A Candid Confession of the Character of a Conditional Covenant (5)

In defense of the doctrine of a conditional covenant with all I the physical children of believers, Rev. Cecil Tuininga also appeals to II Peter 3:9. Although he .offers no explanation of the text, it is plain that he understands the text to teach that the Lord desires the salvation of every human without exception. Of course, the reason why the Lord would desire to save all must be that He loves all in Jesus Christ the Savior. 

The appeal to this text by the defender of a conditional covenant is significant. There is, as the Protestant Reformed Churches have always insisted, a close relationship between the doctrine of a conditional covenant and the teaching that God loves and desires to save every human without exception. If God loves arid desires to save every physical child of believers, there can be no objection to the teaching that God loves and desires to save every human without exception. If the love of God for our children depends for its saving effect upon their performance of the condition of faith, why should not the love of God for every human also depend upon his faith as the condition of salvation? 

In connection with his appeal to II Peter 3:9, Rev. Tuininga advises me to read Calvin on the text. He also directs my attention to the Canons, III, IV/8, as though this article, like II Peter 3:9, expresses a desire of God to save everyone without exception. 

If I should differ with Rev. Tuininga's universalistic interpretation of II Peter 3:9, I will be exposing myself as a "hyper-Calvinist": "Hyper-Calvinists, in applying logic to Scripture, come to exactly the opposite conclusion" (see the Standard Bearer, Jan. 1, 1997, p. 150).

II Peter 3:9

II Peter 3:9 reads: "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." 

Who they are about whom God is not willing that any of them should perish and whom God wills to come to repentance, the words, "longsuffering to us-ward," make clear. The Lord is not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance. His will of salvation is an aspect of His longsuffering love, and His longsuffering love is directed to "us." These are the "beloved" of verse 1, all those, but those only, whom God elected in eternity (II Pet. 1:10). 

In the longsuffering of the Lord, not one whom He wills not to perish will perish. Every person whom He wills to come to repentance will come to repentance, and he will come to repentance because the Lord will bring him to repentance. "The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation" (v. 15), not merely the possibility of salvation. 

John Calvin is unclear, if not somewhat mistaken, in his commentary on the, text, exactly because he overlooks the qualifying phrase, "longsuffering to us-ward." But his explanation of the text in his "A Defence of the Secret Providence of God" is clear. An enemy of divine sovereignty has appealed to II Peter 3:9 as though the text teaches that God wills, or desires, something that He does not bring to pass, namely, that no one should perish. Replies Calvin:

In as far as God "willeth that all should come unto repentance," in so far He willeth that no one should perish; but, in order that they may thus be received of God, they must "come." But the Scripture everywhere affirms, that in order that they may "come," they must be prevented of God; that is, God must come first to them to draw them; for until they are drawn of God, they will remain where they are, given up to the obstinacy of the flesh. Now if there were one single particle of right judgment in you (the man who appeals to II Pet. 3:9 as though it teaches that God wills to save persons whom He fails to save - DJE), you would, in a moment, acknowledge that there is a wide and wonderful difference between these two things - that the hearts of men are made of God "fleshly" out of "stony"" hearts, and that it is thus that they are made to be displeased and dissatisfied with themselves, and are brought, as suppliants, to beg of God mercy and pardon; and that after they are thus changed, they are received into all grace. Now God declares that both these things are of His pure goodness and mercy; that He gives us hearts that we may repent, and then pardons us graciously upon our repentance and supplication (in Calvin's Calvinism, RFPA, p. 276).

Canons, III IV/8

Nor does Canons, III, IV/8 teach that God desires the salvation of all men, as Rev. Tuininga assumes. It does not say this. It does not say this. For a Reformed man to read a universal love of God and a desire of God to save all men into this article is preposterous. Have not the Canons, in the first head, taught as plainly as language can express it, that God loves and desires to save some only and that He hates and wills the damnation of the others? Have not the Canons, in the second head, taught as plainly as language can express it, that by the will of God Jesus Christ died only for those whom God wills to save in the decree of election and that Jesus Christ did not die for the others, the reprobate? Will not the Canons, in what follows in the third and fourth heads, teach as plainly as language can express it, that by means of the gospel the Spirit of Christ effectually bestows the grace of faith only upon those whom God elected and for whom Christ died and that the Spirit withholds this grace from the others? 

Are we then to suppose that, violently contradicting and overturning everything that they are concerned (0 teach, the Canons suddenly affirm universal saving love and a will of God to save the reprobate for whom Christ did not die, in an article that does not so much as mention divine love or desire to save? 

The subject of Canons, III, IV/ 8 is not God's love and will to save. The subject is the call of the gospel, particularly the external aspect of the call of the gospel. The subject is the "command to repent and believe" (Canons, II/5) that God gives to every man, woman, and' child without distinction who hear the gospel. This call is "unfeigned," or "serious." The explanation is not that God on His part loves all and desires to save all - the Canons have denied this, judging this doctrine as heretical! - but rather that God sets before everyone his solemn duty and in dead earnest requires him to do his duty, namely, repent and believe. That the sinner lacks all ability to obey the command and that God has decreed that certain sinners will not repent and believe in no wise detract from the utter seriousness of the call. 

When the Canons go on to say that it is pleasing to God that those who are called should come to Him, the meaning is not that God on His part desires that all those summoned by the external call of the gospel should come and be saved. The Canons have denied this very thing in their doctrine of predestination in the first head. But the meaning is that the good activity of coming to Christ in faith pleases God, whereas the wicked refusal to repent and believe in Christ displeases Him. Even though the unregenerated sinner in the audience cannot believe and even though God Himself has determined in the decree of reprobation that a particular sinner in the audience will not believe, and even though the Holy Spirit deliberately declines to give this unregenerate, reprobate sinner faith, this man's refusal to believe in Jesus Christ is displeasing to God -terribly displeasing - so that God will punish him more severely on account of his refusal to come to Christ. 

The concluding line of the article, that God in the preaching "promises eternal life . . . to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him," does not teach a general, conditional promise to all who hear the preaching, in manifestation of a general love of God for all hearers. The promise is "to as many as shall come . . . and believe." It is not to those who refuse to come. Since only the elect come, because God 'draws them (John 6:44), the promise is to the elect only. But the proclamation of this promise encourages those in whose hearts the Spirit works true sorrow over sin and the knowledge of Jesus as the Savior from their Sin confidently to come to Him, expecting to be received by Him and to receive of Him eternal life and rest. 

Neither Canons, III, IV/S nor II Peter 3:9 teaches that God "desire(s) the salvation of all men," as the defender of a conditional covenant supposes.

Will Jesus Then Never Come?

Has Rev. Tuininga (and, to be fair, the multitude of other professing Calvinists who interpret the text as he does) ever considered the implications of his explanation of II Peter 3:9?

1) The will of the Lord that no human perish, but that all without exception be saved, is frustrated and defeated. For many perish. To all eternity He will be a sad and disappointed God.

2) The Lord God is hopelessly at odds with Himself; He lives in a state of confusion. On the one hand, He wills that only some - the elect - be saved; on the other hand, He wills that all be saved. On the one hand, He wills that no one perish; on the other hand, He designs that Christ not die for all, without which atonement they must perish. On the one hand, He wills that all come to repentance; on the other hand, He withholds from many the "evangelical grace" of repentance which they can only have if He gives it. What can one make of a confused and confusing god like this? What can a self-contradictory god like this make of himself? 

3) Jesus Christ will never return. On the explanation of II Peter 3:9 of Rev. Tuininga (and, to be fair, that of a multitude of other professing Calvinists), Jesus will never come again. For Peter is explaining to us why the promise of Christ's coming is not yet fulfilled, why apparently it is delayed (v. 4). The explanation is that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and be saved. If now Jesus postpones His second coming until every last human repents and is saved, He will never come! Already there are some who have died impenitent and lost. Jesus, therefore, will never return! Always there will be people born who are not repentant. Jesus, therefore, will never return! The universalistic interpretation of II Peter 3:9 destroys the comfort of the second coming that the apostle intends to give to the waiting church and plays into the hands of the scoffers of verse 4 who say, "all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."

Hyper-Calvinism!

Rev. Tuininga will dismiss my interpretation of II Peter 3:9 as the logic of hyper-Calvinism. Indeed, he has done so in advance ("hyper- Calvinists, in applying logic to Scripture . .."). 

He should be more careful. 

The interpretation that I have given was also that of Abraham Kuyper . The great Dutch Reformed theologian gave this interpretation in his book, Dat de Genade Part+dier is (Amsterdam: J.H. Kruyt, 1884; the English translation would be, That Grace is Particular). Kuyper noted that the advocates of universal grace in every age have three favorite texts: I John 2:2; I Timothy 2:4; and II Peter 3:9. But these "three main texts with which men commonly like to scare: the confessor of particular grace . . . prove nothing (emphasis, Kuyper's - DJE) for universal grace." Kuyper gave this interpretation of II Peter 3:9:

In II Peter .3:9, nothing else can be meant than this: Jesus cannot come before the number of the elect is full, and, inasmuch now as many elect have not yet been converted, He delays His coming, in His longsuffering, not willing that some would go lost through a premature return, but willing that they all first be converted.

The explanation of the text that holds that God desires to save all men, Kuyper called "the most absurd reasoning imaginable and . . . utterly senseless," inasmuch as it implies that Jesus will never return (pp. 56-69; the translation of the Dutch is mine). 

Will the advocates of universal grace, whether in the sphere of the covenant or in the wide world, who love to appeal to II Peter 3:9, now call Abraham Kuyper a hyper-Calvinist?

It is easy and even popular in Reformed circles, to call the Protestant Reformed Churches hyper- Calvinists. 

Dare they say this about Abraham Kuyper, from whose interpretation of II Peter 3:9 and doctrine of sovereign, particular, saving grace we do not differ?

Abraham Kuyper: hyper-Calvinist?

- DJE