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Chapter 8 Verse 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 hath a most vehement flame.
words may be considered either as the words of Christ, or of his church. Some 994994Alcuin, Foliot, Sanctius, Not. Tig. in loc, think that they are the words of Christ expressing his desire to be set as a seal upon the heart and arm of his church; and the argument, reason, or motive, which he makes use of to prevail upon her to grant him this request, is taken from the exceeding greatness of his affection to her; which is compared to the strength of death, the cruelty of the grave, and the vehemency of flaming coals of fire.
I.He makes a request to her, that he might be “set as a seal,” both upon her heart and arm: by which he may intend, 1. An inward and abiding principle of love and affection in her towards him: the church’s love to Christ is highly valued by him, especially when it comes from the heart; for mere expressions of love, without an inward principle of it in the heart, are not satisfying to him; for what he requires, is, to “love him with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind: let us love therefore, not in worst, neither in tongue,” that is, only, “but in deed and in truth;” for this is what he seeks for, and is highly esteemed of by him. 2. A manifestation of this affection to him outwardly; it should not only have a place in our hearts, but also be shown by our actions, which should be in conformity to his will; “for if ye love me,” says he (John 14:15), “keep my commandments.” Christ should have both our hearts and our hands. 3. A constant remembrance of him, and continual looking to him: as seals worn upon the arm, or in a ring upon the finger, are continually in sight, and put in remembrance whose they are, or whose image they bear; so would Christ be always in his church’s sight and mind; for we should, as David did, “set the Lord always before us,” and continually look unto him, which is both pleasant and profitable; pleasant, because we behold him “full of grace and truth;” and profitable, because we receive from him “grace for grace.” 4. A greater likeness to him: conformity .to Christ’s image is one great end of predestination; which is begun in the hearts of his people by his Spirit; is increased by those transforming views he gives them of the glory of Christ’s person; and will be completed in heaven, when they “shall be like him, and see him as he is:” believers have the image of Christ enstamped upon them; for as they “have borne the image of the earthly, they shall also bear the image of the heavenly;” which is, to have Christ set as a seal upon the heart and arm, so as that he leaves an impress of his image there; which conforms both heart and life unto him, and cannot but be desired by him; for every like loves its like. 5. A close adherence to his person, gospel, cause and interest; having made an open and public profession of him, we should “cleave to him with full purpose of heart,” as Ruth did to Naomi; or as a signet does to a man’s right hand on which it is worn, 6. and lastly, In this request of Christ to the church, his design may he, that she might appear to be his, and only for his use and service; as things are known to be such a man’s property by his mark or seal being upon them; so the church is known to be Christ’s, by his seal being upon both her heart and arm; which is himself; who is inwardly received, and outwardly professed by her; for whose use and service all she is and has are; being “a garden inclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”
II.The argument, reason or motive, which he makes use of to induce her to take notice of his request, is taken from the ardency of his love and affection to her, which is signified by those several following expressions:
1st, He declares that that his love to her was strong as death: he loved her so, that he died for her; he preferred her to his own life, and chose death rather than to go without her; which is a full proof and evidence of his love to her, and shews the exceeding greatness of it; for, as in John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;” which may very well be improved by him, as an argument or reason why she should love him again; manifest that love, bear him continually upon her mind, cleave close unto his cause and interest, seek after a nearer conformity to him, as well as reserve herself and all she had for his use and service.
2dly, He asserts his “jealousy to be cruel as the grave:” by which may be meant, either, 1. His zeal for his church’s good and his Father’s glory; so this word is sometimes rendered (see Isa. 9:6, 63:15), which zeal of Christ’s, like the inexorable, cruel and devouring grave, consumed his time and strength, and at last his life; as appears from his own words, “the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” (Ps. 69:9). He, as the great prophet in Israel, showed a becoming zeal for the gospel; which appeared by his warm and lively preaching of it; his assiduity and constancy in it, the frequent and wearisome journeys he took to do it; the risks and dangers he ran upon that account; as well as the many miracles he wrought to confirm it, and the care he took to free it from calumnies, aspersions and prejudices: He likewise showed the like zeal for the discipline of his Father’s house; as is manifest from his severe reflections on human traditions; his asserting the purity of worship to be in Spirit and in truth; as also his frequent inveighings against the vice of professors; as well as his great courage in clearing the temple from the defilers of it; which heroic action of his is particularly recorded in John 2:14-17, which put the disciples in mind of what was before written of him: moreover, his zeal was no less fervent for the salvation of his people, and the glory of his Father, concerned therein; which plainly discovered itself in his voluntary assumption of human nature, and cheerful submission to the death of the cross on their account. Or else, 2. By it may be meant his vengeance on his and their enemies; and in this sense the word is used (Deut. 29:20; Isa. 59:17), what was a day of grace and salvation to his people, was a day of vengeance to his enemies; for no sooner was the year of his redeemed come, but the day of vengeance was in his heart; which he executed upon them without any mercy, pity, or compassion; his jealousy or vengeance was cruel as the grave; he spared them not; he made an end of sin, abolished death, destroyed Satan, and spoiled principalities and powers. Or else, 3. By it may be meant, the jealousy which he justly entertains of his people’s faith in him, love and duty to him who frequently turn aside from him to other lovers, of which he often complains, being jealous over them with a godly jealousy; which is no other than the height of his love and affection to them; there being nothing that he is more anxiously concerned for and jealous of, than the faith, love and obedience of his people, test they should be given to any other.
3dly, This strong affection of his to his church, he compares to coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame; by which he would signify the ardency and vehemency of his love; how tottering it was to him, and how uneasy he was until he had given it vent; thus the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 20:9, being reviled and reproached for prophesying in the name of God, made a resolution not to make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name; but, says he, his word was in mine heart, as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay: so Christ’s love was like burning coals of fire in his bosom, which gave him much uneasiness until he had given it vent; as appears from Luke 12:50. I have, says he, a baptism, meaning his death and sufferings, to be baptized with, and holy am I straitened, distressed, tortured and uneasy, till it be accomplished? And now this zeal of Christ’s for the salvation of his church, his vengeance upon her enemies, his anxious concern that her faith, love, and obedience, might not be alienated from him; as also his uneasiness until her salvation was accomplished; may well be used by him, as so many arguments, to prevail upon her to grant him the abovesaid request. Thus much for the first sense of the words, as they may be considered as the words of Christ to the church; but the generality of interpreters understand them as the words of the church, requesting of Christ that he would set her as a seal, both upon his heart and arm, because of the greatness of that love which she bore to him; which she compares to death, the grave, and coals of fire: and this I take to be the most genuine sense of them, as being most agreeable to the suffixes in the Hebrew text; I shall consider it much in the same method as I did the former. And.
First, The church requests of Christ that he would set her as a seal upon his heart, and as a seal upon his arm: in which she may desire, 1. Nearness to him; as a seal must be near, that is worn next the heart or upon the arm: the saints are a people near unto the Lord; with respect to union, they are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones: Christ and believers are like the old primitive Christians, of one heart and of one soul; and they would be near to him with respect to communion; they would not only, with Job, come even to his seat, but also into his arms; would lie in his bosom; nay, are not content without a place in his heart. 2. She seems to be desirous of abiding in Christ’s heart, and that she might be as a signet upon his arm; from whence she might never be removed, but there always continue; of which believers may be assured, though they are often attended with fears about it; for, as in Psalm 125:1, “they that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever;” they can never be removed from off Christ’s heart, on which they always are; nor out of his arms, in which they are continually enclosed; for “they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of his hand.” 3. She desires a share in his heart’s love and affection, and that she might be valued and esteemed by him as a signet upon his right hand (see Jer. 22:24; Haggai 2:23), for there is nothing more desirable to believers than the love of Christ and the discoveries of it; for his loving kindness is better than life; may they but have a share in Christ, an interest in his favor, be but valued and esteemed by him, they care not how they stand in the world’s esteem, what they say of them, or can do unto them. 4. She seeks for a continuance of his love, which may be depended on; for, “having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end,” (John 13:1). Christ’s love is like himself, “the same yesterday, today, and for ever;” from whence it is impossible that any separation should ever be made. 5. She also wanted and sought after an assurance of Christ’s love, which is the Spirit’s work, and is expressed by sealing in scripture (see Eph. 1:13, 4:30), which he performs, either more generally, by that work of grace which he has begun, and is carrying on in the hearts of believers; for from his drawing of them to Christ with loving kindness, they may conclude and be assured of their interest in his everlasting love; or else more particularly, by some special testimony of his, which he bears together with their spirits, that they are the children of God. 6. In this request she likewise presses after a manifestation of his love to her soul, by the arm of his almighty power, delivering her out of all temptations, and supporting and bearing her up under all afflictions, trials and exercises; which had wrought out salvation for her, and had plucked her as a brand out of the burning. 7. She desires a continual remembrance of him; and seems to allude to the high-priest, who had the names of the children of Israel engraven, like the engravings of a signet, upon precious stones; which were borne by him, both upon his shoulders and upon his heart, for a memorial before the Lord continually; which was typical of Christ,995995See more of this in my sermon, called,” Levi’s Urim and Thummim found with Christ.” our great high-priest, who represented the persons of all the elect upon the cross, and now bears them upon his heart before the throne in heaven; whither he is gone to appear in the presence of God for us. 8. She desires to be always in his sight, and under his care and inspection, as his people always are; for they are graven upon the palms of his hands, and their walls are continually before him: they are as the apple of his eye, his jewels and peculiar treasure; which he has his eye always upon, and continually watches over, lest they should be lost, or any hurt come unto them.
Secondly, The reason of this request of hers, she adores to be the exceeding greatness of her love unto him; which she compares to death for its strength, to the grave for its cruelty, and to burning coals of fire for its insatiable and devouring nature.
1st, She asserts her love to Christ to be as strong as death: the meaning of which is, 1. That as death conquers all, kings and peasants, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, young and old, weak or strong; there is no disputing his authority, nor controlling his power; but all ranks and degrees of men must, whether they will or no, be subject to him, the king of terrors: so her love to Christ overcame all things, and surmounted all difficulties which stood in the way of her enjoying him; she could part with, and bear all or any thing for the sake of Christ; father, mother, wife and children, houses and lands, a good name, credit and reputation, are nothing to the believer in comparison of Christ, which he cheerfully quits when they stand in competition with him; nay, things that are the most frightful in nature, cannot scare him from Christ, nor separate him from the love of him; such, as tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword; nor death itself in its most formidable appearance;996996Nostros non rumpit funus amores, Lucan Pharsal. 1. 5. 5:761. 762. for in all these things he is more than a conqueror, through Christ that has loved him: Perfect love casts out fear; it dreads nothing, runs all risks, encounters and surmounts all difficulties, that it may enjoy the object loved, 2. As her love, like death, had conquered all things, So she herself was conquered by it;997997Omuia vincit amor, & nos cedamus, amori, Virgil. So Plato represents love as the strongest of all things; since that which rules over the strongest of other things, must be the strongest o£ all; Symposium; p. 1189,1190. it had wounded her sore; so that she was as one gasping, panting, dying, just ready to expire, unless she had the sight and enjoyment of him whom she loved. 3. Such was her love to Christ, that death itself was nothing to her, so that she might but win Christ and be found in him: the book of martyrs furnishes us with many instances of those bold, daring and heroic lovers, who loved not their lives unto the death, for the sake of Jesus; the most exquisite torments, and most cruel deaths they have been put to, have rather inflamed, than lessened their love to Christ; so that their love to him has not only been as strong, but even stronger than death. 4. Her meaning may be, that love had so captivated her, and worked so powerfully in her, that she was as a dead carcass, that might be moved and drawn by him whithersoever he pleased; the love of Christ constrained her to live to him, and not to herself; for love, as one998998Sanctius in loc. expresses it, is a kind of a civil death: lovers rather live at the will and pleasure of others whom they love, than at their own; and so the church did here for a frown, or an angry look or word from Christ, was as death unto her.
2dly, She says, that her jealousy was cruel as the grave: by which may be meant, 1. Jealousy of Christ’s love unto her; either as it intends the heighth of love, love at its akuh; or else that evil, groundless suspicion of not enjoying another’s love, or of having a rival in it, which Solomon calls, (Prov. 6:34, 35), “the rage of a man;” and may be said to be cruel as the grave; for such an one, “he will not spare in the day of vengeance; he will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts;” now if jealousy is taken in this sense here, it intends those fits of unbelief, which sometimes attend the people of God; who are often jealous of Christ’s love to them: and ready to suspect his regard for them; which exceedingly tortures and afflicts them, and must not be reckoned their excellency, but their weakness; for of all people in the world, they have the least reason to entertain such thoughts of him. 2. By it may be meant the envy of the wicked against the saints, which is very great; for they would, as much as in them lies, deprive them of the common rights and liberties of mankind, as well as debar them the free enjoyment of their religious exercises; which is a great affliction to the people of God; for Proverbs 27:4, “wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy, or jealousy?” it is the same word which is here used; in this sense the Targum or Chaldee paraphrase on our text understands it. Or, 3. By it may be meant her zeal999999Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Marckus. for Christ, his gospel, cause and interest: thus Elijah is said to be, 1 Kings 19:10, jealous for the Lord of hosts, that is, zealously affected to him, and concerned for his glory; which, like the grave, is of a devouring and consuming nature; for, says David (Ps. 119:139), “my zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words:” Virgil 10001000Crudelis amor, Bucolic. eclog, 10. 5:29 Musaeus de Hero, etc. 5:245. gives the epithet of cruel to love.
3dly, The church expresses the ardency and vehemency of her love to, and zeal for Christ, by comparing them to coals of fire; live coals, such as have their coruscations, which flash and flame, and are bright and vehement; and to these her love may be compared, for the following reasons: 1. In such coals of fire there is light; so there is in the church’s love to, and zeal for Christ. for though she believes in, and has love for an unseen Christ; yet not for an unknown Christ; for, ignoti zulla cupido; her zeal is not a blind, misguided zeal, but is according to knowledge, 2. In such coals, there is heat as well as light: it is true, sometimes the love of God’s people waxeth cold, through the prevalency of corruption, and the cares of the world; it is like coals of fire covered with ashes; which seem to have no life nor heat in them; but then at other times it is re-kindled and re-inflamed by the Spirit; either under the hearing of the word, or in meditation upon the glory of Christ’s person, love and grace; “my heart,” says David (Ps. 39:3), “was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned; then spake I with my tongue:” nothing sooner raises it into a flame, then fellowship and communion with Christ Jesus; agreeable to what the disciples said to one another (Luke 24:32). “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Again, though they are sometimes cold, lukewarm and indifferent in their frames, yet at other times they are fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. 3. Fire is insatiable; it is one of those “four things which say not, it is enough,” (Prov. 30:16), so is love; for it would always have more of Christ; it is never satisfied with communion with him; but, like the horse-leech at the vein, continually crying, “Give, give:” and for the same reason love is compared to death, and jealousy to the grave, in the preceding sentences (see Hab. 2:5).
Moreover these coals of fire are said to have a most vehement flame; nothing is more common with other writers,10011001Vid Barthii Animadv. ad Claudian. de Nupt. Honor. v.16. & de Laude Stilico, 5:74. So love is said to kindle a more vehement flame than Vulcan’s forge, Theocrit. Idyll. 2. 5:133, 134. Vid. Idyll. 7. 5:56. & Musaei Leand. 5:245. 246. than to attribute flame to love, and to call it a fire; and here a most vehement flame is ascribed to it; or, as it is in the Hebrew text the flame of Jah, or Jehovah:10021002hytbhlç flamma Domini, Mercerus, Montanus; vastantis flammae 247. Domini, Brightman;’ flammaeque divinae, Junius; flamma Dei, Cocceius, Tigurine version; flamma Jah, Marckius. by which is meant, either, (1.) An exceeding great or most vehement flame, as our Translators have well rendered it; for when the Hebrews would express the superlative degree, or increase the signification Of a word, they sometimes use some one or other of the names of God; as mountains of God, and cedars of God, for most high mountains, and most excellent cedars. Or, (2.) It may mean a flame that is kindled by the lord;10031003Cujus Carbones sunt igniti a flamma Dei, Tigurine version, so Castalio; quam Dominus accendit, Glassii Philolog. Sacr. 1. 5. tract 1. c. 10, for it is by the Spirit of the Lord, who is compared to fire in scripture, that this flame of love is first kindled in our souls. Or, (3.) it may be in allusion to the fire upon the altar of burnt-offerings which was always kept alive; and so a fit emblem of love, which is of an abiding nature (see Lev. 6:12, 9:24) and can never be extinguished, as is expressed in the following words.
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