Abuse of the Long Suffering of God.
    A Sermon by Dr. Richard Watson
Abuse of the Long Suffering of God.
A Sermon by Dr. Richard Watson.

"These things has thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes," Psalm 1:21.

This psalm is in proof that the doctrine of a future state was known to the ancient Jews. It was written either by Asaph, or for Asaph, as master of the choral service; and, therefore, at the time when the Jewish dispensation was existing in its most perfect form.

But even then there were "Israelites after the flesh," as well as "after the Spirit;" observers of sacrifices and ceremonies, but violaters of moral precepts; and yet, depending upon their external piety for exemption from the punishment of moral offences.

The solemnities of the future judgement are therefore exhibited to arouse them, and bring them to repentance; and at the bar of the majesty of God all their religious delusions are dissipated.

One of these delusions is marked in the text. The delay of the punishment of sin was made an argument for remaining in it; nay, more, the long suffering of God was pleaded against the revealed representations of his justice, until the fatal conclusion was arrived at, that God was like unto themselves.

This fatal error was not peculiar to that age. Solomon lays it down as a general observation, "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." And wherever man will indulge in sin, the same effect, more or less, follows. It is a delusion of corrupt human nature, wherever that nature is found; and it becomes our duty to guard you against it, or to rescue you from it. Let us then consider,

I. How the long suffering or "silence" of God ought to be interpreted.
II. The corrupt perversion of this affecting doctrine by sinful men; "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself."
III. The fatal results of the last day.

I. The perversion of the patience and silence of God as to punishment, to purposes of religious sloth, formality or corruption, is one of the most unnatural acts we can conceive; and it supposes an ignorance and an ingratitude equally criminal.

This will appear if we consider the principles on which it has pleased God himself to place this kind and gracious branch of his administration.

1. The appointment of a state of moral exercise an probation.
In this state we have to acquire a knowledge of the will of God, to struggle with temptation, and to attain the important habit of faith,an implicit trust in God's word. To all these things sudden punishment would be contrary; probation would be terminated at once, as soon as it was begun; and we should "walk by sight," and not "by faith." Before the antediluvian world was destroyed by the flood, before the plagues of Egypt were inflicted, before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies, and in all similar visitations of Divine Providence, "the long suffering of God waited" for the penitence of the people; and the threatened vengeance was delayed till their iniquities were full.

2. Another principle appears to be, that we may see the evil of sin in itself, as well as in its penal results.
This it is important for man to know. God wills not an obedience from fear only, but from conviction; and every thing we observe with care may instruct us in this, that sin is folly and misery. Fix, for example, upon any evil passion or act. Nay, take the most prosperous sinners. Is their case such as you can seriously envy? Ask yourselves what fruit you had in those things of which you are now ashamed. "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee." But all this is in consequence of God's long suffering; of his delaying the final punishment.

3. That he may honour the sacrifice and intercession of his Son.
The effect of these is to postpone his judgement, that the terms of reconciliation may be proposed. Christ is an advocate. The barren fig tree was spared at the urgent request of the vine dresser; and in honour of his Son, "who ever liveth to make intercession for us," God is pleased to vouchsafe a longer space to the despisers of his law, and the neglecters of his salvation. Nay, in some instances, God condescends thus to answer the prayers of his people, presented to him in behalf of the ungodly.

4. He also intends the manifestation of his love in seeking with earnestness our recovery.
So he "wills not the death of a sinner," and multiplies means for his recovery. Thus we are to "account that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation." He is unwilling to cut us off, and therefore gives space for repentance, and a life of piety.

II. The corrupt perversion of this doctrine by sinful men. They think that God is "like themselves;" and, in matters of religion and moral accountability, bring Deity down to their own standard.
When the Gentiles made gods, they made them like themselves: and the same process takes place in the heart, when there is no visible idolatry. Men regard God through the dark medium of their own obscure and perverted minds; and, in imagination, pour those darkening shadows upon his character, which, in fact, surround themselves.

1. The largest class of men are those who live in a state of almost total indifference to their actions.
Perhaps these seldom hear the truth, and never read it. This is not to be accounted for, but from a vague notion that their sins are as indifferent to God, as they are to themselves. Having scarcely any knowledge, they have scarcely any conscience, except it may be as to the grosser offences against the property or persons of others. For the rest, they have no perception of their evil; and if they think of God at all, they must think him "like themselves." They have no deep and serious impression, that the corruption of their nature renders them infinitely hateful to the holy God, and exposes them to his vengeance.

2. We have another class, which comprehends the various kinds of infidel or unbelieving men.
These have more thought; but only to the same or worse issues. They have a disposition to speculate on the Divine nature; but how great a share a corrupt heart has in directing their conclusions, may appear from the fact, the striking fact, that all infidel theories have gone to create security in sin, and to encourage and palliate vice.Take, for example, the ancient infidels, who said, "How doth God know?" Take those who, under pretence of honouring God, thought it beneath him to look upon human affairs. Take those who pretend that our sins are the result of circumstances, in which God hath placed us; and that, therefore, he will not punish them. Take any other shades of infidelity, those which are most common. Their abettors find fault with our system of theology; and sometimes they give us another. But do they give us a purer holiness? Do they make vice more detestable? Do they plant any new guards around virtue? Just the contrary. Their standard is not only lower, but "earthly, sensual," and often "devilish." All this proves a total insensibility to the real evil of sin. Infidels transfer this to God, and make him "like themselves."

3. Another class of men take partial views of sin.
We may allow these to go farther than those we have already mentioned. They consider as sins, and as punishable, all violations of external morality, that is, all personal intemperance, all violations of justice and social and civil obligations; but of numerous other and deeper offences they are insensible. They see no sin in pride, though it is so hateful to God;

nor in envy, malice, and uncharitableness, which violate the love of our neighbour; nor in unbelief, though God has made it a damning sin; nor in that worldly spirit, which makes them every hour violate the "first and great commandment" of the law, the love of God. Now, if they saw that for these they are as much under the curse as for any other, would they be so insensible? They transfer the same superficial views to God; they think him "like themselves."

4. Religious formalists, who think that ceremonies please God; that he is a ceremonious being, pleased with outward things.
How does he dissipate these low, but prevalent, notions in this psalm! "I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goat out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High." We proceed to consider,

III. The fatal result of all these delusions at the last day. "I will reprove thee, and set them in order," array them, "before thine eyes."

The words appear very emphatic, and the latter explanatory of the former clause. "I will reprove thee," not by lengthened reasoning and argument then; that belongs to the present state;so God says, "Come now and let us reason together;"but he will then carry the conviction home in a more compendious way: "I will set them in order," array them as an army drawn up. Let us pursue the subject in our thoughts. It is awakening but salutary.

1. They shall be arrayed in their number.
We forget our sins; yet were we to set ourselves to compute those of one day, how surprised should we be by their number! What then should we think of a life spent in sin! God never forgets them; all come from their recesses, and are "set in order" before the eyes of the wicked. If they have been committed in secret, they are now made manifest. 2. They shall be arrayed in full and disclosing light, "before our eyes."

With this compare Psalm 90:8, "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance." Our own eye is opened; and the light of God shines about all our offenses. These we must compare with the true standard; with the law, with the holiness of God, with the purity of Christ; and thus the terrible discovery of the "exceeding sinfulness of sin" will shut our mouths in silence.

3. They shall be arrayed as connected with their root and principle in the heart.
Outward acts are comparatively few; but the sins of the heart take their places in the ample ranks of the array, of which they fill the greatest space. Thoughts of evil indulged; envy, discontent, murmuring; the restless heaving of the carnal, unsubdued mind against the authority of God; anger, which is murder; lust, adultery, all, all shall be set in array.

4. They shall be arrayed in their relations.
Sins are related to each other. One is the parent of others; and there they shall stand arrayed, like the divisions of an army, each under its chief.
Pride at the head of ambition, oppression, unfeelingness, cruelty, contempt, and vanity. Covetousness, with its natural products of base worldliness, denials of the claims of the cause of God and of the poor, cheating, knavery, and robbery.
Sensuality, with its thousand acts of gluttony and intemperance.
The enmity of the carnal mind to God, with its hatred of the light; contempt of good men, love of religious errors, and having in its skirts the blood of martyrs.
Sloth, with its neglected opportunities, broken Sabbaths, despised ordinances; its hypocrisies and masking formalities. What an array! Also,

5. There shall be an array of consequences.
"One sinner destroyeth much good." This will never be fully known till the day of judgment. Every sinner is charged with his share in the world's corruption, a nation's vices, the Church's apostasies. But we may be more particular. Is the sinner a minister? How many of the blind has he led into the ditch? Is he a master? How many of those under his influence has he corrupted? Is he a parent? The blood of his children is upon him. Every sinner is chargeable, in some degree, with consequences.

6. But the final array shall be of sins against God's mercy; against the love of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit, of the Bible, of the Christian ministry, of the Church, of parents and friends. Now this array you must meet, if you die unpardoned. Take, then, the exhortation, "Now consider this, ye that forget God." Consider,

  1. Its truth. It is fixed. Heaven and earth shall pass away; but the purposes of God to judge the world shall stand.
  2. That you are warned in order that you may escape. O suffer not the warning to be lost upon you!
  3. That death may be at hand; and then all is judgment as to you. Contemplate the soul in a separate state; the terrors of the general judgment; the intolerable miseries of hell!
  4. That you must set sin in array now, if you would escape and fly to Him whose blood will plead for you against your sins. Yes, it now pleads! Happy state of a soul, as to which sin is blotted out, never to be remembered! Who shall lay any thing to the charge of that soul? "It is God that justifieth."

In that day it shall be said, "Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice."


A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify;
A never dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
-- Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. -- Thomas Jefferson(1743-1826)

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