Matthew 23:37:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Cf. Luke 13:34).

In this verse, Jerusalem evidently refers to the people of that city. It may have the leaders (denounced in the previous verses) especially in mind, but they were not solely responsible for the death of the prophets, or even of Christ himself; nor did the judgment fall only on them, as many ordinary people perished in the fall of Jerusalem.

The gathering can only be the reception of sinners by Christ, as the God-man Redeemer, the reception promised in Matthew 11 :28, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ John Murray tells us:

What needs to be appreciated is that the embrace of which Jesus here speaks is that which he exercises in that unique office and prerogative that belong to him as the God-man Messiah and Savior. In view of the transcendent, divine function which he says he wished to perform, it would be illegitimate for us to say that here we have simply an example of his human desire or will.44

The gathering envisaged is to Christ as one person in two distinct natures; it is that gathering which issues in forgiveness of sins, peace with God and rest unto men’s souls.

Next, the term thy children needs careful interpretation. Opponents of the free offer have striven to make the children refer to the elect of God who were actually gathered by Christ through efficacious grace. For example, Angus Stewart writes:

However, “how often” simply tells us that the religious leaders (‘Jerusalem”) opposed Christ’s gathering His elect (‘Jerusalem’s children”) many times… Yet Christ the king gathers all Jerusalem’s children by His irresistible grace.45

This view is untenable for several reasons:

i) It is arbitrary, imposed on the text and cannot be drawn out from it.

ii) It is contrary to normal usage. The ‘children of Edom’ (Psa. 137: 7) are the people of that place. The many references to the ‘children of Israel’ refer simply to the people of Israel.

Likewise, the children of Moab, Ammon etc. When used metaphorically, such expressions indicate likeness to the parent body–for example, ‘sons of the mighty’ (Psa. 29:1,, ‘children of Belial’ (Deut. 13:13 etc.), ‘children of light’ (Eph. 5:8)–not contrast, as Stewart would have us believe, thus making Jerusalem’s children contrast with Jerusalem itself.

iii) It conflicts with the singular and plural terms in the text. The older English pronouns of our Authorized Version (reflecting the singular and plural distinctions of the Greek) are helpful here. The word thy (singular) clearly relates to Jerusalem (singular). The children (plural), represented as chickens, are in view in the phrase ye (plural) would not where the English reflects the plural of the Greek verb. Stewart wishes the plural verb, ye would not to refer to the singular Jerusalem, which is most forced. It is the children that would not be gathered. Jerusalem is simply a collective description of the city and its people, as a body. The children of Jerusalem are nothing more complicated than those same people considered as a collection of individuals.

iv) It is inconsistent with the use of the term elsewhere. The term thy children is used with reference to Jerusalem and in a similar context, immediately after the record of Christ’s weeping over the city, in Luke 19:44, ‘ …And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knows not the time of thy visitation.’ It is clear that the children are those who died in the destruction of Jerusalem. These cannot be the elect. The believers took heed of Christ’s warning concerning the fall of Jerusalem in Matt. 24:15-20 and fled. It was the unbelieving and self-righteous Jews, believing that Jerusalem would never be destroyed, who stayed and perished within her.

It is now clear that Christ’s lament is directed towards those who were doomed. It is true that John Calvin interprets this verse as an expression of indignation rather than compassion, but he sees the cause of such indignation as abused compassion! He states:

This is expressive of indignation rather than of compassion. The city itself, indeed, over which he had lately wept, (Luke 19:41) is still an object of his compassion; but towards the scribes, who were the authors of its destruction, he uses harshness and severity, as they deserved. And yet he does not spare the rest, who were all guilty of approving and partaking of the same crime… If in Jerusalem the grace of God had been merely rejected, there would have been inexcusable ingratitude; but since God attempted to draw the Jews to himself by mild and gentle methods, and gained nothing by such kindness, the criminality of such haughty disdain was far more aggravated. There was likewise added unconquerable obstinacy; for not once and again did God wish to gather them together, but, by constant and uninterrupted advances, he sent to them the prophets, one after another, almost all of whom were rejected by the great body of the people… We now perceive the reason why Christ, speaking in the person of God, compares himself to a hen. It is to inflict deeper disgrace on this wicked nation, which had treated with disdain invitations so gentle, and proceeding from more than maternal kindness. It is an amazing and unparalleled instance of love, that he did not disdain to stoop to those blandishments, by which he might tame rebels into subjection… By this he means that, whenever the word of God is exhibited to us, he opens his bosom to us with maternal kindness, and, not satisfied with this, condescends to the humble affection of a hen watching over her chickens. Hence it follows, that our obstinacy is truly monstrous, if we do not permit him to gather us together. And, indeed, if we consider, on the one hand, the dreadful majesty of God, and, on the other, our mean and low condition, we cannot but be ashamed and astonished at such amazing goodness. For what object can God have in view in abasing himself so low on our account? When he compares himself to a mother, he descends very far below his glory; how much more when he takes the form of a hen, and deigns to treat us as his chickens?46

Some of Calvin’s expressions may startle even those who hold to the free offer, but they demonstrate his determination, notwithstanding his commitment to the truth of God’s absolute predestination of those who will be saved, to uphold the grace of God manifest in the indiscriminate offer of mercy to sinners. It is certain that anyone espousing the Hoeksema theology would not merely quibble over certain forms of expression in the above, but could not come remotely near to endorsing the doctrine of a gracious free offer so clearly taught here. The claim of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America to be following in the footsteps of Calvin, in their opposition to the free offer of the gospel, simply does not accord with fact. As we have seen, however, Calvin’s view of the free offer, rather than Hoeksema’s rejection of it, accords with the Word of God.

David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed ([Scotland?]: Marpet Press, 2005), 50-54. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; footnote values and content original; and underlining mine.]

Credit to Tony for the find.


44‘The Free Offer of the Gospel’ in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 4, (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1982), p. 120.

45Covenant Reformed News, Sept. 2004, vol. X, Issue 5, (Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship, Bellymena, Northern Ireland), p. 4.

46op. cit. vol. 17 (iii), p. 106f.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 1st, 2011 at 9:57 am and is filed under Matthew 23:37. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

Penn Hackney

Thanks for this article. I’m not familiar with the Silversides-Hoeksema debate, but I am glad Silversides appreciates Calvin’s comments on the passage and even finds support in them. Here is how, a few paragraphs later in the same commentary, Calvin deals with his “commitment to the truth of God’s absolute predestination of those who will be saved”:

“The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.”

April 1st, 2011 at 6:16 pm

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