I’ve heard many times when expressing my trust in the definite nature of the atonement that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” I believe that God through Christ purchased the salvation of those who believe. Even more I believe that this atonement includes the faith and repentance by which they are saved (2 Tim 2:25; Romans 8:30; 12:3). To believe that God desires all to be saved in light of the reality that all are not saved is to have a God whose will is failing daily. To refute this idea that God’s will has failed throughout human history we can simply read the whole of 2 Peter 3:9. Peter says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The main exegetical question is this: Who is Peter talking to when he says “you"?
At the beginning of the chapter in 2 Peter 3:1 he says, “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved…” and in 2 Peter 3:8 we read, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” It is clear that he is speaking to those in Christ when he uses the term “beloved.”
In 2 Peter 3:1 Peter points back to the first letter that he similarly wrote to “those who are elect exiles…”(1 Peter 1:1) in which he says to those elect exiles that they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). We know that those who have perished in sin are not “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” This “you" is not universally applied to all people, neither is the “you” in 2 Peter 3:9. God’s patience is towards a specific group, the elect, those chosen "before the foundation of the world" to be "holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4). These are the same people that he is speaking with in his second letter when he assures them that not one of the elect will be missing, that God’s delay is for the sake of the elect coming in in their full number. We can have a rock solid confidence that not one of God’s people will be missing from his final number and this is strongly evidenced by the fact that Christ has not returned yet.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). We read similarly in Romans 11:25 that "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” There is a “fullness of the gentiles.” There is a full number of believers and the consummation of the age will not come until those for whom Christ died are brought in. My personal favorite (that verse on David Livingstone’s gravestone) John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
There is a guarantee here that those elect will be brought in without one missing (due to God’s will and patience), that they will listen to the voice of Jesus in the gospel and that not one of them will perish, but that the whole of those God has chosen will be brought in by the means of prayer and evangelism. This does not deter me from evangelism, it deters me from humanistic approaches to evangelism. It keeps my heart longing for a pure gospel in which the voice of Christ can be heard and it stirs me up to the fact that some of the presently depraved listeners of my preaching can be overcome by Christ unto salvation in a moment.