The spouse, in this dramatic poem, is here first introduced addressing herself to the bridegroom and then to the daughters of Jerusalem.
I. To the bridegroom, not giving him any name or title, but beginning abruptly: Let him kiss me; like Mary Magdalen to the supposed gardener (John 20:15), If thou have borne him hence, meaning Christ, but not naming him. The heart has been before taken up with the thoughts of him, and to this relative those thoughts were the antecedent, that good matter which the heart was inditing, Ps. 45:1. Those that are full of Christ themselves are ready to think that others should be so too. Two things the spouse desires, and pleases herself with the thoughts of:—
1. The bridegroom’s friendship (Song 1:2): “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, that is, be reconciled to me, and let me know that he is so; let me have the token of his favour.” Thus the Old-Testament church desired Christ’s manifesting himself in the flesh, to be no longer under the law as a schoolmaster, under a dispensation of bondage and terror, but to receive the communications of divine grace in the gospel, in which God is reconciling the world unto himself, binding up and healing what by the law was torn and smitten; as the mother kisses the child that she has chidden. “Let him no longer send to me, but come himself, no longer speak by angels and prophets, but let me have the word of his own mouth, those gracious words (Luke 4:22), which will be to me as the kisses of the mouth, sure tokens of reconciliation, as Esau’s kissing Jacob was.” All gospel duty is summed up in our kissing the Son (Ps. 2:12); so all gospel-grace is summed up in his kissing us, as the father of the prodigal kissed him when he returned a penitent. It is a kiss of peace. Kisses are opposed to wounds (Prov. 27:6), so are the kisses of grace to the wounds of the law. Thus all true believers earnestly desire the manifestations of Christ’s love to their souls; they desire no more to make them happy than the assurance of his favour, the lifting up of the light of his countenance upon them (Ps. 4:6, 7), and the knowledge of that love of his which surpasses knowledge; this is the one thing they desire, Ps. 27:4. They are ready to welcome the manifestation of Christ’s love to their souls by his Spirit, and to return them in the humble professions of love to him and complacency in him, above all. The fruit of his lips is peace, Isa. 57:19. “Let him give me ten thousand kisses whose very fruition makes me desire him more, and, whereas all other pleasures sour and wither by using, those of the Spirit become more delightful.” So bishop Reynolds. She gives several reasons for this desire. (1.) Because of the great esteem she has for his love: Thy love is better than wine. Wine makes glad the heart, revives the drooping spirits, and exhilarates them, but gracious souls take more pleasure in loving Christ and being beloved of him, in the fruits and gifts of his love and in the pledges and assurances of it, than any man ever took in the most exquisite delights of sense, and it is more reviving to them than ever the richest cordial was to one ready to faint. Note, [1.] Christ’s love is in itself, and in the account of all the saints, more valuable and desirable than the best entertainments this world can give. [2.] Those only may expect the kisses of Christ’s mouth, and the comfortable tokens of his favour, who prefer his love before all delights of the children of men, who would rather forego those delights than forfeit his favour, and take more pleasure in spiritual joys than in any bodily refreshments whatsoever. Observe here the change of the person: Let him kiss me; there she speaks of him as absent, or as if she were afraid to speak to him; but, in the next words, she sees him near at hand, and therefore directs her speech to him: “Thy love, thy loves” (so the word is), “I so earnestly desire, because I highly esteem it.” (2.) Because of the diffuse fragrancy of his love and the fruits of it (Song 1:3): “Because of the savour of thy good ointment (the agreeableness and acceptableness of thy graces and comforts to all that rightly understand both them and themselves), thy name is as ointment poured forth, thou art so, and all that whereby thou hast made thyself known; thy very name is precious to all the saints; it is an ointment and perfume which rejoice the heart.” The unfolding of Christ’s name is as the opening of a box of precious ointment, which the room is filled with the odour of. The preaching of his gospel was the manifesting the savour of his knowledge in every place, 2 Cor. 2:14. The Spirit was the oil of gladness wherewith Christ was anointed (Heb. 1:9), and all true believers have that unction (1 John 2:27), so that he is precious to them, and they to him and to one another. A good name is as precious ointment, but Christ’s name is more fragrant than any other. Wisdom, like oil, makes the face to shine; but the Redeemer outshines, in beauty, all others. The name of Christ is not now like ointment sealed up, as it had been long (Ask not after my name, for it is secret), but like ointment poured forth, which denotes both the freeness and fulness of the communications of his grace by the gospel. (3.) Because of the general affection that all holy souls have to him: Therefore do the virgins love thee. It is Christ’s love shed abroad in our hearts that draws them out in love to him; all that are pure from the corruptions of sin, that preserve the chastity of their own spirits, and are true to the vows by which they have devoted themselves to God, that not only suffer not their affections to be violated but cannot bear so much as to be solicited by the world and the flesh, those are the virgins that love Jesus Christ and follow him whithersoever he goes, Rev. 14:4. And, because Christ is the darling of all the pure in heart, let him be ours, and let our desires be towards him and towards the kisses of his mouth.
2. The bridegroom’s fellowship, Song 1:4. Observe here,
(1.) Her petition for divine grace: Draw me. This implies sense of distance from him, desire of union with him. “Draw me to thyself, draw me nearer, draw me home to thee.” She had prayed that he would draw nigh to her (Song 1:2); in order to that, she prays that he would draw her nigh to him. “Draw me, not only with the moral suasion which there is in the fragrancy of the good ointments, not only with the attractives of that name which is as ointment poured forth, but with supernatural grace, with the cords of a man and the bands of love,” Hos. 11:4. Christ has told us that none come to him but such as the Father draws, John 6:44. We are not only weak, and cannot come of ourselves any further than we are helped, but we are naturally backward and averse to come, and therefore must pray for those influences and operations of the Spirit, by the power of which we are unwilling made willing, Ps. 110:3. “Draw me, else I move not; overpower the world and the flesh that would draw me from thee.” We are not driven to Christ, but drawn in such a way as is agreeable to rational creatures.
(2.) Her promise to improve that grace: Draw me, and then we will run after thee. See how the doctrine of special and effectual grace consists with our duty, and is a powerful engagement and encouragement to it, and yet reserves all the glory of all the good that is in us to God only. Observe, [1.] The flowing forth of the soul after Christ, and its ready compliance with him, are the effect of his grace; we could not run after him if he did not draw us, 2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:13. [2.] The grace which God gives us we must diligently improve. When Christ by his Spirit draws us we must with our spirits run after him. As God says, I will, and you shall (Ezek. 36:27), so we must say, “Thou shalt and we will; thou shalt work in us both to will and to do, and therefore we will work out our own salvation” (Phil. 2:12, 13); not only we will walk, but we will run after thee, which denotes eagerness of desire, readiness of affection, vigour of pursuit, and swiftness of motion. When thou shalt enlarge my heart then I will run the way of thy commandments (Ps. 119:32); when thy right hand upholds me then my soul follows hard after thee (Ps. 63:8); when with lovingkindness to us he draws us (Jer. 31:3) we with lovingkindness to him must run after him, Isa. 40:31. Observe the difference between the petition and the promise: “Draw me, and then we will run.” When Christ pours out his Spirit upon the church in general, which is his bride, all the members of it do thence receive enlivening quickening influences, and are made to run to him with the more cheerfulness, Isa. 55:5. Or, “Draw me” (says the believing soul) “and then I will not only follow thee myself as fast as I can, but will bring all mine along with me: We will run after thee, I and the virgins that love thee (Song 1:3), I and all that I have any interest in or influence upon, I and my house (Josh. 24:15), I and the transgressors whom I will teach thy ways,” Ps. 51:13. Those that put themselves forth, in compliance with divine grace, shall find that their zeal will provoke many, 2 Cor. 9:2. Those that are lively will be active; when Philip was drawn to Christ he drew Nathanael; and they will be exemplary, and so will win those that would not be won by the word.
(3.) The immediate answer that was given to this prayer: The King has drawn me, has brought me into his chambers. It is not so much an answer fetched by faith from the world of Christ’s grace as an answer fetched by experience from the workings of his grace. If we observe, as we ought, the returns of prayer, we may find that sometimes, while we are yet speaking, Christ hears, Isa. 65:24. The bridegroom is a king; so much the more wonderful is his condescension in the invitations and entertainments that he gives us, and so much the greater reason have we to accept of them and to run after him. God is the King that has made the marriage-supper for his Son (Matt. 22:2) and brings in even the poor and the maimed, and even the most shy and bashful are compelled to come in. Those that are drawn to Christ are brought, not only into his courts, into his palaces (Ps. 45:15), but into his presence-chamber, where his secret is with them (John 14:21), and where they are safe in his pavilion, Ps. 27:5; Isa. 26:20. Those that wait at wisdom’s gates shall be made to come (so the word is) into her chambers; they shall be led into truth and comfort.
(4.) The wonderful complacency which the spouse takes in the honour which the king put upon her. Being brought into the chamber, [1.] “We have what we would have. Our desires are crowned with unspeakable delights; all our griefs vanish, and we will be glad and rejoice. If a day in the courts, much more an hour in the chambers, is better than a thousand, than ten thousand, elsewhere.” Those that are, through grace, brought into covenant and communion with God, have reason to go on their way rejoicing, as the eunuch (Acts 8:39), and that joy will enlarge our hearts and be our strength, Neh. 8:10. [2.] All our joy shall centre in God: “We will rejoice, not in the ointments, or the chambers, but in thee. It is God only that is our exceeding joy, Ps. 43:4. We have no joy but in Christ, and which we are indebted to him for.” Gaudium in Domino—Joy in the Lord, was the ancient salutation, and Salus in Domino sempiterna—Eternal salvation in the Lord. [3.] “We will retain the relish and savour of this kindness of thine and never forget it: We will remember thy loves more than wine; no only thy love itself (Song 1:2), but the very remembrance of it shall be more grateful to us than the strongest cordial to the spirits, or the most palatable liquor to the taste. We will remember to give thanks for thy love, and it shall make more durable impressions upon us than any thing in this world.”
(5.) The communion which a gracious soul has with all the saints in this communion with Christ. In the chambers to which we are brought we not only meet with him, but meet with one another (1 John 1:7); for the upright love thee; the congregation, the generation, of the upright love thee. Whatever others do, all that are Israelites indeed, and faithful to God, will love Jesus Christ. Whatever differences of apprehension and affection there may be among Christians in other things, this they are all agreed in, Jesus Christ is precious to them. The upright here are the same with the virgins, Song 1:3. All that remember his love more than wine will love him with a superlative love. Nor is any love acceptable to Christ but the love of the upright, love in sincerity, Eph. 6:24.
II. To the daughters of Jerusalem, Song 1:5, 6. The church in general, being in distress, speaks to particular churches to guard them against the danger they were in of being offended at the church’s sufferings, 1 Thess. 3:3. Or the believer speaks to those that were professors at large in the church, but not of it, or to weak Christians, babes in Christ, that labour under much ignorance, infirmity, and mistake, not perfectly instructed, and yet willing to be taught in the things of God. She observed these by-standers look disdainfully upon her because of her blackness, in respect both of sins and sufferings, upon the account of which they though she had little reason to expect the kisses she wished for (Song 1:2) or to expect that they should join with her in her joys, Song 1:4. She therefore endeavors to remove this offence; she owns she is black. Guilt blackens; the heresies, scandals, and offences, that happen in the church, make her black; and the best saints have their failings. Sorrow blackens; that seems to be especially meant; the church is often in a low condition, mean, and poor, and in appearance despicable, her beauty sullied and her face foul with weeping; she is in mourning weeds, clothed with sackcloth, as the Nazarites that had become blacker than a coal, Lam. 4:8. Now, to take off this offence,
1. She asserts her own comeliness notwithstanding (Song 1:5): I am black, but comely, black as the tents of Kedar, in which the shepherds lived, which were very coarse, and never whitened, weather-beaten and discoloured by long use, but comely as the curtains of Solomon, the furniture of whose rooms, no doubt, was sumptuous and rich, in proportion to the stateliness of his houses. The church is sometimes black with persecution, but comely in patience, constancy, and consolation, and never the less amiable in the eyes of Christ, black in the account of men, but comely in God’s esteem, black in some that are a scandal to her, but comely in others that are sincere and are an honour to her. True believers are black in themselves, but comely in Christ, with the comeliness that he puts upon them, black outwardly, for the world knows them not, but all glorious within, Ps. 45:13. St. Paul was weak, and yet strong, 2 Cor. 12:10. And so the church is black and yet comely; a believer is a sinner and yet a saint; his own righteousnesses are as filthy rags, but he is clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. The Chaldee Paraphrase applies it to the people of Israel’s blackness when they made the golden calf and their comeliness when they repented of it.
2. She gives an account how she came to be so black. The blackness was not natural, but contracted, and was owing to the hard usage that had been given her: Look not upon me so scornfully because I am black. We must take heed with what eye we look upon the church, especially when she is in black. Thou shouldst not have looked upon the day of thy brother, the day of his affliction, Obad. 1:12. Be not offended; for,
(1.) I am black by reason of my sufferings: The sun has looked upon me. She was fair and comely; whiteness was her proper colour; but she got this blackness by the burden and heat of the day, which she was forced to bear. She was sun-burnt, scorched with tribulation and persecution (Matt. 13:6, 21); and the greatest beauties, if exposed to the weather, are soonest tanned. Observe how she mitigates her troubles; she does not say, as Jacob (Gen. 31:40), In the day the drought consumed me, but, The sun has looked upon me; for it becomes not God’s suffering people to make the worst of their sufferings. But what was the matter? [1.] She fell under the displeasure of those of her own house: My mother’s children were angry with me. She was in perils by false brethren; her foes were those of her own house (Matt. 10:36), brethren by nature as men, by profession as members of the same sacred corporation, the children of the church her mother, but not of God her Father; they were angry with her. The Samaritans, who claimed kindred to the Jews, were vexed at any thing that tended to the prosperity of Jerusalem, Neh. 2:10. Note, It is no new thing for the people of God to fall under the anger of their own mother’s children. It was thou, a man, my equal, Ps. 55:12, 13. This makes the trouble the more irksome and grievous; from such it is taken unkindly, and the anger of such is implacable. A brother offended is hard to be won. [2.] They dealt very hardly with her: They made me the keeper of the vineyards, that is, First, “They seduced me to sin, drew me into false worships, to serve their gods, which was like dressing the vineyards, keeping the vine of Sodom; and they would not let me keep my own vineyard,[ 78f1 /I] serve my own God, and observe those pure worships which he gave me in charge, and which I do and ever will own for mine.” These are grievances which good people complain most of in a time of persecution, that their consciences are forced, and that those who rule them with rigour say to their souls, Bow down, that we may go over, Isa. 51:23. Or, Secondly, “They brought me into trouble, imposed that upon me which was toilsome, and burdensome, and very disgraceful.” Keeping the vineyards was base servile work, and very laborious, Isa. 61:5. Her mother’s children made her the drudge of the family. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. The spouse of Christ has met with a great deal of hard usage.
(2.) “My sufferings are such as I have deserved; for my own vineyard have I not kept. How unrighteous soever my brethren are in persecuting me, God is righteous in permitting them to do so. I am justly made a slavish keeper of men’s vineyards, because I have been a careless keeper of the vineyards God has entrusted me with.” Slothful servants of God are justly made to serve their enemies, that they may know his service, and the service of the kings of the countries, 2 Chron. 12:8; Deut. 28:47, 48; Ezek. 20:23, 24. “Think not the worse of the ways of God for my sufferings, for I smart for my own folly.” Note, When God’s people are oppressed and persecuted it becomes them to acknowledge their own sin to be the procuring cause of their troubles, especially their carelessness in keeping their vineyards, so that it has been like the field of the slothful.