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Chapter 4 Verse 2
Thy teeth are
like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came
up from the washing: whereof every one bear twins, and none is
barren among them.
words contain the third particular instance of the church’s beauty, viz. her teeth. Which were like the teeth of sheep, as her eyes were like the eyes of doves, and her hair like the hair of goats: and Galen long ago observed453453In Salazer apud Marckium in loc. that human teeth are much like the teeth of sheep, in figure, order and structure, as well as are small and white, neatly set, innocent and harmless; not ravenous and voracious, cropping only herbs and grass: the whiteness of the teeth is chiefly intended, in which the beauty of them lies;454454Candidati dentes, venustis oculis, color suavis, Citer. Tuscul. Quaest.1. 5. c. 16. and for which they are sometimes compared to Parian marble or whiteness.455455Theocrit. Idyll. 6. 5:37-38. These are compared,
I.To a “flock of sheep.”
II.To a flock of sheep, “even shorn.”
III.To a flock of sheep that are just “come up from the washing.”
IV.To a flock of sheep that are fruitful, “whereof every one bear twins,” etc.
By her teeth we may understand,
1st, The ministers of the gospel;456456So Psellus and Isidore in loc. the Targum interprets it of the priests and Levites; and other Jewish writers457457Vid. Yalkut in loc. of the disciples of the wise men. Ministers may be called the church’s teeth, 1. For strength: teeth are strong, being of a bony nature; and indeed the work that is allotted to them requires strength: the ministers of the gospel are Christ’s strong men; who are, or at least need to be, “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;” they have need to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his mighty;” for their work is great, and requires it, which is to labor in the word and doctrine; a work so great, arduous and difficult, that the great apostle Paul, notwithstanding all his gifts and grace, said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” they have need of strength to quit themselves like men in the defense of the gospel, for which they are set, against all opposers and gainsayers; they have need of strength to withstand Satan’s. temptations; for he generally bends his bow, shoots his arrows, and casts his fiery darts most at them; they have need of strength to bear the world’s reproaches and persecutions, of which they generally have the greatest share, and to sustain the infirmities of weaker saints, which are not few. 2. For their sharpness: teeth are sharp, and they ought to be so upon many accounts: the ministers of the gospel, though they are not to be like that generation, “whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw-teeth as knives;” to devour the flock; nor like ravenous wolves, who will not spare it, but prey upon it, for they are to use meekness and tenderness; yet in some cases, they are to use sharpness also, according to a power that Christ has given them, and lodged in them; as when persons are unsound in the faith, and corrupt in their morals: also as sharpness is necessary to teeth, that they may penetrate into, chew and prepare the food for the stomach; so is it necessary to ministers of the gospel, that they have abilities to penetrate into gospel-truths, in order to feed souls with the bread of life. 3. In nothing can they more fitly be compared to teeth, than in their preparing food for souls: as the teeth break the food, chew it, and prepare it for the stomach; so ministers of the gospel break the bread of life, make hard things plain, easy and intelligible; for not only in Paul’s epistles, but in many other places of scripture, there are some dusno>hta, “things hard to be understood.” Now it is the work of the gospel to open and explain those difficult passages, remove the hard shell that is over them, that souls may eat the kernel; nay, they not only break the bread of life, but chew it, i.e. meditate upon the word, and digest the doctrines of grace themselves, that so they may not propose unto, or set before persons, crude, raw, and undigested food; but having chewed, digested, and well prepared it, they then present it to them; for these are the church’s teeth, which cut458458Orqotomou~nta, 2 Timothy 2:15 and rightly divide the word of truth,” and give to every one their “portion of meat in due season.” Now these teeth of the church, the ministers of the gospel, may be compared,
I.To a flock of sheep, and to their teeth, for their harmlessness and innocence. They are sent forth by Christ as “sheep among wolves;” and so they live like sheep, useful to many, but hurtful to none; live harmless and inoffensive lives, though exposed to a variety of evils, for the sake of Christ and his gospel: “they are counted as sheep for the slaughter;” and yet, like sheep, they patiently bear all without murmuring, in imitation of their dear Lord, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and like the sheep before her shearers, is dumb, so he opened not his mouth (Isa. 53:7).
II.To a flock of sheep even shorn. There is no word in the original text for any animal, neither sheep nor goats; it is only “to a flock of shorn ones;” and may be supplied from the preceding verse, “a flock of goats even shorn:” for in some countries, particularly in Cilicia, goats were shorn, as sheep in other places;459459Aristot. Hist. Animal. 1. 8. c. 28. Pliny 1. 3. c. 50. and so in Lycias:460460AElian de Animal. 1. 16. c. 30. but inasmuch as the word sheep is in a parallel text, chapter 6:6. it seems best to supply it so here: and the comparison is to their teeth, that are equally alike in bigness and size; do not stand out nor rise up one above another; but are as if they had been cut, and planed, and made alike, as some461461twbwxq caesae, vel dedolatae, Bochart. Hierozoic par. 1. 1. 2. c. 43. col. 483. aequarum, Junius & Tremellius; statura aequalium Coccina; vid. Aben Ezram in loc.& Kimchium in lib. shorah. rad. kxq. render the word; which is a better rendering, since sheep are not shorn before washing, but after it; nor is the word ever used of sheering wool: which may denote the equality of the ministers of the word, having such an agreement with each other, as the cherubim in Solomon’s temple, which were of “one measure and one size,” (1 Kings 6:25). Now the ministers of the gospel may be compared to such teeth, 1. Because they are equal in power and authority; though one may be superior to another in gifts and grace, in parts and learning, yet one has not a superior power and jurisdiction over another; for, as Christ says to his disciples (Matthew 20:25, 26); “the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them; and they that are great exercise authority upon them; but it shall not be so among you; but whosoever shall be great among you, let him be your minister:” no such dominion and authority are allowed by Christ to be exercised by one minister, pastor or bishop, over another; they are like to the teeth of sheep that are even; one is not higher than another, nor superior to another in power; Peter was not above the rest of the apostles. 2. They have all the same commission, and are sent about the same work: the disciples of Christ were equally sent to preach the gospel to every creature; and the commission now is of the same and of as large, extent as ever; and the same commission that is given to one minister, is given to another; for they are all sent to preach one and the same gospel, in the full extent of it; not one part of it is assigned to one, and another part to another, but the whole is assigned to them all; for a different gospel is not given in commission to one to preach, than what is given to another; though their manner of preaching, and their success in their ministry, may not be alike. 3. They may be said to be as the teeth of sheep even, on the account of the harmony and agreement there is between the doctrines which they preach: though there may be a diversity of gifts, and one minister may have more gospel-light and knowledge than another, yet the doctrine of grace, preached by them, is one and the same; it is one and the same Jesus whom they preach; one and the same way of salvation which they shew; and one and the same heavenly inheritance which they are pointing at; which harmony and agreement of doctrine will more manifestly appear, when the “watchmen shall see eye to eye,” even at the time “when the Lord shall bring again Zion,” (Isa. 52:8). 4. These teeth of the church may be said to be like to the teeth of sheep even, to denote their mildness, meekness, harmlessness and innocence; sheep not having teeth or tushes, standing out more, or rising up higher than the rest, as ravenous beasts, such as lions, bears, etc. but are all equal and even; so such ministers do not devour, but feed the flock; do not assume a lordly and domineering power over them; but, behaving themselves quietly and peaceably among them, seek their good and welfare, and not their hurt.
III.To a flock of sheep just “come up from the washing; and so are white and clean; which is another thing in which the beauty of teeth consists; for it is not only requisite that they should be even, so as one does not grow out from, nor rise higher than the other; but likewise that they should be white and clean, like sheep that are just come out of the washing pit: which some462462Isidore, Foliot, Alcuin, and Cotton in loc. think intends baptism; though it may be better understood “of the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” which the ministers of the gospel ought not to be strangers to; for he that is not “born again of water, and of the spirit,” as he shall neither “see nor enter into the kingdom of heaven” himself; so is he not fit to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven to others: though I rather think, it intends the pure and unspotted lives and conversations of Christ’s ministers,; who, being persons that hate the “garment spotted with the flesh,” and who “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb;” become examples to the flock, not only in faith, but in purity of conversation.
IV.To a flock, of which “every one bears twins, and there is none barren among them.” The figures are just and beautiful; it is common with sheep to bear twins or more in the eastern countries, as the philosopher463463Aristot. de Animal 1. 6. c. 19. observes: these may answer to the two rows of teeth, and the word for teeth is in the dual number; and when these are white, clean and equal, are well set, and not one is wanting, none rotten, nor shed, nor fallen out, look very beautiful. This is to be understood of the fruitfulness and successfulness of their ministry, in begetting and bringing forth many souls to Christ; which was more especially verified in the apostles and first preachers of the gospel, whose ministry, after an extraordinary manner, was blessed and owned for the conversion of many sinners; three thousand were converted under one sermon; the savor of Christ’s “knowledge was made manifest by them in every place;” they bore twins to Christ, and were instrumental in the conversion of many, both of Jews and Gentiles; they went forth bearing and sowing the precious seed of the gospel; and returned, “bringing their sheaves with them,” having reaped a glorious harvest: they travailed in birth, till Christ “was formed in souls;” and they did not travail in vain, for he that brought to the birth, caused to bring forth.
2dly, Or else by teeth, if applied to particular believers, we may understand meditation and faith, by which they feed on divine and spiritual things, 1. By meditation a soul feeds on Christ, on his person, blood, and righteousness; and finds a pleasure, sweetness, and delight therein: it is sometimes, as in Psalm 63:5, 6; satisfied as with marrow and fatness, when it remembers Christ upon its bed, and meditates on his love and grace in the night-watches; by it a believing soul feeds upon the gospel, its truths and promises, and receives much refreshment from thence; like Jeremy (Jer. 15:16). it finds the word by meditation, and eats it, and it is the joy and rejoicing of its heart. Now meditating souls may be very well compared to a flock of sheep, which are clean creatures, and chew the cud; for these chew the word of grace, and ruminate upon it; and to a flock of sheep even shorn, being in some measure rid of the old fleece of vain, carnal, and worldly thoughts; and are come up from the washing; being cleansed in some measure from the former filthiness and uncleanness of their minds, they ascend heavenwards in their thoughts, desires, and affections, which they employ by meditating upon pure, spiritual, and heavenly things; and such souls are usually fruitful; they are not barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ and his gospel; but generally bring forth the twins of prayer and praise “meditation fits a man for prayer, and fills him with praise; meditating souls are commonly praying and praising ones; for whilst they are musing, the fire bums, and then speak they with their tongues, either in prayer or praise; it puts them either upon praying to God for a mercy, or upon praising him for one. 2. By faith a soul feeds on Christ and his grace: faith serves a great many purposes; it is the soul’s eye, by which it sees Christ; and its feet, by” which it goes to him; and the hand, by which it receives him and lays hold on him; and likewise the teeth, by which it feeds upon him: faith is expressed by eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, in John 6:56. “he that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” An oral, corporal manducation, is not here intended, but a spiritual one, which is by faith: faith feeds on Christ, the bread of life, and eats that hidden manna, the food of the wilderness, lives wholly and entirely on him; which grace is peculiar to Christ’s sheep, and therefore is called the “faith of God’s elect;” and the reason why others do not believe and live upon him, is, because they are not of Christ’s sheep; and though in some persons it is strong, and in others weak, yet it is in all alike precious faith in its own nature, and to Christ Jesus: these teeth are even, and so fit for eating; faith is alike as to its quality in all believers, though not as to degree; and, like Judah’s teeth, is white with the milk of the word, is pure, unfeigned and sincere; and is always fruitful, attended with good works; and more especially bears and brings forth those twins, love to Christ, and love to the saints; for “faith works by love,” (Gal. 5:6).
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