The Patience of
Far less has been written on the patience of God than on the other
excellencies of 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--as
much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not
be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but lose much
if we do not frequently mediate upon the patience of God and
earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely
Probably the principal reason why so many writers have failed to
give us anything, separately, upon the patience of God is because of
the difficulty of distinguishing this attribute from divine goodness
and mercy, particularly the latter. God longsuffering is mentioned
in conjunction with His grace and mercy again and again (see Ex.
34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15). That the patience of God is really a
display of His mercy is one way it is frequently manifested. But
that they are one and the same excellency, and are not to be
separated, we cannot concede. It may be easy to discriminate between
them. Nevertheless, Scripture fully warrants us in predicating some
things of the one which we cannot of the other.
Stephen Carnock, the Puritan defines God's patience in part:
It is a part of 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 of His mercy: "the
Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger" (Ps. 145:8). It differs
from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy
respects the creature as miserable, patience bears with the sin
which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more.
Personally we define the divine patience as that power of control
which God exercises over Himself, causing Him to bear with the
wicked and forebear so long in punishing them. Nahum 1:3 reads, "The
Lord is slow to anger and great in power," upon which Mr. Charnock
Men that are great in the world are quick in passion, and are not so
ready to forgive an injury, or bear with the 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 his subjects.
God is slow to anger because great in power. He has no less power
over Himself than over His creatures.
At the above point, we think, God patience is most clearly
distinguished from His mercy. Though the creature is benefited, 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. Thus
the Hebrew word for divine longsuffering is rendered "slow to anger"
in Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 103:8. Not that there are any passions in
divine nature, but God's wisdom and will is pleased to act with
stateliness and sobriety which becomes His exalted majesty.
In support of our definition we 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 typical mediator pleaded, "I beseech
thee let the power of my Lord be great according as thou has 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 show his
wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering
the vessels of wrath fitted for 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 forebaring 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 sons of men is
fully set in them to do evil" (Ec 8:11), but the anointed eye adores
what they abuse.
"The God of patience" (Ro 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 creature. Second, because
this what He is in Himself: patience is one of His perfections.
Third, 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, "By ye therefore followers [emulators] of God, as dear
children" (Eph 5:1). When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of
another, or to revenge one who has wronged you, remember God's
infinite patience with you. The patience of God is manifested in His
dealings with sinners. How strikingly it was displayed toward the
antideluvians. When mankind was universally degenerate, and all
flesh had corrupted his way, God did not destroy them till He had
forewarned them. He "waited" (1 Pet. 3:20) probably no less than one
hundred and twenty years (Gen. 6:3), during which time Noah was a
"preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet 2:5).
Later, when the Gentiles not only worshipped and served the creature
more than the Creator, but also committed the vilest abominations
contrary to even the dictates of nature (Romans 1:19-26), and hereby
filled up the measure of their iniquity; yet, instead of drawing His
sword to exterminate such rebels, God "suffered all nations to walk
their own ways" and gave them "rain from heaven, and fruitful
seasons" (Acts 14:16-17).
Marvelously God's patience was exercised and manifested toward
Israel. First, He "suffered their manners" for forty years in the
wilderness (Acts 13:18). Later, they entered Canaan, but followed
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 delivers for them. When their
iniquity rose to such heights that none but a God of infinite
patience could have borne them, He, notwithstanding, spared them
many years before He allowed them to be carried into Babylon.
Finally, when their rebellion against Him reached its climax by
crucifying His Son, He waited forty years before He sent the Romans
against them; and that only after they had judged themselves
"unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13:46).
How wondrous God's patience is 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 Saphira? Why does He not cause the
earth to open and devour the persecutors of His people, so that,
like Dathan and Abiran, 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."
What of the writer and 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! Now that grace has snatched us as brands
from the burning, and given us a place in God's family, and begotten
us unto an eternal inheritance in glory; how miserable 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" (Pet. 3:9). Since
this divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes
advantage to display it toward "His own." May your meditation upon
this divine excellency soften our hearts, make our consciences
tender; and may we learn in the school of experience the "patience
of saints," namely, submission to the divine will and continuance in
well doing. Let us seek grace to emulate this divine excellency.
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is
perfect" (Mathew 5:48). In the immediate context 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 sin. Shall we desire to be revenged because of a