|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 16. My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies.
17. Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
Now follows the two last parts of her carriage in the Beloved's absence; first after she hath (as it were) read over this epistle, she comforts herself in his love, and her interest in him though he be absent. (It is a good use of his word, when it is made use of, for strengthening our faith in him, when sense is away). There are two parts of this consolation, 1. Her faith is clear for the present, verse 16. 2. Her hope is solid in the expectation of an excellent day coming, verse 17. Next, verse 17. she puts up a prayer for a gracious visit, which she knows he will allow upon her until that day come; and this is the last thing here recorded of the Bride's carriage in the Bridegroom's absence.
In the 16th verse, the faith of her interest in him, is, 1. asserted, 'My beloved is mine, and I am his.' 2. It is vindicated, or established against an objection in the following words, 'he feeds,' &c. The assertion holds out a union betwixt him and her, 'I am his,' &c. or, as it is in the original, 'I am to him, and he is to me:' such as is the union betwixt married persons, Hos. 3:3, which the tie of marriage brings on: even such is this which follows covenanting with God; for, this union presupposeth it, and is founded on it, Ezek. 16:8, 'I entered into a covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine,' or 'to me;' although (saith she) he be not here, yet he is my husband, and that tie stands betwixt me and him, which is no little privilege; and in this she comforts herself under absence.
Observe. First, there is an excellent union, and peculiar tie betwixt Christ and believers, which none other can lay claim to but they: It's excellent, as will easily appear, if we consider these properties of it. 1. It's a near union, they are 'one flesh,' Eph. 5:27, as man and wife; 'they are flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone.' 2. It's a real and not imaginary union (though it be spiritual and by faith) it makes and transfers a mutual right of the one to the other, and hath real effects. 3. It's mutual on both sides, Christ is wholly hers, and she is wholly dedicated to him. 4. It's a kindly union, such as is betwixt husband and wife, and followed with the fruits of a most sweet relation. 5. It's a union which is some way full; whole Christ is hers, and she by consent and title is wholly his. 6. It is an indissolvable union, there is no dissolving of it by any thing that can fall out, other wise the consolation were not solid.
Again, Observe. 2. That this relation which the believer hath to Christ, is the great ground of his happiness and consolation, and not any sensible presence, or any dispensation, or gift com municated by Christ to him. 3. That believers may attain assurance, and clearness anent their interest in him, and may come to know really that Christ is theirs, and believers should aim to be through in this, that their 'calling and election may be made sure' to themselves, 2 Pet. 1:10. 4. Believers when they have attained clearness, should acknowledge it, and comfort themselves in it, and not raise new disputes about it. 5. This clearness may consist with absence and want of sensible presence, and there is no case, wherein a believer should stick faster to his confidence, than in such a case, when under desertion and absence, as the Spouse doth here.
2. She vindicates her faith in these words, 'He feedeth among the lilies.' The words may be looked upon as the reventing of an objection, for it might be said, If Christ be yours, where is he? Is it likely that he is yours, when he is so far away? For, the faith of clearness will be assaulted and set upon, and it is not easily maintained, and unbelief takes the advantage of Christ's absence from sense, to brangle it; so that unbelief and temptation especially sets on then: therefore, she answers it thus, 'He feedeth among the lilies,' that is, he is kind to his people, and present with them, though now I see him not; faith may, and will argue from Christ's love to his people in general, and from the promises that speak to all, when there seems to be nothing singular in the believer's own condition, from which he can take comfort. By lilies are understood all believers: the church was called a lily, verse 2. Here all believers are so called, as partaking of that same beauty and savour, and because planted in the same true garden. Christ was called a lily, verse 1. and here all believers are called lilies, shewing, 1. That all believers have a conformity to Christ, and partake of the divine nature and Spirit that is in him. 2. That all believers in things that are essential to grace and holiness, have conformity one to another, they have the same faith, Spirit, covenant, Husband, &c. although in circumstantials and degrees, there be differences. Next, this 'feeding' amongst them, shews, 1. A special gracious presence in his church, and among believers; there he 'walketh among the seven golden candlesticks,' Rev. 2:1. 2. A special delight he hath in them, and satisfaction to be amongst them, as a man delighteth to walk in his garden: it is 'his meat' (John 4:32,34.) 'and drink' to do them good; so then (saith she) he is kind to all his people, and is so to me, though for the time I see him not: and thus also she answers the question, chap. 6:1,2, even when Christ is a-seeking, and she was enquiring after him. Observe. 1. Christ's care of his church, and love to his Bride, is no less under absence, than when his presence is sensibly enjoyed. The consideration of this, tends much to further the consolation of believers, and it becomes them well to believe this, when under desertion and absence, and so to ward off temptations.
The solid exercise of faith never wants hope waiting on it, therefore, 2dly, Verse 17, that follows, for completing the Bride's consolation in these words, 'until the day break, and the shadows,' &c. Though there be shadows (saith she) and vails betwixt him and me, in this night of desertion; yet there is a day coming when these, by his presence, shall be made to flee away, and I shall see him as he is. There is a twofold day spoken of in scripture, 1. A day of Christ's presence here upon earth, Luke 1:78. 'The day-spring from on high hath visited us.' 2. The day of his glorious appearing, commonly called the great day; and in a singular way called here 'the day,' because it hath no night of interruption following thereupon, and because it goes as far beyond what believers possess now, as day exceeds the night; therefore it is called 'the morning,' Psalm 49:14, in which the just shall have the dominion; and, the dawning of the day, and, the rising of the day-star in our hearts, 2 Pet. 1:19, which is there opposed to the clearest prophecies and ordinances, which are but as a candle in a dark place in respect of that day.
Now we conceive the last and great day is signified here, I. Because that is her scope, to comfort herself in the hope of what is coming. II. Because she opposeth it to the present means, as to shadows, even to faith itself, for that she enjoyed for the time; and also to sensible presence, which in the next words she prays for, till the day dawn. By 'shadows' is meant, whatever mars the immediate, full, and satisfying enjoying of Christ, which as shadows, hides him from us, or darkens him that we do not see him as he is, or gives but small and dark representations of him, (like shadows of the body) which are very unproportioned unto his own excellent worth. They are said to 'flee away,' because a glimpse of Christ then, when he who is the Sun of righteousness, shall shine at the break of that day, shall dispel and dissipate them more fully and quickly, than this natural sun when rising, doth scatter darkness and shadows that go before it. And by 'until,' we understand the setting of a fixed term, which distinguisheth one time from another, as Gen. 32:26, 'I will not let thee go until thou bless me;' so saith she, until that day of immediate presence come, let me have love-visits, as is expressed in the following words. Observe. 1. There is an excellent day coming to believers, wherein Christ shall be immediately enjoyed and seen, and wherein the soul shall be comforted with no mediate object, or created excellency, but shall see his face, and be filled with the fulness of God. 2. While here there are many shadows even betwixt Christ and the strongest believers; 'we see but darkly as in a glass,' 1 Cor. 13:12. There is, 1. A shadow of desertion, and his hiding of himself. 2. A shadow of ordinances, where he is seen, yet but darkly, like a face in a looking-glass. 3. A shadow of sinful infirmities, drawing vails betwixt Christ and us, and hiding his face from us, Isa. 59:2. 4. A shadow of natural infirmity; for, not only are we ready through unbelief to slander him, but by reason of weakness (like narrow or old bottles) we are not capable of him, and unable to contain him.
III. At that day of his appearing, all these shadows will instantly be done away: there will not one tear be left on any believer's cheeks, there will be no affliction or desertion to hide him from them, but they shall be for ever with him there will then be no ordinances, nor temple, Rev. 21:22, 'but the Lord God, and the Lamb himself, shall be the temple' and light of his people: nor will there be any sinful infirmities then to interpose betwixt him and them; death, the curse and corruption, will be cast into the lake: no unclean thing accompanies the believer into the New Jerusalem; nay, no imperfect thing is there, for whatever is imperfect, and whatever was in part, is then done away, 1 Cor. 13:10, and what is perfect will then come; the soul in its faculties will then be perfected, capacitated and dilated, to conceive, take up, and delight in God; and the body perfected, made glorious and spiritual, like the glorious body of our Lord Jesus, Phil. 3:ult. 4. The hope of that day, and of the fleeing away of all shadows then, is (and no marvel it be) very refreshful to the Lord's people; and believers in all their darknesses should comfort themselves and others from the hope of it, 1 Thess. 4:ult. 5. And all that are Christ's, or whoever have faith in Christ, and fellowship with him by virtue of his covenant, may expect at that day to enjoy Christ immediately and fully, and to see him as he is: O that men believed this! and that many were thronging into his covenant now, as they would not desire to be cast from his presence in that day! yet, 6. All shadows are never removed till then; the believer must, and some way will submit to Christ's way of ordering it so, and not seek it should be otherwise till then.
In the last place, the Bride falls about the exercise of prayer, in the rest of this verse; faith and hope in exercise always stir up to prayer: for, these graces do not foster laziness and security, but incite and provoke to duty (it is a good token when faith and hope are so accompanied) therefore she turns her to prayer, in which she speaks to him as to her beloved: clearness of interest, as it helps notably to many things, so to confidence in prayer especially. The petition (importing still absence) hath these two in it, 1. The suit itself, 'turn.' 2. The enforcing and enlarging of it, 'be like a roe,' &c. Turning here, implies, 1. Sense and feeling of his absence. 2. Her serious desire to have Christ again. 3. That his absence may be removed by his own returning, and so the change of her case to the better must flow from him. And, 4. That she may ask this from him, and expect by prayer in faith to obtain it, believing prayer being the best means to effectuate this. Next, she enforceth and enlargeth her petition, 'be thou like a roe,' &c. that is, seeing (saith she) all shadows will not be removed till that time, what is my suit for the time? it is even this, that thou wilt give me visits of thy presence, and be like 'a roe or a young hart on the mountains of Bether.' The word 'Bether,' signifies division, and so it may be made use of here: so long (saith she) as these mountains divide betwixt me and thee, Lord, be not a stranger, but swiftly, easily, and kindly (as the roes come over mountains to their mates, Prov. 5:19.) come thou to me, and comfort me with frequent love-visits, until that time come, that thou take me to thee, to enjoy thee fully and immediately.
Observe. 1. It is lawful for believers to desire sensible presence, even here-away: yea, it is suitable, they should often long and pray for it. 2. Where the hope of heaven is solid, sensible manifestations of Christ's love will be most ardently sought for: it will never prejudge one of their satisfaction and full payment, then, that they have gotten a large earnest-penny here, she knows that will never be reckoned up to her. 3. Much prayer, flowing from, and waiting upon the exercise of faith and hope, is a notable way to bring the soul to the enjoyment of sense. 4. The believer hath a heartsome life, and a rich inheritance, Christ here, and Christ hereafter; 'the lines are fallen unto him in pleasant places.' 5. She grounds her suit on the marriage-relation and tie betwixt him and her, 'my Beloved' (saith she). A covenant-claim to Christ, is the most solid ground upon which believers can walk in their approaches before him, and in their pleadings with him. 6. He allows believers to plead for his company, from this ground, that he is theirs by covenant, as he pleads for their company, on that same ground, verse 10, &c.
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