God's goodness in the invitations of mercy to sinners
("Despisest Thou the Riches of God's Goodness?", a sermon on Rom. 2:4, in Asahel Nettleton: Sermons From the Second Great Awakening, Ames, Iowa, 1995, pp. 152-53 and 156)
The riches of divine goodness appear not only in the sufferings and death of the Son of God, but in the melting invitations of mercy to sinners. — Ho every one that thirsteth. In the parable of the great supper the invitation is to all. Come for all things are now ready. The riches of divine goodness are offered to the poorest and vilest of sinners. To us, my hearers, is the word of this salvation sent. Yes, pardon, peace, and all the treasures of heaven are brought even to our doors and offered to us for nothing. Not only are they freely offered, but even pressed upon our acceptance by every endearing consideration.
Nay, the riches of divine goodness appear in all the warnings of God's word. What a mercy is it that God has not left us to go on in sin without pointing us to its tremendous consequences? Surely every one who is not fully determined to persevere in sin will esteem it a mercy to be told his danger, and to be warned to flee from the wrath to come.
The riches of divine mercy appear in sending the Holy Spirit to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. One would think, that after sinners had rejected the free offers of salvation, God would make no further exertions to save them from deserved wrath. But to all this, he has superadded the strivings of the Holy Spirit. This is God's last effort to save sinners.
Our text speaks of God's forbearance. The impenitent sinner who has stood so long idle in God's vineyard has been spared another year. So many years has the Saviour been standing with open arms and with a bleeding heart inviting him to life. So many duties have been neglected, and so many sins committed in the sight of the sin-hating God and yet the sinner has been spared.
Our text speaks of the longsuffering of God. If God is angry with the wicked every day, and is determined to punish sin, why is it that we yet live? God, my hearers, is longsuffering. No parent ever exercised such forbearance and longsuffering to his own offspring as God does toward impenitent sinners. God has exercised his forbearance and longsuffering toward us far beyond what he has towards most of the human race — and far beyond some who are lost. The majority of mankind die younger than the most of us who are now in the house of God. Multitudes younger than ourselves have gone to their long home during the year that has past. They have done with Sabbaths and sermons and all the concerns of time. Their day of salvation is over and gone forever. But all the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and longsuffering have been exercised towards sinners in this house and this year. And why is this, my hearers? Why has God borne with us so long? Our text informs us: it is to lead us to repentance. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children. He has watched over and fed and clothed us. The sun has arisen and wasted its beams upon us. God has been lavishing on us all the blessings of this life. He has opened the windows of heaven and shed around us the light of the glorious gospel to lead us to repentance.
All who neglect the gospel do emphatically despise the riches of divine goodness. Every day they trample under foot the Son of God. Sinners despise the forbearance and longsuffering of God, every moment they are unconcerned for their souls. I make the appeal to your own consciences. My hearers, had God visited this place with the famine or the pestilence, were your friends and neighbors daily and hourly dying around you — would you be so regardless of God? Had God in his providence laid you on the bed of sickness and threatened you with a speedy dissolution, would you have treated him with such ungratefulness? And now, because God has been so good, he has spared you and your families and friends and given you all that heart can wish, will you now for all his mercy venture to provoke him? O the ingratitude of such hearts! 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. The plain language of such conduct is: "If God had not been so good — if he had not spared me so long, I should not have dared to provoke him as I have done. If God had not been so kind to me, I had not been so regardless of him."