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by James Durham
Verse 7. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my vail from me.
When private means do not the business, the Bride betakes her to public ordinances, and frequents them; and this 7th verse shews that she found, in the use of that means, a sad disappointment also, which is several ways aggravated; Christ's presence is easily lost, but it is not easily recovered; this will cost much pains, and the enduring of many perplexing disappointments: it is much more difficult to win to enjoy Christ, than it is to lose him lying on the bed in ease may bring on that, which much labour and watching will not remove.
That this verse points at her going about the public ordinances, the scope makes clear, that being the next ordinary means used for enquiring after an absent Christ, when private diligence hath had little success. The matter of the words as was cleared in chap. 3:3, doth also evidence this; the church is the 'city' which hath 'walls' (that is, the ordinances) for preventing her hurt, and promoting of her edification: the 'watchmen' are her ministers, appointed and designed to keep the walls, and to go about the city; they are said to go about the city, in respect of their care and solicitude to prevent inward difficulties and hazards, and are called 'keepers of the walls,' as they stand to repel what from without may disturb the church's edification, and ecclesiastic peace; in a word, they are the same by office, that these were, chap. 3:3, but their carriage to her is more unlike the relation they stood in: which is set forth in four steps, all which are to be looked on as a special piece of untenderness in them, and of suffering in her; which now the Lord in his wisdom permits her to meet with, that so she may find how unwisely she had done to neglect Christ's kind call, verse 2, when as now other hands deal more roughly with her: the reasons hinted, chap. 3:3, do confirm this; besides, there being so much spoken of their wounding of her, either she or they must be wrong; now she is (for the main) in her duty, and under a fainting condition, seeking after Christ, and there is no warrant to wound a poor seeker of Christ in such a condition, even where there have been former failings, (2 Cor. 2:7, the apostle will have the incestuous person in such a case tenderly dealt with, lest he 'should be swallowed up') but it is duty rather to bind up their wounds, and to pour oil into them, by speaking a word in season to such weary souls. This was, no doubt, their duty, and the Lord himself doth so. Isa. 50:4. Neither could her former security be a round to reach her such blows now, especially her offence being betwixt Christ and her alone, and so no object of public reproof; and she being a burden to herself, ought not to have been made more heavy by them: besides, chap. 3:4, the watchmen dealt more tenderly with her, when yet she had been in security also. This dealing of theirs cannot be to speak a word in season to the weary soul of a tender person, whose carriage is so convincing even to others, that verse 9, they give her a high commendation, which is a clear testimony against the malignity of these watchmen; they must therefore be looked on as untender, or unskilful, or both, who do thus misapply the word contrary to the end for which it is appointed, and as miserable comforters talk to the grief of such as he hath wounded. 1. The first step, is, 'they found me:' it is not the finding of a friend, as chap. 3:3, but (as the effects clear) the finding of an enemy, and is, as if a minister should digress of purpose, to take in the case of some poor tender soul, that he might reach it a blow, though beside his text: thus, Ezek. 34:21. The idle shepherds (who it may be, had a true external call) are said to thrust with the side and shoulder, and push at the diseased with the horns: and, verse 4, to rule with force and cruelty: and in Ezek. 13:20, they are said to hunt the souls of God's people: a part of which cruelty and oppression, is verse 22, in making the righteous sad this is their finding, a seeking occasion to load them with bitter invectives and reproaches. It is observable also, that here at the very first finding they hurt her, without so much as suffering her to tell her own case, as she did to the watchmen, chap. 3:3, so that, without taking notice of her condition, they presently fall upon her; which saith, that in their smiting her, they did not respect her case. 2. They smote her; that is, more gently at first; however, they suffer no occasion to slip, whereby they have any access to give a wipe to such heart-exercised souls, but it is laid hold upon; and what infirmity is in any of them, or inconsiderateness in their zeal, that is casten up, and often somewhat of less moment is much magnified. The word takes in also wronging with the tongue, Jer. 18:18, 'Come let us smite Jeremiah with the tongue:' and it is like, by the words following in that verse, the profane priests had no little accession to it. 3. They wound her: this is a further step, and imports such a smiting as continues till the person be wounded, denoting a higher degree of cruelty, such as is the persecuting of those whom God hath smitten, and talking to their grief, Psalm 69:26, which will exceedingly wound a tender exercised soul who is soon affected; and the Psalm especially points at Judas, who, John 12:4,5,6, was ready to condemn the holy zeal of an honest soul, which our Lord vindicates and leaves on record to her eternal commendation. 4. The last step is, 'they took away my vail from me;' the word that is rendered 'vail,' comes from a root that signifieth to subdue, it is that same word which we have, Psalm 144:2, 'who subdues the people,' &c. It hath a threefold use, 1. For decoration, as Isa.3:23. 2. For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the apostle, 1 Cor. 11:6. 3. And mainly, for a sign of women's subjection to their own husbands; for which cause Rebekah puts on her vail, when she meets Isaac, Gen. 24:65. And therefore it is called power, as being the sign of the wife's being under the power of her husband, 1 Cor. 11:10. Here her vail is the tenderness of her profession, whereby, in a decent, modest and humble way, she professed herself to be a believer, seeking after Christ Jesus, as one bearing the badge of subjection to him as her Husband. The taking away of the vail, is their wronging of that honest profession she had, and the giving of her out, not to be that which she professed herself to be, and so not worthy of a vail; but that her profession was hypocrisy, her painfulness and tenderness, conceitedness, even as Judas, John 12:5, nicknames that good work wrought upon Christ by the honest woman, calling it wastry: and by these, and such other means, often tender souls are affronted, and proposed as a reproach to the multitude; even as if a wife that is chaste, were denuded of her vail, and reputed as a gadding harlot, while she is seeking her own husband: so when the Lord threatens his people, that their lewdness should be made to appear, he useth this expression, Ezek. 23:26,27, They shall 'strip thee out of thy clothes;' &c. that being a manifest shame to a woman, that should be covered, 1 Cor. 11:6. This is added, to shew that they pretend they have reason for their smiting: they disgrace her, and take away her vail, that they may not be thought to smite holiness or tenderness, but a hypocrite under such a wail, or a whore more decently adorned than became her to be.
This is the sum; when I prevailed not in the private diligence, I frequented the public ordinances; but those who were watchmen and healers by office, being untender (as if they had intended it) did by malice, or want of affection, or through unskilfulness and want of experience, so apply the word, that they sewed pillows under the arm-holes of the profane, and made the righteous sad: whereby I was not only nothing profited, but returned, more weighted and ashamed, and had no encouragement to seek any more of their help, as I had done, chap. 3:3, but was necessitated to turn to others: which shews, that she accounts them untender, and therefore, sets it down here as a piece of her sad trial; whereas, had it been the wounding of a friend, it had been a 'kindness to her,' Psalm 141:5, and would have engaged her to follow on for healing from that same hand, so far it would have been from being the matter of her complaint, neither would it have been complained of by her.
These words afford many such doctrines, as, chap. 3:3. As 1. That the visible church is a distinct incorporation by itself, and all its members have right to its privileges, to wit, such whereof they are capable: it is the city, and they are the citizens, Eph. 2:19. 2. It is a city that is not without fear and hazard, though it have walls; but it had need to be watched both within and without: or, the visible church hath many enemies, she is in constant war hence therefore, she is called the militant church; and for this cause, she hath walls and watchmen. 3. The Lord hath provided her with sufficient means against all assaults. 4. A lawfully called ministry, or watchmen peculiarly designed for that end, are the great means Christ hath appointed for preventing the hurt, and promoting the good and edification of his church, Eph. 2:12,13. They are as the sentinels, which he hath set on the walls, for giving advertisement and warning; and this well becomes their office, Isa. 62:6. Ezek. 3 and 33 chapters, and elsewhere. 5. Tender believers will put a great price upon public ordinances, even when they seem to themselves to come little speed in their private duties; private diligence furthers public, and public furthers private: these two ought not to be, neither will they be separated in a tender person, but go together. 6. Tender believers may have weights added to their exercise, and a load put above a burden, even by those whose stations and relations call for much more sympathy and healing. 7. Public ordinances may be sometimes unfruitful to believers, even when they have great need, and are under great sense of need. 8. When one that is tender gets no good nor ease by public ordinances, often there is an addition made to his burden thereby. 9. Untender, unskilful, and unfaithful men may creep in, and be admitted to the ministry, and to watching over the church, as Judas was. 10. When such are gifted and (as to order) lawfully called, they are truly ministers, though not true ministers, and have authority for discharging of all duties; and duties discharged, or ordinances dispensed by them, according to Christ's warrant, are valid, and the word from their mouth, is to be received as from him: therefore they are called watchmen, which imports them to be really in office, which could not be, if the for mer assertions were not true.
11. Very often, tender believers, in their exercises, suffer much from such ministers or, an untender minister is often a great affliction to tender exercised believers, yea, of all men, these prove most sadly afflicting to them; no man wounds godliness more, or wounds and affronts the profession thereof more in them that are the most real and tender professors, than a gifted untender minister may do, and often doth; though sometimes the Lord will make use of him for their good, to humble them and yet more to provoke them to the study of more seriousness in secret duties, and to more close and constant waiting on the Lord himself. 12. Where enmity against godliness once ariseth, and vents itself against the godly, it often grows from one degree to another as here, men, especially ministers once engaged in it, are not easily recovered and brought out of that evil, but are carried, yea, often hurried from one step to another: yet, she accounts them watchmen, as holding out the respect she bare to their office, even then. Whence observe, 13. That it is a piece of spiritual wisdom and tenderness, to distinguish carefully betwixt the office of the ministry, or the ordinance itself, and the faults and untenderness of persons, who may miscarry in the exercise of that office and not to fall from the esteem of the ordinances because of them, or of what faults may be in them, but even then to respect the ordinance out of respect to Christ, and his institution and appointment. 14. Believers should observe the fruit of public ordinances, as well as of secret diligence, as the Bride here doth.
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