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by James Durham
Verse 8. We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts; what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
The Bride's third petition, for those that are not yet brought in to Christ, followeth in this eighth verse: her love is strong in pressing for the enjoyment of Christ; and seeing it hath two arms, as it reacheth out the one to embrace Christ, so it reacheth out the other to bring others in to him; love is very desirous to have others enjoying him with itself; and by this arm of love, the Bride is pulling in those that are yet strangers, that they may be engaged to love Christ; and she forgets them not, even when she is most serious for herself: this being an undoubted truth, that, whenever our love is most fervent after Christ for ourselves, it will also be most sensible and sympathizing, in respect of the condition of others; when love is hot and fervent the one way, so will it be the other way also, and when it cools to the one, it also decays in respect of the other. We may take up this verse in these three, 1. She remembers and propounds her little sister's case to Christ. 2. There is her suit, in reference thereunto. 3. This suit is qualified, in the last part of the verse. 1. Her little sister's case is proposed in these words, 'We have a little sister, that hath no breasts:' here much love and sympathy appears in these three things, 1. That she is called a 'sister,' 2. 'Our sister,' 3. 'A little sister,' and without breasts, which do express much tenderness of affection and sympathy. By 'sister,' is sometimes understood, more strictly, such as are renewed converts to the faith, whether in profession only, or really, 1 Cor. 7:15, but that is not the meaning here; for, the sister here mentioned 'hath no breasts,' and is not yet spoken for. Again, 'sister' may be more largely taken, for one, or all of these three. 1. For all men, as partaking of one common nature. 2. For men of one stock and nation; so Samaria was sister to Jerusalem, &c. Ezek. 16:46. 3. For the elect who are yet unconverted, who are sisters in respect of God's purpose, as they are Christ's sheep, John 10:16, and sons of God, John 11:52, even before their conversion; for which cause, the 'sister' here spoken of, is said 'to have no breasts,' as not being yet changed from her natural condition; and so we take this especially to look to the unrenewed elect, not excluding the former two. The sense then is, there are yet many who have interest in, and many that belong to, thy election, yet uncalled. Now, it is their in-bringing, and the making of them ready to be Christ's Spouse and Bride, that she breathes after, and prayeth for. Next, it is said, 'We' have a sister, and so she is called 'our' sister, that is, thine and mine; Christ's sister, because of his purposed respect to her; the believer's sister, not only because of their native and kindly sympathy, but also because of the common adoption, to which they are designed. She is called 'a little sister,' and that 'hath no breasts,' 1. To shew the sad condition that the unconverted elect are in, like little young children that are unfit to do any thing for themselves, and altogether unmeet for the duties of marriage, as those at age, who have breasts, are: thus, Ezek. 16:7, the wretched condition of that people, before they were taken into God's covenant, is set out by this, that their breasts were not formed; and the good condition that followed their being in covenant is expressed thus, that their breasts were fashioned. This then is the scope here, to shew that this little sister was yet in nature, unmarried to Christ, yea, (as to many of the unconverted elect) not spoken for, or called. 2. She is called 'little,' to express the Bride's pity and sympathy, as one would say of a young one, that cannot do any thing for herself, what will become of her? She is a little one.
2. The suit is, 'what shall we do for our sister?' This is a petition, that seems to have more affection than distinctness in it: it is proposed by way of question, the better to express her sympathy; where she disputes not, but again asserts his relation to her, and puts no question but he will be tender of her; and withal acknowledgeth that there is a duty lying on herself, in order to the case of her little sister, but would be informed and taught by him in the right discharge of it: and so this question supposeth necessity and wretchedness in this sister, affection and duty in herself, but unclearness how to discharge it. Now, the way she takes to be helped in it, is the putting up this petition to Christ, 'what shall we do?' saith she; not as if Christ knew not what he would do, but it shews her affection to this sister, and her familiarity with him; and also, that she will not separate his doing from hers, but looks upon it as her duty to co-operate with him, in bringing about the conversion of their little sister.
The qualification of her suit is, 'what shall we do for her, in the day that she shall be spoken for?' This phrase, to speak for her, is in allusion to the communing that is used for the attaining women in marriage: we find the same phrase in the original, 1 Sam. 25:39, 'David sent messengers to commune with Abigail, that he might take her to wife.' Now (saith she) our little sister is not ready, nor spoken for, but when she shall be suited or communed with, what shall we do then? This communing, is the Lord's dealing by his ministers in the gospel, with people, to marry and espouse his Son Christ Jesus, so it is often called, Matt. 22:3, 'He sent forth his servants, to call them that were bidden to the wedding:' the ministers of the gospel are his ambassadors, to tryst this match, and to close it, 2 Cor. 5:19, and 11:2 'The day' when they shall be spoken for, is either whilst the means are amongst people, and so that is the acceptable time, 2 Cor. 6:2, or more especially, when the means have any force on them, and God seems in a more than ordinary way to treat with them, then it is the day of their visitation, as it was in the days of Christ's ministry, though that people were treated with before. In sum, the meaning of the verse is this, there are many who in thy purpose are designed to be heirs of life, who yet are strangers, and not suited or engaged; now when the gospel comes amongst such, or, by stirring them now and then, puts them in some capacity to be dealt with, what shall be done for them, to help on the bargain, that the marriage be not given up, when it hath come to a treaty, and thou halt by the gospel bespoken them, and propounded it? It may look to sister-churches, and no question the believing Jews, who understood the prophecies of the Gentiles' conversion, did then long for their in-gathering, and in-churching of them (for we were then to them a little sister without breasts) yet we cannot astrict it to that, but now, and to the world's end, it speaks out the believer's desire of the perfecting of the saints, and the building up of Christ's body, as well as it spoke out their desire after this then: and by the same sympathy, the converted Gentiles long, and should long for the in-bringing of the elder sister, the Jews, who now have no breasts, and also of the fulness of the Gentiles, who are as yet unconverted; and according to the strain of the song, it takes in the believer's respect to the conversion of other church-members, who being indeed not converted, and not effectually called, they are without breasts, and so to be helped forward in the time when God is bespeaking them and trysting with them.
Observe. 1. There may be relations betwixt one in grace, and those who are yet in nature, which grace doth not dissolve, but sanctify; the little sister is 'a sister,' though unrenewed, and the Bride's desire is to have her gained. 2. There is a jointness, and community of relations betwixt Christ and the believer, they have common friends and interests, and as it is betwixt husband and wife, the sister of the one is the sister of the other. 3. Before men be by faith married to Christ, even the elect in that estate are lying in a most miserable, wretched condition, as we may see, Ezek. 16:3, they are loathsome before God, and indisposed and unfit for being fruitful to Christ in any duty, as a little damsel without breasts is unfit for marriage. 4. The converted elect should be tenderly affected with the sad condition of the unconverted especially of those that are in any relation to them, and to whom God hath respect in his secret purpose, though definitely they be not known unto them: and this tender affection ought to appear, in sympathizing with them, pitying of them, holding up of their condition to God, and praying for them, as the Bride doth for the little sister and when the case of believers is right, they will be making conscience of longing, and praying for the gathering in of all the elect, that Christ's work may be thoroughed and perfected, and that his kingdom may come in the earth. 5. It is a most difficult business, how to get the conversion of sinners promoted, and Christ's kingdom advanced; believers will be nonplussed in it, as being put to say 'what shall we do?' 6. The Lord hath a way of espousing, and marrying to Christ Jesus, even such as are by nature most sinful and loathsome; it is such that he suits, wooes, and speaks for, that they may be married to him. 7. Christ's great design in the gospel, by sending ministers from the beginning, was, and is to espouse a Bride to himself, and to make up a spiritual marriage betwixt him and such as by nature were lying in their blood. 8. He hath a special time of carrying on this treaty of marriage, a day before which he treats not, and after which, there is no opportunity of a treaty of grace; it is the day of sinners' merciful visitation, and an acceptable time for a people. 9. In this treaty, by the ministry of his ordinances, the Lord will sometimes more effectually drive the design of the gospel, namely the matching of sinners to Christ, than at other times, and will bespeak them more plainly and convincingly, as he doth, chap. 5:2. 10. When the Lord presseth closing and matching with Christ home upon sinners, there is great hazard lest it miscarry, and be given over unconcluded, through their own default. 11. It is a main and special season for believers to step in, to further the engaging of others to Christ, when the Lord is putting home upon them the suit and offers of the gospel, and when they are put to some stir, and made something serious and peremptory about it. 12. It is a great happiness to be spoken for to Christ, every one is not admitted to that privilege: and it is our great concernment, to see how we make use of that our day, when he treats with us. 13. There is nothing wherein a believer's love to his friends, or to any others, will appear more, than in endeavouring their conversion, and in longing to have them engaged to Christ. 14. As God's call in the gospel, is a wooing, or bespeaking for marriage betwixt Christ and sinners, so believers' believing, is their consenting to accept of Christ for their husband, according to the terms of the contract proposed; and this closeth the bargain, and makes the marriage; for, then the proposed offer of matching with Christ is accepted of.
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