Sermon references to Jesus as the Lily of the Valley
Taylor’s poem can be found here:
Taylor’s poem takes its primary imagery from Song 2:1, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
I was surprised to find that the image of Christ as the Lily of the Valleys was not a common motif among the Puritans. Most commonly, the image of “lily” (as seen in the previous post) was more often used in its references to actual lilies (lilies of the field, as in the Sermon on the Mount) or believers (lilies among the thorns, or a lily growing). Thus, Taylor’s use of the image to extol Christ, while not beyond the field of understanding or interpretation, was not particularly common.
James Durham’s commentary on the Song of the Solomon is a key source of information of Puritan preaching on this book. On chapter 2, verses 1-2, he writes, in part:
In the first verse then, Christ comes in commending himself, ‘I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.’ The rose is a sweet savouring flower, and so is the lily: Sharon and the valleys are added, because the roses and lilies that grew there, were the best that were to be found. He is said to be that ‘rose,’ or ‘the rose’ and ‘the lily,’ as if there were no other, to distinguish him, as excellent and singular from all others. He thus sets forth himself to show, 1. That Christ Jesus hath a most lovely savour, and a most delightful and refreshful smell, to them that have spiritual senses to discern what is in him. 2. That there is nothing refreshful in creatures, but is more eminently and infinitely in him; therefore he is called the rose and the lily. 3. That whatever excellency is in Christ, is singularly and incomparably in him; there is no other rose, or lily but he; and what excellency is to be found in others, doth not deserve the name, being compared with him. 4. That he is never suitably commended, till he be lifted up above all. 5. That none can commend Christ to purpose but himself; he takes it therefore on him, ‘I am,’ &c. He can indeed commend himself effectually and none but he can do it. 6. That he manifests more of his loveliness to those who have gotten a begun sight and esteem of it: for, she had been commending it formerly, and now he discovers more of it to her. 7. That it is one of Christ’s greatest favours to his Bride, and one of the special effects of his love, to set out himself as lovely to her, and to bear in his loveliness upon her heart; and this is the scope here.
In the second verse, he describes his Bride. Here we have these things to consider, 1. What she is; a ‘lily.’ 2. What others of the world beside are called here; the ‘daughters’ (so men without the church are to the church, and corrupt men in the church are to believers) that is, daughters of their mother the world; no kindly daughters to her, they are thorns. 3. The posture of Christ’s Spouse, she is ‘as a lily among thorns,’ a strange posture and soil, for our Lord’s love and lily to grow in.
The lily is pleasant, savoury, and harmless; thorns are worthless, unpleasant and hurtful. The lily’s being compared with them, and placed amongst them, sets out both her excellency above them, and her sufferings from them. In general, Observe. 1. Christ draws his own beauty and the Bride’s together, thereby to show their kindred and sibness (so to speak) she is not rightly taken up, but when she is looked upon as standing by him; and he not fully set forth, nor known without her. 2. He took two titles to himself, and he gives one of them to the Bride, the ‘lily;’ but with this difference, that he is ‘the lily,’ she ‘as’ or ‘like the lily:’ setting forth, 1. Wherein her beauty consists, it is in likeness to him. 2. From whom it comes, it is from him, her being his love, makes her like the lily. 3. The nearness of the mystical union, that is between Christ and his Bride; it is such, that thereby they some way share names, Jer. 23:6, and chap. 33:16. 4. He intermixes her beauty and crosses together, drawing them on one table, to give her a view of both; and that for her humbling, and also for her comfort; it is not good for believers, to look only to the one without the other.
Jesus as lily could be found from Song of Solomon 5:13, “his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh”:
(2.) Here is an account of what our Saviour said, when, if ever, “his lips were like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh:” (Canticles 5:13:) where there is,
First. A command: “Drink ye all of it:” wherein you have,
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 6, : “The Right of Every Believer to the Blessed Cup in the Lord’s Supper”, Richard Steele (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 482.
I must make mention of an interesting use of the image of “lily of the valley” by Thomas Adams:
I could willingly step out a little to chide those, that, neglecting God’s earth, the soul, fall to trimming with a curious superstition the earth’s earth, clay and loam: a body of corruption painted, till it shine like a lily (like it in whiteness, not in humility, the candor of beauty, for the lily grows low: lilium convallium, Cant. ii.1, a flower of the valleys and bottoms).
The Works of Thomas Adams, vol. 2, “A Divine Herbal”, 436.