The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And the Lord will by no means clear the guilt.
His way is in the whirlwind and storm,
And the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:3)

God is patient and that is a wonderful truth for all creatures who dwell on earth.  When we say that God is patient we mean that God forebears, delays, and tempers the punishment all sinners deserve.  For God is “…ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… (Nehemiah 9:17).

God certainly has every right to immediately and eternally punish sin. Although man has been warned since the Fall to turn from sin and submit to the Lord, he persists in rejecting God’s authority and lives according to his own ways.  Yet God is patient.

We see God display his gracious patience to his sinful creatures in one of two ways – he is either patient and defers his punishment for a time or he is patient and defers punishment so that he might bring forth the redemption of his elect.

One of the greatest preachers in the 20th century, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, taught through the Epistle to the Romans while he was the pastor at Westminster Chapel in London.  We are blessed to have the recordings of all 366 sermons and in his sermon on Romans 9:19-24 (vessels of wrath vs. vessels of mercy) he lays out a four-fold case to explain God's patience with sinful man. That case includes:

  1. The compassion of God does not take pleasure in punishment.  The wickedness of man remains an affront to God, but he nevertheless bestows his love and common grace to all men through patiently delaying and tempering his wrath. 
  2. Man is utterly inexcusable because of the opportunities God has given.  Every moment God allows sinful man to continue to walk this earth is a moment he lives under the call to repentance.  He will be held accountable for continually refusing to do so.
  3. When God's wrath is revealed, it will be all the more striking.  Paul writes in verses 22-23: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”.  While God is enduring with longsuffering the vessels of wrath, he is at the same time extending grace and compassion to those who are the vessels of mercy.  This contrast profoundly displays the riches of his glory and leads us to humble adoration and praise.
  4. God’s patience and wrath reveal His character in ways nothing else can. Everything that God does is a revelation of some aspect of his being and of his character.  God’s patience (his forbearing, delaying, and tempering punishment) reveals both his mercy and his holiness.  It reveals his mercy because the gift of salvation makes known the riches of His glory and is the most magnificent thing God does.  It also reveals his holiness because the wrath of God, which protects his holiness, was not poured out on us the moment we were born in sin (or even conceived in sin) but on Jesus Christ when He took our punishment at the cross.

God is patient.  And that is good news for all. To the unsaved, while God’s patience remains, we can continue to proclaim that “today is the day of salvation”. While God’s patience remains, all are called to stop running away from him, turn to him in humble repentance, and trust in Christ.

And to God’s children, knowing that he is patient is a great comfort.  He is patient with us because he loves us eternally in Christ and he knows the outcome of our sanctification; namely, that we will know the riches of his glory.  There is nothing better than that.