Sermons upon the Three Chapters of the Canticle of Canticles (1587)
The Argument of the 45th Psalm,
serving for an Argument and Preface or Abridgment
of this book of the Canticle of Canticles or Song of Songs of Solomon.
This Psalm, as the whole book of the Canticle of Canticles, is to be taken and altogether to be understood in a spiritual sense. And therefore there is no appearance or shew of reason to take it as some have done, for a marriage song of Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter. For besides that the title, which is in Hebrew over many of the Psalms, would have made some mention touching this point, we see how this marriage is condemned, and that worthily, by the Holy Ghost (1 Kings 11)—so far it is from all reason to take that alliance and marriage of his to have been a figure of so holy and sacred a one as that is which is proposed unto us in this Psalm.
We have therefore in this Psalm an excellent and most divine treatise touching the most strait and spiritual bond and alliance which is between Jesus Christ and his Church. Every point thereof being prosecuted and continued under such forms and phrases of speech as are customarily used in the treaty of the conditions of a natural marriage between such persons as are of an high degree and quality. As the Prophets also have in many places retained the very same terms of Bridegroom and spouse and of marriage speaking of Jesus Christ and of his Church, as the Apostle hath likewise used the same (namely, Rom. 7:4; 2 Cor. 11; Eph. 5).
Betrothal and then Marriage.
We are therefore to note in the first place, that as in the matter of marriage the fiances or betrothings are first solemnized and then afterward the marriage—so Christ also as the Bridegroom of the Church ought to be in some sort considered after two diverse manners: First according unto his infirmity, which may be compared unto the Fiancé. And secondly according unto his glory which he obtained after his resurrection, being now the true Husband of his Church, replenished himself with glory, though she be yet remaining in part upon earth. Now as touching this Psalm, Christ is therein proposed unto us, as being already in his glory, and as he who hath begun already to accomplish in deed this holy marriage with his Church.
Christ therefore as husband is this true King of his Church, so perfect in respect of himself in all beauty, that there is nothing wanting (ver. 2). As touching the good grace he hath to win all hearts unto himself, and even to change and turn them altogether, the same also appeareth in the preaching of the gospel accompanied with a virtue and power of the Spirit which cannot be expressed. Himself in as much as he hath taken upon him the nature of man, hath received in the same nature the Spirit of God without measure, in such abundant wise that he poured it as it were over in all his saints.
He is girded also with a sword, and that not in shew only without effect, but which he draweth and unsheatheth in deed, namely then when he maketh his word to pierce unto the dividing of the soul and of the spirit (ver. 3).
He is besides described to be furnished and provided with arrows with which he shooteth thorough and transpierceth all his enemies (ver. 5), which maketh also that all praise ought principally and sovereignly to be yielded unto him. Who sheweth himself of so ready and mighty a power that he is able to succor and defend such as are his, and to break in sunder and overthrow the strength of such as rebel against him (ver. 5). To this purpose he is introduced as being trained in his chariot by these three horses: Truth, Meekness, and Righteousness, which are conducted by the Word as by him that guideth this chariot (ver. 4).
Now to declare at large the sense and meaning of every of these things here proposed, it would require a great volume. Notwithstanding we may, as it were, by the way observe somewhat out of them, if we make a comparison on the contrary side of the train they keep, and on what chariot they cause themselves to be carried. I mean the kings and princes who serve that master which is opposed altogether unto this Head of the Church, in whose whole furniture and provision is nothing but ambition, pride, insolence, cruelty, dissolution, with an horrible trampling under and oppressing of them which are their subjects. We must also diligently note that which is added, that albeit the world will not accept this most just and most mild government of his, that notwithstanding this so just a King governeth always most happily, and that the more men oppose and set themselves against him, the more he maketh his power to appear, whether it be in that so just and assured defense which he causeth those who are his to feel, or whether he strike his enemies within unto death by a most divine power. Namely, when he casteth them into a reprobate sense to make themselves the instruments of their own ruin and destruction. Now albeit these things come to pass every day, inasmuch as this good King doth always defend all his elect, to the end that none of them perish, and inasmuch as he doth vengeance upon their enemies according as it pleaseth him to shew the marks thereof. Notwithstanding this appeared most expressly in the first beginning of this marriage, as it seemeth to be here in some sort touched, when he shewed such vengeance on that ungrateful synagogue of the Jews obstinately persevering in her incredulity, in which she continueth unto this date, reserving notwithstanding the remnant of his elect according unto his express mercy which he promised unto the race of Abraham, how rebellious so ever it doth shew itself.
Now after this King hath obtained such a victory, he is here seated on his seat of Justice and Righteousness, which is called eternal and everlasting (ver. 6), to give us to understand that it is not of this world. And that not only because that Justice establisheth the seat of the King in this world, as it is written (Prov. 27:28), but especially because here the question is of a King who is together both true God eternal, and true Son of David according unto the flesh. Unto whom also, in as much as he is man, is given all power both in Heaven and in earth, being exalted above every name, as this place is alleged (Heb. 1:8), in so much that the Church hath no more many kings, than one woman can have many husbands. Neither is he whom she hath for her husband so God, that he is not also man, seeing otherwise the marriage would not agree between him and the Church which is gathered from among men. As neither is he man in such sort, that he is not God too, because that otherwise the Church should not have an head and husband mighty enough to defend her.
Afterward is declared the most righteous government of this goodly Kingdom, to wit, of the Church (ver. 7), for there is no Kingdom but the Church which is governed by the true rule of a most just and moderate discretion, be it in public charges or in private duties and particular charges, because it is in it properly that the Spirit of God doth reign, which ordereth and directeth indeed the senses, and governeth the affections of the true faithful and believing. And the reason of this point which is added is of great weight, namely, because that this King of the Church both in respect of his person as also of his office, is anointed above his companions, that is to say, we must set him by himself in another order and degree than other kings are. For even in the most excellent kings, yea in David himself there have been many defects and imperfections, but in such a King as this is there is nothing but all perfection.
As for that which is added of the most exquisite robes and vestments of this King (ver. 8), this is referred partly unto that proper voice which the Father caused to be heard when he was baptized, saying, “This is my well beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17), by which voice is given us to understand the full and perfect reconciliation with the Father by that most sweet odor as well of the integrity and righteousness reliant in the person of Christ our Immanuel, as also his obedience unto death even the death of the cross. These same vestments also and robes of his are referred unto that which the Apostle saith (2 Cor. 2:15), we are the sweet odor of Christ as of him who hath been made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Which blessings he poureth down upon us from those palaces of ivory, which are those heavenly places where he is seated, and from whence he looketh upon us, and from whence also he causeth these blessings and graces of his to flow down upon us—yea his own self (as we may so say) after a spiritual manner and fashion, and such as is utterly incomprehensible unto us.
This King and Bridegroom being thus described unto us, the condition and estate of the Church his spouse, and of their whole marriage is most amply set down and handled (ver. 9). Now in the discourse and handling hereof there are adjoined unto the Israelites and faithful Jews which properly represent this Spouse, certain others which are the King’s Daughters also to be her companions. All which, notwithstanding appertaining but to one husband, represent unto us by this means the person of one only Church truly catholic, that is to say universal, but yet in such sort that they are, as it were, placed after this principal Spouse of the people of Israel. Because the first right appertaineth first of all unto the holy Prophets and Apostles of the nation of the Jews and to all the others which the Apostle calleth the natural branches. By whose ministry also we have been led and conducted into the chamber of this King, with whose gold and glittering shining we are made bright and shining.
We are farther to note touching the ornaments of these Queens which are the body of the Church, that it is not said that they took them out of their own cabinets and wardrobes, but they received the of the King himself. To the end it should be acknowledged that whatsoever is fair and goodly proceedeth not, as it is most true, but from his mere grace and favor who hath covered our poverty and nakedness. Whereupon it followeth that she ought properly to be held and taken for the true Catholic Church whom wee see to come forth in this place with her companions in all humility with that rich crown of the only righteousness of Christ her King and Saviour, embraced by faith and freely imputed and allowed her. Although together with this righteousness of faith there must appear besides in the faithful an actual righteousness, but never perfect and entire, but only begun and delineated forth by little and little, by which notwithstanding a man may always distinguish the children of light from the children of darkness, as it seemeth our Lord Jesus Christ had also respect thereunto (Mat. 22:11).
Al these things being thus handled, in which almost all the secrets of our salvation are comprised, the Prophet addresseth his speech unto the Church, or rather unto every member thereof (ver. 10-11). Exhorting to study to please this Bridegroom who cherisheth and favoureth her so much, shewing withal how she shall do it. Namely, if in hearkening diligently unto him (according as faith proceedeth of that which a man heareth of God himself, and without which a man cannot please God) and ordering herself altogether unto him (which is done if she take narrow heed unto his will which is seen in the glass of the Law), she beginneth to rid herself in the whole train and tenor of her life from all wicked spots and defilements of corruption. Which she hath in herself imprinted in her, both from the original and beginning of her nature and being, and from the nurture of her parents, as also of all such as after by custom and continuance are grown according unto the flesh and deeply rooted in her. That so she may learn the better to obey this only Bridegroom of hers as her true head and Lord for ever.
Afterward there is adjoined an exhortation which is used in respect of the small beginnings of the Christian Church such as it was when it began to take her first beginning in Jerusalem (ver. 12-13).
For it is easy to be seen by the Acts of the Apostles what the Church might be, according unto the flesh, when there were in the first assembly but threescore persons and those poor people and of no countenance or appearance. And therefore he comforteth her and foretelleth that it shall come to pass that they, even of Tyre itself—under whom he comprehendeth the strange nations and the very mightiest of the world—should join themselves unto her.
And yet for all this, he warneth her in good time, that all this goodly beautiful shew and setting forth whereof he maketh mention—and which he saith is to be priced above all the gold in the world without comparison and whatsoever ornament the greatest Queens of this world might have—ought to be within and in the heart, and not without to be apparent only unto the eyes according unto the fashion and manner of the world (ver. 13-15). And that yet a day should come when it should appear so high and magnificent in this Queen and in her Daughters, that it should surmount and exceed all the magnificency the mind of man were able to conceive. Namely, then when we shall meet Christ, as the Apostle speaketh, and when being entered with him into his palace we shall be and abide with him for ever.
Now to conclude, if any man demand what this Bride shall do while she waiteth and expecteth the last accomplishment of this sovereign bliss and happiness which this blissful Bridegroom shall in the end bestow upon the Church his true spouse. It is said that this spouse for the time she waiteth for shall not cease to bear or bring forth children unto this husband (ver. 16). Yea, and those excellent and good children, and such as shall resemble and prove like unto their true ancestors, I mean the ancient Prophets and Patriarchs. And such as shall be kings to rule over all the coasts and quarters of the world, having therein, by the virtue of the Spirit of this great King, subdued and overcome Satan, sin, death, and themselves. Whence it followeth that then there shall be in every respect a most perfect marriage, and such a one as shall endure for ever.