|Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings|
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by James Durham
Verse 6. Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
7. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
In the sixth verse, she proceeds to her second petition, wherein she is strengthened from her former experience the suit is in two expressions, to one purpose; and it is pressed with several reasons, in the end of the sixth and seventh verses; whereby she shews, that less could not be satisfying to her, and this much she behoved to have granted her. The first expression, holding forth her suit, is, 'Set me as a seal upon thine heart:' the second is to the same purpose, in the words that follow, and 'as a seal upon thine arm.' By Christ's 'heart' is signified his most inward affections; for, it is frequent in scripture by the 'heart' to signify the most inward affections; so, Matt. 6:12, where the treasure is, there the heart will be.' And chap. 4:9, 'Thou hast ravished my heart,' &c. A 'seal' is used for confirming evidences, or closing of letters; they have some peculiar engraving on them, serving to distinguish the deed of one man from the deed of another; wherefore men use to have a special care of their signet or seal (for both are one upon the matter and in the original) thus Ahasuerus kept his seal upon his own finger, Esth. 3:10,12. So then from this we may see, that a seal, or signet, signifieth, 1. What one hath a precious esteem of; and therefore, Jer, 22:24. the Lord said of 'Coniah, though thou wert the signet on my right hand,' &c. Hag. 2:23, the Lord expresseth his love to Jerusalem in this, that he would take Zerubabel and make him as a signet. 2. By a 'seal' is signified something that makes an impression, and leaves a stamp thereof behind it, that doth not wear out again, as a seal doth on the wax. Next, by Christ's 'arm,' may be understood, his care of his people, outwardly expressed in the effects, wrought by his power for their good: so, Isa. 40:11, it is said, he 'will gather the lambs with his arms,' &c. thus then, to be set as a seal on his heart, doth imply, 1. Exceeding great nearness to Christ, even to have a special room and seat in his heart. 2. It imports, a settledness in that condition, that she may be set there, as the Lord saith of Jerusalem, 2 Kings 21:4, there I have put or set my name, and as it is, Psalm 132:14, there will I dwell. 3. To be set as a seal on his arm, takes in further, that, as she would be always minded by Christ, and have him loving her; so would she have him in all his dispensations making that manifest, and that (as it were) they may bear it engraven upon them, that he minds her; like that expression, Isa. 49:14, 'I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,' whereby he expresseth his mindfulness of her, that he could look to nothing in all his works, but he saw (as it were) her name engraven thereupon; for, all his works express love to her. In sum, we conceive the words look to one, or both of these similitudes, or allusions: 1. In general, to men who have such respect to their seals or rings, that they wore them on their fingers, and carried them still about with them; now, she would be carried about on his heart, and have him sympathizing with her in every thing that she meets with. 2. And more especially, it may allude to Aaron's breastplate, whereby he did carry the names of the children of Israel on his heart, Exod. 28:12,29, which engraving is said to be like the engraving of a signet, in which the high-priest was certainly a type of Christ: however, this is certain, that she would be established in her union with Christ, so that neither desertions on his part, nor backslidings on hers, might mar that; but that she might be fixed as to her union with him, and made to abide in him, as the impression of a seal is fixed upon the wax, and made to abide in it.
Observe. 1. True love to Christ, will be bold, pressing and importunate, in its suits to him; it will not stand to seek any thing that may endear him to the soul, to have him as a brother, and to be worn upon his heart, &c. 2. Christ's heart and inside, are most heartsome to the believer, who hath had any discovery thereof made unto his soul; and true love can settle no where, till it get a lodging in his very heart, that is the proper resting place of a believer, and that is the refreshing, which can make the weary to rest. 3. Love to Christ would not only be near him, but would be fixed and established in nearness with him. 4. A stayed, immoveable condition, or frame of heart, in the enjoying of communion with Christ, is most desirable and profitable; and therefore, it is no marvel it be longed for. There is no staying or settling of a believer, till he be admitted to dwell (as it were in Christ's heart) that is, to dwell near him in the believing and enjoying of his love; all other grounds are wavering, but this is stable; and dwelling here, if it were pressed after, would bring more establishment.
This seems to be a peremptory suit, she doth therefore give two reasons to press it, both which shew that it will not be unpleasant to Christ, nor can it be condemned in her, for (saith she) the love that presseth me to it is of such a vehement nature, I cannot resist it, more than death, the grave, or fire can be resisted. This reason is contained in the rest of the sixth verse. The second reason in the following, wherein she shews, that the love that pressed her, was of such a peremptory nature, and so untractable (if we may so speak) as to this, that there was no dealing with it, if it did not obtain its desire, no other thing could quench or satisfy it. The strength of her love is amplifyed in the sixth verse, by three steps, in several similitudes. By 'love' here is understood that vehement, ardent desire, after Christ's presence, which is kindled in the heart of the believer. And first, it is called strong, in respect of its constraining power, whereby the person that loves, is led captive, and brought down as weak under it, so that he cannot withstand it: saith she, love masters, and will undo me, if it be not satisfied; love-sickness so weakens the soul, when it once seizeth on the heart, till it be cured with Christ's presence. Next, it is called 'strong as death,' which is so strong, that it prevails over the most powerful, wise, mighty and learned in the world. Eccles. 8:8, 'there is no discharge in that war;' neither can the most mighty monarch encounter death, and stand before it: so (saith she) I can no more stand against the strength of this love, it overpowers me, and is like to kill me, if it be not satisfied. The second step or degree of this love, and the similitude illustrating it is in these words, 'jealousy is cruel as the grave:' it is the prosecution of the same purpose, only, what she called love before, is here termed jealousy: jealousy may be taken in a good sense, or an evil: in a good sense, jealously is the highest degree of love, or love at its height, and is the same with zeal: thus the Lord is said to be 'jealous for his glory::' and it imports, 1. Ardent affection. 2. Desire of enjoying. 3. Impatiency of delay. 4. A deep measure of grief, mixed with love, for any seeming appearance of a disappointment in the enjoying the person they love, or, when they do not meet with love again from the person whom they dearly love; so jealousy in this sense is applied to both God and men, but properly it agreeth only to men; for, there are no such passions in God, though he, condescending to our capacity, speaks thus of himself, after the manner of men. Now this jealousy is said to be cruel, or hard: it is called, Prov. 6:34, the 'rage of a man;' and this was the jealousy, or zeal that did eat up David, Psalm 69, and so it is compared to the grave, which Prov. 30, is the first of those four things that are never satisfied, but wastes all the bodies that are laid in it: so (saith she) this love of mine, being at a height, torments me restlessly, as if it were cruelly persecuting me, till it be satisfied, with a good answer from thee, O, my Beloved! In an evil sense jealousy signifies not a simple fear of missing the thing men desire, or a suspicion of their own short-coming in attaining of it, but a groundless suspicion of them whom they love, as if they did not entertain their love as they ought; and thus, jealousy is called 'the rage of a man,' Prov. 6:34, and so here this cannot be altogether excluded; jealousy thus taken, having in it some unbelief, which torments believers horribly, when the suspicion of Christ's not taking notice of them grows; and this is frequently to be found in the saints' cases, in times of desertion; they are then very apt to suspect God's love, and this exceedingly disquiets them, the want of the faith and sense of his love being a death unto them, Psalm 77:8,9,10. And so the reason runs thus, let me be admitted to thy heart, for my love will be satisfied with no less; and if this be not obtained, jealousy and suspicion of thy love may steal in, and that will be torturing and tormenting: and therefore, she puts up this suit, that she may be set as a seal upon his heart, to have that prevented; for she cannot abide to think of it. 3. She compares this jealousy to coals of fire (the coals thereof are coals of fire) for their vehement heat, tormenting nature; and consuming power; all which are to be found in this strong and jealous love; it is vehement for heat, and painful and destructive as fire is: yea further, it is compared to coals that have 'a most vehement flame,' or as it is in the original, the 'flame of God;' for so the Hebrews do name any thing that is superlative in its kind, and this is added, to shew the horrible torture that Christ's absence, and love-sickness hath with it, to a tender loving soul, especially when carnal unbelieving jealousy enters and prevails, they cannot abide it, but would choose any rod before that, if it were at their election. Observe. 1. Love to Christ, where it is strong and vigorous, will make strange and mighty impressions on the heart, which others are not acquainted with, and will break out in such expressions, as men of the world may wonder what they mean, none of them having any such feeling or sensibleness of Christ's absence or presence. 2. Where true love to Christ is, it is a most constraining thing, the soul, that hath it, cannot but pursue for Christ, and go about all means which may any way further its communion with him. 3. Where love begins to pursue after Christ, the longer it be in meeting with him, it increaseth the more, where it is real; and the more disappointments it meet with, it grows the more vehement, till it break out in jealousy and zeal. 4. Believers that have true love, are ready to fall in jealousies of Christ, and to be suspicious of his love, especially in his absence; this is supposed here, that where true love to Christ is, there may be jealousy of him. 5. Where jealousy enters, is cherished and prevails, it is not only dishonourable to Christ, but exceedingly torturing to the believer: there is not a more vexing guest can be entertained, than jealousy of Christ. 6. Jealousy of Christ's love may be where there is little cause, and often where there is least cause, it is most ready to enter: the reason whereof may joined be taken from the ardency of the soul's love to him, with the mistakes they have of his way; so, Isa. 49:13,14, for considering what is gone before, it might be thought, that, whatever any other might seem to have, the Bride had no cause of jealousy. 7. Believers should endeavour to prevent all jealousy of Christ and his love, and by all means seek to he established and confirmed in the faith of his love to them, as that which can only keep and guard the heart against these sinful suspicions and jealousies. 8. Though this jealousy be vexing, yet sometimes the believer cannot rid himself of it, it will so prevail, and is so cruel against him. In the similitude of death and the grave, that is here made use of, it is implied that no man shall escape death and the grave, they are as strong and mighty conquerors, that prevail over all that come in their way: it is clearly hinted here, that the believer carrieth this conviction in his heart, that some time he will be prevailed over by death and the grave, this is no ill impression, 'the graves are ready for me,' and, 'I have said to corruption, thou art my father: and to the worm thou art my mother, and my sister,' Job 17:1,14.
Her second reason is contained, verse 7, and it's taken from the peremptoriness of her love; for, her love is such as it will have love from Christ again, or no other thing will satisfy it. This is two ways illustrated, 1. From its invincibleness, which appears in this, no opposition can extinguish it, 'many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it:' waters will quench fire, but nothing will quench this love. By waters in scripture, often (as Psalm 42:7, and 93:4, and frequently) are understood afflictions, crosses, and even spiritual desertions, Psalm 40:7, 'all thy waves and billows have gone over me,' Psalm 109:1,2, and so here it saith, love to Christ is of that nature, and is so strongly fixed on him, that no cross or rod, nay not the blackest dispensations and desertions can make it alter; but it will stick to him through and over all, as, Rom. 8:35, 'neither famine, sword, pestilence,' &c. can do it, but it triumphs over all, though floods of trial and opposition were let out upon it. The second way how the peremptoriness of love is illustrated and proven, is, that it rejects all offers, that may be made to it by any other that would have Christ's room: there are two sorts of trials, that ordinarily carry souls away from Christ, the first is on the left hand, from crosses; and when these will not do it, but the thorny ground will abide the heat of the sun; yet, the second sort of trials, to wit, the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, which are tentations on the right hand, may choke the word, and carry the soul away: but (saith she) true love to Christ, will be prevailed over by neither, it will tryst and capitulate with other lovers upon no terms; nay, though a man would give it 'all the substance of his house;' that is, all that can be given, though he would leave nothing behind, but give it all to one that loves Christ, for love, that is to purchase and buy away the soul's love from Christ, that it may be given to some other thing that comes in competition with him, so to bud and bribe the soul's love from Christ, that it may settle on some other thing that is offered in his place: what entertainment would be given to such offers and treaties? True love (saith she) in so far as it is true, and lively in exercise (otherwise where something of true love is the soul may often be ensnared) 'would utterly contemn it,' or as it is in the first language, 'contemning it should be contemned' that is, not only would all such alluring offers be rejected, but with a holy disdain and indignation, they would be despised, abhorred and abominated, as unsuitable once to be mentioned: so that true love to Christ, will not once enter to capitulate, what to have in Christ's room; but all possible overtures, which may be made by the flesh and the world to divert it, will be loathed, abhorred utterly, and 'accounted as loss and dung,' Phil. 3:8. And therefore, the reason concludes, at thy heart I must be, for my love will neither be boasted from thee, nor bribed or allured to be satisfied with any other thing in thy room; but thee I must have upon any terms, and must not be refused of this my suit, of being set as a seal upon thy heart: and this sort of peremptoriness from love, will not he accounted presumption by Christ, nor is any ways displeasing, but most acceptable to him. Observe. 1. Where true love to Christ is, there will be many essays to cool it, or to divert it, and draw it away from him: it is no easy thing to get love to Christ kept warm; for, the devil and the world, will especially aim at the throwing down of this hold and bulwark, that maintains Christ's interest in the soul. 2. The devil hath several kinds of tentations, which do all drive especially at this, to cool the believer's affections in the love of Christ: and these tentations may be contrary, some of them mustering the difficulties that follow those that love him, and such as the tempted seekers of Christ may be oftentimes exercised with; for, they often meet with reproaches, or other afflictions in the world: others of them again, alluring the heart to embrace some other thing in Christ's room, and making fair offers of advantages, to those that will take the way of the world in following of them. 3. The lovers of Christ may be assaulted by both these extremes successively; and when tentations from the one hand fail, then tentations from the other begin, so that the believer should constantly be on his guard. 4. The tentations that come from the right hand, and entice the soul with the offers of worldly pleasure, honour, riches, &c. are more strong and subtile than the other, and more frequently do prevail, yea, sometimes when the other may be rejected; therefore, this is mentioned after the other, as being that wherewith the soul is assaulted, when the first cannot prevail, and so the devil leaves this till the last; when he was permitted to tempt Christ, having tried him with several tentations, at last he makes offer of the world to him, Matt. 4:9. 5. Tentation will sometimes make great offers, as if nothing more could be offered, 'even all the substance of the house,' and still it offers more than it can perform, when it is in its offers most specious: the devil at once offered all the world to Christ, Matt. 4:9, though he had not power of himself to dispose of one of the Gadarene's swine. 6. The great scope of the world's courting a man with its offers, is to gain his love from Christ; this they had need to look well to, on whom the world smiles most, for then the tentation to this ill is strongest. 7. It is a proof of true love to Christ, when it can endure and hold out against tentations upon all hands, and that when they are most speciously adorned. 8. Where love is true, although it may be sometimes (as it were) violated, or the soul in which it is, circumvented and beguiled by tentations (as the experiences of saints do clear) yet when it is at itself, or in good case, it will not deliberately capitulate to admit any thing in Christ's room, but will reserve itself wholly for him: where love cedes, and yields finally, it is a sign that it was never true. 9. Tentations though most pleasant, yet tending to divert the love of the soul from Christ, should be with indignation, at their first moving and appearing, rejected. 10. Love will not only refuse a consent to some tentations, hut will have a great abhorrency at the moving of them; whereas others, though they may, as to the external actings, resist these tentations, yet their wanting of this indignation, betrays their want of love. 11. As it's good to be actuated in doing duty, from a principle and motive of love; so it is good and commendable, to reject tentations upon that same account.
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