William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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Commentary on the Song of Songs, Chapter One verse 8


by James Durham


Verse 8. If thou know not (O thou fairest among women) go thy way forth by the
footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.

From the 8th verse to the 12th, follows Christ's express return to her former
suit; and because it is he that speaks, we take it up as the second part of the
chapter. In the Bride's condition there was, 1. Crosses and afflictions. 2. Sins
and infirmities. 3. Snares and hazard of new failings. Now Christ so frames his
answer, as he may meet with all her necessities most comfortably and lovingly;
and because she was most affected with the fear of sin, he answers that first:
and so he doth, 1. In order to her being guided against snares, give a direction
for her duty, verse 8. 2. In order to her consolation under her suffering, and
the sense of her failings, he commends her, verse 9, 10. 3. He gives her a
promise, in order to her further consolation, verse 11. The scope of all is, to
comfort her; and every part of the answer being from Christ's mouth, may be
effectual for that end.

In the direction, verse 8. there is, 1. The title he gives her. 2. The
directions themselves, which are two. 3. A supposition, or ground upon which he
gives them.

1. The title he gives her is, 'O thou fairest among women', which is much from
Christ to the Bride, who immediately before styled herself black: believers who
are humble under the sense of their own infirmities, are nevertheless highly
esteemed by Christ; nor are always his thoughts of believers as theirs are of
themselves; nay, by the contrary, blushing at their own deformity, is a chief
part of their beauty. The giving her this title, implies these three things, 1.
A real worth in a believer, beyond the most noble person in the world. 2. A real
respect unto, and esteem that Christ hath of them, which he hath of none other.
3. Wonderful tenderness, condescending for her consolation, to intimate these
his thoughts of her to herself, now when she was otherwise sadly afflicted, and
under a double distress.

If it be asked, how these excellent titles and commendations may be applied to a
sinful believer. Answer. These four ways, 1. By communication and participation
of the divine nature, they have a stamp of the Spirit of holiness imparted to
them, whereby they resemble God, 2 Peter 1:4, and none other in the world can
compare with them in this. 2. In respect of the imputation of Christ's
righteousness, wherewith they are adorned, and which they have put on, which
makes them very glorious and lovely, so that they are beautiful beyond all
others, through his comeliness put upon them. 3. In respect of Christ's gracious
acceptation, whereby he doth esteem otherwise of them than of the most royal and
beautiful in the world, they find such favour in his eyes. 4. In respect of his
design, project and purchase; she is so, and to be made so in end; he will have
his people made completely beautiful and spotless, before be have done with
them, Eph. 5:27: 'Without spot and wrinkle:' all which are peculiar to a
believer, of whom glorious things are spoken and written, which are applicable
to none other.

2. The directions are two. Wouldst thou know, saith he, how to be kept out of
snares? then 1. Look how the old worthies walked, and follow their way. 2. Have
respect to the public ordinances, and hold near them, that you may have
direction from the word, by these to whom I have committed the trust of
dispensing the same: I have (saith he) no new light to give you, nor any new way
to heaven to shew you, nor any new means, ordinances, or officers to send
amongst you, nor yet must ye expect immediate revelations; but walk in the light
that shines to you, by the preaching of the word by my ministers, who are the
under shepherds, which I have set over you: for thus I guide all by my counsel,
whom I afterward receive to glory.

The first direction ('go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock') holds
forth, 1. That all believers, of old and late, are of one flock, of one common
concernment, and under the care of one chief Shepherd: this is the flock spoken
of, verse 7, whereof Christ is Shepherd. 2. That there is but one way to heaven,
for the substantials of faith and godliness, in which they that went before have
walked, and these that follow after must walk in the same way, if ever they
think to come there. 3. That there are many in all ages, whom God hath helped in
trying times to keep in his way, and have been carried well through all
difficulties to heaven. 4. That believers should observe these beyond others, as
being especially worthy of imitation. 5. That they should, and may follow the
commendable practices of believers in former times, and not affect singularity.
6. That it is commendable, and often safe in times when new opinions and
doctrines bear sway, to follow their way, who we are sure went before us to
heaven, Heb. 13:7; 1 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 6:14. This imitation of others, is to be
limited with that necessary caution, in so far as the practice of others agrees
with the first pattern, Christ, 1 Cor. 11:1. In a word, this direction skews
there is no way, but the good old way to be asked for, and followed in the most
declining times, Jer. 6:16, and that we should keep the very print of their
steps, studying to be followers of their faith, who have been honourably carried
through before us.

The second direction puts them to the right use and improvement of the ministry
of the word, which he will have them to respect; 'feed thy kids beside the
shepherds' tents.' Shepherds here in the plural number, are the servants of that
one Shepherd, whose own the sheep are: so ministers are called often shepherds,
or pastors, both in the Old and New Testament, 1. Because of their relation to
Christ, by whom they are intrusted to feed his sheep; he is the owner, they are
but shepherds, Ezek. 34:2. Because of their relation to the flock, which is
committed to their care, and for which they must give an account, Heb. 13:17. 3.
Because of the nature of their charge, as being assiduous, difficult, and
tenderly to be gone about; for, such is the work and care of a shepherd, as we
may see by what Jacob speaks of himself, when he had the charge of Laban's
flock, Gen. 31:40. 4. To shew the necessity of that ordinance. And 5. The
respect people ought to have to them who are over them in the Lord: no flock
needs a shepherd more than a congregation needs a minister; people without
labourers, being like sheep without a shepherd, Matt. 9:36, under a sad
necessity of wandering and being lost. Next, 'shepherds' tents' are mentioned,
with allusion to these parts where shepherds in the wilderness carried tents
about with them; and so to be near the tent, was to be near the shepherd: it is
like they kept lambs and kids nearest unto their tents, because they needed more
oversight than the rest of the flock; for a lamb to be at its liberty in a large
place, was dangerous, Hosea 4:16. By 'kids,' we understand young, unexperienced
believers or professors, whereby it is clear, 1. That there are kids and young
ones in Christ's flock. Yea, 2. That the strongest believers, even the Bride,
have their own infirmities; and there are some particulars wherein they are
weak: for this direction is given to the Bride, as a particular and experienced
believer; and seeing ordinarily weak believers are called lambs, and unrenewed
men goats, it may be kids here are mentioned to point at the relics of sinful
nature, even in believers, which is the reason why they need still over sight.
3. It is clear, that the office of the ministry, is a standing, perpetual, and
necessary office in the church, otherwise this direction would not always
satisfy the believer's question here proposed. 4. The strongest believers, have
need and use of a ministry. 5. It is a great part of a minister's charge, to
keep believers right in snaring and seducing times, Eph. 4:12,13, &c. 6.
Believers should make use of public ordinances, and Christ's ministers,
especially in reference to snares and errors; and they should take their
directions from them, and in their difficulties consult with them, and their
counsel should be laid weight upon. 7. Allowed dependence on a ministry, is a
great means to keep souls from error; whereas on the contrary, when no weight is
laid on a ministry, unstable souls are hurried away. 8. Christ hath given no
immediate, or extraordinary way to be sought unto and made use of, even by his
Bride, in her difficulties; but the great means he will have her to make use of,
is a sent ministry, and therefore no other is to be expected: it is no wonder
therefore the devil (when his design is to cry down truth and spread error)
seeks to draw the Lord's people from the shepherds' tents; and no wonder souls,
who once do cast off respect to their overseers, be hurried away with the
temptations of the times, as in experience hath often been found a truth. 9.
Ministers should have a special eye on the weakest of the flock, their care
should be that the kids may be next them; our blessed Lord doth so, when the
lambs are carried in his own bosom, Isa. 40:11. And therefore, seeing weak
believers have most need of Christ's oversight, if they begin to slight the
ministry and ordinances, they cannot but be a ready prey; and the devil hath
gained much of his intent when he hath once gained that. O that men would try
whose voice that is, that saith, come back from the shepherds' tents (when
Christ says, abide near them.) It is as if a wolf would desire the lambs to come
out from under the shepherd's eye: and lastly, when Christ gives this direction
to his own Bride, we may see he allows none to be above ordinances in the
militant church; it will be soon enough then, when they are brought to heaven,
and put above the reach of seducers.

3. The supposition is in these words, 'If thou know not,' &c. which is not any
upbraiding answer, but tendeth to insinuate the direction the more; I have given
you means (saith he) and so he puts her back to the serious use of these, as he
sent Paul, Acts 9, to Ananias, to have his mind made known by him: which
implies, 1. That a believer may be in many things ignorant. 2. That Christ
pities the ignorant, and hath compassion on them who are out of the way, or in
hazard to go out of the way, Heb. 5:3. That believers should not in praying to
Christ, neglect the ordinary means in seeking knowledge: nor in using them,
neglect him; she prays to him, and he directs her in them. 4. Directions for a
believer's walk, given by Christ's ministers from his word, are his own, and are
accounted by him as if he did immediately speak them himself. 5. Christ would
have his ministry and ordinances kept up in esteem and request amongst his
people: therefore, he will not be particular in giving answer to his Bride, but
sends her to them, that she might know the usefulness of them, and learn to know
his mind from them. 6. They cannot expect to make great progress in religion
that neglect the ministry, seeing it is to them that Christ recommends his own
Bride; if people were enquiring at Christ, what should they do now in a time,
when temptations to error and defection abound? No other answer were to be
expected, than what he gives to his Bride here: yea, if Abraham were entreated
to send some from the dead, to advise people to abhor profanity and error: his
answer would be, they have Moses and the prophets, they shall have no other, and
no other would prevail, if these ordinances do not: people should
conscientiously, and thriftily use the means and light they have; for, it is by
such the Lord trains his own Bride and though he will admit her as a courtier to
his chamber, yet this familiarity he admits her to, is in the use of ordinances,
and he will have no believer above ordinances and need of ministers, while he
keeps them within the compass of snares.


 

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