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The Patience of God


By Stephen Charnock in The Existence and Attributes of God

Slowness to anger, or admirable patience, is the property of the Divine nature. As patience signifies suffering, so it is not in God. The Divine nature is impassible, incapable of any impair, it cannot be touched by the violences of men, nor the essential glory of it be diminished by the injuries of men; but as it signifies a willingness to defer, and an unwillingness to pour forth his wrath upon sinful creatures, he moderates his provoked justice, and forbears to revenge the injuries he daily meets with in the world. He suffers no grief by men’s wronging him, but he restrains his arm from punishing them according to their merits; and thus there is patience in every cross a man meets with in the world, because, though it be a punishment, it is less than is merited by the unrighteous rebel, and less than may be inflicted by a righteous and powerful God. This patience is seen in his providential works in the world: “He suffered the nations to walk in their own way,” and the witness of his providence to them was his “giving them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their heart with food and gladness” (Acts 16:17). The heathens took notice of it, and signified it by feigning their god Saturn, to be bound a whole year in a soft cord, a cord of wool, and expressed it by this proverb: “The mills of the gods grind slowly;” i. e. God doth not use men with that severity that they deserve; the mills being usually turned by criminals condemned to that work.219 This, in Scripture, is frequently expressed by a slowness to anger (Psalm 103:8), sometimes by long-suffering, which is a patience with duration (Psalm 145:8; 8; Joel 2:13). He is slow to anger, he takes not the first occasions of a provocation; he is long-suffering (Rom. 9:22), and (Psalm 86:15) he forbears punishment upon many occasions offered him. It is long before he consents to give fire to his wrath, and shoot out his thunderbolts. Sin hath a loud cry, but God seems to stop his ears, not to hear the clamor it raises and the charge it presents. He keeps his sword a long time in the sheath; one calls the patience of God the sheath of his sword, upon those words (Ezek. 21:3), “I will draw forth my sword out of his sheath.” This is one remarkable letter in the name of God; he himself proclaims it (Exod. 34:6): “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful, gracious, and long-suffering.” And Moses pleads it in the behalf of the people (Num. 14:18), where he placeth it in the first rank; the Lord is “long-suffering and of great mercy:” it is the first spark of mercy, and ushers it to its exercises in the world.220 In the Lord’s proclamation, it is put in the middle link, mercy and truth together; mercy could have no room to act if patience did not prepare the way; and his truth and goodness, in his promise of the Redeemer, would not have been manifest to the world if he had shot his arrows as soon as men committed their sins, and deserved his punishment. This perfection is expressed by other phrases, as “keeping silence” (Psalm 50:21): “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence,” אלת עשׂית והחר שׁתי; it signifies to behave one’s self as a deaf or dumb man. I did not fly in thy face, as some do, with a great noise upon a light provocation, as if their life, honor, estates, were at the stake; I did not presently call thee to the bar, and pronounce judicial sentence upon thee according to the law, but demeaned myself as if I had been ignorant of thy crimes, and had not been invested with the power of judging thee for them. Chald. “I waited for thy conversion.” God’s patience is the silence of his justice, and the first whisper of his mercy. It is also expressed by not laying folly to men (Job 24:12); men groan under the oppressions of others, yet God lays not folly to them, i. e. to the oppressors; God suffers them to go on with impunity. He doth not deliver his people because he would try them, and takes not revenge upon the unrighteous, because in patience he doth bear with them: patience is the life of his providence in this world. He chargeth not men with their crimes here, but reserves them, upon impenitency, for another trial. This attribute is so great a one, that it is signally called by the name of “Perfection” (Matt. 5:45, 48). He had been speaking of Divine goodness, and patience to evil men, and he concludes, “Be you perfect,” &c., implying it to be an amazing perfection of the Divine nature, and worthy of imitation.

219 Rhodigi, lib, vi. c. 14.

220 Δῆλον δὲ ὅτιἐγχειρίδιό τὴν τιμωρίαν καλεῖ, κολέον δὲ τουτέστι θήκην του ἐγχειριδίου μαχροθυμίαν ὀνομάζει. Theodoret, in loc.

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