|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 6. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
This 6th verse contains five particulars of the Bride's experience in this case: the first of them, 'I opened,' &c. is the last effect following upon his putting in his hand, verse 4. This work of grace left her not in an indifferency, whether to open or not, but having given her to will in the former verse, now he gives also to do, and actually determines the will, or makes it determine itself to receive him: but now Christ is found to be absent, whereupon follows the other steps of her carriage, and the disappointments that she met with in seeking of him. This opening is the very thing called for by him, verse 2, which (considering the words following) is especially to be understood of her exercising of faith in him, whereby the heart is dilated to receive him, hence believing is called a 'receiving of Christ,' John 1:12. And it being a heart-receiving, it must be the very thing understood here by opening. Now although faith, according to its several acts, may be several ways considered; yet that act of faith whereby the heart consents to receive Christ, and to rest on him, is that which is mainly here aimed at, 1. Because this opening, is opposed to refusing, Psalm 81:10,11. It must therefore be consenting. 2. It is not giving of consent, that mainly keeps Christ at a distance from souls, or keeps them without interest in him, as opening to him, or receiving of him, entitles them to him, John 1:11,12, and Acts 16:14. 3. This opening is both different from conviction, resolutions, repentance, and what may be supposed to precede; these were in the words going before: and is also distinguished from sense and the fruits of believing, which follow after: it must therefore be the heart's yielding to Christ's call, and submitting thereunto, Rom. 10:3, as actually consenting to be his: yet all these acts should not be looked on as distinct in respect of time, as they proceed from grace (which puts all together) but in nature, and in respect of the distinct uptaking of the same grace, in its effects: in a word, saith the Bride, the Lord having applied the work of his Spirit to me, it effectuated one step after another, and left me not until I yielded myself to him to be his, as a mansion for him to dwell in. Which shews, 1. That grace doth not only work upon the understanding to enlighten it, but that it doth also immediately work on the will, and determines it; for, this opening of the heart is an effect of that work of grace, verse 4, as the former steps were. 2. The act of believing and opening to Christ is both the effect of grace, and also the work formally of the believer: therefore the Lord is said to 'open the heart,' Acts 16:14, because the effect flows from his putting to his hand; and the Bride is said to open her own heart, because she formally brought forth, or elicited the act of faith, by the strength of grace. 3. This (being compared with his call, verse 3.) shews, that it is by faith that way is made for Christ into the heart, and it is that which especially entitles one to Christ, closes with his call, receives him, and enters covenant with him; for, if opening or believing be that which he calls for, as giving him access to the hearts of his people, then believing being the performance of that called for condition, must unite the soul to him, and enter him into the heart. 4. There is some peculiar efficacy in faith, in the uniting of one to Christ, in accepting of Christ's call, and making way for him to come into the heart, which is not in any other grace: or, it hath a peculiar way of concurring, in effectuating the person's union with Christ and (and so in justification) which no other grace hath: hence this opening is peculiarly to be attributed to it, and is distinct from repentance spoken of before, verse 4, and from other duties mentioned in the words following. 5. Whoever honestly, from the sense of sin and need of Christ, and desire to have him to supply their need, essays believing, and opening their heart to him, shall certainly come good speed, and without fail attain their design; 'I rose to open' (saith she) 'and I opened.' 6. Although the distinct exercise of faith be not attained instantly, (but there must be first a rising, and an offering of violence to our corruptions in the pursuing thereof, before we win to the distinct opening of the heart) yet it should be prosecuted till it be perfected. 7. Sometimes the exercise of faith will be distinct and discernible, so that a believer can tell he hath believed; and it is no less comfortable to be clear from serious reflection on ourselves, that we have indeed by faith yielded to Christ, than to be clear of it by the fruits following thereupon: for she is clear and confident in this, that she had opened to him.
Having opened, now the beloved is gone: like as a husband, being offended at his wife's disrespect to him, should withdraw, when she at length with much ado were brought to rise; so our Lord Jesus takes that way of rebuking kindly the former unkindness of believers, by after-desertions and withdrawings. The word is doubled, 'but my Beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone,' or 'he was gone, he was gone;' which doth not only import in his carriage a sad withdrawing, and in hers an observation of it; but also a sorrowful regret and weightiness, as having met with a sad disappointment (as the following words clear) as if she had said, at last I opened, but alas he was gone and away! What this withdrawing of Christ is, we may know by considering what his being present is, which is not to be understood of the omnipresence of the Godhead, there being no coming or going that can be attributed to that infinite essence, which is every where, at all times present; but it is in respect of the out-letting of his especial love, and that in the peculiar way of manifesting it to his people, and not in regard of his love itself, or of their interest in him; for, here her interest stands in him, and faith in him is exercised, and the lifelessness that she was under is removed, so that now she is acting faith, and there is a presence of grace making her active and lively, even under this withdrawing: the thing then which is wanting, is a sensible manifestation of Christ's love to her, which now upon her yielding to open, she expected to have been filled with, as a wife opening to her husband should expect his embracements, and yet in place thereof, find that he were gone: this withdrawing is no real alteration on Christ's side, nor are we to look upon it as if now she had less than before she believed and bestirred herself; for, her union with him, and the influence of his grace on her remained: but, 1. She missed that comfortable and sweet sense of love that she expected from him; that was kept up. 2. She was then more sensible that he was provoked, and found that her peace was not so well grounded, which formerly she pleased herself with, as she conceived. 3. Upon this also followed some kindly exercise, whereby Christ might make his dissatisfaction known, as a husband doth his, by his withdrawing; so that although interest be not disputed, and the heart be kept in the exercise of duties yet disquietness may grow above what it was: and Christ wisely times this sense of his absence now, with the presence of his grace, because she might both better endure it, and it would also be more profitable thus to chasten her now, than if he had done it in her dead condition.
Hence, Observe, 1. That believers, in the lively exercise of faith and duty, may have many more exercises, and sharper spiritual dispensations, than they had formerly in their security. 2. Christ hath a peculiar way both of presence with, and absence from his own. 3. Often believers when they are in the exercise, of faith and duty, expect satisfying manifestations of Christ to their sense; for, it is supposed here, that she looked for him this way, when she opened. 4. Sometimes Christ will keep up the sense of his love, and withdraw himself from his own, even when in the exercise of faith and duty. 5. Christ's withdrawing is not always an evidence of the worst frame, even as his presence doth not speak out his satisfaction every way with his people's condition, but these are often acts of sovereignty, timed according to his good pleasure; for, she is now in better case than formerly, and yet he is withdrawn and gone. 6. Christ by his withdrawing may be chastening for some former sin or disrespect, done to him before the believer became lively, who yet for good ends did suspend the taking notice of that sin, till he was in a frame to bear it, and profit by it. 7, Christ's withdrawings ought to be observed by his people, as well as other pieces of their own experience: it is profitable to know what he doth, as well as what they do themselves. 8. There is a great difference betwixt faith and sense; yea, betwixt clearness of interest, and sensible presence: the one may be in a great measure, where the other is not, as in this case here. 9. It is the exercise of faith in Christ, that makes his absence to be discerned: (for that is not known here, till the door be opened) and the more lively a person be in the exercise of grace, the more will Christ's absence be marked and regretted; whereas in a believer's secure frame, or in a person still unacquainted with Christ, his absence is not discerned nor laid to heart. 10. Although sense be not satisfied, yet believers should not disclaim their faith when it is real, but acknowledge that they do believe, and open to Christ when they do it: so it is here, 'I opened,' or yielded by faith to him; even when he was gone, and I could not find him.
What effect this disappointment had upon her part, follows, 'my soul failed when he spake: 'This effect is sad and heavy, the sense of her sin, and the apprehension of her grieving of him, kindled by love to him, pierceth and stoundeth her so to the heart, that it becomes almost lifeless: so the word is used, Gen. 42:28, of Jacob's sons, when they found the money in their sacks' mouths, they were sore afraid, and 'their hearts failed them,' or went out of them; it is a surprising unexpected heaviness, and that in a high degree, holding forth, how deeply believers will be affected when disappointed of the expected presence of Christ, and that by their own guilt: the cause or occasion of this failing of heart, is in these words, 'when he spake,' which look to the time past, though the effect was present; and they may be two ways understood. 1. As being a remembering how it was with her while he spake (for now he speaks not) she now observes, and calls to mind, that when he called and she shifted, yet even then her heart was affected with his word; and this smites her now, that she should have so long smothered so much kindness, and have brought all this upon herself; it is like that of the disciples, Luke 24:32, who after Christ was gone, say one to another, 'Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and opened up to us the scriptures; though before they little heeded it, yet afterward they observe; and when they recollect themselves, it becomes more distinct than it was in the time. 2. It may be looked on as being the present effect of the words formerly spoken, which although they did not so sensibly affect her when he spoke them, yet now being brought to her remembrance (as, John 14:16,) they pierce her, that she should have slighted and neglected them, as, Matt. 26, when Peter is admonished, the word for the time affects not, but afterward, verse 75, when he remembers it (as challenges bring back words formerly spoken) 'he went out and wept bitterly;' so her resentment of what she formerly slighted is now bitter. Observe. 1. The time of Christ's absence is a time when by-gone challenges, or challenges for by-past offences, use to recur. 2. Often believers, when brought through a secure fit, will find some stirrings and effects of the grace of Christ to have been in them, even then, which were not so discernible to them while they were under their distemper. 3. Christ's word may have effects long after it is spoken and heard; yea, a word long since heard, may be an after-remembrance (being brought again to mind by the Spirit) John 14:26, and have operation more than at first: or, although for a time it have had none at all, but may be as seed under the ground, till the Spirit blow on it to bring it above, yet afterward by the Spirit's influence, it may have many blessed effects. 4. There is nothing that will affect a gracious soul more, than to miss Christ's presence, when the disappointment hath been procured by its own sin; if it be but a withdrawing for a time, that will make the hearts of his own even to fail; but O! if it be eternal, by reason of sinners' constant slighting of him now in the offers of his grace, what desperate anguish will it produce! And there are none that slight Christ's call now and put him away, but one time or other it will be heavy to them and cost them dear. 5. It is a kindly thing, when a believer misses Christ, and wants presence, to be affected with it; and it is unkindly to discern absence, and not to be affected. 6. Repentance, where it is kindly, or right heart-sorrow will have its continuance and growth from one degree to another: this failing of heart is a continued, but a further step of the moving of her bowels, verse 4. 7. Although interest in Christ be clear, and matters otherwise not in an evil case, yet want of Christ's presence for the time, and the remembrance of by-gone guilt, will be a very sad exercise to the believer, and affect his heart very much.
This is a sad posture; yet she gives not over, notwithstanding of this or any following disappointments, till she obtain the holy design she drives: where faith and love are exercised together, for attaining Christ, nothing will scare nor discourage the soul in its pursuit of him. Her carriage follows in four steps (whereby she endeavours to recover him) with the success that she found in each of them. 1. She gives private diligence. 2. She applies herself to public ordinances, verse 7. When that also fails, she, 3. Betakes herself to the exercise of mutual fellowship with the daughters of Jerusalem, and seeks their help, verse 8, and at last, rests on the exercise of faith in him, chap. 6:3, Her secret painfulness, with the fruit thereof, is set down in two steps, in the rest of this verse. 1. 'I sought him,' that is, painfully used all means to meet with him, as one searcheth earnestly for what he wants; so the word is taken, Prov. 15:14. It shews her seriousness as to the end, and also her holy solicitude in the manner of pursuing it: 'But' (saith she) 'I found him not;' he was now obtained, but she continueth still under the want of the sensible manifestations of his presence. Again, the second is, 'I called him,' that is, prayed to him; 'but' (saith she) 'he gave me no answer:' that is, I had no sensible ease, and return of prayer; though the prayer was not altogether unheard for, her continuing to seek after him, shews, that she was answered with strength in her soul, Psalm 138:3. There was sustaining grace even then, though there were not the soul-satisfying and comforting enlargements, or sensible embracements of Christ, and his warm speaking of peace to her heart, which she aimed at; and the greatness of her ardour after these makes her think that she had received no answer at all. It is in sum, as if a wife, by searching and running to and fro, did seek her husband; and when that succeeds not, she calls him by his name; so did she leave no means unessayed, but did not obtain what she sought. Which shews, 1. That God often blesseth want of sense to a believer, to be a spur to much diligence. 2. When desertions are most sensible, then ought the believer to be most diligent in the use of all means, especially of prayer, for an outgate. 3. There may be much life in duty, even then when there is little sense and satisfaction as to the event; there is here seeking and calling on him, though she found him not, and he gave her no answer. 4. It is a blessed heart-sorrow, that vents in diligence and prayer to God for his presence. 5. The remembrance and resentment of our by-gone wrongs to Christ should not so affect as to scare us from him, but should press us to seek to be again in his company; otherwise, if we scare at him, or bide away from him, because of the sense of guilt, it will be the mending of one fault with another: it is ever best reckoning our own guilt, when he is present. 6. Christ's presence is the only cordial that can satisfy a soul, fainting under a sense of the wrongs it hath done to Christ: therefore when her heart fails, she sits not down under it for ease, but seeks and calls for himself and his own presence. 7. There may be much seeking and prayer, which may be so indeed, and accepted of by God, and yet his comfortable presence be kept up, and the particular sought for suspended. 8. Often the having our eye in prayer upon one particular (suppose upon one comfort) may make us construct our prayers to have less of an answer than they have, while as indeed they are not fruitless, but may be answered in other things, which we do not observe. 9. The Lord may deny comfort when it is sought, and yet shew his grace in sustaining his people, and quickening them to follow him in their duty, when they in the mean time may take it for a sort of refusal, 2 Cor. 12:9,10. It is ever good for believers to reflect on their duty, and on the success of it, whatever it be; and that not in one step only, but in the whole tract of their way. 10. If we compare this with her former carnally easy and secure condition, verse 2,3, we see, that sensible desertion, when a believer is holily active under it, is no ill condition; comparatively it's better with her now when she is swooning and fainting without Christ, than when she did lie still carelessly without him; grace is working more actively now (as from verse 4, is clear) and she is nearer unto him, and hath much more solid ground of peace than she had at that time.
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