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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter Four Verse 1

by James Durham


Verse 1 . Behold thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from mount Gilead.

That these are Christ's words spoken to the Bride, is at the first clear; he continues speaking from the beginning unto verse 16, and then verse 16, the Bride speaks by prayer to him, for the influences and breathings of the Spirit.

In Christ's speech there are two parts; the first to the eighth verse, wherein he gives both a general and particular commendation of the Bride. The second, from that forward to the last verse, wherein he begins with a sweet invitation, and then shews how he was affected towards her, and so breaks out in another commendation of her. The matter in both is sweet and comfortable; wonderful to be spoken by such a one as Christ, of such a one as a believer; but there is nothing in his love, but what is wonderful and like himself. The scope of the first part of Christ's speech is twofold. 1. More general, to intimate his love to his Bride, on the back of so much darkness; chap. 3:1,2, (in the midst of which, notwithstanding, her love did appear in her commending him;) and it's subjoined to the commendation that she gives of him to others, in the preceding chapter, to shew, 1. That when believers slight their own esteem, to have it accruing to Christ's commendation, it is never loss but gain to them; for, here Christ comes in to commend her himself, whereas it was but the daughters of Jerusalem who commended her, chap. 3:6. 2. It shews, that time taken, and pains bestowed for the edification of others, and their instruction in the excellency of Christ, is acceptable to him, and proves often useful for attaining sensible fellowship with him; yea, it proves often to be some way as useful in reference to this as their own particular praying for themselves, the Lord doth so return their pains taken this way into their bosom. That to commend the Bride is the scope in general, is clear from verse 7.

More particularly we take the scope to be, his giving her an answer to her prayer, chap. 2:17, where she prayed for his fellowship 'until the day break,' &c. Here he doth not only materially answer, but verse 6, formally repeats her words, that she may know what he speaks is a direct answer to her prayer: until that day come (saith he) it shall be so as thou desirest (as the words will make it clear) shewing, 1. That a believer's prayers may for a time lie beside Christ, (as it were) and yet he not forget a word of them, but mind well the answer and perform ance of them. 2. That sometimes he will not only give what is sought by his people, but make them know that he respects their prayer, in the giving of it; and so he not only hears their prayers, but lets them know he hath heard them.

This commendation, whereby he intimates his respect to her, hath four steps. 1. It is done in general, verse 1. Then, 2. He insists on particulars, from verse 1, to verse 6. 3. He shews how his respect to her affected him, verse 6. 4. He sums all particulars up in an universal commendation, verse 7, lest any thing should be missed, or being left out might vex her; whereby he shews, what was his scope in that which preceded.

The general commendation in the beginning of verse 1, is the same that was given her, chap. 1:15, yet here it is repeated with the two 'beholds:' the reasons why he repeats it, are, 1. That Christ might evidence to her the reality of his love, and that he varies not, nor changes in it, even though fits of security on her side had intervened, chap. 3:1. Christ's love and thoughts to his people, are still the same, whatever changes be upon their frame and way, which may occasion sad changes in his dispensations towards them. 2. That she might the more be persuaded of his love to her and esteem of her; Christ would have his own thoroughly persuaded that he loves them, 1 John 4:16, and would have others to know, that he respects them, more than the most mighty in the world. 3. It is because often believers from all other hands, whether the men of the world, or from themselves, have but little comfort, therefore Christ renews his intimations to support and comfort them: believers' consolation hangs most on his kindness to them, and they who depend most on it are no losers. And further, we may here observe, that even a believer, especially after sad challenges, will need renewed intimations of Christ's love.

The more particular explication and commendation of her parts follows; where we would advert, 1. That bodily members or parts, are not to be here looked unto, but believers have an inner-man, as well as an outward, a new man as well as an old; and so that inner-man hath, as it were, distinct parts and members as the natural body hath, which act in reference thereto, with some analogy to these members in the natural body. 2. As the new or inner-man sets forth the new nature and habitual grace in the believer; so the particular parts, eyes, lips, &c. signify distinct graces of faith, love, &c. which are parts of that new nature. 3. These parts may be looked on as useful in the new man, as the external members are in the body, or as they are evidences of some thing in the renewed disposition. 4. They set forth the disposition, as they are qualified in the commendation, and not simply. 5. Although we cannot satisfy our own, or others' curiosity, in the particular application of these parts, yet there is a particular meaning of every several part here attributed to her, as well as of every part attributed to him, chap. 5:11, 12, &c. and he giveth no idle words nor useth any vain repetitions: we should therefore beware of thinking all this needless, seeing he knoweth best what is needful. 6. Being clear of the scope, that it is to commend graces, and to evidence the beauty of her several graces, we must regulate all the application by that scope, and what is subservient thereto, cannot be impertinent. Yet, 7, There is much need of sobriety here; therefore we shall be short and peremptory in particular applications. 8. There being a connexion amongst all the graces of the Spirit, it must not be thought absurd that some of these graces may be signified twice in different respects, and that one part respect more graces (which are nearly linked) especially when the commendation gives ground to infer it. 9. We take this commendation to set forth especially the invisible church, or true believers, which are the members thereof, as the scope and application do clear.

If it be asked why he insists on particulars in this commendation? I answer, for these reasons; 1. That he may shew, that whoever hath the new nature, and a lively work of grace, hath also particular graces in exercise. 2. That it may be known that the new nature is not a dead body, but a living: and exerciseth itself by putting forth these particular graces in exercise. 3. That he may shew, that wherever one grace is, all are there, and as it is ordinarily with one grace, so it is with all; where believers are in a good and commendable case, it will not be one grace or two that will be in exercise, or one duty or two in which these graces are exercised, but it will be universally, all graces, and in all known duties. 4. To shew, who may expect Christ's commendation: those who have a respect to all his commands, and make conscience to exercise all graces. 5. To shew what particular notice he takes of believers' graces, he can tell how it is with everyone of them; and takes this exact notice of them, because it is very acceptable to him, when he fords them in good case.

There are seven parts particularly mentioned, every one having its own distinct commendation. The first two of them are in the rest of verse 1. The first thing commended is her 'eyes,' which here have a twofold commendation. 1. That they are as 'doves' eyes.' 2. That they are 'within her locks.' Eyes are the organs of seeing in the natural body, whereby we discern objects that are visible; and so our understandings are thereby set forth in scripture; 'that the eyes of our understanding may be enlightened,' saith the Apostle, Eph. 1:18, By eyes also the affections are set forth, because the affection sets the eye on work to look here or there, (Hence is the phrase of a single and evil eye, Matt. 6:21,23,) and because it is some way the seat of these, and somewhat of love or hatred will be, and may be gathered from the eye. Here we understand, 1. A spiritual, sanctified enlightened understanding in the things of God, taking up Christ and spiritual things spiritually, 1 Cor. 2:15, that is by faith, it being 'the evidence of things not seen,' Heb. 11:1. And therefore looking is frequently put for believing in scripture, which presupposeth understanding. 2. Kindliness, or a spiritual, kindly and affectionate carriage to Christ; in a word, it is the exercise of love upon this spiritual and wonderfully excellent object, Christ; a having respect to him, as it is Isa. 17:7, his eyes shall have respect to his Maker, it is such an uptaking of Christ and spiritual things, as works love and delight in them.

The commendation will confirm this, which is twofold, 1. They are 'doves' eyes:' this was opened, chap. 1:15, and it signifieth, I. What is the great object they behold, and are taken up with, it is Christ; and they are chaste to him, and seek to know no other at all but him, 1 Cor. 2:2. 2. It imports that the act of faith whereby they behold him, is simple, single and sweet, their understanding is not subtile, nor politic, nor are they puffed up with it, but it is taken up with studying Christ and him crucified, opposite to the vain wisdom of the world, 1 Cor. 2:1,2. 2. These eyes are 'within her locks: locks are that part of the hair that hang about the face, handsomely knit, and was then instead of a vail to women, 1 Cor.11:7, and so the word in the Hebrew will bear; and it is differenced from that word translated hair, in the words following, which is that part of the hair that covers the head: it implies here, that the believer's knowledge is not used for frothy ostentation (as the knowledge that puffs up) but is kept within its right bounds, and that they are wise unto sobriety, and that their knowledge is not at the first obvious, but seasonably vents itself and looks out, as eyes that are within the locks.

These things are sure, and may be observed from the words, 1. That a believer should be filled with spiritual knowledge and understanding. 2. Knowledge is no less necessary to a believer, that he may go right in the way of God, and not err, than eyes are to guide a man in a journey; and this necessity extends both to faith and practice. 3. A believer without knowledge, or weak in knowledge, is very far defective in spiritual beauty, he is as a man without eyes; it is not decent that a believer should be so: from this it is, that many are called weak in faith. 4. That knowledge of spiritual things, should ever have faith, love and singleness going along in the exercise thereof; for, every knowledge will not be commendable to Christ, more than every eye will be useful in a body; believers' eyes must be as 'doves' eyes.' 5. A believer's eyes, or knowledge, is different from the knowledge of all others. 1. In respect of its object, which is Christ and spiritual things. 2. In that it's joined with love, it respects him. 3. In that it is chaste, keeping the soul for him alone. 4. It works delight in him. 5. It is denied to other things. Observe. 6. Often the most subtile in worldly wisdom, knows least of Christ truly; whereas the most simple that have "doves' eyes," take up most of him. 7. Christ respects not how much a man knows, but how he is affected with it; it is not the eagle's, but the 'dove's eyes,' which he commends. 8. It is good to know and to think little of our knowledge, and not to be puffed up with it. 9. Christ loves it well, when his people seasonably use, and improve their knowledge and parts; then the new man becomes lovely, as the eyes are within the locks. 10. There are extremes in the use-making of knowledge, which are to be shunned; we should neither altogether obsure it that it be not seen, nor by ostentation make shew of it; it is good when it runs in the right mids, then it gets to commendation, and is as 'eyes within the locks.'

The second thing commended is her 'hair,' having a twofold commendation also. The hair is no integral, or essential part of the body (to say so) yet in all ages a great part of men's decoration, hath ever been placed in it it is the most conspicuous thing of the body, being highest and most discernible, especially in the way it used to be dressed; and this conspicuousness of it, by the commendation, seems mainly to be aimed at. By hair we understand the ornament of a christain, godly, and sober walk, having the right principles of saving grace within, and the fruits thereof in a well ordered conversation, and suitable profession appearing without in the practice. We take it so, not only because it is a main piece of a cbristain's or believer's beauty, but also for these reasons, 1. Because as hair sets out and adorns the natural body, though it be no substantial part thereof; so a well ordered conversation commends grace within, and makes it lovely. 2. Because as hair is upmost, and most conspicuous, and therefore seen when the natural body is hid (therefore it was to women a cover, 1 Cor. 11:5) so a suitable practical profession, is (as it were) the cover of holiness, through which it shines, and by which it is conspicuous, which otherwise would not be discernible. 3. And especially, because in scripture this adorning with good works, and with a meek and quiet spirit, is put in the place of decking of the hair, and other external decorations (1 Tim. 2:9,10.) as that wherein christians' beauty should 'shine before men,' (Matt. 5:17.) and which should be to a believer, as decking of the hair is to those who take pains to adorn the body. For sure these do make them beautiful before God and men, more than hair and its decorations can make any person in the world appear beautiful to the men thereof, 1 Tim. 2:9,10, whose 'adorning' (saith the Apostle, speaking of believing women) 'let it not be in costly apparel, broidered hair,' &c. 'but' (what then should be in the place thereof:) 'shamefacedness, sobriety, and good works;' so, 'Pet. 3:3,4,5, 'Whose adorning let it not be the platting of the hair,' but in the place thereof, let it be 'a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price.' And this is also mentioned by the apostle, as that which is exceedingly engaging to the husband, for which Sarah there is com mended. Next, the commendation of her hair, in both its parts, will confirm this, 1. It is like 'a flock of goats:' goats are stately and comely in going, and a flock of them must be very stately, as they were especially in these parts, Prov. 30:21 and 31. And so this ornament of a good conversation, is an amiable, gaining and alluring thing; by it, saith Peter, the husband's affection may be won (and that both to Christ and to his wife in the Lord) more than by any outward decorating, and this puts them to glorify God, when it shines before them, Matt. 5:16.

2. It is commended from this, that it is like a flock 'appearing from mount Gilead:' this was a fruitful place, and it is like the goats that fed thereon, were more excellent than others in their beauty: and being seen afar, and discernible ere men came near them were pleasant and stately to beholders, and so good works, showing forth themselves in a well ordered conversation, do also as from a mountain appear to others, and set believers up as 'lights shining in a dark place,' Phil. 1:15, and also make them lovely and desirable in the consciences of onlookers and beholders. Observe then, 1. That practice should wait upon knowledge, for it is the end thereof, and without it all men's knowledge is void and vain. 2. Grace and holiness appearing in a cbristian's practice, will shine, and be in some measure very discernible. 3. This is a thing that makes the believer's conversation very beautiful and lovely. 4. It is not enough that believers should be tender, and conscientious in secret before God; but there ought to be a shining, even in their outward conversation before men. 5. This doth exceedingly adorn a believer's walk, and make it stately to beholders, when the fruits of holiness visibly appear in his conversation.



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