How Often Would I Have Gathered Thy Children

Edward Hendrie

            Arminians are fond of quoting Matthew 23:37 out of context from corrupt bible versions, alleging that the passage supports their argument that man’s free will can thwart the will of God. For example, Norman Geisler quotes the NIV version of Matthew 23:37 in support of his Arminian theology in his popular book, Chosen But Free. Endnote Dr. Norman Geisler (Ph.D., Loyola University) is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and author or coauthor of over fifty books including Baker's Encyclopedia of Apologetics. After quoting the NIV version of Matthew 23:37, Geisler stated: “In short, it is God’s ultimate and sovereign will that we have free will even to resist His will that everyone be saved.” Endnote Wow! One can only marvel at such Arminian nonsense.

            Chad Meister, who is an Arminian theologian and an assistant professor of philosophy at Bethel College quotes the NIV bible version of Matthew 23:37 and identifies it as one of the prime passages that supports the Arminian theology that man has free will and can use it to resist the sovereign will of God. Meister states:


[T]he Bible strongly affirms human free will (the ability to initiate a moral decision either for or against any given option). Jesus laments over His city in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (NIV, emphasis added). Endnote

            The NIV passage quoted by Geisler and Meister is wrong. God did not state “but you were not willing.” God actually stated “ye would not.” The actual passage in God’s word, which is found in the Authorized (King James) Version (AV) of the bible:


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! (Matthew 23:37 AV)

            There is an eternity of difference between “but you were not willing” in the NIV and “ye would not” in the AV. God was not saying that Jerusalem was able to thwart the will of God through the exercise of their will, as alleged by Geisler and Meister. Rather, God was stating “would I have gathered thy children” but “ye would not” gather thy children. God rejected the earthly Jerusalem and instead uses his church to “gather” his “children.” The earthly Jerusalem of which Jesus spoke was adverse to God, and that is why it did not gather its children to God. “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” Luke 11:23.

            The misuse of Matthew 23:37 is yet another example where the Arminians have taken a bible passage out of context and misinterpreted it to say something contrary to God’s gospel. Before Jesus made the statement in Matthew 23:37, Jesus was teaching through parables in the temple at Jerusalem. See Matthew 21:23. Jesus made the comment in Matthew 23:37 after reciting several parables and upbraiding the scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat in Jerusalem. Jesus told a wedding parable against the scribes and Pharisees. That wedding parable explains the meaning of Matthew 23:37. Jesus stated:


And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:1-14.

            Jesus was speaking of the Jewish religious leaders, who ruled from Jerusalem. They had rejected God and set up their own religion contrary to God’s commands. “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:13 AV) Jesus was explaining in Matthew 22 that God had rejected them.

            Notice that in Matthew 22:3 when the king first sent an invitation to the wedding, they were “bidden to the wedding,” but nobody responded. They did not respond because they did not have the ability to respond. No man can come to Jesus unless the father draw him. John 6:44. Later, the king told his servants to “go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” Matthew 22:9. The king’s servants then did something that was not done during the earlier invitation. In addition to bidding the guests to the wedding, the servants “gathered together all as many as they found.” Matthew 22:10. No one came to the first invitation, and it was necessary for the king to affirmatively “gather” people to the wedding.

            Once the king’s servants gathered the guests, “the wedding was furnished with guests.” Matthew 22:10. The king furnished the wedding with guests by gathering them, just as God furnishes heaven with his elect by gathering them. “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31 AV)

            The king’s first invitation was not enough to convince his guests to come to the wedding. Just as the wedding required the king’s servants to “gather” guests, so also salvation requires God to draw his elect. The wedding parable in Matthew 22 was punctuated with Jesus’ statement: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” It was the chosen who were “gathered” and brought to the wedding. The reference by Jesus in Matthew 23:37 to Jerusalem was to earthly Jerusalem. The true holy city of Jerusalem is made up of the saints who have faith in Jesus, not fleshly Jews. “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 21:2.

            The man that came to the wedding without wedding clothes in Matthew 22 was not chosen among those that were “gathered.” He, of his own free will, decided to try to enter, but he was not among those that were “gathered,” and so did not have the proper wedding garment. All those that seek to come into the kingdom of heaven must have on the wedding garment of the perfect righteousness of Christ. They must have their robes washed in the blood of God’s lamb, who is Jesus. Revelation 7:14. No one can get into heaven through their own righteousness; those seeking entrance into heaven must have the righteousness of Christ (the wedding garment).


Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” Revelation 19:7-8. See also Revelation 3:5; Romans 4, 9:30-31; Galatians 3:26-29.

            Jesus followed the parable in Matthew 12 with a direct attack on the Pharisees and scribes:


But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 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! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 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. Matthew 23:13-39.

            When Jesus said “O Jerusalem” he was referring to the religious leaders against which he pronounced “woe” after “woe” in the preceding verses. Jesus was stating that they killed the prophets whom God had sent to them, which had the effect (according to God’s will) of shutting “up the kingdom of heaven against men.” Matthew 23:13. Jesus then told the Pharisees and scribes that they and their followers are damned to hell.

            One must read Matthew 23:37 in context and distinguish between “Jerusalem” and the “children.” It was the Jews (referred to as “children”) who were under the care of Jerusalem (the Pharisees and scribes, who sat in Moses’ seat of authority). Notice, that it was “Jerusalem” who “would not” gather its children under its wings. The children of Jerusalem were not gathered by God, because nobody can come to God unless he draws them to him. John 6:44. They were not drawn. They were given an invitation by the prophets, but the religious leaders killed and stoned the prophets. As the parable of the wedding explains, they were not chosen among those “gathered” for the wedding. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14.

            Notice that God used the same word to describe what he did not do in Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 and what he did do in the parable of the kings wedding in Matthew 22:1-14. In the parable of the king’s wedding the king’s servants “gathered” the guests for the wedding. In Matthew 23:37, however, God did not “gather” the children of Jerusalem, because the religious leaders “would not” gather them by obeying God’s word. Arminians contend that the religious leaders had the ability to accept God’s invitation. However, the passage says no such thing. The passage simply states the fact that they “would not”gather their children. The religious leaders, like the first guests who were invited to the wedding, “took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” Matthew 22:6. What happens to those that are not gathered? God gathers his elect, and the rest are thrown in an eternal fire. God “will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12 AV)

            The Jews tried to establish their own righteousness as a means to salvation. They refused to submit to God in repentance and faith.


For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Romans 10:3

            The Jews erected a religion, whereby salvation was by good works. God, however, saves his elect by his grace alone. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works.” Romans11:6. God planned that the Jews would fail in their effort to establish their own righteousness. God planned on the Jews not responding to his invitation to salvation by faith. God was making an example of them to show us the futility of man’s efforts to gain salvation by good works. See 1 Corinthians 10:11.

            God elected men for salvation, both among the gentiles and among the Jews. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:11-12. The Jews, on the other hand, have a constructed a religion where they claim a unique blessing and status that is distinct and superior to gentiles.

            God has revealed that those whom God elected for salvation are not even seeking him. God makes himself manifest to them. That means that salvation is entirely the work of God, by his grace. He elects those for salvation who are not even of their own will seeking salvation. In fact, God explains that “there is none that seeketh after God.” Romans 11. God draws his elect and makes them seek him. Without God’s drawing, no man would come to God. John 6:44, 64-65. All who are drawn by God will come to him. John 6:39. The Jews of Jerusalem to whom he referred in Matthew 23:37 were not among those whom God drew. God stretched out his hand to them, but their very nature was to reject God, just as Jesus explained in the wedding parable in Matthew 22.


But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. Romans 10:20-21.

            God had blinded the Jews of Jerusalem to whom he spoke in Matthew 23:37. He gave the Jews a spirit of slumber so that they could not respond to his invitation. Those whom the king in Matthew 22 ultimately gathered to the wedding were chosen to come to the wedding, whereas those who rejected his first invitation were foreordained to reject the invitation. God elects some for salvation and the others are sent to an eternal lake of fire.


What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway. Romans 11:7-10.

            The children of the worldly Jerusalem are the children of the flesh; they are not the children of God. Romans 9:8. Jesus stated emphatically in Matthew 23:38: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” The house of Jerusalem includes the children of that house. The children of God are the elect children of the spirit, who look for a heavenly Jerusalem. “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” Revelation 21:10.

            The earthly Jerusalem is in bondage to sin. The children of the heavenly Jerusalem are the children of promise, who were elected by God for salvation. Romans 9:11. The Arminian view that somehow the fleshly children of Jerusalem could have been saved if only they were willing is not supported by scripture. In Galatians 4 God makes it clear that the earthly Jerusalem and her children are in bondage to sin, whereas it is the heavenly Jerusalem that is freed from sin and is elected by God to inherit the kingdom of heaven.


For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Galatians 4:23-31.

            The children of the heavenly Jerusalem are children of God because they are the children of promise. Their status as children is not based upon anything that they have done. Romans 9:11. The earthly Jerusalem was not elected by God for salvation. The Jerusalem of God is a heavenly city. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” Hebrews 12:22. Those elected by God will be children in the heavenly Jerusalem.


Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. Revelation 3:12.

            The children who are chosen by God certainly come to him, just as Jesus explained in his parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. It is God who does both the calling and the choosing. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14. The children of God are elected by God to be children of God. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” Romans 9:11.

            It was “Jerusalem” who “would not” gather its children by following God’s word. The children of Jerusalem would not come to God, because the religious leadership had bewitched them into following the traditions of men, rather than seeking after the righteousness of God. See Mark 7:13. Jesus called them children of hell. Matthew 23:15. The spiritual children of the promise, whom God gathers, come with the wedding garment of the righteousness of Jesus Christ provided for them by God. Revelation 21:2. God’s children are chosen by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The children of the flesh are rejected by God and their house is left unto them desolate. Matthew 23:38.

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