Consider first, and admire the wonders of the grace of God in the conversion of St. Paul, suddenly changed from a fiery zealot for the Jewish religion, and bloody persecutor of the Church of Christ, to be a fervent Christian, a zealous preacher of the gospel, a vessel of election, to carry the name of Christ to nations and kings; a doctor of the Gentiles, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and a most eminent Saint. Learn from hence the greatness of God's mercy, and the power of his grace; learn never to despair of the conversion of any one, how remote soever he may seem from the faith or grace of God. Who could be more remote than the convert of this day? Assure thyself that the hand of God is not shortened, and that his power, mercy, and goodness, is as great now as ever; and therefore never cease to pray to God for the conversion of infidels and sinners. 'Tis likely the conversion of St. Paul is in a great measure owing to the prayers of St. Stephen. Join with the church on this day, in glorifying God and returning him thanks, through Jesus Christ, for the wonders of his mercy and grace in St. Paul, and the many thousands that were brought, through his preaching, to the ways of truth and life.
Consider 2ndly, that the conversion of St. Paul is, by the Church, set before our eyes this day as a model of a perfect conversion, from which sinners may learn, 1. How readily they ought to correspond with the calls and grace of God, inviting them home; 2. How they ought to yield themselves up entirely to him; and 3. What their lives ought afterwards to be, in consequence of that distinguishing mercy which God has shown them in their conversion. Paul was no sooner called by the voice of Jesus Christ, but he presently obeyed the call and yielded himself up to be his for ever. The prayer he then made was short in words, but very expressive of the perfect disposition of the soul in this regard, and of the sacrifice he desired to make of himself without the least reserve, to the holy will of him who called him. 'Lord,' said he, 'what wilt thou have me to do?' As much as to say 'My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; here I am prostrate at thy feet, desirous only to know, and to do thy will; send me where thou pleasest, ordain concerning me what thou pleasest: I desire to be thine in life and death; I desire to have no exceptions at all to thy blessed will.' See also how, being sent into the city, where he was to learn of Ananias the will of God, and to receive from him the sacrament of regeneration, for the washing away his sins, he there continues for three whole days, neither eating nor drinking, but wholly employed in prayer. O this was showing himself to be a convert indeed; this was being quite in earnest in preparing himself for his baptism; this was laying a solid foundation for a new life. O that all penitents would set this great example before their eyes, when they pretend to make their peace with God; and would, like Paul, prepare themselves by fervent and long continued prayers joined with the exercises of mortification and penance! Thus we should see other sort of conversions than we commonly meet with now-a-days.
Consider 3rdly, the sentiments of St. Paul, with regard to the life he looked upon himself as obliged to lead, in consequence of the mercy God had showed to him in his conversion. He had ever before his eyes the greatness of his mercy; he considered himself as having been, to his thinking, the greatest of all sinners, and how God had spared him all the while he went on in his sins, and without any merit on his part, had by an evident miracle, wrought, in an instant, the total change in him; and therefore he was convinced, as he both declared in his words, and showed forth in his practice, that he could do no less than devote his whole life to the love and service of his Saviour, to testify his gratitude for the love he had showed to him. This consideration carried him through all his labours and afflictions, and animated him to meet death in all its shapes; (for he was dying daily as he tells us,) because Christ had loved him, and died for him, and therefore the love of Christ pressed him that he might live no longer to himself, but to him who had showed him mercy. O that all converts would have the like sentiments.
Conclude to learn to practice the lessons which St. Paul teaches you in his conversion, and in particular to have a great esteem of the grace of reconciliation, and of that unspeakable mercy and love which God has shown you in receiving you again, after you had fallen from him by sin. Learn also from him to testify your gratitude, by dedicating yourself henceforward in good earnest, to the love and service of him who has done such great things for you.
Consider first, the enormous malice of mortal sin, inasmuch as it is infinitely opposite to the infinite goodness of God, and thou wilt find it to be a bottomless pit, which no created understanding can fathom. As none but God himself can fully comprehend his own infinite goodness, so none but God himself can perfectly comprehend the infinity enormity that is found in this opposite evil. And as God essentially loves his own goodness with an infinite love, and cannot cease to love it, no more than he can cease to be God - so he essentially hates mortal sin with an infinite hatred, and cannot cease to hate it, wherever he sees it. And didst thou think, my soul, that thou wast committing so wicked, so dreadful, so abominable an evil, when first thou rebelled against thy God by mortal sin? O how couldst thou dare so often to repeat this enormous treason? or how couldst thou endure to carry about with thee, for so long a time, so odious, so hideous a monster? O how much art thou indebted to the boundless mercies of thy God, and to the precious blood of his Son, that he has tolerated thee so long, and not cast thee long ago into hell!!
Consider 2ndly, that there is not upon earth, no nor in hell itself, a greater evil than mortal sin: 'tis without any comparison, the greatest of all evils; it is the parent both of the devil and of hell, for hell was only made for mortal sin, and the devil was an angel, till he was transformed into a devil by mortal sin. So that in truth, mortal sin is a monster more hideous than hell; more filthy and abominable than the devil himself. This dreadful evil, which the damned see and feel for all eternity in the midst of their souls, torments them more than all the devils; 'tis this that oppresses them with its everlasting weight; 'tis this that feeds the ever-gnawing worm of their guilty conscience; this is the fuel of that fire that never is extinguished; 'tis this that eternally possesses their souls, and both keeps God eternally from them, and them eternally from God. O that sinners had but a just notion of this dreadful evil here! It would effectually keep them from feeling its enormous weight hereafter. If they did but sufficiently apprehend what they are going to do when they offer to commit a mortal sin, they would choose a thousand deaths before so great an evil.
Consider 3rdly, that what makes sin the greatest of all evils, is because it strikes at God himself. It is a rebellion, 'tis high treason against him. Satan, the first sinner, proudly sought to place himself on the throne of God; and all who unhappily follow the example of that arch-rebel, by consenting to mortal sin, are in some measure guilty of the like perversity, inasmuch as they turn away form God, as he did, affecting in the like manner, an independence of God, and impiously prefer their own will, and the gratifying their own inclinations and passions, before his holy will and his divine ordinances. Thus they renounce their allegiance to him, and disclaim his authority and sovereignty over them, and refuse to be subject to his laws; they condemn his wisdom, they slight his justice, they refuse his mercy and goodness, and instead of seeking in the first place (as upon all accounts they are bound to do) the glory of their Maker's name, the propagation of his kingdom, and the fulfilling of his will, they set up that idol self in place of the living God! They seek their own worldly honour, interest, and pleasure, more than his; and to this unhappy idol of their own self-love, they sacrifice their soul and conscience, their God and all. And can there be any other evil comparable to this?
Conclude utterly to renounce, detest, and abhor, for the time to come, all mortal sin, and to fly it more than hell itself. And as to all thy past guilt in this kind, bewail it from thy heart as the greatest of all evils, and do penance for it all thy lifetime.
Consider first, that besides the bottomless depth of the malice of mortal sin, from its opposition to the infinite goodness of God, and the high treason it contains against his Divine Majesty, there are divers other enormities and most heinous aggravations in every mortal sin, that beyond measure extend and multiply its guilt. The first of these is the sinner's black ingratitude to God, which is a circumstance that violently aggravates the guilt of every sin he commits against his Maker and Redeemer, his ancient lover, his dearest friend, and perpetual benefactor;
from whom he has received, and daily received, all that he has, and all that he is - and this out of pure love, without any desert on his part, and such a love as can suffer no comparison, since it has brought the lover down from heaven, to die for this very wretch that dares thus ungratefully to offend him, and to crucify him again by sin. I know not whether any of the devils in hell, if God had done so much for them, would ever have been so ungrateful as to offend him any more.
Consider 2ndly, the manifold injustice that is found in every mortal sin, in the violation of all the rights and titles that God has to us, and to our love and service; as he is our first beginning, and our last end, who made us, and made us for himself; as he is the very being of our beings, the great monarch of the whole creation, the Lord of us and of all things; as he has purchased us for himself, and marked us out for his own; and we, on our part, have been solemnly dedicated and consecrated to him, that we might be his both for time and eternity. The wretched sinner breaks through all these considerations; withdraws himself from his Maker, his Lord, and his Redeemer; villanously and sacrilegiously alienates from him, what upon all these titles, is strictly his, and makes all over to his mortal enemy and in exchange for some petty trifle, he sells to him both is soul and his God. and does not such an enormous injustice cry to heaven for vengeance? More especially in Christians, in whom it is joined with the aggravating circumstances of a profanation of the temple of God; and a notorious perfidiousness, by the violation of their solemn vows and engagements made to him.
Consider 3rdly, that in every mortal sin there is found in some measure the guilt of the breach of all the ten commandments according to that of St. James ii. 10, 'He that offends in one point is guilty of all.' Because, whosoever wilfully breaks through any part of the divine law by mortal sin, violates the first commandment by turning away from the true and living God, and refusing him the worship that is due to him; he is guilty of idolatry, by worshipping the creature, which is the object, or occasion of his sin, 'rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.' Rom. i.25. He profanes the sacred name of God, and blasphemes him, if not in words, at least in facts, by treading his authority under foot. He violates the true and everlasting Sabbath of God's rest, by the servile work of sin, by which he makes himself a slave of Satan. He dishonours, in a most outrageous manner, the best of Fathers, is guilty of the murder of his own soul, and of the Son of God himself, whom he crucifies by sin. He is guilty of a spiritual adultery, by prostituting to Satan his soul, which has been espoused to Christ. He is guilty of theft, robbery, and sacrilege, as we have seen above, by taking away from God what belongs to him. He bears false witness in fact against the law of God, in favour of lies and deceit, for all sin is a lie. And, that nothing may be wanting to complete his wickedness, he is guilty of coveting what is not his, and what he has no right to and what the law of God restrains him from. So manifold is the guilt that is found in any one wilful sin.
Conclude to detest the ingratitude, injustice, perfidiousness, and all the other aggravations, that are found in mortal sin; and to make it thy continual prayer, that thou mayest rather die ten thousand deaths, than once incur this dreadful complication of all evils.
Consider first, the desperate presumption of a worm of the earth, that dares to attack, by wilful sin, the Almighty Lord and Maker of heaven and earth, who holds the thread of his life in his hand, and can in that moment let him drop into hell. and what can the wretch expect from making war with God? with a God who is eternal, immense, and every way infinite; a God whose eye is ever upon all his ways, and who has an infinite hatred of mortal sin; a God without whom he can neither live, move, nor be! What then can he expect from making this God his enemy, but the loss of all manner of good, and the incurring of all misery both temporal and eternal. Alas! from the moment he engaged in this desperate war, the sword of God is drawn against him, and continually hangs over his guilty head, and the perils of death, judgment, and hell, encompass him on all sides. The captain himself, whom he follows in the warfare, is already damned, his fellow-soldiers are daily falling down the precipice, and crowding into hell; and what has he to hope for?
Consider 2ndly, the folly and madness that is found in every wilful sin; forasmuch as the wilful sinner, by his own act and deed, freely and deliberately parts with his God, an infinite good, and the source of all his good; gives up his title to heaven, together with all his treasures of virtue, grace, and merit, and sells his soul into the bargain, to be a slave to Satan here, and a victim of hell hereafter; and in exchange for all this, he purchases nothing but bubbles and shadows, that are unable to afford him one moment of solid content, that leave nothing behind them but uneasiness and remorse; and continually expose him to all kind of misery both for time and eternity. Is it possible to conceive a greater madness than this? Alas! it is exchanging heaven for hell, God for the devil, the supreme and infinite good for the very abyss of endless and infinite evils.
Consider 3rdly, the folly and madness of sinners in looking for any success in their ways, or blessing on their undertakings, whilst they oppose, by wilful sin, the holy will of God, and violate his divine law and commandments. All men have an inbred desire of their own well-being; this the sinner pretends to seek in the unhappy choice he makes, whenever he indulges himself in sin: but, alas! in vain does he seek it where 'tis not to be found. He seeks for happiness in the way that leads to all kind of misery; he seeks for honour in that, which is in itself most disgraceful, and which strips him of all true honour; he seeks an imaginary gain in that which brings with it the greater of all losses; he seeks for pleasure and meets with pain, discontent and uneasiness; he seeks for peace and joy, and finds nothing but disturbance and sorrow; he seeks for a false liberty, and falls into true slavery; he seeks for life, but all in vain, because he seeks it in the region of death. and can any thing be more extravagant and mad, than to seek for any good, whilst one wilfully turns one's back upon the source of all good? Alas! the soul here experiences to her cost, in the opposition and disappointments she meets with, in all her projects and all her pursuits, the truth of those menaces of God by the prophet Osee, ch. ii. 6, &c., 'I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and I will stop it up with a wall, and she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, and shall not overtake them, and she shall seek them, and shall not find them.' For 'tis even thus the poor sinner, in all he turns to, when he turns away from God, meets with a hedge of thorns in his way, which he cannot pass over, and runs after a shadow that flies away from him.
Conclude to be more wise, and to seek thy happiness where it is to be found, that is, in the love and service of God; if thou seek it any where else, thou shalt lose thy labour, and be in danger of losing thyself too, and of condemning thy folly and madness for a long eternity.
Consider first, the havoc this monstrous evil of wilful sin, made in its first conception, in heaven itself, when one sin, consented to but in thought, changed in an instant millions of most beautiful Angels into ugly devils, cast them out of heaven, and condemned them eternally to hell. O dreadful poison, that can thus blast in a moment so many legions of heavenly spirits! O dreadful guilt, that can draw such dismal and irrevocable judgment from a God, (whose very nature is goodness, and who loves all his works,) upon his favourite creatures! and thou, my soul, that knowest this, how didst thou ever dare to sin, and how hath thy God been able to endure thee, under the guilt of so many treasons?
Consider 2ndly, the havoc sin has made upon earth, when this monster, banished from heaven, was entertained by our first parents, in the earthly paradise. Alas! in one moment it strips them and all their race of that original justice, innocence, and sanctity in which they were created, and of all the gifts of divine grace; it wounded them in all the powers of the soul; it gave them up to the tyranny of Satan; it cast them out of paradise, and condemned them both to a temporal and eternal death. In the meantime it let loose upon them a whole army of all manner of evils, both of soul and body, which are all of them the dismal consequences of sin, and has entailed upon all mankind an inexpressible weakness with regard to the doing of good, and a violent inclination to evil; which has filled the world with innumerable sins, and with innumerable most dreadful judgments, both upon individuals and upon whole nations, in punishment of sins.
Consider 3rdly, that sin, by infecting and corrupting so many of the principal creatures of God, has in some measure blasted the whole creation, and subjected the whole to many evils, which the apostle (Rom. viii. 20, 21,) calls 'the servitude of corruption;' as also vanity, inasmuch as by occasion of sin, they are also liable to a perpetual instability, and a variety of defects. Hence the whole creation, by a figure of speech, is said by the apostle to groan and be in labour, longing as it were for its deliverance, from its unhappy subjection to sin - 'into the liberty of the glory of the children of God;' which shall then be accomplished, when the reign of sin shall be utterly abolished; and the world being purged by the last fire, God shall make for his children 'new heavens, and a new earth, in which justice shall dwell,' 2 Pet. iii. 13. O when shall that happy hour come? When shall this hellish monster, sin, be for ever excluded from all other parts of the creation, and shut up in its proper place, never to come out to blast the world any more?
Conclude to abhor the evil that has made such dreadful havoc both in heaven and earth, and to spare no pains for the abolishing of it, both in thyself and in all others.
Consider first, how strangely the soul is changed, that falls from the state of grace into mortal sin. The metamorphosis is not unlike to that of an Angel into a devil. A soul in grace is a child of God, a spouse of Jesus Christ, a temple of the holy Spirit. But in the moment she consents to a mortal sin, she forfeits all her honour and dignity, she becomes a slave of hell, a prostitute of Satan, a den of unclean spirits. A soul in grace is beautiful, like an Angel, and agreeable to the eyes of God and his Saints; but a soul in mortal sin is ugly like the devil, and most odious, filthy, and loathsome to her Maker, and all his heavenly court. A soul in grace is very rich, she is worth an eternal kingdom, she always carries her God with her, and is entitled to the eternal possession of him; but when she falls into mortal sin, she loses at once all her store of virtue and merit, she becomes wretchedly poor and miserable, and instead of possessing God, she is possessed by the devil.
Consider 2ndly, that sin gives a mortal wound to the soul - it is the death of the soul. For as it is the soul of man that gives life to the body, which when the soul is departed, is dead and becomes a lump of clay, without either sense or motion; so 'tis the grace of God that gives life to the soul; and that soul is dead, which by mortal sin has lost her God and drove away his grace from her. O dismal separation! O dreadful death indeed, which wants nothing but eternity to make it hell! Sinners, how can you endure yourselves under this wretched condition? If a dead carcass, from which the soul is gone, be so very loathsome and frightful, that few would endure to pass one night in the same bed with it, how can you bear to carry continually about with you, night and day, a filthy carcass of a soul dead in mortal sin, and quite putrified and corrupted by her sinful habits? Ah! open your eyes, now at least, to see your deplorable case, and to detest the monster, sin, the cause of all your misery. O run to him without any further delay, by humble prayer and repentance, who alone can raise the dead to life!
Consider 3rdly, how true that is in the Scripture, 'They that commit sin and iniquity are enemies to their own soul.' Tob. xii. 10. 'and he that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul.' Ps. x. 6. Since of all the evils that we can possibly incur, either here or hereafter, there is none comparable to the evil we bring upon ourselves by mortal sin; so, if all men upon earth, and all the devils in hell should conspire together, with a general license form God, to do all the mischief, and to inflict upon us all the torments they could invent, they would never do us half so much hurt as we do ourselves by one mortal sin. Because all that they can do, as long as we do not consent to sin, cannot hurt the soul; whereas we ourselves, by consenting to any one mortal sin, bring upon our own souls a dreadful death, both for time and eternity. Good God! never suffer us to be so wretchedly blind, as to become thus the wilful murderers of our own souls.
Conclude never more to join thyself with thy mortal enemies, the world, the flesh, or the devil, in waging war against thy own soul by wilful sin. But make it thy continual prayer to God, that he will never suffer thee at any rate to consent to so great an evil, though thou wert even to endure a thousand deaths for the refusal.
Consider first, that besides all the sad effects of mortal sin already mentioned, which are more than sufficient to demonstrate how heinous this worst of evils is in the sight of God, there still remains divers other convincing arguments of the hatred God bears to it, from the manifold judgments he has of old, and daily executes upon them who are guilty of it; and will continue to execute to the end of the world, and even to all eternity. Witness, of old, the judgment of the deluge, which in punishment of the general corruption of all flesh, swept off at once all the sinners of the earth, and hurried them down to hell. Witness the judgment of fire from heaven, on Sodom and the neighbouring cities; witness the many judgments on the rebel Israelites in the wilderness, particularly that remarkable one of the earth opening and swallowing up alive Kore, and his companions; and the fire from the Lord destroying in an instant fourteen thousand seven hundred of their abettors, Num. xvi. Witness, in every age of the world, millions that have been hurried away when they least expected it, by violent or untimely death in punishment of their crying sins; besides many instances of flourishing cities yea, and of whole nations too, destroyed by wars, pestilences, famines, earthquakes, &c., all brought upon them by their sins. O great God! who shall not fear thy almighty wrath, which always looks towards wilful sinners? Who shall not fear the dreadful evil of mortal sin, which thus provokes thy avenging justice.
Consider 2ndly, that though these visible judgments of God upon impenitent sinners, by which they are snatched away before their time by unprovided death, in the midst of their sins, be both very common, and very terrible; yet there is another kind of more secret judgments, which he daily executes upon thousands which is far more dreadful damnation. And that is, when in punishment of their abuse of grace and obstinacy in sin, he gives them up at length to a reprobate sense, and to a blindness and hardness of heart; so that they have now no more fear or thought of God or his judgments, or any concern at all for their souls, or for eternity. Now this is indeed the broad road to final impenitence, and is, in its consequences, the very worst of all God's judgments. It was thus he did by the Jews, according to the prediction of the royal prophet, Ps lxviii, 'Letting their eyes be darkened, that they should not see, and bowing down their back always - adding iniquity upon their iniquity,' &c., viz., by withdrawing his lights and his graces from them, and so giving them up to their own wicked inclinations; and thus he daily does with thousands of habitual sinners, in punishment of their slighting and resisting his repeated calls, Proverbs i. 24, &c., suffering them to go on in their wretched ways, and to add daily sin upon sin (without ever thinking of repentance), and consequently hell upon hell; which proves in the long run a far more dreadful judgment upon them than if, upon their first sin, the earth had opened and swallowed them down alive into hell.
Consider 3rdly, the judgments of God upon mortal sin, in the eternal duration of the torments of hell. O, sinners, go down, now whilst you are alive, into that bottomless pit and take a serious view of the rigour of God's justice there, of that worm that never dies, of that fire that never is extinguished, of that everlasting rage and despair, and of all that complication of the worst of evils that is to be found in that woeful dungeon, and then tell me what you think of the hatred God must bear to every mortal sin, when he, who is infinitely good and infinitely just, and cannot punish any one beyond what he richly deserves, condemns every soul that dies under any such guilt, to all this extremity of misery for all eternity. Surely the dismal prospect of this scene of woe must suffice to convince you of the enormity of mortal sin. But if anything be here wanting to full conviction, turn your eyes upon Jesus Christ the Son of God, and see how he was treated by the justice of his Father for our sins, which he had taken upon himself to expiate; see him agonizing in the garden, and sweating blood, under their enormous weight; see the multitude and variety of torments he endures for them, till his expiring upon a cruel and disgraceful cross; and how, notwithstanding the infinite dignity of his person, the divine justice would admit of nothing less than all these sufferings of his own Son for the expiation of any one mortal sin; and I am persuaded that the sight of a God, crucified for sin, must more effectually demonstrate to you the hatred God bears to this monstrous evil than the sight of hell itself, with all its dreadful and everlasting torments.
Conclude by giving thanks to God for having spared thee so long in thy sins, and resolving now to labour in earnest to avert, by a serious and speedy conversion, those judgments, which thou mayest have reason to apprehend are actually hanging over thy head for thy sins.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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