That the One Greatest Punishment of God Is to Give a Man Over to His Appetites and Desires, Abandoning Him So That He Goes After Them

by admin on February 1, 2011

Does God punish sinners?  Better to understand the necessity we are under of mortifying our flesh and appetites and to animate us to take up arms against this enemy, it imports much to know what a great opposing power and enemy it is; so great that the saints say that one of the greatest punishment of God, where He shows His anger most, is by giving over the sinner to the hands of this enemy, leaving him to his appetites and desires as in the hands of cruel executioners. They allege many passages of Holy Scripture, as that of the prophet: My people did not hear my voice, and Israel did not attend to me, and I gave them over to follow the desires of their heart: they shall go their own ways (Psalm Ixxx. 12-13).   And St. Paul, speaking of the heathen philos­ophers and their pride, says: Knowing God, they did not glorify him as God, or render thanks, but became vain in their thought: therefore God gave them over to the desires of their heart, to uncleanness, to dishonor their own bodies one with another (Rom. i. 21-24). St. Ambrose takes notice that this giving over on the part of God, of which we read in many places of Scripture, must not be understood as though God incited anyone to evil or made him fall into sin, but simply allowed those appetites and desires in them, which they had conceived in their heart, to come to birth; and so aided and egged on by the devil, they came to put them in execution.

What a great punishment this is, is well seen by what follows from it. The Apostle goes on to describe what hap­pened to those proud philosophers under this chastisement and how they were treated by that cruel enemy to whom God gave them over. Is this cruel and unusual punishment? It is impossible to utter or exag­gerate in words the extremity of misery to which they were brought. Their enemy dragged them through all manner of sins and did not stop until he plunged them into sins filthy, foul, abominable, and unutterable. God gave them over to ignominious passions (Rom. i. 26). Woe to you, what will this your enemy prepare for you, this fierce and indomitable beast, if once you let yourself fall into his clutches! “Would you have me tell you,” St. Ambrose says, “how he will treat you and what he will prepare for you? Like a hard-mouthed wild horse, that carries its rider from quagmire to quagmire and from hole to hole till he goes with him over1 a precipice.” So will this appetite of yours treat you if you do not tame and mortify and master it. It will carry you from sin to sin and from vice to vice, and never stop till it precipitates you into most grievous sins and plunges with you into the depth of hell. So says Ecclesiasticus (xviii. 30): Go not after thy lusts, but turn away from thine own will. If thou givest thy soul its lusts, it will make thee a joy to thine enemies. Nothing so feasts the eyes of our enemies the devils as to see us given over to our appetites and fancies, for they will make us such as all hell conjoined could not make us. So the Wise Man begs God very earnestly not to send him such a scourge and chastisement: O Lord, God of my life, and my soul, give me not over to this appetite, so shameless and unbridled; let it not run away with me (Ecclus. xxiii. 4-6). With reason do the saints say that there is no greater sign of God’s anger than when He leaves the sinner to go after his own pleas­ure and by the taste of his own palate, following his appe­tites and desires. When the physician lets the sick man eat and drink as he likes, it is a sign of death; he leaves him as one past recovery. Now this is what God does with the sinner when He is very angry with him. He leaves him to do as he likes; and what is it that a man so out of health and so ill-inclined may be expected to like except what does him harm and causes death? Hereby we understand the unhappy and dangerous state of those who take it to be happiness and a grand thing to have their own way in everything.

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