"Delusions of Sinners" a sermon by St Alphonsus de Ligouri for Quinquagesima Sunday
“Lord, that I may see.” – Luke 18:41
The devil brings sinners to hell by closing their eyes to the dangers of perdition. He first blinds them, and then leads them with himself to eternal torments. If, then, we wish to be saved, we must continually pray to God in the words of the blind man in the Gospel of this day, “Lord, that I may see.” Give me light: make me see the way in which I must walk in order to save my soul, and to escape the deceits of the enemy of salvation.
I shall, brethren, this day place before your eyes the delusion by which the devil tempts men to sin and to persevere in sin, that you may know how to guard yourselves against his deceitful artifices.
To understand these delusions better, let us imagine the case of a young man who, seized by some passion, lives in sin, the slave of Satan, and never thinks of his eternal salvation. My son, I say to him, what sort of life do you lead? If you continue to live in this manner, how will you be able to save your soul? But, behold! The devil, on the other hand, says to him: Why should you be afraid of being lost? Indulge your passions for the present: you will afterwards confess your sins, and thus all shall be remedied. Behold the net by which the devil drags so many souls into hell. “Indulge your passions: you will hereafter make a good confession.” But, in reply, I say, that in the mean time you lose your soul. Tell me: if you had a jewel worth a thousand pounds, would you throw it into a river with the hope of afterwards finding it again? What if all your efforts to find it were fruitless? O God! You hold in your hand the invaluable jewel of your soul, which Jesus Christ has purchased with His own blood, and you cast it into hell! Yes; you cast it into hell; because according to the present order of providence, for every mortal sin you commit, your name is written among the number of the damned. But you say: “I hope to recover God’s grace by making a good confession.” And if you should not recover it, what shall be the consequences? To make a good confession a true sorrow for sin is necessary, and this sorrow is the gift of God: if He does not give it, will you not be lost forever?
You re-join: “I am young; God compassionates my youth; I will hereafter give myself to God.” Behold another delusion! You are young; but do you not know that God counts not the years, but the sins of each individual? You are young; but how many sins have you committed? Perhaps there are many persons of a very advanced age, who have not been guilty of the fourth part of the sins which you have committed. And do you not know that God has fixed for each of us the number of sins which He will pardon? “The Lord patiently expecteth, that, when the day of judgement shall come, He may punish them in the fulness of their sins.” God has patience, and waits for a while; but when the measure of the sins which He has determined to pardon is filled up, He pardons no more, but chastises the sinner by suddenly depriving him of life in the miserable state of sin, or by abandoning him in his sin, and executing that threat which He made by the prophet Isaias: “I shall take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted.” If a person has cultivated land for many years, has encompassed it with a hedge for its protection, and expended a large sum of money on it, but finds that, after all, it produces no fruit, what will he do with it? He will pluck up the hedge, and abandon it to all men and beasts that may wish to enter. Tremble, then, lest God should treat you in a similar manner. If you do not give up sin, your remorse of conscience and your fear of divine chastisement shall daily increase. Behold the hedge taken away, and your soul abandoned by God – a punishment worse than death itself.
You say: “I cannot at present resist this passion.” Behold the third delusion of the devil, by which he makes you believe that at present you have not strength to overcome certain temptations. But St Paul tells us that God is faithful, and that He never permits us to be tempted above our strength. “And God is faithful, Who will not permit you to be tempted above that which you are able.” I ask, if you are not now able to resist the temptation, how can you expect to resist it hereafter? If you yield to it the devil will become stronger, and you shall become weaker; and if you be not now able to extinguish this flame of passion, how can you hope to be able to extinguish it when it shall have grown more violent? You say: “God will give me His aid.” But this aid God is ready to give at present if you ask it. Why then do you not implore His assistance? Perhaps you expect that, without now taking the trouble of invoking His aid, you will receive from Him increased helps and graces, after you shall have multiplied the number of your sins? Perhaps you doubt the veracity of God, who has promised to give whatever we ask of Him? “Ask, He says, and it shall be given you.” God cannot violate His promises. “God is not as man, that He should lie, nor as the son of man, that He should be changed. Hath He said, then, and will He not do?” Have recourse to Him, and He will give you the strength necessary to resist the temptation. God commands you to resist it, and you say: “I have not strength.” Does God, then, command impossibilities? No; the Council of Trent has declared that “God does not command impossibilities; but, by His commands, He admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask what you cannot do; and He assists, that you may be able to do it.” When you see that you have not sufficient strength to resist temptation with the ordinary assistance of God, ask of Him the additional help which you require, and He will give it to you; and thus you shall be able to conquer all temptations, however violent they may be.
But you will not pray; and you say that at present you will commit this sin, and will afterwards confess it. But, I ask, how do you know that God will give you time to confess it? You say: “I will go to confession before the lapse of a week.” And who has promised you this week? Well, then you say: “I will go to confession tomorrow.” And who promises you tomorrow? Says St Augustine: “God has not promised you tomorrow; perhaps He will give it, and perhaps He will refuse it to you,” as He has to so many others. How many have gone to bed in good health, and have been found dead in the morning! How many, in the very act of sin, has the Lord struck dead and sent to hell! Should this happen to you, how will you repair your eternal ruin? “Commit this sin, and confess it afterwards.” Behold the deceitful artifice by which the devil has brought so many thousands of Christians to hell. We scarcely ever find a Christian so sunk in despair as to intend to damn himself. All the wicked sin with the hope of afterwards going to confession. But, by this illusion, how many have brought themselves to perdition! For them there is now no time for confession, no remedy for their damnation.
“But God is merciful.” Behold another common delusion by which the devil encourages sinners to persevere in a life of sin! A certain author has said, that more souls have been sent to hell by the mercy of God than by His justice. This is indeed the case; for men are induced by the deceits of the devil to persevere in sin, through confidence in God’s mercy; and thus they are lost. “God is merciful.” Who denies it? But, great as His mercy, how many does He every day send to hell? God is merciful, but He is also just, and is, therefore, obliged to punish those who offend Him. “And His mercy,” says the divine mother, “to them that fear Him.” But with regard to those who abuse His mercy and despise Him, He exercises justice. The Lord pardons sins, but He cannot pardon the determination to commit sin. St Augustine says, that he who sins with the intention of repenting after his sins, is not a penitent, but a scoffer. But the Apostle tells us that God will not be mocked. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” It would be a mockery of God to insult Him as often and as much as you pleased, and afterwards to expect eternal glory.
“But,” you say, “as God has shown me so many mercies hitherto, I hope He will continue to do so for the future.” Behold another delusion! Then, because God has not as yet chastised your sins, He will never punish them! On the contrary, the greater have been His mercies, the more you should tremble, lest, if you offend Him again, He should pardon you no more, and should take vengeance on your sins. Behold the advice of the Holy Ghost: “Say not: I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? For the Most High is a patient rewarder.” Do not say: “I have sinned, and no chastisement has fallen upon me.” God bears for a time, but not forever. He waits for a certain time; but when that arrives He then chastises the sinner for all his past iniquities: and the longer He has waited for repentance, the more severe the chastisement, says St Gregory. Then, my brother, since you know that you have frequently offended God, and that He has not sent you to hell, you should exclaim: “The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed.” Lord, I thank Thee for not having sent me to hell, which I have so often deserved. And therefore you ought to give yourself entirely to God, at least through gratitude, and should consider that, for fewer sins that you have committed, many are now in that pit of fire, without the smallest hope of being ever released from it. The patience of God in bearing with you should teach you not to despise Him still more, but to love and serve Him with greater fervour, and to atone, by penitential austerities and by other holy works, for the insults you have offered to Him. You know that He has shown mercies to you which He has not shown to others. “He hath not done in like manner to every nation.” Hence you should tremble, lest, if you commit a single additional mortal sin, God should abandon you, and cast you into hell.
Let us come to the next illusion. “It is true that, by this sin, I lose the grace of God; but, even after committing this sin, I may be saved.” You may, indeed, be saved: but it cannot be denied that if, after having committed so many sins, and after having received so many graces from God, you again offend Him, there is a great reason to fear that you shall be lost. Attend to the words of the sacred Scripture: “A hard heart shall fare evil at the last.” The obstinate sinner shall die an unhappy death. “Evil doers, shall be cut off.” The wicked shall be cut off by the divine justice. “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap.” He that sows in sin shall reap eternal torments. “Because I called and you refused,… I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock when that shall come to you which you feared.” I called, says the Lord, and you mocked me; but I will mock you at the hour of death. “Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time.” The chastisement of sins belongs to me, and I will execute vengeance on them when the time of vengeance shall arrive. “The man that with a stiff neck despiseth Him that reproveth Him, shall suddenly be destroyed, and health shall not follow him.” The man who obstinately despises those who correct him, shall be punished with a sudden death, and for him there shall be no hope of salvation.
Now, brethren, what think you of these divine threats against sinners? Is it easy, or is it not very difficult, to save your souls, if, after so many divine calls, and after so many mercies, you continue to offend God? You say: “But after all, it may happen that I will save my soul.” I answer: “What folly is it to trust your salvation to a perhaps?” How many with this “perhaps I may be saved,” are now in hell? Do you wish to be one of their unhappy companions? Dearly beloved Christians, enter into yourselves, and tremble; for this sermon may be the last of God’s mercies to you.