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the earth, to destroy all fitshi, wherein is the breath of life, from under Heaven.” But was this awful sentence immediately executed ? No: “ his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” Noah, who was himself to be preserved in the ark which he undertook to build, became a preacher of righteousness to his neighbours, that they also might repent, and escape the threatened punishment. On that disobedient race" the long-suffering of God once waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing." 1 Pet. iii. 20. Every stroke of the hammers, while that vessel was building, was a warning from God, and a fruit of his patience. How many, during that 120 years, repented and were pardoned, we are not informed—we hope there were many, but they died in peace before the flood came: of those who were living on earth at the time, none were preserved from the waters but Noah and his family. Ohow little was the patience of God improved by that generation !
3. Observe the patience of God towards the idolatrous nations of the heathen world. Most hateful to God is the sin of idolatry. It is defrauding him of his glory ; it is serving the creature instead of the Creator; it is transferring the honour due to the most high God to dead men, to images of men, to birds, and brutes, and reptiles, yea, to devils; but idolatry was not their only crime ; their morals were as depraved as their worship was false ; the greater part of them were “ filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; haters of God, disobedient to parents, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” This was their character. Yet, having sufficient light to know that these things were worthy of death, they persisted in the practice of them, and took pleasure in others who did them. Many, even of their lawgivers, priests, and philosophers, by their institutions, examples, and presence, encouraged the people in the
practice of these abominations, especially in celebrating the festivals of their gods. Most justly might the holy Governor of the world make a dreadful example of such egregious sinners, but he was patient and long-suffering ; " the times of this ignorance God winked at.” Acts xvii. 30. He so overlooked as not severely to punish. Great was his patience!
4. The history of the Jews affords most striking proofs of divine forbearance. No nation upon earth was ever so highly favoured. For no other people did God so miraculously interpose: no country was ever indulged with so full a revelation of his will, with such tokens of his presence; to them, therefore, he might justly say, “ You only have I known of ali the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Those iniquities were indeed numerous and aggravated; they are charged with being " stiff-necked and rebellious,” and they frequently fell into idolatry ; to which crimes they added the persecution and murder of the prophets; yet he endured, with much long-suffering, their ungrateful conduct. Forty years he endured their manners in the wilderness.
It was long before he cast off the ten tribes of Israel ; and before he sent Judah to Babylon. He restored them again to their own land, rebuilt their temple, and gave them another trial. They did not after this relapse into idolatry; but they lost the spirit of their religion, became formal, and hypocritical, and worldly, and substituted the traditions of men in the place of the word of God; still his patience was prolonged, and to them he made the first offer of the gospel ; nor did he "destroy their place and nation” till they had rejected both his Son and the apostles, and then wrath came upon
them to the uttermost. 5. The patience of God appears in his giving warning of approaching judgments. Thus, by Noah, he warned the old world; thus, by Jonah, he warned Nineveh ; thus, by the prophets, was Israel warned, when captivity or war was at hand ; and thus, our Lord himself warned Jerusalem and the Jews of their impending fate. In this manner he command. ed his people to act in the conquest of Canaan ; they were to summon a city before they attacked it; and in this manner he proceeds towards all his rebellious creatures. This was a principal branch of the pro. phet's office in ancient days, as expressed in the book of Ezekiel (ch. iii. 17) " Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die, and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity ; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” Awful admonition ! but strong demonstration of the patience of God! In the same manner his long-suffering is still displayed. The faithful ministers of the New Testament, no less than those of the Old, are still his watchmen. Bear with them, ye who hate not your own souls; do not be angry with them, because they tell you the truth, nor reproach them as ministers of wrath, when they warn you to flee from the wrath to come. They are your best friends; they only act according to their commission, and they imitate the apostle of the Gentiles, whose joy it was that he could appeal to Heaven, that “ he had not shunned to declare” to the Ephesians “the whole counsel of God," and that for three whole years he had “nót ceased to warn every one of them, night and day, with tears." O consider these faithful warnings as tokens of the divine pa. tience !
6. Once more, observe and admire the patience of God, in the reluctance with which he punishes men, and in the moderation with which punishments are inflicted. His judgments are long delayed, as long as possible. He strikes not till it be absolute. ly necessary. He convinces the world that “ judgment is his strange work, and that he “ doth not
afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” Like a tender parent, necessity only urges him to chastise, and his language is, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah ? how shall I set thee as Zeboim ? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” Hos. iii. &. And when he does punish, with what moderation is . it done! “ He stirs not up all his wrath.” If he send into a country the famine, the plague, or the sword, all are not destroyed ; some are spared, perhaps the greater part. At the worst of times it may be said, “ He hath punished less than our iniquities have deserved,” and “in the midst of judgment he remembers mercy.”
We conclude with directing your attention to those practical lessons which the subject suggests.
1. Let us take care that we do not abuse the patience of God. This is a common and often a fatal fault. Because God is patient, sinners presume that he is unconcerned about their sins. Because he delays to punish, they conclude he never will. But this is to abuse his patience, and deny his veracity. Of this he complained in ancient times (Ps. 1. 21.) " Because I kept silence, thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself;" but this vile abuse of his patience is so provoking to him, that he adds, “ Consider this, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” Wretched infatuation ! Ungrateful treatment! Do ye thus requite the patience of God? Do ye thus despise-put a wrong construction on his long forbearance? If so, mark the consequence, as declared in the verse after our text, “ Thou treasurest up wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." For, observe, his patience will have an end. This perfection will not, like most others, be continued to eternity. It is adapted only to the
present time, and may end to-morrow, end to-night, yea, the next moment. Jesus Christ, foreseeing that the forbearance of God with Jerusalem was near a close, anticipates the dreadful day, and weeps when he cries, “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace ; but now they are hid from thine eyes.” . Sad it is to think, that the goodness which leads to repentance, should only serve to harden the heart, and embolden the singer to persist in his sins. “ Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Eccles. viii. 11. But, ah! what will be the consequence ? The stroke long delayed will fall the heavier; the stream impeded in its course will increase its weight, and when once it breaks down the dam, will rush with such violence as to carry all before it: the debt that remains long unpaid, will be demanded with interest upon interest, and that terrific threatening will be fulfilled (Prov. i. 24, &c.) “ Because I have call. ed and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded, I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh ; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind." To avoid this dreadful doom,
2. Let us be concerned to improve his patience; and our text directs us how to do it ; "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance ;"—it gives opportunity for it; and it has a tendency to produce it. God might have cut you down in the first of those sinful actions which perhaps you have repeated hun. dreds of times. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in the act of lying, and so have many others been when uttering horrid imprecations. Zimri and Cosbi were slain when committing lewdness. Many have died in fits of drunkenness; and many persecutors have been snatched away before they could execute their wicked purposes, or soon after committing them. Why are we spared ? Why more for