Jul 21, 2010

Matthew 23:37 - William Styles

“O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matt. 23:37). Often quoted to prove that Christ (since “He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever”), still vehemently desires to effect the salvation of sinners, and to this end tries to gather them to Himself by striving with them by His Spirit, but that many are unwilling to be saved, and therefore resist the Spirit, and are thus lost.

Notice, however, 1. The design of the passage as a whole. It consists of an address to the Scribes and Pharisees (verses 13-39) in which their hypocrisy and persecuting spirit are rebuked, and the destruction of their city and temple is predicted. This determines the scope of the verse. The Lord is speaking as the Jewish Messiah to Jews, and declaring that by rejecting Him they would seal their national doom. His words cannot therefore, by any fair principle of interpretation be referred to sinners in general.

2. The determination which the Lord asserts had influenced Him. “I would have gathered you.” Does this express His will as one of the great Sacred Three, or His will as a man, with that independence of judgment and decision with which His human nature necessarily invested Him? The will of Christ as God, to save His elect is eternal and immutable, but the attributes of the human nature of Christ while on earth were often affected by local and relative considerations—in proof of which consult Mark 10:21, Luke 19:41, and 22:42. The will referred to was not eternal and continuous as the adverb “often” demonstrates. The verse therefore, does not teach that Jesus determined and endeavoured to effect the spiritual and eternal salvation of these people, but that He frequently attempted to gather them around Him that He might instruct them.

3. The persons mentioned in the verse, “the children of Jerusalem,” and the Scribes and Pharisees, addressed by the pronoun “ye.” Two distinct parties are contemplated. The verse is often quoted, “How often would I have gathered you, but ye would not.” This suits a theological purpose, but perverts the meaning of the verse. Notice then the persons alluded to—“thy children.” This may be understood literally or metaphorically. Literal children may be intended. Jesus received little children on one memorable occasion (Matt. 19:14-15), nor can we say that it was an isolated one. If this view be adopted, Jesus is here rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for putting obstacles in the way of children who would have received His teachings. Surely Jesus must have been popular with the children. Never once do we read of an insult offered to Him by a child. The word “children” may, again, be used metaphorically, in the sense of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. “The common people heard Him gladly,” until they were prejudiced against Him by the scribes and Pharisees. It will be noticed that the latter supposition really embodies the former. Children were comprehended in the whole population. Notice the persons addressed, “ye.” The Scribes and Pharisees were determined that the people, young and old, should not be gathered to Christ (John 12:42.)

The sum then of the passage is, “that Christ as the Messiah out of a compassionate regard for His people, the Jews, to whom He was sent as the minister of the Circumcision, would have gathered them together under His ministry, and have instructed them in the knowledge of Himself as the Messiah; which, if they had only nationally received, would have secured them, as chickens under the hen, from impending judgments,”—perhaps the Roman eagle is implied in the figure. “Their” religious teachers and “governors however—not they themselves—would not.” Hence the national punishment they afterwards suffered.—From Gill’s Commentary. The verse, therefore, by no means teaches or implies the doctrine of the common strivings of the Spirit.

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