Chapter 4


Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee.

having mentioned some particular parts of the church, wherein she appeared very beautiful; in describing of which his soul was so taken with her beauty, that he resolves to dwell with her till his second coming; and now, lest it should be thought that there was a defect of beauty in the parts not mentioned, he sums up all in this general commendation; Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee:” which commendation may regard the church in some particular period of time; or, in general, be expressive of the fairness and beauty of the church, and every believer in any age of the world. A learned Jewish writer[1] would have the words referred to the days of Solomon; in which, he affirms, all Israel were righteous: and another[2] to the time when Israel received the law from mount Sinai; when, it is said, there were none lame, blind, and dumb among them: but they much better agree with the primitive and apostolic church, that was gathered by the ministry of the apostles after Christ's ascension, which is the mind of some Christian expositors;[3] and indeed the church then bid as fair for this character, as in any” other period of time whatever. Therefore, it may not be amiss if we consider how well it agrees with it; which will appear, if we observe,

First, The pure doctrines of grace which were then preached: the doctrines of the gospel, by the first ministers thereof, were fully preached; they kept back nothing that might be profitable to the churches, upon any pretense whatever; they shunned not to declare all the counsel of God, whatever was the consequence of it: and this they did in all sincerity and godly simplicity; they used no artful methods to conceal their principles, but renounced those hidden things of dishonesty; they did not handle the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth, commended themselves to every man's conscience; they did not corrupt the word of God[4] and blend it with their own inventions, but as of sincerity, but as of God, being sent by him, in the sight of God, so spake they in Christ; and were always jealous, lest the souls they ministered to should be seduced and drawn away, by cunning and artful men, from the simplicity of the gospel: they were careful to deliver those doctrines consistently; their trumpet did not give an uncertain sound; their word was not yea and nay, sometimes one thing, and sometimes another, to the dishonor of the gospel, and the confusion of souls, but was all of a piece; they preached agreeable to the analogy of faith, and were very solicitous to keep to that rule, and not swerve from it: and with a great deal of warmth and zeal they adhered to these truths; bravely withstood all opposers, feared the faces of none, and studied to please no man; but were bold in the name of God to speak the gospel of God, though with much contention; and however weak, mean, and contemptible their ministry might appear to the world, it was attended with a demonstration of the spirit and of power, and was made useful for the conversion of thousands of souls; for these truths being received in the love thereof, wrought effectually in them that believed; and were constantly adhered to and retained by them, mauger all the opposition of men and devils.

Secondly, If we consider the nature of their worship, which was pure and spiritual; the ordinances were kept by them, as they were delivered to them; were not mixed with human inventions, and, to their eternal honor, were constantly attended on by them; they were very frequent and fervent in the duties of fasting and prayer, and did nothing of moment in the church without them; all the parts of religious worship were performed decently and in order by them; in all things they sought the glory of God, and the consolation and edification of each other.

Thirdly, If we take notice of their discipline, which was strict, and according to rule: proper officers were chosen by the joint suffrages of the church; ministers were by them set apart for the ministry; and deacons chose by them to take care of the poor, and serve the tables: church censures and excommunications were administered by the whole body, and that with a great deal of success; in case of private offenses, they gave private admonitions, and for public crimes, rebuked before all, that others might fear; those who were erroneous in principle, they sharply reproved; and such as were disorderly in practice, withdrew from; an heretic, after the first and second admonition, they rejected; and such who were the authors of division, and causes of contention, they carefully marked, observed and avoided.

Fourthly, If we take a view of their Christian communion and fellowship with each other; they lived in entire unity and harmony with each other; they were all of one heart and of one soul; one soul did, as it were, dwell in, and actuate all their bodies; they had a great deal of sympathy for each other in all distresses, whether inward or outward, and freely communicated to each other; they wept with those that wept, and rejoiced with those that rejoiced; they kept Christ's new commandment, and entirely loved one another; and in so doing, gave an evidence of their being the true disciples of Christ; so that the very heathens took notice of it, and could say; “See how they love one another!”[5] which, though they could not condemn, yet it was not very grateful to them.

Fifthly, Their conversation was as becometh the gospel of Christ Jesus: they held the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience; that grace; which was revealed unto them, and wrought in them, taught them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; and in so doing, they adorned the gospel, honoured their profession, stopped the mouths of gainsayers, and recommended religion to others; and thus the primitive church much continued for “the first three hundred years after Christ: but we are not to imagine, that there were no blemishes and imperfections in her during all this time; for there were many, and more especially towards the latter end; but, being compared with the state of the church in after ages, she might then be said to be all fair, and no spot in her. But I rather think the words are not to be limited to the church in any one period of time, but are applicable to her and to all believers in any age of the world; who are all fair, not upon the foot of their own works, as the Targum on the place intimates; for all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and so are far from making them appear fair and beautiful in Christ's sight; but they are so, being justified by his righteousness, washed in his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; and so shall be at last presented to him a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,” (Eph. 5:27). The title and character which Christ here gives to his church, “my love,”! have already met with and explained in chapter 1:9. It is here predicated of her,

1st, That she is all fair. She is said to be fair, and is called by Christ, his fair one, and the fairest among women, before; but here, all fair: To shew, 1. That she was a perfection of beauty, being made perfect through that comeliness which Christ put upon her; believers are perfectly justified by Christ's righteousness from all sin; stand complete in him, and so are esteemed all fair by him: and in respect of sanctification, there is a perfection of parts, though not of degrees; there is a perfect new creature in all its parts, though it is not as yet grown up to be a perfect man in Christ; even as a new born babe, which has every part and limb in just proportion, may be said to be perfect, though it has not as yet grown up to the stature and bigness it will do, if life is continued. 2. That the whole church, and all the true members thereof are so; all of the church, every member, every individual believer, is fair in Christ's eye; the meanest and weakest believer, as well as the greatest and strongest, is made perfectly comely with Christ's comeliness, and equally accepted in the beloved. 3. He says so of the church, to manifest the exceeding greatness of her beauty, and how much his heart was taken with it, that he, the king, greatly desired it, and delighted to be in her company. 4. To comfort her, banish her doubts and fears, and strengthen her faith; who, seeing her own vileness and sinfulness, and spots and blemishes, might be ready to despond in her mind, and call in question her interest in Christ, and his righteousness; therefore he says, “Thou art all fair, my love:” I do love thee; thou art exceeding fair and beautiful in my eye; all of thee is fair and beautiful; thou art fairer than all others, being adorned with my” grace, and clothed with my righteousness.

2dly, He asserts that there was no spot in her; which is not to be understood, 1. As if there was no sin in believers; for this is contrary to all the experience of God's children, as well as to express texts of scripture; the humble confessions and ingenuous acknowledgments of saints in all ages, their frequent groans and complaints of the weight and burden of it, are plain proofs to the contrary; their ardent prayers at the throne of grace, for the manifestations of pardoning love, that: God would cleave them from secret, and keep them back from presumptuous sins, not only testify their commission of sinful actions, but also their sense of indwelling corruptions; and their daily slips and falls loudly proclaim the depravity of their natures; to imagine that we have no sin in us, is but to deceive ourselves, and to give an evidence to others, that the truth is not in us: therefore, when Christ says of his church, that there is no spot in her, we are not to understand it in this sense. Nor, 2. As if the sins of God's people were not sins; for, though they are justified by Christ's righteousness from all sin, and have all their sins pardoned through Christ's blood: yet their sins do not hereby cease to be sins: pardon of sin and justification by Christ's righteousness, free souls from an obligation to the punishment due to sin, but do not destroy the nature of sin: violations and breaches of God's righteous law, made by his own people, are equally esteemed sins by him, as those made by others; and though he never will inflict his vindictive wrath upon them for their sins; yet he does oftentimes, in a fatherly manner, chastise them for them, and brings them under a sense and acknowledgment of them before him. But, 3. The church and all believers are so in Christ's account; though they have sin in them, and have committed sin, and, through infirmity, continue to do so, yet sin is not reckoned and imputed to them; for, being clothed with his spotless righteousness, he looks upon them as if they had no spot in them; and they are so covered with it, that when their sins are sought for by divine justice, they shall not be found, nay, God himself, having accepted of Christ's righteousness and imputed it to them, sees no iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel: though all sin is seen by him, in articulo providentiae, in the article of providence, and nothing escapes his all-seeing eye; yet, in articulo justificationis, in the article of justification, he sees no sin in his people, so as to reckon it to them, or condemn them for it; for they all stand unblameable and unreproveable in his sight; and Christ will ere long present them in open view to men and angels, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.


[1] R. Aben Ezra in loc.

[2] Vid. Yalcut in loc.

[3] Brightman and Cotton in loc.

[4] Kaphle>uontev, cauponantes sermonem Dei; metaphora sumpta est ab hospitibus & cauponantibus, quibus in more est vinum aqua corrumpere, Aretius in 2 Corinthians 2:17.

[5] Vide, inquiunt, ut invicem se diligant, Tertull. apolog, c. 39. Sic mutuo, quod doletis, amore diliginius, quoniam odisse non novimus. Sic nos, quod invidetis, fratres vocamus, ut unius Dei parentis homines, ut consortes sidei, ut apei cohaeredes, Minut. Felix Octav. p. (mihi) 35.