Christ and his spouse having sufficiently confirmed their love to each other, and agreed it to be on both sides strong as death and inviolable, they are here, in these verses, like a loving husband and his wife, consulting together about their affairs, and considering what they should do. Yoke-fellows, having laid their hearts together, lay their heads together, to contrive about their relations and about their estates; and, accordingly, this happy pair are here advising with one another about a sister, and a vineyard.
I. They are here consulting about their sister, their little sister, and the disposing of her.
1. The spouse proposes her case with a compassionate concern (Song 8:8): We have a little sister and she has no breasts (she has not grown up to maturity); what shall we do for this little sister of ours in the day that she shall be spoken for, so as that we may do well for her? (1.) This may be understood as spoken by the Jewish church concerning the Gentile world. God has espoused the church of the Jews to himself, and she was richly endowed, but what shall become of the poor Gentiles, the barren that has not borne, and the desolate? Isa. 54:1. Their condition (say the pious Jews) is very deplorable and forlorn; they are sisters, children of the same fathers, God and Adam, but they are little, because not dignified with the knowledge of God; they have no breasts, no divine revelation, no scriptures, no ministers, no breasts of consolation drawn out to them, when they might suck, being strangers to the covenants of promise, no breasts of instruction themselves to draw out to their children, to nourish them, 1 Pet. 2:2. What shall we do for them? We can but pity them, and pray for them. Lord, what wilt thou do for them? The saints, in Solomon’s time, might know, from David’s psalms, that God had mercy in store for them, and they begged it might be hastened to them. Now the tables are turned; the Gentiles are betrothed to Christ, and ought to return the kindness by an equal concern for the bringing in of the Jews again, our eldest sister, that once had breasts, but now has none. If we take it in this sense, the unbelieving posterity of these pious Jews contradicted this prayer of their fathers; for, when the day came that the Gentiles should be spoken for and courted to Christ, instead of considering what to do for them they plotted to do all they could against them, which filled up the measure of their iniquity, 1 Thess. 2:16. Or, (2.) It may be applied to any other that belong to the election of grace, but are yet uncalled. They are remotely related to Christ and his church, and sisters to them both, other sheep that are not of this fold, John 10:16; Acts 18:10. They have no breasts, none yet fashioned (Ezek. 16:7), no affection to Christ, no principle of grace. The day will come when they shall be spoken for, when the chosen shall be called, shall be courted for Christ, by the ministers, the friends of the bridegroom. A blessed day it will be, a day of visitation. What shall we do, in that day, to promote the match, to conquer their coyness, and persuade them to consent to Christ and present themselves chaste virgins to him? Note, Those that through grace are brought to Christ themselves should contrive what they may do to help others to him, to carry on the great design of his gospel, which is to espouse souls to Christ and convert sinners to him from whom they have departed.
2. Christ soon determines what to do in this case, and his spouse agrees with him in it (Song 8:9): “If she be a wall, if the good work be once begun with the Gentiles, with the souls that are to be called in, if the little sister, when she shall be spoken for by the gospel, will but receive the word, and build herself upon Christ the foundation, and frame her doings to turn to the Lord, as the wall is in order to the house, we will build upon her a palace of silver, or build her up into such a palace; we will carry on the good work that is begun, till the wall become a palace, the wall of stone a palace of silver,” which goes beyond the boast of Augustus Caesar, that what he found brick he left marble. This little sister, when once she is joined to the Lord, shall be made to grow into a holy temple, a habitation of God through the Spirit, Eph. 2:21, 22. If she be a door, when this palace comes to be finished, and the doors of this wall set up, which was the last thing done (Neh. 7:1), then we will enclose here with boards of cedar; we will carefully and effectually protect her, that she shall receive no damage. We will do it; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all concur in contriving, carrying on, and crowning, the blessed work when the time comes. Whatever is wanting shall be set in order, and the work of faith shall be fulfilled with power. Though the beginnings of grace be small, the latter end shall greatly increase. The church is in care concerning those that are yet uncalled. “Let me alone,” says Christ; “I will do all that which is necessary to be done for them. Trust me with it.”
3. The spouse takes this occasion to acknowledge with thankfulness his kindness to her, Song 8:10. She is very willing to trust him with her little sister, for she herself had had great experience of his grace, and, for her part, she owed her all to him: I am a wall, and my breasts like towers. This she speaks, not as upbraiding her little sister that had no breasts, but comforting her concerning her, that he who had made her what she was, who had built her up upon himself and made her to grow up to maturity, could and would do the same kindness for those whose case she bore upon her heart. Then was I in his eyes as one that found favour. See, (1.) What she values herself upon, her having found favour in the eyes of Jesus Christ. Those are happy, truly happy, and for ever so, that have the favour of God and are accepted of him. (2.) How she ascribes the good work of God in her to the good-will of God towards her: “He has made me a wall and my breasts as towers, and then, in that instance more than in any thing, I experienced his love to me.” Hail, thou that art highly favoured, for in thee Christ is formed. (3.) What pleasure God takes in the work of his own hands. When we are made as a wall, as a brazen wall (Jer. 1:18; 15:20), that stands firmly against the blast of the terrible ones (Isa. 25:4), then God takes delight in us to do us good. (4.) With what joy and triumph we ought to speak of God’s grace towards us, and with what satisfaction we should look back upon the special times and seasons when we were in his eyes as those that find favour; these were days never to be forgotten.
II. They are here consulting about a vineyard they had in the country, the church of Christ on earth considered under the notion of a vineyard (Song 8:11, 12): Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon, had a kingdom in the possession of a multitude, a numerous people. As he was a type of Christ, so his vineyard was a type of the church of Christ. Our Saviour has given us a key to these verses in the parable of the vineyard let out to the unthankful husbandmen, Matt. 21:33. The bargain was that, every one of the tenants having so much of the vineyard assigned him as would contain 1000 vines, he was to pay the annual rent of 1000 pieces of silver; for we read (Isa. 7:23) that in a fruitful soil there were 1000 vines at 1000 silverlings. Observe, 1. Christ’s church is his vineyard, a pleasant and peculiar place, privileged with many honours; he delights to walk in it, as a man in his vineyard, and is pleased with its fruits. 2. He has entrusted each of us with his vineyard, as keepers of it. The privileges of the church are that good thing which he has committed to us, to be kept as a sacred trust. The service of the church is to be our business, according as our capacity is. Son, go work to-day in my vineyard. Adam, in innocency, was to dress the garden, and to keep it. 3. He expects rent from those that are employed in his vineyard and entrusted with it. He comes, seeking fruit, and requires gospel-duty of all those that enjoy gospel-privileges. Every one, of what rank or degree soever, must bring glory and honour to Christ, and do some service to the interest of his kingdom in the world, in consideration of what benefit and advantage they enjoy by their share of the privileges of the vineyard. 4. Though Christ has let out his vineyard to keepers, yet still it is his, and he has his eye always upon it for good; for, if he did not watch over it night and day (Isa. 27:1, 2), the watchmen, to whom he has let it out, would keep it but in vain, Ps. 127:1. Some take these for Christ’s words (Song 8:12): My vineyard, which is mine, is before me; and they observe how he dwells upon his property in it: It is my vineyard, which is mine; so dear is his church to him, it is his own in the world (John 13:1), and therefore he will always have it under his protection; it is his own, and he will look after it. 5. The church, that enjoys the privileges of the vineyard, must have them always before her. The keeping of the vineyard requires constant care and diligence. They are rather the words of the spouse: My vineyard, which is mine, is before me. She has lamented her fault and folly in not keeping her own vineyard (Song 1:6), but now she resolves to reform. Our hearts are our vineyards, which we must keep with all diligence; and therefore we must have a watchful jealous eye upon them at all times. 6. Our great care must be to pay our rent for what we hold of Christ’s vineyard, and to see that we do not go behind-hand, nor disappoint the messengers he sends to receive the fruits (Matt. 21:34): Thou, O Solomon! must have 1000, and shalt have. The main of the profits belong to Christ; to him and his praise all our fruits must be dedicated. 7. If we be careful to give Christ the praise of our church-privileges, we may then take to ourselves the comfort and benefit of them. If the owner of the vineyard have had his due, the keepers of it shall be well paid for their cares and pains; they shall have 200, which sum, no doubt, was looked upon as a good profit. Those that work for Christ are working for themselves, and shall be unspeakable gainers by it.
Christ and his spouse are here parting for a while; she must stay below in the gardens on earth, where she has work to do for him; he must remove to the mountains of spices in heaven, where he has business to attend for her, as an advocate with the Father. Now observe with what mutual endearments they part.
I. He desires to hear often from her. She is ready at her pen; she must be sure to write to him; she knows how to direct (Song 8:13): “Thou that, for the present, dwellest in the gardens, dressing and keeping them till thou remove from the garden below to the paradise above—thou, O believer! whoever thou art, that dwellest in the gardens of solemn ordinances, in the gardens of church-fellowship and communion, the companions are so happy as to hear thy voice, cause me to hear it too.” Observe, 1. Christ’s friends should keep a good correspondence one with another, and, as dear companions, speak often to one another (Mal. 3:16) and hearken to one another’s voice; they should edify, encourage, and respect one another. They are companions in the kingdom and patience of Christ, and therefore, as fellow-travellers, should keep up mutual freedom, and not be shy of, nor strange to, one another. The communion of saints is an article of our covenant, as well as an article of our creed, to exhort one another daily, and be glad to be exhorted by another. Hearken to the voice of the church, as far as it agrees with the voice of Christ; his companions will do so. 2. In the midst of our communion with one another we must not neglect our communion with Christ, but let him see our countenance and hear our voice; he here bespeaks it: “The companions hearken to thy voice; it is a pleasure to them; cause me to hear it. Thou makest thy complaints to them when any thing grieves thee; why does thou not bring them to me, and let me hear them? Thou art free with them; be as free with me; pour out thy heart to me.” Thus Christ, when he left his disciples, ordered them to send to him upon every occasion. Ask, and you shall receive. Note, Christ not only accepts and answers, but even courts his people’s prayers, not reckoning them a trouble to him, but an honour and a delight, Prov. 15:8. We cause him to hear our prayers when we not only pray, but wrestle and strive in prayer. He loves to be pressingly importuned, which is not the manner of men. Some read it, “Cause me to be heard; thou hast often an opportunity of speaking to thy companions, and they hearken to what thou sayest; speak of me to them; let my name be heard among them; let me be the subject of thy discourse.” “One word of Christ” (as archbishop Usher used to say) “before you part.” No subject is more becoming, or should be more pleasing.
II. She desires his speedy return to her (Song 8:14): Make haste, my beloved, to come again, and receive me to thyself; be thou like a roe, or a young hart, upon the mountains of spices; let no time be lost; it is pleasant dwelling here in the gardens, but to depart, and be with thee, is far better; that therefore is what I wish, and wait, and long for. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Observe, 1. Though Jesus Christ be now retired, he will return. The heavens, those high mountains of sweet spices, must contain him till the times of refreshing shall come; and those times will come, when every eye shall see him, in all the pomp and power of the upper and better world, the mystery of God being finished and the mystical body completed. 2. True believers, as they are looking for, so they are hastening to, the coming of that day of the Lord, not that they would have him make more haste than good speed, but that the intermediate counsels may all be fulfilled, and then that the end may come—the sooner the better. Not that they think him slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but thus they express the strength of their affections to him and the vastness of their expectations from him when he comes again. 3. Those only that can in sincerity call Christ their beloved, their best beloved, can, upon good grounds, desire him to hasten his second coming. As for those whose hearts go a whoring after the world, and who set their affections on the things of the earth, they cannot love his appearing, but dread it rather, because then the earth, and all the things of it which they have chosen for their portion, will be burnt up. But those that truly love Christ long for his second coming, because it will be the crown both of his glory and their bliss. 4. The comfort and satisfaction which we sometimes have in communion with God in grace here should make us breathe the more earnestly after the immediate vision and complete fruition of him in the kingdom of glory. The spouse, after an endearing conference with her beloved, finding it must break off, concludes with this affectionate request for the perfecting and perpetuating of this happiness in the future state. The clusters of grapes that meet us in this wilderness should make us long for the full vintage in Canaan. If a day in his courts be so sweet, what then will an eternity within the veil be! If this be heaven, O that I were there! 5. It is good to conclude our devotions with a joyful expectation of the glory to be revealed, and holy humble breathings towards it. We should not part but with the prospect of meeting again. It is good to conclude every sabbath with thoughts of the everlasting sabbath, which shall have no night at the end of it, nor any week-day to come after it. It is good to conclude every sacrament with thoughts of the everlasting feast, when we shall sit down with Christ at his table in his kingdom, to rise no more, and drink of the wine new there, and to break up every religious assembly in hopes of the general assembly of the church of the first-born, when time and days shall be no more: Let the blessed Jesus hasten that blessed day. Why are his chariot-wheels so long a coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
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