Edward Polhill (1622-1694) on Matthew 23:37

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Matthew 23:37

[Note: the reasons why Polhill is here cited is not so much because of his comments directed at the Remonstrants, but because, 1) his rejection of the attempt by some to disconnect the sign from the thing signified in the voluntas signi; and 2) because of his challenge to the exegetical trajectory which sought disconnect Christ’s “wishing” here from the trinitarian will of God  (Beza, Turretin, et al): such that Christ merely as a compassionate human and minister of the Gospel sought the salvation of the citizens of Jerusalem.]


Having thus debated the manner of conversion, I proceed to the last thing proposed, viz.;

Query 3. Whether the will of God touching conversion be always accomplished therein? For answer whereunto, I must first lay down a distinction as a foundation. God may be said to will the conversion of men two ways; either by such a will as is effective, and determinative of the event, or by such a d as is only virtual, and ordinative of the means tending thereunto: both parts of this distinction are bottomed upon scripture…

…[W]herefore, in respect of that ordination, God may be truly said, by a kind of virtual and ordinative will, to will the turning and salvation of all men. This I shall explain,

1. With reference to those in the bosom of the Church.

2. With reference to those out of it.

1. God by a virtual or ordinative will doth will the turning and salvation of all men within the bosom of the church; for they have Jesus Christ set before their eyes, and what was the true end of Christ’s coming, but to turn every one from his iniquities, (Acts iii.26). They have the gospel preached unto them: there we have God spreading out his hands all the day, standing and knocking at the door of the heart, crying out with redoubled calls, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” Wooing and beseeching men, be ye reconciled unto me; making his salvation bringing grace appear unto all men, even to the non-elect themselves; and causing the kingdom of God to come nigh unto men, even to such as for the rejection thereof have the dust of their city wiped off against them; and what is the meaning of all this, if God no way will their conversion? Take away God’s ordinative will, and then God (as to the non-elect) spreads out his hands of mercy that he may shut them: knocks, that he may be barred out; cries and beseeches, that he may not be heard; makes his grace appear and kingdom come nigh, that it may be rejected, and not received: all which is to evacuate scripture and put a lie upon the offers of grace. Neither will it salve the business, to say, there is a voluntas signi in all this; for what is voluntas signi, if it be not signum voluntatis? If it be only an outward sign or appearance, and there be no counterpane or prototype thereof, within the divine will, how is it a true sign? which way could it be breathed out from God’s heart? When God makes his great gospel supper, and says, Come, for all things are ready; he is not, he cannot be like him with the evil eye, who says, Eat and drink, but his heart is not with thee, (Prov.xxiii.6.7.) No, God’s heart goes along with every offer of grace; he never calls, but in a serious manner. And therefore, unbelieving and impenitent persons are in scripture said not only to reject the means, but “to receive the grace of God in vain,” (2 Cor. vi. 1); to “reject the counsel of God against themselves,” (Luke vii. 30), and to “make God a liar,” (1 John v. l0), as if he meant not really in the offers of his Son, Jesus Christ. When God threatened the Jews with his judgments, “they belied the Lord, and said, “it is not he,” (Jer. V. 12); and when God offers men grace in the gospel, they by their unbelief belie the Lord and say, “It is not he; it is but only the minister or outward I sign; God’s heart or mind is not in it.” Under such weighty words as these does the scripture set out the rejection of means. Because of God’s ordinative will. That God who will one day mock at the rejectors of his call, (Prov. i. 26), doth not now mock them in the grace of his call; the true end of his call is their conversion, and that that end is not attained, the only reason lies within themselves, in their own corrupt, unbelieving hearts. Moreover, it is worthy of our consideration, that those scriptures (which the Remonstrants urge, to prove that all the operations of grace, even those in the very elect who actually turn unto God, are resistible) do signally set forth this ordinative will of God. As first, they urge that, (Matt. xxiii. 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.” Here, say they, is resistible grace. Very well; but what grace doth the text speak of. It speaks only of the grace afforded to those Jews which were never gathered or converted thereby, but not a title of the grace afforded to those Jews which were thereby actually gathered or converted; and how then can it prove that this latter grace (of which it speaks not at all) was resistible? If it prove this grace resistible, it can be upon no other ground but this only; That the grace afforded to the Jews which were not gathered, and the grace afforded to the Jews which were gathered, was one and the same; but how can that be made good? Can that text assert an equality of grace to both sorts of Jews, which speaks only of grace afforded to one of them, vis., to the ungathered ones? It is impossible. But if it be not the truth of the text, is there yet any truth in the thing? Had all the Jews equal grace with the Jews given to Christ, with the Jews drawn by the Father, with the Jews chosen out of the world? It is incredible. The Remonstrants allow, that God doth irresistibly enlighten the understanding, excite the affections, and infuse a posse convertere into the will; but was it thus with all the Jews? Were the blind leaders of the blind thus enlightened? Were the malicious scorners thus affected? Were those which could not believe, (John xii. 39), endued with a posse convertere? It cannot be. Wherefore, this text speaking only of the grace given to the ungathered Jews, proves not the grace given to the other Jews to be resistible, but it genuinely proves a will in God to gather them all under his wings of grace; I say, a will in God, for it cannot be interpreted of Christ’s human will; for the gathering willed was not only a gathering by Christ’s ministry, but by the mission of prophets before his incarnation, to which Christ’s human will could not extend, because not then in being: wherefore, this will is God’s ordinative will, imported in the ministry of Christ and the prophets, the proper end and tendency whereof was to gather them into the bosom of his grace. This Calvin, in his commentaries upon this place calls, mirum et incomparable amoris documentum: and withal adds, significat nunquam proponi nobis Dei verbum, quni ipse materna dulcedine gremium suum nobis aperiat. Again, they [the Remonstrants] urge that, (Isa. lxv. 2). “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people;” but this place speaks only of the grace afforded to the rebellion, and, therefore, it proves not that the grace afforded to the elect was resistible. Neither is it imaginable, that the same measure of grace is signified in this expansion of God’s hand, as in the revelation of his arm,” (Isa. liii. 1). The apostle quotes this place, (Rom. x. 21), yet withal asserts, “that there was a remnant where God attests the riches of his grace,” (Rom. xi. 5); not a remnant according to the better improvement of the same grace, but a remnant according to the election of grace; such as pure grace had reserved to itself, by those special operations which were not vouchsafed to the blinded ones,” (v. 7). “God’s stretching out his hands is all one with his call,” (Prov. i. 24); but all men are not called after the same rate as the called according to purpose: wherefore, this place proves not, that the workings of grace as to the elect are resistible; but that the offers of grace as to the non-elect are serious, God in the means really spreading out his arms of grace unto them. Again: they [the Remonstrants] urge that of our Savior, “These things I say, that you might be saved,” (John v. 34); which words were spoken to them, which “would not come to Christ,” (ver. 40); but that the Holy Spirit spoke as inwardly and powerfully to them, as to the elect who” hear and learn of the Father;” what chemistry can extract it out of this text? or from what other scripture can it be demonstrated? God” commands the light to shine out of darkness in some hearts,” (2 Cor. iv. 6); but doth he so in all? Whence then are those blinded ones? (ver. 4). If there be any such, where is the Remonstrants’ equality of grace? Where, when they say, that illumination is wrought irresistibly? These things cannot consist together. Wherefore our Savior’s words shew not forth the weakness or separableness of grace as to the elect, but the true end and scope of Christ’s preaching as to the non-elect; what he spoke to them was in order to their salvation. Again: they [the Remonstrants] urge that, “The pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him,” that is, of John, (Luke vii. 30). Here, say they, is their thesis in terminus: but this place is so far from proving that the internal grace vouchsafed to the elect is resistible, that from hence it cannot be proved that these rejecters had any workings of internal grace at all in them; for internal grace runs in the veins of ordinances, and the ordinance here spoken of was John’s baptism, and that these rejecters would not partake of at all; for so says the text, “They were not baptized of him,” and then which way should they come by internal grace? could they have it quite out of God’s way? No; surely there is little, or rather no reason, to imagine that these rejecters so far scorning God’s ordinance, as not so much as outwardly to be made partakers thereof, should yet have the workings of internal grace in them. But suppose they had some internal working, must it needs be the “baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire,” such intimate and powerful working as is in the elect? Not a title of this appears in the text: wherefore this place proves not I that the working of grace in the elect is resistible, but it signally shows forth the nature, of divine ordinances. Every ordinance is an ordinance from the will of God; it is an appointment dropped down from heaven; it is divinely destinated eis oikodomen, for edification and not for destruction; it is the place where God records his name; it is the way where God would be met withal; it is the oracle where God would be heard; it is a kind of tabernacle of witness, where God attests the riches of his grace. John’s baptism was not a mere external sign or shadow, but imported God’s ordinative counsel to bring men to repentance; it was eis matanoian, to repentance, as its proper end, (Matt. iii. 11). Gospel-preaching is not a mere sound or voice of words, but it importeth God’s ordinative counsel to turn men unto himself. Hence every true minister is said to stand. in God’s counsel, and for this very end, to turn them from the evil of their doings, (Jer, xxii..22). Every ordinance speaks an ordinative counsel for some spiritual end, a serious ordination for the good of souls. Oh! that every one would think so indeed, how surely would they find that God is in it of a truth; whosoever comes to an ordinance so thinking, justifies God’s institution and meets his benediction; but he who comes and thinks otherwise, doth, by that very thought, forsake the ordinance of his God; and reject his counsel, though not in so high and gross a manner as the Pharisees and lawyers did, who would not so much as outwardly partake of John’s baptism. Again: they urge that, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wid grapes,” (Isai. v. 4)? Here, say they, were omnia adhibita, not a tantillum gratiæ wanting; here seems to be the ultimus conatus, the utmost acting of grace, even equal to those operations of grace which were in the converts of the Jewish church, and that upon a double account; first, because God says, “What could be done more?” Secondly, because God had done so much, that he expected the grapes of holiness and obedience from them; and yet after all this, they brought forth wild grapes: hence the Remonstrants conclude, that conversion is wrought in a resistible way. I answer; those which will take the true measure of the grace set forth in this text, must first consider to whom this grace was afforded; it was to the Jewish church in common, even to every member thereof: this granted, as it cannot be denied, I proceed to answer, first as to that expression, “What could have been done more?” Either the meaning of it is, what could have been done more in a way of internal grace, or else it is what could have been done more in a way of external means; the first cannot be the meaning, that God could do no more in a wav of internal grace; if God had said so in that sense: the Jewish church might have aptly answered, Lord! could est thou not write the law in every heart? Could thou not make a new heart in every one of us? O how many unregenerate souls are there found in me! But if not that, Lord! could thou not, at least, have inwardly enlightened everyone? Could thou not have given him some inward dispositions to conversion? O how many ignorant souls are there, which call “evil good, and good evil, and put darkness for light, and light for darkness!” (Isa. v. 20.) These are not so much as inwardly enlightened. O! how many atheists are there which jeer and scoff at the threatenings of God, saying, “Let him hasten his work, that we may see it, let the counsel of the Holy One draw nigh, that we may know it.” (Ver. 9.) These are so far from any dispositions to conversion, that they scarcely have the sense of a Deity in them. Lord! thou, who did plant me a vineyard or visible church, could have planted saving graces in every heart; thou, who did gather out the stones of public annoyance out of me, could have took away the privy stone of hardness out of every heart; doubtless thou art Almighty, and therefore thou can do it; thou art true, and therefore thou wilt do it, if thou hast said it. Hence it appears that that expression, “What could have been done more?” relates not to internal grace, but external means: it is as if God had said, “O Israel! I have planted thee in a Canaan; I have set thee my only visible church in the world; I have manured thee by my prophets; I have betrusted thee with the lively Oracles of my law; I have fenced thee in with my waky providence and protection. What nation is there so great, who hath me so nigh unto them, who hath judgments and statutes so righteous? What national or church-privileges is there yet behind? What could have been done more for a church under the legal pedagogy and I before the Messiah’s coming in the flesh?” This I take to be the proper meaning of the words. Secondly, as to Gods expectation, neither does that imply that there were omnia adhibita; for when God came and sought fruit on the fig-tree, the seeking there was as much as the expecting here, and yet there were not omnia adhibita, no, not as to external means; for after his seeking, he dug about it and dunged it, that it might be fruitful, (Luke xiii. 6, 7, 8, g). Now, by all this it appears, that that parable of the vineyard proves, not that the internal grace afforded to those Jews which were thereby converted was resistible; but it proves that the proper end and tendency of the means afforded to the Jewish church, was that they might bring forth good fruits to God; and in respect of that ordination, God is said to expect those good fruits from them.

Edward Polhill, “The Divine Will Considered in its Eternal Decrees,” in The Works of Edward Polhill (Morgan, PA.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998), 208-210. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; square bracket inserts and underlining mine.]

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