The patience, goodness and mercy of God

Slowness to anger, or admirable patience, is a characteristic of the divine nature. God is willing to defer due punishment; He keeps back from pouring forth His wrath upon sinful creatures. Patience denotes a moderation of His provoked justice, His forbearance to revenge immediately the injuries He daily meets with in such a rebellious world. He restrains His arm in punishing sinners according to their merits, as is seen clearly in His providential works in the world: "He suffered the nations to walk in their own way," while giving them witness of His providence towards them, "giving them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their heart with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17).

In this light, patience, goodness and mercy are closely related to each other, though they are not strictly synonymous.

Patience is a part of the divine goodness and mercy, yet is different from both. Mildness and meekness is the constant companion of goodness. God's slowness to anger is a branch from his mercy: "The Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger" (Psalms 145:8).

But mercy looks at the creature as miserable, while patience considers the creature as criminal. Mercy pities the object, because of his weakness and misery, while patience bears with the sin which causes the misery.

God's long-suffering is exercised so that his grace may be glorified, as was explicitly said in Paul's case (1 Timothy 1:16). Again: "He waits that He may be gracious" (Isaiah 30:18).

Goodness exhibits God as exercising patience, while this same patience motivates the sinner to flee to God for mercy. That mercy which makes God ready to embrace returning sinners, makes him willing to bear with them in their sins, and wait for their repentance.

Patience also may be distinguished from goodness. The object of goodness is every creature, whether they are angels, men, animals, even to the lowest worm that crawls upon the ground. The object of patience is man. The lower creatures are not, strictly speaking, the objects of patience, since they do not injure God.

But that same patience which spares man, spares other creatures for man's sake, which were all forfeited because of man's rebellion.

The objects of God's goodness, then, is the whole creation, more extensive than that of patience. Goodness brings forth into creation, and supports every creature, while patience view man, particularly, as already created and fallen short of his duty.

Had not sin entered, there would be no occasion for patience to be exercised; but from the beginning goodness was evident.

The patience of God, being a branch of mercy, is founded in the death of Christ in its exercise.

In mercy, God comes to man who is miserable and obnoxious.

In patience, God considers him as sinful and provoking to punishment, but withholds that same punishment for a season.

In goodness, God views the whole creation as coming from His hand, pronounces it good, and in continuing to care for it, evidences His goodness.

Godís goodness disregarded

Stephen Charnock gives a number of points as to how "man contemns" (treats with disrespect) the goodness of God. The following notes might help you understand each point and show you how these might be applied in a pastoral situation.

1. We abused His goodness in Adam, when man was first created. Man preferred to believe Satan, to act autonomously, to distrust his Maker. Man wanted to become like God! (Genesis 3).

Original sin is no fable: its effects are still with us!

2. Since God is definitely good, to abuse His goodness is the height of folly and ingratitude. The abuse and contempt of divine goodness is base and wicked, because God is the highest goodness, pure goodness that cannot have anything in him worthy of our contempt. Such a Proprietor and Benefactor should be adored, worshipped and loved supremely.

3. God considers all human contempt of his goodness as a heinous sin. He never rebukes men with anything but with the abuse of the good things he has granted them, and the mindfulness of the duties arising from such bountifulness (1 Samuel 2:28; 2 Samuel 12:7-9). Thus benefits are given to us no longer than we obey (Joshua 24:20).

4. We abuse His goodness and despise it when we forget it or act as if it isn't there. Or else we choose to enjoy the mercies, and forget the Giver. The Israelites "forgot God their Saviour, which hath done great things in Egypt" (Psalm 106:21).

Again, living in God's world, we tend to put Him out of the picture, while retaining His blessings: "She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil" (Hosea 2:8).

Pastorally, it should be pointed out that we cannot think of meeting Christ as Saviour and yet disregard His Lordship over us?

5. His goodness is lightly considered when we murmur, grumble and act impatiently.

We often act as Baruch did, who complained of God for adding grief to his sorrow, not furnishing him with those "great things" he expected (Jeremiah 45:3,4), whereas, he had cause for thankfulness in God's gift of his life as a prey.

It is amazing how many Christians are discontent, depressive, and have yet to open their eyes to see the bounty of God around and in them.

6. We disrespect His goodness when we continue in unbelief and lack of repentance. His goodness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

This thought is to be used much in our outreach to a lost world, who receives from God rain and sunshine and fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17).

7. We treat God's goodness lightly when we distrust His wise and powerful providence.

The Israelites thought their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and the placing them in security in the wilderness was intended only to slaughter them (Numbers 14:3).

Do we have the same disposition of interpreting God's goodness as cruelty to us?!

Are we learning to cast our care upon Him? (1 Peter 5:7).

8. Man contemns God's goodness when proper duties are laid aside and left undone.

It was a crime of a good prophet in his passion: "This evil is of the Lord, why should I wait on the Lord any longer?" (2 Kings 6:33).

Another complaint is heard elsewhere: "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances?" (Malachi 3:14).

Whenever we don't pray, become slack in our duties, and disregard the ways of the Lord, then professed Christians are counting God's goodness to them as cheap.

9. The goodness of God is thought of lightly when we rely upon our services to procure God's good will to us; when we think that fasting and vows and promises from our side somehow will render God of a better disposition to us, whereas in real fact God is always good to us.

Sometimes, indeed, vows may proceed from a sole desire to engage ourselves to God, binding ourselves to God by something more sacred and inviolable than a common resolution. But we must be care lest we fall into the Romanist trap of "supererogatory works."

Our fellow-Christians, to whom we minister, must be warned of this possibility, lest we think that our goodness extends to God.

10. The goodness of God is abused when we give up our souls and affections to those benefits we have from God, to such an extent that we forget the Giver, and be turned to lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

Gifts properly received are meant to cultivate in us a greater appreciation of the Giver. They are not end in themselves.

11. Finally, God's benevolence is mocked when we sin more freely on account of that goodness from above, and employ God's benefits to satisfy our own lusts. "According to the multitude of his fruit, he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land, they have made goodly images" (Hosea 10:1).

God's grace is never to be turned as an excuse for riotous living; we are made free to serve Him (Romans 6:1ff.).