11 June, 2016


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Chapter 3: Keegstra’s Citation of Calvin

Although the Rev. Keegstra makes no attempt in his articles about the well-meant offer of grace in the preaching to answer the questions which he himself has posed, and especially does not enter into the question how a messenger can presume to make general what God has made particular, he nevertheless does make an attempt to make plain that his view is in harmony with Scripture and the Confession.

He appeals first of all, as was almost to be expected, to the well-known and so frequently quoted words of the Saviour in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34:

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!

Instead, however, of giving an explanation of these words himself, the Editor appeals to the explanation of Calvin.

Now we also value it when we can appeal to a man like Calvin. Although no one would get it in his head to quote a passage from Calvin’s Commentaries with the purpose of considering this the last word, we nevertheless value it highly that we can appeal to Calvin in support of our view. It was partly because of this that we recently published a brochure in which we tried to draw a comparison between the views of Calvin, Berkhof, and Kuiper on the issue of a well-meant, general offer of grace.

Partly because of this we are immediately on our guard when we see Calvin being quoted by others. His name is frequently misused. If we review what in our day passes for Calvinism, especially with the so-called Neo Calvinism in the Netherlands, then it would be no wonder if the Reformer of Geneva would turn over in his grave.

Nor are we the only ones, not even the first ones, to call attention to this evil.

Already twenty years ago (we were still in school when the book was republished) Dr. C. B. Hylkema wrote in Oud en Nieuw Calvinisme (Old and New Calvinism):

Indeed it cannot be denied that the expression “common grace,” with which present day Reformed men designate one of the most central doctrines of their position, appears in Calvin. But that with this he at all thought of a common grace in the broad sense which today is ascribed to the word, that “Calvinism,” as Kuyper says, should have stood for “the doctrine of common grace,” can, with an appeal to history, be safely denied. (p. 207).

And later he writes:

The more closely one looks, the clearer it becomes that to speak of “Calvinism” and “common grace” can actually produce nothing but confusion. That with that “common grace” as the Neo-Calvinist understands it even an entirely new doctrine is introduced is now indeed clear.

Now, Dr. Hylkema is not a Reformed man, and I would not readily want to subscribe to all that he writes. But that does not take away the fact that time after time he clearly demonstrates that in our day an appeal to Calvin is often made for a position which the Reformer would despise and reject with all that was in him.

Partly also for that reason we have taught that not everything that men offer us in the name of Calvin is simply to be swallowed, but that first we should investigate whether they really quote the great reformer correctly, both as to form and as to sense.

One can twist someone’s words in various ways. One can quote incorrectly. Or he can quote in a wrong context. Or one can quote only partially, in the sense that one omits essential parts.

The Rev. Keegstra quotes in the last mentioned way.

He quotes a very long passage from Calvin’s Commentary on the text referred to. But although he makes such a long quotation, he nevertheless does not cite all that Calvin has to say about this text. At the beginning and at the end he omits some sentences.

This would not be so striking if the esteemed writer had only taken over a few short sentences. Sometimes this is sufficient. One does not expect, of course, that someone always quotes an author fully. But now the case is different. The Rev. Keegstra quotes almost all that Calvin has to say about this passage of Scripture. He leaves out only a few brief sentences.

This is even more striking for anyone who consults Calvin on this passage and notices that the Rev. Keegstra begins to quote in the middle of a paragraph. If he had begun quoting at the beginning of a paragraph and had also stopped quoting at the end of a paragraph, there could be an explanation for this partial quotation. But now it is different.

And in the third place, this becomes still more striking because the parts that are omitted are necessary in order to learn Calvin’s thinking about the text in question.

We shall therefore take the trouble to quote the omitted portions for our readers. At the beginning Keegstra omitted the following sentences:

“How often would I have gathered together thy children.” This is expressive of indignation rather than of compassion (italics added). 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, but, including all in the same condemnation, he inveighs chiefly against the leaders themselves, who were the cause of all the evils. We must now observe the vehemence of the discourse… (emphasis added).

And at the end the Rev. Keegstra omitted the following:

… And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many [other] passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech (anthropopathy) which attributes to God human feelings, take no offence, but in this case alone refuse to admit it. But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine, which is the standard of union, is brought forward, God wills to gather all, that all who do not come may be inexcusable.

This is said in connection with a possible objection that there would be two wills in God. We have, says Calvin, a figure in the text. He calls it anthropopathy. And what he means by this becomes plain when we read in a note: Anthropopathy; that is, when God ascribes to himself feelings similar to those of men, as when he says (Gen. 6:6) that he repented of having made man; and similar passages.”

And then Calvin writes in addition the following about the words, “And you would not”:

This may be supposed to refer to the whole nation, as well as to the scribes; but I rather interpret it in reference to the latter, by whom the gathering together was chiefly prevented. For it was against them that Christ inveighed throughout the whole of the passage; and now, after having addressed Jerusalem in the singular number, it appears not without reason that he immediately used the plural number. There is an emphatic contrast between God’s willing and their not willing; for it expresses the diabolical rage of men, who do not hesitate to contradict God. (Quotations are from Calvin’s Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Vol. III, in loco.)

The reader will surely agree that what I here quoted is not something incidental, but indeed basically necessary to understand what is Calvin’s interpretation of the text. And we also obtain another view of the explanation furnished us by the Rev. Keegstra in his partial quotation.

According to Keegstra, Calvin’s explanation must serve to show that the Reformer believed in a general and well-meant offer of grace. But from the passages cited by us the following is evident:

1) That Calvin does not want these words viewed as an expression of sympathy and mercy, but of indignation and heavy accusation against ungodly Jerusalem, namely, against its leaders.

2) That in so far as the text would leave the impression that the Lord God would want to gather everyone, head for head, and that this was made impossible by the scribes, we have to do here with an example of anthropopathy. When we read that it repented God that He had made man, we know very well that we are dealing with figurative language. Human feelings are then ascribed to God, which are nevertheless not found in Him, since He is unchangeable. Thus it is also here, according to fashion. By this there is ascribed to Him a will which He nevertheless does not have.

3) That for the rest this will of God must be understood in connection with its execution. For thus Calvin wrote literally in the quotation made by Keegstra. According to that execution not all the children of Jerusalem, head for head and soul for soul, are gathered. Only the elect children. This was therefore God’s will, according to Calvin. Often God wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem together, that is, the elect children, as appears from the outcome.

4) Finally, that, according to Calvin, the words, “And ye would not,” must not be understood as addressed to Jerusalem, but as referring to the leaders of Jerusalem. Thus there is no contrast between the will of God to gather all and the unwillingness of many through which they are not gathered. But the contrast is, always according to Calvin: I wanted to gather together Jerusalem’s children, but ye, wicked scribes, did not will to gather them together.

In any event, this is something altogether different from what Keegstra writes as the interpretation of Calvin’s meaning:

It is true that there are those who do not agree entirely with Calvin and who want to say that Jesus spoke these words only according to his human nature. But even though that interpretation were correct, and even though Calvin might be mistaken in that respect, that would make no difference with respect to what we have in view here. One may judge for himself whether Jesus, be it then according to His human nature, would so many times have tried, against the will of God, to gather those people together and to draw them to Himself. That is inconceivable! The Saviour’s efforts were nevertheless undoubtedly serious and well-meant, and the words issuing from the mouth of that prophet were nevertheless certainly the expression of God’s outward calling.

When we read this, we shudder!

For here Keegstra speaks of an attempt of the Saviour which is the equivalent, according to him, of an attempt of God to draw men to Himself! And that attempt of the Saviour failed! Indeed, here it is Keegstra’s view that the ungodly men of Jerusalem were mightier than the Lord Himself! He wanted to draw them, but they would not! And they were victorious!

Thus it goes from bad to worse.

First the Editor began by assuring us that he wanted to preach particular atonement and election.

Then he began to write ambiguously about the general demand of conversion and faith, as though this was a general offer of grace.

And now he has come so far that he speaks of an attempt of the Saviour and an attempt of God to draw men to Himself, an attempt which fails because men are unwilling! God must give up over against the wicked will of man!

In a word, I find this to be dreadful. For to me it is nothing less than a direct denial of the almighty grace of the Saviour, of the sovereign grace of God; the will of man is put on the throne.

And this is now an explanation of the text in Matthew 23 and Luke 13?

Would the Lord, would Jesus actually have attempted to gather together all children of Jerusalem in this way? Would the Saviour speak of such a failed attempt toward the end of His sojourn in PalestineHe who had once so triumphantly declared, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”? He, who had so emphatically proclaimed, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”? He would now speak of failed attempts?

But how could this be harmonized with reality? Was it actually a fact that the Lord had attempted to draw to Himself all the children of Jerusalem? How would this be in harmony with the calling of Isaiah as it is described for us in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, where we are clearly taught that Isaiah’s labors must serve precisely to blind their eyes and harden their hearts, so that they would not be converted, while the remnant would be saved through those same labors? Or how would this fit with the words of the Saviour Himself when He declares to His disciples that He speaks in parables in order that seeing they should see and not perceive, and hearing they should hear and not understand?

And that would be Reformed?

If that were the case, a Synod of Dordrecht would never have been necessary. There is no Remonstrant who would stumble over such language.

And Calvin taught that?

With not so much as a word does Calvin speak of a general, well-meant offer of grace in this connection. One may agree with his explanation or not, but here he teaches something entirely different. The Lord speaks here, according to him, in indignation and He inveighs against the leaders of Jerusalem, who were not willing to gather Jerusalem’s children. And as far as the form of the text is concerned, we have to do here, according to his interpretation, with an anthropopathy, a human presentation of God. But it is far from Calvin’s thoughts to speak of an attempt of God or of the Saviour to gather together all Jerusalem’s children; an attempt which miscarried because insignificant man did not will it!

I do not know, of course, whether the Rev. Keegstra did not understand Calvin’s interpretation, or whether he did not read it entirely.

Nor do I know what moved him in such a lengthy quotation to begin in the middle of one paragraph and to end in the middle of another paragraph.

It certainly does not strengthen a man’s argument to quote in this fashion. For his neighbour comes and examines him, and then the truth comes to light.

The Synod of 1924 did the same thing upon the advice of its learned committee. They quoted the Canons of Dordrecht, III/IV, 4 in order to prove that the Confession teaches that the natural man can do good in things civil. They quoted half of the article. They stopped quoting in the middle. The striking thing of that instance is that the part which they did not quote teaches precisely the opposite of what they wanted the article to teach. For there it is stated in so many words that the natural man renders that light of nature wholly polluted even in things natural and civil, and holds it in unrighteousness.

One weakens his own case by such a manner of quotation.

One leaves the impression that he is concerned about something altogether different from the truth.

It simply will not do to presuppose of such quoters, who are after all learned men, that they did this in their ignorance, that they only read half of the article in question and then went no farther. No, they read it all right, but the rest of the article did not suit their purpose. Their position would exactly be given the lie by further quotation. And at all costs, that might not be.

Did it go that way with Keegstra too? Is his long but partial quotation from Calvin’s Commentary to be explained from this? Did he know now way out with Calvin’s explanation of the text as an example of anthropopathy? Did he not want to accept the explanation of “and ye would not” as referring only to the leaders of the people? And did he prefer not to quote Calvin, that God’s will to save was proclaimed to all, in order that those who did not believe would be left without excuse?

Who shall say?

Let him answer for himself.

But this is not the main thingif only the error is now corrected, and we have gotten a fuller and better insight into Calvin’s explanation of the text.

But if you want to know that Calvin must have nothing of such miscarried attempts of God and of the Saviour of which the Rev. Keegstra writes, then read what he writes about the same text in Calvin’s Calvinism:

… What Augustine advanced in reply to them in many parts of his works I think it unnecessary to bring forward on the present occasion. I will only adduce one passage, which clearly and briefly proves how unconcernedly he despised their objection now in question. “When our Lord complains (says he) that though he wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under wings, but she would not, are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that he Who was Almighty God could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did ‘whatsoever pleased Him in heaven and in earth’? Moreover, who will be found so profanely mad as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not” (pp. 104, 105).

This is clear language.

It leaves no doubt about the question whether Calvin would concur with the position of Keegstra that the Saviour would have made all kinds of efforts to draw to Himself all the children of Jerusalem, but ended up disappointed. He would cast such a view far from him and never assume responsibility for it.

Nevertheless the Rev. Keegstra meant to ascribe that view to Calvin.

Thus it goes when one does not fully quote what ought to be quoted.

We shall allow Calvin to speak more. We are happy that the Rev. Keegstra has furnished us occasion to do so. For Calvin actually has much to say about this.

If only it has become plain now that the reformer of Geneva, in his explanation of Matthew 23:37, teaches no general well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part.

It was necessary that we correct the Rev. Keegstra on this point.

And we would in all seriousness say to him: do not speak any more of a powerless Jesus, who attempts to draw men to Himself, but who ends up disappointed because of the evil will of men!

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