By Herschel E. Patton
“The Mercy, Patience, Longsuffering and Providence of God”
Were it not for these attributes of God, no one could have confidence, since all are weak and often fall short of God’s goal of perfection. We have seen that when a Christian violates God’s law (sins) through weakness of ignorance, God’s grace in the shedding of Christ’s blood cleanses when (if) we repent, confess, and pray. Thank God for His grace in this respect! By it, we can still have confidence even though we sin.
Besides these sins, there are failures and a coming short of God’s perfect goal because of a lack of ability, opportunity, proper conditions, etc. Such failures are in the realm of relativity, because God’s judgment in such matters is related to our ability, opportunity, circumstances, etc. Because of these attributes of God, the two talent man was considered as perfect as the five talent man (Matt. 25), and the two mites of the widow as much (more than) than the abundance of the rich (Mark 12:42). Likewise, the devotion or faithfulness of one who misses some services of the church and contributes comparatively little might be considered as great in God’s sight as one who is there every time the doors are open and makes a sizable offering.
Too, Christians are not born full grown, ready for strong meat. The babe in Christ is told to “desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). The Christian is also instructed to “add (grow in) virtue, knowledge, temperance (or self-control), patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love” (2 Pet. 1:5-8). In areas where growth is required, obviously perfection is not required, and the one lacking perfection is not necessarily a sinner, depending on ability and circumstances. When one’s deficiency in this realm amounts to “lukewarmness” or makes him an “unprofitable” servant, sin exists that must be recognized and repented of to escape being “spewed out” of the Lord’s mouth.
A clear distinction must always be recognized between failures and weaknesses in the area of relativity (growth and development) and those that violate an absolute or positive law of faith.
As one strives, struggles, and grows toward perfection, the Christian can know that God will be longsuffering, merciful, and patient regarding the weaknesses and lack of perfection that exists. It is not our place to sit in judgment on a brother or sister whose weakness in development we might regard as sin, while God, who knows all circumstances, conditions, and motives might declare that one faithful. “To his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4). Failures and weaknesses of this nature pose a problem from the viewpoint of classification. Some, including myself, have called such failures sin – only from the viewpoint of missing the mark of perfection. Concerning such failures, God does require a constant recognition of the fact of shortcomings on our part, a deep sense of unworthiness (Luke 17:10), and a diligent effort in growing. Such weaknesses and failures do not amount to “in and out of grace many times a day” or “saved one minute but lost the next,” for God, who is longsuffering, merciful, and omnisci6nt, observes the striving, growing Christian’s penitent spirit and declares “.not guilty.” Others have not used the word “sin” in identifying such shortcomings, since God’s law of faith does not require perfection. From this viewpoint, certainly there is no transgression of God’s law of faith.
Truly, there is ground for confidence on the part of a child of God. The ground is _________________.
(1) The grace of God, manifested in the death of Christ, thus providing for our salvation and confidence.
(2) The revelation of the “ifs” (conditions) of forgiveness and confidence, and a knowledge of the fact that we have complied. Teaching a confidence based upon a grace that would remove all the warnings to “watch,” “take heed,” “beware,” “examine yourselves,” “prove your own selves,” etc. and say “don’t worry, if you sin ignorantly or through weakness, you are continually cleansed,” is contrary to all that is taught in I John as well as other texts.
(3) The mercy, longsuffering, patience, and providence of God in dealing with our weaknesses and failures in growth in reaching perfection.
The man who has a reverential fear of God and is careful to obey God in all things commanded (absolutes), and who trusts in God’s mercy, longsuffering; and providence regarding his human frailties as he earnestly and penitently strives for the mark of perfection, has no reason to go about with doubts and fears about his standing with God.
Such a person can confidently say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed (the omniscient, omnipotent, merciful God), and am persuaded (confident, certain) that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him” Paul’s commitment or deposit to the Lord was his life’s experience in Christ (Gal. 2:20), involving obedience to the gospel commands (Acts 22:14-16; Rom. 6:3), denying himself “what things were gain to him” (Phil. 3:7), and making “the one thing I do . . . press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). He had complete confidence in the One with whom he had deposited a faithful (2 Tim. 4:6-8) life of service against that day” (the day that all will be judged according to their deeds (2 Cor. 5:10). Thanks be to our God in providing the means and revealing the conditions of confidence.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 4, p. 106
February 16, 1984