How those who fear scourges and those who contemn them are to be admonished.
(Admonition 14.) Differently to be admonished are those who fear scourges, and on that account live innocently, and those who have grown so hard in wickedness as not to be corrected even by scourges. For those who fear scourges are to be told by no means to desire temporal goods as being of great account, seeing that bad men also have them, and by no means to shun present evils as intolerable, seeing they are not ignorant how for the most part good men also are touched by them. They are to be admonished that, if they desire to be truly free from evils, they should dread eternal punishments; nor yet continue in this fear of punishments, but grow up by the nursing of charity to the grace of love. For it is written, Perfect charity casteth out fear (1 Joh. iv. 18). And again it is written, Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but the spirit of adoption of sons, wherein we cry, Abba, Father (Rom. viii. 15). Whence the same teacher says again, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. iii. 17). If, then, the fear of punishment still restrains from evil-doing, truly no liberty of spirit possesses the soul of him that so fears. For, were he not afraid of the punishment, he would doubtless commit the sin. The mind, therefore, that is bound by the bondage of fear knows not the grace of liberty. For good should be loved for itself, not pursued because of the compulsion of penalties. For he that does what is good for this reason, that he is afraid of the evil of torments, wishes that what he fears were not, that so he might commit what is unlawful boldly. Whence it appears clearer than the light that innocence is thus lost before God, in whose eyes evil desire is sin.
But, on the other hand, those whom not even scourges restrain from iniquities are to be smitten with sharper rebuke in proportion as they have grown hard with greater insensibility. For generally they are to be disdained without disdain, and despaired of without despair, so, to wit, that the despair exhibited may strike them with dread, and admonition following may bring them back to hope. Sternly, therefore, against them should the Divine judgments be set forth, that they may be recalled by consideration of eternal retribution to knowledge of themselves. For let them hear that in them is fulfilled that which is written, If thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar, as if with a pestle pounding barley, his foolishness will not be taken away from him (Prov. xxvii. 22). Against these the prophet complains to the Lord, saying, Thou hast bruised them, and they have refused to receive discipline (Jer. v. 3). Hence it is that the Lord says, I have slain and destroyed this people, and yet they have not returned from their ways (Isa. 1:0, Isa. 9:13). Hence He says again, The people hath not returned to Him that smiteth them (Jer. xv. 6). Hence the prophet complains by the voice of the scourgers, saying, We have taken care for Babylon, and she is not healed (Jer. li. 9). For Babylon is taken care for, yet still not restored to health, when the mind, confused in evil-doing, hears the words of rebuke, feels the scourges of rebuke, and yet scorns to return to the straight paths of salvation. Hence the Lord reproaches the children of Israel, captive, but yet not converted from their iniquity, saying, The house of Israel is to Me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace (Ezek. xxii. 18); as if to say plainly, I would have purified them by the fire of tribulation, and I sought that they should become silver or gold; but they have been turned before me in the furnace into p. 37b brass, tin, iron, and lead, because even in tribulation they have broken forth, not to virtue but to vices. For indeed brass, when it is struck, returns a sound more than all other metals. He, therefore, who, when subjected to strokes, breaks out into a sound of murmuring is turned into brass in the midst of the furnace. But tin, when it is dressed with art, has a false show of silver. He, then, who is not free from the vice of pretence in the midst of tribulation becomes tin in the furnace. Moreover, he who plots against the life of his neighbour uses iron. Wherefore iron in the furnace is he who in tribulation loses not the malice that would do hurt. Lead, also, is the heaviest of metals. He, then, is found as lead in the furnace who, even when placed in the midst of tribulation, is not raised above earthly desires. Hence, again, it is written, She hath wearied herself with much labour, and her exceeding rust went not out from her, not even by fire (Ezek. xxiv. 12). For He brings upon us the fire of tribulation, that He may purge us from the rust of vices; but we lose not our rust even by fire, when even amid scourges we lack not vice. Hence the Prophet says again, The founder hath melted in vain; their wickednesses are not consumed (Jer. vi. 29).
It is, however, to be known that sometimes when they remain uncorrected amid the hardness of scourges, they are to be soothed by sweet admonition. For those who are not corrected by torments are sometimes restrained from unrighteous deeds by gentle blandishments. For commonly the sick too, whom a strong potion of medicine has not availed to cure, have been restored to their former health by tepid water; and some sores which cannot be cured by incision are healed by fomentations of oil; and hard adamant admits not at all of incision by steel, but is softened by the mild blood of goats.