OF THE BOOK OF
me, (O thou whom my soul loveth), where thou feedest, where
thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon: For why should I be as one
that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions.
church having, in the two former verses, directed her speech to the daughters of Jerusalem, and given them an account of herself, and present condition, with the reasons thereof, which she did, in order to solve their objections, and remove all discouragements from them that might arise from thence; and being sensible of her weakness and sinfulness in complying with, and embracing the traditions and doctrines of men, in which she found no solid food for her soul; she therefore makes application to Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, that he would feed, refresh, guide, direct, and restore her wandering soul. In these words are,
I. A request made unto him.
II. Some arguments used by her to prevail upon him.
I. Here is a request made by the church of Christ, which consists of two parts.
First. To know where he feedeth; “Tell me where thou feedest.”
Secondly, That he would inform her where he rested and refreshed his flock in the heat of the day, “where thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon;” both which we shall enter into a consideration of.
First, She desires to know where Christ fed; which is to be understood not passively, where he himself was fed, or where he fed himself; but actively, where he fed others, namely his flock; which, though not expressed in the original text, must be understood; and it may be observed here, that God's own children sometimes may be at a loss to know where Christ feeds; which may arise, either from the prevailings of corruptions in them, whereby they have stepped out of the ways of Christ; or from the hidings of God's face, and the withdrawings of the Sun of righteousness, or from the violent temptations of Satan, and fierce persecutions of the world; but when they are hungry, and desirous of spiritual food, they will enquire after it, and are very jealous, lest they should not be fed by Christ, and with the wholesome words of faith and sound doctrine; therefore in these straits they make their application to Christ, and him only, who “feeds his flock like a shepherd;” which branch of Christ's work and office we shall now consider; and shall endeavor to shew,
1st, What this phrase supposes and intends, as referred to Christ.
2dly, What he feeds his flock with.
3dly, How, after what manner, and by what means he feeds them.
4thly, Where he does so.
1st, It will be proper to enquire what is supposed and intended by Christ's feeding souls.
1. It supposes that Christ is a shepherd; and he frequently calls himself so, in John 10. The scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, do abundantly testify that he bears this character, and stands in this relation to his people, where he is called God's shepherd, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts,” (Zech. 13:7) now he is so called because he is the shepherd, whom God the Father hath approved of, chosen, appointed, set up, and sent to be the shepherd of the sheep; who, as such, died for the sheep and rose again, and as such must give an account unto the Father, of all the sheep which he has entrusted him with; he must bring in the full number, yea, must not have one of them wanting. He is also called the chief shepherd; “And when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory, which fadeth not away,” (1 Peter 5:4) which title he well deserves; for he that is God's shepherd, is also God's fellow, entirely equal to him in the dignity of his nature, and in the fullness of his power and glory; all other shepherds are under him, they receive their commissions from him, have their several flocks assigned to them by him, are furnished with abilities from him to feed them; to him, at last, must they give an account of themselves, their work, and the flocks that were put under their care, and from him shall they receive the never-fading crown of glory. He likewise calls himself the good shepherd; “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep,” (John 10:11) and he may very justly call himself so, for so he was to him that employed him, and so he is to those who are made his care and charge; he was faithful to his Father, that appointed him, and is merciful and compassionate to, careful and tender of the sheep committed to his trust; of which, a greater proof cannot be given, than his laying down his life for them. He is called the great shepherd; “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep,” (Heb. 13:20) which will manifestly appear, if we consider the dignity of his person, being the Son of God; the nature of his flock, the souls of men, therefore he is called “the shepherd and bishop of souls;” and also the largeness of his abilities for this work: he has an exquisite knowledge of them, he can call them all by name; he is endued with infinite wisdom and prudence to manage and order his flock aright; has an almighty arm to protect and defend them from all their enemies; is furnished with large supplies of grace for them, and bears an inexpressible love unto them. Finally, he is the one, and the only shepherd; “I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them,” (Ezek. 34:23) not but that there are other shepherds, which are under Christ, and whom he employs in his service, to feed his flock; but Christ is the chief and principle; God the Father never did, nor ever will set up any other; he is the only shepherd that owns the flock, having purchased it with his own blood, and he alone is able to take care of it.
2. Feeding being applied to Christ, not only supposes that he is a shepherd, but also that he has a flock to feed; “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,” (Isa. 40:11). All the elect are Christ's flock, they are “his people, and the sheep of his pasture;” the Father has given them to him, and has put them into his hands; he has also purchased them with his blood, and calls them by his grace: hence they know his voice, follow his steps, believe in him, and therefore shall never perish, but have everlasting life. Which flock is, 1. A distinct one; it is distinguished from all others, by electing, redeeming, and efficacious grace; Christ's sheep are distinct from the world's goats, and Satan's wolves in sheep's clothing, and will one day be separated and manifestly distinguished, not only from the open enemies of Christ, but also from all painted hypocrites, and carnal professors, 2. Though this flock is divided into many parts and branches, yet it is but one flock; for, as there are but “one fold, and one shepherd,” so there is but one flock under the care of this shepherd; though there are many particular flocks or churches here on earth, yet there is but one general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.” 3. This is but a little flock; “Fear not, little flock, etc.” (Luke 12:32). Christ's cote of sheep are little and contemptible in the eyes of the world; and are low and mean in their own eyes; they are few in number, when compared with the world's goats, though when all appear together in glory, they will be a “great multitude, which no man can number.” 4. It is called a flock of slaughter: Thus said the Father to the Son, “Feed the flock of the slaughter,” and he replied, “I will feed the flock of the slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock,” (Zech. 11:4-7) and it is so called, because it is exposed to the cruelty and barbarity of open and avowed enemies, and to the ravenings of wolves in sheep's clothing; the saints, for the sake of Christ and his gospel, have been “killed all the day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter,” (Rom. 8:36). 5. Nevertheless it is a beautiful flock, as the people of the Jews are called in Jeremiah 13:20; the saints are beautiful in Christ's eyes, being clothed with his spotless righteousness, washed in his precious blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; therefore, however black they may be in their own eyes, or in the eyes of others, they are comely and delightful in the eyes of Christ.
3. This act of feeding, takes in and comprehends the whole work and business of a faithful shepherd towards his flock; all which Christ fully and exactly performs, 1. He knows them distinctly, and takes a particular account of them; he knows them so, that he can call them all by name; he knew them full well in his father's gift of them to him, and so he did when he shed his precious blood for them; he knew distinctly all that he died fort and in effectual calling, he sets his mark, stamps his image on them, that it may also appear, both to themselves and others, to whose flock they belong; he took a particular account of them, when the Father put them. into his hands, and made them his care and charge, and they shall “again pass under the hands of him that telleth them;” for he will take care that not one of them shall be lost, but shall be all safely folded in heaven. 2. He not only, as a shepherd, takes a particular account of his flock, but he also leads them out, goes before them, and they follow him; he leads them out of the barren pastures of sin, and leads them into the green pastures of his love and grace; he goes before them as an example to the flock, of love, meekness, humility, patience, etc. and they follow him, in an observance of his ordinances, and in an obedience to his commands, till he has safely conducted them to glory. 3. He protects them from all their enemies; Christ's flock is exposed unto, and surrounded by many a roaring lion; ravenous wolves, and snarling dogs stand ready to devour it, had they but as large a permission, and as good an opportunity as they desire; but as David defended his father's sheep from the lion and the bear, so does Christ defend his; he has power enough to do it, and there is not wanting in him, either will, courage, or diligence. 4. He restores his sheep, when they have wandered and strayed from the fold; as it is natural for sheep to go astray, so at as common to Christ's sheep, not only before, but after conversion; “I have gone astray like a lost sheep,” says David (Ps. 119:176), “seek thy servant;” Christ does so, when his sheep go astray, he seeks every where until he has found them; when he lays them upon his shoulders, and brings them into his fold again, rejoicing; he restores their souls to their former life and liveliness, and “leads them in the paths of righteousness, for his own name's sake.” 5. He heals all their diseases; there are many diseases which sheep are liable to, and therefore had need to be well looked after; so there are many diseases which Christ's sheep are liable to, but they are all healed by him; he binds up the broken hearted, strengthens the weak, heals the sick and wounded; none ever die of their diseases; he is a sovereign, free, universal and infallible physician. 6. He watches over them in the night seasons, as the shepherds of Bethlehem did over their flocks; he watches over them night and day, in the dark and cloudy day, in the night of affliction, temptation and desertion; he never leaves them, nor forsakes them. 7. In short, he makes all necessary provisions for them; so that they shall not, neither can they want any good thing; he takes care that they shall have the best of food, and what is most suitable and proper for them; he has all fullness of grace treasured up in him, and he freely distributes it among them as they stand in need.
Having thus taken notice of what is supposed and intended in this act of feeding, I shall now consider,
2dly, “What Christ feeds his flock with,” and that is, 1. With himself, who is “the bread of life,” which being fed upon by faith, supports and maintains the life of God's children; and such are the nature, virtue, and efficacy of it, that if a man eat thereof, he shall never hunger after the sinful pleasures of this life, so as he has heretofore done; he shall also never die the second death, but shall live spiritually here, and eternally with Christ hereafter. Christ's “flesh is meat” indeed, and “his blood is drink indeed;” and the believing soul tastes a sweetness therein, and receives nourishment from hence. Christ is the hidden manna, the food of the wilderness, which faith lives upon, whilst travelling through it. O how richly are the saints fed, whose food is Christ himself! 2. He feeds them with the gospel, the doctrines and promises of it; the doctrines of the gospel are “the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in which believers are nourished up; these are sweet to their taste, the joy and rejoicing of their hearts, and are esteemed by them more than their necessary food; the promises of the gospel are “exceedingly great and precious;” faith often lives upon them; the whole gospel furnishes the believer with a variety of food; in it are milk for babes and meat for strong men; there is what is suitable to the dispositions, tastes, and constitutions of all God's children. 3. He feeds them with the discoveries of his love and grace; he brings them into his “banqueting-house,” and his “banner over them is love;” there he gives his best wine, and revives and refreshes their fainting and drooping souls with it; he not only feeds them with himself, “the bread of life,” but he also sheds abroad his love in their hearts, which is “better than wine;” and thus, with both these, from time to time, does he regale them; and in making such comfortable repasts for them, which they largely feed upon, they “grow stronger and stronger,” until, at length, they become perfect men in Christ Jesus. But,
3dly, “How, after what manner, and by what means does Christ feed his flock?” This is the part of the church's request; for so the words may be read, “Tell me how thou feedest, and how thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon. Now, Christ feeds his flock: 1. By his ministers, who are his under-shepherds, to whom he gives commissions to feed his flock, saying, as he did to Peter, John 21:15, 16, 17: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep;” who receive food from Christ, the great Shepherd, and have suitable gifts and graces bestowed upon them, that they may feed souls “with knowledge and understanding,” that is, with the doctrines of the gospel; which is the food Christ would have his fed with, as has been shewn already. 2. He feeds them by his ordinances, which are “breasts of consolation” to his people, out of which they suck, and are satisfied. Christ oftentimes makes a feast for his people, in his ordinances, and bids them welcome, and says, “Eat, O friends, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved;” and their faith feeds heartily upon “the goodness and fatness of his house.” 3. He does all this by his Spirit; it is the Spirit of Christ that takes Christ, and the things of Christ, and sets them before us, for faith to feed and live upon; it is he that applies the doctrines, and seals the promises of the gospel to us; and it is he that sheds abroad the love of Christ in us; the ministry of the word, and the ordinances of the gospel, are the means of feeding souls; but these would be dry breasts, and would fall short of satisfying and refreshing them; were they not attended with the Spirit of Christ.
4thly, The last enquiry is, Where does Christ feed? To this I answer, in the gardens, his several and particular churches, according to chapter 6:2. “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens.” Would any, with the church, know where Christ feeds? It is where his gospel is powerfully preached, his ordinances purely administered, and the laws of his house faithfully put in execution: this may then serve as a direction to such enquiring souls, who would be glad to know where Christ feeds, that they may feed with him; let such seek after a gospel ministry and sit under it; or a church in gospel-order, and give up themselves unto it, to walk with the saints, in all the ordinances, and commands of Christ. So much for the first part of the request. It remains to be observed,
Secondly, That the church is also desirous to know where Christ “makes his flock to rest at noon;” and there was a great deal of reason for her to make such a request as this, for it was noon with her; the sun was in its meridian, in its full strength, and had looked upon her, as she declares in the former verse. The allusion is to shepherds in hot countries, leading their flocks to some shady place, where they may be sheltered from the scorching heat of the sun; which, as Virgil says, was at the fourth hour, or ten o'clock, two hours before noon. We read of prozati<a mesembriazunta, sheep nooning themselves, or lying down at noon, under a shade by a fountain asleep. Some by noon understand the noon of the everlasting day of the saints” happiness and felicity in heaven, where Christ feeds his elect with joys that will never end; “leads them to fountains of living water, wipes all tears from their eyes,” and gives them an everlasting rest from all their toil and labor; but I think, by it we are rather to understand, either, 1. The noon of temptation, which is sometimes very hot, fierce and violent; Satan throws his fiery darts, thick and fast, which oftentimes give the believer much uneasiness; he is “in heaviness through manifold temptations;” but Christ makes him to lie down quietly, and rest safely; which he does, either by shading him from the violent heat thereof, or by supporting him under it, or else by giving him deliverance from it. Christ has sweet resting-places for his people, in the time of temptation, and would you know where and what they are? I answer, the fullness and all-sufficiency of grace, which is in him, is what he makes a believing soul sweetly to rest in, at such a time; when he is pleased to say unto it, as he did to the apostle Paul, when in such a case, “My grace is sufficient for thee:” such sweet resting-places, in times of temptation, are also his precious blood, which always speaks peace and pardon, and is of an eternal efficacy; his spotless righteousness, in which, as neither law nor justice, so neither can Satan find any flaw; as likewise, his atoning sacrifice, by which he has effectually “put away sin,” and perfected for ever them that are sanctified; and so is his advocateship and intercession, in the discharge of which, he pleads the believer's cause, answers all Satan's charges and accusations exhibited against him, and prays for him, “that his faith fail not;” moreover, the covenant of grace is another resting-place, which stands firm and sure, and the promises thereof are absolute, unconditional, and shall never fail. Now these are some of those sweet resting-places, in which Christ causes his people to lie down and rest in the noon-time of temptation: or else, by noon may be meant, 2. The noon of affliction, which is sometimes very sharp and severe upon God's children; so that as Job says, chapter 30:30. their skin is black upon them, and their bones are burnt with the heat thereof;” they have generally a large share of afflictions in this world; this sun oftentimes smites them very severely: but Christ has his resting-places for them, where he makes them lie down and rest, which are such as the world know nothing of; he grants them his presences and goes along with them, when they walk through the fire, or through the water, so that the one shall not kindle upon them, nor the other overflow them; he puts underneath his everlasting arms, and supports them under all their trials; he makes their beds in their affliction, so that it becomes easy to them; he discovers his love and grace to their souls, and gives them views of their interest in him; he remembers his word of promise to them, on which he has caused them to hope; lets them see that all their afflictions are in love, that they are all working for their good, and when he thinks proper, he delivers them; and upon such pillows, and in such resting-places as these, does he cause his people to lie down, where “he gives his beloved sleep,” in the noon-time of affliction: Or else, 3. By the noon may be meant the noon of persecution; and this, indeed, seems to be the case of the church here; the sun of persecution had scorched her; and her “mother's children were angry with her;” and therefore, being in distress and anguish of soul, she desires to know unto what cooling and refreshing shades Christ used to lead his flock at such a time. It is an allusion to shepherds, as before observed, who, in those hot countries, used to lead their flocks in the heat of the day, which is at noon, to some cool and shady place, where they might repose themselves, and be preserved from the vehemence of the scorching sun. Most of the Jewish writers interpret it of the captivity o£ the people of Israel, which was a time of tribulation and distress unto them: the heat of persecution seems chiefly intended, which fiery trial oftentimes befalls God's children; but Christ has his resting-places for them, at such a time, and under such a trial; he will “recompense tribulation to them that trouble his people,” but to those that are troubled, that is, with persecution, he will “give rest with us,” says the apostle (2 Thess. 1:6, 7): rest here, and rest hereafter; he gives liberty of soul when in prison, and fills with an unspeakable joy, even when both their goods and good names are spoiled, and taken away from them; he gives them a peace under all the racks and tortures, cruelty and barbarity that are exercised upon them by their enemies, which passeth all understanding; they find such rest, satisfaction, and contentment in the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, that they choose rather with Moses, “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season,” (Heb. 11:25).
Thirdly, The arguments she makes use of to obtain her request, which are these, 1st, She argues from her strong love and affection to him; “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth:” it is true, these words may be considered as an endearing title which she gave to him; but yet they seem more strongly to express her singular esteem of him, and her sincere and unfeigned love and affection to him, than those usual titles, my love, or my beloved, do; which love of hers might be very well improved as an argument to obtain her request, thus. “O thou who art the great Shepherd of the sheep, tell me in what pastures thou art graciously pleased to feed thy flock, and to what cooling shades thou dost lead them, in the heat of the day, to screen them from the scorching sun. She who makes this humble request unto thee, though mean and unworthy of thy notice, yet is one that loves thee with all her heart and soul; who, though of late, through the weakness and sinfulness of her own heart, and through the fear and force of others, has stepped aside from thy commandments to the doctrines and traditions of men; yet, being made sensible of her weakness and folly therein, cannot be easy to continue among those false teachers and worshippers; and therefore, from a real love to thy person, a respect to thine ordinances, and a regard to thy glory, humbly desires to be informed of these things.” Now, though the church knew full well that her love to Christ could merit nothing, nor deserve a gracious answer from him; yet she was sensible that expressions of love were very pleasing to him, and therefore she takes this method. The nature, causes and actings of a soul's love to Christ have been shewn on verse 3. 2dly, She argues and expostulates with him, on the account of her present case, and what was likely to befall her, if he did not give her some speedy directions; “for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” There is much difficulty and difference in the rendering of the Hebrew word, which we translate “as one that turneth aside”; some render it “as one that covereth herself, or is covered”, either as an harlot; so Tamar covered herself, which made Judah take her to be an harlot (Gen. 38:14), or as a widow in mourning, it being the custom of mourners to cover themselves (Ezek. 24:17, 22), and then the sense is, “Why should I be suspected to be an harlot, and looked upon as an unchaste woman, that has left her own husband to follow strangers; when thou, who art the searcher of hearts and trier of reins, knowest that I love thee in sincerity, and am heartily desirous of following thee in thine own ways:” or se the sense is, “Why should I appear in a widow's dress, and go mourning and sorrowing as if I had no husband: O tell me where thou art, and where I may enjoy thy presence, and be delighted with thy company.” Junius and Tremellius translate the words thus, “Why should I be as one that spreadeth the tent with the flocks of thy companions;” and give this as the sense, “Why should I? I would not, though but for a time, have any conversation with such persons, who pretend to be thy friends, and are not; I cannot bear it, my soul abhors and detests the thoughts of it, though, perhaps, thro” my weakness and infirmities, I may do it; O therefore tell me quickly, speedily, where thou feedest.” Others render it “as one that wanders about, declinest or turns aside by the flocks of thy companions”: this agrees with our version; and from these words we may observe, 1. That there are some who would be the associates and companions of Christ, who indeed are not; these were not really so, but usurped to themselves an equal power and authority with Christ: such are those who take upon them an arbitrary and lordly government of Christ's flock, who make and impose laws on the consciences of men, which Christ never established, and who teach doctrines contrary to those which Christ taught, and which are derogatory to his honor and glory: such rivals with. And pretended companions of Christ, are, the pope of Rome, who exalts himself above all that is called God; Arians, who deny Christ's divinity; Socinians, that oppose his satisfaction; and all self-justiciaries, that advance the doctrine of justification by works, in opposition to justification by his imputed righteousness: but such Christ will not own as his friends, nor suffer to be his rivals and companions; for as his own arm brought salvation to him, so the government is alone upon his shoulders; as he was alone in the purchase and salvation of his flock, so he will be in the government and feeding of it; for his glory, which arises from thence, he will not give to another. Christ never did, nor never will empower any to make new laws, nor coin new doctrines for his church and people. 2. These false and pretended friends and companions of Christ, who are no other than wolves in sheep's clothing, have their flocks. Heretics and false teachers, in all ages, have had their followers, and sometimes large numbers have been drawn away after them; and this God suffers in a judicial way; he gives men up to believe a lie, because they love not the truth; but having itching ears, grew weary of it and want something new: also these are permitted to have their flocks, by themselves, that Christ's little flock might be distinguished from them, and that those who are chosen, loved, and approved by God, might be made manifest; as also to animate and excite the faithful ministers of the gospel to be constant and assiduous, bold and faithful to preach the doctrines of Christ. and to oppose errors. 3. Believers are very fearful, lest they should, and are very desirous that they might not go aside from the ways of Christ; they are jealous of their own hearts, and are sensible that there is in them a propensity thereunto; they know that Satan uses all the crafty methods, and takes all the opportunities he can to draw them aside, and corrupt their minds from the simplicity that is in Christ; they are apprized of their own weakness, and know that they are not kept by their own power, but that if they are left to themselves, they shall soon divert to crooked paths: and the present case of the church also manifestly shews that God may, for a time, suffer his own children to be carried away with the error of the wicked; but when they are made sensible of it, they will be filled with an holy indignation against it, and make it their principal request at the throne of grace to be delivered out of it, and that their feet may be guided and directed in the paths of Christ: now those who are desirous that they may be kept from turning aside unto, and joining with the flocks of false teachers, who vainly pretend to be the friends and companions of Christ, should abide in the Lord's inheritance, keep close to Christ's ways and ordinances, and not believe every spirit, but try them according to the word of God, as the noble Bereans did; they should earnestly beg that the gospel which is preached unto them might effectually work in them, and make deep impressions upon them; so shall they not be “like children tossed about with every wind of doctrine.” But let us hear what directions Christ himself gives to the church in the following words.
 h[rt hkya quomodo pascas, Tig. Vers. So the Syriac Vers. And Jarchi. Vid. Ainsworth in loc.
 Inde, ubi quarta sitim coeli collegerit hora, Georgic. 1. 3. 5:327.
 Plato in Phaedro, p. 1230.
 Hieron. et Bernard. in Sanct. et Diodat, in loc.
 Fide Targam et R. Sol. Jarchi in loc. So Lyra.
 Vide Aben Ezram in loc.
 jyf[k wJv perizallomh>nh, Sept. duet amicta vel operta, Michaelis; quasi operieus se, Piscator; ut obnubens, Coeceius; sicut obvelans se, Marckius. So Zohar, in Leviticus fol. 7.3.
 So Mercer in loc.
 Vide Yalkut and R. Sol. Jarchium in loc.
 Targum in loc. R. David Kimchi in lib. Shorash. rad. Hf[.