God’s Mercy Toward Hardened Sinners

Suppose that a human person commits some of the worst sins on the face of the earth, whatever those sins might be, and remains unrepentant. Suppose that he or she continues in grave sin, rejoices in that sin, calls the sin holy and good, and does not seek moral truth, nor exercise conscience at all. What mercy can that person expect from God?

Some say that they do not receive any mercy from God, that you must be repentant in order to receive mercy. They have badly misunderstood the grace of God.

Prevenient grace is the most misunderstood grace. It is God operating, not cooperating. Every human person receives this grace, without any possibility of cooperation or rejection. Prevenient grace is first grace, the grace that makes all other graces possible. Prevenient grace enlightens the intellective soul to perceive transcendent truths, such as good and evil, and frees the will of fallen man to be able to choose between good and evil.

The most wicked sinners in the world must have received prevenient grace, otherwise, they would not be guilty. It is only because they received the grace to understand right from wrong, and the grace to be able to choose right over wrong, that they are guilty of sin for knowingly choosing what is wrong. This is a mercy from God. He gives even the worst sinners the ability to distinguish good from evil, and the ability to choose good.

The Mercy of God gives all human persons, from the most sinful to the least sinful, prevenient grace. Then, the mercy of God offers all human persons another type of grace, subsequent grace. And this grace is offered by God to human persons, subject to their cooperation or rejection. No one can reject prevenient grace. But subsequent grace is humbly submitted by God to the decision of free will, a will that is able to choose good in cooperation with subsequent grace.

But even when hardened sinners choose to continue in their sin, thereby rejecting subsequent grace, they were in fact offered that grace from the Mercy of God. So that is the second type of mercy given or offered to even the worst sinners.

However, persons who are in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin are able to cooperate with some subsequent graces, if only partially and haltingly, until they finally (hopefully) reach the point of choosing to cooperate fully with the offer of subsequent grace, so as to repent from their sins. Thus, many of the more sinful human persons do cooperate with some subsequent graces, even when they continue refusing to repent from actual mortal sin.

A third mercy is further given by God to all human persons, including the worst sinners: the help of providence. Even the worst sinners have assistance from the providence of God, attempting to show them the goodness of love and faith and hope, bringing examples of holiness and truth before them, and otherwise arranging the events of their lives so as to prompt them toward repentance.

These three mercies are given or offered to all human persons, including the worst sinners:
1. prevenient grace — mercifully given and actually received, without cooperation from free will.
2. subsequent grace — mercifully offered, but only received if the sinner cooperates with the grace in a free choice.
3. providence — mercifully given and actually received, without cooperation from free will

And if the sinner repents, he or she receives even more graces and more help from the providence of God. But those sinners who rejoice in evil and who never repent, in fact, do receive from God the above mercies.

Therefore, the mercy of God is not solely for the repentant. For how would any sinner repent, from the smallest sin or the worst sin or anything in-between, if they did not first receive grace, to enable their repentance? We cannot perform supernaturally good acts without the help of God’s grace.

Note: Perhaps we can divide providence into two types, similar to prevenient grace and subsequent grace. The first type of providence is actually received, without cooperation from the person; this would be analogous to prevenient grace. The second type of providence is offered, but not received unless the person chooses to take the path in life offered by providence. And then providence offers other goods, not available without that prior cooperation. This would be analogous to subsequent grace.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

This entry was posted in grace. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to God’s Mercy Toward Hardened Sinners

  1. Marco says:

    Thomis teaches that even the cooperation with subsequent Grace is itself a Grace. Here https://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/grace6.htm and http://www.ewtn.com/library/theology/grace7.htm it’s explained and i tend to agree with that.

    From the second link

    1. “Divine motion is not a mechanical action, like the action of a man rowing a boat; it is of a higher order, to be compared rather to the influx of life-giving sap by which a plant nourishes and renders itself fruitful5. In fact, this infusion is proper to the eternal cause, existing beyond time, which is much closer to our will than our will is to itself; and the divine cause, moving our will from within, inclines it to self determination through deliberation toward this particular salutary, meritorious act rather than to its contrary. Thus God actualizes our liberty, causing together with us the free mode of our choice. As in the natural order divine motion arouses in plants the vital processes by which they spontaneously flower and fructify, so in the supernatural order efficacious grace arouses in us, not only a spontaneous love of happiness, but the love of God; and this love is free, since God is not yet clearly seen and does not yet attract us invincibly. Efficacious grace thus properly moves toward this act specified by a good which does not attract irresistibly, and in so moving toward this act it does not change its nature, which depends on its own objective specification. Thus it does not destroy, but actualizes our liberty and free mode, a mode which is real beyond question, which can be produced in us and with us by the supreme creative cause, which from on high “pours forth all being and every modality of being,” excepting only evil-doing.6 If, on the other hand, God did not predetermine, He would be determined in His knowledge by our consent through foreseen mediate knowledge.

    And most importantly, about efficacious Grace,

    2. “This argument brings together all the above-mentioned arguments of St. Thomas and is connected with the principle of predilection: “Since the love of God is the cause of goodness in things, no one would be better than another if he were not more loved by God.” (Cf. Ia, q. 20, a. 3.) The argument is proposed in the following terms. That which is greatest in the whole created order and in the supernatural in wayfarers cannot escape divine causality, otherwise God would not be the first and universal cause nor the author of salvation. But that which is greatest in the whole created order and in the supernatural in wayfarers is the good use of grace by free determination, for this is merit or the right to eternal life. There is nothing higher in wayfaring saints than charity freely fructifying through merits. Therefore the good use of grace by free consent is an effect of the grace of God, and it is contradictory to assert that grace is rendered efficacious extrinsically, that is, by our consent, which would thus escape divine causality.”

  2. Marco says:

    Thomism, I meant, sorry for the typo.

Comments are closed.