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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.

Dark Valleys

Dark Valleys

Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalm 23.

If the Father loves me so much that he did no spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and my blessing.

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fear may become realties. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? When I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Romans 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold any thing that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

In this way, Christ’s death becomes the rod, the cudgel that breaks the neck of the fears that are the enemies of my peace; his word becomes the staff by which he holds on to me and rescues me from danger.

I can be confident of this: Whatever he sends me will bring me what I need; whatever I need, he will provide; whatever he provides comes marked with the approval of nail-pierced hands. I can trust him.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will restore me when I fall.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will surprise me with his grace.

Our natural instinct is to suspect that if he restores us at all it will be grudgingly; it must be a necessary by irritating inconvenience for him.

But Christ does not come to us officiously; he comes to us willingly and graciously to restore us. …The Lord restores us because he means to change us.

Whatever trials the Lord brings us into, he means to show us his presence and glory in a way we could not otherwise learn.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will be with me now and forever.