20 August, 2016

FAQ—“Deferred,” “delayed,” or “postponed” judgement; God’s “Longsuffering” and “Forbearance”; Why are the Reprobate Still Breathing and Alive? What is their Purpose?

Q. 1. “As the saying goes ... ‘Everything above the lip of hell is a blessing.’ Even if a person is not experiencing the good things of this world to any degree, they are still experiencing the kindness of God by being preserved and guarded from hell. If the unsaved and unbelieving experience anything other than hell, isn’t that a preservation from the worst conceivable thing, and, therefore, a gracious one? God doesn’t need to let them continue existing. It would be just of Him to immediately send them to their justice, but He doesn’t. He allows them to continue in the relative blessing of this world.”

“Let their table be a snare” (Ps. 69:22)—the words of Christ on the cross—seem an appropriate biblical answer to this short-sighted misconception (see also Psalm 73:18 and 92:7).
The Scriptures never argue in that way, but consistently present the exact opposite.
If “everything above the lip of hell is a blessing,” then what does it mean that all mankind is subject to the curse since the Fall?
Scripture tells us what God has revealed concerning what His attitude is toward the reprobate, and the specific reasons why He has not cast them into Hell immediately. It is that they fill up the measure of their iniquities and face greater condemnation (Gen. 15:16; Matt. 23:32; Rom. 2:5). It would actually be more “merciful” (so to speak) if they had not been born—a point specifically made with reference to Judas (Matt. 26:24).
“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:22-23).
The point to note here is that God’s longsuffering is toward the vessels of mercy, and is the way in which He “endures” the vessels of wrath. He’s not being merciful and gracious to them as they march rebelliously into hell; He is “enduring” them.
“… and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36)—The wrath of God presently abides on the unbeliever.
So, we don’t judge these things according to our own feeble and limited understanding, but we look to what Scripture has clearly revealed to us about these issues.
On a further note: If the temporal “everything” actually serves to cause one’s eternal placement in hell to be that much deeper, all according to God’s decree, then those “blessings” are not true blessings, are they?
Like Judas, it would be better that the unbelieving had never been born, for with every extra day that they live on this earth their sentence and God’s judgment upon them only increases in severity. (Rev. Angus Stewart)

It would in fact be better for the unbeliever that God would come in judgment sooner than He does.  The punishment of the ungodly would be less severe.  Now he piles up guilt against the day of wrath.  When the old reprobate is sentenced on the world's last day, well might he exclaim, “Oh, that I had died in my infancy!  My guilt and punishment had then been less severe.”  The argument from deferred judgment does not reckon with the accomplishment of God's purposes with the ungodly in history.  Cain must kill Abel.  Babylon must oppress Judah.  Judas must betray Christ.  The ungodly today must develop sin and fill the cup of iniquity, so that God may be just when at last He judges.  Is it indeed grace that over a long life a reprobate ungodly fills his cup of iniquity so that he suffers greatly eternally?  Deferred judgment is greater judgment.  It is not grace.  The development of sin whether in an individual or in a race occurs, not under a grace of God, but under God's wrath. (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 09/08/2016)

It is a strange grace and mercy that enables the wicked to continue life, filled as it is with grief, sorrow and pain. It is a strange mercy and love that allows the wicked to live to sin more than ever than if they had died young—only to be deeper in Dante’s divine inferno when they die.
The real reason people want to call man’s continued life in the world grace is because they hope that such men will still, if given a further chance, accept Christ and be saved. That is why the common grace theory usually includes a gracious offer of the gospel that proclaims God’s love for all. For if God is gracious to all, He loves all and wants to save all. Then, after all, salvation is our work, not God’s work.
I would like to see once a text that explicitly teaches that because of God’s love, or mercy, or grace, fallen man continues to exist. The wicked know better than “common grace Christians.” They, says Scripture, are like the restless sea and have no peace. In the night they say, “Would God it were morning;” and in the day they say, “Would God it were night” (cf. Deut. 28:67).
Proverbs 3:33 says that the “curse” of the Lord is in the house of the wicked. Let anyone show me where Scripture says that the curse is there, “but love, too”; the curse is their daily experience, “but mercy, too”; the curse is in their eating and drinking and working and sleeping, “but so is grace.” What kind of a god is that? It is not the God I serve and worship. Let us be led in our doctrine of God by Scripture and not by what we wish He was. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko, 21/11/2016)

[The] wicked chaff in the church must serve the cause of God, not only because in the vessels of wrath the righteousness of God is revealed, but also because the chaff must serve the wheat, for it is not possible to have wheat without chaff. Therefore, God forbears the chaff as long as it serves the wheat, and when the chaff is no longer necessary, it is destroyed. This was the case with Israel. Wicked Israel, according to God’s purpose, had to serve to erect the cross of Jesus Christ—not Rome, not the Hottentots of Africa, but Israel. They had to serve in the shedding of the blood of the atonement. They had to serve to reconcile the church with God through the blood of the Lamb and to fulfill according to God’s counsel.   
So it always is. God forbears the wicked for his name’s sake. When they have fully served his purpose, and when all that he intends to be done by them and through them has been accomplished, then his wrath is fully poured out, and then God’s praise is magnified and exalted in the new things.
As God’s people in the world, we must remember this truth. When we look at the history of the church, it is very easy to become weary and discouraged because of the constant battle against the carnal element. We must remember that God is in charge, even when the wicked prosper or seem to prosper. Not only is God in charge, but also he is always accomplishing his own purpose and his own almighty will for his name’s sake. Thus we must not become weary, but be willing to walk in God’s way to the very end, when he shall perfect his church and destroy all the wicked. (Homer C. Hoeksema, “Redeemed With Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah” [RFPA, 2008], pp. 235-236)

Strictly speaking that is not the case. God eternally guards from eternal destruction or He does not guard from it at all. He that believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he that does not believe in the Son is in death, will not see life, the wrath of God is upon him and remains upon him and “follows him to the grave” (versification of Psalm 37, Dutch Psalter, verse 1). In our dispute we are not speaking of people as we see them, but we are speaking of the elect and the reprobate. The former God saves from eternal perdition, the latter God does not guard from perdition, not for a minute. (Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation”)

“All christless and unregenerate men are no better than dead men, being condemned already.” (John Flavel, “Method of Grace,” sermon 33)


Q. 2. “Why do the reprobate exist? What is their purpose in life? Did God create them simply to destroy them?”

The reprobate are here for the purpose of the salvation of the elect. As the corn plant is necessary for the corn kernels, the reprobate are necessary for the salvation of the elect. The elect church is like a building that God builds throughout history; the reprobate are the scaffolding. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko)


Q. 3. “What are God’s ‘longsuffering’ and ‘forbearance’?”

Both [longsuffering and forbearance] are aspects of God’s perfection of patience. God’s attribute of patience is, as it were, the life of providence whereby God stretches out time and unfolds His will in and as the history of creation. But God’s goodness as manifest in patience and unfolded in providence is directed toward the realizing of two great ends, according to the decree of eternal predestination. Longsuffering is the positive aspect of God’s providence. It is His power to hold back the immediate and ultimate blessing of His elect in Christ. Forbearance on the other hand is God’s perfection of patience whereby He holds back or forebears immediately to punish the ungodly reprobate for their sins.
God is longsuffering toward His elect because He earnestly desires their repentance and salvation, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). He therefore leads them by His Word outwardly and by His Spirit inwardly and irresistibly to repentance (I Tim. 1:16). When God forebears to punish the reprobate wicked He delays their final judgment and certain destruction, for the sake of His elect. In this stretching out of providence, as God sees fit, many are confronted by Christ and salvation through the gospel and called to faith and repentance. But this confrontation with the truth, except God’s saving grace intervene, is itself the cause of further rebellion and hatred of the God who exposes their sin. [Note: This is the teaching of Calvin in the first five chapters of his Institutes, especially 5:6-7.] This is God’s will and serves His purpose to the praise of His glorious justice. Though the reprobate lives in the sphere of God’s goodness, and may have an outward acquaintance with God’s grace, this cannot be construed to mean that God has an attitude of favour toward them. (Christopher J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel”)

The important aspect of God’s forbearance is that its root is in God’s wrath, in his aversion or hatred. Its objects are the ungodly reprobate, whom God has designed for destruction, and it consists in God’s deferring—for the moment—their final punishment. A simple example will make this idea clear. I need a house built by the local building contractor. Let’s assume that he is the only contractor in the community. He is a very wicked and ungodly man, and I do not like him. But I need him for the purpose of building my house. Thus, as long as I need him for my purpose, I do not destroy him or ruin his business. Instead, I allow him to do his work. So it is with God’s forbearance.
Longsuffering, however, has its root and motive in God’s love. Its objects are God’s elect. Longsuffering must be understood from a human viewpoint, because according to his counsel God does not defer anything, but does everything as fast as he possibly can. Longsuffering consists in God’s deferring the final deliverance and salvation of his people. Longsuffering is taught in many passages of Scripture, including the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), as well as James 5:7, II Peter 3:9, and Romans 2:4, where forbearance and longsuffering are mentioned together.
The difference between these terms, then, is that forbearance is the deferring of final punishment, while longsuffering is the deferring of the final deliverance and help of God’s people. (Homer C. Hoeksema, “Redeemed With Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah,” vol. 2, pp. 229-230)

For more, see the following:

“God’s Longsuffering” (Herman Hoeksema)

“God’s Longsuffering and Forbearance” (Herman Hoeksema)

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