Middletown, N. Y., Feb. 27, 1900.
Dear Brethren Editors: – I have been requested by our dear brother, Elder D. M. Vail, to write for publication upon a portion of the word as found in Matt, xxiii. 37, 38: “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! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
I feel that brother Vail could write upon the subject much more to the comfort and instruction of the dear saints of God, than it will be possible for me to. Many times I have been requested to write for the Signs, by lovers of the truth, but if I have any gift at all, it is not to write for publication, yet if I am to serve the brethren, I suppose it must be as they wish, and not as I desire. We should not forget that we are members one of another, and are helpers of each other’s joy. None of us have anything that we did not receive, and nothing we have belongs to us individually, but to one another. In this sense we have all things common.
The Scripture named above has for many years been a mystery to me, and to this day I do not feel that I have any special light upon it, yet I cannot say I have never had any thought in reference to it. In reading the word it is always profitable to know who is speaking, and to whom the address is made, also at what time and under what circumstances, and when we are asked our views upon Scripture, it is not safe to give any until these things have been considered; for instance, we are told the kingdom of God is like unto leaven that the woman hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened. Now in the writings of the apostle he says, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Should we be asked the meaning of the last quotation, knowing something of the first, and not fully acquainted with the latter, we would be apt to give a wrong interpretation, as the meanings are altogether different. Hence, let us consider by whom the words of the text were spoken, to whom, and at what time. We often make mistakes in applying the Scripture of the first four books of the New Testament, thinking that the gospel dispensation began with the preaching of John the Baptist, and Jesus, who followed, or came after him: such is not the case. If the gospel day began with the preaching of the gospel, we will have to go back to the time when God preached the gospel unto Abraham. There was no overlapping, no mixture of legality and grace, hence the gospel dispensation did not begin until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his death the demands of the law were satisfied, and an end of all rights and ceremonies under the law as service to God, the last offering for sin having been sacrificed: Jesus Christ, whose blood cleanseth us from all sin So it is clear to see that as Jesus was made under the law, he lived in the flesh during that dispensation, and the law was in full force while he lived.
It pleased God to promise Abraham that in his seed all nations of the earth should be blessed. Christ was the seed, and all the blessings of life and salvation were and are in him. God chose the Israelites, who were the offsprings of Abraham, as a people for himself, and when in Egyptian bondage, he delivered them by his servant Moses, to whom his brethren said, years before, “Who hath made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” God gave this people a law, but they were stiff-necked and rebellious, yet God was merciful to them, supplying their needs, and giving to them the promised land, Canaan.
Jerusalem was the holy city of the Jews, or the church under the law. From time to time, God raised up prophets, and sent them unto this people with messages, such as, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you.” Let us bear in mind this was all under the covenant of works. The Jews, because of their hardness of heart and unbelief, refused to hearken unto the messages of God unto them. They did not believe God had sent them, and instead of listening to them, and living in obedience to the law given them, they killed the prophets of God. Now, according to the promise of God, he sends his Son, as the apostle says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” – Heb. i. 1, 2. But while this declaration is made, let us remember that it was the Spirit of Christ in the prophets that caused them to prophesy, hence it was God speaking to his people, the Jews, all the time, whether in the prophets, or by his Son in the flesh. When Jesus came to his own (nation) his own received him not, and as was said to Moses, We will not have this man to rule over us. Though Jesus had said unto them he was the Son of God, and had sent his disciples to preach unto them saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand, they believed not. We would understand from this twenty-third chapter of Matthew, that Jesus was at, Jerusalem preaching in the temple to his disciples and multitude, in the presence of the scribes and pharisees. These were the teachers and rulers of the nation. In those respects they sat in Moses’ seat, because they were teachers of the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it, and Jesus said, “Therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Here we find Jesus telling his disciples to keep the law of Moses, but not to do the works of the scribes and pharisees. We are taught here that none are justifiable in doing beyond what the word teaches; we should not follow those who teach for doctrine the commandments of men. The worship of the Jews was in ordinances and ceremonies, and not in spirit and truth, therefore their righteousness was only in the law, and the Savior said to his disciples, If their righteousness did not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, they could in no wise enter into the kingdom of God. After addressing the disciples the Savior directs his words to the scribes and pharisees; he calls them hypocrites, and tells them of all their evil doings, devouring widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers, and that they compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and that when he was made, he is made two-fold more a child of hell than they themselves.
These scribes and pharisees said, If they had been in the days of their fathers, they would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets, and Jesus said, “Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” – Matt, xxiii. 31-33. In the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth verses of this chapter, Jeans speaks prophetically to the same people, saying, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew! between the temple and the altar.”
The same God who had sent prophets unto this people during the legal dispensation, was now promising to send others under the gospel, and said this people would treat them in the same way as their fathers had in all the years past, that upon them should be all the righteous blood shed. This was only a few days before Jesus was crucified, the last time he would ever be in that temple, and speak to this still stiff-necked and rebellious nation. He says to them, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” &c. As we said in the beginning, let us see who speaks, and who is addressed. Jesus speaks, that great Prophet. It was his Spirit in all the prophets that had spoken, and not the man, so now it is the same Spirit, and not the flesh, that speaks to the same national Israel, under the same covenant of works they had been under since the days of Moses. The blessings of life and the salvation of these people were temporal, and not eternal. They were a type of the spiritual Israel of God, whose blessings of life and salvation are both temporal and eternal. Jesus says in the text to the carnal Jews, or Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” The Savior did not mean to say, while I have been with you in the flesh I would have gathered thy children, but in all the years past; he, as the God of heaven and earth, would have blessed them, and saved them from harm, danger and captivity, but they would not hear the words of the Lord. (See Jer. xiii. 9-14.)
He presents the emblem of a hen gathering her chickens under her wings. Does she gather them under her wings in order to make them chickens? No, but because they are chickens, and belong to her; they are gathered at times to protect them from danger, and at other times to protect them from the cold and from the rain, to keep them warm and comfortable. The chickens know the voice of the mother, and are not stiffnecked and rebellious like the Jewish nation was, but at the voice of the hen they make haste to obey. Jesus did not mean in the text, as the world thinks, that he desired these people at Jerusalem to be christians, but had not the power to accomplish his will unless they would surrender themselves. He had no reference whatever to eternal salvation, but all time and temporal, and under that covenant of, “If you will I will.” Now, as that covenant was about to end, and the gospel dispensation to be ushered in, he says to them, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” This was the house of Israel, or Jewish kingdom, and desolate because God would no more dwell among them as a nation, and where God is not, there is nothing but desolation and destruction. To-day we are not under law, but under grace, under the new covenant God has made with his spiritual Israel, as is recorded in Jer. xxxi. 31-33. In this dispensation God has not sent his prophets and servants to us saying, “If you will I will,” but “I will and you shall,” is the message to-day to the Israel of God. And how thankful we should be that it is so, knowing we are weak, and prone to sin, and cannot keep his righteous law except he works in us, “Both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” I say keep his law, not the law of Moses, but the law of grace, that which is written in the heart.
We know that Jerusalem was destroyed by fire not many years after the death of Christ, because their house had been left unto them desolate, and as Jesus said, not one stone was left upon another, but total destruction of that temple, and of all their ordinances and ceremonies. But now the new Jerusalem, which is from above, and the mother of us all, stands forever; here God reigns, “Here our best friends and kindred dwell.” This is a tabernacle that shall never be taken down not one of her stakes removed, nor one of her cords be broken.
I have tried to present such thoughts as I have upon the subject, hoping brother Vail and others may at least be given a travel of mind upon the subject. I would be glad if others would write upon the same text.
H. C. KER.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 68, No. 6.
MARCH 15, 1900.