SERMON VI.* 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, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Repentance.
IN the beginning of this Chapter, the Apostle puts the Christians, to whom he writes, in mind of the Predictions of the ancient Prophets, and of the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour, concerning the general Judg∣ment of the World, which by many (and perhaps by the Apostles them∣selves) had been thought to be very near, and that it would presently fol∣low the destruction of Jerusalem; but Page 144 he tells them, that before that, there would arise a certain Sect, or sort of Men, that would deride the expectati∣on of a future Judgment, designing probably the Carpocratians (a branch of that large Sect of the Gnosticks) of whom St. Austin expressly says,
Page 1451. That these Scoffers, tho' they took themselves to be Wits, did be∣tray great Ignorance, both of the con∣dition of the World, and of the na∣ture of God. They talk'd very igno∣rantly concerning the World, when they said, All things continued as they were from the Creation of it, when so remarkable a change had already hapned, as the destruction of it by Water; and therefore the Prediction concerning the destruction of it by Fire, before the great and terrible day of Judgment, was no ways incredible. And they shewed themselves likewise very ignorant of the Perfection of the Divine Nature, to which, being e∣ternally the same, a thousand years and one day are all one; and if God make good his word some thousand of Years hence, it will make no sensible diffe∣rence, considering his eternal dura∣tion, it being no matter when a du∣ration begins, which is never to have an end; v. 8. Be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. This, it seems, was a com∣mon saying among the Jews, to signi∣fie, that to the Eternity of God, no finite duration bears any proportion; Page 146 and therefore with regard to Eternity, it is all one whether it be a thousand Years or one Day. The Psalmist hath an Expression much to the same pur∣pose, Psal. 90.4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past; and as a watch in the night. And the Son of Sirach likewise, Ecclus. 18.10. As a drop of water to the sea, and as a grain of sand to the sea shore, so are a thousand years to the days of eternity. The like Expression we meet with in Heathen Writers; To the Gods no time is long, saith Pythagoras: And Plutarch, The whole space of a Man's life to the Gods is as nothing. And in his excellent Discourse of the slowness of the Divine Vengeance, (the very Argument St. Peter is here upon) he hath this Pas∣sage, That a thousand, or ten thousand years, are but as an indivisible point to an infinite duration. And therefore when the Judgment is to be eternal, the delay of it, though it were for a thousand Years, is an Objection of no force, against either the certainty, or the terror of it; for to Eternity, all time is equally short; and it matters not when the punishment of Sinners be∣gins, if it shall never have an end.
Page 1472. But because the distance be∣tween the Declaration of a future Judgment, and the coming of it, tho' it be nothing to God, yet it seemed long to them; therefore he gives such an account of it, as doth not in the least impeach the truth and faithful∣ness of God, but is a clear argument and demonstration of his goodness. Admitting what they said to be true, that God delays Judgment for a great while, yet this gives no ground to conclude that Judgment will never be; but it shews the great goodness of God to sinners, that he gives them so long a space of repentace, that so they may prevent the terror of that day whenever it comes, and escape that dreadful ruin which will certain∣ly overtake, sooner or later, all impeni∣tent sinners; The Lord is not slack con∣cerning his promise; that is, as to the Declaration which he hath made of a future Judgment, as some Men account slackness; That is, as if the delay of Judgment were an argument it would never come. This is a false inference from the delay of punishment, and an ill interpretation of the goodness of God to sinners, who bears long with them, and delays Judgment, on pur∣pose Page 148 to give men time to repent, and by repentance to prevent their own eternal ruin; God is not slack con∣cerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. In the handling of these words, I shall do these three things.
First, I shall consider the patience and long-suffering of God, as it is an Attribute and Perfection of the Di∣vine Nature; God is long-suffering to us-ward.
Secondly, I shall shew, that the Pa∣tience of God, and the delay of Judgment, is no just ground why sin∣ners should hope for Impunity, as the Scoffers, here foretold by the Apostle, argued, That because our Lord delay∣eth his coming to Judgment so long, therefore he would never come; God is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.
Thirdly, I will consider the true Rea∣son of God's Patience and long-suffer∣ing towards Mankind, which the A∣postle here gives; He is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repen∣tance.
Page 149First, I will consider the Patience and long-suffering of God towards Mankind, as it is an Attribute and Perfection of the Divine Nature; God is long-suffering to us-ward. In the handling of this, I shall do these three things.
I. I shall shew what is meant by the Patience and long-suffering of God.
II. That this is a Perfection of the Divine Nature.
III. I shall give some proof and de∣monstration of the great Patience and long-suffering of God to Mankind.
I. What is meant by the Patience and long-suffering of God.
The Hebrew word signifies one that keeps his anger long, or that is long before he is angry. In the New Testament it is sometimes exprest by the word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which signifies God's forbearance and pati∣ent waiting for our repentance; some times by the word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which sig∣nifies God's holding in his wrath, and restraining himself from punish∣ing; and sometimes by 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which signifies the extent of his patience, his long-suffering and for∣bearing Page 150 for a long time the punish∣ment due to sinners.
So that the patience of God is his goodness to sinners, in deferring or moderating the punishment due to them for their sins; the deferring of deserved punishment in whole or in part, which if it be extended to a long time, it is properly his long-suf∣fering; and the moderating, as well as the deferring of the punishment due to sin, is an instance likewise of God's patience; and not only the deferring and moderating of temporal punish∣ment, but the adjourning of the eter∣nal misery of sinners, is a principal in∣stance of God's patience; so that the patience of God takes in all that space of repentance which God affords to sinners in this life; nay, all temporal judgments and afflictions which be∣fal sinners in this life, and are short of cutting them off and turning them into Hell, are comprehended in the patience of God. Whenever God pu∣nisheth, it is of his great mercy and pa∣tience that we are not consumed, and be∣cause his compassions fail not. I proceed to the
Page 151II. Thing I proposed, which was to shew, that Patience is a Perfecti∣on of the Divine Nature.
It is not necessarily due to us, but it is due to the Perfection of the Di∣vine Nature, and essentially belongs to it; it is a principal branch of God's goodness, which is the highest and most glorious Perfection of all o∣ther, and therefore we always find it in Scripture, in the company of God's milder and sweeter Attributes. When God would give the most perfect de∣scription of himself, and as he says to Moses, make all his glory to pass before us, he usually does it by those Attributes which declare his Goodness; and Pa∣tience is always one of them, Exod. 34.6. The Lord passed by before Moses, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, a∣bundant in goodness and truth. Psal. 86.15. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suf∣fering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. Psal. 103.8. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. And the same you find, Psal. 145.8 Jonah 4.2. Joel 2.13.
Page 152Sometimes indeed you find a seve∣rer Attribute added to these, as that he will by no means clear the guilty, Exod. 34.7. But 'tis always put in the last place, to declare to us, that God's goodness, and mercy, and patience, are his first and primary Perfections; and it is only when these fail, and have no effect upon us, but are abu∣sed by us to the encouragement of our selves in an impenitent course, that his Justice takes place.
Nay, even among Men it is esteem∣ed a Perfection to be able to forbear and to restrain our anger; Passion is impotency and folly, but Patience is power and wisdom; Prov. 14.29. He that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly; but he that is slow to wrath, is of great under∣standing. Prov. 16.32. He that is slow to wrath, is better than the mighty: and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that con∣quereth a city. Rom. 12.21. Be not overcome of Evil: but overcome Evil with good. To be impatient is to be overcome, but to forbear anger and re∣venge is a victory. Patience is an argu∣ment of great power and command of our selves, and therefore God himself, who is the most powerful Being, is slow Page 153 to anger, and of infinite patience; and nothing doth more declare the Power of God, than his Patience, that when he is provoked by such vile and despi∣cable Creatures as we are, he can withhold his hand from destroying us. This is the argument which Moses useth Numb. 14.17, 18. that the Power of God, doth so eminently appear in his patience; And now, I pray thee, let the power of my Lord be great, as he hath spo∣ken, saying, the Lord is gracious and long-suffering. And yet Power, where it is not restrained by wisdom and good∣ness, is a great temptation to anger; because where there is Power, there is something to back it and make it good. And therefore the Psalmist doth recommend and set off the Patience of God, from the consideration of his Pow∣er; Psal. 7.11. God is strong and pa∣tient, God is provoked every day; God is strong, and therefore patient; or he is infinitely patient, notwithstanding his Almighty Power to revenge the daily provocations of his Creatures.
Among Men, anger and weakness commonly go together; but they are ill matched, as is excellently obser∣ved by the Son of Sirach, Ecclus. 10.18. Page 154Pride was not made for man, nor furious anger for him that is born of a woman. So that anger and impatience is every where unreasonable. Where there is Power, impatience is below it, and a thing too mean for Omnipotency; and where there wants Power, anger is a∣bove it; it is too much for a weak and impotent Creature to be angry. Where there is Power, anger is need∣less and of no use; and where there is no Power, it is vain and to no pur∣pose. So that Patience is every where a Perfection, both in God and Man. I proceed to the
III. Thing I proposed, which was to give some proof and demonstration of the great patience and long-suffer∣ing of God to Mankind. And this will evidently appear, if we consider these two things.
1. How Men deal with God.
2. How, notwithstanding this, God deals with them.
1. How Men deal with God. E∣very day we highly offend and pro∣voke him, we grieve and weary him with our Iniquities, as the Expression is in the Prophet, Isa. 43.24. Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou Page 155 hast wearied me with thine iniquities. E∣very sin that we commit, is an affront to the Divine Majesty, and a contempt of his Authority. By denying submis∣sion to his Laws, we question his Om∣nipresence, and say, Doth God see? and is there knowledge in the most high? Or if we acknowledge his Omnipresence, and that he regards what we do, the provocation is still the greater, be∣cause then we affront him to his face; we dare his Justice, and challenge his Omnipotency, and provoke the Lord to jealousie, as if we were stronger than he.
Is not God patient, when the whole world lies in wickedness, and the earth is overspread with violence, and is full of the habitations of cruelty? when he who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and is so highly offended at the sins of Men, hath yet the patience to look upon them that deal treacherously, and to hold his peace? when the wicked persecutes and devours the man that is more righteous than he? when even that part of the World which professeth the Name of God and Christ, do by their vile and obominable lives, blaspheme that holy and glorious name whereby they are cal∣led?
Page 156Every moment God hath greater injuries done to him, and more affronts put upon him, than were ever offered to all the Sons of Men; and surely provocations are tryals of patience, es∣pecially when they are so numerous and so heinous; for if offences rise ac∣cording to the dignity of the person injured, and the meanness of him that doth the injury, then no offences are so great as those that are committed by Men against God, no affronts like to those which are offered to the Divine Majesty by the continual provocations of his Creatures. And is not this an ar∣gument of God's patience, that the glorious Majesty of Heaven should bear such multiplied indignities from such vile Worms? that he who is the Former of all things, should endure his own Creatures to rebel against him, and the work of his hands to strike at him? that he who is our great Bene∣factor should put up such affronts from those who depend upon his bounty, and are maintained at his charge? that he, in whose hands our breath is, should suffer Men to breath out Oaths, and Curses, and Blasphemies against him? Surely these prove the patience Page 157 of God to purpose, and are equally tryals and arguments of it.
2. The Patience of God will fur∣ther appear, if we consider how, not∣withstanding all this, God deals with us. He is patient to the whole World, in that he doth not turn us out of Be∣ing, and turn the wicked together into hell, with all the nations that forget God. He is patient to the greatest part of Mankind, in that he makes but a few terrible Examples of his Justice, that others may hear and fear, and take warn∣ing by them. He is patient to particu∣lar persons, in that, notwithstanding our daily provocations, he prevents us daily with the blessings of his good∣ness, prolonging our lives, and vouch∣safing so many favours to us, that by this great goodness we may be led to repen∣tance.
But the Patience of God will more illustriously appear, if we consider these following particulars, which are so many Evidences and Instances of it.
1. That God is not obliged to spare and forbear us at all. It is patience that he doth not surprise us in the very act of sin, and let flye at us with a Page 158 Thunder-bolt so soon as ever we have offended; that the wrath of God doth not fall upon the intemperate person, as it did upon the Israelites, whilst the meat and drink is yet in their mouths; that a Man is not struck dead or mad whilst he is telling a Lye; that the Soul of the prophane and false Swear∣er does not expire with his Oaths and Perjuries.
2. That God spares us when it is in his power so easily to ruin us; when he can with one word command us out of Being, and by cutting a∣sunder one little thread, let us drop into Hell. If God were disposed to severity, he could deal with us after another manner; and as the expres∣sion is in the Prophet, ease himself of his Adversaries, and be avenged of his Enemies.
3. That God exerciseth this pati∣ence to Sinners, flagrante bello, while they are up in Arms against him, and committing Hostilities upon him; he bears with us, even when we are challenging his Justice to punish us, and provoking his Power to destroy us.
Page 1594. That he is so very slow and un∣willing to punish, and to inflict his Judgments upon us. As for eternal Punishments, God defers them a long while; and by all proper ways and means endeavours to prevent them, and to bring us to repentance. And as for those temporal Judgments which God inflicts upon Sinners, he carries himself so, that we may plainly see all the signs of unwillingness that can be; he trys to prevent them, he is loth to set about this work; and when he does, it is with much reluctance; and then he is easily perswaded and prevail'd withal not to do it; and when he does, he does it not rigorou∣sly, and to extremity; and he is soon taken off after he is engaged in it. All which are great instances and evi∣dences of his wonderful patience to Sinners.
(1.) God's unwillingness to punish appears, in that he labours to prevent punishment; and that he may effectu∣ally do this, he endeavours to prevent sin, the meritorious Cause of God's Judgments. To this end he hath threatened it with severe punishments, that the dread of them may make Page 160 us afraid to offend; and if this will not do, he does not yet give us over, but gives us a space of repentance, and invites us earnestly to turn to him, and thereby to prevent his Judgments; he expostulates with Sinners, and rea∣sons the case with them, as if he were more concerned not to punish, than they are not to be punished; and thus by his earnest desire of our repentance, he shews how little he desires our ru∣ine.
(2.) He is long before he goes about this work. Judgment is in Scripture call'd his strange work; as if he were not acquainted with it, and hardly knew how to go about it on the sud∣den. He is represented as not prepared for such a work, Deut. 32.41. If I whet my glittering Sword; as if the In∣struments of Punishment were not rea∣dy for us. Nay, by a strange kind of condescention to our Capacities, and to set forth to us the patience of God, and his slowness to wrath, after the manner of Men, he is represented as keeping out of the way, that he may not be tempted to destroy us; Exod. 33.2, 3. where he tells Moses, that he would send an Angel before them, but Page 161 I will not go up in the midst of thee, lest I consume thee in the way.
At works of Mercy he is very rea∣dy and forward. When Daniel pray∣ed for the deliverance of the People of Israel out of Captivity, the Angel tells him, that at the beginning of his supplication, the commandment came forth, to bring him a promise of their deli∣verance. The mercy of God many times prevents our Prayers, and out∣runs our Wishes and Desires: but when he comes to affliction, he takes time to do it; he passeth by many provocations, and waits long in expe∣ctation, that by our repentance we will prevent his Judgments; he hearkned and heard (saith God in the Prophet Je∣remiah) but they spake not aright, no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? He is represented as waiting and listning, to hear if any penitent word would drop from them; he gives the Sinner time to repent and reflect upon his actions, and to consi∣der what he hath done, and space to reason himself into repentance. For this reason the Judgments of God do often follow the sins of Men at a great distance, otherwise he could easily Page 162 make them mend their pace, and con∣sume us in a moment.
(3.) When he goes about this work, he does it with much reluctance, A∣mos 11.8, 9. How shall I give thee up, E∣phraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? mine heart is turned within me, and my repentings are kindled together. He is represented as making many essays and offers before he came to it. Psal. 106.26. Many a time lifted he up his hand in the wilderness to destroy them. He made as if he would do it, and let fall his hand again, as if he could not find in his heart to be so severe. God witholds his Judgments till he is wea∣ry of holding in, as the Expression is, Jer. 6.11. till he can forbear no longer. Jer. 44.22. So that the Lord could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations, which ye have committed.
(4.) God is easily prevailed upon not to punish. When he seemed resolved upon it, to destroy the murmuring Is∣raelites, yet how often, at the inter∣cession of Moses, did he turn away his wrath? That he will accept of very low terms to spare a very wicked Peo∣ple, appears by the instance of Sodom, where if there had been but ten righte∣ous Page 163 persons, he would not have destroy∣ed them for the ten's sake. Yea, when his truth seemed to have been pawn'd, (at least in the apprehension of his Pro∣phet) yet even then repentance took him off, as in the case of Nineveh. Nay, how glad is he to be thus pre∣vented! with what joy does he tell the Prophet the news of Ahab's humili∣ation! Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself? Because he humbleth himself, I will not bring the evil in his days.
(5.) When he punisheth, he does it very seldom rigorously, and to ex∣tremity, not so much as we deserve; Psal. 103.10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us accord∣ing to our iniquities. Nor so much as he can; he doth not let loose the fierce∣ness of his anger, nor pour forth all his wrath; Psal. 78.38. Being full of compassion, he forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea many a time turn∣ed he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
(6.) After he hath begun to punish, and is ingaged in the work, he is not hard to be taken off. There is a famous instance of this, 2. Sam. 24. when God had sent three days Pestilence upon Page 164Israel for David's sin in numbring the People, and at the end of the third day, the Angel of the Lord had stretch∣ed forth his hand over Jerusalem to de∣stroy it, upon the Prayer of David, it is said, that the Lord repented of the e∣vil, and said to the Angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. Nay, so ready is God to be taken off from this work, that he sets a high value upon those who stand in the gap to turn away his wrath; Numb. 25.11, 12, 13. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, that I consumed them not in my jealousie; wherefore behold I give unto him my covenant of peace, and to his seed after him, because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the chil∣dren of Israel. That which God va∣lues in this action of Phinehas, next to his zeal for him, is, that he turned a∣way his wrath, and made an atonement for the Children of Israel.
5. and Lastly, The patience of God will yet appear with further advan∣tage, if we consider some eminent and remarkable Instances of it; which are so much the more considerable, be∣cause they are instances, not only of Page 165 God's patience extended to a long time, but to a great many persons. The long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah upon the whole World, as is probably conjectured, for the space of an hundred and twenty years. God bore with the People of Israel in the Wilderness, after they had tempt∣ed him ten times, for the space of forty Years; Acts 13.18. And about the space of forty years suffered he their manners in the Wilderness. And this instance of God's patience will be the more remarkable, if we compare it with the great impatience of that People; if they did but want Flesh or Water, they were out of patience with God; when Moses was in the Mount with God but forty days, they presently fall to make new Gods; they had not the patience of forty days, and yet God bore their manners forty years. God had spared Niniveh for some A∣ges, and when his patience was even expired, and he seems to have past a final Sentence upon it, yet he grants a Reprieve for forty days, that they might sue out their Pardon in that time, and they did so; they turned from their evil ways, and God turned Page 166 from the evil he said he would do to them, and he did it not.
But the most remarkable instance of God's long-suffering is to the Jews, if we consider it with all the circum∣stances of it; after they had rejected the Son of God, notwithstanding the purity of his Doctrine, and the power of his Miracles; after they had unjust∣ly condemned, and cruelly murdered the Lord of life, yet the patience of God respited the ruin of that People forty Years.
Besides all these, there are many in∣stances of God's patience to particular Persons; but it were endless to enume∣rate these; every one of us may be an instance to our selves of God's long-suffering.
I shall only add, as a further ad∣vantage to set off the patience of God to Sinners, that his forbearance is so great, that he hath been complained of for it by his own Servants. Job, who was so patient a Man himself, thought much at it; Job 21.7, 8. Wherefore doth the wicked live, yea, be∣come old? Their seed is establisht in their sight, and their posterity before their eyes. Jonah challengeth God for it, Ch. 4.2. Page 167Was not this that which I said when I was yet in my own country? and therefore I fled before unto Tarshish, because I knew thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, &c. Jonah had obser∣ved God to be so prone to this, that he was loth to be sent upon his Mes∣sage, least God should discredit his Prophet, in not being so good (shall I say) so severe as his word.
I have done with the first thing I proposed to speak to, viz. The great patience and long-suffering of God to Mankind.