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Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. 

Romans 2:4, 5

The heart of the text is undoubtedly expressed in the words, “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” This is the undeniable truth around which the entire text in all its details is really grouped. It is the one certainty that can always be applied and always stands, to which there is never an exception: “the goodness of God leadeth to repentance.”

For this reason we must not change this statement, so as to fit our notion as to what the goodness of God ought to be. Poison kills; fire burns; bread nourishes; so, the goodness of God leads to repentance. We must not say, or think, or attempt to change the meaning of this statement into something like this: the goodness of God likes to lead you to repentance. This is not true. Or, the goodness of God tries to lead you to repentance. For this is not true either. Nor is it the meaning of the text. But we must leave this word exactly as it is, and say, just as we say, poison kills, fire burns, and bread nourishes, the goodness of God leads to repentance.

It does this always. We may know it or not, it makes no difference, the goodness of God leads to repentance. You may take poison or you may not, it makes no difference, poison kills. You may put your hand in the fire or you may not, it makes no difference, fire burns. You may feel the power of the goodness of God or you may not, it makes no difference, the goodness of God leads to repentance.

But there are those who despise that goodness of God. Despising the goodness of God, they treasure up unto themselves wrath. It is to those that the apostle calls our attention in the text.

The Meaning

The apostle is still addressing the man of verse 1. He is not addressing any particular class. He is not addressing the Jew. Nor is the Jew excluded. The apostle has in mind to apply what he has said to the Jews in a special sense. But here he is addressing man. He is speaking in the singular. This man, the apostle has pictured in a very peculiar and realistic light. That is, he has pictured him just as he is. He has pictured this man as judging and condemning others, while doing the same things himself. He condemns the liar, and he lies himself. He condemns the thief, and he steals himself. When he condemns the backbiter, he becomes a backbiter himself. This is characteristic of sinful man. God lets him do it in order to make him say that he knows the righteous judgment of God, so that he will be without excuse in the day of judgment.

Now the apostle asks this man (and this is the connection), how do you explain that attitude? How do you come to assume that attitude in which you condemn in others what you do yourself? How must that be explained?

The apostle knows of but two possibilities. The first possibility is expressed in that first question: “Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them, which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” Is this the explanation? If this is the case, then that attitude is explained.

Or, and this is the other possibility, is that attitude rooted in the sinful contempt in which you say, “I know that I shall be in the judgment, but I don’t care”? “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” In the original, four words are used, where in our English translation there are but three. The text, therefore, should be read this way: “or depisest thou the lovingkindness, forbearance, longsuffering, and goodness of God?” As to the meaning of these various terms, they are so related that goodness includes all the other virtues. God’s lovingkindness is His goodness manifest. God’s forbearance is His goodness manifest. God’s longsuffering is His goodness manifest.

What is God’s goodness? In the first place, God’s goodness is that virtue of God by which He is in Himself infinite perfection. This is the background of all other goodnesses. God’s goodness does not mean that he is our benefactor, that He bestows good upon us. God’s goodness means, in the first place, that He is good in the sense of perfection. Because God is good in Himself, He also does good. God does good to all creatures. There is no exception. He does good to all creatures, organically considered and individually considered. God always does good. He does good to the wicked and to the righteous. When God blesses the righteous, He does good. When He curses the wicked, God does good. God would not do good, if He blessed the wicked. This, in the first place. God is in Himself good and the overflowing fountain of all goodnesses.

For this reason there is in the text mention of a threefold manifestation of God’s goodness. These three are also related. God’s lovingkindness is the first manifestation of His goodness. God’s lovingkindness is His inmost desire to bless the righteous. The goodness of God so works and reveals itself that there is in God the eternal desire to bless the righteous. You can never say that of God’s attitude toward the wicked. Then He would not be good. There is in God never a will, a desire, to make the wicked happy. We must understand this. The central thought of the text is to emphasize that it is impossible for God to bless anyone, unless he comes to repentance. As long as he does not come to repentance, and as long as he despises and does not know the goodness of God, he cannot taste the blessing of God. We must understand, therefore, that the lovingkindness of God is that manifestation of God’s goodness according to which it is His eternal desire to bless the righteous. This is why the natural man despises that lovingkindness of God. Man will never despise a general grace. But he despises that God blesses the righteous.

The other two terms, God’s forbearance and longsuffering, are again manifestations of the goodness of God as revealed in time. God’s longsuffering is His desire to deliver His suffering people, but waiting until all things are ripe. If I have my child on the operating table and that child begs me to stop, but I keep right on cutting into the live flesh until the operation is completed, I am longsuffering over that child. So God’s longsuffering is His purpose finally to bring His people to glory, while permitting them to suffer until the time is ripe. God’s forbearance is the antithesis of longsuffering. It is His will to destroy the wicked in the day of judgment, while allowing them to prosper until that day.

God’s forbearance is this. I have a man in my home who eats my bread, drinks my water, wears my clothes, and sleeps in my bed. That man ignores me and abuses my children. I forbear from putting him out of my house until the time is ripe. This is God’s forbearance. The forbearance and longsuffering of God are manifest.

The apostle asks the sinner: “despisest thou the lovingkindness, and forbearance, and longsuffering of God; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” To despise a thing presupposes that we come into contact with it to the extent that we know that which we despise. The apostle means to say, therefore, that in some way, to some extent, man always comes into contact with this threefold manifestation of God, the heart of which is: the Lord blesses the righteous.

Despisest thou this?

It is emphatically in the church, where the goodness of God is bestowed, that the goodness of God is despised. To despise a thing is to think nothing of it.

To despise a thing is to judge it worthless, not to want it. So that when the testimony is, “The Lord blesses the righteous,” we simply ignore it and continue to walk in sin. Do you not see that the sinner, going on in his own way, despises the goodness of God?

Its Cause

How is this possible? The apostle says that the deepest cause is in his impenitent heart. “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart,” the text says. The heart is the center of a man’s life from a spiritual point of view. From the heart is the life of man as to its spiritual direction. An impenitent heart is a heart that cannot repent. It is not a heart that does not repent. An impenitent heart is a heart that cannot repent. It is not a heart that cannot be brought to repentance. But it is a heart that cannot repent of itself.

To repent is to change, so that our judgment of our own sin is as God’s judgment of our sin. An impenitent heart is the very opposite. It is a heart that loves sin, that seeks it, that walks in it.

That impenitent heart, the apostle says, is hard. It is not hardened. It is hard. “After thy hardness,” says the apostle. Hardness, this is the characteristic of the impenitent heart. That heart is hard so that it is not receptive to repentance. When that impenitent heart sits under the influence of the Word of God, and even before that Word comes to him, it makes up its mind not to repent. An impenitent heart is always hard. It is not so, that that impenitent heart is first soft and that gradually it hardens. That heart is hard from the beginning. Every, impenitent heart is hard.

It is true that there is a hardening of the heart in a natural way, but not in the spiritual sense. Even a hard, impenitent heart can become hardened in a natural way. When first that hard, impenitent heart comes under the influence of the Word of God, there are the pangs of conscience, a certain fear, a trembling, before that Word. But under the influence of the goodness of God that impenitent heart becomes hardened. We can see, often to our deepest sorrow, how the impenitent heart becomes hardened. Because of that impenitent heart, you do not know that the goodness of God leads to repentance. This is the immediate result.

The Arminian distortion is that God is good, in the sense of being gracious to all. He is good, in the sense that He likes to save all, He tries to lead all to repentance. When He does so, there are some who resist that goodness of God. This is the Arminian distortion of the text.

But this is not the expression of the text. The text does not say: the goodness of God tries to lead you to repentance. The text makes a statement of fact. The text says that the goodness of God leads you to repentance. It is impossible, if you leave the text in its meaning, to elicit from it a general grace. It is a general statement of fact. The goodness of God leads to repentance.

This becomes manifest in those who come into contact with this fact. It is as though I would say, “Don’t you know that fire burns you?” – meaning, of course, as soon as you come into contact with it. Or, “Don’t you know that poison kills you?” – meaning, of course, when you come into contact with it. So the apostle says: “Don’t you know that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” – meaning, as soon as you come into contact with it.

The natural man does not know that the goodness of God leads to repentance. Does he not know the fact? He does. This is not the meaning. But he does not know it in the sense that he does not experience, taste, that the goodness of God leads to repentance, and in the sense that he despises it. He despises the goodness of God as it becomes manifest in His lovingkindness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing, in the sense of not experiencing, that the goodness of God leads to repentance.

Its Result

Is this the case? If it is, then there is but one result. This is that that man who so despises the goodness of God treasures up wrath against the day of wrath and judgment.

There comes a day of the revelation of the judgment of God. The text says: “after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” We must not say that there comes a day of the judgment of God. This judgment is always present. But there comes a day when this judgment shall be revealed.

This judgment is now frefrequently covered up. It is so covered up that frequently we would say that God’s judgment is not righteous. The wicked seem to prosper, and the righteous are in trouble. We would say that God’s judgment is not righteous. This judgment is so covered up that men have come to the conclusion that there is a general grace. God’s judgment is now covered up. But there comes a day when that cover will be taken off. That is the day of the revelation of the judgment of God.

That day will be a day of wrath. For whom? For that man. It will be a day of wrath. That is, it will be a day of nothing but wrath. And that man treasures up wrath. He lays up wrath as one lays up a sum of money in a bank. He piles up wrath. He’ lays up wrath in the bank of God’s judgment. He does that in all his life. He is always increasing his capital of wrath. He treasures up wrath against the day of wrath. You may call that grace if you please. But the apostle knows nothing of that.

What shall we say then?

I will conclude with that with which I started. The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. If you have not come to repentance, you have never known the goodness of God. If in the midst of those men who despise the goodness of God, you become a penitent sinner, what then? Is there any hope? I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, the apostle still has in mind. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus. The righteous shall live by faith. Living by faith, they say: being justified by faith, we have peace with God.