Of the Importance of Salvation
by Fr. Jean Croiset
First Point. The Business of our Salvation is the most Important of all Business.
Second Point. The Business of our Salvation is our only Business.
Consider that no business is of so great importance to us as the business of our salvation; an eternity of happiness or misery depends on the success of this [?] other affairs are only permitted as they are subservient to this great work: If we do lose this, we lose all; for we lose God, who is all Good, and without whom there can be no Good; if we fail in this he is lost to [?] and lost forever, without recovery.
Salvation is our own business, everything else is foreign to us; in other things we do the business of our children, our friends, our family, our country, or of the community to which we belong, and not precisely our own business; everything else is a business of time, this of eternity.
If we lose other business, though of the highest importance, we may find a remedy; or if we do not we shall be no losers, provided we succeed in this. The loss of our souls is the only irreparable loss, eternity itself will not be sufficient to deplore it.
Shall we be able to comfort ourselves with the thoughts that we have been successful in all our other business of no consequence, and have only neglected this, which is the only business of eternity? It is no matter though we live obscurely and forgotten, without friends or support, and die poor, provided we secure our salvation. But what will all our riches and power, all our knowledge and wisdom avail us if we lose our souls? Though all the world should conspire together, they will never be able to deprive a man of heaven, and make him miserable to all eternity: Neither will they be able to make one damned soul happy, or so much as mitigate his torments. What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what can he give in exchange for his soul?
Is it possible that this business of eternity is the only business of consequence we have to do, and that yet we should neglect this the most, and lay it least to heart?
We fancy that our studies, our trade, our diversions, our visits and conversation, are of great importance to us, they take up all our time, we can never find leisure enough for them, we are unwilling to defer them; but when we should think seriously of our souls, we make no difficulty of deferring; we imagine it is too soon, and that we shall have time enough, and yet (which is still more surprising) we are never at leisure to set about it.
Certainly we must have odd notions of eternal happiness, since we are so careless of securing it; would we be content to take no more pains, and spend no more time in our studies and in temporal affairs, than we do in what concerns our eternal salvation?
If our salvation depended on another, could he have so little zeal or charity as to neglect it more than we do ourselves? Though we know it depends wholly on our own care. What pains does every man take in his calling? If we have a child to provide for, if we have a design to join in partnership with a merchant, how careful are we to inform ourselves, to examine, to advise with our friends? What measures do we not observe? What precautions do we not take? We think we can never be too sure. But when we are to spend a little time for salvation, we think a very little too much.
Salvation is the business of eternity, but it must be done in time; and we have need of all our time for it; God gives us our whole life to think of it; he judged it was all little enough, but we imagine it may be done in less.
If we spend in working out our salvation the hundredth part of the time and pains we throw away in worldly business, we should soon be great saints. This is the only necessary business we can have, and yet we hardly allot a little time for it, nay, we grudge it even that little.
By our proceedings one would think that we believe God our debtor, and obliged to us for saved.
If a man of business or letters pass one whole day in acquitting himself of the duties of a Christian, he looks upon that day is lost; but we spend whole months in vain studies, or in worldly business, and call this spending the time well.
Salvation is our great and chief business; now a man's chief business takes up all his thoughts, and hardly gives him time to think of any other; and if this succeeds he comforts himself for the miscarriage of the rest.
We commonly put off the care of our salvation to our last sickness; that is, we put off the business of eternity, the most important business we have, and which requires all our lives, to a time when we are incapable of following the slightest business in the world, when we are indeed incapable of anything.
Is God mistaken, who tells us, this only is of consequence? Is he deceived in the disposition of his Providence, and in all his care, which tends only to this? Is he, in whom are all good things, and who is all himself, so little to be valued, that we can be indifferent whether we lose him or no? Whence is all that Weeping, that cruel despair of the damned souls, if what they have lost be not worth our seeking? If everlasting misery be so slight a business, why do we tremble at the thoughts of eternity? and if we believe it so terrible, how can we be at rest while we are so careless about it, and in so much danger?
My God! How many days of grace have I abused? How many precious hours have I let pass unprofitably? Wretch that I am, to spend so much time in doing nothing: But how much more wretched shall I be if I do not now at length begin seriously to work out my salvation?
What do I stay for? For a proper time. Alas! That time perhaps is already past for me. Do I stay till thou callest me? Thou hast never ceased to do it. Oh! How long hast thou solicited me to no purpose? Shall this reiterated grace thou givest me now be in vain?
How long shall I spend the best part of my life in vain amusements, which I myself condemn; and do I condemn them only to aggravate my guilt, by losing that time in the pursuit of them which I ought to employ for heaven?
How long shall I fancy those things necessary which are of no use for the next life, while I neglect only the business of eternity?
My God, how great will my despair and confusion be upon a deathbed if I continue to live as I have done hitherto, when all the means and opportunities I have had of securing my salvation, when this present opportunity, and the thoughts I now have of doing it, present themselves to my memory?
O my God, since thou hast not yet punished me, though I deserved punishment, I trust thou wilt not refuse me the assistance of Thy grace, though I am unworthy of it. Since this is the day designed for my conversion, the present resolution shall not be like the rest. I believe, I am fully persuaded, I am sensible, that there is but One Thing Necessary, that Eternal Salvation is the only business that concerns me, and I am determined to begin this day to apply myself seriously to it.
Consider that our eternal salvation is not only the greatest, but the only business we have, to which we ought to apply ourselves entirely lest we should do it ill. Whatever else we call great business is not properly business, at least not ours; they concern others more than us, and we labor more for our posterity than for ourselves.
We may get others to do them for us, and we may let them along, without being everlastingly unhappy, but we must work out our salvation ourselves, and we are lost without recovery if we neglect it . This is that One Thing of which our Saviour speaks so often; this is our only business: Only, becasue this alone is of such mighty consequence, the success whereof depends on us; only, because no other deserves all our care; only, because it requires all our care, (and because we may do it if we will.)
It is equally the only business of all the world, of the king in the government of his kingdom, of the prelate in the administration of his diocese, of the learned in their studies, of the soldier in the war, of the merchant in his trade, of the artisan in his calling. 'Tis not necessary for a man to be a king, a prelate, soldier, a merchant, or a tradesman, a scholar, or a man of business, but 'tis absolutely necessary for him to be saved.
In other matters we have always some recourse in this life, or in the next, but there is none in this; he who has done this, has done nothing, and will never be in a condition to do it again: He who is damned, is damned forever.
What reception would an ambassador deserve from his master, who at his return from his embassy should give an account of the great things he had done during his absence, of the friends he had made, the reputation he had gained, the riches he had acquired, and how well he had diverted himself; in fine, that he had done everything but the business he was sent to do?
God has sent us into the world only to work out our salvation; this was his sole design in creating us, this is his sole design in preserving us; will he be satisfied with our telling him when we come to die, Lord, we have done great things, we have been in great repute in the world, we have got large estates, we have been in instrumental in the salvation of our neighbors, we have neglected nothing but our own salvation, we have done everything, but that One Thing for which Thou hast sent us into the world? And yet this is all the account the greatest part of mankind is able to give, because 'tis at this rate the greatest part of mankind live. And if we were now to appear before God could we give any other account?
Is all this true? Is there such an eternity? Is life given us only to prepare for it? If I lose my soul can I ever recover it? And shall I certainly lose it if I live as the greatest part of the world do, and as I have done hitherto? Shall I wish at my last hour that I had lived otherwise? That I had done what I could, and what I ought to have done? And will all those things that take me up now, seem vain and trifling then?
My God! Do we indeed believe this our great business? The devils and the damned have as good or stronger speculative belief than we, but do we reduce our faith to practice, which is the science of the saints?
Is it possible that other men's business should take me up, that worldly things, recreations and compliments, should have all our time, while the business of our salvation is the least minded, as if it did not concern us?
What are we the better for being endued with reason, if we make no use of it in the business of our salvation, for which alone God bestowed it on us? Alas! we in a manner wear it out in prosecuting trivial designs, we are proud of it in matters of no moment, we value ourselves upon our prudential conduct, and wise counsels in business; but we neglect the real use of it and we act the matters of eternity as if we wanted common-sense.
And (which is yet more surprising) we are all agreed in the importance of salvation, and the vanity of everything else; yet we apply ourselves only to seek those vanities, and are negligent in nothing but the business of salvation.
We are all conceited of our wisdom and capacity in business; every man pretends to understand it; we think ignorance in business, or neglect of it, shows want of sense and breeding, and that our reputation depends upon it; but if we neglect nothing but our salvation, if we live as unconcernedly as if we had no soul to lose, we are so far from blushing or hiding our carelessness, that we glory in it; and though we are never so indevout and irregular, we pass for very honest men; and if we understand the world, and know how to be successful in it, we are accounted wise.
'Tis an affront to tell a man that he does not understand his business; but 'tis no disgrace to be accused of negligence in the business of salvation; surely we do not look upon it as our business: My God! When did this one thing necessary cease to be so?
We can lose our souls with all the tranquility in the world, and we are reasonable creatures in everything that does not concern us; we do not deny that the saints were truly wise, yet all their wisdom consists in preferring their salvation to everything else, in esteeming it their only business.
Are we wiser than they, that our actions are so contrary to theirs? They spent their whole lives in preparing for eternity; to what end did they take so much pains, and spend so much time, for what we pretend to do with so much ease? Miserable, unthinking, wretches that we are, to allow so little time for what requires it all.
Have we found a new way to heaven, whereof the Son of God was ignorant? Or is the price of heaven fallen? And is that happiness, which cost the blood of Christ to purchase, became of less value?
What are now the sentiments of those famous statesmen whom we esteem the greatest politicians? Of those extraordinary men who were always busy in pacifying or troubling the world, which their heads were always full of. Those men of riches, as the scripture calls them, who lived without thinking on eternity, and who after an uninterrupted success in all their other business, have miscarried only in this great business of salvation? They are not damned for laziness and sloth; on the contrary, they owe their ruin to too much useless business; they were so busy that their very sleeps were broken by their cares, and they have lost themselves by labouring in what did not concern them, by taking too much pains about nothing, while they neglected their only real business; and 'tis by this that the greatest part of mankind are lost.
And shall not I increase the number of the lost if I continued to live as I have done? What have I done for Heaven? What have I not done to deprive myself of it? I have been careful of everything but my soul, and I act as if its ruin were nothing to me. But I trust in thy mercy, o my God, that the change of my life shall manifest that my heart is changed; I will save my soul; the care of my salvation requires all my diligence, and it shall have it all; I humbly beseech thee to give me thy grace to recover what I have lost, as thou hast given me time for it; I am sensible that this is my only business; I am resolved to do it, let thy grace make me successful.