Saturday, April 16, 2011

Further Comments on Matt. 23:37-39 (57)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I began a discussion of Matthew 23:37, with a similar passage in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” I closed the last forum article with the comment that two questions remained unanswered: One was, who are Jerusalem’s children? And the second was, why was Jesus sad at the impending destruction of the city?

Scripture uses the expression “Jerusalem’s children” in two different ways. One way is to speak of Jerusalem’s children as including all the natural seed of Abraham. These children are said to be in bondage; that is, the bondage of the law, which no man can keep, and which leaves those who are under the law in sin. This is the meaning of Galatians 4:25 where the “Jerusalem that now is” is said to be in bondage with her children.

But Scripture also speaks of the true people of God who were Jerusalem’s children. In Zechariah 9:9 the daughters of Jerusalem are admonished to rejoice at the arrival of Jerusalem’s King. When Scripture speaks of the children of Jerusalem as being the elect only it also speaks of the “Jerusalem above” which is the mother “of us all,” whether Jew or Gentile (Gal. 4:31; see also Heb. 12:22-24). These are the children of Jerusalem that Christ desired to gather.

Christ does not desire to gather all Jerusalem’s children, but is frustrated in his desire; he does in fact gather them. He gathered them on the day of Pentecost and throughout the years following Pentecost when the gospel was proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike. The text does not convey a frustrated desire of the Lord; it emphasizes Jerusalem’s sin in doing all in its power to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children (John 9:34-38, John 11:47-53).
The sin of trying to do all they were capable of doing to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children is the sin that determined their destruction. This was the tradition of apostate Israel from earliest times, when they killed the prophets and stoned those whom God had sent. It was for this reason that their house is left unto them desolate.

How it is possible to get a well-meant offer out of this text requires extraordinary exegetical legerdemain. One ought to read the whole chapter. It is filled with woes upon the scribes and Pharisees who are branded as hypocrites. It is a sharp condemnation of their sins, which will ultimately bring them to hell (14). These hypocrites are said to be blind guides (16), leaders in Israel who make proselytes greater children of hell than themselves (15), who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (13). It is impossible to find a well-meant and gracious offer in this chapter.

We must now answer the question: Why was Jesus sad at the thought of Jerusalem’s destruction?

While neither the passage in Matthew nor Luke speaks of Jesus sorrow at the impending doom of Jerusalem, the very wording of the text suggests this: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …” There is one instance where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. That instance was at the time of his triumphal entrance into the city while riding on a donkey. Luke 19:41-42 informs us that “when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”

There were at least two reasons why Jesus was saddened by the impending doom of the Holy City. The first reason, though by no means the most important, was a sadness that the important place Jerusalem occupied in Israel’s history was going to be destroyed. It is the kind of sadness that one feels when the ancestral home, or village, or city is destroyed. Jerusalem represented the Jewish nation of which Paul speaks in Romans 9:4-5: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” Those thoughts moved Paul to speak of a “great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom. 9:2).
I personally have that same heaviness and sorrow when reports come of the wide-spread apostasy of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. From that country came my ancestors, and God gave that country the privilege of being the cradle of the Reformed faith, the same faith that we confess and love today. The sorrow that this has happened is real. And those who came from other countries in which once the truth of Scripture was held high, but have now departed from the faith know what that sorrow is like.

Our Lord was like us in all things, except for our sin. He too knew sorrow. One might say that the Lord should not have been sorrowful, because he, as God, had foreordained such apostasy; but that is not the point. As a man who possessed with us all human emotions, Jesus experienced sorrow. A forceful illustration of this is found in the gospel according to John, chapter 11. Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus who had died. He knew that he had come to perform the miracle of raising Lazarus, but that knowledge did not prevent the Lord from weeping at the grave (John 11:35). Jesus knew the sorrow that comes to us all when God takes from us one we love.

It is not, therefore, strange that our Lord, remembering the past glory of Jerusalem wept over the city, even though he knew that Jerusalem’s apostasy and coming destruction were according to the purpose and plan of God.

But more is implied in Jesus’ sorrow. Jerusalem was dreadfully wicked. It had been wicked almost all the days of its existence. It had forsaken God’s law, worshipped idols, committed sins worse than the heathen, and repeatedly persecuted those who came to warn Jerusalem of its sins. The sins of Jerusalem saddened Christ. They did not sadden him, because he was disappointed. He was not so sad because he had wanted Jerusalem to be saved, and had even given them grace to do what was right and pleasing in God’s sight. Sin saddened our Lord. Jerusalem’s sin saddened him; our sins sadden him as well.

The opposite is unthinkable! Is God delighted when men sin against him? blaspheme his name? make idols to worship instead of worshipping him? The very thought is blasphemous. Even the Psalmist expressed such grief at the sin of those whom he knew. “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word” (Ps. 119:158). David sang this Psalm in which he expressed his grief at the wickedness of those around him; but he also, in this same Psalm, speaks of God’s sure judgments upon the wicked, and other of his Psalms express his fervent desire that God will bring judgment on all the workers of iniquity. His sorrow for sin was not incompatible with his desire that sin be punished.

As I have emphasized before, God is not, by his unchangeable counsel, the author of sin. Sin does not come because he ordained that it should. He is not responsible for the sins of men. Man sins willfully and willingly. He chooses sin and delights in sin. This remains true even though God sovereignly determines all sin. Though it was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that Christ be crucified, and although the Lord determined crucifixion as the absolutely necessary way for the elect church to be saved, the Jews, Pilate and Herod committed this one crime of the ages because of their wickedness (Acts 2:23, Acts 4:26-28).

God created man good and able in all things to do the will of God. The sin of Adam and Eve (and our sin in Adam) was, though according to God’s eternal purpose, man’s dastardly act of rebellion. God’s sadness is evident in his will that men fulfill the purpose for which he has been created.

Men protest against this truth that God is sovereign while man remains responsible for his sins. They even claim that this is logically inconsistent and cannot both be true. The sad part of it all is that in the interests of maintaining man’s accountability for his sins, the truth of God’s sovereignty lies like a wounded and bleeding reality on the pages of human theology. Man would prefer to sacrifice the truth of God in the interests of maintaining a twisted view of man’s accountability.

That we cannot understand fully the ways of God is not surprising: we do not understand any of God’s works, not even the simplest works of which we are witnesses a hundred times a day. God is infinite in knowledge and his ways are past finding out. We are bound to Scripture, for there God tells us of what he does. Scripture speaks of both God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability on every page without finding any problem. Rather than desecrate the holy name of God, let us bow in wonder and adoration, confessing our sins and our inability to know God’s marvelous works as he performs them in time.

In Christ’s service,


Friday, April 1, 2011

Turretin's Quote; What of Matt. 23:37-39? (56)

Dear forum members,

In the February 16 bulletin of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Rev. Angus Stewart included an interesting quote from Francis Turretin on Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11. Francis Turretin was born in 1623 and became professor of theology in Geneva in 1568. He was one the authors of the Helvetic Confession, composed to expose the errors of Amyraldism. Amyraldism was a heresy that arose in France and was promoted extensively by Moise Amyraut. It had wide influence in the British Isles and was represented at the Westminster Assembly by a few men. The Assembly, however, rejected it. The chief error of Amyraldism was its hypothetical universalism. Because Amyraldism also taught a gracious and well-meaning offer of the gospel to all who hear, based on a universal atonement, the Helvetic Confession has important articles condemning both Amyraldism and its doctrine of a gracious gospel offer.

The quote from Francis Turretin is as follows:

When God testifies that “he has no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner, but that he should return from his ways, and live (Eze. 18:23), this does not favour the inefficacious will or the feeble velleity (‘The lowest degree of desire: imperfect and incomplete’ – Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary) of God because the [Hebrew] word chpts which occurs there does not denote desire so much as delight and complacency. Thus God may be said not to delight in the punishment of the wicked inasmuch as it is the destruction of the creature, although he wills it as an exercise of his justice. So he is said to will the repentance of sinners approvingly and perceptively as a thing most pleasing to himself and expressed in his commands, although with respect to all of them he nills it decretively and effectively … Although God protests that “he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in his conversion and life” (Eze. 33:11), it does not follow that from eternity he willed and intended under any condition the conversion and life of each and every man. For besides the fact that conversion cannot be intended under any condition (because it is itself a condition), it is certain that here is treated the will of euarestias (the Greek word for “well-pleasing, HH) and of complacency, not the will of good pleasure (eudokias – the Greek word for God’s good pleasure. Turretin makes a distinction between what is pleasing to God and God’s good pleasure, the latter being his eternal decree of election and reprobation, HH.), which the verb Ichpts) proves, meaning everywhere to be pleased and to hold as grateful, to imply that God is pleased with the conversion and life of the sinner as a thing grateful to him and agreeing with his perfectly merciful nature, rather than with his destruction, and therefore exacts it from man as a bounden duty to be converted if he desires to live. But although he wills not (i.e., is not pleased with the death of the sinner, as it denotes the destruction of a creature), yet he does not cease to will and intend it as an exercise of his justice and as the occasion of manifesting his glory (Prov. 1:26; I Sam. 2:34). Take, for example, a pious magistrate who is not pleased with the death of the guilty, yet does not cease justly to decree their punishment in accordance with the laws. Nor is it the case that if God does not properly intend their repentance and salvation, does he to no purpose say to the reprobate who are invited to repentance, “Why will ye die?” For he rightly shows them by these words what they must do to avoid death and that by their voluntary impenitence, they alone are the cause of their own destruction, not God. For although by the decree of reprobation, he had passed them by and determined not to give them faith, yet no less voluntarily do they sin and so obstinately bring down their own destruction upon themselves (Institutes of Elentic theology, vol. 1, pp 229-230, 408).

The claim is made by the authors of “The Three Points of Common Grace” that “writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology . . . favored this view.” Turretin lived in this “most flourishing period of Reformed theology.” He was undoubtedly the period’s most influential theologian. He repudiated the whole doctrine of a well-meant gospel offer. He did so in his battle with the deadly error of Amyraldism.

It would seem to me that anyone who would make a boast that a well-meant gospel offer was taught by “Reformed theologians” “from the most flourishing period of Reformed theology” would take account of what Turretin writes. It would seem to me that honesty and theological integrity would compel defenders of the well-meant offer of the gospel to take account of these historical facts. It seems to me that they would clearly show how their view of the gospel differs from the Amyraldian heresy. And it seems to me they would take note of at least one theologian (and there were many more) of great influence in the “most flourishing period of Reformed theology” that opposed their position. But where we would expect to find these things, there is instead total silence.

Turretin’s figure of an earthly judge is powerful. An earthly judge may surely wish that a murderer who stands before him had not committed the crime of which he is found guilty. The judge may think of the grief of the family of the one murdered; of the murderer himself who committed the crime, and of his pending execution. But the judge may still will that the murderer be executed in the interests of justice.

But we must move on.

Another passage frequently quoted by the defenders of a well-meant gospel offer is Matthew 23:37-39: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

A similar passage is found in Luke 1:34-35: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

I have recently treated these passages at some length in the Newsletter of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland. It is possible to obtain theses Newsletters, published monthly by the church in Ballymena. They have a readership all over the world and discuss many important theological and practical issues of the day. It can be obtained free from the e-mail address

Because I have dealt with these verses in considerable detail in several issues of the Newsletter, I intend to limit my remarks in this forum.

The argument that is made from these texts in defense of the gracious gospel offer consists of two points. The first point is that it clearly expresses our Lord’s desire to save Jerusalem. And that “desire” is exactly what the preaching of the gospel is: an expression of God’s desire to save all who hear the gospel.

The second argument is that the very form of the text indicates that Jesus spoke these words with great sadness. This sadness arose out of a desire to save Jerusalem, but the desire came to nothing because of Jerusalem’s great sin.

The first argument is not difficult to prove wrong. Jesus does not say, and may not be made to say that he desired to save Jerusalem itself. The text clearly tells us that Jesus is expressing his desire to save Jerusalem’s children: “How often would I have gathered thy children together. . . , but ye would not.”

Jesus does not mean to say that he desired to save Jerusalem’s children but never did succeed in saving them; his only point is that the rulers of Jerusalem prevented him from gathering Jerusalem’s children. This astonishing charge that the Lord lays at the feet of the rulers of Jerusalem is a charge that can also be made of the false church today.

Jerusalem not only killed the prophets and stoned them whom God sent to them to warn them to repent of their sins, but they rejected the great One whom God sent, Jesus Christ himself. They fought long and bitterly against him all the time he ministered on earth. They tried to prove him an imposter and charlatan. They excommunicated from the church those who believed on him (John 9:34). They threatened with dire punishments anyone who confessed his name (John 11:47-53). And finally they nailed him to a cross and murdered him to silence his tongue and prevent him from teaching Jerusalem’s children.

So it is today. The church is more than ready to take into its fellowship the greatest of heretics. I am not speaking of the church in general, of which this is also true, but of churches that profess to be Reformed. If anyone raises his voice in protest or expresses his disgust with the presence of wolves in the heritage of God, he is silenced and even, if necessary, ousted and stripped of his membership. It is a dreadful sin to reject Christ; but it is yet more dreadful to do all in one’s power to prevent faithful ones from believing in Christ and confessing his name.

Jesus is therefore simply adding to the list of Jerusalem’s children another great sin.

Two questions remain: Who are Jerusalem’s children? And: Why is Jesus sad because of Jerusalem’s sin and perhaps, we might add, because of Jerusalem’s impending destruction? But we have said enough in this installment, and postpone the answers to the next installment.

Warmest regards,