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Of the two kinds of trials, which come upon us in a three-fold way.
Well then, though we say that trial is twofold, i.e., in prosperity and in adversity, yet you must know that all men are tried in three different ways. Often for their probation, sometimes for their improvement, and in some cases because their sins deserve it. For their probation indeed, as we read that the blessed Abraham and Job and many of the saints endured countless tribulations; or this which is said to the people in Deuteronomy by Moses: “And thou shalt remember all the way through which the Lord thy God hath brought thee for forty years through the desert, to afflict thee and to prove thee, and that the things that were in thy heart might be made known, whether thou wouldst keep His Commandments or no:”13981398 Deut. viii. 2. and this which we find in the Psalms: “I proved thee at the waters of strife.”13991399 Ps. lxxx. (lxxxi.) 7. To Job also: “Thinkest thou that I have spoken for any other cause than that thou mightest be seen to be righteous?”14001400 Job xl. 3 (LXX.). But for improvement, when God chastens his righteous ones for some small and venial sins, or to raise them to a higher state of purity, and delivers them over to various trials, that He may purge away all their unclean thoughts, and, to use the prophet’s word, the “dross,” which he sees to have collected in their secret parts, and may thus transmit them like pure gold, to the judgment to come, as He allows nothing to remain in them for the fire of judgment to discover when hereafter it searches them with penal torments according to this saying: “Many are the tribulations of the righteous.”14011401 Ps. xxxiii. (xxxiv.) 19. And: “My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord, neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. For what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and 358not sons.”14021402 Heb. xii. 5–8. And in the Apocalypse: “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten.”14031403 Rev. iii. 19. To whom under the figure of Jerusalem the following words are spoken by Jeremiah, in the person of God: “For I will utterly consume all the nations among which I scattered thee: but I will not utterly consume thee: but I will chastise thee in judgment, that thou mayest not seem to thyself innocent.”14041404 Jer. xxx. 11. And for this life-giving cleansing David prays when he says: “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; turn my reins and my heart.”14051405 Ps. xxv. (xxvi.) 2. Isaiah also, well knowing the value of this trial, says “O Lord, correct us but with judgment: not in Thine anger.”14061406 The passage is not from Isaiah, but from Jer. x. 24. And again: “I will give thanks to thee, O Lord, for thou wast angry with me: Thy wrath is turned away, and Thou hast comforted me.”14071407 Is. xii. 1. But as a punishment for sins, the blows of trial are inflicted, as where the Lord threatens that He will send plagues upon the people of Israel: “I will send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the fury of creatures that trail upon the ground:”14081408 Deut. xxxii. 24. and “In vain have I struck your children: they have not received correction.”14091409 Jer. ii. 30. In the Psalms also: “Many are the scourges of the sinners:”14101410 Ps. xxxi. (xxxii.) 10. and in the gospel: “Behold thou art made whole: now sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto thee.”14111411 S. John v. 14. We find, it is true, a fourth way also in which we know on the authority of Scripture that some sufferings are brought upon us simply for the manifestation of the glory of God and His works, according to these words of the gospel: “Neither did this man sin nor his parents, but that the works of God might be manifested in him:”14121412 S. John ix. 3. and again: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”14131413 S. John xi. 4. There are also other sorts of vengeance, with which some who have overpassed the bounds of wickedness are smitten in this life, as we read that Dathan and Abiram or Korah were punished, or above all, those of whom the Apostle speaks: “Wherefore God gave them up to vile passions and a reprobate mind:”14141414 Rom. i. 26, 28. and this must be counted worse than all other punishments. For of these the Psalmist says: “They are not in the labours of men; neither shall they be scourged like other men.”14151415 Ps. lxxii. (lxxiii.) 5. For they are not worthy of being healed by the visitation of the Lord which gives life, and by plagues in this world, as “in despair they have given themselves over to lasciviousness, unto the working of all error unto uncleanness,”14161416 Eph. iv. 19. and as by hardening their hearts, and by growing accustomed and used to sin they have got beyond cleansing in this brief life and punishment in the present world: men, who are thus reproved by the holy word of the prophet: “I destroyed some of you, as God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet you returned not to Me, saith the Lord,”14171417 Amos iv. 11. and Jeremiah: “I have killed and destroyed thy people, and yet they are not returned from their ways.”14181418 Jer. xv. 7. And again: “Thou hast smitten them and they have not grieved: Thou hast bruised them and they refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than the rock, they have refused to return.”14191419 Jer. v. 3. And the prophet seeing that all the remedies of this life will have been applied in vain for their healing, and already as it were despairing of their life, declares: “The bellows have failed in the fire, the founder hath melted in vain: for their wicked deeds are not consumed. Call them reprobate silver, for the Lord hath rejected them.”14201420 Jer. vi. 29, 30. And the Lord thus laments that to no purpose has He applied this salutary cleansing by fire to those who are hardened in their sins, in the person of Jerusalem crusted all over with the rust of her sins, when He says: “set it empty upon burning coals, that it may be hot, and the brass thereof may be melted; and let the filth of it be melted in the midst thereof. Great pains have been taken, and the great rust thereof is not gone out, no not even by fire. Thy uncleanness is execrable: because I desired to cleanse thee, and thou art not cleansed from thy filthiness.”14211421 Ezek. xxiv. 11–13. Wherefore like a skilful physician, who has tried all saving cures, and sees there is no remedy left which can be applied to their disease, the Lord is in a manner overcome by their iniquities and is obliged to desist from that kindly chastisement of His, and so denounces them saying: “I will no longer be angry with thee, and thy jealousy has departed from thee.”14221422 Ezek. xvi. 42. But of others, whose heart has not grown hard by continuance in sin, and who do not stand in need of that most severe and (if I may so call it) caustic remedy, but for whose salvation the instruction of the life-giving word is sufficient—of 359them it is said: “I will improve them by hearing of their suffering.”14231423 Hos. vii. 12 (LXX.). We are well aware that there are other reasons also of the punishment and vengeance which is inflicted on those who have sinned grievously—not to expiate their crimes, nor wipe out the deserts of their sins, but that the living may be put in fear and amend their lives. And these we plainly see were inflicted on Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and Baasha the son of Ahiah, and Ahab and Jezebel, when the Divine reproof thus declares: “Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will cut down thy posterity, and will kill of Ahab every male, and him that is shut up and the last in Israel. And I will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahiah: for that which thou hast done to provoke Me to anger, and for making Israel to sin. The dogs also shall eat Jezebel in the field of Jezreel. If Ahab die in the city, the dogs shall eat him: but if he die in the field the birds of the air shall eat him,”14241424 1 Kings xxi. 21–24. and this which is threatened as the greatest threat of all: “Thy dead body shall not be brought to the sepulchre of thy fathers.”14251425 1 Kings xiii. 22. It was not that this short and momentary punishment would suffice to purge away the blasphemous inventions of him who first made the golden calves and led to the lasting sin of the people, and their wicked separation from the Lord,—or the countless and disgraceful profanities of those others, but it was that by their example the fear of those punishments which they dreaded might fall on others also, who, as they thought little of the future or even disbelieved in it altogether, would only be moved by consideration of things present; and that owing to this proof of His severity they might acknowledge that there is no lack of care for the affairs of men, and for their daily doings, in the majesty of God on high, and so through that which they greatly feared might the more clearly see in God the rewarder of all their deeds. We find, it is true, that even for lighter faults some men have received the same sentence of death in this world, as that with which those men were punished who, as we said before, were the authors of a blasphemous falling away: as happened in the case of the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath,14261426 Cf. Numb. xv. 32. and in that of Ananias and Sapphira, who through the sin of unbelief kept back some portion of their goods: not that the guilt of their sins was equal, but because they were the first found out in a new kind of transgression, and so it was right that as they had given to others an example of sin, so also they should give them an example of punishment and of fear, that anyone, who should attempt to copy them, might know that (even if his punishment were postponed in this life) he would be punished in the same way that they were at the trial of the judgment hereafter. And, since in our desire to run through the different kinds of trials and punishments we seem to have wandered somewhat from our subject, on which we were saying that the perfect man will always remain steadfast in either kind of trial, now let us return to it once more.
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