Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) on Matthew 23:37

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37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

What a picture of pity and disappointed love the King’s face must have presented when, with flowing tears, he uttered these words! What an exquisite emblem he gave of the way in which he had sought to woo the Jews to himself: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings “What familiar tenderness! What a warm Elysium of rest! What nourishment for the feeble! What protection for the weak! Yet it was all provided in vain: “How often would I have gathered thy children together…. and ye would not!” Oh, the awful perversity of man’s rebellious will! Let all the readers of these lines beware lest the King should ever have to utter such a lament as this over them. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: a popular exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew, in loco. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

Complete Sermons:


NO. 2381
OCTOBER 7TH, 1894,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent onto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” — Matthew 23:37.

THIS is not and could not be the language of a mere man. It would be utterly absurd for any man to say that he would have gathered the inhabitants of a city together, “even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.” Besides, the language implies that, for many centuries, by the sending of the prophets, and by many other warnings, God would often have gathered the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. Now, Christ could not have said that, throughout those ages, he would have gathered those people, if he had been only a man. If his life began at Bethlehem, this would be an absurd statement; but, as the Son of God, ever loving the sons of men, ever desirous of the good of Israel, he could say that, in sending the prophets, even though they were stoned and killed, he had again and again shown his desire to bless his people till he could truly say, “How often would I have gathered thy children together!” Some who have found difficulties in this lament, have said that it was the language of Christ as man. I beg to put in a very decided negative to that; it is, and it must be, the utterance of the Son of man, the Son of God, the Christ in his complex person as human and divine. I am not going into any of the difficulties just now; but you could not fully understand this passage, from any point of view, unless you believed it to be the language of one who was both God and man. This verse shows also that the ruin of men lies with themselves. Christ puts it very plainly, “I would; but ye would not.” “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not!” That is a truth, about which, I hope, we have never had any question; we hold tenaciously that salvation is all of grace, but we also believe with equal firmness that the ruin of man is entirely the result of his own sin. It is the will of God that saves; it is the will of man that damns. Jerusalem stands and is preserved by the grace and favor of the Most High; but Jerusalem is burnt, and her stones are cast down, through the transgression and iniquity of men, which provoked the justice of God.

There are great deeps about these two points; but I have not been accustomed to lead you into any deeps, and I am not going to do so at this time. The practical part of theology is that which it is most important for us to understand. Any man may get himself into a terrible labyrinth who thinks continually of the sovereignty of God alone, and he may equally get into deeps that are likely to drown him if he meditates only on the free will of man. The best thing is to take what God reveals to you, and to believe that. If God’s Word leads me to the right, I go there; if it leads me to the left, I go there; if it makes me stand still, I stand still. If you so act, you will be safe; but if you try to be wise above that which is written, and to understand that which even angels do not comprehend, you will certainly befog yourself. I desire ever to bring before you practical rather than mysterious subjects, and our present theme is one that concerns us all. The great destroyer of man is the will of man. I do not believe that man’s free will has ever saved a soul; but man’s free will has been the ruin of multitudes. “Ye would not,” is still the solemn accusation of Christ against guilty men. Did he not say, at another time, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life?” The human will is desperately set against God, and is the great devourer and destroyer of thousands of good intentions and emotions, which never come to anything permanent because the will is acting in opposition to that which is right and true.

That, I think, is the very marrow of the text, and I am going to handle it in this fashion.

I. First, consider from the very condescending emblem used by our Lord, WHAT GOD IS. TO THOSE WHO COME TO HIM. He gathers them, “as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.” Let us dwell upon that thought for a few minutes. It is a very marvelous thing that God should condescend to be compared to a hen, that the Christ, the Son of the Highest, the Savior of men, should stoop to so homely a piece of imagery as to liken himself to a hen. There must be something very instructive in this metaphor, or our Lord would not have used it in such a connection. Those of you who have been gathered unto Christ know, first, that by this wonderful Gatherer, you have been gathered into happy association. The chickens, beneath the wings of the hen, look very happy all crowded together. What a sweet little family party they are! How they hide themselves away in great contentment, and chirp their little note of joy! You, dear friends, who have never been converted, find very noisy fellowship, I am afraid, in this world; you do not get much companionship that helps you, blesses you, gives you rest of mind; but if you had been gathered to the Lord’s Christ, you would have found that there are many sweetnesses in this life in being beneath the wings of the Most High. He who comes to Christ finds father, and mother, and sister, and brother, he finds many dear and kind friends who are themselves connected with Christ, and who therefore love those who are joined to him. Amongst the greatest happinesses of my life, certainly, I put down Christian fellowship; and I think that many, who have come from the country to London, have for a long time missed much of this fellowship till, at last, they have fallen in with Christian people, and they have found themselves happy again. O lonely sinner, you who come in and out of this place, and say, “Nobody seems to care about me,” if you will come to Christ, and join with the church which is gathered beneath his wings, you will soon find happy fellowship! I remember that, in the times of persecution, one of the saints said that he had lost his father and his mother by being driven away from his native country, but he said, “I have found a hundred fathers, and a hundred mothers, for into whatsoever Christian house I have gone, I have been looked upon with so much kindness by those who have received me as an exile from my native land, that everyone has seemed to be a father and a mother to me.” If you come to Christ, I feel persuaded that he will introduce you to many people who will give you happy fellowship.

But that is merely the beginning. A hen is to her little chicks, next, a cover of safety. There is a hawk in the sky; the mother-bird can see it, though the chickens cannot; she gives her peculiar cluck of warning, and quickly they come and hide beneath her wings. The hawk will not hurt them now; beneath her wings they are secure. This is what God is to those who come to him by Jesus Christ, he is the Giver of safety. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” Even the attraction of thy old sins, or the danger of future temptations, thou shalt be preserved from all these perils when thou comes to Christ, and thus hides away under him.

The figure our Lord used is full of meaning, for, in the next place, the hen is to her chicks the source of comfort. It is a cold night, and they would be frozen if they remained outside; but she calls them in, and when they are under her wings, they derive warmth from their mother’s breast. It is wonderful, the care of a hen for her little ones; she will sit so carefully, and keep her wings so widely spread, that they may all be housed. What a cabin, what a palace, it is for the young chicks to get there under the mother’s wings! The snow may fall, or the rain may come pelting down, but the wings of the hen protect the chicks; and you, dear friend, if you come to Christ, shall not only have safety, but comfort. I speak what I have experienced. There is a deep, sweet comfort about hiding yourself away in God, for when troubles come, wave upon wave, blessed is the man who has a God to give him mercy upon mercy. When affliction comes, or bereavement comes, when loss of property comes, when sickness comes, in your own body, there is nothing wanted but your God. Ten thousand things, apart from him, cannot satisfy you, or give you comfort. There, let them all go; but if God be yours, and you hide away under his wings, you are as happy in him as the chickens are beneath the hen. Then, the hen is also to her chicks,the fountain of love. She loves them; did you ever see a hen fight for her chickens? She is a timid enough creature at any other time; but there is no timidity when her chicks are in danger. What an affection she has for them; not for all chicks, for I have known her kill the chickens of another brood; but for her own what love she has! Her heart is all devoted to them. But, oh, if you want to know the true fountain of love, you must come to Christ! You will never have to say, “Nobody loves me; I am pining, with an aching heart, for a love that can fill and satisfy it.” The love of Jesus fills to overflowing the heart of man, and makes him well content under all circumstances. I would that God had gathered you all, my dear hearers. I know that he has gathered many of you, blessed be his name; but still there are some here, chicks without a hen, sinners without a Savior, men, and women, and children, who have never been reconciled to God.

The hen is also to her chicks, the cherisher of growth. They would not develop if they were not taken care of; in their weakness they need to be cherished, that they may come to the fullness of their perfection. And when the child of God lives near to Christ, and hides beneath his wings, how fast he grows! There is no advancing from grace to grace, from feeble faith to strong faith, and from little fervency to great fervency, except by getting near to God.

The emblem used by our Lord is a far more instructive figure than I have time to explain. When the Lord gathers sinners to himself, then it is that they find in him all that the chicks find in the hen, and infinitely more. II. Now notice, secondly, WHAT GOD DOES TO GATHER MEN. They are straying, and wandering about, but he gathers them. According to the text, Jesus says, “How often would I have gathered thy children together!” How did God gather those of us who have come to him?

He gathers us, first, by making himself known to us. When we come to understand who he is, and what he is, and know something of his love, and tenderness, and greatness, then we come to him. Ignorance keeps us away from him; but to know God, and his Son, Jesus Christ, is eternal life. Hence I urge you diligently to study the Scriptures, and to be as often as you can hearing a faithful preacher of the gospel, that, knowing the Lord, you may by that knowledge be drawn towards him. These are the cords of love with which the Spirit of God draws men to Christ. He makes Christ known to us, he shows us Christ in the grandeur of his divine and human nature, Christ in the humiliation of his sufferings, Christ in the glory of his resurrection, Christ in the love of his heart, in the power of his arm, in the efficacy of his plea, in the virtue of his blood; and, as we learn these sacred lessons, we say, “That is the Christ for me, that is the God for me;” and thus we are gathered unto him.

But God gathers many to himself by the call of his servants. You see that, of old, he sent his prophets; now, he sends his ministers. If God does not send us to you brethren, we shall never gather you; if we come to you in our own name, we shall come in vain; but if the Lord has sent us, then he will bless us, and our message will be made to you by means of gathering you to Christ. I would much rather cease to preach than be allowed to go on preaching but never to gather souls to God. I can truly say that I have no wish to say a pretty thing, or turn a period, or utter a nice figure of speech; I want to win your souls, to slay your sin, to do practical work for God, with each man, each woman, each child, who shall come into this Tabernacle; and I ask the prayers of God’s people that it may be so. It is thus that God gathers men to himself, by the message which he gives to them through his servants.

The Lord has also many other ways of calling men to himself. You saw, this morning, See Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 2034, “Peter’s Restoration.” that Peter was called to repentance by the crowing of a cock; and the Lord can use a great many means of bringing sinners to himself! Omnipotence has servants everywhere; and God can use every kind of agent, even though it appears most unsuitable, to gather together his own chosen ones. He has called some of you; he has called some of you who have not yet come to him. The text says, “How often! It does not tell us how often; but it puts it as a matter of wonder, “How often!” with a note of exclamation.

Let me ask you how often has God called some of you? Conscience has whispered its message to the most of you. When you come to see men dying, if you talk seriously with them, they will sometimes tell you that they are unprepared, but that they have often had tremblings and suspicions; they have long suffered from unrest, and sometimes they have been” almost persuaded. “I should not think that there is a person in this place, who has not been sometimes made to shake and tremble at the thought of the world to come. How often has it been so with you? “How often,” says God, “would I have gathered you!

The Lord sometimes speaks to us, not so much by conscience, as by providence. That death in the family, what a voice it was to us! When your mother died, when your poor father passed away, what a gathering time it seemed to be then! You soon forgot all about it; but you did feel it then. Ah, my dear woman, when your babe was taken from your bosom, and the little coffin left the house, you remember how you felt, and you, father, when your prattling boy sang the Sunday-school hymn to you on his dying bed, and well-nigh broke your heart, then was the Lord going forth in his providence to gather you. You were being gathered, but you would not come; according to our text, you “would not.”

It has not always been by death that the Lord has spoken to you; for you have had other calls. When you have been brought low, or have been out of a situation, when, sometimes, a Christian friend has spoken to you, when you have read something in a tract, or paper, which has compelled you to pull up, and made you stand aghast for a while, has not all that had a reference to this text, “How often, how often, how often would I have gathered thee?” God knocks many times at some men’s doors. I know that there is a call of his which is effectual; oh, that you might hear it! But there are many other calls which come to men, of whom Christ says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” How often has he called you! I wish you would try and reckon up how often the Almighty God has come to you, and spread out his warm wide wings, and yet this has been true, “I would have gathered you, but you would not.”

One more way in which God gathers men is by continuing still to hard patience with them, and sending the same message to them. I am always afraid that you, who hear me constantly, will get to feel, “We have heard him so long and so often that he cannot say anything fresh.” Why, did I not use to shake you, when first you heard me, and compel you to shed many tear” in the early days of your coming to this house? And now,–well, you can hear it all without a tremor; you are like the blacksmith’s dog, that goes to sleep while the sparks are flying from the anvil. Down in Southwark, at the place where they make the big boilers, a man has to get inside to hold the hammer while they are riveting. There is an awful noise, the first time that a man goes in he feels that he cannot stand it, and that he will die; he loses his hearing, it is such a terrible din; but they tell me that, after a while, some have been known even to go to sleep while the men have been hammering. So it is in hearing the gospel; men grow hardened, and that which was, at one time, a very powerful call, seems to be, at the last, no call at all. Yet “till, here you are, and your hair is getting grey; here you are, you have long passed the prime of life; here you are, you were in a shipwreck once, or you had an accident, or you caught the fever; but you did not die, and here you are, God still speaks to you, not saying, “Go,” but “Come, come.” Christ has not yet said to you, “Depart, ye cursed,” but he still cries, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is how God calls, and how he gathers men by the pertinacity of his infinite compassion, in still inviting them to come unto him that they may obtain eternal life.

III. Well, now, a third point, and a very important one is this, WHAT MEN NEED TO MAKE THEM COME TO GOD. According to the text, God does gather men; but what is wanted on their part? Our Savior said of those that rejected him, “Ye would not.”

What is wanted is, first, the real will to come to God. You have heard a great deal, I dare say, about the wonderful faculty of free will. I have already told you my opinion of free will; but it also happens that that is the very thing that is wanted, a will towards that which is good. There is where the sinner fails, what he needs is a real will. “Oh, yes!” men say, “we are willing, we are willing.” But you are not willing; if we can get the real truth, you are not willing; there is no true willingness in your hearts, for a true willingness is a practical willingness. The man who is willing to come to Christ says, “I must away with my sins, I must away with my self-righteousness, and I must seek him who alone can save me.” Men talk about being willing to be saved, and dispute about free will; but when it comes to actual practice, they are not willing. They have no heart to repent, they will to keep on with their sin, they will to continue in their self-righteousness; but they do not will, with any practical resolve, to come to Christ. There is need of an immediate will. Every unconverted person here is willing to come to Christ before he dies; I never met with a person yet who was not; but are you willing to come to Christ now? That is the point. “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” But you answer, “Our hearts are not hardened, we only ask for a little more time.” A little more time for what? A little more time in which to go on rebelling against God? A little more time in which to run the awful risk of eternal destruction?

So, you see, it is a real will and an immediate will that is needed. With some, it is a settled will that is wanted. Oh, yes, they are ready! They feel directly the preacher begins to speak; they are impressed curing the singing of the first hymn. There is a revival service, and in the after-meeting they begin telling you what they have felt. Look at those people on Wednesday. They have got over Monday and Tuesday with some little “rumblings of heart”; but what about Wednesday? They are as cold as a cucumber; every feeling that they had on Sunday is gone from them, they  have no memory of it whatever. Their goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it passes away. How some people do deceive us with their good resolves, in which there is nothing at all, for there is no settled will!

With others, what is lacking is a submissive will. Yes, they are willing to be saved; but then they do not want to be saved by grace; they are not willing to give themselves up altogether to the Savior; they will not renounce their own righteousness, and submit themselves to the righteousness of Christ. Well, that practically means that there is not any willingness at all, for unless you accept God’s way of salvation, it is no use for you to talk about your will. Here is the great evil that is destroying you, and that will destroy you before long, and land you in hell: “Ye would not, ye would not.” Oh, that God’s grace might come upon you, subduing and renewing your will, and making you willing in the day of his power!

IV. My last point is a very solemn one. I shall not weary you with it. WHAT WILL BECOME OF MEN WHO ARE NOT GATHERED TO CHRIST? What will become of men of whom it continues to be said, “Ye would not?”

The text suggests to us two ways of answering the question. What becomes of chicks that do not come to the shelter of the hen’s wings? What becomes of chicks that are not gathered to the hen? Well, the hawk devours some, and the cold nips others; they miss the warmth and comfort that they might have had. That is something. If there were no hereafter, I should like to be a Christian. If I had to die like a dog, the joy I find in Christ would make me wish to be his follower. You are losers in this world if you love not God; you are losers of peace, and comfort, and strength, and hope, even now; but what will be your loss hereafter, with no wing to cover you when the destroying angel is abroad, no feathers beneath which you may hide when the dread thunderbolts of justice shall be launched, one after another, from God’s right hand? You have no shelter, and consequently no safety.

“He that hath made his refuge God, Shall find a most secure abode,” but he who has not that refuge shall be among the great multitude who will call to the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them, to hide them from the face of him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the

Lamb. O sirs, I pray you, run not the awful risk of attempting to live without the shelter of God in Christ Jesus!

But the text suggests a second question, What became of Jerusalem in the end? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, but ye would not!” Well, what happened to Jerusalem, after all? I invite you, who are without God, and without Christ, to read Josephus, with the hope that he may be of service to you. What became of the inhabitants of that guilty city of Jerusalem? Well, they crucified the Lord of glory, and they hunted out his disciples, and yet they said to themselves, “We live in the city of God, no harm can come to us; we have the temple within our walls, and God will guard his own holy place.” But very soon they tried to throw off the Roman yoke, and there were different sets of zealots who determined to fight against the Romans, and they murmured and complained, and began to fight amongst themselves. Before the. Romans attacked Jerusalem, the inhabitants had begun to kill one another. The city was divided by the various factions, three parties took possession of different portions of the place, and they fought against one another, night and day. This is what happens to ungodly men; manhood breaks loose against itself, and when there are inward contentions, one part of man’s soul fighting against another part, there is an internal war of the most horrible kind. What is the poor wretch to do who is at enmity with himself, one part of his nature saying, “Go,” another part crying, “Go back,” and yet a third part shouting, “Stop where you are?” Are there not many of you who are just like battle-fields trampled with the hoofs of horses, torn up with the ruts made by the cannon wheels, and stained with blood? Many a man’s heart is just like that. “Rest?” says he, “that has gone from me long ago.” Look at him in the morning after a drinking bout; look at him after he has been quarrelling with everybody; look at the man who has been unfaithful to his wife, or that other man who has been dishonest to his employer, or that other who is gambling away all that he has. Why, how does he sleep, poor wretch? He does not rest; he dreams, he starts, he is always in terror. I would not change places with him, nay, not for five minutes. The depths of poverty, and an honest conscience, are immeasurably superior to the greatest luxury in the midst of sin. The man who is evidently without God begins to quarrel with himself.

By-and-by, one morning, they who looked over the battlements of Jerusalem cried, “The Romans are coming, in very deed they are marching up towards the city.” Vespasian came with an army of 60,000 men, and, after a while, Titus had thrown up mounds round about the city, so that no one could come in or go out of it. He had surrounded it so completely that they were all shut in. It was, as you remember, at the time of the Passover, when the people had come from every part of the land, a million and more of them; and he shut them all up in that little city. So, a time comes, with guilty men, when they are shut up; this sometimes happens before they die, they are shut up, they cannot have any pleasure in sin as they used to have, and they have no hope. They seem cooped up altogether; they have not been gathered by God’s love, but now, at last, they are gathered by an avenging conscience, they are shut up in God’s justice. I shall never forget being sent for, in my early days, to see a man who was dying. As I entered the room, he greeted me with an oath; I was only a youth, a pastor about seventeen and a half years of age, and he somewhat staggered me. He would not lie down on his bed; he defied God; he said he would not die. “Shall I pray for you? “I asked. I knelt down, and I had not uttered many sentences before he cursed me in such dreadful language that I started to my feet, and then again he cried, and begged me to pray with him again, though it was not any good. He said, “It is no use; your prayer will never be heard for me, I am damned already;” and the poor wretch spoke as though he really were so, and were realizing it in his own soul. I tried to persuade him to lie down upon his bed. It was of no avail; he tramped up and down the room as fast as he could go, he knew that he should die, but he could not die while he could keep on walking, and so he kept on. Then again I must pray with him, and then would come another awful burst of blasphemy, because it was not possible that the prayer should be heard. It does not often happen that one sees a person quite as bad as that; but there is a condition of heart that is not so visible, but which is quite as sad, and which comes to men dying without Christ. They are shut up; the Roman soldiers are, as it were, marching all round the city, and there is no escape, and they begin to feel it, and so they die in despair. But then, when the Roman soldiers did come, the woes of Jerusalem did not end. There was a famine in the city, a famine so dreadful that what Moses said wag fulfilled, and the tender and delicate woman ate the fruit of her own body. They came to search the houses, because they thought there was food there; and a woman brought out half of her own babe, and said,

“Well, eat that, if you can,” and throughout the city, they fed upon one another; and oh, when there is no God in the heart, what a famine it makes in a man’s soul! How he longs for a something which he cannot find, and that all the world cannot give him, even a mouthful to stay the ravenousness of his spirit’s hunger!

And this doom will be worse still in the next world. You know that Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, not one stone was left upon another; and this is what is to happen to you if you refuse your Savior, you will be destroyed, you will be an eternal ruin, no temple of God, but an everlasting ruin. Destroyed,–that is the punishment for you; destroyed from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power, and so abiding for ever, with no indwelling God, no hope, no comfort. How terrible will be your doom unless you repent!

“Ye sinners, seek his grace Whose wrath ye cannot bear; Fly to the shelter of his cross, And find salvation there.”

I pray you, do so, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.  [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.]


NO. 2630
“How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a
hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—
Matthew 23:37.

THE theologians have met each other around this text as on a field of battle. They have contended, and controverted, and dragged the text about as if it were a wild beast which they would tear limb from limb. And yet, if you will look through the letter of it, and come to its inner spirit, you will see that it is not wonderful that Jesus should have uttered it. It would have been much more marvelous if he had not spoken thus, and it would have been a terrible crux in all theology if we had read here,

“I never would have gathered thy children together even if they had been willing to be gathered.”

That would have been a thing hard to be understood, indeed; and it would have presented a greater difficulty than any which can be found in our text.

I have long been content to take God’s Word just as I find it; and when, at any time, I have been accused of contradicting myself through keeping to my text, I have always felt perfectly safe about that matter. The last thing I care about is being consistent with myself. Why should I be anxious about that? I would rather be consistent with Christ fifty times over, or be consistent with the Word of God; but as to being for ever consistent with oneself, it might turn out that one was consistently wrong, consistently narrow-minded, and consistently unwilling to believe what God would teach. So we will just take the text as we find it; and it seems to say to me that, if Jerusalem was not saved,–if her children were not gathered together in safety as a brood of chickens is gathered beneath the hen,–if Christ did not gather them, and protect them, it was not because there was any unwillingness on his part. There was always a willingness in his heart to bless Jerusalem, and,therefore he could truly say, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings!” From this utterance of our Lord, I learn that, if any man be not saved, the cause of his non-salvation does not lie in any want of graciousness or want of willingness on the part of God. They who dare to say that it does, venture very far, and are very audacious in their assertions. This text says the very opposite; and so far as it is applicable to the sons of men in general, it declares that God wills not the death of any, but desires that they should turn unto him and live.

The next truth that I learn from this passage is that, if Jerusalem perished, as it did perish in a most awful manner, it was because it would not be saved. It was often invited, persuaded, exhorted, warned, and threatened. Prophet succeeded prophet; tribulation followed tribulation. The rod of God came as well as the Word of God; but Jerusalem was exceedingly wicked, and its people were stiff-necked, and they would not have the blessing with which prophetic hands were laden. And even when Christ himself came, the loveliest and the lowliest, the tenderest and the truest, bringing to them love and mercy without stint, and when he spake as never man spake, in notes of warning, yet wooing love, still they would not receive his rebukes, But they took him, and with wicked hands did they crucify and slay him. It was their own rebellious will that ruined them; they would not come unto him that they might have life. There is where the guilt lies; and, when sinners go to hell, it is because they will to go there. When they are condemned by the Judge who must do right, it is because they willed to pursue the sin which entailed condemnation. If they have not obtained mercy, their ruin shall lie at the door of their own wicked will. This shall be the thunder which shall pursue them through all the caverns of hell, “Ye would not! ye would not! ye would not! On your own head must the guilt of your condemnation fall. Ye would not have eternal life; ye willfully put it from you, and refused it.”

Now, there, or somewhere about there,–I do not quite know where,–there is a great doctrinal difficulty; but I do not think you or I need go fishing for it. If there be a bone in the meat, I do not ask to have it put on my plate; and if there is a bone in this text, let any dog that likes have it. As for us, there is the meat on which our soul may feed, the truth that God does lay at man’s own door the guilt of his destruction; and Christ puts it thus, “I would, but ye would not.” I have, at this time, the pleasant task laid upon me of pointing out to you that what Christ would have done for the Jews, but which they would not accept, I am sure he would. have done for us; nay, I will go further, and say that I am sure he is willing to do it for us now. And so, remembering the past a little, I want you still more to dwell upon the present, and to notice that, at this moment, Jesus is willing to gather us–to gather the children of this city together,— as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. Oh! I trust I may not have to say, “And ye would not;” but may the sweet Spirit of God be here to move the untoward and wicked wills of men, till it shall be said, “Christ is willing to gather you, and ye are willing to be gathered.” When those two things come together, great. blessing must result. I have read what astronomers have said about what would happen if two planets were in conjunction; I know nothing about that matter; but this I do know, when these two things come into conjunction,— when Christ would, and we would,–there will be blessed times for us, halcyon days of which we have never dreamed. May the Spirit of God make it to be so even now!

Now coming to the text, let us consider, first, what Jesse would do; secondly, how he would do it; and thirdly, when he would do it.

I. First, WHAT JESUS WOULD DO: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings!” What does this mean? It is a very simple, homely, beautiful, touching simile,–the hen gathering her chickens under her wings, and it means, first, that Jesus would make you feel quite safe. Look, there is the shadow of a hawk; the bird of prey is poised up yonder, and the shadow is seen upon the ground; or the mother hen, looking up, notices the destroyer; and, in a moment, she gives a cluck of alarm, and so calls together her little family, and in a few seconds they are all safe beneath her sheltering feathers, her wings become their efficient shield. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ would do just that with us; he would make us quite safe,–take us out of the broad road of danger, and then compass us about with the wings of his power, so that we might not only be, but also feel quite safe. I suppose nothing does feel safer than s little chick beneath the hen. That tiny creature has no gauge and measure of strength beyond its own weakness, so it reckons its mother to be incalculably strong, and feels perfectly safe when it can hide its head within her breast-feathers. Ah! but there are some of you who do not feel safe; you never have felt secure. Death is truly the king of terrors to you. You do not like to hear people talk about it; and if you are ill, how quickly you send for the doctor,–not because you have the symptoms of any very serious illness, but because you are afraid to die! Why, there are some of you so fearful that you hardly like to be left in a room in the dark, and you would scarcely dare to go upstairs without a candle; you are so afraid, not from mere natural timidity, but because you know that there is something that follows after death for which you are not prepared. Things are out of order between you and God, and you know it; so the fall of a leaf, or the scratching of a mouse, would disturb your mind, for you know that you are not in a state of safety. You could not bear to be at sea in a storm. The thought of shipwreck would have about it, not only the natural terror which is inseparable from such an alarming event, but also the dread that the waves of fire might succeed the waves of the ocean. You are not safe; even in your highest joys, a skeleton sits at the feast, for your pleasures are transient, and you know it. When, easygoing man as you are, you have your greatest delight in earthly things, you are still conscious that there is a worm in the very center of the sweetest fruit, and you are afraid of the consequences of eating it. Oh, but Jesus would have saved you from all this anxiety! He would, have covered you so completely that you would not have known a fear; he would have brought you into the enjoyment of that “perfect love” which “casts out fear: because fear hath torment.” He would have male you to be among the blessed ones of whom it is written, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” And be is willing that this should be the case,–that you, poor trembler, should come to him now, and feel no longer in jeopardy, but be safe for ever. That hymn with which we commenced the service,–Jesu, lover of my soul,–is an exact reflex of what Christ is willing to bestow upon all who come unto him. He is willing to clasp to his bosom all who fly to him for refuge; he is willing to take into the haven of perfect security the tempest-tossed vessel; he is willing to hide, as in the cleft of the rook, the sin-and-Satan haunted spirit. It is so, dear friends; I know it is so, for I have proved it. Look into the eyes, into the heart, and into the wounds of Jesus, and you will know that there is no unwillingness in him to give perfect safety to the souls that trust him; he would make them to be in safety, “even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.”

But now I will go a step further, and say that Jesus would also make them feel perfectly happy. Chicks under a hen are not only the picture of safety, but they are the very emblem of happiness. Did you ever disturb them a little? If so, did you not notice the sweet little noise they made,— the very sound of perfect contentment? If you have ever watched them as they stand there huddled up together, you must have seen that it is their little paradise They could not have been happier in the Garden of Eden than they are there, they are so blest. Beneath their mother’s wings, they have all that they can desire; and, during the livelong night, let it be what it may,— let it blow cold, or warm, there they are perfectly safe and happy. Her heart is beating above them, and her breast is yielding the warmth of life to keep them glad.

I feel sure that I am addressing people who are not happy. The common idea of happiness that many persons have, is a very strange one. When our London biens have a day’s holiday, their notion of enjoying a rest often amuses me. They pack themselves away, as tightly as ever they can, inside and outside a van, or an omnibus, or a carriage, and then they go as far as they can till the weary horse can scarcely move to bring them home. And, all the while, to give rest to their ears and to their hearts, somebody blows a trumpet in a fashion that evokes very little music, and they riot all the day as if they were mad, and disport themselves as if London consisted of one huge Bethlehem Hospital; and that is what they call happiness. My view of happiness would, be to get as far as ever I could away from them, and to do the very reverse of what they are doing. These people talk about “the place to spend a happy day,” “the way to be happy,” and so on; but was ever a poor word so trailed in the dust as that word “happy” is in such a connection as that? But, oh! a peaceful, contented mind that rests in God, a soul whose wishes are all fulfilled, and whose very life-breath is jubilant praise or else submissive prayer,–that is what I call happiness. The man who knows that all is right with him for eternity, one who drinks from the eternal fount the joys which belong not to the brute beast, nor even to the man who is without a God,–I call him the happy man. And, oh, how happy some of you would be if you came to Christ as the chicks come to the hen! Oh, how happy Christ would make you! Wretched. woman over yonder, this very night you may be happy. Giant Despair has marked you for his own, you say. Then I challenge Giant Despair, and call him a liar. If you believe in Christ, you shall find that he has redeemed you with his blood. Trust him, and he will set you free at once, and in him you shall be as happy as the days are long at the longest, and, you shall know what true joy means,–emphatic joy,–the joy of the Lord,” “the peace of God which passes all understanding.” I remind you of that other hymn we sang just now,–Take salvation, Take it now, and happy be;–not only safe, but happy; and safe and happy for ever. I recollect how I was enticed to Christ when I heard the doctrine of the final perseverance of saints preached. I had heard a great deal about that kind of salvation which consists of being saved to-day and lost tomorrow, and I never cared a button for it, neither would I go across the street to listen to it now. But I heard a salvation preached which does really save a man, and does eternally save him; and I felt that, if I could get a grip of that salvation, I should be the happiest individual in the world; and I did grip it, and I found it verify and fact, for Christ does save–save effectually and eternally–all them that put their trust in him. And even now, for the unsafe and for the unhappy, Christ is waiting and willing that they may be both safe and happy in him.

But there is more bliss even than that, for Christ makes them part of a blessed company. He says, in our text, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings!” It is not a hen with one chick to which our Savior here alludes. I suppose that the one chick might be happy, but the best happiness in the world is always enjoyed in holy company. Christ gives the idea of a church as his notion of happiness; not one member only, but a body; not one lone sheep, but a flock. So here he says, “How often would I have gathered thy children together!” Am I addressing some lone person? You have been in London a long time; and you have found out that there is no place so lonely as this great London is. I suppose that, in the desert of Sahara, you might find a friend, although in Cheapside you could not. Nobody seems to know anybody here,–that is to say, unless he has something to give away, and then the number of cousins that a man has is something amazing; but if you want anything, nobody knows you, and even your so-called friends forsake you. Perhaps somebody has come to the Tabernacle for a good while, and yet has been quite lonely. I am very sorry that it should ever be so; and I know that there are some earnest souls here that try to speak to strangers. But, oh! dear friends, my Master would not have you lonely. He would gather you with the rest of his children, “even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.” He would bring you to know a few burdened spirits like yourself, he would bring you to know some others that have been set free, as he will set you free; and he would lead you to have fellowship here with one, and there with another, till you would say, with good Dr. Watts,—

In such society as this My weary soul would rest: The man that dwells where Jesus is, Must be for ever bless’d.

You would find that your joys would be multiplied by being shared with your kindred in Christ who, on the other hand, would make you partakers of their joy, and would delight to do so. Oh, that you would come to Christ, for then you would have the happiness of Christian fellowship! It seems to me that there is also another thought in the text, that is, Jesus would make we know his love. When the hen gathers her chickens under her wings, there is not only safety, and happiness, and congenial society, but there is also a consciousness of great love. The poor little chickens do not understand much about it, they do not know what relationship the hen bears to them, but she does. Yet they feel that she loves them by the way she picks up every little grain for them, and by the way she calls them together so anxiously, and covers them so carefully. It is a truly blessed. experience to know a great love; the love that is equal to our own–that blessed marriage love renders life supremely happy where it is purely enjoyed; but how much more blessed is it to have a love infinitely superior to your own, and yet to know that it is all yours, and that whatever there is in that loving One is all for you! Every chick may feel sure that, whatever the great bird can do, it will all be done for the little bird that cowers beneath its wings. In fact, the chicks are lost in the hen; see how she covers them. That is what Jesus does to me and to you, if we are truly in him; he just covers us up, and hides us from all our enemies. They cannot see us, for we are lost in our Lord, and yet we are most sweetly found, and put beyond the possibility of being lost. All that Jesus is, belongs to me, and. to thee, dear sister, and to thee, dear brother; all Christ is mine, and all Christ is thine; and as the hen gives herself up to her chick, and takes the chick, as it were, wholly to herself so that they become one, so does the blessed. Christ give himself wholly to his people, and take his people wholly up into himself, so that they are truly one. Oh, that you all had this great blessing! And if you are waiting and anxious and desirous to have it, he is willing to give it, for so he says in the text, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings!”

That is what Jesus would do.

II. Now, very briefly, let us consider HOW HE WOULD DO IT. He would lo it, first, by calling you to come to him. That is how the hen gathers her chicks around her, by calling them to her. Christ’s call is often given by the preaching of the gospel, and I am truly glad when I can be his call-boy, and pass on the message from him. How I wish these lips had language, conformable to the blessed call which he allows me to deliver in his name! He bids me tell you, who labor and are heavy laden, to come unto him, to come unto him now, and. he will give you rest. He says, “Ho, every one that thirsts, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” He bids me expressly say that him that cometh to him he will in no wise cast out; and I am glad that, ere he closed the Book of the Revelation, he put in this gracious message, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” That is how he would gather you by his call; is it not a sweet and gracious one? If you are his child, you will know it, and come to him, even as the chick knows the mother’s call, and runs to her. There is a pigeon not far from the hen, but it does not come at her call. There is a duck in the farmyard, but it does not come to her. Ah! but the chicks do; and this is how the Lord discerns his elect and redeemed people; that gracious call of his is understood by those who secretly belong to him, and who therefore respond to his call. He himself said, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

How would Jesus gather you unto him? Well, he would gather you, next, by your coming at his call. The hen gives a call, and, then the chicks run to her. What do they bring with them when they come? Do they pick up gold. and silver, or bring diamonds in their mouths, to pay their way to their mother’s bosom? No, not they; all they do is to run to her, just as they are; do you not see them? The mother hen has called them, and away they go; they bring her nothing, and she asks nothing of them. It is for the hen to give to the chick, and not for the chick to give to the hen. And so, poor sinner, all you have to do is to come and just trust Jesus. Run to him. What shall you bring him? Bring him nothing but your need of everything that he can give you. Shall you bring him a broken heart? Yes, if you have one; but if you have not, come to him, and ask him to give you a broken heart.

Remember that verse of Hart’s,—

Come, ye needy, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; True belief, and true repentance, Every grace that brings us nigh, Without money, Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

So, then, this is Christ’s way of gathering sinners to himself. First, he gives the call, and then they come to him in obedience to it. The next part of the gathering is the enclosure of his wing by which he interposes between me and harm. The hen gathers her chicks to her by brooding over them, making herself like a wall round about them, her feathers being their soft nestling-place. So Jesus gathers us to him by brooding over us; he puts himself between us and justice. You know when he did it, and how he answered in doing it. He puts himself between us and God. for he is the Mediator, the Interposer, the Daysman acting on our behalf. Oh, how sweet it is when, conscious of guilt and sin, we, nevertheless, can realize the sweetness of that promise which I have already quoted to you, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” He shall himself be thy pavilion, he shall hide thee from the righteous wrath of God, and put thy sin away by taking it upon himself. That is the way we are gathered under the interposing Mediator. How does he gather us? You have it all before you now; he calls us, and we come to him; and we hide beneath him and cry,—

Cover my defenseless head With the shadow of thy wing.

That is how we are gathered unto him; may the Lord thus graciously gather us all!

III. Our last remark, concerning our being gathered to Christ, is to be, WHEN HE WOULD DO IT. The text says, “How often would I have gathered thy children together!” I will not go into an account of the many times in which Jesus, in his infinite love, would have gathered the children of Jerusalem unto himself; but I should like to mention some times when, I think, he would have gathered. some of you. He would have gathered you, first, when you were literally children; I mean specially those of you who had early advantages. When you went to bed, after mother had spoken to you about– Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, and given you the “good-night” kiss, you would often lie awake, and turn the subject over in your mind till the tears coursed down your little cheeks, and you sobbed yourself asleep; I think Jesus would have gathered you then. Do not some of us recall, when we were boys, when we spoke to an elder brother, or, may be, to a younger brother, and we two reasoned with one another about these things, and prayed in our boyish fashion, and yet in a few days had forgotten it all? I think Jesus would have gathered us to him then. In looking back over my own life, there seem to me to have been times when the Lord came very near my childish spirit, and touched me, if not with divine life, yet with something very near akin to it, for there were many earnest desires after holiness, and bitter feelings of repentance, and mighty yearnings after the Christ, of whom I knew so little, but for whom I longed so much. Ah, my aged friend! am I describing your case? It is a long while since you were a boy, but you might almost wish you could be a child again to feel as you once felt. Ah, good woman! it is many a day since mother threaded her angers through your curls, and said that she hoped you would love her Savior; and you do not feel now as you felt then.

Those were certainly times when Jesus would. have gathered you unto himself.

Since then, I daresay many of you have had times of serious impression and quiet thoughtfulness.You do not know why it was, but you suddenly felt unusually thoughtful. It may be that you have been in the midst of gaiety, and you have felt that it was all hollow. You could not bear it, so you got away, and went upstairs, or into the garden, or you have even walked the street as if nobody else were there but yourself; and you have thought, and thought, and thought again, and you have been almost persuaded, but you have said to the heavenly message, “Go thy way for this time, it is not yet quite convenient for me to receive thee.” Will it ever be convenient, think you? Or is God to wait your convenience, and play the lackey at your door, till your supreme will shall deign to listen to his merciful requests? Ah, how often!–how often would Jesus thus, by these solemn impressions, have gathered unto himself some who are here present!

It may be that I am coming a little more closely home to some when I remind them that they have had periods of severe illness. At such times, you have lain in bed, and listened to the tick of the watch at the bed-head, and you have looked into eternity, and it has appeared very grim and dark to you; and you have then sought the prayers of good men, and you have vowed that, if you ever recovered, there should be no more wasted years, Ah! then Christ would have gathered you unto himself, and the shadow of his sheltering wing darkened your sick-chamber; but you would not yield, and you escaped from him again, and yet again.

I think I may truthfully add that, in this Tabernacle, sometimes, when God has helped the preacher, there have been moments when you have been brought to the very brink of salvation, and you have almost gone in. You have had to put a pressure upon your conscience to keep out of the pool of mercy; you have had to resist the Holy Ghost. Oh, but it is a dreadful thing when a man has done despite to the Spirit of God, and made himself an antagonist of that blessed Spirit, whom to resist is perilous, for it is of him that we read that there is a sin which is unto death, and there is a sin against the Holy Ghost which shall never be forgiven! I trust that none of you have yet committed that sin; but mind. what you are at,— mind what you are at, for you are in a most dangerous position. Somewhere in that region where you now are, lies the sin which ensures damnation. I charge you, airs, whatever sin you commit, resist not the Holy Ghost, for, if you do, it may be that it shall be said, “My Spirit shall no longer strive with man;” and then, ah, then!–I drop the curtain, and say no more, for it is too terrible to think of.

Oh, how I wish that this might be the time when Jesus would securely cover you as the hen covers her chicks! Do you really desire this blessing? I know you would not desire it if he did not desire it. If there is a spark of desire towards Christ in your heart, there is a whole flaming furnace of desire in Christ’s heart towards you. You never get the start of him; long before you have gone half a boat’s length, you shall find Jesus Christ infinitely faster than you are. No sinner can ever say that he stopped for Christ, and waited for Jesus. I more willing than Christ? Never! A sinner more anxious for pardon than Christ is willing to pardon him? Never! There was never seen, and there never shall be seen, beneath the cope of heaven, a soul more hungry after Christ than Christ is hungry after that soul. Long before the woman of Samaria sail to Christ, “Give me to drink,” Christ had said to her, “Give me to drink.” He was the more thirsty of the two, even when he had made her thirsty; and he was thirsty after her soul long before she was thirsty after the water of life. O poor, guilty sinner, do not doubt thy welcome to Jesus! The gate of salvation is flung wide open. The door is taken of the hinges. “All things are ready, come.” Thy Savior waits for thee. The Father tarries for thee; nay, he does more; he comes to meet thee. I see him running. Is it true that I see thee coming? Then what a spectacle is now before me! I see thee coming with feeble footsteps, and I see him running faster than the angels fly. I see the father falling on the neck of the prodigal, I see him kiss him, and delight in him, and cover him as if it were the hen that did cover her chick. I see him delighting in deeds and tokens of infinite love. “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” “Ring the bells of heaven!” There is joy to-night, for a sinner has found his Savior, and God has found his child.

God bless you, dear friends, for Christ’s sake! Amen.  [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

Sermon fragments:


NO. 76
APRIL 27, 1856,
On behalf of the Baptist Missionary Society.
“And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region,”
— Acts 13:49.

We have no eyes now like the eyes of the Savior, which could weep over Jerusalem; we have few voices like that earnest impassioned voice which seemed perpetually to cry, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not.” If ministers of the gospel were more hearty in their work of preaching; if, instead of giving lectures and devoting a large part of their time to literary and political pursuits, they would preach the Word of God and preach it as if they were pleading for their own lives, ah; then, my brethren, we might expect great success; but we cannot expect it while we go about our work in a half-hearted way, and have not that zeal, that earnestness, that deep purpose which characterized those men of old. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]


NO. 206
JULY 25, 1858,
“I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes.” — Hosea 12:10.

And now, dropping the similitude while the clock shall tick but a few times more, let us put the matter thus — Sinner, thou art as yet without God and without Christ; thou art liable to death every hour. Thou canst not tell but that thou may be in the flames of hell before the clock shall strike ONE to-day. Thou art to-day “condemned already,” because thou believes not in the Son of God. And Jesus Christ says to thee this day, “Oh, that thou wouldest consider thy latter end!” He cries to thee this morning, “How often would I have gathered thee as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but ye would not.” I entreat you, consider your ways. If it be worth while to make your bed in hell do it. If the pleasures of this world are worth being damned to all eternity for enjoying them, if heaven be a cheat and hell a delusion, go on in your sins. But, if there be hell for sinners and heaven for repenting ones, and if thou must dwell a whole eternity in one place or the other, without similitude, I put a plain question to thee –Art
thou wise in living as thou dost, without thought,–careless, and godless? Wouldest thou ask now the way of salvation? It is simply this–“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He died; he rose again; thou art to believe him to be thine. Thou art to believe that he is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him. But, more than that, believing that to be a fact, thou art to cast thy soul upon that fact and trust to him, sink or swim. Spirit of God! help us each to do this and by similitude, or by providence, or by thy prophets, bring us each to thyself and save us eternally, and unto thee shall be the glory. [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.]


NO. 387

Secondly,–We have further proof of human depravity from the aversion of sinners to come to Christ. They are invited to come, persuaded to come, and are assured that they shall find pardon, acceptance, and salvation. But they cannot be induced to come to him, and why will they not come? Is it because he is not willing to receive them, or because there is anything in
him to prevent them? No but it is because of the deep-rooted depravity in their hearts. The heart is averse to all that is good, and therefore rejects the Savior and turns away from him. Hence he complained when in our world, “How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” “We will not come to me, that ye might have life!” What more need be added? Man turns away in proud disdain from all the blessings of the gospel, and the glories of heaven brought before him, and rushes on with steady purpose to damnation. “Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather then light, because their deeds are evil.” Oh, to how many in this land may it be said, “They hate knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord; they would none of his counsel, they despised all his reproof”  [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.] [Turretinfan mistakenly numbers this as sermon #386.]


NO. 1031
JANUARY 21ST, 1872
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” —
Romans 10:17.

III. But, now, I am sorry to be so brief, but I must conclude by speaking, of THE IMPORTANCE THAT FAITH SHOULD COME TO US BY HEARING. I will let my words drop rapidly without any ornament, and remind you, dear friend, that if you have been a hearer and faith has not come to you, you are, this moment, in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity. You believe not in Christ, and you make God a liar, because ye have not believed in his only-begotten Son. The wrath of God abides on you. You are dead while you live. Without God, without Christ, and strangers to the covenant of promise. My soul pities you–will you not pity yourselves?
Hearers only; faithless, graceless, Christless! Christ died, but you have no part in his death. His blood cleanses from sin, but your sin remains upon you. Christ has risen, and he pleads before the throne,–you have no part in that intercession. He is preparing a place for his people, but that place is not for you. Oh, unhappy soul! oh, wretched soul! out of favor with God, at enmity with eternal love, destitute of eternal life! Truly, if Jesus were here he would weep over you, as he did over Jerusalem, and say, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.]





“As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him.”–Deuteronomy 32:11, 12.

“How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not”– Matthew 23: 37.

WHAT great condescension it is on God’s part that he should compare himself to anything that he has made, for the Creator must always be infinitely grander than the created. Greater condescension still is it that the Eternal should liken himself to birds–to a bird of prey, and then to the familiar domestic fowl. He whom neither time nor space can compass, nor imagination conceive, yet speaks of fluttering with wings and covering with his feathers. Does not this assure us of the willingness of the Lord to reveal his love to us? Does it not prove his desire that we should understand his providential dealings with us? He does not aim at dazzling us by displaying his inconceivable glory, but his object is to comfort us by manifesting his gracious condescension. He uses these images that he may instruct our ignorance, and that our feeble minds may grasp those majestic truths which otherwise must remain veiled in mystery, sublime but incomprehensible. Just as a father stoops to talk in the nursery prattle of his little child, because otherwise it would not understand him even so does our heavenly Father employ homely images and common figures that we who are but babes in grace may comprehend him and confide in him. Ought we not to echo to this desire on God’s part to teach, by a more than willingness to learn of him? Where he thus bows the heavens that he may instruct us, should we not arouse all our powers to devout attention, saying with young Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.” * This meditation was suggested by a hint in Stiers’ “Words of the Lord Jesus.”

Having for the sake of bringing out a contrast, chosen two Scriptures for our meditation, we will commence with the metaphor of the eagle, and refresh our memories by reading the text again. -As an eagle stirrs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him.”

We do not intend to give a full exposition of these rich expressions, but merely to glance at thoughts which gleam upon the surface. In the image of the royal eagle fondly cherishing its young, we see love allied with grandeur unbending itself in tenderness. The eagle, wearing the wings of the morning, and holding the blast in scorn, is the playmate of the lightning, delighting in the uproar of the tempest. Terrible sublimity surrounds “the warrior bird,” whose fiery glance dares fix itself upon the sun. “She dwells and abides on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeks the prey, and her eyes behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is she.”

“The tawny eagle seats his callow brood High on the cliff, and feasts his young with blood; On Snowdon’s rocks, or Orkney’s wide domain, Whose beetling cliffs o’erhang the western main, The royal bird his lonely kingdom forms Amidst the gathering clouds and sullen storms. Through the wide waste of air he darts h/s sight, And holds his sounding pinions poised for flight.”

The text portrays this monarch among the birds of the air as practicing endearments towards its young of the most affectionate kind; you see no allusion to its strength of wing, or to the brightness of its eye, or to the ferocity of its nature; it is sporting with its eaglets, with all the fondness of a dove, and in such an attitude is the right worthy emblem of greatness bowed by force of love unto familiar tenderness. When we speak of God unto what shall we liken him? Where are words by which we can describe him? Since we cannot in any way set him forth, we will not attempt the task, yet will we quote the psalmist’s words, and bid you note the blending of love with loftiness. “He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. He tells the number of the stars; he calls them all by their names.” And yet further would we remind you that “He makes the clouds his chariot: he walks upon the wings of the wind, yet doth he dwell with the humble and contrite and with those who tremble at his word.” He thunders marvelously with his voice, and is terrible in majesty, and yet a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoking flax he will not quench. “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world and all that dwell therein ;” yet hath he said to his people, “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Wonder of wonders, that the Infinite should stoop to commune with the insignificant and impure. It is beyond all things marvelous that God should love man. We can easily comprehend that he should be kind to man, and deal benevolently and even mercifully with him, seeing that he is the creature of his hand; but that the infinite God should bow his heart to love a finite and sinful being, is a miracle surpassing all miracles. Herein in very deed the heavens are rent, and the glory of the Lord is revealed among men. Talk not of the resurrection of the dead, or the opening of the eyes of the blind, or the ears of the deaf, these are small marvels when compared with God’s loving man after man had willfully broken the most just of laws and hardened himself in rebellion against his Lord. To speak of the eagle stooping to its young is nothing; here is a far more amazing triumph of love, when the Most High and Holy One reveals himself in tender affection to the people of his choice.

A second glance at our text fixes our attention upon love allied with prudence bestirring the loved ones. Note the words, “As the eagle stirs up her nest;” here love arouses wisdom, wisdom seeks the good of the fledglings, and paternal foresight breaks their repose. The parent birds make the young eaglets uneasy in the nest. Having been so well cared for before their feathers appeared, the young eagles might be well content to abide in the nest, they might be slow to try those callow pinions, and begin to shift for themselves; but the prudent bird will not allow its offspring to remain in indolence; it stirs up the nest and makes it uncomfortable for them that they may desire to leave it, and may test their wings by taking short flights which by-and-by shall lengthen into heavenward searings. Now, observe that God in dealing with his people exercises the same prudent love, and uses trials as a preventative for spiritual sluggishness. Most of the saints have experienced the discipline of grace. They were growing too fond of earth, too wrapped up in creature joys, too carnal minded, and lo, it came to pass that the desire of their eyes was taken away with a stroke, or their riches made to themselves wings and flew away, or their bodily frame began to quiver with pain, or their honor among men faded like a flower, and in every case the result was to wean from earth and to wed to heaven. How easily can God fill the downiest nest with thorns, and how good it is for us to find it so! We do not always at once perceive the wisdom which spoils our comforts, but in future days I wet that we shall consider our sharpest trials to have been amongst our richest privileges, and perhaps in heaven next to the note which resounds the dying love of Christ, the highest will be that which sings of the wisdom of God in the tribulations with which he graciously afflicted his people on the way to their rest. Next to the cross of Christ, we may prize the cross we are daily called to carry. The eagle stirs up its nest, and even thus we may expect that God in infinite love will often spoil our earthly repose. The Israelites were in Egypt in the land of Goshen, and as they found fat and fertile pastures for their flocks they would by insensible degrees have become fully naturalized, the chosen seed would have degenerated into Egyptians, and groveled in all the idolatries of that land; but the Lord sent a Pharaoh to rule them, who knew not Joseph, and the people were put under cruel taskmasters, and their male children ordered to be destroyed, then it was that they remembered the Lord’s promise to visit them and bring them out of Egypt. Then they bethought themselves of the land that flows with milk and honey which God had covenanted to give them, and their minds were all the readier for Moses the servant of God and the miracles with which he brought them out. Nor was this the only instance of the stirring up of Israel’s nest, for all the time they were in the wilderness their daily trials prevented their finding rest until they came to Canaan. The desert was not a smooth highway or a luxuriant pasture land. Serpents bit them, thirst parched them, Amalekites assailed them. They found few wells and palm trees; the wilderness was desolate to them, and all in order to keep them from attempting to find a dwelling out of the land of promise. Their only rest must be where God had said it should be: they must build no houses and plant no vineyards out of Canaan. See, then, in God people the image of ourselves and let us admire the prudence of divine love.

“It needs our hearts be wean’d from earth, It needs that we be driven, By loss of every earthly stay, To seek our joys in heaven. For we must follow in the path Our Lord and Savior run; We must not find a resting-place Where he we love had none.”

Again turning to the text, we perceive in the next few words love by its example leading the way. The eagle, having stirred up her nest, flutters over her young, as if to show them how to fly. She tries every fond endearment to induce them to trust the buoyant air, her own fluttering being the best practical instruction she can yield. The eagle, according to naturalists, takes much pains to teach its young, and educates them in the best manner–namely, by example. Sir Humphrey Davy had an opportunity of witnessing the instructions given, and thus records the fact :–” I once saw a very interesting sight above one of the crags of Ben Nevis, as I was going in the pursuit of black game. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring–two young birds–the manoeuvers of flight. They began by rising from the top of the mountain, in the eye of the sun. It was about midday, and bright for this climate. They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them. They paused on their wings, waiting till they had made their first flight, and then took a second and larger gyration, always rising towards the sun, and enlarging their circle of flight, so as to make a gradually ascending spiral. The young ones still slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted; and they continued this sublime exercise, always rising, till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to our aching sight.” After a more glorious sort, the Lord God of our salvation trains his people for high and holy endeavors by the leadings of his providence and the examples of his holiness.

When Israel came out of Egypt, the Lord led forth the people, showing them how and where to march. If they had to pass through the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire went before them; if they were afterwards called to traverse the sandy desert, the Lord in majesty marched in the van. They were never commanded to advance until Jehovah’s mysterious footsteps had first trodden the path. In a more spiritual sense we see and admire the abundant grace of God reflected in the sympathy of Christ, for he has borne already what we bear, as it is written, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” The example of Christ fulfils to the utmost the comparison of the fluttering eagle. He who would learn to be holy must study the life of his Redeemer, and copy its every line. Jesus the eagle of God, teaches us how to fly towards heaven. His example is our noblest incentive and encouragement. In subordination to this the saints who have gone before us in their experience of sustaining and sanctifying grace, are so many divine flutterings by which the Lord teaches us to trust him, and to rejoice in him. Thus you have love in prudence stirring up the nest–love, by its example, exciting to effort and showing the way.

The text further brings before us love lending its strength to educate and discipline ils beloved. “Takes them, bears them on her wings.” The eagle has been said to place her callow eaglets between her wings, and when she has borne them up to a certain height, she casts them off her back to compel them to fly. They must try their wings or fall and be dashed to pieces; thus they are driven to their first attempts, but if the old bird perceives that their little wings cannot bear them up, she darts beneath them in a moment and catches them between her wings again; and carries them aloft in safety to repeat the experiment as they are able to bear it. Whether this is literally true or not we cannot say, but assuredly the illustration it affords is valuable, for thus does the Lord exercise all his people. Suddenly he takes away all manifest supports from us, and we are compelled to live by faith. At first we fear that we shall surely be destroyed, for our faith is very weak; but underneath us the everlasting wings are again revealed, and though a moment before falling rapidly, we find ourselves rising quite as suddenly, upborne again, beyond all clouds and mists of despondency, into the divine sunshine of joy; perhaps to descend again into trembling and anxiety when faith again is tried. Thus it is that we learn the flight of faith–not so much by comforts as by the lack of them. Thus it is we gather strength not so much by a sense of strength as by discovering our weakness and being compelled to repose upon Christ. The sacred discipline of trial develops all the graces which almighty love had wrought in us, and makes us mature, vigorous, valiant, and confident.

Still, we must not forget that in the text we see love lending its needful aid in time of peril. The eagle upholds and upbeats her eaglets while yet too weak to take care of themselves. She never suffers them to fall so as to be dashed in pieces. Her wings still bear them up beyond all risk of downfall. Equally safe are they from the hunter’s deadly aim, she flies too high for him to reach her, or if such danger should occur, the shot must first pass through the mother bird before it can possibly wound her young–they are perfectly safe. So God bears his people up; they shall not fall totally or finally; they shall be sustained by his grace. He protects them from every danger, and he will safely bring them into his kingdom and glory. Taking the illustration of the eagle as a whole, we have before us disciplinary love. This is the most prominent view of God under the Old Testament dispensation. It is love in awful majesty of greatness, thundering from the top of Sinai, “I am the Lord thy God ;” love training a wayward people to make them fit for their noble calling; love educating as by a schoolmaster, training as by a captain, chastening as with a rod. The eagle metaphor is a very precious revelation of divine love; we could not afford to miss the blessings which it vividly sets forth; we want just such a God as Israel had in the wilderness–a God with the eagle’s strength, with the eagle’s love to its offspring, with the eagle’s prudence in stirring up its nest, and with the eagle’s care in instructing its young by doing itself what it would have its eaglets do. We want just this, but is there not something more sweet, more tender yet? In the New Testament do we not see love in even fairer colors? Is there not a gentleness, a nearness, a tenderness even more consoling to the troubled breast? We think we see all this in the second text. We are far enough from depreciating the first, yet would we magnify the second. Not for a moment would we allow that the Old Testament revelation is of inferior worth, yet do we discover in the New Testament points of inexpressibly glorious grace, surpassing everything before revealed. We will now turn to the metaphor of the hen. We have it in two places in Scripture, but one will serve us, it is contained in the twenty-third of

Matthew at the thirty-seventh verse :–”How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”

Here we have love connected with familiarity. The idea suggested by the eagle is sublimity; the thoughts aroused by the brooding hen are of familiar tenderness. Let us so think of God, for so he reveals himself in the gospel. In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ our God comes very near to us, and he would have us come very near to him. It is the same God, great as he that overthrew the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and answered Job out of the whirlwind; yet when we draw near to his throne by faith in Jesus Christ, his greatness is not our first thought. We feel then the glow of his loving nearness to us, for the Lord has condescended to place us in union with his dear Son, to make us his own children, to give to us all the privileges of sons and the nature of sons, and to promise that we shall be with Jesus where he is. It is a blessed thing that the child of God need no longer lie like a slave beneath the throne. We are brought nigh by the blood of Christ. It is to be feared that many heirs of heaven have never enjoyed the spirit of adoption as they ought to do. They have suffered themselves still to abide under the spirit of bondage. Their prominent thought of God has been still the eagle and not the hen; they have not yet learned to cower down beneath the divine protection, with the familiarity of the chicken beneath the parental wings. We are not to think less of the infinite greatness of God, nay, we should think more of him; for let our ideas of him be ever so much enlarged, we shall never reach the height of his glory; but still let there be no distance, let not his majesty chill and freeze the genial current of our soul, but let us remember that his love is as great as his power, and his tenderness is as infinite as his existence; he himself comes near to us; be not abashed to come near to him.

The comparison of the hen sets forth love bestowing perfect rest. The eagle stirred up her nest. The hen does the very opposite, she gathers her chickens under her wings. Her object is not to excite and to arouse, but to shelter and cherish. Have you never observed the little chicks delightedly sheltering beneath their mother’s feathers, a head peeping from under the wing, and another thrust out between the plumage of the breast. How happy they all appear to be! Scarce any little note has more music of delight in it than the happy twittering of chicks when they are in warm Elysium of rest. There is nothing that they want; there is nothing more they could think of wanting. So, under the New Testament dispensation, the Lord reveals himself to his people as giving them rest. “We that have believed do enter into rest.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Note well, that the two ordinances which distinguish the two Testaments differ just as do the two metaphors before us. The Passover–how did they eat it? In haste, each man with his loins girt and his staff in his hand, for they expected to hear of judgment upon Egypt, and to go forth themselves by night in great haste from the iron bondage. But how did our Lord and his apostles celebrate the sacred supper? Not superstitiously kneeling, or uncomfortably standing. No, all the disciples reclined at the table, after the Oriental custom, manifesting that they were at perfect ease; and we are accustomed to advise you, when you gather together to break bread, to sit as easily as you can. The best posture at the Lord’s Supper is that in which you may decorously enjoy the greatest rest. There is the great difference; the law bids you gird up your loins, for you must up and away; but the gospel says, “It is finished; you who are troubled, rest with us. Christ has ascended up on high, he has taken possession of the better Canaan for you.” May we all know our God in Christ as the Lord and giver of peace! Peace, because our sin is washed away by the precious blood of Jesus; peace, because our righteousness is complete through the perfect work of Christ which is imputed to us; rest, because the everlasting covenant cannot be broken; rest, because the Beloved has gone to prepare a place for us, and will soon come again; rest, because we have east all our care on him who cares for us, and henceforth enjoy a peace which passes all understanding, which keeps our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. Further, the simile of the hen brings out love communing in the dearest manner. The hen not only covers the chickens, but she supplies them with warmth from her own body. She, as it were, communicates of her vital force to the little tremblers whose strength is small, and who are cherished greatly by being nestled beneath her wings. Even so the Lord not only comes near us but he comes near us so as to communicate the mysterious warmth of his love and the mystic vitality of his own spirit to us. We have before us not so much love fluttering over its fledglings teaching them what to do, as love brooding over its offspring and communicating of its own self to them. Beloved, this is not a mystery to be talked of, except in friendly fellowship with those who have experienced it, but this is a matter rapturously to be enjoyed by each Christian for himself. When we know by experience that the sap of the branch is the sap of the stem, that the life of the Christian is Christ Jesus, then know we this secret. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God ;” we derive from Christ all that we have, and by coming into contact with him in heartfelt communion we receive love out of his love, peace out of his peace, joy out of his joy, and life out of his life, as the chickens receive their nurture from the hen. May we understand this and enjoy it evermore!

Again, observe that in the figure of the hen we see lore concerning weakness. In the eagle it is love stirring up activity and developing latent strength, but here it is love bestowing protection upon those who are passive in receiving it, being weak. The little chicks do not try to uplift themselves on their own wings; they have nothing to do but to get fully beneath the mother, and there to rest. We need as in the first simile to be trained to use power when we have received it, and it should be our prayer that we may be strengthened with all might by his Spirit in the inner man. But there are times of sorrow, times of weakness, times of despondency, when that view of God yields us no comfort, and then we find it a peculiarly appropriate consolation that God has compared himself to the hen, so that we who are weak, trembling, powerless, may hide beneath his power and love, and find that nothing is required of us, but everything bestowed upon us. We rejoice to serve God, we delight, as saved souls, to honor out’ Redeemer, but it grates on our cars when we hear exhortations to serve God addressed to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, as if such services would save them, or as if their own strength would suffice them. They are to be exhorted to seek salvation in Christ by fleeing to him that he may gather them beneath his wings, Scripture warrants us in doing that; but we should be very wrong if we exhorted them to perform Christian duties as if they could fly up to heaven on their own wings. All the efforts of human nature will never save a soul. Men are not saved as eagles learn to fly, but they are saved as chickens are housed beneath the hen. They are not saved by activities, they are saved by passively accepting the activity of another and the.sufferings of another–even Jesus Christ. Hence we should carefully observe that this second metaphor was addressed to sinners, not to saints; not to Israel receiving God’s mercy, so much as to Israel rejecting it; for Christ says, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” This last, then, is peculiarly a metaphor of encouragement and rebuke to sinners: the first is very instructive to the advanced saint, but this is suitable for saints and sinners too; and we delight to speak of it in the hope that some poor seeking heart, without strength, with no wings of its own, may come and hide beneath the wings of God, and find a refuge where Jesus Christ has provided it, under the shelter of eternal love, as it manifests itself in the atonement of the Lamb of God. There is a difference, then, between these two figures, though they are both marvelously instructive. The first was an Old Testament type, revealing sternness, majesty, sublimity, power, prudence, discipline; the second is a New Testament emblem, manifesting sweetness, tenderness, familiarity, rest, security, content. The first is a symbol which only a saint can take to himself, and that not in the matter of his salvation, but only of his education. The second is a figure which is for the sinner as well as for the saint, for the doubter, for the trembler. May each of us live to know the second first, and then the first afterwards, as we grow in grace. The lesson which the two comparisons may teach is not far to find. First, to the child of God, the lesson is one of encouragement. Are you in trouble? Rejoice in your trouble: it is the eagle stirring up the nest. The eagle has not forgotten her young, when she stirs them up, love moves her to that deed: God has evidently not forsaken you if he is exciting you to look above this world of care. I could bless God when I was lately in acute pain, when the thought occurred to me, “My Master has not quite forgotten his servant. I am not cast away like a wilted, withered flower, flung out of the hand because it yields no fragrance. My Lord is bruising me, as men do spices, to bring out of me whatever of fragrance he perceives. He has some esteem for me, else would he not bruise me.”

Perhaps you are called by God to a certain very difficult labor. Accept that labor, and if the service be beyond your strength, be not startled at it; the eagle takes her young upon her wings, and bears them aloft. Get upon the wings of God in all your labor. You can mount well enough (who could not?) on another’s wing? You shall swim well enough with the life-belt of omnipotence about you. You shall be strong enough to perform even miracles when God is at your right hand. Fear not, for as your days are so shall your strength be. Go to your service not only with utter distrust of yourself, even with the sentence of death written on your own strength; but go also with an unwavering trust in God, and with the confidence that he cannot forsake you.

Perhaps you are the conscious subject of great weakness. The longer the Christian lives the weaker he grows in his own esteem. He thought himself weak at first, but he knows himself weak now. Then let this text encourage you. If you are weak, come like the chickens, who being weak, hide under the hen. Sing with Wesley

“Cover my defenseless head With the shadow of thy wing.”

There can be no better plea for you in going to God than this. If he should say, “Why come you here?” be content to reply, “Lord, I am weak, I come to thee for strength. I am defenseless, I come to thee for protection!” Necessity is the best argument with God’s mercy. Your sense of weakness, therefore, should encourage you to hide beneath the wings of your God. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” The lesson to the unbeliever is equally plain. Unbeliever, there is nothing consoling in these metaphors for you if you remain as you are. They can give you no encouragement. Suppose the eagle should find in its nest a bird which, when the parent fluttered, never responded to its flutterings, which when taken on the father’s wings would never learn to fly! The royal bird would soon understand that an intruder was there; and what would be the result? An eagle is a dreadful bird when incensed. So remember when the Lord grows angry and his longsuffering ends, and his mercy is clean gone for ever, you will be in an awful condition. Did you never read those words, “Beware, ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver”? Behold in those words the divine wrath revealed as the eagle. That same eagle which thus taught its young to fly, tears in pieces that which it hates. O yield yourselves to God; yield yourselves by repentance and faith to him against whose wrath you cannot stand. May God grant you grace never to try passages at arms with the Almighty! Let not a worm contend with the devouring flame, nor the chaff wrestle with the whirlwind, nor a sinner fight with his God. Look at the other metaphor–that of the hen gathering her chicks. Suppose you unbelievingly remain apart from Christ, and are not gathered, so that the Savior may weep over you, and say, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not;” O then remember how Jerusalem perished, and see in her fate a picture of your own. The chick which is unguarded by the mother’s wings is always in danger. There is a speck in the sky; it is a hawk; see you not how it descends like a flash of lightning, and takes away the little one to be destroyed? The falcon of justice is searching for its victim, beware lest it bear you away to the place of doom. When the trumpet shall peal, and the dead shall awake, and the pillars of the earth shall shake, and the earth shall rock and reel, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, then swift-winged vengeance shall soar aloft, and if you have no God to cover you, it will bear you away, into everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. My hearer, my reader, may you never know what it is to be left out when God shall read the muster-roll of his people. Without God! Without Christ! It will one day be everlasting misery to be without Christ! Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. The little chick does not need to prepare itself to come under the hen: it is not called upon to bring anything, or do anything. It merely runs, stoops its little head, and finds a shelter. Even thus, must we come to Christ, with desire in our hearts, prayer on our lips, and faith in our souls.  [Some reformatting, spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) It is clearly infantile to even loosely associate Spurgeon’s interpretation of this verse with “Arminianism.” 2) The hard and sharp separation of the children from the leaders of the City is  not sustainable. The children, simply does not signifying “the elect,” or any cognate of that, but the masses of the city. Even John Gill concedes this. Thus, men like Spurgeon can speak of God in Christ, desiring to gather the city of Jerusalem, they mean insofar as they are the children are citizens of the city and so, collectively, “Jerusalem.” All this, notwithstanding, the specific textual metonymic use of “Jerusalem,” to stand for the leaders.  2) In early Reformation polemics, this verse was often cited to deny innate and total corruption and special election.  Calvin, for example, rightly argues that such denials cannot be derived from this text. From the Reformed side, this is where all qualifications should have stopped. 3) Unfortunately, however, men like Beza and Zanchi, in their zeal to deny semi-pelagianism any footing whatsoever, went to the next step of insisting that here Christ only spoke merely as a human, albeit perfect man. In subsequent generations, some of the Protestant Orthodox continued in this over-reaction by pressing a hard distinction between the leaders and the children (Turretin et al).  And then sadly, the next tragic step was to insist that here Christ only wished to gather the children to the external preaching of the Gospel. For example, Ness asserted that Christ here does not express a desire to gather them internally, but merely externally. Likewise, Gillite hypercalvinism took this to its explicit end by insisting that Christ only desired to gather the masses of the city to an external reformation of manners and lives,  to a temporal faith, in order to escape temporal ruin, twisting the text for the purpose of denying “duty-faith,” and the well-meant offer. 4) And so, Hypercalvinists have adopted the various evasions (eg., Beza, Zanchi, Ness or Gill) in order to not only deny Arminianism, but to deny that God desires the salvation of all, by will revealed, and the well-meant offer. However, if one wants to evade the force of this passage–which entails that God wills and desires the salvation of all men, and that by way of the well-meant offer–then the only option is  to disconnect the humanity of Christ from his divinity, such that here is a case of Jesus, only as a man with human compassion, expressing his lament and desire for their salvation. However, on this line of argument, see Dabney’s stinging criticism.  Or, and lastly, one may insist that the “Children” is a reference to the elect. However, this option has no credible exegetical basis, and, as as far as I know, has never been adopted by any of the Reformed.]

Credit to Turretinfan for some of these finds

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