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Mercy First

Christ is come, but first to save, then to judge: to adjudge to punishment those who would not be saved; to bring them to life who, by believing, did not reject salvation. Accordingly, the first dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ is medicinal, not judicial; for if He had come to judge first, He would have found none on whom He might bestow the rewards of righteousness. Because, therefore, He saw that all were sinners, and that none was exempt from the death of sin, His mercy had first to be craved, and afterwards His judgment must be executed; for of Him the psalm had sung, “Mercy and judgment will I sing to Thee, O Lord” (Psalm 101:1).

Now, He says “not judgment and mercy,” for if judgment had been first, there would be no mercy; but it is mercy first, then judgment. What is the mercy first?

The Creator of man deigned to become man; was made what He had made, that the creature He had made might not perish. What can be added to this mercy? And yet He has added thereto. It was not enough for Him to be made man, He added to this that He was rejected of men; it was not enough to be rejected, He was dishonored; it was not enough to be dishonored, He was put to death; but even this was not enough, it was by the death of the cross.

For when the apostle was commending to us His obedience even unto death, it was not enough for him to say, “He became obedient unto death;” for it was not unto death of any kind whatever: but he added, “even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Among all kinds of death, there was nothing worse than that death.

—Augustine
NPNF, 7:209.