'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.' - II Peter 3:9
I want to deal in this article with the above verse
which has been misinterpreted by many individuals, including many preachers.
I want to deal with the phrase ...not willing that any should perish,
but that all should come to repentance, and the phrase ...is longsuffering
Many have the idea that this verse means God wants all people to be saved. While God certainly does not take pleasure in individuals dying without faith in Christ (see Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11), this passage is dealing with something entirely different. This text is meant to be an encouragement to the saints of God!
If God truly was not willing that any should perish in the absolute sense of the phrase 'not willing that any should perish...,' then none would perish. Certainly all should agree that God is capable of doing whatever is necessary to achieve this. It is only those who would argue that man's will is stronger than God's will that would say otherwise. But we need only look to Psalm 110:3, to prove that God's will is the stronger of the two wills. We read, Thy people [shall be] willing in the day of thy power (Emphasis added). The verse does not say they may be willing, but that they shall be willing! God's will always prevails due to His power! We have further evidence of the ability of God to work in all those whom He has set His affections on if we read John 6:37. It states, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (emphasis added).
Here, too, we have proof that God is sufficiently equipped to overcome the will of all those whom He desires to have saved. The above verse from II Peter, deals with the Lord not being slack concerning 'His promise.' Therefore we must deal with what His promise is before we can correctly apply this verse.
The promise spoken of is the same one which is mentioned in verse 4 of chapter 3; it is 'the promise of His coming.' Peter is dealing with the return of Christ for His Bride!! The context of the verse, then, is that the Lord is not slack concerning the promise of Christ returning. He will bring it to pass.
Peter says that in the last days there will be scoffers, or those who do not believe Jesus is coming back (see verse 3), even as there were men in the days of the flood who scoffed at its coming (see verse 6). These individuals are said to be 'willingly ignorant,' due to walking in their foolish imaginations. This is the real will of man. It is not to be saved, but to scoff and ridicule the things of God. And all men would stay in this condition if God did not move in a few to desire anything different. Those who are willingly ignorant are trusting in lying vanities, and Jonah 2:8, tells us these 'forsake their own mercy.'
The longsuffering of God is said to be 'to us-ward.' This is particularly true toward those who are saved (more on this later in the article), and those in whom God will yet work in order that the complete number of souls should be saved!! It is those who are the objects of His wonderful grace and mercy!! Hallelujah!! It is the elect of God!! This is meant to tell the church that all those who God desires will be saved (see John 17).
The same was true in the days of the flood, when eight were saved by the ark. It was Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the LORD, who was delivered, and even that was only because God worked it in him to believe Him. We do not read that God had grace on any others, for He did not, for if He had, they too would have come through the flood. In fact, not all of those who came through the flood were saved spiritually, though they were saved physically. The ark was a picture of spiritual salvation, but was literally only a physical salvation. Noah is the only one who we have clear indication was spiritually saved, as he 'found grace in the eyes of the LORD.' The ark is more correctly a picture of the church, which according to Matthew 7:22, will contain many false professors of salvation.
Space prohibits us from looking at this in depth, but if we read Romans 1, it is clear that this passage refers particularly to the sons and daughters-in-law of Noah. It says that they 'did not like to retain God in their knowledge,' and that they eventually degenerated into a perverse people. Indeed, Ham was cursed shortly after the eight left the ark for a sin against his father which was very likely a sexual sin! Ham was never a saved man!
If we study the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, we find that only a small percentage of the earth's inhabitants were ever dealt with by God, much less brought to salvation. There has always been a mere 'remnant' that believed unto salvation. Every nation on earth is descended from the three sons of Noah, yet they left God almost immediately upon exiting the ark! After experiencing a tremendous and supernatural deliverance of God, they willingly drove God from their thoughts and made up their own Gods, fashioned after their wicked imaginations. They became, in a very short time, just like those whom God had destroyed by the flood!
There are three phrases which have tremendous weight in Romans 1. The first is, God also gave them up to uncleanness, the second is God gave them up unto vile affections, and the third is, God gave them over to a reprobate mind. In other words, God allowed them to go their own way. He did not work in them to change, but continually endured their digression and transgressions. Though He was indeed longsuffering, in that He did not destroy them, the fact that they were able to put God out of their mind is a clear indication that God was not actively dealing with them. If God was literally not willing that any should perish in the broad sense, He surely would have dealt with them and they would be saved!
Some might argue, at this point, that the New Testament age is different than the Old testament age, and that now, God has a different plan. After all, this is the age of grace, and the age of the Holy Spirit. They would say because the New Testament command is to preach the gospel to every creature, (Mark 16:15) this is clear indication that God now has in His mind to save everybody, yet He is thwarted by Satan's devices and man's strong will. This argument is nullified by the New Testament itself in several places.
In Romans chapter 9, we see the clearest presentation of the will of God given in the New Testament. We see that the will of God is referred to at least nine times. God is said to have mercy on whom He will, and compassion on whom He will. It is said that God hardeneth whom He will. Paul also deals with man's will and shows that man's will is not even a consideration in the final analysis, because Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected before they were ever born and even had a will, or had ever resisted God's will!! He also states that it is not a matter of a man being willing anyhow, nor of anything a man has done.
Romans 9:16 tells us, So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. Salvation is not about what one desires or does, it is to show the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, and Paul goes on to say, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles, as seen in verses 23&24.
While Paul does say that God was longsuffering toward the vessels of wrath, the phrases fitted to destruction, and willing to show his wrath, and make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor, as well as the question, Who hath resisted his will? gives evidence that the Lord has not dealt in these individuals to bring them to salvation. This means that God was in a sense 'willing' to let these perish, in order that His purpose be fulfilled. He did not desire it, but He was passive towards them and they willingly chose the way that all men choose if God does not work in them. Therefore they are without excuse, and can in no way blame God for their fate.
I now want to address the phrase ...is longsuffering to us-ward. Who does this refer to, and what does it signify?
This could apply to mankind in general, and the lost especially as seen if we look at this verse in conjunction with I Peter 3:20, where Peter again refers to the longsuffering of God. He states that God was longsuffering in the days of Noah to those who were disobedient. In Genesis 6:3, God said He would not always strive with man, but would tolerate the condition of the world for 120 years while the ark was being prepared by Noah. It could be said that God was allowing iniquity to fully justify His destruction of mankind.
To see this truth in more detail, look at Genesis 15:13-16, where God tells Abraham that the people of God will not return to Canaan from Egypt until the fourth generation, because the iniquity of the Amorites [is] not yet full. In the words of Gill, therefore as yet [the Amorites - JMG] would not be turned out of the land, and the seed of Abram could not till then inherit it: wicked people have a measure of iniquity to fill up, which is known of God; some are longer, some are quicker in filling it up, during which time God waits patiently and bears with them; but, when it is completed, he stays no longer, but takes vengeance on them.'
We may look to Matthew 23:29-33, where the Lord Jesus condemns the Scribes and Pharisees, and especially verse 32 where He states, fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Then, too, we see in Revelation 15:7 that God has 7 vials which have become filled with His wrath, which are then poured out on the earth as seen in Chapter 16:1. This was due to the sin of mankind.
From these passages, we can see that the Lord is longsuffering to mankind so that when He judges, there will be no doubt He has been right in doing so.
There is also a sense in which the Lord has been longsuffering to His own people, and thus us-ward can be said to refer to this group as well. This is not so much meaning that the Lord endures our sin, but that He is tolerant of our human frailties.
If we again consider the passage in II Peter referring to the days of Noah, we know that God had to give Noah time to build a huge vessel, somewhere near 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. To say that this was an enormous undertaking would be an understatement. This task took Noah longer than the entire life-span of all but the hardiest of those in our day!
Noah had no modern tools at his disposal and worked almost alone, supposing even that his sons helped him. In the early years they were too young, so the Lord had to endure the conditions of the world while they matured as well. Even when the were older, four men building the ark was a daunting task to say the least.
Let us now bring this to the days of Peter and forward to our day, with reference to the longsuffering of God to us-ward, being His longsuffering to the modern-day saints and the church.
The Lord is dependant upon His people to get the gospel out to all those He desires to bring into the kingdom. Yet we are limited by our abilities to reach them, and by the resources which we have at our disposal to do so.
Gods sheep are scattered far and wide, and they have been deceived and are yet being deceived by decisional regeneration, which makes the task extremely difficult.
Most of the churches which stand for the truth with regards to genuine salvation are small and have little influence and meager means.
In spite of this, we can be assured by the verse that God will be gracious and endure until all those He desires to have are brought into the fold. He truly is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, so far as it applies to His sheep.
In closing, let me say that II Peter 3:9 should cause you to rejoice greatly if you are indeed saved, as it says that the Lord's promise is on the way despite what scoffers may say, and what the circumstances may seem to indicate. Lift up your head dear saint of God, your redemption draweth nigh!! We have not long to wait for the promise to be fulfilled, and we have God's sure word on it!
It should be further encouragement to know that when the Lord brings things to a close, not one of His sheep will be missing from the Heavenly Assembly! - J. M. G.