Rev. Moore is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
In this article we consider a very important text for the church of Christ, especially in the day in which we live. There are many reasons for us to wonder why the Lord tarries. In the evil days in which we live, there arise even in the church questions concerning the wisdom of bringing forth the covenant seed. But the church does bring forth that seed, and she does so trusting in the promises of God. It is with confidence that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise that we bear our children and bring them to be baptized.
We will spend some time in this article with the Word of God as it is recorded in II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
The promise of God has been set before the people of God from of old. In the old dispensation the people of God looked to enter into the rest of the eternal inheritance (Heb. 4). The law of the Old Testament spoke of the inheritance that would belong to Israel in typical form. And we read in Ephesians 6:2 this: “Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise….” When the people of God entered into Canaan and were able to build the temple, they rejoiced that God was faithful to His promises. “Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant” (I Kings 8:56).
This rest was only typical, however, and our fathers looked for another country, a heavenly country. But even as the Father gave unto the Old Testament saints a typical rest according to His promise, so most certainly He will give us the fullness of that promise in Christ. We have in fact already now received the fulfillment of that promise in principle by faith as we receive the Spirit of life. Paul reflects upon this truth when he says the following in the epistle to the Romans: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were “(Rom. 4:13-17).
Through faith we are quickened and receive the promise of life in principle, being called out of death to life. Further, this is expressed by our Savior through the apostle when He says in Acts 2:33, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”
We now look with expectation to the fulfillment of this promise in the final sense of the word, and strive for the goal of the end of the promise, with spiritual activity. And we have the assurance that as we live in this way we shall obtain it. “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having, promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8). Also we read in Hebrews 9:15: “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
But some think that God is slack. We find this notion first of all in the context of the major unbelief in the world that is fast heading to destruction. This unbelief is so widespread that it can be a danger to the faith of God’s children. It is for this reason that the apostle addresses this word to the church, that she may have assurance in the face of such an overwhelming opposition to her faith. We must remember that what was true for the church in the day of the apostle is emphatically more true today. The attack upon our faith is even more intense than it was in the day that these words were penned for the church.
Let us examine what was being said then that was a threat to the faith of God’s people. There were scoffers who said, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” By that bold declaration they denied God’s government of all things, they denied Scripture’s testimony of the Flood, and they denied even the creation of all things by God. Further, they lived as though there would be no judgment.
We must understand that there is a reason why this is laid upon the people, why there are those that will harden their hearts to the plain testimony of the Word. And that reason is given also in our context, where we read that the scoffers “walk after their own lusts.” In order to follow his own idea of what is right and wrong, in order to maintain a certain peace of mind when walking in direct contradiction with the Word, man must convince himself that such a walk will bear no consequences. But this is a willing disobedience, a willful ignoring of the fact that the world that now is, is not the world that was at the beginning of time. Men reject the truth that God sent judgment before, and that He will do so again. They shall be held accountable for their sin.
Now, lest our faith be shaken because men become more and more perverse, and yet judgment does not come, and we are not yet delivered from this life of sin to the new life of Christ in Heaven, the apostle points out that God is not slack concerning His promise.
Understand that we can be vulnerable to the attacks upon our faith, and that we may in weakness begin to listen when virtually the whole world, including the church world, questions the promises of God. We find such an expression by the Psalmist in Psalm 77:6-9: “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search. Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.” God answers these questionings by His people when He says He is not slack, but longsuffering.
The apostle, in the light of all of this, would comfort us as we walk down this pilgrim’s pathway, and as we face a world, and even a church world, given to iniquity – especially as we will become the object of the hatred of that world. How can we with confidence bring forth the covenant seed and baptize them according to the promises of God? We may do so, says the apostle, and we maybe comforted, for know this: God is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness.
Many have a wrong conception of God. They measure God by their own standards. The apostle, already in the context, will take away this foolish conception of God. He calls our attention to the truth that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and vice versa. This text is often terribly misconstrued, and is often even used, in the present controversy within the church world, to deny the creation of this world by God in six 24-hour periods. What is being taught in the passage from our context is that time is not a factor by which God is bound. Whether a day (24 hours) or whether a thousand years makes no difference to God. For He is not limited as we. are to time. He is the infinite and eternal God not a man. When we judge God’s work to be slack, we fall into the temptation to measure God by our standards.
But God is not slack concerning His promise. We understand that the meaning of the term “slack” is that one tarries, or delays, to carry out what is to be. We may never look at God and His work in this way. It would be exactly contrary to His very Being as in perfect wisdom He brings all things to pass. For Him to tarry would mean that He takes an inordinate, even an incorrect, amount of time to do what He’ has promised, and this cannot be. Men may procrastinate. But never may we ascribe procrastination to God. That would be to subject God’s work to our standards and limitations. Rather, God brings to pass all things in their perfect time. Even as Christ was brought forth at just the right moment, which God calls the fullness of time, so also shall Christ come again, and bring judgment, against the wicked and bring salvation for His people, at just the right time.
God is longsuffering. The idea of this longsuffering has also been much misinterpreted in the present day. Our text is often presented as though God’s longsuffering is exercised so that all men of this world may have a chance to repent. It is even presented as though God is willing that all men without distinction come to repentance and salvation, and as if He waits in order to give man this chance. But this is pure Arminianism, free-willism, and it cannot stand. It is true that God’s longsuffering means that He is patient to workout His will with respect to the saving of the church, and that because of this He does not yet bring judgment upon the wicked. But this is not in any way due to the wicked or to a desire on God’s part to save the reprobate. He is longsuffering to us-ward; and this means that it is His will that the full body of Christ be brought to salvation.
A study of the use of the term longsuffering elsewhere in Scripture will show that this is indeed the meaning of the word in II Peter 3:9. We find the passage in Exodus 34 at the time of the second giving of the law enlightening. “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:6, 7). The longsuffering here is connected with the grace and goodness of God towards His people, whereby in mercy they are saved. At the same time, this “will by no means clear the guilty,” for God will visit the iniquity upon the wicked unbeliever and their children. In II Peter 3:15 we read that we are to “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.”
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. What a truth this is! If God is not willing that any should perish, then we know that none shall perish. Otherwise God is not God. This shows that in no way can the longsuffering of God in II Peter 3:9 be made to apply to all men in general. Clearly this is written to the church of believers who find themselves in the midst of trial, and even suffering in the midst of this life. We are given the assurance that God’s will is that none of us, none of the elect, shall perish. God remembers His covenant. He shall not turn aside. We have the assurance therefore that His church shall never perish. And this means that it is so not only for us but also for our children who are in Christ.
This does not imply that God does not use means. As we live in the midst of this world it is necessary that we be called out of darkness into the light of His fellowship. We have to be prepared for our place in His kingdom. We must pass through the ways of trial. This we must understand; and this we must also teach our children. On the other hand, we see that this trial is sent of God exactly to bring His people to repentance and thus to faith and salvation. And so God is longsuffering, and brings to pass all things, not willing that one of His own should perish. All things now serve this end. Wonder of God’s Grace!!