Covenant Reformed News
October 2016 • Volume XVI, Issue 6
God’s Longsuffering—Particular and in Himself
In the last three issues of the News, we have surveyed all the biblical references to God’s longsuffering. We have observed from both the Old Testament (the historical books, the Psalms and the prophets) and the New Testament (the gospels and the epistles) that Jehovah’s longsuffering is particular.
First, God’s longsuffering is seen to be particular because it is found amidst references to His grace, mercy and kindness. This is the case in all three passages in the Old Testament historical books. In Exodus 34:6, Jehovah refers to Himself as “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering.” Later Moses declares, “The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Num. 14:18). Likewise, the Levites confessed that the Most High is “a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger [i.e., longsuffering], and of great kindness” (Neh. 9:17).
Since they are based upon the two passages in the Pentateuch which refer to God’s longsuffering, we are not surprised that all three verses in the Psalms which speak of this divine virtue connect His longsuffering with His compassion, grace and mercy. “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (86:15). “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger [i.e., longsuffering], and plenteous in mercy” (103:8). “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger [i.e., longsuffering], and of great mercy” (145:8).
The prophets present the same beautiful and harmonious picture of God’s attributes of goodness, with both concluding with references to His kindness: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger [i.e., longsuffering], and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13); “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger [i.e., longsuffering], and of great kindness” (Jonah 4:2).
Second, it is evident that God’s longsuffering is particular because Scripture speaks of its being exercised towards the elect alone. This very point is made in the first Old Testament reference to this divine perfection. The God who is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering” (Ex. 34:6) declares, “[I] will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (33:19).
In the first New Testament text on Jehovah’s longsuffering, Jesus stresses this: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long [i.e., be longsuffering] with them?” (Luke 18:7). Similarly, Peter teaches that “God is longsuffering to us-ward” (II Pet. 3:9), those who are elect and “beloved” (1:10; 3:1). Whereas the Lord “endured ... the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction [i.e., the reprobate],” Paul declares that He has “much longsuffering” upon “the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory [i.e., the elect]” (Rom. 9:22-23).
Third, God’s longsuffering is particular because of the groups to which it is shown, such as the “eight souls [who] were saved by water” in the ark (I Pet. 3:20), spiritual Israel (Joel 2:13), penitent Gentiles (Jonah 4:2), believing Jews and Gentiles throughout the New Testament age (I Tim. 1:16), and godly individuals, such as Jeremiah (Jer. 15:15) and Paul (I Tim. 1:16).
Fourth, we know that God’s longsuffering is particular since it is always salvific or saving: “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (II Pet. 3:15). It is revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (I Tim. 1:15-16), who is the “only Redeemer of God’s elect” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, A. 21).
At this stage, a question arises regarding the nature of God: Is He longsuffering in Himself? The answer is an emphatic Yes!
The reason for this lies, first, in God’s self-sufficiency. He has need of nothing outside Himself for He is perfectly full and rich. Thus the Almighty is self-sufficient in all His attributes, including His longsuffering. Second, Jehovah is unchangeable. Therefore, He cannot become longsuffering through His creation.
So how is God longsuffering in His own Being? First, we need to remove the idea of time from all our thoughts about Jehovah, since He is eternal or timeless, for there is no time in Him. Second, the Almighty never grows tired or bored with Himself because of His own infinite glory, riches and fulness (whereas we, being finite and sinful, can and do become tired of ourselves!).
If you would like a definition, God’s longsuffering is His constant and never-wearying delight in Himself as the perfectly blessed One. We worship the longsuffering Jehovah (I Tim. 1:16) from the heart: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (17)!
God is also longsuffering regarding His Persons. The Triune God is one in His Being and three in His Persons, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He enjoys infinitely blessed covenant fellowship in Himself, between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. This divine Fellowship is absolutely perfect for it is always vibrant, beautiful, deep and satisfying. The fellowship of the three divine Persons never wanes or grows stale (unlike our fellowship with one another in this life, sadly).
Concerning our longsuffering Triune God (16), we again exclaim, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (17)! Rev. Angus Stewart
- Volume: 16
- Issue: 6
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
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