The Second Sermon
I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have gathered my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.’—Cant. 5:1.
This song is a mirror of Christ’s love, a discovery of which we have in part in this verse; wherein Christ accepts of the invitation of the church, and comes into his garden; and he entertains her with the terms of sister and spouse. Herein observe the description of the church, and the sweet compellation, ‘my sister, my spouse;’ where there is both affinity and consanguinity, all the bonds that may tie us to Christ, and Christ to us.
1. His sister, by blood.
2. His spouse, by marriage.
To begin with: the relationship sibling and spouse do not usually mix in our understanding. Therefore, before we go on, we must consider the nature of metaphors used to describe the relationship between Creator and Creature: the metaphors are used to draw out some aspect of the relationship: no single metaphor provides us a complete understanding. There are other images which are used to describe the relationship between God and his people. We pray “our Father”. The Lord refers to Israel as his bride in Hosea. Minear finds 95 images of the church in the New Testament. When reading a metaphorical description, take it for what it has been proposed — but don’t begin to cross-reference the images to find contradiction. Read them as partials images to provide a complementary whole.
Notice how Sibbes draws out five implications of Christ being our brother
First, the church as “sister”: this implies the image of Christ as “brother”. Christ is our brother, because he is a human being like us:
Christ is our brother, and the church, and every particular true member thereof, is his sister. ‘I go,’ saith Christ, ‘to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God,’ John 20:17. ‘Go,’ saith he, ‘and tell my brethren.’ This was after his resurrection. His advancement did not change his disposition. Go, tell my brethren that left me so unkindly; go, tell Peter that was most unkind of all, and most cast down with the sense of it. He became our brother by incarnation, for all our union is from the first union of two natures in one person. Christ became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, to make us spiritually bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
Second, Sibbes then turns this around: if Christ has become like us, let us become like him:
Therefore let us labour to be like to him, who for that purpose became like to us, Immanuel, God with us, Isa. 7:14; that we might be like him, and ‘partake of the divine nature,’ 2 Pet. 1:4. Whom should we rather desire to be like than one so great, so gracious, so loving?
Third, there is an interesting thing to consider in all of this. In Romans 8, Christ is said to been found “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:7 (NASB95) His becoming like us was a loss, a degradation. In John 17:5, Jesus prays to be restored to the glory which he had “before the world was”.
Despite this shame, he willingly took it on:
Again, ‘Christ was not ashamed to call us brethren,’ Heb. 2:11, nor ‘abhorred the virgin’s womb,’ to be shut up in those dark cells and straits; but took our base nature, when it was at the worst, and not only our nature, but our miserable condition and curse due unto us. Was he not ashamed of us? and shall we be ashamed to own him and his cause? Against this cowardice it is a thunderbolt which our Saviour Christ pronounceth, ‘He that is ashamed of me before men, him will I be ashamed of before my Father, and all the holy angels,’ Mark 8:38. It argues a base disposition, either for frown or favour to desert a good cause in evil times.
This has often struck me. He has every reason to be ashamed of me — I have no reason to be ashamed of him. I wonder if it is the shame of being found unworthy of his company; that I am not sufficiently like him to claim his friendship. How bizarre that to be ashamed of one so glorious.
Fourth, to have such a brother is a great encouragement
Again, It is a point of comfort to know that we have a brother who is a favourite in heaven; who, though he abased himself for us, is yet Lord over all. Unless he had been our brother, he could not have been our husband; for husband and wife should be of one nature. That he might marry us, therefore, he came and took our nature, so to be fitted to fulfil the work of our redemption. But now he is in heaven, set down at the right hand of God: the true Joseph, the high, steward of heaven; he hath all power committed unto him; he rules all. What a comfort is this to a poor soul that hath no friends in the world, that yet he hath a friend in heaven that will own him for his brother, in and through whom he may go to the throne of grace boldly and pour out his soul, Heb. 4:15, 16. What a comfort was it to Joseph’s brethren that their brother was the second person in the kingdom.
(While that would not likely how Richard Sibbes have thought it possible to sing of this happiness — it certainly expresses the encouragement we should feel)
Fifth, to know that Christ is the brother of the Church, is to know that Christ is the brother of every Christian. The sorrows carried by the Church in earth are known by their brother in heaven:
Again, It should be a motive to have good Christians in high estimation, and to take heed how we wrong them, for their brother will take their part. ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ Acts 9:4, saith the Head in heaven, when his members were trodden on upon earth. It is more to wrong a Christian than the world takes it for, for Christ takes it as done to himself. Absalom was a man wicked and unnatural, yet he could not endure the wrong that was done to his sister Tamar, 2 Sam. 13:1. Jacob’s sons took it as a high indignity that their sister should be so abused, Gen. 34. Hath Christ no affections, now he is in heaven, to her that is so near him as the church is? Howsoever he suffer men to tyrannise over her for a while, yet it will appear ere long that he will take the church’s part, for he is her brother.
There is yet one more implication related to this final point. Yes, the persecutor of the Church should think of the danger he incurs by provoking the brother of the Church. But the members of the Church should also take this heart. Sibbes has said that we should become like Christ. But too often the Christians have become very devils.
The slander, backbiting, unforgiving, judgmental, bitterness which infects congregations is a hideous black mark upon the church. Don’t these Christians realize that the brother or sister they are tearing apart with their tongue is a brother of Christ? Christ died for them, and we think ourselves better than one for whom Christ died?
In Psalm 50, God warns:
Psalm 50:19–21 (NASB95)
19“You let your mouth loose in evil
And your tongue frames deceit.
20“You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son.
21“These things you have done and I kept silence;
You thought that I was just like you;
I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
We can comfort ourselves with the thought that Psalm 50 refers only to unbelievers. But what of Matthew 18 and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant? A servant who has been forgiven much by his master refused to forgive a fellow servant (remember that no one image exhausts the demonstration of our relationship to God). Here Christ applies the principle to all believers:
Matthew 18:31–35 (NASB95)
31“So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32“Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
34“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
35“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Remember that the other person in your congregation is a brother of Christ, a son of God. To mistreat him is to provoke the ire of God.