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!
A W Pink Sovereignty of God
One scripture which we often find cited in order to overthrow the teaching advanced in this book is our Lord's lament over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem.... how often would I....and ye would not!" (Mat 23:37). The question is asked, Do not these words show that the Saviour acknowledged the defeat of His mission, that as a people the Jews resisted all His gracious overtures toward them? In replying to this question, it should first be pointed out that our Lord is here referring not so much to His own mission, as He is upbraiding the Jews for having in all ages rejected His grace - this is clear from His reference to the "prophets." The Old Testament bears full witness of how graciously and patiently Jehovah dealt with His people, and with what extreme obstinacy, from first to last, they refused to be "gathered" unto Him, and how in the end He (temporarily) abandoned them to follow their own devices, yet, as the same Scriptures declare, the counsel of God was not frustrated by their wickedness, for it had been foretold (and therefore, decreed) by Him - see, for example, 1 Kings 8:33.
Matthew 23:37 may well be compared with Isaiah 65:2 where the Lord says "I have.... thoughts." But, it may be asked; did God seek to do that which was in opposition to His own eternal purpose? In other words borrowed from Calvin we reply, "Though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold and various, yet He does not in Himself will things at variance with each other, but astonishes our faculties with His various and 'manifold' wisdom, according to the expression of Paul, till we shall be enabled to understand that he mysteriously wills what now seems contrary to his will." As a further illustration of the same principle we would refer the reader to Isa 5:1-4: "Now....He looked that it should bring forth grapes.... What could have been done more.... grapes?" Is it not plain from this language that God reckoned Himself to have done enough for Israel to warrant an expectation - speaking after the manner of men - of better return? Yet, is it not equally evident when Jehovah says here "He looked that it should bring forth grapes" that He is accommodating Himself to a form of finite expression? And, so also when He says "What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done it?" we need to take note that in the previous enumeration of what He had done - the "fencing" etc. - He refers only to external privileges, means, and opportunities, which had been bestowed upon Israel, for, of course, He could even then have taken away from them their stony heart and given them a new heart, even a heart of flesh, as He will yet do, had He so pleased.
Perhaps we should link up with Christ's lament over Jerusalem in Mat 23:37, His tears over the City, recorded in Luke 19:41: "He.... it." In the verses, which immediately follow, we learn what it was that occasioned His tears: "Saying.... every side." It was the prospect of the fearful judgement, which Christ knew was impending. But did those tears make manifest a disappointed God? Nay, verily. Instead, they displayed a perfect Man. The Man Christ Jesus was no emotionless stoic, but One "filled with compassion." Those tears expressed the sinless sympathies of His real and pure humanity. Had He not "wept", He had been less than human. Those "tears" were one of many proofs that "in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren" (Heb 2:17).
aymon de albatrus
I see it (and so did the Puritans) more like that here Jesus speaks according to his human nature, for Jesus Christ has two natures, one human and the other divine. Instances of the human affection, and will of Christ, may be observed in Luk 22:42 which will of His, though not contrary to the divine will, but subordinate to it, yet not always the same with it, nor always fulfilled.
Whereas his divine will, or his will as God, is, always fulfilled: "who hath resisted his will?" this cannot be hindered, and made void; he does whatsoever he pleases: and further, that this will of Christ to gather the Jews to himself, is to be understood of his human, and not divine will, is manifest from hence, that this will was in him, and expressed by him at certain several times, by intervals; and therefore he says, "how often would I have gathered," The divine will is one continued, invariable, and unchangeable will, is always the same, and never begins or ceases to be, and to which such an expression is inapplicable; and therefore these words do not contradict the absolute and sovereign will of God, in the distinguishing acts of it, respecting the choice of some persons, and the leaving of others.
Jesus here speaks about his lifetime as a man on earth and travelling through Jerusalem, and of His affections as a man he would have saved the lot, but they would not for the reasons we know.
This verse is no proof of menís resisting the operations of the Spirit and grace of God; but only shows what obstructions and discouragements were thrown in the way of attendance on the external ministry of the word. Christ, as man, out of a compassionate regard for the people of the Jews, to whom, he was sent as the minister of the circumcision, would have gathered them together under his ministry, and have instructed them in the knowledge of himself, as the Messiah; which if they had only notionally received, would have secured them, as chickens under the hen, from impending physical judgments, which afterwards fell upon them; but their governors would not suffer them to receive Him, and embrace Him as the Messiah. So that from the whole it appears, that this passage of Scripture, so much talked of by the Arminians, and so often cited by them, has nothing to do with the controversy about the doctrines of election and reprobation, particular redemption, efficacious grace in conversion, and the power of manís free will. This observation alone is sufficient to destroy the argument founded on this passage, in favour of free will.
It seems to me a case more akin to Nineveh and Jonah, rather than referring to eternal salvation.
It makes perfect sense, if this verse is viewed as being only a reference to a possible deliverance from impending judgement on the basis of at least a limited repentance, and not as a reference to Salvation, and 23:38 does appear to support this.
The whole of Mat 23 is of course a condemnation of the evil practices of the people whom The Lord spoke of in Mat 23:37. The most amazing thing about Mat 23:37 is that it shows just how wonderfully gracious and long suffering The Lord is, in that after telling them the Truth about their sinful state, He should say such a thing.