Happy the man in whose soul the Lord Jesus once set his feet of justice and mercy. There are two signs by which you can recognize such an individual, for he cannot but bear upon himself the imprint of these divine footsteps. These signs are fear and hope, the former presenting the imprint of judgment, the latter, that of mercy. Truly, the Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him and in them that hope in his mercy, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; hope, the growth of wisdom.
But you must be aware of one thing: that you do not neglect either of these feet. If, for instance, you feel deep sorrow for your sins along with the fear of judgment, you have pressed your lips on the imprint of truth and judgment. But if you temper that fear and sorrow with the thought of God’s goodness and the hope of obtaining his pardon, you will realize that you have embraced the foot of his mercy. It is clearly inexpedient to kiss one without the other; a man who thinks only of judgment will fall into the pit of despair, another who deceitfully flatters God’s mercy gives birth to pernicious security.
I myself, however wretched I may be, have been occasionally privileged to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and to the extent that his merciful love allowed, have embraced with all my heart, now one, now the other, of these feet. And if, as happened at times, I should grow forgetful of his mercy, and with a stricken conscience become too deeply involved in the thought of judgment, sooner or later I was cast down in unbelievable fear and shameful misery, enveloped in frightful gloom. But is on escaping from this I should cling more than was becomi9ng to the foot of mercy, the opposite happened: I became dissipated, indifferent, negligent; lukewarm at prayer, languid at work.
But you know what a teacher experience is; no longer of judgment alone or mercy alone, but of mercy and judgment I will sing to you, O Lord. I shall never forget your precepts, mercy; and judgment shall be the theme of my songs in the house of my pilgrimage, until one day when mercy triumphs over judgment, my wretchedness will cease to smart, and my heart, silent no longer, will sing to you. It will be the end of sorrow.
Bernard of Clairvaux, from Sermon 6 On the Song of Songs (CF 4, pp 36-37)