Continuing with our attempt to show the absurdity of the “Common Grace” definition of the longsuffering of God we would call attention to. We must bear in mind that this “Common Grace’’ definition of God’s longsuffering is that it is that aspect of the general goodness of the Lord whereby He spares the froward and the evil in spite of their long continued disobedience. In 2 Pet. 3:9 we read: “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.” In connection with this text we note, in the first place, that if the expression, “to usward,” refers to all men, head for head, Christ will never come. That this text refers to this coming of the Lord upon the clouds of heaven, and that this coming of the Lord is implied in the word “promise” is clear from the entire context, and particularly from the verse that follows, which reads: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” If, on the other hand, the expression, “to usward”, refers to all the elect of all ages (and this is surely the correct interpretation of the text), then the “Common Grace” definition of the longsuffering of the Lord is quite impossible. In that case, applying this definition of the longsuffering of God, the text would read as follows: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but reveals that He is sparing in His goodness unto us who are worthy of punishment, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. And this interpretation of the text is obviously absurd. To teach that the Lord spares the elect in His goodness, who are worthy of punishment, while they continue long in their ungodliness and wickedness is clearly ridiculous.
The Longsuffring Of God Has For Its Objects The Elect.
That the longsuffering of the Lord has for its objects only the elect is surely evident from the following passages:, , , , , , , . We need not quote all these passages again—This we did in our preceding article. However, let us look a little more closely at two of these passages, namely, and . Our comments on can be brief, inasmuch as we called attention to this passage in some detail in our preceding article. That text reads: “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?” That this passage does not teach a general “saving goodness” of God we have already seen. According to this context, the people of God are being oppressed; they cry day and night unto the Lord, and they might finally conclude that the Lord is neglecting them. However, the Lord’s “failure” to deliver them is not neglect but He is long- suffering over them, “bears long with them (according to the text).” Hence, the Lord’s longsuffering in this text signifies that He suffers long with them, restrains his desire to deliver them immediately, but checks His passion, love toward them, because the time of their final and complete deliverance has not yet arrived. And He will avenge His elect speedily, i.e., He will not delay their deliverance, but will cause as rapidly as possible all things to occur which are necessary for the salvation of all the elect of all the ages.
The second passage which we would discuss a little more in detail is 2 Pet. 3:9: “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.” In connection with this passage, we would note that, according to the context, the church of God is again in tribulation. Verse 3 of this chapter speaks of scoffers, mockers. These mockers, according to verse 4, ridicule the promise of the Lord’s coming. They say that since the fathers fell asleep all things have continued as they were from the beginning of the creation. We must bear in mind that the Lord had given the Church the promise of His coming, and that this coming would be accompanied by the destruction of the world. The salvation of the Church and the destruction of the world always go together. The one demands the other. So it shall also be at the end of the world. And this promise of the Lord’s coming which would herald the eternal salvation of the people of God and the eternal desolation of the ungodly was being ridiculed by wicked scoffers. They pointed to the fact that, since the creation of the world, everything has continued as they were, and laughed at the promise of the Lord. Besides, there is very reason to believe that the Church, in the early years of the New Dispensation, expected the coming of the Lord soon, in their day. Texts as: “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. . . . Behold, the Judge standeth before the door,” () were Interpreted in that literal sense of the word. However, His coming did not materialize. And now the world used this “failure” of the Lord to come as an added Incentive to ridicule the Church, and the people of God probably began to think that the Lord was clack concerning His promise. This fear of the people of God is answered by the apostle, Peter, in 2 Pet. 3:9. The Lord is nob slack concerning His promise. His “failure” to come must not be ascribed to the fact that the Lord is slow as far as the fulfillment of His promise is concerned. To the contrary, the Lord is longsuffering to usward, the elect of God. That He “delays” His coming is not due to the fact that He is not interested in the afflictions of His people. Fact is, He is longsuffering to usward. He suffers long with the afflictions of His own. They vitally concern Him. As the Lord beholds His Church in distress, His love goes out unto them, and, if He were to “act according to His nature or passion”, He would deliver them immediately. But the Lord restrains Himself, holds Himself in check, not willing that any should perish but that all (of course, the elect of all ages, even unto the end of time) should come to repentance.
These passages, I am sure, are worthy of special consideration. First of all, we read in I Pet. 3:20: “Which sometime were disobedient, whence the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” This text has been quoted in support of a longsuffering of God toward the ungodly contemporaries of Noah. At first glance, this is understandable. The text speaks, does it not, of the disobedient in the days of Noah, and declares that the longsuffering of God waited in those days, while the ark was being prepared. Hence, it is affirmed, the Lord, because of His longsuffering, waited one hundred and twenty years, giving the wicked world time to repent. In connection with this “Common Grace” interpretation of the days of Noah we would make the observation that this “longsuffering” of the Lord suffered a complete failure. Fact is that, when this “period of probation” began, the Lord was already assured of the salvation of Noah’s family. Fact is also that, when this period had come to an end, the Lord had exactly as many saved souls as when it began. Only eight souls were saved. Hence, this “longsuffering” of the Lord did not gain another soul. This, I must confess, is a quite ridiculous presentation of the Lord who does all things according to His eternal counsel and will and Whom so the apostle, Paul, declares in, none can resist. Be this as it may, however, the Roman Catholic view of this text is that Christ, after His resurrection, descended into the portals of hell to deliver out of the portals of hell the believers of the Old Testament who were held captive therein. The Lutheran conception of this text is that Christ descended literally into hell, according to His Godhead and humanity, announced His victory there, and deprived the devil of his power. A common Reformed explanation of this passage is that the spirits in prison (hell—see verse 19) are the ungodly of the time of Noah, that Christ preached unto them, not after His resurrection, but at the time of Noah, by His Spirit.
Our interpretation of this passage has been expressed by the Rev. H. Hoeksema several times, and is as follows. In the first place, there are weighty objections against the generally accepted Reformed view, which we mentioned in the preceding paragraph. There is, first of all, the time element of chronological order of the verses 19-20. These verses read: “By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days, of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” Sound exegesis certainly demands that verse 20 be understood as occurring after verse 19. Hence, Christ preached after His resurrection. Besides, this is also corroborated by the text itself. First, we read in verse 19 that He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, and literally: that are in prison, not were in prison. And in verse 20 we read of these spirits that they “sometime were” disobedient—hence, they were in prison now but had been disobedient. Consequently, we interpret this passage thus: Christ, after His resurrection, went and preached to the spirits in prison, by His Spirit, and condemned these spirits who had been disobedient at the time of Noah. That the apostle, Peter, mentions these ungodly of the days of Noah is undoubtedly because they are a striking type of the ungodly of the latter days, the days of the New Dispensation. They, at the time of Noah, ridiculed that man of God when he preached unto them the righteousness of God and proclaimed unto them that the Lord would destroy the wicked world and save His Church. This also occurs in the New Dispensation. We were reminded of this in our interpretation of 2 Pet. 3:9.
We have already observed how this text is quoted in support of a general longsuffering of God, that the Lord was longsuffering toward them, giving them time to repent. But we should notice that the text does not say that God was longsuffering toward the ungodly, but merely that the longsuffering of God waited. The Church of the living God of that day was being persecuted. The Lord did not immediately deliver them. His longsuffering, His love toward His people and desire to deliver them waited. Deliverance did not come as quickly as the Church of God expected.
Another passage which we would treat somewhat in detail is Romans 9:22. There we read: “What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” Also this passage of the Word of God has been quoted in support of a general longsuffering of the Lord toward the ungodly. This is easily understandable. Do we not read that the Lord endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction? It is not plain, therefore, that the Lord is longsuffering toward these vessels of wrath, the ungodly? However, how different must be (and is) the interpretation of this text when considered in the light of its context! In the preceding verse, verse 21, the apostle declares that the potter makes not only vessels unto honour, but also vessels unto dishonour. Then, in verse 22, the apostle declares that they are vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, and this means that God made them in His wrath, and fitted them for destruction, and therefore not to save them. Moreover, in verse 23 we read that God makes His glory known upon the vessels of mercy which He had from the foundation of the world prepared unto glory; hence, these are the vessels of mercy, made in His mercy, and they have been eternally prepared unto eternal glory. And, in addition to all this, the apostle tells us in verse 22 that God endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction because He was willing to shew His wrath and make His power known. How is it possible, in the light of all this, to maintain that the Lord shows favour or grace to these vessels of wrath, fitted unto destruction, concerning whom we read that the Lord willed to show His wrath and make His power known? Finally, is all this not corroborated by the example of the ungodly Pharaoh? Concerning this Pharaoh we read in verse 17: “For the scripture saith un’o Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Mind you, the Lord had raised up Pharaoh, and that with the divine purpose to show His power in him. This does not mean that the Lord simply put Pharaoh upon the Egyptian throne, and that He raised him up in that sense of the word. But the apostle refers to the ungodly Pharaoh. It is exactly as the ungodly Pharaoh that he was raised up by the Lord. The Lord sovereignly willed and “raised up” this ungodly monarch to reveal His power in him. This is surely in harmony with the rest of this chapter, and particularly with that portion which tells us that God is the potter, and that as such Fie produces vessels of honour and of dishonour, producing the former by His mercy and the latter by His wrath. This also enables us to understand Rom. 9:22. It is true that we are told in this passage that “God endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction.” However, this does not necessarily mean that the Lord’s longsuffering had these vessels of wrath for its objects. The text does not purpose to inform us that the Lord was longsuffering toward these ungodly. But this is what the Word of God would teach in this particular text: God endured with much longsuffering toward His people the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction. In His love toward His own He endured these vessels of wrath. The ungodly are the objects here of the Lord’s forbearance, and the godly are the objects of His longsuffering. And this is surely corroborated by the example of Pharaoh and the ungodly throughout the history of the Church of God in the midst of this world. He endures the wicked throughout the hidtory of His Church because He is longsuffering toward His own, would save them and save them unto the uttermost. The most glorious example (or terrible example, if you will) is the example of the Christ Himself. He surely endured, “put up” with the wicked as they laid their vile hands upon the Son of His love, nailed Him to the accursed tree, not because He loved them and would give them additional time to repent, but only because He loved His Christ and His people, and would save them through the blood of His Son. And this characterizes the position and affliction of the people of God throughout the ages, particularly at the end of time. The only reason why He tolerates the wicked world is not because He loves that world, but is only because their cup of iniquity must be filled and all the elect saved, even unto the last child of the living God.
A final passage to which we would call attention somewhat in detail is Romans 2:4: “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” This text is also superficially quoted in support of a general goodness or longsuffering of God. Addressing the wicked, unrepentant Jews, concerning whom the apostle declares in the following verse that “after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” the apostle tells us in verse 4 that they despise the riches of God’s goodness and longsuffering and forbearance, not realizing that this goodness of God leads unto repentance. We should notice, however, that the text does not teach that the goodness of the Lord would lead these wicked Jews unto repentance. It does teach us, however, that the goodness of God leads to repentance. Not that it would lead us, but that it actually leads us unto repentance. If, therefore, we take this text at its face value, and apply this particular Word of God to all men, head for head, then surely it declares too much. The apostle, then, would have us believe that the goodness actually leads these people to repentance; and, yet, in the following verse we are told that they are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of the Lord. This “Common Grace” interpretation of the text is, therefore, obviously impossible. The true interpretation of Rom. 2:4 must be as follows. The goodness of God leads men to repentance. This is an undeniable fact. However, these wicked Jews did not know this. This does not mean that they were not acquainted with this fact as such, but that they did not know this in the spiritual, experiential sense of the word. The riches of God’s goodness, longsuffering and forbearance, they despised. We must bear in mind that these riches were revealed unto them. Organically they belonged to the Church of God in the midst of the world. Hence, they were fully acquainted with the riches of this goodness of the Lord. It had been proclaimed unto them time and again, and, besides, that the people of God were the objects of this goodness was known and observed by them. However, they despised this goodness of God, trampled it under foot, revealed in all their activity that they loved the darkness rather than the light, and trampled the goodness of God under foot as swine trample pearls under their feet. In this revelation of God the goodness of God reveals itself as longsuffering over His people and as forbearance toward the ungodly. But the carnal element comes organically into contact with this goodness of God, which leads unto repentance, despises it and tramples it under foot, and will be held accountable for their profane attitude toward this goodness of the Lord, which is only upon the elect, but is also revealed unto them.
The longsuffering and forbearance of the Lord have this in common, that both refer to a divine restraint, a divine checking or holding of Himself in check. However, the longsuffering of God is an activity of divine love; the forbearance of the Lord is an activity of divine wrath. God is longsuffering toward His people, elected and loved in Christ Jesus. He restrains His desire to save them out of all the afflictions of their enemies because He seeks their welfare and would save all the elect even unto the end of time. And the Lord’s forbearance is toward the reprobate wicked. He restrains His desire, His passion, to destroy them, because their full measure of iniquity must be filled, and also because they must serve the elect. Using them as instruments in His causing of all things to work together for the good and salvation of His people, He checks Himself, His inner passion, to consume them in His righteous anger and love for His own, until they shall have served His purpose and contributed their part in the eternal salvation and glory of His elect Church.