Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, "There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins." To stop whose mouths a wise man says, "Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation resteth upon sinners" (Ecclus. v. 6): and again, "As His mercy is great, so is His correction also." (Ecclus. xvi. 12.) "Where then," saith one, "is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our deserts?" That we shall indeed receive "according to our deserts," hear both the Prophet and Paul declare; one says, "Thou shalt render to every man according to his work" (Ps. lxii. 12, Ps. lxii. 12 LXX.); the other, "Who will render to every man according to his work." (Rom. ii. 6.) And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great; in dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He hath shown great lovingkindness.
"How and in what way?" Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration, and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. "What then," says one, "if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins?" Such an one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. x. 28, Heb. x. 29.) Such an one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God hath opened doors of repentance, and hath granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, "God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world."
For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be; and the two are not for the same purpose; the first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to enquire. Therefore of the first He saith, "I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world" (c. iii. 17); but of the second, "When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left." (Matt. xxv. 31 and Matt. xxv. 46.) And they shall go, these into life; and these into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and vengeances, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account; but, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making enquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For "all," it saith, "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. iii 23.) Seest thou the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?