“Why then are you trying to bend God to your will?”

“All the ways of the Lord are mercy and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and will.”

We have here a tremendous statement on the subject of faithfulness and mercy. Mercy is mentioned because it is not our deserts but his own goodness that God regards. He forgives us all our sins and promises us eternal life. But it also speaks of faithfulness, because God never fails to honor his promises.

Acknowledging this to be so, let us practice these virtues ourselves in our present circumstances. Just as God has shown us his mercy and faithfulness—his mercy by forgiving our sins and his faithfulness by keeping his promises—so we too should practice mercy and faithfulness in our own lives. Would you be so unjust as to expect God to be unjust too? Let us show mercy to the sick and needy, even our enemies, and practice faithfulness by refraining from sin.

Never let us add sin to sin, because whoever presumes too much on God’s mercy has secretly consented to the suggestion that he can cause God to be unjust. Such a person imagines that even if he persists in sin and refuses to give up his wrongdoing, God will still come and give him a place among his obedient servants. Would this be justice, for God to assign an obstinate sinner like you the same place as those who have turned their backs on sin? Would you be so unjust as to expect God to be unjust too?

Why then are you trying to bend God to your will? Bend yourself, rather, to his. Yet how many people do, in fact, bend their wills to God’s? Only those few of whom it is said: “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

It is with good reason that scripture asks: Who will seek God’s mercy and faithfulness for his own sake? What precisely does for his own sake mean? Surely it would have been enough to say Who will seek without adding for his own sake. The answer is that many people seek to discover God’s mercy and faithfulness from the sacred books, and yet, when their learning is done, they live for their own sakes and not for God’s. They are intent on their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. They preach mercy and faithfulness without practicing them. Their preaching proves that they know their subject, for they would not preach without knowledge.

But it is a different matter in the case of someone who loves God and Christ. When such a person preaches God’s mercy and faithfulness, he seeks to make them known for God’s sake, not his own. This means that he is not out to gain temporal benefits from his preaching; his desire is to help Christ’s members, that is, those who believe in him, by faithfully sharing with them the knowledge he himself possesses, so that the living may no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for all.

St Augustine of Hippo

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