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Glorying in Knowing God (Studies in the Doctrine of God) (16)

A series of articles penned by Rev. Dale H. Kuiper when he was pastor of Southeast PRC in Grand Rapids, MI. These are available from that church as well as here on the internet.

The God of All Grace (15)

i Peter 5:10-11 - "But the God of all grace, Who hath called you unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

The God of our salvation is the God of all grace! This amazing attribute of God is rather well known to the believer, for he understands himself to be saved for one reason and that is the grace of God. (See Ephesians 2:8) Another reason why the believer, and especially the reformed believer, knows much concerning grace is that the doctrines of grace have played an important part in the history of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Various controversies and heresies brought these questions to the fore: is the grace of God resistible or irresistible? Is divine grace general (for each and every man) or is it particular (only for the elect)? Is the grace of God a power that assists the sinner, or is God's grace astonishing in that it completely transforms the sinner and makes him a new creature who is thus enabled to do good?

When the apostle Peter wrote his first general Epistle, he certainly had in mind the encouragement and comfort of those called to be saints. He wrote the letter to stir up the church unto a contemplation of "the God of all grace"! The Biblical terms for grace are important for us to understand. Basically the terms mean that which is pleasant, attractive, or beautiful; not a superficial beauty of course, but a beauty that is rooted in ethical goodness and purity. The terms also refer to a pleasant attitude or disposition that one may have toward another. We read, for example, that Noah and the virgin Mary found grace in the eyes of God. Thirdly, and in close connection with the above, grace has the meaning in Scripture of undeserved favor or unmerited goodness that someone shows to another. When Paul writes in Eph. 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved ..." he means to say, "you are saved without any merit whatever, you do not deserve to be saved at all, but you are!"

With this understanding of the word grace, we can see that the grace of God is a sovereign or freely determined grace. Consider, first, that those upon whom God confers His grace are in themselves unlovely, unpleasant, and ethically ugly and impure. We are sinful, we have forfeited every right to the favor and blessing of God, we deserve only to be separated from God forever. But God, in His grace, decides to bestow upon such undeserving sinners life, spiritual benefits, and everlasting glory! God decides to give the undeserving the very opposite of what they deserve! Thus, grace stands in Scripture opposed to works, wages, or merit. And grace is synonymous with reward, free gift, inheritance. Beware that you do not attempt to change grace into works; beware that as you confess salvation by grace, you are not really meaning salvation by works. Today, as always, people like to play around with words and their meanings, but with the apostle Paul we must call for an end to this: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." (Romans 11:6)

That God's grace is a sovereign, freely determined grace, is shown, secondly, by the fact that grace is not for every one, but is God's amazing gift only for His people, the elect. In Exodus 33 God says, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." God gives His precious grace, not to those who will to receive it, not to those who make themselves worthy of it, but to those whomsoever He pleases. It is a matter of the good pleasure of His will!

Next let's look into the matter of God being the God of all grace. This implies, first, that God is gracious, beautiful, desirable, and pleasant in Himself. He is ethically pure and lovely! (See Psalm 27:4 and Psalm 16:11) Secondly, the God of all grace is the source and author of all grace. Wherever you find true beauty, real attractiveness, spiritual loveliness and charm, you may be sure that it is because God is there and God has worked! And if God is not present then there is no beauty, truth, or purity!

With the words "God of all grace", Peter has in mind especially the idea that there are different aspects to, different stages of, various manifestations of, the grace of God. Grace is very rich! Grace is always sufficient for the believer and for the Church as a whole. When the truth of the gospel is under attack, then we need the grace of courage and the grace of spiritual understanding and knowledge. When the evil one tempts us in our daily life, trying to conform us and our children to this world then we need the grace of wisdom and holiness. When we are under heavy loads of sickness and pain, adversity and want, disappointment and loneliness, we stand in need of grace to be patient, content, and humble. Of all these spiritual graces, God is the author, the giver, and the worker by His Spirit. In that way His grace becomes sufficient unto each day.

God reveals His manifold grace by "calling us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus". God's eternal glory is the radiation of His matchless virtues in the new creation, when His church will not only observe that divine glory, but shall actually participate in having it revealed in and through her. (See Romans 8:18) All the grace, the beauty, the attractiveness, the truth, that belongs to God is in the man Christ Jesus. The fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. And because Christ dwells in us and we in Him, as believers, the glory of God in Christ is ours; it is in us! We have and shall never lose the glory of God, now in principle, and one day in final perfection.

We have such glory becuase God has called us, and God has called us with a gracious calling. It is here that it makes all the difference in the world whether we view the grace of God as resistible or irresistible. If the calling that comes through Christ and His Gospel is be resistible grace, then it is weak and uncertain, and may be compared to an invitation, an offer, or some kind of pleading. But if the calling comes to us from Christ and His preached Gospel is by irresistible grace, then it is powerful and sure, and can only be compared to a summons, a command, and a divine imperative! The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist on this point, as on all others, is great. The Arminian has a weak grace, he has a grace that tries to accomplish great things, but man is able to resist and frustrate that grace. But the Calvinistic or Reformed, truth of Scripture teaches an irresistible grace and an irresistible calling! Whom God calls by His Word and Spirit, without exception, comes to God! Whom God calls, without exception, are translated out of this world into the kingdom of His dear Son. Many are called (that is, hear the message of the Gospel with their ears), but few are chosen (that is, have that message of the Gospel applied to their hearts by the Spirit so that they repent, believe, and live forever).

Have you been called by God savingly out of darkness into marvelous light? If so, that calling results in suffering for you. The calling is into fellowship with Christ and His suffering. Those sufferings are on the foreground in I Peter5; verse nine speaks of "the same afflictions (which) are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." And verse 10 teaches that we shall be perfected "after that we have suffered a while." Concerning this suffering we ought to note several points. First, we do not suffer alone but we may be assured that all the brethren undergo this suffering for Christ's sake. Further, it is for a little while, or as Paul writes elsewhere "Our light afflictions, which is but for a moment." (I Cor. 4:17-18) Finally, our present sufferings are necessary for us to endure. They work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Suffering works glory, and it is impossible to receive the glory God has prepared for us except through a certain measure of tribulation.

An important question for us is, Do we suffer, do we have affliction in this world as the brethren do? We do not have in mind physical infirmities and pains; we do not have in mind suffering that we bring upon ourselves, perhaps because of a wagging tongue. But we mean suffering that comes to us because the God of all grace has separated us from the world, has given us a place in the Church of Christ, and has made us children of light in a world of darkness. Is that true of us, or are we strangers to that? It seems that many in the church don't experience what the Word of God insists is the only way of life for the pilgrim Christian. Why is that? The answer is compromise. We are confronted by some issue, by the necessity of making a certain decision; we know that if we take the way of faithfulness we will involve ourselves in all kinds of difficulties and troubles. And so we take the easy way out by making some kind of a compromise. We'll avoid the unpleasantness. We won't testify against sin, we won't avoid the company of evil men, we won't pray in public places. We won't take a stand on important issues of life ..... in short, we refuse to live antithetically in this present evil world. And that's no good! For one thing that puts us out of touch with the brethren, with our fellow saints, who need us in the time of trial. for another thing, by adopting compromising positions in various ways, we fail to testify to the glory of God's grace, that it is sufficient at all times.

The God of all grace promises us, as we face many temptations and afflictions in life, that after He has caused us to suffer a little while, He will make us perfect or finish us. And all these hardships which we are called upon to endure are the tools which God uses to accomplish that perfecting of us. Thus, even hardships must be seen as manifestations of the grace of God to His children. God promises to perfect each saint by establishing, strengthening, settling him in the faith no matter what the hardship or opposition.

Let us lay hold of that promise, doubting nothing. And let us join the apostle in this doxology: To that God of all grace, beautiful, pleasant, the longing of my heart and soul, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.


The Longsuffering of God (16)

2 Peter 3:9 - "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."

 The saints of Peter's day had a problem, a very serious, spiritual problem that was brought about by the many false teachers of that day.  As you know, the second general Epistle of Peter is a warning against the false teachers and scoffers who love the reward of Baalim and who would make merchandise of the church.  These false teachers attacked the people of God at a most vital point: her hope!  How can the children of God walk as pilgrims and strangers on the earth, if they do not have a living hope for the return of Jesus Christ, and the renewal of all things to sustain, guide, and inspire them?

Well, these false teachers set out to destroy that hope.  "Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."  They mean to say, there is nothing in the past except unbroken, unchanging history, and the future is no different. The future will go on endlessly and Christ will never return.  Perhaps the child of God begins to waver at this point, perhaps he thinks that the scoffers are raising a legitimate point.  Why does not Christ put an end to things and take us into heavenly glory?  The apostle has two answers for us if we have such doubts.  First, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."  (v.8)  God does not operate by a clock or according to our schedule;  He is the eternal One!  secondly, the apostle gives answer by instructing us in the longsuffering of God, which is salvation!

Central to the issue faced in II Peter 3 is the promise of God.  There is basically one promise of God, and that promise of  God is always in Christ.  In eternity, at creation, at the time of the fall, throughout Old Testament history, and finally at the fulness of time, God was busy with His gracious promise to send His Son in our flesh as the great Servant in Whom He would unite all things in heaven and on earth.  There is one aspect of God's promise to send Christ to make an end of the ages, to judge all men and angels, to destroy the present creation, to make the new heavens and earth, and to take His church into the glory He has prepared for them.  That return, that parousia, is the object of every Christian's hope.  And that return, according to numerous Scriptures, is very close.  See I Peter 4:7, Romans 13:12, Phil 4:5, Rev 22:12.

 Often times it seems to us as if the Lord is slack concerning that promise.  For almost two thousand years Scripture has been telling us that the end of all things is at hand, that it is the last hour.  Why does God delay?  Where is the fulfillment of the promise of His coming?  Today, too, when we see the terrible filth, profanity, and ungodliness of this age, we wonder why God does not come immediately  to make an end of it all?  Is He, after all, slack concerning His promise?  

No.  Let no child of God ever think or say that!  God is not slack, tardy, unfaithful;  God does not unnecessarily delay.  Rather, God is "longsuffering to usward."  How important is that word "usward";  a distinction is made there by the Holy Spirit through the apostle.  The first distinction we must understand is one between God's longsuffering and God's forbearance.  God's forbearance is a certain attitude He has toward the world of wickedness.  Divine forbearance is the expression of restrained wrath on the part of God toward them which He is of a mind to destroy.  God restrains His wrath, for good reason too, until the time comes when that wrath is unleashed and the wicked are destroyed. 

Our text speaks of the Lord's longsuffering to usward!  The Lord's longsuffering is the expression of restrained love and grace and mercy!  The ides is that if God would follow the desire of His heart immediately, He would bring an end to sin, suffering and all this world, and deliver His people without delay.  The People of God suffer in this world, this vale of tears.  And the Lord sees them in that suffering, He is moved by their tears, He suffers along with His people in their distresses.  But He does not immediately deliver them.  Not yet.

This longsuffering of God has several implications.  First, it extends only to His people, those whom He has chosen in eternity, ransomed at the cross, and who now long for Christ's appearing.  With the wicked He is angry every day, and merely forbears with them until the day of His wrath.  Secondly, God always remembers His covenant and His covenant people!  Earthly parents may forsake their little babies, but God will never forsake His church to the wicked scoffers.  His children are dear to Him, they are engraven upon the palms of His hand, and there is nothing He will not do to bring them to Himself in glory. Thirdly, this all means that if God immediately does not send Jesus deliver us out of all our troubles and bring us into the heavenly kingdom, it cannot be counted slackness or unfaithfulness or a lack of loving attention.  Some of the reasons which Scripture gives in this connection are:  the world's measure of iniquity must be filled before God destroys it in His justice; the Antichrist must develop and appear with all his deceiving works and power;  the signs of the coming of Christ must all be fulfilled.  (See Matthew 24:1ff.) 

But the apostle gives us only one reason in this text.  He tells us that God does not come yet because "God does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."  What a wonderful reason!  How beautiful is the longsuffering of God!  Let us beware that we do not take a careless, general, Arminian view of the matter.  The popular interpretation of our passage has the words "not any" and "all" to refer to every human being without exception.  Then the text reads, "God does not will that any man should perish, but God wills that every man in the entire world should come to repentance and be saved!  That is supposed to be the will of God, and that is supposed to be the reason why God is longsuffering! 

Such an interpretation is the old free-will, Arminian heresy that was cast out of the Reformed churches in the seventeenth century, and is at the bottom of the denial of the sovereignty of God, reprobation, limited or particular atonement, and all that is precious to a Bible-believing child of God.  

We will refute this general application of the longusffering of God to each and every man in three ways.  First, this idea runs counter to the general teaching of Holy Scripture, that God does not will  the salvation of each and every individual.  God's will is not a weak wish, but God's will is powerful and determinative;  it is always done!  And His clearly revealed will is that He has determined to save unto Himself a people in Jesus Christ;  those are the elect, the sheep, those given to Christ for redemption.  All the rest God is pleased to perish in the way of their unbelief and sins.  Secondly the gospel preaching which is necessary in order that a man come to repentance and be saved does not even come to every individual in this world.  It did not, does not, and probably will not.  Thirdly, if in His longsuffering God waits until every individual everywhere comes to repentance, we may be assured that the Lord Jesus Christ will never come!  That will never happen, so He will never come.

If the passage is to have any meaning and give any consolation it must be interpreted within the framework of its context this way:  "The Lord is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance."  Usward, any, all, refer to the same group of individuals;  not to everyone everywhere, for example, the false teachers and scoffers who harass and mock the church.  But to the church whom Peter addresses in his epistle, and with whom he includes himself.  The Lord doesn't want any of them to perish, but He wills that every elect, redeemed child of God comes to repentance.  Isn't that beautiful? 

The Lord hasn't come yet, and the Lord doesn't come now, because there is a church of the future which must still be born.  We call that part of the one church of all ages the church latent in distinction from the church triumphant (in heaven) and church militant (on earth).  Because that church has not yet been born or come to repentance, the Lord waits!  His longsuffering is salvation according to verse 15!  the number of the elect is a definite number, the members of the body of Christ each function in a definite place, the temple of the Lord is built up of living stones and not one stone can be missed without marring the beauty and function of the whole.  Everyone who has been predestinated must be called, must be justified, must be glorified!  

Therefore, Christ cannot and will not come until the last members of His body have been born and saved.  Then and only then will He present to God a church without spot or blemish or a missing member. 

What a tremendous comfort is this truth for the church as she is surrounded by her enemies, and made the object of scoffing and ridicule.  The apostle roots his teaching in the will of God, and the will of God is rooted in His eternal, unchangeable Being.  "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning."  None of His children shall fail to be born, nor shall they perish in a state of unregeneracy or unbelief.  They shall all come to repentance.  thus the church of Jesus Christ is busy preaching repentance from sin and faith toward God.  That is the will of God Who has chosen His Church, that is the will of Christ Who laid down His life to redeem us from iniquity and purify us as a peculiar people, and that is the will of the Spirit of grace Who brings each child of God to repentance and enables him to partake of the benefits of salvation. 

No, the Lord has not forgotten us.  He remembers us, He hears our sighs, He catches our tears in the bottle of His remembrance.  But He will not come prematurely, lest any of His dearly bought sheep should perish.  Not one of them shall go lost, and in that way the church is built up an holy temple unto the Lord.  For  that church the Lord Jesus comes quickly!  As a living member of His church, do you believe that?  Let our response be, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

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