“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!”
Mt. 23:37, see also Lk. 13:34
In this verse, Jerusalem evidently refers to the people of that city. It may have the leaders (denounced in the previous verses) especially in mind, but they were not solely responsible for the death of the prophets, or even of Christ himself; nor did the judgment fall only on them, as many ordinary people perished in the fall of Jerusalem.
The gathering can only be the reception of sinners by Christ, as the God-man Redeemer, the reception promised in Matthew 11:28, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ John Murray tells us:
What needs to be appreciated is that the embrace of which Jesus here speaks is that which he exercises in that unique office and prerogative that belong to him as the God-man Messiah and Saviour. In view of the transcendent, divine function which he says he wished to perform, it would be illegitimate for us to say that here we have simply an example of his human desire or will.
The gathering envisaged is to Christ as one person in two distinct natures; it is that gathering which issues in forgiveness of sins, peace with God and rest unto men’s souls.
Next, the term thy children needs careful interpretation. Opponents of the free offer have striven to make the children refer to the elect of God who were actually gathered by Christ through efficacious grace. For example, Angus Stewart writes:
However, “how often” simply tells us that the religious leaders (“Jerusalem”) opposed Christ’s gathering His elect (“Jerusalem’s children”) many times…Yet Christ the king gathers all Jerusalem’s children by His irresistible grace.
This view is untenable for several reasons:
i) It is arbitrary, imposed on the text and cannot be drawn out from it.
ii) It is contrary to normal usage. The ‘children of Edom’ (Psa. 137:7) are the people of that place. The many references to the ‘children of Israel’ refer simply to the people of Israel.
Likewise, the children of Moab, Ammon etc. When used metaphorically, such expressions indicate likeness to the parent body — for example, ‘sons of the mighty’ (Psa. 29:1, AV.mg.), ‘children of Belial’ (Deut. 13:13 etc.), ‘children of light’ (Eph. 5:8) – not contrast, as Stewart would have us believe, thus making Jerusalem’s children contrast with Jerusalem itself.
iii) It conflicts with the singular and plural terms in the text. The older English pronouns of our Authorized Version (reflecting the singular and plural distinctions of the Greek) are helpful here. The word thy (singular) clearly relates to Jerusalem (singular). The children (plural), represented as chickens, are in view in the phrase ye (plural) would not, where the English reflects the plural of the Greek verb. Stewart wishes the plural verb, ye would not, to refer to the singular Jerusalem, which is most forced. It is the children that would not be gathered. Jerusalem is simply a collective description of the city and its people, as a body. The children of Jerusalem are nothing more complicated than those same people considered as a collection of individuals.
iv) It is inconsistent with the use of the term elsewhere. The term thy children is used with reference to Jerusalem and in a similar context, immediately after the record of Christ’s weeping over the city, in Luke 19:44, ‘…And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.’ It is clear that the children are those who died in the destruction of Jerusalem. These cannot be the elect. The believers took heed of Christ’s warning concerning the fall of Jerusalem in Matt. 24:15-20 and fled. It was the unbelieving and self-righteous Jews, believing that Jerusalem would never be destroyed, who stayed and perished within her.
44. ‘The Free Offer of the Gospel’ in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol.4, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1982), p. 120.
45. Covenant Reformed News, Sept. 2004, vol. X, Issue 5, (Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship, Ballymena, Northern Ireland), p. 4.
From David Silversides’ book The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed (Marpet Press, 2005), 50-52. This excerpt was originally posted by Tony Byrne, here