Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering…
Long suffering is the greatest exhibition of power on this side the day of judgment. It is our evidence that God now possesses all that God shall then exercise.
1. When I am told that God is long suffering, and no limitations are placed on the attribute, you bring before me a picture as overwhelming in outline as stupendous in detail. I see at once that God can punish sin. Then vice may seem to carry it over virtue, and I may search in vain through all that is passing over a disordered creation for tokens that a moral government is still upheld; and the infidel may tauntingly refer to the triumph of evil, and infer that God has been compelled to abandon one world at least to the dominion of His foes; but fastening on the long suffering of the Creator, I am proof against all doubts as to His power. He could not be long suffering unless He could punish; He could not punish unless He were supreme.
2. To each of us He has been long suffering. Each of us has provoked His wrath, and yet upon none of us has that wrath come down to its fury. So that if the great demonstration of God's power be His long suffering, then each of us may find in himself that demonstration in all its completeness. And thus it may be possible that after summoning suns and seas and mountains to give in their tribute to His night, that angels may be looking down upon myself as the crowning proof; and not because I am marvellous as the compound of matter and spirit, of mortal and immortal: and not because I inherit a nature that has been taken into union with the Divine; but because I have sinned and yet breathe; because I have defied the living God and not been consumed; because I have been long offending and God has been long suffering — therefore may they regard me as the most perfect demonstration that the power of their Lord is great; and assign me because spared in mine offences, a place amongst the witnesses to the almightiness of their Maker, which they give not to the marching of planets, nor to the gorgeousness of light, nor to their own beauty as ethereal beings, and rapid and masterful.
3. We have all heard of the infidel challenging God to prove His existence by smiting him, His denier. Now you can hardly picture to yourselves a being exercising over himself so perfect a command that, with all the apparatus of fiery reply at his disposal, he should not answer the challenge by levelling him who utters it to the ground. Can you measure to me the effort which it would be to a creature to keep the thunder silent, and to chain up the lightning? Yet the atheist is allowed to depart unscathed; and the proof of God's existence, which would have seemed preeminently calculated to overspread a neighbourhood with terrible conviction is mysteriously withheld. But the believer learns God's might a hundredfold more from the unbroken silence of the firmament than he would from the hoarse tones of vengeance rushing down to the destruction of the rebel. The atheist overthrown — this is as nothing to the atheist spared. It would have been as nothing that God should have launched the bolt — the prodigy whose height I cannot scale, whose depth I cannot fathom is that God should have withheld the bolt. I should have learnt God powerful over the elements had I seen the blasphemer a blackened corpse at my feet: I learn God powerful over Himself when the questioner of His deity passes on uninjured.
4. When I think on the difference between God's creating a world and God's pardoning a sin — the one done without effort, the other demanding an instrumentality terribly sublime; the one effected by a word, the other wrought out in agony and blood on a quaking earth and beneath a darkened heaven — the one is as nothing beside the other. That God can pardon is at the very summit of what is wonderful; and therefore then, O Lord, do I most know Thee as the Omnipotent when I behold in Thee the long suffering.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?