Sermon Series: The Abuse of the Mercy of God by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri
God is Merciful, but He is also Just
We read in the parable of the cockle, that the servants of the good man of the house, seeing that it had grown up in the field along with the wheat, wished to pluck it up. Wilt thou, said they, that we go and gather it up? [Matt. 13:24] No, replied the master; suffer it to grow up, and then it shall be gathered and cast into the fire. In the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it in bundles to burn. [Ibid. 30] In this parable we see, on the one hand, the patience with which the Lord treats sinners; and on the other, the rigor with which He chastises the obstinate.
St. Augustine says that the devil deludes men in two ways, by despair and hope. After the sinner has offended God, the enemy, by placing before his eyes the terror of Divine justice, tempts him to despair; but before he sins, the devil encourages him to sin with the hope of Divine mercy. Hence the Saint gives to all the following advice: "After sin, hope for mercy; before sin, fear justice." He who abuses God's mercy to offend Him, is undeserving of mercy. God shows mercy to those who fear Him, but not to those who avail themselves of His mercy to banish the fear of God from their hearts. Abulensis says that he who offends justice may have recourse to mercy; but to whom can he have recourse, who offends mercy itself?
It is hard to find a sinner so sunk in despair as to wish for his own damnation. Sinners wish to sin, without losing the hope of salvation. They sin and say: God is merciful, I will commit this sin, and will afterward confess it. They say. observes St. Augustine, "God is good, I will do what I please." Behold, the language of sinners: but, O God, such too was the language of so many who are now in Hell.
Say not, says the Lord, that the mercies of God are great; that however enormous your sins may be, you will obtain pardon by an act of contrition. And say not: The mercy of the Lord is great: He will have mercy on the multitude of my sins. [Ecclus. 5:6] Say it not, says the Lord; and why? For mercy and wrath quickly come from Him, and His wrath looketh upon sinners. [Ibid.] The mercy of God is infinite; but the acts of His mercy, or His mercies are finite. God is merciful, but He is also just. "I am just and merciful," said our Lord to St. Bridget; "but sinners regard Me only as merciful." St. Basil writes that sinners wish to consider God only as good and merciful. To bear with those who avail themselves of the mercy of God to offend Him, would not, says Father M. Avila, be mercy, but a want of justice. Mercy is promised, not to those who abuse it, but those who fear God. And His mercy, said the Divine Mother, to those that fear Him. [Luke 1:50] Against the obstinate, threats of just retribution have been pronounced; and, says St. Augustine, as God is not unfaithful to His promises, so He is not a liar in his threats.
Beware, says St. John Chrysostom, when the devil, not God, promises you Divine mercy, that he may induce you to commit. sin. "Never attend to that dog that promises to you the mercy of God." "Woe," says St. Augustine. "to him who hopes in order to sin." Oh! how many, says the Saint, has this vain hope deluded and brought to perdition! "They who have been deceived by this shadow of vain hope cannot be numbered." Miserable the man who abuses the mercy of God to offer new insults to His majesty! St. Bernard says that Lucifer's chastisement was accelerated, because he rebelled against God with the hope of escaping punishment. King Manasses sinned; he afterward repented, and obtained pardon. His son Ammon, seeing that his father's sins were so easily forgiven, abandoned himself to a wicked life with the hope of pardon: but for Ammon there was no mercy. Hence, St. John Chrysostom asserts that Judas was lost because he sinned through confidence in the benignity of Jesus Christ. In fine, God bears, but He does not bear forever. Were God to bear forever with sinners, no one would be damned: but the most common opinion is that the greater part of adults, even among Christians, are lost. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are that go in thereat. [Matt. 7:13] According to St., Augustiue, he who offends God with the hope of pardon is a scoffer, not a penitent." But St. Paul tells us that God does not allow Himself to be mocked. [Gal. 6:7] To continue to offend God as often and as long as the sinner pleases, and afterward to gain Heaven, would be to mock God. For what things a man shall sow, those also he shall reap. [Ibid. 8] He that sows sin, has no reason to hope for anything else than chastisement and Hell. The net with which the devil drags to Hell almost all Christians who are damned, is the delusion by which he leads them into sin with the hope of pardon. Sin freely, he says to them; for, after all your iniquities, you will be saved. But God curses the man that sins with the hope of mercy. The hope of sinners after sin is pleasing to God, when it is accompanied with repentance; but the hope of the obstinate is an abomination to the Lord. [Job. 11:20] As the conduct of a servant who insults his master because he is good and merciful, irritates the master, so such hope provokes God to inflict vengeance.
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God! I have been one of those who have offended Thee because Thou wert bountiful to me. Ah, Lord! Wait for me, do not abandon me. I am sorry. O infinite Goodness! for having offended Thee, and for having so much abused Thy patience. I thank Thee for having waited for me till now. Henceforth I will never more betray Thee, as I have hitherto done. Thou hast borne with me so long. that Thou mightest one day see me a lover of Thy goodness. Behold, this day has, I hope, arrived: I love Thee above all things, and esteem Thy grace more than all the kingdoms of the world: rather than lose it, I am ready to forfeit life a thousand times. My God! for the love of Jesus Christ, give me holy perseverance till death, along with Thy holy love. Do not permit me ever again to betray Thee, or to cease to love Thee. Mary! thou art my hope: obtain for me this gift of perseverance. and I ask nothing more.
The Sinner Abandoned by God
Some will say: God has hitherto shown me so many mercies, I hope He will treat me with the same mercy for the future. But I answer: And will you insult God again, because He has been so merciful to you? Then, says St. Paul, do you thus despise the mercy and patience of God? Do you not know that the Lord has borne with you to this moment, not that you may continue to offend Him, but that you may weep over the evil you have done? Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and patience and long-suffering? Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance? [Rom. 2:4] If through confidence in the Divine mercy you continue to sin, the Lord will cease to show mercy. Except you be converted, says David, He will brandish His sword. [Ps. 7:13] Revenge is mine, and I will repay thee in due time. [Deut. 32:35] God waits; but when the time of chastisement arrives, He waits no longer, but executes vengeance.
Therefore the Lord waiteth, that He may have mercy on you. [Isa. 30:18] God waits for sinners, that they may amend: but when He sees that the time given to bewail their sins is employed in multiplying crimes, He then calls the very time to judge them. He hath called against me the time. [Lam. 1:15] "The very time," says Gregory, "comes to judge." Thus the very time given, and the very mercies shown to sinners, will serve to make God chastise them with greater rigor, and abandon them sooner. We would have cured Babylon, but she is not healed; let us forsake her. [Jer. 2:9] And how does God abandon sinners? He either sends them a sudden death, and makes them die in sin, or He deprives them of His abundant graces, and leaves them with the sufficient grace, with which they can, but will not, save their souls. The blindness of their understanding, the hardness of their heart, the evil habits which they have contracted, will render their salvation morally impossible; and thus they will be, if not absolutely, at least morally abandoned. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted. [Isa. 5:5] Oh! what a chastisement! When the master of the vineyard takes away its hedges, and leaves it open to men and to beasts, does he not show that he abandons it? It is thus that God acts when He abandons the soul: He takes away the hedge of holy fear, and of remorse of conscience, and leaves it in darkness. And then all the monsters of crime will enter the soul. Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night: in it shall all the beasts of the wood go about. [Ps. 103:20] And the sinner, abandoned in that obscurity, will despise the grace of God, Heaven, admonitions, and excommunications; and will make a jest of his own damnation. The wicked man, when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth. [Prov. 18:3]
God will not chastise the sinner in this life; but, not to be punished in this world will be the greatest chastisement of the wicked. Let us have pity on the wicked, but he will not learn justice. [Isa. 26:10] On this passage St. Bernard says, "This mercy I do not wish for: it is above all wrath." Oh! what a chastisement is it when God abandons the sinner into the hands of his sins, and appears not to demand any further account of them! According to the multitude of His wrath He will not seek him. [Ps. 9:4] God appears not to be enraged against sinners. My jealousy shall depart from you, and I will cease and be angry no more. [Ezek. 16:42] --- He appears to allow them all that they desire in this life. I let them go according to the desires of their heart. [Ps. 80:13] Miserable the sinner that prospers in this life! His prosperity is a sign that God waits to make him a victim of His justice for eternity. Why, said Jeremias, doth the way of the wicked prosper? He answers: Gather them together as sheep for a sacrifice. [Jer. 12:1] There is no punishment greater than that which God inflicts, when He permits a sinner to add sin to sin. Add thou iniquity upon their iniquity ... let them be blotted out of the book of the living. [Ps. 68:28] In explaining these words, Bellarmine says that there is no punishment greater than when sin is the punishment of sin. It would be a smaller punishment to be struck dead by the Lord after their first sin; for, by dying afterward they will suffer as many hells as they have committed sins.
Affections and Prayers
My God! I know that in my miserable state I have deserved to be deprived of Thy grace and light: but seeing the light which Thou now givest me, and feeling that Thou now callest me to repentance, I have just reason to hope that Thou hast not as yet abandoned me. And since, O Lord! Thou hast not abandoned me, multiply Thy mercies on my soul. increase Thy light, increase my desire to serve and love Thee. Change me, O omnipotent God! and from being a traitor and rebel, make me a great lover of Thy goodness, that I may one day enter Heaven to praise Thy mercies for all eternity. Thou dost then wish to pardon me, and I desiree nothing but the pardon of my sins and the gift of Thy love. I am sorry O infinite Goodness! for having so often offended Thee. I love Thee, O Sovereign Good! because Thou commandest me to love Thee; I love Thee, because Thou well deservest my love. Ah, my Redeemer, through the merits of Thy Blood, give Thy love to a sinner whom Thou hast loved so ardently, and whom Thou hast borne with so patiently for so many years: I hope for every grace from Thy mercy. I hope to love Thee always till death, and for eternity. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever. [Ps. 88:2] I will praise Thy mercy, O my Jesus, I will forever praise thy mercy. O Mary! who hast obtained for me so many graces; I acknowledge that I have received them all through thine intercession. Continue, O my Mother! to assist me by thy prayers, and to obtain for me holy perseverance.
Unfortunate is he who allows the Time of Mercy to pass by
It is related in the life of Father Louis La Nusa, that in Palermo there two friends, who went one day to take a walk. One of them, called Caesar, who was a comedian, seeing the other oppressed with melancholy, said: How long is it since you were at confession? Is it on account of your long absence from the Sacraments that you are so much troubled? Listen to me: "Father La Nusa told me one day that God gave me twelve years to live, and that if, within that period, I did not amend, I should die an unhappy death. I have since travelled through so many parts of the world; I have had many attacks of sickness, one of which brought me to the brink of death; but, in this month the twelve years will be completed. and I now feel better than in any part of my past life." He then invited his friend to hear, on Saturday, a new comedy, which he had composed. But what happened? On Saturday, the 24th of November, 1688, as he was going on the stage, he was seized with apoplexy, and died suddenly. He expired in the arms of a female comedian, and thus the comedy ended. But let us make the application to ourselves. Brother, when the devil tempts you again to sin, if you wish to be lost, you have it in your power to commit sin: but do not then say that you wish to be saved. As long as you wish to sin, regard yourself as damned, and imagine that God writes the sentence of your damnation, and that He says to you: What is there that I ought to do more for My vineyard, that I have not done to it? [Isa. 5:4] Ungrateful soul, what more ought I to do for you, that I have not done? But, since you wish to be lost, go into eternal fire; the fault. is your own.
But you will say, Where then is the mercy of God? Ah, unhappy soul? Do you not feel that God has shown you mercy in bearing with you for so many years, after so many sins? You should remain forever prostrate on the earth, thanking Him for His mercy, and saying: The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed. [Lam. 3:22] By committing a single mortal sin, you have been guilty of a greater crime than if you had trampled under foot the first monarch in the world. You have been guilty of so many mortal sins, that if you had committed against your brother the injuries which you have offered to God, he would not have borne with you. God has not only waited for you, but He has so often called you and invited you to pardon. What is there that I ought to have done more? If God had stood in need of you, or if you had conferred a great favor upon Him, could He show you greater mercy? If, then, you offend Him again, you will change His mercy into wrath and vengeance.
If, after the master had given it another year to produce fruit, the fruitless fig tree still remained barren, who could expect that the Lord would have allowed it more time, or would not have cut it down? Listen, then, to the admonition of St. Augustine: "O fruitless tree! the axe is deferred; be not secure: you will be cut down." Your punishment, says the Saint, has been delayed, but not taken away; if you abuse any longer the Divine mercy, you shall be cut down: in the end vengeance will fall upon you. What do you wait for? Will you wait till God sends you to Hell? But should He send you there, you already know that your ruin is irreparable! The Lord is silent, but He is not silent forever: when the time of vengeance arrives He no longer holds His peace. These things hast thou done and I was silent.. Thou thoughtest unjustly that I should be like to thee. I will reprove thee, and set before thy face. [Ps. 49:21] I will place before your eyes the mercies I have shown you, and will make these very mercies judge and condemn you.
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God! unhappy me, should I henceforth be unfaithful to Thee, and betray Thee again after the light Thou now givest me. This light is a sign that Thou wishest to pardon me. I repent, O Sovereign Good! of all the injuries I have done Thee because they have offended Thee, Who art infinite goodness. In Thy Blood I hope for pardon, and I hope for it with certainty; but should I again turn my back upon Thee, I would deserve a Hell created on purpose for myself. And what makes me tremble, O God of my soul! is, that I may again lose Thy grace. I have so often promised to be faithful to Thee, and have afterward rebelled against Thee. Ah, Lord! do not permit it; do not ever abandon me to the great misfortune of seeing myself again Thine enemy. Send me any chastisement, but not this. Do not permit me to be separated from Thee. Shouldst Thou see that I shall again offend Thee, strike me dead, rather than permit so great an evil. I am content to suffer the most cruel death, sooner than have to weep over the misery of being again deprived of Thy grace. Do not permit me to be separated from Thee. I repeat this prayer, O my God: grant that I may repeat it always. Do not permit me to be separated from Thee. I love Thee, my dear Redeemer! I do not wish to be separated from Thee. Through the merits of Thy death, give me an ardent love, which will bind me so closely to Thee, that I may never more be able to dissolve the union. O Mary, my mother! I fear that if I again offend God, thou too wilt abandon me. Assist me, then, by thy prayers; obtain for me holy perseverance and the love of Jesus Christ.