And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. ~ Romans 8:17, Revelation 21:7
And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
~ Matthew 28:9
Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, by John Owen.
Of communion with Christ in a conjugal relation in respect of consequential affections — His delight in his saints first insisted on, Isa. lxii. 5; Cant. iii. 11, Prov. viii. 21 — Instance of Christ’s delight in believers — He reveals his whole heart to them, John xv. 14, 16; himself, 1 John xiv. 21; his kingdom; enables them to communicate their mind to him, giving them assistance, a way, boldness, Rom. viii. 26, 27 — The saints delight in Christ; this manifested Cant. ii. 7; viii. 6 — Cant. iii. 1–5, opened — Their delight in his servants and ordinances of worship for his sake.
The communion begun, as before declared, between Christ and the soul, is in the next place carried on by suitable consequential affections, — affections suiting such a relation. Christ having given himself to the soul, loves the soul; and the soul having given itself unto Christ, loveth him also. Christ loves his own, yea, “loves them to the end,” John xiii. 1; and the saints they love Christ, they “love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,” Eph. vi. 24.
Now the love of Christ, wherewith he follows his saints, consists in these four things:— I. Delight. 2. Valuation. 3. Pity, or compassion. 4. Bounty. The love, also, of the saints unto Christ may be referred to these four heads:— Delight; Valuation; Chastity; Duty.
Two of these are of the same kind, and two distinct; as is required in this relation, wherein all things stand not on equal terms.
I. The first thing on the part of Christ is delight. Delight is the flowing of love and joy, — the rest and complacence of the mind in a suitable, desirable good enjoyed. Now, Christ delights exceedingly in his saints: “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee,” Isa. lxii. 5. Hence he calleth the day of his espousals, the day of the “gladness of his heart,” Cant. iii. 11. It is known that usually this is the most unmixed delight that the sons of men are in their pilgrimage made partakers of. The delight of the bridegroom in the day of his espousals is the height of what an expression of delight can be carried unto. This is in Christ answerable to the relation he takes us into. His heart is glad in us, without sorrow. And every day whilst we live is his wedding-day. It is said of him, Zeph. iii. 17, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee” (that is, dwelling amongst us, taking our nature, John i. 14) “is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing;” which is a full description of delight, in all the parts of it, — joy and exultation, rest and complacence. “I rejoiced,” saith he, “in the habitable parts of the earth, and my delights were with the sons of men,” Prov. viii. 31. The thoughts of communion with the saints were the joy of his heart from eternity. On the compact and agreement that was between his Father and him, that he should divide a portion with the strong, and save a remnant for his inheritance, his soul rejoiced in the thoughts of that pleasure and delight which he would take in them, when he should actually take them into communion with himself.
Therefore in the preceding verse it is said he was by him as אָמוֹן, say we, “As one brought up with him,” “alumnus;” the LXX. render it ἁρμόζουσα· and the Latin, with most other translations, “cuncta componens,” or “disponens”. The word taken actively, signifies him whom another takes into his care to breed up, and disposeth of things for his advantage. So did Christ take us then into his care, and rejoiced in the thoughts of the execution of his trust. Concerning them he saith, “Here will I dwell, and here will I make my habitation for ever.” For them has he chosen for his temple and his dwelling-place, because he delighteth in them. This makes him take them so nigh himself in every relation. As he is God, they are his temple; as he is a king, they are his subjects, — he is the king of saints; as he is a head, they are his body, — he is the head of the church; as he is a first-born, he makes them his brethren, — “he is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
I shall choose out one particular from among many as an instance for the proof of this thing; and that is this:— Christ reveals his secrets, his mind, unto his saints, and enables them to reveal the secrets of their hearts to him, — an evident demonstration of great delight. It was Samson’s carnal delight in Delilah that prevailed with him to reveal unto her those things which were of greatest concernment unto him; he will not hide his mind from her, though it cost him his life. It is only a bosom friend into whom we will unbosom ourselves Neither is there, possibly, a greater evidence of delight in close communion than this, that one will reveal his heart unto him whom he takes into society, and not entertain him with things common and vulgarly known. And therefore have I chose this instance, from amongst a thousand that might be given, of this delight of Christ in his saints.
He, then, communicates his mind unto his saints, and unto them, only; — his mind, the counsel of his love, the thoughts of his heart, the purposes of his bosom, for our eternal good, — his mind, the ways of his grace, the workings of his Spirit, the rule of his sceptre, And the obedience of his gospel. All spiritual revelation is by Christ. He is “the true Light, that lighteth every man that comes into the world,” John i. 9. He is the “Day-spring,” the “Day-star,” and the “Sun;” so that it is impossible any light should be but by him. From him it is that “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he shows them his covenant,” Ps. xxv. 14; as he expresses it at large, John xv. 14, 15, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” He makes them as his friends, and useth them as friends, — as bosom friends, in whom he is delighted. He makes known all his mind unto them; every thing that his Father has committed to him as Mediator to be revealed, Acts xx. 24. And the apostle declares how this is done, 1 Cor. ii. 10, 11, “God has revealed these things unto us by his Spirit; for we have received him, that we might know the things that are freely given us of God.” He sends us his Spirits as he promised, to make known his mind unto his saints, and to lead them into all truth. And thence the apostle concludes, “We have known the mind of Christ,” verse 16; “for he useth us as friends, and declareth it unto us,” John i. 18. There is not any thing in the heart of Christ, wherein these his friends are concerned, that he does not reveal to them. All his love, his good-will, the secrets of his covenant, the paths of obedience, the mystery of faith, is told them.
And all this is spoken in opposition to unbelievers, with whom he has no communion. These know nothing of the mind of Christ as they ought: “The natural man receiveth not the things that are of God,” 1 Cor. ii. 14. There is a wide difference between understanding the doctrine of the Scripture as in the letter, and a true knowing the mind of Christ. This we have by special unction from Christ, 1 John ii. 27, “We have an unction from the Holy One, and we know all things,” 1 John ii. 20.
Now, the things which in this communion Christ reveals to them that he delights in, may be referred to these two heads:— 1. Himself 2. His kingdom.
1. Himself. John xiv. 21, “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him;” — “manifest myself in all my graces, desirableness, and loveliness; he shall know me as I am, and such I will be unto him, — a Saviour, a Redeemer, the chiefest of ten thousand.” He shall be acquainted with the true worth and value of the pearl of price; let others look upon him as having neither form nor comeliness, as no way desirable, he will manifest himself and his excellencies unto them in whom he is delighted, that they shall see him altogether lovely. He will vail himself to all the world; but the saints with open face shall behold his beauty and his glory, and so be translated into the image of the same glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord, 2 Cor. iii. 18.
2. His kingdom. They shall be acquainted with the government of his Spirit in their hearts; as also with his rule and the administration of authority in his word, and among his churches.
(1.) Thus, in the first place, does he manifest his delight in his saints, — he communicates his secrets unto them. He gives them to know his person, his excellencies, his grace, his love, his kingdom, his will, the riches of his goodness, and the bowels of his mercy, more and more, when the world shall neither see nor know any such thing.
(2.) He enables his saints to communicate their mind, to reveal their souls, unto him, that so they may walk together as intimate friends. Christ knows the minds of all. He knows what is in man, and needs not that any man testify of him, John ii. 25. He searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of all, Rev. ii. 23. But all know not how to communicate their mind to Christ. It will not avail a man at all that Christ knows his mind; for so he does of every one, whether he will or no; — but that a man can make his heart known unto Christ, this is consolation. Hence the prayers of the saints are incense, odours; and those of others are howling, cutting off a dog’s neck, offering of swine’s blood, — an abomination unto the Lord. Now, three things are required to enable a man to communicate his heart unto the Lord Jesus:—
[1.] Assistance for the work; for of ourselves we cannot do it. And this the saints have by the Spirit of Jesus, Rom. viii. 26, 27, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with greenings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” All endeavours, all attempts for communion with God, without the supplies of the Spirit of supplications, without his effectual working in the heart, is of no value, nor to any purpose. And this opening of our hearts and bosoms to the Lord Jesus is that wherein he is exceedingly delighted. Hence is that affectionate call of his unto us, to be treating with him on this account, Cant. ii. 14, “O my dove, that art in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” When the soul on any account is driven to hide itself, — in any neglected condition, in the most unlikely place of abode, — then does he call for this communication of itself by prayer to him; for which he gives the assistance of the Spirit mentioned.
[2.] A way whereby to approach unto God with our desires. This, also, we have by him provided for us, John xiv. 5, 6, “Thomas saith unto Jesus, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way; no man comes unto the Father, but by me.” That way which we had of going unto God at our creation is quite shut up by sin. The sword of the law, which has fire put into it by sin, turns every way, to stop all passages unto communion with God. Jesus Christ has “consecrated a new and living way” (for the saints) “through the vail, that is to say, his flesh,” Heb. x. 20. He has consecrated and set it apart for believers, and for them alone. Others pretend to go to God with their prayers, but they come not nigh him. How can they possibly come to the end who go not in the way? Christ only is the way to the throne of grace; none comes to God but by him. “By him we have an access in one Spirit unto the Father,” Eph. ii. 18. These two things, then, the saints have for the opening of their hearts at the throne of grace, — assistance and a way. The assistance of the Spirit, without which they are nothing; and the way of Christ’s mediation, without which God is not to be approached unto.
[3.] Boldness to go unto God. The voice of sinners in themselves, if once acquainted with the terror of the Lord, is, — “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Isa. xxxiii. 14. And no marvel; shame and trembling before God are the proper issues of sin. God will revenge that carnal, atheistical boldness which sinners out of Christ do use towards him. But we have now “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us) through the vail, that is to say, his flesh: and having an high priest over the house of God, we may draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith,” Heb. x. 19, 20. The truth is, such is the glory and terror of the Lord, such the infinite perfection of his holiness, that, on clear sight of it, it will make the soul conclude that of itself it cannot serve him; nor will it be to any advantage, but add to the fierceness of his destruction, once to draw nigh to him. It is in Christ alone, and on the account alone of his oblation and intercession, that we have any boldness to approach unto him. And these three advantages have the saints of communicating their minds unto the Lord Christ, which he has provided for them, because he delights in them.
To touch a little by the way, because this is of great importance, I will instance in one of these, as I might in every one, that you may see the difference between a spiritual revealing of our minds unto Christ in this acceptable manner, and that praying upon conviction which others practice; and this shall be from the first, — namely, the assistance we have by the Spirit.
1st. The Spirit of Christ reveals to us our own wants, that we may reveal them unto him: “We know not what we should pray for as we ought,” Rom. viii. 26; no teachings under those of the Spirit of God are able to make our souls acquainted with their own wants, — its burdens, its temptations. For a soul to know its wants, its infirmities, is a heavenly discovery. He that has this assistance, his prayer is more than half made before he begins to pray. His conscience is affected with what he has to do; his mind and spirit contend within him, there especially where he finds himself most straitened. He brings his burden on his shoulders, and unloads himself on the Lord Christ. He finds (not by a perplexing conviction, but a holy sense and weariness of sin) where he is dead, where dull and cold, wherein unbelieving, wherein tempted above all his strength, where the light of God’s countenance is wanting. And all these the soul has a sense of by the Spirit, — an inexpressible sense and experience. Without this, prayer is not prayer; men’s voices may be heard, but they speak not in their hearts. Sense of want is the spring of desire; — natural, of natural; spiritual, of spiritual. Without this sense given by the Holy Ghost, there is neither desire nor prayer.
2dly. The expressions, or the words of such persons, come exceeding short of the labouring of their hearts; and therefore, in and after their supplications, “the Spirit makes intercession with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered.” Some men’s words go exceedingly beyond their hearts. Did their spirits come up to their expressions, it were well. He that has this assistance can provide no clothing that is large and broad enough to set forth the desires of his heart; and therefore, in the close of his best and most fervent supplications, such a person finds a double dissatisfaction in them:— 1. That they are not a righteousness to be rested on; that if God should mark what is in them amiss, they could not abide the trial. 2. That his heart in them is not poured out, nor delivered in any proportion to the holy desires and labourings that were conceived therein; though he may in Christ have great refreshment by them. The more they [saints] speak, the more they find they have left unspoken.
3dly. The intercession of the saints thus assisted is according to the mind of God; that is, they are guided by the Spirit to make requests for those things unto God which it is his will they should desire, — which he knows to be good for them, useful and suitable to them, in the condition wherein they are. There are many ways whereby we may know when we make our supplications according to the will of God. I shall instance only in one; that is, when we do it according to the promise: when our prayers are regulated by the promise, we make them according to the will of God. So David, Ps. cxix. 49, “Remember the word upon which thou hast caused me to hope.” He prays, and regulates his desire by the word of promise wherein he had trusted. But yet, men may ask that which is in the promise, and yet not have their prayers regulated by the promise. They may pray for what is in the promise, but not as it is in the promise. So James says some “ask and receive not, because they ask amiss, that they may spend it on their lusts,” chap. iv. 3. Though the things which God would have us ask be requested, yet if not according as he would have us do it, we ask amiss.
Two things are required, that we may pray for the things in the promise, as they are in the promise:—
(1st.) That we look upon them as promised, and promised in Christ; that is, that all the reason we have whence we hope for attaining the things we ask for, is from the mediation and purchase of Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. This it is to ask the Father in Christ’s name, — God as a father, the fountain; and Christ as the procurer of them.
(2dly.) That we ask for them for the end of the promise, not to spend on our lusts. When we ask pardon for sin, with secret reserves in our hearts to continue in sin, we ask the choicest mercy of the covenant, to spend it on our lusts. The end of the promise the apostle tells us, 2 Cor. vii. 1, “Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” When we ask what is in the promise, as it is in the promise, to this end of the promise, our supplications are according to the will of God. And this is the first conjugal affection that Christ exerciseth towards believers, — he delights in them; which that he does is evident, as upon other considerations innumerable, so from the instance given.
In return hereunto, for the carrying on of the communion between them, the saints delight in Christ; he is their joy, their crown, their rejoicing, their life, food, health, strength, desire, righteousness, salvation, blessedness: without him they have nothing; in him they shall find all things Gal. vi. 14, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has, from the foundation of the world, been the hope, expectation, desire, and delight of all believers. The promise of him was all (and it was enough) that God gave Adam in his inexpressible distress, to relieve and comfort him, Gen. iii. 15. Eve perhaps supposed that the promised seed had been אֶת ,born in her first-born, when she said, “I have gotten a man from the LORD” (so most properly denoting the fourth case); and this was the matter of her joy, Gen. iv. 1. Lamech having Noah given to him as a type of Christ and salvation by him, cries out, “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed,” Gen. v. 29; he rejoices in him who was to take away the curse, by being made a curse for us. When Abraham was in the height of his glory, returning from the conquest of the kings of the east, that came against the confederate kings of the vale of Sodom, God appears to him with a glorious promise, Gen. xv. 1, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” What now could his soul more desire? Alas! he cries (as Reuben afterward, upon the loss of Joseph), “The child is not, and whither shall I go?” Verse 2, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless?” “Thou hast promised that in my seed shall all the earth be blessed; if I have not that seed, ah! what good will all other things do me?” Thence it is said that he “rejoiced to see the day of Christ; he saw it, and was glad,” John viii. 56; the thoughts of the coming of Christ, which he looked on at the distance of two thousand years, was the joy and delight of his heart. Jacob, blessing his sons, lifted up his spirit when he comes to Judah, in whom he considered the Shiloh to come, Gen. xlix. 8, 9; and a little after, wearied with the foresight and consideration of the distresses of his posterity, this he diverts to for his relief, as that great delight of his soul: “I have waited for thy Salvation, O God;” for him who was to be the salvation of his people. But it would be endless to instance in particulars. Old Simon sums up the whole: Christ is God’s salvation, and Israel’s glory, Luke ii. 30, 31; and whatever was called the glory of old, it was either himself or a type of him. The glory of man is their delight. Hence, Haggai ii. 7, he is called “The Desire of all nations.” Him whom their soul loves and delights in, [they] desire and long after. So is the saints’ delight in him made a description of him, by way of eminence, Mal. iii. 1: “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in.” “He whom ye seek, whom ye delight in,” is the description of Christ. He is their delight and desirable one, the person of their desire. To fix on something in particular:—
In that pattern of communion with Jesus Christ which we have in the Canticles, this is abundantly insisted on. The spouse tells us that she sits down under his shadow with great delight, Cant. ii. 3. And this delight to be vigorous and active, she manifests several ways; wherein we should labour to find our hearts in like manner towards him:—
1. By her exceeding great care to keep his company and society, when once she had obtained it, chap. ii. 7, “I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love till he please.” Having obtained sweet communion with Christ, described in the verses foregoing (of which before), here she expresseth her delight in it and desire of the continuance of it; and therefore, following on the allusion formerly insisted on, she speaks as one would do to her companion, [as one] that had rest with one she loved: “I charge you, by all that is dear to you, — by the things you most delight in, which among the creatures are most lovely, all the pleasant and desirable things that you can think of, — that you disturb him not.” The sum of her aim and desire is, that nothing may fall out, nothing of sin or provocation happen, that may occasion Christ to depart from her, or to remove from that dispensation wherein — ,הָאַהֲבָה .he seemed to take that rest in her: “O stir him not up until he please!” that is, never love itself in the abstract, to express a πάθος, or earnest affection; for so that word is often used. When once the soul of a believer has obtained sweet and real communion with Christ, it looks about him, watcheth all temptations, all ways whereby sin might approach, to disturb him in his enjoyment of his dear Lord and Saviour, his rest and desire. How does it charge itself not to omit any thing, nor to do any thing that may interrupt the communion obtained! And because the common entrance of temptations, which tend to the disturbance of that rest and complacency which Christ takes in the soul, is from delightful diversions from actual communion with him; therefore is desire strong and active that the companions of such a soul, those with whom it does converse, would not, by their proposals or allurements, divert it into any such frame as Christ cannot delight nor rest in. A believer that has gotten Christ in his arms, is like one that has found great spoils, or a pearl of price. He looks about him every way, and fears every thing that may deprive him of it. Riches make men watchful; and the actual sensible possession of him, in whom are all the riches and treasure of God, will make men look about them for the keeping of him. The line of choicest communion, is a line of the greatest spiritual solicitousness: carelessness in the enjoyment of Christ pretended, is a manifest evidence of a false heart.
2. The spouse manifests her delight in him, by the utmost impatience of his absence, with desires still of nearer communion with him. Chap. viii. 6, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which has a most vehement flame.” The allusion is doubtless from the high priest of the Jews, in his spiritual representation of the church before God. He had a breastplate which he is said to wear on his heart, Exod. xxviii. 29, wherein the names of the children of Israel were engraven, after the manner of seals or signets, and he bare them for a memorial before the Lord. He had the like also upon his shoulders, or on his arms, verses 11, 12; both representing the priesthood of Christ, who bears the names of all his before his Father in the “holy of belies,” Heb. ix. 24. Now the seal on the heart, is near, inward, tender love and care, which gives an impression and image on the heart of the thing so loved “Set me,” saith the spouse, “as a seal upon thine heart;” — “Let me be constantly fixed in thy most tender and affectionate love; let me always have a place in thine heart; let me have an engraving, a mighty impression of love, upon thine heart, that shall never be obliterated.” The soul is never satisfied with thoughts of Christ’s love to it. “O that it were more, that it were more! that I were as a seal on his heart!” is its language. The soul knows, indeed, on serious thoughts, that the love of Christ is inconceivable, and cannot be increased; but it would fain work up itself to an apprehension of it: and therefore she adds here, “Set me as a seal upon thine arm.” The heart is the fountain, but close and hidden; the arm is manifestation and power. “Let,” saith the spouse, “thy love be manifested to me in thy tender and powerful persuasion of me.” Two things are evident in this request:— the continual mindfulness of Christ of the soul, as having its condition still in his eye, engraven on his arm, Isa. xlix. 15, 16, with the exalting of his power for the preservation of it, suitable to the love of his heart unto it; and the manifestation of the hidden love and care of the heart of Christ unto the soul, being made visible on his arm, or evident by the fruit of it. This is that which she would be assured of; and without a sense whereof there is no rest to be obtained.
The reason she gives of this earnestness in her supplications, is that which principally evinces her delight in him: “Love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave,” or “hard as hell.” This is the intendment of what is so loftily set out by so many metaphors in this and the following verse:— “I am not able to bear the workings of my love to thee, unless I may always have society and fellowship with thee. There is no satisfying of my love without it. It is as the grave, that still says Give, give. Death is not satisfied without its prey; if it have not all, it has nothing: let what will happen, if death has not its whole desire, it has nothing at all. Nor can it be withstood in its appointed season; no ransom will be taken. So is my love; if I have thee not wholly, I have nothing. Nor can all the world bribe it to a diversion; it will he no more turned aside than death in its time. Also, I am not able to bear my jealous thoughts: I fear thou dost not love me, that thou hast forsaken me; because I know I deserve not to be beloved. These thoughts are hard as hell; they give no rest to my soul: if I find not myself on thy heart and arm, I am as one that lies down in a bed of coals.” This also argues a holy greediness of delight.
3. She farther manifests this by her solicitousness, trouble, and perplexity, in his loss and withdrawings. Men bewail the loss of that whose whole enjoyment they delight in; we easily bear the absence of that whose presence is not delightful. This state of the spouse is discovered, Cant. iii. 1–3, “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?” It is night now with the soul, — a time of darkness and trouble, or affliction. Whenever Christ is absent, it is night with a believer. He is the sun; if he go down upon them, if his beams be eclipsed, if in his light they see no light, it is all darkness with them. Here, whether the coming of the night of any trouble on her made her discover Christ’s absence, or the absence of Christ made it night with her, is not expressed. I rather think the latter; because, setting that aside, all things seem to be well with her. The absence of Christ will indeed make it night, dark as darkness itself, in the midst of all other glowing consolations. But is the spouse contented with this dispensation? She is upon her bed, — that is, of ease (the bed, indeed, sometimes signifies tribulation, Rev. ii. 22; but in this book, everywhere, rest and contentment: here is not the least intimation of any tribulation but what is in the want of Christ); but in the greatest peace and opportunity of ease and rest, a believer finds none in the absence of Christ: though he be on his bed, having nothing to disquiet him, he rests not, if Christ, his rest, be not there. She “sought him.” Seeking of Christ by night, on the bed (that is, alone, in immediate inquest, and in the dark), has two parts:— searching of our own souls for the cause of his absence; secondly, searching the promises for his presence.
(1.) The soul finding not Christ present in his wonted manner, warming, cherishing, reviving it with love, nigh to it, supping with it, always filling its thoughts with himself, dropping myrrh and sweet tastes of love into it; but, on the contrary, that other thoughts crowd in and perplex the heart, and Christ is not nigh when inquired after; it presently inquires into the cause of all this, calls itself to an account what it has done, how it has behaved itself, that it is not with it as at other times, — that Christ has withdrawn himself, and is not nigh to it in the wonted manner. Here it accomplishes a diligent search; it considers the love, tenderness, and kindness of the Lord Jesus, what delight he takes in abiding with his saints, so that his departure is not without cause and provocation. “How,” saith it, “have I demeaned myself, that I have lost my Beloved? where have I been wandering after other lovers?” And when the miscarriage is found out, it abounds in revenge and indignation.
(2.) Having driven this to some issue, the soul applieth itself to the promises of the covenant, wherein Christ is most graciously exhibited unto it; considers one, ponders another, to find a taste of him; — it considers diligently if it can see the delightful countenance and favour of Christ in them or no. But now, if (as it often falls out) the soul finds nothing but the carcass, but the bare letter, in the promise, — if it come to it as to the grave of Christ, of which it may be said (not in itself, but in respect of the seeking soul), “He is risen, he is not here,” this amazes the soul, and it knows not what to do. As a man that has a jewel of great price, having no occasion to use it, lays it aside, as he supposes, in a safe place; in an agony and extremity of want going to seek for his jewel, he finds it not in the place he expected, and is filled with amazement, and knows not what to do; — so is it with this pearl of the gospel. After a man has sold all that he has for it, and enjoyed it for a season, then to have it missing at a time of need, it must needs perplex him. So was it with the spouse here. “I sought him,” saith she, “but I found him not;” a thing which not seldom befalls us in our communion with Christ.
But what does she now do? does she give over, and search no more? Nay; but says she, verse 2, “ ‘I will arise;’ I will not so give over. I must have Christ, or die. I will now arise,” (or, “let me arise,”) “and go about this business.”
[1.] She resolves to put herself upon another course, a more vigorous inquest: “I will arise and make use of other means besides those of private prayer, meditation, self-searching, and inquiring into the promises;” which she had insisted on before. It carries, —
1st. Resolution, and a zealous, violent casting off that frame wherein she had lost her love. “ ‘I a will arise;’ I will not rest in this frame: I am undone if I do.” So, sometimes God calls his church to arise and shake itself out of the dust. Abide not in that condition.
2dly. Diligence. “I will now take another course; I will leave no way unattempted, no means untried, whereby I may possibly recover communion with my Beloved.”
This is the condition of a soul that finds not the wonted presence of Christ in its private and more retired inquiries, — dull in prayer, wandering in meditations, rare in thoughts of him, — “I will not bear this frame: whatever way God has appointed, I will, in his strength, vigorously pursue, until this frame be altered, and I find my Beloved.”
[2.] Then the way she puts herself upon, as to go about the city. Not to insist upon particulars, nor to strain the parts of the allegory too far, the city here intended is the city of God, the church; and the passing through the broad and narrow streets, is the diligent inquiry that the spouse makes in all the paths and ordinances given unto it. This, then, is the next thing the soul addresses itself unto in the want of Christ:— when it finds him not in any private endeavours, it makes vigorous application to the ordinances of public worship; in prayer, in preaching, in administration of the seals, does it look after Christ. Indeed, the great inquiry the souls of believers make, in every ordinance, is after Christ. So much as they find of him, so much sweetness and refreshment have they, and no more. Especially when under any desertion, they rise up to this inquiry: they listen to every word, to every prayer, to find if any thing of Christ, any light from him, any life, any love, appears to them. “Oh, that Christ would at length meet me in this or that sermon, and recover my poor heart to some sight of his love, — to some taste at kindness!” The solicitousness of a believer in his inquest after Christ, when he finds not his presence, either for grace or consolation, as in former days, is indeed inexpressible. Much of the frame of such a heart is couched in the redoubling of the expression, “I sought him, I sought him;” setting out an inconceivable passion, and suitably industrious desire. Thus, being disappointed at home, the spouse proceeds.
But yet see the event of this also: “She sought him, but found him not.” It does sometimes so fall out, all will not do: “They shall seek him, and not find him;” they shall not come nigh him. Let them that enjoy any thing of the presence of Christ take heed what they do; if they provoke him to depart, if they lose him, it may cost them many a bitter inquiry before they find him again. When a soul prays and meditates, searches the promises in private; when it with earnestness and diligence attends all ordinances in public, and all to get one glimpse of the face of Jesus Christ, and all in vain, it is a sad condition.
What now follows in this estate? Verse 3, “The watchmen found me,” etc. That these watchmen of the city of God are the watchmen and officers of the church, is confessed. And it is of sad consideration, that the Holy Ghost does sometimes in this book take notice of them on no good account. Plainly, chap. v. 7, they turn persecutors. It was Luther’s saying, “Nunquam periclitatur religio nisi inter reverendissimos.” Here they are of a more gentle temper, and seeing the poor disconsolate soul, they seem to take notice of her condition.
It is the duty, indeed, of faithful watchmen, to take notice of poor, troubled, deserted souls; — not to keep at a distance, but to be willing to assist. And a truly pressed soul on the account of Christ’s absence cannot cover its love, but must be inquiring after him: “Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?” — “This is my condition: I have had sweet enjoyment of my blessed Jesus, — he is now withdrawn from me. Can you help me? can you guide me to my consolation. What acquaintance have you with him? when saw you him? how did he manifest himself to you, and wherein?” All these labourings in his absence sufficiently discover the soul’s delight in the presence of Christ. Go one step farther, to the discovery that it made of him once again, and it will yet be more evident. Verses 4, 5, “It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,” etc.
First, She tells you how she came to him: “She found him;” what ways and by what means is not expressed. It often so falls out in our communion with Christ, when private and public means fail, and the soul has nothing left but waiting silently and walking humbly, Christ appears; that his so doing may be evidently of grace. Let us not at any time give over in this condition. When all ways are past, the summer and harvest are gone without relief, — when neither bed nor watchmen can assist, — let us wait a little, and we shall see the Salvation of God. Christ honours his immediate absolute acting sometimes, though ordinarily he crowns his ordinances Christ often manifests himself immediately, and out of ordinances, to them that wait for him in them; — that he will do so to them that despise them, I know not. Though he will meet men unexpectedly in his way, yet he will not meet them at all out of it. Let us wait as he has appointed; let him appear as he pleaseth. How she deals with him when found is neatly declared: “She held him, and would not let him go,” etc. They are all expressions of the greatest joy and delight imaginable. The sum is:— having at length come once more to an enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ, the soul lays fast hold on him by faith (κρατεῖν, “to hold fast,” is an act of faith), refuses to part with him any more, in vehemency of love, — tries to keep him in ordinances in the house of its mother, the church of God; and so uses all means for the confirming of the mutual love between Christ and her. All the expressions, all the allusions used, evidencing delight to the utmost capacity of the soul. Should I pursue all the instances and testimonies that are given hereunto, in that one book of the Song of Solomon, I must enter upon an exposition of the greatest part of it; which is not my present business. Let the hearts of the saints that are acquainted with these things be allowed to make the close. What is it they long for, they rejoice in? what is it that satisfies them to the utmost, and gives sweet complacency to their spirits in every condition? what is it whose loss they fear, whose absence they cannot bear? Is it not this their Beloved, and he alone?
This, also, they farther manifest by their delight in every thing that peculiarly belongs to Christ, as his, in this world. This is an evidence of delight, when, for his sake whom we delight in, we also delight in every thing that belongs to him. Christ’s great interest in this world lies in his people and his ordinances, — his household and their provision. Now in both these do the saints exceedingly delight, for his sake. Take an instance in both kinds in one man, namely, David, Ps. xvi. 3, “In the saints and the excellent” (or the noble) “of the earth is all my delight; my delight in them.” Christ says of his church that she is “Hephzi-bah,” Isa. lxii., “My delight in her.” Here says David of the same, “Hephzi-bah, — “My delight in them.” As Christ delights in his saints, so do they in one another, on his account. “Here,” says David, “is all my delight.” Whatever contentment he took in any other persons, it was nothing in comparison of the delight he took in them. Hence, mention is made of “laying down our lives for the brethren,” or any common cause wherein the interest of the community of the brethren does lie.
Secondly, For the ordinances, consider the same person. Ps. xlii., lxxxiv., and xlviii., are such plentiful testimonies throughout, as we need no farther inquiring; nor shall I go forth to a new discourse on this particular.
And this is the first mutual consequential act of conjugal affection, in this communion between Christ and believers:— he delights in them, and they delight in him. He delights in their prosperity, has pleasure in it; they delight in his honour and glory, and in his presence with them. For his sake they delight in his servants (though by the world condemned) as the most excellent in the world; and in his ordinances, as the wisdom of God; — which are foolishness to the world.