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.
Who taught you to reason that because God
was good you could sin with impunity? Such is not the
teaching of the Holy 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 sins.
God is good; therefore, I must be good if I would
imitate Him. God is good; 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.
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
This holy fear is the effect of grace, and
is preserved in the soul by frequent meditation. To
aid you in this reflection we shall here propose a
few of the practical proofs of the greatness of God's
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, 0
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
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?
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."
"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."
(1Esd. 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,