Consider first, that sentence of our Lord, Luke xiii. 5, 'Except you do penance, you shall all perish.'
The virtue of penance always was, is, and ever will be absolutely necessary for every soul that has at any time in life fallen from God by wilful sin. 'Tis the only plank that can save them after the shipwreck they have made of their innocence.
'Aut paenitendum aut ardendum,' says an ancient father, 'either penance, or hell-fire;' there is no medium for wilful sinners, they must choose one of the two. Sin must be punished either here or hereafter; either by the penitent sinner or by divine justice. Hence the preaching of penance to such as had fallen from God by sin was the great subject of the commission of the prophets, in the Old Testament, and of the Apostles and all apostolic preachers in the New. Hence it was by preaching of penance, and of the necessity of bringing forth worthy fruits of penance, that St. John the Baptist was to prepare the people for Christ, Matt. iii.; and our Lord himself opened his mission with the same theme, Matt. iv. Because there can be no other way of coming to God and a happy eternity but either the way of innocence; or, when we have strayed from this, the way of penance.
Consider 2ndly, that this virtue of penance does not only require of us that we should turn from sin to God by a change of heart and by a change of life; but also that we should labour to make satisfaction to the divine justice, by voluntary mortifications of the flesh, and other penitential exercises, for all the injuries and affronts we have offered him by our sins; and that, by this means, we should endeavour to discharge, according to our weak ability, the debt we owe to God for them. This is properly doing penance for our sins, this is what divine justice always expects, this is what the Church of God has always called for from penitent sinners. We cannot be true penitents without hating and detesting our sins above all evils, because they offend a God infinitely good; now this of necessity infers a hatred for this traitorous self-love of ours, and for all its irregular inclinations and passions, as enemies of God and the soul, and especially a hatred for this sinful flesh, that is so apt to betray us into this dreadful evil of sin. And hence again naturally flows, in all true penitents, a sincere and effectual desire of chastising this flesh by penitential exercises, and thereby doing their best to make satisfaction for their sins. This is, and ever was, one necessary ingredient of that virtue of penance without which the sinner could never be reconciled to an offended God.
Consider 3rdly, how much this way of doing penance for our sins is inculcated in Holy Writ, where we are so often put in mind of turning to God with fasting, weeping, and mourning, of doing penance in sackcloth and ashes, and the like, and where we meet with divers instances of the mercy and favour God is pleased to show to all such as exercise themselves in these voluntary mortifications and humiliations of the flesh, when they are accompanied, as they ought to be, by a penitential spirit. Here also we learn, that no assurance we can possibly have of the remission of our sins, is to exempt us from doing penance for them, when you see that King David, notwithstanding the prophet had assured him that 'the Lord had taken away his sin,' (2 Sam. xii. 13,) yet still continued to do penance for it, as we find by his penitential psalms, which inform us that his sin was always before him; that every night he washed his couch with his tears; that he laboured in his groans; that he mingled ashes with his bread, and tears with his drink, &c. O let us imitate this glorious penitent.
Conclude, if thou wouldest be a true friend to thy own soul, not to be afraid of hurting this sinful flesh, which is thy greatest enemy; but to keep it In subjection, by voluntary mortifications, and to chastise it for its past misdemeanours, by penitential austerities.
Consider first, that the true manner of doing penance for our sins, is not to be learnt from the maxims, or from the common practice of the children of this world, who fear nothing more than the hurting of themselves, or the contradicting of their own humours, appetites, and inclinations - and therefore this bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, is to them a hard saying, which they cannot endure to hear. But the true manner of doing penance for sin is to be learnt of the children of light, that is, from the doctrine and practice of the Saints, who as they had quite other ideas of the evil of sin, than worldlings have, so also they had a very different way of thinking, and of acting, in regard to penance - as they have demonstrated by the penitential austerities, to which they have condemned themselves all their lifetime, for expiation of the punishment due to their sins. And what are so many religious orders in the Church of God, in which so many thousands of both sexes, retiring from the world, dedicate themselves to daily mortifications and penances, but so many standing memorials, and living instances of that true manner of doing penance, with which the Spirit of God usually inspires those whom he convinces of sin, that is to say, whom he makes sensible of the heinousness of the evil of sin, and how much ought to be done for the expiation of it?
Consider 2ndly, how this same Spirit of God dictated to the ancient Church those rules and ordinances, commonly called the penitential canons, which were in force for many hundred years by which penitent sinners were subjected to divers fasts and other humiliations, for three, seven, ten, and sometimes for fifteen years, or more, for one mortal sin, and yet did not think they did too much. O how ought this to convince sinners that there is something more to be done for the remission of their sins than they have hitherto been aware of! For, though according to the modern discipline of the Church, those penitential canons are not enforced, yet as God is still the same, and sin is still as heinous in his eyes, as it was in former ages, so the sinner stands no less indebted at present to the divine justice than formerly, and therefore ought to think upon discharging this debt, in the best manner he is able, by frequent fasting and other corporal mortifications, as well as by alms-deeds and long continued prayer.
Consider 3rdly, that there are three particular practices of penance, which ought never to be forgotten by any such as have at any time in life, been guilty of mortal sin. The first and principal is, that they should go daily in spirit to the feet of Christ to wash them with penitential tears, flowing from a loving heart, and there earnestly beg pardon for all their past offences through his precious blood. The second, which will naturally flow from the first, is, that having their sins thus always before their eyes, they should daily offer up to God, in penance for them, some voluntary mortifications of their own will, honour, or appetite, at least in lesser things, if they have not the courage or strength to undertake greater; for instance, that they should in this spirit, rise early in the morning; retrench superfluities in eating, drinking, sleeping and diversions; and mortify, upon every occasion, their vanity, curiosity, and sensuality. The third is, that they should also offer up daily for their sins, in a penitential spirit, all the labours to which their state of life is exposed, with all their pains and sufferings of every kind, which they may have to endure in life or death, to be united to, and sanctified by the labours and sufferings of the Son of God, considering themselves all the while as under a course of penance laid on them by the Almighty for their sins, and going through it with humility, patience, and courage. Whosoever shall diligently persevere in the practice of these three things, will one day be received as true penitents, and receive the crown of true penitents, through their circumstances of life, strength, or health, may not have admitted of any other penitential austerities. But no condition of life, or other circumstances whatsoever, ought to dispense any sinner from these three most easy, and most wholesome exercises of penance.
Conclude upon doing penance for thy sins, in the best manner thou art able, now whilst thou hast time before thee, lest otherwise thou be surprised and overtaken by the night, and mayest then wish in vain to have done penance, when time shall be no more.
Consider first, in this parable, the infinite riches of the goodness and bounty of the Son of God, who without distinction or respect of persons, sows so plentifully the seed of his word, and of his graces, on all kind of soils. This seed is heavenly; it is capable of producing fruit a hundred fold - he himself is the sower, and he himself waters with rain from heaven the seed he has sown, and yet three parts in four of this divine seed are lost for want of a correspondence in the soil. Christians, see in what manner you receive the seed of God's word; see how you correspond with the divine graces and calls; your eternal salvation is here at stake. If you bring forth good fruit, agreeable to this divine seed, you shall live on it for endless ages in the kingdom of heaven; but if you suffer the soil of your soul to be like a beaten highway, or like a rock covered but with a thin surface of earth, or like a ground overrun with thorns and briars, the seed of God will be lost upon you, and you will be answerable for the loss of it, and miserable for all eternity.
Consider 2ndly, what is here meant by the highway - where the seed is trodden under foot, or picked up by the birds - and see how justly all such souls are compared to a highway or a beaten path, as live in the forgetfulness of God, and in a continual dissipation of thought, so as to become a mere thoroughfare for every passenger that passes, that is for every idle amusement, that offers itself; for every impertinent or sinful imagination, without any sense at all of the fear of God, or any care to keep off those wicked spirits, signified by the birds, which are ever upon the watch to snatch away this divine seed of God's word that lies thus unregarded on the surface of the soul. But what is the remedy for this evil? No other to be sure, than to plough up this ground that has hitherto been made a highway; to fence it in such a manner, as that the passengers may have no longer liberty to be continually trampling it under foot, and to harrow it so that the seed may be covered by the earth, and lie no longer exposed to be a prey to the birds. For a highway, or beaten path, as long as it remains such, can never bring forth fruit. Now, in the spiritual sense, we plough up the soil of the soul, by daily meditations upon eternal truths; we fence it in by a spirit of recollection; and we preserve the divine seed, which is to make it fruitful, from our spiritual enemies, by letting it sink deeper into our souls, and there guarding it by watching and prayer.
Consider 3rdly, who they are that are meant by the rock or stony ground, where there is no depth or earth, nor proper moisture to nourish the seed, so as to bring the fruit to maturity, viz., such souls as receive indeed the word of God, and are moved by it to make some good resolutions, and some slender efforts towards bringing forth the fruits of a new life; but the rock of their old bad habits (which they have never heartily renounced,) hinders the seed from taking root: their resolutions are but superficial; they do not sink in deep enough to reach or change the heart, but upon the first opposition or temptation they wither away and die. The remedy here must be, to procure that this rock may be softened by the means of a long continued application to mental prayer, and other spiritual exercises; till those old habits are brought to give way to the fear and love of God, which are capable even of breaking the rock in pieces, and changing it into springs of water.
Conclude to be for ever attentive to the gracious calls of the word of God and of his heavenly inspirations, and to let this divine seed sink deep into thy soul by daily meditation.
Consider first, that there remains a third kind of soil, which brings no fruit to maturity, viz., the thorny ground, which received indeed the seed of the divine word, but suffers it not to grow up and ripen, but overpowers it, and chokes it up with the thorns which are its natural produce, and which have taken a much stronger root therein. By which thorny ground are meant all they who hear the word of God, or are otherwise favoured with the visits of his graces and calls, but are so unhappy as to suffer all his heavenly seed to be overpowered and choked up with their carnal affections and lusts, or as our Saviour says, 'with the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and so yield no fruit.' Luke viii. 14. O see, my soul, if this be not thy misfortune. Reflect how often thou hast been visited with graces from heaven? how often thou hast heard, or read the word of God? and what fruit has this divine seed hitherto produced in thee? It is well, if instead of the increase of a hundred-fold, it has not been rendered absolutely fruitless, if not pernicious to thee, by the thorns of thy disorderly affections to the things of this world, which thou has loved more than God.
Consider 2ndly, that thorny ground can never bring any fruit to perfection, except the thorns be first rooted up; for since they are much stronger than the corn, and have taken a deeper root in this unhappy soil, (in consequence of the curse laid upon our earth by occasion of sin, Gen iii. 17, 18,) as long as they are suffered to occupy the ground, they will of course overpower, and choke up the good grain. Wherefore, if we desire to bring forth fruit, that the seed of the word, and of the grace of God, should not be lost upon us, we must seriously apply our souls to the rooting out these thorns of our irregular affections to worldly toys and sensual pleasures, for as long as these are predominant In our souls, the seed of heaven will bring forth no fruit there. Now this rooting out of these thorns is the proper business of the virtue of self-denial, that is , of the daily mortifications of our passions and natural inclinations, which are ever prone to evil, and if not kept under, hurry the souls into all kinds of vice, and stifle all the graces and inspirations of heaven. This then must be the care of every Christian; this our daily labour, to keep these thorns under, that they may not overpower the seed of the word and of the grace of God in our souls. And whatever we affect of love, to the prejudice of the love of God, or of our duty to him, we must look upon as thorns, and discharge from our souls, as mortal enemies to the seed of heaven, and to our true welfare, either for time or eternity.
Consider 3rdly, that the Christian must endeavour to be the good ground in which the seed of God's word yieldeth fruit a hundred-fold - that is, he must labour to be of the number of those who with a good and perfect heart hear the word, and keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience. He must hear it with a good heart, not out of idle curiosity, but for his own instruction and edification; not to carp at it, or criticize upon it, but to let it sink into his soul for the reformation of his life. He must hear it with a perfect heart, embracing it as the word and truth of God, brought to him from heaven by the Son of God, and designed to carry him to heaven. He must keep it, by laying it up carefully in his mind, and often meditating upon it; he must ever follow its light, and regulate all his steps by it. He must bring forth fruit with it, by exercising himself daily in those virtues which it recommends, and advancing continually by its direction in the love of God, and in the way of Christian perfection; and this fruit he must bring forth in patience - that is, with constancy and perseverance, notwithstanding all the difficulties and oppositions he will be sure to meet with from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Conclude to rid thy soul of all the thorns that may hinder it from bringing forth fruit to God, that thou mayest be the good ground that may yield a hundred-fold.
Consider first, that of all the tricks of Satan, by which he deludes unhappy souls to their eternal ruin, there is none more common, or more dangerous, than this by which he persuades them to put off their repentance and conversion to God from time to time, and millions of poor souls have been thus betrayed into that bottomless pit of never-ending woe, where the worm never dies and the fire is never extinguished; who thought as little of damning themselves, or of dying in their sins, as any now living; but by putting off their conversion, they have gone on provoking the divine justice, till by a just judgment of God they have been cut off when they least expected it; and dying as
they lived, have been justly sentenced to that second and everlasting death. Unhappy wretches, who would not believe the just judge who so often warned them to watch; and assured them that otherwise he should surprise them, like a thief in the night, when they least expect him. Ah! how dreadful and how common are these judgments!
Consider 2ndly, the insupportable affront that sinners offer to the divine Majesty, when being invited and pressed by his heavenly graces to a reconciliation with their offended God, they put him off till another time, shutting their ears to his sweet calls, and refusing him an entrance to their hearts where he stands and knocks. Alas! if he withdraws himself they are undone for ever; and how dare they treat him with so much contempt? Is it not an infinite goodness in him, to have already suffered them so long in their sins, to have restrained the sword of his justice from falling upon their guilty heads? to have kept them so long out of hell, hanging as they were all the while over this bottomless pit, and supported only by a slender thread of a brittle life, which he held in his hand! Is it not an inexpressible condescension of his divine Majesty, after their repeated treasons, to allow them any condition of peace and reconciliation at all? How much more to call after them, when they are running away from him, and to press them so earnestly to return to him, where he has no need at all of them, but only seeks their welfare? But what then ought they not to apprehend from his justice, if they still refuse his offers of mercy, and slight his graces and calls? Can any punishment be too great for so much insolence, for so much obstinacy, and for so much ingratitude? O! let them give ear to his treats by the mouth of the wise man, Prov. i. 24 &c., 'Because I have called, and you have refused to hear, I have stretched out my hand, and you would not regard me; you have despised all my counsels, and neglected my reprehensions, therefore will I also laugh at your destruction, and will mock, when that which you feared shall come upon you. Then shall they call upon me and I will not hear,' &c.
Consider 3rdly, the monstrous presumption the sinner is guilty of in wilfully persisting in sin, upon the confidence of a future conversion. Wretch that he is, how dares he pretend to dispose of the time to come, when he is not master of one moment of it? Or how has he the assurance to promise himself greater graces hereafter than those he abuses at present. Does he not know that God alone is the maker both of time and grace, and that he has neither promised the time or grace of a true conversion hereafter, to any of those who put off their repentance at the present; so far from it, that he has often signified to such presumptuous sinners, that they shall neither have the time nor the effectual grace which they promised themselves, but that they shall be surprised, and die in their sins. According to that of the wise man, Eccles. v. 8, 9. 'Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day, for his wrath shall come on a sudden, and in the time of vengeance he shall destroy thee.'
Conclude never to expose thy dear soul, by any delays, to the dreadful danger of dying in thy sins, but if at any time thou hast reason to apprehend thou hast lost the grace of God by sin, use thy best endeavours to be reconciled at once, 'Tis a dreadful thing to be an enemy to God, though it were only for one night: that night may be your last, therefore never venture to lie down to sleep, under the guilt of mortal sin.
Consider first, how foolish it is for the sinner, when called, when invited and pressed by the best of Fathers to return to him, to choose rather to continue a slave to Satan, to feed his swine, and to prefer the husks of swine which can never satisfy him, before his Father's table, and the happy liberty of the children of God. Ah! poor wretch, open thy eyes and see how strangely thou art deluded! Thy God proffers thee this mercy, his grace, his favour, the honour of being his child, his spouse, his temple, a share in his heavenly treasures, his peace, his comforts, his table, his kingdom, his Holy Spirit, in a word, himself and all that is good; and thou art so blind, and so mad, as to desire him to keep all his favours for another time, and to make a choice for thyself at present of the extremity of all misery, by choosing to go on yet a while under the dreadful guilt of mortal sin - a wretched slave to Satan, sin, and hell. Can any madness be compared to this?
Consider 2ndly, how vain and foolish are those pretexts by which sinners suffer themselves to be imposed upon, when they defer their conversion to God, especially with regard to pretended difficulties in the undertaking, which would all presently be put to flight, and vanish away, if they would but once heartily set their hand to the work. But the common delusion is, that they vainly imagine they will do it more easily another time. A dreadful illusion indeed! since both reason and daily experience must make it evident, that the longer this work is deferred, the harder it is to bring it about. And how should it be otherwise, since by these delays, and by continuing to add sin to sin, their sinful habits grow daily stronger upon them, and consequently harder to be rooted out; the devils' power over them daily increases, and the Almighty, provoked by their repeated abuses of his graces and their obstinate impenitence, withdraws himself further and further from them, and suffers them by degrees to fall into that blindness and hardness of heart, which of all evils is the most difficult to be cured.
Consider 3rdly, the folly of all such as put off their conversion to God, through the apprehension of the confession of their sins, and choose to suffer for a long time the gnawing worm of a guilty conscience, with all the other evils that always attend on mortal sin, and to be continually exposed to the danger of death and hell, and to all the judgments of an offended God, rather than undergo a small confusion, that would last but one moment, and would immediately be followed with unspeakable comfort, and with a speedy pardon, reconciliation, peace, and grace. Would not all the world condemn that person of the greatest folly and madness who, labouring under a most painful and mortal distemper, should refuse an easy, safe, and sovereign remedy, only because it was disagreeable to the palate, just for the moment of the taking of it? But O how much more unaccountable of so small a humiliation as the confession of his sins to a minister of God ,bound by the laws, both of God and man, to an eternal secrecy, refuses all the medicines of heaven under a mortal disease which is hurrying him on towards an eternal death, and chooses rather to risk his all for eternity than to discover his illness to his physician?
Conclude not to suffer the enemy to impose upon thee by any of his deceitful wiles, so as to induce thee to continue playing upon the brink of a precipice, with the sword of God hanging over his head. No prudent person would refuse to be immediately reconciled to a man whom he had offended, who had the power and authority to condemn him to a cruel death for his offence; how much less should the sinner put off his reconciliation with an offended God, who can in an instant cast both his body and soul into hell, and who is highly provoked by his impenitence.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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