If you wanted to invite someone to repent, to count on the mercy and grace of God to blot out their darkest sins, where would you take them in the Bible? Most of us would start flipping to the New Testament. Maybe we would lead them to Jesus’ words in the Gospels, or to the epistles of Paul or John.
But Cyril of Jerusalem was not like us. Charged with preparing candidates for baptism during the season of Lent, the fourth-century bishop delivered a series of catechetical lectures designed to walk folks through the essentials of the faith. His second lecture, “On Repentance, the Remission of Sin, and the Adversary,” is largely devoted to calling listeners to repentance by assuring them “the sum of our sins does not surpass the magnitude of God’s mercies.”
All he does for about 10 pages is hit his hearers with a battery of Old Testament stories of God’s persistent determination to forgive the worst of our sins.
Kicking things off, he asks, “Would you see the loving-kindness of God and the extent of His forbearance?” He proceeds to recount Adam’s grievous fall into sin and God’s gracious restoration. In Cyril’s telling, even the punishment of exile from the Garden of Eden was a mercy designed to lead Adam to repentance. The bishop also mentions God’s mercy on Cain—the world’s first murderer!—whom he marked out to be spared for his crimes (Gen. 4:12). Even in the Flood account, Cyril spots God’s kindness, arguing that in delaying the deluge, God granted “a reprieve for repentance,” even though no one took advantage of it.
Concerned that any women in the crowd borne down with shame and possibly coming from a background ...1
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