At the close of our former essay we were engaged in showing from Scripture that the term longsuffering is an attitude of God toward His people in Christ Jesus; it is a manifestation of restrained wrath because of His great love to them, His grace and His mercy!Longsuffering is not an attitude of God toward mankind in general, a certain “common grace” by which judgment is postponed over the wicked.
Such is our contention in our exposition of the phrase in II Peter 3:9: “but is longsuffering to usward.” We hold that the Lord is longsuffering over His people. He pities them in their woes, their sin and because of their enemies who revile them.
To that which we have shown from Scripture concerning the usage of the term longsuffering as an attitude of God, we must still show that when the term is applied to man’s being longsuffering it always is a virtue of the Christian, of the new man in Christ Jesus. Yet, even so, it is never an attitude which the Christian must exercise over against the evil and wicked world, but it is ever the attitude which we must exercise over against the weak and erring brother, who, like us, has but a small beginning of the new obedience!
Let us take notice of a few passages which establish this premise.
We first of all refer to Gal. 5:22 where we read: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Now the following ought to be evident here: (1) That the concept longsuffering is definitely a positivefruit of grace in the life of the believer in direct contrast with the works of the flesh. It is a manifestation of the freedom which is ours in Christ Jesus. It is this very emphatically. (2) The concept under consideration is rooted in the love of God. Love is its principle and source, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. It is the fruit of the living faith which is energized by love (Gal. 5:6). (3) Contextually longsuffering is here an aspect of love for the brother in Christ and is mingled with such virtues as kindness, goodness and faithfulness and spiritual sobriety or self-control. Also in this passage longsuffering is not toward the wicked but toward the brother and sister in Christ. When one is longsuffering toward the brother then he will not be provoking him, envying him (Gal. 5:26)!
The next passage which we will study is taken from Eph. 4:2 where we read: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It should be evident to us concerning the termlongsuffering: (1) That our being longsuffering is a fruit of our being efficaciously “called” out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Only a walk in which also is the ingredient of longsuffering is worthy of such a heavenly calling (I Peter 2:9; Heb. 3:1). Hence, in man the virtue of being longsuffering is possible only by virtue of the calling to faith and godliness. (2) Further, it is a virtue which is rooted in love for the brother, in a deep sense of unity which is ours as members of the body of Christ. One who is longsuffering toward his brother is such with a keen sense of the great longsuffering of God toward himself in Christ Jesus. What he is, he is by the grace of God!!
There is one more passage which also teaches that the term longsuffering is a good work of grace, by virtue of being strengthened with all the power of God due to the glory of His grace. We refer to Col. 1:10, 11where we read: “to walk worthily of the Lord into all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy . . . .” We notice here: (1) That here also longsuffering is a Christian grace; it is a grace closely associated with that wonderful Christian fruit called patience, the power to endure. It is really patience in its operation toward the erring and weak brother whom we love. (2) It is always a matter in which we experience and have Christian joy, the hope of victory and ultimate triumph, even the salvation of ourselves and of the weak and erring brother!
We believe that from the foregoing passages it becomes quite evident that whether Scripture speaks of the longsuffering of God or whether it refers to the longsuffering of the Christian, it is ever toward an object of love—the man and woman for whom Christ died, for those who are reconciled to God in the blood of the cross!
Bearing this in mind, we may safely state that the Arminian perversion of the text here in II Peter 3:9 cannot stand when he would refer this longsuffering of God toward all men to bring them to repentance!
Thus it is also very evident what a comforting word this is from the pen of the holy apostle for the church as she places her hope upon the return of Christ. Nay, the Lord is not slack concerning His promise. He does not forget His Word of oath to the church. He remembers it very much in each moment of history. He exercises a great deal of longsuffering toward her.
On the one hand He exercises a great deal of longsuffering toward her in her sinful condition. He brings every last elect to repentance. That is what the text teaches. It does not teach what I heard a preacher in the “deep South” say to the congregation when he opined that the text teaches here that “if the elect do not repent they go to hell.” Surely the elect are to repent from their sins. But the text does not allow for any doubt that the elect will not be brought by the Lord to repentance. Fact is, that it is exactly the longsuffering of the Lord which makes this bringing to repentance a certain reality for the entire church. When you look at the walk of a Paul, prior to his being brought to repentance, surely it was the longsuffering of God that spared him from the fury of God’s wrath. God looked at what Christ did for Paul on Calvary when He saw this elect child, called from the womb to this ministry, going about and raising havoc in the church and persecuting the church of God. While he was persecuting the church God loved him, loved him so very dearly. Christ had died for him. God had given him to the Son in the bundle of the elect from eternity. And so He demonstrates all His longsuffering upon Paul as an example of the longsuffering upon all who are about to believe. .And to this longsuffering Peter here too refers.
That Peter here refers to such a longsuffering of God toward us His people is evident from the “longsuffering to usward.” The entire church must be saved. God does not merely save some individuals who are willing to employ their “free-will” but He saves the godless and justifies them and brings such to repentance. And this people is a body, the body of Christ of which Christ is the Head. And all the members of the body must be saved, be the fulness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:22). Thus we read in Hebrews 11:39, 40: “And these all having had witness borne to them by faith received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Not a few in the Old Testament only must be saved—an Abraham, an Isaac and a Jacob—but the entire church, both of the Old Testament and of the New Testament dispensation. All must be saved. God does not will that any should perish. And this unchangeable will and faithfulness of God comes to manifestation in His being longsuffering to usward. He saves us and brings us to repentance.
There is a peculiar word used here by Peter in the text. He really says “that all should be given room [territory] to repentance.” Each saint receives his peculiar place, his battles, his deliverances in history. Such is the operational plane of God’s longsuffering. And that is the real reason for the seeming tarrying of the Lord.
There is still another aspect of the longsuffering suggested here in the text. We refer to the longsuffering of God in this long history of bringing His people to repentance, and because of which repentance to God the repentant suffer at the hands of wicked scoffers and mockers. God is longsuffering toward His people when they cry unto Him day and night. We refer here to three Scripture passages. It should be remembered, however, that this point too is clearly consonant with the teaching of Peter in this entire section in the context.
The first passage to which we refer is recorded in, where we read: “And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry unto him day and night, even he is longsuffering over them.” It seems that the elects’ cause suffers with the Lord; it seems that the righteous Lord, the Judge of all the earth does not heed nor hear. But He does so “speedily!” Why? Because He suffers long over them; He loves them with a great love and judges His people righteously, taking all their tears into His bottle. When the mockers scoff, the Lord, who is longsuffering over His people to bring them to salvation, does not pour forth His wrath. He will not pull out the tares ere the time of harvest lest He fail to bring in all the wheat into His garner.
In I Peter 3:20 we have the great example of the “waiting of the longsuffering of God” upon Noah and his eight souls. For one hundred and twenty years the ungodly mocked and scoffed. But the Lord is longsuffering over His church. All the living saints must first die and Noah must preach, and the Lord brings His people to salvation. He was not slack in His promise during those hundred and twenty years.
Again we refer to another passage from Scripture. We refer to that classic passage in Rom. 9:22. Here the Lord is said by Paul to have His sovereign right to show His mercy upon the vessels of mercy and to demonstrate His wrath and to make known His power in bearing the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. And the Lord does this “in longsuffering.” Upon whom? Of course, in the light of all that we have seen so far, upon His elect people, upon the Israel of God.
Well may the church of God take courage. Well may we have our hope steadfastly upon the return of Christ. The moving motive in history’s tempo is not a certain fickle tardiness of God concerning His promise, but rather His jealous concern for His people whom He hath foreknown and whom He will bring infallibly to salvation.
Here we are reminded of their grand speech and confession of the fathers of Dordt where they confess that God will bring all His own infallibly to salvation, that is, “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 every people, tribe, nation and language, all those and those only who were from eternity given him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit he purchased from them by his death; should purge them from all sin . . . and having faithfully preserved them unto the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.”
Such is God’s longsuffering over us to bring every one of us to repentance and final salvation.