In the introduction to “Four views off divine providence,” Denis W. Jowers, the editor, provides several examples of ambiguous scriptures about God’s sovereignty. Some of these examples concern God’s total control versus his disappointment that he doesn’t achieve what he wants.
“Though God declares, ‘My counsel will stand and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa. 46:10), he expresses disappointment at his people’s failure to hearken to his pleas: “What more was there to do for my vineyard,that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4).”
Another example, which is my focus:
“Tensions similar to those that complicate the Old Testament account, moreover, resurface in the New Testament’s teaching on divine providence. Once more, God expresses seeming disappointment at human beings’ unwillingnessto cooperate with his salvific initiative. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus cries out, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you wouldnot!” (My underlining).
Jowers seems to be arguing – the use of the term “unwillingness” is telling – like the famous Arminian, Norman Geisler, who says in his Chosen but free that “it is God’s ultimate and sovereign will that we have free will even to resist His will that everyone be saved.” And so, although God is disappointed that so many among the leaders and children of Jerusalem are not willing to come to him, he cannot disobey his own sovereign will to refrain from lording it over human beings to whom he has given the most precious gift of all, namely to choose to follow him or not.
Jowers is a Presbyterian, but that doesn’t tell you that modern Presbyterians are non-Arminians or that they cannot get confused. Jowers’ understanding of the passage is prevalent among evangelical Arminians. I briefly consider the argument of one such group. In James White on Matthew 23:37, they say:
“James White recently discussed Matthew 23:37 on Radio Free Geneva in response to Dr. Norman Geisler’s book Chosen but Free. Here’s the passage.”
Matthew 23:37-39 states: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”
“James White uses the difference between ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘your children’ to argue that Jerusalem represents the Jewish leadership while Jerusalem’s children are the Jewish people. Dr. Geisler responds by pointing out that even if this were true, it doesn’t matter. Either way someone opposes Christ’s desire. I like Dr. Geisler’s point; per Calvinism, no one can oppose God’s desire in the sense of His decree for what He wants to happen. James White quickly points out that Calvinism distinguishes God’s desires from His commands and then James White claims Matthew 23:37 is about God’s commands and the outward ministry of the Gospel rather than God’s desire for the outcome. But if that’s the case it seems to strengthen Dr. Geisler’s point that the discussion of ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘your children’ is a side issue. Why does it matter who is opposing Christ, so long as they are not really opposing His desire.”
All the verse is saying is that God desires the people of Jerusalem (necessariy all, says the Arminian) to come to him, but the leaders; no, they’re not frustrating God’s desire. “Woe is me, I’m, like Isaiah, undone ’cause the leaders are not willing; what’s ole demi-urge moi going to do now? The risks, as says C.S. Lewis, I take! If I had my way I’d revert to plan A: Calvinism!” What the leaders are simply doing is opposing God with their damned free wills, which is what all, without exception, do unless God infuses new life into their dead Gogolian souls.
The rest of the writer’s discussion consists of a flood of scriptures, OT and NT, where he points out, correctly, Jerusalem refers not only to leaders but to the whole of Jerusalem. What, though, has that to do with the context of Matthew 23:37 above. In this passage, two groups are contrasted: the leaders and the people. Granted many, indeed most Jerusalemites throughout the Bible, as we read in Isaiah 6, only a stump of a stump will remain, were under God’s judgment. But that’s got nothing to do with Matthew 23:37, which is crystal clear; yet not to Arminians. Which goes to prove that no one knows where grammatical savvy begins and divine revelation ends, where natural light begins and supernatural light ends.
In their Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford 2011), David Baggett and Jerry Walls, use philosophy to attack Calvinism. They say (p. 68):
(For my purposes, I substitute “philosophy,” “rational” ands related terms for “grammar”)
“…trust in the reliability of scripture in the first place assumes trust in the experiences of those biblical writers whose written words God genuinely inspired. Without the requisite trust in those experiences, we are left without rational [grammatical] conviction in the authority of the Bible. Or take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational [grammatical], requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason [grammar], which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically [grammatically]. The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally [grammatically] believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think [grammatically], we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy [grammar]. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally [grammatically]. “
Triablogue, in his amusing and exacting Arminian Funhouse, comments:
“There’s a dialectical relationship between general and special revelation, where you can’t properly understand or evaluate either one without reference to the other. To take a crude analogy, if you tear a page of text down the middle, you can make some sense of what each half says, but you have to put the two pieces back together, side by side, to make complete sense of the text. For the sentences break off in mid-sentence. Or, to take a different illustration, it’s like the relationship between an exotic tool and the operating manual. You can tell the tool was designed to do something. But however much you study the tool, you can’t figure out, just by examining the tool, what it was meant to do.”
Which goes to prove that grammar, like salvation, is of the Lord; that is, for all who are called and chosen.