To understand this first and great effect of grace, I must know what sin is; and to grasp sin in its fullness, I must comprehend God. To see the heinousness of what is done against Him, I must first realize what He is Himself. I have to go through all my ideas of God, my ideas of His majesty, His power, His tenderness, His justice, and His mercy. I have got to realize all that He has done for man before I can take in the meaning of man’s actions against God.
I have to be conscious of the Incarnation; the story of that perfect life; the privations of it; the culminating horror of the Passion and death, then of the Resurrection; the patient teaching of those forty days when He spoke of the kingdom of God, which He was setting up on earth; and the Ascension, which did not mean an end, but only the beginning of His work for men on earth. At once there opened the wonderful stream of graces which flow through the sacraments, and which therefore make His abiding presence continuous upon the world, until its consummation, for the Blessed Sacrament only adds to the wonders of the tenderness and mercy of God. In Heaven, by ever trying to make intercession for us, on earth, by holding out through the sacraments countless ways of grace, this tenderness and mercy shows us something at least of the perfect character of God. Now, it is against one so perfect, so tender, so divine, that sin is committed—a wanton, brutal outrage against an almost overfond love; ingratitude, treachery, and disloyalty united in the basest form.
God is just, as well as merciful, so there has to be an immediate result of sin. Man might see no difference between himself before and after he had sinned; but for all that, a great difference is set up. His soul had been on terms of friendship with God, for it had turned irresistibly to Him, as a flower growing in a dark place turns irresistibly to where the hardy daylight makes its way into the gloom. When a person sins, that friendship is at once broken, for sin means that the soul has deliberately turned its back upon God and is facing the other way, and thus it has been able, by some fatal power, to prevent God’s everlasting love from having any effect upon it. God cannot hate; but we can stop His love from touching us.
At once, then, by grievous sin the soul becomes despoiled of its supernatural goods: sanctifying grace, which is the pledge and expression of God’s friendship, naturally is banished; charity, which is nothing else than the love of God; the infused virtues; and the gifts are all taken away. Only faith and hope survive, but emptied of their richness of life. Externally no difference; but internally, friendship with God, the right to the eternal heritage, the merits heretofore stored up—all lost. Even God Himself goes out from the midst of the soul, as the Romans heard the voice crying from the temple just before its destruction: “Let us go hence. Let us go hence.”
Grace, then, operates to restore all these lost wonders. Sin itself is forgiven; all the ingratitude and disloyalty are put on one side; not simply in the sense that God forgets them, or chooses not to consider them, but in the sense that they are completely wiped away. It is the parable of the Good Shepherd where the sheep is brought back again into the fold, and mixes freely with the others who have never left the presence of their Master. It is the parable of the prodigal son taken back into his father’s embrace.
That is what the forgiveness of sin implies. God is once more back again in the soul. He had always been there as the Creator without whose supporting hand the soul would be back in its nothingness; but He is now there again as Father and Master and Friend. Not only the saints who have been endowed with a genius for divine things, but every simple soul that has had its sins forgiven comes at once into that embrace. We are far too apt to look upon forgiveness as a merely negative thing, a removal, a cleansing, and not enough as a return to something great and good and beautiful, the triumphant entrance into our souls of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.