|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 2. My Beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
The Bride is not long in returning her answer, but being glad to have the opportunity to further their edification, instantly she replies, verse 2, 'My Beloved is gone down,' &c. as being well acquaint with the place, where he useth and haunts: if ye would find him (saith she) his withdrawings are not far off, but as a man retires sometimes to his garden, and is not in his chamber, so Christ when withdrawn from sense (which is the chamber, chap. 1:4,) he is to be found in the assemblies of his people, in his church and ordinances, which are (as it were) his garden, there ye should seek him: this is the sum of verse 2; and then, verse 3, having instructed them by this notable digression, she returns to quiet herself (when all outward means fail) in the faith of her interest in him.
If it were asked, how the daughters could ask the Bride, where Christ was, or how she now can tell them, when she herself is seeking, and knoweth not (as she seemed to profess chap. 5:6,7,8,) where to find him?
Answer. 1. Believers will often give more distinct advice to others, in their difficulties, than they can take to themselves in their own exercises; because light and reason guides them unbiassedly, in reference to others, and sense, inclination, and affection sway too much in their own cases. 2. Believers may complain they know not how to find him, not so much from defect of light as of life, when either in their own practice, or in their success in duties, they are not answerable to what they aim at; exercised souls are ready to aggravate their own infirmities; and what is indeed in them, is to their own account as not in them, till the Lord shine upon it and quicken it, and so bring it out and make it appear.
In the first part of her answer, verse 2, she speaks to these two, 1. Where Christ is. 2. What he is doing. The first gives them direction where to seek him; the second encourages them to fall about it, as a thing acceptable to him; the place where he is, is set forth by two expressions, 1. He is 'gone down to his garden,' which implieth the similitude, formerly expressed, of a man's retiring from his chamber or closet to his garden: this 'garden' signifies the church, as chap. 4:12,15, and here, as opposed to gardens, in the words following, it holdeth forth the catholic visible church, as gardens signify particular societies, or congregations: the church is like a garden that is within one precinct, yet divided into divers quarters and inclosures: this being the church that hath the promise of Christ's presence, and where he is ever to be found, must be understood of no particular church, of which that cannot be asserted, that Christ shall be always there: it must therefore be the catholic church, distinguished from particular churches, or gardens. 2. He is gone 'to the beds of spices:' as gardens have distinct plots of flowers, and beds of spices, and some particular parts are allotted for these, where especially they grow; so in the church Christ hath his plants, whereof some are sanctified with grace (therefore compared to spices) and these, in some parts of the visible church, are more abounding than in other parts, (as spices in beds together, that may be elsewhere but in particular stalks and not so frequent) and as men love and frequent that plot of their garden most; so doth Christ most manifest himself in his ordinances ordinarily, where he hath his spices and lilies in greatest abundance: and thus this last part qualifies the former, he is in his church, but especially where his spices are most abounding: and therefore would you have him? Seek him in his church and amongst his people, and especially in such societies of his people, where true and lively believers are most to be found. Here observe (besides what was observed on chap. 4:12,) Christ's church, tho' it have many subdivisions, yet is it one church; one whole catholic church, whereof particular churches are parts, 1 Cor. 12:28. 2. It is in that church and no where else, that Christ's presence is to be found, and where believers, the spices and lilies are planted. 3. There may be, in that one visible church, many more real converts in one part thereof, than in another; 'spices' in 'beds' are not in every place of the 'garden.' 4. Tho' Christ hath a singular care of, and respect for, his whole church, and hath a peculiar presence there wherever there is any part thereof, yet where he hath much people, beyond what he hath in other places (as in Antioch, Acts 11:21, in Corinth, Acts 18:10, and Ephesus, Acts 19:20,) there especially is he present, and there ordinarily continues he the power and life of his ordinances. 5. Those who desire Christ, should not run out of the church to seek him, or expect any way of finding him, which others have not found out before them but should seek after him by the ordinary means, in his church; for, this answers their question, 'Where is he?' proposed for that end, that they might seek him and find him.
He hath a twofold exercise in his gardens, for he is not idle, he is gone there, 1. 'To feed in the gardens.' By 'gardens,' in the plural number, are understood the sub-divisions, and particular plots of that one garden, formerly mentioned; the Jews had their synagogues, where the people did meet, and the law was read (as we have our distinct congregations) as Psalm 74:8, and Acts 15:21, do evidence. To 'feed' taken actively (as chap. 1:7, 'where thou feedest,' &c.) signifieth his taking care to provide for his own in the church; if taken passively, he is gone down 'to feed,' that is, that himself may eat, and it is the same with what was, chap. 5:1, 'I have come to my garden, I have eaten,' &c. and the scope in both, looks to the same, and so the meaning of the similitude is, that as men have their gardens, wherein they solace themselves, and feed upon the pleasant fruits that are in them, so doth Christ delight himself in his church, and take pleasure therein, as Psalm 147:11, he 'taketh pleasure in them that fear him;' and 'He delighteth in the habitable parts of the earth,' Prov. 8:31, that is, where saints dwell, and where the place of his rest and haunt is other places being but as uninhabited wildernesses to Christ, the church is the garden, wherein he delights and finds fruit. He is said to feed in 'the gardens,' and not in the 'garden,' 1. To shew, that the way of his manifesting himself to his church, is by erecting his ordinances in particular societies, and thus they derive his blessing. 2. To shew, that though there be divers societies, or particular churches, yet his presence is not excluded from, or tied to, any one of them: 'He walks amongst the candlesticks,' as observing every one of them, and manifesting himself among them, as he seeth good.
The second part of his exercise is, 'to gather lilies:' By 'lilies,' in this garden (as often hath been said) are understood believers, chap. 2:2,16. To 'gather' is a borrowed expression from men that use to gather some flowers they delight in, to bring to their chamber with them, or some fruits, that they may dress and prepare them, as we heard, chap. 5:1. Christ's gathering of his lilies, points, 1. At his calling of them effectually who belong to him; the elect maybe called lilies to he gathered, as they are called sons of God to be gathered, John 11:51,52. Thus also, Matt. 23:37, Christ's expression, 'I would have gathered you,' &c. whereby their bringing in to him is signified. 2. It points at his glorifying of them, which is in part, when particular believers are gathered to their fathers, as the phrase is, Gen. 25:8, and 35:29. This is, as his pulling of some lilies for his own satisfaction: and this gathering will be perfected, when all the elect shall be 'gathered from the four winds,' Matt. 24:31, and the angels shall gather the good fishes into vessels, but cast the bad away,' Matt. 13:48. In a word then, the sense and scope of the whole is this, would ye (saith she) have my beloved, or know where he is, that ye may seek him? He is in his church, seek him in the way of his ordinances; for he is there, purposely to delight himself in doing good to his people, it is his errand to welcome and gather them 'as a hen doth her chickens under her wings;' therefore (saith she) seek him there; for, ye can find no better opportunity. Observe. 1. Our Lord Jesus takes pleasure to be amongst his people, and to do them good; he feeds on this with delight, as a hungry man doth on his meat. 2. The more Christ gains (to say so) he feeds the better, and is the more cheerful: he feeds and gathers at once, and this gathering of souls, is as sweetly refreshing and delightsome to our blessed Lord Jesus, as the plucking of the sweetest flowers is to a man walking in a garden; and there is nothing more acceptable and welcome to him, than a seeking sinner. 3. Wherever Christ's ordinances are, there may his presence be expected, in one particular church, as well as in another; for, he 'feeds in the gardens.' 4. The great scope of ordinances, is to gather in believers, and build them up: and there is nothing more acceptable to Christ, than to have some to gather, some whom he may save. That is a refreshing feast to him, John 4:34. 5. Our Lord Jesus hath delight in all his people, and in every one of them, where sincerity is, though it be not in the greatest measure: therefore it is said he gathers lilies indefinitely, that is, one of them as well as another. 6. So long as our Lord Jesus hath a church and ordinances in it, as long doth he continue to gather, and he is not idle, but is still gathering, though at sometimes, and in some places, this may be more sensible and abundant than ordinary. 7. It is a great encouragement to poor sinners to seek for Christ, to know; that this is his very errand in his ordinances, to gather them, and that he is waiting on, like the prodigal's father, ready to run with delight to welcome them; this is proposed as a motive to the daughters, to seek him. 8. Although believers may seem for a time to be neglected, and, as it were, forgotten, yet will the Lord gather them all in at last, as his choice of all the world, they being the flowers of his gardens; there is a good day corning to believers, when not one of them shall be left to grow in this fighting church, but he shall take them in to the king's palace, there to be for ever with him. 9. The readiness of Christ to welcome sinners, and the delight that he hath in doing them good, should exceedingly provoke and hearten sinners to seek him, while he may be found: this is the great scope of this verse.
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