|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 2. I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
From verse 2, unto the ninth, (which is the second part of the chapter) the Bride speaks, and sets down a very complex piece of her condition, which we take up in these three, 1. Her condition is shortly set down. 2. The mutual carriage of the Bridegroom and Bride are recorded; wherein (as it were) grace and loving-kindness in him, and unkindness in her, are wrestling together for a time. 3. The out-gate, and the way how she attained it, by several steps on his side, and hers, are particularly insisted on from verse 4, with what followed thereupon.
Her case is in short, 'I sleep, but my heart waketh,' or (as it is in the original) 'I sleeping, my heart waking.' It is made up of contraries, and seeming paradoxes; she is distinguished from her heart, and the sleeping of the one is opposed to the waking of the other both this sleeping and waking are spiritually to be understood; the first signifies a ceasing from spiritual duties, or a suspension of the acting of spiritual life, by a rising of some inward corruption, that dulls and binds up the spiritual senses, as in natural sleep the external senses are dulled and bound up: so 1 Thes. 5:6, and Rom. 13:11, 'Let us not sleep, but watch and be sober.' This is a further degree of spiritual distemper, beyond what was, chap. 3:1,2, where she was on bed, and yet seeking, but here she sleeps and lies still, as we see, verse 3. It imports, 1. An interruption of liveliness and actual exercising of grace. 2. An indisposition and laziness in the frame of the spirit, added to that. 3. A sort of acquiescing and resting securely in that indisposition, with a loathness to stir and be interrupted, such as useth to be in the bodily sleep, and such as appears to be here from the following verse: it is sleepiness, or to be given to sleep, such as the sluggard is subject unto, who sleepeth excessively and out of due time.
This 'I' that sleepeth, is the believer, but considered in so far as unregenerate; as, Rom. 7:18, 'I know, that in me (that is in my flesh) there dwelleth no good thing,' For, as the believer hath two different natures, which have opposite actings; so are they considered as two different persons. Hence is that, Rom. 7, 'I, yet not I,' &c. by which Paul as renewed, is distinguished from himself as unrenewed. By waking, is understood, some liveliness and sensibleness, or at least life, in opposition to the former deadness and dulness, as, Rom. 13:11, 'It is high time to awake:' and 'Thess. 5:6, 'Let us watch, and be sober;' which is opposite to that spiritual drowsiness, wherein we are scarce at ourselves. 'My heart,' looks to the renewed part, which is often called 'the spirit that lusteth against the flesh,' as Gal. 5:17, and the 'law in my mind,' Rom 7, 'Circumcision in the heart,' Rom. 2:25; the 'new heart' in the covenant Ezek. 36.
In sum, it is this, things are not right with me, and indisposition to duty or lifelessness in it, is great (as it is with one that is in a sleep) yet even then there is some inward stirring of life, appearing in conviction of judgment, challenges purposes, prostestations of the inward-man, against this dead and lazy frame, as not delighting in it, but displeased with it, &c. wherein the new nature wrestles and yields not, nor gives itself leave to consent to it, although it can act nothing, at least in a lively way, under this condition: thus she is sleeping because she acts nothing; yet, the heart is waking, because it is kept from being involved in that security though it be bound up, and overpowered with corruption, that it cannot win to act according to the light and inclination that it hath within.
Hence observe, 1. That the believer hath two different and opposite natures and principles within him, leading him divers ways; the carnal and sleeping 'I,' and the renewed and waking 'heart.' 2. They may be both at one time acting oppositely, 'the one lusting against the other,' Gal. 5:17. 3. Sometimes corruption may prevail far over believers that have grace, and lay them (though not quite dead, yet) fast asleep for a time, and mar in a great measure the exercise of their grace. 4. Believers at their lowest, have life in them, and (by reason of their new nature) are not totally and fully involved in their security and backsliding conditions. 5. There may be some inward apprehending of our hazard, and dangerous condition, when it is very sad and low; so as believers may know it is not right with them, and yet (as it is here with the Bride) may continue under it and lie still. 6. Spiritual laziness and security are incident to the strongest believers: the wise virgins may slumber and sleep, Matt. 25. 7. Yea, after the greatest manifestations, and often on the back of the fullest intimations of Christ's love, and the most sweet invitations they have from him, and most joyful feastings with him, they may be thus overtaken, as the words preceding bear out: the disciples fell into this distemper, that same night after the Lord's supper. 8. Believers may fall over and over again into the same condition of sinful security, even after they have been roused and raised out of it; as this being compared with chap. 3 will clear. 9. The more frequently believers (or any other) relapse into the same sin, they will go the greater length readily in it, and by falling more dangerously be more hardly recovered than formerly: now she sleeps, and when put at, will not rise, but shifts, which is a further step than was chap. 3. 10. Lazy fits of indisposition and omissions of duty, do more frequently steal in upon believers than positive out-breakings and commissions, and they are more ready to please themselves in them, and to lie still under them. 11. Believers should be so acquainted with their own condition, as to be able to tell how it is with them, whether as to their unrenewed or renewed part; so here, 'I sleep, but my heart waketh.' 12. Believers in taking up their condition, should advert both to their corruptions and graces; and in their reckoning, should put a distinction betwixt these two, otherwise they will misreckon on the one side or the other: they should not reckon themselves wholly by the actings of nature, lest they disclaim their graces; nor yet by their renewed part, lest they forget their unrenewed nature; but they should attribute every effect in them to its own cause and principle, wherefrom it proceeds. 13. It is good for believers when overcome with corruption, and captivate by it, to disallow and disown it from the heart, as not allowing what they do, and to present this to God, as a protestation entered against their prevailing lusts. In some sense a believer may both condemn himself as sinful, and absolve himself as delighting in the law of God, at one and the same time; and where he allows not his corruption, but positively dissents from it, he may disclaim it as not being his deed.
This being her case, follows the Bridegroom's carriage, which is expressed in the rest of verse 2, and her carriage (implied only in this verse) is more fully expressed, verse 3. His carriage holds out the great design he drives, and that is to have access to her, and to have her roused up for attaining of which, 1. He doth something, and that is, knocks at the door. 2. He endures and suffers 'dew' and 'drops' in the cold night, and yet doth not give over. 3. He speaks, and useth many persuasive arguments for that end; all which she observes, and yet lies still. It is in sum, as if a loving husband, that is shut out by a lazy, yet a beloved wife, would knock, call, and waiting on still, use many arguments to persuade her to open; so doth our spiritual Bridegroom, wait upon believers whom he loves, to have them brought again to the lively exercise of faith in him, and to a frame of spirit meet for communion with him. To take the words as they lie, there is, 1. The Bride's observation (as it were in her sleep) of the Beloved's calling at the door. 2. There is set down his call. 3. The arguments he useth for prevailing with her. By knocking is understood the inward touches of the word upon the conscience, when the efficacy of the Spirit goes along with it, which raps at the Bride's heart, as knocking Both at a door, and is the means of awaking her from spiritual sleep, as knocking at a door is a means of awaking from bodily sleep: So it is, Rev. 3:20, 'Behold I stand at the door and knock;' in which sense the word is compared to a hammer, Jer. 23:29. It takes in these three, 1. A seriousness in him that so knocks. 2. A power and efficacy in the word, that someway affects the heart, and moves it. 3. It implies some effect it hath upon the heart, as being somewhat affected with that touch; therefore it is his voice or word, that not only calleth, but knocketh, implying some force it had upon her. By 'voice' is understood the word, as chap. 2:8,10, yet, as backed with the Spirit and power, and as commended thereby to the conscience, 1 Cor. 2:4, and convincingly demonstrated to be the very voice of Christ; yet, so as rods, inward and outward, and other means, may have their own place, being made use of by him, yet still according to the word.
His great end, for which he knocks, is in that word, 'open;' which, as it implies her case, that her heart was in a great measure shut upon him, and that by some carnal indisposition he was kept out of it, and was not made welcome; so it requires the removing of all that stopt his way, and the casting open of the heart by faith to receive his word, and by love to receive himself: and in these two especially, this opening doth consist, 1. In the exercise of faith, Acts 16:14, the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, and that is expounded, she gave heed unto those things which Paul spoke. 2. An enlarging and warming of the affections towards him (which ever comprehends the former) as, Psalm 81:10, 'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it:' what that is, the refusal following declares, 'my people would not hear,' (that is, believe) 'Israel would none of me,' or loved not me, (as the words in the original import) they cared not for me, they desired me not, and would not quit their idols, as in the foregoing words, verse 9, is mentioned. 3. There resulteth from these two a mutual familiarity, as Rev. 3:20, 'If any man will open, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.' This opening then, imports the removing of every thing that marred fellowship with Christ, and the doing of every thing that might dispose for enjoying of it, as awaking, rising, &c. all which follows in the 4th verse; and while he commands to open, he calls for the entertaining of fellowship with him, which now is by her drowsiness interrupted: which two parts of the verse put together, hold forth, 1. That Christ's own Bride may shut the door on him, and so make a sad separation betwixt him and her. 2. Christ's word is the great and ordinary external means, whereby he knocks at mens' hearts, and which he makes use of for begetting faith in them. 3. That in a believer's secure condition there will be sometimes more than ordinary convictions, stirrings, and motions by the word. 4. That the word of God, backed with power, will reach the securest heart and affect it. 5. That believers will discern Christ's voice and call, when their condition is very low. 6. It will be refreshful to them to have him knocking; she looks on it as a kindly thing, even to have his knock bearing in convictions, challenges, or somewhat else on her; though it please not her flesh, yet in as far as she is renewed, it will be 'the voice of her Beloved' to her. 7. Christ hath a way of following his own, even when they are become secure; and sometimes then, will make his call, challenges, or convictions pursue more hotly and pressingly than at other times. 8. When Christ knocketh and presseth hardest, it is for our own good, and it is a token of love in him to do so; for there is nothing more deplorable, than when he saith to one under indisposition, and in an evil case, let him alone. 9. When Christ calls by his word, it is then our duty to open to him, and to receive him; and this can no more be slighted without sin, than prayer, mortification; and other commanded duties, can be neglected or slighted without sin, 10. Christ may call very pressingly, and his word may have some work on the conscience and affections of hearers, and they be someway affected with it, and yet the word be rejected, and the heart not made open to Christ; as here she sleeps still notwithstanding; and the following verse confirms it. 11. There are some operations of the Spirit, which though they be more than a common work on the generality of hearers, yet are not saving, and may be, and often are, even by believers frustrated for a time, and by others for ever; for, this knocking gets a refusal, verse 3. So deceiving, beguiling and dangerous are common motions to rest on, when the finger of gracious omnipotency is not applied, as verse 4. 12. Christ's design, when he knocks fastest, is friendly, and yet it sometimes saith, things are not right: this is the end of all his knocking and speaking to a people, and then it is plainest when he speaks most powerfully.
2. The way how Christ presseth this, is, 1. By showing who he is, it is 'me,' 'open to me:' there can be no greater commendation given to Christ, nor weightier argument used for him, than to make it known that it is he, the Husband, Lord, &c, whose the house is, and to whom entry by right from the wife ought to be given. 2. By giving her loving titles, and claiming her as his in many relations, as 'my sister, love, dove;' and (which was not mentioned before) 'undefiled' is added, that is, my perfect one, or upright, sincere one, as it is often rendered. These titles given now, and so many at once, shew, 1. That believers, when secure, have very much need of the Spirit to rouse and stir them up: souls are not easily persuaded to receive Christ. 2. There is wonderful love in Christ, that condescends so to entreat his people, when in such a secure case: even then he changes not her name, no more than if all things were in a good case; for our relation to him, depends not on our case. 3. Christ will sometimes very lovingly deal, even with secure souls in his way, for obtaining entry, and persuading them to open to him, and sometimes will apply the most refreshful gospel-offers and invitations, and use the most kindly compellations for that end. 4. Christ sometimes will overlook the lazy distempers of his people, and not always chide with them for these, but give them their wonted styles notwithstanding. 5. The kind dealing of Christ to his people will ever prove love to be on his side, but will not always prove that the persons so dealt with are presently in a good condition; for, he may accept their persons, and speak comfortably as to their state, although he approve not their present condition, as here. 6. We may see that Christ's love is not founded on our merit, nor is up and down according to our variable disposition, but he prevents both in his dealing with his people. These titles being made use of as a motive to answer his call, and to open to him, shew, 1. That the persuasion of Christ's love in souls, is a main thing to make way for their entertaining of him. 2. That it is a shame for a believer so beloved of Christ, to hold him without at the door, when he knocketh to be in. Grace would make a heart to blush, and in a manner look it out of countenance, that would refuse his kindness.
The third and great argument, is, 'for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night:' very shame might prevail with the wife, when the husband useth such an argument as this: it is even as if a husband, standing long without doors in a tempestuous night, should use this motive with his wife to persuade her to let him in, it will be very prejudicial and hurtful to my health, if thou open not unto me; for, I have stood long without: this may no doubt be presumed to be a very strong and prevalent argument with a loving wife; yet, it gets but a poor and very unsuitable answer from the Bride. By 'dew, drops' and 'night-time,' are understood, afflictions, external crosses and lowness: so, Dan. 4, that king is said to be 'wet with the dew of heaven' in his low condition, as having no house to shelter himself in, but being obnoxious to all changes and injuries of weather: and Jacob mentions it as a part of the toilsome labour, that he had with Laban, 'I did endure the heat of the sun in the day, and the cold in the night,' that is, he was ever watchful, and spared not himself for the hurt of either day or night: here Christ's spiritual sufferings also may come in, whereby he made himself obnoxious to the Father's wrath and curse, that he might have access to communion with his people; and the account that he hath of being kept out by his people, as a new piece of his sufferings, or as a painful reviving of the, remembrance of his old sufferings. The scope is to shew, that as a kindly husband will so deal with a beloved wife, and expect to prevail, being put to this strait; so doth Christ with his people, being no less desirous of a room in their hearts, and being as much troubled by their unbelief, as any man is, when put to stand in the cold night, under dew and rain at his own door. This way of arguing saith, 1. That the believer, as such, loves and respects Christ, and would not have him suffering, as a kind wife would be loth to hazard her husband's health. 2. That Christ expounds her so, even when she is lazy and keeps him out, otherwise this argument would be of no force, nor would he have used it: he will see much evil (to speak so) ere he notice it in a believer; and is not suspicious, even when occasions are given. 3. Believers are often exceeding unanswerable to the relation that is betwixt Christ and them, and may suffer Christ to stand long waiting without. 4. It affects Christ much (and is a suffering to him, and a kind of putting him to open shame, and a crucifying again the Son of God) to be kept out of hearts by unbelief, and there can be no pardonable sin that hath more and greater aggravations than this; for, it is cruelty to kind Jesus Christ. 5. Believers, even when Christ is in good terms with them, may fall into this fault. 6. Christ is a most affectionate suitor, and patient Husband, that thus waits on even when he is affronted, and gives not over his kind suit: who would bear with this that he bears with, and passeth by, and continues kindly notwithstanding? Many strange and uncouth things are comported with, and overlooked betwixt him and believers without hearing, that the world could not digest. 7. Our Lord Jesus hath not spared himself, nor shunned sufferings, for doing of his people good: Jacob's care of, and suffering for Laban's flocks, and Nebuchadnezzar his humiliation was nothing to this. 8. The love of Christ is manifested in nothing more for his people than in his sufferings for them, and in his patient on waiting to have the benefits thereof applied to them. 9. Christ's sufferings, and his affectionate way of pleading from them, should melt hearts in love to him, and in desire of union with him, and will make the refusal exceeding sinful and shameful, where it is given; O so strong arguments as Christ hath, to be on the hearts of his people! and how many things are there, to plead for that?
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