Now we must suppose Christ graciously returned to his spouse, from whom he had withdrawn himself, returned to converse with her (for he speaks to her and makes her to hear joy and gladness), returned to favour her, having forgiven and forgotten all her unkindness, for he speaks very tenderly and respectfully to her.
I. He pronounces her truly amiable (Song 6:4): Thou art beautiful, O my love! as Tirzah, a city in the tribe of Manasseh, whose name signifies pleasant, or acceptable, the situation, no doubt, being very happy and the building fine and uniform. Thou art comely as Jerusalem, a city compact together (Ps. 122:3), and which Solomon had built and beautified, the joy of the whole earth; it was an honour to the world (whether they thought so or no) that there was such a city in it. It was the holy city, and that was the greatest beauty of it; and fitly is the church compared to it, for it was figured and typified by it. The gospel-church is the Jerusalem that is above (Gal. 4:26), the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22); in it God has his sanctuary, and is, in a special manner, present; thence he has the tribute of praise issuing; it is his rest for ever, and therefore it is comely as Jerusalem, and, being so, is terrible as an army with banners. Church-censures, duly administered, strike an awe upon men’s consciences; the word (the weapons of her warfare) casts down imaginations (2 Cor. 10:5), and even an unbeliever is convinced and judged by the solemnity of holy ordinances, 1 Cor. 14:24, 25. The saints by faith overcome the world (1 John 5:4); nay, like Jacob, they have power with God and prevail, Gen. 32:28.
II. He owns himself in love with her, Song 6:5. Though, for a small moment, and in a little wrath, he had hid his face from her, yet now he gathers her with very surprising instances of everlasting lovingkindness, Isa. 54:8. Turn thy eyes towards me (so some read it), “turn the eyes of faith and love towards me, for they have lifted me up; look unto me, and be comforted.” When we are calling to God to turn the eye of his favour towards us he is calling to us to turn the eye of our obedience towards him. We read it as a strange expression of love, “Turn away thy eyes from me, for I cannot bear the brightness of them; they have quite overcome me, and I am prevailed with to overlook all that is past;” as God said to Moses, when he interceded for Israel, “Let me alone, or I must yield,” Exod. 32:10. Christ is pleased to borrow these expressions of a passionate lover only to express the tenderness of a compassionate Redeemer, and the delight he takes in his redeemed and in the workings of his own grace in them.
III. He repeats, almost word for word, part of the description he had given of her beauty (Song 4:1-3), her hair, her teeth, her temples (Song 6:5-7), not because he could not have described it in other words, and by other similitudes, but to show that he had still the same esteem for her since her unkindness to him, and his withdrawings from her, that he had before. Lest she should think that, though he would not quite cast her off, yet he would think the worse of her while he knew her, he says the same of her now that he had done; for those to whom much is forgiven will love the more, and, consequently, will be the more loved, for Christ has said, I love those that love me. He is pleased with his people, notwithstanding their weaknesses, when they sincerely repent of them and return to their duty, and commends them as if they had already arrived at perfection.
IV. He prefers her before all competitors, and sees all the beauties and perfections of others meeting and centering in her (Song 6:8, 9): “There are, it may be, threescore queens, who, like Esther, have by their beauty attained to the royal state and dignity, and fourscore concubines, whom kings have preferred before their own queens, as more charming, and these attended by their maids of honour, virgins without number, who, when there is a ball at court, appear in great splendour, with beauty that dazzles the eyes of the spectators; but my dove, my undefiled, is but one, a holy one.” 1. She excels them all. Go through all the world, and view the societies of men that reckon themselves wise and happy, kingdoms, courts, senates, councils, or whatever incorporations you may think valuable, they are none of them to be compared with the church of Christ; their honours and beauties are nothing to hers. Who is like unto thee, O Israel! Deut. 33:29; Deut. 4:6, 7. There are particular persons, as virgins without number, who are famed for their accomplishments, the beauties of their address, language, and performances, but the beauty of holiness is beyond all other beauty: “My dove, my undefiled, is one, has that one beauty that she is a dove, an undefiled dove, and mine, and that makes her excel the queens and virgins, though they were ever so many.” 2. She included them all. “Other kings have many queens, and concubines, and virgins, with whose conversation they entertain themselves, but my dove, my undefiled, is to me instead of all; in that one I have more than they have in all theirs.” Or, “Though there are many particular churches, some of greater dignity, others of less, some of longer, others of shorter, standing, and many particular believers, of different gifts and attainments, some more eminent, others less so, yet they all constitute but one catholic church, are all but parts of that whole, and that is my dove, my undefiled.” Christ is the centre of the church’s unity; all the children of God that are scattered abroad are gathered by him (John 11:52), and meet in him (Eph. 1:10), and are all his doves.
V. He shows how much she was esteemed, not by him only, but by all that had acquaintance with her and stood in relation to her. It would add to her praise to say, 1. That she was her mother’s darling; she had that in her, from a child, which recommended her to the particular affection of her parents. As Solomon himself is said to have been tender and an only one in the sight of his mother (Prov. 4:3), so was she the only one of her mother, as dear as if she had been an only one, and, if there were many more, yet she was the choice one of her that bore her, more excellent than all the societies of men this world ever produced. All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, are nothing, in Christ’s account, compared with the church, which is made up of the excellent ones of the earth, the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, and more excellent than their neighbours. 2. That she was admired by all her acquaintance, not only the daughters, who were her juniors, but even the queens and the concubines, who might have reason to be jealous of her as a rival; they all blessed her, and wished well to her, praised her, and spoke well of her. The daughters of Jerusalem called her the fairest among women; all agreed to give her the pre-eminence for beauty, and every sheaf bowed to hers. Note, (1.) Those that have any correct sense of things cannot but be convinced in their consciences (whatever they say) that godly people are excellent people; many will give them their good word, and more their good-will. (2.) Jesus Christ takes notice what people think and speak of his church, and is well pleased with those that honour such as fear the Lord, and takes it ill of those that despise them, particularly when they are under a cloud, that offend any of his little ones.
VI. He produces the encomium that was given of her, and makes it his own (Song 6:10): Who is she that looks forth as the morning? This is applicable both to the church in the world and to grace in the heart.
1. They are amiable as the light, the most beautiful of all visible things. Christians are, or should be, the lights of the world. The patriarchal church looked forth as the morning when the promise of the Messiah was first made known, and the day-spring from on high visited this dark world. The Jewish church was fair as the moon; the ceremonial law was an imperfect light; it shone by reflection; it was changing as the moon, did not make day, nor had the sun of righteousness yet risen. But the Christian church is clear as the sun, exhibits a great light to those that sat in darkness. Or we may apply it to the kingdom of grace, the gospel-kingdom. (1.) In its rise, it looks forth as the morning after a dark night; it is discovering (Job 38:12, 13), and very acceptable, looks forth pleasantly as a clear morning; but it is small in its beginnings, and scarcely perceptible at first. (2.) It is, at the best, in this world, but fair as the moon, which shines with a borrowed light, which has her changes and eclipses, and her spots too, and, when at the full, does but rule by night. But, (3.) When it is perfected in the kingdom of glory then it will be clear as the sun, the church clothed with the sun, with Christ the sun of righteousness, Rev. 12:1. Those that love God will then be as the sun when he goes forth in his strength (Jdg. 5:31; Matt. 13:43); they shall shine in inexpressible glory, and that which is perfect will then come; there shall be no darkness, no spots, Isa. 30:26.
2. The beauty of the church and of believers is not only amiable, but awful as an army with banners. The church, in this world, is as an army, as the camp of Israel in the wilderness; its state is militant; it is in the midst of enemies, and is engaged in a constant conflict with them. Believers are soldiers in this army. It has its banners; the gospel of Christ is an ensign (Isa. 11:12), the love of Christ, Song 2:4. It is marshalled, and kept in order and under discipline. It is terrible to its enemies as Israel in the wilderness was, Exod. 15:14. When Balaam saw Israel encamped according to their tribes, by their standards, with colours displayed, he said, How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! Num. 24:5. When the church preserves her purity she secures her honour and victory; when she is fair as the moon, and clear as the sun, she is truly great and formidable.