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Chapter II.—God Just as Well as Merciful; Accordingly, Mercy Must Not Be Indiscriminate.
“But,” say they, “God is ‘good,’ and ‘most good,’715715 See Matt. xix. 17; Mark x. 18; Luke xviii. 19. and ‘pitiful-hearted,’ and ‘a pitier,’ and ‘abundant in pitiful-heartedness,’716716 See Ex. xxxiv. 6, 7. which He holds ‘dearer than all sacrifice,’717717 Hos. vi. 6; Mic. vi. 8; Matt. ix. 13; xii. 7. ‘not thinking the sinner’s death of so much worth as his repentance’,718718 Ezek. xviii. 23, 32; xxxiii. 11. ‘a Saviour of all men, most of all of believers.’719719 1 Tim. iv. 10. And so it will be becoming for ‘the sons of God’720720 1 John iii. 1, 2. too to be ‘pitiful-hearted’721721 Luke vi. 36. and ‘peacemakers;’722722 Matt. v. 9. ‘giving in their turn just as 76Christ withal hath given to us;’723723 Comp. Matt. x. 8; but the reference seems to be to Eph. iv. 32, where the Vulgate reads almost as Tertullian does, “donantes invicem, sicut et Deus in Christo donavit vobis.” ‘not judging, that we be not judged.’724724 Matt. vii. 1; Luke vi. 37. For ‘to his own lord a man standeth or falleth; who art thou, to judge another’s servant?’725725 Comp. Rom. xiv. 4. ‘Remit, and remission shall be made to thee.’”726726 Comp. Luke vi. 37. Such and so great futilities of theirs wherewith they flatter God and pander to themselves, effeminating rather than invigorating discipline, with how cogent and contrary (arguments) are we for our part able to rebut,—(arguments) which set before us warningly the “severity”727727 See Rom. xi. 22. of God, and provoke our own constancy? Because, albeit God is by nature good, still He is “just”728728 Comp. Isa. xlv. 21; Rom. iii. 26. too. For, from the nature of the case, just as He knows how to “heal,” so does He withal know how to “smite;”729729 Comp. Job v. 18; Deut. xxxii. 39. “making peace,” but withal “creating evils;”730730 Isa. xlv. 7. preferring repentance, but withal commanding Jeremiah not to pray for the aversion of ills on behalf of the sinful People,—“since, if they shall have fasted,” saith He, “I will not listen to their entreaty.”731731 Jer. xiv. 11, 12; vii. 16; xi. 14. And again: “And pray not thou unto (me) on behalf of the People, and request not on their behalf in prayer and supplication, since I will not listen to (them) in the time wherein they shall have invoked me, in the time of their affliction.”732732 Jer. xi. 14. And further, above, the same preferrer of mercy above sacrifice (says): “And pray not thou unto (me) on behalf of this People, and request not that they may obtain mercy, and approach not on their behalf unto me, since I will not listen to (them)”733733 Jer. vii. 16.—of course when they sue for mercy, when out of repentance they weep and fast, and when they offer their self-affliction to God. For God is “jealous,”734734 Comp. Ex. xx. 5; xxxiv. 14; Deut. iv. 24; v. 9; vi. 15; Josh. xxiv. 19; Nahum i. 2. and is One who is not contemptuously derided735735 Gal. vi. 7.—derided, namely, by such as flatter His goodness—and who, albeit “patient,”736736 Comp. Rom. xv. 5; Ps. vii. 12 (in LXX.). yet threatens, through Isaiah, an end of (His) patience. “I have held my peace; shall I withal always hold my peace and endure? I have been quiet as (a woman) in birth-throes; I will arise, and will make (them) to grow arid.”737737 Isa. xlii. 14. For “a fire shall proceed before His face, and shall utterly burn His enemies;”738738 Comp. Ps. xcvii. 3. striking down not the body only, but the souls too, into hell.739739 Comp. Matt. x. 28; Luke xii. 4, 5. Besides, the Lord Himself demonstrates the manner in which He threatens such as judge: “For with what judgment ye judge, judgment shall be given on you.”740740 Matt. vii. 2; Luke vi. 37. Thus He has not prohibited judging, but taught (how to do it). Whence the apostle withal judges, and that in a case of fornication,741741 Or rather incest, as appears by 1 Cor. v. 1. that “such a man must be surrendered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh;”742742 1 Cor. v. 5. chiding them likewise because “brethren” were not “judged at the bar of the saints:”743743 See 1 Cor. vi. 1–6; v. 12. for he goes on and says, “To what (purpose is it) for me to judge those who are without?” “But you remit, in order that remission may be granted you by God.” The sins which are (thus) cleansed are such as a man may have committed against his brother, not against God. We profess, in short, in our prayer, that we will grant remission to our debtors;744744 Luke xi. 4. but it is not becoming to distend further, on the ground of the authority of such Scriptures, the cable of contention with alternate pull into diverse directions; so that one (Scripture) may seem to draw tight, another to relax, the reins of discipline—in uncertainty, as it were,—and the latter to debase the remedial aid of repentance through lenity, the former to refuse it through austerity. Further: the authority of Scripture will stand within its own limits, without reciprocal opposition. The remedial aid of repentance is determined by its own conditions, without unlimited concession; and the causes of it themselves are anteriorly distinguished without confusion in the proposition. We agree that the causes of repentance are sins. These we divide into two issues: some will be remissible, some irremissible: in accordance wherewith it will be doubtful to no one that some deserve chastisement, some condemnation. Every sin is dischargeable either by pardon or else by penalty: by pardon as the result of chastisement, by penalty as the result of condemnation. Touching this difference, we have not only already premised certain antithetical passages of the Scriptures, on one hand retaining, on the other remitting, sins;745745 Comp. John xx. 23. but John, too, will teach us: “If any knoweth his brother to be sinning a sin not unto death, he shall request, and life shall be given to him;” because he is not “sinning unto death,” this will be remissible. “(There) is a sin unto death; not for this do I say that any is to request”746746 1 John v. 16, not quite verbatim.—this will be irremissible. So, where there is the efficacious power of “making request,” there likewise is that of remission: where there is no (efficacious power) of “making request,” there equally is none of remission either. According to this 77difference of sins, the condition of repentance also is discriminated. There will be a condition which may possibly obtain pardon,—in the case, namely, of a remissible sin: there will be a condition which can by no means obtain it,—in the case, namely, of an irremissible sin. And it remains to examine specially, with regard to the position of adultery and fornication, to which class of sins they ought to be assigned.
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