OF THE BOOK OF
What is thy
beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest
among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved,
that thou dost so charge us?
church having solemnly adjured the daughters of Jerusalem, that when they found her beloved, they would tell him that she was sick of love In these words we have their reply to her, which show what an opinion they had of her, and what effect her words had upon them: in which may be observed,
I. The title and character they give her; “O thou fairest among women.”
II. A question they propose to her; “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?”
III. This question repeated; where the reason of it must be considered.
IV. What the occasion was of their putting this question to her; which was her solemn charge, “that thou dost so charge us?”
I. The title or character which they give her, the “fairest among women;” which is expressive of the exceeding greatness of her beauty: she was not only fair, but the fairest, and that among women, whose beauty is excelling; she was the fairest of any of her sex; not as she was in herself, but as she is in Christ, justified by his righteousness, washed in his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; and being considered thus, she appeared to these daughters, as indeed she really is, a perfection of beauty; and they were not mistaken herein, to Christ, who knew her perfectly well, and from whom she received her comeliness, gives her the same character in the very same words, in chapter 1:8, but then this opinion, which they entertained of her, though it entirely corresponds with that which Christ has entertained of her, yet is extremely different from that which the world has embraced; which shows, that these persons were not of this world, but called by grace out of it, seeing they had different sentiments of the church; the saints are by the world esteemed the filth thereof, and the off-scouring of all things; they are accounted by them the foolish, base, weak, and contemptible things of the world; nay, even things that are not, as if they were mere non-entities, and did not deserve the name of men or beings; and indeed, as they see no beauty nor comeliness in Christ, it is no wonder that they can see none in the church; but these daughters of Jerusalem could, for they judged not according to the outward appearance; the world only sees the outside of the people of God, which is generally poor, mean, and abject; but these could penetrate into the inside of the church, and viewed her, who is the king's daughter, as all glorious within, and therefore call her the fairest among women; for outwardly she was now black with sins, infirmities, reproaches and persecutions; yet notwithstanding she is highly esteemed of by them; for they had made Moses” choice, having thought it more eligible to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Young converts, as I suppose these daughters were, have generally a great respect for old professors, for such that were in Christ before them; these are the excellent in the earth, in whom is all their delight; they love to see them, and take pleasure in their company and conversation; and indeed, as love to the brethren is made an evidence of passing from death to life, by the apostle John (1 John 3:14), so it shows itself in young converts, as soon as any thing else; for oftentimes, where there is but a small knowledge of Christ, and acquaintance with him, there is a great deal of love to Christ's people; which was the case of these daughters here: also it may he supposed, that they give her this title to assure her of the high esteem which they had for her, and that opinion which they had of her, that she might not think that they designed her any hurt by asking the following question; but rather, seeing they had such a value for her, that their design was to do her all the service, and, be as assisting to her in her search of her beloved as they were able; and no doubt also, but this opinion which they had of her, made them listen to, and regard the more what she afterwards says of her beloved; for they concluded, that he must be some great and extraordinary person, that she, who was the fairest among women, had made the object of her choice and love: they took it for granted, that one so fair, so wise and prudent as she was, would not take notice of any person, nor lavish and throw away her love upon every object; and this made them the more forward and eager to put the question, which is now to be considered.
II. The question which they propose to her, is, “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” which is not put in a scornful, disdainful or profane way, as Pharaoh said to Moses, when he demanded the dismission of the people of Israel, “who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” or as Rabshakeh to the men of Judah, in that railing, profane speech of his, in 2 Kings 18:33-35, the design and sense of which was, What is the God of Israel more than the gods of the nations? but such was not this question here; these persons were not the profane people of the world; they had a great esteem for the church, and therefore it cannot be supposed that they would insinuate, my thing in a scornful and reproachful way of her beloved: nor did they propose this question with a design to ensnare her, as the Scribes and Pharisees frequently did to Christ; nor with a design to shift off any trouble from themselves, which they might suppose would arise from an observance of her solemn charge, but rather are willing to be assisting to her all they could; and therefore desire to have some distinguishing characters of him, that they might not lose their labor in seeking, and, when they found him, might perfectly know him; which when she had given, to their entire satisfaction, they then desired to know whither he was gone, which way he took when he left her, that they might seek him with her, as is manifest from chapter 6:1, nor does this question suppose that they were altogether ignorant of her beloved; for though their knowledge of Christ was small, yet they were not entirely destitute of it; and therefore, as one  well observes, they do not say, who, but what is thy beloved, etc. and indeed it cannot “be reasonably thought, that of him for she had, in chap. they should be entirely ignorant of him; for she had, in chapter 1:5, given some account of herself to them; that though she was black in herself, yet comely in another; which is the reason why they here call her the fairest among women; and there is no doubt but she also gave them some account of him, from whom she received all her comeliness; and in chapter 2:7, and 3:5, she charges them very strictly, to give him, her love, no molestation or disturbance; which could not very well be, without informing them who he was; and in chapter 3:11, she invites them to come forth and see this glorious person, who was her Lord and husband, in all his glory, on his coronation and espousal-clay; to which invitation, they no doubt complied, and therefore must have some knowledge of him. The design then of this question is, that they might know him more and better; which also is the desire of every gracious soul, even of those who have made the greatest proficiency in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; the apostle Paul perhaps knew as much of Christ as ever any mere man on earth did, and yet he desired to know more of him, and the power of his resurrection; for he valued the knowledge of him above all things else: these daughters of Jerusalem, though they knew but little, were willing to know more of Christ; as they had begun to know, they desired to follow on to know him, and make a greater improvement in this kind of learning; and being sensible of the church's abilities, desire her assistance, and are willing to, be instructed by her: also those who knew the most of Christ, are frequently desirous of having his praises and excellencies set forth by others; for they can never hear him enough extolled; his name to them is as ointment poured forth; therefore they love him, as did the virgins here; who excited the church hereunto, by putting this question, and so had their ends answered: and perhaps likewise they might have in view the trial of her faith in Christ, her knowledge of him, and love to him in her present state; she was now under his resentments; he had withdrawn himself from her, and she was exposed to the scandal, reproach, and persecutions of her enemies; and they were willing to know how her faith stood now, whether she loved him now as well as ever, and whether by his absence she had nor lost all just ideas of him; and in this she gives them full satisfaction in her answer to them; where she gives an exact account of him, describes him from head to foot, and shows the strength of her faith in him, and affections for him, particularly in the close of it, verse 16, also in this question they seem principally desirous of knowing what those excellencies were which were in him, that distinguished him from other beloveds, and made him preferable to them: Christ was the chiefest among ten thousands in her esteem; to all that believe he is precious; not only precious upon an equal foot with others, but far more precious than all other things or persons besides; for there is none in heaven, nor any upon earth, that saints desire besides him: there are indeed a great many other beloveds, but Christ is preferable to them all; and in what he is so, the daughters of Jerusalem were willing to know.
1st, The world, with the riches and grandeur of it, is the beloved of some persons. There are too many, both in the world and in the church, that have their affections too much set on earthly things; who neglect their own souls, and the cause and interest of Christ Jesus; having, Demas-like, loved this present world: but, alas! What is this world, or any thing in it, to be compared to Christ, the believer's beloved? everything, even the best that is in the world, is fading, perishing and transitory; many temptations and snares, foolish and hurtful lusts, does an immoderate care for, and sinful love of this world, run persons into; therefore, says the apostle John (1 John 2:15), “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world;” for they are not to be mentioned with Christ he is infinitely preferable to them (see Prov. 3:13-15).
2dly, The sinful lusts and pleasures of this life are the beloveds of others. Every natural man has his beloved lust or lusts; and these he idolizes and adores, falls down to and worships; he makes gods of them, as the apostle says, Philippians 3:19, of some, “whose god is their belly:” and it may be said of all by nature, that they are “serving divers lusts and pleasures,” being lovers of them; who are never better pleased and more satisfied, than when they are “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind;” but these pleasures are but short-lived; they afford no real satisfaction now; and, if grace prevent not, will end in bitterness and death: wherefore the worst of a believer, even his afflictions, are better than these; and therefore he thinks it more eligible to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; and if so, much more preferable must Christ, an interest in him, union to him, and communion with him, be to all such beloveds as these.
3dly, The praise and applause of men is another beloved of some persons. This was the beloved of the hypocritical Pharisees, who, in all the parts of their religion and devotion, sought the honor of men, and not of God: as also of those, who, though they were convinced in their consciences that Christ was the Messiah, and believed him to be so, yet “did not confess him, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God;” they were afraid that their good names, characters and reputations should be blasted, as too many are now: and therefore drop the doctrines of the gospel, and desert the cause and interest of Christ Jesus: but though “a good name is better than precious ointment,” it is not better than a precious Jesus, whose “name is as ointment poured forth;” nor better than the precious doctrines of the gospel; it is much preferable to be nick-named, reproached, and vilified with Christ and his gospel, than to have the best name, character, and reputation in this world without them; for what will it avail a man, “though he hath gained all this, when God taketh away his soul?”
4thly, Near and dear relations are the only beloveds of others, as parents, children, etc. They set their affections so much on these, that Christ has little or no share in them: now, says Christ, Matthew 10:37, “he that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me:” Christ is preferable to all such beloveds, and indeed to any creature-enjoyment whatever.
5thly, and lastly, Self is the beloved of many; nay, may not I say, too much the dearly-beloved of us all? Self lies close to us, is near and dear unto us; and we too much deserve that character, “lovers of ourselves, more than lovers of God;” and yet Christ requires of us, that we should deny this beloved self, sinful self, and part with it for him; nay, even righteous self, our beloved righteousness, which we are naturally so fond of, and which is so hard and difficult a work to do; and yet souls are enabled by divine grace to do this, seeing a super-excellency in Christ and his righteousness, as the apostle Paul did; who, though he had been so much in love with his own righteousness; it had been his darling, he valued himself much upon it, and thought to have gained much by it; yet threw it all away as “loss and dung,” and desired to be found in Christ, and “in his righteousness only; that being far preferable to his former beloved.
Thus Christ excels all other beloveds; and he must needs do so, for, 1. He is fairer than all others; there is no such beauty to be found in any beloved whatever as is in him; he is the “brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.” 2. He is wiser than all others; he is a perfection of wisdom, as well as beauty; “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 3. He is richer than all others; he is possessed of “unsearchable riches;” riches which can never be told over, in time, nor to all eternity; he has riches of grace and riches of glory; “yea, durable riches and righteousness.” Now one, in whom all beauty, wisdom and riches meet, must needs be an excellent person, and appear preferable to all beloveds: Christ is such an one; he has all the accomplishments and perfections of the divine and human nature to make him so.
Again, the daughters of Jerusalem putting such a question as this to the church, shows, (1.) Their regard unto her, and compassion for her: the watchmen and keepers of the walls, as soon as ever they found her, without asking any question, who she was, where she came from, whither she was going, or whom she was seeking; I say, as soon as ever they found her, they fall upon her, smite her, wound her, and take away her veil from her; but these persons showed more regard and compassion; for, being willing to assist her in her present case, if possible, they stand conferring with her. (2.) It appears from hence, that these were inquiring souls, which discover a work of grace begun in them; for no sooner are souls awakened to see their lost state by nature, but they are inquiring the way of salvation; and having got some glimmering knowledge of Christ, and salvation by him, they inquire still more after him, concerning his person, office, and grace; and having some impressions of his love on their souls, inquire the nature of a church, and the ordinances of Christ therein; they ask their way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” (3.) It is evident, from the question they proposed, that they were docile and teachable: they were willing to be instructed; they were not haughty, scornful, and above instruction; they did not think that they knew enough of Christ and needed to know no more, nor be instructed better; but being conscious of their own ignorance, and extremely desirous of being informed better, they put this question to her.
III. This question is repeated by them; which shows the surprise that they were in at her solemn charge, and the stir she made about her beloved; and concluded from thence, that there must be some peculiar excellencies in him, which they had not been made acquainted with yet, and therefore repeat the question; as also to manifest their seriousness in it, and that they were in good earnest desirous of knowing Christ more and better; and likewise it is expressive of their importunateness to have a speedy answer from her.
IV. Here is also that which gave occasion to them to put this question to her; and that was her strict and solemn charge in the former verse, “that thou dost so charge us;” that is, so awfully and solemnly, so seriously and strictly, with so much warmth and vehemence: they were eye and ear-witnesses to her sufferings at the hands of the watchmen, and to her courage, constancy and undauntedness therein; they saw that she was no ways discouraged by what she met with from seeking her beloved; but seemed rather by her solemn charge to them to be more warm and zealous, serious, diligent, and resolved to go on in search of him; and seeing all this, it put them upon inquiring what he was, what peculiar excellencies were in him, and what distinguished characters he might be known by. Thus the warmth, zeal, and liveliness of some Christians have been the means of stirring up and quickening, others to their duty; nay, the sufferings of the saints, and their courage and boldness therein,, have not only filled beholders with wonder, but have put their very enemies upon making inquiry into the religion they had suffered for; and to ask, who and what that Christ was, for whom they had underwent such severe tortures and punishments; and this has been the means of the conversion of thousands; which gave rise to that saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church:” and this is the gloss of R. Solomon Jarchi on this text, namely: “Thus the nations asked the Israelites, What is your God more than all gods, that ye are burnt and hanged for him after this manner?” Next follows a glorious description of Christ, the church's beloved, in answer to this question of the daughters of Jerusalem.
 Durham in loc.