The patience of God
The patience of God was manifested:
a. To our first parents in Eden.
The threat upon disobedience was certain death. And though they were cut off from the life of God - necessarily - as soon as they ate the forbidden fruit, they did not experience physical death until centuries later (Genesis 5:5).
Upon sinning, the earth did not swallow them up, nor a thunderbolt from heaven devour them. Though proving themselves ungrateful and unbelieving, God continued to show them liberality and even promised them the Deliverer.
God even gave our first parents an offspring and an innumerable posterity. He might have extinguished the human race at its very beginning, but did not - another sign of his admirable patience.
b. To the Gentiles.
The Scripture sums up the wilful and wicked disobedience of the nations throughout history. A shocking example is provided us in Romans 1:29-32, where it is asserted that man is depraved in all his faculties, and not only challenges God's ownership of him, but actually take pleasure in others who do the same wickedness.
Wickedness and a disregard for God's Law is now natural to man, being conceived in sin. Man finds no sweetness and no relish for the things of God, pure and simple; he judges the thoughts of his Creator as useless, and plunged himself into idolatry and superstition.
And yet God hoes not arm Himself against the nations with fire and sword and immediate judgement. Though judgement is sounded intermittently, it is reserved for the Last Day.
God still leaves some natural light in the mind of men, and still endows him with a conscience that informs him concerning what's right and wrong.
Though man exchanges the glory of God for a three-dimensional image, and thinks that the Godhead is like silver and gold, yet God shows much patience. Without God's patience, the world would come to an immediate end.
c. To the Israelites.
Though chosen of God, the children of Abraham were no better than other nations. Indeed, the prophets calls them "a stiff-necked people," and their history shows that they learned easily to do evil "from their youth." They were a "grief to him forty years together in the wilderness" (Psalms 95:10), and yet God "suffered their manners" (Acts 13:18). He bore with their ill-behaviour, and though He visited them with the rod (as we see so often in the Book of Judges) yet when they cried to Him, He raised up deliverers to free them from the yoke of their oppressors.
Even when they were taken into the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, at the appointed time God brought them back to their land, and still showed such long-suffering when they again proved to be pathetic and indifferent in the things of God.
After they had outraged his servants, the prophets, God sent among them His own Son, who was mistreated of them, and crucified. Yet God still sent the glad tidings of salvation to them for many years through the apostles, and still does today.
All this while His patience did sometimes wholly restrain His justice, and sometimes let it fall upon them in some measure, but never made a total devastation of them. His salvation is offered to them just as to the Gentiles, "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32).
d. The patience of God is manifested in judgement.
1. God issues specific and clear warnings of judgement before it is executed. He does not punish hastily. The Universal Deluge is one such example; God did not send it before having Noah preach the coming judgement.
2. God does not come in extremity, but shakes the rod often before bringing it down.
3. In issuing warnings, He does so in order that He may not pour out His wrath. His warnings serve as an incentive to repentance. He lifts up His hand before he strikes, that men might see and avert the stroke (Isaiah 26:11).
4. His patience is manifest in long delaying His threatened judgements, though He finds no repentance in the rebels. Sin cries loud and long before He takes the sword in hand. He waited four centuries before destroying the Amorites and thus deferred in making good His promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:16).
5. His patience is manifest in His unwillingness to execute His judgements when He can delay no longer. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men" (Lamentations 3:33).
6. When God punishes He does so with some regret. "O Ephraim! what shall I do unto thee? O Judah! what shall I do unto thee?" (Hosea 6:4). "Many a time turned He His anger away" (Psalms 78:38).
7. His patience is seen in that when He actually begins to send out His judgements, often He does it gradually. "Therefore I will be to the house of Ephraim as a moth" (Hosea 5:12). "She is not my wife, neither am I her husband" (Hosea 5:2), and yet He does not take away her ornaments, but still expected her reformation.
8. When He sends judgement, He moderates them. "He stirs not up all His wrath" (Psalm 78:38).
9. His patience is seen in giving great mercies after being provoked. He is slow to anger, that He heaps many kindnesses upon a rebel, instead of punishment. People are "haters of God" (see Romans 1:29-31), yet God generally provides them with food, clothing, and physical life.
Why does God exercise patience with man?
1. God proves Himself patient so as to show Himself appeasable. God did not declare by His patience to former ages or even today that He is appeased with men, or that they are in His favour; but that He was appeasable, that He was not an implacable enemy. If they seek Him, He will be found of them. To this end He gives a general revelation of Himself to all (Psalm 19:1ff.; Acts 14:17).
2. He exercises so much patience to wait for men's repentance. The "long-suffering of God is salvation" (2 Peter 3:15). He patience "leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
3. Furthermore, God is patient so that the propagation of mankind may continue, and all His elect people be born, come to know Him in conversion and thus the church would be complete.
So we may justly affirm that His patience is primarily for the ingathering of His people whom He foreknew. If He is not patient toward sinners, what stock would there be for believers to spring up from?
For the sake of the church, God is patient with wicked men. The tares are patiently endured till the harvest. Upon this account He spares some, who are worse than others whom He crushes by clear judgements (Isaiah 1:9).
4. When men still are unrepentant, God continues to exercise patience so that He may manifest the equity of His future justice upon them. The sinner becomes more inexcusable, divine justice less chargeable, and His wrath more powerful (Romans 9:22).
How God's patience is abused
1. The world at large abused God's patience by not taking proper heed of its wondrous and continual testimony in general revelation. At one time or another, we all have abused it.
We abuse it by misinterpreting it, when men slander God's patience to be only a carelessness and neglect of His providence. "Because I kept silence, thou thoughtest I was altogether such a one as thyself" (Psalm 50:21). God's "silence" is taken to mean that He is weak, or indifferent, or unjust, or forgetful.
2. God's patience is abused by continuing in the way of transgression while under the influence of divine patience. In their perverseness men invite each other to further wickedness because nothing seem to happen to us, good or bad. God's protestation is as follows: "I have held my peace, even of old, and thou fearest me not" (Isaiah 57:11). If things go well with us, it does not necessarily mean that we are spiritually in tune. God may be showing us patience! Let us not remain impudent in our sin.
3. God's patience is contemned by repeating sin, such as Pharaoh did, when there was a pause from judgement. Instead of submitting to God's demand, he hardened himself in open rebellion against God (Exodus 9:27,34).
It is only too apparent how many men howl when God strikes them, and laugh at Him when He forbears them. Thus it happens that the same patience which should melt us often hardens us (when abused). This effect, though, is not natural to His patience, but natural to our abusing corruption.
4. His patience is furthermore abused when men are encouraged by it to sin even more than ever before. They drink sin to the very dregs. If God spares them for three transgressions, they will then commit four. This is what Solomon meant when he wrote: "Men's hearts are fully set in them to do evil, because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
God's patience should have bound them stronger to duty, and yet they bind themselves all the more to their perverted ways.
Such abuse is a great sin and increases man's guilt. Every sin, after an act of divine patience, works out a greater condemnation.