SERMON VII.* The Patience of God.
2 PET. III.9.
The Lord is not slack concerning his Pro∣mise, as some Men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not wil∣ling that any should perish, but that all should come to Repentance.
I Have made entrance into these words, in the handling of which, I propos'd to do these three things.
First, To consider the patience and long-suffering of God, as it is an At∣tribute and Perfection of the Divine Nature; God is long suffering to us-ward.
Secondly, To shew that the Patience of God, and the delay of his Judg∣ment, is no just ground why Sinners Page 170 should hope for impunity; God is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.
Thirdly, To consider the true reason of God's patience and long-suffering towards Mankind; He is long-suffer∣ing to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repen∣tance. I have already spoken to the
First of these, namely, The pati∣ence and long-suffering of God, as it is an Attribute and Perfection of the Divine Nature. I proceed now to the
Second thing I proposed, namely, To shew that the Patience of God, and the delay of Judgment, is no just ground why Sinners should hope for impunity; God is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; that is, as the Scoffers here mentioned by the Apostle, did ignorantly and ma∣liciously reason, that because our Lord delayed his coming to Judgment so long, therefore he would never come.
There was indeed some pretence for this Objection, because the Chri∣stians did generally apprehend, that the day of Judgment was very near, and that it would immediately follow Page 171 the destruction of Jerusalem; and it seems the Disciples themselves were of that perswasion before our Saviour's death, when our Saviour discoursing to them of the destruction of the Tem∣ple, they put these two questions to him, Mat. 24.3. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy com∣ing, and of the end of the world? When shall these things be? That is, the things he had been speaking of immediately before, viz. the destruction of Jeru∣salem, and the dissolution of the Tem∣ple; that is plainly the meaning of the first question, to which they sub∣joined another, And what shall be the sign of thy coming? that is to Judgment; and of the end of the world? which in all probability, was added to the for∣mer; because they supposed that the one was presently to follow the other, and therefore the same answer would serve them both; and it appears by our Saviour's answer, that he was not concerned to rectifie them in this mi∣stake, which might be of good use to them, both to make them more zea∣lous to propagate the Gospel, since Page 172 there was like to be so little time for it; and likewise to wean their affecti∣ons from this World, which they thought to be so near an end.
One thing indeed our Saviour says, which (had they not been prepossest with another Opinion) does sufficient∣ly intimate that there might be a con∣siderable space of time, betwixt the destruction of Jerusalem and the day of Judgment; and this we find only in St. Luke, Ch. 21.24. where speak∣ing of the Miseries and Calamities that should come upon the Jews, he says, They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be carried into captivity into all na∣tions; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled. So that here were a great many Events foretold, betwixt the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the World, the accomplish∣ment whereof might take up a great deal of time, as appears by the Event of things, Jerusalem being at this day still trodden down by the Gentiles, and the Jews still continuing disperst over the world: but the Disciples it seems did not much mind this, being carryed a∣way with a prejudicate conceit that Page 173 the end of the World would happen before the end of that Age; in which they were much confirmed, by what our Saviour, after his Resurrection, said of St. John, upon occasion of Pe∣ter's question concerning him; John 21.21, 22. Lord, what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Upon which words of our Saviour concerning him, St. John himself adds, v. 23. Then went this saying abroad a∣mong the brethren, that that disciple should not die, that is, that he should live till the coming of our Lord, and then be taken up with him into Hea∣ven; from all which they probably (as they thought) concluded, that the day of Judgment would happen be∣fore the end of that Age, whilst St. John was alive; but St. John, who writ last of all the Evangelists (as Eusebius tells us) and lived till after the destruction of Jerusalem, as he ac∣quaints us with this mistake, which was currant among the Christians, so he takes care to rectifie it, telling us, That Jesus said not, he should not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? He tells us, that our Page 174 Saviour did not affirm that he should not die; but to repress St Peter's Curi∣osity, he says, If it were my pleasure that he should not die at all, but live till I come to Judgment, what is that to thee? And St. Peter likewise (or whoever was the Author of this se∣cond Epistle, or at least of this third Chapter, which seems to be a new E∣pistle by it self) takes notice of this mistake, about the nearness of the day of Judgment, as that which gave occasion to these Scoffers to deride the expectation of a future Judgment a∣mong the Christians, because they had been already deceived about the time of it; and this the Scoffers twitted them with in that Question, Where is the promise of his coming? And there∣fore the learned Grotius conjectures very probably, that this last Epistle (contained in the third Chapter) was written after the destruction of Jeru∣salem, which was the time fixt for Christ's coming to Judgment, and therefore there could be no ground for this Scoff till after that time. St. Pe∣ter indeed did not live so long, and therefore Grotius thinks, that this Epi∣stle was writ by Simeon, or Simon,Page 175 who was Successor of St. James, in the Bishoprick of Jerusalem, and lived to the time of Trajan.
I have been the longer in giving an account of this, that we might under∣stand where the ground and force of this Scoff lay; namely in this, That because the Christians had generally been very confident, that the coming of Christ to Judgment would be pre∣sently after the destruction of Jerusa∣lem, and were now found to be decei∣ved in that, therefore there was no regard to be had at all to their expe∣ctation of a future Judgment; because they might be deceiv'd in that, as well as in the other.
But herein they argued very falsly, because our Saviour had positively and peremptorily foretold his coming to Judgment, but had never fixt and determined the time of it; nay, so far was he from that, that he had plainly told his Disciples, that the precise time of the day of Judgment God had reserved as a Secret to himself, which he had not imparted to any, no, not to the Angels in Heaven, nor to the Son himself; Mark 13.32, 33. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, Page 176 no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. So that if they pre∣sumed to make any conjectures about the time when the day of Judgment would be, they did it without any Warrant from our Lord; it was great presumption in them to determine the time of it, when our Saviour had so expresly told them, that the Father had reserved this as a Secret, which he had never communicated to any, and therefore if they were mistaken about it, it was no wonder. But their mistake in this, was no prejudice to the truth of our Saviour's clear Predi∣ction of a future Judgment, without any determination of the time of it, for that might be at some thousands of Years distance, and yet be certain for all that; and the delay of it was no sign of the uncertainty of our Savi∣our's Prediction concerning it, but on∣ly of God's great Patience and long-suffering to Sinners, in expectation of their Repentance; God is not slack con∣cerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward. And this brings me to the
Page 177Third, and last Particular in the Text, namely, The true Reason of God's Patience and long-suffering to Mankind; He is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. And for this St. Peter cites St. Paul, v. 15th of this Chapter; And account that the long-suffering of the Lord is sal∣vation, that is, that the great End and Design of God's goodness and long-suffering to Sinners, is that they may repent and be saved; Account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom gi∣ven unto him, hath written unto you. Now these words are not expresly found in St. Paul's Writings; but the Sense and Effect of them is, viz. in Rom. 2.4. Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suf∣fering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? God hath a very gracious and merciful design in his Patience to Sinners; he is good, that he may make us so, and that his goodness may lead us to repentance; he de∣fers Punishment on purpose, that he may give Men time to bethink them∣selves, Page 178 and to return to a better Mind; He winks at the sins of men, that they may repent, says the Son of Sirach. The Patience of God aims at the cure and recovery of those, who are not despe∣rately and resolutely wicked.
This is the primary End and Inten∣tion of God's Patience to Sinners; and if he fail of this End through our hardness and impenitency, he hath o∣ther Ends which he will infallibly at∣tain. He will hereby glorifie the riches of his Mercy, and vindicate the righteousness of his Justice; the damned in Hell shall acknowledge, that the Patience of God was great Mercy and Goodness to them, tho' they abused it; for God does not lose the glory of his Patience, tho' we lose the benefit of it, and he will make it subvervient to his Justice one way or other. Those great Offenders whom he spares, after there are no hopes of their amendment, he many times makes use of, as Instruments for the punishing of others, as rods of his wrath for the discipline of the world; and he often reserves those who are incorrigi∣bly bad for a more remarkable ruin. But however, they are reserved to Page 179 the Judgment of the great Day; and if after God hath exercised much Pa∣tience towards Sinners in this World, he inflict Punishment on them in the next, it must be acknowledg'd to be most just; for what can he do less, than to condemn those who would not be saved, and to make them mi∣serable, who so obstinately refused to be happy?
Before I come to apply this Dis∣course concerning the Patience and long-suffering of God to Sinners, I must remove an Objection or two.
I. The Severity of God to some Sinners in this Life, and to all impe∣nitent Sinners in the next, seems to contradict what hath been said con∣cerning God's Patience and long-suf∣fering.
As for the severity of God towards impenitent Sinners in the next Life, this doth not at all contradict the Pa∣tience of God, because the very na∣ture of Patience, and forbearance, and long-suffering, does suppose a deter∣minate time, and that they will not last always; this Life is the day of God's Patience, and in the next World his Justice and Severity will take place. Page 180 And therefore the punishment of Sin∣ners in another World, after God hath tryed them in this, and expect∣ed their Repentance, is no ways con∣trary to his Patience and Goodness, and very agreeable to his Wisdom and Justice; for it is no part of Goodness, to see it self perpetually abused; it is not Patience, but stupidity and in∣sensibleness, to endure to be always trampled upon, and to bear to have his holy and just Laws for ever despised and contemned.
And as for his Severity to some Sin∣ners in this Life; as to Lot's Wife, to the Israelites that gathered Sticks on the Sabbath-day, to Nadab and A∣bihu, to Ʋzza, to Ananias and Sapphira, and to Herod Agrippa; in all which In∣stances God seems to have made quick work, and to have executed Judg∣ment speedily; to these I answer, That this Severity of God to some few, doth rather magnify his Patience to the rest of Mankind; he may be severe to some few, for Example and warning to many, that they may learn to make better use of his Patience, and not to trespass so boldly upon it; and perhaps he hath exercised much Patience al∣ready Page 181 towards those, to whom at last he is so severe; as is plain in the case of Herod, and it may well be sup∣posed in most of the other Instances; or else the Sin so suddenly and severe∣ly punisht, was very heinous and pre∣sumptuous, of a contagious and spread∣ing nature, and of dangerous Exam∣ple. Lot's Wife sinned very presump∣tuously against an express and an easie Command, and whilst God was ta∣king care of her deliverance in a very extraordinary manner. That of Na∣dab and Abihu, and of the Man that gathered Sticks on the Sabbath-day, were presently after the giving of the Law; in which case great severity is necessary; and that of Ananias and Sapphira, at the first publishing of the Gospel, that the Majesty of the Di∣vine Spirit, and the Authority of the first publishers of it might not be con∣temned. That of Ʋzza was upon the return of the Ark of God from among the Philistines, that the People might not lose their reverence for it after it had been taken Captive; so that these necessary Severities to a few, in com∣parison of those many that are warn∣ed by them, are rather Arguments of Page 182 God's Patience, than Objections against it.
II. It is objected, That if God do not desire the ruin of Sinners, but their repentance, whence comes it to pass, that all are not brought to re∣pentance? for who hath resisted his Will? To this I answer.
1. That there is no doubt but God is able to do this. He can, if he plea∣seth, conquer and reclaim the most obstinate Spirits; he is able out of stones to raise up children unto Abra∣ham. And sometimes he exerts his Omnipotence herein, as in the Con∣version of St. Paul, in a kind of vi∣olent and irresistible manner: but he hath no where declared, that he will do this to all; and we see plainly in experience, that he does not do it.
2. God may very well be said, not to be willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, when he does on his part what is sufficient to that end; and upon this ground, the Scripture every where represents God as desiring the repentance of Sin∣ners, and their obedience to his Laws; Deut. 5.29. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, Page 183 and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them! So Jer. 13.27. O Jerusalem, wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be? Is. 5.3, 4. we find God there solemnly appeal∣ing to the People of Israel, whether there had been any thing wanting on his part that was fit to be done; And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? wherefore when I looked it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? God may justly look for the Fruits of Repentance and Obedience from those, to whom he affords a sufficiency of Means to that End. And if so, then
3. The true Reason why Men do not repent, but perish, is because they are obstinate, and will not repent; and this account the Scripture every where gives of the impenitency of Men, and the ruin consequent upon it. Psal. 81.13. O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walk∣ed in my statutes! But my people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me. Ezek. 33.11. Why will Page 184 ye dye, O house of Israel? Prov. 1.29, 30, 31. They hated knowledge, and did not chuse the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsels, they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own ways, and be filled with their own devices. The ruin of Sinners does not proceed from the counsel of God; but from their own choice. And so likewise our Saviour every where chargeth the ruin and destruction of the Jews upon their own wilful obsti∣nacy.
The Inferences from this Discourse concerning the Patience and long-suffering of God towards Mankind, shall be these three.
I. To stir us up to a thankful ac∣knowledgment of the great Patience of God towards us, notwithstanding our manifold and heinous provocati∣ons. We may every one of us take to our selves those words, Lam. 3.22. It is of the Lords mercy that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are renewed every morning. When ever we sin (and we provoke God every day) it is of his Patience that we are not destroyed; and when we sin again, this is a new and greater In∣stance Page 185 of God's Patience. The mer∣cies of God's Patience are no more to be numbred than our sins; we may say with David, How great is the sum of them? The goodness of God in spa∣ring us, is in some respect greater than his goodness in creating us; because he had no provocation not to make us, but we provoke him daily to destroy us.
II. Let us propound the Patience of God for a pattern to our selves. Plu∣tarch says,
III. Let us comply with the design of God's Patience and long-suffering towards us, which is to bring us to re∣pentance. Men are very apt to abuse it to a quite contrary purpose, to the encouraging themselves in their evil ways. So Solomon observes, Eccl. 8.11. 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: But this is very false reason∣ing; for the Patience of God is an ene∣my Page 186 to sin, as well as his Justice, and the design of it is not to countenance sin, but to convert the Sinner; Rom. 2.4. Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffer∣ing, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? Patience in God should produce Repentance in us; and we should look upon it as an opportunity given us by God to re∣pent and be saved; 2 Pet. 3.15. Ac∣count that the long-suffering of God is salvation. They that do not improve the Patience of God to their own Sal∣vation, mistake the true meaning and intent of it. But many are so far from making this use of it, that they pre∣sume upon it, and sin with more cou∣rage and confidence because of it; but that we may be sensible of the dan∣ger of this, I will offer these two or three Considerations.
1. That nothing is more provoking to God, than the abuse of his Patience. God's Patience waits for our Repen∣tance, and all long attendance, even of Inferiors upon their Superiors, hath something in it that is grievous; how much more grievous and provoking must it be to the great God, after he Page 187 hath laid out upon us all the riches of his Goodness and long-suffering, to have that despised! after his Patience hath waited a long time upon us, not only to be thrust away with contempt, but to have that which should be an argument to us to leave our sins, abu∣sed into an encouragement to con∣tinue in them! God takes an account of all the days of his Patience and for∣bearance; Luke 13.7. Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit, and find none; cut it down; why cumbreth it the ground?
2. Consider that the Patience of God will have an end. Tho' God suffers long, he will not suffer always; we may provoke God so long, till he can forbear no longer without injury and dishonour to his Wisdom, and Ju∣stice, and Holiness; and God will not suffer one Attribute to wrong the rest; his Wisdom will determine the length of his Patience; when his Patience is to no purpose, when there is no hopes of our amendment, his Wisdom will then put a period to it; then the Pa∣tience of his Mercy will determine. How often would I have gathered you, and you would not? therefore your house is left Page 188 unto you desolate. And the Patience of God's Judgments will then deter∣mine. Why should they be smitten any more? they will revolt more and more. Yea, Patience it self, after a long and fruitless expectation, will expire. A Sinner may continue so long impeni∣tent, till the Patience of God, as I may say, grows impatient, and then our ruin will make haste, and destru∣ction will come upon us in a moment. If Men will not come to repentance, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, as it follows in the next Verse after the Text; the Judgment of God will suddenly surprize those who will not be gained by his Pa∣tience.
3. Consider that nothing will more hasten and aggravate our ruin, than the abuse of God's Patience. All this time of God's Patience, his Wrath is coming towards us, and the more we presume upon it, the sooner it will o∣vertake us; Luke 12.45, 46. The wicked servant, who said his Lord delayed his coming, and fell to rioting and drunk∣enness, our Saviour tells us, That the Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not for him.
Page 189And it will aggravate our ruin; the longer punishment is a coming the heavier it will be; those things which are long in preparation, are terrible in execution; the weight of God's wrath will make amends for the slow∣ness of it, and the delay of Judgment will be fully recompensed in the dread∣fulness of it when it comes.
Let all those consider this who go on in their sin, and are deaf to the voice of God's Patience, which calls upon them every moment of their lives. There is a day of Vengeance a coming upon those who trifle away this day of God's Patience; nothing will sooner and more inflame the wrath and displeasure of God against us, than his abused Patience, and the despised riches of his Goodness. As Oyl, tho' it be soft and smooth, yet when it is once inflamed, burns most fiercely; so the Patience of God, when it is abused, turns into Fury, and his mildest Attributes into the greatest Se∣verities.
And if the Patience of God do not bring us to Repentance, it will but prepare us for a more intolerable ru∣in. After God hath kept a long indig∣nation Page 190 in his Breast, it will at length break forth with the greater violence. The Patience of God increaseth his Judgments by an incredible kind of proportion; Levit 26.18. And if you will still (says God to the People of Israel) walk contrary to me, and if ye will not be reformed by all these things, I will punish you yet seven times more. And v. 27. I will bring seven times more plagues upon you, according to your sins. At first God's Justice accuseth Sinners; but after a long time of Patience, his Mercy comes in against us, and in∣stead of staying his hand, adds weight to his blows; Rom. 9.22. What if God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. They, upon whom the Patience of God hath no good effect, are vessels of wrath, preapred and fit∣ted for destruction. If ever God dis∣play his wrath, and make his anger known, he will do it in the most se∣vere manner upon those who have despised and abused his Patience; for these, in a more peculiar manner, do treasure up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
Page 191To conclude, Let us all take a re∣view of our lives, and consider how long the Patience of God hath waited upon us, and born with us; with some twenty, forty, perhaps sixty Years, and longer. Do we not remember how God spared us in such a danger, when we gave our selves for lost? and how he recovered us in such a sickness, when the Physician gave us up for gone? and what use we made of this Patience and long-suffering of God towards us? It is the worst tem∣per in the World, not to be melted by kindness, not to be obliged by bene∣fits, not to be tamed by gentle usage. He that is not wrought upon, neither by the patience of his Mercy, nor by the patience of his Judgments, his case is desperate and past remedy. Consider this all ye that forget God, left his Patience turn into Fury; for God is not slack, as some men count slackness; but long-suffering to sinners, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.