by Travis Fentiman
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never complains over one thing in the Gospel accounts, except for people not coming to Him to receive eternal life?
“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”
While this complaint and others like it in scripture are God speaking to us as a man, such metaphors positively teach us something about God: that there is a real disposition, will and aversion in God’s benevolent nature that any of his creatures perish. For an excellent articulation of this, see John Howe on What Anthropopathisms Positively Teach About God.
Historic Reformed Quotes
Obadiah Segwick, was a Westminster divine and wrote the following book:
The Fountain Opened and the River of Life Flowing forth for the refreshing of thirsty sinners. Wherein is set out, Christ’s earnest and gracious invitation of poor sinners to come unto the waters, His complaining expostulation with the ingratitude and folly of those who neglect so great a salvation, His renewed solicitation with all earnestness and the most persuasive arguments to allure thirsty sinners to some to Christ, in several sermons on Isa. 55:1-3, 1657
Joseph Caryl, was a Westminster divine. From his Commentary on Job, Chapter 32-34, 1661, London edition, p. 700
Secondly, when He entreats and invites them, and they will not come to Him, nor accept his tendered [offered] respects and favors. Thus the Lord complained of his own people (Ps. 81:11) Israel would none of me; God wooed them, but they had other lovers, and after them they would go; even Israel lightly regarded the God of Israel, yea they made a defection from Him.
Thomas Brooks, Works, vol. 1, p. 146-148
“Fifthly, His complaints against such as refuse Him, and that turn their backs upon Him, and that will not be saved by Him, does strongly declare his willingness to save them: John 1:11, ‘He came to his own, and his own received Him not.’ So in John 5:40, ‘But ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.’”
Jeremiah Dyke, A Worthy communicant: Or a Treatise Showing the Due Order of Receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (London: Printed by J. Raworth for Luke Fawn, 1645), p. 373-5
I never find Christ displeased with any for coming to Him; never find Him complaining of any for coming. I see none refused, or forbidden to come. I hear Christ complain that men did not, would not come. I find Christ displeased with His disciples for forbidding little ones to come: “Suffer little children to come; yes, and He embraces and blesses them” (Mark 10:16).
Ezekiel Culverwell, A Treatise of Faith, p. 184-186
“That God would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]; and so oft. That He desires not the death of a sinner [Eze. 18:23,32], that hereby he may be moved to seek and hope for that mercy, which God is so willing to bestow upon him, if the fault be not in his ownself, as it was in the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, of whom our Saviour complained, saying, How often would I have gathered thy Children, as the Hen gathereth her Chickens under her wings, and ye would not? [Matt 23:37]”
Joseph Hall, Contemplations on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, as reprinted by Old Paths Gospel Press, no date, p. 159
What means this strangeness [the commotion during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem]? Was not Jerusalem the spouse of Christ? Had He not chosen her out of all the earth? Had He not begotten many children of her [Hosea 1], as the pledges of their love? How justly may you now, O Savior, complain with that mirror of patience, “My breath was grown strange to my own wife, though I entreated her for the children’s sake of my own body!”
Thomas Manton, Volume 16, Several Sermons Upon Titus 2:11-14, Sermon 1
“So how angry will the Lord be against those that despise his grace, and all the renewed offers and messages of love, and prefer the profits and pleasures of the world before Him. It may be you do not return a rough and churlish answer, and are not scorners and opposers of the word, but you slight God’s sweetest message, when He comes in the sweetest and mildest way. The complaint in the gospel was, Matt. 11:17, ‘ We have piped unto you, and you have not danced.’ It is not, We have thundered unto you, and you were not startled; but, We have piped, and ye have not danced. Not to take notice of these sweet allurements and blandishments of grace, that is very sad…”
Christ Crucified: Seventy-Two Sermons on Isaiah 53 Buy p. 125
“Sometimes He complains (as John 5:40), Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life; and sometimes weeps and moans, because sinners will not be gathered (as Luke 19:41-42 and Matt 23:37). Can there be any greater evidences of reality in any offer?”
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 1764, Glasgow, reprinted Soli Deo Gloria, Buy 2002, p. 55
Observation 5. Christ the Bridegroom and His Father are very willing to have the match made up and the marriage completed… therefore they expostulate when this marriage is refused, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,how often would I have gathered you, but you would not!” (Matt 23:37). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou, even thou, hadst known in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace!” (Luke 19:42). All these sad complaints, that Israel would not hearken to His voice, and his people would have none of Him (Ps. 81:11), that He came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and that they will not come to Him that they might have life (John 5:40), make out His willingness abundantly and undeniably.
Matthew Barker, Puritan Sermons, 1659-1689, vol. 4, p. 208
“He [God] complains often of this in the scriptures: when He is disappointed in the end of his corrections, He complains, “In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction.” (Jer. 2:30) And in the end of his showing favor: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.” (Isa. 1:2) And [He] complains of his vineyard disappointing the end of his care and cost about it: “When I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes.” (Isa. 5:4)…
…It was a sad complaint of the prophet, when he says, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain;” (Isa. 49:4) much more, for an apostle and a minister of the New Testament thus to complain; and much more, for Christ to complain thus, as sometimes He did [John 5:40]; and most of all, for God Himself to complain, as He does in the case of sinners’ impenitency under the gospel must needs be very sinful.”
James Buchanan, The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 45, Banner of Truth edition
“Of every man who reads or hears the Gospel, it may be affirmed that there is nothing betwixt him and salvation, except his own unwillingness to be saved. ‘Ye are not willing to come to me, that ye might have life,’ – that is the Savior’s charge and complaint. ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,’ – that is the Savior’s call and invitation.”
George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 380
“That the offer of salvation is to be made to all men is the conclusion to which every one must come who duly considers that Christ so preached. Though He knew all those that were His, all that were given Him by the Father, He yet invited sinners indiscriminately (John 7:37), nay, complained of their reluctance and refusal when they set at nought His proposals of love (Matt. 23:37; John 5:40).”
William Arnot, Studies in Proverbs: Laws from Heaven for life on Earth, 1884 edition, p. 154
5. The argument by which the invitation is supported is positive… The Lord by his prophet in the time of old, uttered in the ears of men the brief command, “Turn ye,” and followed it up with the awful argument, “Why will ye die?” [Eze. 33:11] The same Lord, in his own person, breathed form his breaking heart the tender plaint [complaint, or lamentation], “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” [John 5:40] There from his own lips you have a command to come, and a reason for coming. The argument to enforce his invitation is life—from Himself, in Himself, life that will never die.
Jesus the Friend of Sinners, by Travis Fentiman