Here, I. The spouse is much admired by those about her. It comes in in a parenthesis, but in it gospel-grace lies as plain, and as much above ground, as any where in this mystical song: Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Some make these the words of the bridegroom, expressing himself well pleased with her reliance on him and resignation of herself to his guidance. They are rather the words of the daughters of Jerusalem, to whom she spoke (Song 8:4); they see her, and bless her. The angels in heaven, and all her friends on earth, are the joyful spectators of her bliss. The Jewish church came up from the wilderness supported by the divine power and favour, Deut. 32:10, 11. The Christian church was raised up from a low and desolate condition by the grace of Christ relied on, Gal. 4:27. Particular believers are amiable, nay, admirable, and divine grace is to be admired in them, when by the power of that grace they are brought up from the wilderness, leaning with a holy confidence and complacency upon Jesus Christ their beloved. This bespeaks the beauty of a soul, and the wonders of divine grace, 1. In the conversion of sinners. A sinful state is a wilderness, remote from communion with God, barren and dry, and in which there is no true comfort; it is a wandering wanting state. Out of this wilderness we are concerned to come up, by true repentance, in the strength of the grace of Christ, supported by our beloved and carried in his arms. 2. In the consolation of saints. A soul convinced of sin, and truly humbled for it, is in a wilderness, quite at a loss; and there is no coming out of this wilderness but leaning on Christ as our beloved, by faith, and not leaning to our own understanding, nor trusting to any righteousness or strength of our own as sufficient for us, but going forth, and going on, in the strength of the Lord God, and making mention of his righteousness, even his only, who is the Lord our righteousness. 3. In the salvation of those that belong to Christ. We must go up from the wilderness of this world having our conversation in heaven; and, at death, we must remove thither, leaning upon Christ, must live and die by faith in him. To me to live is Christ, and it is he that is gain in death.
II. She addresses herself to her beloved.
1. She puts him in mind of the former experience which she and others had had of comfort and success in applying to him. (1.) For her own part: “I raised thee up under the apple tree, that is, I have many a time wrestled with thee by prayer and have prevailed. When I was alone in the acts of devotion, retired in the orchard, under the apple-tree” (which Christ himself was compared to, Song 2:3), as Nathanael under the fig-tree (John 1:48), “meditating and praying, then I raised thee up, to help me and comfort me,” as the disciples raised him up in the storm, saying, Master, carest thou not that we perish? (Mark 4:38), and the church (Ps. 44:23), Awake, why sleepest thou? Note, The experience we have had of Christ’s readiness to yield to the importunities of our faith and prayer should encourage us to continue instant in our addresses to him, to strive more earnestly, and not to faint. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, Ps. 34:4. (2.) Others also had like experience of comfort in Christ, as it follows there (Ps. 34:5), They looked unto him, as well as I, and were lightened. There thy mother brought thee forth, the universal church, or believing souls, in whom Christ was formed, Gal. 4:15. They were in pain for the comfort of an interest in thee, and travailed in pain with great sorrow (so the word here signifies); but they brought thee forth; the pangs did not continue always; those that had travailed in convictions at last brought forth in consolations, and the pain was forgotten for joy of the Saviour’s birth. By this very similitude our Saviour illustrates the joy which his disciples would have in his return to them, after a mournful separation for a time, John 16:21, 22. After the bitter pangs of repentance many a one has had the blessed birth of comfort; why then may not I?
2. She begs of him that her union with him might be confirmed, and her communion with him continued and made more intimate (Song 8:6): Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm. (1.) “Let me have a place in thy heart, an interest in thy love.” This is that which all those desire above any thing that know how much their happiness is bound up in the love of Christ. (2.) “Let me never lose the room I have in thy heart; let thy love to me be ensured, as that deed which is sealed up not to be robbed. Let nothing ever prevail either to separate me from thy love, or, by suspending the communications of it, to deprive me of the comfortable sense of it.” (3.) “Let me be always near and dear to thee, as the signet on thy right hand, not to be parted with (Jer. 22:24), engraven upon the palms of thy hands (Isa. 49:14), be loved with a peculiar love.” (4.) “Be thou my high priest; let my name be written on thy breast-plate, nearer thy heart, as the names of all the tribes were engraven like the engravings of a signet in twelve precious stones on the breast-plate of Aaron, and also on two precious stones on the two shoulders or arms of the ephod,” Exod. 28:11, 12, 21. (5.) “Let thy power be engaged for me, as an evidence of thy love to me; let me be not only a seal upon thy heart, but a seal upon thy arm; let me be ever borne up in thy arms, and know it to my comfort.” Some make these to be the words of Christ to his spouse, commanding her to be ever mindful of him and of his love to her; however, if we desire and expect that Christ should set us as a seal on his heart, surely we cannot do less than set him as a seal on ours.
3. To enforce this petition, she pleads the power of love, of her love to him, which constrained her to be thus pressing for the tokens of his love to her.
(1.) Love is a violent vigorous passion. [1.] It is strong as death. The pains of a disappointed lover are like the pains of death; nay, the pains of death are slighted, and made nothing of, in pursuit of the beloved object. Christ’s love to us was strong as death, for it broke through death itself. He loved us, and gave himself for us. The love of true believers to Christ is strong as death, for it makes them dead to every thing else; it even parts between soul and body, while the soul, upon the wings of devout affections, soars upward to heaven, an even forgets that it is yet clothed and clogged with flesh. Paul, in a rapture of this love, knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body. By it a believer is crucified to the world. [2.] Jealousy is cruel as the grave, which swallows up and devours all; those that truly love Christ are jealous of every thing that would draw them from him, and especially jealous of themselves, lest they should do any thing to provoke him to withdraw from them, and, rather than do so, would pluck out a right eye and cut off a right hand, than which what can be more cruel? Weak and trembling saints, who conceive a jealousy of Christ, doubting of his love to them, find that jealousy to prey upon them like the grave; nothing wastes the spirits more; but it is an evidence of the strength of their love to him. (3.) The coals thereof, its lamps, and flames, and beams, are very strong, and burn with incredible force, as the coals of fire that have a most vehement flame, a flame of the Lord (so some read it), a powerful piercing flame, as the lightning, Ps. 29:7. Holy love is a fire that begets a vehement heat in the soul, and consumes the dross and chaff that are in it, melts it down like wax into a new form, and carries it upwards as the sparks towards God and heaven.
(2.) Love is a valiant victorious passion. Holy love is so; the reigning love of God in the soul is constant and firm, and will not be drawn off from him either by fair means or foul, by life or death, Rom. 8:38. [1.] Death, and all its terrors, will not frighten a believer from loving Christ: Many waters, though they will quench fire, cannot quench this love, no, nor the floods drown it, Song 8:7. The noise of these waters will strike no terror upon it; let them do their worst, Christ shall still be the best beloved. The overflowing of these waters will strike no damp upon it, but it will enable a man to rejoice in tribulation. Though he slay me, I will love him and trust in him. No waters could quench Christ’s love to us, nor any floods drown it; he waded through the greatest difficulties, even seas of blood. Love sat king upon the floods; let nothing then abate our love to him. [2.] Life, and all its comforts, will not entice a believer from loving Christ: If a man could hire him with all the substance of his house, to take his love off from Christ and set it upon the world and the flesh again, he would reject the proposal with the utmost disdain; as Christ, when the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them were offered him, to buy him off from his undertaking, said, Get thee hence, Satan. It would utterly be contemned. Offer those things to those that know no better. Love will enable us to repel and triumph over temptations from the smiles of the world, as much as from its frowns. Some give this sense of it: If a man would give all the substance of his house to Christ, as an equivalent instead of love, to excuse it, it would be contemned. He seeks not ours, but us, the heart, not the wealth. If I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not love, it is nothing, 1 Cor. 13:1. Thus believers stand affected to Christ: the gifts of his providence cannot satisfy them without the assurances of his love.