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I Would, But Ye Would Not!

by Charles H. Spurgeon

NO. 2381


“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 gathereth 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 gathereth 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 gathereth her chickens under her wings.” Let us dwell upon that thought for a few minutes. It is a very marvellous 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 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
comest to Christ, and thus hidest 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

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

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

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 sitteth 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

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.

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