We were interpreting the well-known text of 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.”
According to the context, there were those, whether in the church or outside, that mocked at the people of God when they looked for the coming of the Lord and the final realization of the promise. They had, apparently a good argument on which to base their contention that the Lord would not come again; all things remain as they were from the beginning. And to this the apostle replied, in the first place, that this contention is not true: things did not remain as they were from the beginning, for the flood intervened. Before the flood the elements of destruction encompassed those who at that time mocked the people of God on all sides, namely, water. The same is true, secondly, with regard to those that mocked at the people of God at the time of the apostle Peter: the elements of destruction were round about them, for the heavens and the earth that are now are full of the very fire that will destroy them at the time of the coming of the Lord.
But the apostle is not writing to these mockers, even though he writes about them; but he is addressing the church. The church longed for the coming of the Lord; and they, the church, expected Him soon. And seeing that the Lord appeared to tarry, the cutting satire of the enemy impressed some of them. To these the apostle gives a twofold answer. The first is based on the Lord’s eternity. He is not bound to time; a thousand years for Him is as one day, and one day is as thousand years. The second deals with God’s work in and for the church. God is longsuffering over His people; He does not want that any of them should perish, but that every one of them should come to repentance. When every one of them has been saved, the Lord will surely fulfill His promise.
When the text is thus read and explained in the light of its context, it will be evident that it cannot teach that God wills that all men shall be saved.
But let us now look a little more closely at the text itself.
The main idea of this passage is, no doubt, expressed in the words: “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise . . . but is longsuffering to us-ward.”
What is longsuffering?
We must remember that the early church was filled with an earnest and fervent longing for the coming of the Lord. They expected that He would come soon. And when it seemed as if He tarried, they, at least some of them, considered that the Lord was slack concerning His promise.
This the apostle denies and instead he explains that the Lord is longsuffering with regard to His people. Now we must not confuse longsuffering with forbearance. The latter term in Scripture is used with regard to the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, the former with respect to the people of God, the vessels of love. The vessels of wrath are the wicked, who provoke God with their wicked deeds and thoughts. The idea of forbearance is that, if the Lord followed His desire, He would destroy the wicked immediately, but they must first serve their purpose. When the purpose of their existence is reached, He sends them to their eternal destruction. Till then He forbears. We may say, therefore, that God restrains His wrath till the day of reckoning. There is no love in forbearance.
Longsuffering, however, is motivated by love over His people. Thus it is in the text which we are interpreting here. Thus it is also in Luke 18:7, 8, where we read: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” The clause “though he bear long with them” is a wrong translation. It should be “though he is longsuffering over them;” (Greek makro-thumei, Dutch lankmoedig). The same word is used in Jas. 5:7, where we read: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth and hath long patience (is longsuffering, Greek: makrothumoon) for it, until he receive the early and latter ram.” The people of God suffer in this world, and they long for deliverance. And the Lord loves them; He, as it were suffers with them. If the Lord followed the desire of His heart, He would lead them into glory. But this cannot be. Things must all be ready. They must be ripe. Even as the husbandman longs to cut the corn and gather it into his barns, but must wait till it is ripe, so the Lord restrains, as it were, the impulse of His love until all is ready.
And what is the reason for His longsuffering? Many reasons might be mentioned according to Scripture. The measure of iniquity must first be made full. The kingdom of antichrist must first be realized. The man of sin must first be revealed in all his power. But here only one reason is mentioned: God does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
What does this mean? That is the question. According to Kuiper, and also according to Dekker, the “not any” and “all” refer to all men without distinction. This is the Arminian theory. The text then means that God, on His part, wills that all men should be saved. This, however, contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture which emphasizes that God, according to election and reprobation, wills that only the elect shall be saved while the reprobate perish. Besides, the people of God, over against the mockers of the day and time of which the apostle speaks and over against the mockers of any time, longed and long for the coming of the Lord. But, if this coming must wait till all men are saved, the Lord will never come.
This Arminian theory assumes many forms; but principally it always comes down to the same thing: the rejection of the truth of reprobation. There is, of course, the most recent theory of Karl Barth: Christ is the reprobate; He took reprobation upon Himself, and, after His death on the cross, there is no more reprobation. There is the theory that God wills not that all men shall be saved according to the will of His counsel or His so-called secret will; but according to the gospel, or His revealed will, He, nevertheless, wants all men to be saved. Then we have two Gods. In actual fact, this is also a denial of reprobation. Or there is the theory that speaks of the will of command and the will of God’s counsel. Also this, in the practice of preaching, comes down to the same thing: the denial of reprobation.
But what does the text say, the text in II Peter 3:9?
Note the following:
1. The text in the original does not say “all men,” but simply “all.” It must, therefore, be determined from the text itself, in its context, who are included in this “all.”
2. The text says that God is longsuffering “to us-ward.” Who are they? Surely, not the mockers. And surely not all men. The apostle is writing to the church, the people of God. They and they only are included in the phrase “to us-ward.”
3. It is very plain, therefore, that, when in the last part of the text the apostle writes “not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance,” the hot any” and “all” refer to the same number of people as the “us.”
4. Hence, it is perfectly proper and according to the meaning of the text to explain the last part of the text as meaning: “not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance.” And therefore, the text does not refer to all men without distinction, but to the people of God, i.e., the elect.
And this is in harmony with the entire context.
Indeed, this is logic, of which Kuiper, apparently, must have nothing. But it is logic based on Scripture.
The former passage reads as follows: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?” And in the latter passage we read: “Say unto them, As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked should turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
Now, the question is: do these passages teach a sincere and well-meant offer of salvation to all men, or that God loves all men without distinction?
I do not believe it, for the following reasons:
1. In the first place, neither of these passages speak of an offer at all, an offer of salvation which must, of course, be accepted by men in order to be realized. If man does not want to accept the offer, God can do nothing about it. I just happened to hear the other day a sermon by Mr. Billy Graham over the radio, in which he strongly emphasized this very heresy. Man, according to this sermon, was created with a will and that will is sovereign: God never touches it or interferes with it. Salvation is offered to that man, but he must accept it, otherwise God cannot save him. He forgot two things. The first is that, after the fall, man is free only to do evil. He cannot and will not and cannot will to accept any offer of salvation. The second is that grace is always first, and that the grace of God is not resistible . . . But, apart from this, the texts in Ezekiel do not even mention such an offer. They merely contain emphatic statements, on the part of God, that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but He delights in the fact that the wicked turn and live. This He even swears, according to the text inEzekiel 33.
2. Secondly, note that in both the texts of Ezekiel, the Lord does not address all men, but the house of Israel. And that house of Israel is the Church of the old dispensation. Also this Billy Graham and he that finds in these texts of Ezekiel a general well-meant offer of salvation to all men without distinction forget. In the old dispensation the Church was limited to only one nation, the nation of Israel. It is, therefore, not all men and not all the wicked, but His own people whom He assures of His forgiving mercy.
3. Thirdly, the context in both cases and especially in chapter 33, plain reveals that the texts are an answer to the complaint of the people of God that their case is hopeless and they must needs die and cannot live. Say they: “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” They, evidently, were conscious of their sin, and felt that they were worthy of condemnation. They did not see a way out. To them the texts in Ezekiel 18and Ezekiel 33 are an answer. There is abundant mercy in God: for He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in this is His delight, that the wicked turn from his evil way and live. “Therefore let them turn, and they shall live.
4. Finally, perhaps you say that the wicked, nevertheless, must turn, in order to live, and this is certainly tie. But do not forget that, if they do turn, this is the effect of the grace of God, Of themselves they can never turn, but rather die in their sins. But when the irresistible grace of God, through the Holy Spirit, and by the efficacious calling, through the Word, is wrought in them, they surely turn. This calling, as far as the preaching and the word of the prophet is concerned, comes to all that hear the word, elect and reprobate, but it is efficacious unto salvation only in the elect.