The Third Sunday in Advent
Augustine on Psalm XCIV
Advent Three Home
LORD, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our heart, by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Source: Collect-Middle Ages-found in 1549 COE Prayer Book.
Psalms 52, 53 | 93, 94 , 1 Corinthians iv. 1 & St. Matthew xi. 2
Homily of Augustine on Psalm XCIV
Psalm for Morning and Evening 52,53 | 93, 94
1 Corinthians iv. 1LET a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
St. Matthew xi. 2NOW when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
1. As we listened with much attention, while the Psalm was in reading,
so let us listen attentively, while the Lord revealeth the mysteries
which He hath deigned to obscure in this passage. For some mysteries in
the Scriptures are shut up for this reason, not that they may be
denied, but that they may be opened unto those who knock. If therefore
ye knock with affection of piety, and sincere heartfelt love, He, who
seeth from what motives ye knock, will open unto you.  It is
known unto all of us (and I wish we may not be among their number),
that may murmur against God's long-suffering, and grieve either that
impious and wicked men live in this world, or that they have great
power; and what is more, that the bad generally have great power
against the good, and that the bad often oppress the good; that the
wicked exult, while the good suffer; the evil are proud, while the good
are humbled. Observing such things in the human race (for they abound),
impatient and weak minds are perverted, as if they were good in vain;
since God averteth, or seemeth to avert, His eyes from the good works
of the pious and faithful, and to promote the wicked in those pleasures
which they love. Weak men, therefore, imagining that they live well in
vain, are induced either to imitate the wickedness of those whom they
see flourishing: or if either through bodily or mental weakness they
are deterred from doing wrong by a fear of the penal laws of the world;
not because they love justice, but, to speak more openly, fearing the
condemnation of men among men, they refrain indeed from wicked deeds,
but refrain not from wicked thoughts. And among their wicked thoughts,
the chief is the wickedness which leadeth them impiously to imagine
that God is neglectful, and regardless of human affairs: and that He
either holdeth in equal estimation the good and the wicked: or even,
and this is a still more pernicious notion, that He persecuteth the
good, and favoureth the wicked. He who thinketh thus, although he doth
no harm to any man, doth the greatest to himself, and is impious
against himself, and by his wickedness hurteth not God, but slayeth
2. The Psalm hath this title, that is, this inscription: "A Psalm of David himself, on the fourth day of the week." This Psalm is about to teach patience in the sufferings of the righteous: it enjoineth patience against the prosperity of the wicked, and buildeth up patience. This is the drift of the whole of it, from beginning to end. Wherefore then hath it such a title, "on the fourth of the week"? The first of the week is the Lord's day: the second, is the second week-day, which people of the world call the Moon's day: the third, is the third weekday, which they term Mars' day. The fourth of the Sabbaths therefore is the fourth week-day, which by Pagans is styled Mercury's day, and also by many Christians; but I would not call it so: and I wish they would change for the better, and cease to do so; for they have a phrase of their own, which they may use. For these terms are not of universal use: many nations have severally different names for them: so that the mode of speech used by the Church better beseemeth the mouth of a Christian.  Yet if custom hath induced any person to utter that with his tongue which his heart doth disapprove, let him remember, that all those whose names the stars bear were men, and that the stars did not commence their existence in the sky, when those men began theirs, but were there long before; but on account of some mortal services rendered unto mortals, those men in their own times, because they had great power, and were eminent in this life, since they were beloved by men, not on account of eternal life, but of temporal services, received divine honours. For then men of the old world, in being deceived and wishing to deceive, pointed to the stars in heaven, to flatter those who had done them any good service in their affection for this life, saying, that that was the star of such a man, this of another; while the man who had not beheld them before, so as to see that those stars were there before the birth of the man, were deceived into a belief: and thus this vain opinion was conceived. This erroneous opinion the devil strengthened, Christ overthrew. According to our mode of speech, then, the fourth of the week is taken for the fourth day from the Lord's day. Attend, therefore, beloved, to what this title meaneth. Here is a great mystery, and a truly hidden one....Let us therefore recall from the holy Scripture in Genesis, what was created on the first day; we find light: what was created on the second day; we find the firmament, which God called heaven: what was created on the third day; we find the form of earth and sea, and their separation, that all the gathering together of the waters was called sea, and all that was dry, the earth. On the fourth day, the Lord made the lights in heaven:  "The sun to rule the day: the moon and stars to govern the night:"  this was the work of the fourth day. What then is the reason that the Psalm hath taken its title from the fourth day: the Psalm in which patience is enjoined against the prosperity of the wicked, and the sufferings of the good. Thou findest the Apostle Paul speaking. "Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life."  ...
3. Let us now attend to the Psalm. "The Lord is the God of vengeance; the God of vengeance hath dealt confidently" (ver. 1). Dost thou think that He doth not punish? "The God of vengeance" punisheth. What is, "The God of vengeance"? The God of punishments. Thou murmurest surely because the bad are not punished: yet do not murmur, lest thou be among those who are punished. That man hath committed a theft, and liveth: thou murmurest against God, because he who committed a theft on thee dieth not....Therefore, if thou wouldest have another correct his hand, do thou first correct thy tongue: thou wouldest have him correct his heart towards man, correct thy heart towards God; lest perchance, when thou desirest the vengeance of God, if it come, it find thee first. For He will come: He will come, and will judge those who continue in their wickedness, ungrateful for the prolongation of His mercy, for His long-suffering, treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds:  because, "The Lord is the God of vengeance," therefore hath He "dealt confidently."...Our safety is our Saviour: in Him He would place the hope of all the needy and poor. And what saith He? "I will deal confidently in Him." What meaneth this? He will not fear, will not spare the lusts and vices of men. Truly, as a faithful physician, with the healing knife of preaching in His hand, He hath cut away all our wounded parts. Therefore such as He was prophesied and preached beforehand, such was He found....How great things then did He, of whom it is said, "He taught them as one having authority," say unto them? "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!"  What great things did He say unto them, before their face? He feared no one. Why? Because He is the God of vengeance. For this reason He spared them not in words, that they might remain for Him after to spare them in judgment; because if they were unwilling to accept the healing of His word, they would afterwards incur their Judge's doom. Wherefore? Because He hath said, "The Lord is the God of vengeance, the God of vengeance hath dealt confidently;" that is, He hath spared no man in word. He who spared not in word when about to suffer, will He spare in judgment when about to judge? He who in His humility feared no man, will He fear any man in His glory? From His dealing thus confidently in time past, imagine how He will deal at the end of time. Murmur not then against God, who seemeth to spare the wicked; but be thou good, and perhaps for a season He may not spare thee the rod, that He may in the end spare thee in judgment....
4. And what followed, because He dealt confidently? "Be exalted, Thou Judge of the world" (ver. 2). Because they imprisoned Him when humble, thinkest thou they will imprison Him when exalted? Because they judged Him when mortal, will they not be judged by Him when immortal? What then saith He? "Be exalted," Thou, who hast dealt confidently, the confidence of whose word the wicked bore not, but thought they did a glorious deed, when they seized and crucified Thee; they who ought to have seized on Thee with faith, seized Thee with persecution. Thou then who hast among the wicked dealt confidently, and hast feared no man, because Thou hast suffered, "be exalted;" that is, arise again, depart into heaven. Let the Church also bear with long-suffering what the Church's Head hath borne with long-suffering. "Be exalted, Thou Judge of the world: and reward the proud after their deserving." He will reward them, brethren. For what is this, "Be exalted, Thou Judge of the world: and reward the proud after their deserving"? This is the prophecy of one who doth predict, not the boldness of one who commandeth. Not because the Prophet said, "Be exalted, Thou Judge of the world," did Christ obey the Prophet, in arising from the dead, and ascending into heaven; but because Christ was to do this, the Prophet predicted it. He seeth Christ abased in the spirit, abased he seeth Him: fearing no man, in speech sparing no man, and he saith, "He hath dealt confidently." He seeth how confidently He hath dealt, he seeth Him arrested, crucified, humbled, he seeth Him rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven, and from thence to come in judgment of those, among whose hands He had suffered every evil: "Be exalted," he saith, "Thou Judge of the world, and reward the proud after their deserving." The proud He will thus reward, not the humble. Who are the proud? Those to whom it is little to do evil: but they even defend their own sins. For on some of those who crucified Christ, miracles were afterwards performed, when out of the number of the Jews themselves there were found believers, and the blood of Christ was given unto them. Their hands were impious, and red with the blood of Christ. He whose blood they had shed, Himself washed them. They who had persecuted His mortal body which they had seen, became part of His very body, that is, the Church. They shed their own ransom, that they might drink their own ransom. For afterwards more were converted....
5. "Lord, how long shall the ungodly, how long shall the ungodly triumph?" (ver. 3). "They answer, and will speak wickedness, they all will speak that work unrighteousness" (ver. 4). What is their saying, but against God, when they say: What profiteth it us that we live thus? What wilt thou reply? Doth God truly regard our deeds? For because they live, they imagine that God knoweth not their actions. Behold, what evil happeneth unto them! If the officers  knew where they were, they would arrest them; and they therefore avoid the officer's eyes, that they may escape instant apprehension; but no one can escape the eye of God, since He not only seeth within the closet, but within the recesses of the heart. Even they themselves believe that nothing can escape God: and because they do evil, and are conscious of what they have done, and see that they live while God knoweth, though they would not live if the officer discovered them; they say unto themselves, These things please God: and, in truth, if they displeased Him, as they displease kings, as they displease judges, as they displease governors, as they displease recorders,  yet could we escape the eye of God, as we do escape the eyes of those authorities? Therefore these things please God....Some righteous man cometh, and saith, Do not commit iniquity. Wherefore? That thou mayest not die. Behold, iniquity I have committed: why do I not die? That man wrought righteousness: and he is dead: why is he dead? I have wrought iniquity: why hath not God carried me off? Behold, that man did righteously: and why hath He thus visited him? why suffereth He thus? They answer; this is the meaning of the word "answer:" for they have a reply to make; because they are spared, from the long-suffering of God, they discover an argument for their reply. He spareth them for one reason, they answer for another, because they still live. For the Apostle telleth us wherefore He spareth, he expoundeth the grounds of the long-suffering of God: "And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the long-suffering of God leadeth thee to repentance?" "But thou," that is, he who answereth and saith, If I displeased God, He would not spare me, hear what he worketh for himself; hear the Apostle; "but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up into thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds."  He therefore increaseth His long-suffering, thou increasest thine iniquity. His treasure will consist in eternal mercy towards those who have not despised His mercy; but thy treasure will be discovered in wrath, and what thou daily layest up by little and little, thou wilt find in the accumulated mass; thou layest up by the grain, but thou wilt find the whole heap. Omit not to watch thy slightest daily sins: rivers are filled from the smallest drops.
6. ..."They have humbled Thy people, O Lord; and have troubled Thine heritage" (ver. 5). "They have murdered the widow, and the fatherless: and slain the proselyte" (ver. 6); that is, the traveller, the pilgrim: the comer from far, as the Psalmist calleth himself. Each of these expressions is too clear in meaning to make it worth while to dwell upon them.
7. "And they have said, The Lord shall not see" (ver. 7): He observeth not, regardeth not these things: He careth for other matters, He understandeth not. These are the two assertions of the wicked: one which I have just quoted, "These things hast thou done, and I held my tongue, and thou thoughtest unrighteousness, that I will be like thyself." What meaneth, "that I will be like thyself"? Thou thinkest that I see thy deeds, and that they are pleasing unto Me, because I do not punish them. There is another assertion of the wicked: because God neither regardeth these things, nor observeth that He may know how I live, God heedeth me not. Doth then God make any reckoning of me? or doth He even take account of me? or of men in general? Unhappy man! He cared for thee, that thou mightest exist: doth He not care that thou live well? Such then are the words of these last; "and yet they have said, The Lord shall not see: neither shall the God of Jacob regard it."
8. "Take heed now, ye that are unwise among the people: O ye fools, some time understand!" (ver. 8). He teacheth His people whose feet might slip: any one among them seeth the prosperity of the wicked, himself living well among the Saints of God, that is, among the number of the sons of the Church: he seeth that the wicked flourish, and work iniquity, he envieth, and is led to follow them in their actions; because he seeth that apparently it profiteth him nothing that he liveth well in humility, hoping for his reward here. For if he hopeth for it in future, he loseth it not; because the time is not yet come for him to receive it. Thou art working in a vineyard: execute thy task, and thou shalt receive thy pay. Thou wouldest not exact it from thy employer, before thy work was finished, and yet dost thou exact it from God before thou dost work? This patience is part of thy work, and thy pay dependeth upon thy work: thou who dost not choose to be patient, choosest to work less upon the vineyard: since this act of patience belongeth to thy labouring itself, which is to gain thy pay. But if thou art treacherous, take care, lest thou shouldest not only not receive thy pay, but also suffer punishment, because thou hast chosen to be a treacherous labourer. When such a labourer beginneth to do ill, he watcheth his employer's eyes, who hired him for his vineyard, that he may loiter when his eye is turned away; but the moment his eyes are turned towards him, he worketh diligently. But God, who hired thee, averteth not His eyes: thou canst not work treacherously: the eyes of thy Master are ever upon thee: seek an opportunity to deceive Him, and loiter if thou canst. If then any of you had any such ideas, when ye saw the wicked flourishing, and if such thoughts caused your feet to slip in the path of God; to you this Psalm speaketh: but if perchance none of you be such, through you it doth address others, in these words, "Take heed now;" since they had said, "The Lord shall not see: neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." "Take heed," it saith, "now, ye that are unwise among the people: and ye fools, some time understand!" 
9. "He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? or He that made the eye, doth He not consider?" (ver. 9) "or He that instructeth the nations, shall He not reprove?" (ver. 10). This is what God is at present doing: He is instructing the nations: for this reason he sent His word to man throughout the world: He sent it by Angels, by Patriarchs, by Prophets, by servants, through so many heralds going before the Judge. He sent also His own Word Himself, He sent His own Son in Person: He sent the servants of His Son, and in these very servants His own Son. Throughout the world is everywhere preached the word of God. Where is it not said unto men, Abandon your former wickedness, and turn yourselves to right paths? He spareth, that ye may correct yourselves: He punished not yesterday, in order that to-day ye may live well. He teacheth the heathen, shall He not therefore reprove? will He not hear those whom He teacheth? will He not judge those to whom He hath beforehand sent and sown lessons of warning? If thou wast in a school, wouldest thou receive a task, and not repeat it? When therefore thou receivest it from thy master, thou art being taught: the Master giveth thy task into thy hands, and shall He not exact it from thee when thou comest to repeat it? or when thou hast begun to repeat it, shalt thou not be in fear of stripes? At present then we are receiving our work: afterwards we are placed before the Master, that we may give up to Him all our past tasks, that is, that we may give an account of all those things which are now being bestowed upon us. Hear the Apostle's words: "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ," etc.  "It is He that teacheth man knowledge." Doth He not know, who maketh thee to know?
10. "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are but vain" (ver. 11). For although thou knowest not the thoughts of God, that they are righteous; "He knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are but vain." Even men have known the thoughts of God: but those to whom He hath become a friend, it is to them He showeth His counsel. Do not, brethren, despise yourselves: if ye approach the Lord with faith, ye hear the thoughts of God; these ye are now learning, this is told you, and for this reason ye are taught, why God spareth the wicked in this life, that ye may not murmur against God, who teacheth man knowledge. "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are but vain." Abandon therefore the thoughts of man, which are vain: that ye may take hold on the thoughts of God, which are wise. But who is he who taketh hold on the thoughts of God? He who is placed in the firmament of heaven. We have already chanted that Psalm, and have expounded this expression therein.
11. "Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord: and teachest him from Thy law" (ver. 12). Behold, thou hast the counsel of God, wherefore He spareth the wicked: the pit is being digged for the sinner. Thou wishest to bury him at once: the pit is as yet being dug for him: do not be in haste to bury him. What mean the words, "until the pit be digged up for the sinner"? or whom doth He mean by sinner? One man? No. Whom then? The whole race of such that are sinners? No; them that are proud; for he had said before, "Reward the proud after their deserving." For that publican, who would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but "smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,"  was a sinner; but since he was not proud, and since God will render a recompense to the proud; the pit is being dug not for him, but for them that are such, until He render a recompense to the proud. In the words then, "until the pit be digged up for the ungodly," understand the proud. Who is the proud? He who doth not by confession of his sins do penance, that he may be healed through his humility. Who is the proud? He who chooseth to arrogate to himself those few good things which he seemeth to possess, and who doth detract from the mercy of God. Who is the proud? He who although he doth ascribe unto God his good works, yet insulteth those who do not those good works, and raiseth himself above them....This then is the Christian doctrine: no man doeth anything well except by His grace. A man's bad acts are his own: his good he doth of God's bounty. When he hath begun to do well, let not him ascribe it unto himself: when he hath not attributed it to himself, let him give thanks to Him from whom he hath received it. But when he doeth well, let him not insult him who doth not as he doth nor exalt himself above him: for the grace of God is not stayed at him, so that it cannot reach another.
12. "That Thou mayest give him patience in days of malice: until the pit be digged up for the ungodly" (ver. 13). Have patience therefore every one, if thou art a Christian, in time of malice. Days of malice are those in which the ungodly appear to flourish, and the righteous to suffer; but the suffering of the righteous is the rod of the Father, and the prosperity of the ungodly is their own snare. For because God giveth you patience in time of adversity, until the pit be digged up for the ungodly, do not think that the Angels are standing in some place with mattocks, and are digging that great pit which shall be able to contain the whole race of the ungodly; and because ye see that the wicked are many, and say unto yourselves carnally: Truly what pit can contain so great a multitude of the wicked, such a crowd of sinners? where is a pit of such dimensions, as to contain all, dug? when finished? therefore God spareth them. This is not so: their very prosperity is the pit of the wicked: for into that shall they fall, as it were into a pitfall. Attend, brethren, for it is a great thing to know that prosperity is called a pitfall: "until the pit be digged up for the ungodly." For God spareth him whom He knoweth to be ungodly and impious, in His own hidden justice: and this very sparing of God, causeth him to be puffed up through his impunity....The proud man raiseth himself up against God: God sinketh him: and he sinketh by the very act of raising himself up against God. For in another Psalm  he thus saith, "Thou hast cast them down, while they were being exalted." He said not, Thou hast cast them down, because they were exalted; or, Thou hast cast them down, after they were exalted; so that the period of their exaltation be one, of their casting down another: but in the very act of their exaltation were they cast down. For in proportion as the heart of man is proud, so doth it recede from God; and if it recede from God, it sinketh down into the deep. On the other hand, the humble heart bringeth God unto it from heaven, so that He becometh very near unto it. Surely God is lofty, God is above all the heavens, He surpasseth all the Angels: how high must these be raised, to reach that exalted One? Do not burst thyself by enlarging thyself; I give thee other advice, lest perchance in enlarging thyself thou burst, through pride: surely God is lofty: do thou humble thyself, and He will descend unto thee.
13. ...Do thou rejoice beneath the scourge: because the heritage is kept for thee, "for the Lord will not cast off His people" (ver. 14). He chasteneth for a season, He condemneth not for ever: the others He spareth for a season, and will condemn them for evermore. Make thy choice: dost thou wish temporary suffering, or eternal punishment? temporal happiness, or eternal life? What doth God threaten? Eternal punishment. What doth He promise? Eternal rest. His scourging the good, is temporary: His sparing the wicked, is also temporary. "Neither will He forsake His inheritance."
14. "Until righteousness," he saith, "turn again unto judgment, and all they that have it are right in heart" (ver. 15). Listen now, and gain righteousness: for judgment thou canst not yet have. Thou shouldest gain righteousness first; but that very righteousness of thine shall turn unto judgment. The Apostles had righteousness here on earth, and bore with the wicked. But what is said unto them? "Ye shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  Their righteousness therefore shall turn unto judgment. For whoever is righteous in this life, is so for this reason, that he may endure evils with patience: let him suffer patiently the period of suffering, and the day of judging cometh. But why do I speak of the servants of God? The Lord Himself, who is the Judge of all living and dead, first chose to be judged, and then to judge. Those who have righteousness at present, are not yet judges. For the first thing is to have righteousness, and afterwards to judge: He first endureth the wicked, and afterwards judgeth them. Let there be righteousness now: afterwards it shall turn again unto judgment. And so long He endureth wicked men, as God doth will, as long as God's Church shall endure them, that she may be taught through their wickedness. Nevertheless, God will not cast off His people, "all such as have it are right in heart." Who are those who are right in heart? Those whose will is the will of God. He spareth sinners: thou dost wish Him at once to destroy sinners. Thy heart is crooked and thy will perverted, when thy will is one way and the will of God another. God wisheth to spare sinners: thou dost not wish sinners spared. God is of long-suffering to sinners: thou dost not wish to endure sinners....Wish not to bend the will of God to thy will, but rather correct thy will to His. The will of God is like a rule: behold, suppose, thou hast twisted the rule: whence canst thou be set straight? But the rule itself continueth straight: for it is immutable. As long as the rule is straight, thou hast whither to turn thyself, and straighten thy perversity; thou hast a means of correcting what is crooked in thee. But what do men will? It is not enough that their own will is crooked; they even wish to make the will of God crooked according to their own heart, that God may do what they themselves will, when they ought to do that which God willeth....
15. "Who will rise up for me against the wicked? or who will take my part against the evil doers?" (ver. 16). Many persuade us to divers evils: the serpent ceaseth not to whisper to thee to work iniquity: whichever way thou shalt turn, if perchance thou hast done well, thou seekest to live well with some one, and thou hardly findest any one; many wicked men surround thee, for there are few grains of wheat, and much chaff. This floor hath its grains of corn, but as yet they suffer. Therefore the whole mass of the wheat, when separated from the chaff, will be great: the grains are few, but when compared with the chaff, still many in themselves. When therefore the wicked cry out on every side, and say, Why livest thou thus? Art thou the only Christian? Why dost thou not do what others also do? Why dost thou not frequent the theatres, as others do? Why dost thou not use charms and amulets? Why dost thou not consult astrologers and soothsayers, even as others do? And thou crossest  thyself, and sayest, I am Christian, that thou mayest repel them, whosoever they are; but the enemy presses on, urges his attacks; what is worse, by the example of Christians he choketh Christians. They toil on, in the midst of heat: the Christian soul suffereth tribulation: yet it hath power to conquer: hath it such power of itself? For this reason remark what he saith. For he answereth, What doth it profit me that I now find charms for myself, and gain a few days? I depart hence from this life, and repair unto my Lord, who shall send me into the flames; because I have preferred a few days to life eternal, He shall send me into hell. What hell? That of the eternal judgment of God. Is it really so (the enemy answereth), unless indeed thou really believest that God careth how men live? And perhaps it is not an acquaintance who speaketh thus to thee in the street, but thy wife at home, or possibly the husband to the faithful and holy wife, her deceiver. If it be the woman to her husband, she is as Eve unto him; if as the husband unto the wife, he is as the devil unto her: either she is herself as Eve unto thee, or thou art a serpent unto her. Sometimes the father would incline his thoughts to his son, and findeth him wicked, utterly depraved: he is in a fever of misery, he wavers, he seeketh how to subdue him, he is almost drawn in, and consenteth: but may God be  near him....
16. "If the Lord," he saith, "had not helped me: within a little my soul had dwelt in hell" (ver. 17). I had almost plunged into that pit which is preparing for sinners: that is, my soul had dwelt in hell. Because he already began to waver, and nearly to consent, he looked back unto the Lord. Suppose, for example's sake, he was insulted to tempt him to iniquity. For sometimes the wicked flock together, and insult the good; especially if they are more in number, and if they have taken him alone, as there is often much chaff about one grain of wheat (though there will not be when the heap hath been fanned); he is then taken among many wicked ones, is insulted, and surrounded; they wish to place themselves over him, they torment him and insult him for his very righteousness. A great Apostle! say they; Thou hast flown into heaven, as Elias did! Men do these things, so that sometime, when he listeneth to the tongue of men, he is ashamed to be good among the wicked. Let him therefore resist the evil; but not of his own strength, lest he become proud, and when he wishes to escape the proud, himself increase their number....
17. "If I said, My foot hath slipt; Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up" (ver. 18). See how God loveth confession. Thy foot hath slipt, and thou sayest not, my foot hath slipt; but thou sayest thou art firm, when thou art slipping. The moment thou beginnest to slip or waver, confess thou that slip, that thou mayest not bewail thy total fall; that He may help, so that thy soul be not in hell. God loveth confession, loveth humility. Thou hast slipped, as a man; God helpeth thee, nevertheless: yet say, "My foot hath slipt." Why dost thou slip, and yet sayest, I am firm? "When I said, My foot hath slipt, Thy mercy, O Lord, hath held me up." Just as Peter presumed, but not in strength of his own. The Lord was seen to walk upon the sea, trampling on the heads of all the proud in this life. In walking upon the foaming waves, He figured His own course when He trampleth on the heads of the proud. The Church too doth trample upon them: for Peter is the Church Herself. Nevertheless, Peter dared not by himself walk upon the waters; but what said he? "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water."  He in His own power, Peter by His order; "bid me," he saith, "come unto Thee." He answered, "Come." For the Church also trampleth on the heads of the proud; but since it is the Church, and hath human weakness, that these words might be fulfilled, "If I said, My foot hath slipt," Peter tottered on the sea, and cried out, "Lord, save me!"  and so what is here put, "If I said, My foot hath slipt," is put there, "Lord, I perish." And what is here, "Thy mercy, O Lord, hath held me up," is there put, "And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, saying, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"  It is wonderful how God proveth men: our very dangers render Him who rescueth us sweeter unto us. For see what followeth: because he said, "If I said, My foot hath slipt, Thy mercy, O Lord, hath held me up." The Lord hath become especially sweet unto him, in rescuing him from danger; and thus speaking of this very sweetness of the Lord, he exclaimeth and saith, "O Lord, in the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, Thy comforts have refreshed my soul" (ver. 19). Many sorrows, but many consolations: bitter wounds, and sweet remedies.
18. "Wilt Thou have anything to do with the stool of iniquity, who makest sorrow in learning?" (ver. 20). He hath said this, No wicked man sitteth with Thee, nor shalt Thou have anything to do with the stool of iniquity. And he giveth an account whereof he understandeth this, "For Thou makest sorrow in learning." For from this, because Thou hast not spared us, do I understand that Thou hast nothing to do with the stool of iniquity. Thou hast this in the Epistle of the Apostle Peter, and for this reason he hath adduced a testimony from the Scripture: "for the time is come," he saith, "that judgment must begin at the house of God;" that is, the time is come for the judgment of those who belong to the house of God. If sons are scourged, what must the most wicked slaves expect? For which reason he added: "And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?" To which he added this testimony: "For if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?"  How then shall the wicked be with Thee, if Thou dost not even spare Thy faithful, in order that Thou mayest exercise and teach them?  But as He spareth them not, for this reason, that He may teach them: he saith, "For Thou makest sorrow in learning." "Makest," that is, formest: from whence comes the word figulus (from fingo), and a potter's vessel is called fictile: not in the meaning of fiction, a falsehood, but of forming so as to give anything being and some sort of form; as before he said, "He that fabricated (finxit) the eye, shall He not see?"  Is that, "fabricated the eye" a falsehood? Nay, it is understood He fashioned the eye, made the eye. And is He not a potter when He makes men frail, weak, earthly? Hear the Apostle: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels."  ...Behold our Lord Himself, how He showeth Himself a potter.  Because He had made man of clay, He anointed him with clay, for whom He had not made eyes in the womb. And so when he saith, "Hast Thou anything to do," etc., he saith, out of grief makest learning for us, so that grief itself becomes our instruction. How is sorrow our learning? When He scourgeth thee who died for thee, and who doth not promise bliss in this life, and who cannot deceive, and when He giveth not here what thou seekest. What will He give? when will He give? how much will He give, who giveth not here, who here teacheth, who maketh sorrow in learning? Thy labour is here, and rest is promised thee. Thou takest thought that thou hast toil here: but take thought what sort of rest He promiseth. Canst thou conceive it? If thou couldest, thou wouldest see that thy toil here is nothing toward an equivalent....
19. Attend, brethren; it is for sale.  What I have is for sale, saith God unto thee, buy it. What hath He for sale? I have rest for sale; buy it by thy toil. Attend, that we may be in Christ's name brave Christians: the remainder of the Psalm is but a little, let us not be weary. For how can he be strong in doing, who faileth in hearing? The Lord will help us to expound unto you the remainder. Attend then: God hath, as it were, proclaimed the kingdom of heaven for sale. Thou sayest unto Him, What is its value? The price is toil: if He were to say, its price is gold, it would not suffice to say this only, but thou wouldest seek to know how much gold; for there is a mass of gold, and half an ounce, and a pound, and the like. He said "price," that thou mightest not be at pains to inquire, how long thou shouldest find it. The price of the commodity is toil: how much toil is it? Now seek how much thou shouldest toil for it. Thou art not as yet told how great that toil is doomed to be, or how much toil is required of thee: God saith this unto thee, I show thee how great that rest will be; do thou judge with what measure of toil it should be bought.
20. ...He promised rest: suffer trouble. He threateneth eternal fire; despise temporal pains: and while Christ doth watch, let thy heart be calmed, that thou also mayest reach the harbour. For He would not fail to prepare a harbour, who provided a vessel. "Hast Thou anything to do with the stool of iniquity, Thou who makest sorrow in learning?" He trieth us with the wicked, and by their persecution He teacheth us. By means of the malice of the wicked the good is scourged, through the slave the son is chastened: thus is learning taught by sorrow. What God alloweth them power to do, that do wicked men, whom He spareth for a season, do.
21. For what followeth? "They will be captious against the soul of the righteous" (ver. 21). Why will they be captious? Because they can find no true ground of accusation. For how were they captious against our Lord? They made up false accusations,  because they could not find true ones. "And will condemn the innocent blood." Why all this taketh place, he will show in the sequel.
22. "And the Lord is become my refuge" (ver. 22), he saith. Thou wouldest not seek such a refuge, if thou wert not in danger: but thou hast therefore been in danger, that thou mightest seek for it: for He teacheth us by sorrow. He causeth me tribulation from the malice of the wicked: pricked with that tribulation, I begin to seek a refuge which I had ceased to seek for in that worldly prosperity. For who, that is always prosperous, and rejoiceth in present hopes, findeth it easy to remember God? Let the hope of this life give way, and the hope of God advance; that thou mayest say, "And the Lord is become my refuge:" may I sorrow for this end that the Lord may become my refuge! "And my God the help of my hope." For as yet the Lord is our hope, since as long as we are here, we are in hope, and not in possession. But lest we fail in hope, there is near us a provision to encourage us, and to mitigate those very evils which we suffer. For it is not said in vain, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it:"  who will so put us into that furnace of tribulation, that the vessel may be hardened, but not broken. "And the Lord is become my refuge: and my God the help of my hope." Why then did He seem to thee to be as it were unjust, in that He spareth the evil? See then how the Psalm is now set right, and be thou set right together with the Psalm: for, for this reason the Psalm contained thy words. What words? "Lord, how long shall the ungodly, how long shall the ungodly triumph?"  The Psalm just now used thy words: use therefore thyself the Psalm's words in thy turn.
23. "And the Lord shall recompense them according to their works, and after their own malice; the Lord our God shall destroy them" (ver. 23). The words, "after their own malice," are not said without meaning. I am benefited through them: and yet it is said to be their malice, and not their benefits. For assuredly He trieth us, scourgeth us, by means of the wicked. To prepare us for what doth He scourge us? Confessedly for the kingdom of heaven. "For He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"  and when God doth this, He is teaching us in order to an eternal heritage: and this learning He often giveth us by means of wicked men, through whom He trieth and perfecteth our love, which He doth will to be extended even to our enemies.  ...Thus also they who persecuted the Martyrs, by persecuting them on earth, sent them into heaven: knowingly they caused them the loss of the present life, while unconsciously they were bestowing upon them the gain of a future life: but, nevertheless, unto all who persevered in their wicked hatred of the righteous, will God recompense after their own iniquities, and in their own malice will He destroy them. For as the goodness of the righteous is hurtful unto the wicked, so is the iniquity of the wicked beneficial unto the righteous....
24. Let therefore the righteous bear with the ungodly; let the temporal suffering of the righteous bear with the temporal impunity of the wicked; for "the just shall live by faith."  For there is no righteousness of man in this life except to live by faith, "which worketh by love."  But if he liveth by faith, let him believe both that he will himself inherit rest after his present toil, and that they will suffer eternal torments after their present exultation. And if faith worketh by love, let him love his enemies also, and, as far as in him lies, have the will to profit them; for thus he will prevent their injuring him when they have the will. And whenever perchance they have received power to hurt and tyrannize; let him lift his heart above, where no man hurteth him, well taught and chastened in the law of God, that he may "have patience given him in the days of adversity, until the pit be digged up for the ungodly."... 25. This I say, brethren, that ye may profit from what ye have heard, and ruminate within yourselves: permit not yourselves to forget, not only by thinking over again upon these subjects, and discoursing upon them, but also by so living. For a good life which is led after God's commands, is like a pen, because it is heard writing in our hearts. If it were written on wax, it would easily be blotted out: write it in your hearts, in your character, and it shall never be blotted out.
Let us pray in the words of Augustine.
Turn we to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts offer to him, so far as our meanness can, great and true thanks, with all our hearts praying his exceeding kindness, that of his good pleasure he would deign to hear our prayers, that by his Power he would drive out the enemy from our deeds and thoughts, that he would increase our faith, guide our understandings, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss, through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with him, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[A prayer which he was wont to use after his Sermons and Lectures.]
NPNF (V1-08) St. Augustine
 Lat. XCIII. Delivered in another's diocese, at the request of an assembly of bishops, as appears from the conclusion.  Matt. vii. 7.  ["The first day of the week," etc.--C.]  Gen. i. 3-19.  Ps. cxxxvi. 8, 9.  Philip. ii. 14-16.  Rom. ii. 4-6.  Matt. xxiii. 13, 16.  Stationarius. Soldiers, and officers of the governors, stationed in certain places through the provinces and cities, who gave information to the magistrates of notorious offences. Ex l. 1, c. De Curios. et Stationar. libro 12, et ex l. 31, De Episc. et Cler. in C. Theod. Ben. Cod. Theod. Gothof. l. vi. Tit. 29.  Commentariensibus, masters of prisons, and notaries, whose duty it was to keep records of imprisonments and offenders, and to receive indictments.--Ben.  Rom. ii. 5, 6.  [On Plutarch's "Delays of the Divine Justice," see the valuable translation of De Maistre, with that of Amyot, Paris, 1853.--C.]  2 Cor. v. 10 and Rom. xiv. 10.  Luke xviii. 13.  Ps. lxxii. 18.  Matt. xix. 28.  Et tu signas te.  Al. "God is."  Matt. xiv. 28.  Matt. xiv. 30.  Matt. xiv. 31.  1 Pet. iv. 17, 18.  Prov. xi. 31.  Ps. xciv. 9.  2 Cor. iv. 7.  Rom. iv. 20, 21.  [He imitates the cries of one who sells, Sub hasta.--C.]  Matt. xxvi. 59.  1 Cor. x. 13.  Ps. xciv. 3.  Heb. xii. 7.  Matt. v. 44. [See p. 455, S: 12, supra.--C.]  Rom. i. 17.  Gal. v. 6.
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