THE WONDERFUL COMPASSIONS OF CHRIST TO THE GREATEST
MATT. xxiii. 37—O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the
prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often
would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen
1 gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
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
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Christ, left upon record. Here the gentle Jesus, the inoffensive Lamb of God, treats the unbelieving Scribes and Pharisees with the most pungent severity. Wo, wo, wo, breaks from his lips like repeated claps of thunder. He exposes them with an asperity and indignation not usual in his mild addresses. He repeatedly calls them hypocrites, fools, and blind, blind guides, whited sepulchres, children of hell, serpents, a generation of vipers, who could not escape the damnation of hell. But in my text he m<-lts 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; O Jeruxalrm. Jcrunalem! thou that killesl the firofihets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her w'ngs, and ye would not J
This is one of those tender cases which requires a familiar and moving, rather than a grand illustration; and that which Jesus has here chosen is one of the most tender* familiar and moving that could be devised. How often would I have gathered thee, 0 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! how often have I spread the wings of my protection to cover them, and keep them warm and safe as in my bosom! But, O lamentable! O! astonishing! ye would not! I was willing, but ye would not ! The silly chickens, taught by nature, understand the signal of approaching danger, and. immediately fly for shelter; but ye, more silly and presumptuous, would not regard my -warnings; would not believe your danger, nor fly to me for protection, though often, O how often, warned and invited!"
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 rtforming and saving thee, and who wilt, 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 and solicitude of the mother-hen for her brood! Here is divine compassion indeed, that extends itself even to his enemies, to his murderers! Strange! that such generous benevolence should meet with an ungrateful repulse ! that the provoked Sovereign should be willing to receive his rebellious subjects into protection, but that they should be unwilling to fly to him for it!"
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, ptrhaps, ruinous to you in this world, may harden you in impenitence, and at length destroy you forever: You are in danger from your own conscience, which would be your best friend; but it is now ready to rise up in arms against you, and. like an insatiable vulture, prey upon your hearts forever: You are in danger from the arrest of death, which is ready every moment to stretch out its 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 betwixt you and all the miseries of the damned This minute you :e upon earth, thoughtless, secure and gay; but the next may be—I tremble to tell you where—in the lake that burnetii 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 —Hud Lot'i sons-in-law taken warning from him, they might have escaped; but they saw no sensible appearances 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 hare 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 cart-ltss 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 re the friendly arm that can guard you ? where the wing that caa
shelter you from those judgments that are hovering over you, like ravenous birds, to make a prey of you? Blessed be God, I can shew 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.
The beautiful allusion to the protection a hen affords her young under the shelter of her wings, implies thus much, as we may learn from the meaning of the same allusion in other places. So in that beautiful passage, Psalm xci. 1—4. He that dwelleth in the secret filace of the" Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I ivtll say of the Lord, he is my refuge, and my fortress—Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler—He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust; that is, he shall protect thee in safety, and thou shalt trust irr his guardian care. This is David's meaning, when he prays, Lord, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. Psalm xvii. 8. And when he resolves, yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be over-past i just as the hen's helpless brood hide under her wings until the storm be blown over, or the bird of prey has disappeared. Psalm lvii. 1. I will trust, says he, in the covert of thy wings. Ps. lxi. 4. Because thou hast beJl my helfi, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. Ps. lxiii. 7.*
How great and seemingly inevitable your dangers ; yet, if you place yourselves under the protection of Jesus Christ, you are safe forever; safe from the deluges of divine wrath, that are ready to rush down upon you; safe from the sword 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. These may disturb and alarm you, they may give you a slight wound, and put you in great terror; but none of them can do you a lasting, remediless injury ; nay, the very injuries you may receive from them in this life, will, in the issue, turn out to your advantage, and become real blessings to you. If ye are Christ's, then, saith the apostle, all things are yeurs, whether life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours. 1 Cor.
• See the same metaphor, used in much the same sense, in Psalm xxxvi. 7. Exod. xix. 4. Deut. xxxii. 11. though, in the two last places, it includes conduct as well as protection.
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 «*> gather tliem under my wing's; yea, let them have the very Erst offer of grace under this new dispensation; make the first offer of pardon through my blood to the wretches that shed my blood; invite them to me as a Saviour, who nailed me to the cross as a malefactor and a slave." O what melting overpowering mercy! What overflowing and free grace are here ! This exemplifies his own declaration, that he came not to call the rghteous, but sinner* to refientance : and sinners of the vilest characters are welcome to him. He took care, at the first'introduction of the gospel, to select some of the most daring sinners, and make them the monuments of his grace to all ages, that their history might give the strongest assurance of his grace to sinners of the like character, from that time to the end of the world. Such an instance was the famous St. Paul. This is a faithful saying., says he ; a sajing that may be depended upon, and worthy of all acceptation ; worthy to be received as true, and embraced with joy by all the sons of men, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, ofxahick lam the chief 1 Tim. i. 15. This chieftain, this king of sinners, was made a happy subject of Jesus Christ. And for this cause, says he, I obtained mercy, that in me first, or in me the chief,* Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him. Blessed be God, there are many such instances now in heaven, in the. glorious company of angels !" There, as one observes, is murderous and idolatrous Manasseh among the true worshippers of God; there is oppressing Zaccheus among the spirits of just men made perfect; there is Mary Magdalen, possessed by seven devils, among the saints of the Most High, filled with the Holy Spirit of God. In a word, there are the betrayers and murderers of our blessed Lord and Saviour, receiving eternal life and happiness from that precious blood which their own guilty hands did shed."t And what farth
'f Dr. Grosvenor, in a sermon, intitled, "The Temper of Jesus Christ towards his Enemies, and his Grace to the chief of Sinnere, in his commanding the Gospel to begin at Jerusalem," has the following very lively and striking passage i—" It is very affecting that the first offers of grace
er arguments need I produce of the willingness of Jesus Christ to receive the vilest sinner among you, upon your coming to him? I might prove the same joyful truth from his repeated declarations, from his indefinite invitations, and especially from that kind assurance which has kept many a soul from sinking : him Chat
should be made to those who, of all people in the world, had done it the most despite ! That the heavenly gift should be tendered to those first who least deserved it: not that any can deserve it at all, for then it were not grace ; but they of all people had most deserved the contrary ! That they, who had abused Christ to a degree beyond the must pitiful description, should yet lie uppermost in his care, and stand foremost in his pity, and find so much mercy from one to whom they showed none at all!
"One would rather have expected the apostles should have received another kind of charge, and that Christ should have said, Let repentance and remission of sins be preached, but carry in not to Jerusalem, that wicked city, that has been the slaughter-house of my prophets, whom I have often sent. After them I sent John the Baptist, a burning and a shining light ; him they killed in prison. Last of all, I myself, the Son came also; and me, with wicked hands, they have crucified and slain. They may do the same by you; the disciple is not like to be better (treated) than his Lord: let not the gospel enter those gates, through which they led me, its author, to crucifixion.
"I have been preaching there myself these three years, I have mingled my tears with my sermons, I have supported my pretensions and character from the scriptures of Moses and the prophets, I have confirmed them by divine miracles, and sealed all with my blood, yet they would not give ear: O Jerusalem !Jerusalem ! all that I have left for thee now is, what I have before dropt over thee, viz. a compassionate tear and wish, that thou hadst incmn in this thy day the things that belonged to thy peace ! but nom they are hid from thy eyes; and so let them remain ; for I charge you, my apostles, to preach repentance and remission of sins to all other nations, but come not near that wicked city.
"But God's thoughts are not as ours, neither are his ways as our ways; but as far as the heavens are above the- earth, so are his thoughts and ways above ours. Our way is, to make the chief offenders examples of justice, to avenge ourselves upon those who have done us personal injury and wrong; but Christ chooses out these to make examples of mercy, and commands the first offer of eternal life to be made to them, and all the world are to wait till they have had the first refusal of the gospel-salvation.
"As if our Lord had said. It is true my sufferings are an universal remedy, and I have given my life a ransom for many, that the Gentiles afar off- might be brought nigh, and all the ends of the earth might see the salvation of God, and therefore go into all nations and offer this salvation as you go ; but, lest the poor house of Israel should think themselves abandoned to despair, the seed of Abraham, mine ancient friend, as cruel and unkind as thev have been, go, make them the first offer of grace, let them have the first refusal of gospel mercy ; let them that struck the rock, drink first of its refreshing streams; and they that drew my blood, be welcome to its healing virtue.
"Tell them, that as I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, so, if they will be gathered, I will be their Shepherd still Though they despised my tears, which I shed over them, and imprecated my blood to be upon them, tell them it was fpr their sakes I shed both, that by my .tears I might soften their hearts towards God, and by my blood I might reconcile God to them
"Tell them I live ; and because I am alive again, my death shall not be their damnation; nor is my murder an unpardonable sin, but that the
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are generally more suspicious of his willingness to save them, than of their own to come to him. Were he but 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 ths 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 offered be agreeable to us. Now one principal part of the salvation 'which we need, and which Christ offers, is deliverance from sin; defiTerance from the power, the pleasures, the profits of sin, as well as from the destructive consequences of it in the world to come. And 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. This is the thing they struggle against, and to which all the means used with them cannot bring them. To tear their sins from them is to rob them of their pleasures; and they rise up in arms against the attempt. And are these willing to be saved by Christ, who abhor the salvation he offers them ? The tru^h of the matter is, the conduct of sinners in this case is the greatest absurdity: 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 would create a hell within them, even according to the nature of things: they are willing to goto heaven when they can live no longer in this their favourite 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, evea in the very region of happiness, since the sordid pleasures of sin never mingle with those pure rivers of living water? In short, they act as absurdly as if they were willing to recover their health, and yet were unwilling to part with their sickness, or to be restrained from those things which are the causes of it. They are willing to go to heaven, but it is in their own way; that is,
in the way that leads to hell. The only way of salvation, according to the divine appointment, is the way of holiness. Indeed Christ came into the world to save sinners; but these sinners must be made saints before they can enter into his kingdom; and he makes them holy in order to be happy. And 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 saved without salvation. Therefore, for God to gratify the sinner, and gratify him in his own way; that is, in his sinsi is an impossibility; as impossible, as for a physician to heal an obstinate patient in his own way; that is, to heal him by letting him retain and cherish his disease; letting him cool a fever with cold water, or drink poison to cure a consumption. God is wise in all his constitutions, and therefore the way of salvation through 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 to the mercy of God, and the honour of Christ, without a rival. Now haughty, self-righteous sinners are unwilling to be saved in this humbling, mortifying way, and therefore they are unwilling to be saved by Christ. If they would be saved by him, they must be saved entirely upon the footing of his merit, and not their own ; they must own that they lie at mercy, they must feel themselves self-condemned, they must utterly renounce all dependence upon their own righteousness, and receive every blessing as the free unmerited gift of grace. And it is the hardest thing imaginable to bring a proud sinner so low as this; but till he is brought thus low, he cannot be saved upon the gospelplan. Nor is this part of the constitution arbitrary any more than the former. It would be inconsistent with the honour of the great God, the Supreme Magistrate of the universe, and with the dignity of his government, to receive a rebel into favour, on any other footing than that of mere grace. If after sinning so much the sinner still has merit enough to procure a pardon, in whole or in part, or to render it cruel or unjust for God to condemn and punish him, certainly he must be a being of very great importance indeed ; and sin against God must be a very small evil. To save a sinner in a way that would give any room for such insinuations as these, would be inconsistent with the honour of God and his government; and therefore the plan he has constituted is a method of grace, of pure rich grace, in all and every part. Now, while sinners are not willing to be saved in this way, they are not willing to be saved at all. Here lies their grand mistake: Because they have a general willingness that Christ should save them from hell, they, therefore, conclude they are really willing to come to him according to the gospel-constitution, whereas there is nothing in the world to which they are more averseThere are many that think, and perhaps declare, they would give ten thousand worlds for Christ, when, in reality, they are not willing to receive him as a free gift: they are not yet brought to that extremity as to fly to him. No, the sinner is brought low indeed before he is brought to this. He is entirely cut off from all hope from every other quarter; particularly, he sees that he cannot shelter himself any longer under the covert of his own righteousness, but that he will be overwhelmed with a deluge of divine vengeance, unless he hides himself under the wings of Jesus.
I beg you would examine yourselves impartially on this point, ■ my brethren, for here lies the grand delusion that ruins thousands. If you are really willing to fly to Jesus, and be saved by him in his own way, you may be sure he is infinitely more willing than you are ; nay, your willingness is the effect of his, for he first made you so. But- if, when you examine the matter to the bottom, you find, that notwithstanding all your pretensions, you are really unwilling to fly \x?him, consider your dangerous situation; for,
6. The text implies, that this unwillingness of sinners is the real cause of their destruction.
Sinners complain of the want of ability : but what is their inability but their unwillingness? Coming to Christ is an act of the will, and, therefore, to will it heartily, is to perform the act. To be unable to come to him is to be so perverse, so disaffected to Jesus Christ, as not to have power to will to come to him. This, by the way, shews the vanity of that popular excuse, " I am not able tb fly to Christ, and therefore it is not my fault if I do not." That is, you are so wicked that you can do no good thing; you 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 your Friend; therefore your not coming to him is no crime. Is this consistent reasoning 1 Is it not all one, as if a rebel should think to excuse himself by pleadings" I have such an inveterate hatred to my sovereign, that I cannot love him:" Or a robber, "I have such an aversion to honesty, that I cannot possibly help stealing I" Would not this be an aggravation of the crime rather than an excuse? Is the invincible strength of your disaffection to Christ, a vindication of it? Are you the more excuseable, by how much the more you hate him ? Sinners, give up his foolish reasoning, for the matter is too important to be trifled with. Your inability in this case is nothing else but your unwillingness; and your unwillingness is the effect of nothing else but 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 Iffe, John v. 40, and therefore you must perish without it. This reflection will forever torment you, that you wilfully destroyed yourselves, and were guilty of the most unnatural selfmurder. Jesus was willing but you would not. God has even sworn that he has no fileasure 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 -wilfully 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 so 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, than 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 out the wing of my guardian care to defend you, but you ■would not shelter under it." What more than brutal stupidity is this? In this light, the conduct of sinners is frequently exposed in the sacred writings. The ox knowcth his owner, says Isaiah, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel doth not know, my fieofile doth not consider. Isaiah i. 3. Every one turneth to his course, says Jeremiah, as the horse rushel.'i into the battle; yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her afifiointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but my fieofile, more stupid than they, know not the judgment of the Lord. Jer. viii. 6, 7. 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? No ; shew me . the brute, if you can, that would act so stupid a part in things that come within the sphere of his capacity. Would it not be better for you to be a cat or dog (to use the language of the Earl of Rochester) than that animal Man, who is so proud of being rational, if you make so irrational a choice? Let me endeavour 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 forever! lost by its own obstinacy! lost amidst the means of salvation! how tragical a case is this? —God dishonoured! Jesus rejected ! his love defeated! his blood trampled upon! his spirits 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? O 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!