God Is Merciful for a Season, and Then Chastises, Part 1

Thou hast been favorable to the nation, O Lord, thou hast been favorable to the nation;
hast thou been glorified? -----Isa. 26:15.

Lord, Thou hast often pardoned this people; Thou hast threatened it with destruction by earthquake, by pestilence, in neighboring countries; by the infirmities and death of its own citizens; but Thou hast afterwards taken pity on them: Thou hast been favorable to the nation, O Lord, Thou hast been favorable to the nation, hast Thou been glorified? Thou hast pardoned us, Thou hast dealt mercifully with us; what hast Thou received in return? Have Thy people abandoned their sins? Have they changed their lives? No, they have gone on from bad to worse; that momentary fear passed, they have begun afresh to offend Thee and provoke Thy wrath. -----But, my brethren, perhaps you imagine that God will always wait, always pardon, and never punish? No; GOD IS MERCIFUL FOR A SEASON; THEN HE PUNISHES; this is the subject of this day's discourse.

We must persuade ourselves that God cannot do otherwise than hate sin; He is holiness itself, and therefore cannot but hate that monster, His enemy, whose malice is altogether opposed to the perfection of God. And if God hates sin, He must necessarily hate the sinner who makes league with sin. But to God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike. -----Wisd. 14:9. O God, with what an expression of grief and with what reason do You not complain of those who despise You, to take part with Your enemy. Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken; I have brought up children, and exalted them; but they have despised Me. -----Is. 1:2. Hear, O ye heavens, He says, and give ear, O earth, witness the gratitude with which I am treated by men. I have brought them up, and exalted them as My children, and they have repaid Me with contempt and outrage. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known Me, . . . they are gone away backwards. -----Is. 1:3,4. The beast of the field, the ox and the ass, continues the Lord, know their master, and are grateful to him, but My children have not known Me, and have turned their back upon Me. But how is this? "Services are remembered even by beasts," says Seneca. The very brutes are grateful to their benefactors; see that dog how he serves and obeys, and is faithful to his master, who feeds him; even the wild beasts, the tiger and the lion are grateful to those who feed them. And God, my brethren, Who till now has provided us with everything, Who has given us food and raiment: What more? Who has kept us in existence up to the moment when we offended Him,-----how have we treated Him?

How do we purpose to act in future? Do we not think to live on as we have been living? Do we not perhaps think that there is no punishment, no Hell for us? But hearken and know that as the Lord cannot but hate sin, because He is holy, so He cannot but chastise it when the sinner is obstinate, because He is just.

When He does chastise, it is not to please Himself, but because we drive Him to it. The wise man says that God did not create Hell, through a desire of condemning man thereto, and that He does not rejoice in their damnation, because He does not wish to see His creatures perish: For God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living, for He created all things that they might be. -----Wisd. 1:13. No gardener plants a tree in order to cut it down and burn it. It was not God's desire to see us miserable and in torment; and therefore, says St. John Chrysostom, He waits so long before He takes vengeance of the sinner. He waits for our conversion, that He may then be able to use His mercy in our regard. Therefore the Lord waiteth, that He may have mercy on you. -----Is. 30:18. Our God, says the same St. John Chrysostom, is in haste to save, and slow to condemn. When there is question of pardon, no sooner has the sinner repented than he is forgiven by God. Scarcely had David said Peccavi, Domino, when he was informed by the prophet that his pardon was already granted: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin. 2 Kings 12:13.----- Yes, because "we do not desire pardon so anxiously as He desires to pardon us," says the same holy Doctor. On the other hand, when there is question of punishment, He waits, He admonishes, He sends us warning of it beforehand: For the Lord God doth nothing without revealing His secret to His servants, the prophets. -----Amos 3:7.

But when, at length, God sees that we are willing to yield neither to benefits, nor threats, nor admonitions, and that we will not amend, then He is forced by our own selves to punish us, and while punishing us, He will place before our eyes the great mercies He before extended to us: Thou thoughtest unjustly that I shall be like to thee, but I will reprove thee, and set before thy face. -----Ps. 49:20. He will then say to the sinner, think you, O sinner, that I had forgotten, as you had done, the outrages you put upon Me, and the graces I dispensed to you? St. Augustine says that God does not hate but loves us, and that He only hates our sins. He is not wroth with men, says St. Jerome, but with their sins. The Saint says, that by His nature God is inclined to benefit us, and that it is we ourselves who oblige Him to chastise us, and assume the appearance of severity, which He has not of Himself. It is this which David means to express, when he says that the Lord in chastising is like a drunken man who strikes in his sleep: And the Lord was awaked as one out of sleep, and He smote His enemies. -----Ps. 77:65. Theodoret adds that, as drunkenness is not natural to man, so chastisement does not naturally belong to God; it is we who force Him into that wrath which is not His by nature. -----In Ezech. c. 16. St. Jerome, reflecting on those words which Jesus Christ on the day of general judgment will address to the reprobate, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his Angels,  -----Matth. 25:41, inquires, who has prepared this fire for sinners? God perhaps. No, because God never created souls for Hell, as the impious Luther taught: this fire has been kindled for sinners by their own sins. He who sows in sin, shall reap chastisement. He that soweth iniquity, shall reap evil. -----Prov 22:8. When the soul commits sin, it voluntarily obliges itself to pay the penalty thereof, and thus condemns itself to the pains of Hell. For you have said, we have entered into a league with death, and we have made a covenant with Hell. -----Is. 28:15. Hence St. Ambrose well says, that God has not condemned anyone, but that each one is the author of his own chastisement. -----In Luc. c. 8. And the Holy Ghost says, that the sinner shall be consumed by the hatred which he bears himself; with the rod of his anger he shall be consumed. ----- Prov. 22:8. He, says Salvian, who offends God has not more cruel enemy than himself, since he himself has caused the torments which he suffers. God, he continues, does not wish to see us in affliction, but it is we who draw down sufferings upon ourselves, and by our sins enkindle the flames in which we are to burn. God punishes us, because we oblige Him to punish us.
But I know, you say, the mercies of God are great: no matter how manifold my sins, I have in view a change of life by and by, and God will have mercy upon me. But no, God desires you not to speak thus. And say not the mercy of the Lord is great, He will have mercy on the multitude of my sins. -----Ecclus. 5:6. And why has the Lord forbidden you to say so? The reason is this, for mercy and wrath quickly come from Him. -----Ecclus. 5:7. Yes, it is true, God has patience, God waits for some sinners; I say some, for there are some whom God does not wait for at all: how many has He not sent to Hell immediately after the first transgression? Others He does wait for, but He will not always wait for them; He spares them for a certain time and then punishes. The Lord patiently expecteth, that when the day of judgment shall come, He may punish them in the fullness of their sins. -----2 Mach. 6:14. Mark well, when the day of judgment shall come: when the day of vengeance shall arrive, in the fullness of their sins. When the measure of sins which God has determined to pardon is filled up, He will punish. Then the Lord will have no mercy, and will chastise unremittingly.

The city of Jericho did not fall during the first circuit made by the Ark, it did not fall at the fifth, or at the sixth, but it fell at last at the seventh. -----Jos. 6:20. And thus it will happen with thee, says St. Augustine, "at the seventh circuit made by the Ark the city of vanity will fall." God has pardoned you your first sin, your tenth, your seventieth, perhaps your thousandth; He has often called you, now calls you again; tremble lest this should be the last circuit taken by the ark, that is, the last call, after which, if you do not change your life, it will be over with you. For the earth, says the Apostle, that drinketh in the rain which cometh often upon it . . . and bringeth forth thorns and briars is reprobate, and very near unto a curse, whose end is to be burned. -----Heb. 6:7. That soul, he says, which has often received the waters of Divine light and grace, and instead of bearing fruit produces nought but the thorns of sin, is nigh unto a curse, and its end will be to burn eternally in Hell fire. In a word, when the period comes, God punishes.