“THOSE WHOM I LOVE I REBUKE AND CHASTISE.”
The greatest punishment God can inflict on a sinner is to let him sleep on in his sins, buried in the sleep of death. I will make them drunk that they may … sleep an everlasting sleep and awake no more, saith the Lord. On the contrary, it is a sign of mercy for the sinner when God chastises him here below. When the surgeon uses the knife it is not to kill but to cure.
The greatest punishment God can inflict on a sinner is to let him sleep on in his sins — buried in that sleep of death. I will make them drunk, that they may .. . sleep an everlasting sleep and awake no more, saith the Lord (Jer. li. 39). After murdering his brother, Cain was afraid that he should be killed by everyone he met. Every one therefore that findeth me shall kill me (Gen. iv. 14). But the Lord assured him that he should live, and that no one should kill him; and this very assurance of a long life, according to St. Ambrose, was Cain’s greatest punishment. The Saint says, that God treats the obstinate sinner mercifully, when He gives him an early death, because He thus saves him from as many hells as he should have committed sins during a longer life. Let sinners then live on according to the desires of their hearts, let them enjoy their pleasures in peace; there will at length come a time when they shall be caught as fish upon the hook. As fishes are taken with the hook … so men are taken in the evil time (Eccles. ix. 12). Whence St. Augustine says: “Do not rejoice like the fish who is delighted with the bait, for the fisherman has not yet pulled the hook.” If you were to see a condemned man making merry at a banquet with the halter round his neck, and every moment awaiting the order for execution, would you envy or pity him? Neither should you envy the sinner who is happy in his vices. That wretched sinner is already on the hook, he is already in the infernal net; when the time of chastisement shall have arrived, then the wretch will know and deplore his damnation, but all to no purpose.
It is a sign of God’s mercy when He chastises the sinner here below. It is a sign that God has still merciful views upon him, and that He wishes to substitute a temporal for an eternal punishment in his regard. God, says St. John Chrysostom, when He punishes us on this earth, does not do so out of hatred, but that He may draw us to himself. He chastises for a little while, that He may have you with Himself for eternity. When the physician uses the knife, he does so to cure, says St. Augustine. And God does the same in our regard. God seems to be cruel; but do not fear, for He is a Father Who is never cruel, and does not wish to destroy us. But, does not God say the same Himself? Such as I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore, and do penance (Apoc. iii. 19). Son, says God, I love you, and therefore I chastise you. See how good I am to you and endeavour you to act in like manner towards Me. Do penance for your sins, if you wish that I should spare you the chastisement which you deserve: at least, accept with patience and turn to advantage the tribulation I send you. In this cross which now afflicts you hear you My voice calling upon you to turn to Me; to fly from hell, which is close upon you. Behold! I stand at the gate and knock (Ib. 20). I am knocking at the door of your heart; open then to Me, and know that when the sinner who has driven Me from his heart opens the door again to me, I will enter, and stay with him forever. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Ib. 20). I shall remain united to him forever on this earth; and if he remain faithful, I shall set him beside Me on the throne of My eternal kingdom. To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me in my throne (Ib. 21).