March 12, 2016

Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691–1747) on Matt. 23:37


Christ’s Lamentation Over the Inhabitants of Jerusalem.

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

“Then I said I have labored in vain. I have spent my strength for naught and in vain,” are words which we find Isa. 49:4. It is manifest that the Messiah is here introduced, complaining that he had labored in vain, and spent his strength for naught. By his strength we may understand his bodily energies; which we may conceive to have been far more vigorous in the Lord Jesus than in men ordinarily, from his numerous journeys. But we must also understand by it the powers of his mind—his capacity and his faculty for teaching with so much wisdom, and for performing his mighty and wonderful works. With this strength the Messiah had labored. (Understand the labor of his prophetical office; his preaching and working of miracles, in which he displayed zeal of no ordinary kind: Ps. 69:9; “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”) But all this was in vain, for naught, to no purpose. (Understand this in relation to the majority in comparison with the rest—that his labors yielded little or no fruit, in comparison with what they should have yielded.) It is true there were some, with respect to whom he did not labor in vain; but they were few, and thus his labors were for naught and in vain, in relation to the greater part in Israel, as is said in the following verse: “Israel will not suffer himself to be gathered.” [Dutch translation]

Truly, thus it was; neither his discourses nor miracles found admittance with the majority of the Jews; the chief priests and scribes remained the hardened, bitter enemies of the Lord Jesus: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11.)

The fulfillment we behold in the words of our text, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets," etc.

In what precedes, the Lord Jesus denounces upon the Pharisees and Scribes eight woes, on account of their sins, on account of their hindering the Gospel, (verse 13;) on account of their covetousness, (verse 14;) on account of their blind zeal, (verses 15, 16;) on account of their erroneous teachings, (verses 17–22;) on account of their display of zeal in regard to the minor matters of the law, whilst they neglected its weightier duties, (verses 23, 24;) on account of their pretense of great holiness in partaking of their food, (verses 25, 26;) on account of their deceiving the people with the mere appearance of righteousness, (verses 27, 28;) on account of their pretended high regard for departed saints, whilst they persecuted the living, and were ready to stone Christ himself, (verses 29–32.) Hereupon, he severely reproves them, and sharply upbraids them in the words of our text, “O Jerusalem!” etc, in which is contained a lamentation over the obstinacy and unbelief of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and which are followed by a prediction of its destruction.

Words in point in these evil days, in which we may pour forth lamentations, nay, lift up our voices in cries of distress.

Oh! that we mourned over ourselves, and knew at least in this our day the things that belong to our peace!

In the words of the text we find two parts:

I. An earnest protestation of the Saviour’s: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem !” etc.

II. An upbraiding of them for their unwillingness: and “Ye would not.”

I. The Saviour’s address is directed, as on another occasion with tears, (Luke 19,) to the city of Jerusalem—the capital of the whole Jewish land, the seat, the court of the Jewish state, the city of the great King, beautiful for situation; the joy of the whole earth, where were the thrones of judgment and the tribes of Israel assembled, the holy city and place of worship, (Matt. 4:5,) the holy temple, the place of God’s fire and hearth, (Isa. 31:9,) the city of God, therefore denominated Jehovah Shammah, (The Lord is there,) that is, the place favored with his special presence. By Jerusalem is here, however, to be understood the Jewish people, the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The repetition of the word Jerusalem is here designed to impart emphasis to the address. This form of speech occurs elsewhere in the Scriptures, as Jer. 22:29, “O earth, earth, earth! hear the word of the Lord;” Rev. 8:13, “Woe, woe, woe!” There it is triple. The twofold form is also found, as in Ezek. 21:6, “Sigh, sigh!” John 3:3, “Verily, verily!” Here it is, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” This intimates the earnestness, zeal, and emotion of the Lord Jesus; the importance of the subject; the awfulness of their unbelief; the certainty of their destruction and desolation. This Jerusalem is reproved with accompanying upbraiding: “Thou that killest the prophets.” Prophets were holy men raised up out of all the tribes and families of Israel, endowed with extraordinary gifts, and infallibly moved by the Spirit of God to teach the people of God; to foretell future events, and confirm their words with a godly life. Such the Lord himself had sent to them from time to time. This is added in the text: “Which are sent unto thee.” Truly a great benefit; for “Where there is no vision the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18.) (But they are false prophets who run and yet are not sent. Jer. 23:21.) But oh! base ingratitude, prophets whom the Lord had sent to them, they had killed, stoned!

Stoning was one of the modes of capital punishment among the Jews. Jerusalem was the ordinary place of the killing of the prophets, (Luke 13:33;) and thus by making itself guilty of such tyrannical acts, from being the house of God, it had become a den of  thieves. It is therefore said of its former state, Isa. 1:21, “How is the faithful city become an harlot! it is full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers,” and Jer. 2:34, “Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents;” and Matt. 21:35, 36, the chief priests and elders of the people are designated as husbandmen, who beat some, killed others, and stoned others of the servants whom the Lord of the vineyard sent to them, as appears verses 23, 25.

The Lord Jesus further testifies: “How often would I have gathered thy children together.” Here the city is represented as a mother; and the Jews who were of the same religion, and came hither from all parts of the land of Canaan, as her “Children,” Hos. 2:1–4, that is, inhabitants.

These Jesus “would gather,” that is, he diligently employed all means to convert them—form them into a new people, and bless them in his kingdom. Whereby? By the means of grace which the Lord granted them, by teaching and preaching among them, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, (“Repent and believe the Gospel,”) doing wonders, working miracles, healing their sick; nay, journeying throughout their land and doing good. (Acts 10.) For this purpose he chose his disciples; whose business it was to gather the Jews, inviting them saying, “Come, for all things are ready.” (Luke 14.) But how?

“As a hen gathereth her chickens.” It is known that a hen when she sees birds of prey hovering in the air, utters a peculiar sound, by which she calls together her young, at the same time elevating her feathers and spreading out her wings, thus forming a place of refuge for them; thus wings are also ascribed to God, Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 63:7; Deut. 32:1, especially the Lord Jesus. (Mal. 4:2.) Thus in our text the Lord Jesus comes under notice as a hen, extending her wings to and over her chickens, to allure and gather sinners to himself. He is not only a roaring lion, roaring over his prey for its preservation, but as a bird thus will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem. (Isa. 31: 4, 5.) Thus God covers the righteous with his wings. The Psalmist also on several occasions ascribes to God a shadow. What the sun does in relation to the inhabitants of the world, warning and defending them against wind and cold, all this the shadow of God’s wings does in relation to sinners who betake themselves to them. The wings which are ascribed to God in Christ, betoken these two things.

1. That defense and protection which the sinner finds by faith in Christ, and thus with God through Christ, against the deserved wrath of God, power of temptation, and the attacks of Satan. Hence the Lord Jesus is denominated a hiding-place from the wind. (Isa. 32:2.) This is the benefit which God promises to his Church. (Isa. 4:5, 6; Ps. 91:4.)

2. That refreshment and consolation which the godly find with God in Christ, in whom many have found a refuge; as one who flees out of a storm to a hiding-place, or who from the burning rays of the sun seeks a refreshing shade, or the covert of a great rock, and thus revives his drooping spirit. So says the bride, Cant. 2:3, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight;” Mal. 4:2, “With healing in his wings.”

The great prophet and compassionate high-priest Jesus, contemplating their exposure to many seductions, and the aim of the hellish bird of prey, has extensively and frequently called men by the voice of the Gospel, to shelter themselves under the wings of his grace and gracious protection. During the whole time of his public ministry, he stretched out his hands, but to a gain-saying people; to an evil, hardened, unbelieving generation, as appears from our second head:

II. “And ye would not.” The Saviour would say, You have made constant opposition to my designs. It was the unceasing aim and endeavor of the Pharisees and Scribes, as much as in them lay, to hinder the progress of the Gospel. They themselves would not enter in, and they would not that Jesus should gather their children, but to that moment sought to root out the Prince of life in Israel from among his people.

We are not, however, to apprehend this, as if their unwillingness that Jesus should gather their children, could render his whole work of no effect. By no means; for many were gathered, whom Jesus had in view, and others who were restrained for a while by malicious opposers, were afterwards brought in through the ministry of the Apostles; at least “as many as were ordained to eternal life.” (Acts 13:48.)

The advocates of free will wrest this text to establish their erroneous tenet, as if man had power to comply with the divine call if he would. No: this place speaks of the divine call, by which Christ is offered for justification. That men who are not elected resist it we admit; for the carnal mind is enmity against God. The natural man hates the Father and the Son, (John 15:24,) and hates all true holiness. It is true that viewed in their natural helplessness, they also cannot come, (John 6:44;) but it is also true that they slight the outward means. This they do willingly, and with an evil disposition not to permit themselves to be gathered. It is their pleasure, their delight, so to do. Therefore the Lord Jesus reproves and reproaches the Jews, saying, “And ye would not.” We cannot hence, however, infer free will, and the power and faculty in the natural man to believe without supernatural grace and effectual calling, as do Pelagians, Arminians, and all devotees of free will, as if it were legitimate reasoning to say, They can of themselves not will; consequently they can also of themselves, will to come and believe. But the inference does not follow, for the sinful not will-ing we have natural power in ourselves; but for a holy and right will-ing we stand in need of supernatural grace, which we have not of ourselves. Christ does not say that the Pharisees and Scribes, and inhabitants of Jerusalem could believe and turn; but upbraids them with this, that “they would not;” and this was an aggravation of their disobedience, as displaying their determination, obstinacy, willfulness, in not coming to him. They would not even calmly consider his person, his works and doctrines; but with bitter and settled prejudice, persisted in their opposition to him, and willfully hardened themselves. Nay, so abandonedly wicked were they, that they could not endure that any of their children were gathered by him. It did not then proceed from ignorance, but from unwillingness. Of this the Lord Jesus also reproachfully reminded them: “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.” This was proposed to them under the similitude of those invited to the marriage, who would not come. (Matt. 22:3; Luke 19:22.)

This now was suited to the purpose of the compassionate Saviour, which was not only to censure the Scribes, but sharply to upbraid and threaten them; for their wickedness towards him beyond measure aggravated their guilt and hastened their destruction: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou wouldst not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Verse 38.) The words of the text, my hearers, be it remembered, proceeded out of the mouth of him who was the best of preachers. They are full of power, earnestness, compassion, and emotion. So much so, that I have been unable to make them the subject of my study without emotion. Give them for a moment I pray you your particular attention. When the merciful Jesus says, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! it is as if with weeping and with earnest voice, he had burst forth in the following strain:

“That Chorazin and Bethsaida have not improved my mighty works, for their repentance I must remind them of, by denouncing upon them a woe; that the exalted Capernaum has not turned at my word, shall thrust it down to hell, (Matt. 11:20, 24,) and aggravate its condemnation beyond that of Sodom; that my Nazareth, where I have lived and been brought up, so lightly esteems my prophets, I can readily forget, (Luke 4:23, 24;) that the inhabitants of Gergesa preferred their swine to myself, gives me but little concern, (Matt. 8:34;) but that thou, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! the scene of my wonders, whom I have made great among the nations, and princes among the provinces, (Lam. 1:1,) and exalted above all and chosen thee as my habitation and dwelling-place, (Ps. 32:13, 14,) my vineyard, planted upon a very fruitful hill, to which I have done all that could be clone to it, (Isa. 5:1–4;) that thou Jerusalem, thou Zion, so maliciously rejectest my grace, that breaks my heart, that causes me to sigh; that I neither can nor will so lightly forget; my grace is far too precious; I have too clearly revealed myself to thee to be thus rejected by thee, and that thou, O Jerusalem! shouldest so hastily rush to destruction! Were it the sin of an Amorite, a Canaanite, or Jebusite, I would bear with it four hundred years; were it that of the first world, I would grant them an hundred and twenty years for repentance; were it a Sodom or Gomorrah, Admah or Zebvim, I would spare it for ten righteous, (Gen. 18:32; Deut. 29:32;) but now, that it is thou, Jerusalem, who shall present an excuse for thee, O Jerusalem! or who shall have compassion upon thee? Thou hast forsaken me, (Jer. 15:5, 6;) and what occasion? Didst thou but know how evil and bitter a thing it is that thou hast forsaken me! (Jer. 2:19.) Didst thou but know the things that belong to thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes! Thou wilt not come to me that thou mightest have life! and though year after year I have stretched out my hands to thee, and would gather thee as a hen does her chickens under her wings; and though I have sent to thee my servants the prophets, rising up early, (Jer. 7:13; 25:4,) who have invited thee in my name, thou yet wouldst not!”

Hearers, ye must be strangers in our Americau [American?] Jerusalem not to perceive how applicable are these words to ourselves and our consistory. Raritan, Raritan! how often would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldst not! It is true, God has not sent to us prophets, in a strict sense of that term, whose work it is to foretell future events: these were peculiar to the old dispensation, and the beginning of the new. He has, notwithstanding, given us pastors and teachers—ministers of the New Testament, who are also prophets. It is also true, that they are not here at the present time, stoned or killed; but how many are there who resist them, and thus kill them, as far as in them lies. Had those opposers been possessed of the power, who knows if they would not have killed us. How many evil and rude persons are there, who in every way molest faithful ministers, so that they are compelled to perform their work amid sighs and groans. How many the disobedient, who remain ignorant and unconverted, of whom we must say, I have labored in vain? To how many must we say, How often would the Lord have gathered you by his word and servants, “but ye would not.” The Church swarms with such evil ones—those who will not. Thousands are to be found throughout Christendom; and thus, also, the greater part among ourselves, are those to whom the holy Jesus would be compelled, as to the Jews, to say: “Ye would not come to me.”

I shall here make manifest two things:

1. That the Lord Jesus has long sought to gather you, as a hen does her chickens.
2. That all who have remained unconverted thus far, “would not.”

As long as you have had, read, and heard the word of God, as long as you have enjoyed the preached word, the Lord has been engaged in gathering you. How often have you heard the divine sighs: “Oh! that they were wise, that they understood this, that they considered their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29;) “Oh! that my people had hearkened unto me!” (Ps. 81:14;) “Oh! that thou hadst hearkened unto my commandments!” (Isa. 48:18;) “Oh! that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” (Luke 19:42.)

How often have the invitations of the Gospel been uttered in your hearing. Truly these are intended for all, without exception, who live within its sound: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.” (Isa. 45:22.) “Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17.) “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” (Rev. 3:18.) How long has the Lord Jesus warned and invited you by his servants who have been sent to you, coming, now piping, and now mourning! How often has the Lord Jesus, with weeping eyes, and cheeks suffused with tears, mourned over you, as of old over Jerusalem!

Certainly, we must regard the Lord Jesus as lamenting when his servants do so in his name, and pour forth expressions of grief, for it is in his name that they come, his own word which they utter—the same as was uttered by him: “He that heareth you heareth me.” (Matt. 10.) They are ambassadors for Christ, and pray as if God besought by them. (2 Cor. 5.) How appropriate, then, the words of the text, “How oft would I have gathered you!'” but alas! that we have reason to say to you, “and ye would not!”

This is true,

Of you wicked, who are persisting in your sins;
Of the unconverted, who live without true holiness;
Of those who have not fled for refuge to Jesus;
Of those who are still strangers to Christ, having never seen him;
Of those who have never been convinced of their need of Jesus, in order to salvation;
Of those who have not realized the preciousness of Jesus;
Of those who have, as yet, never engaged in covenant transactions with the Lord Jesus.

How many years have you been invited and called? but, pray, tell me what has prevented you from heeding the divine call? Is it not your own unwillingness, or do you imagine the divine decree to be the occasion of it? [Heedless men accuse God of injustice, as if he were the cause of their unregeneracy and destruction.] But the decree of God neither compels nor prevents you: that is not the rule of your doing and leaving, but his revealed will. You have not remained unbelieving and unconverted because you imagined that God prevented you, but because you felt no desire.

Or will you ascribe it to this: that God has never wrought the will in you—that he has never drawn you? That were again to cast the blame upon God; for tell me, I pray you, was the Lord under obligation to perform those acts towards you? Have you ever, with real earnestness, besought him to draw you?

Or, when you would come, have men prevented you? But if any have endeavored to prevent you, others have urged you to flee destruction, and have gone before you not only with their word but also with their example.

Or, will you cast the blame upon your inability? Thus do the carnally secure, employing their inability as an excuse for their sinful security. But do you not know that the fault is your own? Inability excuses you not; for, have you done all that you should? I have done, you say, my utmost. But then, would you make use of means: you would not neglect attendance at church, catechisings, or other public religious exercises; you could search the word of God, be more engaged in prayer, and prostrate yourself before the Lord Jesus.

Have you ever felt that you remained unconverted because you could not? Oh! no: your difficulty has not been a can not, but a will not. Seek as many evasions, cover yourselves with as many fig-leaves as you may, I must say, with the Lord Jesus, “Ye would not!” He has given you his word and servants, means and time for repentance, and sometimes also, the Spirit for conviction, and now and then stirs up to exercise your conscience; but you resist the Spirit, and thus the obstacle is in your will: “Ye will not come to Christ!” Wouldst thou know the reason of thine unwillingness? It is,

1. Because thou dost not sufficiently see the necessity of coming to the Lord Jesus: your estrangement and lost state does not weigh heavily upon your heart.

2. Because you can not properly come to Jesus, except you deny yourself, forsake all your vain pleasures, honor and esteem. You have, with the young man in the gospels, too much worldly good. You are still too much attached to the world and your sins.

You imagine that you can effect it yourself, by means of attendance at church, and going to the Lord’s table; by the repetition of some forms of prayer, some moral deeds and good works, and similar self-righteous performances.

You imagine that you can come when you will. There is in your estimation always time enough for repentance, and therefore you constantly procrastinate. To-morrow, Then, and Then, are your words.

You say you will come to Christ, you would go to heaven: but who would not fain go to heaven? Who would not gladly be saved? But you take no pleasure in the method, in the way of salvation. The way is too narrow for you: the holiness of it is not congenial to your feelings. Were the way to Jesus and heaven a broad and sinful way, oh! how many would then come! You would serve God and mammon; you would fain retain your sins.

You take no pleasure in the consequences of that way—the cross, reproach, derision, persecution. (Acts 14:22.) Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God.

You imagine that you are already believers and regenerated persons, because born of Christian parents; supposing that you can not fall short of heaven. False ground’s soul-destroying imagination, by which thousands deceive themselves under the Gospel! a way which seemeth right to a man, by which Satan keeps back millions from God. See, thus is it with natural men. These are the reasons of your unwillingness! Oh! how unhappy and miserable is your state! for,

1. You are still estranged from the Lord Jesus, who will gather his people as a hen does her chickens;
2. It is a fearful rejection of the revealed way of salvation;
3. It is an awful insult to the Father;
4. It is a contempt of the Son of God—that fountain and rock of salvation;
5. It is a reckless disregard of the day of grace.

How does this heighten your criminality; how will it aggravate your condemnation, that the Lord would gather you, that he long bore with you, so often would have taken you under his wings, but “ye would not!”—that he invited and you refused, stretched out his hands, but you opposed; rejecting his counsel, not willing that he should be King over you. (Prov. 1.) Oh! if there is aught that will render the worm of conscience exquisitely tormenting and intolerable, it is above all, that the dear Saviour would have gathered you, “and ye would not!” O miserable sinners! would that ye were wise and willing. How long shall the Lord suffer you, O unbelieving and perverse generation! How long will ye refuse?

I pray you suffer yourselves to be gathered. There is still time for repentance. The Lord Jesus still stands with extended arms to gather you. He still waits upon you.

Nowhere else can you find defense and protection. It is absolutely necessary that you should put your trust under the shadow of his wings, for otherwise “You shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on you.” (John 3:36.)

All that is in Jesus, and is to be enjoyed under his wings, is so inviting—it is so refreshing. Oh! that you had experience of it! “I sat down under his shadow,” says the bride, “with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song of Sol. 2:3.) O sinner! how canst thou longer refuse? If you come to him you shall not be cast out.

Yet once consider. Can the kindness and love of the great God and good Saviour not move you? How would he gather you in order to defend you against that wrath which you have deserved? Will he himself be your rock and refreshment? and will you not come? Have you no pleasure in it? How can you find it in your heart to do thus? Is not the kindness of God of so much weight with you, when yet it is so great that David exclaims, “How excellent is thy loving-kindness! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings;” and should not you, then, forsake the pleasures of sin and the joys of this world? Do you not violence to your own soul?

Do you not go contrary to your own judgment when you despise Jesus, and sin against him? (Prov. 8:36.)

And whither shalt thou betake thyself at that day when heaven and earth shall be in flames? What wings shall then be able to cover thee from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb? Oh! there shall be no place of refuge, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Heb. 10.)

Resolve, I pray you, to be willing, and to arise and come to Jesus.

Behold the danger which presses upon and threatens you.

Acknowledge in a lively manner the necessity of coming to Jesus: So shalt thou have life; for, saith He, “He that findeth me findeth life.” (Prov. 8.)

Oh! that you had a lively impression of your inability and unwillingness, that in holy dismay you might look for the drawing which the Lord Jesus promised when he said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,” (John 12;) and therefore pray with the Spouse, (Song Sol. 1:4,) “Draw me, we will run after thee.”

We conclude with Heb. 12:5: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.”

Preached at New-Brunswick,
Anno 1745.
Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, “Christ’s Bitter Lamentation Over the Inhabitants of Jerusalem,” in Sermons by Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, trans. William Demarest (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, 1856), 385–402.

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