The Long-Suffering of God with Individuals

ECCLESIASTES viii. 11, 12.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. For the sinner doth evil a hundred times, and God prolongeth his days.

THE Wise Man points out, in the words of the text, one general cause of the impenitence of mankind. The disposition to which he attributes it, I own, seems shocking and almost incredible; but if we examine our “deceitful and desperately wicked hearts,” Jer. xvii. 9; we shall find, that this disposition, which, at first sight, seems so shocking, is one of those, with which we are too well acquainted. “The heart of the sons of men is fully set to do evil.” Why? “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.”

This shameful, but too common, inclination, we will endeavor to expose, and to show you that the long-suffering, which the mercy of God grants to sinners, may be abused either in the disposition of a devil, or in that of a beast, or in that of a philosopher, or in that of a man. He who devotes his health, his prosperity, and his youth, to offend God, and, while his punishment is deferred, to invent new ways of blaspheming him; he, who follows such a shameful course of life, abuses the patience of God in the disposition of a devil. He, who enervates and impairs his reason, either by excessive debauchery, or by worldly dissipations, by an effeminate luxury, or by an inactive stupidity, and pays no regard to the great end for which God permits him to live in this world, abuses the patience of God in the disposition of a beast.

He who from the long-suffering of God infers consequences against his providence, and against his hatred of sin, is in the disposition, of which my text speaks, as a philosopher. He, who concludes because the patience of God has continued to this day that it will always continue, and makes such a hope a motive to persist in sin, without repentance or remorse, abuses the patience of God in the dis position of a man. As I shall point out these principles to you, I shall show you the injustice and extravagance of them.

I. To devote health, prosperity, and youth, to offend God, and to invent new ways of blaspheming him, while the punishment of him who leads such a shameful life is deferred, is to abuse the long-suffering of God like a devil. The majesty of this place, the holiness of my ministry, and the delicacy of my hearers, forbid precision on this article; for there would be a shocking impropriety in exhibiting a well drawn portrait of such a man. But, if it is criminal to relate such excesses, what must it be to commit them? It is but too certain, how ever, that nature sometimes produces such infernal creatures, who, with the bodies of men, have the sentiments of devils. Thanks be to God, the characters which belong to this article, must be taken from other countries, though not from ancient history.

I speak of those abominable men, to whom living and moving would be intolerable, were they to pass one day without insulting the Author of their life and motion. The grand design of all their actions is to break down very boundary, that either modesty, probity, or even a corrupt and irregular conscience has set to licentiousness. They bitterly lament the paucity of the ways of violating their Creator’s laws, and they employ all the power of their wit, the play of their fancy, and the fire of their youth, to supply the want. Like that impious king, of whom the Scripture speaks, Dan. v. 2, they carouse with the sacred vessels, and them they profanely abuse in their festivity: them did I say? The most solemn truths, and the most venerable mysteries of religion, they take into their polluted mouths, and display their infidelity and impurity in ridiculing them. They hurry away a life, which is become insipid to them, because they have exhausted all resources of blasphemy against God, and they hasten to hell, to learn others of the infernal spirits, their patterns and their protectors.

Let us throw a veil, my brethren, over these abominations, and let us turn away our eyes from objects so shameful to human nature. But how comes it to pass, that rational creatures, having ideas of right and wrong, arrive at such a subversion of reason, and such a degree of corruption, as to be pleased with a course of life, which carries its pains and punishments with it?

Sometimes this phenomenon must be attributed to a vicious education. We seldom pay a sufficient regard to the influence that education has over the whole life. We often enter tain false, and oftener still inadequate notions of what is called a good education. We have given, it is generally thought, a good education to a youth, when we have taught him an art, or trained him up in a science; when we have instructed him how to arrange a few dry words in his head, or a few crude notions in his fancy; and we are highly satisfied when we have in trusted the cultivation of his tender heart to a man of probity. We forget that the venom of sin impregnates the air that he breathes, and communicates itself to him by all that he sees, and by all that he hears. If we would give young people a good education, we must for bid them all acquaintance with those who do not delight in decency and piety: we must never suffer them to hear debauchery and im piety spoken of without detestation: we must furnish them with precautions previous to their travels, in which, under pretense of acquaint ing themselves with the manners of foreigners, they too often adopt nothing but their vices: we must banish from our universities those shocking irregularities, and annihilate those dangerous privileges, which make the means of education the very causes of corruption and ruin.

Sometimes these excesses are owing to the connivance, or the countenance of princes. We have never more reason to predict the destruction of a state, than when the reins of government are committed to men of a certain character. It will require ages to heal the wounds of one impious reign. An irreligious reign emboldens vice, and multiplies infamous places for the commission of it. In an irreligious reign scandalous books are published; and it becomes fashionable to question whether there be a God in heaven, or any real difference between virtue and vice on earth. In the space of an irreligious reign offices are held by unworthy persons, who either abolish, or suffer to languish, the laws that policy had provided against impiety. Histories, more recent than those of Tiberius and Nero, would too fully exemplify our observations, were not the majesty of princes, in some sort, respectable, even after they are no more.

Sometimes these excesses, which offer violence to nature, are caused by a gratification of those which are agreeable to the corruption of nature. Ordinary sins become insipid by habit, and sinners are forced, having arrived at some periods of corruption, to endeavor to satisfy their execrable propensities by the com mission of those crimes, which once made them shudder with horror.

To all these reasons add the judgment of di vine Providence; for ” God giveth those up to uncleanness,” Rom. i. 24, who have made no use of the means of instruction and piety which he had afforded them. I repeat my thanksgivings to God, the protector of these states, that among our youth (though, alas! so far from that piety which persons, dedicated to God by baptism, ought to possess,) we have none of this character. Indeed, had we such a monster among us, we should neither oppose him by private advice nor by public preaching: but we should think that the arm of the secular magistrate was a likelier mean of repulsing him than the decision of a casuist. Let none be offended at this. Our ministry is a ministry of compassion, I grant; and we are sent by a master who willeth not the death of a sinner; but, if we thought that compassion obliged us on any occasions to implore your clemency, my Lords, for some malefactors, whom your wise laws, and the safety of society, condemn to die, we would rather intercede for assassins, and high way robbers: yea, for those miserable wretches, whose execrable avarice tempts them to import infected commodities, which expose our own and our children’s lives to the plague; for these we would rather intercede, than for those, whose dreadful examples are capable of infecting the minds of our children with infernal maxims, and of rendering these provinces like Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, first by involving them in the guilt, and then in the fiery punishment of those detestable cities.

Where the sword of the magistrate does not punish, that of divine vengeance will: but, as it would be difficult for imagination to conceive the greatness of the punishments that await such sinners, it is needless to adduce the reasons of them. Our first notions of God are vindictive to such, and as soon as we are convinced that there is a just God, the day appears in which, falling upon these unworthy men, he will address them in this thundering language: “depart, depart,” into the source of your pleasures; “depart into everlasting fire” with all your associates; do for ever and ever what ye have been doing in your life time; having exhausted my patience, experience the power of my anger; and as ye have had the dispositions of devils, suffer for ever the punishments “prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matt xxv. 41.

II. A man may be in the disposition, of which the Wise Man speaks in the text, through stupidity and indolence, and this second state confounds the man with the beast. There is nothing hyperbolical in this proposition. What makes the difference between a man and a beast? These are the distinguishing characters of each. The one is confined to a short duration, and to a narrow circle of present objects; the other has received of his Creator the power of going beyond time, and of penetrating by his meditation into remote futurity, yea, even into an endless eternity. The one is actuated only by sensual appetites; the other has the faculty of rectifying his senses by the ideas of his mind. The one is carried away by the heal of his temperament; the other has the power of cooling temperament with reflection. The one knows no argument nor motive but sensation; the other has the power of making motives of sensation yield to the more noble and permanent motives of interest. To imitate the first kind of the creatures is to live like a beast; to follow the second is to live like a man. Let us apply this general truth to the particular subject in hand, and let us justify what we have advanced, that there is nothing hyperbolical in this proposition. If there be a subject that merits the attention of an intelligent soul, it is the long-suffering of God; and if there be a case, in which an intelligent creature ought to use the faculty that his Creator has given him, of going beyond the circle of present objects, of rectifying the actions of his senses by the ideas of his mind, and of correcting his temperament by reflection, it is certain ly the case of that sinner with whom God has borne so long.

Miserable man! ought he to say to himself, I have committed, not only those sins, which ordinarily belong to the frailty and depravity of mankind, but those also which are a shame to human nature, and which suppose that he who is guilty of them has carried his corruption to the highest pitch! O miserable man! 1 have committed not only one of the sins, which the Scripture says, deprive those who commit them of “inheriting the kingdom of God,” 1 Cor. vi. 10, but I have lived many years in the practice of such sins; in the impurity of effeminacy and adultery, in the possession of unjust gain, in the gloomy revolutions of implacable hatred! Miserable man! I have abused, not only the ordinary means of conversion, but also those extraordinary means, which God grants only to a few, and which he seems to have display ed on purpose to show how far a God of love can carry his love! Miserable man! I was not only engaged as a man and a professor of Christianity to give an example of piety, but I was also engaged to do it as a minister, as a magistrate, as a parent; yet, in spite of all my unworthiness, God has borne with me, and has preserved me in this world, not only while prosperity was universal, but while calamities were almost general; while the sword was glut ting itself with blood, while the destroying an gel was exterminating on every side, as if he intended to make the whole world one vast grave! All this time God has been showering his blessings upon me! upon me the chief of sinners! me his declared enemy! blessings that he promised to bestow as privileges on his favorites only! “I dwelt in the secret place of the Most High, I abode under the shadow of the Almighty!” Ps. xci. 1.

I ask, my brethren, whether if there be a state in which an intelligent creature ought to meditate and reflect, it be not the state of a sinner? If I prove then, that there are men in this state, who neither think nor reflect, because they confine their attention to the circle of pre sent objects, abandon themselves wholly to sensuality, and give themselves up entirely to their constitutional vices; shall I not have proved that there are men, who like beasts are indifferent to ” the riches of the forbearance and long-suffering of God?” Rom. ii. 4. But where shall we find such people? Shall we search for them in fabulous history, or look for them in ancient chronicles? Shall we quote the relations of those travelers, who seem to aim less at instructing us by publishing true accounts, than at astonishing us by reporting uncommon events? Alas! alas, my dear brethren, 1 fear I have been too confident, and had not sufficient ly proportioned my strength to my courage, when I engaged at the beginning of this dis course to confront certain portraits with the countenances of some of my hearers…. But, no, the truth ought not to suffer through the frailty of him whose office it is to publish it. Tell us, then, what distinguishes the man from the beast, in that worshiper of Mam mon, who having spent his life in amassing and hoarding up wealth, in taxing the widow, the orphan, and the ward, to satiate his avarice; having defrauded the state, deceived his cor respondents, and betrayed his tenderest friends; having accumulated heaps upon heaps, and having only a few days respite, which providence has granted him for the repentance of his sins, and the restitution of his iniquitous gains; employs these last moments in offering incense to his idol, spends his last breath in enlarging his income, in lessening his expenses, and in endeavoring to gratify that insatiable desire of getting, which gnaws and devours him.

Tell us what distinguishes the man from the beast, in that old debauchee, who thinks of nothing but voluptuousness; who to sensuality sacrifices his time, his fortune, his reputation, his health, his soul, his salvation, along with all his pretensions to immortality; and who would willingly comprehend the whole of man “n this definition, a being capable of wallowing in voluptuousness?

Tell us what distinguishes the man from the beast, in that man, who not being able to bear the remorse of his own conscience, nor the ideas of the vanity of this world, to which he is wholly devoted; drowns his reason in wine, gives himself up to all the excesses of drunkenness, exposes himself to the danger of committing some bloody murder, or of perishing in some tragical death, of which we have too many melancholy examples; not only unfits himself for repenting now, but even renders himself incapable of repenting at all? What is a penitent’s reconciliation to God? It includes, at least, reflection and thought, the laying down of principles and the deducing of consequences: but people of this kind, through their excessive intoxication, generally incapacitate themselves for inferring a consequence, or admitting a principle, and even for reflecting and thinking; as experience, experience superior to all our reasoning, has many a time shown. But it is necessary to reason in order to dis cover the injustice of this disposition? Do ye really think that God created you capable of reflection that ye should never reflect’ Do ye indeed believe that God gave you so many fine faculties that ye should make no use of these faculties? In a word, can ye seriously think that God made you men in order to enable you to live like beasts?

III. I said, in the third place, that the dis position of which the Wise Man speaks in the text, sometimes proceeds from a principle of grave folly. So I call the principle of some philosophers, who imagine that they find in the delay of the punishment of sinners, an invincible argument against the existence of God, at least against the infinity of his perfections. We do not mean, by a philosopher, that superficial trifler, who not having the least notion of right reasoning, takes the liberty sometimes of pretending to reason, and with an air of superiority, which might impose on us, were we to be imposed on by a tone, says, ” The learn ed maintained such an opinion: but I affirm the opposite opinion. Casuists advance such a max im: but I lay down a very different maxim. Pastors hold such a system; but, for my part, I hold altogether another system.” And who is he who talks in this decisive tone, and who alone pretends to contradict all our ministers, and all our learned men; the whole church, and the whole school? It is sometimes a man, whose whole science consists in the casting up of a sum. It is sometimes a man, who has spent all his life in exercises, that have not the least relation to the subject which he so arrogantly decides; and who thinks, if I may be allowed to say so, that arguments are to be commanded as he commands a regiment of soldiers. In a word, they are men, for the most part, who know neither what a system nor a max im is. Let not such people imagine that they are addressed as philosophers; for we cannot address them without repeating what has been said in the preceding article, which is their pro per place. We mean, when we speak of men who despise the long-suffering of God as philosophers, people who have taken as much pains to arrive at infidelity, as they ought to have taken to obtain the knowledge of the truth: who have studied as much to palliate error, as they ought to have studied to expose it: who have gone through as long a course of reading and meditation to deprave their hearts as they ought to have undertaken to preserve them from depravity. Among the sophisms which they have adopted, that which they have derived from the delay of the punishment of sinners, has appeared the most tenable, and they have occupied it as their fort. Sophisms of this kind are not new, they have been repeated in all ages, and in every age there have been such as Celius (this is the name of an ancient atheist,) of whom a heathen poet says, Celius says that there are no gods, and that heaven is an uninhabited place; and these are the chief reasons that he assigns; he continued happy, and he had the prospect of continuing so, while he denied the existence of a God.

As the persons, to whom we address this article, profess to reason, let us reason with them. And ye, my brethren, endeavor to attend a few moments to our arguments. One brief cause of our erroneous notions of the perfections of God, is the considering of them separately, and not in their admirable assortment and beautiful harmony. When we meditate on the goodness of God, we consider his goodness alone, and not in harmony with his justice. When we meditate on his justice, we consider it in an abstract view, and without any relation to his goodness. And in the same manner we consider his wisdom, his power, and his other attributes.

This restriction of meditation (I think I may venture to call it so) is a source of sophistry. If we consider supreme justice in this manner, it will seem as if it ought to exterminate every sinner: and on the contrary, if we consider supreme goodness in this manner, it will seem as if it ought to spare every sinner; to succor all the afflicted; to prevent every degree of dis tress; and to gratify every wish of every creature capable of wishing. We might observe the same of power, and of wisdom, and of every other perfection of God. But what shocking consequences would follow such views of the divine attributes! As we should never be able to prove such a justice, or such a goodness as we have imagined, we should be obliged to infer, that God is not a Being supremely good; that he is not a Being supremely just; and the same may be said of his other perfections. Persons who entertain such notions, not only sink the Supreme Being below the dignity of his own nature, but even below that of man kind. Were we to allow the reasoning of these people, we should increase their difficulties by removing them, for the argument would end in downright atheism. Were we to allow the force of their objections, I say, we should in crease their difficulties, and instead of obtaining a solution of the difficulty which attends our notions of a divine attribute, we should obtain a proof that there is no God: for, could we prove that there is a Being supremely good, in their abstract sense of goodness, we should thereby prove that there is no being supremely just; because supreme goodness, considered in their abstract manner, destroys supreme justice. The same may be said of all the other perfections of God, one perfection of the divine nature would destroy another; and to prove that God possessed one would be to prove that of the other his nature was quite destitute. Now, if there be a subject, my brethren, in which people err by considering the perfections of God in a detached and abstract manner, it is this of which we are speaking; it is when people raise objections against the attributes of God from his forbearance with sinners. God seems to act contrary to some of his perfections in his forbearance. Why? Because the perfection, to which his conduct seems incongruous, is considered as if it were alone, and not as if it were in relation to another perfection: be cause, as I have already said, the divine attributes are considered abstractly, and not in their beautiful assortment and admirable harmony. I confine myself to this principle to refute the objections which some, who are improperly called philosophers, derive from the delay of the punishment of sinners, to oppose to the perfections of God. I do not, however, confine myself to this for want of other solid answers: for example, I might prove that the notion, which they form of those perfections, to which the delay of divine vengeance seems repugnant, is a false notion.

What are those perfections of God? They are, ye answer, truth, which is interested in executing the threatenings that are denounced against sinners: wisdom, which is interested in supplying means of re-establishing order: and particularly justice, which is interested in the punishing of the guilty. I reply, that your idea of truth is opposite to truth; your idea of wisdom is opposite to wis dom: your idea of justice is opposite to justice. Yes, the notion that ye entertain of truth, is opposite to truth, and ye resemble those scoffers, of whom the apostle speaks, who said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” What Jesus Christ had said of St. John, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” had occasioned a rumor concerning the near approach of the dissolution of the world: but there was no appearance of the dissolution of the world: thence the scoffers, of whom St. Peter speaks, concluded that God had not fulfilled his promise, and on this false supposition they said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Apply this reflection to yourselves. The delay of the punishment of sinners, ye say, is opposite to the truth of God: on the contrary, God has declared that he would not punish every sinner as soon as he had committed an act of sin. ” The sinner doth evil a hundred times, and God prolongeth his days.”

The delay of the punishment of sinners, ye say, is opposite to the wisdom of God: on the contrary, it is this delay which provides for the execution of that wise plan, which God has made for mankind, of placing them for some time in a state of probation in this world, and of regulating their future reward or punishment according to their use or abuse of such a dispensation.

The delay of the punishment of sinners, ye say, is repugnant to the justice of God. Quite the contrary. What do ye call justice in God? What! Such an impetuous emotion as that which animates you against those who affront you, and whom ye consider as enemies? An implacable madness, which enrages you to such a degree, that a sight of all the miseries into which ye are going to involve them is not able to curb? Is tais what ye call justice? But I suppress all these reflections, and re turn to my principle, (and this is not the first time that we have been obliged to proportion the length of a discourse, not to the nature of the subject, but to the impatience of our hearers.) I return to my principle; the delay of the punishment of sinners will not seem incompatible with the justice of God, unless ye consider that perfection detached from another perfection, by which God in the most eminent manner displays his glory, I mean his mercy. An explication of the last clause of our text, “the sinner doth evil a hundred times, and God prolongeth his days,” will place the matter in a clear light: for the long-suffering of God with sinners flows from his mercy. St. Peter con firms this when he tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pet. iii. 9. It is with the same view that Jesus Christ calls the whole time, during which God delay ed the destruction of Jerusalem, “the time of the visitation of that miserable city,” Luke xix. 44. And for the same reason St. Paul calls the whole time, which God puts between the commission of sin and the destruction of sinners, ” riches of forbearance, and long-suffering, that lead to repentance,” Rom. ii. 4. And who could flatter himself with the hope of escaping “devouring fire, and everlasting burnings,” Isa. xxxiii. 14, were God to execute immediately his sentence against evil works, and to make punishment instantly follow the practice of sin?

What would have become of David if divine mercy had not prolonged his days after he had fallen into the crimes of adultery and murder; or if justice had called him to give an account of his conduct while his heart, burning with a criminal passion, was wishing only to gratify it; while he was sacrificing the honor of a wife, the life of a husband, along with his own body, which should have been a temple of the Holy Ghost, to the criminal passion that in flamed his soul? It was the long-suffering, the patience of God, that gave him time to recover himself, to get rid of his infatuation, to see the horror of his sin, and to say under a sense of it, ” Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest,” Ps. li. 1 4.

What would have become of Manasseh, if God had called him to give an account of his administration while he was making the house of God the theater of his dissoluteness and idolatry; while he was planting groves, rearing up altars for the host of heaven, making his sons pass through the fire, doing more wickedly than the Amorites, making Judah to sin with his dunghill gods, as the holy Scripture calls them? It was the long-suffering of God that bore with him, that engaged him to humble himself, to pray fervently to the God of his fathers, and to become an exemplary convert after he had been an example of infidelity and impurity. What would have become of St. Peter, if God had called him to give an account of himself, while, frightened and subverted at the sight of the judges and executioners of his Saviour, he was pronouncing those coward ly words, “I know not the man?” It was the long-suffering and patience of God, that gave him an opportunity of seeing the merciful looks of Jesus Christ immediately after his denial of him, of fleeing from a place fatal to his innocence, of going out to weep bitterly, and of saying to Jesus Christ, “Lord, thou knowest that I love thee: Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee,” John xxi. 16, 17.

What would have become of St. Paul, if God had required an account of his administration, while he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” Acts ix. 1; while he was ambitious of stifling the new-born church in her cradle, while he was soliciting letters from the high priest to pervert and to punish the disciples of Christ? It was the long-suffering of God, that gave him an opportunity of saying, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Acts ix. 6. It was the patience of God which gave him an opportunity of making that honest confession, ” I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy,” 1 Tim. i. 13.

IV. But why should we go out of this assembly, (and here we enter into the last article, and shall endeavor to prevent your abuse of the patience of God in the dispositions of wen,) why should we go out of this assembly, to search after proofs of divine mercy in a de lay of punishment? What would have become of you, my dear hearers, if vengeance had immediately followed sin? if God had not pro longed the days of sinners; if sentence against evil works had been executed speedily? What would have become of some of you, if God had required of you an account of your conduct, while ye were sacrificing the rights of widows and orphans to the “honor of the persons of the mighty,” Lev. xix. 15; while ye were practicing perjury and accepting bribes? It is the long-suffering of God that prolongs your days, that ye may make a restitution of your unrighteous gain, plead for the orphan and the widow, and attend in future decisions only to the nature of the cause before you. What would have become of some of you, if God had called you to give an account of your conduct, while the fear of persecution, or, what is infinitely more criminal still, while the love of ease, prevailed over you to renounce a religion which ye respected in your hearts while ye denied with your mouths? It is the patience of God which has afforded you time to learn the greatness of a sin, the guilt of which a whole life of repentance is not sufficient to expiate: it is the patience of God which has prolonged your days, that ye might confess that Jesus whom ye have betrayed, and profess that gospel which ye have denied. Let us not multiply particular examples, let us comprise this whole assembly in one class. There is not one of our hearers, no, not one, who is in this church to-day, there is not one who has been engaged in the devotional exercises of this day, who would not have been in hell with the devil and his angels, if vengeance had immediately followed sin; if God had exercised no patience towards sinners; if “sentence against evil works” had been “executed speedily.” “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed!” Lam. iii. 22. The de lay of punishment is a demonstration of his mercy; it does not prove that he is not just, but it does prove that he is good. I could wish, my brethren, that all those who ought to interest themselves in this article, would render it needless for me to enter into particulars, by recollecting the history of their own lives, and by remembering the circumstances to which I refer. One man ought to say to himself, in my childhood, an upright father, a pious mother, and several worthy tutors did all that lay in their power to form me virtuous. In my youth, a tender and generous friend, who was more concerned for my happiness, and more ambitious of my excelling, than I myself, availed himself of all the power of insinuation that nature had given him, to incline my heart to piety and to the fear of God, and to attach me to religion by bands of love. On a certain occasion, Providence put into my hands a religious book, the reading of which discovered to me the turpitude of my conduct. At another time, one of those clear, affecting, thundering, sermons, that alarm sleepy souls, forced from me a promise of repentance and reformation. One day, I saw the administration of the Lord’s supper, which, awakening my attention to the grand sacrifice that divine justice required for the sins of mankind, affected me in a manner so powerful and moving, that I thought myself obliged in gratitude to dedicate my whole life to him, who in the tenderest compassion had given himself for me. Another time an extremely painful illness showed me the absurdity of my course of life; filled me with a keenness of remorse, that seemed an anticipation of hell; put me on beseeching God to grant me a few years more of his patience; and brought me to a solemn adjuration that I would employ the remaining part of my life in repairing the past. All these have been fruitless; all these means have been useless; all these promises have been false; and yet I may have access to a throne of grace. What love! What mercy!

This long-suffering of God with impenitent sinners, will be one of the most terrible subjects that sinners can think of when the avenging moment comes; when the fatal hour arrives in which the voice of divine justice shall summon a miserable wretch to appear, when it shall bind him to a death bed, and suspend him over the abyss of hell.

But to a poor sinner, who is awakening from his sin, who having consumed the great est part of his life in sin, would repair it by sacrificing the world and all its glory, were such a sacrifice in his power: to a poor sinner, who, having been for some time afraid of an exclusion from the mercy of God, revolves these distressing thoughts in his mind: Perhaps “the days of my visitation” may be at an end; henceforth, perhaps, my sorrows may be superfluous, and my tears inadmissible: to such a sinner, what an object, what a comfort able object, is the treasure of ” the forbearance and long-suffering of God that leadeth to repentance.” My God, says such a sinner, ” I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies!” Gen. xxxii. 10. My God, I am tempted to think that to doubt of my interest in thy favor is the rendering of a proper homage to thy mercy, and my unbelief would arise from my veneration for thy majesty! But let me not think so; I will not doubt of thy mercy, my God, since thou hast condescended to as sure me of it in such a tender manner! I will lose myself in that ocean of love which thou, O God, infinitely good! still discovers to me; 1 will persuade myself that thou dost not despise the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart; and this persuasion I will oppose to an alarmed conscience, to a fear of hell that anticipates the misery of the state, and to all those formidable executioners of condemned men, whom I behold ready to seize their prey! My brethren, “the riches of the goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering of God,” are yet open to you: they are open, my dear brethren, to this church, how ungrateful so ever we have been to the goodness of God how much insensibility soever we have shown to the invitations of grace: they are open to the greatest sinners, nor is there one of my hearers who may not be admitted to these in exhaustible treasures of goodness and mercy But do ye still “despise the riches of the long-suffering of God?” What! because “space to repent,” Rev. ii. 21; is given, will ye continue in impenitence? Ah! were Jesus Christ in the flesh, were he walking in your streets, were he now in this pulpit preaching to you, would he not preach to you all bathed in sorrows and tears? He would weep over you as he once wept over Jerusalem, and he would say to this province, to this town, to this church, to each person in this assembly yea, to that wicked hearer, who affects not to concerned in this sermon, O that ” thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” Luke xix. 42. What am I saying? he would say thus, he does say thus, my dear brethren, and still interests himself in your salvation in the tenderest and most vehement, manner. Sitting at the right hand of his Father, he holds back that avenging arm which is ready to fell us to the earth at a stroke; in our behalf he interposes his sufferings and his death, his intercession and his cross; and from the top of that glory to which he is elevated, he looks down and says to this republic, to this church, to all this assembly, and to every sinner in it: O that “thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!”

My brethren, the patience of God, which yet endures, will not always endure. The year which the master of the vineyard grants, at the intercession of the dresser, to try whether a barren fig-tree can be made fruitful, will expire, and then it must be cut down, Luke xiii. 6. Do not deceive yourselves, my brethren; the long-suffering of God must produce in the end either your conversion or your destruction. O may it prevent your destruction by producing your conversion! The Lord grant you this favour! To him, the Father, the Son, and the holy Spirit, be honor and glory for ever. Amen.

James Saurin, Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 1:111-117.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008 at 8:34 am and is filed under God is Longsuffering. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed at this time.