415) Judgment and Punishment for Sin

From The Imitation of Christ (chapter 24) by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

     In all things look to the end.  How you shall stand before the strict Judge from whom nothing is hidden and who will pronounce judgment in all justice, accepting neither bribes nor excuses (Hebrews 10:31)?  Oh, wretched and foolish sinner, who fears even the wrath of an angry man, what answer will you make to the God who knows all your sins?  Why do you not provide for yourself against the day of judgment, when no man can be excused or defended by another, because each will have enough to do to answer for himself?  It is in this life that your work is profitable, your tears acceptable, your groaning audible, your sorrow satisfying and purifying.

     You must, therefore, take care and repent of your sins now so that on the day of judgment you may rest secure.  For on that day the just will stand firm against those who tortured and oppressed them.  The poor and humble will have great confidence, while the proud will be struck with fear.  He who learned to be a fool in this world and to be scorned for Christ will then appear to have been wise (I Corinthians 4:10).

     In that day every trial borne in patience will be pleasing, and the voice of iniquity will be stilled (Psalm 107:42).  Then, the devout will be glad; the irreligious will mourn; and the disciplined body will rejoice far more than if it had been pampered with every pleasure.  Then the cheap garment will shine with splendor and the rich one will have become faded and worn; and the poor cottage will be more praised than the gilded palace.  In that day persevering patience will count more than all the power in this world; simple obedience will be exalted above all worldly cleverness; a good and clean conscience will gladden the heart of man far more than the philosophy of the learned; and contempt for riches will be of more weight than every treasure on earth.

     Then you will find more consolation in having prayed devoutly than in having fared daintily; you will be happy that you preferred silence to prolonged gossip.  Then holy works will be of greater value than many fair words.  Then, a strict life and severe discipline will be more pleasing than all earthly delights.  Learn, then, to suffer little things now, so that you may not have to suffer greater ones in eternity.  If you can suffer only a little now, and that makes you impatient, how will you be able to endure eternal torment?

     If your life to this moment has been full of honors and pleasures, what good would all that do if at this instant you should die?  All is vanity, therefore, except to love God and to serve Him alone (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:13,14).  He who loves God with all his heart does not fear death or punishment or judgment or hell, because perfect love assures access to God.  It is no wonder that he who still delights in sin, fears death and judgment.  It is good, however, that even if love does not as yet restrain you from evil, at least the fear of hell does.  The man who casts aside the fear of God cannot continue long in goodness but will quickly fall into the snares of the devil.

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Hebrews 10:31  —  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Psalm 107:42-43  —  The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths.  Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

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O Merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity, who sparest when we deserve punishment, and in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy; make me earnestly repent, and heartily to be sorry for all my misdoings.  Make the remembrance of my sins so burdensome and painful, that I may flee to Thee with a troubled spirit and a contrite heart.  And, O merciful Lord, visit, comfort, and relieve me; cast me not out of thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me, but excite in me true repentance.  Give me in this world knowledge of thy truth, and confidence in thy mercy; and in the world to come life everlasting, for the sake of our Lord and Savior, thy Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.  –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)