God’s Longsuffering in the New Testament
The first reference to God’s longsuffering in the New Testament is Luke 18:7: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” The object of Jehovah’s bearing or suffering long in this text is “his own elect,” those whom He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world (0. 1:4).
The last biblical references to the longsuffering of the Most High are found in Peter’s two canonical epistles. In I Peter 3:20, we read that “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” Here Jehovah’s longsuffering is directed not to the wicked world He destroyed by the flood but to the “eight souls” (Noah and his three sons with their four wives) who were “saved” by water, as a picture of their eternal salvation.
The apostle Peter next speaks of God’s longsuffering in II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Here we are told that God’s “longsuffering [is] to us-ward,” namely, the “beloved” (1), those who “have obtained like precious faith” with Peter and all the saints (1:1), and who are the objects of Jehovah’s “calling and election” (10), as opposed to the “scoffers” (3:3).
Those to whom the Almighty is longsuffering are the ones whom He wills, wishes, wants and desires not to “perish” but to “come to repentance” (9). The sovereign and unchangeable Lord, in His infinite wisdom, power and grace, effectually calls all of His own, for “who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19). Notice that II Peter 3 explains why Christ has not yet returned. It is not that the Lord is “slack concerning His promise” (9), as the scoffers claimed, but that all of God’s elect church, all the stones in Jehovah’s spiritual temple, all the members of the body of Christ, must be brought to salvation before He comes back to judge the world.
This fits perfectly with Peter’s third and final reference to the Lord’s longsuffering: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” (15).
Notice three things in this text. First, the apostle asserts that “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation,” for those to whom the sovereign and omnipotent God is longsuffering are always saved! Second, this is to be a theological first principle with Christians in their thinking regarding Jehovah’s longsuffering: “account [i.e., consider, deem, think or reckon with deliberate and careful judgment] that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” Third, the effectual and saving power of God’s longsuffering is also the inspired teaching of the great apostle of grace: “even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you.”
In Romans 9:22, that great theologian asks, “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction …?”
Here we are taught that Jehovah “endured … the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction [i.e., the reprobate].” He puts up with them for a while because He shall display His glory through His holy “wrath” and awesome “power” in His “destruction” of them as “vessels of wrath” for all their sin and rebellion. This is what God desires, wishes and wants: “God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known.” Reprobation (22) serves God’s election of both Jews and Gentiles, whereby he “make[s] known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (23).
We need carefully to distinguish between God’s enduring or putting up with the reprobate (cf. Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41) and His being longsuffering towards His elect (Luke 18:7). The Almighty “endured ... the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction [i.e., the reprobate]” (Rom. 9:22). How did He do this? The answer is found in the subordinate clause: “with much longsuffering” towards His elect (22). Remember that “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (II Pet. 3:15).
This is Paul’s other reference to God’s longsuffering in Romans: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (2:4). This does not refer to a “goodness” or “longsuffering” of God for the reprobate. First, the text does not say that Jehovah’s goodness or longsuffering merely tries (but fails) to lead the reprobate to repentance; it says that “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” Second, the verse speaks not of merely a bit of common grace for the reprobate, as some allege, but of “the riches of his goodness.”
Romans 2:4 is not addressed to man as elect or reprobate but to generic and undifferentiated man. Thus he is addressed in the context as “O man” (1, 3). If we come to differentiation, God’s “forbearance” is for the reprobate, as in Romans 9:22; His longsuffering is for the elect (Luke 18:7) and is always salvific (II Pet. 3:15).
The very same apostle Paul is the great biblical example of Jehovah’s longsuffering to an elect sinner: “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (I Tim. 1:16).
Paul says that God was longsuffering to him “first,” not chronologically but preeminently, since he viewed himself as the “chief” of sinners (15) for he blasphemed Christ and persecuted His church (13). No wonder the apostle speaks of the Lord Jesus manifesting “all longsuffering” towards him, before breaking forth with a doxology: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (17).
In God’s longsuffering to him in his gross wickedness before his conversion, Paul says he is a “pattern” (16). No one is too sinful to be saved, if God wills it. If the Lord can convert Paul who ravaged Christ’s church (Acts 8:1-4), then nobody is too difficult for Him. All must repent of their sins and trust in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the only Saviour! Rev. Stewart
- Volume: 16
- Issue: 5
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851