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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter One Verses 16-17

by James Durham


Verse 16. Behold thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant also our bed is green.
17. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

We come to the last part of the chapter, in the two last verses, in which the Bride commends Christ's beauty, and the sweetness of fellowship with him: he had been commending her, and now she hastens to get the commendation turned over on him, 'behold thou art fair,' &c. And there are two things which she here commends, 1. She commends the Bridegroom himself, 'behold thou,' &c. 2. She commends fellowship with him under the similitude of bed, house, and galleries, verse 16,17. From the connexion of this with the former purpose, ye may see how restless believers are, when they meet with any commendation from Christ, till they get it turned over to his commendation and praise; and this is the property of believers, to be improving every good word they get from Christ, to his own commendation that speaks it; this is the end and design why grace is bestowed upon believers, that it may turn in the upshot and issue to the commendation of his grace. 2. That there is nothing [which] more readily warms the hearts of believers with love and looses their tongues in expressions of commending Christ than the intimation of his love to them; this makes their tongue as the 'pen of a ready writer,' Psalm 45:1.

More particularly in this commendation the Bride gives him, ye will find these four things, 1. There is the style she gives him, 'my beloved' 2. There is the commendation given, and it is the same with the commendation which in the former verse he gave her. 3. The note of attention prefixed, 'behold.' Lastly, an addition to the commendation Christ gave her, while she turns it over upon him, and which is as a qualification of Christ's beauty; because one expression will not do it, she makes use of two, 'thou art fair' (saith she) 'yea, pleasant' he had said she was fair; nay, (saith she) 'thou art fair,' &c. She turns it over to him, because the same things that are commendable in her, are infinitely and much more commendable in him; that which is in a believer, being the extract of the principal which is in him, Christ being the principal, and the graces that are in the believer but the transcript, or copy: all these things are in Christ like the light in the sun, and in the believer but like the light in the moon, communicated to it by the sun; and they are in Christ as in their own element and ocean, and in the believer but like some little stream communicated from that infinite fountain; and it is upon this ground, that the same commendation given by Christ to her, is turned over by her to him: and it is even as much as if she had said to him, my beloved, what is my fairness? It is thou who art fair, I am not worthy to be reckoned fair, the commendation belongs to thee, thou art worthy of it: and this is the nature of love in believers, to blush (in a manner) when Christ commends them, and to cast all such commendations back again upon him, that they may rest upon Christ, as the party who deserves them best.

From the title ye may see here, 1. Much humility in the Bride, and also much reverence and respect to Christ, which is the reason why she will not let the commendation lie upon her, but puts it back upon him: love to Christ, and estimation of him, aims always at this, that whatever is commendable in the believer, should ultimately resolve upon him. 2. Here is much familiarity, notwithstanding of her humility, in that she calls him 'my beloved' as he called her 'my love.' Humility and reverence, an high estimation of Christ, and confidence in him, and familiarity with him go all well together in the believer; and the believer should labour to have all these in exercise together, and should never let one of them part from another. In a word, it is a humble familiar way in believing, which we should aim at. 3. One special thing that makes Christ lovely to believers, and natively stirreth them up to commend him is, when they are clear anent his love to them.

If it be asked, why she turns over this commendation to him in the second person, 'thou art,' &c? Answer. She doth it, 1. To testify her sincerity, that she was not flattering, nor complimenting, but she durst make him witness of what she said. 2. To show that there are many spiritual conferences, and sweet colloquies between the souls of believers and Christ, wherein they are familiar with him, which none knows, nor can know, hut Christ and they; for, she is speaking to him when no body knows, and he to her. 3. Because there are many divine experiences of believers, that are scarcely communicable to any other, but Christ: and therefore she will tell them over to him.

The commendation she puts upon him, is even the same which he before gave her, 'thou art fair' (saith she) and that which she aims at in this, is, 1. To set forth the exceeding great beauty that is in our Lord Jesus; which beauty is spiritually to be understood, namely of the qualifications wherewith he is furnished, having grace 'poured into his lips,' Psalm 45:2; John 1:14. 2. The great esteem that the believer hath of Christ, and that both for what he is in himself, and for what he is to him: 'thou art fair' in thyself (saith she) and 'fair' to me; and it says, a little glimpse of Christ's beauty, has an attractive efficacy upon the heart of a believer: when Christ Jesus is seen, it puts a wonderful stamp of love upon the hearts of his people; he hath a very amiable aspect, that cannot but get love in the beholders: as they said that heard him, never man spake as he speaks; so they that have seen him, will say, never man's countenance looked like his; amongst all the sons of men he bears the standard, and hath a loveliness wherein he is beyond them all: no wonder, he being 'the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.' 3. It is to shew, wherefrom all her beauty was derived (as was hinted before) it was from his; if I be fair (saith she) it is because thou art fair, it is thy beauty that puts beauty upon me.

The third thing, is, the 'behold' prefixed, and it holds out these three, 1. The excellency and admirableness of the matter: Christ's beauty, is a subject of a most transcendent and admirable excellency. 2. Her seriousness in the expressions of his commendation, as having her heart at her mouth, while she speaks of it, being so affected and taken up with it. 3. Though he needed not, yet she needed upstirring herself: and there was need she should stir up others, and therefore this word, for her own, and others' cause, is prefixed.

The last part of this commendation, is (as we said) an addition to what he spoke in her commendation: 'yea, pleasant,' saith she; this pleasantness and loveliness doth relate to the communicativeness of Christ's worth, his communicating of what is lovely in him to others; it had not been enough for us, that he had been lovely in himself as God, if he were not also lovely by that relation that is between him and a believer in the covenant of grace, whereby there is not only a communicableness, but also an actual communication of these things to a believer, which may make him lovely and beautiful before God. And this makes Christ pleasant, that of 'his fulness we receive, and grace for grace,' John 1:16. When the believer shares of Christ's fulness, he cannot but be beautiful, and Christ cannot but be pleasant; and indeed if we could express any thing of the importance of the word, it is a most material and massy expression of that inexpressible worth that is in him, and likewise of a believer's estimation of it; and, 1. In the general it imports this, a difficulty in commending Christ rightly; there cannot be words gotten for it; the thing that is commendable in him, is so large, that words, yea, the most superlative of them, come far short in setting him forth. 2. It sets forth, how unsatisfied believers are with their own expressions of that worth, which they see to be in him; they think the first word unsuitable, and therefore they pass on to another, and in the close, they are forced as it were to give it over, and to say, thou art altogether lovely. 3. It imports, that there is no kind of thing that may commend Christ, wherein he is defective; he hath not only the materials of beauty (so to say) but he hath the form: all things that are in Christ, are wonderfully delightsome and pleasant to look on. Lastly, this expression implies, an exceeding great refreshfulness and contentedness, which Christ Jesus doth yield to a believer; and that exceeding great satisfaction and delight, that a believer may have in looking on Christ: this word 'pleasant,' speaks their actual feeding upon the beautiful sight they have gotten of him, so that they cannot be withdrawn from it: must not Christ be lovely, when his people get eyes to see him? And must it not be a heartsome life to be in heaven, where they behold him, who is fair and lovely, as he is, and have their eyes fixed on him for ever, when he is so beautiful even here-away, where we see him but darkly, through a glass, and much of his beauty is vailed from our eyes?

That which follows, is the enlargement of the Bride's commendation of Jesus Christ, as he is called a beloved, or husband, for she follows that allegory in commending his bed, house, and galleries; and this is the scope, to show how excellent and stately a husband he was. And, 2. How happy and comfortable a life his Bride had in communion and fellowship with him. In the words, these three are to be cleared, 1. What is commended, as 'bed,' 'house,' &c. 2. The several commendations given to these. 3. The title of claim or relation under which they are commended, 'our bed,' &c.

That which is commended, is expressed by three words, 1. 'Bed.' 2. 'The beams of our house,' . 3. 'Rafters.' In sum, it is this, that as husbands (who are in good condition) have beds to solace in with their Brides; houses to dwell in, and galleries to walk in, for their refreshing, and have these excellently adorned according to their rank; so our blessed Husband excels in these. By bed, is understoood the special means of nearest fellowship with, and enjoying of Christ; the bed being the place of rest, and of the nearest fellowship between the Bridegroom and the Bride.

Its commendation is, that it is green: that is, 1. Refreshful, like the spring. 2. Fruitful, and so the similitude of greeness is opposed to a disconsolate, barren, unfruitful condition, Psalm 92:12,13, and Jer. 17:8. So then, that which is here pointed at, is, that nearness with Christ, is both exceeding heartsome and refreshful, and also hath much influence on believers to keep them fresh, and make them fruitful.

The second thing commended, is 'the beams of the house;' the house is of a larger extent than the bed: it signifies the church, wherein Christ dwells with his Bride; the beams of it, are the ordinances, word, sacraments, promises of the covenant, &c. whereby the house is, both compacted together, and sustained; there being no living with Christ, nor fellowship with him, without these. The commendation is, that it is of cedar, 1. Cedar was a durable wood. 2. Excellent and precious, chap. 3:10. 3. It was typical of Christ, and therefore used in the ceremonial services: so this commendation holds forth the excellent nature of the ordinances, and promises, being of great worth, precious and perpetual in their use to the church, while upon earth: but it doth especially hold forth the eternal excellency and worth, and the durable power and strength of Christ, the main corner-stone of this building, Eph. 2:20,22.

The third word is, 'rafters': it is on the margin, 'galleries,' and so we take it, being rendered so, chap. 7:5. The word signifies, to run alongst: and the scope here is to show what pleasant walks there are with Christ; or, how pleasant a thing it is to walk with him. As to dwell with him, and lie, or bed with him, so to walk with him, must needs be pleasant: and this metaphor (with the rest) is here made use of, it being ordinary in this Song, under such expressions, to hold forth the love-fellowship, that is betwixt Christ and his church. Now these galleries are said to be of 'fir,' or cypress, a durable wood. This word is not elsewhere in scripture, but the scope shews it is some fine thing, and points out the unspeakable satisfaction and pleasure which is to be had in a life of walking with him.

She claims title to all these, bed, house, galleries; she saith not, thy bed, nor my bed (whereby chap. 3 she signifies her own carnal ease and rest) but, our bed, our house, &c. whereby she points at somewhat which both of them had joint interest in, and did together converse into; although her interest be communicated from him; yet she keeps the manner of speech suitable to husband and wife.

These words show, 1. That there be several degrees of fellowship with Christ, and several ways and means, for entertaining of it: some more near, as when he lay betwixt her breasts: some more mediate (when, as it were) he and she only live together in the house, which may point at her trading with Christ in the ordinances, but without sensible manifestations: and also believers walking with him in their ordinary callings, even when they are not in duties of immediate worship which is signified by galleries. 2. Any of these degrees and means of fellowship, are excellent in themselves, and to be pressed and sought after by the believer. 3. The nearest means of fellowship with Christ, is most refreshful to spiritual sense; the bed more than the house. 4. Yet though it be so, believers should not divide them; but should think much of all the means and ordinances, even as long as they abide here. 5. There is a mutual relation betwixt Christ and his Bride, which gives a mutual interest in, and relation to all that is his; whatever is his, it is ours, his bed is ours, his house ours, &c. 6. Believers that can lay claim to Christ, may and should claim interest in all that is his. 7. This makes every dispensation lovely, and ever step of our walk heartsome, when under every dispensation, and in every step of our walk, we are living a life of fellowship with Christ: to be spending all our time in lying, dwelling and walking with Christ, O how sweet a life were that! 8. The means of fellowship with Christ in all places and times, are so well contrived, and so large and refreshful, as they contribute exceedingly to make a believer cheerful in all duties of worship, and in all his conversation; for we here see, there are bed, house, and galleries provided in order to her keeping company with Christ.




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