holiest works for the sanctification of the soul
The Small Number of the Elect
"Many are called, but few are chosen"
Matt., xx. 16.
THIS, my beloved brethren, is a sentence, which is seldom reflected on with that serious attention which its importance requires. It is generally supposed that salvation is attainable at a much easier rate than we represent it to be; and that the number of the elect far surpasses the number of the reprobate. But the words of my text declare, that "many are called, but few are chosen".
Were it my intention to strike terror into your minds, instead of consulting your improvement by instruction, I would in this discourse enumerate the alarming examples with which the scriptures are filled on this subject: I would tell you, that the prophet Isaias compares the small number of the elect to the few bunches of grapes which escape the eye of the vintager; to the few ears of corn, which chance only preserves from the sickle of the reaper. I would tell you, in the words of God himself, that there are two paths; the one, narrow, rugged, strewed with thorns, and frequented by very few the other, broad, spacious, adorned with flowers, and trodden by the far greater part of mankind. I would tell you, that the gospel unreservedly declares, that perdition is the fate of the multitude, and that the number of the elect bears no comparison with the number of the reprobate.
But what profit would you reap from this discourse, were I to confine my observations to this subject alone? You would be in formed of the danger, and you would not be acquainted with the means of escape. You would behold the sword of God's wrath lifted over your heads, and you would not be empowered to avert the stroke. Your peace of mind would be destroyed, and you would not discover the irregularities of your moral conduct.
For your instruction, therefore, I will examine the causes why the number of the elect is so small. I will apply the subject individually to yourselves, and examine the foundation on which your hopes of salvation are established. Banish all foreign thoughts from your minds, and attend solely to my words. The subject is important, if any subject can be so, and more immediately relating to the concerns of your real and immortal welfare than any thing, I believe, that has ever before occupied your attention.
1. The elect of God will be composed of people of two different descriptions; of those who have been so happy as to preserve their innocence spotless and undefined by mortal sin, and of those who have regained their lost innocence by suitable works of penance. These are the elect.
Heaven is open only to the innocent and to the truly penitent.
Now, my brethren, of which description are you? Are you of the number of the innocent? or are you of the number of the penitent? Faith assures you that nothing defiled can enter Heaven. You must consequently either have avoided every defilement, or your defilements must have been washed away by sincere repentance. The first is a privilege which is enjoyed by very few; and the second requires a grace which, in the present general relaxation of morals and discipline, is either seldom received or seldom corresponded with.
In those happy times when the Church was an assembly of saints, few of the faithful who had been cleansed by the laver of regeneration, and had received the Holy Ghost, relapsed into their former ways. Ananias and Sapphira were the only prevaricators we read of in the church of Jerusalem: one incestuous man only is recorded to have dishonoured the church of Corinth. Seldom was it necessary to subject a disciple to the rigour of canonical penance; or, at least, the number of lepers, who were banished from the presence of the altar and separated from the society of their brethren, was very small in comparison with the rest of the faithful.
But those times are elapsed; and great is the change that has taken place. The Gospel indeed has extended its empire, but the reign of piety is confined within narrower boundaries: the number of believers is increased, but the number of the just is diminished; the world is the same now as it was from the beginning corrupt and profligate; its conversion to the faith has produced no change in its manners arid customs. When it entered the Church, it introduced likewise its immorality and profaneness. Yes, my beloved, true it is that the land, even the land of Christianity, is infected by the corruption of its inhabitants; all work iniquity, and seldom is there one who does good. Injustice, calumny, lying, adultery, and crimes of the blackest hue, lay waste the fair inheritance of Christ; hatreds are perpetual; reconciliations are seldom sincere; an enemy is seldom loved; detractions, and censures on the conduct of others, are indulged on all occasions; and the gifts which God intended for the support of the corporal frame, are abused by excesses too shameful for description.
All states and conditions have corrupted their ways. The poor murmur against the rich; the rich forget the Author of their abundance; the great seem to exist only for themselves; and licentiousness is made the privilege of their independent station. Even the lamps of Jacob are extinguished: the salt has lost its savour: the priest has become like unto the people. Behold, my brethren, the state of Christianity. And, my God! is this thy Church, thy Spouse, thy beloved inheritance? Is this thy delightful vineyard, the object of thy tenderest care? Ah! more heinous or more enormous crimes were not committed in Jerusalem, when thou pronouncedst against it the sentence of its condemnation.
Thus, one gate, the gate of innocence, is irrevocably shut against us. We have all gone astray. There probably was a time when sin defiled the heart of every individual of this assembly. The impetuosity of the passions has perhaps subsided in some; the world has perhaps become disgusting to others; grace, perhaps, has wrought the conversion of others; but there probably was a period which we all look back upon with regret, and would gladly consent that it were for ever blotted out from the history of our lives.
But why do I lose my time in attempting to prove the loss of our baptismal innocence? We know that we are sinners; we dread the scrutinizing eye of an omniscient God; and we have too much reason to fear that he beholds innumerable stains even in that part of our lives which appears to us unsullied by any crime. It is vain, therefore, to claim Heaven on the score of innocence: consequently, there is only one road to salvation left, which is that of penance. After the shipwreck of sin, this is the only plank, say the holy fathers, that can save us.
2. Now let me ask, where are the penitents in this assembly? Are their numbers considerable?
There are more, said a holy father, who never lost their baptismal innocence, than have recovered it again by true repentance. A dreadful sentence, my dear brethren, but, I hope, not to be too strictly enforced, however respectable the authority. We will not run into extremes. There are sufficient motives for alarm in the exposition of the known truth, without adding to them by unnecessary declamations. Let us only examine, whether the greater number of us have any right to expect eternal happiness on the score of repentance.
In the first place, what is a penitent? A penitent, says Tertullian, is one who every hour calls to mind in the bitterness of his soul the sins of his past life who takes part with the justice of God against himself, and renounces innocent pleasures in order to atone for the criminal excesses which he formerly committed. A penitent is one who treats his body as an obstinate enemy as a rebel, whom he must bring into subjection as a dishonest debtor, from whom he must exact the last farthing. A penitent is one who considers himself as a malefactor condemned by the justice of God to death, and is convinced that his only portion in this life ought to be sufferings and contempt. A penitent is one who is ready to submit to the loss of health and property, as to the just privations of blessings which he has criminally abused to crosses and afflictions, as to a punishment due to him on account of his transgressions to corporal pains, as to a foretaste of the eternal torments which his sins have deserved. This is the description of a true penitent.
Now let me ask, where are the men in this assembly who answer this description?
Are they prostrate in the porch of the temple? Are they covered with sackcloth and ashes? Do they supplicate the brethren, who are entitled to enter the sanctuary, to offer up their prayers to the Father of mercies in their behalf? Have they spent whole years in the exercises of prayer, of fasting, of mortification, and of other penitential austerities? Are they excluded from the Church, and forbidden to assist at the celebration of the tremendous mysteries? Are they treated as the outcast of men, and deprived of every consolation but that of their tears and repentance?
This, at least, was the course of atonement prescribed to the ancient penitents, and scrupulously fulfilled by them.
I admit that the Church has long since authorized a relaxation of this discipline; and my motive for hinting at the severities of those times, was not to lead you into a supposition that the observance of them was still necessary, or to cast reflections on the mild condescension of the Church in abolishing them, but to stigmatize the general corruption of the Christian world which rendered the abolition necessary. External discipline must be accommodated to the manners and customs of the times.
But although laws framed by men are liable to change, the laws of penance are founded on the gospel, and can never change. We may satisfy the Church without the rigours of public penance; but we cannot satisfy either the Church or God, unless by our private penance we make full atonement for our crimes.
Now, my brethren, what is your private penance? Is it proportionate to the penance of the primitive Christians? Is it proportionate to the number and the enormity of your sins? You, perhaps, may say, that you endure the cares and anxieties inseparable from your state of life: that solicitude for the present and future well-being of yourselves and families embitters your days: that you labour from morning till night, and that, in spite of all your endeavours, you are frequently the victims of want, of wretchedness, of infirmities, and of other numberless evils. This, perhaps, may be true. But do you submit to these trials with a truly Christian spirit, without murmurings, without complaints? Do you submit to them in the spirit of penance, arid offer them up to God as an atonement for your sins? If not, they will be found deficient in the scales of unerring justice, and they will not be entitled to a reward. But, supposing that you did not offend in any of these points, would you rank in the number of penitents? Would nothing more be required of you? Your merit, I allow, would be great. You would offer up an acceptable sacrifice of atonement to the justice of God. But would his justice be completely satisfied? The primitive Christians endured the ordinary trials of life with patience, and, in addition, submitted to all the rigours of canonical penance, and yet did not do too much. Can your reconciliation be effected by easier means? Are not voluntary mortifications in private required of you? You know that the penance of every individual must be proportionate to his guilt: and can you reasonably entertain hopes of salvation, when your own penance is not regulated according to this maxim? Oh! be not deceived. The ways of repentance are far more painful than you imagine: the road to Heaven presents far greater difficulties to the sinner than you have hitherto experienced. This is the real truth; and yet you spend your days in perfect tranquillity and peace!
You are not, indeed, singular in this respect. You do nothing more than follow the example of a great majority of your fellow Christians. You are not more attached to worldly pleasures, more averse to sufferings and crosses, more deficient in the works of repentance, than they. I allow that there are men of more dissolute characters: for I will not suppose that you are either destitute of religion, or unconcerned about salvation: but where are the men that are more penitent? Alas! the few that are of this description, I fear, are chiefly to be found in the shades of sequestered solitude. Amongst the people of the world there is only a small number, who, by a little stricter attention to religious duties, attract the notice, and perhaps the censures and ridicule, of the public. All the rest tread the same beaten path: children inherit the false security of their parents; seldom is there one that lives innocent; and seldom is there one that dies penitent. Good God! if thou hast not deceived us if every precept of the gospel must be fulfilled to an iota if the number of the reprobate will not induce thee to relax something of the severity of thy law, what becomes of that multitude of people which daily drop into eternity before our eyes! What is become of our parents, our relations, our friends! What is their eternal lot!
Formerly, when a prophet complained to the Lord, that all Israel had abandoned his alliance, the Lord assured him, that he had reserved to himself seven thousand men, who had not bent their knee before Baal. But can the faithful servants of Jesus be comforted with the same assurance in these days?
There are undoubtedly many chosen vessels of election; the priesthood, the army, the court, the cottage, have their ornaments men according to God's own heart, with whom he delighteth to dwell; for the world exists only for the sake of the elect, and when their number is complete, the final dissolution will take place. But how few are they, when compared with that immense multitude which is hurried headlong into the deep abyss!
3. You, perhaps, have been encouraged to rely with confidence on your state, and to conclude that nothing more was required of you, because you perceived that you were as regular, as moral, as attentive to your duty as other people.
But, my beloved, this, instead of being a subject of consolation, ought to strike you with dismay.
Others, that is the generality of people, live in a state of tepidity and spiritual sloth; they are the slaves of pride and vain-glory; they are addicted to detraction, hatred, and other vices; they love neither God nor their neighbour in the manner they ought; in a word, they walk in the broad road that leadeth to damnation. And can you imagine that you are secure, because you walk in the same path with them? The small number of the elect walk in the narrow path: their lives are regulated, not by the conduct of the multitude, but by the precepts of the gospel: their fervent piety, their strict morality, their penitential austerity, exalt them far above the rank of other people: they are, and have been in every age, men of singular lives: they shine like lights in the midst of darkness: they are spectacles worthy both of angels and men: they hold in abhorrence the ways, the maxims, the pleasures, and the vanities of the world: they live, says St. Paul, not they, but Christ liveth in them.
Perhaps, you will say, that the saints are exceptions to the general rule, worthy indeed of your admiration, but not fit for your imitation. That they are exceptions, I will readily allow. But they are exceptions only from that general rule of walking in the broad road of perdition. A chosen soul, in the midst of the world, must necessarily be an exception. Are we then obliged to walk in the footsteps of the saints? We are. It is the duty of every one to be holy and to be a saint. Heaven is open only to saints. There is no other gospel to be followed, no other duties to be fulfilled, no other promises to be hoped for, than those proposed to the saints. Every one is obliged to love God above all things, and his neighbour as himself: every one is obliged to seek Heaven in the first place, to be meek and humble of heart, to comply with every precept of the gospel, to avoid sin as the greatest of all evils, and to do condign works of penance for the sins into which he has fallen: every one is obliged to do good, to advance forward in the ways of virtue, and to be perfect, as his Heavenly Father is perfect. These are obligations imposed on all: these are the same that were imposed on the saints: and the fulfilling them alone made them saints.
Oh! if there were an easier road to Heaven, it would certainly have been pointed out to us; it would have been traced out in the gospel; there would have been saints who would have walked it, and encouragements would have been held out to us by the Church to follow their easy example. But you know that there has been nothing of the kind. Good God! how little do men consult the dictates of reason when their eternal salvation is at stake!
Be not, therefore, lulled into a fatal security by the assurance that you are as virtuous as other people. On the contrary, beware of the multitude: walk not with the multitude, lest you share the same fate. Take your model from the saints, and imitate their virtues and sanctity. If you are innocent, continue to fulfil every precept of the gospel, and by self-denial and prayer prepare yourselves for future temptations. If you are sinners, bewail your sins without ceasing; water your couch every night with your tears; put on the weeds of mourning; and anticipate the judgments of God by mortification and penance. Enter on this penitential time with alacrity and joy; and instead of seeking to increase, or of availing yourselves of, the relaxations which the multitude has extorted, vie with the penitents of old: make it a truly penitential time. Be not seduced by the examples of the impenitent; but, with the chosen few, devote both body and soul to the painful works of fasting and penance. Then you may confidently hope that you will receive the reward promised to the truly penitent, and you will be united to their company hereafter in the joys of a blissful immortality.
The Small Number of the Elect II
"A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed, some fell by the way side. . . . and other some fell upon a rock and other some fell among thorns and other some fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit a hundred fold"
Luke, viii. 5, 8.
OUR attention, my beloved, is again awakened by a repetition of the dreadful truths which were the subject of my last discourse. In this parable, the elect and the reprobate are plainly designated; and the comparatively small number of the elect is discernible to the slightest observer. In the first place, out of that immense multitude of people who either know not God, or refuse obedience to his authority, and throw off the restraints of religion, none are chosen; the parable does not even notice them: and the reason is, because, according to the scripture, they who believe not are already judged. In the second place, out of the seed which God hath sown in his Church, watered with the dews of Heaven, and nourished with the manure of his holy word, only one of the four parts described forms the number of the elect. The man who hears the word of God, but never follows it in practice, is rejected. The man whose sloth and tepidity, like the dryness of a rock, prevent the word of God from taking root in his soul, and whose only efforts for salvation consist in attending at the service of the Church, and in performing a few exercises of devotion without the spirit and without the fervour of divine love, is rejected. The man whose heart is divided between God and the world, and whose entanglement in the thorns of riches and pleasures draws off his attention from the duties of religion, is rejected. He alone who hears the word of God and keeps it he alone who seeks the kingdom of Heaven in the first place, and makes salvation the great business of his life he alone who, notwithstanding the opposition of his own nature, and the influence of public example, serves his Maker in spirit and in truth, and brings forth fruit in patience he alone is admitted into the number of the elect, and entitled to the rewards prepared for the saints.
But, my brethren, where shall we find men of this description? That you may be enabled to form an idea of the comparative smallness of their number, I will describe in detail the obligations of a Christian, and I will examine how far they are observed by mankind in general. Be attentive, for the subject is applicable to every individual in this assembly.
1. By the title and character of Christian, which we bear, we are obliged to renounce the world and all its pomps, the Devil and all his works, the flesh and all its concupiscences. These are our engagements. These are the essential articles of the treaty concluded between us and God. On the fulfilment of these we shall be entitled to the promises, and not otherwise.
In the first place, we engaged in baptism to renounce the world and all its pomps. This engagement we made at the foot of the altar of God; the Church witnessed and sealed it, and on this condition alone received us into the society of the faithful.
But what is this world which we engaged to renounce? I reply, that it is the world, to which the greater part of mankind are attached; and by this mark we may always distinguish it. The world is that multitude of sinners, whose desires arid fears, whose hopes and solicitudes, whose joys and griefs are excited by the goods or evils of this life alone. The world is that great portion of the human race, who fix their affections on the Earth, as if it were their true country; who dread the world to come, as if it were a land of banishment; who are less anxious about their eternal inheritance, than about their temporal pursuits; who consider death as the greatest of all evils the extinction of every hope and the end of every enjoyment. The world is that temporal kingdom, where Christ is not known, or, if he be known, is not glorified as God; where his maxims are reprobated, his faithful servants despised, his blessings abused, his sacraments neglected or profaned, his worship abandoned. This is the world which we have engaged to renounce, to avoid, to hate, to oppose by our good example, and to resist with all our heart and mind and strength. This is the world which ought to be crucified to us that is, ought to be the object of our aversion, and to which we ought to be crucified that is, ought to be the objects of its censures and ridicule.
Now, my beloved, in what manner do we fulfil this engagement? Do we loathe the enjoyments of the world? Are we grieved at the sight of its abominations and crimes? Do we sigh after our true country, and lament that the time of our pilgrimage is prolonged? Do we wish to be dissolved and to be with Christ? No: we do nothing of the kind; or rather, we do directly the reverse. Our thoughts and affections are centred in the world; its laws are our laws; its maxims are our maxims; we condemn what it condemns; and we commend what it commends. When I say we, I mean the generality of Christians. I know that there are many who complain bitterly of the world; who accuse it of injustice, ingratitude, and caprice; who discharge upon it the coldest venom of invective; and who describe its errors and abuses in the strongest terms. But, notwithstanding all this, they still continue to love it; they court its favours; they cannot live without it. Where is the man who can say from his heart that he hates the world, and that he has renounced its pleasures, its customs, its maxims, and its expectations? All are pledged, all, without exception, have entered into a most solemn covenant to do this, and not one will do it.
We engaged, in the second place,to renounce the flesh and all its irregular inclinations and desires: that is to say, we engaged to shun indolence and sensuality, to resist the cravings of a corrupted heart, to chastise the body, to crucify it, and to bring it into subjection. This was our vow; and we are obliged to fulfil it: it is one of our principal duties: it is inseparable from the character of a Christian. And by whom is it fulfilled?
Lastly, we engaged to renounce the Devil and all his works. If it be asked, what these works are, I reply, that they are the works which form the history of the most considerable part of our lives. They are ambition, pride, hypocrisy, vain-glory, and deceit: they are fraud, injustice, double-dealing, and lies: they are hatred, dissension, envy, and jealousy: they are worldly pomp and show, plays, comedies, and unprofitable parties of pleasure.
"What!" methinks I hear you say, "is the Christian to be debarred the theatres, and other public places of resort?" Certainly, if his innocence be exposed to danger. Every action that we perform must have for its object the greater honour and glory of God, or it is not innocent. Every work that is not placed to our account in the book of life, is recorded against us. The weak ness of human nature, indeed, requires pastimes and relaxations; but those pastimes and relaxations only are innocent, which may be referred to the honour of God, and which will enable us to apply with more vigour to our more holy and more serious duties.
Now, according to this universally received point of Christian morality, 1 leave you to decide whether the public amusements above mentioned are innocent or not. Do they unbend the mind only for a time, and thereby enable it to apply with more earnestness to the great affair of salvation? Can they be referred to the greater honour and glory of God? Is it possible to frequent them through motives of religion and virtue? No: the most profane Christian would blush to make the assertion. Consequently, your innocence is not only endangered, but injured by them; arid consequently, as often as you frequent them, you violate the sacred engagement to renounce the Devil and all his works, which you contracted in baptism, and which you ratify by your public profession of the Christian faith.
2. These, my brethren, are our baptismal vows. They are not matter of counsel only: they are what we call pious practices. They are obligations the most essential the most indispensable. And yet how few observe them! how few give them a place in their thoughts! Ah! did you but seriously reflect on the extent of the duties which the name of Christian imposes on you were you but once thoroughly convinced that you are obliged to hate the world and all that is not God, to live the life of faith, to maintain a constant watchfulness over your senses, to be conformed to Christ crucified did you but seriously consider, that the great command of loving God with your whole heart and strength, is violated by every thought, every action, which is not referred to him; oh! you would be seized with fear and trembling; you would shudder at the sight of the immense chaos which your infidelities have formed between you and God; you would exclaim with astonishment: "Who can be saved? if these are our duties if this constant watchfulness, this pure and fervent love are required of every individual, who can be saved?" This would be your exclamation; and I would immediately an swer: "Very few indeed will be saved: you will not be saved unless you reform your lives; they who live like you will not be saved; the multitude will not be saved".
Who then will be saved? The man who, in these days of irreligion and vice, walks in the footsteps of the primitive Christian " whose hands are innocent, and whose heart is pure; who has not received his soul in vain" Ps., xxiii. 4; who has successfully struggled against the torrent of worldly example, and purified his soul; who is a lover of justice, "and swears not deceitfully against his neighbour " ib.; who is not indebted to double dealing for an increase of fortune; who returns good for evil, and heaps favours on the enemy that had laboured for his destruction; who is candid and sincere, and never sacrifices truth to interest, nor conscience to civility; who is charitable to all in distress, and a friend to all in affliction; who is resigned in adversity, arid penitent even in prosperity.
He, my dear brethren, will be saved, and he only. Oh! how alarming is this truth! And nevertheless, all the chosen few only excepted, who work out their salvation with fear and trembling all, I say, live on in the greatest peace and tranquillity of mind. They know that the greater number is lost; but they flatter themselves with the assurance that, although they live like the world, they shall die like the just: each one supposes that God will favour him with a particular grace: each one looks for ward with confidence to a happy death.
These are your expectations likewise. I will therefore say no more about the rest of mankind, but address myself solely to you as if you were the only inhabitants of the Earth. Now this is the thought which occupies my mind, and strikes terror into the very centre of my soul. I suppose that the last day is arrived; that the trumpet has sounded; that you are risen from the dead; that you are assembled together in this place, to await the coming of the great Judge; that the heavens are about to open; and that you will shortly behold the Son of Man descending with great power and majesty to pronounce upon you the sentence either of election or reprobation.
Rouse your attention, my brethren. Are your accounts in order? Are you prepared for the trial? Are you ready to meet your Judge? Do not say that you will prepare yourselves here after. This is a delusive hope. What you are now, the same will you probably be at the hour of death. The intention of reforming your conduct, which has so long occupied your thoughts without effect, will continue without effect as long as you live. This is testified by the experience of ages.
Now I ask you I ask you with dismay, and without meaning to separate my lot from yours: Were the Son of Man to appear in this assembly, and separate the good from the bad, the innocent from the guilty, the penitent from the impenitent, how many would he place on his right hand? Would he place the greater number of us? Would he place one half? Formerly, he could not find ten just men in five populous cities; and could he find as many, do you think, in this small assembly? How many, then, would he place on his right? You cannot give an answer, neither can I. Thou alone, my God, knowest thy elect, thy chosen few.
But if we cannot say who will be placed on his right hand, we can say at least that sinners will be placed on his left. Who, then, are sinners?
They may be divided into four classes. Let every individual attend, and examine whether he may not be ranked in one of them.
1. They who are immersed in vice, and will not reform: 2. They who intend to reform, but defer their conversion: 3. They who fall into their former habits as often as they pretend to renounce them: 4. They who think that they need not a change of life.
These are the reprobate: separate them from the rest of this assembly, for they will be separated from them at the last day. Now, ye chosen servants of my God ye remnant of Israel, lift up your heads; your salvation is at hand: pass to the right: separate yourselves from this chaff, which is destined for the fire. O God! where are thy elect! How few of us will be comprehended in the number!
Beloved Christians, our perdition is almost certain; and why are we not alarmed? If a voice from Heaven were heard in this temple, proclaiming aloud that one of us here present would be consigned to eternal flames, without disclosing the name, who would not tremble for himself? who would not examine into the state of his soul? who would not, like the apostles at the last supper, turn to Jesus, and say: "Is it I, Lord?" And, if time were still at our disposal, who would not endeavour to secure his own soul by the tears and sighs of repentance?
Where then is our prudence? Perhaps not more than ten of my present auditory will be saved; perhaps not even so many; perhaps But, O God! I dare not, I cannot fix my eyes on the dreadful, unfathomable abyss of thy justice: perhaps not more than one of us will see Heaven. And yet, we all flatter ourselves that we shall be the happy souls that will escape: we all imagine, without considering either our virtues or vices, that God will have mercy on us in preference even to those who are more innocent and deserving.
Good God! how little are the terrors of thy justice known in the world! The elect in every age withered away through fear, when they contemplated the severity and the depth of thy judgments on the sins of men. Holy solitaries, after a life of the severest penance, were terrified at the thought, and when stretched on the bed of death, shook their hard couch of poverty and mortification by the trembling motions of their emaciated frame. They turned towards their weeping brethren, and with a faltering and dying voice asked them: "Do you think that the Lord will have mercy on me?" Their fears bordered on despair, and their minds were in the greatest agitation, until Jesus himself appeased the storm, and produced a calm. But now, the man who has lived like the multitude, who has been worldly, profane, sensual, and unthinking, dies with the assurance of a happy immortality: and the minister of God, when summoned to attend him, is necessitated to cherish this false confidence, to speak only of the infinite treasures of the mercies of God, and in some measure to aid and assist him in deceiving himself. Good God! what wrath is stored up by thy justice against the day of wrath!
What conclusion, ray beloved, are you to draw from these alarming truths? That you are to despair of salvation? God forbid. The impious man alone, in order to indulge his passions with less restraint, endeavours to convince himself that salvation is unattainable, and that all mankind will perish with him. My object is, that you should be undeceived respecting that almost universally received opinion, that it is not unlawful to do what is done by others, and that universal custom is a sufficient rule for your conduct. My object is, that you should be convinced, that in order to be saved, you must live in a different manner from the generality of mankind, that your piety must be singular, and that you must be separated from the multitude.
When the captive Jews were on the point of departing from their beloved country for the land of bondage the great Babylon the prophet Jeremiah, who was commanded by God to remain in Jerusalem, addressed them in words to this purpose: Children of Israel, when you arrive in Babylon, you will behold their gods of silver and gold borne on the shoulders of the inhabitants, and the multitude before and behind adoring them; but do not you imitate their example; on the contrary, say in your hearts: "Thou alone, O Lord, art worthy to be adored" Bar., vi. 6.
My advice to you at parting is nearly in the same words; and I earnestly exhort you never for a moment to lose sight of it. As soon as you have left the house of God, you will find yourselves in the midst of Babylon.
You will behold the idols of gold and silver, before which are prostrated the greater part of mankind: you will see the gods of this world wealth, glory, and pleasure, surrounded by their numerous votaries and adorers: you will witness abuses, errors, and disorders, authorized by universal example. Then, my beloved brethren, if you are Israelites in deed, you must turn to God, and say: "Thou alone art worthy to be adored".
I will not take part with people who are strangers to thee: I will follow no other law but thine. The gods which the senseless multitude adores are not gods; they are the work of men's hands, and they shall perish with them. Thou only art immortal: Thou alone art worthy to be adored. The laws of Babylon have no connection with thy holy laws. I will adore thee in the society of thy elect, arid with them I will ardently sigh after the Heavenly Jerusalem the seat of bliss. The world, perhaps, may attribute my conduct to weakness, my singularity to vain-glory; but do thou, O Lord, give me strength to resist the torrent of vice, and suffer me not to be seduced by evil example. The days of captivity will have an end. Thou wilt remember Abraham and David, thy servants. Thou wilt deliver thy people from slavery, and lead them into Sion. Then shalt thou alone reign over Israel, and over the nations that refuse to know thee. Then shall the former things pass away, and thou alone shalt remain forever. Then shall all nations know that "thou alone, O Lord, art worthy to be adored".
In order therefore to profit by this discourse, you must be resolved to live differently from the rest of men: you must bear constantly in mind that the greater number are lost: you must disregard all customs which are not consistent with the law of God: you must reflect that the saints in every age were men of singular lives. Then, after having been distinguished from sinners on Earth, you will be gloriously separated from them for all eternity.