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Gifts To Men - sermon part 4

By John Owen

      To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, for the sons of Korah, Maschil, A Song of loves. [401]

      "My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer," etc. -- Ps. xlv. 1-3.

      The whole Book of Psalms hath a peculiar respect unto Jesus Christ, either directly or in the person of David, who was his greatest personal type, next to Aaron and Melchizedeck; but there are some psalms that are altogether directly prophetical of him and of his offices, -- namely, the 2nd psalm is prophetical of his kingdom; the 16th psalm, of the work of his mediation and obedience to God therein; the 22d, of his priestly office, his sufferings, death, his resurrection, and intercession; the 40th, of his oblation and suffering; the 72d, of his kingly and prophetical power and glorious regard unto his people; the 68th, of his glorious exaltation; and this 45th psalm is a prophecy and description of his person, and his kingly office, and of the espousals of him and his church.

      The title of the psalm is, "To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, for the sons of Korah, Maschil, A Song of loves."

      "To the chief musician;" so L+aM+'N+aZJuµX+a is generally rendered, -- "To him that excels." As N+oZJoX+ signifies eternal, I have sometimes thought it might be as well rendered, "In perpetuam rei memoriam;" -- "For an everlasting remembrance." But we may take it in the common acceptation, -- that it was recommended unto him that did preside over the rest of the Levites in the worship of God in the temple, by singing on instruments of music.

      "Upon Shoshannim." The word signifies lilies; whether it was a musical instrument or a certain tune, we know not, neither do the Jews.

      "For the sons of Korah." Who these were we may see, 1 Chron. ix. 19, "The Korahites were over the work of the service, keepers of the gates of the tabernacle," etc. What were they else? Verse 33, "These are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free;" for they were employed in the work of singing the praises of God with instruments of music day and night.

      David was the first who brought musical instruments into the solemn worship of God; not but that they did occasionally make use of timbrels and cymbals in the praises of God before, but he was the first that brought in a great number of musical instruments into the worship of God. And he speaks expressly, in 1 Chron. xxiii. 5, of praising God with instruments of music, "which," says he, "I made." He did it by the direction of the Spirit of God; otherwise he ought not to have done it: for so it is said, 1 Chron. xxviii. 12, when he had established all the ordinances of the temple, -- the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit. And verse 19, "All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." It was all revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, without which he could have introduced nothing at all into the worship of God. The Lord prepared him for this service while he was a shepherd; at which time he had attained great skill in singing on musical instruments.

      And I cannot but observe, by the way, that it is a great mercy when God will engage the natural faculties and abilities of men, especially wherein they are excellent, in any way of his service. David had got an excellency in this faculty, and God engages it in his service. And those that had skill therein, and were not so engaged, are condemned in the prophet Amos, chap. vi. 5. What were they condemned for? Why, that they would invent instruments of music like David. David did it to serve the Lord; and they did it to serve their lusts. Where men have any peculiar faculty or ability, it is an unspeakable mercy to have it engaged for God; for otherwise it will certainly be engaged for the devil: and, to render the mercy more singular, I think it is evident the devil hath got the use and advantage of natural faculties and abilities above what is given up to God.

      Again: this was David's special inclination; whence he is called "The sweet psalmist of Israel." The edge of his spirit lay to it. And we may observe, that it is an excellent mercy when the edge of our spirits, in special inclination, is engaged for the service of God. Prov. xxvii. 17, as "iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Every man hath an edge; and there are several ways whereby it is sharpened. There is no man but cuts one way or other; and company and society is the great means whereby the edge is sharpened. One cuts to the world, another to pleasures, to lusts; and such company makes him more sharp. It is well when the edge of a man's spirit is set for the things of God, and he has some to sharpen that edge; for that way that a man's edge is set, that way is he. He may do something in the worship of God; but if his edge be to the world, that way is he; and if his edge be to lust and pleasure, that way is he. Now, here was David; the special inclination and edge of his spirit was set towards God, and so was employed of God.

      There is a general title given to this psalm, "Maschil;" that is, song to make wise, or to give instruction. They are the things of Christ that, in an especial manner, are suited to give instruction to the church of God.

      The special matter of the psalm is, "A Song of loves." And why is it called "loves"? It may be upon three accounts:-- 1. Because the psalm mentions a mutual and interchangeable love. It is not only of the love of Christ to his church, nor only of the love of the church unto Christ, -- but it is mutual, of the love of Christ to the church, and of the church to Christ; so that it is a song of loves. 2. It may be put in the plural number by way of eminency, which is frequent in the Hebrew; "of loves," -- that is, of the most excellent love, such as none other is to be compared unto it. 3. It may be called so, cause of the manifold fruits of that one single love that is between Christ and his church. Though it be but a single love on each hand, yet various are the fruits of it; which will be described in the next verse.

      I principally look upon it to be called so in the second sense, cause it is more eminent than any other love in the world; the mystical, spiritual love that is between Christ and the church, is the most excellent love.

      It is "A Song of loves" I shall not speak unto you of the nature of songs. "Let him that is merry," saith James, chap. v. 13 (or in a rejoicing, cheerful frame of heart and spirit), "sing psalms:" so that singing was a means appointed of God whereby men should express their joy in a way of thankfulness.

      Thus this title of the psalm will yield us these two observations:-- I. That the espousals of Christ and his church, or the mutual love that is between Christ and his church, is a subject-matter for a song of great joy. II. It is not a song of love, but it is a song of loves. I observe from thence, that there is no love like the love of Christ to his church in the day of espousals, and to every believing soul; it hath an eminency in it above all other love whatever.

      I. This love of Christ and the church in their espousals is matter of great joy and rejoicing:--

      1. It is so to God himself. He expresses the frame of his heart therein, Zeph. iii. 17, "He will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." The union of Christ and a believer (for it is spoken of there), is a matter of unspeakable joy to God himself. Not that God is subject to the like affections with us; but he expresses it to the height in Jer. xxxii. 41, that we may know how the heart of God approves it, "I will rejoice over them to do them good, with my whole heart and with my whole soul:" so that it is a song of loves to God himself. Also in Isa. lxii. 4, 5, "The Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." Many other places might be given to this purpose.

      2. It is matter of joy to Jesus Christ. Cant. iii. 11, "Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart." This Solomon was a type of Christ; and the mother of Christ, that brought forth Christ as to his human nature, was the church: and in the espousals of the church to Christ set a crown upon his head; see Ps. xvi. 6, "The lines," saith Christ, in reference to his church, "are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage;" -- it is the approbation that Christ gives of his church when he is espoused unto it, in the day of the gladness of his heart.

      3. It is matter of joy to believers themselves, 1 Pet. i. 8, "In whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." It is, I say, matter of joy and praise unto them.

      Why are the loves of Christ and his church, or the espousals of Christ and a believing soul, matter of such joy as to be the subject of a song of loves to God himself, to Jesus Christ, and to believers?

      (1.) Because, on the part of God, it is that wherein the glorious design and purpose of his grace is accomplished, and his goodness satisfied. God doth all things for "the praise of the glory of his grace," Eph. i. 6. Wherefore, when this grace of God is accomplished, and his goodness satisfied, it is matter of rejoicing unto God. When he had laid the foundation of the old creation, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, God himself looked upon all, and, "behold, it was very good;" he approved his whole work: and when he carried on the work of the new creation, whereof this I am speaking of is the greatest instance, even the espousal loves between Christ and a believing soul, having accomplished such a work of grace, and power, and goodness as this is, God himself doth approve of it; it is matter of joy unto him.

      (2.) It is matter of joy to Jesus Christ, because "he sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied." This is that he laboured for, Isa. liii. 11, etc. It was matter of joy to Jacob, when he had obtained Rachel to be his wife, that he had got that he laboured for: "He served for a wife," saith the Holy Ghost, Hos. xii. 12. Why, the Lord Jesus Christ, when he hath united his church to himself (and in proportion, any believing soul), he hath that which he hath laboured for, -- he sees of the travail of his soul. It cost him prayers and tears, blood and death; but now he sees what it is come unto: it hath produced this bride for him, or believing souls to be united to him; and he is satisfied. He fulfilled a hard service; but it was for his bride, in whom his soul delighted, -- as he does in every believing soul, when he hath made them comely through his comeliness, or in and through the righteousness he puts upon them.

      (3.) It is certainly matter of joy to all believers themselves, because it instates them in those new relations, and in that condition, which they, for their part, never ought to have expected or looked for, as to any thing that was in themselves. And therefore the prophet Isaiah, Isa. liv. 5, calls upon the church to rejoice exceedingly, because "thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called." All grace and privilege, all mercy, pardon, every thing else we enjoy in this world, and hope for in another, depends upon this, of relation unto Jesus Christ; therefore, certainly it is matter of joy and rejoicing to believers.

      That which we may learn from hence, by way of use, is, --

      1. The infinite wisdom, goodness, and condescension of God, in disposing the way of saving poor sinners so as that it shall be matter of joy and rejoicing to him, to Jesus Christ, and to believers themselves. It was infinite wisdom and grace, that God would dispose any way for the salvation of his creatures. He gave out a way to Adam, whereby (by perfect obedience) he might have attained life, immortality, and glory. That was not a way that did issue in such great joy to God, to Christ, or to ourselves, as this doth, where God is glorified, Christ satisfied, and believers themselves are surprised. We were poor, desolate, forlorn, lost creatures; and that God should bring us into a way of saving us, so as that the heart of God and Christ, and our own hearts, should rejoice in it; -- this calls for our admiration. I know it is hard for us to believe it; yet I know it is true, that God himself is rejoiced, and Christ rejoices in the taking of any one soul into espousals with himself. And, which may add more, all the angels in heaven rejoice too, Luke xv. 10, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;" because God is so glorified, and Christ so exalted. God hath put this way of converting and saving sinners into such a channel as will tend to his glory, and the glory of Christ, and so be matter of joy unto them.

      2. Let us inquire whether we have found, or do find, this joy in our own hearts. Is the remembrance of the closing of our hearts with Christ a song of loves unto us? Truly, if our loves be earnest and intent upon other things, we find joy and refreshment in them; but are we not dead and cold to the thoughts of this great and excellent advantage, of being espoused to Christ, as all believers are? If so, it is but a sad evidence we are truly so espoused. Alas! if a poor beggar, a deformed creature, should be taken into the espousals of a great prince, would she not be sensible of it? We are poor, deformed, woeful, sinful, polluted creatures; and for us to be taken into this relation with Jesus Christ! -- where are our hearts? Why do not we rejoice in the Lord with joy unspeakable, and full of glory? Is it not because Christ hath not our whole hearts? because we are not so entirely with him and for him in our affections as becomes this relation? because the world hath too much hold upon us? Shall God rejoice, and Christ rejoice, -- shall it be a song of loves to God and Christ that we are brought into this relation, and these dull hearts of ours be no farther affected with it? We ought to be ashamed to think how little we are concerned in this so great a privilege, -- how little lifted up above the world, and alienated from the world; if, indeed, we are partakers of this mercy.

      II. The second observation from its being a song of loves, is this, -- that there is no love like to the love between Christ and the souls of believers. There are flaming loves in some to their lusts, -- in others to the world, that even devour them; but yet I will say again, upon ten thousand accounts, there is no love like to the love between Christ and the souls of believers.

      Should we go to speak now of the love of Christ, on the one side, it is an ocean, -- we cannot fathom it. The best act of our souls towards Christ's love is admiration, astonishing admiration, till the heart is quite overwhelmed with it, -- till our thoughts and understandings are, as it were, lost; the soul is taken out of itself, and laid in the dust as nothing, to be swallowed up in a holy contemplation of the unspeakable, inconceivable love of Jesus Christ.

      I will name three heads of it, that may help us, in this admiration, to see that it is a love that is inimitable: the fiery loves of men, after this world and their lusts, are not to be named the same day with it:--

      1. Consider it in its condescension. Now, I think we shall all confess that this love is inimitable, because nothing but infinite, divine power and wisdom could work such an effect as was the condescension of the Son of God, -- out of his love to take our nature upon him, to become flesh as we are; and God never wrought it, nor will, but in that instance, to all eternity: and therefore, this love hath the pre-eminence above all other loves whatsoever. In Phil. ii. 6-8, it is there set forth, where he unites those things that are set at an infinite distance of being. He stoops so low, that he saith, Ps. xxii. 6, "I am a worm, and no man;" he comes to the lowest condition mankind can be reduced unto in this condescension: and surely this hath a pre-eminence above all other loves whatsoever.

      2. The love of Christ was manifested in his suffering in that condition. You know what he suffered, and what he suffered for. He suffered to bear the guilt of our sins, so to take away the wrath of God; he suffered to wash away the filth of our sins, so to take away shame and confusion from our souls; he suffered to redeem us from the world, poor captive creatures as we were, that we might be his own: and therefore, God gives us the type of it in the prophet Hosea, Hos. iii., by a harlot; and Christ bought us when we were harlots with the world (our hearts going after sin and Satan), that we might be his property. He suffered for us, so as to bear the guilt of our iniquities, that there may be no wrath from God upon us. "I will pay," saith Christ, "what I never took away." "For a good man," it is possible, "some would even dare to die," Rom. v. 7; but saith he, "Here is love, Christ died for us when we were sinners, when we were enemies." "He loved us, and washed us in his own blood," that we may be purified from the filth of our sins; he loved us, and redeemed us out of every kindred and nation in the world. Here lay all misery; -- the guilt of sin, that rendered us obnoxious to the curse of God; and the filth of sin, that made us odious to God, and kept us under the power of the world. This love hath suffered on purpose to redeem us from all this.

      3. The care and tenderness which the Lord Jesus Christ continues to manifest towards us, now he is in heaven, while we are upon the earth, is another fruit of this love. Heb. v. 2, this high priest knows how to "have compassion on the ignorant, and them that are out of the way." Chap. iv. 15, He hath been "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and "in all points tempted like as we;" and "he ever liveth to make intercession for us." In these things he expresses his love to, and care for, his people.

      On the other side, I say, the love of believers to Christ is inexpressible, or beyond all other love whatsoever.

      1. In a way of value. Matt. xiii. 45, when the merchant-man had found the precious pearl, he sells all he hath to buy it. Believers will part with all they have to obtain Christ; for they prefer him above all. What will they not part with, and what do they not part with and deny, for Christ? Whereby you may see it is a love that is transcendent to all other loves.

      (1.) They part with their sin, lust, and corruption. There is not a believer in the world but hath naturally as great a love of, and adherence to, sin, lust, and corruption, as the highest debauched person upon the face of the earth; but a believer will part with them all, subdue them all, so that he might win Christ: which manifests it to be a transcendent love. And they that will not do this are not believers. If our hearts are not engaged to the mortifying of all sin, lust, and corruption, as he enables us, we are not married to Christ; for "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts,' " Gal. v. 24.

      (2.) They will part with their righteousness for Christ. This was that the Jews would not give up, that they might obtain justification. They had a righteousness which was according to the law; and, saith the apostle, Rom. x. 3, "They will not submit to the righteousness of God, but go about to establish their own righteousness." All the righteousness which is in the world, that the men of the world value before Christ, while they are engaged in their lusts and pleasures, they will not part with it for Christ; -- yea, even when they are wrought off their lusts and pleasures by conviction to some duties, yet they will not part with their own righteousness for Christ. But believers will part with theirs, and count it all as loss and dung.

      If corruption be subdued, and righteousness be given up, what remains? Truly, --

      (3.) Self remains. If a man denies not himself in lawful things, in any thing that will hinder his walking with God and living unto God, which will make him unfaithful in his place or unfruitful, to please God, he is not worthy of him. If he cannot deny his ease, liberty, peace, profit, or pleasure, he is not, worthy of Jesus Christ. Now, that love which will carry a man out to deny all ungodliness and lust, to renounce all his own righteousness, to lose all he hath wrought in his own strength, to deny himself upon every instance wherein Christ requires him; -- this is a transcendent love, above all other love whatsoever.

      2. The love of believers manifests itself also in suffering for Christ; and O who can tell what the martyrs endured from love to the Lord Jesus!

      So that this psalm, which treats of the espousals of Christ and believers, may well have this title, -- "A Song of loves;" it being the most excellent love.

      Two things, from hence, are incumbent upon us:--

      First. To labour to get a sense of this love of Christ upon our hearts. If we are believers, all this love of Christ, who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords," is fixed upon every one of our souls; and it is our great duty to labour to let in a sense of this love of Christ into them. Out of his abundant love and grace, and for no other reason in the world, he loved us when we were strangers, -- he reconciled us to himself when we were enemies, and engaged in enmity against him; give him, then, the glory of his sovereign grace with respect to your own souls. And, --

      Secondly. Let us examine ourselves whether we have this transcendent love to Jesus Christ in our hearts. If we have, it will continually keep us up to the mortification of lust and corruption, to the renouncing of all self-righteousness, to the denying ourselves; and it will make us continually ready for all the service and suffering Christ shall call us unto.

      [401] This sermon was preached June 7, 1674, at Stadham.

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See Also:
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 1
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 2
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 3
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 4
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 5
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 6
   Gifts To Men - sermon part 7


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