Elder Beebe: - I am requested by a sincere lover of the truth to solicit your views on Songs 1:5 - "I am black, but comely," etc.
REPLY: It affords us great pleasure at all times to give such views as we have upon the Scriptures to those who sincerely love the truth; for we feel perfectly confident that all who sincerely love the truth are born of God, and taught by his spirit. To love the doctrines of men who have stolen the livery of truth to disguise their deformity and deceive the simple - although error so disguised may become popular in the world - requires no gracious operation of the Spirit to make me love it: for all men, in their native enmity to God, love error; but none can either know or love the truth sincerely until they have felt its power, and tasted its sweetness. The truth as it is in Jesus always magnifies and honors God, and at the same time abases the creature. Hence, whatever men may profess or pretend, until they are born of God and know experimentally the power of God's love shed abroad in their hearts, they are inwardly opposed to the truth. But to the subject.
"I am black, but comely." This seemingly paradoxical expression is made by one who is called the fairest among women; an enquirer after the truth; one who is seeking for the place where her Beloved feeds, and where he causes his flock to rest at noon. Although we presume the personage thus describing herself as both black and comely was undoubtedly intended to represent the Gentile church, we see no impropriety in applying her language as expressive of the sentiments and experience of every individual child of God whose heart the Lord has inclined to enquire the way to Zion, with his face set thitherward. The spouse of the Redeemer, the bride, the Lamb's wife, and all the individual members of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, when filled with the love of God are, as in the text, drawn out to seek him whom their soul loveth; and diligently to enquire for the footsteps of his flock. But the mystery of the complex character of saints, or the church, is the subject of the present enquiry. How can she be black and yet comely; as her complexion would indicate that she was uncomely in the extreme, and so very black as to seem to challenge nature to produce a parallel As black as the tents of Kedar, which were probably the most unsightly and black of any thing that could be named as a comparison; yet, while thus hideous and ugly, at the same time as spotless white and pure as the curtains of Solomon.
When the church, or when the individual christian, is heard to speak of their blackness, we understand them to speak of their earthly, depraved, unrenewed nature; and surely there is nothing that looks to them so hateful. They are truly amazed that God should have set his love on sinners of so deep a dye. While they can see nothing in their nature but vileness or in their conduct but sin and transgression against God, their heart is the cage of every hateful and unclean bird, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. O, how black and loathsome they appear to themselves to be. It is true they were unconscious of their vileness until the Sun had looked upon them; or until a revelation of Christ is made: as in the absence of the Sun, we are in total darkness, and cannot tell how disgustingly black and vile we appear until the light comes, which makes manifest: but then we felt the weight of our depravity. And as in nature, the more a person is exposed to the burning rays of the midsummer sun, the blacker they grow. So with the Christian, the more thoroughly they are made acquainted with the righteousness of God, the more effectually they become convinced of the guilt and pollution of their own nature, and the wretched pollution of all human righteousness; until at length they become fully convinced that there is nothing short of the dirty, smoky tents of Kedar to which they can compare themselves. This is the effect of the Sun's looking upon them. Take, for an example, the prophet Isaiah. Hear him exclaim - "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isa. 6:5) And Peter, when the Son looked on him in the palace of the high priest, went out and wept bitterly. And was it not even so when God looked upon us in the righteousness of his holy law; when the commandment came, and light broke forth in which we saw our own vileness that we could say we were black indeed, because the Son, which is the fountain and source of all true light, had looked on us. How did we then cry out, "Woe is me, for lam undone!" And from that moment on every one who has been enlightened to behold the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ will say with Job, "I have heard of thee O God, with the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee; therefore I abhor myself in dust and ashes." Truly the more we know of God, the more we enjoy of his presence throughout our whole pilgrimage, the greater will be our sense of our own personal vileness; until like Paul we shall exclaim, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." Surely I am as black as the tents of Kedar; but at the same time I am -
Comely as the curtains of Solomon. While all our earthly nature is black with sin and depravity from the sole of the foot even unto the head, we are bruises and wounds and putrefying sores, so that there is no soundness in us, we have, nevertheless, a life which is hid with Christ in God, which is all fair. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and "All flesh is as grass, and the goodliness thereof is as the flower of grass;" it fadeth and falleth away. But that which is born of the Spirit is spirit; for it is born of incorruptible seed, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. It cannot sin because it is born of God, and the seed abideth in it. This spiritual life in us is as pure as the fountain from which it emanates; for it is Christ in us, the hope of glory. It cannot be contaminated or defiled with sin, or stained with guilt; and it is therefore whiter than snow, and unblemished as the curtains of Solomon. In ourselves we are black as the tents of Kedar; but in our Lord Jesus Christ we are fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. We have no comeliness but that which our Redeemer has put upon us. He found us in our blood, left in the open field to the loathing of our persons; and the Lord says to Jerusalem in Ezek. 16:8-14, "Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine. Then washed I thee with water, yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine heard. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God." To all of which Jerusalem responds, (Isa. 61:10) "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."
"Defil'd and loathsome as we are,
He makes us white, and calls us fair."
"My filthy rags are laid aside:
He clothes me as becomes his bride:
Himself bestows my wedding dress,
The robe of perfect Righteousness."
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 110 - 113