by John Gill
The Cause of God and Truth, Part I, Section XXV
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 chicken under her wings, and ye would not! Matt. 23:37.
NOTHING is more common in the mouths and writings of the Arminians than this Scripture, which they are ready to produce on every occasion, against the doctrines of election and reprobation, particular redemption, and the irresistible power of God in conversion, and in favour of sufficient grace, and of the freewill and power of man, though to very little purpose, as will appear when the following things are observed.
1. That by Jerusalem we are not to understand the city, nor all the inhabitants; but the rulers and governors of it, both civil and ecclesiastical, especially the great Sanhedrin, which was held in it, to whom best belong the descriptive characters of killing the prophets, and stoning such as were sent to them by God, and who are manifestly distinguished from their children; it being usual to call such who were the heads of the people, either in a civil or ecclesiastical sense, fathers, Acts 7:2, and 22:1 and such who were subjects and disciples, children, 19:44, Matt. 12:27, Isa. 8:16, 18. Besides, our Lord's discourse, throughout the whole context, is directed to the Scribes and Pharisees, the ecclesiastical guides of the people, and to whom the civil governors paid a special regard. Hence it is manifest, that they are not the same persons whom Christ would have gathered, who would not. It is not said, How often would I have gathered you, and you would not, as Dr. Whitby more than once inadvertently cites the text; nor, he would have gathered Jerusalem, and she would not, as the same author transcribes it in another place; nor, he would have gathered them, thy children, and they would not, in which form it is also sometimes expressed by him; but I would have gathered thy children, and ye would not, which observation alone is sufficient to destroy the argument founded on this passage in favour of freewill.
2. That the gathering here spoken of does not design a gathering of the Jews to Christ internally, by the Spirit and grace of God; but a gathering of them to him internally, by and under the ministry of the word, to hear him preach; so as that they might be brought to a conviction of and an assent unto him, as the Messiah; which, though it might have fallen short of saving faith in him, would have been sufficient to have preserved them from temporal ruin, threatened to their city and temple in the following verseBehold, your house is left unto you desolate: which preservation is signified by the hen gathering her chickens under her wings, and shows that the text has no concern with the controversy about the manner of the operation of God's grace in conversion; for all those whom Christ would gather in this sense were gathered, notwithstanding all the opposition made by the rulers of the people.
3. That the will of Christ to gather these persons is not to be understood of his divine will or of his will as God; for who hath resisted his will? this cannot be hindered nor made void; he hath done whatsoever he pleased; but of his human will, or of his will as man; which though not contrary to the divine will, but subordinate to it, yet not always the same with it, nor always fulfilled.. He speaks here as a man and minister of the circumcision, and expresses a human affection for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and a human wish or will for their temporal good, instances of which human affection and will may be observed in Mark 10:21, Luke 19:41, and 22:42. Besides, this will of gathering the Jews to him was in him, and expressed by him at certain several times, by intervals, and therefore he says, How often would I have gathered, &c. Whereas the divine will is one continued invariable and unchangeable will, is always the same, and never begins or ceases to be, and to which such an expression as this is inapplicable; and therefore this passage of Scripture does not contradict the absolute and sovereign will of God in the distinguishing acts off it, respecting election and reprobation.
4. That the persons whom Christ would have gathered are not represented as being unwilling to be gathered; but their rulers were not willing that they should. The opposition and resistance to the will of Christ, were not made by the people, but by their governors. The common people seemed inclined to attend the ministry of Christ, as appears from the vast crowds which, at different times and places, followed him; but the chief priests and rulers did all they could to hinder the collection of them to him, and their belief in him as the Messiah, by traducing his character, miracles, and doctrines, and by passing an act that whosoever confessed him should be put out of the synagogue; so that the obvious meaning of the text is the same with that of ver. 13, where our Lord says, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in; and consequently is no proof of men's resisting the operations of the Spirit and grace of God, but of obstructions and discouragements thrown in the way of attendance on the external ministry of the word.
5. That in order to set aside and overthrow the doctrines of election, reprobation, and particular redemption, it should be proved that Christ, as God, would have gathered, not Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof only, but all mankind even such as are not eventually saved, and that in a spiritual saving way and manner to himself, of which there is not the least intimation in this text; and in order to establish the resistibility of God's grace, by the perverse will of man, so as to become of no effect, it should be proved that Christ would have savingly converted these persons, and they would not be converted; and that he bestowed the same grace upon them he does bestow on others who are converted; whereas the sum of this passage lies in these few words, that Christ, as man, out of a compassionate regard for the people of the Jews, to whom he was sent, 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 notionally received, would have secured them as chickens under the hen from impending judgments which afterwards fell upon them; but their governors, and not they, would not, that is, would not suffer them to be collected together in such a manner, and hindered all they could, their giving any credit to him as the Messiah; though had it been said and they would not, it would only have been a most sad instance of the perverseness of the will of man, which often opposes his temporal as well as his spiritual good.