The Attributes of God – The Contemplation of God

The Contemplation of God

The divine nature

IN THE PREVIOUS STUDIES WE HAVE HAD IN REVIEW SOME of the wondrous and lovely perfections of the divine character. From this most feeble and faulty contemplation of His attributes, it should be evident to us all that God is—First, an incomprehensible Being, and, lost in wonder at His infinite greatness, we are constrained to adopt the words of Zophar, “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea” (Job 11:7-9). When we turn our thoughts to God’s eternity, His immateriality, His omnipresence, His almightiness, our minds are overwhelmed.

The study of the Deity

But the incomprehensibility of the divine nature is not a reason why we should desist from reverent inquiry and prayerful strivings to apprehend what He has so graciously revealed of Himself in His Word. Because we are unable to acquire perfect knowledge, it would be folly to say we will therefore make no efforts to attain to any degree of it. It has been well said:

Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued, investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity (C.H. Spurgeon).

Let us quote a little further from this prince of preachers:

The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-contentment, and go on our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, “I am but of yesterday and know nothing” (Sermon on Mal 3:6).

Yes, the incomprehensibility of the divine nature should teach us humility, caution, and reverence. Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Wrath of God

The Wrath of God

IT IS SAD INDEED TO FIND SO MANY PROFESSING CHRISTIANS who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or who at least wish there were no such thing. While some who would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the divine wrath that makes it too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

God does not conceal the facts

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the divine character or some blot upon the divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the facts concerning His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is:

See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me (Deut 32:39-41).

A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; and because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner (Psa 7:11).

Now the wrath of God is as much a divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if “wrath” were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Love of God to Us

The Love of God to Us

BY “US” WE MEAN HIS PEOPLE. ALTHOUGH WE READ OF THE love “which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39), Holy Writ knows nothing of a love of God outside of Christ. “The LORD is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psa 145:9), so that He provides the ravens with food. “He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35), and His providence ministers unto the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). But His love is reserved for His elect. That is unequivocally established by its characteristics, for the attributes of His love are identical with Himself. Necessarily so, for “God is love.”

The love of God in Christ

In making that postulate it is but another way to say God’s love is like Himself, from everlasting to everlasting— immutable. Nothing is more absurd than to imagine that anyone beloved of God can eternally perish or shall ever experience His everlasting vengeance. Since the love of God is “in Christ Jesus,” it was attracted by nothing in its objects, nor can it be repelled by anything in, of, or by them. “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). The “world” in John 3:16 is a general term used in contrast with the Jews, and the verse must be interpreted so as not to contradict Psalms 5:5; 6:7; John 3:36; Romans 9:13.

The chief design of God is to commend the love of God in Christ, for He is the sole channel through which it flows. The Son has not induced the Father to love His people, but rather was it His love for them which moved Him to give His Son for them. Ralph Erskine said:

God hath taken a marvelous way to manifest His love. When He would show His power, He makes a world. When He would display His wisdom, He puts it in a frame and form that discovers its vastness. When He would manifest the grandeur and glory of His name, He makes a heaven, and puts angels and archangels, principalities and powers therein. And when He would manifest His love, what will He not do? God hath taken a great and marvelous way of manifesting it in Christ: His person, His blood, His death, His righteousness.

“All the promises of God in Him [Christ] are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God” (II Cor 1:20). As we were chosen in Christ (Eph 1:4), as we were accepted in Him (Eph 1:6), as our life is hid in Him (Col 3:3), so are we beloved in Him—”the love of God which is in Christ Jesus”: in Him as our Head and Husband, which is why nothing can separate us therefrom, for that union is indissoluble.

God’s love to the saints

Nothing so warms the heart of the saint as a spiritual contemplation of God’s love. Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Love of God

The Love of God

The nature of God

THERE ARE THREE THINGS TOLD US IN SCRIPTURE concerning the nature of God. First, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). In the Greek there is no indefinite article, and to say “God is a spirit” is most objectionable, for it places Him in a class with others. God is “spirit” in the highest sense. Because He is “spirit” He is incorporeal, having no visible substance. Had God a tangible body, He would not be omnipresent, He would be limited to one place; because He is “spirit” He fills heaven and earth. Secondly, “God is light” (I John 1:5), which is the opposite of darkness. In Scripture “darkness” stands for sin, evil, death, and “light” for holiness, goodness, life. “God is light” means that He is the sum of all excellency. Thirdly, “God is love” (I John 4:8). It is not simply that God “loves,” but that He is Love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.

There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him.

The character and blessedness of God’s love

1. The love of God is uninfluenced. By this we mean, there was nothing whatever in the objects of His love to call it into exercise, nothing in the creature to attract or prompt it. The love which one creature has for another is because of something in the object; but the love of God is free, Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Lovingkindness of God

The Lovingkindness of God

WE PROPOSE TO ENGAGE THE READER WITH ANOTHER OF His excellencies—of which every Christian receives innumerable proofs. We turn to a consideration of God’s lovingkindness because our aim is to maintain a due proportion in treating of the divine perfections, for all of us are apt to entertain one-sided views of them. A balance must be preserved here (as everywhere), as it appears in those two statements of the divine attributes, “God is light” (I John 1:5), “God is love” (I John 4:8). The sterner, more awe-inspiring aspects of the divine character are offset by the gentler, more winsome ones. It is to our irreparable loss if we dwell exclusively on God’s sovereignty and majesty, or His holiness and justice; we need to meditate frequently, though not exclusively, on His goodness and mercy. Nothing short of a full- orbed view of the divine perfections—as revealed in Holy Writ—should satisfy us.

The innumerable blessings on the Christian

Scripture speaks of “the multitude of His lovingkindnesses,” and who is capable of numbering them? (Isa 63:7). Said the Psalmist, “How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God!” (36:7). No pen of man, no tongue of angel, can adequately express it. Familiar as this blessed attribute of God’s may be to people, it is something entirely peculiar to divine revelation. None of the ancients ever dreamed of investing his “gods” with such endearing perfection as this. None of the objects worshipped by present-day heathen possess gentleness and tenderness; very much the reverse is true, as the hideous features of their idols exhibit. Philosophers regard it as a serious reflection upon the honour of the Absolute to ascribe such qualities to it. But the Scriptures have much to say about God’s lovingkindness, or His paternal favor to His people, His tender affection toward them.

The first time this divine perfection is mentioned in the Word is in that wondrous manifestation of Deity to Moses, when Jehovah proclaimed His “Name,” i.e., Himself as made known. “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo 34:6), though much more frequently the Hebrew word, chesed, is rendered “kindness” and “lovingkindness.” In our English Bibles the initial reference, as connected with God, is Psalm 17:7, where David prayed, “Shew Thy marvelous lovingkindness, O Thou that savest by Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Mercy of God

The Mercy of God

God’s mercy originates in His goodness

“O GIVE THANKS UNTO THE LORD: FOR HE IS GOOD: FOR His mercy endureth for ever” (Psa 136:1). For this perfection of the divine character God is greatly to be praised. Three times over in as many verses does the Psalmist here call upon the saints to give thanks unto the Lord for this adorable attribute. And surely this is the least that can be asked for  from those  who  have  been  recipients  of  such  bounty.  When  we  contemplate  the  characteristics  of  this  divine excellency, we cannot do otherwise than bless God for it. His mercy is “great” (I Kings 3:6), “plenteous” (Psa 86:5), “tender” (Luke 1:78), “abundant” (I Peter 1:3); it is “from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him” (Psa 103:17). Well may we say with the Psalmist, “I will sing aloud of Thy mercy” (59:16).

“I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exo 33:19). Wherein differs the “mercy” of God from His “grace”? The mercy of God has its spring in the divine goodness. The first issue of God’s goodness is his benignity or bounty, by which He gives liberally to His creatures as creatures; thus has He given being and life to all things. The second issue of God’s goodness is His mercy, which denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, mercy presupposes sin.

Though it may not be easy at the first consideration to perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, it helps us thereto if we carefully ponder His dealings with the unfallen angels. He has never exercised mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need thereof, not having sinned or come beneath the effects of the curse. Yet, they certainly are the objects of God’s free and sovereign grace. First, because of His election of them from out of the whole angelic race (I Tim 5:21). Secondly, and in consequence of their election, because of His preservation of them from apostasy, when Satan rebelled and dragged down with him one-third of the celestial hosts (Rev 12:4). Thirdly, in making Christ their Head (Col 2:10; I Peter 3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the holy condition in which they were created. Fourthly, because of the exalted position which has been assigned them: to live in God’s immediate presence (Dan 7:10), to serve Him constantly in His heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from Him (Heb 1:14). This is abundant grace toward them; but “mercy” it is not.

In endeavoring to study the mercy of God as it is set forth in Scripture, a threefold distinction needs to be made, if the Word of Truth is to be “rightly divided” thereon. First, there is a general mercy of God, which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation: “His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psa 145:9); “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). God has pity upon the brute creation in their need, and supplies them with suitable provision. Secondly, there is a special mercy of God, which is exercised toward the children  of  men,  helping  and  succoring  them,  notwithstanding  their  sins.  To  them  also  He  communicates  all  the necessities of life: “for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”  (Matt  5:45).  Thirdly,  there  is  a  sovereign  mercy  which  is  reserved  for  the  heirs  of  salvation,  which  is communicated to them in a covenant way, through the Mediator.

The bestowing of His mercy

Following out a little further the difference between the second and third distinctions pointed out above, it is important to note that the mercies which God bestows on the wicked are solely of a temporal nature; that is to say, they are confined strictly to this present life. There will be no mercy extended to them beyond the grave: “It is a people of no understanding: therefore He that made them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will show them no favor” (Isa 27:11). But at this point a difficulty may suggest itself to some of our readers, namely, Does not Scripture affirm that “His mercy endureth for ever” (Psa 136:1)? Two things need to be pointed out in that connection. God can never cease to be merciful, for this is a quality of the divine essence (Psa 116:5); but the exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will. This must be so, for there is nothing outside Himself which obliges Him to act; if there were, that “something” would be supreme, and God would cease to be God .

It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of divine mercy. God expressly affirms this fact in Romans 9:15, “For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them. But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so to do. Still less is it the merits of the creatures which causes Him to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of meriting “mercy.” “ Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5)—the one standing in direct antithesis to the other. Nor is it the merit of Christ which moves God to bestow mercies on His elect: that would be substituting the effect for the cause. It is “through” or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Luke 1:78). The merits of Christ make it possible for God to righteously bestow spiritual mercies on His elect, justice having been fully satisfied by the Surety! No, mercy arises solely from God’s imperial pleasure.

Who shall receive God’s mercies?

Again, though it be true, blessedly and gloriously true, that God’s mercy “endureth for ever,” yet we must observe carefully the objects to whom His “mercy” is shown. Even the casting of the reprobate into the Lake of Fire is an act of mercy. The punishment of the wicked is to be contemplated from a threefold viewpoint. From God’s side, it is an act of justice, vindicating His honour. The mercy of God is never shown to the prejudice of His holiness and righteousness. From their side, it is an act of equity, when they are made to suffer the due reward of their iniquities. But from the standpoint of the redeemed, the punishment of the wicked is an act of unspeakable mercy. How dreadful would it be if the present order of things, when the children of God are obliged to live in the midst of the children of the Devil, should continue for ever! Heaven would at once cease to be heaven if the ears of the saints still heard the blasphemous and filthy language of the reprobate. What a mercy that in the New Jerusalem “there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination” (Rev 21:27)!

Lest the reader might think in the last paragraph we have been drawing upon our imagination, let us appeal to Holy Scripture in support of what has been said. In Psalm 143:12 we find David praying, “And of Thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am Thy servant.” Again, in Psalm 136:15 we read that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for His mercy endureth for ever.” It was an act of vengeance upon Pharaoh and his host, but it was an act of mercy unto the Israelites. Again, in Revelation 19:1-3 we read:

I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.

From what has just been before us, let us note how vain is the presumptuous hope of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their continued defiance of God, nevertheless count upon His being merciful to them. How many there are who say, I do not believe that God will ever cast me into Hell; He is too merciful. Such a hope is a viper, which if cherished in their bosoms will sting them to death. God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and He has expressly declared that He will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exo 34:7). Yea, He has said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psa 9:17). As well might men reason thus: I do not believe that if filth be allowed to accumulate and sewage become stagnant and people deprive themselves of fresh air, that a merciful God will let them fall a prey to a deadly fever. The fact is that those who neglect the laws of health are carried away by disease, notwithstanding God’s mercy. Equally true is it that those who neglect the laws of spiritual health shall forever suffer the second death.

Unspeakably solemn is it to see so many abusing this divine perfection. They continue to despise God’s authority, trample upon His laws, continue in sin, and yet presume upon His mercy. But God will not be unjust to Himself. God shows mercy to the truly penitent, but not to the impenitent (Luke 13:3). To continue in sin and yet reckon upon divine mercy remitting punishment is diabolical. It is saying, “Let us do evil that good may come,” and of all such it is written that their “damnation is just” (Rom 3:8). Presumption shall most certainly be disappointed; read carefully Deuteronomy 29:18-20. Christ is the spiritual Mercyseat, and all who despise and reject His Lordship shall “perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psa 2:12).

But let our final thought be of God’s spiritual mercies unto His own people. “Thy mercy is great unto the heavens” (Psa 57:10). The riches thereof transcend our loftiest thought. “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him” (Psa 103:11). None can measure it. The elect are designated “vessels of mercy” (Rom 9:23). It is mercy that quickened them when they were dead in sins (Eph 2:4,5). It is mercy that saves them (Titus 3:5). It is His abundant mercy which begat them unto an eternal inheritance (I Peter 1:3). Time would fail us to tell of His preserving, sustaining, pardoning, supplying mercy. Unto His own, God is “the Father of mercies” (II Cor 1:3).

When all Thy mercies, O my God, My rising soul surveys,

Transported with the view I’m lost, In wonder, love, and praise.”

© Copyright 1993 by Chapel Library (this edition), Pensacola, Florida

The Attributes of God – The Grace of God

The Grace of God

A perfection of the divine character

GRACE IS A PERFECTION OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER WHICH is exercised only toward the elect. Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is the grace of God ever mentioned in connection with mankind generally, still less with the lower orders of His creatures. In this it is distinguished from “mercy,” for the mercy of God is “over all His works” (Psa 145:9). Grace is the sole source from which flows the goodwill, love, and salvation of God unto His chosen people. This attribute of the divine character was defined by Abraham Booth in his helpful book The Reign of Grace thus:

It is the eternal and absolute free favor of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy.

Divine grace is the sovereign and saving favor of God exercised in the bestowment of blessings upon those who have no merit in them and for which no compensation is demanded from them. Nay, more; it is the favor of God shown to those who not only have no positive deserts of their own, but who are thoroughly ill-deserving and hell-deserving. It is completely unmerited and unsought, and is altogether unattracted by anything in or from or by the objects upon which it is bestowed. Grace can neither be bought, earned, nor won by the creature. If it could be, it would cease to be grace. When a thing is said to be of “grace,” we mean that the recipient has no claim upon it, that it was in nowise due him. It comes to him as pure charity, and, at first, unasked and undesired.

The fullest exposition of the amazing grace of God is to be found in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. In his writings “grace” stands in direct opposition to works and worthiness, all works and worthiness, of whatever kind or degree. This is abundantly clear from Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.” Grace and works will no more unite than an acid and an alkali. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8,9). The absolute favor of God can no more consist with human merit than oil and water will fuse into one (see also Rom 4:4,5).

There are three principal characteristics of divine grace. First, it is eternal. Grace was planned before it was exercised, purposed before it was imparted: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Tim 1:9). Continue reading

The Attributes of God – The Patience of God

The Patience of God

FAR LESS HAS BEEN WRITTEN UPON THIS THAN THE OTHER excellencies of the divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the divine perfections as is His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance as frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto.

Most probably the principal reason why so many writers have failed to give us anything, separately, upon the patience of God was because of the difficulty of distinguishing this attribute from the divine goodness and mercy, particularly the latter. God’s longsuffering is mentioned in conjunction with His grace and mercy again and again, as may be seen by consulting Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, etc. That the patience of God is really a display of His mercy, that it is indeed one way in which it is frequently manifested, cannot be denied. But that patience and mercy are one and the same excellency, and are not to be separated, we cannot concede. It may not be easy to discriminate between them, nevertheless, Scripture fully warrants us in affirming some things about the one which we cannot about the other.

God’s patience prevails

Stephen Charnock, the Puritan, defines God’s patience, in part, thus:

It is part of the divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch…from His mercy: “The Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger” (Psa 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the object: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, and patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and is giving birth to more.

Personally, we would define the divine patience as that power of control which God exercises over Himself, causing Him to bear with the wicked and forbear so long in punishing them. In Nahum 1:3 we read, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,” upon which Mr. Charnock said:

Men that are great in the world are quick in passion, and are not so ready to forgive an injury, or bear with an offender, as one of a meaner rank. It is a want of power over that man’s self that makes him do unbecoming things upon a provocation. A prince that can bridle his passions is a king over himself as well as over his subjects. God is slow to anger because great in power. He has no less power over Himself than over His creatures.

It is at the above point, we think, that God’s patience is most clearly distinguished from His mercy. Though the creature is benefited thereby, the patience of God chiefly respects Himself, a restraint placed upon His acts by His will; whereas His mercy terminates wholly upon the creature. The patience of God is that excellency which causes Him to sustain great injuries without immediately avenging Himself. He has a power of patience as well as a power of justice. Thus the Hebrew word for the divine longsuffering is rendered “slow to anger” in Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 103:8, etc. Not that there are any passions in the divine nature, but that God’s wisdom and will is pleased to act with that stateliness and sobriety which is becoming to His exalted majesty.

In support of our definition above let us point out that it was to this excellency in the divine character that Moses appealed, when Israel sinned so grievously at Kadesh-Barnea, and there provoked Jehovah so sorely. Unto His servant the Lord said, “I will smite them with the pestilence and disinherit them.” Then it was that the mediator Moses, as a type of the Christ to come, pleaded, “I beseech Thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as Thou hast spoken saying, The LORD is longsuffering” (Num 14:17). Thus, His “ longsuffering “ is His “power” of self-restraint.

Again, in Romans 9:22 we read, “What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” Were God to immediately break these reprobate vessels into pieces, His power of self-control would not so eminently appear; by bearing with their wickedness and forbearing punishment so long, the power of His patience is gloriously demonstrated. True, the wicked interpret His longsuffering quite differently—”Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl 8:11)—but the anointed eye adores what they abuse.

“The God of patience” (Rom 15:5) is one of the divine titles. Deity is thus denominated, first, because God is both the Author and Object of the grace of patience in the saint. Secondly, because this is what He is in Himself: patience is one of His perfections. Thirdly, as a pattern for us: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering “ (Col 3:12). And again, “Be ye therefore followers [emulators] of God, as dear children” (Eph 5:1). When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself.

God’s patience—then and now

The patience of God is manifested in His dealings with sinners. How strikingly was it displayed toward the antediluvians. When mankind was universally degenerate, and all flesh had corrupted its way, God did not destroy them till He had forewarned them. He “waited” (I Peter 3:20), probably no less than 120 years (Gen 6:3), during which time Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (II Peter 2:5). So, later, when the Gentiles not only worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, but also committed the vilest abominations contrary even to the dictates of nature (Rom 1:19-26) and thereby filled up the measure of their iniquity, yet, instead of drawing His sword for the extermination of such rebels, God “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” and gave them “rain from heaven and fruitful seasons” (Acts 14:16,17).

Marvelously was God’s patience exercised and manifested toward Israel. First, He “suffered their manners” for forty years in the wilderness (Acts 13:18). Later, when they had entered Canaan, but followed the evil customs of the nations around them, and turned to idolatry, though God chastened them sorely, He did not utterly destroy them, but in their distress, raised up deliverers for them. When their iniquity was raised to such a height that none but a God of infinite patience could have borne them, He spared them many years before He allowed them to be carried down into Babylon.

Finally, when their rebellion against Him reached its climax by crucifying His Son, He waited forty years ere He sent the Romans against them, and that, only after they had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13:46).

How wondrous is God’s patience with the world today. On every side people are sinning with a high hand. The divine law is trampled under foot and God Himself openly despised. It is truly amazing that He does not instantly strike dead those who so brazenly defy Him. Why does He not suddenly cut off the haughty infidel and blatant blasphemer, as He did Ananias and Sapphira? Why does He not cause the earth to open its mouth and devour the persecutors of His people, so that, like Dathan and Abiram, they shall go down alive into the Pit? And what of apostate Christendom, where every possible form of sin is now tolerated and practiced under cover of the holy name of Christ? Why does not the righteous wrath of Heaven make an end of such abominations? Only one answer is possible: because God bears with “ much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”

And what of the writer and the reader? Let us review our own lives. It is not long since we followed a multitude to do evil, had no concern for God’s glory, and lived only to gratify self. How patiently He bore with our vile conduct! And now that grace has snatched us as brands from the burning, giving us a place in God’s family, and has begotten us unto an eternal inheritance in glory, how miserably we requite Him. How shallow our gratitude, how tardy our obedience, how frequent our backslidings! One reason why God suffers the flesh to remain in the believer is that He may exhibit His “longsuffering to us-ward “ (II Peter 3:9). Since this divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward “His own.”

The school of holy experience

May our meditation upon this divine excellency soften our hearts, make our consciences tender, and may we learn in the school of holy experience the “patience of saints,” namely, submission to the divine will and continuance in well doing. Let us earnestly seek grace to emulate this divine excellency. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In the immediate context of this verse Christ exhorts us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us. God bears long with the wicked notwithstanding the multitude of their sins, and shall we desire to be revenged because of a single injury?

© Copyright 1993 by Chapel Library (this edition), Pensacola, Florida