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3. This perfection does not result from impotence. Patience and forbearance in man are often supposed to proceed from inability or cowardice. But, thou great Omnipotent, who dare form such a blasphemous opinion of thy forbearance? Thou, whose word spake the world into being; who, by a single exercise of thy will, canst crush all creatures; thou, on whose arm hang heaven, earth, and hell, shall we doubt of thy power to punish thine enemies : or suppose that thou tremblest from apprehension of those who could not exist an instant without thy constant support? Nay, my brethren, this perfection is so far from indicating impotence, that we are taught by the scriptures to consider the divine power' as most illustriously displayed in its exercise; for this reason, the two attributes are in numerous places joined together, “Slow to anger, and of great power." 66 What if God," says the apostle, (Rom. ix. 22.) “ willing to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction ?" It is remarkable, that when Moses (Num. xiv. 17.) is pleading for the pardon of the Israelites, he says, not let thy grace, thy mercy, be manifested, but, “ Let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is long-suffering.” That power which restrains omnipotence, which holds in that infinite justice which can crush offending creatures, is far greater than that which made the universe.
4. Neither does this patience result from a connivance at sin, or a resolution to suffer it with impunity. Who can even conceive, thrice holy God, thy deep detestation of those sins which thou endurest, towards which thou exercisest thy long-suffering? We quake with terror when we sce this detestation glittering in the lightnings, and hear it rolling in the thunders of Sinai, when we see it written in the denunciations of thy holy word, attested by the avenging strokes of thy providence, confirmed by all the miseries which have deluged the earth, shining in the flames of hell, and still more awfully displayed in the tremendous sacrifice of Emmanuel! No, no, thoughtless sinner; though the Lord is patient, he also is just; he will not, he cannot, view sin without abhorrence; he will not, he cannot acquit the finally and impenitently guilty.
5. Finally: ever remember that this patience is grounded on the everlasting covenant, and the blood of Jesus. Through this covenant, tinged with this blood, every mercy that we enjoy, every blessing that we hope for, flow to us. Why was not patience exercised to the fallen angels, as well as to fallen man? Why were they immediately “ bound in chains of darkness, reserved for judgment ?” Because Jesus had not engaged in the councils of eternity to atone for them, as he had engaged to become the surety of man: because when justice demanded their punishment, there was no victim that interposed in their behalf, as did the “ Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world,” in behalf of man. Oh! then, when you think of the divine patience, let your hearts swell with gratitude, not only towards the everlasting Father, but also to that Jesus, through whose atonement alone this patience could be extended towards you, in consistence with the attributes of God.
Having thus shown you the nature of this attribute, how easy is it,
II. To prove that it is illustriously displayed towards the children of men.
Every thing around you and within you, the his- . tory of the church, of the world, and of yourselves, prove the immensity of the divine patience. Unroll the annals of the world : at every step you perceive traces of this attribute. When our first parents sinned, it was exercised towards them. Did the earth immediately swallow them up, or fire from heaven consume them, or the flames of the abyss instantly enwrap them? No; patience held them in being, gave them an opportunity of securing a better Eden than that which they had lost, and pointed them to that Messiah who should repair the ruins of the fall. When the old world had corrupted its way before God, for one hundred and twenty years he bore with its enormities, sent his Spirit to strive with them, and his messengers to warn them, before the exterminating deluge swept them from life. When the nations of the Canaanites indulged in every abomination, and rioted in every crime, he delayed for four hundred years to inflict on them the punishments they deserved, till exhausted patience and abused mercy called for their extinction.
When the Gentile nations in general provoked Heaven by their cruel, impure, and abominable rites; and instead of adoring the God of heaven, had placed the vilest passions and the grossest vices in the seat of the divinity; and encouraged by such a system of religion, had without remorse “ run to every excess of riot,” the Lord “ left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts xiv. 17.) When the Israelites so often forgot his covenant, and notwithstanding his numberless miracles and amazing mercies, rebelled
against him, did he not bear with them, forgive their iniquities, and crown them with loving-kindness ?
But why do I mention particular examples ? There is not a spot on our globe, there is not an instant that has elapsed since the creation, there is not a human being that has existed, from the first created man to the infant that this moment has opened its eyes upon the light, that does not prove the forbearance of our God. The very continuance of the world proves that his patience is divine. Consider the number, the greatness, and the continuance of the provocations against him, the great Creator and most bountiful Benefactor, by creatures whom he hath made, whom he hath surrounded with blessings, for whose redemption he gave the Son of his love to agonies unutterable; and then fall down in adoring wonder that this polluted and rebellious earth has not long since been struck into everlasting darkness and final ruin. Yes, Lord, it is because thou art God, and not man, that it has not long since been consumed ! Brethren, not merely men, but angels and glorified spirits could not bear the provocations which God endures; had they had the regulation of earth, they would long since have inflicted the vengeance for which they ask, while their souls, lying under the altar, cry, “ How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ?” (Rev. vi. 10.) If all the patience possessed by all the creatures that ever were made, were concentrated in the heart of the most benignant angel in heart, and the government of the world committed to him for a single day, fire must speedily come down from heaven and consume us all. Yet the holy God bears year after year, generation after generation, century after century, with these multi
plied provocations : and this too when his very forbearance is basely misconstrued, and made an encouragement to new sin.
Consider too the conduct of God towards those whom he is compelled ultimately to punish. Before the judgments approach which they are bringing down upon their heads, he solemnly and affectionately warns them. He thunders at a distance before the bolt descends, that men may in time flee to the covert, the asylum that is opened for them. He sends message after message, that they may at last be induced to listen. If they are still obstinate, he delays, he gives new mercies, that their souls at last may be touched. If he must punish, he does it by degrees, leaving much if he deprive them of some blessings, letting fall only some drops of his anger, when the whole cloud of vengeance might justly be discharged upon them, “ stirring not up all his wrath.” (Ps. Ixxviii. 38.) If at last he must pour out his vengeance upon the incorrigible sinner, he appears to do it with reluctance : he stands over him and cries,
Why wilt thou die ?” “ How shall I give thee up, , Ephraim ?” and seems still averse to pronounce the , irrevocable sentence upon him. Brethren, have we hearts capable of any generous emotions, of any grateful feelings? shall they not burn within us at this touching forbearance of our God?
Let us forget for a moment the rest of the world, and the general conduct of God to our race ; let us reflect on his dealing with ourselves, and we shall be constrained to bless him for his patience. There is not one of us who is not a monument of his forbearance; there is not one of us who would not long since have been rolling in those flames which never shall be quenched, agonized by the gnawings of that