Covenant Reformed News
November 2016 • Volume XVI, Issue 7
God’s Longsuffering and the History of Sin
In the last four issues of the News, we surveyed all the references to God’s longsuffering in both the Old and the New Testaments, emphasizing that the exercise of this divine attribute is particular, for the elect alone. But what about how this works out in the history of sin?
Let us start with the beginning of the history of sin: the fall in Genesis 3. Why did the Most High not cast Adam and Eve into hell immediately after their eating the forbidden fruit? Surely, this is what their sin deserved? However, in God’s eternal decree, He had a wonderful plan to glorify His great name through the salvation of an elect church in Jesus Christ. The immediate death and damnation of the first two human beings would have stopped the propagation of mankind! What then of the history of the world? What about the coming of the Messiah?
Moving forward many centuries, we come to the flood. Why did God tell Noah that 120 years would pass before the global deluge (Gen. 6:3)? It was not because the Almighty was longsuffering to the reprobate in that age. Rather, time was needed to build the ark and for Noah to preach about God’s coming judgment (II Pet. 2:5). Also within these twelve decades, other elect saints, like Methuselah, died. They could not perish in the flood because it was a picture of Jehovah’s avenging wrath against the ungodly! The longsuffering of God saved the eight souls in the ark; it was not trying to save the impenitent reprobate who drowned under the judgment of the Most High (I Pet. 3:20).
Why did the Lord not destroy Sodom earlier? It was not that God loves, and is longsuffering towards, everybody head for head. Instead, the Sodomites had to fill up the cup of their iniquity. The development of their wickedness even reached to their attempted, homosexual gang rape of two strangers (Gen. 19:1-11). Until the departure of believing Lot, the only elect person in Sodom, the Almighty could not burn up the city, as Abraham well understood: “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (18:25). After all, the fire and brimstone are a picture of the “eternal fire” of hell (Jude 7; II Pet. 2:6)!
What about the Egyptians in the book of Exodus? Was the Almighty longsuffering towards them? No. Through the words and miracles of Moses, God hardened the hearts of Pharaoh (Ex. 4:21; 7:3, 13; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8), his servants (10:1) and his people (14:17). Jehovah’s hardening of the Egyptians issued from His eternal reprobation and holy hatred of them (Rom. 9:10-24; 11:7-10). Moreover, the Egyptians were destroyed for the sake of His beloved Israel: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life” (Isa. 43:3-4).
Why did God not destroy the inhabitants of Canaan earlier? Was this because they were the objects of His longsuffering? No. In the days recorded in Genesis 12-50, there simply were not enough descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to possess the promised land. Besides, the people in Canaan had not yet sufficiently developed in their sin. As Jehovah told Abraham centuries before the conquest of the holy land, “But in the fourth generation they [i.e., Abraham’s descendants] shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). Then the Most High would use the sword of Joshua and the nation of Israel to inflict His judgment upon the wicked inhabitants of Canaan (cf. Lev. 18).
After the Jews crucified His Son, why did Jehovah not devastate Jerusalem and its temple sooner? Why did He wait four decades until AD 70? Christ explains that the Jews must commit other sins, especially persecuting His followers, so as to be fully ripe for their inescapable judgment: “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matt. 23:32-35). Furthermore, elect Jews in and around Jerusalem needed to be saved first, as we read in the early chapters of Acts (e.g., 2:41; 4:4; 6:1, 7).
Does the sparing of the Gentile world for many hundreds of years before the Holy One of Israel began to gather a catholic or universal church (cf. Acts 14:16; 17:30) prove that He was longsuffering to these reprobate people? Of course not! How could the Triune God save elect Gentiles in the New Testament age, if He had wiped out their ancestors centuries before? The Lord had His elect among the subsequent generations and numerous descendants of ancient idolaters, including the (largely Gentile) readers of the Covenant Reformed News!
Finally, does the “delay” of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for the final judgment indicate that God is longsuffering to the reprobate? No. Revelation 6:9-11 records “the fifth seal.” John “saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” This is the loud cry he heard: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” John beheld that “white robes were given unto every one of them.” Then we read of the answer to their earnest cry: “it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
In short, the scriptural explanation of the delay of the great judgment day is that more saints must be martyred and the ungodly world must fully manifest its wickedness. Only then will all things be ready for the glorified Christ to return to deliver His beloved people and punish those who rebel against Him. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32)! Rev. Stewart