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St. Francis de Sales on the Law and the Just Man

3 min • Digitized on December 12, 2021

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 67
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


You ask me the meaning of the Apostle’s saying that the law is not made for the just man. [1 Tim. i. 9.] Can any man be just unless he accommodate his actions to the rule of the law? Is it not in the observance of the law that true justice consists?

Our Blessed Father explains this passage so clearly and delicately in his Theotimus that I will quote his words for you. He says:

In truth the just man is not just, save inasmuch as he has love. And if he have love, there is no need to threaten him by the rigour of the law, love being the most insistent of all teachers, and ever urging the heart which it possesses to obey the will and the intention of the beloved.

Love is a magistrate who exercises his authority without noise and without police. Its instrument is mutual complacency, by which, as we find pleasure in God, so also we desire to please Him.

Permit me to add to these excellent words a reminder which ought not, I think, to be unprofitable to you.

Some imagine that it is enough to observe the law of God in order to save our souls, obeying the command of our Lord: Do this, that is to say, the law, and you shall live, [Luke xi. 28.] without attempting to determine the motive which impels them to observe the law.

Now the truth is that some observe the law of God from a servile spirit, and only for fear of losing their souls. Others chiefly from a mercenary spirit for the sake of the reward promised to those who keep it, and, as our Blessed Father says very happily:

Many keep the Commandments as medicines are taken, rather that they may escape eternal death than that they may live so as to please our Saviour.

One of his favourite sayings was:

It is better to fear God from love than to love Him from fear.

He says also:

There are people who, however pleasant a medicament may be, feel a repugnance when required to take it, simply from the fact of its being medicine. So also there are souls which conceive an absolute antipathy to anything they are commanded to do, only because they are so commanded.

As soon, however, as the love of God is shed forth in the heart by the Holy Spirit, then the burden of the law becomes sweet, and its yoke light, because of the extreme desire of that heart to please God by the observance of His precepts. He goes on to say:

There is no labour where love is, or if there be any, it is a labour of love. Labour mingled with love is a certain bitter-sweet, more pleasant to the palate than that which is merely sweet.

Thus then does heavenly love conform us to the will of God and make us carefully observe His commandments, this being the will of His Divine Majesty, Whom we desire to please.

So that this complacency with its sweet and amiable violence anticipates the necessity of obeying which the law imposes upon us, converting that necessity into the virtue of love, and every difficulty into delight.

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