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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter Five Verse 3

by James Durham

Verse 3. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?

The Bride's answer is here set down, but O! how unsuitable to that which was his carriage? He stands, she lies; he without, she within; he calls friendly; she ungratefully shifts it, at best: as if a wife should answer her husband so calling, I am now in bed, and have put off my clothes, and washen my feet, and so have composed myself to rest, I cannot rise, it would hurt me to rise; so doth the Bride thus unreasonably, and absurdly put back this fair call, upon a two-fold shift, both which are spiritually to be understood, as the sleep and opening, formerly mentioned, were. In it consider, 1. The answer. 2. The manner of it. 3. The particular grounds which she layeth down to build it on. And, 4. The faults of this reasoning of hers, which at first may be concluded to be unsound. The answer in general is a denial, as the event clears; and it is like that, Luke 11:7, 'I am in bed, and my children with me, trouble me not,' &c. Yea, 'how can I put it on?' these words (being the interrogation, not of one doubting but of one shifting) imply a vehement denial, as if it were a most unreasonable and impossible thing for her to give obedience to what was called for: which shews, that Christ may get most indiscreet refusals to his fairest calls: which refusal is thus aggravated, 1. It was against most powerful and plain means: the most powerful external ordinances may be frustrated. Even Christ himself in his word, when he preached in the days of his flesh, had not always success. 2. It was against her light, she knew it was Christ's call: even believers may sit challenges against their light, and sin wittingly through the violence of tentations, though not wholly willingly. 3. She had invited him by prayer, chap. 4:16, yet now lies still: which lets us see, 1. That believers, in their carriage, are often unsuitable to their prayers: there may be, and is often a great discrepancy betwixt these. And, 2. Often believers may be more desirous of an opportunity of meeting with Christ, or any other mercy, when they want it; than watchful to make the right use of it, when they have gotten it.

Her way is to give some reasons for her refusal, as if she could do no otherwise, and were not to be blamed so much for her shifting off Christ, as the words, 'how can I;' &c. import. Observe, 1. The flesh will be broody and quick in inventing shifts for maintaining of itself, even against the clearest convictions and duties. 2. It is ill to debate or reason a clear duty, often Satan and the flesh get advantage by it. 3. Folks are ofttimes very partial in examining their own reasons, and are hardly put from their own grounds once laid, although they be not solid; and the most foolish reasons will be convincing to a spiritual sluggard, who, in fostering his ease, seems wiser to himself, than one who can render the most conclusive arguments, and strongest reasons to the contrary, Prov. 26:16. The opening of the particular reasons will clear this; the first is, 'I have put off my coat,' and the conclusion is, 'how can I put it on?' putting off the clothes is an evidence of men's betaking themselves to rest, as keeping them on, is a sign of watching, as in Neh. 4:23. 'None of us put off our clothes, save to washing;' hence keeping on of the clothes is borrowed, to set out spiritual watchfulness, and hiding of spiritual nakedness, as Rev. 16:15. 'Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked:' and on the contrary putting off of clothes, signifieth not only a spiritual drowsiness, but a high degree of it; as having put off, and fallen from that tenderness and watchfulness in her walk, wherewith she was clothed, chap. 4:11, and is now somewhat settled in her carnal ease and security. From this she argueth, 'how shall I put it on?' the force of the reason may be three ways considered, 1. As it imports a difficulty in the thing, how shall I do it? O it is difficult! 2. As it imports an averseness to it, in herself: it stands against her heart, as a seeming unreasonable thing, as Gen. 39:9, 'How shall I do this great wickedness,' &c. 3. A sort of shame may be in it. I am now out of posture, and I think shame to rise, and to be seen: which shews, 1. That it is hard to raise one that hath fallen into security. 2. To lazy souls every thing looks like an insuperable difficulty, their way to duty is as an 'hedge of thorns,' Prov. 15:19. and 'there is a lion in their streets,' and sometimes, as it were, even in the house-floor, when any duty is pressed upon them that would rob them of their carnal ease, Prov. 26:13, and 22:13. 3. It is much for one in a secure frame to wrestle with his own indisposition, it is a weariness then to take the hand out of the bosom, Prov. 26:15. 4. It is not a commendable shamefacedness, but must needs be a very sinful modesty, that keeps one from duty: it was indeed more shameful to lie still, than to rise.

Her second ground is of the same nature, 'I have washed my feet:' washing the feet, fitted and prepared for rest; men's feet in these countries, being, by walking bare-footed, some way stiffened, beaten and bruised, which by washing were eased and refreshed, as we may see, Gen. 18:19, in Abraham and Lot's carriage to the angels, supposing them to be men: so here, it is, I have fitted and composed myself for rest, as being wearied with the painfulness of holy duties and now she cannot endure to stir herself toward these, as if that would again defile her; in which reasoning, there are these faults, 1. That she doth at all offer to debate a clear duty, this makes way for the snare. 2. That she interprets the study of holiness, and communion with Christ to be a trouble, and carnal security to be an ease: there will be strange misrepresentations sometimes, both of our faults and failings, and of Christ's worth and excellency, which have much influence on our deadness and sinful distempers. 3. She makes one sinful action the cause of her continuance in another, there is often a connexion amongst sins, and one draws on another; the premises, that the flesh lays down as principles, will still bear conclusions like themselves: it is unsound and unsafe reasoning from these. 4. That which should stir and persuade her to rise, to wit, that she was not right, she makes a motive of it to strengthen herself, in her lazy inclination to lie still: carnal sense draws conclusions most unreasonable in every thing, and tends still to foster itself; whereas faith and tenderness would reason the quite contrary. 5. She puts too honest a name upon her security, and calleth it the washing of her feet, which was indeed the polluting of them: fairding and plaistering over our own evils, is a great fostering of security, yet too common; as to call unbelief humility; presumption, faith; security, peace, &c. We give to sin the name of virtue, and then without a challenge maintain it; which is a degree of putting darkness for light, and bitter for sweet, and a sort of calling evil good, which brings under the hazard of the pronounced woe, Isa. 5:20. 6. She fails here, that she expects more ease in lying still, than in opening to Christ, whereas it is but the flesh that is troubled at Christ's presence; but, solid satisfaction is only to be had in his company: flesh hath ever secret fears of Christ's company, as if it were intolerable, irksome, and troublesome to be a Christian in earnest; and these whisperings, and wicked suggestions of the flesh, may have sometimes too much weight with a believer. 7. She mistakes Christ's word, which pressed that he might be admitted, who was a most loving husband, and had suffered so much in waiting for entry; but, she states the matter otherwise, if she that was at ease should trouble herself, that so the shift might seem reasonable; though Christ be not directly and down-right refused, and the heart dare not under convictions adventure on that, yet by opposing respect to ourselves to him, and by shifting to open to him when he knocks, many are guilty upon the matter of refusing and slighting Christ himself, when they think they slight not him, but would only shun something that is troublesome to themselves; these words are not so to be looked on, as if explicitly believers would so argue but that in their lazy and drowsy spiritual distempers there is such arguing on the matter, and such or such like shifts prevail often to make them keep out Christ, when directly they dare not refuse him; which doth evidence the power and subtilty of corruption, even in a believer, and the greatness of the love of Christ that passeth it by.

If it should be asked, why is this sinful distemper of hers registrated, and put on record? We say, 1. For her own good; it is profitable for believers to mind and record their miscarriages to Christ, as well as his kind dealings with them. 2. It is for the honour of the Bridegroom, whose love appears and shines most brightly, when it is set forth against her miscarriage; believers should acknowledge their infirmities and failings, as well as their mercies and graces, when it may make to the Bridegroom's commendation. 3. It is for the edification of others; often one believer's infirmities, through God's blessing, may prove edifying to others, for making them watchful, and bidding them stand, and sustaining of them when fallen: the infirmities of Job, under his sore trials, have strengthened many, as his patience hath convinced them.

In sum, this reasoning is indirect and frivolous, shewing in the general, 1. That men incline to cover their secret misregard of Christ, as if it were rather tenderness to themselves, than indiscreet disrespect to him, yet he expounds it so: as, Matt. 22:5, when they alleged it as a necessary excuse, that they behoved to wait on their farm and merchandise, he interprets it, they made light of the invitation to the marriage of the king's son. 2. It shews, that the shifts, whereby men put back Christ, are exceeding frivolous, there can be no strong nor relevant reason alleged for our slighting Christ, and for our ruining ourselves in slighting of him in the offers of his grace in the gospel; although corrupt nature exercise and rack its invention, to find out reasons to plead our excuse, yet when such reasonings are examined, they will not abide the trial. 3. That when men's hearts are in a declining frame, very trivial and weightless arguments will prevail to make them keep out Christ; and, for as trivial as they are, they would prevail even with believers, did not grace refute them, and make way for his entry into the soul.



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