THE FOUR LAST THINGS ---- DEATH, JUDGMENT, HELL and HEAVEN
FATHER MARTIN VON COCHEM, O.S.F.C.
Father Martin von Cochem was born at Cochem, on the Moselle,
in the year 1625, and died at Waghausel in 1712.
“Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.”
HOLY REDEEMER LIBRARY
Nihil Obstat: Thomas L Kinkead, Censor Liborium
Imprimatur: Michael Augustine --- Archbishop of New York (New York October 5, 1899)
Copyright, 1899, by Benziger Brothers
PART IV. ON HEAVEN.
CHAPTER IV. On the Number of the Saved.
IN the three previous chapters it has been our pleasurable task to point out how beauteous is the celestial paradise, how great is the happiness enjoyed by the redeemed. And doubtless in the heart of each one of our readers a fervent desire has arisen to gain admission to the realms of eternal light, and become a partaker of its joys. Perhaps each one will feel sure that his hopes in this respect will be fulfilled.
It is, however, greatly to be feared that many a one will come short of the goal, and will be forever excluded from the kingdom of Heaven, as this chapter is intended to demonstrate. Let me, however, beg all who peruse it, not to allow what is said to discourage them, and render them pusillanimous, but rather to let it increase in them the spirit of humility and salutary fear, and stimulate them to greater energy and diligence in working out their salvation, if this appear to them less easy than they were inclined to imagine. My only motive in writing this chapter is to open the eyes of the reader, and show him his danger. For were I not to do this he might go on blindly on the wrong road, and only become aware that it is the road to perdition when it is too late to retrace his steps, when the hand of death draws the veil from his eyes. Thereupon I consider that I shall do the wanderer a service if I enlighten him as to the risk he is incurring, and endeavour to direct his steps into the path to Heaven.
Let me ask thee, O reader, what proportion thinkest thou of all who live upon this earth will be saved? Half? or a third part? or perhaps a quarter? Alas, I fear, and not without good reason, that the number will not be nearly so large. Jesus Christ, Who is eternal Truth, His holy Apostles, and the Fathers of the Church, all tell us that so it will be.
What does Christ say about the number of the elect? His words are these: "Many are called, but few are chosen." He repeats these words when He speaks of the guest who had not on a wedding garment: "Bind his hands and his feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness. For many are called, but few chosen." Were nothing more to be found to this intent in the whole of the Scriptures, this passage could not fail to alarm us. But there are many other similar ones, of which I will quote one or two.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read that Our Lord said: "Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction, and many there are that go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there are that find it" (Matt. vii. 13). Are not these words calculated to inspire us with anxiety and apprehension? May not we be amongst those who go in at the wide gate, who walk on the broad road that ends in everlasting perdition?
In order that thou mayst better appreciate the meaning of Our Lord s words, and perceive more clearly how few are the elect, observe that Christ did not say that those were few in number who walked in the path to Heaven, but that there were but few who found that narrow way. "How strait is the gate that leadeth unto life, and few there are that find it." It is as if the Saviour intended to say: The path leading to Heaven is so narrow and so rough, it is so overgrown, so dark and difficult to discern, that there are many who, their whole life long, never find it. And those who do find it are exposed constantly to the danger of deviating from it, of mistaking their way and unwittingly wandering away from it, because it is so irregular and over grown. This St. Jerome says, in his commentary on the passage in question. Again, there are some who when they are on the right road, hasten to leave it, because it is so steep and toilsome.
There are also many who are enticed to leave the narrow way by the wiles and deceits of the devil, and thus, almost imperceptibly to themselves, are led downwards to Hell. From all that has been said we may gather that those are but few in number who find the way to Heaven, and yet fewer are those who persevere in following it unto the end.
Now because Christ knew that these words of His would be misinterpreted, and understood in a false sense by both believers and unbelievers, on another occasion He accentuated and emphasized what He had already said concerning the small number of the elect. For when one of the disciples asked Him: "Lord, are they few that shall be saved?" He answered and said: "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter and shall not be able" (Luke xiii. 24). Listen to the words of the Divine Teacher. He bids us strive, take trouble, make use of all our powers in order to enter unto the narrow gate. And what is still more calculated to appal, He adds that many shall seek to enter in and shall not be able.
If those who desire and endeavour to enter into the kingdom of Heaven fail to do so, what will be come of those who lead a careless, perhaps an ungodly life, and manifest no zeal, no interest in what concerns their eternal salvation?
We have already heard Christ three times declare to us that the number of the elect is small; that in proportion to the great mass of mankind only a few will be saved. And because He was aware that we should not lay this weighty truth to heart as we ought, He reiterates it in yet more explicit language.
After He had told a rich man who came to Him to leave all his possessions and follow Him, and the man had gone away sorrowful, He said, addressing His disciples: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at His words.
But Jesus again answering saith: Children, how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Then the disciples wondered the more, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking on them saith: With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible unto God" (Mark x. 23-27).
Truly these words, coming from the lips of our Divine Master, are enough to inspire us with profound alarm; they are almost enough to cause us to despond. For they expressly tell us that the work of our salvation is a work of immense difficulty, an almost miraculous achievement, and that it is well-nigh impossible for poor humanity to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. It is in reality as much of a miracle for a man to escape everlasting perdition and to attain eternal felicity, as it would be for one man single-handed to vanquish and put to flight a whole army. For all the powers of Hell are leagued together with the wicked world against us; all the powers of Hell put their forces in array in order to conquer and enslave every one of us mortals. And with the awful powers of darkness the evil, crafty world makes common cause, and the concupiscences of the flesh do the same, for the purpose of compassing our ruin.
Now, since there are so many adversaries who assail us, adversaries so crafty, so strong, so fierce, who can deem himself sure of victory? It is little short of a miracle if one escapes the clutches of foes so numerous and so formidable. Who can hope in his own strength to triumph over them? We must needs acknowledge that all who have over come the evil enemy, the evil world, and their own evil proclivities, have been strengthened by God with His special assistance. Hence we see how toilsome and laborious a work it is to win Heaven; and we learn the truth of Our Lord's words, when He said: "The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away" (Matt. xi. 12).
For the consolation and encouragement of the Christian it must here be remarked that if the number of his enemies is so appallingly great, the number of his friends is still greater.
"Fear not, for there are more with us than with them." So spoke the prophet Eliseus to his frightened servant." And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant and he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and of chariots of fire" (4 Kings vi. 1 6). We are not left to do battle alone; our holy guardian Angel and all the blessed spirits are on our side; we may rely on the powerful protection of the Mother of God, on the virtue of the sacraments, the merits of Christ’s Passion, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the succour of Almighty God. By means of these mighty aids we shall overcome, if we fight bravely and do not weakly yield ourselves into captivity, as unhappily too many do. For these timid, slothful, spiritless persons delude themselves with the false hope that, after all, Heaven is not hard to win. They think and say to themselves: It is not so bad a case as some would make out; Christ did not suffer for us for naught; if it were not God’s will that we should be saved, He would not have created us for the enjoyment of Heaven. These and similar words we hear from the lips of the children of this world; they live according to these notions, and succeed in deceiving themselves and others.
That such persons are in error, and that they are walking on the broad road that leads to destruction, Holy Scripture leaves us no doubt.
The whole teaching of the Gospel is wholly at variance with the principles they follow; and those who live a careless life and indulge their senses are repeatedly warned that eternal death will be their portion. Listen to the admonition Christ addresses to the votaries of this world and the lovers of its luxuries: " Woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation. Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger; woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when men shall bless you," that is, when men of bad principles, opposed to the maxims of religion, applaud your words, your actions, your opinions. This denunciation from Our Lord s lips may well fill us with dismay.
What object in life have the great majority of mankind? What is it that they strive after and crave for?
They desire to be rich, to be prosperous, to live in luxury, and to be praised by their fellow-men. Nobody considers this to be a sin. And yet Our Lord declares that everlasting death will be the doom of such persons, and He denounces them in forcible language.
From these and similar passages, which abound in Holy Scripture, thou seest that God is more Strict than thou dost imagine, and it is a more easy matter to lose thy soul than thou perhaps thinkest. Wherefore do not any longer live so heedlessly, but work out thy salvation with fear and trembling, as the Apostle exhorts thee. The Saints did so at all times, having the fear of God s judgments ever be fore their eyes. The ungodly, on the contrary, were ever wont to say, as many do at the present day: God is merciful, He will not condemn us so lightly to eternal damnation. But remember what is said in Holy Scripture: "Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin to sin. And say not, The mercy of the Lord is great, He will have mercy on the multitude of my sins. For mercy and wrath come quickly from Him, and His wrath looketh upon sinners" (Ecclus. v. 5-7).
We also find St. Catharine of Siena saying: "O unhappy sinners, do not rely upon the greatness of God’s mercy ; believe me, the more you provoke the anger of this merciful God by willful sin, the deeper you will be cast into the abyss of perdition."
It is undoubtedly true that we ought to place our trust in God s mercy; but what the nature of our confidence should be, we are taught by St. Gregory. He says: "Let him who does all that he can, rely firmly upon the mercy of God. But for him who does not do all that lies within his power to rely upon the mercy of God would be simple presumption." To each and all of us the Apostle Peter says: "Labour the more, that by good works you may make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. i. 10).
Several of the Fathers of the Church consider that from the fact that at the time of the deluge only eight persons were saved, at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah only four namely, Lot, his wife and his two daughters escaped with their lives, and of the six hundred thousand able men who departed out of Egypt not more than two reached the Promised Land, the others all dying in the desert, it may be concluded that the number of the elect amongst Christians will be proportionately small. This agrees with what St. John Chrysostom said on one occasion when he was preaching in the city of Antioch: "What think you, my hearers, how many of the inhabitants of this city may perhaps be saved? What I am about to say is very terrible, yet I will not conceal it from you. Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants not a hundred will be saved; I even doubt whether there will be as many as that. For what indifference we see amongst the aged, what wickedness amongst the young, what impiety amongst all classes of people."
Such words as these may well make us tremble. We should hesitate to believe them, did they not come from the lips of so great a Saint and Father of the Church. And if it is true that in the first five centuries, when the zeal and devotion of Christians was much more fervent than it is now, so small a number attained everlasting salvation, what will it be in our own day, when crime and vice prevail to so fearful an extent?
Since it is impossible for any one to deny, or even to doubt, that the number of the elect is small in proportion to that of the reprobate, I beseech thee, O Christian reader, exert thyself to the utmost to accomplish the work of thy salvation. Thou knowest what an awful thing it is to be damned eternally.
On the Number of the Saved.
The plagues and torments of Hell are so terrible that words cannot be found to describe them. Consider in time the eternity of those unspeakable tortures, and take heed, lest thou too be cast into the abyss of never-ending anguish.
How wouldst thou be able to endure torments so immeasurable, so endless? Wouldst thou not despond and despair, wouldst thou not storm and rage? Yet that would avail thee nothing; it would only add to thy sufferings and increase thy misery.
All this is most terrible, most awful, most appalling. How is it that thou dost not think about it more often? How is it possible that thou canst live on so heedlessly? How is it possible that thou hast not more fear of Hell? Dost thou perhaps think thyself secure of Heaven? How is it that thou dost go with the multitude, as if thou didst not know that thou art in great danger of perishing with the multitude?
If thou wouldst be saved, follow the counsel of St. Anselm, when he says: "If thou wouldst be certain of being in the number of the elect, strive to be one of the few, not of the many. And if thou wouldst be quite sure of thy salvation, strive to be among the fewest of the few; that is to say: Do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or by night, that they may attain everlasting felicity."
Let us, my dear reader, courageously and cheer fully do all, undertake all, sacrifice all that we may gain the ineffable happiness of Heaven, for we never can purchase Heaven at too dear a price. Let us not be disheartened at the difficulties on our road, for, after all, it is not so difficult to merit Heaven. Were we to do for Heaven half as much as people do to earn a living, to acquire a little wealth, power or fame, or to enjoy life, we would be sure of securing a high place among the Saints. All we have to do to gain Heaven is to keep the commandments of God and of His Church, to bear our little crosses, to discharge the obligations of our state of life, to overcome temptation; and although this is above our natural strength, we nevertheless can count on the grace of God, if we pray earnestly for it, and with God s help everything will become comparatively easy, for, as St. Paul says: "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me" (Phil. iv. 13). Earnest, persistent prayer will secure Heaven to us.
I now, dear reader, address to you the words the mother of the Machabees addressed to her youngest son, a mere boy, when he was about to be tortured to death, as his six brothers had been before him: "My son, I beg thee to look up to Heaven." Look up to Heaven every day, especially in time of trial and temptation. Heaven is well worth every suffering and every sacrifice and every combat required of us, and even a thousand times more! Life is short; its trials, its sufferings, its labours, its combats, its crosses also are short and transitory; but Heaven and its joys are inconceivable, satiating every desire of the heart and never-ending!" Our present momentary and light tribulation worketh above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv. 17).
May God in His mercy grant this happy end to the writer of this book and all into whose hands it may fall.
Printed by Benziger Brothers, New York.