Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 2:4a “Or despisest thou the riches. . .”
Paul marvels that men are able to view the kindnesses of God with disrespect. The graciousness of God is meant to melt men, but it often hardens hearts instead. Heine was often cynical about judgment and the world to come. He explained his flippant confidence by saying, “God will forgive.” When asked why he was sure of this, he replied, “It is His trade.”
This is the attitude of many. They barter on the mercy of God, and treat His kindnesses with contempt. Since He has been good and kind, they take more opportunities to sin against Him.
When God delays punishment, men often mistake this to mean He is powerless or does not care. As a result, men begin to live an illusion, developing a vague hope of escaping punishment altogether. Thinking they will somehow be exempted, they begin to take the blessings of God for granted, especially the ones described in this verse.
Romans 2:4b “. . .of his goodness. . .”
This refers to God’s kindnesses to men in general. All human beings, whether saved or lost, enjoy everyday things like family love, having an income, recreation, clothing, shelter, food. God “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (MT 5:45).
These “everyday blessings” are called common grace, “common” because they are shared by all men; “grace” because no man deserves them.
Every human being has sinned against God. We are all rebels. Hell is what we deserve. God owes absolutely nothing to man, but nevertheless bestows on the race common grace.
Yet we often despise it, take it for granted. All too often men bask in good things without thinking for one moment they come from God. We receive the gifts but forget the Giver. Sometimes, the things become so valued by us that we let the gifts become a substitute for the Giver.
Romans 2:4c “. . .and forbearance. . .”
“Forbearance” is a holding back, a delay, a truce of arms. “It is as though the Lord lifted in His one hand the thunderbolt of his wrath against man, and then with His other hand restrained Himself from the judgment that is so surely merited” (Barnhouse).
In other words, God restrains Himself from giving sinners all the punishment they deserve. Unfortunately, wicked men take this forbearance for granted. “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” (EC 8:11).
The wicked “hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten” (PS 10:11). Not so! God has not forgotten. Forbearance does not mean punishment has been cancelled; it simply means it has been postponed.
Forbearance “means a cessation of enmity and hostility, but a cessation that has a limit. It is indeed something that gives a chance, but that chance has to be grasped in a given time or it is past” (Barclay). There is a delay, but yet a time of reckoning.
Romans 2:4d “. . .and long-suffering;”
“Forbearance” points to an initial reaction by God; “long-suffering” refers to the duration of this initial reaction. He waits and waits and waits. Ample time is given for repentance.
God does not have to be patient. He could quickly and easily end the long, sad tale of rebellion and sin. He has enough might to crush us and start a new race.
For some mysterious reason He bears and endures. Rather than immediately dispense what we deserve, He suffers for our sins. He holds the pain and checks His anger. We hurt God when we sin, and He has been hurt enough. “O God, help us to love Thee more, and empower us to hurt Thee less.”
He spares us long, but men despise it. The wicked “hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity” (PS 10:6). The wicked man scoffs at God’s goodness and sees in it a license to sin, but God continues to be long-suffering.
He has the ability to avenge Himself, but deliberately chooses not to do so immediately. “Long-suffering” is the greatest exhibition of power this side of the Second Coming. God has every right to pour out wrath on every one of us, but restrains Himself.
What is the crowning proof of God’s power? Do angels marvel at Niagara, Pike’s Peak, or the Grand Canyon? No, they marvel that men sin and are still allowed to breathe. Angels are confounded by the long lasting patience of God. The crowning proof of His might is the power He exerts over His own self.
Near the turn of the century, an infidel traversed this country lecturing against belief in God. At the end of his speeches he would lift a clenched fist to heaven and defiantly say, “God, if you exist, strike me dead right now.” The atheist always escaped unscathed. God’s thunder and lightning were mysteriously withheld, but there was a world of lessons in that silence. Had God struck the infidel, He would have only proven Himself an angry controller of elements. By showing restraint, He showed Himself powerful over Himself. The atheist dead would have been nothing compared to the atheist spared.
Romans 2:4e “. . .not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth
thee to repentance?”
It is remarkable but true: “The Lord. . .is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 P 3:9). God does not want us to fall headlong into destruction. The desire behind “His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering” is that men might repent.
The goodness of God is showered upon us in the physical realm that we might desire to flee to Him for even greater blessings in the spiritual realm. The goodness of God points us to repentance because it shows God as One who is kind and loving. Therefore we have hope of being accepted by Him.
The Devil from the first has cast suspicion on the goodness of God. He wants us to view God as ruthless, pitiless, unsympathetic, but God’s goodness gives the lie to any such thinking. God has been good to us. Everything we love and enjoy is more than we deserve. O please, do not despise God’s goodness. Do not downgrade it.
To despise God’s goodness is the vilest of all sins. It far outweighs sins which transgress written laws. In fact, the rejection of God’s goodness is the only sin which can send a man to Hell.
To sin against law is daring; to sin against love is dastardly. To rebel against justice is inexcusable; to fight against mercy is abominable. He who stings the hand which nourishes him is nothing less than a viper (Spurgeon). There must be a Hell. Nothing else could ever be appropriate for someone who rejects the blood of Jesus.
When a Roman magistrate pronounced the sentence of scourging, a bundle of rods tied with many knots was laid before him. The one appointed to do the scourging was to untie the knots slowly, thereby giving the magistrate time to watch the criminal and see if he showed any sign of sorrow for his crime. Evidence of remorse and regret often resulted in the sentence being reduced.
The lost stand condemned before God’s tribunal. Their sentence has already been rendered, but God grants a probation time. He waits to see if men will repent. How many “knots” have already been untied for you? How much longer till the sentence is carried out? Flee to Jesus for your pardon.