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display the greatness of His justice!
And, moreover, there will be as many motives for exercising justice as there are iniquities in the world. Mercy, too, found nothing outside of itself to assist it, because there was no part of our human nature that deserved it, but justice will find a fresh motive and occasion for action in every sin that has been committed in the world. By this imagine how dreadful it will be.
S. Bernard declares this in a Sermon on the Epiphany in these words: As at His first coming our LORD showed Himself very ready to forgive, so at the second He will be very severe to punish. As now there is no man who may not reconcile himself with Him, so then will none be able to do so: As His exceeding kindness was manifested at His first coming, so will the severity of His justice be manifested at the last. For GOD is immense, infinite in justice, as well as infinite in mercy. These are the words of S. Bernard, and they show how the very mercy of GOD declares His great justice. Both are divinely explained by the Psalmist, who says, "He is our GOD, even the GOD of Whom cometh salvation: GOD is the LORD, by Whom we escape death. GOD shall wound the head of His enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his wickedness." (Ps. lxviii. 20, 21.) See how gentle He is to those who turn to Him, and how severe to the hardened and rebellious.
This is declared to us also by the patience of GOD, towards the whole world, and towards each individual sinner. We see men so vile that from the time they open the eyes of reason to the last years of their life, they spend their whole time in offending GOD and despising His commands, regarding neither promises, nor threats, nor benefits, nor warnings, nor any other thing. And all this time His perfect goodness and patience waited for them, without cutting off the thread of their life, without ceasing to call them in many ways to repentance, and without seeing any amendment in them. Now when this long patience is ended, and He lets loose upon them all the store of His wrath, which has been gradually accumulating so many years in the treasure-house of His justice, how violently, how furiously will it burst upon them! And this is the meaning of the
Apostle's words, "Thinkest thou this, O man, not knowing that the goodness of GOD leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up for thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of GOD, Who shall render to every man according to his deeds." (Rom. ii. 3-6.) What is the meaning of these words "treasurest up," but that as a man who is laying up treasure, continues daily to add coin to coin and wealth to wealth, in order to increase his store, so GOD continues every day and every hour to add to the treasure of His wrath, whilst the wicked man is daily adding to its causes by his evil deeds. Now if a man were so diligent in laying up treasure, that there passed no day or hour without his adding something, and that for the space of fifty or sixty years, when at last he opened his coffers, how great a treasure would he find! But thou, O wretched man, scarcely does a day or an hour pass without thy increasing against thyself the treasure of this Divine wrath, which grows every hour, and at every sin! For if there were only the impure glances of thine eyes, the evil desires and hatred of thy heart, the words and oaths of thy lips, they would be enough to fill the world. Add these and all thy other sins together, and what a store of wrath hast thou laid up against thyself in all these years!
And if thou well considerest the ingratitude and malice of the wicked, they also seem to show how great this punishment must be. Consider, on the one hand, the infinite liberality and benignity of GOD towards men: what He has done, and said, and suffered for them; what means and opportunities He has given them of living well; what He has passed over and forgiven; the good things that He has done for them; the evils from which He has delivered them; and all the many benefits and favours that He bestows upon them daily. On the other hand, consider men's forgetfulness of GOD; their ingratitude, their rebellion, their unfaithfulness, their blasphemies, their contempt of Him and of His commandments, which is so great, that not only for the most trifling interest, but often for nothing and without cause, out of mere shameless wickedness, they trample all the commands of GOD under their feet. And those
who thus despise His great majesty as if He were a god of wood; they who have so often, as S. Paul says, "trodden under foot the SON of GOD," and "counted the Blood of the Covenant an unholy thing,” (Heb. x. 29; vi. 6,) and crucified Him afresh, and smitten Him in the face by deeds worse than those of the heathen: what can they expect but that when the day of account comes, a satisfaction shall be made at their cost to GOD's honour, equal to the offence that they have committed against it? For GOD is a just Judge, and therefore it appertains to Him to make a just amends, and justly to balance the punishment of the offender against the insult to the offended. But if the offended person is GOD, the whole body and soul of the reprobate must be delivered up to make amends by their sufferings for such offences.
And if the Blood of the SON of GOD was necessary to make amends for the offence against GOD, the dignity of the person supplying what was wanting in the severity of the punishment, what will it be when the amends is to be made not with any dignity of the person, but only with the greatness of the penalty?
And besides the nature of the Judge, consider that also of the executioner who is to fulfil the sentence-namely, the devil— and see what thou hast to expect from his hands. See how he showed his cruelty in his treatment of a man who was given into his power-holy Job. For against this righteous man he exercised every possible kind of cruelty without the least tenderness or pity. He burned his sheep, he took away his oxen and asses, he slew his servants, he overthrew his house, he killed his children, he covered him with sore boils from head to foot, he left him nothing but a dunghill to sit upon, and a potsherd to scrape himself withal; yet he left him his wife and his friends, whom it was more cruel to leave than to slay, that their words might be worse than the worms in his wounds, and gnaw his inmost heart. Thus he treated holy Job. (Job i., ii.) And how did he deal with the SAVIOUR of the world on that sad night when He was delivered over to the power of darkness? This cannot be told in few words.
Now, seeing that this enemy and all his companions are so
fierce, so inhuman, so savage, so bloodthirsty, such haters of the human race, and so mighty to do hurt; when, thou, miserable wretch, by the decree of GOD'S justice, findest thyself in their hands to suffer whatever cruelties they are pleased to exercise on thee, and this not for a night or a day, but for ever and ever, what will be thy state? Oh, what a day of blackness will it be when thou seest thyself in the power of these wolves!
S. John gives us a most horrible picture of these fiends in his Apocalypse, where he says, "I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth; and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace. . . And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of GOD in their foreheads. . . . And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it. . . . And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails." (Rev. ix. 1-10.) These are the words of S. John. Say now, I pray thee, what was the intention of the HOLY GHOST, Who is the author of this Scripture, when, under these horrible and unheard-of figures, He was pleased to make known to us the severity of the scourges of GOD's justice? What was His intention but to warn us by the frightful horror of these things how great will be the anger of GOD, what the instruments of His justice, what the punishments of the wicked, and what the power over us of our enemies, that the dread of such things might make us tremble to offend GOD. For who is the star that fell from
heaven, and to whom the key of the bottomless pit was given, but that bright and glorious angel who fell from thence, and to whom dominion was given over the darkness? And who are the locusts, so fierce and so well-armed, but his helpers and ministers, the devils, with their fury and their weapons? What are the green things that they had no power to hurt, but the righteous, who flourish with the moisture of Divine grace, and bring forth fruits of everlasting life? And what are they that have not on them the seal of GOD, but they who lack His Spirit, which is the mark of His servants, and of the sheep of His pasture? Now all this army of GOD's justice is prepared against these wretched men, that in this life and in the next, each in its way, they may be tormented by the devils whom they have served, as the Egyptians were by the flies whom they worshipped. (Exod. viii. 24.) How terrible will it be in that place to see those monstrous figures and those horrible countenances ! How dreadful to see that devouring dragon, that crooked serpent, that great Behemoth, of whom it is written in Job, that "he moveth his tail like a cedar," that "he drinketh up a river," and "the mountains bring him forth food." (Job xxvi. 13; xl. 17, 23, 20.)
All these things well considered sufficiently declare to us how great the punishment of the wicked will be. For what can be expected from all the great things of which we have spoken, but very great punishments? What can be expected from the immensity and greatness of GOD; from the greatness of His justice in punishing sin; from the greatness of His patience in bearing with sinners; from the multitude of benefits by which He so often seeks to draw them to Himself; and from the greatness of the hatred wherewith He abhors sin, (for being offensive to an infinite majesty it merits an infinite hatred,) and from the greatness of our enemies' rage, enemies so powerful to torment, so furious to hate us? What, I say, can be expected from all these great things, but a very great punishment of sin! Since then the punishment prepared for sin is so great, and here there can be no mistake, for faith assures us of it, should not those who believe and confess this consider what a load they take on themselves when they sin, since by the very act of