Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What II Peter 3:9 Teaches (55)

Dear Forum members:

I was considering the proof texts that have been used to support the doctrine of a gracious and well-meant offer of God that comes through the preaching of the gospel, in which God expresses his desire to save all men. In particular, I was discussing 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.”

I had made some general remarks about this verse and various interpretations that have been given of it. We must now turn to the meaning of this passage.

Peter himself gives his reason for writing this second epistle in verses 1-4a of chapter 3: “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming . . . ?”

It seems to have been the case that the churches to which Peter addresses his epistle were being persecuted at the time the apostle wrote both I Peter and II Peter. In the pressures of persecution, the saints were looking for an imminent return of Christ to rescue them from their enemies. Further, according to chapter 2, they were beset by false teachers who were causing grief in the church.

Apparently these false teachers were mocking the people of God when, in spite of the eager expectation of the saints, Christ did not return to deliver them. Their mocking words were: “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

They meant that it was foolish to expect Christ to return because the saints spoke of this return of their Lord as being a cataclysmic event that would bring an end to this present creation. The grounds for their mockery were that the creation has existed unchanged since its beginning.

Peter denies that this ground for their mockery is true: All things have not continued unchanged from the beginning of the creation.

Although what I have now to say is a sort of parenthesis in the discussion of the meaning of II Peter 3:9, I cannot resist a few remarks about this important chapter that have to do with obvious refutations of evolutionism. It is striking that the mockers who taunted the saints in Peter’s day based their denial of Christ’s coming on what evolutionists call “the principle of uniformitarianism.” Evolutionists claim they can know the nature of the creation in the distant past by studying the creation as it now is, because it has always been the same. They do that on the grounds that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,” the precise argument that serves as a foundation of the godless theory of evolutionism.

It is not surprising therefore, that those who hold to the theory of evolution, are, sooner or later, forced to deny the coming of Christ. Such a denial of a fundamental truth of Scripture is by no means limited to the worldly scientists; it is found, sadly, in the church as well.

Peter refutes that principle of uniformitarianism and insists that all things do not continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. To prove his point, Peter makes reference to the major change that took place at the time of the flood. The flood itself was a picture and type of the end of the world. In it the wicked world, which had filled the cup of iniquity was destroyed by water, and the church was saved by that same water (I Peter 3:20).

The pre-deluvian world was preserved by God’s word “standing out of the water and in the water” (II Peter 3:5). The world that existed after the flood is “reserved unto fire” (II Peter 3:7). Noah entered a different world when he left the ark. For the first time in the history of creation things in God’s world were governed by seasons (Gen. 8:21-22). It is therefore, impossible to determine the nature of the pre-deluvian creation from the character and nature of the creation today. The Holy Spirit destroys the foundation of the entire theory of evolution with a few pen strokes.

But Peter is not arguing against evolutionists in the first place. He is arguing against those who deny Christ’s return from heaven on the clouds. He is doing this for the sake of beleaguered saints, hard-pressed by enemies who were disappointed that Christ did not return to rescue them. He assures them that even though Christ does not return when they expected him to come, he will certainly come again

And if it seems as though the Lord tarries for a very long time, the saints must remember that a day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

But then Peter goes on to explain the purpose of God is in not sending Christ when the saints thought he should. Let the saints understand, first of all, that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” The saints must not charge God with a certain indifference to Christ’s coming. They must not think that God is so busy and preoccupied with running the world that he has no time to think about Christ’s return. Christ himself said, “Behold, I come quickly.” God cannot come until all things that God has determined in his counsel have taken place. God is in a hurry to send Christ, and Christ is also eagerly anxious to come as quickly as possible. But God’s counsel must be carried out.

Further, God is also longsuffering. He is longsuffering to “us-ward.”

God’s longsuffering is an important attribute. It means literally, to suffer long. It can best be described in terms of an incident that I take from my own experience. When my sons were small, one of them ran a very large sliver of wood into the calf of his leg. That sliver was very painful and had to come out. And so I took a strong needle to dig into the flesh and pry that splinter out of my son’s leg. It hurt very much, and at one point my son, with tears streaming down his cheeks, said, “Dad, don’t you love me? You hurt me so badly.” My answer had to be, “It is because I love you that I have to hurt you.”

So is the longsuffering of God. God suffers when we suffer. I do not know how the suffering of God can be explained in terms of his infinite perfections; but God loves us; that I know. And our suffering causes him anguish.

Nevertheless, our suffering is sent by a sovereign God and is necessary for our salvation, for we cannot be purified from our terrible sins in any other way than through suffering. All suffering sanctifies. Suffering is the only way to glory.

That longsuffering of God, such a wonderful attribute, is said by the defenders of common grace, to be towards all men. By this they mean that God is deeply moved by the suffering which all men endure and longs to save them from it. He gives them the opportunity to be saved by the offer of the gospel. But they do not take this offer and God’s longsuffering is without purpose.

There are three things wrong with that interpretation. The first is that the text does not say this. God’s longsuffering is towards “us-ward;” that is, it is towards Peter and all the saints to whom Peter writes these words of encouragement. In the second place, we do a terrible wrong to God when we speak of his purposes as being frustrated. God says through Isaiah: “I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10). And, third, to take the position that longsuffering is an attribute of God towards all men is to claim also that God saves all men. This is not a rash statement, for Peter himself says, a bit further in the chapter: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (verse 15). It is salvation. In fact, in the Greek, the word “is” does not even appear. The text reads: “Accounting that the longsuffering of our Lord, salvation.”

But Peter gives another reason why the saints must not be discouraged or tempted by mockers when Christ does not come when they expected. That reason is wrapped up in the words: “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The defenders of an offer want to interpret the “any” as meaning “all men.” God is not willing that “all men” should perish. So God is longsuffering, not simply to “us-ward”, but to all men. That exegesis is faulty in the extreme. Picture yourself sitting in church on the Lord’s Day and listening to your minister. “Beloved, we have a letter from our dearly beloved apostle Peter. He writes: ‘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.’” Would there be one member in the congregation who would hear this and say, “Oh, God’s wants all men to come to repentance? Only a dyed-in-the-wool defender of common grace would support such a notion.

But there is in those words a profound truth. God’s people are not a disorganized mass of people. They are the body of Christ. They are chosen by God in Christ from before the foundations of the world. They are redeemed in the blood of Christ who suffered for them on Calvary. They constitute an organism, a whole, a unity which is saved as a unity. The church can be compared with a human body.

Supposing a person is terminally ill. And the doctor claims to be able to save that person. But when the person recovers, one arm is missing, one foot, one leg, the eyes, the ears, and perhaps the mouth. I suppose that one can say, “The doctor saved that person,” but such a salvation would be highly questionable.

Because the church is the organism of the body of Christ, perfected in Christ, every member of that elect and redeemed body goes to heaven – or no one goes to heaven. It is all or nothing. It cannot be nothing, and so it is all – all the elect and redeemed.
But these redeemed elect are gathered from the beginning to the end of time. Christ will return only when the last redeemed elect is born and brought to repentance. He cannot and will not come earlier. He will not take to heaven an incomplete church, a mutilated body. He loves all his people and will not save even one until everyone is saved.

Peter is saying to the saints – and it is a glorious thought: “Our Lord has died for an innumerable multitude of God’s elect. You are not the only elect. There are thousands yet unborn. They have to be saved as well as you. Do you want them to be damned to hell because you want Christ to come before all the elect are born? And so the church must be in the world for some time yet, until every one of your brothers and sisters is born and saved. In the meantime, you will have to suffer. And suffering is not pleasant. But it too is necessary for your salvation. But God is longsuffering. He suffers with you in your suffering. But wonder of wonders: he makes suffering serve your salvation. So do not listen to the mockers. All is well. You are God’s beloved.”

That, dear forum members, is a glorious gospel!

In Christ’s service,


No comments:

Post a Comment