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worm which never dieth, had it not been for the
patience of our God. Believers, you all acknowledge and feel this; and through eternity will bless him who lengthened out the season of your visitation, and preserved your lives till you were led to the cross of Jesus, to the fountain opened for transgression. And say, careless and impenitent men, why is it that the curse is still suspended, and does not descend upon you; that the thunders still linger; that salvation yet is offered; that the messages of reconciliation yet sound in your ears? Is it not because God is patient? Because the Intercessor yet pleads, “ Spare him for another year, or month, or week; let him enjoy another season of grace, another offer of everlasting life?” And shall this forbearance be still abused? Shall this means of grace be added to those that have been abused, and that have gone before you to the bar of God, and are there accusing you, and pleading against you? Will you still continue unaffected till the dreadful sentence shall be pronounced, “ Cut him down, why cumbereth he the ground !” God of patience and long-suffering, interceding Jesus, prevent this dreadful doom, and let the riches of thy forbearance lead these sinners to repentance!
After this view of the patience of God, we are naturally led to inquire into the reasons why he exercises such long-suffering to the guilty children of men. This we are to examine in the
Illd. Division of our discourse.
Lovely as is this attribute, its exercise has often appeared mysterious to the pious, and has been abused by the sinner. Asaph is not the only believer whose « feet had well nigh slipped” at beholding the prosperity of the wicked, and seeing them encom
passed by the divine patience with more than heart could wish.” And on the other hand, how many impenitent men have there been “ whose heart has been fully set in them to do mischief, because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily?" Yet a little reflection, an entrance into the sanctuary, would have convinced them, that in this, as in all the other proceedings of his providence, the manifold wisdom of God is shown.
1. He is patient in consequence of the benignity of his nature. These two properties are necessarily allied : we see this in our fellow-men; we see it in Immanuel. Who more benignant than the blessed Jesus? and who more patient than he? Like him, the Father, of whom he is the “ express image."
, « afflicteth not willingly, nor grieveth the children of men.” (Lam. iii. 33.)
2. The Lord is patient to men that this perfection may be glorified. All his attributes are to be glorified and displayed, in their beauty and excellence, before all his intelligent creatures; but his patience can be manifested only in this world; there can be no exercise of it in heaven, since there will be nothing to require it; none in hell, since there will be nothing but wrath to the vessels of wrath.
“Mercy has a heaven, and justice a hell, in which to display themselves to eternity: but long-suffering and patience have only a short-lived earth on which to be glorified.” This reason is assigned by God himself: “ For my name's sake will I defer mine anger,
and for my praise will I refrain from thee that I cut thee not off.” (Is. xlviii. 9.)
3. The Lord is frequently patient to the wicked, in consequence of the prayers of pious ancestors laid up for them in heaven, and of the promises made to their holy progenitors, and their offspring after them. Ah! careless children of pious parents, whose counsels you have despised, and whose precepts you have refused to follow, you know not how much you are indebted to them. Though you grieved their hearts while they lived, by neglecting your God and your Saviour, yet they fervently and with tears pleaded for you at the throne of grace; and it may be that you had now been in hell, had they not in faith urged the promises, and laid hold on the divine omnipotence, and thus caused the judgments of God upon you to be stayed.
4. The Lord is frequently patient to the wicked, from their mixture with the pious, and the near relations subsisting between them. From love to his dear children, he spares his enemies. The family of Lot shall not all be cut off, that the soul of that holy man may not be torn with anguish. Desolating judgments shall not come upon Judah till good Josiah descend to his grave in peace. (2 Kings xxii. 18, 20.)
5. The Lord is patient, because the number of his elect is not yet completed, and because many of the descendants of these wicked men shall be trophies of his grace, and monuments of the Redeemer's
power and love. Had a wicked Ahaz been cut off at once, a pious Hezekiah never would have lived, and pleaded the cause of God.
6. The Lord is patient with them, because the measure of their sins is not yet filled up. “ The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” is the reason which he himself assigns for the delay of their extinction. When that period shall arrive, the decree shall instantly go forth, “ Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” Zechariah, to illustrate this truth, by
a striking figure, represents an ephah, (the largest dry measure among the Jews, and therefore calculated to express the greatness of the divine forbearance, ) into which the wickedness of the people was thrown; till it was filled God bore with it; but when filled, a mass of lead, denoting the firmness, immutability, and heaviness of the divine counsel, was placed upon it; and two women with wind in their wings, the swift executioners of God's vengeance, bore it to the land of perpetual desolation. (Zech. v. 6, &c.)
7. The Lord is patient, that sinners may be brought to repentance. “The long-suffering of God is salvation,” says Peter, (2 Pet. iii. 15.) and in a text already quoted he assures us, “God is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Ah! had it not been for this attribute, there would not have been a saint on earth, a redeemed sinner in heaven. Jesus would have been without a church, and his blood would have flowed in vain.
8. The Lord is patient, that sinners who continue impenitent may at last be without excuse, and that his justice may shine the brighter in their condemnation. Ah! thou who triflest with the forbearance of God, will not thy mouth be closed, will not every excuse die upon thy lips, when in the light of eternity thou shalt see the number and the value of the means of grace, the public assistances and private helps which patience afforded thee, and the length to which thy neglected season of visitation was prolonged?
9. The Lord is patient to the wicked, that his power may be displayed ; the greatness of his protection and providence be manifested in preserving the church in the midst of her enemies. Had there been
no Dioclesians and Neros, we should have had but a faint conception of the care with which God watches over his church and people.
Finally: the Lord is patient with the wicked, that he may exercise the trust of his servants in him, and the “ patience of his saints;" that he may call forth the graces of the righteous, and drive them with Habakkuk into their watch-tower, with David into the sanctuary, to study the judgments of God; that he may try their sincerity, sins being borne as heresies are permitted, that those that are approved may be made manifest; that we might live by faith and not by sight. Were a flaming sword to descend immediately on the head of the wicked, were punishment instantly inflicted on the ungodly, to walk by faith, in hope of invisible blessings, and in expectation of an unseen state, would be impossible; and of consequence the whole nature of tbe gospel dispensation must be changed.
These are some of the reasons why God is patient and long-suffering.
The inferences from this subject are numerous and important: listen to a few of them.
1. Is God infinitely patient ? With what love to him should the consideration of this attribute inspire us? It is a more endearing perfection even than his good
The goodness which made us, which endued us with such exalted faculties, deserves our affection; but still more so does his patience to us, as sinners, after we have deserved the severest wrath, and the benefits which he has conferred upon us while we were rebels. Shame to our ungrateful hearts, that they do not more ardently love such a God!
2. Is God infinitely patient? What a motive to the