My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.
Read Chapter 27
Gregory The Dialogist
For ‘his righteousness’ that he had ‘begun with,’ he would ‘abandon,’ if he went out of the way into the praising of persons committing sin. But because we then more truly keep away from the sins of others when we first keep ourselves safe from our own, why he is so afraid to be guilty touching those, he gives the grounds of the principle, when he adds; For neither doth mine heart reproach me in all my life.
9. As if he expressed himself in plain words; ‘On your account I ought not to be drawn into guilt, in that I have dreaded to commit sin in my own affairs.’ But it is a thing to be known, that everyone that is at variance with the precepts of the Lord in practice, as often as he hears them, is reproached and confounded by his own heart, because that which he has never done is brought to recollection. For whereinsoever it sees itself to have done amiss, the conscience by itself secretly accuses self. Whence the prophet David beseeches, saying, Then may I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments. [Ps. 119, 6] For greatly ‘ashamed’ is every man, when either by reading or hearing them he turns his eye to the precepts of God, which by his way of living he has disregarded. Thus it is hence declared by the voice of John, If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him. [1 John 3, 21. 22.] As if he said in plain speech, ‘If that He bids, we do, that we ask, we shall obtain.’
10. For with God both these two do of necessity match with one another exactly, that practice should be sustained by prayer, and prayer by practice. Thus it is hence that Jeremiah saith; Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens. [Lam. 3, 40. 41.] For to ‘search our ways’ is to sift what is inmost in the thoughts. But he ‘lifts up his heart with his hands,’ who strengthens his prayer by good works. For he that prays, but shuts his eyes to practice, ‘lifts up the heart,’ but does not ‘lift up the hands.’ But whosoever practises, but does not pray, ‘lifts up the hands,’ but does not ‘lift up the heart.’ And so according to the voice of John, the heart then acquires confidence in prayer, when no wickedness of life withstands it. Of which same confidence it is rightly said now by the holy man; For neither doth mine heart reproach me in all my life. As though he said in plain speech, ‘It never remembers to have been guilty of that, whereby it might be made ashamed in its prayers.’ But it may be asked, on what principle he declares that he is not reproached by his heart, seeing that he accuses himself above of having sinned, saying, I have sinned: what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou Preserver of men? [Job 7, 20] Or surely, If I would justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. [Job 9, 20]
11. But it is requisite to be known that there are sins that by righteous men are possible to be avoided, and there are some sins which even by righteous men are not possible to be avoided. For what man’s heart, whilst bound up with this corruptible flesh, does not slip in ill bent thought, even if be not plunged into the very pit of consenting? And yet to think these same wrong thoughts is to commit sin. But while there is a resisting of the thought, the soul is freed from being confounded. And so the mind of the righteous, though it be free from bad practice, yet sometimes it falls to the ground in bad thinking. Thus then into sin too it slips, because in the thought of the heart at all events it is made to swerve, and yet it hath not that whereon to upbraid itself afterwards in weeping, because it recovers itself before that it falls by consenting. And so with just propriety he who confessed himself a sinner, declares that he is never upbraided by his heart, because though perhaps by thinking unlawful thoughts he ever fell short of righteousness, yet the resolute struggle of the soul, he resisted the thought.