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My beloved is mine and I am his;

he pastures his flock among the lilies.

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The Love of the Church to Christ.

14 O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, 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.   15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.   16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.   17 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.

Here is, I. The encouraging invitation which Christ gives to the church, and every believing soul, to come into communion with him, v. 14.

1. His love is now his dove; David had called the church God's turtle-dove (Ps. lxxxiv. 19), and so she is here called; a dove for beauty, her wings covered with silver (Ps. xviii. 13), for innocence and inoffensiveness; a gracious spirit is a dove-like spirit, harmless, loving quietness and cleanliness, and faithful to Christ, as the turtle to her mate. The Spirit descended like a dove on Christ, and so he does on all Christians, making them of a meek and quiet spirit. She is Christ's dove, for he owns her and delights in her; she can find no rest but in him and his ark, and therefore to him, as her Noah, she returns.

2. This dove is in the clefts of the rock and in the secret places of the stairs. This speaks either, (1.) Her praise. Christ is the rock, to whom she flies for shelter and in whom alone she can think herself safe and find herself easy, as a dove in the hole of a rock, when struck at by the birds of prey, Jer. xlviii. 28. Moses was hid in a cleft of the rock, that he might behold something of God's glory, which otherwise he could not have borne the brightness of. She retires into the secret places of the stairs, where she may be alone, undisturbed, and may the better commune with her own heart. Good Christians will find time to be private. Christ often withdrew to a mountain himself alone, to pray. Or, (2.) her blame. She crept into the clefts of the rock, and the secret places, for fear and shame, any where to hide her head, being heartless and discouraged, and shunning even the sight of her beloved. Being conscious to herself of her own unfitness and unworthiness to come into his presence, and speak to him, she drew back, and was like a silly dove without heart, Hos. vii. 11.

3. Christ graciously calls her out of her retirements: Come, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice. She was mourning like a dove (Isa. xxxviii. 14), bemoaning herself like the doves of the valleys, where they are near the clefts of the impending rocks, mourning for her iniquities (Ezek. vii. 16) and refusing to be comforted. But Christ calls her to lift up her face without spot, being purged from an evil conscience (Job xi. 15; xxii. 26), to come boldly to the throne of grace, having a great high priest there (Heb. iv. 16), to tell what her petition is and what her request: Let me hear thy voice, hear what thou hast to say; what would you that I should do unto you? Speak freely, speak up, and fear not a slight or repulse.

4. For her encouragement, he tells her the good thoughts he had of her, whatever she thought of herself: Sweet is thy voice; thy praying voice, though thou canst but chatter like a crane or a swallow (Isa. xxxviii. 14); it is music in God's ears. He has assured us that the prayer of the upright is his delight; he smelled a sweet savour from Noah's sacrifice, and the spiritual sacrifices are no less acceptable, 1 Pet. ii. 5. This does not so much commend our services as God's gracious condescension in making the best of them, and the efficacy of the much incense which is offered with the prayers of saints, Rev. viii. 3. "That countenance of thine, which thou art ashamed of, is comely, though now mournful, much more will it be so when it becomes cheerful." Then the voice of prayer is sweet and acceptable to God when the countenance, the conversation in which we show ourselves before men, is holy, and so comely, and agreeable to our profession. Those that are sanctified have the best comeliness.

II. The charge which Christ gives to his servants to oppose and suppress that which is a terror to his church and drives her, like a poor frightened dove, into the clefts of the rock, and which is an obstruction and prejudice to the interests of his kingdom in this world and in the heart (v. 15): Take us the foxes (take them for us, for it is good service both to Christ and the church), the little foxes, that creep in insensibly; for, though they are little, they do great mischief, they spoil the vines, which they must by no means be suffered to do at any time, especially now when our vines have tender grapes that must be preserved, or the vintage will fail. Believers are as vines, weak but useful plants; their fruits are as tender crops at first, which must have time to come to maturity. This charge to take the foxes is, 1. A charge to particular believers to mortify their own corruptions, their sinful appetites and passions, which are as foxes, little foxes, that destroy their graces and comforts, quash good motions, crush good beginnings, and prevent their coming to perfection. Seize the little foxes, the first risings of sin, the little ones of Babylon (Ps. cxxxvii. 9), those sins that seem little, for they often prove very dangerous. Whatever we find a hindrance to us in that which is good we must put away. 2. A charge to all in their places to oppose and prevent the spreading of all such opinions and practices as tend to corrupt men's judgments, debauch their consciences, perplex their minds, and discourage their inclinations to virtue and piety. Persecutors are foxes (Luke xiii. 32); false prophets are foxes, Eze. xiii. 4. Those that sow the tares of heresy or schism, and, like Diotrephes, trouble the peace of the church and obstruct the progress of the gospel, they are the foxes, the little foxes, which must not be knocked on the head (Christ came not to destroy men's lives), but taken, that they may be tamed, or else restrained from doing mischief.

III. The believing profession which the church makes of her relation to Christ, and the satisfaction she take sin her interest in him and communion with him, v. 16. He had called her to rise and come away with him, to let him see her face and hear her voice; now this is her answer to that call, in which, though at present in the dark and at a distance,

1. She comforts herself with the thoughts of the mutual interest and relation that were between her and her beloved: My beloved to me and I to him, so the original reads it very emphatically; the conciseness of the language speaks the largeness of her affection: "What he is to me and I to him may better be conceived than expressed." Note, (1.) It is the unspeakable privilege of true believers that Christ is theirs: My beloved is mine; this denotes not only propriety ("I have a title to him") but possession and tenure—"I receive from his fulness." Believers are partakers of Christ; they have not only an interest in him, but the enjoyment of him, are taken not only in the covenant, but into communion with him. All the benefits of his glorious undertaking, as Mediator, are made over to them. He is that to them which the world neither is nor can be, all that which they need and desire, and which will make a complete happiness for them. All he is is theirs, and all he has, all he has done, and all he is doing; all he has promised in the gospel, all he has prepared in heaven, all is yours. (2.) It is the undoubted character of all true believers that they are Christ's, and then, and then only, he is theirs. They have given their own selves to him (2 Cor. viii. 5); they receive his doctrine and obey his laws; they bear his image and espouse his interest; they belong to Christ. If we be his, his wholly, his only, his for ever, we may take the comfort of his being ours.

2. She comforts herself with the thoughts of the communications of his grace to his people: He feeds among the lilies. When she wants the tokens of his favour to her in particular, she rejoices in the assurance of his presence with all believers in general, who are lilies in his eyes. He feeds among them, that is, he takes as much pleasure in them and their assemblies as a man does in his table or in his garden, for he walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks; he delights to converse with them, and to do them good.

IV. The church's hope and expectation of Christ's coming, and her prayer grounded thereupon. 1. She doubts not but that the day will break and the shadows will flee away. The gospel-day will dawn, and the shadows of the ceremonial law will flee away. This was the comfort of the Old-Testament church, that, after the long night of that dark dispensation, the day-spring from on high would at length visit them, to give light to those that sit in darkness. When the sun rises the shades of the night vanish, so do the shadows of the day when the substance comes. The day of comfort will come after a night of desertion. Or it may refer to the second coming of Christ, and the eternal happiness of the saints; the shadows of our present state will flee away, our darkness and doubts, our griefs and all our grievances, and a glorious day shall dawn, a morning when the upright shall have dominion, a day that shall have no night after it. 2. She begs the presence of her beloved, in the mean time, to support and comfort her: "Turn, my beloved, turn to me, come and visit me, come and relieve me, be with me always to the end of the age. In the day of my extremity, make haste to help me, make no long tarrying. Come over even the mountains of division, interposing time and days, with some gracious anticipations of that light and love." 3. She begs that he would not only turn to her for the present, but hasten his coming to fetch her to himself. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Though there be mountains in the way, thou canst, like a roe, or a young hart, step over them with ease. O show thyself to me, or take me up to thee."