Dear Brother Beebe: Please give your views through the “Signs” on Song of Solomon 4:12: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” All the preaching I have is through the “Signs”; I have not heard a sermon in more than a year.
February 28, 1865.
To those who are born of God and led by the Spirit of truth into the understanding of the Song of Solomon, it is well denominated the Song of Songs, for in it is embraced the sweetest, noblest and most exalted theme that ever moved the heart or tongue of sinners saved by grace, while to the carnal professor and the graceless hypocrite it presents no beauty or sweetness. Shut out from our understanding the sacred relationship and indissoluble union of Christ and his church, and all the divine beauty and thrilling interest of the Song would be hidden, and nothing presented to awaken the heavenly devotion of the sweet singers of Israel. This Song, although divided by the compilers of the Scriptures into chapters and verses, is but one whole song. It is called the Song of Songs, because it embraces so rich a cluster and pleasing variety of appropriate and striking figures expressive of the spiritual communion and fellowship of Christ and his church. All these figures are presented in other parts of the Scriptures, and used to elucidate and illustrate the doctrine of the gospel and the experience of the saints, but they are here collected and condensed in one grand anthem, to be sung in exalted strains to the praise of God and edification of his children. Among an extended variety of endearing terms employed by the Spirit of inspiration to set forth the Redeemer’s appreciation of and boundless love for his church, as well as the relationship subsisting, we have no less than five in the short passage on which we are requested to write. The church is here called a garden, sister, spouse, a spring and a fountain, in each of which volumes of divine instruction and rivers of sweet consolation may be deduced, well calculated to cause the lips of even them who are asleep to sing. Before we attempt an elucidation of these figures we will give some reasons for applying them to the church of God.
I. Because we can perceive no spiritual beauty in them if in any other way applied. Unto whom or what else can such language be applied as is in this Song used by the Beloved, but to his church? Is she not his spouse, his bride, his wife?
II. Because all these figures are uniformly so applied throughout the Scriptures.
III. Because this application is in perfect agreement and harmony with the teachings of the Spirit in the experience of the saints.
IV. Because the same personage in our text called sister, spouse, etc., is in other parts of the same Song called by names and titles which are nowhere in the Scriptures applied to any other than the church. We will now pass to consider the several appellatives used in our text, and what they signify in their application to the church.
1. “My sister.” This appellation, as well as that which follows, “spouse”, expresses relationship of the most vital and endearing kind. Although high in the heavens he reigns as God over all, and blessed forever, yet in his mediatorial relation to his church he calls her his sister, not as a mere figure of speech, but as a blessed reality. He is the Elder Brother to all of the children of God. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified, are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:11).” “That he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).” The relation of brother and sister involves identity of parentage, and consequently identity of vitality. Christ is the only begotten of the Father, and in that relation is the Son of God, and he says he proceeded forth and came from God, (John 8:42). Hence he could speak truly of God as his Father, for he is in the Father and the Father is in him. And as all his children were chosen in him before the foundation of the world, their relation to God is in him as the Son of God, their sonship is in his Sonship, for they are his body, his flesh and his bones (Ephesians 5:30). Their life is hid with him in God (Colossians 3:3). They are made partakers of the divine nature, in being members of Christ (II Peter 1:4). His family record, as kept by the three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, (I John 5:7) reads, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life (I John 5:11,12).” Thus the church identified with Christ, her mediatorial Head, in his immortality is one with him, even as he is one with the Father, and her life is hid with Christ in God. Thus standing in a union of life with the Son of God, he claims her as his sister. In recognition of this vital relation the Holy Ghost, through Paul, addressed the church which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (I Thessalonians 1:1). In speaking of his chosen people as such, Christ is not ashamed to call them brethren, but as a church, the feminine gender being used, she is called his sister. This title, as we have remarked, is expressive of tender affection and fraternal love. The relation of brother and sister is unchangeable; being once established it can never be annulled.
2. “My spouse.” As Sarah was both the sister and the spouse of Abraham, so the church is the spouse as well as sister of him who claims to be both the Brother and Bridegroom of his church. A spouse is one betrothed or married. The church is frequently recognized in the Scriptures as the bride, the Lamb’s wife. As such she was presented in vision to John in Revelation 21:2,9,10: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” “And there came unto me one of the seven angels,” etc. “And talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God,” etc. John the Baptist bore witness of Christ as the Bridegroom, saying, “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled (John 3:29).” Unto the church of God it is spoken, “For thy Maker is thine husband; The Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called (Isaiah 54:5).” “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies: I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord (Hosea 2:19,20).” The nature of this espousal, and the marriage vows of the betrothment, leave no room to fear that the union shall ever be dissolved or annulled. “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away (Malachi 2:16).” “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me (Jeremiah 32:40).” Well might the apostle say, when dwelling upon this wonderful espousal, this marriage union, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).” The bride released from all affinity to the law by the body of Christ, being redeemed from its dominion as well as from its power, is now married unto him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held: that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).” Thus Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).” This bride or spouse is indebted to her heavenly Bridegroom for all the comeliness which he has put upon her. Fully conscious of this, when brought to the King in clothing of wrought gold and raiment of needle work, (Psalm 45:13,14) she is constrained to exclaim in the fullness of her joy and gratitude, “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 (Isaiah 61:10).” Now, in all the perfection of beauty and immaculate purity and comeliness which he has put upon her he claims her as his own fair bride, and calls her his sister, his spouse, and as she is married unto him that is risen from the dead, that she should bring forth fruits unto God, she is also called,
3. “A garden inclosed.” As a spouse all her fruits must be the legitimate result of her sacred union to her Husband; so also as a garden no plants are to be cultivated but such as our heavenly Father has planted, all others shall be rooted up. In attempting to trace the analogy of this figure to the church of God we will observe a garden is a chosen, consecrated spot selected from the plantation or farm for a special and particular purpose, as Dr. Watts has justly paraphrased it, as in the language of the church:
“We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot inclosed by grace,<> Out of the world’s wide wilderness.”
Truly the church is a chosen and consecrated inclosure, being “sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called (Jude 1).” To the church it is said, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (II Thessalonians 2:13).” As the garden is selected and set apart for a more important and noble purpose than any other part of our lands, so the church is chosen, organized and set apart for the cultivation of the choicest plants, and such as are not found elsewhere. In setting forth the church under this beautiful figure the inspired writer has spoken of some of her productions, as vines which flourish, and which have tender grapes; spices, the fragrance of which flows out when the North wind awakes and the South wind blows. The Rose of Sharon blossoms and blooms in the garden of the Lord, and the Lily of the Valley is among the rich variety of her flowers, arrayed in more beauty and loveliness than Solomon in all his glory could boast of. Bundles of myrrh and clusters of camphire are among her productions. “Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.” The vine which is found here is one that the Lord brought out of Egypt and planted in a goodly soil. The Father is the Husbandman; he says he will keep it; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. In tracing the pleasing figures embraced in the description of the Lord’s garden, we might extend our article to a volume, but we will only now say all the fruits and productions of the garden, as contemplated in this song, are emblematic of,
First, Christ himself, who is the plant of renown (Ezekiel 34:29). “He shall grow up before him as a tender plant (Isaiah 53:2).”
Second. The people of God, or children of the kingdom of Christ, are called plants, and grow in this garden of the Lord. Christ is anointed to his mediatorial work for this express purpose, “That they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified (Isaiah 61:3).” “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified (Isaiah 60:21).”
Third. The fruits of the plants in this Eden, or paradise of our God, are unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:22). They shall bring forth fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14), and as to the abundance of their fruit, it “shall shake like Lebanon (Psalm 72:16).”
Fourth. The fruits of the garden of the Lord are fruits of the tree of life which John saw in the midst of the street of the new Jerusalem, and on either side of the river of life, which were yielded every month, (Revelation 22:2) and they include all the fruits of the Spirit, which are these: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22,23).”
For the production of these fruits the spiritual elements must be propitious; the doctrine of the Lord must drop as the rain, and his speech distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the herb, and as showers upon the grass (Dueteronomy 32:2). The fallow ground must be broken up (Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12), the hills must be digged with the mattock (Isaiah 7:25), to subdue the briars and thorns; and when the ground is properly prepared and the seed is sown, and the plants set and the trees made good, then the North and South winds must blow upon this garden, that the spices may flow out (Song of Solomon 4:16). When the Spirit comes, as on the day of Pentecost, like a mighty rushing wind from heaven, its power will be felt in the garden of the Lord. The genial rays and life-inspiring light and warmth of the Sun of Righteousness must shine, the refreshing dews must distil, reviving showers come down, and then the rich perfumes of the spices and fragrance of the flowers will be borne on the gentle winds of the spirit of pure devotion.
This garden of the Lord is inclosed. A garden without an inclosure is exposed to depredations from without. If her hedges are broken down all they which pass by will pluck her choice vine, the boar out of the wood will waste it and the wild beast of the field will devour it (Psalm 80:12,13). Gardens are inclosed not only for defence, but frequently for ornament. When the wise man went by the field of the slothful and the vineyard of the fool, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then he saw and considered it well, as all wise men should do (Proverbs 24:30-32). But the garden of the Lord is not kept by one who will neglect it, but by the Lord, whose eye never slumbers nor sleeps. He says, I the Lord do keep it: I will keep it night and day (Isaiah 27:3). The inclosure of the church of God is perfectly invincible, for unto her it is said, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Dueteronomy 33:27).” “For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her [Jerusalem] a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her (Zechariah 2:5).” “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks (Isaiah 24:1).”
“Her walls are strength, and at her gates
A guard of heavenly warriors waits;
Nor can her deep foundations move,
Built on his Godhead and his love.”
Her foundations, walls and gates are beautifully described (Revelation 21:12-27). The election of grace, the purpose, counsel and eternal, immutable love of God encircle and secure the garden of the Lord like walls and bulwarks of eternal brass. “Walk about Zion, and go around about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following (Psalm 48:12,13).” The landmarks of this garden are unalterably established. Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of her cords be broken (Isaiah 33:20).
Fifth. “A spring shut up.” Ezekiel, in his vision, saw a river of water issuing from the threshold of the house of the Lord, which carried life wherever it flowed (Ezekiel 47:1). “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be (Zechariah 14:8).” A spring is a place in the earth, or rock, where some vein of water arises to the surface, and in a garden a spring of living water is of great importance to refresh the plants. In the garden of Eden, where God placed Adam in his primeval state, he caused a river to flow to water the garden, (Genesis 2:10) and this was undoubtedly a type of the garden in our text, for God has promised that the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water (Isaiah 35:7). This last promise was in connection with cheering prophecies of the establishment of the church or garden of the Lord among the Gentiles, which should cause the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose; and so also we understand many of the Scriptures referred to point, for the church, at the period indicated in the Song, had not been brought into her gospel manifestation, but was a spring shut up. Like the well of Haran unto which Jacob came on his way to Padanaram, where three flocks of sheep were waiting for the removal of the stone from the well’s mouth, so lay the great stone on which the law was engraved, on the mouth of the well of salvation, until our spiritual Jacob came and rolled away the stone. (See Genesis 29:2-10.) Thus until the adamantine tables of the law were canceled, the church of Christ, as a spring, was shut up. “Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed (Galatians 3:23).” We believe there can be but little doubt that the Scriptures to which we have referred fully agree with our application of the figure, “a spring shut up.” The voice of prophecy clearly expressed a set time for the opening of this spring, when these living waters should go forth from Jerusalem, when Christ, the glorious Lord in his garden or church, should be made manifest as the place of broad rivers and streams, when he should call unto him all who thirst for salvation, to drink of that water which shall be in them a well of living water, springing up into everlasting life.
Sixth. “A fountain sealed.” There seems to be but little difference between a fountain and a spring; all springs are fountains, but the fountain in this case is applied to gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. Not that the church apart from Christ could be either a spring or a fountain, for these waters which Ezekiel and John in their respective visions saw proceeded from the throne of God and the Lamb, although they were seen issuing from the threshold of the house of God, and in the midst of the streets of new Jerusalem. God has set his Son upon his holy hill of Zion, the mediatorial throne of God and the Lamb is in the church, and all the springs of God’s people are in Christ. The sealing of this fountain may signify,
1. That which was hidden, secluded or concealed, like the contents of the book which John saw in the right hand of him that sat upon the throne, which no man in heaven or earth or under the earth was able to look upon or open, (Revelation 5:1-8) and as David and John were commanded to seal up certain things, the revelation of which was designed for remote ages in the future. In this sense certainly the gospel church among the Gentiles was in the days of Solomon a sealed matter. As Paul says, “whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (Ephesians 3:4-6).” “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints. To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26,27).”
2. The church of Christ may be regarded as sealed, having the seal of God, as in Revelation 7:3-9, as a mark by which they are identified and known, as this seal is in a prominent place, in their foreheads, where it is visible and known in distinction from anti-christ, which bears the mark of the beast, and in her forehead her names and titles written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, etc. (Revelation 17:5).
3. The seal of God is a binding and indelible testimony of her identity, and sacred consecration to Christ. As a seal is set to establish unchangeably a decree or covenant, as of Christ in his mediatorial relation to his Father and to his people, it is said, For him (the Son of man) hath God the Father sealed (John 6:27), so also, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his (II Timothy 2:19).”
4. We may consider the seal upon the church of God to be the Holy Spirit of promise, “which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13,14).” “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).”
5. The church is sealed by the impress of the image of Christ upon her. As a seal enstamps its peculiar marks or characters, devices, etc., upon the yielding wax, so the church of God, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, is changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).
6. The spouse speaks of the seal of her Beloved as an ornamental memento, or mark of affectionate esteem and tender love. “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death, etc. (Song of Solomon 8:6).” The church in this expresses the most important desire of all intelligent Christians, to be remembered in the love of the heart and protected by the omnipotent arm of her Beloved. An assurance of this will secure her from her doubtings and fears and jealousies, which she has found by painful experience to be cruel as the grave.
7. This sealed fountain is made to flow richly, sweetly and joyfully with those streams which make glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. From this inexhaustible fountain sealed flows the high and lofty praises of God her Savior, the doctrine of salvation by grace, the order of the gospel, the fellowship of the saints, and every gracious operation of the Spirit of truth and holiness. The light and truth of God go forth from her. Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith and every fruit of the Spirit in living streams flow from this Jerusalem, half of them towards the former sea and half towards the hinder sea; in summer and in winter do they flow. Gardens also flow from her, for she is a fountain of gardens. Jerusalem which is above (having risen with Christ) is free, and is the mother of us all; that is, of all who, as Isaac was, are the children of promise (Galatians 4:26-31). From the church of Christ as organized at Pentecost, in primitive glory and apostolic faith and order, have flowed all the churches of the saints which have ever been recognized by the word and Spirit of the Lord, whether among the Jews or Gentiles, down to the present time. We say churches, for although as the bride and spouse of Christ his beloved is but one, yet her various branches have been so recognized, and are called the daughters of Zion, children of Jerusalem and people of the most high God. As standing in Christ they are indivisible, but in location and date they are members one of another, and of the body of Christ.
In conclusion, may we not say to the children of God, who bear the marks of the children of Jerusalem, which is above and is free, Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold your King, with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart?
June 15, 1865.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 197 - 207