|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 15. Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
This 15th verse contains the last part of Christ's sermon; wherein, as he had formerly given directions in reference to her particular walk, so here he evidenceth his care of her external peace: that Christ speaks these words, the continuation and series of them with the former, the scope (which is to make full proof of his care) and the manner how the duty here mentioned is laid on, to wit, by way of authority, makes it clear. There are three things in them, 1. An external evil incident to the church, and that is, to be spoiled by foxes. 2. A cure given in a direction; 'take them,' &c. 3. He gives reasons to deter all from cruel pity in sparing of them, 'for,' &c.
In clearing the case here supposed, as incident to the church, we are to consider, 1. What these vines are. 2. What be these foxes. 3. How they spoil the vines. For clearing the first, consider, that the visible church is often compared in scripture to a vineyard, Matt. 21:33. And the particular professors, especially believers, are as the vine trees that grow in it; so, Isa. 5:7, 'the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,' collectively, 'and the men of Judah are his pleasant plants.' They are called so, 1. For their fecklessness in themselves, Ezek. 15:2,3, &c. yet excelling in fruit beyond others. 2. Because of God's separating them from others, and taking pains on them above all others, Isa: 27:2,3, for these and other reasons, they are called vines. Next, by foxes are understood false teachers Ezek. 13:4. 'O Israel; thy prophets' (that is, thy flattering teachers, as the context clears) 'are as foxes in the deserts.' And, (Matt. 7:15,) they are called 'wolves in sheep's clothing:' hereby are meant, not all those who in something differ in their own judgment from the received rule, if they vent it not for corrupting of others, or the disturbing of the church's peace; but those who are, in respect of others, seducers, teaching men to do as they do, in that which tends to the church's hurt; and such also, as by flattery and unfaithfulness, destroy souls, proportionally come in to share of the name, as they do of the thing signified thereby, as that place of Ezekiel, before cited, and chap. 34:2,3, doth confirm.
Now they get this name for their resembling foxes, in three things, 1. In their abominable nature; wherefore they are called, foxes, wolves, dogs, &c. and such like, which are abhorred and hated of all men; and so are these most hateful to God, and so ought they to be with all others. 2. For their destroying, hurtful nature, in their destroying of the church; therefore called 'ravening wolves,' Matt. 7:15; and 'grievous wolves,' Acts 20:29; 'who subvert whole houses,' Tit. 1:11; 'and whose word eateth as doth a grangrene,' 2 Tim. 2:17. 3. They are compared to these for their subtilty, a fox being famous for that, for which cause Herod is called a fox, Luke 13:32. So false teachers speak lies in hypocrisy, 1 Tim. 4:2; creep into houses, their doctrines eat as a canker insensibly: and they are, 2 Cor. 11:13,14, called 'deceitful workers:' and as their master Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, so do they themselves into the ministers of Christ: all such beasts whatever their shape be, are hateful to Christ and his church. 3. These false teachers or foxes, are said to 'spoil the vines,' for foxes hurt not a vineyard, or a flock of lambs more than false teachers do the church. 1. Corrupting the purity of doctrine. 2. Obscuring the simplicity of worship. 3. Overturning the beauty of order and bringing in confusion. 4. Spoiling her bond of unity, and rending the affections, and dividing the ways of her members, thereby dissipating the flock. 5. Extinguishing the vigour and life of christian practice; diverting from what is more necessary, to hurtful and vain janglings, which do still increase to more ungodliness, and have never profited them who are occupied therein, Heb. 13:7. 6. By ruining souls, carrying them headlong to the pit, 2 Pet. 2:1, and 3:16. There is no hurt nor hazard the church of Christ meets with, or ever met with, more grievous and dangerous, than what she meets with from such, although this be an exercise and trial, ordinarily incident to her.
2. The cure the Lord provides, is, the furnishing of his church with discipline, and the giving of directions for managing of it in these words, 'Take us,' &c. wherein consider these four, 1. To whom it is directed. 2. What is required. 3. A motive insinuated in the expression, 'take us.' 4. The extent of the direction, for the obviating of a question. It may be supposed to be directed to one of four. 1. Either to the Bride; or, 2. To angels; or, 3. To magistrates; or, 4. To church guides. Now it is to none of the first three, therefore it must be to the last and fourth: first, It is not to the Bride: for, 1. The word 'take' in the original, is in the plural number, and signifieth take ye: now the Lord useth not to speak to the church, but as to one. 2. He says, 'take us,' and so taking the Bride in with himself, as a party for whom this service is to be performed, the speech must be directed to some third. 2. It is not directed to angels, these are not spoken to in all this Song, and this being a duty to be performed while the church is militant, they come not in to gather the tares from the wheat, till the end of the world, nor to separate the bad fish from the good, till the net be fairly on the shore. 3. This direction cannot be given to the magistrate; for, besides that he is not mentioned in this Song, nor as such, hath he any part in the ministry of the gospel, or is capable to be thus spoken unto (although the duty from the force of its argument will also reach him in his station, because he should, so far as he can, prevent the spoiling of Christ's vineyard in his place) besides this, I say, this direction must take place in all times, whenever the church hath such a trial to wrestle with, otherwise it were not suitable to Christ's scope, nor commensurable with her need: now for many hundreds of years the church wanted magistrates to put this direction in practice, yet wanted she not foxes, nor was she without a suitable capacity of guarding herself against them, by that power wherewith Christ hath furnished her. It remains therefore, 4. That it must be spoken to Christ's ministers, and officers in the church, called rulers in the scripture, and in this Song, watchmen and keepers of this vineyard, as by office, contradistinguished from professors, chap. 3:3, and 5:7, and 8:11,12. Such the church never wanted, such are required to watch, (Acts 20:24.) against wolves, and such in the church of Ephesus are commended, (Rev. 2:3,4,) for putting this direction in execution. 2. The duty here required is to take them, as men use to hunt foxes till they be taken: and this implies all that is needful for preventing their hurting of Christ's vines: Christ's ministers are to lay out themselves in discovering, confuting and convincing, censuring and rejecting them, Tit. 3:11. That is, not to endure them that are evil, but to try them judicially, as it is, Rev. 2:2.
Observe. 1. Christ's church is furnished with sufficient authority in herself, for her own edification, and for censuring of such as would obstruct the same. 2. This church authority is not given to professors in common, or to the Bride as the first subject, but to their guides, Christ's ministers and servants. 3. It is no less a duty, nor is it less necessary to put forth this power against false teachers, than against other gross offenders: so did Paul, 2 Tim. 1:ult. and so commands he others to do, Tit. 3:10, heresy and corrupt doctrine being also a fruit of the flesh; Gal. 5:20, as well as other scandalous sins.
3. There is a motive to press this, implied, while he saith, 'take us;' which words insinuate, that it is service both to him and her, and that ministers are his servants, and the church's for Christ's sake. It shows also his sympathy, in putting himself (as it were) in hazard with her (at least mystically considered) and his love in comforting her, that he thinks himself concerned in the restraint of these foxes, as well as she is.
4. The direction is amplified to remove an objection. Say some, all heresies, or all heretics are not equal, some comparatively are little to be regarded, and it is cruelty to meddle with these, that seem to profess fair. No (saith he) take them all, even the the 'little foxes;' for, though they be but little, yet they are foxes, though they be not of the grossest kind (as all scandals in fact are not alike, yet none is to be dispensed with) so they are (saith he) foxes, and corrupt others; for, a little leaven will leaven the whole lump (often small-like schisms, or heresies, such as the Novatians and Donatists, &c. have been exceedingly defacing to the beauty of the church) therefore, (saith he) hunt and take them all. How small a friend is our Lord to toleration? And how displeased is he with many errors, that the world thinks little of? Magistrates, ministers and people may learn here, what distance ought to be kept with the spreaders of the least errors, and how every one ought to concur in their stations, for preventing the hurt that comes by them.
The last thing in the verse, is the reasons wherewith this direction is backed and pressed: The first is, all of them 'spoil the vines:' error never runs loose, and heretics never get liberty, but the spoiling of the vines one way or other follows; and can beasts be suffered in a garden, or orchard, and the plants not be hurt?
2. If any say, they are but little foxes, and unable to hurt. He answers this, and adds a second reason, in saying 'the grapes are tender;' or, 'the vines are in the first grapes' that is as they (while scarce budding or sprouting) are easily blasted by a small wind, so the work of grace in a believer, or Christ's ordinances in his church, are most precious and tender wares, and cannot abide rough hands; even the least of seducers, or corrupt teachers, may easily wrong them; they are of such a nature, as they may soon be spoiled, if they be not tenderly and carefully looked to.
Observe. 1. They that have grace should be tender of it; it may easily be hurt. 2, Gracious persons, should not think themselves without the reach of hazard from corrupt teachers; for, this is spoken of the Bride, 'the foxes spoil the vines.' 3. Our Lord Jesus is exceedingly tender of the work of grace, in and amongst his people, and where it is weakest, he is some way most tender of it. 4. This argument here made use of, says also, that those who are most tender of his church, and the graces of his people, will be most zealous against false teachers even the least of them; for these two are joined together in him, and are in themselves necessary to preserve the one, and restrain the other; and the suffering of these to ramble and run without a check, cannot be the way of building, but of spoiling Christ's church.
The third motive, or reason pressing the watchmen to have a care of the vines, is hinted in the possessive particle, 'our,' 'for our vines,' &c. which is relative to the watchmen, whom he takes in with himself, as having a common interest in the church; the church is his, and theirs, as the flock is the owner's, and the shepherd's, who are particularly set to have the oversight of it; for, the shepherd may say, this is my flock, which no other servant can say: and this is a great piece of dignity put upon ministers, to be 'fellow workers with Christ,' 2 Cor. 6:1, &c. and binds on their duty strongly; for, saith Christ here to them, ye will have loss also, if ye see not to it, because ye must account for the vineyard, wherewith ye are intrusted; It is yours, and yet ye are not absolute lords, for it is also mine, I am the owner of it; and so the vines are both theirs and Christ's, their interest speaks how naturally they should care for them; his interest shews the dependency both ministers and people ought to have on him.
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