The Wonderful Compassion of Christ to the Greatest Sinners

XXIII.

THE WONDERFUL COMPASSION OF CHRIST TO THE GREATEST

SINNERS.

" O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets, and stoneth them that 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."—Matt, xxiii. 37.

There is not, perhaps, a chapter in the whole Bible so full of such repeated denunciations of the most tremendous woes as this. Certainly there is none like it among all the discourses of Christ left upon record. Here the gentle Jesus, the inoffensive Lamb of God, treats the unbelieving Scribes and Pharisees with the most pungent severity. Woe, woe, woe, breaks from his lips like repeated claps of thunder. He repeatedly calls them hypocrites, fools, and blind, blind guides, whited sepulchres, children of hell, serpents, a generation of vipers who cannot escape the damnation of hell. But in my text he melts into tenderness, even in this vein of terror, and appears the same compassionate, gentle Saviour we are wont to find him. His most terrible denunciations were friendly warnings, calculated to reform, and not to destroy. And while denouncing the most terrible woes against Jerusalem, in an abrupt flow of passion he breaks out into the most moving lamentation over her: 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem ! thou tliat killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens, &c. This is one of those tender cases which requires a familiar and moving, rather than a grand illustration; and that which Jesus has chosen is one of the most tender, familiar, and moving that could be devised. How often would I have gathered thee, O Jerusalem, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. As much as to say, " As the parent-bird, when she sees some bird of prey hovering over her helpless young, gives them the signal, which nature teaches them to understand, and spreads her wings to protect them, resolved to become a prey herself rather than her tender brood; or, as she shelters them from the rain and cold, and cherishes them under her friendly feathers, " So," says the compassionate Redeemer, "so, O Jerusalem! I see thy children, like heedless chickens, in the most imminent danger; I see the judgments of God hovering over them ; I see the Roman eagle ready to seize them as its prey; I see storms of vengeance ready to fall upon them; and how often have I invited them to fly to me for shelter, and give them the signal of their danger! But, O lamentable ! O astonishing ! ye would not! I was willing, but ye would not!"

His compassion will appear the more surprising, if we consider the object of it. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent to thee, though upon the kind design of reforming and saving thee, and who will, in a few days, crucify that Saviour who now laments thy doom, how often would he have gathered even thy ungrateful children and received them under his protection, with an affection and tenderness like the instinctive fondness of the mother-hen for her brood !

The important truths which my text suggests are such as these:—That sinners while from under the protection of Jesus Christ are in a very dangerous situation—that they may obtain safety by putting themselves under his protection—that he is willing to receive the greatest sinners under his protection—that he has often used means to prevail upon them to fly to him, that they may be safe—that notwithstanding all this, multitudes are unwilling to fly to him, and put themselves under his protection—that this unwillingness of theirs is the real cause of their destruction—that this unwillingness is an instance of the most irrational and brutal stupidity—-and, that it is very affecting and lamentable.

1. The text implies, that sinners, while from under the protection of Jesus Christ, are in a very dangerous situation. As the hen does not give the signal of danger, nor spread her wings to shelter her young, except when she sees danger approaching, so the Lord Jesus would not call sinners to fly to him for protection were they not in real danger. Sinners, you are in danger from the curse of the divine law, which is in full force against you, while you have no interest in the righteousness of Christ, which alone can answer its demands: you are in danger from the dread arrest of divine justice, which guards the sacred rights of the divine government, and will avenge itself upon you for all the insults you have offered it; you are in danger from the various judgments of God, who is angry with you every day, and whose judgments are hovering over you, and ready to seize you like hungry birds of prey : you are in danger from your own vile corruptions, which may hurry you into such courses as may be inconvenient, or, perhaps, ruinous to you in this world, may harden you in impenitence, and at length destroy you for ever; you are in danger from the arrest of death, which is ready every moment to stretch out his mortal hand, and seize you; you are in danger from the malice and power of devils, who like hungry lions are ready to snatch away your souls, as their helpless prey. In short, you are surrounded with dangers on every hand, and dangers rise still more thick and dreadful before you. You are not sure of an hour's enjoyment of one comfort; nay, you are not sure there is so much as one moment between you and all the miseries of the damned. This minute you are upon earth, thoughtless, secure, and gay; but the next may be—I tremble to tell you where—in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, tormented in flames. Yes, sinners, one flying moment may strip you entirely naked of all the enjoyments of earth, cut you off from all hope of heaven, and ingulf you in remediless despair. Some of you, whose very case this is, will not, probably, believe me, nor take the alarm. But here, alas! lies your principal danger. If you would take warning in time, you might escape; but you will not believe there is danger until it becomes inevitable. Had Lot's sons-in-law taken warning from him, they might have escaped; but they saw no sensible appearance of the impending judgment, and, therefore, they continued blindly secure, regarded the good old man as a mocker, and, therefore, perished in Sodom. Had Jerusalem been apprehensive of its danger in time, it might have flourished to this day; but it would not be warned, and, therefore, became a ruinous heap: and this will be your doom, sinners, unless you be apprehensive of it before it breaks upon you like a whirlwind. Indeed, it may make one sad to think how common this danger is, and how little it is apprehended, to see crowds thoughtless and merry on the brink of ruin, secure and careless while hanging over the infernal pit by the frail thread of life. This is sad ; but, alas! it is a common case in the world, and I am afraid it is too common among you, my hearers. And whither shall you fly for safety ? Is the danger inevitable ? If so, where is the friendly arm that can guard you ? "Where the wing that can shelter you from those judgments that are hovering over you, like ravenous birds, to make a prey of you ? Blessed be God, I can show you a place of safety; for,

2. The text implies, that if sinners fly to Christ, and put themselves under his protection, they shall obtain safety.

How great and seemingly inevitable your dangers, yet if you place yourselves under the protection of Jesus Christ, you are safe for ever; safe from the deluges of divine wrath, that are ready to rush down upon you ; safe from the s\^rd of justice, and the thunders of Sinai; safe from the intestine insurrections of your own conscience, and from the power and malice of infernal spirits; safe from the oppression of sin, and you shall be gloriously triumphant over death itself, the king of terrors. Brethren, if we are covered with the righteousness of Christ, the sword of divine justice cannot reach us. If we are sheltered under the wings of his guardian care, the most threatening dangers of time or eternity cannot affect us with real injury. How happy then, how safe are such of you as have put yourselves under his protection! Now every blessing is yours, and nothing can do you a real injury. You shall never fall a prey to your various enemies, but shall at length obtain an illustrious victory over them all through the blood of the Lamb. But, alas! are there not some of you that are exposed to all the dreadful dangers of a sinner without Christ ? And is there no place of safety for you ? Yes, under those wings where believers have sheltered themselves. But you may perhaps inquire, " What encouragement have I to fly to him? I, who am so vile a sinner; I, who have nothing at all to recommend me ! can I hope that he will stretch out the wings of his mercy, and receive me into protection ?" Yes, poor trembling creature, even you may venture; for remember what my text further implies, viz.:

3. That the compassionate Jesus is willing to receive the very greatest sinner under his protection. Can you question this, after this moving lamentation of his over Jerusalem ? Jerusalem, that killed the prophets, and stoned them that were sent unto her, though upon messages of grace; Jerusalem, upon whom should come all the righteous blood of the prophets, through a length of nearly 4000 years, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias; Jerusalem, the den of those murderers, who, he well knew, would in a few days imbrue their hands in his own blood; Jerusalem, that had abused so many mercies, been incorrigible under so many chastisements, deaf to so many invitations; yet of this very city the compassionate Saviour says, How often would I have gathered thy children under the wings of my protection ; thy children, obstinate and ungrateful as they are! O what gracious encouragement is here to the greatest sinners among us ! Jesus is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, the same compassionate, all-sufficient Saviour. He did not lose #is pity for Jerusalem after he had suffered death by her bloody hands! but after his resurrection he orders his apostles to make one trial more with her obstinate children: Go, says" he, and preach repentance and remission of sins to all nations, begining at Jerusalem ; as much as to say, " Though Jerusalem be the ungrateful city, where so much pains have been taken in vain, and where I have just been crucified with cruel hands, yet do not give them up; try once more to gather them under my wings; yea, let them have the very first offer of grace under this new dispensation ;" O what melting, overpowering mercy! What overflowing and free grace are here! This exemplifies his own declarations, that he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; and sinners of the vilest character are welcome to him. Therefore come sinners, fly to Jesus, however deep your guilt. Had you been murderers of fathers, or murderers of mothers; nay, had you come hither this day with hands reeking with the blood of the Son of God, yet, if you repent and believe, he is willing to receive you under the shadow of his wings. To encourage you the more, and even to constrain you, consider what my text implies further, viz.:

4. That the Lord Jesus has often used means to prevail upon you to fly to him for safety. What he says to" Jerusalem may be applied to you; how often would 1 have gathered thy children together! How often has he given you the signal of danger, that you might fly from it! how

often has he spread out a friendly wing to shelter you! as often as the law has denounced its curses against you; as often as the gospel has invited and allured you; as often as conscience has checked and warned you, or prompted you to duty ; as often as the Holy Spirit has moved upon your hearts, and excited some serious thoughts and good purposes and inclinations ; as often as Providence has allured you with its profusion of blessings, or chastened you with its afflictive rod; as often as you have seen a good example, or heard a pious word dropt in conversation; in short, as often as any means of any kind have been used with you, that had a tendency to make you sensible of your danger, or your need of Jesus Christ, so often has he used means with you to engage you to fly to the shelter of his wings for protection. The gracious call of a compassionate Saviour has followed you ever since you were capable of hearing it to this day. But, alas ! does not the next remark hold true as to some of you, viz.:

5. That, notwithstanding all this, multitudes are unwilling to fly to him for protection ! It was not of Jerusalem alone that he had reason to say, I would have gathered you, hut ye would not ! I was willing, but ye were unwilling. This is strange indeed, and might seem incredible, were it not a most notorious fact. That the Judge should be willing to pardon, but the criminal unwilling to receive pardon; that the offended Sovereign should be ready to take a perishing rebel under his protection, but the rebel should stand off, and rather perish than fly to him—this is a most astonishing thing; and it is the hardest thing in the world to convince sinners that this is their conduct towards the Lord Jesus Christ. They are generally more suspicious of his willingness to save them, than of their own to come to him. Were he as willing to save them, as they are to be saved by him, they think there would be no danger of their salvation; but the case is directly the reverse; the unwillingness lies entirely upon their side. To convince them of this let it be considered, that we are not truly willing to be saved by Christ at all, unless we are willing to be saved by him in his own way, or upon his own terms. We are not willing to be saved, unless the nature of the salvation be agreeable to us. Now one principal part of the salvation which we need, and which Christ offers, is deliverance from sin; deliverance from the power, the

s pleasures, and profits of sin, as well as from the destructive consequences of it in the world to come. Are sinners willing to accept of such a salvation as this from Christ ? No, this appears no salvation to them; this seems rather a confinement, a loss, a bereavement. They are willing to indulge themselves in sin, and therefore it is impossible they should, in the mean time, be willing to be restrained from it, or deprived of it. To tear their sins from them is to rob them of their pleasures, and they rise up in arms against the attempt. They are willing to be happy, but they are not willing to be holy, in which alone their happiness consists; they are willing to be saved from hell, but they are not willing to be saved from those dispositions which create a hell within them, even according to the nature of things; they are willing to go to heaven when they can live no longer in this their favorite world, but they are unwilling to be prepared for it in their temper and disposition. An eternity spent in holy exercises would be an eternal drudgery to them, unless they have a relish for holiness. Freedom from sin would be a painful bereavement to them while they take pleasure in sin, and how then could they be happy, even in the very region of happiness, since the sordid pleasures of sin never mingle with those pure rivers of living water ? The only way of salvation, according to the divine appointment, is the way of holiness. This is not an arbitrary appointment, but necessary in the very nature of things; for, as I observed, till they are made holy, it is impossible in the nature of things they should be happy in heaven, because the happiness of heaven consists in the perfection of holiness. To be saved without holiness is as impossible as to be healthy without health, or be saved without salvation. God is wise in all his constitutions, and therefore the way of salvation by Christ is agreeable to the nature of things, it is in itself consistent and possible; and if sinners are not willing to be saved in this possible way, they are not willing in reality to be saved at all.

Again: the way of salvation by Christ is all through grace. It is adapted to stain the glory, and mortify the pride of all flesh, and to advance the mercy of God, and the honor of Christ, without a rival. Now "haughty, selfrighteous sinners are unwilling to be saved in this humbling, mortifying way, and therefore they are unwilling to are so disaffected to Jesus Christ that you have no will, no inclination, to choose him for your Saviour; you are such an obstinate enemy to him, that you would rather perish than take him for a friend; therefore your not coming to him is no crime. Is this consistent reasoning ? Is it not all one as if a rebel should think to excuse himself by pleading, " I have such an inveterate hatred to my sovereign that I cannot love him;" or a robber, " I have such an averson to honesty, that I cannot possibly help stealing ? Would not this be an aggravation of the crime rather than an excuse ? Sinners, give up this foolish reasoning, for the matter is too important to be trifled with. Your inability in this case is nothing else then your unwillingness ; and your unwillingness is the effect of your disaffection to Jesus Christ; therefore own that this is the true cause of your destruction.

In short, whatever pleas and excuses you make, you will find at last that your destruction is entirely the effect of your own perverse choice. Ye will not come unto Christ that ye might have life ; and therefore you must perish without it. This reflection will for ever torment you, that you willfully destroyed yourselves, and were guilty of the most unnatural self-murder. Jesus was willing, but you would not. God has even sworn that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn and live. To you therefore, I may properly address that expostulation, Why will ye die ? Why will ye ? why do ye most willfully, destroy yourselves ? why do ye ruin yourselves by your own free choice ? why will you die ? you, whom Jesus is willing to save, whom he has often invited, why will you, above all men in the world, causelessly die by your own act? Are you capable of so much stupidity ? It is a stupidity that is a dreadful peculiarity of your own, for,

7. Unwillingness to fly to Jesus is the most irrational, and worse than brutal stupidity. This is implied in my text. No sooner does the hen give the signal of danger, then her little family, taught by instinct to understand the alarm, immediately fly under her wings. " So," says Christ, " I gave you the alarm, but you would not regard it; so I spread the wing of my guardian care to defend you, but you would not shelter under it." To refuse the offer of eternal salvation, when proposed upon the most reasonable terms—to rush into hell, rather than be saved by the friendly hands of Jesus Christ—to suffer the most terrible execution, rather than accept a free pardon—to reject all the bliss of heaven when freely proposed—to choose the pleasures of sin for a season rather than an eternity of the most exalted happiness—to resist the calls of redeeming love, and all the friendly efforts of divine grace, to save a sinking soul—is this the conduct of a reasonable creature? Let me endeavor to make you sensible,

8. And lastly, that this conduct is extremely affecting and lamentable.

It is on this account that Jesus laments over Jerusalem in such pathetic strains in my text. He knew the truth of the case; his all-seeing eye took it in all its extent, and viewed it in all its circumstances and consequences. And since he, who knew it best, deeply laments it, we may be sure it is lamentable indeed, and it cannot but appear so even to us who know so little of it. An immortal soul lost! lost for ever! lost by its own obstinacy ! lost amidst the means of salvation! how tragical a case is this!—God dishonored! Jesus rejected! his love defeated! his blood trampled upon! his spirit grieved! how lamentable is this ? And yet are there not some of you in this lamentable condition in this assembly ? It was over such as you that Jesus wept and mourned. And shall he weep alone! Shall not our tears keep time with his, since we are so much more nearly concerned? 0 that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains of tears, that we might weep along with the Saviour of men ! But, alas ! our tears are too much reserved for dying friends, or some less affecting object, while immortal souls perish around us, unpitied, unlamented!