03 June, 2019

II Peter 3:9—“… not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance …”

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 Pet. 3:9).

This text is one of the most appealed-to passages in the Bible for support of the “well-meant gospel offer” (the notion that the Almighty earnestly desires, wills, wishes, and wants to save the reprobate wicked).

The appeal is usually made to the very last clause in the verse, “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The text is then read like this: “Not willing that any single person on the face of the earth should perish, but that every one of them should come to repentance.”


Rev. Angus Stewart

[Source: “Does II Peter 3:9 Teach That God Desires to Save Absolutely Everybody?”—originally published in the Covenant Reformed News, vol. 10, nos. 1-2 (May-June 2004)]

II Peter 3:9 is often (ab)used by Arminians against God’s eternal reprobation. Many half-quote and misapply this verse, in preaching, in discussion and even in prayer. They tell God that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (thinking that this means that He desires to save everybody), before asking for the salvation of their loved ones.

Pray for the conversion of your unbelieving friends and family (according to God’s will)! But do not build your petitions on a false view of God! If God really desires to save all head for head, then why are they not saved? Is His hand too short or His arm too weak (cf. Isa. 59:1)? Is His will thwarted (cf. Dan. 4:35)? Do His purposes depend on the will of puny man, so that though God wishes to save everybody, most won’t let Him? The true God “is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3). Any god who does not do what he pleases is not in the heavens. He is only in man’s head.

Yet does the verse not say that God is “not willing that any should perish?” But what does “any” mean here? And what is the context in II Peter 3?

We will consider the latter question first. Scoffers are denying Christ’s second coming (v. 3). “Everything continues much as it has done,” they say (v. 4)—the modern “scientific” equivalent of this is “uniformitarianism.” Peter explains that these people are willingly ignorant of the universal flood which destroyed the world in Noah’s day (vv. 5-6). All things have not continued as they were from the creation!

Contrary to the scoffers, Peter affirms that “the day of the Lord will come” (v. 10). It will be “a day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (v. 7). Man judges time from his own creaturely perspective but things are viewed differently by the eternal God who created time: “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). Today, people doubt if Christ is really coming back because almost 2,000 years have passed; but with God it is only as two days, so to speak! God “is not slack concerning his promise” of the return of Christ, though foolish men may wrongly reckon that He is (v. 9). Peter concludes his argument by explaining why Christ has not yet returned: the Lord “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9).

If “all,” here, means all head for head, then Christ has not yet returned because He wants to save everybody. However, some have already perished in their sins and not all who are living or who are yet to be born will be saved. Thus Christ will never return. Therefore, there will be no final judgment (v. 7), no purging of this fallen creation (vv. 7, 10-12) and no new heavens and new earth (v. 13). Thus we lose a vital incentive for godliness (vv. 11-14). God’s promise (vv. 4, 9) is a lie and the church’s hope (vv. 12-14) a delusion, for Christ is not coming back. The Arminian (and free offer) view of II Peter 3:9 destroys eschatology, the faithfulness of God and the salvation of the church!

But who, then, are the “any” of II Peter 3:9? Three lines of argument lead to the same conclusion: they are the beloved people of God.

First, we should notice the word “us-ward” in the text: “The Lord ... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The apostle refers to the same people as “us-ward” and “any.” The Lord is longsuffering to us and so is not willing that any (of us) should perish. The “us” are referred to as “beloved” in the previous verse: “But, beloved ... the Lord ... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish” (vv. 8-9). Against the dark backdrop of the destruction of the world and His fearful judgment upon the ungodly, the Lord assures us four times in II Peter 3 (vv. 1, 8, 14, 17) that we are His "beloved" people, loved with the everlasting, irresistible, gracious love of God, according to our eternal “election” (1:10).

Second, Peter explains that the “longsuffering” of II Peter 3:9 is not an ineffectual wish of God to save everybody, for a few verses later he tells us that “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (v. 15). Here Peter teaches that those to whom God is longsuffering are saved. This is an established fact to be reckoned as a first principle in understanding God’s longsuffering: “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (v. 15).

Third, we should note the preposition taken by “longsuffering” in II Peter 3:9. Sometimes “longsuffering” takes the prepositions “upon” or “towards.” Here “into” is used. Literally, the text reads, “the Lord ... is longsuffering into us-ward.” This indicates the closest possible connection between God’s longsuffering and ussuch that God’s longsuffering grabs hold of us and effects our salvation.

Now we are ready to answer the question: Why did Christ not return, say, in the year 99 or 872 or 1356 or 2003? The answer is that some of God’s elect people had not yet been born and called. Only when the last member of Christ’s body is added, only when the last living stone is fitted in God’s temple, only when all the sheep are called, will Christ come again. When the bride is made ready, the bridegroom will come!

Remember too that the salvation of each member is necessary for the rest of the elect, for the church is an organism. Either all are saved together or all perish together, for, if one is lost, all are lost.

God’s “promise” and “longsuffering” and “will” are that none of His people “perish” but that “all ... come to repentance” (v. 9). Through the preaching of the gospel, all the elect are gathered and then (and only then) does Christ return to judge the ungodly and renew the creation. Be patient … for the coming of the Lord draws nigh!


[The following list of historical quotes is the fine work of Rev. Angus Stewart, minister of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland (www.cprf.co.uk).]



Fulgentius of Ruspe (468-533)

[Source: De remissione peccatorum 2.2, 1-3; quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), pp. 62-64]

So the blessed Peter says, The Lord does not delay in his promise, as some regard delay, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) ... He does not want anyone to perish, namely, of those whom he foreknew and predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). No one of these perishes. For who opposes his will (Rom. 9:19)? These are visited freely by the mercy of God before the end of this present life; they are moved for their salvation with a contrite and humbled heart and all by divine gifts are converted to penance to which they are divinely predestined by free grace, so that, converted, they may not perish, but have life eternal ... Because he who has done all things he wanted wants this, what he wants he always does invincibly. And so that is fulfilled in them which the unchangeable and invincible will of almighty God has, whose will, just as it cannot be changed in its plans, so neither is his power stopped or hindered in its execution; because neither is anyone able justly to censure his justice, nor can anyone stand opposed to his mercy ... Therefore, when the Apostle Peter says that God is patient, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), let us not so understand the word “all” as stated above, as if there is no one who will not do a fitting penance, but we must understand “all” here as those to whom God gives penance in such a way that he may also give them the gift of perseverance, i.e., those who are converted by the prevenient divine mercy in such a way that by the same subsequent mercy, they will never go back to the serious sins which they have renounced. These are the ones to whom, as Paul says, God grants ... repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth and that they may return to their sense out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will (2 Tim. 2:25-26).



John Calvin (1509-1564)


[Source: Institutes 3.24.16, 17, pp. 984, 985]

“God does not will that any should perish but that he should receive all to repentance” [II Peter 3:9 p.]. But the solution of the difficulty occurs immediately in the second phrase, because the will to receive to repentance can only be understood in the sense generally taught. Conversion is obviously in God's hand: when he promises that he will give a certain few a heart of flesh but leave the rest with a heart of stone [Ezek. 36:26], let him be asked whether he wills to convert all ... God is said to have ordained from eternity those whom he wills to embrace in love, and those upon whom he wills to vent his wrath.


[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000), p. 49]

Calvin’s comments on 2 Peter 3:9 (“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”) explain that this passage does not refer to God’s secret purpose, “according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel.” In the gospel, God “stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.” Calvin does not say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate. In fact, when he cites this passage in the Institutes, he says that when God “promises that he will give a certain few a heart of stone [Ezek. 36:26], let him be asked whether he wants to convert all.”



John Knox (c. 1514-1572)

[Source: On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist [1560], pp. 417-418; cf. 360; spelling and punctuation modernized]

The Apostle Saint Peter saith, “The Lord that hath promised is not slow, but he is long suffering towards us, while that he will none to perish, but will receive all to repentance” [II Peter 3:9]. The Apostle here meaneth not that all, without exception, shall be received to life by true repentance, but that the cause why God so long deferreth (as it were) the extreme judgment, is, that the elect number of God’s children may be complete (as answer was given to those that cried under the altar, to be revenged of the tyrannies that dwell on the earth [Rev. 6:9-11]) of these his elect children God will none to perish, as before is said. But there is another sort of sinner, far different from these. For neither are they displeased with themselves, neither yet hate they iniquity, but against God’s express commandments furiously they run, with Cain to murder the innocent, with Pharaoh to oppress the people of God, with Judas to betray the known and professed verity; and, finally so delight they in all filthiness and impiety, that they can not repent. The eyes of such be blinded, their hearts are hardened, they are given over into a reprobate mind. And for them doth not Christ Jesus pray [John 17:9], and therefore they can do nothing but headlong run from evil to worse, as the Devil (to whose tyranny they are committed) doth drive them, till finally they come to perdition; which end was appointed unto them, not against God’s will, but by his will immutable in his eternal counsel. For no loss will he that the severity of his judgments be seen in the vessels of wrath, than that the riches of his grace be praised in the vessels of mercy [Rom. 9:22-23]. Storm and rage, spew forth your venom and blaspheme, till you provoke God’s vengeance at once to be poured forth upon your own heads; this sentence will be never retracted. He will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he maketh hard-hearted [Rom. 9:18]. That God in himself hath but one will, which is holy, just, and permanent, that in him there is no contrarity; that he is faithful, and doth perform whatsoever he doth promise.



Theodore Beza (1519-1605)

[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer, “Blaming Beza: The Development of Definite Atonement in the Reformed Tradition,” in David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (eds.), From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), p. 131]

A number of interpreters, [Theodore] Beza notes, distort this passage [i.e., II Pet. 3:9] in order to remove the distinction between eternal election and reprobation, not realizing in the meantime that they get themselves caught by Charybdis while seeking to flee Scylla. For if that is the case, people would perish contrary to God's will. A permission that is indifferent and separate from the decree is more Epicurean than Christian. Those, on the other hand, who would assert that in reality the will of God can be changed utter an even greater impiety than Epicurus.



Theodore Beza's Confession (1560)

[Source: Quoted in James T. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), p. 333]

Finally, we believe according to the Word of God that in the time ordained of God (Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 4:7), which time the very angels do not know (Matt. 24:36; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-2), Jesus Christ seeing the number of his elect fulfilled and accomplished (Rev. 6:11; 2 Peter 3:9) will come from heaven bodily with His divine majesty (Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30), this old world being consumed by fire (2 Peter 3:10).



Confession of Tarcal (1562) and Torda (1563), a Hungarian Reformed creed drafted by Péter Melius Juhász (1532-1572) who appears to have used Theodore Beza's Confession (1560) with considerable modifications:

[Source: Quoted in James T. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), p. 751]

We believe, from the Word of God, that the day is to come at a certain time which even the angels do not know, when, after the number of the elect is fulfilled and the world has been purged by fire, Jesus Christ will come from heaven in His visible and true human form (but clothed in divine majesty), that all men that have existed from the beginning of the world may appear before Him (Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 4:7; Matt. 24:13, 36; 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 6:11; 2 Peter 3:9, 12; Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30).



Jacobus Kimedoncius (c.1550-1596)

[Source: Of the Redemption of Mankind, trans. Hugh Ince (London: Felix Kingston, 1598), p. 261; spelling and punctuation modernized]

The Lord is not slack of his promises, as some count slackness, but he is patient towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance [II Pet. 3:9]. If he wills none to perish, it is false that in his eternal counsel he has decreed, and therefore wills, that some, yea very many, should perish. Again, if he wills all to repent, it is false that God wills not that all by repentance should be brought to Christ and live. In these [Samuel] Huber [Kimedoncius’ Lutheran adversary] wonderfully delights himself, but all in vain, so long as that [word] of the Psalmist stands, Our God is in heaven, he does whatever he wills [Ps. 115:3], and that [word] of the apostle, On whom he will he has mercy and whom he will he hardens [Rom. 9:18]. But lest we should seem to set one Scripture against another, to reconcile them, we must know that the saying of Peter is not without cause expounded by learned men of the universality of the elect, not only because the like restraint is very often [found] in the like places of the sacred Scriptures, but also because the matter itself seems here to require it. For what? Is the end of the world deferred for the reprobates’ sake? When they shall believe, says Ambrose [on I Timothy 2], that are predestinate unto eternal life, the resurrection shall come.



David Dickson (1583-1663)

[Source: Commentary on All St. Paul’s Epistles, in loc.]

This delaying doth not proceed from slackness, as some judge, but from the patience of God towards us, to wit, the elect, whereas many as yet are not converted, and whereof God will have none perish, but all (in his time) to come to repentance [II Pet. 3:9], which cannot be unless the coming of Christ should be deferred to a season. For if God should anticipate the time of judgment, decreed by himself, some of them, which he hath chosen to salvation from eternity, should perish.



Geneva Bible (1599)

[Source: Comm. on II Peter 3:8-9]

The Lord will surely come, because he has promised: and neither sooner nor later than he has promised. A reason why the last day does not come too soon, because God patiently waits until all the elect are brought to repentance, that none of them may perish.



The Geneva Theses (1649), drafted by Theodore Tronchin (1582-1657) and Antoine Léger (1594-1661), approved by Geneva's Venerable Company of Pastors and signed on their behalf by the moderator, Joannes Jacobus Sartorius (1619-1690)

[Source: Quoted in James T. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), p. 421; cf. p. 417]

Rejection of the error of those: Who teach that ... most especially the places of Scripture (Ezek. 18:21 etc. and 33:11; John 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) ought to be extended to each and every man and by these the universality of love and grace ought to be proved.



John Owen (1616-1683)


[Source: The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 2, p. 88]

But now, evidently and directly, the end of that patience and forbearance of God which is exercised in Christ, and discovered in him to us, is the saving and bringing unto God those towards whom he is pleased to exercise them. And therefore Peter tells you, 2 Pet. iii.9, that he is “long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;”—that is, all us towards whom he exercises forbearance; for that is the end of it, that his will concerning our repentance and salvation may be accomplished.


[Source: The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 6, p. 138]

He is patient towards his saints; he bears with them, suffers from them. He is “patient to us-ward,” 2 Pet. iii.9,—that is, that believe. The gospel is the word of Christ’s patience even to believers. A soul acquainted with the gospel knows that there is no property of Christ rendered more glorious therein than that of his patience. That he should bear with so many unkindnesses, so many causeless breaches, so many neglects of his love, so many affronts done to his grace, so many violations of engagements as he doth, it manifests his gospel to be not only the word of his grace but also of his patience. He suffers also from them in all the reproaches they bring upon his name and ways; and he suffers in them, for “in all their afflictions he is afflicted.”


[Source: The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 10, pp. 348-349]

“The will of God,” say some, “for the salvation of all, is here set down both negatively, that he would not have any perish, and positively, that he would have all come to repentance ...” Many words need not be spent in answer to this objection, wrested from the misunderstanding and palpable corrupting of the sense of the words of the apostle. That indefinite and general expressions are to be interpreted in an answerable proportion to the things whereof they are affirmed, is a rule in the opening of the Scripture ... Will not common sense teach us that us is to be repeated in both the following clauses, to make them up complete and full,—namely, “Not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance”? ... Now, truly, to argue that because God would have none of those to perish, but all of them to come to repentance, therefore he hath the same will and mind towards all and every one in the world (even those to whom he never makes known his will, nor ever calls to repentance, if they never once hear of his way of salvation), comes not much short of extreme madness and folly ... I shall not need add any thing concerning the contradictions and inextricable difficulties wherewith the opposite interpretation is accompanied ... The text is clear, that it is all and only the elect whom he would not have to perish.


[Source: The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 12, p. 559]

Also, “he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pet. iii.9, even all those towards whom he exercises patience and long-suffering for that end; which, as the apostle here informs us, is “to us-ward,”—that is, to believers, of whom he is speaking.



Francis Turretin (1623-1687)

[Source: Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1992), pp. 412-413]

[The will of God here spoken of] should not be extended further than to the elect and believers (for whose sake God puts off the consummation of ages until their number shall be completed ... Now to this it is evident that the apostle looked: (1) from the pronoun “us” (which precedes with sufficient clearness designating the elect and believers, as elsewhere more than once) and to explain which he adds “not willing that any” (i.e., of us) “should perish”; so that the pronoun should be repeated apo koinou as is often the case; and (2) from the fact that Peter wishes to give the reason of that longsuffering through which God puts off the consummation of the ages (which cannot be drawn from his command, but from his wise counsel for the sake of the elect, by which, as on account of the elect alone, he preserves the world, so he puts off the promise of his coming, even until each and every one of them is brought unto salvation, Rev. 6:11). Nor is it astonishing that, on account of the elect (no one of whom God wills to perish), the end of the world should be put off. For in like manner Christ observes “except those days would be shortened” (which were about to come to the whole of Judaea) “there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Mt. 24:22). As therefore here the days of evil should be shortened on account of the elect Jews (that they might not be overwhelmed with the burden of calamities), so the last day is put off on account of the elect (who are to be brought to Christ, until their whole number be made up). Finally, he speaks of them whom God wills to come to repentance, not only by inviting to it by the precepts and promises of his word, but by working it by the efficacy of the Spirit (since he speaks of those in whom the promise of God should be fulfilled [Mt. 24:9, 13], who are no other than the elect).



Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)

[Source: The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), II:480, 486]

[God’s] delaying his promise is not slackness to his people (2 Pet. iii. 9) ... Since God hath glorified his justice on Christ, as a surety for sinners, his patience is so far from interfering with the rights of his justice, that it promotes it; it is dispensed to this end, that God might pardon with honor, both upon the score of purchased mercy and contented justice; that by a penitent sinner’s return his mercy might be acknowledged free, and the satisfaction of his justice by Christ be glorified in believing: for he is long-suffering from an unwillingness “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. iii. 9); i.e. all to whom the promise is made, for to such the apostle speaks, and calls it “long-suffering to us-ward;” and repentance being an acknowledgement of the demerit of sin, and breaking off unrighteousness, gives a particular glory to the freeness of mercy, and the equity of justice.



Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711)

[Source: The Christian's Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), p. 227]

2 Peter 3:9 refers to the elect who will come to repentance and who must first be gathered in before the world perishes. It also makes mention of the command and the declaration of the gospel which commands everyone who hears it to repent, speaking of both God’s pleasure and displeasure relative to repentance or the lack of it.



Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

[Source: Comm. on II Peter 3:9]

What men count slackness is truly longsuffering, and that to us-ward; it is giving more time to His own people, whom He hath chosen before the foundation of the world, many of whom are not as yet converted; and those who are in a state of grace and favour with God are to advance in knowledge and holiness, and in the exercise of faith and patience, to abound in good works, doing and suffering what they are called to, that they may bring glory to God and improve in a meetness for heaven; for God is not willing that any of these should perish, but that all of them should come to repent.



John Gill (1697-1771)

[Source: The Cause of God and Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1980), pp. 62-63]

It is not true that God is not willing any one individual of the human race should perish, since he has made and appointed the wicked for the day of evil [Prov. 16:4], even ungodly men, who are fore-ordained to this condemnation [Jude 4], such as are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction [Rom. 9:22]; yea, there are some to whom God sends strong delusions, that they may believe a lie, that they all might be damned [II Thess. 2:11-12] ... Nor is it his will that all men, in this large sense, should come to repentance, since he withholds from many both the means and grace of repentance ... The key, therefore, to open this text lies in these words ... to usward ... called beloved [II Peter 3:1, 8, 14, 17]. Besides the design of these words is to establish the saints in, and comfort them with the coming of Christ, until which, God was long-suffering towards them, and which they were to account salvation [v. 15].



James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862)

[Source: The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell (Edinburgh: Banner, 1974), vol. 2, p. 167; italics Thornwell’s]

[We] shall consider the most forcible [texts], or those to which Arminians frequently appeal. The first which I shall notice is 2 Peter iii. 9: “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” I think it exceedingly doubtful whether the words any and all have an indiscriminate application in this passage. The context would seem to confine them within the limits of the “us” spoken of just above. This will appear by taking the whole verse in its connection: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise”—that is, the promise of His second coming—“as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward.” To whom? We cannot refer the “us” to any but those who in the eighth verse are addressed as “beloved.” It would seem, then, to designate only God’s elect. Now, why is God long-suffering to His elect? Because He is “not willing that any”—that is, any of them—“should perish,” but that all—that is, all of them—“should come to repentance.” In other words, Christ delays His second coming, and will continue to delay it, until all His elect are savingly gathered into His kingdom and His mystical body completed. This, I confess, appears to me to be the most natural and obvious interpretation of the passage. It certainly is grammatical, and harmonizes well with the context.



Thomas E. Peck (1822-1893)

[Source: The Writings of Thomas E. Peck, ed. T. C. Johnson (Edinburgh: Banner, 1999), vol. 3, p. 390]

The time is fixed; but so long as there breathes upon earth one solitary human being for whom Jesus has laid down his life, who has been ordained to faith, repentance, and life eternal, and destined to be an assessor with Jesus upon his throne, so long shall the heavens contain him whom our soul loveth but after the number of the elect shall have been accomplished, not one moment longer. Then shall he be revealed, and the earth with all its works and wickedness be given to the flames.



Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)

[Source: Particular Grace (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2001), pp. 47-48]

But notice carefully how all that profit is lost, and the sense of it becomes debatable if, for other reasons, the idea of general grace is injected into the text, for I arrive, then, at this absurd reasoning: “Jesus cannot come yet, because God’s will must be fulfilled, and according to God’s will, all individuals must first come to conversion!” Yet ... if Jesus cannot come until all men come to conversion, “then Jesus will never come,” because, first, there are already hundreds and thousands of people no longer living who died unconverted and for whom, therefore, that postponement of Jesus’ return to this world no longer has any significance. Second, there are millions more who will die tomorrow and the day after or in another year without ever having heard of Jesus, and for whom that delay has no benefit, either. Finally, this return of Jesus can be unfulfilled indefinitely. If God allows new generations of people continuously to be born without setting a maximum number of inhabitants, the return of Jesus will have to be delayed until these people, too, are converted. And that delay would be indefinite, since the population of the world continuously increases in an astonishing manner and the possibility multiplies daily that not all will come to conversion. This line of thinking does not ring true. It does not make sense. It is the most absurd thinking one could imagine and is without rhyme or reason. No, if I want to demonstrate why the Lord God, according to human wisdom, fulfills the promise of Christ’s return somewhat later than we had first imagined, then that is only intelligible if I have a firm point of reference from which to calculate. If the total number of people that will be born is fixed, and if God knows for whom, from among all men, a place must be prepared in his heaven, yes, then I understand very well that Jesus cannot return before all have safely arrived. The line of thought is completely sound, clear and transparent when I say, “God is delaying because there are some unconverted who are elect, and God does not want any of the number of the elect to be absent one day, even if it be only a few, but he wants all of them to have come to repentance before Jesus appears” ... Literally nothing of this entire objection of general grace remains. In II Peter 3:9 nothing else can be meant but this: “Jesus cannot come until the number of the elect is full, and since many of the elect are not yet converted, he is postponing his second coming by being longsuffering. He does not want some of them to perish through his premature return, but he wants all of them to come to conversion first.



A. W. Pink (1886-1952)


[Source: The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), pp. 205-207]

Perhaps the one passage which has presented the greatest difficulty to those who have seen that passage after passage in Holy Writ plainly teaches the election of a limited number unto salvation is 2 Peter 3:9: “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The first thing to be said upon the above passage is that, like all other scripture, it must be understood and interpreted in the light of its context. What we have quoted in the preceding paragraph is only part of the verse, and the last part of it at that! Surely it must be allowed by all that the first half of the verse needs to be taken into consideration. In order to establish what these words are supposed by many to mean, viz., that the words “any” and “all” are to be received without any qualification, it must be shown that the context is referring to the whole human race! If this cannot be shown, if there is no premise to justify this, then the conclusion also must be unwarranted. Let us then ponder the first part of the verse. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” Note “promise” in the singular number, not “promises.” What promise is in view? The promise of salvation? Where, in all Scripture, has God ever promised to save the whole human race!! Where indeed? No, the “promise” here referred to is not about salvation. What then is it? The context tells us. “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?” (vv. 3, 4). The context then refers to God’s promise to send back His beloved Son. But many long centuries have passed, and this promise has not yet been fulfilled. True, but long as the delay may seem to us, the interval is short in the reckoning of God. As the proof of this we are reminded, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). In God’s reckoning of time, less than two days have yet passed since He promised to send back Christ. But more, the delay in the Father sending back His beloved Son is not only due to no “slackness” on His part, but it is also occasioned by His “longsuffering.” His long-suffering to whom? The verse we are now considering tells us: “but is longsuffering to usward.” And whom are the “usward”?—the human race, or God’s own people? In the light of the context this is not an open question upon which each of us is free to form an opinion. The Holy Spirit has defined it. The opening verse of the chapter says, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you.” And, again, the verse immediately preceding declares, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, etc.” (v. 8). The “usward” then are the “beloved” of God. They to whom this Epistle is addressed are “them that have obtained (not “exercised,” but “obtained” as God’s sovereign gift) like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). Therefore we say there is no room for a doubt, a quibble or an argument—the “usward” are the elect of God. Let us now quote the verse as a whole: “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.” Could anything be clearer? The “any” that God is not willing should perish, are the “usward” to whom God is “longsuffering,” the “beloved” of the previous verses. 2 Peter 3:9 means, then, that God will not send back His Son until “the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). God will not send back Christ till that “people” whom He is now “taking out of the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14) are gathered in. God will not send back His Son till the Body of Christ is complete, and that will not be till the ones whom He has elected to be saved in this dispensation shall have been brought to Him. Thank God for His “longsuffering to us-ward.” Had Christ come back twenty years ago the writer had been left behind to perish in His sins. But that could not be, so God graciously delayed the Second Coming. For the same reason He is still delaying His Advent. His decreed purpose is that all His elect will come to repentance, and repent they shall. The present interval of grace will not end until the last of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are safely folded—then will Christ return.


[Source: The Atonement (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications, n.d.), p. 260]

The last clause of II Peter 3:9 is frequently quoted, but without any attention being given to the first part of it. Is that honest? The “any” whom the Lord is “not willing” should perish, is clearly defined: verse 8 shows that it is God’s “beloved” who are here addressed and referred to. The “promise” which He is “not slack” in fulfilling, has reference to the return of Christ (v. 4), which “scoffers” (v. 3) suppose will never be fulfilled. The great reason why God has not yet sent back His Son is because the last of His elect have not been regenerated: all of them shall come to repentance before human history can be wound up and verse 10 fulfilled. Thus, the “any” looks back to the “us-ward” in the previous part of the verse!



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: Reformed Dogmatics (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2004), vol. 1, pp. 168-169]

With a view to the glorious hope of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, believers are exhorted to account the longsuffering of God as salvation [II Pet. 3:15]. In the epistles of Peter, the church is conceived as the company of strangers and sojourners in the world, who have the promise of final salvation and hope for the realization of that promise, but who, while in the world, must suffer for Christ’s sake. Especially because of their present state of distress and tribulation in the world, they fervently long for the realization of the promise and for the coming of the Lord in glory. Undoubtedly, they had expected the coming of the Lord at an early date, forgetting that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day [v. 8]. Under all these circumstances they began to be impatient. Their condition was aggravated by the scorn of the mockers, who pointed to the patent fact that all things remained as they had been from the beginning [vv. 3-4]. Thus the saints considered it slackness that the Lord had not yet fulfilled His promise. But the apostle exclaims that this apparent tarrying of the Lord is not to be looked upon as slackness [v. 9]. This is only a negative way of saying that He will come as soon as possible for the salvation of His elect. As the Lord expressed it at the close of the parable of the unjust judge, He will avenge them speedily [Luke 18:7-8]. The fact that He is still tarrying must accounted as His longsuffering toward the elect. They must all be saved. He is not willing that any of them should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Only after the number of the elect is full can the promise of God be finally and completely realized. It is not necessary to add that the interpretation that explains the term all as referring to all men is utterly impossible.



Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985)

[Source: I & II Peter (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980), p. 71]

Arminians have used the verse in defense of their theory of universal atonement. They believe that God willed to save every human being without exception and that something beyond his control happened so as to defeat his eternal purpose. The doctrine of universal redemption is not only refuted by Scripture generally, but the passage in question makes nonsense on such a view ... Peter is telling us that Christ’s return awaits the repentance of certain people. Now, if Christ’s return awaited the repentance of every individual without exception, Christ would never return ... This is no new interpretation. The Similitudes viii, xi,1 in the Shepherd of Hermas (c. A.D. 130-150) ... says ‘But the Lord, being long-suffering, wishes (thelei) those who were called (ten klesin ten genomenen) through his Son to be saved.’ ... It is the called or elect whom God wills to save.



John H. Gerstner (1914-1996)

[Source: Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), pp. 143-144, 145; italics Gerstner’s]

Murray and Stonehouse insist that, though God truly desires the salvation of the reprobate, He does not decree that. Rather, He decrees the opposite. They recognize theirs as a very dangerous position and appeal to great mystery: “We have found [e.g., in II Peter 3:9] that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hidden in the sovereign counsel of his will.” However this is not “mystery” but bald contradiction ... The question facing us here is whether God could “desire” that which He does not bring to pass. There is no question at all that He can desire certain things, and these things which He desires He possesses and enjoys in Himself eternally. Otherwise, He would not be the ever-blessed God. The Godhead desires each Person in the Godhead and enjoys each eternally. The Godhead also desires to create, and He (though He creates in time) by creating enjoys so doing eternally. Otherwise, He would be eternally bereft of a joy He presently possesses and would have increased in joy if He later possessed it—both of which notions are impossible. He would thereby have changed (which is also impossible) and would have grown in the wisdom of a new experience (which is blasphemous to imagine). If God's very blessedness means the oneness of His desire and His experience, is not our question (whether He could desire what He does not desire) rhetorical? Not only would He otherwise be bereft of some blessedness which would reduce Him to finitude, but He would be possessed of some frustration which would not only bereave Him of some blessedness, but would manifestly destroy all blessedness. This is clearly the case because His blessedness would be mixed with infinite regret. Our God would be the ever-miserable, ever-blessed God. His torment in the eternal damnation of sinners would be as exquisite as it is everlasting. He would actually suffer infinitely more than the wicked. Indeed, He would Himself be wicked because He would have sinfully desired what His omniscience would have told Him He could never have. But why continue to torture ourselves? God, if He could be frustrated in His desires, simply would not be God.



William Young (1918-)

The broader context of 2 Peter 3 confirms the particularist view of the passage [i.e., verse 9]. Why does the second coming of Christ seem to be delayed? Because in the longsuffering of God the elect, who sometimes long resist the gospel overtures, must all be made willing in the day of God’s power before they stand before the throne on the great day.



Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013)

[Source: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), p. 695]

Finally, there is the statement of 2 Peter 3:9 which the universalist alleges also teaches a universal saving will in God: “[The Lord] is patient with you, because he does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Again, the contextual universe will allow no such conclusion. In 3:8 Peter addresses those to whom he is writing as “Beloved,” a term everywhere acknowledged to be a term for Christians or God’s elect. Then to them he says: “[The Lord] is patient with you” (referring to the Christians he is addressing), offering as his ground for this reassuring promise to these Christians the axiomatic truth: “because he does not want any [of you elect] to perish, but all [of you] to come to repentance.” Clearly the referent of his ‘any’ is the Christian elect to whom he has been speaking and his “all” refers to the elect of God in their entirety; and his point is God’s concern for the church: the Lord, he says, is delaying his coming in order that he might bring the whole elect of God to repentance. To argue to the contrary, that is [as John Owen states in The Death of Death], “to argue that because God would have none of those to perish, but all of them to come to repentance, therefore he hath the same will and mind towards all and everyone in the world (even those to whom he never makes known his will, nor ever calls to repentance, if they never once hear of his way of salvation), comes not much short of extreme madness and folly” ... Calvin argues that what Peter means here is that God wills that those be saved whom he brings to repentance, and then he argues that God, in whose hand resides the authority to grant repentance, does not will to give repentance to all men without exception (Institutes, III.xxiv.16).



R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

[Source: Chosen by God (England: Scripture Press, 1987), p. 197]

The text says more than simply that God is not willing that any should perish. The whole clause is important: “but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” What is the antecedent of any? It is clearly us. Does us refer to all of us humans? Or does it refer to us Christians, the people of God? Peter is fond of speaking of the elect as a special group of people. I think what he is saying here is that God does not will that any of us (the elect) perish.



John Bolt

[Source: “Herman Hoeksema Was Right (On the Three Points That Really Matter)” in Arie C. Leder and Richard A. Muller (eds.), Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), pp. 298-299; italics Bolt’s]

The first section of this four-part set of reflections [in Abraham Kuyper’s Particular Grace] is headed, Geen Christus pro omnibus (No Christ for All), and in it Kuyper takes a close look at three biblical passages used by defenders of universal or common grace in a soteriological sense [including the well-meant offer]: 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; and 2 Peter 3:9. He begins by addressing a presumption he finds in many allegedly “orthodox” circles in the Dutch Reformed Church that the expression Christus pro omnibus  expresses evangelical truth. Lest there be any doubt about the matter, Kuyper explains that “By ‘Christ for all’ is meant that Christ, according to the purpose and extent of his self-sacrifice, died for all men without exception.” What is chilling about Kuyper’s opening gambit in this first meditation is the fierce evangelical passion with which the proponents of this “Christ for all” proclaim it. Kuyper describes one of them “shouting shamelessly” from the pulpit, “Whoever preaches another gospel is accursed!” The slogan was so prevalent at the time, says Kuyper, that “whoever does not yield to that notion is cast out of the synagogue.” Kuyper explains further that, try as he may, he “could not live with the pro omnibus” and received the courage to “venture at least a feeble attempt at a counter defense” from “a whole cloud of glorious witnesses who were uniquely gifted by God’s Holy Spirit.” It is his intention, he adds, “to demonstrate briefly that this cloud of witnesses actually did not know a grace that would not be particular.” For our purposes in this essay, we need not follow Kuyper’s extended exposition of the three passages mentioned above; we need only take note of his conclusion: “The three major texts with which people usually attempt to terrify the one who confesses particular grace have been tested and examined so thoroughly that in that examination those arguments completely collapsed. There is nothing in these texts which provides proof for general grace [including a well-meant offer]” ... Kuyper mines Scripture and the history of the church in order to build an overwhelming cumulative case for the preposition that grace must be particular.



James R. White

[Source: The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), pp. 145, 147-148; italics White’s]

This is surely the most popular passage cited (almost never with any reference to the context) to “prove” that God could not possibly desire to save a specific people but instead desires to save every single individual person ... Peter writes to a specific group, not to all of mankind. “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” [II Pet. 1:1]. This not only refers to faith as a gift, as we will see in a later chapter, but it surely limits the context to the saved, for they have received this faith “by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” ... There is nothing in chapter three that indicates a change in audience, and much to tell us the audience remains exactly the same. Since this is so, it becomes quite clear that the Arminian is badly misusing this passage by ignoring what Peter is really saying. The patience of the Lord is displayed toward His elect people (the “you” of verse 9). Therefore, the “not wishing any to perish” must be limited to the same group already in view: the elect. In the same way, the “all to come to repentance” must be the very same group. In essence Peter is saying the coming of the Lord has been delayed so that all the elect of God can be gathered in. Any modern Christian lives and knows Christ solely because God’s purpose has been to gather in His elect down through the ages to this present day. There is no reason to expand the context of the passage into a universal proclamation of a desire on God’s part that every single person come to repentance. Instead, it is clearly His plan and His will that all the elect come to repentance, and they most assuredly will do so.



Matthew Winzer

[Source: “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review,” The Blue Banner (October/December, 2000), vol. 9, issue 10-12, pp. 18-19; italics Winzer’s]

It is to be clarified that the text does not say that in His longsuffering God wills that none should perish. The wording is that God is long-suffering to us-ward. That is, God acts in a particular way towards the objects of His longsuffering and that is because He is not willing that they should perish. The will here is not a will of command, but of decree. It is God acting for the purpose of procuring what He has willed. And the word should cannot signify obligation in this context. In the original, the infinitive is employed—to perish—so that a more accurate rendering would be that God “is not willing for any to perish.” So, once again, the report has predicated that God both wills and does not will that all be saved, and this in the same sense, decretively. It is impossible to generalise the last clause of 2 Pet. 3:9 for the purpose of making it inclusive of all men. The clause is subordinate and the construction, eis plus the infinitive, is best understood as a final or purpose clause. As it is a subordinate clause, it is dependent upon a principal clause for its interpretation. The principal clause in this passage is the longsuffering being displayed to us-ward. It is being displayed to us-ward for the purpose that all might come to repentance. The all, therefore, must be all of us, for it is qualified by the principal clause. God is longsuffering to us-ward so that all of us might come to repentance.



Christopher J. Connors

[Source: “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel(Youngtown, Tasmania: The Magazine and Literature Committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, n.d.), p. 32]

God is longsuffering toward His elect because He earnestly desires their repentance and salvation, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” [II Pet. 3:9]. He therefore leads them by His Word outwardly and by His Spirit inwardly and irresistibly to repentance.



Sean Gerety

[Source: “Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel,” The Trinity Review (June-July 2011), Number 300, p. 6]

Second Peter 3:9 is in reference to all of God’s elect and not all men in general



(others …)

Likewise, the Venerable Bede (c.672/673-735) (Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy[Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009], p. 138); Gottschalk (c.808–c.867) (Victor Genke and Francis X. Gumerlock [eds. & trans.], Gottschalk and a Medieval Predestination Controversy: Texts Translated from the Latin [Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2010], pp. 181; cf. 57-59, 66-67, 111, 120-121, 135, 139, 144-145, 173, 176-177, 179); Jeremias Bastingius (1551-1595) (Jonathan Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007], p. 67); David J. Engelsma (Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2014], pp. 148, 170-171); the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (“Universalism and the Reformed Churches: A Defense of Calvin's Calvinism” [Youngtown, Tasmania: The Magazine and Literature Committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, 1997], pp. 14-15, 31-32); Richard Bacon (“In this Issue,” The Blue Banner, vol. 9, issue 10-12 [October/December, 2000], pp. 1-2, cf. 18-20); and Garrett P. Johnson (“The Myth of Common Grace,” The Trinity Review [March/April, 1987]) do not agree with and/or oppose that exegesis of II Peter 3:9 that proposes an unrealized or unfulfilled desire in God to save the reprobate.

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