In his introduction, Spurgeon begins by pointing out that the apostle is intensely personal. He fixes his eyes upon a single person, and speaks to him as “Thee” and “Thou.” “Despisest THOU the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth THEE to repentance?” It should ever be the intent of the preacher to convey his message to each hearer in individuality. It is always a very happy sign when a man begins to think of himself as an individual, and when the expostulations and invitations of the gospel are seen by him to be directed to himself personally. Preaching at me, Spurgeon said, I will give nothing for that indirect, essay-like preaching which is as the sheet lightning of summer, dazzling for the moment, and flaming over a broad expanse, but altogether harmless, since no bolt is launched from it, and its ineffectual fires leave no trace behind. And then preaching to you, he said, I will give nothing for that kind of hearing which consists in the word being heard by everybody in general, and by no one in particular. It is when the preacher can “Thee” and “Thou” his hearers that he is likely to do them good. One personal, intentional touch of the hem of Christ’s garment conveys more blessing than all the pressure of the crowd that thronged about the Master.
Paul addressed his own nation of people and spoke as if to each person separately. He singled out that one who had condemned others for transgressions, in which he himself indulged. This man owned so much spiritual light that he knew right from wrong, and he diligently used his knowledge to judge others, condemning them for their transgressions. As for himself, he preferred the shade, where no fierce light might beat on his own conscience and disturb his unholy peace. He had a candle, but he did not place it on the table to light his own room; he held it out at the front door to inspect therewith his neighbours who passed by. Paul looks this man in the face and says, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whoever thou art, that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things:” and then he pointedly says to him: “Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” Well did the apostle aim that piercing arrow; it hits the center of the target and strikes a folly common to all mankind. The poet of the night-watches wrote – “ALL men think ALL men mortal but themselves.”
As truly might I say, “All men think all men GUILTY – but themselves.” A personal doom for themselves is an idea which they will not harbour. If the dread thought should light upon them they shake it off as men shake snow-flakes from their cloaks. The thought of personal guilt, judgment, and condemnation is inconvenient. It breeds too much trouble within, and so they refuse it lodging. Vain men go maundering on their way, whispering of peace and safety; doting as if God had passed an act of amnesty and oblivion for them, and had made for them an exception to all the rules of justice, and all the manner of his courts. Do men indeed believe that they alone shall go unpunished? No man will subscribe to that notion when it is written down in black and white, and yet the mass of men live as if this were true; I mean the mass of men who have sufficient light to condemn sin in others. They start back from the fact of their own personal guiltiness and condemnation. Alas, poor madmen, thus to dream! O Spirit of Truth save them from this fatal infatuation.
Sin is always on the downward grade, so when a man proceeds a certain length he inevitably goes beyond it. The person addressed by the apostle first thought to escape judgment, and then he came to think lightly of the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God. He thinks he shall escape in the future, and because of that he despises the present goodness and longsuffering of the Most High. Barren tree as he is, he does not believe that he will ever be cut down, and therefore he feels no gratitude to the dresser of the vineyard for pleading, “Let it alone yet another year, till I dig about it, and dung it.”
First, let me speak to thee of the GOODNESS of God which thou hast experienced.
Thou hast known the goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering of God. According to the text, “riches” of these things have been spent upon thee. Let me speak with thee first, O man, and remind thee how favoured thou hast been of God by being made a partaker of “the riches of his goodness.”
In many cases this is true of temporal things. Men may be without the fear of God, and yet God may be pleased to prosper their endeavours in business. They succeed almost beyond their expectation – I mean some of them. They rise from the lowest position, and accumulate about them the comforts and luxuries of life. Though they have no religion, they have wit, and prudence, and thrift, and so they compete with others, and God permits them to be winners in the race for wealth. Moreover, he allows them to enjoy good health, vigour of mind, and strength of constitution: they are happy in the wife of their youth, and their children are about them. Death seems forbidden to knock at their door, even though he has been ravaging the neighborhood; Even sickness does not molest their household. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Abraham had to prepare a cave of Machpelah for his wife, and David mourned over his sons; but these people of Romans 2 have had to make scant provision for a family sepulchre. A hedge has in very deed been set about them and all that they have. It is thus with many who do not love God, and have never yielded to the entreaties of his grace. They love not the hand which enriches them, they praise not God who daily loadeth them with benefits. How is it that men can receive such kindness, and yield no return? O sirs, you are to-day blessed with all that need requires; but I pray you remember that you might have been in the depths of poverty. An illness would have lost you your employment; or a slight turn in trade would have left you bankrupt. You are well to-day; but you might have been tossing to and fro upon a bed of sickness; you might have been in the hospital, about to lose a limb. Shall not God be praised for health and freedom from pain? You might have been shut up in yonder asylum, in the agonies of madness. A thousand ills have been kept from you. You have been exceedingly favoured by the goodness of the Most High. Is it not so? And truly it is a wonderful thing that God should give his bread to those that lift up their heel against him.
Furthermore, this goodness of God had not only come to you in a temporal form, but also in a spiritual manner. Myriads of our fellow men have never had an opportunity of knowing Christ. The missionary’s foot has never trodden the cities wherein they dwell, and so they die in the dark. Multitudes are going downward, downward; but they do not know the upward road. But you are placed in the very focus of Christian light. Time was when a man would have to work for years to earn enough money to buy a Bible. There were times when he could not have earned one even with that toil. Now the word of God lies upon your table, you have a copy of it in almost every room of your house. Is not this a boon from God? This is the land of the open Bible, and the land of the preached word of God; In this you prove the riches of God’s goodness. Possibly you have enjoyed the further privilege of sitting under a ministry which has been particularly plain and earnest. You have not had sermons preached before you, they have been preached at you. With cries and entreaties you have been invited to your heavenly Father. Is this a small thing?
The apostle then dwells upon the riches of “forbearance.” Forbearance comes in when men having offended – God withholds the punishment that is due to them. Patient endurance of offenses and insults has been manifested by the God. And some men have gone back to the very sin of which for awhile they repented; they have suffered for their folly, but have turned again to it with suicidal determination. The burnt child has run to the fire again; The singed moth has plunged again into the candle’s flame. Who can pity such self-inflicted misery? Yet, despite this folly, God shows forbearance towards them. They have grievously provoked him when they have done despite to his word, and have even turned to laugh at the solemnities of his worship, yet when his hand has been lifted up he has withdrawn it in mercy.
Did you ever think what is included in the riches of forbearance? There are quick tempered individuals who only need to be a little provoked, and their hard words and blows come quick and furious. But, oh, the forbearance of God when he is provoked to his face by ungodly men! By men, I mean, who hear his word, and yet refuse it! They slight his love, and yet he perseveres in it. Justice lays its hand on the sword, but mercy holds it back in its scabbard. Well might each spared one say, – “O unexhausted Grace; O Love unspeakable! I am not gone to my own place; I am not yet in hell! Earth doth not open yet, My soul to swallow up:And, hanging o’er the burning pit, I still am forced to hope.”
Our apostle adds to goodness and forbearance the riches of “longsuffering.” Forbearance has to do with the magnitude of sin; longsuffering with the multiplicity of it: Forbearance has to do with present provocation; longsuffering relates to that provocation repeated, and continued for a length of time. Oh, how long doth God suffer the ill manners of men! Forty years long was he grieved with that generation whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Oh, the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering. Three-fold is the claim.
I should like to set all this in a striking light if I could, and therefore I would remind you of who and what that God is who has exhibited this goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering to men. Remember how great he is. When men insult a great prince the offence is thought to be highly heinous. We cannot bear that a beloved ruler should be publicly insulted. And what think you of the sin which provokes God? which to his face defies him? and in his very courts resists him? Shall this always be forborne with? Is there not a limit to longsuffering?
Goodness also adds another item to the provocation; for we naturally say, “Why should one so good be treated so cruelly?” If God were a tyrant, if he were unrighteous or unkind, it were not so much amiss that men stood out against him; but when his very name is love, and when he manifests the bowels of a Father towards his wandering children, it is shameful that he should be so wantonly provoked. Those words of Jesus were extremely touching when he pointed to his miracles, and asked, “For which of these things do you stone me?” When I think of God I may well say – for which of his deeds do you provoke him? Every morning he draws the curtain and glads the earth with light, and gives you eyes to see it; he sends his rain upon the ground to bring forth bread for man, and he gives you life to eat thereof – is this a ground for revolting from him?
Think also of God’s knowledge; for he knows all the transgressions of men. “What the eye does not see the heart does not rue,” is a truthful proverb; but every transgression is committed in the very presence of God, so that penitent David cried, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” Transgression is committed in the sight of God, from whose eyes nothing is hidden. Remember also, that the Lord never can forget; Yet for all this he doth forbear. With evil reeking before his face, he is slow to anger, and waiteth that he may be gracious.
All this while, remember, the Lord is great in power. Some are patient because they are powerless: they bear and forbear because they cannot well help themselves; but it is not so with God. Had he but willed it, you had been swept into hell; only a word from him and the impenitent had fallen in the wilderness, and their spirits would have passed into the realms of endless woe.
In a moment the Lord could have eased him of his adversary; he could have stopped that flippant tongue, and closed that lustful eye in an instant. That wicked heart would have failed to beat if God had withdrawn his power, and that rebellious breath would have ceased also. Had it not been for longsuffering unbelievers would long since have known what it is to fall into the hands of an angry God.
Be it never forgotten that sin is to God much more intolerable than it is to us. “He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” Things which we call little sins are great and grievous evils to him: they do, as it were, touch the apple of his eye. “Oh, do not,” he says, “do not this abominable thing that I hate!” His Spirit is grieved and vexed with every idle word and every sensual thought; and hence it is a wonder of wonders that a God so sensitive of sin, a God so able to avenge himself of his adversaries, a God who knows the abundance of human evil, and marks it all, should nevertheless exhibit riches of goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; Yet this is what you, my ungodly hearer, have been experiencing many a long year. Here let us pause; and oh that each one who is still unsaved would sing most sincerely the words of Watts: “Lord, we have long abused thy love, Too long indulged our sin, Our aching hearts e’en bleed to see What rebels we have been. “No more, ye lusts, shall ye command, No more will we obey; Stretch out, O God, thy conqu’ring hand, And drive thy foes away.”
At this point let me interrupt our Brother with the English accent and draw our own conclusion.
If you have missed Spurgeon’s intent, he was saying that to Paul’s mind, to sin against God’s wonderful trio, is the lowest form of transgression. God’s gifts should bring the unworthy heathen to his knees and the unwilling Jew right down beside him. Furthermore, they should keep the child of God humble and obedient at the same time. We too seldom meditate on the Lord’s goodness. We too frequently over look it and think that the Lord is not good enough.
Such things should lead us all to repentance. The goodness of God not only should lead us to repentance, it should lead us to worship. The goodness of God should lead us into the highways and hedges of evangelism. It should make us open our hands and arms to help people less fortunate than we are. The goodness of God proves what kind of God we serve. And our response to the goodness of God proves what kind of people we are.