For All to Come to Repentance

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. 2 Peter 3:9, NASB

This text is commonly used to “refute” Calvinist claims of a limited or particular atonement. “Right here,” it might be said, “is proof that it is God’s will for everyone to be saved and not just the elect.” I want to quickly examine that.

As Justin pointed out a short while ago, Isaiah 46:10 states, essentially, that the Lord gets His way.:”(Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’ New American Standard Bible)”: His good pleasures, His will, His desires will be accomplished.

So, what happens when we look at 2 Peter 3:9 in light of that fact? If the Lord always accomplishes His good pleasure and desires, how are we then to view a verse which states that it is His wish or desire that none would perish and that all would repent?

If “all means all” in the typical non-Calvinist sense, referring to all people everywhere at all times, then are we not then forced to conclude that all men will be saved and that universalism is, in fact, true? After all, if God desires all men everywhere and at all times to be saved and if God always has His good pleasures fulfilled, will not all men be saved?

But that is not reality. All men everywhere and at all times are not saved. Many are on the broad way which leads to destruction, and we have ample testimony throughout the Scriptures of many people never entering into God’s presence in peace and rest.

So how can these two verses (2 Peter 3:9 and Isaiah 46:10) jive together? Simple: Non-Calvinists (whether Arminian or a middle-ground group) misinterpret 2 Peter 3:9.

Note that 2 Peter 3:9 does not speak of “all people everywhere and at all times.” If it did, then universalism would be true and accepted. But it does not. So who are the “all” that God desires to be saved?:”(Don’t forget: If He desires it, it will come to pass.)”:

What if the answer is simply this: The “all” that God is waiting to come to repentance is “all those who will come to repentance.” If the Lord was waiting for all people everywhere and at all times to come to repentance, He will never return. But if the Lord is waiting for all those who will be saved to be saved, then as soon as the Church is complete, He will return and claim His bride.

Actually, I’m glad I just mentioned that He’s coming back to claim His bride; I had never thought of this like that: God the Father has chosen before the foundation of the earth those who will be saved, who will one day as a member of the Bride be wed to His Son. We may see arranged marriages as a thing of the past, but it seems to be exactly what the Father has done with we believers and His Son.

The matter seems very simple to me. If Isaiah 46:10 is correct in asserting that the Lord accomplishes all of His good pleasure, then we can take great comfort knowing that everyone who is ordained to belief will believe, that the Lord will raise up workers to preach the Gospel whereby the Spirit works, and so on.

But if it is God’s good pleasure that all people everywhere and at all times be saved, then universalism must be true, creating great problems with Scriptures referencing an eternal place of damnation. On the other hand, universalism can be avoided if one robs Isaiah 46:10 of its plain meaning in order to support a non-Calvinist, non-universalist view of 2 Peter 3:9. I’m certainly not willing to do that.

3 thoughts on “For All to Come to Repentance”

  1. Rick, I like it. But, you’re missing the bigger meaning of this text. Trust me, it’s easy to miss it, but when the Holy Spirit showed me the meaning of this text, I was overjoyed! Please, allow me to help you understand.

    Now, I agree with everything you said, but I just want to add to it. Please note to whom Peter is writing, 2 Peter 1:1, “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
    To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours…”

    I love, love, love!!! this verse because it accomplishes so much for Reformed theology. It says that we received faith through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. This shoots down the belief that faith originates in sinful men, thereby showing us just how depraved we are that we can’t even make the first step towards reconciliation. Also, note, it is written to those who have already received faith, not to anyone else. So, let’s go back to the text at hand.

    2 Peter 3:9 states, “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.” Please highlight the word “YOU”. The Lord is… patient toward you. I take this to mean that when Peter writes about “all”, “you” is the antecedent for “all”. To make myself clearer, the text would read as such, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any (of you) to perish but for all (of you) to come to repentance.”

    Also, let’s cross reference this to what Jesus said way back in the Gospel according to Mark.

    Mark 13:20, 22, 26-27. “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom He has chosen, He has shortened them… For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible… At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”

    I have nothing more to add to the powerful testimony of El Shadday’s Word.

  2. That’s amazing, Justin! I did miss that aspect of the text, and I’m glad you shared it!

    You’re absolutely right about faith coming from above, as well. I have often wondered how our heart of stone which is wholly deceitful could ever create a faith which was in any way appealing to God, but the absolute wonder and mystery of that amazing grace which gives even faith never really hit me prior to accepting — nay, embracing — the doctrines of grace.

    It is also becoming ever more apparent that all of my old proof texts to argue against Calvinism (such as 2 Peter 3:9, above) proved nothing of the sort and (again, in the case of 2 Peter 3:9) may actually support Calvinist teaching. It is simply amazing how tradition and teaching can so color our view of Scriptures as to not see the text for what it actually says!

  3. Hi Rick,

    Calvin in his Institutes addresses this verse in Book III, Chap. XXIV, Section 16:

    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. It is indeed true that unless he were ready to receive those who call upon his mercy, this statement would be out of place: “Be converted to me… and I shall be converted to you” [Zech. 1:3]. But I assert that no mortal man approaches God unless God anticipates him. And if repentance had been man’s to choose, Paul would not have said: “In case God may grant them repentance” [II Tim. 2:25]. Indeed, unless the same God who urges all to repentance with his own voice also drew the elect to himself by the secret moving of his spirit, Jeremiah would not have said: “Convert me, O Lord, and I will be converted…. For when thou didst convert me, I repented” [Jer. 31:18-19]

    In Justin’s reply, he wants “you” to be the antecedent for “all.” Grammatically, I don’t think that works. It’s backwards. Pronouns need to agree with antecedents in person and number, even though “you” here is plural and can be stretched to read “you all.” Although a little Greek is a dangerous thing, it’s helpful to look at the Greek text for this passage, too.

    In “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (NASB), “any” is the plural “tinas” and “all” is the plural “pantas” in the Greek. There can be a case made that both of those words mean the universal sense of the plural “any” and “all.” I think the Greek would spell out the “of you” if that were the intention.

    Maybe some searching around in the lexicons can illuminate this issue a little better. I don’t have a Kittel’s handy, but I looked in the BAG and in Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics” and didn’t find much to help.

    An interesting discussion.


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