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XXVIII

THE LORD IS NOT SLACK

"But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to youward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."—2 Peter iii. 8, 9.

"All things continue as they were from the from the beginning of the creation," said the mockers. It was foolish therefore to believe in, or to think of, a judgement to come. In the words before us the Apostle not only supplies an answer to the scorners, but gives a precious lesson to Christians for all time on the nature of God and His government of the world. It is but a single thought, but when the mind of the believer has grasped its significance, he will look out upon the world untroubled. No mockery will disturb his faith.

But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Here the Apostle quotes some words from that psalm (xc.) which is entitled "A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God." In it the Psalmist is contrasting God's eternity with the frailty of man and the shortness of human life. "A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past." But St. Peter not only adopts, but adapts, the words for his own purpose.346 He wants to teach the Christians in their trials that, while what is long in man's estimation may in God's providence be counted but little, yet through God's decree what to man appears little may be big with mightiest consequences. He therefore first inverts the words of the Psalmist. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, while a thousand years may be as one day. One day of His deluge swept a whole generation out of the world, while His day of Pentecost remains potent in the history of His grace for all the ages which are yet to come. Through a mistaken literalness, men have sometimes expounded the lesson as if Jehovah's dealings were a question of arithmetic. Nothing could be farther from the Apostle's thought, who would have us know that of great and little God's work makes no account. With Him there is no short or long in time. What He does is not to be measured by the petty standards of humanity.

Men must take note of time, for they feel its lapse and its loss. They are ever conscious that a period is coming after which what is undone must continue undone. Again, the length of time is known to them by the recurrence of the various acts of life, and by the weariness which comes of continued labour, and by the grief of protracted waiting. These things force them to speak of short and long, but with God it is not so. For Him all time is one. He knows nothing of toil. Whatsoever He pleaseth, that doeth He in heaven and in earth, in the sea and in all deep places (Psalm cxxxv. 6). The Psalmist had attained a true conception. The whole world and all worlds were in His control, and their order the working of His eternal will. He needs no rest; He slumbereth not, nor sleepeth. To Him there is no waiting, no weariness.347 Hence the past, the present, and the future are for Him one unbroken now.

This is the one thing which the Apostle offers to the Christian brethren for their support and consolation against the scoffers. And the knowledge is mighty for those who grasp it. It helps them to cast themselves securely upon the almighty arms, convinced that God's working is not to be estimated according to man's days and years, but is certain in its effect. One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but death, they learn, does not take men out of the knowledge or the hand of God, be it for mercy they are reserved, or for judgement. God does not defer His action because He lacks power to perform, neither does He tarry because He is unmindful of His servants or insensible to what they endure.

Such thoughts can minister to the faithful abundant consolation, and this was the desire of the Apostle. But they raise for all time large questions which can find no answer here, questions concerning the lot of those who pass from this brief day of life into the eternal world and have not known God's will, that they might do it; questions concerning a discipline which may yet be reserved for some who have not bent themselves to it here, perhaps from want of light; questions of how far hope may extend itself beyond the veil which divides this world from the next. Such questions rise within many earnest souls, often rather for the sake of others than themselves; but God has vouchsafed us no answer, lest men should wax presumptuous.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness. Many things conspire to make the doings of men to tarry. At one time pledges are348 given beyond what foresight would warrant; and when the day of performance arrives, they are forced to plead that events have falsified their expectation, and they cannot do the things that they would. Again, men, with the most earnest zeal, attempt a work beyond their powers, and of necessity have to delay the fulfilment of their promises; while some are taken away untimely from the midst of their fellows, ere life has enabled them to achieve what they counted on once as certain. Want of knowledge, of time, and of power is the heritage of the sons of men; and therewith conspires not seldom a change of mind and consequent want of will. But He with whom is no variableness, the omnipotent, omniscient, eternal Lord of all, is subject to no hindrance. Whether events appear to men to linger or to be sudden, all move under the control of the same unchanging will. He is not slack, as men are slack, either to rescue the righteous or to punish the ungodly. Of this the son of Sirach spake: "The Lord will not be slack, neither will the Almighty be patient, ... till He have taken away the multitude of the proud and broken the sceptre of the unrighteous, ... till He have judged the cause of His people and made them to rejoice in His mercy" (Ecclus. xxxv. 18).

Here is a medicine for fainting souls, of whom there must have been many among these Asian Christians. And it is a solace furnished, too, by the teachings of prophecy. "The vision," says one, "is yet for an appointed time" (Hab. iii. 3). God's will has ordered when and how it shall be accomplished; all moves by His decree. "At the end it shall speak, and not lie." There is no disappointment to those who wait upon the purposes of God. "Though it tarry, wait for it,"349 even though the waiting may last beyond this life, "because it will surely come; it will not tarry. The just shall live by his faith."

The order of the words in the original (ὁ κύριος τῆς ἐπαγγελίας) and the unwonted construction of the verb, of which no other example is forthcoming, have suggested to some to render thus: "The Lord of the promise is not slack." Even so the words give a powerful sense. God, who makes the promise to men, is supreme over all on which its faithfulness depends, supreme both as Maker and Fulfiller of His word. He sees and controls the end from the beginning. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.

But is long-suffering to youward. The Authorised Version heads "to usward". And some have thought it more in accord with the Apostle's manner and humility to include himself with the brethren. The other reading is better supported, and none will doubt on that account St. Peter's sense of God's long-suffering towards himself. The term which he here employs to describe the Divine character implies the holding back of wrath. God might justly punish, but He stays His blow. Men have sinned, and still sin; but His love prevails above His anger. The word is formed by the LXX. translators to render one expression in that passage (Exod. xxxiv. 6) where God proclaims unto Moses the attributes by which He would be known unto men. Through all the list mercy is the dominant feature. Term upon term seems devised to magnify the tenderness of Jehovah towards His people, though at last, if the continual offers of mercy are despised, He "will by no means clear the guilty." No other language furnishes such a word, for no other people had such a knowledge of the God of all grace.

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Not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. We are wont to connect statements like this with the gracious messages of the New Testament. Yet some saints of earlier time felt all that St. Peter here teaches. The writer of Ecclesiasticus has some striking words. He is connecting God's mercy with the shortness of man's life, and his language anticipates in the main this teaching of the Apostle: "The number of a man's days at the most are a hundred years. As a drop of water unto the sea, so are a thousand years to the days of eternity. Therefore is God patient with them, and poureth forth His mercy upon them. The mercy of man is toward his neighbour, but the mercy of God is upon all flesh; He reproveth, and nurtureth, and teacheth, and bringeth again as a shepherd his flock" (Ecclus. xviii. 9-14). In such wise had some who waited for the consolation of Israel grasped God's promises by anticipation, seeing them afar off and being persuaded of them. Such men owned themselves, equally with the Apostle, to be strangers and pilgrims, and sought for that inheritance which Christ sent him to preach.

The word "wishing" (βουλόμενος) implies deliberate consent. This God does not give to the death of any sinner. If any perish, it is not because God so desired or designed. But some will ask, "Why, then, should any perish?" St. Peter in this sentence, full of grace, supplies the answer. They continue in sin, and repent not. Even offers of mercy are of no avail. But why does not the Almighty Father drive them to repentance by His judgements? Because He has made His children free, and asks from them a willing service. They are to come to repentance. The invitation is full and free. Christ says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour." Nay,351 God makes at times a less demand: "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth." Could words breathe more of mercy? To come, to look—that is the sole demand. God bestows all besides. Let men but manifest a desire, and His grace is poured forth. He wisheth not that any should perish.

And Christ, too, when He speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, has the same lesson. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost all conspire to further the work of man's salvation. "All things," said our Lord, "whatsoever the Father hath, are Mine. Therefore said I, He shall take of Mine, and shall show" (R.V. declare) "it unto you." But the eye to see what He shows, the ear to hear His declarations—these He asks from men. He willeth that they should come to repentance, and through that gate should come to Him.

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