And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.
Let us think awhile what was meant by our Lord's weeping over Jerusalem. We ought to learn thereby somewhat more of our Lord's character, and of our Lord's government.
Why did he weep over that city whose people would, in a few days, mock him, scourge him, crucify him, and so fill up the measure of their own iniquity? Had Jesus been like too many, who since his time have fancied themselves saints and prophets, would he not have rather cursed the city than wept over it with tenderness, regret, sorrow, most human and most divine, for that horrible destruction which before forty years were past would sweep it off the face of the earth, and leave not one stone of those glorious buildings on another?
The only answer is -- that, in spite of all its sins, he loved Jerusalem. For more than a thousand years, he had put his name there. It was to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set on a hill, which could not be hid. From Jerusalem was to go forth to all nations the knowledge of the one true God, as a light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as a glory to his people Israel.
This was our Lord's purpose; this had been his purpose for one thousand years and more: and behold, man's sin and folly had frustrated for a time the gracious will of God. That glorious city, with its temple, its worship, its religion, true as far as it went, and, in spite of all the traditions with which the Scribes and Pharisees had overlaid it, infinitely better than the creed or religion of any other people in the old world -- all this, instead of being a blessing to the world, had become a curse. The Jews, who had the key of the knowledge of God, neither entered in themselves, nor let the Gentiles enter in. They who were to have taught all the world were hating and cursing all the world, and being hated and cursed by them in return. Jerusalem, the Holy City set on a hill, instead of being a light to the world, was become a nuisance to the world. Jerusalem was the salt of the world, meant to help it all from decay; but the salt had lost its savour, and in another generation it would be cast out and trodden under foot, and become a byword among the Gentiles.
Our Lord, The Lord, the hereditary King of the Jews according to the flesh, as well as the God of the Jews according to the Spirit, foresaw the destruction of the work of his own hands, of the spot on earth which was most precious to him. The ruin would be awful, the suffering horrible. The daughters of Jerusalem were to weep, not for him, but for themselves. Blessed would be the barren, and those that never nursed a child. They would call on the mountains to cover them, and on the hills to hide them, and call in vain. Such tribulation would fall on them as never had been since the making of the world. Mothers would eat their own children for famine. Three thousand crosses would stand at one time in the valley below with a living man writhing on each. Eleven hundred thousand souls would perish, or be sold as slaves. It must be. The eternal laws of retribution, according to which God governs the world, must have their way now. It was too late. It must happen now. But it need not have happened: and at that thought our Lord's infinite heart burst forth in human tenderness, human pity, human love, as he looked on that magnificent city, those gorgeous temples, castles, palaces, that mighty multitude which dreamt so little of the awful doom which they were bringing on themselves.
And now, where is he that wept over Jerusalem? Has he left this world to itself? Does he care no longer for the rise and fall of nations, the struggles and hopes, the successes and the failures of mankind?
Not so, my friends. He has ascended up on high, and sat down at the right hand of God: but he has done so, that he might fill all things. To him all power is given in heaven and earth. He reigneth over the nations. He sitteth on that throne whereof the eternal Father hath said to him, 'Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy foes thy footstool;' and again, 'Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost ends of the earth for thy possession.' He is set upon his throne (as St. John saw him in his Revelation) judging right, and ministering true judgment unto the people. The nations may furiously rage together, and the people may imagine a vain thing. The kings of the earth may stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, 'Let us break their bonds' -- that is their laws, -- 'asunder, and cast away their cords' -- that is, their Gospel -- 'from us.' They may say, 'Tush, God doth not see, neither doth God regard it. We are they that ought to speak. Who is Lord over us?' Nevertheless Christ is King of kings, and Lord of lords; he reigns, and will reign. And kings must be wise, and the judges of the earth must be learned; they must serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice before him with reverence. They must worship the Son, lest he be angry, and so they perish from the right way. All the nations of the world, with their kings and their people, their war, their trade, their politics, and their arts and sciences, are in his hands as clay in the hands of the potter, fulfilling his will and not their own, going his way and not their own. It is he who speaks concerning a nation or a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it. And it is he again who speaks concerning a nation or kingdom, to build and to plant it. For the Lord is king, be the world never so much moved. He sitteth between the cherubim, though the earth be never so unquiet.
But while we recollect this -- which in these days almost all forget -- that Christ the Lord is the ruler, and he alone; we must recollect likewise that he is not only a divine, but a human ruler. We must recollect -- oh, blessed thought! -- that there is a Man in the midst of the throne of heaven; that Christ has taken for ever the manhood into God; and that all judgment is committed to him because he is the Son of man, who can feel for men, and with men.
Yes, Christ's humanity is no less now than when he wept over Jerusalem; and therefore we may believe, we must believe, that while Jesus is very God of very God, yet his sacred heart is touched with a divine compassion for the follies of men, a divine regret for their failures, a divine pity for the ruin which they bring so often on themselves. We must believe that even when he destroys, he does so with regret; that when he cuts down the tree which cumbers the ground, he grieves over it; as he grieved over his chosen vine, the nation of the Jews.
It is a comfort to remember this as we watch the world change, and the fashions of it vanish away. Great kingdoms, venerable institutions, gallant parties, which have done good work in their time upon God's earth, grow old, wear out, lose their first love of what was just and true; and know not the things which belong to their peace, but grow, as the Jews grew in their latter years, more and more fanatical, quarrelsome, peevish, uncharitable; trying to make up by violence for the loss of strength and sincerity: till they come to an end, and die, often by unjust and unfair means, and by men worse than they. Shall we not believe that Christ has pity on them; that he who wept over Jerusalem going to destruction by its own blindness, sorrows over the sins and follies which bring shame on countries once prosperous, authorities once venerable, causes once noble?
They, too, were thoughts of Christ. Whatsoever good was in them, he inspired; whatsoever strength was in them, he gave; whatsoever truth was in them, he taught; whatsoever good work they did, he did through them. Perhaps he looks on them, not with wrath and indignation, but with pity and sorrow, when he sees man's weakness, folly, and sin, bringing to naught his gracious purposes, and falling short of his glorious will.
It is a comfort, I say, to believe this, in these times of change. Places, manners, opinions, institutions, change around us more and more; and we are often sad, when we see good old fashions, in which we were brought up, which we have loved, revered, looked on as sacred things, dying out fast, and new fashions taking their places, which we cannot love because we do not trust them, or even understand. The old ways were good enough for us: why should they not be good enough for our children after us? Therefore, we are sad at times, and the young and the ambitious are apt to sneer at us, because we delight in what is old rather than what is new.
Let us remember, then, that whatsoever changes, still there is one who cannot change, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Surely he can feel for us, when he sees us regret old fashions and old times; surely he does not look on our sadness as foolish, weak, or sinful. It is pardonable, for it is human; and he has condescended to feel it himself, when he wept over Jerusalem.
Only, he bids us not despair; not doubt his wisdom, his love, the justice and beneficence of his rule. He ordereth all things in heaven and earth; and, therefore, all things must, at last, go well.
'The old order changes, giving place to the new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.'
We must believe that, and trust in Christ. We must trust in him, that he will not cut down any tree in his garden until it actually cumbers the ground, altogether unfruitful, and taking up room which might be better used. We must trust him, that he will cast nothing out of his kingdom till it actually offends, makes men stumble and fall to their destruction. We must trust him, that he will do away with nothing that is old, without putting something better in its place. Thus we shall keep up our hearts, though things do change round us, sometimes mournfully enough. For Christ destroyed Jerusalem. But, again, its destruction was, as St. Paul said, life to all nations. He destroyed Moses' law. But he, by so doing, put in its place his own Gospel. He scattered abroad the nations of the Jews, but he thereby called into his Church all nations of the earth. He destroyed, with a fearful destruction, the Holy City and temple, over which he wept. But he did so in order that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, even his Church, should come down from heaven; needing no temple, for he himself is the temple thereof; that the nations of those which were saved should walk in the light of it; and that the river of the water of life should flow from the throne of God; and that the leaves of the trees which grew thereby should be for the healing of the nations. In that magnificent imagery, St. John shows us how the most terrible destruction which the Lord ever brought upon a holy place and holy institutions was really a blessing to all the world. Let us believe that it has been so often since; that it will be so often again. Let us look forward to the future with hope and faith, even while we look back on the past with love and regret. Let us leave unmanly and unchristian fears to those who fancy that Christ has deserted his kingdom, and has left them to govern it in his stead; and who naturally break out into peevishness and terrified lamentations, when they discover that the world will not go their way, or any man's way, because it is going the way of God, whose ways are not as man's ways nor his thoughts as man's thoughts. Let us have faith in God and in Christ, amid all the chances and changes of this mortal life; and believe that he is leading the world and mankind to
'One far-off divine event
Toward which the whole creation moves;'
and possess our souls in patience, and in faith, and in hope for ourselves and for our children after; while we say, with the Psalmist of old: 'Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure. They all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be cleansed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. The children of thy servants shall continue; and their seed shall stand fast in thy sight.' Amen.