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The Church as the Bride and Sister of Christ

The Church as the Bride and Sister of Christ

One of the very first books ever issued by the Banner of Truth was the commentary on the Song of Solomon by George Burrowes. It was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who recommended this book and wrote the foreword. There, he stated that this book was “one of the most exquisite expositions of the relationship between the believer and his Lord.”

Unfortunately, this book has gone out of print and is not easily found without paying a bit more than I would like. But, some time ago, I did find a fairly inexpensive, ex-library copy without the dust jacket. I always like having the dust jacket, but don’t really want to pay $20 more for the pleasure.

I have been reading this commentary like a devotional, starting at the beginning and reading straight through, rather than the way I usually do commentaries, by reading here or there as needed. I feel like this is necessary for a commentary on Song of Solomon because it is such a different kind of literature than most of us are used to. This is especially true in these days of the crass consumerism and blatant sensuality that masquerade as “worship.”

This morning, in reading Burrowes’ comments on Chapter 4, verse 9, I was particularly impressed – so much so, that I decided to write this article in order to share his insights with anyone else who might be interested. I found the last paragraph to be especially good in summing up the idea of Christ’s love for his people.

Thou has ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. – Song of Solomon 4:9

The idea is, that even a partial glimpse of the beauties and ornaments of the bride had so filled the heart of the beloved with intense affection, as to unheart, unman him…

We imagine the appellation of ‘sister’ is here used for expressing more perfectly than ‘spouse’ alone would do, the relation of Jesus and his people. Language can at best give us only a very imperfect expression of spiritual and heavenly things. Hence the necessity for multiplying types, illustrations, and epithets in the Scriptures.

The union between Christ and his people is one combining the purest and noblest characteristics of both the unions just mentioned, separated from everything earthly and sensual, having the ardour of affection and the oneness of the marriage relation, with the purity and sacredness of a brother’s and sister’s love. This is a distinction of very great importance for understanding rightly the Song.

Many pitiable interpretations put by excellent men on some passages show the necessity there was for closing the door against those unfortunate misapprehensions which this single word ‘sister’ thus introduced and thus repeated, was intended to prevent.

…he seems to use this language as the best mode of setting forth the delight had in her beauty. The heart was ravished by merely a partial view of her loveliness…

From this we may understand with what a heart-warm welcome Jesus will gather us to his bosom, when we withdraw to meet him at the throne of grace. In coming to the mercy-seat we are apt to draw near rather with a feeling that our Lord permits it, than with the impression he is deeply anxious to receive us and meet us with delight. Through lingering unbelief, the sense of unworthiness makes us think he can hardly rejoice to meet us. But, ‘Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways.’ (Isaiah 46:5). Our besetting sin, the desire for merit, makes us hesitate. Jesus will love us no better in heaven than he loves us now. Merit in us, personal excellence, has nothing to do with his love. This will be no stronger towards us when invested with the spiritual body in glory than it is at present, amid our infirmities and imperfect sanctifications. The spring and strength of his affection is entirely apart from us and independent of anything like goodness in ourselves. His love cannot know increase or diminution. He cannot welcome us with any stronger affection to heaven than that with which he now welcomes us to the throne of grace. The words of this verse are but another mode of expressing the greatness of the love of Christ, and his readiness to receive us, as a motive for our coming with ‘boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).

Discouragement

Discouragement

Excerpts from Chapter 4 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalms 42 and 43.

Spiritual thirst is painful, not pleasant; it may produce melancholy, not melody in our lives.

[There is] a deep sense of the absence and distance of God that drains all our energy and makes each day a superhuman effort just to get through. When we rise in the morning, we feel unrefreshed, energy-less, listless, gloomy; we see and do everything through a cloud; we live life with the shades drawn. Everything is tinged with darkness. We are downcast.

Sometimes well-meaning Christians assume that if someone is melancholic or in low spirits, the solution is all too simple and obvious. They dispense easy medicine for a disease of the soul that is difficult to cure, simple formulas that they assume will deal with every need.

Only when he has discovered the reasons for his discouragements will he be able to prescribe an appropriate antidote.

We too often fail precisely here. In fact, our spiritual discouragement discourages us from analyzing its causes! We yield to discouragement rather than trace back its symptoms to the root. Discouragement does not simply go away on its own account. It must be cross-examined. We must learn to say to it: “Why are you there?” Only then will we discover that there is an appropriate medicine even for our souls.

How important the fellowship of the church is to our well-being!…

Do not be so proud or self-sufficient as to think that you do not need regular exposure to the exposition and application of Scripture in the context of a living, praying group of Christians…

When you are downcast – for whatever reason, minor or life-shaking – it takes more effort to maintain the regular disciplines of the Christian life. Even getting out to church is an enormous struggle…

Ask yourself: “Even if I cannot sense what God is doing in my situation, and cannot understand his ways; where would I be without him?”

Few of us realize how much our sense of significance and worth is tied up to our service and leadership. We often counsel people not to become so absorbed in their service that they lose sight of the One they are supposed to be serving. But if we give ourselves in the service of Christ, who we are becomes so identified with what we do that the two are practically indistinguishable. Our service, after all, is an expression of ourselves; it is an investing of ourselves in others, for Christ. Lose that and part of our very self is lost. Discouragement is often the result.

… [Some] find a small corner, take modest employment, have far fewer material resources than most of their contemporaries. It is easy to feel that the significant parts of life all lie in the past.

Unemployment, of various kinds, can have the same effect…

The same is true in the family context: a mother gives the whole of her life to serving her family for Christ; then they leave home…
The darkest cloud often comes when a mother and wife is widowed…

[The Psalmist] has good reason to feel discouraged; he is experiencing isolation, opposition, and loss of position. To deny that these are reasons to be discouraged would be unhealthy psychologically and emotionally.

The gospel saves us from death, not by removing death, but by helping us to face it in the power of Christ’s victory and thus to overcome it. So, too, with sin. And similarly with discouragement. Faith in Christ does not remove all of the causes of discouragement; rather, it enables us to overcome them. We may experience discouragement; but we will not be defeated by it.

It is true that there are reasons for being discouraged; but there are better and stronger reasons for being encouraged.

“Hope” in Scripture is not wishful thinking. It is confidence based on the promise of God; it is the assurance that we will experience blessings we do not yet experience. That certainty is based on the fact that he is “my Savior and my God.”

A mind well stocked with the knowledge of Scripture is a great preservative from overmuch discouragement; it is like a well-stocked pharmacy in which remedies are always at hand.

It is widely recognized that our own times scorn thinking and emphasize feeling. Sadly, the litmus test of a worship service is often whether or not it makes you feel good, not whether it centered on the Lord. But discouraged Christians need much more than an emotional pick-me-up. They need light that will dispel the darkness.

When we allow discouragement to dictate the conversation, we look inward, downward, and backward. When God’s word dictates it, we look upward, outward – yes, and forward.

Deserted by God?

Deserted by God?

I’ve been reading a lot over the last few months since I lost my job teaching Bible. One reason for this is that I have a lot more time. But another reason for this is the need to work through some issues that I’ve never had to deal with before. You would think a trip though cancer surgery and treatment might fix a lot of  aspects of your perspective on life, but losing a job brings on a whole different set of difficulties, especially when it’s in a ministry setting.

One of the books that has been a positive help is Sinclair Ferguson’s Deserted by God? The sub-title sets the theme for the book: Hope for all who do not sense the Lord’s sustaining presence during life’s most troublesome times. I believe that Dr. Ferguson succeeds in giving that hope. In order to encourage others, I want to proved some of the highlights of each chapter, hoping that you will not just read my excerpts, but purchase the book and work through the whole thing yourself. I believe you will be blessed in that endeavor.

The following excerpts come from the first chapter, Can Anyone Help Me?:

An important reason for approaching this subject by means of Bible study is that when we are discouraged, or face difficulties, or feel that God has deserted us, our great temptation is to turn upon ourselves. We lose our sense of perspective, our objectivity. We need to be brought out of ourselves and have our gaze redirected from what we are and do to what God is and does. This alone will provide the reorientation we all need for spiritual health.

We are all too familiar with Christians who have been told by secular counselors that their problem is that they read the Bible. They need to avoid it. But, on the other hand, sadly, the way many Christians read the Bible and view the Christian life does in fact aggravate their difficulties…

…Their counsel is to get rid of the Bible, and the God of the Bible, when the true solution is to learn how properly to understand the Bible and to discover the God of infinite grace and compassion who speaks to us in it.

Most of us come to a book like this looking for help for ourselves or others: as quick a fix as possible. But quick counsel will only see us through from one crisis to the next. We need long-term help, and that can only be provided by long-term measures. Disciplined, thoughtful, prayerful study of God’s word, undertaken with the Spirit’s help is what we need. It will change the way we think, and consequently the way we live, and ultimately the way we feel.

I do not believe it is possible to overstress the importance of this principle. Of course it is unglamorous; but there is much about the Christian life that is unglamorous. The important thing is not its glamor, but that it is God’s way. And because it is his way, it works.

A cleansing process takes place when our lives are thus exposed to the influence of God’s word in Scripture.

Most of all, Scripture refocuses our hearts and minds on the God whose character is revealed in it. Knowing him better is our deepest need. Meeting that need will put all our other needs – our doubts, discouragements, depression, disconsolation – in their proper context.