The position of the Church of God in the midst of the world in these last times is an extremely difficult one. Always the believers have to contend with their mortal foes: the world, devil and their own flesh. Although such was ever the case with God’s Church throughout the ages, this is most emphatically the case in these last times.
We have pointed out in earlier essays that this is due to the peculiar nature of these last times. It can not do any harm to repeat this factor once more. All the great promises of God are yea and Amen in Christ Jesus. And we may add that they have all been fulfilled centrally in Christ. Every article of our undoubted Christian faith is in the past tense except the return of Christ and the present gathering of the church. And the wicked scoffers mock the Church that is being gathered now, and laugh to scorn her hope of the blessed return of Christ, the Parousia!
This makes it difficult for the righteous to run the race and to hold to the course. And with a view to this the aged apostle Peter stirs up their pure minds by way of bringing to remembrance what had been taught them both in the Old Testament Scriptures and in the teachings of the apostles. They must not be moved from their own steadfastness. On the contrary, they must grow up in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. In view of’ keeping the course they must keep a certain basic truth concerning God before their mind of faith! It must be their guiding-star in the night!
Writes Peter: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The apostle Peter calls the attention of the believers to the one prejudice which they must ever have; it is the prejudice of faith. He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him. Implied in this prejudice is that we confess God to be the Creator and that we are the creatures of His hand. He is eternal and we are temporal. The formula of Peter is: “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years are as one day.” The entire concept of fast and soon or slow and tardy is thus radically and completely changed. We then stop applying the standards of “soon” and “later,” as they apply to our mode of existence, to the Lord. He is the eternal God. In the beginning God was. We then look about us in childlike wonderment, and we exclaim with Moses in Psalm 90:1, 2: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God!”
Thus we bring with us a new and wholly other kind of standard in measuring the footsteps of the coming of Christ in history!
We then no longer will see the Lord’s coming as tardy by our human standards of computation! We then hear the Lord in faith as he says in Isaiah 40:18: “To whom will ye then liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” Or again in verse 25 of this same chapter we read: “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” And, finally, as we read in vs. 28: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength?!!”
Such is the eternal God with whom we have to do!
And, therefore, there is quite a different reason and cause for the seeming delay, as some “men count it slackness.” The Lord has His wise counsel of providence and of predestination.
History must pass through a rather long period of time. Much must happen before the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall appear. From the Alpha of creation till the Omega of Christ’s return there lies a great deal of history. It is the history of the “Holy Catholic Church.” The church must be gathered and the world must live its life here and serve the purpose of God in the gathering of His church, and the manifestation of his righteous judgments upon the wicked. And, in this entire history, not one of all those whom the Father gave to Christ His Son as head of the church, may perish. Is His name not called “JESUS” because he shall surely save his people from their sins? Matt. 1:21. And does not Jesus tell the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum that he has come to fulfill the will of his heavenly Father? For we read: “All that which the Father giveth me shall surely come unto me; and he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. In this same chapter in verses 38 and 39 we read: “For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
Such is the positive purpose of God in the sending of His Son. All the elect are, in time, the called according to His purpose. And this purpose is that Christ should be the firstborn among many brethren, and that all the elect should be conformed to his image!
Such is, indeed, the clear teaching of Peter also here in this Scripture passage under consideration. Not one of all the elect may perish!! Why not? Because God does not will it. It all is determined by God’s will. The counsel of His will shall stand and He shall perform all His good-pleasure.
Such is the clear teaching of Peter in this text.
We are, of course, aware that no Arminian will subscribe to this interpretation of the text here. He will insist that we have here a very clear instance in which the Scriptures teach that God wills to save all men; that he therefore does not return. The gospel must then be first preached to all and thus God gives all men, as far as He is concerned, the possibility of salvation. God thus does His part; the rest is up to man. However, this teaching of the Arminians here does not stand the test of good exegesis.
In the first place because Peter is not addressing this epistle to man or mankind, but he is addressing the church, the “beloved” of God. Notice that Peter addressed the church as “beloved” in the verses 1, 8, 14 and 17. The term “beloved” here evidently means more than simply a term of endearment, or of refined address on the part of Peter for the readers of this letter. The term “beloved” means that they are such because God loves them and sent his Son a propitiation for their sins. Herein is love not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son a propitiation for our sins.
In the second place, it ought to be observed that Peter is addressing the church most definitely in distinction from the “scoffers.” These scoffers had been foretold as a New Testament phenomenon. Surely these are not part of those whom the Lord would bring to repentance. Why? This is exegetically crystal clear from the fact that Peter teaches that the Lord is longsuffering to “usward.” There is a reading which reads: “to you-ward.” Although we prefer the former reading, it makes not a particle of difference which reading we choose as concerns the issue here at stake. In either case it refers to the church, either inclusive pr exclusive of Peter himself.
In the third place, it should be observed “not any should perish” is limited in the text by the term “to usward.” And these “usward” are those who have “obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” II Peter 1:1.
In the fourth place, this interpretation of the Arminians fails to grasp the point at issue, namely, that the Lord is not slack, but that he is longsuffering. The Arminian attempts to apply the attitude of the Divine longsuffering to the objects of wrath instead of to the objects of grace as do the Scriptures. Concerning this latter point permit us to elaborate just a bit.
It is our finding, when studying the term and concept “longsuffering,” that this is an attitude of God toward His people, a redeemed yet sinful people, in the midst of this world. Fact is, that “longsuffering” is the attitude which the elect too must exercise toward one another in this world as long as we have but a small beginning of the new obedience! Both of these propositions we must now demonstrate from Scripture.
When we turn to the O.T. Scriptures we find that the term “longsuffering” is employed by the Lord Himself in His self-disclosure to Moses on the holy mount. The Lord there calls forth his NAME to Moses as he passes by him in the cleft of the rock assigned him. There the Scriptures have the following: “And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 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 their children, unto the third and fourth generation.” From this Scripture passage the following is clear:
1. That it is a virtue of God on a par with such virtues as God’s being “merciful and gracious.” Mercy finds the object of love m its helplessness, while grace finds it in its worthlessness. And the “truth” of God is really His being faithful and trustworthy, while the “goodness” refers to His being the fountain and source of all goodness, mercy, grace and truth. And “longsuffering” belongs to these virtues. It means that the Lord does not pour out his wrath and fury because of His great mercy and grace. He holds in His wrath in love over His sinful children.
2. That such is the “longsuffering” of God is evident from the prayer of Moses as recorded inNumbers 14. Here we read of the weeping of Israel and their determination to make them a “captain” and return to the land of Egypt. The LORD would smite them, disinherit them, and make of Moses a greater and mightier people. It was then that Moses appeals to the “longsuffering” of God. This is not a common, a certain neutral longsuffering of a “not yet” of final judgment in the text here inNumbers 14. It is a longsuffering for the people of God as rooted in “great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty.” Hear Moses pray: “Pardon, I beseech thee, THE INIQUITY OF THIS PEOPLE ACCORDING TO THE GREATNESS OF THY MERCY, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” It is a longsuffering of a merciful attitude of love for that which provokes to wrath because of sin and disobedience in God’s people.
3. It takes a great deal of longsuffering on the part of God upon us as his church to ultimately bring us to glory. We see this in the case of the apostle Paul as recorded in I Tim. 1:16, when we read: “that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
In all of these passages it is evidently the teaching that “longsuffering” is a virtue of love and mercy over God’s sinful and erring people whom He foreknew.
(to be continued)