Mercy and Punishment

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Many rather careless persons who are inclined to abuse God’s lovingkindness to increase the magnitude of their sins and indulge in excessive negligence mouth such words as these: “There is no hell; there is no future judgment; God forgives all our sins.” To reduce them to silence a wise man states: “Say not: ‘Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.’ For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath.” And again: “Great as his mercy is his punishment.”

“Where then,” you ask, “are the proofs of his lovingkindness, if we receive the punishment deserved by our sins?” In testimony that we shall receive the punishment “deserved by our sins,” pay heed to the words of both the Prophet and Paul. The former declares: “You render to all according to their deeds,” and the latter states, “He will repay all for what they have done.”

Yet it is also clear from this fact that God’s lovingkindness is nontheless great. In dividing our existence into two periods–the present life and that which is to come–and making the first a succession of trials and the second a place of crowning, God has shown great lovingkindness. How, and in what way? Because, although we have committed many and grievous sins, and have not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, he has not demanded from us a reckoning for any one of these sins but has granted us pardon for them by the bath of regeneration and has freely bestowed on us justice and holiness.

“What then,” you ask, “if one who from earliest years has been deemed worthy of the mysteries should commit ten thousand sins afterward?” Such a one certainly deserves greater punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins; the penalties are much more severe when we offend after partaking of the mysteries. This is what Paul means when he says: “Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not suppose that a much worse punishment is due the one who disdains the Son of God, thinks the covenant-blood by which the soul was sanctified to be ordinary, and insults the Spirit of grace?” Such a one therefore is deserving of severer punishment.

Yet even for this person God has opened the doors of repentance and has granted even this sinner many means to wash away offences, if the sinner desires. Consider then what great proofs of lovingkindness these constitute: to remit sin by grace, and to refrain from punishing the one who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment but rather to give the sinner the opportunity and the time to make amends!

St John Chrysostom, from Homily 28 on John 1. Translation by J. Robert Wright. Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1991). pp 188-189.

N.B. This is an accidental repeat of this selection on my part, my first posting of it being The Doors of Repentance. Even so, the message is one that bears repeating!