man’s life is, have ever seen “the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” although he may have advanced from youth to age. It is not anything worthy of marvel; for it might have happened, that before his lifetime there should have been some “righteous man seeking bread;” it might have happened, that there had been some one in some other part of the earth not where he himself was. Hear too another thing, which makes an impression upon us. Any single one among you (look you) who has now grown old, may perhaps, when, looking back upon the past course of his life, he turns over in his thoughts the persons whom he has known, not find any instance of a righteous man begging bread, or of his seed begging bread, suggest itself to him; but nevertheless he turns to the inspired Scriptures, and finds that righteous Abraham was straitened, and suffered hunger in his own country, and left that land for another; he finds too that the son of the very same man, Isaac, removed to other countries in search of bread, for the same cause of hunger. And how will it be true to say, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread”? And if he finds this true in the duration of his own life, he finds it is otherwise in the inspired writings, which are more trustworthy than human life is.
2. What are we to do then? Let us be seconded by your pious attention, so that we may discern the purpose of God in these verses of the Psalm, what it is He would have us understand by them. For there is a fear, lest any unstable person, not capable of understanding the Scriptures spiritually, should appeal to human instances, and should observe the virtuous servants of God to be sometimes in some necessity, and in want, so as to be compelled to beg bread: should particularly call to mind the Apostle Paul, who says, “In hunger and thirst; in cold and nakedness;” and should stumble thereat, saying to himself, “Is that certainly true which I have been singing? Is that certainly true, which I have been sounding forth in so devout a voice, standing in church? ‘I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’” Lest he should say in his heart, “Scripture deceives us;” and all his limbs should be paralyzed to good works: and when those limbs within him, those limbs of the inner man, shall have been paralyzed (which is the more fearful paralysis), he should henceforth leave off from good works, and say to himself, “Wherefore do I do good works? Wherefore do I break my bread to the hungry, and clothe the naked, and take home to mine house him who hath no shelter, putting faith in that which is written? ‘I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread;’ whereas I see so many persons who live virtuously, yet for the most part suffering from hunger. But if perhaps I am in error in thinking the man who is living well, and the man who is living ill, to be both of them living well, and if God knows him to be otherwise; that is, knows him, whom I think just, to be unjust, what am I to make of Abraham’s case, who is commended by Scripture itself as a righteous person? What am I to make of the Apostle Paul, who says, ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.’ What? that I should myself be in evils such as he endured, ‘In hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness’?”
3. Whilst therefore he thus thinks, and whilst his limbs are paralyzed to the power of good works, can we, my brethren, as it were, lift up the sick of the palsy; and, as it were, “lay open the roof” of this Scripture, and let him down before the Lord. For you observe that it is obscure. If obscure therefore, it is covered. And I behold a certain patient paralytic in mind, and I see this roof, and am convinced that Christ is concealed beneath the roof. Let me, as far as I am able, do that which was praised in those who opened the roof, and let down the sick of the palsy before Christ; that He might say unto him, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”  For it was so that He made the inner man whole of his palsy, by loosing his sins, by binding fast his faith.…
4. But who is “the righteous” man, who “hath never been seen forsaken, nor his seed begging bread”? If you understand what is meant by “bread,” you understand who is meant by him. For the “bread” is the Word of God, which never departs from the righteous man’s mouth.…See now if “holy meditation doth ‘keep thee’” in the rumination of this bread, then “hast thou never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”
5. “He is always merciful, and lendeth” (ver. 26). “Fœneratur” is used in Latin indeed, both for him who lendeth, and for him who borroweth. But in this passage the meaning is more plain, if we express it by “fœnerat.” What matters it to us, what the grammarians please to rule? It were better for us to be guilty of a barbarism, so that ye understand, than that in our propriety of speech ye be left unprovided. Therefore, that “righteous man is all day merciful, and (fœnerat) lendeth.” Let not the lenders of money on usury, however, rejoice. For we find it is a particular kind of lender that is spoken of, as it was a particular kind of bread; that we may, in all passages, “remove the roof,” and find our way to Christ. I would not have you be lenders of money on usury; and I would not have you be such for this reason, because God would not have you.…Whence does it appear that God would not have it so? It is said in another place, “He that putteth not out his money to usury.” And how detestable, odious, and execrable a thing it is, I believe that even usurers themselves know. Again, on the other hand, I myself, nay rather our God Himself bids thee be an usurer, and says to thee, “Lend unto God.” If thou lendest to man, hast thou hope? and shalt thou not have hope, if thou lendest to God? If thou hast lent thy money on usury to man, that is, if thou hast given the loan of thy money to one, from whom thou dost expect to receive something more than thou hast given, not in money only, but anything, whether it be wheat, or wine, or oil, or whatever else you please, if you expect to receive more than you have given, you are an usurer, and in this particular are not deserving of praise, but of censure. “What then,” you say, “am I to do, that I may ‘lend’ profitably?” Consider what the usurer does. He undoubtedly desires to give a less sum, and to receive a larger; do thou this also; give thou a little, receive much. See how thy principal grows, and increases! Give “things temporal,” receive “things eternal:” give earth, receive heaven! And perhaps thou wouldest say, “To whom shall I give them?” The self-same Lord, who bade thee not lend on usury, comes forward as the Person to whom thou shouldest lend on usury! Hear from Scripture in what way thou mayest “lend unto the Lord.” “He that hath pity on the poor, lendeth unto the Lord.” For the Lord wanteth not aught of thee. But thou hast one who needs somewhat of thee: thou extendest it to him; he receives it. For the poor hath nothing to return to thee, and yet he would himself fain requite thee, and finds nothing wherewith to do it: all that remains in his power is the good-will that desires to pray for thee. Now when the poor man prays for thee, he, as it were, says unto God, “Lord, I have borrowed this; be Thou surety for me.” Then, though you have no bond on the poor man to compel his repayment, yet you have on a sponsible security. See, God from His own Scriptures saith unto thee; “Give it, and fear not; I repay it. It is to Me thou givest it.” In what way do those who make themselves sureties for others, express themselves? What is it that they say? “I repay it: I take it upon myself. It is to me you are giving it.” Do we then suppose that God also says this, “I take it on Myself. It is unto me thou givest it”? Assuredly, if Christ be God, of which there is no doubt, He hath Himself said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat.” And when they said unto Him, “When saw we Thee hungry?” that He might show Himself to be the Surety for the poor, that He answers for all His members, that He is the Head, they the members, and that when the members receive, the Head receiveth also; He says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these that belong to Me, ye have done it unto Me.” Come, thou covetous usurer, consider what thou hast given; consider what thou art to receive. Hadst thou given a small sum of money, and he to whom thou hadst given it were to give thee for that small sum a great villa, worth incomparably more money than thou hadst given, how great thanks wouldest thou render, with how great joy wouldest thou be transported! Hear what possession He to whom thou hast been lending bestows. “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive” —What? The same that they have given? God forbid! What you gave were earthly things, which, if you had not given them, would have become corrupted on earth. For what could you have made of them, if you had not given them? That which on earth would have been lost, has been preserved in heaven. Therefore what we are to receive is that which hath been preserved. It is thy desert that hath been preserved, thy desert hath been made thy treasure. For consider what it is that thou art to receive. Receive—“the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” On the other hand, what shall be their sentence, who would not “lend”? “Go ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” And what is the kingdom which we receive called? Consider what follows: “And these shall go into everlasting burning; but the righteous into life eternal.” Make interest for this; purchase this. Give your money on usury to earn this. You have Christ throned in heaven, begging on earth. We have discovered in what way the righteous lendeth. “He is alway merciful, and lendeth.”
6. “And his seed is blessed.” Here too let not any carnal notion suggest itself. We see many of the sons of the righteous dying of hunger; in what sense then will his seed be blessed? His seed is that which remains of him afterwards; that wherewith he soweth here, and will hereafter reap. For the Apostle says, “Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. As we have therefore time,” he says, “let us do good unto all men.” This is that “seed” of thine which shall “be blessed.” You commit it to the earth, and gather ever so much more; and dost thou lose it in committing it to Christ? See it expressly termed “seed” by the Apostle, when he was speaking of alms. For this he saith; “He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth in blessings, shall also reap in blessings.”…
7. Observe therefore what follows, and be not slothful. “Depart from evil, and do good” (ver. 27). Do not think it to be enough for thee to do, if thou dost not strip the man who is already clothed. For in not stripping the man who is already clothed, thou hast indeed “departed from evil:” but do not be barren, and wither. So choose not to strip the man who is clothed already, as to clothe the naked. For this is to “depart from evil, and to do good.” And you will say, “What advantage am I to derive from it?” He to whom thou lendest has already assured thee of what He will give thee. He will give thee everlasting life. Give to Him, and fear not! Hear too what follows: “Depart from evil, and do good, and dwell for evermore.” And think not when thou givest that no one sees thee, or that God forsakes thee, when haply after thou hast given to the poor, and some loss, or some sorrow for the property thou hast lost, should follow, and thou shouldest say to thyself, “What hath it profited me to have done good works? I believe God doth not love the men who do good.” Whence comes that buzz, that subdued murmur among you, except that those expressions are very common? Each one of you at this present moment recognises these expressions, either in his own lips, or on those of his friend. May God destroy them; may He root out the thorns from His field; may He plant “the good seed,” and “the tree bearing fruit”! For wherefore art thou afflicted, O man, that thou hast given some things away to the poor, and hast lost certain other things? Seest thou not that it is what thou hast not given, that thou hast lost? Wherefore dost thou not attend to the voice of thy God? Where is thy faith? wherefore is it so fast asleep? Wake it up in thy heart. Consider what the Lord Himself said unto thee, while exhorting thee to good works of this kind: “Provide yourselves bags which wax not old; a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth.” Call this to mind therefore when you are lamenting over a loss. Wherefore dost thou lament, thou fool of little mind, or rather of unsound mind? Wherefore didst thou lose it, except that thou didst not lend it to Me? Wherefore didst thou lose it? Who has carried it off? Thou wilt answer, “A thief.” Was it not this, that I forewarned thee of? that thou shouldest not lay it up where the thief could approach? If then he who has lost anything, grieves, let him grieve for this, that he did not lay it up there, whence it could not be lost.
8. “For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His Saints” (ver. 28). When the Saints suffer affliction, think not that God doth not judge, or doth not judge righteously. Will He, who warns thee to judge righteously, Himself judge unrighteously? He “loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His Saints.” But (think) how the “life” of the Saints is “hid with Him,” in such a manner, that who now suffer trouble on earth, like trees in the winter-time, having no fruit and leaves, when He, like a newly-risen sun, shall have appeared, that which before was living in their root, will show itself forth in fruits. He does then “love judgment, and doth not forsake His Saints.”…
9. “But the unrighteous shall be punished; the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.” Just as the “seed of the” other “shall be blessed,” so shall the “seed of the wicked be cut off.” For the “seed” of the wicked is the works of the wicked. For again, on the other hand, we find the son of the wicked man flourish in the world, and sometimes become righteous, and flourish in Christ. Be careful therefore how thou takest it; that thou mayest remove the covering, and make thy way to Christ. Do not take the text in a carnal sense; for thou wilt be deceived. But “the seed of the wicked”—all the works of the wicked—“will be cut off:” they shall have no fruit. For they are effective indeed for a short time; afterwards they shall seek for them, and shall not find the reward of that which they have wrought. For it is the expression of those who lose what they have wrought, that text which says, “What hath pride profited us, or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” “The seed of the wicked,” then, “shall be cut off.”
10. “The righteous shall inherit the land” (ver. 29). Here again let not covetousness steal on thee, nor promise thee some great estate; hope not to find there, what you are commanded to despise in this world. That “land” in the text, is a certain “land of the living,” the kingdom of the Saints. Whence it is said: “Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living.”  For if thy life too is the same life as that there spoken of, think what sort of “land” thou art about to inherit. That is “the land of the living;” this the land of those who are about to die: to receive again, when dead, those whom it nourished when living. Such then as is that land, such shall the life itself be also: if the life be for ever, “the land” also is to be thine “for ever.” And how is “the land” to be thine “for ever”?
“And they shall dwell therein” (it says) “for ever.” It must therefore be another land, where “they are to dwell therein for ever.” For of this land (of this earth) it is said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”
11. “The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom” (ver. 30). See here is that “bread.” Observe with what satisfaction this righteous man feedeth upon it; how he turns wisdom over and over in his mouth. “And his tongue talketh of judgment.”
“The law of his God is in his heart” (ver. 31). Lest haply thou shouldest think him to have that on his lips, which he hath not in his heart, lest thou shouldest reckon him among those of whom it is said, “This people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” And of what use is this to him?
“And none of his steps shall slide.” The “word of God in the heart” frees from the snare; the “word of God in the heart” delivers from the evil way; “the word of God in the heart” delivers from “the slippery place.” He is with thee, Whose word departeth not from thee. Now what evil doth he suffer, whom God keepeth? Thou settest a watchman in thy vineyard, and feelest secure from thieves; and that watchman may sleep, and may himself fall, and may admit a thief. But “He who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” “The law of his God is in his heart, and none of his steps shall slide.” Let him therefore live free from fear; let him live free from fear even in the midst of the wicked; free from fear even in the midst of the ungodly. For what evil can the ungodly or unrighteous man do to the righteous? Lo! see what follows.
“The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him” (ver. 32). For he says, what it was foretold in the book of Wisdom that he should say, “He is grievous unto us, even to behold; for his life is not like other men’s.” Therefore he “seeks to slay him.” What? Doth the Lord, who keepeth him, who dwelleth with him, who departeth not from his lips, from his heart, doth He forsake him? What then becomes of what was said before: “And He forsaketh not His Saints”?
12. “The wicked therefore watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. But the Lord will not leave him in his hands” (ver. 33). Wherefore then did He leave the Martyrs in the hands of the ungodly? Wherefore did they do unto them “whatsoever they would”? Some they slew with the sword; some they crucified; some they delivered to the beasts; some they burnt by fire; others they led about in chains, till wasted out by a long protracted decay. Assuredly “the Lord forsaketh not His Saints.” He will not “leave him in his hands.” Lastly, wherefore did He leave His own Son in “the hands of the ungodly”? Here also, if thou wouldest have all the limbs of thy inner man made strong, remove the covering of the roof, and find thy way to the Lord. Hear what another Scripture, foreseeing our Lord’s future suffering at the hands of the ungodly, saith. What saith it? “The earth is given into the hands of the wicked.” What is meant by “earth” being “given into the hands of the ungodly”? The delivering of the flesh into the hands of the persecutors. But God did not leave “His righteous One” there: from the flesh, which was taken captive, He leads forth the soul unconquered.…
“The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when there shall be judgment for him” (ver. 33). Some copies have it, “and when He shall judge him, there shall be judgment for him.” “For him,” however, means when sentence is passed upon him. For we can express ourselves so as to say to a person, “Judge for me,” i.e. “hear my cause.” When therefore God shall begin to hear the cause of His righteous servant, since “we must all” be presented “before the tribunal of Christ,” and stand before it to receive every one “the things he hath done in this body,” whether good or evil, when therefore he shall have come to that Judgment, He will not condemn him; though he may seem to be condemned in this present life by man. Even though the Proconsul may have passed sentence on Cyprian, yet the earthly seat of judgment is one thing, the heavenly tribunal is another. From the inferior tribunal he receives sentence of death; from the superior one a crown, “Nor will He condemn him when there shall be judgment for him.”
13. “Wait on the Lord” (ver. 34). And while I am waiting upon Him, what am I to do?—“and keep His ways.” And if I keep them, what am I to receive? “And He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” “What land”? Once more let not any estate suggest itself to your mind:—the land of which it is said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  What of those who have troubled us, in the midst of whom we have groaned, whose scandals we have patiently endured, for whom, while they were raging against us, we have prayed in vain? What will become of them? What follows? “When the wicked are cut off, thou shall see it.”…
“I have seen the ungodly lifted up on high, and rising above the cedars of Libanus” (ver. 35). And suppose him to be “lifted up on high;” suppose him to be towering above the “rest;” what follows?
“I passed by, and, lo, he was not! I sought him, and his place could nowhere be found!” (ver. 36). Why was he “no more, and his place nowhere to be found”? Because thou hast “passed by.” But if thou art yet carnally-minded, and that earthly prosperity appears to thee to be true happiness, thou hast not yet “passed by” him; thou art either his fellow, or thou art below him; go on, and pass him; and when thou hast made progress, and hast passed by him, thou observest him by the eye of faith; thou seest his end, thou sayest to thyself, “Lo! he who so swelled before, is not!” just as if it were some smoke that thou wert passing near to. For this too was said above in this very Psalm, “They shall consume and fade away as the smoke.”…
14. “Keep innocency” (ver. 37); keep it even as thou usedst to keep thy purse, when thou wert covetous; even as thou usedst to hold fast that purse, that it might not be snatched from thy grasp by the thief, even so “keep innocency,” lest that be snatched from thy grasp by the devil. Be that thy sure inheritance, of which the rich and the poor may both be sure. “Keep innocency.” What doth it profit thee to gain gold, and to lose innocence?
“Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing which is right.” Keep thou thine eyes “right,” that thou mayest see “the thing which is right;” not perverted, wherewith thou lookest upon the wicked; not distorted, so that God should appear to thee distorted and wrong, in that He favours the wicked, and afflicts the faithful with persecutions. Dost thou not observe how distorted thy vision is? Set right thine eyes, and “behold the thing that is right.” What “thing that is right”? Take no heed of things present. And what wilt thou see?
“For there is a remainder for the man that maketh peace.” What is meant by “there is a remainder”? When thou art dead, thou shalt not be dead. This is the meaning of “there is a remainder.” He will still have something remaining to him, even after this life, that is to say, that “seed,” which “shall be blessed.” Whence our Lord saith, “He that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live;”—“seeing there is a remainder for the man that maketh peace.”
15. “But the transgressors shall be destroyed in the self-same thing” (ver. 38). What is meant by, “in the self-same thing”? It means for ever: or all together in one and the same destruction.
“The remainder of the wicked shall be cut off.” Now there is “(a remainder) for the man that maketh peace:” they therefore who are not peace-makers are ungodly. For, “Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
16. “But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord, and He is their strength in the time of trouble” (ver. 39). “And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the sinners” (ver. 40). At present therefore let the righteous bear with the sinner; let the wheat bear with the tares; let the grain bear with the chaff: for the time of separation will come, and the good seed shall be set apart from that which is to be consumed with fire. The one will be consigned to the garner, the other to “everlasting burning;” for it was for this reason that the just and the unjust were at the first together; that the one should lay a stumbling-block, that the other should be proved; that afterwards the one should be condemned, the other receive a crown.…
- On another day.
- 2 Cor. xi. 27.
- Al. vanum, “Is it not false.”
- Isa. lviii. 7.
- 1 Cor. xi. 1.
- 2 Cor. xi. 27.
- Luke v. 19.
- Luke v. 20.
- Ps. xv. 5. [This intricate subject is nowhere more ably handled than by M. Huet in his Règne Social du Christianisme, cap. ix. p. 317, Paris, 1853.—C.]
- Prov. x. 17.
- Matt. xxv. 35.
- Matt. xxv. 37.
- Matt. xxv. 40.
- Matt. xxv. 34.
- Matt. xxv. 41.
- Matt. xxv. 46.
- Gal. vi. 9, 10.
- In benedictionibus (ἐπ’ εὐλογίαις), Rec. text; E.V. “bountifully.”
- 2 Cor. ix. 6.
- Luke xii. 33.
- Quomodò.—Ben. Quò modò. Quòd modò, “that now,” gives a better sense, or quo modo, “in such sort that.”
- Luke v. 19.
- Wisd. v. 8, 9.
- Ps. cxlii. 5.
- Matt. xxiv. 35.
- Isa. xxix. 13.
- Labinâ. Lubricus locus. Isidor.
- Ps. cxxi. 4.
- Wisd. ii. 15.
- Ps. xxxvii. 28.
- Matt. xvii. 12.
- Job ix. 24.
- Ps. xvi. 10.
- 2 Cor. v. 10.
- [See A.N.F. vol. V. p. 273.—C.]
- Matt. xxv. 34.
- Ps. xxxvii. 20.
- E.V. “For the end of that man is peace.”
- John xi. 25.
- In id ipsum.
- The Donatists.
- Matt. v. 9.
- St. Augustin omits, “because they trust in Him.” Vulgate has, quia speraverunt in eo.
- Matt. xiii. 30.
- Most mss. “should stumble.”