God’s Patience

“And 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). 

The word longsuffering, found four times in the King James Old Testament, is the term there used forpatience. It is closely connected with and is a display of God’s mercy; “and it may be observed that wherever God is said to be longsuffering, He is represented as gracious, merciful, of great mercy and kindness” (Gill). This biblical fact ought to warn us that “common grace” has not the support of Scripture, and it ought at least introduce us to the principal truth that God’s ethical attributes are in Himself absolute and independent and, in their communicable form, always particular. The word in the Hebrew is erekh appayim and means, literally, “long of nostrils,” and sometimes is translated, “slow to anger” (Neh. 9:17Ps. 145:8). (In anger, the nostrils dilate and contract, alternately.) The New Testament verb-form for longsuffering is makrothumeoo, “to be strong-spirited,” so as not to lose heart, “to be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others; slow to anger, slow to punish.” The noun-form is makrothumia, “patience, endurance, steadfastness, perseverance, longsuffering, forbearance” (Rom. 3:25). These terms, in both Testaments, denote “an attitude of God toward His people, whom in His sovereign mercy He is desirous to save” (Reformed Dogmatics, H. Hoeksema, 116). 

In Luke 18:7 we read, “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which (who) cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?” On that last clause, in the KJV, there are two different renderings of the original text, one with the verb makrothumei (present indicative), and the other with makrothumoon (participial form). Both the Englishman’s Greek New Testament, Stephens, 1550 and the Majority Text of the Greek N.T., 1982, prefer the reading with the participle, which H.H. says is “the correct reading.” We then render the clause, “and is He being longsuffering over them?” He will not long delay His help to them, for that would contradict the “speedily” of v. 8. He is being longsuffering (and that is a mercy) “over His people(ital., RCH) conceived of as being objects of hatred and persecution in the world” (H.H.). The idea is that the Lord “is longsuffering toward us” (the “beloved” of the II Pet. 3:9 context). 

According to Romans 9:22, God endures “with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” It would be easy, but wrong, to interpret this to mean that longsuffering here denotes an attitude of God’s favor toward the reprobate wicked. What the text says is that He endures the vessels of wrath (and their wickedness), doing so with much longsuffering, or while He endures the wicked (the tares), He experiences and reveals longsuffering to His people. It is like a loving father witnessing His children being beaten by muggers. He for a time endures their being painfully afflicted (that they through a measure of suffering may learn to endure hardness) a Those wicked oppressors (cp. the Egyptians) He endures and endures, until He must finally say, Enough is enough! and rescue His own (cp. the Israelites) from their frightening beatings. Of course, all the while He endured those violent enemies He was longsuffering over His children! (See also Reformed Dogmatics, H.H., first two paragraphs, p. 121). God’s waiting out the wicked is in order “that He might be gracious” (Isa. 30:18) to His people. Grace is both revealed only inChrist and only to those in Christ. This then of necessity goes for His longsuffering and patience (aspects of His grace). Jesus Christ, our faithful Savior, fully satisfied for all our sins to lay down the ground for manifestations of His longsuffering. Then this mercy is not common, showered also on the wicked, but is particular, experienced only by the righteous. For “the longsuffering of God is (not merely has a tendency to) salvation” (II Pet. 3:15). Then no comfort is there for the wicked that God endures them until He cannot stand them any more. 

The question remains as to whether this attribute of longsuffering is apart from God’s people and essentially in Him. There is reason to believe that this is the case. God is longsuffering in Himself. He is patient in His very nature. This does not make us Patripassionists. God in His goodness, blessedness, and mercy is the eternally happy God, even though passion, grief, and suffering are ascribed to Him. Longsuffering, we see from the above Scriptures, springs from His truth, goodness, kindness, grace, and mercy, fountain virtues essential to Him. Longsuffering is an extension of these. Considered in God’s essence, longsuffering is a facet of His immutable goodness according to which He loves and delights in Himself and is eternally jealous for the honor and glory of all His perfections. 

Since this attribute is rooted in God’s goodness and mercy, it is an abuse and dishonor of it to take God’s name in vain. This is exactly what we do when we use such expletives as “My goodness!” (For there is none good but God; only He may say, My goodness!) In the nominal Christian community we hear such exclamations as, Goodness! Gracious! (or Goodness-gracious!), or, as in the childish CB highway jargon, “Mercy me!” The latter, supposedly, is an acceptable conformity to an FCC regulation against using profanity over the air, but nevertheless a slur on the Cross, apart from which there is no mercy. Nor is there any mercy for blasphemers. These are all profane abuses of God’s patience and longsuffering. There was an ancient form of swearing in the utterance, “s’truth!” (by God’s truth!). This is terrible! But the more modern jocular oaths are also a degradation of God’s virtues, for they are His names. For one, there is, “Holy cow!” In this Aaron’s and Jeroboam’s calves are parodied, or India’s ubiquitous cow is trivially raised to a farcical “holiness.” It is just as bad to say, “Holy smoke!”—a genial but profane reference either to the cloudy pillar of the tabernacle (symbol of God’s presence), or to the smoke ascending from the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense. Irish Catholics have an abusive way of cheerful profanity in, “Faith! and begorra!” (by God!). But God is jealous for His holy name (Ezek. 39:25), and will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Therefore, these and the like expressions must neither be heard nor tolerated among us. 

Patience (hupomonee, “to remain under” longer) andlongsuffering are, for the most part, New Testament terms, and the former seems to refer to every instance of occurrence to a sanctified human action and not to a divine attribute. Nevertheless, God sets forth Himself as a pattern of all longsuffering (I Tim. 1:16), and that means that in, whatever you call it, patience or longsuffering, we are to be followers of God as dear children. That means we ought to follow patience as exemplified in our Savior’s life. The martyrs did, following the pattern of, “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7). When Christ was led to slaughter, He was as quiet as a lamb. Under the shearers He made not a sound. Pilate, in exasperation, blurted, “Answerest Thou nothing? Behold how many things they witness against Thee!” Also before Herod and Caiaphas He was not impatient because of the pain and shame suffered at their wicked hands. When taking a blow in the face, He never replied in language like, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall!” When spit defiled His face, He did not say, “For which of My many good works do you do this?” He did not speak, did not accuse His enemies to His Father. He could have called down twelve legions of angels on them. He could have cursed them in the name of the Lord as Elisha did the apostate children of Bethel. But He came to bear the curse, and be made a curse for us. He could have struck all these world-rulers and religious rulers with a plague so that they would have been eaten of worms. As with Ananias and Sapphira, He could have struck them dead on the spot! He could have made the hill of Calvary a belching volcano to swallow all the jesting, jeering mob. But He was there on the Cross, not in power, but in weakness, and meekness (strength in control). Power was there, but not on display except as used over Himself rather than against His enemies. Omnipotence was there, but held in control by redeeming love to bear all the divine wrath aimed against the sins of His people. There He suffered trumped up charges, fraud, injustice, malice, shame, and murder, so much over which He could have exploded in natural indignation. But He was meek, silent, and patient to the end. The reprobate Jews had eternally and irrevocably cursed themselves with their awful cry, “His blood be upon us, and our children!” But while His blood flowed down from the Cross, He never said anything against any one of us like, My blood be upon you (to damn you)! Zipporah had said to Moses at sight of her bleeding child, “Surely thou art a bloody husband to me!” But He never complained on the Cross of His Church, O My Spouse, at what a cost of blood! A Lamb shorn and stripped of everything, He cried, “I can tell all My bones! They look and stare upon Me.!” Yet there was not a murmur at what we gave Him—our cruel sins. Patience (hupomonee) He exerted in unflinching endurance until He bore our sins away. This He did “for the joy that was set before Him, enduring the Cross, despising the shame.” “Let us earnestly seek grace to emulate this divine excellency. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48).” (A.W. Pink).