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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter Three Verse 3

by James Durham

Verse 3. The watchmen that go about the city, found me; to whom I said, saw ye him whom my soul loveth?

This verse contains the third step of the Bride's carriage, being now abroad, the watchmen found her, and she enquires for her beloved at them: and her success in this may be gathered from what follows, she doth not upon recourse to them immediately find him, but is put to go a little further. In the words, there is, 1. An opportunity or means for finding Christ, met with. 2. Her improving of it. 3. Her success which is implied, as is said.

I. The means holds forth these three things, 1. What the church is; it is a city, wherein there is order, and a common fellowship, as hath been said, verse 2. 2. The minister's office is here implied: this city hath 'watchmen;' so are ministers called Ezek. 3:17; Isa. 62:6; Heb. 13:17. Which words imports, 1. That the church is a city in danger, having outward and inward enemies, and therefore needing watchmen. 2. That there is the office of a ministry appointed in the church for guarding against and preventing her danger; and that some are peculiarly designed, and separated from others for that purpose; some who may be called 'watchmen,' which others cannot be said to be, and so they are here distinguished from believers or private persons. 3. This office is most necessary, burdensome, and of great concernment to the safety of the church, as watchmen are to the city; for so watch they over the souls of the people committed to their trust.

Again these watchmen, are in the exercise of their duty, They went about the city: which shows their diligence according to their trust; at least, it holds forth the end wherefore they are appointed. Observe. There is but one city or church, and all ministers are watchmen of that one church, given for the edification of that body; and they should watch, not only for this or that post (to say so) but for the safety of the whole, as watchmen that stand at their post, for the good of the whole city.

These watchmen found her, that is, (as we conceive) by their doctrine they spoke to her condition, and by their searching and particular application, made the two-edged sword of the word reach her; as if they had discernably pointed her out, beyond all the rest of the congregation which shews, 1. The efficacy of the word when rightly managed, Heb. 4:12, It's a 'discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.' 2. That God can make it find out one in the midst of many others, when the minister knows not; and can make it speak to a believer's case, or any other particular person's condition, as if he did know and aim at them particularly. 3. That ministers should be searching, and differencing in their doctrine, as, their several conditions, and various exercises of hearers require: that is, they ought to put differences betwixt the precious and the vile, and rightly to divide the word of truth, or to lay every one's portion to them so as it be not even in gross, or heaped together to all, but to every one their own allowance. In sum then, that which she says, is this, when I had gone abroad, (saith she) in heaviness to hear (if so I might meet with Christ in public) God made some watchmen speak to my condition particularly, as if one had acquainted them with it.

II. Her improving of this opportunity (coming as it were, beyond her expectation) follows in the next words she cries out in an abrupt manner, 'Saw ye him;' she thinks they can help her, being acquainted with such cases, and therefore she will consult them; that is, she follows in, upon the little experience she had felt of their skill, to seek for help from them, and for that end to communicate her case to them, as it were after sermon is done, or when some convenient time offers. Observe. 1. That believers that are serious, will let no fit opportunity for meeting with Christ pass; they are accurate observers, and frugal managers of them all. 2. She observes and is glad when a word speaks home to her case, and finds her; and this is indeed the disposition of a sound and serious believer. 3. Ministers should be well acquainted themselves with soul-sickness, and expert in the various exercises and cases incident to the people of God, both in order to the finding out their disease, and the cause of it (who often can scarce make language of their own condition themselves) and also in order to the making suitable applications for the cure of it; for, this is to have the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season. 4. Believers often can say little of their cases, but in a broken and confused way; which says, ministers had need to be the better acquainted with the spiritual cases and exercises of souls, that they may understand by half a word what they would say. 5. Believers should advert well to whom they communicate their case, this should not be done to all. 6. Ministers are suitable physicians (though not the sole, or only physician) to whom believers should make known their soul-exercises and cases, and therefore, there should be much spiritual sympathy betwixt their people and them. 7. It is a great encouragement to a distressed soul, to impart its case to a minister, when in his public doctrine he useth to speak pertinently unto it. 8. It is not unsuitable for exercised souls (besides the public hearing of their minister) to have their particular queries to him in private. 9. How Christ shall be obtained, is a suitable subject for ministers and people, in their converse together, to be mainly taken up with; and holy anxiety concerning this, is a frame fit for making addresses to ministers; they may indeed come to ministers with such questions, who are much in longing after him. 10. There may be much tenderness in affection and love, where there is much weakness in knowledge. He is the 'him' whom her soul loveth, even now when she knows not where he is; and the most grown believers may be sometimes brought to this low ebb in their condition, for good ends, and for demonstrating the usefulness and necessity of public ordinances, even to them. 11. An exercised soul prizeth most a ministry; and such spiritual exercises (as are here mentioned) do cherish their esteem of that ordinance, when other debates among a people often do derogate from its due esteem. 12. Ministers should not cast affection, nor reject zeal in weak christians, even though these be joined with some infirmities, and may occasion some more trouble to themselves: but where sincerity is, there should be an overcoming condescendance as to both these, and the questions of a tender soul should be by them entertained, as having learned at their Master, not to break a bruised reed. 13. Tender exercised souls usually confine their questions to their own soul's case; there is no abstract curious query here, nor for the fashion proposed, nor any needless debate about extrinsic things, or the faults or practice of others: but, 'Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?' This is the sore upon which she keeps her finger, and this is the wound which she keeps bleeding, till he bind it up.

III. The success of her meeting with the watchmen, and of this query she puts to them, though it be not expressed, yet it is implied in the first words of the next verse, which being compared with this, holds out two things, 1. That she did not presently find an outgate from under her sad case, for she beboved to go further. 2. It was but a little further that she is put to go, till she find him; which says, that her endeavours were not altogether fruitless. Observe. 1. Christ will sometimes let believers know, that all means without him are empty, and that he is restricted to none of them; yea, nor to any fellowship, no not of the most powerful minister. 2. Public means do not always bring present ease unto believers under disquieting cases, yet, (to say so) they dispose and make way for it in private; and one may get the good of an ordinance, and of fellowship with ministers or christians, though not in the mean time, yet afterward even when they are retired at home; and it is as good a time thereafter, yea, and better for their behoof.

If it be asked here, what we should judge of these watchmen, if they were tender or not? The ground of the doubt is, because chap. 5:7, watchmen that are not tender are spoken of, which yet are there said to find the Bride. Answer. There is a twofold finding, 1. When one searches an exercised condition for this end, that he may contribute something for the exercised person's ease and help. 2. When one follows or searches after tenderness in others, that we may find some advantage against them, thereby to make the heart of the righteous sad; the one finds, as a friend finds another: the other as an enemy or mocker finds another: the first sort of finding is to be understood here in this chapter, for the watchmen here carry as friends; the second sort of finding, chap. 5:7, for there they carry as mockers: which will appear by these differences, 1. Here she propones her case to them for their help, it is like being encouraged thereto, by their finding out her case before in the preaching of the word, but chap. 5:7, she doth no such thing.

2. When they find her, chap. 5:7, they smite her and put her to shame, which makes her silent: but their finding her here, doth encourage her. 3. Though here she find not Christ instantly, yet she says not as in the former steps, 'I found him not,' she could not altogether say so, and immediately after she finds him; but [in] chap. 5 she goes long seeking him, after she meets with the watchmen; yea, goes from them heavier, and more wounded than when she came: and this Song being to hold forth the various conditions of a believer, and it being incident to them sometimes to fall in tender bands, and sometimes, yea, often in the hands of those which are rough and untender, we judge it safest to understand this place of the first, and chap. 5 of the last, and especially because this makes most for the believer's instruction and consolation, which is here aimed at, and this is more suitable to the scope of the Song, than that both should be understood one way.




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