God, as the Apostle says, will have all men to be saved. (1 Tim. ii. 4). But God wishes us all to labour for our salvation by adopting the means of overcoming our enemies, and by obeying His voice calling us to repentance. The sinner who abandons himself to sin without an effort to resist temptations, without at least asking God’s help to conquer, and hopes that the Lord will one day draw him forth out of the precipice, tempts God to work miracles and to show him an extraordinary mercy not generally extended to Christians. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God! (Matt. iv. 7).
If God were to immediately chastise those who offend Him, He certainly would not be insulted as He now is: but because the Lord does not punish instantly, and delays, therefore do sinners take courage to offend Him all the more! We must, however, be assured that although God waits and endures, yet He does not wait and endure for ever. It is the opinion of many of the holy Fathers, of St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and others, that as God has determined for each man the number of days he has to live, and the degrees of health or talents He chooses to bestow on him, Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight (Wis. xi. 21); so also has He determined the number of sins He will pardon in each one: when that number is filled up, He pardons no more. “We should remember this,” says St. Augustine, “that for a certain time the patience of God bears with each one; that time being completed, no more pardon is reserved for him.” Eusebius of Caesarea says the same: “God waits up to a certain number, and afterwards abandons”; and so speak also the above-named Fathers.
These Fathers have not spoken at random, but according to the Holy Scriptures. In one place the Lord says that He delayed the ruin of the Amorrhites because the number of their sins was not yet filled up: For as yet the iniquities of the Amorrrhites are not at the full.(Gen. xv. 16). In another He says: I will have no more compassion upon Israel.(Os. i. 6). They have tempted me ten times; they shall not see the land of promise. (Num. xiv. 22). In another place, Job says: Thou hast sealed up my offences as it were in, a bag. (Job xiv. 17). Sinners keep no account of their sins; but God indeed keeps it, that He may chastise when the harvest is ripe, that is, when the number is filled up: Put ye in the sickles, for the harvest is ripe. (Joel iii. 13). In another place, God says: Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin upon sin. (Ecclus. v. 5). By which He would say: “Sinner, thou must fear even for the sins I have forgiven thee, because if thou addest another, it may be that the new sin, together with those pardoned, will complete the number, and there will then be no more mercy for thee.” In another place, the Scripture still more plainly says: The Lord waiteth patiently, that when the day of judgment shall come he may punish them (that is, the nations) in the fulness of their sins.(2 Mach. vi. 14). So that God waits until the day in which the measure of sins is filled up, and then He punishes.
Ah, my God, I thank Thee: how many for fewer sins than mine are now in hell: and there is no more pardon, no more hope for them. And I still live! I am not in hell, and I have the hope of pardon and of Heaven, if I so desire. Yes, my God, I do desire pardon; I grieve above every evil for having offended Thee, because I have offended Thy infinite Goodness. Eternal Father, look upon Thy Son upon the Cross dead for my sake, and through His merits have pity on me. I promise Thee to choose death rather than offend Thee again.
Of such punishment there are many examples in Scripture, especially that of Saul, who for his last disobedience was abandoned by God. When he pleaded with Samuel to intercede for him: Bear, I beseech thee, my sin, and return with me, that I may adore the Lord, Samuel replied, I will not return with thee, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee. There is the example of Balthassar, who being at table profaned the vessels of the temple; and he then saw a hand which wrote on the wall, Mane, Thecel, Phares. Daniel came, and explaining these words, said to him, among other things, Thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting. (Dan. v. 27). Giving him to understand that the weight of his sins had already sunk the scale of Divine justice; and in effect he was destroyed that same night. And oh, to how many miserable sinners does the same happen! They live on for years in their sins; but when their number is filled up, they are overtaken by death and condemned to hell: They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down into hell. (Job xxi. 13). Some apply themselves to searching out the number of the stars, the number of Angels, or of the years of such a one; but who can set about to discover the number of sins that God will pardon in each of us? And therefore must we tremble. Who knows, but that after that first criminal pleasure, that first thought consented to, that first sin which you shall commit, God will never again forgive you?
Well may I fear, O God, when I think of the sins I have committed, and the graces Thou hast bestowed on me, that should I add another sin, the measure would be filled up, and I should be lost. Ah, assist me by Thy grace. From Thee I hope for light and strength to be faithful to Thee. And if perchance Thou foreseest that I shall again offend Thee, let me die at this moment, in which I hope I am in Thy grace. My God, I love Thee above all things, and more than death itself I fear again to incur Thy displeasure; in mercy permit it not. Mary, my Mother, by thy compassion assist me; obtain for me holy perseverance.
(Lenten Meditation for the First Sunday of Lent – St Alphonsus Liguori)