ON THE NUMBER OF SINS BEYOND WHICH GOD PARDONS NO MORE
"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 whole life 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.
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.
"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.