A Psalm of Asaph
1O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; Thy holy temple have they defiled; They have laid Jerusalem on heaps. 2The dead bodies of thy servants have they given To be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, The flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. 3Their blood have they shed like water Round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. 4We are become a reproach to our neighbours, A scorn and derision to them that are round about us. 5How long, Lord? wilt thou be angry for ever? Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?
Augustine, unfilled by a life of sin and unable to escape the guilt it left upon his soul sat under the shade of a tree and wept as he called out to God. He quoted Psalm 79:5 and 8.
In his confessions he gave this testimony.
I threw myself down under a fig tree, unconscious of my actions, and loosed the reins on my tears. They burst forth in rivers from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice unto Thee... ‘And Thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, wilt Thou be angry unto the end? Remember not our former iniquities.’ For I still felt that I was held by them and I uttered these wretched words: ‘How much longer, how much longer? “Tomorrow” and “tomorrow”? Why not right now? Why not the end of my shame at this very hour?’
At that very moment he heard the voice from a child chanting repeatedly, “Take it, read it”. Believing that somehow God was speaking to him he ran to the Scriptures and opened to these words.
Romans 13:13–14 13Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
He took this as a call to turn from sin and accept Christ but was still disturbed.
I imagine he was troubled by lots of questions but certainly these were among them;
How could he turn from these sins?
Would the Lord accept him?
Augustine sought counsel and was shown the very next verse.
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye…
These words answered his questions. Augustine understood that God had instructed his people to accept the weak in faith and he would receive him despite his past and the Lord would be his source of strength in his future. It was then that this man was marvelously converted when he received and trusted Christ that day.
When this Psalm was originally written Jerusalem had been destroyed, her temple demolished and her citizen’s corpses stacked in heaps to rot in the streets.
The Psalmist asked, “How Long, Lord?”
How long would God allow this suffering to continue? How long would God be angry with Israel?
Augustine had a different kind of suffering but still the same question? He may not have seen collapsed buildings and dead bodies but felt his world leveled around him and understood that he was dead inside. Thankfully, he turned to Christ and was greatly used by God.
So, How Long?
How long for you, dear lost one?
How long will you live in this spiritual state of death and decay?
How long will God be angry at you?
Until Jesus is received into your life and resurrects it.
How long for you, dear saved soul?
How long will you carry this unintended burden? I can’t help but feel that someone saved by Christ is not living in the victory Jesus has provided, carrying guilt that God has taken away.
God poured out his wrath on his Son so you can escape it.
You like Augustine though weak in the faith will be received by the Savior and you should be by his saints.
So, How long?