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sinning they condemn themselves to a punishment whose greatness is so abundantly proved?
But though all these considerations are great cause for fear, it is far more fearful to consider the duration of these pains. For if there were some end or some manner of relief after many thousands of years, it would be a great comfort for the wicked. But what shall I say of an eternity that knows no end, but endures as long as the duration of GOD Himself! So great is this space that, as a doctor says, if one of the lost shed one single material tear in every thousand years, more water would issue from his eyes than the whole world is able to contain. What can be more dreadful than this? Truly it is so great a thing, that if all the pains of hell were but the prick of a pin, yet, as they are to endure for ever, this alone ought to induce men to bear all the afflictions in the world to avoid it. Oh, if this duration, this "for ever" would abide in thy heart, how would it profit thee! We read of a man of the world that he set himself once to think very earnestly of this duration of sufferings, and being terrified at their length, he thought thus with himself, "No reasonable man would accept the empire of the world with the condition that he must lie for thirty or forty years in a bed, even if it were one of roses and flowers; what folly is it then, for things so much less, to run the risk of lying in a bed of fire for endless ages!" This single consideration sank so deeply into this man, and produced such great effects upon him, that he changed his life entirely, and came afterwards to be a great saint, and a prelate of the Church. And what say ye to this, ye self-indulgent, who are kept awake all night by the humming of a gnat, how will ye lie on a bed of fire surrounded by flames on every side, and that not merely for a summer's night, but throughout eternity? The Prophet Isaiah asks this question, and says, "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isa. xxxiii. 14.) Who has strength to bear such heat so long a time? O senseless people! O men deluded by the old deceiver and disturber of the world! What can be more unreasonable than that they who are so anxious to provide themselves with all the trifles of this world should be thus insen
sible to things of such importance! What, do we see, if we see not this? What do we fear, if we fear not this? For what do we provide, if we provide not for this?
Is it possible that any one will not willingly take his part with virtue, even if it involves much labour, to avoid these great evils? Assuredly if GOD made an agreement with a man, and said to him, "As long as thou livest thou shalt have a certain painful malady, so acute that it never shall suffer thee to rest day or night; or if thou wouldst be free from this pain, thou must practise certain bodily austerities all thy life, consider which thou wilt choose," no man could be so irrational but that common sense would lead him, if only out of self-love, tổ choose the last of these alternatives, rather than to endure the former so long. Now, seeing that the torments of which we speak are so much greater, that they last so much longer, and that what GOD requires of us is so much less than to exercise bodily austerities all thy life, can we but accept so little a labour to avoid so long a torment? Can any be so deceived as to
The penalty of the man who would not do a little penance here to redeem himself from so great an evil, is that he will there do eternal penance, and it will profit him nothing. We read of the burning fiery furnace, which Nebuchadnezzar caused to be heated in Babylon, that the flames streamed forth above it "forty and nine cubits" (Song of the Three Children, v. 24), yet it lacked one cubit to make up the number of fifty, which makes the year of jubilee, to give us to understand that the flames of the everlasting smoke of Babylon, which is hell, although they burn so much and so grievously torment the lost, will never obtain for them the remission and the grace of the true jubilee. O fruitless pains! O barren tears! O rigorous penance, and utterly hopeless! How small a portion of what men fruitlessly endure there, if it had been willingly taken here, would have sufficed to save them! How easily might these sufferings have been redeemed, and by what light afflictions! Let fountains of tears flow from our eyes, let not the groans of our hearts cease. "Therefore I will wail a howl," says the Prophet, "I will go stripped and naked :
I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls. For her wound is incurable." (Micah i. 8, 9.)
And if men did not believe these things to be true, and most entirely true, it would be no marvel that they so disregard them. But holding it as matter of faith, and knowing assuredly, that, as the Saviour says, heaven and earth shall pass away, but His words shall not pass away (S. Luke xxi. 33); that believing this, they should live in such strange carelessness, is indeed a wonder passing all astonishment. Tell me, thou lost and blinded man, what honey canst thou find in all the riches and pleasures of the world, that is worth buying at this price? "Didst thou possess," says S. Jerome, "the wisdom of Solomon, the beauty of Absalom, the strength of Samson, the length of days of Enoch, the riches of Croesus, and the power of Octavius, what would all these things avail thee, if at the end of thy life thy body was given to the worms, and thy soul to the devils, to be tormented with the rich miser in the everlasting torments ?"
The Eleventh Reason that obliges us to follow Virtue, namely, the Inestimable Advantages that it promises us in this present Life.
KNOW not what excuses men may allege for neglecting to follow virtue, when there are so many reasons why they should follow it. For what GOD is, what He deserves, what He has given us, what He promises, and what He threatens, are reasons, and no small ones. Let us then inquire how it is that so many Christians who believe and confess all these things, yet are so deficient in virtue. For as to unbelievers who know not virtue, it is no marvel that they do not prize it, as a clown, who finds a precious stone in digging, cares not for it, because he knows not its value. But that a Christian who knows all these things should live as if he believed none of them, forgetful of GOD, a slave to vice, subject to his passions, attached to visible things, forgetful of things invisible, and given over to all manner of sins, as if he expected neither death, judgment, heaven, nor hell, is indeed a marvellous thing. Wherefore, as I said, it is reasonable to inquire whence comes this paralysis, this lethargy, or, as I might call it, this enchantment.
This great evil has not one root only, but many and various. Not the least of them is a general delusion in which men of the world live, believing that all that GOD promises to virtue is kept for the next life, and that nothing is given to it here. For men are so self-interested, and so moved by present objects, that, when they see nothing present, they care not for the future. So it was in the times of the prophets. For when Ezekiel the
Prophet set great promises and threatenings before them from GOD, they made a jest of them, and said, "The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off." (Ezek. xii. 27.) And scoffing at the Prophet Isaiah for the same cause, they mocked his words, saying, "Wait and wait again; wait and wait again; order and order again; order and order again; a little while hence; a little while hence.” (Isa. xxviii. 10, Vulg.) This is one of the chief reasons why the wicked turn away from GOD's commandments; they think that nothing will be given them at present, but all kept for the future. So Solomon, the wisest of men, has said, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." (Eccles. viii. 11.) And the same Solomon says, "This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event to all,” as it appears outwardly; "to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good, and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not ;" and therefore he says, "the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead," (Eccles. ix. 2, 3), and so their end is hell, because they think that good and ill success visit equally the houses of the good and of the wicked. And what Solomon says here, the wicked plainly confess by Malachi the Prophet, saying, “It is vain to serve GOD; and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of Hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt GOD are even delivered." (Mal. iii. 14, 15.) This is the language of the wicked, and this is one of the greatest incentives to their wickedness. For, as S. Ambrose says, "it seems to them a very hard thing to buy hopes with dangers; that is, to buy future good for present evils, and to let go what they have already in their hand, for the hope of what may be given them in future.
Now, to banish this mischievous delusion, I know not where I can better begin than by the words and tears of the SAVIOUR, Who beheld the unhappy city of Jerusalem, "and wept over it,