The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “If God planned to redeem all men, did his plan fail?” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.168)
First of all, God didn’t plan any for Hell, as per Matthew 25:41, and second, God planned redemption in His Son, as per Ephesians 1:4, and that plan, has not failed. The mandate to believe in His Son is given (John 3:16), and the invitation is to all. (Matthew 22:2-10)
Calvinist, James White, writes: “The biblical teaching is that God brings His elect to Himself in love while showing much patience toward those who deserve to be cut off immediately under His wrath (Romans 9:22-23).” (Debating Calvinism, p.269, emphasis mine)
Acts 17:30-31 states: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Romans 2:4: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.”
God’s patience was also expressed at Isaiah 65:2: “‘I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face.’” Matthew 23:37 is similar: “‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.’”
One Calvinist writes: “If God had perfect knowledge of everything before Creation, and the ultimate destination of every soul, in which the world is subdivided between sheep and goats, then 2 Peter 3:9 can’t mean that God is patiently waiting to save the very goats whom He knew perfectly before time that He would never would save. Do you believe that God is senile?”
God knows the ultimate destination of every soul, whether Heaven or Hell. If a person ends up in Hell, by the simple fact that they didn’t have to be there, and wasn’t God’s plan for their life, proves that they have absolutely no excuse at Judgment, and provides a perfectly logical basis (without alleged senility) to say that God was patient and longsuffering towards them, not wishing for them to perish, but that they would have instead come to repentance and received the free offer of pardon that was provided.
The New Living Translation paraphrases: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”
Calvinist, William MacDonald, comments: “God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but there is a limit.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.40, emphasis mine)
MacDonald explains: “He does not want any to perish. His desire is that all should come to repentance. He purposely extends the time of grace so that men might have every opportunity to be saved.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.2302)
Calvinists have advanced two types of interpretations for this passage. One is a secret will theory, and the other supposes that this verse is speaking only of the elect, that is, that God wishes that all those of the alleged, eternal flock of the Father, should not perish, but come to repentance. We’ll look at both interpretations, but will start with the secret will theory since that is how Calvin interpreted this passage:
John Calvin writes: “First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208, emphasis mine)
Calvin also writes: “For faith in Christ brings life to everyone, and Christ brought life because the Heavenly Father loves the human race and wishes that they should not perish.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.76, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers comments: “Now it takes nerve for somebody to change that to read, ‘He is willing that many perish and only some come to repentance.’ How can you do that?” (Our House A Lighthouse: II Corinthians 5:13-21)
Dave Hunt writes, concerning how Calvinism ultimately portrays God: “He pretends to be sincere for repentance, while withholding the very grace men need to repent, having foreordained that man can’t and won’t repent without sovereign regeneration. Calvinism mocks God, His Word, and man himself!” (Debating Calvinism, p.314)
Adrian Rogers continues: “God did not say that some people can be saved and other people cannot be saved, that some are in a select group. No! There is no respect of persons with God. None whatsoever. The Lord is not willing that any should perish. If you go to hell, a broken-hearted God will watch you drop into hell. It is not God’s plan that you die and go to hell. The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (The Christ of the New Testament: Acts 10:43)
Adrian Rogers adds: “Some people submit to the will of God, some people do not. All are called, but not all respond. Those who do not say to God, ‘Not my will, but thine,’ will one day in hell hear God say to them, ‘Not My will, but thine be done.’ What a terrible way to end, resisting God.” (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol.II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, p.94)
God’s wish for none to perish is explicitly conditional upon repentance. However, if God had stated that He unconditionally willed that all men be saved, and then some perish, He would have broken His word. But God conditionally desires that all men become saved, according to 1st Timothy 2:3-4.
However, if God is sovereign, then won’t everyone meet His condition, and thus repent? Arminians do not believe that God’s will is always done on earth “as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) God’s allows people to reject His will for their life. Jesus stated: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)
Calvinists believe that the Arminian perspective portrays God as impotent, in that He struggles along with humanity to save as many as He can, but by and large fails at His purpose to save humanity. To a Calvinist, that cannot be indicative of the true Sovereign God of the universe:
Calvinist, Alan Kurschner, writes: “God desires that his sheep are saved. God desires that his people are saved. He does not desire that every single individual who has ever lived, live in glory with him forever. If that were the case, we have an incompetent, unhappy, and impotent God.” (The Calvinist Gadfly, emphasis mine) Calvinist, Matthew McMahon, writes: “I reject anything which makes God a cosmic bell-hop tending to the commands and demands of sinful men as another gospel. I reject anything which removes God’s sovereignty to place man as the Sovereign as another gospel. I reject anything which denies the sovereign decrees of God and His electing grace to put salvation into the hands of sinful men as another gospel. I reject anything which denies man’s total depravity and exalts his fictitious free will as another gospel. I reject anything which places the perseverance of man to glory in the incapable hands of a sinful man as another gospel. I reject anything which endeavors to treat God as the great Grandfather in the sky beckoning and pleading with man to be saved as changing the true God into a pitiable wimp.” (Why I am a Calvinist, emphasis mine)
We should also keep in mind that God says: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8) Thus, we need to have a healthy mistrust of ourselves, and abandon our own feelings, and submit to exactly what God says, because that is truth. However, Calvinists all too often project their own ideals on to God, and then vilify anyone who disagrees with their perspective of how they feel that God should rule and reign.
Sovereignty arguments are very persuasive to Calvinists. They believe that if God wished for something to happen, and if it didn’t happen, then He couldn’t be sovereign. On that basis, many Calvinists doubt that God really meant what He said at 2nd Peter 3:9, and thereby introduce a two-will theory that God has a Revealed Will and a Secret Will:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “The revealed will was that all men be saved, but the hidden will was that the greater part of mankind be damned.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.195, emphasis mine)
Lutzer explains: “But there is a difference between the decree of God and the desire of God. A moment’s reflection will confirm this distinction. Think of it this way: God did not delight in the death of his Son. We could say that he was not willing that his Son die and suffer in agony upon the cross. Yet, he decreed that it would happen. Christ died at the hands of wicked men doing whatsoever God’s hand ‘predestined to occur’ (Acts 4:28). Clearly, God chose to forego his desires. He desired one thing but decreed another. If we ask why, all that we can do is reply that he had an overriding purpose to accomplish.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.196, emphasis mine)
Actually, the Bible does say that God was willing to “spare not His own Son,” but to deliver Him up for us all. (Romans 8:32, KJV) Therefore, you cannot invent a secret will out of that statement. If you return to the belief that God simply means what He says, then you wouldn’t have to resort to such arguments. Why not simply allow God to be who He is? If God wants to allow man, whom He created, to operate with a free-will, within the confines of what He permits (1st Corinthians 10:13), then so be it.
Lutzer continues: “Similarly, he desires that all men be saved. Yet, on the other hand, he allows the greater part of humanity to perish. We simply do not know why he has chosen to forego his desire to see all men saved.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.197, emphasis mine)
God did’t “forego his desire,” but rather, made it explicitly conditional upon “repentance.” You must believe in Jesus in order to receive the Father’s free gift of eternal life. (John 3:16) That’s the condition.
John Calvin comments: “It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews and I and II Peter, p.364, emphasis added)
As often as Calvin quotes Ephesians 1:4, he misquotes it nearly every time by lopping off in Christ, which is the true foundation of the biblical Election. Additionally, perhaps the reason why the “secret decree of doom” was not mentioned at 2nd Peter 3:9 was because God never made it.
Calvin adds: “Hence God is said to will life, as also repentance. But the latter He wills, because He invites all to it by His word. Now this is not contradictory of His secret counsel, by which He determined to convert none but His elect. He cannot rightly on this account be thought variable, because as lawgiver He illuminates all with the external doctrine of life, in this first sense of calling all men to life. But in the other sense, He brings to life whom He will, as Father regenerating by the Spirit only His sons.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.106, emphasis mine)
Those whom God regenerates are those whom He has sealed in Christ on account of faith in His Son. (Ephesians 1:13) Although regeneration produces faith, so does the Gospel (Romans 10:17), whereby we are enabled to repent, believe and become saved, in conjunction with Christ who draws (John 12:32) and the Holy Spirit who convicts (John 16:8), pierces (Acts 2:37), pricks (Acts 26:14) and opens hearts in order to receive Him. (Acts 16:14) Calvinists reject that such illumination are sufficient to overcome the fallen state of man. Therefore, it is the Calvinist who rejects the true power (Romans 1:16) and life (Hebrews 4:12) that God has placed in His word, which is spirit and life (John 6:63), as the Holy Spirit operates through it.
Restating the verse: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Calvinist, John MacArthur, comments: “longsuffering toward us. The ‘Us’ is the saved, the people of God. He wants for them to be saved. ... not willing that any should perish. The ‘any’ must refer to those whom the Lord has chosen and will call to complete the redeemed, i.e. the ‘us.’ Since the whole passage is about God’s destroying the wicked, His patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all of His own. ... all should come to repentance. ‘All’ (cf ‘us,’ ‘any’) must refer to all who are God’s people who will come to Christ to make up the full number of the people of God.”
(The MacArthur Study Bible, p.1959, emphasis mine)
MacArthur states that the follow must apply:
- The ‘any’ must refer to those whom the Lord has chosen.
- ‘All’ (cf ‘us,’ ‘any’) must refer to all who are God’s people.
Peterson and Williams write: “He patiently waits for all of Peter’s professed Christian readers to repent because he wants to spare them judgment.” (Why I am Not an Arminian, p.181, emphasis mine)
MacArthur adds: “And although Scripture makes clear that God elects and rejects solely on the basis of His divine sovereignty, it makes equally clear that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32) and has no desire that even one person should perish (2 Pet. 3:9).” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, p.42, emphasis mine)
That’s amazing! MacArthur has just contradicted himself. Which is it?, the Secret-Will defense or the Of-the-Elect defense? How is it possible to maintain both? To resolve MacArthur’s dilemma, the basis of why God elects and rejects is indeed His sovereign good pleasure, and God is pleased to grant eternal life to those in Christ who believe in His Son while rejecting unbelievers who remain in Adam. Nevertheless, here is how MacArthur reconciles his feelings:
Calvinist, John MacArthur, states: “So God elects those that are saved; those that perish do so without any help from God. He is, as Phil said, passive. And you see that in Romans 9 where God is fitting vessels unto salvation. But vessels are being fitted unto damnation, and God is passive in that. It is also true that God does love humanity, and manifests that in common grace, as I said. Now, having said that you believe all of that, you now have a problem. And that is that your brain can’t handle all of that information and bring complete resolution. But that’s okay; because if you could, you wouldn’t be human. There are things that only God can understand. And I really do believe that. I’m very content with that. That’s one of the reasons I know the Bible is written by God, because men would fix it. If I wrote a book that had those contradictions, Phil [Johnson] would edit them all out. One of the bench marks of divine inspiration is the fact that you’re dealing with transcendence.” (Election and Predestination: The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, emphasis mine)
(1) Calvinists seem mixed on whether to use the Secret-Will defense or the Of-the-Elect defense. I think that the aforementioned Ezekiel verse forces Calvinists into the “secret will” direction.
(2) I’m perplexed at how MacArthur says of the non-elect, “without any help from God,” as if we would really forget that Calvinism teaches that God[allegedly] decreed whatsoever comes to pass. According to Calvinists like James White, God couldn’t infallibly know that the non-elect would rebel, had God not decreed it and rendered it certain. So Calvinists can be unintentionally deceptive in their Double Talk.
(3) MacArthur tries to reconcile his Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9:22, together with John 3:16, and arrives at an unworkable dilemma, namely, a dreaded contradiction. MacArthur’s solution is to simply accept the contradiction, and to use the contradiction as the fingerprint of God, because man would have edited out, and smoothed out, the rough edges. That’s one solution. However, here’s another: The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9:22 is wrong, and God indeed loves the world. God literally meant what He said at 2nd Peter 3:9. God literally “so loved” the world that He gave it His Son, which was for the purpose of salvation, and it is God’s will that all men repent and receive His Son, in order that the world may be saved. Jesus said: “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47) To the Calvinist, this means that Jesus has come to save the world of the elect. The of the elect is what the Calvinist must infer in order to salvage Calvinism. But why? Why does Calvinism need to be salvaged? Why not dump Calvinism, and walk through the door?, and believe that God means what He says, without having to embrace contradictions?