OF THE BOOK OF
beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices,
toiled in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
words contain the church's answer to the second question of the daughters of Jerusalem; they had asked her what her beloved was more than others; she told them: they then proceed to ask, whither he was gone; to which she here replies. In which may be considered,
I. The place whither she says he was gone; “my beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices.”
II. The end of his going down, or what his business and employment was when there; which was twofold: 1st, “To feed in the gardens.” 2dly, “To gather lilies.”
I. The place whither she says he was gone, “into his garden;” and more particularly, “to the beds of spices.” And,
1st, It may be inquired what was meant by his garden, into which he was gone down. Same understand it of the heavenly paradise, whither Christ was gone to share the everlasting joys thereof, and converse with angels and saints; who may be said to be the “trees of righteousness,” those spicy plants and precious flowers which are planted there; and in the midst of which stands “the tree of life,” Christ Jesus, the glory of the whole garden; and into this, Christ's lilies, when fully ripe, are transplanted by him. This sense is favored by R. Aben Ezra's gloss upon the text, who says, “This is he who ascended on high,” to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies, “because he dwelleth with the angels, who are the righteous ones.” But if the words design Christ's ascension into heaven, they should rather have expressed thus; “my beloved is gone up into his garden,” than as they are, “my beloved is gone down into his garden:” therefore I rather think, that the church of Christ here on earth is meant; which is as a garden separated by Christ from this world, whose enclosure is sovereign and distinguishing grace; in which are various trees, plants and spices, set and planted there by Christ himself, and where he takes his walks with pleasure; but in what sense the church may be compared to a garden, see more on chapter 4:12.
2dly, It may be observed, that this garden is said to be his; and so it may very well; for of all others he has chosen this to be his garden; he asked it of his Father for this purpose, and he gave it him; he has also purchased it by his own blood, and distinguished it by his grace; he takes the care of it, waters it, and watches over it; it is he that hath brought it to its present perfection, and will bring it to a far greater; so that Christ retires and takes his walks here, not as one either upon trespass or sufferance, and by the leave of others; but as having an undoubted right and title to it, and as being sovereign lord and owner of it; but of this, see more on chapter 4:16.
3dly, Christ is said to be gone down into his garden: which perhaps may be an allusion to Solomon's gardens, which lay lower than his palace: and it is probable that those stairs, which went down from the city of David, the palace royal of the kings of Judah, were made to go down into the king's gardens, of both which you read in Nehemiah 2:15, and so “the garden of nuts,” in verse 11. seems to be in the valley: or the allusion may be to what Solomon himself was wont to do, as Josephus relates; who used to go very early in a morning, in great pomp, to Etham, about two miles from Jerusalem, a pleasant place, abounding with gardens and flows of water, which might lie lower than Jerusalem. And in the spiritual or mystical sense, may point out, 1. The low estate of Christ's church here on earth: the saints are compared to myrtle-trees; and these are said (Zech. 1:8), to be “in the bottom,” that is, in a low estate, being depressed with many sorrows, afflictions, and persecutions; they are doves, but “doves of the rallies,” mourning under a sense of their iniquities, being burdened with the weight of sin; and they are not only in a low estate, but also low and humble in their own eyes: and with such Christ delights to dwell; he often goes down into his garden to those humble souls, pays them a visit, grants them his presence, and bestows larger measures of his grace upon them. 2. It is also expressive of Christ's condescension in doing this: It was a wonderful stoop, and an amazing instance of his condescension, to come down from heaven, clothe himself with our nature, and converse with sinful mortals here on earth; for a king to come from his royal palace, and enter into the cottage of a beggar, and to eat, drink, and lodge there for a time, would not express so much humility and condescension as this does; and next to this is his granting his presence to his churches, and to particular believers here on earth; so that we have reason to say, when we consider the greatness of his majesty, and our vileness, sinfulness and unworthiness, with Judas, not Iscariot. “How is it, Lord, that thou wilt manifest thyself to us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:22). And if,
4thly, It should be asked, How she could tell the daughters of Jerusalem where her beloved was, when she was at a loss for him, and in the search of him herself? it may be answered, 1. That though she had sought hires and found him not; though he was not pleased to manifest himself to her at that present time; yet having had large experiences of these things, she knew where Christ usually was, and would be found of his people; therefore she directs them where formerly she had, though now she could not find him, in hopes that they might. Or, 2. It may be supposed that the case was altered with her, that she was no longer at a loss for him; but having sought him, had found him, or at least had got some intelligence of him; which she no sooner had, but she informs them of it. Or, 3. Their inquiring whither he was gone, might bring to her remembrance what she had formerly heard him say, in chapter 5:1. “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” etc. but falling asleep immediately, entirely forgot it, until her memory was refreshed by the inquiries of these persons. Thus you see that weaker Christians may be useful to stronger ones; and even the very questions they put for information-sake, may prove the quickening of believers, and be the means of increasing light and knowledge, or at least; of reviving past experiences. But,
5thly, It may be observed, that she not only says that he was gone down to his garden, but that he was gone down “to the beds of spices:” by which I understand particular believers, who are so many beds in Christ's garden; in which ate planted those precious spices, the graces of the Spirit, which, for rareness, excellency and fragrancy, are called so: and these more especially intend growing, thriving and flourishing souls; lively believers, whose ‘spices flow out,” whose grace is in exercise; such Christ has a particular regard unto, and delights to be with.
II. She declares the end of his going down into his garden, or what it is he employs himself about when there. And,
1st, She says, it was “to feed in the gardens.” By gardens, I understand particular congregated churches; for though there is but one “general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven;” which is redeemed by Christ's blood, and will be presented “a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,” and therefore before called a garden, in the singular number; yet there are many distinct and particular churches; such as those of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colosse, Philippi, Thessalonica, and the seven churches of Asia, were; which were as so many distinct gardens, or plots of earth, that the one garden was subdivided into. And by feeding, here, is meant, either, 1. His feeding himself; which as to be understood of that pleasure and delight which Christ takes in being among his saints, and seeing their graces exercised upon their proper object; for as believers feed themselves by exercising their grace on Christ, so he feeds or delights himself in observing this; this is his meat and drink; this is his supping with them, as the other is their supping with him; and this Christ is invited to, in chapter 4:16, to which he complies, in chap. 5:1. Or else, 2. It may be understood of his feeding his flock, as R. Sol. Jarchi observes; for “he feeds his flock like a shepherd,” though in such places as other shepherds do not; he feeds them in the gardens, which are unusual to feed sheep in; commons or enclosed grounds, and not gardens, being the most usual places for that purpose: and she makes mention of gardens, in the plural number, to show that Christ is not tied to one particular church, but feeds in all his churches, in all his gardens; where he feeds his people with himself, who is “the bread of life, the hidden manna;” whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed: O precious food! delicious fare! he feeds them by and with his ordinances, which are those “breasts of consolation” which convey much strength and nourishment to them; those green pastures into which he leads them, and “the fatness of his house” with which he feeds them; and particularly the Lord's Supper is that “feast of fat things,” by which he sweetly refreshes them; he feeds them also by his ministers, who are his under-shepherds, to whom he has given a commission and also ability, to feed his people “with knowledge and with understanding:” and so he does likewise by his Spirit; who takes the things of Christ, and sheds it in us; and the promises of Christ, and applies them to us; for which reason he is called “the spirit of promise.” And now this may serve to direct poor hungry souls where to go for food, and where to expect it, even in Christ's gardens, in his churches and in his ordinances, where he himself feeds.
2dly, Another end of his going down into his garden, is “to gather lilies or roses, as the Targum renders it; to crop them with the hand; lilies are liable to be cropped; hence Horace calls the lily, breve lilium, the short-lived lily: by which may be meant, either the good works of the saints, which he is well pleased with, and takes notice of; insomuch that he writes them down in “the book of his remembrance,” as R. Solomon Jarchi observes; for he “is not unrighteous to forget their work, and labor of love,” but will reward them in a way of grace: or else, by them is meant, the sweet-smelling graces of his own Spirit, growing in his churches, as Ainsworth thinks, with which he is wonderfully delighted: or rather, the persons of the elect, and members of his church, who may be compared to lilies, for the glory, splendor, and beauty in his righteousness; of which see chapter 2:2. Now there was, 1. A gathering of these lilies at Christ's death: as all the Sins of the elect were collected together and were laid on Christ, when he hung upon the cross; so all their persons were collected and gathered together in one head, Christ Jesus; they all met in his person, and were represented by him; for this purpose Christ came down from heaven, took our nature, and suffered in it (see John 11:51, 52; Eph. 1:10). 2. There is a gathering of these lilies in effectual calling, through the ministry of the word, by the mighty power of divine grace; and this work Christ is daily concerned in, in his church, and will be until all his elect are gathered in. 3. There is a gathering of them into church-communion, which is also Christ's work; who takes “one of a city, and two of a family,” and brings them to Zion; and in doing this, he shows his regard to the good of souls, and at the same time “glorifies the house of his glory,” (see Isa. 60:7, 8). 4. There is a gathering into nearer communion with himself, which he often does after great desertions (see Isa. 54:7). 5. This may be expressive of that great delight and pleasure which Christ takes in his people: no man can take more delight in plucking fruit, or gathering flowers in a garden, than Christ does in his own people, and in his own grace in them (see Song 5:1). 6. This may be meant of their being gathered by death; so Abraham and Isaac, when they died, are said to be “gathered unto their fathers,” (Gen. 15:8, 35:29). Christ comes into his garden, the church, sometimes to plant new lilies, and sometimes to crop and gather old ones, when they are fully ripe; not to destroy them, but to remove them into his paradise above; and at the last day, by the means of angels, he will gather in all his elect ones from the four winds, as wheat into his barn, and as lilies into his garden (see Matthew 3:7, 13:48, 24:31). This sense of the word is given by several Jewish writers. And now, lest any should think that this was a mere surmise, conjecture, and imagination of hers; or if any should call in question her knowledge in this matter, she declares in the following verse, that she was not only well acquainted with him, but was nearly related to him; and therefore was capable of informing any person where he was, and what he was about.
 Piscator & Diodat. in loc.
 Antiquitat. 1, 8. c. 7, a 3.
 The Jews, in Shirhashirim Rabba in loc. by gardens understand their schools and synagogues; as do also R. Sol. Jarchi and Alshech in loc. The whole is expounded in the Talmud thus, My beloved, this is the holy blessed God; is gone down into his garden, this is the world; to the beds of spices, these are the Israelites; to feed in the gardens, these are the nations of the world; and to gather lilies, these are the righteous that spring up among them, T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 5. 2, 3. vid. Yalkut in loc.
 Ut ubi pascatur in hortis. Vulg. Lat. version, Munster, Mercerus.
 Eupnoa leiria kersoi, Theocrit. Idyll, 19. 5:32. Aut candida lilia carpit, Ovid. Metamorph. 1. 5. lab. 6. Liliaque alba legit, & Fasti. 1. 4.
 Carmin. 50:1. ode 36. 5:16.
 Zohar in Genesis fol. 44. 3. Bereahith Rabba, parash. 62. Shirhashirim Rabba, & Alshech in loc.