SPOUSE, HER EARNEST
— CANT. 1.2.
Holy Ghost is pleased here to condescend to our
infirmities; and, that we might help ourselves in our
spiritual estate by our bodies, he speaketh here of
heavenly things after an earthly manner, and with a
comfortable mystery. As in other places the Holy Ghost
sets out the joys of heaven by a sweet banquet, so here
he sets out the union that we have with Christ by the
union of the husband with the wife; and that we might the
better understand what this union is, he condescends to
our weakness, that we might see that in a glass which we
through our corruptions cannot otherwise discern. This
book is nothing else but a plain demonstration and
setting forth of the love of Christ to his church, and of
the love of the church to Christ; so familiarly and
plainly, that the Jews take great scandal at it, and
would not have any to read this book till they are come
to the age of thirty years, lest they thereby should be
tempted to incontinency; wherein they would seem wiser
than God himself. But the Holy Ghost is pleased thus by
corporeal to set out these spiritual things, which are of
a higher nature, that by thinking and tasting of the one
they might be stirred up to translate their affections
(which in youthful age are most strong) from the heat of
natural love to spiritual things, to the things of God;
and all those who are spiritually minded (for whom
chiefly the Scriptures were written) will take special
comfort and instruction thereby, though others take
offence and scandal at it. So here, the union between
Christ and his spouse is so familiarly and livelily set
forth by that union which is between the husband and the
wife, that, though ungodly men might take offence at it,
yet the godly may be bettered by it.
First, an earnest
desire, in these words, 'Let him kiss me with the
kisses of his mouth.'
First, the person desiring, the church.
Secondly, the person desired, Christ.
Thirdly, the things desired, a familiar kiss of his mouth.
Secondly, the ground
of the desire, fetched from the excellency of the
thing desired, in these words, 'For thy love is sweeter
Obj. But what have we to bestow upon him again?
Solution. Nothing at all; neither portion nor proportion, beauty nor riches, but our miserable and base condition that he took upon him.
Use. This is a
well-spring of much comfort, and a ground of
Obj. Yea, but we have infirmities.
indeed; but shall man bear with his wife because she is
the 'weaker vessel,' 1 Pet. iii. 7, and shall not Christ
much more with his spouse? Herein then is our chiefest
comfort, that this union, this contract, is not for a
time, but for ever: 'I have married thee unto myself for
ever,' Hos. ii. 19. And therefore we shall never want
protection nor direction, nor anything that is good for
To come to
Doct. All Christian favours belong to all Christians alike. We have one faith, one baptism, one Spirit. As every Christian may say 'me,' so may the whole church, and every Christian as well as the church. All Christian privileges belong to all alike.
Use 1. Herein have comfort then, that whatsoever belongs to the church in general, belongs to every member in particular.
Use 2. This teacheth us to reason from one spiritual thing to another, as thus Abraham believed, 'and it was counted to him for righteousness, Rom. iv. 22; and therefore if I believe I shall be counted righteous. David sinned, and David repented and found mercy; and therefore if I, &c. So all privileges belong alike to all Christians. Every Christian soul is the spouse of Christ as the whole church is. Therefore St Paul propounds himself an example to all that would believe in Christ. 'God had mercy on him,' 1 Tim. i. 16, and therefore he encourageth all to come 'unto Christ, by this, that he will have mercy on thee, as he had on him. Whatsoever is promised to the whole church, that apply to thy own soul in particular; and whatsoever is required of the whole church, that is required of thee in particular by Christ, if thou be a member. But though in spiritual favours all have a like portion, yet it is not so in outward things; but some are rich, some are poor, some honorable, some base. But in the best privileges and best gifts there is an equal extending to all alike, to the poor Christian as well as to the rich, to him that is base in the eye of the world, as well as to him that is honourable.
Secondly, of the
person desired, 'Let him.'
Thirdly, of the thing
desired, 'Let him kiss me,' &c.
From hence we note two things.
First, that every Christian soul and the spouse
in general hath a sweet taste of the love of Christ even
in this life.
Doct. 1. For the
first, as after the contract there is a more
manifestation of love than was before, yet not a fall
manifestation of love till after the marriage, so Christ,
though he do give his spouse a taste of his love here,
and sends love-tokens unto her, some graces whereby his
love is made more manifest than before (as Isaac sent to
Rebekah some jewels and bracelets to manifest his love to
her, Gen. xxiv. 58); yet his love is not fully manifested
in this life, but is kept until the great solemnity.
Christ cannot delight in the spouse unless she be decked
with his graces, and therefore he gives her of them; and
these are not only a taste of his favours, but the fruit
of his favours.
Reason 1. The first reason is to solace their long absence, that they may not faint, but having a sweet taste of his love here, may stay their hearts thereupon until the day wherein he will fully manifest his love unto them. The Lord seeth his children are subject to be oppressed with heaviness here; therefore he gives them a taste of his love here, that thereby they might be comforted, when nothing else can.
Reason 2. The Lord gives his children a sweet taste of his love here, that when they by weakness and frailty fall away and lose their first love, when by their former taste they might return and recover themselves again, considering how sweet, and how strong that love was, that once they had enjoyed from Christ, and hereby they might say with the church, 'I will return,' &c. Hos. ii. 7
Reason 3. The third reason is, because the manifestation of this his love doth wonderfully strengthen a Christian to go lightly through the heaviest affliction; for when Christ assures a Christian of his love, then affliction will seem grievous, but he will through all, he will suffer whatsoever shall befall him for Christ's sake with joy.
Reason 4. Lastly,
Christ gives his church, and so every Christian, a taste
of his love in this life, because he knows we
have many temptations in this world which are ready to
steal away our affections, as carnal pleasures,
riches, honours, and the like. Now that these might not
draw away our affections, he gives us a taste of his
love, which is better than all other things, 'which is
sweeter than wine,' that by this our affections might be
preserved chaste to him. So then Christ gives us, his
spouse, a sweet taste of his love in this life, that
afflictions on our left hand might not too much press us
down and discomfort us; nor the pleasures and delights on
our right hand steal away our hearts from him.
Now we come to the second doctrine.
Doct. 2. That
the church (and so every Christian) after this contract
and taste of Christ's love, hath evermore springing up in
them an insatiable desire for a further taste and
assurance of his love.
Reason 1. The first reason is taken from the nature of true love, which is never satisfied. And hence it is, that though Christ give his spouse a taste of his love in his word, by sending his ambassadors, his ministers with his love-letters, the gospel of peace, giving therein a taste of his love, as also by his Spirit, by his sacraments, by his graces; yet all this will not satisfy her soul, but Christ having once manifested his love unto her, there is a continual desire to have a farther taste and assurance of it.
Reason 2. The
second reason is drawn from Christ's infinite
riches, infinite in his glory, in his power, in his
beauty, in his pleasures, and joys, and the like. He hath
all things, 'All power is given him in heaven and in
earth,' Mat. xxviii. 18; every way infinite in himself;
and hence it is, that the spouse hath an infinite desire
to have a further taste of his love, and a nearer
communion with him. So you see whether we regard the
nature of love, which is never satisfied, or whether we
consider his infinite riches, both manifest this truth,
that there is an insatiable desire in a Christian, to be
further filled with, and more fully assured of, the love
of Christ. Where grace is, there is a further desire of
growth in grace. It is an higher degree of love to desire
the enjoying of the presence of Christ, than to enjoy
heaven itself; but this will not be yet.
Use 2. The second
use is for exhortation and spiritual direction how we
shall come to a further assurance, sign,
and fruit of Christ's love. If we desire this, we
must labour to have, first, chaste judgments, and
secondly, chaste affections. A chaste judgment
from error, heresy, and schism; and our affections chaste
from the world, from pleasures and the like. For Christ
is wonderful jealous of our judgments, and of our love.
Therefore Paul desires to present the Corinths a 'pure
virgin unto Christ,' 2 Cor. xi. 2. So then, as we must
affect (that is, 'love' - ed.) goodness, so we must
profess truth. We must have chaste judgments as well as
chaste affections. The spouse of Christ, as she is pure
in affections, so she is pure in judgment; she hears his
voice and follows him. Whatsoever comes not from the
word, receive it not, but reject it. Thus much for the
Use 3. Thirdly, if we will grow in the assurance of the love of Christ, and have more familiar kisses of his mouth, then labour to get an humble heart, by searching out our own unworthiness in respect of what we are, or were by nature. Indeed, we may disparage our credits by abasing ourselves in respect of men, but never can we be too much humbled to our Saviour in acknowledging ourselves unworthy of all that we have. There is no danger in thus debasing ourselves to our Saviour, nay, it is for our honour with God. For those that thus honour him he will honour with his graces; for he giveth grace to the humble, and with such a spirit he delights to dwell, Isa. lxvi. 2. Let us with humility, then, acknowledge all to be from his free grace, and with Jacob, acknowledge ourselves to be less than the least of his mercies, Gen. xxxii. 10.
Use 4. Fourthly, if we will grow in the assurance of the love of Christ, we must give Christ no peace. Take no nay of him, till he hath given thee the kisses of his love. Many times he delays the manifesting of his love— what though? Yet wait his pleasure, for he hath waited long upon thee. We see Mary Magdalen, what ado she made when she could not find Christ. He having manifested himself unto her at the beginning, at length he calleth her by her name, demanding for what she wept, and whom she sought, Luke vii. 47. Give him no rest, take no denial, till he answer thee, for he will do it. What did the woman of Canaan? She gave him no rest till he did apply himself unto her, Mat. xv. 22, seq. Jacob wrestled with God, and would not let him go, till he had assured him of his love and favour, Gen. xxxii. 24, seq. He hath promised to grant the desires of the righteous, Ps. xxxvii. 4. Hath he given us such strong desires after him? Then continue constant importuning him by prayer, and he cannot stand out with us long; he cannot deny us some further assurance of his love.
Use 5. Again, take everything to thine advantage, as his former love and favour, his power, fidelity, and stability. Take advantage from these, and plead for thy desires, as the woman of Canaan. Christ accounts her a dog, Mat. xv. 26. I am indeed so, saith she. She taketh advantage of his words, and thereby pleads for her desire. As the servants of Benhadad catch at words of comfort from Ahab, 1 Kings xx. 38; 50 continually take advantage from your own experience. He hath been thus and thus good unto thee, these and these means thou hast enjoyed, and thus and thus hath it wrought for my good; I will therefore follow him now until he assure me of his love in a further degree.
Use 6. Again, consider thou must be modest in thy desires of this kind. Desire no great matter at the first. I mean, not full assurance of the love of Christ at the first; but observe the degrees of his kisses, and manifestation of his love. The thief on the cross desired but to be remembered of Christ when he came into his kingdom, Luke xxiii. 42, —no great matter; so do thou desire any taste of his love, though never so little. Indeed, so the children of God do. First they desire the pardon of their sins, and having obtained this, they grow more and more in desiring the graces of the Spirit, as seals to assure them of the pardon of them, and of his love unto them, and nearer communion with him.
Obj. But this communion is not alway felt.
Sol. 1. I answer,
if Christ be strange to us, it is from ourselves, not
from Christ; for he is all love. It is either because
our loose hearts run after some carnal contents; and then
no marvel though Christ shew himself strange unto us, and
we go mourning all the day long, without a sense of his
Use 7. Consider,
again, when it is, at what time is it that we
have the sweetest kisses, and are most refreshed with
Christ's love. Is it not when we put our strength to
good means, as when we strive with God in prayer, and
labour in humility rightly, and profitably to use all his
ordinances? Mark these two well as a means to preserve
and increase the assurance of Christ's love in you.
Use 8. Consider,
again, when I was afflicted and had none else
to comfort me, then the Lord was most sweet
unto me, then he refreshed my soul with a sense of
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was lecturer at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, 1610-1615, preacher at Gray's Inn, London, from 1617, and Master of St. Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, from 1626 until his death. He was one of the most significant preachers of the Puritan period.