The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 26. Of Those Who Continue in Sin, Trusting in the Mercy of God
Besides those who defer their conversion till the hour of death, there are others who persevere in sin, trusting in the mercy of God and the merits of His Passion. We must now disabuse them of this illusion.
You say that God's mercy is great, since He died on the cross for the salvation of sinners. It is indeed great, and a striking proof of its greatness is the fact that He bears with the blasphemy and malice of those who so presume upon the merits of His death as to make His cross, which was intended to destroy the kingdom of evil, a reason for multiplying sin. Had you a thousand lives you would owe them all to Him, yet you rob Him of that one life which you have and for which He died. This crime was more bitter to Our Saviour than death itself. For it He reproaches us by the mouth of His prophet, though He does not complain of His sufferings: "The wicked have wrought upon my back; they have extended their iniquity." (Ps. 128:3).
Who taught you to reason that
was good you could sin with impunity? Such is not the teaching of the
Spirit. On the contrary, those who listen to His voice reason thus: God
is good; therefore, I must serve Him, obey Him, and love Him above all
things. God is good; therefore, I will turn to Him with all my heart; I
will hope for pardon, notwithstanding the number and enormity of my
God is good; therefore, I must be good if I would imitate Him. God is
therefore, it would be base ingratitude in me to offend Him by sin.
Thus, the greater you represent God's goodness the more heinous are your crimes against Him. Nor will these offenses remain unpunished, for God's justice, which protects His mercy, cannot permit your sinful abuse of it to remain unavenged.
This is not a new pretext; the world has long made use of it. In ancient times it distinguished the false from the true prophets. While the latter announced to the people, in God's name, the justice with which He would punish their Ì iniquities, the former, speaking in their own name, promised them mercy which was but a false peace and security.
You say God's mercy is great; but if you presume upon it you show that you have never studied the greatness of His justice. Had you done so you would cry out to the Lord with the psalmist: "Who knoweth the power of thy anger, and for thy fear who can number thy wrath?" (Ps. 89:11-12).
But to dissipate your illusion, let me ask you to contemplate this justice in the only way in which we may have any knowledge of it-----that is, in its effects here below.
Besides the result we are seeking, we shall reap another excellent advantage by exciting in our hearts the fear of God, which, in the opinion of the saints, is the treasure and defence of the soul. Without the fear of God the soul is like a ship without ballast; the winds of human or Divine favor may sweep it to destruction. Notwithstanding that she may be richly laden with virtue, she is in continual danger of being wrecked on the rocks of temptation, if she be not stayed by this ballast of the fear of God. Therefore, not only those who have just entered God's service, but those who have long been of His household, should continue in this salutary fear; the former by reason of their past transgressions, the latter on account of their weakness, which exposes them to danger at every moment.
This holy fear is the effect of
is preserved in the soul by frequent meditation. To aid you in this
we shall here propose a few of the practical proofs of the greatness of
The first work of God's justice was the reprobation of the angels. "All the ways of God are mercy and justice" (Cf. Ps. 24:10), says David; but until the fall of the Angels, Divine justice had not been manifested. It had been shut up in the bosom of God like a sword in the scabbard, like that sword of which Ezechiel speaks with alarm, foretelling the ruin it will cause. (Cf. Ezech. 21). This first sin drew the sword of justice from its scabbard, and terrible was the destruction it wrought. Contemplate its effects; raise your eyes and behold one of the most brilliant beings of God's house, a resplendent image of the Divine beauty, flung with lightning-like rapidity from a glorious throne in Heaven to the uttermost depths of Hell, for one thought of pride. (Cf. Lk, 10:18). The prince of heavenly spirits becomes the chief of devils. His beauty and glory are changed into deformity and ignominy. God's favorite subject is changed into His bitterest enemy, and will continue such for all eternity. With what awe this must have filled the Angels, who knew the greatness of his fall! With what astonishment they repeat the words of Isaias: "How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning"? (Is. 14:12).
Consider also the fall of man, which would have been no less terrible than that of the angels, if it had not been repaired. Behold in it the cause of all the miseries we suffer on earth: Original and actual sin, suffering of body and mind, death, and the ruin of numberless souls who have been lost forever. Terrible are the calamities it brought upon us; and even greater would be our misfortunes had not Christ, by His death, bound the power of sin and redeemed us from its slavery. How rigorous, therefore, was the justice of God in thus punishing man's rebellion; but how great was His goodness in restoring him to His friendship!
In addition to the penalties imposed on the human race for the sin of Adam, new and repeated punishments have at different times been inflicted upon mankind for the crimes they have committed. In the time of Noe, the whole world was destroyed by the deluge. (Cf. Gen. 7). Fire and brimstone from Heaven consumed the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha. (Cf. Gen. 19). The earth opened and swallowed alive into Hell Core, Dathan, and Abiron for resisting the authority of Moses. (Cf. Num. 16). Nadab and Abiu, sons of Aaron, were destroyed by a sudden flame from the sanctuary because they offered strange fire in the sacrifice. (Cf. Lev. 10). Neither their priestly character, nor the sanctity of their father, nor the intimacy with God of their uncle, Moses, could obtain for them any remission for their fault.
Recall the example of Ananias and Sapphira, struck dead by God for telling a lie. (Cf. Acts 5). But the strongest proof of the rigor of God's justice was the satisfaction required for sin, which was nothing less than the death of His only-begotten Son. Think of this Price of man's Redemption, and you will begin to realize what sin is and how the justice of God regards it. Think, too, of the eternity of Hell, and judge of the rigor of that justice which inflicts such punishment. This justice terrifies you, but it is no less certain than the mercy in which you trust. Yes, through endless ages, God will look upon the indescribable torments of the damned, but they will excite in Him no compassion; they will not move Him to limit their sufferings or give them any hope of relief. Oh! Mysterious depths of Divine justice! Who can reflect upon them and not tremble?
Another subject to which I would call your serious attention is the state of the world. Reflect on this, and you will begin to realize the rigors of God's justice.
As an increase in virtue is the effect and reward of virtue, so likewise an increase in sin is the effect and punishment of sin. Indeed, it is one of the greatest chastisements that can be inflicted on us, when we are permitted, through blindness and passion, to rush headlong down the broad road of vice, adding sin to sin every day and hour of our lives. This is but just; for when man once mortally sins he loses all right to any help from God. It is owing solely to the Divine mercy when he is converted. Look, therefore, over the world, and behold the greatness of its iniquity. Think of the millions who are living in infidelity and heresy. Think how many calling themselves Christians are daily betraying their name by their scandalous lives.
Why is this sad condition permitted? Ah! It is owing to man's crimes. God is disobeyed, insulted, and mocked by the majority of men, and His long-suffering justice, being wearied by their wickedness, permits them to go on in their mad career. St. Augustine is an illustrious example of this. "I was plunged," he says, "in iniquity, and Thy anger was aroused against me, but I knew it not. I was deaf to the noise which the chains of my sins made. But this ignorance, this deafness, were the punishments of my pride."
Reflect on this. Men act freely when they sin, for no man is forced to do wrong. But when they have fallen they cannot rise without the Divine assistance. Now, God owes this to no man. It is His gratuitous gift when He restores the sinner to His favor. Hence He but exercises His justice when He permits him to remain in his misery, and even to fall lower.
When, therefore, we behold so much iniquity, have we not reason to feel that God's justice permits men to become so blinded and hardened? I say permits, for man is the cause of his own miseries; God urges him only to what is good. If, then, you perceive in yourself any mark of such Divine anger, be not without fear. Remember that you need no help but your own passions and the devil's temptations to carry you along the broad road to destruction. Stop while you have time. Implore the Divine mercy to aid you in retracing your steps till you discover that narrow way which leads to everlasting life. Having found it, walk manfully in it, ever mindful of the justice of God, and of the terrible truth that while thousands throng the road to death, there are few who find the way of life.
Tremble for your salvation, and, while always maintaining an unshaken hope, have no less fear of Hell. You have no reason to expect that God should treat you differently from other men. Bear in mind the law of His justice, as it has been explained, and so live that you may never expose yourself to its terrible effects here and hereafter.
Be not the victim of a vain confidence which you may flatter yourself is hope, while it is naught but presumption. Rather, in the words of the Eternal Wisdom, "Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin upon 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 quickly come from him, and his wrath looketh upon sinners." (Ecclus. 5:5-7). If, then, we must tremble even for sin which has been remitted, how is it that you do not fear to add daily to your crimes? And mark well these words: "His wrath looketh upon sinners"; for as the eyes of His mercy are upon the good, so are the eyes of His anger upon the wicked. And this agrees with what David says in one of the psalms: "The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and His ears unto their prayers. But the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." (Ps. 33:16-17).
"The hand of God," says the inspired author of the book of Esdras, "is upon all them that seek him in goodness; and his power and strength and wrath upon all them that forsake him." (1 Esd. 8:22). Be reconciled, therefore, with God; amend your life; and then you can confidently hope for the mercy promised to His faithful servants. "Hope in the Lord and do that which is good," we are told by the psalmist; "offer the sacrifice of justice, and trust in the Lord." (Ps. 36:3 and 4:6). This is hope; any other confidence is presumption. The ark of the true Church will not save its unworthy members from the deluge of their iniquities, nor can you reap any benefit from the mercy of God if you seek His protection in order to sin with impunity."Men go to Hell," says St. Augustine, "through hope, as well as through despair: through a presumptuous hope during life, and through despair at the hour of death." (De Verbo Dei, Serm. 147). I entreat you, therefore, O sinner, to abandon your false hope, and let God's justice inspire you with a fear proportioned to the confidence which His mercy excites in you. For, as St. Bernard tells us, "God has two feet, one of justice and the other of mercy. We must embrace both, lest justice separated from mercy should cause us to despair, or mercy without justice should excite in us presumption." (In Cantica, Serm. 80).