19 June, 2016

Isaiah 65:2—“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people”

I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts (Isa. 65:2).

Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers (Jer. 7:25-26).

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 (Rom. 10:20-21).

This passage is sometimes used to support the “well-meant offer of the gospel” (so-called)—i.e. the notion that the Almighty earnestly and fervently wills, wishes, wants and desires the salvation of the reprobate; the notion that entails the ghostly spectre of a failing, foolish and frustrated God.

The idea of this text is that God’s “outstretched arms” are symbolic of His going out in the preaching to many sinners in love and grace, desiring to save them, trying to save them, but failing to save them.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), p. 352]

To stretch out one’s hands is to underscore the earnestness in which one issues a command.
Yet, let it be understood as well that the command of the gospel is exactly that—a command. It is not “an offer that expresses God’s deepest desire.” It is not an “invitation,” although those who speak of the preaching as an “offer” really mean that the command is nothing else but an “invitation, the acceptance or rejection of which is left to man’s free will.”



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Source: Commentary on Isaiah 65:2 and Jeremiah 7:25-26, in A Power of God Unto Salvation, Or, Grace Not An Offer, pp. 27-28]

[To understand the following more clearly, briefly read through HH’s commentary on Psalm 81:11-13 found on the following page: http://commongracedebate.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/psalm-8111-13oh-that-my-people-had.html]

Also here we observe that these verses are neither general in content nor speak of an offer of grace. We must keep in mind the following:

1. That the Lord also here speaks of Israel, of His people, which is elect according to its kernel, but reprobate according to its shell. Only if you keep this in mind can you understand these passages. This is also the basic thought of Romans 9-11. Therefore the apostle can maintain that God has not cast away His people when Israel as a nation is rejected, but that the elect have obtained it, while the rest were hardened. That this organic presentation of Israel, as the people of God with its elect kernel and reprobate shell, is correct as the point of departure in the explanation of Isaiah 65:2 is clear also from the subsequent context. Read verses 8 and 9:

Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it; so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.

2. That the Lord spread out His hands to that people, something which, of course, means the same as the sending of the prophets of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks … In that word of the prophets, sent by the Lord, He spread forth His hands to them, with the divine purpose, of course, of saving the elect. It was never God’s purpose to change the reprobate shell into the elect kernel. The elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened.

3. That the content of the message of the prophets, figuratively presented as the spreading forth of hands, never was a general, well-meant offer of grace to all without distinction, but a calling to walk in the ways of the Lord and, paired with that, a sure promise of salvation and eternal life. Never did the Lord thus spread forth His hands to Israel that He offered grace to all without distinction. On the contrary, He called them to the fear of the Lord, to the keeping of His covenant, to walking in His ways, to conversion, all through their history. And under this spreading forth of His hands to Israel as a nation, there was a twofold effect, as always under the preaching of the Word; the elect received of the Lord grace to do what He demanded; He did not offer them grace, but bestowed it upon them; the rest received no grace, were hardened through the operation of God’s wrath, and showed more and more that they were wicked and rebellious. Through this the elect finally entered the kingdom of heaven, received the sure promises of God, came to the wedding-feast, while the rest were cast out. This explanation is supported by the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which has as its main content this: that it is God’s purpose to save the remnant according to the election of grace, but to harden the rest, also through the means of the prophetic word.

Thus we have in this spreading forth of the hands a calling to conversion which comes to the entire people of God, with a particular bestowal of grace (no offer) to the elect, to heed that call, paired with a manifestation of wickedness and rebellion on the part of the reprobate shell, which brings them to destruction.


[Source: Righteous By Faith Alone (RFPA, 2002), pp. 500-502; italics original]

Who found Him? The people before whom God stood with outstretched arms did not find Him. “All day long I have stretched forth my hands,” God Himself says, “unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” That was the Jews in the old dispensation. God was not found by them.

We must consider this part of the text very carefully, because these words are used to overthrow all that the apostle has been teaching. The explanation goes like this. God stood before a rebellious and gainsaying people with outstretched arms. Those arms are a symbol of God’s general will to save everyone, including the gainsaying and rebellious people. And if that is so, some argue there is no doctrine of election and reprobation. Similarly, there are Reformed people who confess the doctrine of election, but this text, they say, shows that there is also a general will in God to save all, and we must accept both. They call this a “mystery.” But we reject a general will of God to save all. We cannot overthrow all that we have learned in Romans 9 and 10 and all that we will be taught in Romans 11.

Let us look at the text. Does it teach anything like a general will of God to save all? It does if the outstretched arms mean that God says to these rebellious and gainsaying people, “I sincerely desire to save you all.” But this is contrary to the gospel. Nowhere does Scripture teach that the outstretched arms symbolize God’s readiness to save all. The meaning of the outstretched arms is that God is willing to receive and save all who come to Him.

Does this contradict the other fundamental truth that we will never repent and come into the outstretched arms unless God gives us the heart and the will to come? Scripture says ‘No.’ There is no contradiction. If any man is to come into the outstretched arms of God, God must give him the will.

Surely God stood before the entire nation of Israel, just as today He stands before the entire congregation with outstretched arms, saying, “I am ready to receive and save all who come to Me.” The preaching is general. But in that nation of Israel there were many who would not have Him. There were many who showed themselves, over against the outstretched arms, as gainsaying and disobedient. They rebelled against the Word of God. They were gainsaying. They opposed that Word of God. That was Israel. Why? Because God is merciful to whom He wills. When Christ came, the outstretched arms of God became manifest to all, but they rebelled against these outstretched arms. They rejected them.

We must not overlook the positive aspect of these words. The positive aspect is that some Jews believed, found God, and were saved, even though they, too, were rebellious by nature. Although the reference of the text is to the Jews in the old dispensation, its teaching applies as well to the Gentiles in the new dispensation. God does not say, “I first stretched out My arms to disobedient and gainsaying Israel, and then I went to a different nation that did not disobey and gainsay My Word.” The notion that the Gentile world was seeking after God is simply nonsense. There were no such Gentiles. The Gentiles were no better than the Jews. The text says, “I was found of them that sought me not.” This is forever true. The Gentile world in the old dispensation was hostile to God. By nature, we are all gainsaying.



Prof. David J. Engelsma

God’s stretching forth His hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people is His revelation of Himself in the gospel as the God of mercy in Jesus Christ, ready to receive and save every sinner who comes to Him in faith and repentance. This is how He shows Himself in the gospel to all who hear the gospel. I do not say that He is gracious to all who hear the gospel. If this were the case, all who hear the gospel would be saved, for the grace of God is almighty, irresistible. But He shows to all that He is gracious, and that in this grace He will receive every one who comes to Him. The stretched forth hands, therefore, are what Reformed theology refers to as the “external call” of the gospel. God makes Himself known to all that He is a God of grace. He calls all hearers to come to Him by believing on Jesus. He promises to every one who comes that he will be received.

But this does not mean that God is gracious to all, that He wills the salvation of all, or that coming to God for salvation depends on the willingness of the sinner. This would contradict everything that the apostle has taught previously in Romans, including the total depravity of the sinner—his inability to come to Christ; limited, effectual atonement; the sovereignty and irresistibility of grace; and the government of salvation by God's predestination, election and reprobation. No one can come to Christ except the Father draw him (John 6:44).

But now also, these truths of sovereign, particular grace do not at all detract from the preaching of the gospel to all or from the serious call to all hearers to come to God by believing on Jesus Christ, with the promise that every one who comes will be received and saved by God. This preaching is the outstretched arms of God. When wicked men and women refuse to come to God, disobeying the external call of the gospel, they can never say that the reason is that God would not receive them even if they came. The God of the gospel is the God of the outstretched arms, ready and eager to receive every one who comes.

It is true that only those come whom God has chosen to salvation. It is also true that those who refuse to come refuse according to God's eternal reprobation of them. But none of this detracts from the truth that in the gospel God calls all, with the external call, or command, and that He shows Himself ready to receive every sinner who comes in faith.



More to come! (DV)

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