To Encourage the Spirit Not to Fall into Despair, Since If We Truly Repent, We shall 'Without Doubt Find Mercy for all our Sins.
WHEN I look back upon the sins which I have done, and consider the pains and torments which I ought to suffer because of them, I have no little fear. And so, full of trouble and full of dread at the thought of my perdition, I go seeking for comfort wheresoever I may find it. But alas, wretch that I am, I find none. For I know well that I have offended not my Creator alone but together with Him all His creation. Therefore my Creator with all His creation doth condemn me, being grievously offended at my sins ; and my own conscience, having knowledge of my evil deeds, doth beset me on every side with accusations. And so I find no comfort, nor do I think that I can readily have any. What then shall I do? whither shall I turn myself? For I am left desolate, and the wickedness of my sins compasseth me round about. If I desire to return to Him who created me upright, and call upon His unspeakable goodness to have mercy upon me, then am I greatly afraid lest by so great daring I should move Him to anger against me, and lest He should take a more dreadful vengeance upon my misdeeds, whereby I have not feared to outrage His loving kindness. What then? Shall I remain where I am, desperate and with out help or counsel? Hitherto hath my Maker suffered me to live; hitherto He ceaseth not to provide me with all those things which are necessary to the sustenance of this life: and I find it true by experience thereof that my sins have not up to this day so much prevailed against His goodness, that He should put me to confusion, as I have deserved, or should utterly destroy me. Most surely therefore is He gracious toward me, since He bestoweth so great goodness upon me, neither hath sought hitherto to avenge Him of mine iniquities.
I have heard, and according to the witness of those that have had experience thereof, it is a true report that I have heard, that He is the Fountain of Mercy, which began to flow from the beginning of the world, and yet floweth unto this day. He was very merciful, they say, and gracious unto our first father Adam, when he committed that sin of eating the forbidden fruit, in that He condemned him not straightway, as he had deserved, to everlasting perdition, but with patience awaited his amendment, and in His mercy helped him that he might be enabled to return into the favour of Him whom he had offended.
Many times therefore He sent His angel unto him, and unto those who were born of him, warning them that they should return unto Him and repent them of their iniquities, for that He would yet with joy receive them, if with all their heart they would repent them of their sins. But they yet, continuing in their sins and despis ing His admonitions, added sin to sin, and became as it were beside themselves and abomin able in their wickedness, since, being made in honour after the likeness of God, they began contrary to nature to live after the manner of brute beasts. He sent moreover patriarchs, He sent prophets, but not even so would they leave their crooked and perverse ways ; but some of them who spoke unto them wholesome warnings, they slew ; others they vexed with manifold and strange torments. Yet did He chastise them from time to time, as a merciful Father, not that He, being provoked by their evil deeds, might avenge Himself upon them for their scorn of Him, but that they being corrected might return unto His mercy, who by no means willeth the destruction of those whom in His goodness He hath created.
But when neither for often admonition nor for often correction would they return unto Him, the Fountain of Pity could no longer restrain Himself, but coming down from the bosom of the Father, and taking upon Him very manhood, taking upon Him the form of sinners, He began to admonish them in gentleness even then to repent of their sins unto salvation and to acknow ledge Him to be the Son of God. For there is no sin so grievous but it may be put away by repentance, so that the very devil himself can no longer remember it. Therefore did sinners, see ing the sweet gentleness of their Creator, begin themselves to run zealously unto the Fountain of Mercy, the Fountain of Pity, and to wash away their sins therein. The Fountain of Pity also Himself began to eat and drink with sinners, began to open to them the sacramental blessings of holy confession, for in true confession all stain of guilt is washed away.
After this, as the time drew near at which He was to suffer for the redemption of sinners, the Jews, from whose stock He sprang accord ing to the flesh, being moved by envy, crucified Him, because He was good and merciful. But He nevertheless even in the act of death did not forget His goodness, but prayed to His Father for His murderers, that He might forgive them this sin ; for they know not, saith He, 'what they do. The Lord that ivilleth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live,'* in His most sweet goodness maketh excuse for them. Whose heart is so hard, whose so strong, that this great kindness of our Creator cannot soften ? For when His creature, whom He had created after His own image and likeness, so much dishonoured Him, yet did He not avenge Himself, but though dishonoured and provoked by their many evil deeds, patiently suffered them and gently admonished them to return to Him without delay. Good therefore and gentle is our Lord Jesus Christ ; as is said by the prophet, He willeth not the death of a sinner, but that he should forsake his evil ways, and so, repent ing of his iniquities, return to the favour of His Creator. Again how merciful He is toward the soul that sinneth, He declareth by another prophet, exhorting it that even after sinning it should return to Him and find mercy; saying, Thou hast played the harlot 'with many lovers : that is, Thou that in baptism didst promise to be faithful unto Me, hast polluted thy chastity with many lovers ; yet repent and return again to Me, and I will receive thee. Therefore let no sinner despair, when she that played the harlot with many lovers is received again; because no sins of ours can dry up, no wickednesses pollute the Fountain of Pity and Mercy, even Jesus Christ, but ever pure and welling forth with the sweet ness of His grace He receiveth all the weak and sinful that return to Him, and washeth them clean from all sins whatsoever wherewith they are stained. And that all sinners and unrighteous men may be assured that they do in truth receive the forgiveness of their sins, if they do but take care to lay aside their sins and to repent, He Himself, the Fountain of Pity, for the love which He had toward them, suffered that very flesh which He took for their sakes, as I above set forth, to be nailed to the cross, that they who were dead in sins and could not otherwise return to life, except they were redeemed by the price of His blood, might look upon the price which was paid for their sins and by no means despair.
When therefore I behold this great goodness of my Lord Jesus Christ, and how so many sinners run to the Fountain of Pity, and none are refused, but all are received, must I alone be without hope, and fear that the very Fountain of Pity that cleanseth others should not be able to wash away my sins also? I know, I know of a truth, and do surely believe that He who cleanseth others can cleanse me also, and if He will, for He is most mighty, forgive me all my sins. But between sinner and sinner there is a great difference, that is between him that sinneth more and him that sinneth less. Whence I, considering how greatly I have sinned, and by how great unrighteousness my unhappy soul is polluted, perceive that I am not only equal unto other sinners but am a sinner more than any sinner, and above all sinners. For many have sinned, and then left sinning ; some, though they sinned often, yet did at some time make an end of doing evil ; again others, though they have done much evil, have not failed to do much good also, whereby they have merited either to be wholly forgiven the evil which they did, or have obtained that the pains of hell should be made more tolerable unto them. But I, miserable man that I am, a miserable sinner above all miserable sinners, perceiving and knowing the greatness of the destruction down into which my sin and the pleasure of sin was driving me, have yet not taken care to cease at any time from sins and wickedness, but have ever added sin to sin, and so have lightly and of mine own will plunged myself to my sorrow into the perdition prepared for sin, and, did not the immeasurable goodness of the Lord still bear with me, I ought long since to have been swallowed up by hell. I then, who have lived thus, who have committed so much evil, how shall I dare to run with other sinners who have not done so great evil, unto the Fountain of Mercy? For perhaps, so great is the stench of my sin, that He will not cleanse me, as He cleanseth other sinners whose stench is less intolerable than mine. Help me therefore, O Lord Jesus Christ, help Thy creature, although overwhelmed by the greatness of his sins, yet look ing upon the work of Thy hands, help him that he despair not ; for, as we believe, no wickedness is so monstrous that it can prevail against Thee, if only the sinner despair not of Thy mercy.
Suffer me therefore, O L/ord Jesus Christ, suffer me to look upon Thine unspeakable good ness, and declare how gracious- and good Thou art toward miserable sinners. I have said it before, but it delighteth me greatly, so often as fit occasion servcth, to remember how great is the grace of Thy sweet goodness toward sinners. For the love of men then, and for their redemp tion, not of those only who sin more or less, but even of those who sin beyond measure, if they do but repent, Thou didst descend from the bosom of the Father and enter into the womb of the Virgin, and take of her true flesh ; and by Thy conversation in the world didst call all sinners to repentance and so, dying according to the flesh, didst restore to them the life which for their sins they had justly forfeited.
And so, when I look back on the evil deeds which I have wrought, if Thou wouldst have me judge myself after my deserts, I am assured of my perdition ; but when I have respect unto Thy death, which Thou didst suffer for the redemption of sinners, I do not despair of Thy mercy. That robber, who for his sins was crucified with Thee, was ever in sin up to the time of his departure out of this life, yet, because in the very hour of his giving up the ghost he confessed his sin and cried out upon his fault, he found mercy and was that day with Thee in Paradise. Therefore beholding Thee put to death for the redemption of sinners, Thy hands and feet pierced with nails, Thy side opened by the soldier's spear, the stream of blood and water coming out of that side of Thine, ought I to despair? There is but one thing which Thou wilt have, without which no sinner can be saved, to wit, that we repent us of our sins, and, so far as we may, strive to amend our lives. If we do this, we are sure that if but our last day find us so doing (since we have the example of the robber, who even so won salvation in his last hour) we may, trusting in the unspeakable goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, fear the accusations of our enemy but little or not at all. Having therefore before our eyes the price of our redemption, that is, the death and blood of our Redeemer, which was shed for the remission of our sins ; having also the example of the robber, and of many compassed about by many and great sins, whom the Fountain of Pity, Jesus Christ, in His mercy loosed from them, let us not despair, but run to the Fountain of Pity Himself, in sure and certain hope of obtain ing the forgiveness of our sins there, where we see and acknowledge so many and so great sinners to have been washed clean, and let us assure ourselves that we in like manner may be washed clean by the same Fountain of Mercy, if we abstain from our sins and wickedness and, so far as we may, strive hereafter to do good. But to abstain from evil and to do good we are not able by our own power without His help. Let us implore therefore His unspeakable mercy, who was pleased to make us when as yet we were not, that He may grant us in this life, before we go hence, to amend our lives and to cleanse them with earnest sorrow, that this life ended we may be enabled to come unto Him by a straight road, none hindering us, to be with Him in everlasting glory with the choirs of angels and all saints, who already enjoy that glory in joy without end.
by Saint Anselm of Canterbury
from the Devotions of Saint Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons
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