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Chapter 2 Verse 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, thy countenance is comely.

first wordare the words of Christ to his church; and may be considered either as coming immediately out of his own mouth; or else, as recorded and related by her, as the former were: in which may be considered;

I.The title or character which Christ gives to his church; “my dove.”

II.Her then present place of residence; “in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs.”

III.A request which he makes, which consists of two parts. 1st, That he might see her countenance. 2dly, Hear her voice.

IV.The motives or arguments that he makes use of to prevail with her; which are also of two sorts, suited to both parts of the request, 1st, Because her voice was sweet. 2dly, Her countenance was comely.

I.Here we meet with a new title or character given by Christ to his church, “my dove;” an epithet sometimes used by lovers:349349Mea columba, Plauti Casina, act. 1. sc. 1. 5:50. Doves being loving creatures, the chariots of Venus were drawn by them, Chartar. de Imag. Deorum, p.218. vid. Apulei Metamorph. 1. 6. and were sacred to Venus, Plutarch. de Isid.· & Osir. p. 379. AElian. de Animal 1. 4. c. 2. he had called her his love and his fair one before, but not his dove, till now; though it is true, he had compared her eyes to doves eyes, in chapter 1:15. Now the church may be compared to the dove, for the following reasons: 1. The dove is a very beautiful creature; so is the church, as she is washed in Christ’s blood, justified by his righteousness, and sanctified by his grace; for though, while in a state of nature, she lay among the pots, and so looked black and uncomely; yet now being called by, and made a partaker of divine grace, she looks like “the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” 2. It is a very cleanly creature;350350Frantz. Hist. Sacr. Animal. par. 2,. c. 15. num. 3- it loves cleanliness; it keeps its own body clean, and teaches its young to carry their dung out of their nests; it feeds only upon pure grain, and delights in clean water: the church, or believers in Christ, are not only clean through the word which Christ has spoken, but also have their hearts “purified by faith in his blood, and delight in purity of life and conversation.

3. It is a very innocent and harmless creature; and therefore Christ says to his disciples (Matthew 10:16), “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves:” believers are, or at least should be, “blameless, harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation;” they should live not only inoffensive to the world, but also peaceably and quietly among themselves; not biting and devouring one another; not acting the part of wolves and tigers; but behaving themselves as Christ’s innocent sheep and harmless doves. 4. It is an exceeding loving and chaste creature to its mate;351351Pliny 1. 10. c. 34. AElian, de Animal, 1. 3. c. 45. it inviolably keeps its conjugal faith; adultery is rarely known among these creatures, and, whenever committed, is punished with death; for males will tear a male to pieces, and a female a female that is found guilty of it: it is also reported of the turtle-dove352352Grapaldus in Sanct, in loc.' that upon the loss of its mate, it remains inconsolable; does not couple again, but continues a widow, and lives a mournful and sorrowful life, avoiding every thing that might tend to remove it, and create pleasure; and that whereas before it delighted in pure and clean water, it now will not drink until it has first bemudded it; nor will it sit upon green and flourishing, but upon dry and withered branches of trees—all which is a lively emblem of the church, who is presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, Who bears an exceeding great love and affection to him, and whose absence is what she cannot bear, 5. It is a very fruitful creature; tho’ it has not many young ones, at a time353353Arist. de Goner. Animal.1. 3. c.x. yet has them very often; AElianus says354354Var. Hist. 1. 1. c. 15. that it has young ones ten times in a year; nay, in Egypt, twelve times: the church, who is married to Christ, is not only fruit, ful in grace and good works, but also brings forth many souls unto him, which has been and will be still more eminently seen in the Gentile church; see Isaiah 54:1. 6. It is a sociable creature; doves flock together as birds of a feather usually do: so saints delight to be in each other’s company; they join in fellowship one with another, and carry on a social worship together; and do not forsake the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some too often is. 7. It is a weak and impotent creature, and is often oppressed by birds of prey: the church is often distressed and persecuted by the men of the world, and forced to fly into holes and corners, as the dove does. 8. It is a very fearful and timorous creature; hence Ephraim is compared to the trembling dove355355Accipiter trepidas agitat columbas, ovid. Metamorph. 1. 5. in Hosea 11:11 saints are often in trembling fits, at the word of God, and in the exercise of their faith on Christ; under a sense of their own vileness, and in the apprehension of their weakness and want of power to keep and preserve themselves. 9. It has a mournful voice: saints are like doves of the valleys, mourning every one for their iniquities; and often for the loss of Christ’s presence, which they are frequently deprived of, through their unbecoming carriage to him. 10. It feeds only upon pure grain: the church feeds only on Christ, and on the wholesome words or comfortable doctrines of the everlasting gospel; she cannot live upon husks that swine eat, nor will she be fed with the chaff of man’s invention. 11. It is also very swift in flying; and therefore David wished for the wings of a dove, that he might flee away, and be at rest: souls, in their fleeing to Christ for life and salvation, move as swift as the manslayer did from the avenger of blood to the city of refuge; and afterwards, under all their trials and afflictions, he is the strong tower, whither they run and are safe: and then more especially, may they be said to be as doves, when they are upon the wing of faith, and mount up as eagles do, run and are not weary, and walk and faint not.

Lastly, It is reported of the dove356356Frantz. Hist. Sacr. animal, par. 2. c. I ,. that it will allure wild doves by its familiar converses into the dove-house with it: those who are called by grace, will use all proper ways and methods to allure and gain others to Christ, and to a compliance with his ways and ordinances, as the church does the daughters of Jerusalem in this Song; she being a great lover of the society of saints, and of the glory of Christ therein; as the dove is of its own country, particularly of its own dove-house, and especially when near the habitations of men.

Now Christ’s calling the church by this name, “my dove,” not only shews his interest in her, but also his affection to her and perhaps the principal thing he had in view, was to assure her of it, and to encourage her in her present condition; though she was in the cleft of the rock, in a poor, desolate, and forlorn condition, yet she was his dove still; which is the next thing to be considered. For,

II.She is said to be “in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs;” which may be understood, either in allusion to the usual place where the dove makes her nest, which is in the rock357357Qualis spelunca subito commota columba, cui domus & dulces latebroso in pumice nidi. Virgil. AEncid. 5, 5:213. and “in the sides of the hole’s mouth,” (see Jer. 48:28) and Adrichomius358358Theatrum Terrae Sanctae, p. 171 a. tells us, that there was a stone tower near Jerusalem, southward of the mount of Olives, called Petra Columbarum, “the rock of the doves,” where often five thousand doves were kept at one time; and perhaps here maybe an allusion to it: or else, it may be understood of the place where doves are forced to fly, when pursued by the hawk, even into a hollow rock, as described by Homer:359359Iliad. 21. 5:493, 494. and so may be expressive of the state of the church under persecution, when saints are forced to flee into holes and corners, and cannot openly and publicly, worship God, as they used to do, according to his mind and will; but even then God has his hiding-places for them, where he protects and preserves them until the heat of the persecution is over; for at such a time God will have a church, it shall never be entirely rooted out; neither shall hi people be without his presence, and some visible manifestations of himself unto them; for he has as great a love for them as ever: the church is his dove then, and her countenance is as comely, and her voice as sweet as ever; nor would he have her be disconsolate and disheartened in her present condition. Most of the Jewish writers360360Targum, Yalkut, R. Sol. Jarchi, and R. Aben Ezra in loc. refer the words to the condition that the people of Israel were in, when they were pursued by Pharaoh at the Red Sea; which seems, in some measure, to agree with the former sense which has been given. Or else, by the clefts of the rock, may be meant, either, 1. The eternal decree of election, in which, as in an immoveable and inaccessible rock, the church dwelt from all eternity, and will do so unto all eternity; which is the sense that Junius. gives of these words; God’s eternal decree of election is as immoveable as a rock; it is a foundation that stands sure, being laid, not upon the conditions of faith and holiness in the creature, but upon the sovereign will and pleasure of that God, who, “will have mercy on whom he will have mercy,” and “will be gracious to whom he will be gracious; whose purposes cannot be disannulled, nor his counsel made void, nor he ever be frustrated of his end, for the thoughts of his heart shall stand to all generations; and as the decree of election is immoveable, irrevocable, and cannot be altered, so the doctrine of it will stand, maugre all opposition, and will prove a burdensome stone to all those that set themselves against it. Now in the clefts of this rock, the people of God dwell as in a hidden and secret place before conversion; it being neither known to themselves nor others, that they are the objects of it, until called by divine grace; and here they dwell secure, and are safely preserved, notwithstanding the fill of Adam, and their own actual sins and transgressions, until the grace that is laid up for them is actually bestowed upon them; for every one that dwells here, shall be called and sanctified, and at last eternally glorified; not one shall be lost, nor any one link in the golden chain of salvation ever be broken; of which we have an account in Romans 8:30. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified: them he also glorified:” moreover, these persons are and ever were the objects of Christ’s love, and so they ever shall be; his love was set upon them, and his delights were with them before the world began; these are his doves, and this the place of their habitation. Or else, 2. By this rock may be meant Christ, who frequently bears this character in scripture, and particularly is said (1 Cor. 10:4) to be that spiritual rock, of which the Jews drank in the wilderness: and by the clefts thereof, may be meant the wounds of Christ,361361So Foliot, Alcuin, and not. Tigur. in loc. which were opened for the salvation of sinners, and in which believers dwell by faith; and perhaps to this the allusion is made in Exodus 33:22 where it is said, that God put Moses into the cleft of the rock, and made his glory to pass before him; for the glory of all the divine perfections is no where so manifestly seen as in a crucified Christ. Now saints are the inhabitants of this rock; here Christ’s church dwells, and that safely, being built upon a rock, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail; this is her fortress and strong-hold, where she need not be afraid of any enemy whatever, for her place of defense is the munition of rocks; and therefore, whenever under any apprehension of danger, she betakes herself to her stronghold, to Christ, the rock that is higher than she. Moreover, the church being said to dwell here, not only shews the safety of her state, but also her majesty and greatness, and her exaltation above others; see Jeremiah 49:16 for dwelling in a rock, she dwells on high; she is not now in the miry clay, but her feet are set upon a rock and her goings are established; she is not now upon the dunghill, but upon the throne; not in a mean cottage, but in a well-built, strong, and fortified castle. Indeed the other phrase, the secret of the stairs, seems to denote abasement and humiliation; though it may be better understood of Christ; as the former expression seems robe; for Christ is the stairs or ladder which Jacob saw in a vision, which reached from earth to heaven; he being God and man in one person, has, by his, mediation, blood and sacrifice, made peace between God and sinful, man, reconciled those two contending parties, brought heaven and earth as it were together, and filled up that vast distance that there was between them; he is the ladder or those stairs also, on which the angels of God ascended and descended (see Gen. 28:12 compared with John 1:51); he is likewise our way of access to God, by whom, as by steps, we ascend to him, have admittance into his presence, and are indulged with communion with him: now in the secret of these stairs or steps, did the church lie, as the dove is said to do in some hidden place during the winter season; which was the case of Christ’s dove here, (see verse 11) for Christ is the “hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest;” and if any thing is particularly intended by the secret of the stairs, Christ’s; justifying righteousness seems not unlikely; which is secret and hidden to the men of the world, and is only revealed in the gospel from faith to faith: hither souls betake themselves in times of distress and, by it they are screened and sheltered from sin, law, hell and death; and dwelling here, they are in safety; for “he that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Ethiopic version renders it, in the shadow of the rock to which Christ is compared (Isa. 32:2), and so the Septuagint version, in the covering of the rock;362362In tegimento petrae, 1:e. tuta praesidio passionis meae fidei munimento, Ambros. de Isaac, c. 4. p. 281. in vulneribus quae pro salute sponsae sponsus ac-cepit, Isidor, in loc. which is the shade of it: which seems to be a better sense than what some Jewish writers363363In Zohar. in Genesis fol. 59. 1. give of the words, who interpret them of the sanctuary or temple, and of the holy of holies, which was in it. But,

III.I shall now consider the request which he makes unto her, which consists of two parts, 1st, That he might “see her countenance,” 2dly, “Hear her voice.”

1st, He desires that she would shew him her countenance; which supposes that she had either covered her face, as mourners do, and was bemoaning her present state and condition, bewailing her inward corruptions, as well as her outward afflictions: or else, that she was filled with shame, under a sense of sin, and blushed, as Ezra did, and could not lift up her head and eyes to Christ; but smiting upon her breast, like the poor publican, discovered the inward confusion of her mind: or else, that she was attended with fear, and that not so much with a fear of her enemies, as of his displeasure; being conscious to herself that she had acted an unbecoming part towards him: or rather, that she was filled with shamefacedness and bashfulness, and could not, with an holy boldness and an allowed freedom, approach his presence: unless we understand it of the state of the church under the Old Testament, in opposition to this under the New; when the face of the church was veiled, and she only saw Christ through dark shadows and typical ordinances; whereas we now, “with open face, behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord;” And now, what Christ would have her do in opposition to all this, is, to lift up her head with joy, exercise faith upon him; use freedom with him, come with boldness to him, and look him full in the face, and keep always looking to him for every fresh supply of grace, and whatever she might stand in need-of; he would not have her be shy and bashful, fearful and faithless; but free and familiar with him, with whom he would assure her she, might. Unless we would rather understand it of his desire, that she would appear more publicly in his worship, and not lurk in holes and corners, in the clefts of rocks, and under dusty stairs; but shew “herself in his house, and in the courts of it, and “present herself a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which was but “her reasonable service;” and especially seeing there was now no danger, for the storms were over, “the winter was past, and the rain was over and gone.”

2dly, He desires that he might hear her voice. Believers should not be dumb when Christ would have them speak: there is a dumbness or silence which is laudable, and that is, either when they are under the afflicting hand of God, or are vilified and reproached for the sake of Christ and his gospel; but then there is a dumbness which is not so: for as there is a time to keep silence, so there is “a time to speak.” 1. Believers should speak of Christ; of what he is in himself, of the glory of his person, the excellency of his righteousness the efficacy of his blood, and the sufficiency of his, grace; they should also speak of what he is unto them, being of God made unto them, “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption;” of what characters he bears, and of what relations he stands in to them, as well as of what he has done for them, in redeeming them, and calling them by a his grace. 2. They should speak for Christ, as well as of him; and as he is a person that is much spoken against by the men of the world, therefore believers should speak for him, in vindication of his person, cause and interest; boldly assert the truths of his gospel; bravely bear a testimony against all errors, both in doctrine and worship; and not be afraid of men or their revilings. 3. They should speak to Christ; and this perhaps is the voice which Christ more especially desired to hear; they should speak to him in prayer, in praises and thanksgivings, and ascribe all the glory of their salvation to him; which is but just and reasonable in itself, becoming them, and makes for the advancement Of Christ’s glory.

IV.The motives or arguments he makes use of to prevail upon her, to grant him what he desired of her, are these two; 1st, The sweetness of her voice. 2dly; The comeliness of her countenance: which he mentions, not only to shew what induced him to make the request; but also to encourage her to grant it.

1st, He says, that her “voice was sweet;” that is, grateful, acceptable, and exceeding well-pleasing; and therefore he desired to hear it; which she had no reason to be ashamed of. Herodotus364364Euterpe, save1. 2. c. 35. makes mention of a dove that spoke with an human voice; such a voice Christ’s dove speaks with, and is very grateful to him; the voice as well as the countenance of lovers, is very pleasing;365365Wkalliproswpe caritofwne, vid. Athen. Deipnosoph.1. 13. c. 2. p. 564. and such was the voice of the church, 1. In speaking of Christ, of what he is in himself and what he is to her, and has done for her, is sweet unto him; he loves to hear his people streak of these things; we are told (Mal. 3:16), that “they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another;” and what did they speak of? no doubt of the excellency of Christ of what he had done for, shewn unto, and wrought in them: now what acceptance did this meet with from him? why, “he hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him” of all they spake of one to another, 2. Her voice in speaking for him, confessing his name, and bearing a testimony to his truths, is sweet unto him; for he says (Matthew 10:32), that “whosoever shall confess him before men, him will he confess before his father which is in heaven;” but as for those who are “ashamed of him and of his words” here on earth, he highly resents, and will be ashamed of them another day, and in another world. 3. Her voice in speaking to Christ is sweet; whether it be in prayer or in praise; her voice in prayer is so; and thus the Targum. paraphrases the words, “let me hear thy voice, for thy voice is sweet in prayer in the house of the little sanctuary.” The prayer of a poor believer makes sweet music in Christ’s ears; nothing is so delightful to him; so little reason have souls to be discouraged, or fear a kind reception of their petitions with him: and so her voice in praise and thanksgiving is sweet unto him; praise is not only pleasant in itself, and comely in us, but is also exceeding delightful to him; this “pleases the Lord better than an ox or bullock that has horns and hoofs.” (Ps. 69:30, 31)

2dly, He tells her, that her “countenance was comely;” that is, beautiful, and much to be desired; and this Christ says, not only in opposition to what she was in the esteem of the world, who counted her as the off-scouring of it, but also to what he was in her esteem, who looked upon herself as black and uncomely, and therefore was ashamed to lift up her head, or to have her countenance seen by him; therefore, in order to remove her unbelief, bashfulness, and misgivings of hearty he declares what she was in his esteem, whose judgment is preferable to her own, and to all others beside; for in his opinion, she was “the fairest among women,” of a beautiful aspect and comely countenance, being made perfectly comely through that comeliness which he had put upon her: he saw no iniquity in her, nor any spot upon her, as clothed with his righteousness; she was in his eye a “perfection of beauty;” having the most just symmetry and proportion of parts, the most agreeable shape, and the most lovely features in her face; her cheeks, being “comely with rows of jewels, and her neck with chains of gold,” as in chapter 1:10. Faith is most properly the believer’s face or countenance, by which he looks on. Christ, and views a fullness and suitableness in him, and expects all needful supplies from him; which look of faith on Christ, for life and salvation, is exceeding pleasant, nay, ravishing to him; and therefore he would have his church behold him again and again; for saints never appear more comely in Christ’s, eye, than when they take a full view of him.

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