by Cardinal Henry Manning, 1874
If any man shall see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and life shall be given unto him that sinneth not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say for that any man shall ask. All iniquity is sin, and there is a sin unto death. 1 S. John V. 16, 17.
From the written Word of God it is clear, beyond controversy, that some sins are unto death, and some sins are not unto death. That is to say, that some sins are mortal, and some sins are not mortal.Prayers Against The Seven Deadly Sins
Our next subject, as I said, is mortal sin. But before I enter upon it, I wish to recall to your memories the general principles already laid down. First, we know that the end of man is God; that God made man for Himself; that He made him to His own likeness; that He made him capable of knowing, loving, and serving Him, and of being like to God; and that in the knowledge, the love, and the service, and the likeness of God, is the bliss of man. Therefore conformity to God is our perfection, and union with God is eternal life; but deformity, or departure from the likeness of God, is sin, and separation from God is eternal death. The nature of sin is, as we have defined it, the transgression of the law of God; or, in other words, any thought, word, or deed deliberately committed with the knowledge of the intellect, and the consent of the will, contrary to the will of God; or, in other words again, it is the variance of the created will against the uncreated will--of the will of the creature against the will of the Creator. The essential malice of sin, then, consists in the variance of the will, the hostility of the will of the creature against the will of his Maker. These were the principles which I laid down last time. We will now take them up again, and make application of them in one particular point.
Saint John, in the words with which I began, tells us that if any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he ought to pray for him. Now what are the sins that are not unto death? Sins of infirmity; sins of impetuosity; sins of strong temptation; sins which by the subtilty of Satan lead men astray; sins of passion, in which human nature, being weak and tempestuous and liable to disorder, is drawn aside: if in all these there be no malice, either against God, or against our neighbour. Now these are sins which all Christians are liable to commit, and do commit, and which, without doubt, you yourselves are profoundly conscious of committing. These are sins not unto death, as we may trust, because if there be no malice against God or our neighbour, then the essential sinfulness of sin is wanting; and in that case, Saint John says, 'Let him pray for him, and God will give life unto those that sin not unto death;' that is to say, He will give grace, sorrow, pardon, help, protection, and perseverance. He will watch over those souls if in humility and in sorrow they persevere; and the prayer of those who are faithful and steadfast will obtain grace for those that sin not unto death.
Then he goes on: 'There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man should ask that is, that any man should pray. Now what is this sin unto death? The sin of Judas was a sin unto death. With his eyes open, with a knowledge of his Master,--though perhaps he did not know of the mystery of the Incarnation as we know it now; nevertheless he knew enough,--he sold his Master, and yet perhaps not knowing that he sold Him to be crucified. This, then, was a sin unto death. The sin of Simon Magus was a blasphemy and a sin unto death. The sin of those that blaspheme the Holy Ghost, which shall never be forgiven, is a sin unto death. The sin of apostates from the faith, who, having known the truth, and having had the full light and illumination to know God, afterwards fall from Him, is described by Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he says, 'It is impossible for those who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the Heavenly Gift, and of the good Word of God, and of the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to be renewed again unto repentance (Heb. vi. 6).'
In one word, all who are impenitent sin unto death. All those who, having had full light and knowledge of God in His revelation, with their eyes open, turn from it, of whom Saint John says, 'They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, without doubt they would have continued with us (1 St. John ii. 10)'--all these who so sin, sin unto death, and are left to the judgment of God. Saint John in these words does not forbid us to pray; he says, 'I do not say'--that is, 'I do not enjoin it.' He leaves it to the conscience of every man. He says of those who sin not unto death, that 'we have all confidence we may obtain pardon and grace for them;' but for those who do sin unto death as I have described, 'we have no such confidence, and therefore, though I do not enjoin it, I do not forbid it.'
Then he goes on to say, 'All iniquity is sin.' Now iniquity means all departure from the rectitude of God and of the law of God. Iniquity is inequality, or crookedness. Everything that is not conformed to the rectitude of God, to His perfections, to His law, and to His will, is sin. 'And there is a sin unto death.' We have here a distinction of those sins which are and those which are not mortal. My purpose now is very roughly to define what it is that constitutes this distinction; and secondly, to show what are the effects of this mortal sin which is unto death.
As I have said before, to constitute a mortal sin it is necessary that the man who commits it should know what he does--there must be a knowledge of the intellect; if not, the sin is only, as I then said, a material sin, and not a formal sin, unless his ignorance be a culpable and guilty ignorance. Next, he must not only know that he is doing wrong, but his will must consent to the wrong-doing. Thirdly, he must know and consent deliberately, with such an advertence or attention to what he is about as to make him conscious of his action. A man who should transgress the law of God in the least possible way would fulfil these three conditions. It would be a transgression of the law of God if I should take an apple off the tree of my neighbour without his leave. It was his: I had not a right to take it, and I thereby broke the commandment, 'Thou shalt not steal;' but that certainly would not be a sin unto death. It became a sin unto death when a divine prohibition was laid upon such an act under pain of death, and that the pain of eternal death; but where there is no such command laid under pain of death, it is quite clear that the taking of an apple would not constitute a sin unto death.
Therefore it is necessary that there should be a gravity in the matter of the sin; and the gravity of that matter will be constituted in one of two ways--it is either the material gravity, that is, the extent, or amount, or quantity of the sin committed; or it is the moral gravity derived from the circumstances of the case. An illustration will at once make this clear. If I were to rob a man of a very large amount of his property, no one would doubt for an instant that I had committed a sin unto death, or a mortal sin. The common sense of mankind, the instincts of justice, would at once pronounce against me. If I were to take a needle from some rich person, the instincts of justice would acquit me of a sin unto death. I have taken that which did not belong to me, but no one would say that, in taking that needle from the rich man, who could obtain an abundant supply of needles, I had committed a sin unto death. No. But suppose that needle belonged to a poor seamstress, who gained her daily bread by the industrious use of that one needle, and that she had not the means to buy another; and that if she were robbed of it, her industry must cease, and she could no longer gain her bread; and that I knew all those facts; and that, with my eyes open, knowing the extent of the injury I was doing, in violation of the law of charity, as well as of the law of justice, I should take that needle with a perfect consciousness that I was destroying the means of industry and reducing her to hunger. You see at once that there is a moral guilt which arises from these circumstances. Suppose, still further, that I myself were jealous of her prosperity, being of the same trade or calling, and that I take the needle in order to ruin her for my own advantage. You see, therefore, that in so small a theft as the stealing of a needle there may be an enormity of moral guilt. It is not enough then that there should be the knowledge of the intellect, and the consent of the will to the action, unless the matter in which that action is committed shall be of a grave kind, either materially or morally, before God.
There are seven capital sins, the names of which you all know. First of all there is pride, which separates the soul from God; secondly, there is envy, or jealousy, which separates a man from his neighbour; thirdly, there is sloth, which is a burden pressing down the powers of man, so that he becomes weary of his duty towards God, and forsakes Him; fourthly, there is avarice, which plunges a man deep into the mire of this world, so that he makes it to be his god; fifthly, there is gluttony, which makes a sensual fool; sixthly, there is anger, which makes a man a slave to himself; and lastly, there is impurity, which makes a man a slave of the devil. In those seven kinds there are seven ways of eternal death; and all those who, with their eyes open, with the knowledge of the intellect, and the full consent of the will, commit sin in any of those seven kinds, are walking in the way towards sin unto death.
1. We come now to the effects. The first effect of one mortal sin is to strike the soul dead. The grace of God is the life of the soul as the soul is the life of the body; and one sin unto death, in any one of the kinds that I have spoken of, strikes the soul dead. The soul dies at once, and on the spot; not as the tree which is blasted by the lightning and dies gradually day after day; first in the leader, then it begins to die in the branches, and then it dies in the trunk, and then it dies in the root. This is a slow process, but not so with the soul. One single sin unto death strikes the soul dead at once, and that for this reason: the grace of God is the life of the soul, and one mortal sin separates the soul from God. The holy angels, when they were created, lived in the presence of God, though they did not as yet see the face of God. They were on probation. Every creature depends on God in two ways: he needs the support of God for his existence; and of the grace of God for his sanctification. If God were not present with us at this moment in our physical life we should die. If He were not in this building, the walls of it would vanish. So it was with the angels in their first state of bliss. It was the assistance of God which sustained them in their being as pure intelligences, spotless in their innocence, excellent in their strength, surpassing in their energy. 'He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire (Heb. i. 7.).' They also needed grace. The angels were holy just as we are holy, because the Holy Ghost was with them; and all the actions of the angelic perfection were sustained by an actual grace and help of God, just like our own. By one sin--one sin unto death--and that a sin of pride, purely spiritual, they fell and died eternally and without redemption; and as S. Jude writes: 'Leaving their habitations, were cast down into darkness and everlasting chains until the day of judgment (St. Jude 6.).'
As it was with the angelic natures, so it was with man. God, when He created man, constituted him, as I said before, with three perfections--the perfection of nature, that is, of body and soul; the supernatural perfection or the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and of sanctification; and the preternatural perfection or the perfect harmony of the soul in itself and with God; and the immortality of the body. These three perfections, natural, supernatural, and preternatural, make up what is called original justice; and in that state man was constituted when he was created. But by one sin of disobedience, with his eyes open, with the consent of his will and with full deliberation--and that in a matter light in itself, as I have said, but grave because the prohibition of God under the penalty of eternal death was laid upon it--in that slight trial, without temptation save only the listening to the tempter, who awakened a spirit of curiosity and disobedience, where all around him was permitted and one only thing forbidden, man sinned against God, and by that one sin was struck dead. The Holy Ghost departed from him, and all his perfections were wrecked. The supernatural perfection was lost, the preternatural perfection was forfeited, the soul fell from God, the body was struck by death. He became from that time disinherited, shorn of sanctity and life: one sin unto death separated him and all his posterity from God.
As it was in the case of Adam, so it is also in the case of the regenerate; so it is in our own. We who are born, into the world, spiritually dead have once more, by regeneration in baptism, the life of the Spirit. If we sin mortally with our eyes open, and with consent of our will, we forfeit the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, the charity of God which unites us to Him, the sanctifying grace whereby we are made children of God, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost which are always inseparably united to His presence. There is left in us, indeed, the grace of hope and the grace of faith. These two remain like the beating of the pulse and the breathing of the lungs: there is just so much left of the life of grace with the light of faith and the aspiration of hope after God; but our union with God is broken: we are separated from Him, and at variance with Him. This is the first effect of mortal sin; for habitual grace and the presence of God are the life of the soul; and the loss of that grace, which is the loss of the presence of God, is the death of the soul.
2. But further: one mortal sin destroys all the merits that the soul has ever heaped up. Understand what is meant by merit. The doctrine of the Catholic Church is this: not that any creature can merit in the sense of claiming out of the hand of his Maker, Redeemer, and Judge, by any right of his own, anything whatsoever in nature or in grace. Cast out of your minds for ever all shadow of misunderstanding upon this. Merit does not signify that the creature can by any right of his own, either in the order of nature or of grace, challenge and demand of God the gift or the possession of anything. No. The word 'merit' is used in two senses. There is the merit for good, and the merit for evil. Every good action has a merit--that is, a certain conformity to the will of God; and every evil action has a merit, that is, a deformity, which will be followed by punishment. Therefore 'merit' is a word altogether indifferent in itself, and derives its meaning for good or for evil from its context. Merit signifies the connection or link that exists between certain actions done in grace and certain awards; and that connection or link is constituted sovereignly and gratuitously by the grace and promise of God. So that every man who does acts of faith, or of charity, or of self-denial, or of piety, will receive a reward, both in this life and the next, according to those actions. Every man who does acts of charity will receive an increase of charity and of grace in this life; and hereafter, as the Council of Florence defines, the glory of the blessed shall be in proportion to the measure of their charity on earth. There is a link then between the measure of our charity here and the measure of our glory hereafter. This is what is called merit; and all through our life, if we are living faithfully in the grace of God, we are thereby heaping up merits, and acquiring in virtue of the promise a greater reward and a greater bliss.
I may give as example the life of the Apostles, who, through the whole of their career, even to their martyrdom, were continually increasing in the sight of God the accumulation of His good-will, of His grace, and of His reward. This is true of you all, and through your whole life everything that you do according to the will of God, being in a state of grace, has in the Book of Remembrance a record, and in the Sacred Heart of our Divine Master a promise of reward, which shall be satisfied at His coming. One sin then, unto death, unless afterwards repented of, utterly cancels all these merits of a whole life. It matters not how long you may have been living a life of justice, of charity, of humility, of generosity, and of piety, before God--one mortal sin, and the whole of that record is cancelled from the Book of His remembrance. It is all gone as if it had never been. Do you need proofs of it? Take the history of David, the 'man after God's own heart (Acts xiii. 22).' You remember his faith, his patience, his fidelity, his courage, his prayer, his spirit of thanksgiving. He is the Psalmist of Israel, the man with the greatest of all titles--'the man after God's own heart.' But in one moment, by the twofold sin of murder and adultery, he cancelled before God every merit of his youth and of his manhood: all was dead before God. Solomon, the son of David, the type of our Divine Lord, the King of Peace, the man famous for wisdom--not only because he received it as a divine gift, but because he had the wisdom to ask for wisdom, not for riches--the man illuminated beyond all other men, because afterwards he fell away from God into sin unto death, all the merit of that long life of wisdom and light and of early sanctity was cancelled. Judas, in his childhood, and in his boyhood, and in his youth, was perhaps as faithful to the light of his conscience as you have been. He left kindred, and all that he had, to follow his Master. No doubt there were in his heart struggles and aspirations and prayers and desires to walk in the footsteps of his Divine Lord; but there crept upon him the sin of covetousness. He carried the bag, and that which was put therein; and Satan tempted him, and then entered into him, and he sold his Master. Ananias in like manner renounced the world, perilled his own life to become a Christian, sold all that he had, made sacrifice of everything; but kept back part of the price. Demas was the companion of Apostles, and exposed his life to danger, and lived in toil and poverty and perpetual risk, the companion of the Apostle of the Gentiles until he forsook him, having loved this present world ( 2 Tim. iv. 10.); and all the merits of that life of faith, and of all those actions which once were recorded in the Book of God's remembrance, were in one moment cancelled; and therefore S. Paul said of himself, 'I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest, after I have preached the Gospel to others, I myself should become a castaway (1 Cor. ix. 27.).' The prophet Ezekiel says, 'When the just man turneth away from justice he hath done, and committeth iniquity; in the iniquity he hath done, in the sin he hath committed, in that he shall die, and his justice shall be no more remembered (Ezek. iii. 20.).'
3. The third effect is even more terrible; it mortifies and kills the very power of serving God. All the actions of a man in a state of mortal sin are dead; they have no merit or power to prevail before God for his salvation. So long as he is separated from God, nothing he does has saving power. Just as a tree that has life bears living fruit, and a tree that is dead has nothing but fruit that is withered and dead likewise, so a soul that is planted in God, as we all are by baptism, strikes its root as the tree by the rivers of water, and increases continually in faith, hope, and charity, and in the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which expand themselves like the leaves upon the branch, and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost unfold themselves and ripen. On the other hand, a soul that is separated from God is like the tree that is cut asunder at the root, and as the severed tree withers from the topmost spray and every fruit upon it dies, so the soul in the state of mortal sin, of whatsoever kind, so long as it remains in that state, is separated from God, and can bear no fruit unto salvation. The Apostle has declared this, in the most express words: 'Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and have not charity, I become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal; and if I have all prophecy and all knowledge, and can understand all mysteries, and though I have faith and could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing; and though I give my goods to feed the poor and my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.):' that is to say, a soul separated from God, not having the love of God; it matters not what that soul may know, it may be able to prophesy, to expound mysteries, to work miracles: it may give all it possesses to the poor in alms, it may be martyred, as men may think, and yet if it have not the love of God it profits nothing to salvation. There will be at the last day those who will come to our Divine Lord and say, 'Lord! Lord! we prophesied in Thy name, we cast out devils and did many mighty works in Thy name; we have eaten and drunk in Thy presence; and He will say unto them, Depart from Me, I never knew you (St. Matt. vii. 22.):' that is to say, a soul that has sinned unto death by one sin, one transgression, continuing in that state, until restored to union with God by charity and by grace, is dead before God, and all the actions of the soul are dead.
Those who are in such a condition are like men looking up to a high mountain on which the sun dwells perpetually in its splendour, and there is a glory as of the Heavenly City upon it, and they long to climb up to it; but before them there is the breast of a precipice, which no human foot can scale, and they pine away with longing and with the impossibility of ascending: or they are like men gazing upon a fair country, the Promised Land of vineyards and olive-yards and fig-trees, and rivers flowing with milk and honey; and homes of peace are before them; but at their feet there is a river, so deep and rapid, without ferry and without ford, which the mightiest swimmer cannot pass. So is it with sinners. The law of God stands between the soul that is cut off from Him, between the soul that is out of grace, and the peace of God.
4. And not this only: the soul in itself begins to lose its vigour and its strength. As I said before, every creature needs the help of nature and of graae: and the supernatural gifts of God--faith, hope, and charity--are by a mortal sin either entirely destroyed or weakened. Charity is utterly destroyed. Hope remains and faith remains, but hope begins to grow faint; for a man conscious of having sinned mortally against God cannot deceive himself with the hope of salvation unless he has grounds for hope; and what grounds can an impenitent sinner have? The faith that remains in him--what does it show to him? 'The Great White Throne,' 'the smoke that ascendeth up before the Seat of Judgment,' the law of God written in letters of fire: 'There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked (Isa. xlviii. 22.),' and 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. xii. 14.).' Faith shows him judgment to come, and the witnesses that will stand before the Throne on that day and bear testimony against him; and therefore the faith that remains in him is a terrible light, warning him and piercing his conscience. So far the supernatural grace that is still with him is goading him with fear to bring him back to God; more than this it cannot do. The natural powers of the soul are also affected when a man is in a state of sin. The heart becomes corrupt, the soul becomes weak.
Let me take what may seem to be an example not fitting for you. You who listen to me are not likely to be tempted to excess, or intoxication, but it is an apt example to illustrate every kind of sin. The man who indulges himself in drink loses the vigour and command of his will. The will becomes feeble and loses its imperious control. It can no longer command the man. It is like a rotten helm which the ship will not obey. The will itself becomes paralysed--there is a solvent which has been eating away its elasticity and its power, and what happens in this gross example happens in every other. I might take falsehood, sloth, or other sins I named before--but you must make application for yourselves. The very will loses its power of repenting. Ay, and there is a still more terrible thought than this. Sometimes the sins that men have committed long ago are the cause of their instability, their inconsistency, their wavering, and irresolution at this day. They have never yet returned to God; they have never yet been really restored to the grace of God and vitally united to Him. They carry within them that which we read of in the Book of Job, where it says: 'His bones are full of the vices of his youth, and they shall go down with him to his grave (Job xx. 11.).'
5. Lastly, there is another effect of the sin unto death; that is, that it brings a man into a double debt before God--it brings him into the debt of guilt, and into the debt of pain--and he will have to pay both. The debt of guilt he must answer at the Day of Judgment. The debt of pain he must suffer before he can see God, either here, or after death in the state of purification: or in hell to all eternity. Every substance in this world has its shadow. You cannot separate the shadow from the substance. Where the substance moves the shadow follows, so every sin has its pain; it matters not whether we think of it or no, whether we believe it or no. So it is: God has ordained it from the day in which He said: 'In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death.' From that day onward, no sin has ever been committed that has not been followed by its measure of judicial pain. It must be some day expiated, either by bearing it here or bearing it hereafter, or by a loving sorrow prevailing with God through the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, to wash out from the book of His remembrance the great debt of accumulated sin.
I will not go further into these effects; I will only sum up what I have said. First of all, one mortal sin unto death strikes a soul dead. Secondly, one such sin when the soul is struck dead destroys all the merits of a long life, be they what they may--hereafter I will show how they may all revive again like the spring after the winter time; but this, not for the present. Thirdly, one such sin unto death mortifies, kills, and destroys the saving power of every action that the soul may do while in that state of separation from God. Fourthly, it weakens both the supernatural graces that remain in the soul, and the natural powers and faculties of the soul itself. Lastly, it brings the soul into the double debt of guilt and pain. These are the five effects of a sin unto death.
I have but a few words of counsel to add. The first is this: meditate every day of your lives upon this great and awful truth--how easy it is to fall from God; and say to yourselves, 'God is my end; for Him I was created; and if I fall short of that end by a hair's-breadth, if I swerve aside from attaining that end, I shall go down into eternal death.' An arrow shot at a mark, a hair's breadth aside from its aim, fails to attain it. A ship steered by a confident and cunning hand, if it miss the light, is wrecked, be it never so near the port: and a soul that does not attain to union with God here in a state of grace will be separated from God to all eternity. Next say to yourselves, 'If I do not correspond with the grace which God has given me, I shall miss my eternal end.' As I have before said, God is co-operating with every creature. The drawing of His Holy Spirit, and the gifts of His grace, are like a chain of gold drawing every created soul to Himself. 'God wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;' and again, our Divine Lord has said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto Me.' God is drawing every created soul to Himself. He is drawing them to the knowledge of Himself and of His Incarnate Son, and of the Precious Blood shed on the Cross from the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and the graces and the love and the breathings of the Holy Ghost are perpetually going out and drawing souls to Himself, and to the unity of the Church. God is always drawing souls to repentance, and through repentance to perfection, and from one degree of perfection to another, raising them higher and higher to union with Himself. This is always going on, but we must correspond with it. Listen to Him, respond, answer, lay hold of that grace which is offered to you, keep fast the links of that golden chain, never let it go, and take heed lest you break its links.
We often think if a soul that is already in eternal death could once more return, what would be the fervour of such a man through all the time granted him on earth. What humility, what hatred of sin, what holy fear of its occasions, what piety, what selfdenial, what self-sacrifice, would mark a soul that once had tasted eternal death, if it could return, and have one more opportunity of salvation. What a life of the Cross, and of intense devotion to God, that soul would live! You have never yet gone down into eternal death. You have been the subject of a greater grace than even if you had been liberated. You are still in life, still surrounded by the light of truth, you have yet the graces of the Holy Ghost in abundance, you have time, you have opportunity, you have the seven Sacraments, you have the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ: all that is needful for eternal life--ay, and that in abundance, without stint and without measure. You are like the Prodigal Son before he left his father's house--you have not yet tasted that far country, and the misery and condemnation of falling from God. Therefore say to yourselves: 'God be praised! I am still in life, and my day of grace is not gone by.' The sun is yet in the heavens --with some it is in the morning still, with others it is the noontide, with some who hear me it is declining towards the horizon. Say: 'Lord, abide with us; for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent. Give me grace to make my peace with Thee, that I may be united with Thee, lest Thou find me parted from Thee in the day of Thy coming.'
This, then, is the first thought I would pray you with all my heart to make day after day; and the other is like unto it, but it is more terrible. Day after day say this to yourselves: 'If I fall from God--as I easily may--I shall go down alive into hell.' Dear brethren, we live in days when men must speak plainly. There are among us going to and fro, as there are in foreign countries, mockers, scoffers, blasphemers, ministers of Satan, apostles of lies, who say there is no hell. Eternal punishment! mediaeval fables! Popish superstition! True it is that the Church which is called 'Popish' inflexibly maintains that there is a hell, that there is an eternal punishment, and that they who live and die impenitent will go down quick into that torment. It is a glory that such a charge is laid against the Church of Rome. I accept the accusation--ay, and as a minister of Jesus Christ, and as an apostle of His Gospel, I declare that God has revealed that there is hereafter eternal pain and everlasting death. As there is a heaven, so there is a hell. As there is eternal life, so there is eternal death.
Be on your guard then, dear brethren. Be not so shallow or so credulous. Let no impostors, who pretend to philosophy and to criticism, lead you for one moment to believe that the existence of hell and eternal punishment is by an arbitrary law, by a mere act of Divine legislation, like a statute made by despotic power. Eternal death is an intrinsic necessity of the perfection of God, and of the wilful apostasy of man. If there be a God who is holy, just, pure, true, and unchangeable; then, if man is impure, unjust, unholy, and false, and will not change by repentance, as light and darkness cannot exist together, God and that soul cannot unite in eternity. It is not a statute law. It is an intrinsic necessity of the Divine perfection on the one hand, and of the sinfulness of the human soul upon the other. Why is the human soul unholy and unjust? By the abuse of the free will which God has given us--as I said in the beginning--by the open-eyed transgression of God's law, by the deliberate breaking of His commandments, by the impenitent persevering in that state of disobedience and of separation from God, which in itself is death, which is eternal death in time, which is hell upon earth. Except the soul repent, it already begins to taste the condemnation of eternity.
Therefore, bear in mind that the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man are enough clearly to demonstrate the intrinsic necessity of an eternal separation. And what is hell but to be separated from God eternally? and to be separated from God not as we are here, with our souls clogged and stupefied by sin, intoxicated by the world, ignorant of ourselves? No. After death, the eyes of the soul will be opened, the scales will fall from its sight, it will see itself for the first time, as it will for the first time see God in judgment. And when it shall see God in judgment, all that instinct of the soul in which it was from the beginning created for God--an instinct like the needle of the compass, which points by its own law always to the north, as in the blaze of the noonday, so in the darkness of the midnight, will return to its direction. The lost soul that was created in the image of God, of which the beatific end is God, and to be united with God is life, will then begin to hunger and thirst after God, when to be united with God is impossible for ever. Just as breathing is a vital necessity to the body, so union with God is a vital necessity to the soul.
You know sometimes in sleep a sense of stifling and suffocation in which you seem to lie an endless night in torment; conceive to yourselves an eternity of that suffocation, when the soul is conscious of the vital necessity of its union with God, when to be united with God is eternally impossible. Ay, more than this, there will be a torment in the soul which is the undying worm that will gnaw to all eternity. What is that torment? Remorse. The consciousness that the soul has committed self-murder, that it died because it sinned unto death, and that it sinned unto death of its own free will. There was no constraint, no necessity. With its own free will it sinned against God, and broke the link of union with Him. In eternal death the worm that dieth not, the perpetual tooth of remorse, will make the soul conscious of an anguish, which no human heart can conceive. There is no need of fire to torment; this alone is torment enough, to lose God eternally; to have eternal remorse without anything more is hell; but there will be more. Those who are lost will be lost together--multitudes, myriads of millions--all in misery, all separated from God, all in remorse, all feeding on themselves, hateful and hating one another.
I have not said one word as yet of that which I now will add. It is true there is a Divine mystery which we shall know--God grant not by experience. Our Divine Lord has said it: 'Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.' And again: 'Go, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' There is an eternal pain by fire. God has declared it. Woe to the man that denies it! Satan is always endeavouring to efface this belief out of the minds of men--doing everything he can by subtil philosophy, by specious reasoning, by appeals to the mercy of God, by wonderful exaltations of the Divine perfections, and criticisms upon the Greek Testament, by laughter, derision, scoffing, and mockery, before which many a man who is not afraid of going into battle is coward enough to run away. Satan is always endeavouring to root out the belief of eternal fire from the minds of men. I will tell you why. Because the greater multitude of men have so little hunger and thirst after God, so little aspiration after union with Him, that they are conscious only of the fear of an eternal pain to keep them from sin. If he could only efface from the minds of men-the thought of eternal pain, there is nothing left to restrain them; and for this he is always labouring. There is nothing Satan loves better than to get men to laugh at him, to use his name in jest, to interlard their conversation with some reference to him in mocking levity, which very soon makes men cease to fear him, and then cease to believe in his existence.
On the other hand, God is always striving to awaken and revive in the conscience of each one of us the sense of the danger of eternal death by His Divine Word, by the voice of His Church, by the whispers of conscience. He is perpetually reviving in every one of us the sense and belief that there is hereafter a judgment and a condemnation to eternal fire.
Live, then, as you would wish to die; because as you die, so you will be to all eternity. Precisely that character which you have woven for yourself through life by the voluntary acts of your free will, be it for good or be it for evil, that will be your eternal state before God. If God find you clothed in the white raiment which is the justice of the saints, happy are you; you will walk before Him in white for ever. If you be found in the rags and tatters of the Prodigal before his repentance, you will be cast out from His face, and all men will see your shame. As you live, so you will die; as you die, so you will be for ever. God is unchangeable. You are continually changing; but death will precipitate the form in which you die, and you will be so fixed for ever. As the tree falls, so it shall be. Make one mistake, and that mistake is made for ever.
O, dear brethren, look round about us; how many men there are that are learned, and scientific, and noble, and eloquent, and prosperous, whom the world honours! How many there are that are amiable, and loving, and loved, and their neighbours think no evil of them; they see nothing but the fair outside --the whited disguise. Some one mortal sin--God knows what--unrepented of, is within. Whited sepulchres--fair without; within, full of dead men's bones, and of uncleanness. Dear brethren, that may be our case. Say to yourselves, every one of you: 'That may be my case--that may be my likeness before God at this moment.' 'It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after that the judgment (Heb. ix. 27.).' And hear what that judgment will be: 'I saw a great White Throne and One sitting on it, before whose face the heaven and earth fled away, and there was no place found for them; and I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and the dead were judged out of the things that are written in the books; and another book was opened which was the Book of Life, and death and hell were cast into the pool of fire--which is the second death; and whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the pool of fire (Apoc. xx. 11-15.).'
1. Against Pride
Lord Jesus Christ, Pattern of humility, who didst empty Thyself of Thy glory, and take upon Thee the form of a servant: root out of us all pride and conceit of heart, that, owning ourselves miserable and guilty sinners, we may willingly bear contempt and reproaches for Thy sake, and, glorying in nothing but Thee, may esteem ourselves lowly in Thy sight. Not unto us, O Lord, but to Thy name be the praise, for Thy loving mercy and for Thy truth's sake. Amen.2. Against Covetousness
O Lord Jesus Christ, who though Thou wast rich yet for our sakes didst become poor, grant that all over-eagerness and covetousuess of earthly goods may die in us, and the desire of heavenly things may live and grow in us: keep us from all idle and vain expenditures, that we may always have to give to him that needeth, and that giving not grudgingly nor of necessity, but cheerfully, we may be loved of Thee, and be made through Thy merits partakers of the riches of Thy heavenly treasure. Amen.3. Against Lust
O Lord Jesus Christ, Guardian of chaste souls, and lover of purity, who wast pleased to take our nature and to be born of an Immaculate Virgin: mercifully look upon my infirmity. Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me; help me to drive away all evil thoughts, to conquer every sinful desire, and so pierce my flesh with the fear of Thee that, this worst enemy being overcome, I may serve Thee with a chaste body and please Thee with a pure heart. Amen.4. Against Anger
O most meek Jesus, Prince of Peace, who, when Thou wast reviled, reviled not, and on the Cross didst pray for Thy murderers: implant in our hearts the virtues of gentleness and patience, that, restraining the fierceness of anger, impatience, and resentment, we may overcome evil with good, for Thy sake love our enemies, and as children of our heavenly Father seek Thy peace and evermore rejoice in Thy love. Amen.5. Against Gluttony
Lord Jesus Christ, Mirror of abstinence, who, to teach us the virtue of abstinence, didst fast forty days and forty nights, grant that, serving Thee and not our own appetites, we may live soberly and piously with contentment, without greediness, gluttony, or drunkenness, that Thy will being our meat and drink, we may hunger and thirst after justice, and finally obtain from Thee that food which eudureth unto life eternal. Amen.6. Against Envy
O Most loving Jesus, Pattern of charity, who makest all the commandments of the law to consist in love towards God and towards man, grant to us so to love Thee with all our heart, with all our mind, and all our soul, and our neighbor for Thy sake, that the grace of charity and brotherly love may dwell in us, and all envy, harshness, and ill-will may die in us; and fill our hearts with feelings of love, kindness, and compassion, so that by constantly rejoicing in the happiness and success of others, by sympathizing with them in their sorrows, and putting away all harsh judgments and envious thoughts, we may follow Thee, who art Thyself the true and perfect love. Amen.7. Against Sloth
Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Love, who in the garden didst pray so long and so fervently that Thy Sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground: put away from us, we beseech Thee, all sloth and inactivity both of body and mind; kindle within us the fire of Thy love; strengthen our weakness, that whatsoever our hand is able to do we may do it earnestly, and that, striving heartily to please Thee in this life, we may have Thee hereafter as our reward exceeding great. Amen.