Friday, February 26, 2016

Great Is the Grace of His Promise

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

And the Lord, with ceaseless assiduity, exhorts, terrifies, urges, rouses, admonishes.  He awakes from the sleep of darkness, and raises up those who have wandered in error.  “Awake,” He says, “you who sleeps, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light,” [Eph 5:14]—Christ, the Sun of the Resurrection, He “who was born before the morning star,” [Ps 110:3] and with His beams bestows life.  Let no one then despise the Word, lest he unwittingly despise himself.  For the Scripture somewhere says:
Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers proved Me by trial.… And saw my works forty years. Therefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in heart, and have not known My ways.  So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter into My rest. [Psa 95:8-11]
Look to the threatening!  Look to the exhortation!  Look to the punishment!  Why, then, should we any longer change grace into wrath, and not receive the word with open ears, and entertain God as a guest in pure spirits?  For great is the grace of His promise, “if today we hear His voice.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, IX

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Worship Involves Confession

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    and weep before the Lᴏʀᴅ, who made us!
For He is our God,
    and we are the people of His pasture,
    and the sheep of His hand.  (Ps 95:6-7 LXX)

Perhaps you are burning with the consciousness of a fault.  Blot out with tears the flame of your sin.  Mourn before the Lord: fearlessly mourn before the Lord, who made you, for He does not despise the work of His own hands in you.  Do not think that you can be restored by yourself.  By yourself you may fall off, you can not restore yourself.  He who made you restores you.  Weep before Him, confess unto Him, prevent His face in confession.  For who are you who mourns before Him, and confesses unto Him, but one whom He created?  The thing created has no insignificant confidence in Him who created it—and that in no indifferent fashion, but according to His own image and likeness.  But that we may without fear fall down and kneel before Him, what are we?  “We are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”

Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 95

So let us come together with enthusiasm and offer Him due worship and beg for His mercy, weeping and wailing, He being our Maker and Lord.  The history of Josiah and the people instructs us about the tears they shed after the reading of Deuteronomy. [2 Ki 22:11; 2 Ch 34:19]  He is our Lord by nature, and particularly is He our God.  He calls us His own people, and provides care as though for His own sheep.  The Lord Himself also says this after His incomprehensible Incarnation: “My sheep hear my voice,” and again, “I am the good shepherd, and I lay down my life for the sheep,” and so on.

Theodoret of Cyrus

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let Us Sing to the Lord

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  (Ps 95:1)

Today, the trumpet-blast of the prophets have roused the world, and have made glad and filled with joyfulness the churches of God that are everywhere amongst the nations.…  Come then, every one, and let us rejoice in the Lord; O come, all people, and let us clap our hands, and make a joyful noise to God our Savior, with the voice of melody.  Let no one be without portion in this grace; let no one come short of this calling; for the seed of the disobedient is appointed to destruction.  Let no one neglect to meet the King, lest he be shut out from the Bridegroom’s chamber.  Let no one amongst us be found to receive Him with a sad countenance, lest he be condemned with those wicked citizens—the citizens, I mean, who refused to receive the Lord as King over them.  Let us all come together cheerfully; let us all receive Him gladly, and hold our feast with all honesty.  Instead of our garments, let us strew our hearts before Him.  In psalms and hymns, let us raise to Him our shouts of thanksgiving; and, without ceasing, let us exclaim, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;” for blessed are they that bless Him, and cursed are they that curse Him.  Again I will say it, nor will I cease exhorting you to good: Come, beloved, let us bless Him who is blessed, that we may be ourselves blessed of Him.  Every age and condition does this discourse summon to praise the Lord; kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth; both young men and maidens—and what is new in this miracle, the tender and innocent age of babes and sucklings hath obtained the first place in raising to God with thankful confession the hymn which was of God taught them in the strains in which Moses sang before to the people when they came forth out of Egypt—namely, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Methodius, Oration on the Palms, I

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Plundering the Plunderer

In his commentary on Psalm 55, Cassiodorus took a highly Christological view of the psalm, seeing David’s words as a prophecy of Jesus’ suffering approaching the cross.  While he may have gone a bit overboard, this portion of his conclusion is wonderful.
We have heard that He who gave life to creatures laid down His own life for the salvation of mortal men.  We have heard that God, who is impervious to suffering, undertook suffering in the flesh on behalf of sinners.  We have heard that He who is co-eternal with the Father endured the punishment of death.  What a price beyond measure, redeeming the human race!  What a holocaust, allowing us to escape eternal flames!  First there was the death which brought ruin, and then the end which brought abiding good without end; for when Satan, the dart of death, emerged against the innocent One, the result was that he rightly lost those whom he held in subjection.  Hell swallowed up its own destruction like fish, and when it thought it was obtaining plunder it was deceived and obtained the plunderer instead.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Endurance Is Found in God Alone

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Cast your burden on the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.  (Ps 55:22)

In this way the divine David described also what had befallen him, and after exposing the schemes against the Lord he offers advice to all people, urging them to have hope in God.  He is saying:
Not only will He glorify you here below, but at the resurrection he will accord you the vision of God.  Hence, take God as pilot and guide, and rest your affairs on that providence.  This is the way you will remain unmoved and unconfused.
Even if He should ever allow them to encounter temptation, yet He will render prompt assistance.  Now, this is really in accord with the apostolic statement, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Co 10:13]

Theodoret of Cyrus

Thursday, February 18, 2016

When to Pray? Morning, Noon, and Night

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

But I call to God,
    and the Lᴏʀᴅ will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he hears my voice.  (Ps 55:16-17)

Touching the time, however, the extrinsic observance of certain hours will not be unprofitable—those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day—the third, the sixth, the ninth—which we may find in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest.  The first infusion of the Holy Spirit into the congregated disciples took place at “the third hour.”  Peter, on the day on which he experienced the vision of Universal Community, (exhibited) in that small vessel, had ascended into the more lofty parts of the house, for prayer’s sake “at the sixth hour.”  The same (apostle) was going into the temple, with John, “at the ninth hour,” when he restored the paralytic to his health.  Albeit these practices stand simply without any precept for their observance, still it may be granted a good thing to establish some definite presumption, which may both add stringency to the admonition to pray, and may, as it were by a law, tear us out from our businesses unto such a duty; so that—what we read to have been observed by Daniel also, in accordance with Israel’s discipline—we pray at least not less than thrice in the day, debtors as we are to Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Tertullian, On Prayer, XXV

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lord, Cleanse Me

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.  (Ps 51:10)

And in addition to what has been said, it is good with our head cleansed, as the head which is the workshop of the senses is cleansed, to hold fast the Head of Christ—from Him the whole body is fitly joined together and formed—and to cast down our sin that exalted itself, when it would exalt us above our better part.  It is good also for the shoulder to be sanctified and purified that it may be able to take up the Cross of Christ, which not everyone can easily do.  It is good for the hands to be consecrated, and the feet.  The former that they may in every place be lifted up holy, and that they may lay hold of the discipline of Christ, lest the Lord at any time be angered; and that the Word may gain credence by action, as was the case with that which was given in the hand of a prophet.  The latter that they be not swift to shed blood, nor to run to evil, but that they be prompt to run to the Gospel and the Prize of the high Calling, and to receive Christ Who washes and cleanses them.  And if there be also a cleansing of that belly which receives and digests the food of the Word, it would be good also, not to make it a god by luxury and the meat that perishes, but rather to give it all possible cleansing, and to make it more spare, that it may receive the Word of God at the very heart, and grieve honorably over the sins of Israel.  I find also the heart and inward parts deemed worthy of honor.  David convinces me of this, when he prays that a clean heart may be created in him, and a right spirit renewed in his inward parts—meaning, I think, the mind and its movements or thoughts.

Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism, 39

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.  (Ps 51:4)

I was the agent of many crimes in Your sight.  Now, this is also a proof of my wickedness as well as confirmation of Your goodness.  If we were called to account and judged with one another, and if Your doings were to be displayed, I would always emerge as the offender and You always the benefactor.  I would next be condemned as an ingrate in everything and liable to the punishment now befalling me, whereas You would emerge as justly imposing it on me, so that no claim of mine would be justly directed against You if You were not prepared to overlook my sins in Your habitual loving-kindness.

Theodore of Mopsuestia

Despite enjoying many wonderful gifts from You, I repaid the gifts with the opposite, being rash enough to commit what is forbidden by the Law.* … I brought troubles on myself, whereas your righteousness is conspicuous: if the judgment of this kind passed on me by You is brought into the open, and my crimes set alongside it, You would emerge both righteous and loving, while I would appear criminal and ungrateful.

Theodoret of Cyrus

*  Theodoret adds: By this he does not mean he did no wrong to Uriah—in fact, he wronged Uriah and his wife—but the greatest transgression was committed against God Himself, who had chosen him, who made him king in place of shepherd, rendered him stronger than his foes, and showered on him goods of all kinds.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Great Wounds Need Great Remedies

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!  (Ps 51:1-2)

The severity of wounds calls for remedies of equal intensity, the person falling victim to a serious illness needs greater care, and the one guilty of great sins requires great loving-kindness.  This is surely why the mighty David implores that mercy be completely poured out on him, and the whole fount of compassion be shed on the wound of sin, there being no other way to blot out the traces of sin.
… He is saying,
You have already given me forgiveness through the prophet Nathan, and have brought to bear on me manifold calamities like varieties of cutting and burning.  But I still need purges, giving off as I do an awful stench of sin.  So wash me again, Lord, so as to remove all filth of sin.
Theodoret of Cyrus

Monday, February 1, 2016

Seeking for the Right Things

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with the Psalm series on Sunday.

One thing have I asked of the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lᴏʀᴅ
    and to inquire in his temple.  (Ps 27:4)

Now having enjoyed such goodness, he is saying:
I seek from my benefactor not wealth or influence, royalty or glory, but constant attendance in the divine temple, contemplation of the divine beauty there, and inspection of everything happening in accordance with law.  I have a feeling of benefit, in fact, having already secured salvation from that source and escaped the hands of my pursuers.
This the mighty David both asked for and received from the generous God.  He brought back the divine ark, erected another, more wonderful tabernacle, and assembled the different choirs of singers.

Theodoret of Cyrus