Does Jesus pronounce judgement on his people in Matt 21?

The Sunday lectionary reading for Trinity 17 in Year A is the second of three judgement parables against the Jerusalem leaders in Matt 21.33–46: traditionally, the parable of the wicked husbandmen, or the parable of the wicked tenants. There is plenty to explore within the passage, and in its relation to the surrounding texts—but it also raises larger questions about the place of judgement in the teaching of Jesus and therefore within our understanding of God and God’s actions.

Charles Talbert, in his Paideia commentary on Matthew, sees judgement as the key theme in the whole of this section of Matthew, which links the different parts of chapters 19 to 25.

The last of Matthew’s five big cycles consists of the customary narrative (Matt 19.3–24.2) and discourse (Matt 24.3–25.46), with the usual closing formula (Matt 26.1a). The two are linked by the theme of judgement: on Israel’s leaders, the temple, inauthentic disciplines, and the nations. Judgement is both within history and at the end of history (p 229).

On the first day in the city, after his ‘triumphal’ entry, Jesus has already acted out judgement in the dramatic symbolism of the cleansing of the temple, and added further symbolic action in the withering of the fig tree. On his second day, when he re-enters the temple, his authority for such acts is questioned by the Jerusalem leaders; they appear to be enacting judgement on him, but his return question reflects their judgement back on themselves, so that they are judged by their attitude to Jesus.

There then follows three parables of judgement, all closely related but unhelpfully separated in our Bibles by a chapter division at Matt 22.1. Although the first parable is unique to Matthew, whilst the second is found in all three Synoptics, the relationship between the two is very close:

Parable of the two sonsParable of wicked tenants
Jesus’ introductionMatt 21.28aMatt 21.33a
The parable itselfMatt 21.28b–30Matt 21.33b–39
Jesus’ questionMatt 21.31aMatt 21.40
Opponents’ responseMatt 21.31bMatt 21.41
Jesus’ pronouncement of judgementMatt 21.31c–32Matt 21.42–44

The two parables are also bracketed together by the theme of the leaders’ fear of the crowds, mentioned before the beginning of the first (Matt 21.26) and at the end of the second (Matt 21.46).

Matthew’s different introduction from Mark 12.1 and Luke 20.9 ‘Hear another parable…’ simply reflects the different location of the parable as one of three. But the description of the central character as a ‘master of a household’ or landowner, οἰκοδεσπότης, connects this parable back to the previous uniquely Matthean parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matt 20.1–16.

The fourfold detail of planting the vineyard, protecting it, building a tower and digging a winepress in both Matthew and Mark (omitted in Luke) is a clear pointer to the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5.1–7, and so it is also clear that here, as in Isaiah, ‘the vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel’. It might be possible to read the ‘tower’ as a reference to the temple, especially as this is where Jesus was teaching, but that is not necessary given the correspondence with the detail with Isaiah.

Jesus’ teaching here appears to follow the rabbinical practice of haggadic midrash, by taking a biblical text, expounding it with a parable, and concluding with another biblical text (Talbert p 251); if so, then the form of his teaching would have been no surprise to his hearers.

At some points, Matthew compresses the narrative of the parable, but at others expands it. Mark 12.2–5 sets out the escalation in the bad treatment of the slaves who are sent, where Matt 21.35–36 summarises what happens. We should probably  translate doulos as ‘slave’ rather than servant, since Jews were very familiar with slavery in the empire, and many Jews kept slaves themselves; and yet slaves could be given significant responsibility, including managing tenant farms and collecting rents and other payments.

There is no need for us to consider that the parables of Jesus only have one main point, and contain no allegorical elements; it seems clear that the ‘slaves’ here stand for the prophets that God has sent to his people, who have all too often been rejected and persecuted by the established leadership of the nation.

From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff–necked and did more evil than their ancestors. (Jerusalem 7.25–26)

The theme of the ill-treatment and killing of prophets can be found both in the OT narrative (eg 2 Chron 24.17–21) and in NT reflection on this (Heb 11.37), and has been referred to by Jesus in Matt 5.11–12, something he will return to in Matt 23.29 in his diatribe against the Jerusalem leadership.

The wicked tenants stand for the leadership; again this has precedent in Ezekiel 34 in its criticism of Israel’s leaders, which is why the ‘chief priests and Pharisees perceived he was speaking about them’ (verse 45).

It is striking that the final action of the wicked tenants, against the owner’s son, is reported in a different order by Matthew; in Mark and Luke, they take him, kill him and cast him out, whereas here in Matt 21.39 they cast him out first and then kill him. Matthew is wanting us not to miss Jesus’ allusion here to his own death, in which he is taken outside of the city first, and then killed.

As with the previous parable, and contrary to Mark and Luke, instead of completing the parable himself, Jesus asks his opponents how the story should conclude—what action should the owner take against the wicked tenants? Once more, Jesus’ opponents are condemned by their own words, as they articulate the only course of action that is open to the owner. Justice requires that they are held to account for their wickedness. (This form of coming to a conclusion through dialogue in question and answer form is more true to the context of Jewish debate, and so we should perhaps take Matthew’s version as the more primitive.)

There are three things worth noting in Jesus’ pronouncement of judgement that follows, as he moves from the world of the parable to the world of his hearers.

First, there is a definitive sense of judgement here that is unavoidable. Jesus has previously articulated the justice of the judgement of God in his pithy aphorism, ‘With the measure you measure it will be measured to you’, memorable in both English and Greek (ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν, Matt 7.2). The wicked tenants have measured out death and destruction to the slaves who have come to them, and so with that measure will justice be measured out to them.

Secondly, in contrast to the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, here it is not the vineyard that is destroyed, but the tenants who have been entrusted with its care. Whatever the disastrous fate that overcomes the leadership of the nation, the Israel of God itself is not finished, but will come under new leadership. In Isaiah this only emerges as a secondary theme of hope following exile, with the possibility of the nation’s return and restoration. But in the teaching of Jesus the continuity of the nation is prominent even within the pronouncement of judgement over its leaders. God’s just judgement is always tempered with mercy; even though God’s people are unfaithful, God keeps faith.

If the vineyard in the parable is to be given to new tenants, what does that mean in the real world for Israel? Uniquely in Matthew, Jesus explains that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to another nation…’ (Matt 21.43). This time, we can see clearly why Matthew does not use the more general ‘kingdom of [the] heaven[s]’; the vineyard of the owner is the nation over which God rules as king. Some commentators draw a strong distinction between the present reality of the kingdom in the obedient people of Israel, as distinct from the future realisation of the kingdom of God in the eschatological parables. But there is no need for such a strong demarcation; the kingdom of God is realised, imperfectly and incompletely, now amongst the people of God in anticipation of its full realisation in the future.

But the giving of the kingdom ‘to another people’ cannot here be an indication of the kingdom being taken from the Jews and given to Gentiles, since Jesus uses the singular ethnos and not the plural ethne. When he combines this saying with his citation of Ps 118. 22–23, ‘the stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’, he is pointing beyond the killing of the owner’s son to his restoration and rule. The new nation who will live faithfully under the rule of God is, as elsewhere in this gospel, the Israel defined by their allegiance to Jesus (both Jew and Gentile) rather than Israel merely defined by ethnic identity.

Thirdly, this reconstituted Israel will be those who produce the ‘fruit’ that the master has been looking for. We have a tendency to interpret this term as pointing to qualities of life and personality, assisted by a particular reading of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5.22. In fact it has quite a specific meaning here in pointing to the kind of holy life of repentance and action required by God, articulated by John the Baptist in Matt 3.8–10, and by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 7.16–20, 12.33–37). This is the Matthean equivalent of the teaching of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel ‘If you love me, you will obey my commandments’ (John 14.15).

All this leaves us with three important theological questions about God’s relationship with his people and with humanity.

First, does God judge? I am currently in conversation with someone online who is a fairly prominent author and commentator, who argues that all the language of judgement, of ‘outer darkness’ and of ‘fire’ is about purging and purifying, and not of ultimate judgement or destruction. He believes this because he is convinced that the ‘irreducible element of the gospel’ is that God only ever judges to forgive, and reveals to be merciful. There is no doubt that God surprises us with his mercy, and that God’s judgements will be surprising—and therefore that we need to leave judgement to God rather than try and anticipate it for ourselves. But there is also no doubt that this kind of universalism is appealing to our culture, and is very hard to square with Jesus’ language of judgement throughout the gospels. The possibility of judgement is inseparable from the freedom and responsibility that God gives us; without it, the gospel is not something that calls for response, but is reduced to an insight that we need to attain, a new way of seeing the world rather than a new way of life to respond to and embrace through costly obedience.

Secondly, does God judge Israel? One danger of reading this and the texts that follow is that, taken out of context, they can be read as anti-Judaic. In his theological reflection on this section, Talbert notes three reasons why we should not take Jesus’ polemic in this way.

First, the First Evangelist is a Jewish teacher in conflict with other Jewish teachers in a diverse Jewish community of the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the first century. With his polemics, Matthew’s Jesus seeks to delegitimate the established leadership. He does not deny the fundamental legitimacy of Israel. To do so would destroy the basis for his own group (p 262).

He notes that Jesus’ language here echo the classical prophets’ own critique of Israel (eg Is 3.13–15, and of course Isaiah 5), the Essenes, Josephus, rabbinical writings, and in fact the Pharisees’ own criticism of Jesus (Matt 9.34, 12.24).

His second reason is that ‘Matthew’s critique reflects Mediterranean conventions of dealing with opponents’.

The way Matthew talks about Jews is the way all opponents talked about each other in the ancients Mediterranean world. Compared to other polemic of the time, Matthew’s language is a bit mild! (ibid)

But thirdly, Matthew is writing not merely to tell a story of the past, or remind his readers of what Jesus said and taught then—but also to teach his readers about their present.

Matthews’ language, whilst seeming to be directed to nonmessianist opponents, is really aimed at insiders with the Matthean community. The evangelist is using the technique of covert allusion…The warning for the church is that its members must not be like the scribes and Pharisees, for if God did not spare Jerusalem, God will certainly not spare an unfaithful church (p 262–3).

That is not in any way to suggest that our salvation is unsure, or that we should question God’s faithfulness. But it is a reminder faith without actions is dead, and that real trust in Jesus will always make itself known in the fruit of repentance lives, as the Holy Spirit shapes us in holiness.

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72 thoughts on “Does Jesus pronounce judgement on his people in Matt 21?”

  1. Good commentary. But some questions:
    1. The emphasis of judgement seems to be against Israel’s leaders. But what about all of the Jewish people? Or is it a case that the leaders’ mindset reflects that of the people, so they too will experience judgement?

    2. Many seem to view the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans a few decades later in AD 70 as God’s and therefore Jesus’ judgement on the Jews at the time, ultimately resulting in the ending of one of its central ideas – animal sacrifice for sins. Do you agree with that understanding?

    3. “God’s just judgement is always tempered with mercy; even though God’s people are unfaithful, God keeps faith.” – could you clarify what you mean by this, given that Israel as a whole appears to have been unfaithful, by rejecting its own Messiah, and then faced judgement. Very few Jews then and now accept Jesus and therefore presumably face judgement.


    • I think your point 2 is borne out by Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple: “ “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

      Luke 23:18 most tellingly betokens Jerusalem’s rejection of Christ and growing support for the zealot factions that would be its undoing: “ But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”

      The next verse typifies the zealot movement which, emboldened by the defeat of Cestius Gallus at Beth-Horon in 66AD, gained ascendancy in Jerusalem and whose leaders (John of Gislav, Simon Bar Giora, and Eleazar Ben Simon) overthrew the Judaean provisional government and provoked Titus to lay siege to the city and eventually destroy it..

      Titus’ destruction of the Temple in 70AD (as was predicted by Christ) was surely the manifest token of God’s surrender of Jerusalem to the perversity that Peter described in Acts 3:18: “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.”

      Jerusalem paid a terrible price for rejecting the Messiah and His message of reconciliation in favour of being led by murderous revolutionaries who, unlike Christ, encouraged belief that their leadership of violent revolt could purge Judaea of Roman rule.

      The salt had lost its savour and only deserved to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt. 5:13)

  2. Never mind being invited onto Strictly, there are are some neat moves here, Ian.
    Was not Israel seen as son?
    Jesus, the true faithful (and elder) Son, who bore the judgement.
    The true temple destroyed, but raised, the “place” we meet and worship God, in him, now built with living stones.
    That is but one point picked up from your article, a one that concerns judgement on the nation of Israel, rather than true worship.
    Does not Romans consider the continue place of worship of Hebrew and Gentile together.

  3. Firstly, as someone who has only recently discovered your blog, thank you for taking time in what is clearly a busy life to write such full blog posts.

    In Matt 13, Jesus draws the parallel with Israel in Isaiah’s day and his own. Both did not have eyes to see or ears to hear. The parabolic teaching method was intended as a form of judgement… Israel had forfeited the right to plain speech… the interpretation is given to the disciples… those who hear and are the sons of the eschatological kingdom. They are the ‘little flock’… a flock from the fold of Israel but other sheep will be added from another fold… gentile believers…. the kingdom feast is given to those compelled from the lanes and byways to come in…. though even here they must come in legitimately… they must have a wedding garment. And so many come from the east and the west etc and sit down in the kingdom of God while the sons of the kingdom are cast out.

    My personal spiritual struggle is that all too often I look at my own life and do not see the level of kingdom lifestyle that Jesus sees as belonging to his own (Matt 5-7). I wonder how many of us believe we are sons of the kingdom but will hear, depart from me I never knew you. The older I get (mid-sixties) the more I see the cross-bearing to which we are called absent from contemporary western evangelicalism… we are laodicea… I am laodicea. I find myself in spiritual debt with nothing to pay and can only cry, God be merciful to me a sinner. This is not humbug. Like David, I’d rather fall into the hands of a merciful God than that of other men or my own merciless conscience.

    • Hello John,
      It seems that in theological terms you may be seeking to base your justification on your sanctification.
      Could I suggest with some temerity, that your personal spiritual battle is evidence that you belong to Christ, purchased, counted righteous in Christ, his active obedience yours, if you are the John Thomson I think you are.
      Donald MacLeod in his book, Christ Crucified, wrote this:
      “But as he was made sin, so we are made righteousness,: not simply righteous but righteousness of God…righteousness is an Absolute.

      “Can such righteousness be ours? Can we be THAT righteous? YES, IN CHRIST.
      “His righteousness is ours, not only because his obedience is that of a divine person but because the human life he lived (albeit as the Son of God) was a perfectly sinless and absolute holy lifeover which God could unhesitatingly pronounce the verdict,”very good”.
      “IN HIM, that righteousness is ours. We are as righteous as God himself: perfect, our sins blotted out.”
      Page 155/56 Emphasis mine.
      Complete and being completed, in Christ

      Could it be suggested as you seem to be recognising, that you look to Christ, what has accomplished in your place, the place of believers in union with Christ Jesus.: known and chosen before the foundation of the world Romans 8. It ruffles a number of feathers, discomforts and comforts.
      Yesterday, I came across came across this from Rico Tice, posted by someone who preached this week at church as part of a series on Romans 8; Rico Tice, in a podcast this week, “I try and make a habit of asking myself in the morning, when was I converted? Answer – before the beginning of time! Does that make me valuable?! I was converted before the beginning of time. I was full against him, but he brought me to himself, gave me his Holy Spirit, and one day God will say, ‘Rico it’s good to see you, you’ve been on my mind a very long time’.

      And if you are the John I think you are, I hope your grandson is well.


      • Geoff

        I may well be the JT you think I am but I’m struggling to place you. . I do think I’m in danger of basing my justification on my sanctification, yet arguably it is reformed thinking (many years ago) that took me down the line of seeing the necessity of a godly life… making my calling and election sure. The trouble is (given some health issues I struggle with) it is all to easy too make the godliness required beyond me.

        But many thanks for your encouragement. Apart from some discussion we may have on active obedience there is no doubt Union with Christ is a much needed balance at times.

        Grandson thriving.

        • Hello John,
          Godliness is beyond us all. Is that Good News? I’m not a one man PR machine for Sinclair Ferguson, but his profound teaching on Union with Christ can be transformative in relation to justification and sanctification.
          As someone who has had a triple CABG and some years later, a stroke, I know how difficult it can be to see fruit of the Spirit in my life: refiner’s fire brings dross to the surface. Not being in control is a real test of faith. It was also a great test of faith for my wife. We do like to think we can always fix things, both of us.
          Tim Keller emphasises the common inversion of sanctification and justification.
          As for Ferguson, books I’d commend are “The Whole Christ”, and “Devoted to God” and if you can get hold of on-line teaching on his “Union with Christ”.
          As for Romans 8 here is a series of preaching/teaching which I think will encourage you. (Incidentally a wonderful retired Christian GP of ours “prescribed ” to my wife to read Romans 8, 3X a day.)

          There is no reason for you to be aware of me, but I thought I recognised you for some valuable comments you made, some years ago now, on the blog of David Robertson.
          I do hope, my recognition of you does not amount to judgement of you, of guilt by association by one or two commenters here, Andrew being one of them. But, you’ll make your own mind up . You’ll probably be getting a flavour.
          Yours in Christ,

  4. I’m sure my mere appearance will prompt Phil to come along and ask if I believe the awful truths about God’s judgement as portrayed in the 39 Articles so let me say from the outset that no, I don’t believe them and never have and have always been totally honest about this and have been ordained 32 years.

    I think John Robinson has so much to offer in this area, especially in his book ‘In the end, God’
    In 1949 he wrote this:

    “The description of the doctrine of universal salvation by Brunner in his recent Dogmatik (1, 363) as a “ menacing heresy, endangering the Biblical faith ”, raises acutely a problem that has divided theologians since the days of Origen. Though formally condemned as heresy by the fifth ecumenical council, the doctrine has frequently found advocates of disconcerting eminence in the ranks of theology. It is impossible to ignore, for instance, a concensus of contemporary names such as Nicolas Berdyaev, William Temple, John Baillie, C. H. Dodd, Charles Raven and Herbert Farmer, all of whom have come out more or less openly in its favour. Nor can they all be labelled, and dismissed, as liberals”

    I’m interested to learn that several of the names that Robinson comes up with have been influential in my own thinking over the last 45 years of studying theology. I’m simply convinced that God is love by God’s will and nature. I’m convinced that in Christ all shall live. Who was it who said that the first thing that the risen Christ did in the harrowing of hell was to pull Judas Iscariot out? I’m 100% in agreement with that. And Christ shows us what God is like.

    • Andrew,

      “ I’m simply convinced that God is love by God’s will and nature”.

      I’m also convinced of that, but I’m also convinced that there would be no need for the cross, or any sacrifice, if, consonance with love necessitates the setting aside of judgment.

      In Romans 1, St. Paul describes God as surrendering mankind to their wilful decision to replace Him with God’s of their own conception.

      Of course, through the gospel, God brings some to repentance. What’s unthinkable is that God will use His infinite power to override all human will.

      While the prospect of hell is an awful calamity, the prospect of God exercising His supreme power to violating human will to end the relentless disaffection of those who enjoy premeditated evil (whatever the supposed justification) is even more horrific.

      To assume this is the case is wishful speculation, whereas the case for Christianity is doubt-defying revelation.

      • John,
        For some context, welcome to Andrew of the CoE. Liberal at large, here. But I stand to be correct, an earlier Bishop’s adviser, but again could be mistaken. But I’ll pull back now as he’s asked me to in a lengthy comments section on a fairly recent article of Ian’s.

      • David.
        In addition, isn’t God’s handing over in Romans 1 part of God’s present day judgement? I have it on some theological authority that it is.

    • As I see it retribution inflicted by God on the unsaved and the atonement doctrine of penal substitution go together. If one is true the other must be true. If one is not true then the other must not be true. Also it really matters whether that retribution is eternal. If it stops followed by annihilation, well, then (not to trivialise a dreadfully serious and sensitive personal subject) – that might not be a very fearful prospect. Also, if, as Stephen Travis asserts in his book “Christ and the Judgment of God”, ‘The outcome of being unsuccessful at the judgment is exclusion from relationship to God’ and, quoting Tillich, ‘Judgment is an act of love which surrenders that which resists love to self-destruction…’, then that might not be a very fearful prospect either. At stake is what is the terrible warning the Church needs to proclaim, alongside the wonderful message of deliverance. I see this as the most important disagreement in the Church, and an area where those who agree with me should be much more forthright in challenging those who disagree with me.

      Phil Almond

      • Phil, you know my view, but it doesnt come down to fear, as if the level of fear determines the truth. Reality is reality regardless.


    • Andrew, claiming a ‘consensus’ is pretty meaningless. I could equally produce a list of scholars who agree that universalism is nonsense.

      Dodd has claimed that anger is an ‘irrational passion’. I find that a very odd belief. As human beings we all can become angry with others, God and ourselves. To claim it is irrational to do so is irrational in itself. Anger can be justified. God’s anger is certainly justified. Jesus appears to have become angry on some occasions. Was He showing an ‘irrational passion’? Was it not justified?

      If Christ really does show us what God is like, then I wouldnt want to be numerous people he encountered, given his interaction with them.

        • No, you misunderstood. The point I was making was that I wouldnt want to be in the shoes of some of the people he encountered, given his attitude towards them. By definition, his attitude reflects God’s.

  5. Andrew

    I have no history here so don’t know what kind of discussions have gone before. My response is simple and I’m sure you’ll have heard it many times before. It is this; the issue is not what we choose to believe but what God’s word actually says. God’s Word, Scripture, is truth. Jesus, and the teaching he gave to his own is truth. Neither your wishes nor mine, nor the creative theology of others however stellar their credentials, nor the mood of the church., nor philosophical extrapolations, or whatever else, counts.

    The issue for faith is – what does God say in his word. It is here that you come up against an immovable force… a wall of teaching that insists God is not only love but (as with those who exist in his image) is much more complex. It insists that God as acted repeatedly in judgement in the past (in the OT) and according to Jesus will act in wrath again in the future. The destruction of Jerusalem (fulfilled as prophesied) was a sign that the more ultimate judgements will also be fulfilled. Jesus speaks clearly and frequently about judgement and indeed eternal judgment. It is with these you must contend.

    To believe in Christ is to believe what he says. He has the truth… not us.

    Let me say, I don’t find judgement a pleasant thought. Nor did Jesus. That is why he warned of it. Nor does God… he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But however we reason and however we try to trim Scripture to the prevailing wind of our sensibilities we hit the stormy waters of pervasive biblical teaching on judgement and there we flounder and sink.

    Two further points.

    I have unconverted close family. Some form of universalism would be a great comfort. But Scripture won’t allow it. Jesus anguish is echoed in his people… o Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I would have gathered you but you would not. I would be less than happy if a minister of some 32 years told my family with the apparent authority of the cloth behind him that they need not be concerned for love will win and all will be well (not to mention the possible objection of family to being taken to live with a. God they did not want)

    I’ve never really understood how a mere love ethic copes with the Stalins and Hitlers and Brady’s of this world. Or the murderous atrocities that pervade all of human history. Or a human justice system… prisons etc.

    I’ve already said to much but I’d urge you to have eyes to see and ears to hear what Christ actually said and not what you fondly wish he had said.

      • Andrew

        I’m afraid I don’t really think it is so complicated. Judgement in Scripture is plain, persistent and pervasive. We may wish it were otherwise, but it is not. Furthermore, any mainstream confession of faith that I am aware of teaches it. Robinson Himself concedes the heretical nature of denial.

        My experience of versions of universalism, limited though it is, is that they arise from philosophical speculative theology and not the Bible. Judgement cannot be airbrushed out the Bible and leave anything of substance.

        I would urge you, kindly I hope, to read the Bible. Read the gospels and as you do say as you encounter something you don’t like… I believe. That is the way of faith.. It really won’t do for a minister of the gospel to deny its raison d’etre.

        • To be absolutely clear here John, I do wholeheartedly believe the raison d’etre of the bible. I have always been clear about that.

  6. Andrew

    Clearly I don’t know you and blogs are rather impersonal. Forgive me if I am firm. For you and me the only source of authority on Christianity is the Bible. Other sources are ‘helps’ or hindrances as the case may be. Actually, I don’t think it is so complicated. In fact I’d argue that the things that really are at the heart of the gospel are plain. The issue is not that hey are hard to see but they are hard to believe. Furthermore, I have on my side every confession of mainstream trinitarian churches (as far as I’m aware) throughout history; to deny judgement was heresy.

    We are not talking about nuances we are talking about plain, persistent, pervasive teaching. The OT prophets had two foci, salvation and judgement with Messiah accomplishing both.

    My experience, limited though it is, is that denial of judgement arises from philosophical speculative theology, never biblical revelation.

    My riposte to you, said kindly I hope, but firmly too, for a minister of 32 years should know better, is to read the Bible. Start with the gospels… and say at each point… I believe.

    • John: forgive me if I am equally firm in reply. John Robinson was, first and foremost, a biblical scholar. That was his source of authority. I commend his studies to you. Same with C H Dodd. Warmly.

  7. Andrew

    Apologies for double comment. I thought my earlier one had failed. Andrew, it astonishes me that you can place so much credit on Robinson. The Bible is against him. Church history is against him. Scholarship is against him. His views have long since been considered and discredited by many. You simply can’t base your whole eternal destiny on a maverick mid C20 scholar.

    Go to the bible.. take up and read… take up and read.

  8. Andrew

    Firstly, Jesus does not say everyone is to sell all they possess. He tells the young man to do so to bring home to him his covetousness. Secondly, Jesus does not forbid possessions, indeed he elsewhere assumes we have them, instead we are to use them wisely. The analogy of Scripture shows that possessions are not in themselves wrong (though they can be dangerous).

    However, Jesus does universalise judgement and the analogy of Scripture only further confirms we are right to take his teaching on judgement seriously.

    I am not arguing for a wooden literalism that ignores the conventions of discourse, however, it’s also possible to use these as a means of obfuscating what is clear. We return to the teaching of Jesus about having eyes to see. At root, according to Jesus, the issue of ‘seeing’ is a matter of the desires of the heart. If we will not come to the light it is because our deeds are evil.

    I am being pointed here Andrew because on an issue so clear denial cannot be attributed to misunderstanding; it flows from chosen blindness.

    • Sorry John. Certainly not everyone agrees with you on your interpretation of Luke 18:22 and parallels and not everyone agrees with you on your other point here. Clearly Jesus does not universalise judgement as episodes such as the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross, and others show.
      Setting yourself up as judge of others is not altogether scriptural either, but thanks for the exchange.

        • Yes. And as I think I said at the time, the instruction of one apostle to a particular church at a particular time could not be taken as a mandate to the whole church for all time.

          • Why stop at apostles’ words, when the gospel itself is apostolic. So, just as easily, Jesus’ own declarations can also be set aside as to a particular generation at a particular time because they were relayed

            Perfect formula for free-wheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go-along conscience-excusing ‘faith’.

            The only remaining questions are:
            1. What’s the basis upon which you or John Robinson (or other contemporary scholars) can decide authoritatively that a particular part of scripture is only provisional to modern liberal/progressive religious beliefs?
            2. By who’s authority should the Church discard its normative interpretation and tradition (handed down to us by apostles through faithful bishops and martyrs) to embrace that decision?

          • Questions which the Church of England addressed carefully in deciding whether women should be admitted to Priestly and Episcopal orders.

          • That’s just evading the issue.

            The fact that the Rochester report wrestled with the basis of legitimate development (and even the rationale that was ultimately applied) does not provide carte blanche for every liberal or progressive innovation.

          • Not evading the issue at all. The same principles apply.
            You seem to forget that John Robinson and David Jenkins and Robert Runcie and many many others were bishops, the very people you tell us to look to as saviours of tradition. These people enabled valuable discussion in both church and state. With the decline of that liberal era, the Church in England has done nothing but decline, sadly.
            The fact is that the Church has always had to hold things in tension. As John Robinson reminds us, the issue of universalism has divided theologians since the time of Origen. I have no doubt it will go on doing so. I’m content to live with that tension.

          • Andrew,

            You wrote: “You seem to forget that John Robinson and David Jenkins and Robert Runcie and many many others were bishops, the very people you tell us to look to as saviours of tradition.”

            I’ve forgotten nothing here. Concerning normative interpretation and tradition, I wrote: “handed down to us by apostles through faithful bishops and martyrs“.

            There’s no evidence that the non-normative interpretations were handed down to us by the apostles, however faithful you consider those bishops to have been.

            In fact, the Church of England, does not hold universalism in tension with its official teaching about salvation and eternal damnation (as evidenced by the 39 Articles).

            However, as a national church, it doesn’t exploit its privileged position by imposIng such doctrine on the for interieure

            People are not won to Christ by imposition, but by persuasion of truth.

            And I’m content to live with that.

          • The Church of England doesn’t have official positions about many things beyond the Nicene Creed David, and whilst traditionalists might like the 39 Articles, they are part of traditionalism, not tradition. They are historic formularies and I’m certain you know the history of their formulation. It was not the Church of England’s finest hour, and whilst I’m happy to give general assent to them as historic formularies, nowhere have I ever been taught the specifics of them or required to give specific assent to any of their clauses. The only thing I was ever taught by a bishop was that we are all destined for glory. All I’ve seen on here is extrapolation from humanity about judgment, and I’d probably rather be an atheist than believe anthropomorphism- which is what is proposed here. It’s Sunday school stuff and I’m amazed that people don’t have a more mature faith.

            As the whether the C of E has an official position about Universalism – well I doubt it somehow if push came to shove. There is too much else at stake at present. And if you asked the C of E members, then I’m certain the majority would have no clue as to what they really believed.

            And I’m content to live with all of that David.

        • Lex orandi lex credendi

          It’s through the liturgy of the Church that Anglican doctrine is expressed.

          The Commination prayer is part of the authorised liturgy of the CofE:

          And whatever you make of the historical formularies, it’s clear from the Judgment rendered in the Pemberton employment appeal tribunal that they have legal force in the Church by law established. As that judgment explains:
          “ultimately it is accepted that the Church itself states that its doctrine is contained, in particular, in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, the latter of which is concerned with the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons: Canon A5 of the Canons. It is also not in dispute that the Canons are part of the law of England and Wales and together with ecclesiastical common law and Measures (which are a form of legislation) form the body of Ecclesiastical law.”

          You’re clearly describing a different church of wishful thinking; one that isn’t by law established.

          • Wonderful! Now please tell me any occasion I can find the commination service being used this morning and I will hop in the car and attend. Find me anyone why regularly uses it. More anthropomorphism.
            You really are all about the letter and not the spirit of the law aren’t you.

          • Your distinction of Letter vs. Spirit is just fatuous antinomianism.

            For example, the fact that some churches don’t regularly recite the Athanasian creed doesn’t mean that the Church of England holds Unitarianism in tension with the Trinity.

            Neither does the fact that sone parishes have never used the commination during Lent mean that the Church of England holds its teaching on eternal damnation in tension with universalism.

            I’ll freely admit that many a pew-warmer might pay little interest to the Church’s teaching on the Trinity, or eternal damnation, or even eternal life.

            The CofE have always held the clergy to a higher standard of accountability than laity. It’s the clergy who are called to be “examples to the flock”, not the other way around.

            And your attempted coup de grace in referring to the Churching of Women is a prime example of the converse accident fallacy, also known as ‘destroying the exception’ (

            You highlight an exception to infer that the ‘lex orandi lex credendi’ rule is untenable.

            Well, the same logical fallacy undergirds the false inference from permitting medical use of marijuana for glaucoma and pain relief that the ban on recreational use of the drug is untenable.

            If you must to have the last word in this exchange, then try to avoid another fallacious one.

          • David: please tell me where I can see a Commination service regularly used.
            You are always talking about the converse accident fallacy, and always quoting that Wikipedia article. So much so that your use of it is in danger of becoming a converse accident fallacy itself!
            The ‘rule’ of ‘as you pray, so you believe’ is such a general one and always needs testing. The use of the BCP in its fullness is so rare, simply because we don’t really believe what we pray in there any more. That’s why, since the 1928 Prayer book, the alternative services series, the ASB 1980 itself, and now Common Worship, we have modified our prayers to show what it is we believe. And because the BCP is still authorised, it’s clear that people still believe different things. I was on General Synod for 8 years and that was abundantly clear. And that’s Anglicanism for you. No big surprise!

            I don’t mind who has the last word. But do tell me where I can see this Commination service in use and then I can check whether people really believe what they pray in it – which I very much doubt. That general rule you quote is so general that it doesn’t really work.

          • Andrew,

            In previous exchanges, Ive share the link with you in the hope that you wouldn’t repeat of that fallacy.

            Clearly, that hope that you’d avoid the same fallacious argument has proven vain: your own quip is a non-sequitur.

            ” The use of the BCP in its fullness is so rare, simply because we don’t really believe what we pray in there any more.

            If you were only describing liberals like yourself and removed “in there” from that statement, then I’d be inclined to agree with you.

            You wrote: “ it’s clear that people still believe different things”.

            Of course, they do. Jeremy Pemberton probably still believes what he claimed at his tribunal: that “ Church of England does not have a fixed rule on same-sex marriage among members of the clergy.”

            As you know, he found out the hard way that (as the pastoral guidance put it) “the Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching clergy are not free to behave in a manner that contradicts Church’s doctrine.”

            So, I’m sure that promoting universalist theory can easily be subsumed into “theological exploration and debate”,

            Of course, clergy who do so just need to cross their fingers, if ever they have to mumble through the Apostles’ Creed, especially where it says of Christ: “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

          • David: I have asked at least three times now. Please tell me where I can attend a commination service according to the BCP. You have held this service up as an example of C of E belief. Instead of answering this simple question you try to divert the discussion.

          • That’s the best you can come up with: to persist in furtherance of fallaciously ‘destroying the exception’…all the while being unable to demonstrate that your question doesn’t do that?

            Presumably, other exceptions make rules untenable. Surgeons are legitimately authorised cut other people open (“Clearly, no rule. Simple question: why isn’t everyone authorised to cut other people open?);

            Glaucoma sufferers are legitimately authorised to use marijuana ((“Clearly, no rule. Simple question: why isn’t everyone authorised to use marijuana?)

            Many churches don’t use the Commination during Lent (“Clearly, no rule for Church teaching. Simple question: if it contains a rule of Church teaching, why isn’t everyone using it?)

            Any further exchange with you would be in defiance of logic (even if you view logic as another legalism and illogic as ‘spirit’)

          • David: it was you who held the commination service up as an example of what the CofE believed. An example of the ‘as you pray, so you believe’ mantra that you say the C of E holds to.
            I have pointed out that C of E prays in some very different ways and styles. All of them authorised. Several of them contradictory. All you can do is rattle on about Jeremy Pemberton in some desperate attempt to turn the conversation to your favourite topic of same sex marriage.
            What you simply can’t do is produce evidence for your original claim that the commination service is really where it’s at. All I am asking is some evidence to prove your claim. If all of these C of E churches hold these beliefs so dearly, why aren’t they holding commination services? I will happily settle for just one example of it being used this coming week so that I can go and check it out.
            But rather than give some evidence you will doubtless try to move the argument again.

          • Andrew,

            Now that I’ve clearly explained that I won’t participate in the fallacy of ‘destroying the exception’ (as a basis for disproving the rule), I’m prepared to answer your question: “ Now please tell me any occasion I can find the commination service being used this morning and I will hop in the car and attend. Find me anyone why regularly uses it.”

            As a Lenten prayer, the Commination is reserved for Ash Wednesday. Archbishop Justin Welby tweeted in February this year: “ Each year on #AshWednesday we use the Service of Commination from the Book of Common Prayer.
            It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it speaks profoundly of our need for God’s mercy. As ever, thanks to all at @lambethpalace for your patience and forbearance.”

            So, as leader of the CofE and of the four instruments of unity in the Anglican Community, it’s clear that the liturgical practice is expressive of Anglican doctrine.

            Lex orandi lex credendi

          • Thanks David. No wonder it was taking you so long to find anywhere!
            It’s clearly barely used anywhere, even on Ash Weds. And of course was not ‘translated’ to CW, or ASB, or any modern alternative.

            At least ++Justin admits that ‘It’s not for the faint-hearted’. In other words, he does not expect everyone to pray that way. In other words, not everyone will believe that way.

            Anglicans legitimately believe different things David. It’s part of our DNA. We don’t have uniformity of belief. That’s why we had an Elizabethan settlement.

            As for us all needing God’s mercy – well absolutely! Of course! Whoever said we didn’t? And as I explain down the page, universalists believe in judgement. They just take seriously the mercy and grace of God at the last.

          • As a Lenten prayer, the Commination is reserved for Ash Wednesday. Archbishop Justin Welby tweeted in February this year: “ Each year on #AshWednesday we use the Service of Commination from the Book of Common Prayer.
            It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it speaks profoundly of our need for God’s mercy. As ever, thanks to all at @lambethpalace for your patience and forbearance.”

            I pray and hope that the Archbishop starts to include extracts from the Commination, and some of the terrible warnings from the New Testament, not least from Christ’s own lips, in his public sermons and speeches, alongside the wonderful invitations and promises to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection; to submit in repentance, faith, love and obedience.

            Phil Almond

          • “ It’s not for the faint-hearted’. In other words, he does not expect everyone to pray that way. In other words, not everyone will believe that way.”

            The fact that not everyone will believe that way is not in dispute. The doctrine of the CofE is not established by taking a straw poll to ensure that it reflects the breadth of beliefs held by its membership.

            The Elizabethan settlement is so called because it did achieve just that. The Church’s settled doctrine consists of what it corporately and authoritatively declares and maintains.

            That’s said, I previously clarified that
            For the Church to permit and even encourage the participation and involvement of those who do not fully agree with all of its settled doctrine is consonant with Jude 1:22, 23: “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

            Despite such theological exploration and debate and pastoral accommodation, there’s no basis for your position that the Church holds contradictory doctrines (e.g. redemption/eternal damnation vs universalism) in tension with each other.

          • “The fact that not everyone will believe that way is not in dispute. The doctrine of the CofE is not established by taking a straw poll to ensure that it reflects the breadth of beliefs held by its membership.”

            Um, that’s pretty much exactly what General Synod does do.

            When it comes to Eucharistic doctrine, Common Worship carefully enables those of both a memorialist persuasion and those of a catholic persuasion to find something that they can identify with. Some of the newer Anglican Eucharistic prayers are also quite at odds with the theology and doctrine expressed in the BCP. So we do indeed live in a church that holds quite contradictory beliefs.

            There has been no move to revise the commination service as it is barely used, save for once a year in a private chapel, as your research has shown. If General Synod were to debate it, a whole range of views would be expressed, followed by a straw poll aka a vote.

          • “Despite such theological exploration and debate and pastoral accommodation, there’s no basis for your position that the Church holds contradictory doctrines”

            I think Charles Simeon is quite helpful on this point: “The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

          • “ So we do indeed live in a church that holds quite contradictory beliefs.

            There has been no move to revise the commination service as it is barely used, save for once a year in a private chapel, as your research has shown.“

            That’s a straw man that rejects a position that I never advanced. To say (as you do) that “ we do indeed live in a church that holds quite contradictory beliefs” doesn’t even address a remote paraphrase of my own statement: “ the Church holds contradictory doctrines (e.g. redemption/eternal damnation vs universalism) in tension with each other.”

            In fact, by your own admission, when doctrine is debated, it would result in a General Synod vote for either acceptance or rejection, but not to hold contradictory doctrines in tension with each other.

            Also, General Synod voting is a far cry from what I described as determining Church doctrine by “taking a straw poll to ensure that it reflects the breadth of beliefs held by its membership.”

            Your argumentum ad populum about liturgy is yet another fallacy. If it were true, it would suggest that the less frequent occasional offices, like baptisms and weddings, carry less doctrinal significance than morning and evening prayer.

            They don’t.

          • To clarify my own statement was that “there’s no basis for your position that the Church holds contradictory doctrines (e.g. redemption/eternal damnation vs universalism) in tension with each other.”

          • David thanks for this. I’m afraid I’m not convinced that these are contradictory doctrines. As I’ve explained, there is every possibility of God’s judgment and a place of eternal damnation. I even believe in hell. I just don’t believe anyone is there for ever. We have to believe in hell. But we also hope it doesn’t have the last word.

            If General Synod were to debate a revision of the commination service it would take ages, as all liturgical revision has done. A small group would then draft a service which would be debated. More revision etc etc. And Charles Simeons maxim would apply: “The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.” And that’s why we have the Eucharistic prayers and doctrines that we have. And most recently the Church of England has changed its doctrine about liturgy to reflect the debate about women in the episcopate. Yet it still permits clergy to hold a contradictory view.

            Thanks for this discussion so far. I’ve valued both being able to express what are sometimes extremes. And I come back to Charles Simeon. : “The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

          • Andrew
            Following on from your October 10, 2020 at 7:32 am post: in your view what is happening to those in hell while they are there?

            Phil Almond

      • Regards to you too Andrew.

        We do need to assess others… it is mandated in Scripture. God alone will judge your soul and mine on the day of judgement. But there will be a day of judgement (Romans 2) and righteousness not love is the criteria in God’s law court… belief and behaviour will be weighed for evidence of life.

        • What’s your real worry here John? Are you worried that you might have to share the kingdom of heaven with a tax collector, or sinner; a prostitute or a thief? Hmm? Or maybe worse still…shock horror…a theological liberal? Have you not seen in the Gospels that those kind of people seem to be going in before the scribes and Pharisees?

          • Actually Andrew the lesson to learn from the tax collector, prostitute etc, at least as mentioned in the Gospels, is that they all threw themselves on the mercy of God for forgiveness and acceptance, knowing they were unacceptable to Him as they stood.

            The problem with universalism is that it seems to say there’s no need for that, you’ll be saved regardless.


          • Peter: you must be reading a very different bible to the one I have. Have you never heard of the word grace?
            Do read Peter Reiss below. I think it’s spot on.

  9. I disagree with Ian Paul about the ordination of women, the atonement doctrine of penal substitution and his support of Stephen Travis’ book ‘Christ and the Judgment of God’. But I agree with a lot of what he says and I emphatically agree with his ‘But there is also no doubt that this kind of universalism is appealing to our culture, and is very hard to square with Jesus’ language of judgement throughout the gospels’. My prayer, hope and plea is that the Church as a whole would preach and teach to all the warnings of judgement in the words that Christ and other NT writers use, alongside the wonderful sincere invitations and promises to all to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life giving resurrection; to submit in repentance, faith and obedience.

    Phil Almond

  10. How God hands over to judgement / gives people over to their sinful desires / takes away the vineyard is both a theological issue about “Who is God?” and an incredibly particular issue – about particular times, places and particular people.
    In the OT it is somewhat sweeping – whole populations get caught up in times of divine judgment, except that Rahab and Ruth betray that universal judgement on Canaanites or Moabites, and Matthew highlights a Canaanite woman who finds her way to Jesus successfully. And the theme of remnant is a stubborn theme, albeit unclear in its actual membership.
    I suspect that we may want to generalise that our society has drifted away or turned away (the two are very different) from God or from God’s ways, but we will probably struggle to put a kairos moment, and we tend to see the private sins as more to be focused on than the systemic injustices, inequalities and suffering inflicted on so many (others).
    We may equally want to argue that all through history the tide of faith and living a more or less holy life has ebbed and flowed, and even that this has been the case in our own lives.
    Prophets and believers can find God in exile, and may be called to be in exile with others.
    It seems to me that an honest read of the post-exilic attempts to reconstitute a godly society shows they were disputed, fractious and incomplete and that may be an important lesson for us also.
    I don’t think any reader of the Bible and of the gospels can avoid the centrality of judgement, but this is also deeply entwined and interweaved with mercy. When we unpick it we are in danger of the gospel message unravelling – whichever element we try and either highlight or remove.

    • Thank you Peter. This is a wonderful post and restores some of the mystery of God to a rather anthropomorphic debate on here. Your post also properly reminds us that the possibility of universalism does not mean that there is no judgement. I’m not sure if anyone has suggested that it did. The thief on the cross, the woman caught in adultery, the latecomers to labouring in the vineyard all faced judgement in one form or another. But their encounter with the living Christ changed them. How can it not, in the end, change a person? We shall all be changed. When Paul wrote that to the Corinthians he didn’t write some, he wrote all.

      • Andrew
        Universalism is the belief that in the end everybody will be saved. So in universalism there is no final judgement which results in the eternal punishment or annihilation of the unsaved.

        An encounter with the living Christ does not always result in salvation:

        “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

        “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

        “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear”.

        Phil Almond

      • The problem is, Andrew, Jesus had encounters with quite a few people, yet many of them rejected Him, and it wasnt just the religious authorities of the day.

        As for Corinthians, it’s clear Paul is talking about the resurrection body provided for believers, both those who had already dead and those still alive when He returns, not a change of attitude!


    • I dont agree, if that is your implication, that those who reject universalism as reflecting reality have somehow ignored mercy when it comes to God’s judgement. I think we will all be rather surprised who is finally ‘saved’ due to God’s mercy, including ourselves if we do indeed receive His mercy, but that is not the same as believing all will be saved, regardless.

      But it seems to me God has shown every ounce of His mercy by sacrificing His own Son. How can you expect further mercy if you reject that?


  11. This, Andrew, is something of a repeat of what has gone before.
    All encounters with Jesus are in this present life resulting in a changed life, a life transformed.
    Jesus does the chosing.
    And look at all those who rejected him the other thief on the cross, Judas Iscariot, never mind all the other unnamed. Hardened and opposed.
    If you don’t want him, he gives you what you want. Eternity without him and all that entails.
    Do tell us about your encounter with Jesus, it would be interesting to know.
    And what you are doing to introduce others to Jesus and all he is, the way, the truth, the life, in all his deity and humanity, his incarnation, life, substitutional death, bodily resurrection and his ultimate return. The Good News.
    By what measure will you be judged?

    • Geoff: the problem we have here is that you are just like Donald Trump – you want to build a huge wall to keep people out. (This is perhaps why evangelicals like the President so much!). I want to draw a bigger and bigger circle to let people in. Because that’s what the good news is. Yours is an exclusive club. Mine is an inclusive city. Enjoy your membership.

        • Geoff: I’m afraid the only thing I find silly here is your suggestion that people earn they way into the kingdom by doing good works or measurable things. Where is the bar set for this? How many good works do I need to do?
          Have you never read Luke 18:9-14?
          The only way in to the kingdom is to be found out in your poverty.

          • It is a total derogation of your position in a superior or former superior position in the CoE to totally misrepresent all I’ve said in relation to salvation and sanctification.
            It is all of our Triune God.
            Set aside the question of election and predestination for now and we still worship different God’s.
            And if yours is a supercilious jibe at the whole question election it is trite, not worthy of such a weighty topic. A one that can be greivous and a produces a sense of head shaking unworthiness with no superiority and yes, a recognition of poverty of bankruptcy before God, of brokenness, unworthiness, of no merit a one of deep sinfulness.
            How about you?
            I was saved at age 47. It was all of God nothing of any merit in me.
            The offer of Christ is to all.
            Anyway, let’s have it Andrew. I repeat the above…do tell us about your encounter with Jesus Christ… and what you are doing to introduce others to him…???

          • Geoff: I have answered your questions. Read Luke 18:9-14. It’s all there.
            The community where I live has three chapels – one of them dedicated to Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Our reading this morning was actually the story of Mary and Martha – Luke 10:38-42. That passage also has the answer to your question.

      • Andrew
        ‘You want’, ‘I want’. ‘Yours is an exclusive club’, ‘Mine is an inclusive club’.

        The disagreement is not about what Geoff wants or what you want or what I want. The disagreement is about what is the true situation, what are the facts.

        Speaking just for myself, I am confronted with certain facts that God has revealed in the Bible. Terrible facts: the fact of original sin and God’s wrath and condemnation which we all face from birth onwards, the weight of my personal sins, the fact of eternal retribution for the unsaved, the fact that we all need to be born from above (but of course the fact that God does regenerate sinners is a wonderful fact), the fact that such a rebirth depends on God’s sovereign election before the foundation of the world and his unilateral action in time to breathe life into our dead and helpless souls, the fact that he has elected some not all of all the human beings who have lived or will ever live. Terrible facts. I don’t choose to believe them. I have no choice; I have got to believe them because they are true.

        I am also confronted with the wonderful fact that God sincerely and genuinely invites all of us to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection; to submit in repentance, faith, love and obedience. How can this wonderful fact and the terrible fact of predestination to life both be true? – that is one of God’s secrets.

        Kuiper in God-Centred Evangelism writes (page 40f)
        “The all-important fact is that the word of God teaches unmistakably both divine reprobation and the universality as well as the sincerity of the gospel offer…… We may as well admit – in fact it must be admitted – that these teachings cannot be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic is concerned, they rule one another out. However, the acceptance of either to the exclusion of the other stands condemned as rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible word, is the norm of truth. That Word contains many paradoxes. The classical example is that of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The two teachings now under consideration also constitute a striking paradox. To destroy a Scriptural paradox by rejecting one of its elements is to place human logic above the divine Word. To subject human logic to the divine logos is the part of child-like faith”

        And he goes on to quote Calvin in commenting on Ezekiel 18:23, which parallels Ezekiel 33:11:
        “Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted the reprobate to eternal destruction and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our intelligence”.

        So, in the light of these terrible and wonderful facts, back to what we want.

        I want all persons alive today to be saved. I pray that God in his wonderful love, mercy and grace will bring all those with needed faculties to submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love and obedience, and he will apply the benefits of his wonderful salvation to those who for whatever reason lack such faculties.

        And I pray that the worldwide Church will be renewed to preach the terrible warnings and the wonderful genuine and universal promises and invitations.

        I think it quite likely that Geoff agrees with me.

        Phil Almond


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