The Patience Of God

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4

Our text this morning is Romans Chapter 2 verse 4: Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Among the various perfections of God, which make him infinitely worthy of our admiration and love, his Patience requires our peculiar attention, for there is not a human being on earth who does not have a stake in it.

God himself accounts it his glory to exercise patience towards the children of men, for when his servant Moses desired to see his glory, God was pleased to make a solemn proclamation of his name, including this excellent perfection, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6) His patience is his glory; it is a jewel belonging to the imperial crown of Heaven. He glories in it as peculiar to himself. ‘I will not,” said he, “execute my burning anger for I am God and not a man;” (Hosea 11:9) as if he said, “Had I been man, the best and most patient man, I would have destroyed them long ago; but as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways above the ways of man.” And it is with the goal of exalting the glory of this divine attribute, that the apostle Paul, in our text, speaks of “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” together with the genuine tendency of these, which is “to lead the sinner to repentance.” He bears with you, that you may escape the dreadful blow, by humbling yourself before him, and forsaking your sins. From these words we will show, that,

The great, holy, and just God, exercises a most astonishing patience towards his sinful creatures.

Patience, forbearance, long-suffering, suppose the commission of offences. If God does not speedily punish the sins of men, it is not because he is not displeased with them. This indeed was the mistake of the Jews, to whom the apostle Paul speaks in our text. The goodness of God to them made some of them think that he would not punish the children of Abraham for their sins; but the apostle tells them that they formed a wrong judgment of God whose patience was not intended to lull them asleep in security, but to give them time, and space, and motive to repentance. If God does not at once execute his judgments on wicked transgressors, it is not because he does not notice them, and hate them, and determine to punish them. He who is infinitely holy hates sin with a perfect abhorrence of which he has given the world sufficient evidence in the many calamities which abound everywhere because of sin. The earth was cursed for man’s sake; it produces thorns and thistles; cares, labors, and troubles; sickness, sorrow, and death; to remind the children of Adam that they have sinned, and that he is displeased.

The great God, seated on his eternal throne, sees every individual of all the billions of mankind, and none of their actions can be concealed from his notice. “He knows when we sit down and when we rise up. He searches our our path and our lying down and is acquainted with all our ways:” (Psalms 139:2,3) and O, what a world of iniquity does he behold!—“the whole world,” said the apostle John, “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19)—a rebel universe!—our entire species, not one exempt!” The Scripture testifies, that “all are under sin;” that “none is righteous, no, not one:” “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:9, 10, 19) And, if every one is a sinner, if God sees innumerable sins in every one of us, what must be the collected sum of the billions of sinners who inhabit the earth!—and who can calculate the amount of sins repeated throughout the life of each transgressor, continued (in the case of many) for sixty years or more! God hears every lie that sinners utter: he hears thousands of these every moment. He observes all the lustful glances of the eye, he follows the rebellious sinner into the most secret place: he witnesses all the acts of fraud, and cruelty, and oppression, which are committed daily: and he beholds all these, not with indifference, but with infinite hatred, for he “feels indignation every day.” (Psalm 7:11) “I know,” said he, “how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins;” (Amos 5:12) and, in another place he says, “I know the things that come into your mind.” (Ezekiel 11:5) What provoking acts of iniquity does he behold in courts, in parlements, in ships, and theatres, in taverns, and in brothels; indeed, in churches too, where too often, formality, wandering eyes and wandering hearts, hypocrisy, and unbelief, most hateful sins in his eyes, are to be found! All these things are noticed in order that they may be punished; they are recorded in his book of remembrance, and will be brought into judgment in the great day of accounts.

And so it should never be imagined that God is not displeased, because he does not yet punish. Not only do the evils which abound in the world manifest his anger against sin, but the testimonies of his word most fully and strongly declare it. Hear what he said to Israel of old, “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert” (Psalm 78:40)—“forty years I loathed that generation;” (Psalm 95:10) and in another passage more strongly expressive of the divine hatred of sin than any other in the Bible, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5,6) These expressions, which are after the manner of men, must not be taken as if they implied any weakness or unhappiness in God; but they certainly prove that he is greatly displeased with sin, and especially with offensive sinners; even as a parent who is not only displeased at the disobedience and ingratitude of a son, but is also exceedingly grieved, grieved at his heart. Surely this should teach us to grieve for our own sins! But if such be the just resentment which a holy God feels when sinners rebel, how wonderful is his patience in delaying the deserved punishment! This is what we are called in our text to admire—“the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience.” (Romans 2:4)

That we may more clearly see, and be more deeply affected with the patience of God, let us review some of those instances which are recorded in the sacred Scriptures, or which are still manifested in the world and in ourselves.

1. God was pleased to give an example of his patience in his conduct towards the first human sinners—our first parents.

The great Creator had been very generous to his creature, man. He was filled and surrounded with good; there was nothing left for him to wish for. He had all the liberty he could desire. There was no restraint laid upon him apart from an easy abstinence from the forbidden tree; which his Maker enforced with the declaration that disobedience would be punished by death. But, sadly! how soon did he give in to the force of temptation; he saw, he took, he ate the fatal fruit. No sooner did horror seize his soul, when his offended Maker approached, and approached, as he had reason to expect, to execute the dreadful threatening; for he had said, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

But did he die? Did the full force of divine wrath strike him dead as he stood trembling in the bushes? No. Patience descends, for the first time, to this guilty world and gives the condemned criminal a reprieve, a reprieve of 900 years. The sentence of death indeed was past, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return;” (Genesis 3:19) but it was many centuries before it was executed; it was also accompanied with hints of redeeming mercy, by which, on believing, the worst part of the sentence should be avoided, for he was not to taste “the second death.” (Revelation 2:11)

What a living monument of patience did our first father display to all his numerous posterity for almost a thousand years; every one of his pious descendants who beheld him would say, Behold the patience of God! The same patience was exercised towards the first-born man, who, tragically, proved to be a murderer, a murderer of his brother, a murderer of his pious brother; and who had no other provocation to the awful deed than the piety of his brother and his own wickedness. And might it not have been expected, that in answer to the cry of Abel’s blood, vengeance should have struck the bloody Cain to the earth, and to hell? But here again behold the patience of God; he received an awful sentence, and became a fugitive and an outcast, but he was allowed time for repentance, and his life was guarded by a special provision. (Genesis 4:9-15)

2. Advancing in the history of the world, we find that in less than 1400 years, “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way.” (Genesis 6:12)

The offended God determines to destroy the earth and its guilty inhabitants. “Behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.” (Genesis 6:12) But was this awful sentence immediately executed? No: “his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3) Noah, who was himself to be preserved in the ark which he undertook to build, became a preacher of righteousness to his neighbors that they also might repent, and escape the threatened punishment. On that disobedient race the long-suffering God “waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” (1 Peter 3:20) Every stroke of the hammer, while that vessel was being built, was a warning from God, and a fruit of his patience. How many, during that 120 years repented and were pardoned, we are not told—we hope there were many, but they died in peace before the flood came: of those who were living on earth at the time, none were preserved from the waters but Noah and his family. How few seem to have benefited from the patience of God in that generation!

3. Observe the patience of God towards the idolatrous nations of the heathen world.

How hateful to God is the sin of idolatry. It is defrauding him of his glory; it is serving the creature instead of the Creator; it is transferring the honor due to the most high God to dead men, to images of men, to birds, and animals, and creeping things, even to devils; but idolatry was not their only crime; their morals were as depraved as their worship was false; the greater part of them were “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They were full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They were gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29) This was their character. Yet, knowing well enough that these things were worthy of death, they persisted in practising them, and took pleasure in others who did them. Many, even of their lawgivers, priests, and philosophers, by their institutions, examples, and presence, encouraged the people in the practice of these abominations, especially in celebrating the festivals of their gods. Most justly might the holy Governor of the world make a dreadful example of such grievous sinners, but he was patient and long-suffering; “The times of ignorance God overlooked.” (Acts 17:30) He so overlooked as not severely to punish. Great was his patience!

4. The history of the Jews gives us more striking proofs of divine patience.

No nation on earth was ever so highly favored. For no other people did God so miraculously intervene: no country was ever indulged with so full a revelation of his will, with such tokens of his presence; to them, therefore, he might justly say, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2) Those iniquities were indeed many and aggravated; they are charged with being “rebellious and stubborn,” (Deuteronomy 31:27) and they frequently fell into idolatry; to which crimes they added the persecution and murder of the prophets; yet he endured, with much long-suffering, their ungrateful conduct. Forty years he endured their manners in the wilderness. It was long before he cast off the ten tribes of Israel and before he sent Judah to Babylon. He restored them again to their own land, rebuilt their temple and gave them another chance. They never again relapsed into idolatry; but they lost the spirit of their religion, became formal, and hypocritical, and worldly, and substituted the traditions of men in the place of the word of God; still his patience endured, and to them he made the first offer of the Gospel; nor did he “take away both their place and their nation” (John 11:48) until they had rejected both his Son and the apostles, and only after that did wrath fearfully fall upon them.

5. God’s patience is seen in his giving warning of approaching judgments.

And so, by Noah, he warned the old world; by Jonah, he warned Nineveh; by the prophets, Israel was warned, when captivity or war was at hand; and so, our Lord himself warned Jerusalem and the Jews of their impending fate. In this way he commanded his people to act in the conquest of Canaan; they were to summon a city before they attacked it; and in this way he deals with all his rebellious creatures. This was a main purpose of the prophets in ancient days as expressed in the book of Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:17) Awful admonition! but strong demonstration of the patience of God! In the same way his long-suffering is still displayed. The faithful ministers of the New Testament, no less than those of the Old, are still his watchmen. Bear with them, you who do not hate your own souls; do not be angry with them, because they tell you the truth, nor reproach them as ministers of wrath, when they warn you to flee from the wrath to come. They are your best friends; they only act according to their commission, and they imitate the apostle of the Gentiles, whose joy it was that he could appeal to Heaven, that he “did not shrink from declaring” to the Ephesians “the whole counsel of God,” (Acts 20:27) and that for three whole years he did not “cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:31) Consider these faithful warnings for what they really are: tokens of God’s patience!

6. Once more, observe and admire the patience of God, in the reluctance with which he punishes men, and in the moderation with which punishments are inflicted.

His judgments are long delayed, as long as possible. He does not strike until it is absolutely necessary. He convinces the world that “judgment is his strange work,” (Isaiah 28:21) and that he “does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:33) Like a caring parent, necessity only urges him to chastise and his language is, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8) And when he does punish, with what moderation is it done! “He restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.” (Psalm 78:38) If he sends famine, disease, or the sword into a country all are not destroyed; some are spared, perhaps the greater part. At the worst of times it may be said, he has “punished us less than our iniquities deserved,” (Ezra 9:13) and “in wrath he remembers mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

We close with a few practical lessons which the subject suggests.

1. Let us be careful not to abuse the patience of God.

This is a common and often a fatal fault. Because God is patient, sinners presume that he is unconcerned about their sins. Because he delays to punish, they conclude he never will. But this is to abuse his patience and deny his truthfulness. Of this he complained in ancient times “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself;” (Psalms 50:21) but this base abuse of his patience is so provoking to him, that he adds, “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver.” (Psalms 50:22) Awful self deception! Ungrateful treatment! Do you in this way pay back the patience of God? Do you in this way despise—treat his great patience with such contempt? If so, mark the consequence as declared in the verse after our text “You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5) For, consider it well, his patience will have an end.

This perfection will not, like most others, be continued to eternity. It is adapted only to the present time, and may end tomorrow, it may end tonight, indeed, it may end this very next moment. Jesus Christ, foreseeing that the forbearance of God with Jerusalem was nearly at an end, anticipates the dreadful day, and weeps when he cries, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42) Sad it is to think, that the goodness which leads to repentance, should only serve to harden the heart, and embolden the sinner to persist in his sins. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

But, consider what will be the consequence. The stroke delayed will fall the heavier; the stream impeded in its course, will increase its weight, and when once it breaks down the dam, will rush with such violence as to carry all before it: the debt that remains long unpaid, will be demanded with interest upon interest, and that terrific threatening will be fulfilled. “Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.” (Proverbs 1:24-27) To avoid this dreadful doom,

2. Let us be careful that we benefit from his patience;

and our text tells us how to do it; “God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance;” (Romans 2:4) it gives opportunity for it; and it has a tendency to produce it. God might have cut you down in the first of those sinful actions which perhaps you have repeated hundreds of times. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in the act of lying, and so have many others been when caught in awful deceit. Zimri and Cozbi were slain when in open defiance. Many have died in fits of drunkenness; and many persecutors have been snatched away before they could execute their wicked purposes, or soon after committing them. Why are we spared? Why more forbearance for us than for others? It may be (hopefully) that God intends to melt our stubborn hearts by his kindness. But stop this dangerous waiting. Lift up your heart and say, God be merciful to me a sinner! I yield, O Lord, finally I yield. I admire your patience. I resolve to tempt it no longer. Do pardon my iniquity for it is great. Wash me in the blood of the Lamb, and let your Holy Spirit cleanse this deceitful a heart and make it new.

With what grateful admiration should believers reflect on their past days! The weeks, the months, the years when God “waited to be gracious.” (Isaiah 30:18) Long did he stand at the door and knock before it was opened; and in the meantime, how many a neighbor, a friend, a companion perhaps of iniquity, was snatched away—they were taken, but you were left; left until you heard the voice of the Son of God, and lived. It is a sobering thought that God should have spared you, as a man spares his son, until he brought you up out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, set your feet upon a rock, and established your steps. Remember what a debtor you are! Does this not stir you up to sing his praise, admire his patience, and devote yourself to his service? How reasonable is it also that you should,

3. Strive to resemble the God of Patience.

We cannot have the same opportunity for patience as he has, for we are not the rulers of the world; yet some opportunities for it we shall certainly find. Some injuries from our fellow-creatures we have to expect; some degree of opposition even for Christ's sake. But the patience of God must make us patient. Good men have sometimes failed here. Even Moses, meek as he was, was so offended by the stubborn Israelites, that he angrily called them Rebels. How unlike to God are those persons who are all in a flame at the slightest provocation, and meditate revenge under the pretense of a regard to honor. Even Christians themselves, in their families and in their churches, display too little of this amiable and God-like grace: but true Christian love “is patient and kind; bears all things, and is not irritable or resentful.” Let the patience of God make you resolve to keep your souls in patience!

Remember the instructive parable in which our Lord reproves the cruel creditor, whose immense debt of ten thousand talents had been freely forgiven, but who went out and seized by the throat his fellow-servant, who owed him only a hundred denarii. (Matthew 18:21-35) How ungrateful, how inconsistent, how provoking was his conduct!

Let us, however, resolve to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us.” (Ephesians 4:32)