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Chapter 2 Verse 2
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
it may not be so evident whose are the former words, whether Christ’s or the church’s, yet these manifestly appear to be his: and if we take the preceding verse as the words of the church, then we may consider this as the words of Christ, either owning and confirming what she had said of herself in it; as that she was indeed the most beautiful of all the roses and lilies which grew in fields and rallies, and that all others were but like thorns and briars when compared to her; and also, at the same time that he owns and commends her beauty, puts her in mind of her present state and condition in this life, as being attended with afflictions, sorrows, and sufferings: or else the words may be regarded as the answer237237vide R. Aben Ezram and Brightman in loc. of Christ to her complaint in the former verse, where she says, that she was indeed the blushing rose and charming lily, but then she was as the rose and lily in the open fields and valleys, liable to be plucked up by every one that passed by, and to be devoured or trodden under feet by the beasts of the field; to this Christ replies here, by owning it all to be true, and promising that he will keep and preserve her safe in the midst of her enemies, “as the lily among thorns;” nay, that her very enemies should be her protection, these thorns should be as an hedge about her. But if we take the former verse: to be the words of Christ, which seems most agreeable, then we are to consider these as his also; who, having in the former verse set forth his own beauties and excellencies, which was proper to be done in the first place, does in this set forth his church’s, in which may be observed,
I.What he compares her to; “a lily among thorns.”
II.The title which he gives her, “my love;” which discovers his regard unto her, and affection for her.
III.Her excellency and preferableness to all others in his esteem.
I.The church is here compared by Christ to “a lily among thorns.” The Targum renders it, the rose; and so it is in Zohar;238238In Genesis fol. 82. 2, 3. and in Exodus fol. 74. 3. but in Leviticus fol, 16. 2. it is explained of the pome citron-tree. and that this is intended, some strenuously contend for, which, and not the lily, they say, grows among thorns: Ainsworth would have what we call the woodbind or honey-suckle here meant, which grows in hedges; and indeed this is sometimes called lilium inter spinas, “the lily among thorns239239Vide Merccr. in 5, 1. to which the church may be compared, because of its sweet smell; the flower of it gives an exceeding sweet smell; and makes those fields where it grows in abundance very delightful: believers in their persons, grace, and conversation, are like the “smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed;” being clothed with the sweet-smelling garments of Christ’s righteousness, and anointed with the savory ointments of the Spirit’s grace. Also the woodbind or honey-suckle cannot bear up itself, but has its dependence on others; it does not grow up erect, but for its support wraps itself about the body, branches and twigs of other trees, convolvens se adminculis quibuscunque, as Pliny240240Lib 27 c. 12. observes; therefore we call it woodbind, from its binding about other trees; and for the same reason it is in Greek called periclymenon, which is also used by Latin writers: believers are weak, and cannot support themselves, and therefore by faith lean on Christ, who is their beloved; and are upheld by him with the right-hand of his righteousness; they cleave close unto him, and depend upon him for all grace here, and for glory hereafter. But the word will very well bear to be translated a lily, being the same that is so in the former verse; where it has been shewn in what sense the church may be compared to one; and therefore I shall only observe, 1. That Christ and the church bear the same names; Is he a lily? so is she; the church being married to Christ, and they too becoming one flesh, have one and the same name; hence the church is called Christ (1 Cor. 12:12), so the same name, Jehovah, our righteousness, which Christ is called by (Jer. 23:6), is given to her in chapter 33:16. Again, Christ is called Israel, Isaiah 49:3, which is the name of his church and people; for being espoused together, and having partook of each other’s natures, they also bear each other’s names. 2. That there is a very great likeness and near resemblance between Christ and his church; for when he says, she is “as the lily,” he means, she is as himself, who is “the lily of the valleys,” verse 1. and therefore, as one well observes241241Durham in loc, he does not say she is the lily, but as or like the lily; for as he is; so are we, that is, believers, in this world. Christ and the church are both lilies in God’s eye, and are loved by him with the same love: believers bear the image of Christ, wear his righteousness, have the same spirit, though in measure, and are exposed to the same hatred, malice, and persecution of the world, being wounded with those thorns even as he was: and they shall be much more like him in another world; for they shall then be like him, and see him as he is; they shall then have everlasting and transforming views of him, which will change them into the same image, from glory to glory; for as they will then have more communion with him, so they will have a greater conformity to him, who is “the first-born among many brethren.” 3. That all the church’s beauty and loveliness come from Christ: it is because he is the lily, that she looks like one; her beauty is not natural to her, but is derived from him, who is her head and husband; she is indeed a perfect beauty, but then it arises from that comeliness Which he has put upon her.
Moreover she is not only said to be as the lily, but “as the lily among thorns.” By thorns may be meant, 1. Wicked and ungodly men, sons of Belial, which are “as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands,” (2 Sam. 23:6) these, like thorns and briars, are the curse of the earth; are worthless and unfruitful in themselves, and hurtful and grieving to the saints: David, Isaiah, and others have complained of them; righteous Lot was pricked with these thorns; his soul was vexed and grieved from day to day with their unlawful deeds: also like thorns, their end is to be burned, and that by the fierceness and fury of God’s wrath, who says, in Isaiah 27:4 “Who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together;” which he will do at the last day, when he will bind up those thorns in bundles, and cast them into “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone;” where “the people shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut up, shall they be burnt in the fire;” the terror of which sometimes surprises the sinners in Zion, who therefore say, “who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isa. 33:12-14). 2. By thorns may be meant the reproaches, revilings, and persecutions of wicked men, whereby they afflict and disturb the saints; the Targum explains these thorns, of the wicked edicts and decrees of princes, by which the congregation of Israel was oppressed in captivity: the prophet Ezekiel is encouraged by the Lord faithfully to deliver his message to the people of Israel, the briars and thorns were with him, and though he had his dwelling among scorpions, that is, though he was reproached, reviled, and persecuted by them for it. Christ’s lily in all ages has more or less been attended with, and has grown up, among such thorns as these; for every, one that will live godly in Christ Jesus. shall suffer persecution of one kind or another; and yet they abide like “the lily among thorns,” in their faith, purity, and holiness; so that neither the frowns nor flatteries of the world can prevail upon them to desert the Redeemer’s interest, forsake the gospel, nor turn aside from the true worship of God; to which agrees R. Sol. Jarchi’s gloss on the text, which is this: “As the lily among thorns, which prick it, yet stands continually in its beauty and redness; so is my love among the daughters, who entice her to follow after them, and go a whoring after other gods, but yet continues in her religion.” 3. By thorns may be meant heretics and heretical doctrines, which pierce, prick, and grieve the children of God: now these false teachers, these wolves in sheep’s clothing, may be known by their fruits, which are none at all, that are good for any thing; for, “do men gather grapes off thorns, or figs off thistles!” there is no fruit of faith, sound doctrine, or a gospel-conversation to be found upon them; but are like unfruitful thorns, whom God suffers to grow up in his churches, that those which are filled with the fruits of righteousness might be made manifest; and in all ages, more or less, Christ’s lily, the church, has grown up among, and been pricked by, and pestered with such thorns as these. 4. The corruptions of our nature may be called so: these Canaanites remaining in the land, dwelling in our hearts, are pricks in our eyes, and thorns in our sides; these grieve and disturb us, and they make us groan with the anguish our souls are filled with by them. Perhaps the breaking forth of some corruption is intended by the thorn in the flesh, and messenger of Satan, that the apostle speaks of, 2 Corinthians 12:7, though the temptations of Satan may also be called by these names, which often give the saints a great deal of uneasiness, and throw them into much heaviness; and it may be that both the corruption of nature, and the temptations of Satan, which the apostle might labor under, are intended; and the thorn in the flesh may be expressive of the breaking out of some corruption; and the messenger of Satan may intend his temptations, by which it was stirred up and encouraged: though I rather think that both phrases are only expressive of the corruption of nature, which was wont to be called by the Jews, the messenger of hell; a phrase much like this used by the apostle. So in Mi-rash Hanneelam242242In Zohar in Genesis fol. 67, 4. we read that R. Hona, in his sermons, used to advise persons thus, “O ye children of men, take care of the messenger of hell: but who is this? The evil imagination, (by which the Jews always intend the vitiosity of nature) is the messenger of hell. Now this being a phrase that was well known, the apostle adds it by way of opposition to the thorn in the flesh, as explanative of it, Moreover, worldly cares are compared to thorns which choke the word; they are pernicious .to saints, and make them barren and unfruitful, as well as grieve and disturb them (Matthew 13:22), but tho’ Christ’s lilies here on earth grow up among, and are annoyed by those thorns of sin and corruption; yet when they are transplanted into Christ’s garden above, “there shall be no more a pricking briar, nor a grieving thorn,” to give them the least disturbance.
II.Whilst Christ is comparing his church to a “lily among thorns,” he gives her a loving and affectionate title, my love, which has been already explained in chapter 1:9 and his mentioning it here shews, that even in her present state and condition she was a beauty in his eye; and that her being among thorns, was so far from detracting from it, that it rather served as a foil to set it off the more; as also, that she was still the object of his love, though in the midst of wicked and ungodly men, men of unclean lips and lives, haters of peace, religion, and godliness; though she was reviled, reproached, and persecuted. by them, yet she was loved, valued, and esteemed by him; nay, though she was attended with many infirmities, sins, and corruptions, that were grieving to her, and dishonoring to him, yet neither these, nor any thing else, should ever separate her from his love: she was Christ’s love and lily still, tho’ among thorns. The lily is often made use of in this love-song, to set forth the beauty of the church and of the saints in the eye of Christ; and his great love. to them, and delight in them, and very justly.243243The lily is called ambrosia; and is said to be the delight.of Venus, because of its pleasing color, Nicander apud Athenaeum, 1. 15, c. 8. p. 683. and of Juno, Clement Alex. paedagog. l, 2. p. 181.
III.He sets forth her excellency and preferableness to all the daughters. By whom we are to understand the nations and men of the world; for it is usual in the Hebrew tongue to call the inhabitants of countries the daughters thereof; thus we read of the daughters of Tyre, Edom, Babylon, etc. none of which are to be compared with the church; these are like thorns to Christ’s lily: or else carnal, hypocritical, and formal professors may be intended, whom she calls in chapter 1:6 mother’s children; who made an external profession of religions but wanted that real and internal beauty which she was possessed of, and differed only in name from the rest of the sons and daughters of fallen Adam; but she, being distinguished by divine grace from them all, was preferable to them, 1. In beauty; these looked like thorns, she like a lily; they were black and uncomely, she the perfection of beauty, and the fairest among women. 2. In harmlessness; though there are thorns about, yet none upon the lily: ungodly persons are not only uncomely in themselves, but like thorns, pricking and hurtful to others; but as for the saints, they are “blameless and harmless, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” like lilies among thorns. 3. In fruitfulness: no fruit grows on thorns, but on Christ’s lilies grow all sorts of precious fruit; they are laden with them. 4. In their last end Christ’s lilies will be gathered by himself and his angels, and be put in his garden above; but the wicked, which are Satan’s tares and thorns, shall be bundled together, and cast into everlasting burnings; the one being highly valued and prized by Christ. the other hated and rejected by him; for as much as the lily exceeds the thorns which grow about it, so much does the church of Christ excel the men of the world among; whom it is here on earth; and as there is a difference now between them, though growing up together, so there will be one, and that far greater and more visible when separated; the one will be everlastingly glorified, the other everlastingly punished.
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