Contemplating the Gospel: Do not tempt the Lord thy God

"Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" -- Matt., 4:7

A sermon by St. Alphonsus Mary De Ligouri (1696-1787), Bishop and
Doctor of the Church. St. Francis Jerome, when he visited the parents
of St. Alphonsus shortly after his birth, made this prophecy: "This
child will be blessed with length of days; he shall not see death
before his ninetieth year; he will be a bishop and will do great
things for Jesus Christ."

This prophecy certainly came true. One of the most accomplished of all the saints is Alphonsus Liguori. He was
a lawyer in both civil and Church law before he dedicated his wholelife to serving God. He was founder of a religious order, author of
more than a hundred books, originator of modern moral theology,renowned preacher and confessor, bishop, musical composer and
painter. For all of his 91 years on earth, he was also a man of  prayer and deep personal holiness. He gives an example of true
Christian living that all of us would do well to follow. Now his sermon:

In this day's Gospel we read that having gone into the desert, Jesus
Christ permitted the Devil to set Him on the pinnacle of the temple
and say to Him: "If Thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down"; for
the angels shall preserve Thee from all injury. But the Lord answered
that in the Sacred Scriptures it is written: Thou shalt not tempt the
Lord thy God. The sinner who abandons himself to sin without striving
to resist temptations, or without at least asking God's help to
conquer them, and hopes that the Lord will one day draw him from the
precipice, tempts God to work miracles, or rather to show to him an
extraordinary mercy not extended to the generality of Christians.

God, as the Apostle says, "will have all men to be saved" -- I Tim.
2:4; but He also wishes us all to labor for our own salvation, at
least by adopting the means of overcoming our enemies, and of obeying
Him when He calls us to repentance. Sinners hear the calls of God, but
they forget them, and continue to offend Him. But God does not forget
them. He numbers the graces which He dispenses, as well as the sins
which we commit. Hence, when the time which He has fixed arrives, God
deprives us of His graces, and begins to inflict chastisement. I
intend to show in this discourse that when sins reach a certain
number, God pardons no more. Be attentive.

1. St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine and
other fathers, teach, that as God according to the words of
Scripture, "Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and
weight" -- Wis. 11:21 has fixed for each person the number of the
days of his life, and the degrees of health and talent which He will
give him, so He has also determined for each the number of sins which
He will pardon; and when this number is completed, He will pardon no
more.

2. "The Lord hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart" -- Isa. 61:1
God is ready to heal those who sincerely wish to amend their lives,
but cannot take pity on the obstinate sinner. The Lord pardons sins,
but He cannot pardon those who are determined to offend Him. Nor can
we demand from God a reason why He pardons one a hundred sins, and
takes others out of life and sends them to Hell, after three or four
sins. By His Prophet Amos, God has said: "For three crimes of
Damascus, and for four, I will not convert it" -- 1:3. In this we
must adore the judgments of God, and say with the Apostle: "O the
depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God! How
incomprehensible are His judgments" -- Rom. 11:33. He who receives
pardon, says St. Augustine, is pardoned through the pure mercy of
God; and they who are chastised, are justly punished. How many has
God sent to Hell for the first offense? St. Gregory relates, that a
child of five years, who had arrived at the use of reason, for having
uttered a blasphemy, was seized by the Devil and carried to Hell. The
divine Mother revealed to that great servant of God, Benedicta of
Florence, that a boy of twelve years was damned after the first sin.
Another boy of eight years died after his first sin, and was lost.
You say: I am young; there are many who have committed more sins than
I have. But is God on that account obliged to wait for your repentance
if you offend Him? In the Gospel of St. Matthew (21:19), we read that
the Savior cursed a fig tree the first time He saw it without fruit.
"May no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. An immediately the
fig tree withered away." You must, then tremble at the thought of
committing a single mortal sin, particularly if you have already been
guilty of mortal sins.

3. "Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin to sin"
-- Eccl. 5:5. Say not then, O sinner: "As God has forgiven me other
sins, so He will pardon me this one if I commit it." Say not this;
for, if to the sin which has been forgiven you add another, you have
reason to fear that this new sin shall be united to your former
guilt, and that thus the number will be completed, and that you shall
be abandoned. Behold how the Scripture unfolds this truth more clearly
in another place. "The Lord patiently expecteth, that when the day of
judgment shall come, He may punish them in the fullness of sins" --
II. Mac. 6:14. God waits with patience until a certain number of sins
is committed but, when the measure of guilt is filled up, He waits no
longer, but chastises the sinner. "Thou hast sealed up my offenses as
it were in a bag" -- Job 14:17. Sinners multiply their sins without
keeping any account of them; but God numbers them, that, when the
harvest is ripe, that is, when the number of sins is completed, He
may take vengeance on them. "Put ye in the sickles, for the harvest
is ripe" Joel 3:13.

4. Of this there are many examples in the Scriptures. Speaking of the
Hebrews, the Lord in one place says: "All the men that have tempted Me
now ten times. . . .shall not see the land" -- Num. 14:22, 23. In
another place, He says, that He restrained His vengeance against the
Amorrhites, because the number of their sins was not completed. "For
as yet the iniquities of the Amorrhites are not at the full" -- Gen.
15:16. We have again the example of Saul who, after having disobeyed
God a second time, was abandoned. He entreated Samuel to interpose
before the Lord in his behalf. "Bear, I beseech thee, my sin, and
return with me, that I may adore the Lord" -- I Kings 15:25. But,
knowing that God had abandoned Saul, Samuel answered: "I will not
return with thee, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord,
and the Lord hath rejected thee," etc. -- 5:26. Saul, you have
abandoned God, and He has abandoned you. We have another example in
Balthassar, who, after having profaned the vessels of the Temple, saw
a hand writing on the wall, Mane, Thecel, Phares. Daniel was requested
to expound the meaning of these words. In explaining the word Thecel,
he said to the king: "Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found
wanting" -- Dan. 5:27. By this explanation, he gave the king to
understand that the weight of his sins in the balance of divine
justice, had made the scale descend." The same night Balthassar, the
Chaldean king, was killed" -- Dan. 5:30. Oh! how many sinners have
met with a similar fate! Continuing to offend God till their sins
amounted to a certain number, they have been struck dead and sent to
Hell! "They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down
to Hell" -- Job 21:13. Tremble, brethren, lest if you commit another
mortal sin, God should cast you into Hell.

5. If God chastised sinners the moment they insult Him, we should not
see Him so much despised. But, because He does not instantly punish
their transgressions, and because through mercy He restrains His
anger and waits for their return, they are encouraged to continue to
offend Him. "For, because sentence is not speedily pronounced against
the evil, the children of men commit evil without any fear" -- Eccles.
8:11. But it is necessary to be persuaded, that though God bears with
us, He does not wait, nor bear with us forever. Expecting, as on
former occasions, to escape from the snares of the Philistines,
Samson continued to allow himself to be deluded by Delilah. "I will
go out as I did before, and shake myself" -- Judges 16:20. But "the
Lord departed from him." Samson was at length taken by his enemies,
and lost his life. The Lord warns you not to say: I have committed so
many sins, and God has not chastised me. "Say not: I have sinned, and
what harm hath befallen me; for the Most High is a patient rewarder"
-- Eccl. 5:4. God has patience for a certain term, after which He
punishes the first and last sins. And the greater has been His
patience, the more severe His vengeance.

6. Hence, according to St. Chrysostom, God is more to be feared when
He bears with sinners, than when He instantly punishes their sin. And
why? Because, says St. Gregory, they to whom God has shown most mercy
shall, if they do not cease to offend Him, be chastised with the
greatest rigor. The saint adds that God often punishes such sinners
with a sudden death, and does not allow them time for repentance. And
the greater the light which God gives to certain sinners for their
correction, the greater is their blindness and obstinacy in sin. "For
it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice,
than, after they had known it, to turn back" -- II Pet. 2:21.
Miserable the sinners, who, after having been enlightened, return to
the vomit. St. Paul says, that it is morally impossible for them to
be again converted. "For it is impossible for those who were once
illuminated-have tasted also the Heavenly gifts. . . and are fallen
away, to be renewed again to penance" -- Heb. 6:4, 6.

7. Listen, then, O sinner, to the admonition of the Lord: "My son,
hast thou sinned? Do so no more, but for thy former sins pray that
they may be forgiven thee" -- Eccl. 21:1. Son, add not sins to those
which you have already committed, but be careful to pray for the
pardon of your past transgressions; otherwise, if you commit another
mortal sin, the gates of divine mercy may be closed against you, and
your soul may be lost forever. When then, beloved brethren, the devil
tempts you again to yield to sin, say to yourself: If God pardons me
no more, what shall become of me for all eternity? Should the Devil
in reply, say: fear not, God is merciful; answer him by saying: What
certainty or what probability have I that, if I return again to sin,
God will show me mercy or grant me pardon? Behold the threat of the
Lord against all who despise His calls: "Because I have called and
you refused,...I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock
when that shall come to you which you feared" -- Prov. 1:24, 26. Mark
the words "I also"; they mean that, as you have mocked the Lord by
betraying Him again after your confession and promises of amendment,
so He will mock you at the hour of death. I will laugh and will mock.
But, "God is not mocked" -- Gal. 6:7. "As a dog," says the Wise Man,
"that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his
folly" -- Prov. 26:11. Bl. Denis the Carthusian gives an excellent
exposition of this text. He says that, as a dog that eats what he has
just vomited, is an object of disgust and abomination, so the sinner
who returns to the sins which he has detested and confessed, becomes
hateful in the sight of God.

8. O folly of sinners! If you purchase a house, you spare no pains to
get all the securities necessary to guard against the loss of your
money; if you take medicine, you are careful to assure yourself that
it cannot injure you; if you pass over a river, you cautiously avoid
all danger of falling into it: and for a transitory enjoyment, for
the gratification of revenge, for a beastly pleasure, which lasts but
a moment, you risk your eternal salvation, saying: I will go to
confession after I commit this sin. And when, I ask, are you to go to
confession? You say: On tomorrow. But who promises you tomorrow? Who
assures you that you shall have time for confession, and that God
will not deprive you of life as He has deprived so many others, in
the act of sin? "Diem tenes" says St. Augustine, "qui horam non
tenes." You cannot be certain of living for another hour, and you
say: I will go to confession tomorrow. Listen to the words of St.
Gregory: "He who has promised pardon to penitents, has not promised
tomorrow to sinners" -- Hom. 12 in Evan. God has promised pardon to
all who repent; but He has not promised to wait until tomorrow for
those who insult Him. Perhaps God will give you time for repentance,
perhaps He will not. But, should He not give it, what shall become of
your soul? In the meantime, for the sake of a miserable pleasure, you
lose the grace of God and expose yourself to the danger of being lost
forever.

9. Would you, for such transient enjoyments, risk your money, your
honor, your possessions, your liberty, and your life? No, you would
not. How then does it happen that, for a miserable gratification, you
lose your soul, Heaven, and God? Tell me: do you believe that Heaven,
Hell, eternity, are truths of faith? Do you believe that, if you die
in sin, you are lost forever? Oh! what temerity, what folly is it, to
condemn yourself voluntarily to an eternity of torments with the hope
of afterwards reversing the sentence of your condemnation! "Nemo,"
says St. Augustine, "sub spe salutis vult aegrotare." No one can be
found so foolish as to take poison with the hope of preventing its
deadly effects by adopting the ordinary remedies. And you will
condemn yourself to Hell, saying that you expect to be afterwards
preserved from it. O folly! which, in conformity with the divine
threats, has brought, and brings every day, so many to Hell. "Thou
hast trusted in thy wickedness, and evil shall come upon thee, and
thou shalt not know the rising thereof" -- Isa. 47:10, 11. You have
sinned, trusting rashly in the divine mercy: the punishment of your
guilt shall fall suddenly upon you, and you shall not know from
whence it comes. What do you say? What resolution do you make? If,
after this sermon, you do not firmly resolve to give yourself to God,
I weep over you and regard you as lost.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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