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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).

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.

How Long?

How Long?

Excerpts from Chapter 2 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalm 13.

There are sinister elements about discouragement. It is all-pervasive, affecting everything in our lives. Yet at the same time it is a vague generalized feeling that seems to discourage us from probing its roots too deeply lest we find the experience too painful.

Forgetfulness may be accidental: an oversight perhaps. But hiding is not; it is a deliberate act of avoidance. The God to whom David looked as the one of whose life and being he was the mirror image seemed to have turned away from him.

…When God hides his face, we do not know where he is looking or what he is planning.

This was David’s problem: he had lost all sense of what God was doing. He could not see the smile on his face or catch a glimpse of its determined purpose of grace. …Worse even than this, David could not see light at the end of the tunnel. He did not know if there was an end to the tunnel.

Our most painful experiences are like that: sorrows, burdens, disappointments that we will have to carry throughout the rest of our lives. They are irreversible.

Lesser griefs convey a taste of this too: thwarted ambitions; the loss of a job; a broken romance; a difficult situation that cannot be resolved. Each day, sorrow fills our hearts and casts its shadows over everything we do. Will it be like this forever?

In the very act of lamenting that God has deserted him, he is at the beginning of a spiritual breakthrough… For one thing, he is actually talking, face-to-face, to the God whom he accuses of forgetting him and hiding from him! …what David is doing is asking God to give the blessings he has promised; he is urging him to be faithful to his own word, to do what he has said.

What had David been in danger of forgetting?

1. The Lord’s unfailing love brings David to “trust,” confide, and rest in him.

2. The Lord’s salvation makes David’s heart “rejoice.” However great his difficulties are, he possesses something greater than them; however long they last, salvation will outlast them.

3. The Lord’s goodness makes him “sing.” …God’s people struggle to believe that he is good, in the face of what seems to be so much counter-evidence. …he now sees that in all things he works for the good of those who love him…