The great friend of God, Abraham, had by Sara his chief wife a most dear only son, Isaac, who also was his sole heir: and though he had Ismael by Agar, and several other children by Cetura, who were wives of a servile and inferior condition, yet he bestowed upon these only certain presents and legacies whereby to put them off and disinherit them, because not being acknowledged by his chief wife, they could not succeed him: now they were not acknowledged, because, with regard to the children of Cetura, they were all born after Sara's decease; and as for Ismael, though his mother Agar had at first acted by the authority of Sara her mistress, yet afterwards she despised her mistress, and would not allow Sara's rights over the child. Now, Theotimus, it is only the children, that is the acts, of most holy charity, and the children or acts which the other virtues conceive and bring forth under her commandment and direction, or at least under the wings and favour of her presence, which are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. But when the moral virtues, or even the supernatural virtues, produce their actions in the absence of charity, as they do amongst schismatics, according to S. Augustine, and sometimes amongst bad Catholics, they are of no value towards Paradise, not even alms-giving, though it should lead us to distribute all our goods to the poor, nor yet martyrdom, though we should deliver our body to the flames to be burnt. No, Theotimus, without charity, says the Apostle, all this profiteth nothing; as we show more amply elsewhere. Further, when in the production of moral virtue the will proves disobedient to her mistress, which is charity (as when by pride, vanity, temporal interest, or some other bad motive, virtues are turned from their own nature), then those actions are driven out and banished from Abraham's house and Sara's society, that is, they are deprived of the fruit and of the privileges of charity, and consequently are left without worth or merit. For those actions, thus infected by a bad intention, are in fact more vicious than virtuous; they have virtue only on their outside; their interior belongs to vice, which serves them for a motive; witness the fastings, offerings, and other actions of the Pharisee.
But finally, besides all this, as the Israelites lived peaceably in Egypt during the life of Joseph and of Levi, and directly after the death of Levi were tyrannically reduced to slavery -- whence arose that proverb of the Jews: One of the brothers being deceased, the others are oppressed: [as is related in the great Chronology of the Hebrews, published by the learned Archbishop of Aix, Gilbert Genebrard, whom I name for honour and with consolation, having been his disciple, though an unworthy one, when he was Royal Reader at Paris, and was explaining the Canticle of Canticles] -- so the merits and fruits, as well of moral as of Christian virtues, most sweetly and tranquilly subsist in the soul while sacred love lives and reigns therein; but as soon as divine love dies, all the merits and fruits of other virtues die at once. These are the works which divines call killed (mortifiées), because, having been born alive under the protection of charity, and, like Ismael, in the family of Abraham, they afterwards lose life and the right of inheritance by the disobedience and rebellion of the human will, which is their mother.
Alas! Theotimus, what an evil! If the just man turn himself away from his justice, and do iniquity according to all the abominations which the wicked man useth to work, shall he live? All his justices which he hath done shall not be remembered: in the prevarication by which he hath prevaricated, and in the sin which he hath committed, in them he shall die, says Our Lord in Ezechiel. So that mortal sin ruins all the merit of virtues: because, as for those which are performed while sin reigns in the soul, they are born so dead that they are for ever useless towards eternal bliss; and as for those which were performed before the sin was committed, that is, while sacred love lived in the soul, their value and merit perish and die as soon as sin comes, not being able to preserve their life after the death of charity which had given it to them. The lake which profane authors commonly call Asphaltites, and sacred authors the Dead Sea, has so heavy a curse upon it, that nothing that is put into it can live: when the fish of the Jordan come near it they die, unless they speedily return against the stream; the trees upon its shore produce nothing that lives, and although their fruits are in appearance and outward show like the fruits of other places, yet when gathered they are found to be only skins and rinds full of ashes, which are blown away by the wind: -- a sign of the infamous sins, in punishment of which, this country, which contained four populous cities, was of old converted into an abyss of corruption and infection: and nothing, methinks, could better represent the evilness of sin than this abominable lake, which had its origin from the most execrable crime human flesh can commit. Sin, therefore, as a dead and mortal sea, kills all that comes near it; nothing has life of all that is born in the soul which sin possesses, or of all which grows round about. Alas! Theotimus, nothing. For sin is not only a lead work, but is moreover so infectious and pestilential, that the most excellent virtues of the sinful soul produce no action of life: and although the acts of the sinner have oftentimes a great resemblance to those of the just man, yet are they in reality but rinds filled with wind and dust, regarded, indeed, by the divine goodness, and even rewarded with temporal presents, which are bestowed upon them as upon the children of servants; but rinds which neither are nor can be of so agreeable a relish to the divine justice as to be rewarded with eternal reward. They perish on the trees, and cannot be preserved in the hand of God, because they are void of true worth, as is said in the Apocalypse to the Bishop of Sardis, who was considered to be a living tree by reason of divers virtues which he practised, and yet was dead, because he was in sin; his virtues were not true living fruits, but dead rinds and pleasing only to the eye, not savoury apples good for food. So that we may all utter this true saying, in imitation of the holy apostle: Without charity I am nothing, nothing profiteth me; and that of St. Augustine: |Put charity in a heart and everything profits, take charity away and nothing profits.| I mean that nothing profits for eternal life, for as we say elsewhere, the virtuous works of sinners are not useless for temporal life. But, my dear Theotimus, what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world temporally and suffer the loss of his soul eternally.