This will be part one of a series to refute the rebuttals that Calvinists argue against standard texts used by those that oppose Calvinism.
Matthew 23:37 is a common passage used to refute the “I” in the TULIP of Calvinism (Irresistible Grace) and rightly so. The passage reads:
“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!“
The Calvinist believes that man’s will or free will is never involved in the salvation of the believer, but that the grace of God is superimposed upon the believer regardless of whether he wills to be saved or not. Jesus clearly states here that He would have gathered them together, but they WOULD not. Would is an indication of the will of the subject.
Now my dear Calvinist friend has an explanation for this, but as I will demonstrate, the explanation fails for several reasons.
CALVINIST ARGUMENT 1: God promises to bring Israel back into the land under His covenant, so Israel will eventually be saved anyway. And relying on Matthew 23:39 in support of such which reads:
“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.”
REBUTTAL TO ARGUMENT 1: It is clear that in Matthew 23:37, regardless of when God will EVENTUALLY take Israel out of blindness, in THIS passage and during THIS SPECIFIC PERIOD, His gathering of Jerusalem was conditioned upon their “WOULD”. What the Calvinist ignores is that even though passages such as Romans chapters 9-11 speak of an eventual restoration of Israel, there could have been an EARLIER one if they had WILLINGLY accepted Christ as their Messiah.
If at ANY point in time any person had an opportunity to come to Christ of his own free will, such a notion would defeat the Calvinist position.
Furthermore, relying on v. 39 does not support their case, but rather the opposite. The Calvinist emphasizes that this verse shows there will be a future restoration and thus God’s grace is sovereign after all against the will of man, but they ignore the part where this restoration is CONDITIONED on Israel saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”.
Another thing to note here (and a fact in many other verses) is something that destroys Calvinism, and that is the existence of any condition at all upon man. For in Calvinism, God alone gives repentance, spiritual awakening from the dead, faith, and ultimately salvation totally as an independent act of God and completely separate from any response or involvement by man.
However, even if God preordained the children of Jerusalem to call on Him, even if God FORCED their confessions (Romans 10:9-10), and FORCED them to call on the name of the Lord, that still proves there is a human element that is required in the salvation process even if it is God that provokes or causes it, and as such, still contradicts Calvinism. Now the Calvinist may argue “any human element involved at all would be a works salvation”. Not true. A works salvation is depending on ones own effort of keeping God’s commandments and being a “good person”. Yielding the will to God is not a human effort to achieve salvation.
The Bible is clear in Romans 10:9-10 that with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Confessing Christ is a matter that requires the man to do something, confess with the mouth. Now there are some passages of scripture that may give the appearance that God would impose belief (and we will deal with those later) but there are NONE that show God imposing His will on a man’s mouth to confession.
CALVINIST ARGUMENT 2: Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and not Jerusalem as a whole. (This argument is not held to by my friend, but is held to by other Calvinists when dealing with Matthew 23 so I am including the rebuttal to it here.)
REBUTTAL TO ARGUMENT 2: It is argued by the Calvinist that the context of Matthew 23 is a rebuke to the Pharisees, so when Jesus makes this statement to Jerusalem, he is not talking to Jerusalem as a whole, but to those who killed the prophets and caused the rebellions in Israel. So just as Jesus did not mean that God so loved the world, but that God so loved the elect, this verse also has a limited application in Calvinism.
However, if you carefully note in verse 37, Jesus said how often He would have gathered their CHILDREN. Jesus wasn’t speaking to any CHILDREN while rebuking the Pharisees. Moreover, the plain meaning of the text is that Jesus is in fact speaking to Jerusalem as a whole. In fact, He says it TWICE!
CALVINIST ARGUMENT 3: It is argued that several OT passages that reference the GATHERING of Israel, demonstrate that God will eventually impose His will on Israel, siting Deut. 30:1-6, Isaiah 11:11,12, Isaiah 54:6-8, Jeremiah 23:3, Jeremiah 29:14, Jeremiah 31:8-10, Ezekiel 11:16-20, Ezekiel 20:32-37.
REBUTTAL TO ARGUMENT 3: Almost all of these passages are a reference to God regathering the scattered of Israel back to their homeland, and are not even remotely close to the context of what Jesus is referring to in Matthew 23, particularly since Israel would not be scattered for another 40 years when Titus attacked Jerusalem in AD 70.
In Ezekiel 20:32-37, where God causes Israel to “pass through the rod” is a reference to the tribulation where God will try the entire earth, and even then only a remnant of Israel is saved. If all of these verses are used to prove God’s will over the will of Israel, then it would logically follow that there could not possibly be a remnant that end up lost in Israel.
Now I personally believe that when Paul mentions that all Israel will be saved in Romans 11, that the tribulation is going to kill off all the unbelieving Israelites, but even during the tribulation, men refuse to repent of their deeds (Rev 16:11) which shows a free will to choose to accept or reject Christ, and in Revelation 2:22, those that commit adultery with the whore are told to repent, and in Revelation 18:4, Israel is told to come out of Babylon so that she receives none of her plagues and does not become partakers of her sins which implies that God’s people have a choice to stay in Babylon or be destroyed with her.
Nevertheless, the fact that there will be those among the Jews that reject Christ during the tribulation (Rev 2:2, 9, and 3:9) shows that relying on verses to prove God forces all Israel to be saved as a means of His imposition over their will prove false.
Moreover, sovereign grace that holds God’s will is imposed against the will of man does not give options to leave or remain in a damning situation (as in Rev 18:4). If Irresistable Grace were true, this command in Revelation 18:4 would not be necessary, God would simply drag them out like He does to the tribulation saints just prior to the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation in Revelation 12:6.
Yet and still, these passages must be interpreted in light of the clear reading of Matthew 23:37-39. Regardless of what interpretation is given to the words “gathering” in all of the OT texts, when arriving at Matthew 23, it would not happen unless Israel calls upon the name of the Lord, and that condition teaches the exact opposite of Calvinist theology.
If Jesus WOULD HAVE gathered them, then that means He COULD HAVE gathered them, and the parallel between verses 37 and 39 show that He COULD NOT because they WOULD NOT!