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George Swinnock on the Longsuffering of God to Impenitent Sinners (With Reference to 2 Peter 3:9)

July 14, 2008

12. He is thus patient towards men, who did not wait at all on angels. The angels were more noble creatures, and able to hare done him more and better service than man; yet, when they sinned, he did not wait a moment for their repentance; but he stretches out his hand all the day long to man. He that would not wait upon disloyal courtiers, waits upon rebellious beggars. Consider the causes of it.

The moving cause is his own gracious nature. Men forbear punishing malefactors, sometimes because they are related to them, sometimes from hope of advantage by them, sometimes because they are afraid of them; but God forbears none upon any such grounds. His goodness is the only string that ties his hand from striking ; ‘Yea, many years did thou forbear them, for thou art a gracious and a merciful God,’ Neh. ix. 30, 31.

The final cause is manifold.

1. That he might exalt his great name. It is light straw that upon the least spark takes fire. The discretion of a man defers his anger, and it is his glory to pass by infirmities; mean and low spirits are most peevish and passionate; sickly and weak persons are observed to be the most impatient. God makes his power known, when he endures with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. He intends the advancement of his praise in the lengthening of his patience: ‘For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger; for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off,’ Isa, xlviii, 9.

2. That sinners might amend, He is patient, that men might not perish, ‘The Lord is not slack, 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.’ He defers their execution, that they might sue out their pardon. The Lord waits, not that he might be blessed in himself, but that he may be gracious to sinners.

3, That impenitent sinners might be left without excuse. I sinners that are turned out of the womb into hell, will justify God, surely those upon whom he waited twenty, or thirty, or forty, or fifty years for their conversion, will condemn themselves. If all forbearing mercy may well be silent. Oh, how little will they have to say for themselves upon whom grace waited so many years, knocking hard at the door of their hearts for acceptance, and they refused to open to it, or bid it come in. How justly will they suffer long in the other world, to whom God was so long-suffering to no purpose in this world, Rom. iv. 2.

How fully, O my soul, doth the Scripture mention this patience of thy God! ‘The Lord passed bg and proclaimed his name, The Lord, The Lord God, gracious, long-suffering.’ Though sinners try his patience by their heaven-daring provocations, yet the Lord is gracious, slow to anger, and of great kindness; oftentimes they do their utmost to kindle the fire of his anger, but many a time turned he away his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath. What monuments of his patience hath he reared up in his word! It is also written in broad letters in his works; he bore with the Jews after their unparalleled murder of his own Son, above forty years. The old world had larger experiences of his forbearance. My Spirit shall not always strive with man, yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.’ The Egyptians, though cruel persecutors of his own people, that were as dear to him as the apple of his eye, yet were suffered four hundred years. He bears with men till he can no longer forbear. The woman with child is forced, though she hold out long, to fall in labor at last. ‘ I have long time holden my peace ; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman,’ Isa. xlii. 14.

O thou dear friend of mankind, that thou wert imprinted in my thoughts, engraven in my heart, and always before mine eyes! O my soul, consider this long-suffering of thy God, till thou taste some relish of its sweetness I This name of thy God is as ointment poured out, which yields a refreshing Fragrancy; hath it been all thy days so near thee, and done so much for thee, and wilt thou not give it some warm entertainment within thee? Hast thou not infinite cause to cry out, ‘Oh the depth of the patience and forbearance of God!’ As soon as thou was conceived, thou was corrupted; before thou was born, sin was brought forth in thee; thy God might have turned thee out of thy mother’s belly into the belly of hell; devils might have been the midwife to deliver thy mother of such a monster, and their dungeon of darkness the first place in which thou did breathe; yet he, who might have caused eternal death to have trodden upon the heels of thy natural birth, spored thee. Had he then suffered the roaring lions, his executioners, to for an example to them that should hereafter believe in him unto eternal life.’

O my soul, :what dost thou think of these things? Was ever patience represented in such lively lovely colors ? Thou may now fully satisfy thyself in the reason of thine abode so many years on this side the unquenchable lake. Dost thou ask, Why was I not cut off from the womb, and hurried through the light of this world to blackness of darkness for ever? I answer, Because thy God is patient. Dost thou ask, Though I was not as a poisonous viper, crushed to death, as soon as brought forth, with the foot of divine wrath, for the venom which was in me ; yet when I put it forth to the injury of others, and did spit it in the face of God himself, why was I spared ? I answer, Because God is patient. Thou sin often, every day, every hour, in every thought, in every word, in every deed, and he spares as often, because he is patient. Thou reads of a season when the patience .of the saints doth especially triumph. ‘Here is the faith and patience of the saints;’ this world is the stage, and this life is the time, wherein the patience of thy God doth act its part, to the amazement of all judicious spectators; here is the faithfulness and patience of thy God. Oh that I could affect and admire it, embrace and entertain it according to its worth ! Oh that my heart were filled with its warmth, my tongue with its praise, and my life ,with its end! Oh thou that art so much in favour with God, and so great a friend to men, that thou wert engraven upon the palms ,of my hands, and thy walls were ever before me! Oh that thy noble deeds, and what wonders thou hast wrought for the children ,of men, were written for the generations to come, that the people yet unborn might praise the Lord! When, oh when shall this patience of my God make a suitable impression upon my spirit! I live upon it, I live by it, I had been a firebrand of hell at this moment had it not been for it, yet how great a stranger am I to it I It goes with me when I walk abroad, it abides with me when I stay at home, it follows me up and down day and night; I am beholden to it for my life and all my mercies, for my .present enjoyments and future expectations; yet, alas, how little am I affected with it! I wonder at the patience of some choice Christians, that hold their tongues when others revile them, and their hands when others assault them ; and do not wonder at the patience of my God, when their injuries are nothing to his, either for nature or number; and their patience to his far less than the smallest drop to the ocean. O my soul, how wilt thou be able to answer for this senseless stupidity? Must the candles of creatures be gazed at with amazement, and thy God a lone be neglected? Is a beam of the sun worthy of such admiration, and not its glorious body worthy of much more? Wilt thou not value a pearl of such infinite price, and disesteem all the meekness and forbearance of men, in comparison of the patience of thy God? Oh, where is thy judgment, that thou values so little such unsearchable riches, that thou dost not cry out, Oh the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the forbearance of God? Where are thy affections, that they do not cling about it, cleave to it, close with it, delight in its presence, and desire its continuance? Where is thy heart, that it doth not taste its sweetness, smell its savior, love its gracious author, and meditate on its precious nature and pleasant effects night and day? Where are my spiritual senses, that they are not conversant about so worthy an object? I cannot open mine eyes, but I may behold it in everything that is visible. The food, and raiment, and life, and health, and strength, and liberty, that I and others enjoy, present the patience of God unto me. Every friend I converse with, every drunkard and unclean person and atheist–yea, every man I meet, tells me, God is patient. The oaths, and curses, and murders, and adulteries, and blasphemies, and profaneness of wicked men, cry aloud in mine ears, that God is patient. The persecutions, and oppressions, and prayers, and cries, and tears of good men, proclaim to my conscience, that God is patient. The Sabbaths and ordinances, and seasons of grace, and offers of pardon and life, which both good and bad enjoy, speak plainly and distinctly, The Lord is patient. Oh that mine eyes could see it, mine ears hear it, and mouth taste it, my mind discern it, and my soul relish it in all these! O thou beautiful beam, darted from the Sun of righteousness, that calls poor mortals to life, when they are at the brink of death, thou that art the wonder of glorious angels, and glorified saints, be thou unto me as a bundle of myrrh, and a cluster of camphor, always unto me ; let me love thee much for my own sake, because thou hast done so much for me, but most for the Lord’s sake, because he is all in all unto me.

Well, O my soul, how wilt thou requite the kindness thou hast received from this patience of thy God? When Ahasuerus, a heathen, had read and considered how Mordecai saved his life, by discovering the two traitors that sought to lay hands on the king, he cried out, What honor hath been done to Mordecai for this? and could take no rest till he had given him some signal honor. Thou hast read, for thy whole life is a book written within and without with it, how the patience of thy God hath saved thy life, the life of thy soul, when sin and Satan conspired together to take it away; now wilt thou not say within thyself, What honor hath been done to the patience of God for this? and be unsatisfied till thou hast done it some honor, for this good office it hath done thee? What love doth that friend deserve who saves thy life? What esteem doth that hand of pity merit, that keeps thee out of the bottomless pit? What thanks is that messenger worthy of, that brings thee, a condemned sinner, certain news of a reprieve, and great hopes of a pardon? Surely the respect thou owe to the patience of God, which doth as much for thee as all this, should be very great, especially considering thy disrespects formerly to the God of patience have been very grievous. Lord, I acknowledge I have formerly much abused thy patience, using it as an encouragement to profaneness, and turning thy grace into wantonness; but now through thy strength I will no longer despise the riches of thy forbearance, but be led through thy goodness to repentance, I know thou intends it as a city of refuge to the penitent, not as a sanctuary to the presumptuous. Oh, let me never make it a pillow for a hard heart, but a plaster for a wounded spirit! Let this servant of thine, and friend of mine, obtain his errand, and accomplish the end for which thou hast sent him. Thou sparest me here that thou might spare me hereafter, thou waits upon me that thou might be gracious unto me, and art long-suffering, because not willing that any should perish, but that all might come to repentance. Oh that therefore I might wait upon thee in all thy providences and ordinances for grace, that so thy longsuffering may be unto me salvation! Thou hast told me, Though the sinner live a hundred years, and God prolong his days, yet it shall not go well with the wicked. His preservation is but a reservation to the sorer and great destruction. Though thou suffers long, thou wilt not suffer always; and when thou strike impenitent ones, the slowness of thy pace will be recompensed in the heaviness of thy hand. The longer the child of vengeance is in the womb of the threatening, the bigger it grows, and the more pain it mill put the sinner to, when it cometh to the birth of its execution. Oh how dreadful will my doom be, when thou comes to reckon with me for all thy patience, if I do not at this day prevent it by repentance! If thy patience do not now make me bend, hereafter it will make me bleed; it is a sweet friend, but a bitter enemy; no fury like that which is extracted out of abused patience. It were far better to be sent from the mother’s breasts to everlasting burnings, than to live many years at the charge of patience, and then to die impenitent. If I cause thee to suffer long now in vain, thou wilt cause me to suffer long in the other world, and the more dreadfully for thy long-suffering in this. Since thou art gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, oh take me not away in thy long-suffering, but give me to mind in this day of thy patience, the things that concern mine everlasting peace, that I may to eternity-give thee honor and praise for thy wondrous and boundless patience. Amen.

Extracted from: George Swinnock, “The Christian Man’s Calling,” in The Works of George Swinnock (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1992), 478-485. [Some spelling modernized.]

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