The entire verse of this second chapter of II Peter reads as follows: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false, teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

The problem of the particular phrase which is the topic of this article is not that these false teachers denied the Lord. That of course is rather characteristic of false teachers. But the point is we are told by the apostle Peter that these false teachers denied the Lord that bought them. Understanding this, several questions arise immediately for the Reformed believer. Naturally they who believe in a universal atonement have no problem here whatever. They will reason as follows: “Christ atoned for every man, woman and child under the sun, but whether this atonement is to be effective in the case of every person depends upon the individual himself. He must believe, he must accept Christ and His salvation.” It stands to reason if that is true it is rather simple and also quite common that people deny the Lord that bought them.

Again, there is no difficulty here for those who deny the perseverance of the saints. The Arminian who teaches: “That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever,” has no problem here at all. This seems to be exactly a text which proves his point.

However, there is in this phrase, especially at first glance, a great difficulty for the Reformed believer. For the Reformed believer denies universal atonement. He confesses limited atonement. “It was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant should effectually redeem out of all people, tribe, nation and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father.” (Canons, Second Head of Doctrine, article 8).

Furthermore the Reformed believer confesses the perseverance of the saints: “But God who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and1 forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge; themselves into everlasting destruction.” (Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, article 6).

And both these two points of doctrine, limited atonement and perseverance of the saints, the Reformed believer bases upon and proves from Scripture. If we were writing about these two doctrinal subjects we would give textual proof, now this is not necessary; besides, our space is limited. Our purpose was first of all to clearly state the apparently insurmountable difficulty of our text for the Reformed believer. The text speaks of “Denying the Lord that bought them.” A Reformed man says:   “That is impossible, that is contrary to all of Scripture.” On the other hand the text teaches it. How can we explain this, what is the solution?

We have already eliminated the Pelagian-Arminian solution. Their so-called [solution sounds very simple, but they come to it after first denying some very fundamental doctrines of Scripture.

Of course for the Reformed exegete there is a temptation that he tries to explain the text in the light of his dogmatics and by a convenient twisting of words make the text say something altogether different than what it actually expresses. I came across a rather clumsy explanation of this kind in an old Standard Bearer, Vol. 4, page 334. Some well-meaning, good Protestant Reformed brethren, would explain the phrase as follows “These false teachers denied that the Lord, Christ, bought them, namely His people.” Now, that may sound like an easy way out but this is definitely no solution. The word them does not refer to the Church as such, but very definitely to the false teachers. Hence this method of trying to solve the problem the editor of the Standard Bearer called at that time, and correctly so “inlegkunde.”

The following explanation has also been given as a possible solution. “The clause ‘that bought them’ refers to the fact, that these false teachers formerly belonged to the Church, were of the people of God to all appearances, in the external sense. They are described according to their former confession as those whom the Lord bought.” (Standard Bearer Vol. 12, page 320). However, also this proposed solution will not do. Both the text and the context definitely give the impression that these false teachers must be concerned of as still belonging to the Church. They are “among you,” verse 1. They labor in the midst of the church, they are influential persons, they are teachers. “Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you.” (verse 13). Hence, we are convinced that the above suggested solution does not solve the problem.

Several years ago one of the members of the Holland Men’s Society of our Fuller Avenue Church went with the following question to the Standard Bearer: (DUTCH REMOVED) (Standard Bearer Vol. 7, page 120). In the Standard Bearer, Vol. 12, page 320, we meet once more with this text, and there the editor, after first giving a possible interpretation, which we quoted already, continues: “There is, however, according to my opinion a better interpretation, which also explains why these words should be used at all. The apostle, then, describes them from the viewpoint of what they denied: that the Lord bought them. They were false teachers. And denying the atonement, they denied the Lord that bought them. They might still profess to believe in Jesus, just as the moderns do, but they really deny Him, seeing that they deny the cross.”

We are now confronted with the question: “Is the above explanation the correct one, is that what Peter teaches here? Does the text teach that these false teachers denied that Christ bought them, did they deny the atonement by the blood of Christ?” Perhaps you say ‘that is exactly the point the text emphasizes.’ This is true, but the question is still: “How, in what way and what manner did they deny the Lord that bought them?” Did they do so by stating: “Christ did not buy you, Church, did not buy us, His blood did not save us?” In that case their teaching could very well be compared with the teachings of the modernist. The modernist can speak highly of the Lord as an example, a humanitarian, the ideal man which we must follow, copy, imitate, etc. Is that what these particular false teachers in the text taught? After careful study of this text we have come to the conclusion that this is just exactly not what they taught. There is still another way wherein, another means and method whereby they could deny the Lord that bought them. Let me explain.

First of all it is of course correctly stated when it is said that we must look upon these false teachers as organically belonging to the Church of Christ. As to their individual person the Lord never bought them. If that were so the text would deny the perseverance of the saints. No, but organically speaking the Lord bought them, they were; members of the Church, branches of the Vine, called by the name ‘Israel.’ The Church held them for such, and they themselves confessed to be such. They said concerning themselves: “The Lord bought us.” In fact I think they emphasized that. I think they understood clearly the meaning of the doctrine of atonement and they said: “We agree with that, we believe it, we teach it,—the Lord bought us.”

Let us ask the question and briefly answer it: “What does it mean that Christ bought us, what is implied in it and what follows from this?” That Christ bought us implies first of all that He paid for our sins, that He justifies us, that He saves us to the uttermost. He delivered us from the curse of sin. Secondly, it implies that He delivered us from the power of sin. Meaning: He delivered us to be new creatures in Him, to live to His honor and glory, to walk in sanctification. He bought us that we might be His peculiar people, hating sin, crucifying the old man and walk in newness of life.—And these two: justification and sanctification, always go hand in hand. And here is where the picture of the false teachers fits in. They said: We are of Christ, He bought us, we are justified, we are His own. But while saying this they walked in ways of sin, corruption, evil. They brought into practice: “Let us sin that grace may abound, let the flesh have its sway.” And in that sense they denied the Lord. Not actually in words whereby they contradicted the doctrine of atonement, but by their very deeds, their walk of life. Their ungodly life manifested that they were children of the devil in spite of the fact that they loudly proclaimed to be children of God. The Lord who bought His people demands that His children walk in newness of life. For He is their Lord, their absolute sovereign. The original emphasizes this by using not the usual word for Lord but a word which is transliterated ‘despot’. The Lord is the despot, the absolute sovereign, who has absolute sway and who redeemed us for the very purpose that we walk in His ways, keep His precepts. Now, if a man walks contrary to the precepts of Christ, walks according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit, he lies when he says: “The Lord bought me.” His ‘very (walk of life is a denial of that Lord. Scripture says: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:14). And again: “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” (1 Pet. 1:15). These false teachers confessed Christ with their mouth but refused to subject themselves to Christ’s sovereignty, His precepts, the law of the Kingdom. In other words by denying Him as the sovereign of their life they denied Him as the Lord that bought them. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” (I John 1:6). And again: “And hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in Him.” (I John 2:3-5). And again: “In this the children of God are manifested, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” (I John 3:10). And, finally: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).

We are convinced that the above, last given explanation, is the only possible and therefore correct explanation. These false teachers are not the modernist type, but they are the type of the extreme Anabaptists and anti-nominianists. The proof? They teach a pernicious way of life which is contrary to the teachings of Scripture. If they merely denied by word of mouth that the Lord had bought them the world would pay no attention to them. But just because they teach pernicious sways, ways of flesh, carnal lusts, using the Christian liberty as an occasion for the flash, they become the cause that ‘the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.’

They are covetous men, carnal men whose only desire is to enrich themselves with the possessions of others, in order that their carnal lusts and covetousness may be satisfied. Hence, with feigned, fabricated, delusive and deceptive words they ‘make merchandise of you.’ (vs. 3).

Privily, stealthily they bring in damnable heresies in the Church (vs. 1). Not by saying ‘Christ did not die for you,’ but by saying ‘Christ having died for you, you are free, can do as you please.’ Of course they were smooth, deceptive, but that nevertheless was the essence of their teaching, (vss. 1-3). “Peter intimated that the heresies of which he speaks were to be introduced under the color of true doctrine, in the dark, as it were, and by little and little; so that the people would not discern their real nature.”

Finally, we would offer as proof of our explanation the description which Pieter gives of these false teachers in the sequence of this second chapter of II Peter. (See particularly II Peter 2:10, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19). This chapter makes it overwhelmingly clear that these false teachers denied the Lord that bought them, not by means of denying the atonement by the blood of Christ as such, but by denying Christ as the Lord of their’ life and using the Christian liberty as an occasion for the flesh, to satisfy their covetousness and carnal desires. And by denying Christ as the sovereign of their life, by word and practice, they denied Him as the Lord that bought them. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him.”