The Longsuffering of God

by  Rev. D. H. Kuiper

"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."  II Peter 3:9

 The saints of Peter's day had a problem, a very serious, spiritual problem that was brought about by the many false teachers of that day.  As you know, the second general Epistle of Peter is a warning against the false teachers and scoffers who love the reward of Baalim and who would make merchandise of the church.  These false teachers attacked the people of God at a most vital point: her hope!  How can the children of God walk as pilgrims and strangers on the earth, if they do not have a living hope for the return of Jesus Christ, and the renewal of all things to sustain, guide, and inspire them?

Well, these false teachers set out to destroy that hope.  "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."  They mean to say, there is nothing in the past except unbroken, unchanging history, and the future is no different. The future will go on endlessly and Christ will never return.  Perhaps the child of God begins to waver at this point, perhaps he thinks that the scoffers are raising a legitimate point.  Why does not Christ put an end to things and take us into heavenly glory?  The apostle has two answers for us if we have such doubts.  First, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."  (verse8)  God does not operate by a clock or according to our schedule;  He is the eternal One!  secondly, the apostle gives answer by instructing us in the longsuffering of God, which is salvation!  

Central to the issue faced in II Peter 3 is the promise of God.  There is basically one promise of God, and that promise of  God is always in Christ.  In eternity, at creation, at the time of the fall, throughout Old Testament history, and finally at the fulness of time, God was busy with His gracious promise to send His Son in our flesh as the great Servant in Whom He would unite all things in heaven and on earth.  There is one aspect of God's promise to send Christ to make an end of the ages, to judge all men and angels, to destroy the present creation, to make the new heavens and earth, and to take His church into the glory He has prepared for them.  That return, that parousia, is the object of every Christian's hope.  And that return, according to numerous Scriptures, is very close.  See I Peter 4:7, Romans 13:12, Phil 4:5, Rev 22:12.

 Often times it seems to us as if the Lord is slack concerning that promise.  For almost two thousand years Scripture has been telling us that the end of all things is at hand, that it is the last hour.  Why does God delay?  Where is the fulfillment of the promise of His coming?  Today, too, when we see the terrible filth, profanity, and ungodliness of this age, we wonder why God does not come immediately  to make an end of it all?  Is He, after all, slack concerning His promise?  

No.  Let no child of God ever think or say that!  God is not slack, tardy, unfaithful;  God does not unnecessarily delay.  Rather, God is "longsuffering to usward."  How important is that word "usward";  a distinction is made there by the Holy Spirit through the apostle.  The first distinction we must understand is one between God's longsuffering and God's forbearance.  God's forbearance is a certain attitude He has toward the world of wickedness.  Divine forbearance is the expression of restrained wrath on the part of God toward them which He is of a mind to destroy.  God restrains His wrath, for good reason too, until the time comes when that wrath is unleashed and the wicked are destroyed. 

Our text speaks of the Lord's longsuffering to usward!  The Lord's longsuffering is the expression of restrained love and grace and mercy!  The ides is that if God would follow the desire of His heart immediately, He would bring an end to sin, suffering and all this world, and deliver His people without
delay.  The People of God suffer in this world, this vale of tears.  And the Lord sees them in that suffering, He is moved by their tears, He suffers along with His people in their distresses.  But He does not immediately deliver them.  Not yet.

This longsuffering of God has several implications.  First, it extends only to His people, those whom He has chosen in eternity, ransomed at the cross, and who now long for Christ's appearing.  With the wicked He is angry every day, and merely forbears with them until the day of His wrath.  Secondly, God always remembers His covenant and His covenant people!  Earthly parents may forsake their little babies, but God will never forsake His church to the wicked scoffers.  His children are dear to Him, they are engraven upon the palms of His hand, and there is nothing He will not do to bring them to Himself in glory. Thirdly, this all means that if God immediately does not send Jesus deliver us out of all our troubles and bring us into the heavenly kingdom, it cannot be counted slackness or unfaithfulness or a lack of loving attention.  Some of the reasons which Scripture gives in this connection are:  the world's measure of iniquity must be filled before God destroys it in His justice; the Antichrist must develop and appear with all his deceiving works and power;  the signs of the coming of Christ must all be fulfilled.  (See Matthew 24) 

But the apostle gives us only one reason in this text.  He tells us that God does not come yet because "God does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."  What a wonderful reason!  How beautiful is the longsuffering of God!  Let us beware that we do not take a careless, general, Arminian view of the matter.  The popular interpretation of our passage has the words "not any" and "all" to refer to every human being without exception.  Then the text reads, "God does not will that any man should perish, but God wills that every man in the entire world should come to repentance and be saved!  That is supposed to be the will of God, and that is supposed to be the reason why God is longsuffering! 

Such an interpretation is the old free-will, Arminian heresy that was cast out of the Reformed churches in the seventeenth century, and is at the bottom of the denial of the sovereignty of God, reprobation, limited or particular atonement, and all that is precious to a Bible-believing child of God.  

We will refute this general application of the longusffering of God to each and every man in three ways.  First, this idea runs counter to the general teaching of Holy Scripture, that God does not will  the salvation of each and every individual.  God's will is not a weak wish, but God's will is powerful and determinative;  it is always done!  And His clearly revealed will is that He has determined to save unto Himself a people in Jesus Christ;  those are the elect, the sheep, those given to Christ for redemption.  All the rest God is pleased to perish in the way of their unbelief and sins.  Secondly the gospel preaching which is necessary in order that a man come to repentance and be saved does not even come to every individual in this world.  It did not, does not, and probably will not.  Thirdly, if in His longsuffering God waits until every individual everywhere comes to repentance, we may be assured that the Lord Jesus Christ will never come!  That will never happen, so He will never come.

If the passage is to have any meaning and give any consolation it must be interpreted within the framework of its context this way:  "The Lord is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance."  Usward, any, all, refer to the same group of individuals;  not to everyone everywhere, for example, the false teachers and scoffers who harass and mock the church.  But to the church whom Peter addresses in his epistle, and with whom he includes himself.  The Lord doesn't want any of them to perish, but He wills that every elect, redeemed child of God comes to repentance.  Isn't that beautiful? 

The Lord hasn't come yet, and the Lord doesn't come now, because there is a church of the future which must still be born.  We call that part of the one church of all ages the church latent in distinction from the church triumphant (in heaven) and church militant (on earth).  Because that church has not yet been born or come to repentance, the Lord waits!  His longsuffering is salvation according to verse 15!  the number of the elect is a definite number, the members of the body of Christ each function in a definite place, the temple of the Lord is built up of living stones and not one stone can be missed without marring the beauty and function of the whole.  Everyone who has been predestinated must be called, must be justified, must be glorified!  

Therefore, Christ cannot and will not come until the last members of His body have been born and saved.  Then and only then will He present to God a church without spot or blemish or a missing member. 

What a tremendous comfort is this truth for the church as she is surrounded by her enemies, and made the object of scoffing and ridicule.  The apostle roots his teaching in the will of God, and the will of God is rooted in His eternal, unchangeable Being.  "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning."  None of His children shall fail to be born, nor shall they perish in a state of unregeneracy or unbelief.  They shall all come to repentance.  thus the church of Jesus Christ is busy preaching repentance from sin and faith toward God.  That is the will of God Who has chosen His Church, that is the will of Christ Who laid down His life to redeem us from iniquity and purify us as a peculiar people, and that is the will of the Spirit of grace Who brings each child of God to repentance and enables him to partake of the benefits of salvation. 

No, the Lord has not forgotten us.  He remembers us, He hears our sighs, He catches our tears in the bottle of His remembrance.  But He will not come prematurely, lest any of His dearly bought sheep should perish.  Not one of them shall go lost, and in that way the church is built up an holy temple unto the Lord.  For  that church the Lord Jesus comes quickly!  As a living member of His church, do you believe that?  Let our response be, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

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