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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter Three Verse 6

by James Durham


Verse 6. Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?

The visible professors having now gotten a serious charge (because they are not easily engaged; and it mars the good of our fellowship one with another in admonitions and warnings, when we are not serious even in the manner of our dealing with others) they are some way put into a little piece of warmness, and admiration more than ordinary (as ordinarily Christ's return to a church and his ordinances in it, after a palpable decay, hath some stir and affectionate like motions accompanying it, such as were to be found in John's hearers, John 5:35.) And in this affected and stirred condition they answer the Bride's charge, 'O who is this?' say they, importing they have more respect to the godly, and shew forth more evidences of it in their expressions, than ever they used formerly to do.

That these are the words of the daughters of Jerusalem, may be cleared from these things, 1. That they are placed on the back of her charge to them; and when she charges, they used to answer (as chap. 5:9, and 8:5,) and then she proceeds to speak to them; even so it is here; for, the words hold forth a mutual conference betwixt her and them, and therefore the words of this verse will be most pertinently understood as spoken by them. 2. They are the same words on the matter, and spoken on the same occasion with these, chap. 8:5. which we will find to be spoken by them. 3. They can agree to none other. To say, they are the words of angels, is not warrantable, they not being a speaking party in this song: to say, they are the Bride's own words, will not suit with the commendation that is given to her, and of her in them, as by a distinct party: neither can they be Christ's words spoken immediately by him: for chap. 8:5. where these words upon the matter are repeated, she is said to ascend, 'leaning on her beloved;' and he is spoken of, and looked on as a third, both from the Bride and the speaker. It remains then, that they must be the words of the daughters of Jerusalem, wondering at the change that was to be seen on the church, her case being now compared with what it was before; and wondering at believers in her, upon the same account also, as almost mistaking them, and so they speak as having other affections to them than they had before. It is like that wondering expression, Isa. 49:21. Thou shalt say (to wit, when the sudden change comes) 'Who hath begotten me these?' or, as it is, Rev. 3:9, where it is promised to the church of Philadelphia, that others should 'fall down, and worship at her feet,' as being convinced now, that Christ loves his church. And that this verse is spoken of the Bride, the words in the original, being in the feminine gender, puts it out of question; for, they are in the original, as if it were said, 'Who is she that cometh up,' &c.

The words contain a commendation of the church, expressed both in the matter, and also in the manner of the expression (being by way of question) and it is given by visible professors, some whereof may be more tender than others, yet both contradistinguished from the Bride. The commendation hath three part or steps. 1. She 'cometh,' or (as it is chap. 8:5.) 'ascends from the wilderness:' it is like before this manifestation of Christ, the Church was dry and withered-like, in a wilderness condition, without any beauty or lustre; but now that condition is changed, when Christ is present, she ascends and comes out of it: and this wilderness (considering her ascent from it) signifies the world, wherein believers sojourn in the way of heaven (as Israel did in the wilderness to Canaan) and wherein there is no true content, nor satisfying rest sought by them, nor to be found by any, therefore is their back on it, though formerly they seemed to be settled in it with the rest of the worldly; thus the heavenliness of believers in their conversation is set out.

2. She comes like 'pillars of smoke;' this looks not in all things to ordinary smoke but (as the afterwords do clear) to the 'smoke of incense,' &c. Now she ascends like smoke in a calm day, and like pillars of it together, making heavenward, as the smoke of incense, which being commanded in God's worship, was acceptable to him: and as smoke fleeing from kindled fire cannot but ascend, (especially new kindled) cannot but have smoke, and that in abundance; so now the church being warmed, and of fresh inflamed and made lively with Christ's presence, cannot but send out a sweet savour, which discernibly ascends upward from the world (which is but a wilderness) as smoke doth from the earth.

3. She is 'perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, and all the powders of the merchant:' that is, as precious powders are used to make one savoury, so the believer being replenished with the graces of Christ's Spirit, (often in this song compared to sweet spices, chap. 1:12 and 4:6,13,14,16, &c.) and these graces being now quickened by his presence, they cast a delightful savour to them with whom such believers converse: so it was, Acts 2:ult. and the ordinances, being powerful and lively, will have such a powerful influence, as to be a 'sweet savour in in every place,' 2 Cor. 2:14,15, and to leave some conviction of their amiableness and excellency, even upon the consciences of those who will never get good of them, so that there is no costly ointment or powder, that will so perfume a person or place, as the gospel will do a church especially when immediately on the back of Christ's return, he doth in an extraordinary manner countenance the dispensing of his own ordinances, so that even the temporary believer is made in a manner, to receive the gospel with joy.

Next, the manner of the expression is by way of question, and admiration, 'who is this?' say they, we never saw the like of her, she hath no match; and so the question expresseth a wonderful beauty and loveliness in her, and a great conviction and astonishment in them. In reference to which two, these things are to be learned, 1. That there is nothing more lovely and savoury in itself, than grace exercised in a believer's walk, and Christ's ordinances beautified with his own presence in his church. 2. That where Christ's ordinances in his church, and the graces of his Spirit in the hearts of his people are made lively with his presence, they will be in their beauty very discernible to others, and will be much admired, spoken of, and commended by them. 3. That this beauty is usually most fresh, when Christ returns to his people and church, after he hath been a while away; for, then tenderness is in life amongst them. 4. The world in itself, and being compared with Christ's church (especially in their estimation, whose eyes God hath opened) is but a miserable wilderness, and cannot give a heartsome being or place of abode to a believer. 5. Believers have a more noble design to compass, than to sit down and take up their rest in this world, their faces bend upwards, and their backs are upon it. 6. Christ's presence gives life to a believer's motions, and ravisheth them upward, as fire put to fuel necessitates smoke to ascend. 7. A heavenly-minded believer is a comely sight, and a world-denied professor will extort a commendation, even from ordinary onlookers. 8. As there is more of the exercise of true grace amongst believers, by Christ's more than ordinary presence with them, and in his church; so there is often a more than ordinary warmness and motion in the generality of church-members at such a time, whereof yet many may be unsound, as no question all the daughters of Jerusalem were not sound. 9. The church of Christ and believers in it, will look much more beautiful to professors at one time than at another, and they will be much more taken with this beauty sometimes than at other times; for, chap. 1:5,6. The daughters of Jerusalem were in hazard to stumble at her spots; here they are ravished with her beauty as thinking her another thing than she was before. 10. Christ's presence will indeed put another face, both on a church and person, and make them every way different (but still to the better) from what they were. 11. The more active, believers be in exercising their graces, they will have the more fresh relish and savour; for, her ascending here, makes all her perfumes to flow.




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