|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 8. There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
9. My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her: the daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
This kind Bridegroom proceeds in the commendation of his Bride, verses 8,9, and shews the rich excellency that is in her, by considering her several ways, whereby she is preferable to what is most excellent; and then in the following verses, he confirms this by a twofold proof; and lastly, verse 13 closeth the chapter with a kind invitation, whereby, as it were, by a new proof of his love, he puts the commendation given her, out of doubt.
For understanding the 8th and 9th verses, we are to conceive, that by 'daughters, virgins, queens, concubines,' by this 'dove' that is 'one,' and the 'mother' that bears, are not understood any party distinct from the church or Bride, but the same Bride diversely considered, taking in first the church as visible, which is beautiful in her ordinances, external profession and order; for, she is the mother that bears the daughters (who are the daughters of Jerusalem) and that is said to be seen both which expressions hold forth this, and accordingly mother and daughters have hitherto been understood in this Song, chap. 3:4,5. Secondly, and especially, the church as invisible, and the real believers who are members of the church invisible; for, the scope here is to commend her graces; and if we consider the commendation preceding, and the proofs given, it will appear that they especially belong to her, and by analogy agree to the visible church, wherein she is comprehended.
This diverse consideration of the church as one and more, is not, 1. Disagreeable to other scriptures, in which Christ useth to commend her, as we see, Psalm 45:9,13,14, where there is the queen, called the king's daughter, and the virgins or daughters, her companions, who are with her, yet by all is understood the same invisible church, considered collectively as one body, or distributively in her several members. Nor, 2. Is it unsuitable to the strain of this song, nor is it absurd, as was shewn in the preface, and needs not now be repeated. And, 3. It agrees well with Christ's scope here (where he is, to say so, seeking how to express fully the commendation of his Bride, as singular and eminent,) thus to consider her; for, the more ways she be considered, her excellency appears the more, she being excellent, whatever way she be looked on: and if as visible, she be glorious, and some-way one in him, much more as in visible she is so, which is the scope, as is clear, verse 9. By 'queens, concubines' and 'virgins' then, we understand believers of different growths and degrees: I say, believers, 1. Because these titles agree best to them, according to the strain of this Song, and of Psalm 45:2. They are supposed to be of one mother. 3. They praise the Bride, which is an evidence of honesty and sincerity, and a greater argument of her excellency, that she is praised and commended by such as had discerning: I say, we are here to understand believers of different growths and degrees, so that some believers are queens, that is, more glorious, and admitted to the highest privileges; Some are as concubines, who were accounted lawful wives as to conjugal fellowship, but differed in this, that they had not such government over the family, and their children had not right to inherit, therefore they are as half wives, as the word in the original will bear: some are virgins, that are not so far admitted, yet are of a chaste carriage, and so differenced from others, as was said on chap. 1:3. Next, the commendation is, that though there be 'many queens, more concubines,' and 'virgins without number,' (that is, tho' there be many believers of different sizes and degrees,) yet there is but one Bride: which is a singular excellency in her, and an unheard-of thing, that so many make up but one Bride? The like whereof is not to be found in any marriage that ever was in the world: or, we may conceive thus, tho' men, for their satisfaction, sought out many queens, concubines, and virgins, because there was not to be found in any one what was satisfying, yet, saith he, my one Bride is to me many virtually, as if the worth of so many queens, concubines, and virgins were combined in one: and thus as she set him out chief of all husbands, so doth he set her out as chief of all Brides, and as comprehending in her alone all that was desirable, as the next part of the 9th verse clears. By the number, 'threescore,' 'fourscore,' and 'without number,' we conceive an indefinite number is to be understood, that is, they are many, only they of the inferior ranks are maniest, that is, there are more concubines than queens, far advanced in Christianity, and again, more virgins than concubines, because experienced believers of an high degree are most rare, and those who are not grown up to have their senses exercised, are most numerous: in a word, there are more weak than strong believers. Which saith, 1. That there are degrees amongst true believers, all have not the same degree of grace, tho' all have the same grace for kind, and tho' all be in the same covenant; there are old men, or fathers, young men, and little children or babes, 1 John 2:12,13. 2. Among believers, there are many more weak than strong. 3. He accounts of them all as honourable, and reckons even the virgins as commendable, tho' come not up to be queens. Yet, 4. Where grace is most lively, and faith most strong, there he dignifies believers with a most special and ample commendation, verse 9th.
The 9th verse makes up the scope with the former. By 'dove' and 'undefiled,' we said, is understood the church, especially the invisible church of believers, who all partake of the same nature and property, and so of the same privileges: the titles are spoken of before: the commendation is threefold, 1. She is one, which sets her out not only with unity in her affections, but (to say so) with a kind of oneness in herself: thus the visible catholic church is one garden, verse 2, comprehending many beds of spices; one church, made up here of many particular churches: and thus, oneness or unity is a great commendation to her, or a special part of her excellency. But, 2, The invisible church is but one, all believers make up one body; though there be many of different growths, yet there is but one Bride: this is a singular thing, and this makes for the scope of commending the Bride; and points out two things, 1. That all the excellencies in believers combine in one, and that must be excellent; every one of them partakes of another's excellency, by virtue of the mutual union and communion they have with Christ, the head and husband, and one with another; as the beauty of the face adorns the leg, and the straightness of the legs commends the face, because both hold forth one glorious body. 2. It illustrates her commendation thus, there are many queens stately, many concubines and virgins lovely amongst men, yet one cannot be all; but (saith he) although there be many of these in the church, yet is she one, and although she be one, yet is she all, collectively summing up all.
2. 'She is the only one of her mother:' this sets her out singularly and exclusively, there is not another but she: by mother here is understood the catholic church, wherein children are conceived and brought forth, she is the mother of all that believe, Gal. 4:25, 'Jerusalem that is above, is free, which is the mother of us all:' this church considered, as from the beginning of the world to the end, is one; and is the mother, in respect of the church considered as being in this or that place for the time present, which is understood by us all, wherever we live, we belong to that mother, Gal. 4:26. There is no church but that one, and who are begotten to God, are brought forth by her, and belong to her.
3. 'She is the choice one of her that bare her:' this sets her out comparatively, 1. She is the choice one in respect of the world, this one church is more excellent than the multitude of all the societies that are there. 2. She is the choice one in respect of all visible professors as such, she is beyond the daughters: amongst all her mother's children, or professing members of the church, the believer doth excel. 3. The church considered complexly doth excel particular believers as having all their excellencies combined together; or the scope of these two verses, being to prefer the Bride as singular, and eminently beyond all other beloveds, whether queens, concubines, such as are joined unto men, or virgins, such as are yet suited and sought for, we may conceive it thus, My love, (saith he) my dove hath not a match, but is chief; and as she called him the chief of all beloveds, chap. 5:10, so here he commends her as the most lovely of all Brides, that can be wedded or wooed: although there be many of these; yet, 1. My dove is but one, that is, in respect of her singular excellency, she comprehends all. 2. 'She is the only one of her mother,' there are no more of that family, that are born of that mother, besides herself, that I can set my heart on, or can match with: and thus all the world besides the believer is cried down. 3. Comparatively 'she is the choice one of her that bare her;' that is, not only by comparing her with the world, but by comparing her with all mere external professors, she is still the choice of all.
That this is the scope, is clear; and the enumerating of so many queens, concubines, and virgins, doth illustrate it, either by shewing her singularity and perfection, as having all in her alone, which is to be had in many; or, by prefering her to all, although they be many: and thus, in his commending of her, he is even and equal with her in the commendation she gave him, which was both comparative, that he was 'chief of ten thousand;' and also absolute and comprehensive, that he was 'all desires,' that nothing was wanting, but that all things desirable were comprehended in him: so now he commends and extols her above all other, as having more in her alone than was to be found in all others; to shew that his love to her, and his estimation of her was nothing inferior to hers of him; and that he was satisfied with her alone, without seeking to multiply queens or concubines, as many men of the world did. This commendation out of Christ's mouth, of a Bride so undutiful, may seem strange; therefore, to make it unquestionable; he brings in a double confirmation, both which respect what goeth before, to make it the more convincing. The first is in the end of the 9th verse, and it is taken from that esteem that others had of her 'The daughters saw her, and they blessed her,' &c. This beauty (saith he) is real and singular, even such that it makes onlookers, the most glorious and discerning not only the daughters but even the queens and concubines to be much affected; the beauty of my Bride is such as takes them all up. The daughters, that is, professors, 'saw her' [as] they beheld this beauty of hers (as chap. 3:6.) and 'they blessed her,' that is, 1. They were convinced of her excellency, and accounted her blessed and happy, as Mary saith of herself, Luke 1:48. And 2. they wished well to her, desiring God to bless her, as, Psalm 129:8, 'We bless you in the name of the Lord;' for, these two are comprehended in one man's blessing of another. Next, 'the queens and concubines,' that is, those who either in the world, or in the church, are thought most of, 'they praised her;' by which is understood some external expression of their esteem of her, and their endeavour to paint out her excellency and beauty to the view of others, so as they might fall in love with her: as the first then looks to the high thoughts, and inward esteem they had of her; so this looks to the outward expression of that esteem, by which they study to set her out in the eyes of all others: so they yielded the Bride to be excellent, and called her 'fairest among women,' chap. 5:9, which is an evidence of her loveliness, and of the loveliness of grace in an exercised believer; and whatever others thought of her, yet that such praised her, it shews, there was reality in the ground thereof. This is also spoken to their commendation, who did thus commend her; and it holds out. 1. The notice which he takes of the thoughts and words which men have of his Bride; our Lord knows what men say or think of his people, and records it. 2. How pleasing it is to him, to have them speaking respectfully of her, especially when she is exercised with any dark or afflicting dispensation.
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