The Long-Suffering of God a Proof of His Power
2 Peter 3:5-7
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old…

Suppose I were one of those scoffers, what should I be most inclined to doubt from observing how God's threatenings did not take effect? I suppose the power of God. I should be inclined to say, "God has threatened what He is not able to perform; hence, the reason why sun, moon, and stars still rise and set in their appointed order." Well, if this were my way of arguing, would it be any answer to me to say, "The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward." Yes, indeed it would. There is no proof of the Divine power so great as the Divine long-suffering. How beautifully does one of our collects express this truth! "O God, who declarest Thine almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity." Now, before beginning to prove to you that long-suffering is a great proof of the power of God, we would allow this idea to be at variance with that most commonly entertained. We have only to make mention of the power of God, and the thoughts are instantly far away amid the fields of immensity, busying themselves with accumulations of the workings of Almightiness — star upon star, and system upon system. And, from the fact of creation, we pass onward to that of preservation: we tell you that the complicated machinery of the universe is superintended and upheld by God. Far be it from us to imply that such a mode of demonstrating the power of God is other than correct. But it would appear to be possible, that whilst searching through the universe for evidence of the power of God, we may pass by the more signal demonstration lying individually in ourselves. We speak not of the testimony which is undoubtedly given by the construction of our bodies, and by the surprising manner in which the material incloses the immaterial. But there may be evidence which is still more overlooked, and that, too, an evidence which each may fetch from his own experience and his own habits. Towards each transgressor there has been an exercise of long-suffering on the part of the Almighty; so that if the greatest demonstration of God's power be God's long-suffering, then each of us may find in himself that great demonstration in all its completeness. With an hatred of sin which outruns our conception, and much more our imitation, God is looking down on every misdoing by which the earth is polluted. He is present at the perpetration of each species of crime — standing by the blasphemer whilst pouring out his curses, and by the murderer whilst bearing down on his victim. If this fact be pondered, it must always startle us. And yet He strikes not. We just ask you to imagine a tender-hearted man standing by whilst some monster of his species was foully ill-treating some fellow-creature or animal. Suppose him possessed of the most perfect ability of putting a stop to the cruelty, and awarding due punishment. The first impulse would be to exercise this ability. And if, in place of yielding to the impulse, he should reflect within himself — If I spare this guilty one awhile, if I visit not on him, on the instant, his iniquity, he may possibly repent — why we do not deny that, by a great effort, reflection might carry over the impulse, and the man might pass on in the hope of future amendment, resolved to administer no present correction. We allow that there is no actual impossibility against the exercise of such forbearance. But we think you will all agree that a vast moral effort would be needed for the repressing his feelings. Long-suffering is power over one's self. If, then, it be reverent so to speak, God's long-suffering is power over Himself. And assuredly God's power over Himself must be greater than the power which He puts forth when He deals with what is material and finite. You may read of such instances as of a man in the hardihood of his Atheism challenging, so to speak, the Deity to prove His existence by striking him to the earth. "If there be a God, let Him show Himself, by smiting me, His denier." Now you can hardly picture to yourselves a Being exercising over Himself so much control as that, with all the apparatus of fiery reply at His disposal, He should not answer the challenge by levelling him who utters it with the ground. Can you measure to me the effort which it would be to the Creator to keep back the thunderbolt and chain up the lightning? Yet the Atheist is allowed to depart unscathed. What lesson does the believer in God derive from this absence of all anger. He learns God's might a hundredfold more from the unbroken silence of the firmament than he would do from the hoarse tones of vengeance rushing down to the destruction of the rebel. The Atheist overthrown is as nothing to the exhibition of the Atheist spared. We shall probably arrive at right apprehensions of God's long-suffering as connected with God's other attributes, if we carefully review two simple facts. The first is that God can punish every sin; the second, that God can pardon every sin. It is essential to the long-suffering of God that each of these assertions should, in the largest sense, hold good. Unless there be the power of punishing, there can be no long-suffering; for long-suffering necessarily pre-supposes that the Being, who might on the instant take vengeance, passes over for a while the iniquity. On the other hand, unless God can pardon every sin, what is there in His long-suffering? We can have no idea of long-suffering except as exhibited in our text — that it is bearing with the offender in order that, time being given him to consider his ways, he may yet by repentance turn away punishment. If we can satisfactorily show that God is pre-eminently powerful, inasmuch as He is both the punisher and the pardoner of sin, we shall have established the point under debate — that God's long-suffering is a great measure of His power. You will readily admit that it is proving God powerful to prove Him superior to every creature, so that were the whole universe banded against Him, it would have no power in trenching upon His sovereignty. But how can we more thoroughly assure ourselves of God's superiority to every creature than by ascertaining that over every creature who swerves from obedience God can exercise the office of avenger. Whoever the creature who apostatises from God, whether standing high or low in the scale of intelligence beyond all question the power of God can reach to restrain or crush this creature. It may indeed be that the creature is permitted to go on in rebellion; and thus no direct evidence is given of the supremacy of God. Wherein, then, would be the proof of God's power? Simply in God's 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. And 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 its details as stupendous in its outlines, I see at once that if God can be long-suffering, then God can punish every sin. He could not be long-suffering unless He could punish; He could not punish unless He were supreme. And then observe, secondly, that God can pardon every sin. Of all extraordinary truths, perhaps the most extraordinary is that sin can be forgiven. It may be a bold thing to say; but if you examine carefully, you will see that there is a strong sense in which it may be said that long-suffering is not natural to God. For was God long-suffering without effort? Could He be long-suffering without a preparation? He could be long-suffering only as He had resolved to give up His well-beloved Son to the fiercest agonies and the foulest wrongs. And when I think of the difference between God, the Creator of worlds, and God, the Pardoner of sin, the one done without an effort, and the other demanding an instrumentality nobly sublime; the one effected by a word, the other wrought out in agony and blood oh! the world created is as nothing to the sin blotted out! That God can pardon is the very summit of what is wonderful; and, therefore, O Lord, do I most know Thee, the Omnipotent, when I behold in Thee, the Long-sufferer!

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:

WEB: For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth formed out of water and amid water, by the word of God;

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