January 2017 • Volume XVI, Issue 9
God’s Longsuffering and the Sins of His Elect
Having considered the reprobate ungodly in the last issue of
the Covenant Reformed News, we now turn to Scripture’s
teaching on the divine attribute of longsuffering with
regard to the sins of God’s people in Jesus Christ.
Think of the terrible transgressions of the nation of Israel
in the Old Testament! These included their lewd idolatry
with the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Ex. 32-34) and their
stubborn refusal at Kadesh to enter the promised land (Num.
13-14). We read of God’s being longsuffering or slow to
anger at both of these low points, both at the time (Ex.
34:6; Num. 14:18) and later (Neh. 9:17).
This last verse occurs in a review of Israel’s history that
highlights Jehovah’s mighty acts for the salvation of His
people despite their terrible sins. Nehemiah 9 begins with
the children of Israel coming together for a fast, covered
with “sackclothes” and with dust upon their heads (1),
confessing “their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers”
Listen to their lament: “our fathers dealt proudly, and
hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,
And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders
that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks”
(16-17). Moreover, “they were disobedient, and rebelled
against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew
thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to
thee, and they wrought great provocations” (26). Repeatedly,
“they did evil again before thee ... they dealt proudly, and
hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy
judgments … and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their
neck, and would not hear” (28, 29).
Thus the Levites declare on behalf of Israel, “we have done
wickedly: Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests,
nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy
commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst
testify against them. For they have not served thee in their
kingdom” (33-35). Yet there was hope because God was
longsuffering or “slow to anger” (17)!
No wonder that holy David, who meditated in God’s law day
and night, celebrated this divine virtue (Ps. 86:15; 103:8;
145:8) in connection with the forgiveness of sins (Ps. 86:5;
103: 3, 10, 12).
God also magnified His longsuffering in His salvation of
elect Gentiles, including the Ninevites (Jonah 4:2) and the
New Testament church (II Pet. 3:9, 15), most of which is not
ethnically Jewish (Rom. 9:22-24). What a multitude of sins
of former pagans are covered in the blood of Jesus Christ in
the longsuffering of God!
Jehovah is “longsuffering” to predestinated individuals,
including Paul, the “chief” of sinners, who persecuted the
church before God showed His rich “grace” to him (I Tim.
All of this speaks to us, beloved! How longsuffering has God
been to us regarding our original sins! What about all of
the sins of our youth (Ps. 25:7)? Many of us can recall our
horrible iniquities before we came to Christ. There are also
our sins as Christians, some of which seem to us to be even
worse than our pre-conversion sins because they were
committed against far greater light. We have transgressed
God’s holy law as His children, as church members, as
earthly sons or daughters, as husbands or wives, as fathers
or mothers, at home and at work, in our thoughts and words
But our covenant God comes to us in Scripture, reminding us
of His longsuffering! Through the preaching of the holy
gospel, He declares to us that He is longsuffering, as the
One who is patient, gracious and slow to anger. Jehovah’s
longsuffering is symbolized and sealed in the sacrament of
holy baptism (I Pet. 3:20-21).
God’s longsuffering is an instance of what are often called
His communicable attributes, that is, those divine
perfections that He works into the hearts and lives of His
people so that they reflect His virtues in a creaturely way.
Think of the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew
18:23-35, which could also be called the parable of the
unlongsuffering servant! Regarding the slave and his master,
we read, “The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped
him, saying, Lord, have patience with [i.e., be
longsuffering towards] me, and I will pay thee all” (26).
Regarding the slave and his fellow slave, we read, “And his
fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him,
saying, Have patience with [i.e., be longsuffering towards]
me, and I will pay thee all” (29).
The point of the parable is that we should be longsuffering
towards and forgive those who have wronged us, if they ask
for our forgiveness (and we should be willing to forgive
those who wrong us, if they do not ask for our pardon).
After all, Scripture itself tells us the lesson regarding
forgiveness that Christ’s parable is designed to teach:
“Jesus saith unto him [i.e., Peter], I say not unto thee,
Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (22).
Forgive others! After all, God has been, and is,
longsuffering towards you and has forgiven you billions of
sins, like the servant who owes an unpayable debt in the
parable. Thus we must be longsuffering and forgive others.
The truth of God’s longsuffering is very practical and for
some this is a hard spiritual lesson to learn. By meditating
upon, and rejoicing in, God’s longsuffering in Himself and
towards us miserable offenders, the Holy Spirit enables us
to be longsuffering and forgiving to those who have sinned
What Christ teaches in one of His inimitable parables, the
apostle Paul states in one of his canonical epistles: “Put
on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved …
longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one
another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as
Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:12-13). This is
our calling as the undeserving objects of God’s
longsuffering! Rev. Stewart
“And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing,
I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch
out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of
my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of
their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even
as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him” (Eze.
A reader of the News from Uganda asked to have this passage
God spoke to His people Israel in different ways. Sometimes
He spoke directly to them, as at Sinai; sometimes through
miracles He performed for them, which miracles were signs of
spiritual truths; very frequently, God spoke to His people
through prophets whom He anointed with His Spirit. Moses
himself was a prophet through whom God spoke, more
frequently, it seems, than any other prophet. But all the
prophets spoke the Word that God gave them to speak. That
was their glorious calling.
Just as a priest was a mediator between God and His people,
and just as a king ruled over God’s people in His name, so a
prophet spoke the Word of God. Even the word “prophet” means
one who “bubbles over” with the Word of God. When Jeremiah,
because he suffered much and was repeatedly rejected by
Judah, wanted to resign his office and told God so, he could
not resign because, as he put it, the Word of God was “as a
burning fire” within him (Jer. 20:9). But where there were
true prophets, there were also false prophets. They put
themselves in an office to which they were not called by
God. They falsely claimed to be sent by God and to speak on
Even before Israel entered Canaan, while they were in the
plains of Moab ready to cross the River Jordan, God through
Moses spoke long to them. Among the things He said to them
was His warning against false prophets and how Israel could
distinguish them from the true prophets of God (e.g., Deut.
Perhaps, the clearest instance of false prophets as
distinguished from a true prophet is found in II Chronicles
18. (The reader is urged to read the entire chapter and
especially verses 4-27.) Let us take a close look at this
chapter for it answers the questions of the reader.
II Chronicles 18 describes the wicked agreement between
godless Ahab and God-fearing Jehoshaphat to go to war
together against Syria. As the prophet Jehu told him, this
was very wrong of Jehoshaphat: “Shouldest thou help the
ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is
wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (19:2). The righteous
should never join with the wicked for any reason.
Ahab and Jehoshaphat were sitting at the entrance of the
city of Samaria, where in most cities in Israel was a huge
gathering place, a sort of public square. The false prophets
that claimed to speak in God’s name were prophesying before
the two kings, proclaiming and saying that the kings should
indeed fight against the Syrians because Jehovah said they
would be victorious.
Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet of the Lord and Ahab knew
only of one, Micaiah by name, but Ahab did not like Micaiah
because he always spoke evil of wicked Ahab. It is a strange
conversation that revealed Ahab’s twisted mind. Micaiah
prophesied the same as the prophets of Baal. Ahab demanded
that he speak Jehovah’s word. Micaiah did so and was
imprisoned by Ahab for doing it.
In the course of Micaiah’s prophesy of the defeat that
Israel would suffer, he explained why the false prophets
prophesied falsely. Some of the demons were in heaven (as
was possible for them in the old dispensation) and God asked
the assembly for volunteers to deceive Ahab. Some demons
said they could deceive the king by being a lying spirit in
Ahab’s false prophets and God gave them permission to do
This answers the question of the reader why the text quoted
speaks of God deceiving wicked prophets. God is sovereign
also over the demons. Yet, as the text makes clear, those
who prophesy falsely, as well as those who listen to and act
on the wicked prophesies that lead people astray, are all
guilty. For they all commit their sin wilfully.
In other words, the people who listen to false prophets know
that the prophet to whom they listen is a wicked prophet who
does not come with the Word of God. They listen to him
anyway and do what he says. They are enticed by the false
prophet’s flattering words and like the predictions that
suit them. (I do not know why good King Jehoshaphat did what
the false prophets said and ignored what he knew to be the
Word of God. He must have been so enamoured by his desire to
cooperate with wicked Israel that he was blind to what he
knew he ought to do.)
In the old dispensation, the Lord gave guidelines for Israel
to distinguish between a false prophet and a true prophet.
For one thing, they were to see whether the predictions the
prophets made actually took place.
Today’s false prophets swarm like bees in the church world.
Jesus said this would happen as a sign of His coming (Matt.
24:4-5, 11, 23-28). They claim to speak the Word of God but
instead they speak seducing words, words that men like to
hear. All the false prophets who emerge throughout the whole
history of the church will culminate with the greatest of
all false prophets, the Antichrist. The whole world will
accept him not only as a prophet but as if he were Christ
Himself, the great prophet of God (II Thess. 2:1-12; Rev.
In the new dispensation, God has given to His church an
infallible canon by which every prophet, whether true or
false, can be evaluated or tested. That canon is the sacred
Scriptures. Let us not be deceived: those who follow false
prophets know they are false; they follow them anyway, but
they walk contrary to God’s righteous ways and will be
destroyed. We must listen to prophets who bring to us the
Word of God as found in the holy Scriptures alone. Prof.
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