THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD                                                                                     Lesson #15


The Longsuffering of God                       2 Peter 3:9


            There was a day when the depravity of the human race had plunged to such depths of corruption that “every imagination of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” So great was the wickedness of man that when God saw it, “It repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:5-7). And at the appointed time the wrath of God swept across the earth in a great, universal flood, destroying every soul, except Noah and his family who were saved in the ark God had provided.


            Once there was a pair of twin cities, rich, populace, and influential, perhaps the most wealthy and influential cities in the world. But the wickedness of those cities was great. Not only had the vile, disgusting practice of homosexuality become an acceptable lifestyle, it had become the predominate and preferred lifestyle! In those twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, homosexuals were no longer queer people They were normal! Sexual perverts were in the majority. It appears that there was only one man in that vast metropolis who neither practiced nor condoned the wicked practice of homosexuality. Righteous Lot vexed his soul from day to day with the deeds of those godless people. And Lot’s God was vexed too. One morning, as the inhabitants of the city awoke and began the day, God rained fire and brimstone out of heaven, scorching every man, woman, and child to death in his hot anger, except Lot and two of his daughters who were delivered by the hand of his grace.


            If God destroyed the world with a flood because of the wickedness of Noah’s generation, and if God rained fire from heaven upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their crimes against nature, why has he not yet sent his Son in judgment to destroy this world? In Noah’s generation, men and women were no different than they are now. And the moral debauchery of Sodom was nothing compared to the perversion of our society. At least in that day homosexuality was confined to two totally godless cities. Today the perversion is worldwide, openly promoted by men and women who claim to worship and serve God! Why then is the world still standing? Has God changed? Has he altered his law? Has the Holy One become tolerant of man’s sin? Will God no longer punish the wicked? Let none be so foolish as to imagine such things. God never changes. His law still stands. He must and shall punish sin.


            Why does God tolerate this world and the wickedness of men and women who openly defy his holiness and blaspheme his name? The answer to that question is found in 2 Peter 3:9. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” It is the longsuffering of God toward his elect that prevents him from destroying the world in his wrath at this hour.


            Perhaps some who read these lines are yet without Christ. If so, I want you to understand that the only thing that keeps you out of hell at this moment is the longsuffering of almighty God. If I had nothing else to say, that ought to cause you to fall down before him and sue for mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. God waits to be gracious to sinners for Christ’s sake. Today is the day of salvation. But there is a day coming when he will reserve mercy no longer. The day is coming when he will no longer restrain his wrath. He has said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). The days of God’s patience with man are numbered. Then you will know the terror of his fierce anger and inflexible justice. What will become of your soul in that day no tongue can describe. God help you now to trust his Son.


            In this study I want to raise and answer four questions which, I trust, will help us to understand something about the longsuffering of God.


            I. HOW DOES THE BIBLE DESCRIBE GOD’S LONGSUFFERING? Whenever we think of God’s longsuffering, we must not suppose that it is a mere passion or weakness of nature with him. Longsuffering is an attribute of God’s nature. It arises from the goodness of his Being. It is the patience and forbearance of God.


            When God revealed his glory to Moses, he said, “The LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). That great prophet used God’s longsuffering as an argument with him in prayer, making it the grounds of his intercession for Israel. “The LORD is longsuffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression...Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of thy mercy” (Num. 14:18-19). David wrote, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa. 103:8-10). God, speaking by the mouth of Isaiah, said, “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. 48:9). The Apostle Paul reasoned with the unbeliever, who vainly imagines that he shall escape the judgment of God, saying, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). In Romans 3:25 he tells us that God has set forth the Lord Jesus Christ “to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” And Peter tells us that we are to “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”(II Pet. 3:15). These seven passages that we have read in the book of God teach us five things about God’s longsuffering.


1.       It is the glory of God to be longsuffering toward sinful men.


2.       God’s longsuffering arises from the goodness of his Being. God is longsuffering because he is good. Longsuffering is the exercise of his mercy and kindness. It is a part of his purpose and grace in salvation. God’s longsuffering encourages faith and hope in him. And the design, purpose, and intent of God’s longsuffering is to bring chosen sinners to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).


3.       The longsuffering of God is the moderation and restraint of his anger.


4.       The longsuffering of God is an extension of his mercy to men and women who deserve his wrath.[1]


5.       The longsuffering of God is the deferred execution of his justice for a season.


            The Scriptures abound with illustrations of God’s longsuffering. For 120 years God warned the old world of his sure judgment and called them to repentance by the mouth of his servant Noah (Gen. 6:3). For many years God allowed the Sodomites to persist in their sins. He warned them of his sure judgment. But they would not heed his warnings (Gen. 18). The Lord showed great longsuffering with Pharaoh. But Pharaoh hardened his heart and defied God (Ex. 5). God was longsuffering with Israel for 2000 years. And the Lord God has been very longsuffering with those living in this world who yet refuse to trust his dear Son. Like the barren fig tree, they cumber the ground (Lk. 13:6-9).


            II. WHY IS GOD LONGSUFFERING WITH SINNERS? If God does not immediately execute his wrath and justice upon those who break his law and despise his gospel, there must be some reason for it. He must have some purpose and motive for deferring his anger. What is it? Why is God longsuffering with wicked men?


            God is longsuffering with wicked men and women for Christ’s sake. Every blessing of grace comes to sinners through the hands of Christ, the Mediator between God and men. Were it not for the mediation of Christ, every sinner would perish immediately. God bore with the sins of his people in the Old Testament, with great patience and forbearance, not imputing their trespasses unto them, in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). God is longsuffering with sinners today for the same reason. There stands between us and God the God-man Mediator; and our names are written upon his heart. Between God’s elect and the law of God stands the cross of Christ. For Christ’s sake God was and is longsuffering to us. He has put up with our sins, borne our insults, and been patient with our unbelief because Christ died for us; and he must have us!


            But I want you to see this too - God is longsuffering with sinners for their sake. It is the good pleasure of God to show mercy to sinners upon the earth. God allows the wicked to live that he may give them space for repentance. If you are yet living in enmity against God, do not despise his goodness and forbearance. You deserve to be in hell right now! But God has put off the execution of his wrath for a season. He has done so because he is willing to be gracious - God is willing to save sinners (Isa. 30:18; Ezek. 18:23, 33; 33:11).


            Let us be precise in our theology. But do not let your understanding of God’s sovereignty, predestination, election, effectual redemption, and irresistible grace become twisted and perverted, causing you to imagine that God is hard. He is not. Our God delights in mercy (Mic. 7:17). He commands the guilty to repent and believe on his Son. He promises salvation to all who believe. He has given you the means of grace. It is through the preaching of the gospel (written as well as oral) that God saves chosen, redeemed sinners (Rom. 10:13-17). He has given you opportunity to repent. He has warned you of wrath to come. God is longsuffering to sinners, not because he is unable or unwilling to punish, but because “he delighteth in mercy!” Judgment is his strange work.


            God is longsuffering with men for the sake of his own glory. By his longsuffering and willingness to save, the Lord God vindicates himself from all charges of unrighteousness, cruelty, and injustice. If you die in your sins, your guilt is inexcusable. Your damnation is just and righteous. God has given you light. But you despise the light. God has shown you Christ by the gospel. But you despise his Son. You are without excuse (Rom. 2:1, 4, 5; 3:9-19). In the day of judgment, no one will charge God with injustice. He will stop your mouth!


            And God is longsuffering with sinners for the elect’s sake (II Pet. 3:9). You will notice that Peter makes a clear and deliberate distinction between “us” who believe and the scoffers who believe not. God is longsuffering with them. But his longsuffering is “to us-ward,” his own elect. He is not willing that any of his elect should perish, but that they all repent and obtain salvation by Christ. Therefore, he is longsuffering with all men. Just as God would not destroy Sodom until Lot was delivered from it, so he will not destroy this world until the last of his elect has been regenerated and effectually called to Christ in faith by the irresistible grace and power of his Holy Spirit. God is not willing for one soul to perish whom he has chosen to save (John 10:16). He is not willing for any to perish for whom Christ died (Isa. 53:10-11). The Lord God is not willing that any perish to whom he has promised eternal life (2 Tim. 1:9). To us the longsuffering of God is salvation (II Pet. 3:15). Because God is not willing for us to perish, we shall not perish!


            III. WHAT HAS GOD PROMISED TO PERFORM? Peter says, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise.” That is to say, What God has promised he will do. And the promise here spoken of is the glorious second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ will come again, the second time, without sin, unto salvation. This is the blessed hope of God’s saints (Tit. 2:13). We sometimes grow weary of waiting; but we should not. Let us wait patiently for our Redeemer (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37). Christ will come again at the hour appointed from eternity to gather his elect from the earth. He will come in power and great glory to judge the world in his wrath (Rev. 1:7).


            This is also promised - Christ will not come to destroy this world until all of God’s elect have been brought to repentance by his almighty grace. We sometimes get into a hurry. God never does. He will not send his Son to judge the world until the time appointed (v. 8).  When will Christ come again? I can tell you exactly when he will come. Christ will come again when the last sheep has been brought into his fold, when the last stone is place in his holy temple, when the last member has been united to his body, when the number of those who believe tallies exactly with the names registered in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and the last jewel has been placed in the King’s crown. Until then we will patiently wait, for God is not willing that any perish, and neither are we! God would not send the flood until Noah was safely in the ark. He would not destroy Sodom until Lot was safely out of the city. He would not allow the Red Sea to close until every Israelite was safe on the distant shore. And God will not destroy this world until everyone of his elect have been saved by his grace.


            IV. WHAT SHALL BECOME OF THOSE WHO DESPISE THE GOODNESS AND FORBEARANCE OF GOD? (Prov. 1:23-33). It is written, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1). If you are in such a state of rebellion and unbelief, unless you flee to Christ for refuge, I warn you now that the day will come when you will seek mercy, but none shall be found (Lk. 13:24-25). In the day of judgment everything and everyone will proclaim the justice of God in your eternal damnation. The law of God will condemn you. The gospel of God will condemn you. The Son of God will condemn you. The servants of God will condemn you. The people of God will condemn you. Believing parents will condemn their unbelieving children. Believing children will condemn their unbelieving parents. The angels of God will condemn you. In that day there will be no mercy, not even a shred of sympathy for your soul anywhere! Even your own conscience will say “Amen” to your condemnation! In that great day everyone shall “sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints" (Rev. 15:3). If there is one place in hell hotter than another, the hottest place in hell shall be reserved for those who have heard but refused to believe the gospel of the grace of God. Today is the day of salvation. Come to Christ now, before you lay this study down, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and join God’s saints in giving thanks to him for his longsuffering, by which we are saved!

[1] Grace is extended and given to God’s elect alone. Mercy is extended to all while they live in this world. Grace is salvation. Mercy is the postponement of wrath.