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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ song-of-solomon-4.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Song of Solomon 4:1
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil; thine hair is as a flock of goats, that lie along the side of Mount Gilead. We commence, at this verse, the loving converse of the bridegroom with the bride, which we must suppose is heard as they travel together in the bridal procession. The words of adoring affection are chiefly spoken by the bridegroom, as is natural in the circumstances, and the reference to the journey, and its consummation in Song of Solomon 4:8, make it certain that the intention is to carry us in thought to the palanquin and the breathings of first love in bridal joy. The poetry is exquisite and truly Eastern, while yet absolutely chaste and pure. The praise of the eyes is common in all erotic poetry. Her eyes gleam, in colour, motion, and lustre, like a pair of doves from behind the veil; showing that the bride is thought of as travelling. The bride was always deeply veiled (see Genesis 24:65), as the Roman bride wore the velum flamineum. The LXX. have mistaken the meaning, rendering, ἐκτὸς τῇς σιωπήσεώς. The veil might typify silence or reserve, but the word is tsammah, which is from a root "to veil," and is righty rendered by Symmachus κάλυμμα. The hair was long and dark, and lay down the shoulders uncovered and free, which added much to the graceful attraction of the bride. In later times it was customary for the hair to be adorned with a wreath of myrtle or roses, or a golden ornament representing Jerusalem. The goats in Syria and the neighbouring countries are mostly black or dark brown, while the sheep are white. Delitzsch says, "A flock of goats encamped upon a mountain (rising up, to one looking from a distance, as in a steep slope and almost perpendicularly), and as if hanging down lengthwise on its sides, presents a lovely view adorning the landscape." It would be especially lovely amid the romantic scenery of Gilead. The, verb rendered "lie along" is otherwise taken by the LXX; ἀπεκαλύφησαν, and by the Vulgate ascenderunt. The rabbis differ from one another in their renderings. One says, "which, look, down;" another, "make bare," "quit," or "descend;" another, "are seen." The modern translators vary. Luther says, "shorn;" Houbigant, "hang down;" Kleuken and Ewald, "shows itself;" Gesenius and others, "lie down;" Ginsburg, "rolling down," "running down." Our Revised Version gives, lie along, which is a very probable meaning. The reference is to the luxuriance and rich colour of the hair. Gilead would be a recollection of the bride's native place.
Song of Solomon 4:2
Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, which are come up from the washing; whereof every one hath twins, and none is bereaved among them. The simile is very apt and beautiful Thy teeth are perfectly smooth, regular, and white; the upper set corresponding exactly to the lower set, like twin births in which there is no break (cf. So Song of Solomon 6:6). The moisture of the saliva dentium, heightening the glance of the teeth, is frequently mentioned in love songs. The whiteness of wool is often used as a comparison (see Isaiah 1:18; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 1:14; Book of Enoch 46:1). Some think that קְצוּבוֹת. should not be rendered "newly shorn," but "periodically shorn" (see Ginsburg)—a poetical epithet for וְחֵלֵים. The newly shorn would be washed first, תָּאַם, "to be double,....to be pairs," in the hiph. is "to make double," "to make pairs," "to appear paired." Perhaps the reference is to the sheep being washed in pairs, and going up side by side from the water. This would seem almost more exact than the idea of twin lambs, because the difference in size between the ewe and the lamb would suggest irregularity. The word שַׁכֻּלָּת, "deprived," "bereaved" (Jeremiah 18:21), may point merely to the loneliness of the single sheep going up by itself, suggesting one tooth without its fellow. Ginsburg says, "all of which are paired." Each keeps to its mate as they come up from the pool. This is a decided improvement on the Authorized Version. But the figure is clear with either rendering, and is very striking and suggestive of the pleasant country life to which the bride was accustomed.
Song of Solomon 4:3
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy mouth is comely; thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate behind thy veil. Scarlet; that is, shining, glistening red colour. Thy mouth (מִדְבָּרֵךְ). Thy mouth as speaking. So the LXX; Jerome, and Venetian, "thy speech," eloquium, conversation. But this is questioned, as it should then be דְּבוּרֵךְ. The word midhbar undoubtedly means "the mouth," from davar, "to speak," with the מpreformative, as the name of the instrument. It is the preterite for פִיךְ, but perhaps as referring specially to speech. Thy temples; Latin tempora, from the adjective רַק, "weak," meaning the thin, piece of skull on each side of the eyes, like the German schlafe, from schlaff, "slack." The inside of the pomegranate is of a red colour mixed and tempered with the ruby colour. Ginsburg, however, thinks that the cheeks are intended, and that the comparison is with the outside of the pomegranate, in which the vermilion colour is mingled with brown, and resembles the round cheek; but then why say, "piece of a pomegranate"? פֶלַת, from the root "to cut fruit" (see 1Ki 4:1-34 :39), certainly must refer to the cut fruit and the appearance of the inside. The meaning may be a segment, that is, so as to represent the roundness of the cheek. Possibly the reference may be to blushes on the bride's cheek, or to ornaments which appeared through the veil. We can scarcely expect to make out every particular in an Eastern description.
Song of Solomon 4:4
Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all the shields of the mighty men. There is an evident change here in the character of the similitudes. The royal bridegroom does not forget to praise the majesty of his bride. The description now suits a royal queen. She is full of dignity and grace in her bearing. The tower referred to was no doubt that which was sometimes called "The tower of the flock" (Micah 4:4), that from which David surveyed the flock of his people (cf. Nehemiah 3:16, Nehemiah 3:25)—the government building erected on Mount Zion which served as a court of justice. The word talpiyoth is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον: LXX. θαλπίωθ, as if a proper name. Hengstenberg would render it "built for hanging swords," supposing it composed of two words—tal, from a root "to hang," and piyoth, "swords." But the word piyoth does not mean "swords," but the "double edges" of the swords. Kimchi renders. "an erection of sharp-cornered stones." Gesenius takes it from two roots, "to perish" and "to go," that is, exitialibus armis, which is very doubtful. Ewald's explanation seems the best, "built for close troops, so that many hundreds or thousands find room therein," taking it from a root, connected with the Arabic, meaning, "to wrap together." Delitzsch, however, observes that both in Aramaic and Talmudic Hebrew words occur, like this, in the sense of "enclosure," i.e. joining together, one working into the other, so that it may be taken as meaning, "in ranks together." This view is supported by Doderlein, Meier, Aquila, Jerome, Vulgate (propugnacula), and Venetian (ἐπάλξεις). If this be accepted, it may mean "terraced," i.e. built in stories one above another. This would convey the appearance of the tall, straight neck better than any. Surrounded with ornaments, the neck would so appear. There is another suggestion, supported by Ginsburg and taken from Rashi and Rashbun, Jewish writers, that the word is a contraction for a noun meaning "instruction," and means "the model tower"—the tower built for an architect's model. It would be rendered, "built for the builder's model." The meaning "armoury" takes it as composed of two words, tael," a hill," and piyoth," swords." It was decorated with a thousand shields, which was a customary adornment of towers and castles (see Ezekiel 27:11). All the shields of heroes. We can scarcely doubt the reference in such words to the time of Solomon, and therefore to his authorship, as the allusion to heroes, or mighty men of valour, would be customary soon after the time of David.
Song of Solomon 4:5
Thy two breasts are like two fawns that are twins of a roe, which feed among the lilies. This is a beautiful and yet perfectly delicate figure, describing the lovely equality and perfect shape and sweet freshness of the maiden's bosom. The meadow covered with lilies suggests beauty and fragrance. Thus the loveliness of the bride is set forth in seven comparisons, her perfections being sevenfold. "A twin pair of the young of the gazelle, lying in a bed covered with lilies, representing the fragrant delicacy and elegance of a chaste virgin besom, veiled by the folds of a dress redolent of sweet odour" (cf. So Song of Solomon 1:13). The bridegroom, having thus delighted himself in praise of his bride's loveliness, then proceeds to declare his desire for her sweet society, but he is interrupted by the bride.
Song of Solomon 4:6
Until the day be cool, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense. If this be the language of the bride, which most modern interpreters think, the meaning is to check the ardour of her lover, in the modesty of her fresh and maidenly feeling—Let me retire from such praises. They are too ardent for me. It is only a moment's interruption, which is followed by still more loving words from the bridegroom. We must naturally connect the words with So Song of Solomon 2:17, where the bride certainly speaks. Louis de Leon thinks that the meaning is general, "shady and fragrant places." Anton suggests that she is desiring to escape and be free. It cannot be included as a description of the neighbourhood of the royal palace. She might, however, mean merely—Let me walk alone in the lovely gardens of the palace until the shades of night shall hide my blushes. It is unlikely that the words are in the mouth of Solomon; for then it would be impossible to explain their use by Shulamith previously. She is not referring to Lebanon and its neighbourhoed, and there can be no idea of looking back to a lover from whom she is torn. The interpretation which connects it with maidenly feeling is certainly the most in harmony with what has preceded. Perhaps the typical meaning is underlying the words—Let me find a place of devout meditation to feed my thoughts on the sweetness of this Divine love into which I have entered.
Song of Solomon 4:7
Thou art all fair, my love; and there is no spot in thee. The bridegroom speaks. The sweet humility and modesty of the bride kindles his love afresh. He praised the loveliness of her bodily form, and she by her response showed the exceeding loveliness of her soul. It must not be forgotten that, whether borrowed from this book or not, such language is undoubtedly employed in Scripture of the Church, the bride, the Lamb's wife, who is described as "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:27). It should be noticed that the king immediately addresses his love as "bride," and "sister-bride," to show that there is more than admiration of her person in his thoughts. She is his by assimilation and by eternal union, and he invites her to enter fully into the new life which he has prepared for her, as in Psalms 45:1-17; "forgetting her own people, and her father's house." It is not enough that feeling should be stirred, or even that it should take possession of the soul, if it be only feeling; it is required of us that our inner life of emotion should become practical devotedness, "counting all things but loss" for the sake of him we love.
Song of Solomon 4:8
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Senir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards. This seems to be simply the bridegroom rejoicing over the bride, the meaning being, "Give thyself up to me"—thou art mine; look away from the past, and delight thyself in the future. Delitzsch, however, thinks that the bridegroom seeks the bride to go with him up the steep heights of Lebanon, and to descend with him from thence; for while ascending the mountain one has no view before him, but when descending he has the whole panorama of the surrounding region lying at his feet. It is stretching poetical language too far to take it so literally and topically; there is no necessity to think of either the lover or his beloved as actually on the mountains, the idea is simply that of the mountainous region—Turn thy back upon it, look away from it. This is clearly seen from the fact that the names connected with Lebanon—Amana, Senir, Hermon—could have no reference to the bride's being in them. as they represent Anti-Libanus, separated from Lebanon by the Coelo-Syrian valley, stretching from the Banias northwards to the plain of Hamath (see 2 Kings 5:12, where Amana is Abana, overlooking Damascus, now the Basadia). Shenir, or Senir, and Hermon are neighbouring peaks or mountains, or possibly different names for the same (see Deuteronomy 3:9). In 1 Chronicles 5:23 they are mentioned as districts. Hermon is the chief mountain of the range of Anti-Libanus on the northeast border of Palestine (Psalms 89:12). The wild beasts abounded in that district, especially lions and panthers. They were found in the clefts and defiles of the rocks. Lions, however, have now altogether disappeared. In the name Amana some think there is an allusion to truth (amen) (see Hosea 2:22); but that would be too obscure. The general intention of the passage is simple and plain—Leave the rough places, and come to my palace. The words "with me" (אִתִּי) are taken by the LXX. and Vulgate as though written אֲתִי, the imperative of אָתָה, "to come," as a word of invitation, δεῦρο. The use of the verb תָּבוֹאִי, "thou shalt come," i.e. thou hast come and be content, renders it improbable that such should be the reading, whereas the preposition with the pronoun is quite in place. The spiritual meaning is not far to seek. The life that we live without Christ is at best a life among the wild, untamed impulses of nature, and in the rough and dangerous places of the world. He invites us to go with him to the place which he has prepared for us. And so the Church will leave its crude thoughts and undeveloped life, and seek, in the love of Christ and in the gifts of his Spirit, a truer reflection of his nature and will (see Ephesians 4:14-16). The Apocalypse is based upon the same idea, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ from the place of lions and panthers to the new Jerusalem, with its perfection of beauty and its eternal peace.
Song of Solomon 4:9
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. The bridegroom still continues his address of love, which we must not, of course, press too closely, though it is noticeable that the language becomes somewhat more sober in tone, as though the writer were conscious of the higher application to which it would be put. Some translators take the first clause as though the word "ravished" should be rendered "emboldened." Symmachus, ἐθαρσύνας με. The Hebrew word לִבֵּב, literally, "heartened," may mean, as in Aramaic, "make courageous." Love in the beginning overpowers, unhearts, but the general idea must be that of "smitten" or "captured." So the LXX; Venetian, and Jerome, ἐκαρδίωσας με, vulnerasti cor meum (cf. Psalms 45:6). My sister, my bride, is, of course, the same as "my sisterly bride," a step beyond "my betrothed." Gesenius thinks that "one of thine eyes" should be "one look of thine;" but may it not refer to the eye appearing through the veil, as again one chain of the neck may glitter and attract all the more that the whole ornamentation did not appear in view? If but a portion of her beauty so overpowers, what will be the effect of the whole blaze of her perfection? As the Church advances in her likeness to her Lord, she becomes more and more the object of his delight, and as the soul receives more and more grace, so is her fellowship with Christ more and more assured and joyful.
Song of Solomon 4:10, Song of Solomon 4:11
How fair is thy love, my sister, my bride! How much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices! Thy lips, O my bride, drop as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. The expression of thy love, that is, the endearments, the embraces, are delightful. The allusion to the lips may be a mere amplification of the word "love," but it may also refer to speech, and we think of the nineteenth psalm and the description of the words and testimony of the Lord, "more to be desired than gold, and sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb" (cf. Genesis 27:27; Hosea 4:7; Psalms 45:9). The words of pure, inward joy flowing forth from the lips may be so described. So the Lord has said, in Isaiah 62:5, that he rejoiceth over his people as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride.
Song of Solomon 4:12
A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. We must bear in mind that these words are supposed to be spoken on the journey in the marriage procession. The bride is not yet brought to the royal palace. She is still travelling in the royal palanquin. The idea of a paradise or garden is carried from the beginning of Scripture to the end, the symbol of perfect blessedness. The figure of the closed or shut-up garden represents the bridegroom's delight in the sense of absolute and sole possession—for himself and no other. The language is very natural at such a time, when the bride is being taken from her home. We may compare with the figures here employed those in Proverbs 5:15-20.
Song of Solomon 4:13, Song of Solomon 4:14
Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits; henna with spikenard plants, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices. Thy shoots; i.e. that which comes forth from thee, thy plants, or, as Bottcher puts it, "all the phenomena and life utterances of her personality." All the plants had their meaning in flower language. They are mostly exotics. But it is difficult now to suggest meanings, though they may have been familiar to Jewish readers at the time. The pardes, "park, or enclosure," was adorned especially with foreign and fragrant plants of great beauty. It is an Old Persian word, perhaps, as Delitzsch suggests, from pairi (περὶ) and dez (Pers. diz), "a heap." Precious fruit; literally, fructus laudam, "fruits of renown" or excellence (cf. Syriac magdo, "dried fruit"). The carcom, or saffron, a kind of crocus (Ind. safran), yields the saffron colour from its dried flower eyes, used both as a cosmetic and as a medicine (cf. Sansc. kuakuma). The calamus, simply a reed, the sweet reed, a corn indigenous to the East. Cinnamon (Quinnamon), Laurus cinnamomum, is indigenous on the east coast of Africa and Ceylon, found later in the Antibes. The inner bark peeled off and roiled together forms the cinnamon bark (see Pliny, bk. 12). There are seven spices mentioned. We need not trouble ourselves to identify them all, as they are mostly Indian, and such as Solomon would fetch from the far East in his celebrated ships. The description is highly poetical, and simply means that all sweetness and attractiveness combine in the fair one. But symbolically we may see an allusion to the spread of the Church over the world, and all the glory and honour of the nations" being introduced into it. So the graces of the individual soul expand themselves under the influence of Christian truth and fellowship.
Song of Solomon 4:15
Thou art a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Referring, of course, to the clear, cool streams coming down from the snowy heights. The sweet freshness of the country maiden suggested this. May we not see a symbol of the spiritual life in such language (cf. John 7:38)? Ethically, at least, the blending of the freshness of a mountain stream with the luxuriance and fragrance of a cultivated garden is very suggestive. To an Eastern monarch, such purity and modesty as Solomon found in his bride must have been a rare excellence which might well be made typical.
Song of Solomon 4:16
Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his precious fruits. This is the answer of the bride to the lavish praises of her husband. I am all his. She is yet unworthy of the king and of his love until the seasonal changes have developed and unfolded and spread forth her excellences. The north represents cold; the south, heat. Let the various influences from different quarters flow gently over the garden and call forth the fragrance and the fruits (cf. Esther 2:12). There is rich suggestion in such words. Whether we think of the individual soul or of the Church of Christ, the true desire of those who delight in the love of the Saviour is that all the gifts and graces which can be bestowed may make them worthy of him who condescends to call his people his delight. Surely it is no mere romantic idyll that is before us. Such significance cannot be a mere coincidence when it is so transparent and so apt.
Song of Solomon 4:1-6
The bridegroom with the bride.
I. HIS PRAISE OF THE BRIDE.
1. The earthly bridegroom. The bridegroom rejoices over the bride. She is wholly his. He enumerates her beauties; they are very precious to him; his great love leads him to dwell on every point. The love of the espousals (Jeremiah 2:2), the young love of the newly wedded, is a beautiful thing, very tender and touching; it leaves a fragrant memory behind—a memory treasured still after the lapse of many years, when the love of wedlock has become, not less true, not less blessed, but calmer and more mellow; and perhaps even more blessed, when no jealousies, no quarrels, have tended to put asunder those whom God hath joined together, but love has continued to increase with increasing years, with less and less of earthly passion, but more and more of holy tenderness and mutual self-denials for the loved one's sake. Such, alas! was not the love of Solomon. The fair promise, so very bright and beautiful at first, was soon blighted. Corruptio optimi pessima. Nothing in this world is more beautiful and blessed than that holy estate of matrimony which was instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, which God has consecrated to such an excellent mystery that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church. And, on the other hand, nothing is more degrading and ruinous than that sensual passion which is the caricature of wedded love. The early goodness of Solomon, the bright promise of future happiness and usefulness which gilded his youth, excites an interest in him so persona], that it makes us feel a real grief and disappointment when we read that "King Solomon loved many strange women;" that "when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart;" that "he went after Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians;" that he "did evil in the sight of the Lord." And so it came to pass that that bright beginning ended in utter gloom, in the mournful cry of disappointment. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity." He could not find satisfaction in his wisdom when he had begun to fall away from God. He found that "in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18). And so the wisest of men betook himself to pleasure. "I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth;" "I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house;" "I gat me men singers and women singers;" "Whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy" (Ecclesiastes 2:1, Ecclesiastes 2:7, Ecclesiastes 2:8, Ecclesiastes 2:10). He found, as they that are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God always find sooner or later, that all this was "vanity and vexation of spirit," nothing better than "striving after wind." "Therefore," he says, "I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit." And this is King Solomon, who surpassed all the kings of the earth for glory and riches; who was wiser than the wisest of his time; who had won in his youth the love of the pure and innocent Shulamite; who (and this is the saddest thought of all) once loved the Lord: "Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father" (1 Kings 3:3). While he continued to love the Lord, he was true, we must believe, to the wife of his youth. One who walks in the light of the love of God cannot love the works of darkness, cannot admit into his heart that taint of impurity which so utterly shuts the soul away from the love of God. We wonder whether Solomon repented as his father David did. We know that God warned him, and chastised him for his sins, but we know also that much will be required from those to whom much has been given, and that to fall from such grace as had been bestowed upon Solomon must be a grievous fall indeed; to disobey God who had given him such abundant blessings showed a depth of ingratitude which utterly startles us, till we learn to know in penitence and self-abasement what Solomon impressed upon others, whether he felt it himself or not, "the plague of our own hearts" (1 Kings 8:38). The pure love of wedlock is maintained in ever-growing affection when husband and wife both live near to God. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1 John 1:7). That fellowship which "is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3) involves of necessity the holiest grace of charity in our mutual relations with our brother Christians; especially those whom God hath joined together must and will, if they are living as the children of God, live together in holy love unto their lives' end. We wonder whether the fair Shulamite lived to experience the change in her royal bridegroom; if she did, the loss of his affection must have been a bitter trial indeed. Perhaps God in his mercy took her to himself before that trial came.
2. The heavenly Bridegroom. It is the will of the Lord Jesus to present the Church unto himself as a glorious Church, holy and without blemish. The Lord shall rejoice in his works. Through the cleansing power of his most precious blood, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, which he giveth to his chosen, the Church, his bride shall at the last be "all glorious within;" for he is able "to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Then shall there be joy in heaven, when the Lord, who endured for the Church's sake the great agony of the cross, sees the reward of his bitter Passion; when he looks upon the Church, a glorious Church indeed, no longer marred and stained by sin and strife and error, but cleansed and purified "even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3), made like unto him in the vision of his love and holiness. Then he will rejoice over her as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride. "In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem … The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing" (Zephaniah 3:16, Zephaniah 3:17). The heavenly Bridegroom will rejoice over his bride; he will see in her the beauty of holiness; he will rejoice in her graces. She is very dear to him, for she is the reward of that long anguish, the agony and bloody sweat, the bitter cross and Passion. And now she is wholly his; she has left all other masters, and given her whole heart to the Lord who bought her, with the fall, pure, holy love which she has learned of him—the infinite love.
3. The bride must make herself ready. (Revelation 19:7.) Without holiness no man can see the Lord. The holiness of the Church consists in the holiness of its members. We must follow after holiness, holiness of heart and life; for without the wedding garment, the white robe of righteousness, none can be admitted to the marriage supper of the Lamb. We must, each one of us, make ourselves ready and prepare to meet our God. The Lord rejoices in the holiness of his people. We must learn, not to seek glory from one another, not to set so much store on human praise, but to seek that glory which cometh from the only God (John 5:44). There were some who would not confess the Lord Jesus because "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43). We must look onwards to the praise which the heavenly Bridegroom will bestow on the Church, his bride; then shall the true Israelite, who is a "Jew inwardly," "whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Romans 2:29), have praise of God (1 Corinthians 4:5). We must seek that praise with a single heart, walking with God, living to his glory, looking for the blessed hour when we trust to see the heavenly Bridegroom face to face.
"He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All Heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strews her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide,
A light upon the shining sea—
The Bridegroom with his bride!"
II. THE ANSWER OF THE BRIDE.
1. She must withdraw for a while. She repeats in her modesty the first clause of her own words in So Song of Solomon 2:17. Then, apparently, she asked her lover to leave her till she had fulfilled the routine duties of the day. He was to return when the day should be cool, and the shadows should lengthen in the evening. Now it is she who will leave her Lord for a time. Perhaps she felt herself almost overburdened by his commendations; the poor country maiden, true and simple as she was, could scarcely understand such praises from the great and magnificent king; they were too much for her; she must retire to collect herself. When the Lord commends the faithful, and glorifies their works of love as done unto himself, they seem oppressed, as it were, for a season by the greatness of his praise. They were only doing their duty; they did it, all of them, more or less imperfectly; they did not regard those poor works of theirs as so exceeding beautiful; they did not think that they had been conferring benefits upon the Lord himself, that they had so greatly pleased him; they were humble, self-distrustful; they seem almost to shrink from the praises of the King. The grace of humility is a very holy thing; it lies at the entrance of the kingdom of heaven; it is the first of the Beatitudes. "Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth" (2 Corinthians 10:18).
2. Whither the bride retires. "I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense." The words may, taken literally, signify some retired place in the palace garden, as many scholars think; but myrrh and frankincense are words of frequent occurrence in Holy Scripture, and are often used with a more or less mystical meaning. The Wise Men from the East brought gold and frankincense and myrrh as offerings to the infant Saviour; wine mingled with myrrh was given him on the cross; his sacred body was laid in a mixture of myrrh and aloes brought by the faithful Nicodemus. The mountain of myrrh seems to suggest the necessity of purification before the soul can dwell always in the presence of the Lord. The maidens from among whom the Queen of Persia was to be chosen had to go through a time of purification, "six months with oil of myrrh" (Esther 2:12). It tells us also of the bitter draught, the cup of sorrows, which they who are to be nearest Christ must take. "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I must drink of?" Those who aspire to the highest places in the kingdom of heaven must learn the deepest lessons of humility, the severest lessons of entire submission of will to the holy will of God. They must get them to the mountain of myrrh, to the cross. Our self-denials are small and unworthy; the cross of Christ sets before us a mountain of self-sacrifice, a height that reaches unto the heavens. We must draw nearer and nearer to the cross in daily self-denial and self-abasement, if we are to realize at last the full, deep joy of uninterrupted communion with the Lord. And if myrrh means self-denial, the dying unto sin, frankincense means worship. The sweet odour of the incense going up from the golden altar is a meet emblem of the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4). We must learn the blessed lesson of worship on earth before we can join the choir of happy worshippers around the glory throne. We must get ourselves to the hill of frankincense, to the Lord's house, where the incense of prayer and thanksgiving ever ascends, where he himself is in the midst, among those who are gathered together in his name. There we may be trained, if we come in the Spirit as Simeon came when he found the Lord Christ, in that holy worship, worship in spirit and in truth, which is the true preparation for the glad adoring worship of triumphant saints in heaven. Till the evening of life comes, till the shadows lengthen into the night, we must get ourselves to the work which the Lord has given us to do—the work of self-discipline, the work of worship here below, that we may be ready when he cometh to take our part in the never-ceasing worship of heaven, and there to be ever with the Lord.
Song of Solomon 4:7-16
I. THE WORDS OF THE BRIDEGROOM.
1. His entire love for the bride. If the view of Song of Solomon 4:6 indicated above gives the true meaning, the bride has left the bridegroom for a time. In the evening they meet again, and the king again expresses his affection: "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." Such shall the Church be in the eyes of Christ, when he has sanctified and cleansed her with the washing of water by the Word; when she is clothed in the fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints; when he "of God is made unto her Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). Such shall the saints be in his eyes when they have "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb;" "they are without fault before the throne of God" (Revelation 14:5). But it is Christ who has cleansed them. They were stained with many sins, as David was when he cried in the anguish of his deep penitence, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than show" (Psalms 51:7). We have sinned so long and so greatly, we have so often fallen back into sin after imperfect repentance, that to be "whiter than snow" seems a hope altogether too high for us, out of our reach. But we have the sure Word of God. He is able to "present us faultless before the presence of his glory;" he is able to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness;" "the Lamb of God taketh away the sins of the world." Indeed it is true that "we are all as an unclean things and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6), but we may have, if we come to Christ in faith, "that righteousness which is through the faith of Christ;" that righteousness which is his, not our own; and yet, if we abide in him, it becomes through his grace our own; for it is given to us, imparted to us, infused into us by the indwelling influences of the Holy Spirit of God. Then we may dare to hope for that spotless righteousness; we may, we must, long for it and strive after it. Not to do so is not humility, but unbelief; not distrust of ourselves, but distrust of God; for we have the sacred word of promise, "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
2. His invitation. The Hebrew words are full of life: "With me from Lebanon, O bride, with me from Lebanon shalt thou come." The bride is henceforth to be with the bridegroom, with him always: she is to forget her own people and her father's house (Psalms 45:10, Psalms 45:11). She is to come away from her old haunts—from Amana, Shenir, and Hermon; for even Hermon in all its grandeur is but a "little hill" in comparison with the spiritual glory of Mount Zion, where God is pleased to dwell (see Prayer book Version of Psalms 42:6). She must come from the lions' dens, from "the violence of Lebanon" (Habakkuk 2:17), to Jerusalem, the foundation of peace. The Church, the bride of Christ, shall be in the eternal blessedness "forever with the Lord." She shall come away from her old habitation, the earth which is filled with violence (Genesis 6:11); away from the raging of the roaring lion, who walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. And the Christian soul, which looks forward in living hope to the inheritance of the saints in light, must now come with Christ away from other masters, from the lusts of the flesh and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. "To depart and to be with Christ," St. Paul says (Philippians 1:23), "is far better"—"by much very far better," for such is the full meaning of the emphatic words. Then the soul that hopes to be with Christ in Paradise must be much with Christ now; with him in the daily life of faith, in prayer and praise and frequent communion. He bids us come. "Come unto me," he says, "and I will give you rest." He only can give peace. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." If we listen to his voice, and come with him away from Lebanon, which, though fair to look upon, with grand and wide-reaching prospects, was yet the haunt of noisome beasts; if we leave the love of the world, with its enticements and its dangers, for the blessed love of Christ, we shall have all that we need for our soul's peace and safety. "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
3. His praises of the bride. He calls her repeatedly, "My sister-bride." His heart is hers; every little thing about her, the very smell of her garments, is dear to him; her love is by much better than wine; her voice is sweet as honey. He dwells now less on graces of person, as in Song of Solomon 4:1-5, than on her looks of affection, the depth and beauty of her love, the music of her voice. These words tell of a great love; but the love of Christ for his Church is beyond the power of language. Solomon left his first love—he loved many strange women; but the love of Christ for his Church is "an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3), unchangeable, unutterable. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" but "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And because he loved the Church with so great a love, the responsive love of the Church is very dear to him. "He is not ashamed to call us brethren" (Hebrews 2:11). The voice of the Church lifted up to him in prayer and praise, making melody in the heart unto God, is sweet to the Saviour. He praises the graces of the Church, though those graces come all from him; they are his gift. He praises in the Book of the Revelation the Churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia; he sees the beauty of holiness in those afflicted and despised Churches: "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich;" "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life;" "They shall know that I have loved thee; Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name" (Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:9, Revelation 3:12).
4. He compares her to a garden enclosed. She is like a garden shut up, barred against intruders, kept sacred for its master's use; she is like a spring shut up, a fountain sealed as with the royal signet which none but the king can touch. The garden, or paradise, is full of the choicest fruits, flowers, and spice-bearing plants, the produce of many countries, some of them brought in Solomon's time by his navy from Arabia or India. The fountain is a well of living waters, fresh as the gushing mountain streams of Lebanon. Solomon praises the bride not only for her beauty and her rare endowments, but also for her purity and faithfulness. The "garden enclosed," the "fountain scaled," remind us of our marriage vow: "Wilt thou … forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him so long as ye both shall live?" Such should the wedded pair be each to the other; such was not Solomon. We cannot but think and believe that the bride, innocent and artless as she is described, kept herself pure unto the end. The Church, which is the bride of Christ, should be as a garden enclosed, kept sacred for the one Lord. The garden of Eden was a garden enclosed, but Satan marred its sanctity; he, in the words of Milton,
"At one slight bound high overleaped all bound
Of hill or highest wall, and sheer within
Lights on his feet …
So clomb the first grand thief into God's fold:
So since into his Church lewd hirelings climb."
The Lord has said, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." Again he has said, "I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and shall find pasture." They who are called to minister in the Church of God must ever remember that it is God's Church, that "he hath purchased it with his own blood" (Acts 20:28); that it should be "a garden enclosed," kept for the Master, tilled and watered for him; that every barren tree should be carefully tended, that it may bring forth fruit before the awful word goeth forth, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." The trees in the Lord's garden differ much from one another. There are pomegranates with their pleasant fruit, henna with its fragrant flowers, spikenard with its costly perfume, frankincense for sacred uses; all manner of sweet spices—myrrh and aloes, which tell of the bitter healing cup of sorrow, which point to death and burial. The saints of God differ much from one another. Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, have each his own place in the garden of the Lord. All bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, but in different forms and degrees; one we call the apostle of love, another the apostle of faith, a third the apostle of hope; "but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Corinthians 12:11). It is the Lord himself who giveth the Spirit. Mary Magdalene, on the first Easter Day, supposed him to be the gardener (John 20:15); and in a very true sense he is the Gardener of the garden enclosed. And here we may remember that it was in a garden that he suffered that dread agony, when his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. That blood taketh away the sins of the world; it waters the garden enclosed with its cleansing stream. And again we are told that "in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus" (John 19:41). The Lord suffered in a garden; he has purchased with his own blood the Church to be his own, his garden enclosed. But the Church is also "a spring shut up, a fountain sealed;" shut up in a sense, sealed with the Master's signet, as his own sacred tomb was sealed in the garden of Joseph, but yet (verse 15) "a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon." The fountain is sealed, for it is the Lord's; it hath "this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19). But its living waters go forth to fertilize the Lord's garden. The healing waters which the Prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision issued out from under the threshold of the temple; they brought fruitfulness wherever they went "because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary" (Ezekiel 47:1, Ezekiel 47:12). In a true sense the whole world is the Lord's field: "The field is the world" (Matthew 13:38); and the Church has the Lord's commandment, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The well is the Lord's; it is sealed with his seal; but the living waters of that sacred well must issue forth, that "the wilderness and the solitary place may be glad for them: that the desert may rejoice and blossom as the rose" (Isaiah 35:1). And as the Church, the bride of Christ, is for him "a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed," so must every Christian soul be wholly his. "We are Christ's," St. Paul says. "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's;" and again, "God, whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). Each Christian soul must keep itself as "a garden enclosed" ("barred," or "belted," is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word). We must strive earnestly to keep out earthly passions, earthly ambitions, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. We must keep the gate barred against the entrance of the evil one. And we must take heed that the house be not left empty; it must be kept for "a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). We must strive to keep out worldly cares, coming to God in all our troubles, whether great or small, that so the peace of God, which Passeth all understanding, may keep (guard, protect) our hearts and thoughts through Christ Jesus. The garden must be barred; the peace of God must rule there (Colossians 3:15); and it must bring forth fruit, the blessed fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22). The tree that beareth not fruit must be hewn down at last; it cumbereth the ground; "every branch that beareth not fruit is taken away." How carefully, then, we ought, every one of us, to watch for the fruit of the Spirit in our daily life, to see in diligent self-examination whether we are exhibiting these holy graces in our Christian walk and conversation; and if, alas! we find them not, how earnestly we ought to pray, with fervent, untiring supplication for the help of the Holy Spirit of God to work within us, to assist our prayers, to make intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, to lead us nearer to Christ, that we may evermore abide in him, without whom we can bear no fruit, without whom we can do nothing! The garden needs the living water; the saint of God is a fountain sealed. The living water is the Lord's; it bears his seal. The Lord himself is, in the truest sense, the "Fountain opened … for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1); with him is "the fountain of life" (Psalms 36:9). He leadeth his redeemed to living fountains of waters (Revelation 7:17). But they who have received from him the living water become themselves fountains, as the Lord hath said, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." And again, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 4:14; John 7:37, John 7:38). The saint of God is indeed "a fountain sealed," sealed with the Lord's seal, dedicated wholly unto him; "a spring shut up" from all other waters save only the living water which the Lord giveth, not "a fountain which sends forth at the same place sweet water and bitter" (James 2:11). But he must be "a fountain of gardens" (verse 15); he that is watered of God must water the thirsty ground (Proverbs 11:25). St. Paul, who had received the gift of the Spirit from the Lord, passed on the living waters to Apollos; Apollos watered the garden of the Lord at Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6). So must all God's people do. They know in their own hearts more or less of that holy calm and blessedness which the living waters of the indwelling of the Spirit (John 7:39) bring to the faithful; they must do their best to extend to others the blessings which they have themselves received; they must pray and labour for the spiritual well being of those nearest to them, within the sphere of their personal influence; they must do their best to help missionary work through the world, resting not till "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). But each must keep himself as "a fountain sealed" for the Lord and the work of the Lord, that at the last he may be sealed with the seal of the living God, and stand on the Mount Zion among the mystic hundred and forty and four thousand who have the Lamb's Name and his Father's Name written in their foreheads (Revelation 7:2, Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1).
II. THE VOICE OF THE BRIDE. She accepts the bridegroom's parable. She is a garden enclosed. She calls upon the winds, north and south, to blow upon the garden, that the fragrance of its spices may flow forth to give pleasure to the bridegroom. The garden is hers; for it is herself, her love. And yet it is the bridegroom's, for she has given herself, her love, to him; she invites him to come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. So the Church, the bride of Christ, longs for the heavenly Bridegroom; so each Christian soul seeks the Saviour's presence. The soul that would give itself wholly to the Lord as a garden barred against all other masters, and enclosed for his use, strives ever to please him more and more; she would have her inward life of prayer and meditation and spiritual communion with him to become more and more pleasing to him, more and more fragrant. Therefore she calls for the north wind as well as the south to blow upon the garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. She is willing to submit to the cold blasts of adversity, as well as to be refreshed with the soft breezes of joy and holy gladness. She knows that God will make all things, joy and sorrow alike, to work together for good to them that love him (Romans 8:28). Therefore she prays only that his will may be done in her, whether by chastisements or by spiritual joy and blessing. She would have the garden bring forth more fruit, even though it must be purged with the pruning knife of affliction. For the garden, though it is herself, her own heart, is yet the Lord's; for she has given it to the heavenly Bridegroom; therefore she yearns for his irradiating presence, praying him to enter into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 4:1-7
What Christ sees in those who love him.
As a mere story, these verses may be taken as a further attempt on the part of King Solomon to win her to whom he speaks for himself. Therefore he extols her beauty. Her eyes like the beautiful eyes of the Syrian dove; her dark glossy hair like that of the goats that browse on the slopes of Mount Gilead; her teeth white as the newly cleansed wool, as even and regular as is the fleece that has been first shorn, and perfect as is the breed of sheep he tells of; her lips ruddy; her mouth so comely; her cheeks rosy red, like the opened pomegranate; her neck graceful, and adorned with precious jewels; and so on. Even her home, because it is her home, is as a hill bearing trees of myrrh and frankincense, and thither would he resort. And he sums up his description by declaring that she is "all fair"—that there is no blemish in her. Now, on such flattery, of on So 1:9-2:7. But had these verses no other meaning than this literal one, we cannot think they would have found place in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore we take them as setting forth, under their rich Oriental colouring, the blessed truth that, in the sight of their Lord, his people are without blemish, "all fair." It is the same truth as was meant by that at present unloved phrase, "imputed righteousness." And that it is unloved is owing to the fact that its meaning has been grossly perverted, and made to stand for ideas dishonouring to God and disastrous to the spiritual life of men. But in reality the phrase means just that which in these verses is allegorically set forth. In interpreting these verses it is not the right or reverent way, though many have followed it, to affix some definite meaning to every detail of the description given, but to take the description as a whole, as attesting the beauty of the redeemed in the sight of their Lord. Therefore, though some have interpreted the dove's eyes as the eyes that are ever towards the Lord in holy desire; and the hair as the unshorn locks of the soul's consecration to Christ; and the teeth, undecayed and perfect, as the faith which feeds on Christ; and the lips as those of one once leprous, but now purified by the precious blood of Christ, and so like a scarlet thread; the blushing temples no longer bold and brazen, but suffused with crimson as the pomegranate, telling of the soul's true repentance; the neck, tall, stately, graceful, strong, telling of the liberty and courage Christ has given the soul; the breasts of the twin graces of faith and love, which Paul says are the believer's breastplate;—all this (cf. Stuart), though interesting and ingenious, appears to us unnecessary and, in some hands, injurious. We therefore take the description generally, and note—
I. THE FACT THAT CHRIST DOES REGARD AS BEAUTIFUL THE REDEEMED SOUL. She is spotless in his sight. He says, "The glory thou gavest me I have given them." Christ is made unto us "Righteousness and Sanctification." He shed his blood that his Church might be "a glorious Church, not having spot," etc. (Ephesians 5:27). He will present us "faultless before the presence of his glory" (Jude 1:24). "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you," said our Lord (cf. also 1 Corinthians 6:11). And if he did not so regard his people and count them "precious in his sight" (Isaiah 43:1-28.), wherefore should he have done and suffered for them all that he has? Whatever we make sacrifices for we count beautiful. Our love pierces through the outer husk of circumstance and evil habit, and sees the beauty within; and it is for that we will make sacrifice if need be. And so with our most blessed Lord—his eye of love pierced through the often hideous husk of men's vile habits and ways to the soul on which his heart was set, that he might redeem and save it, and make it beautiful, like his own. And when that soul turns to him in trust and penitence, then at once that soul is "all fair" in his sight, and "there is no spot in" it.
II. WHY SHOULD WE NOT? Men say, "It is wrong to represent God as seeing otherwise than according to the truth of things. Therefore to say of a soul, 'There is no spot in it,' when we know that 'from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no soundness in it' (Isaiah 1:1-31.), this is to introduce unreality and make-believe into the most sacred regions." But look at the mother's joy in her babe. Whence comes that? Is it not largely the loving onlook she takes into the future of that child? She sees, or at least believes she sees, that child grown up in purity, intelligence, goodness, and all that is lovely and lovable. She is a believer, and you cannot move her, in imputed righteousness; for what is she doing but imputing, all that righteousness to her babe. See the shipbuilder in his yard. There is a ship in its earliest stages of construction. You can see nothing but chips and dirt and confusion. But he sees that ship in her completion—in all her strength, the beauty of her lines, and all the perfectness which he intends shall belong to her. And he "imputes" to her all that. And so with our Lord. He sees all that the soul shall be when he has perfected the "good work" which he has already begun for and in it. This is why, even now, it is fitting that he should see and say, "There is no spot in thee."
III. AND WHAT IF HE DOES? There is:
1. All consolation for the anxious, mistrusting soul. The soul is, as it well may be, often overwhelmed with the sense of its own vileness and sin. It clings to Christ with the grasp of all but despair. What a help to know that Christ's estimate of us is not our own! How often we are able to help a man up by letting him see that we believe in him, notwithstanding he has done wrong] Arnold's word, "Trust a boy, and he will become trustworthy," is most true. The fact we are considering is not only full of consolation, but lull of help to us poor sinful men.
2. Inspiration for the better life. If Christ thinks me so, I will strive to become so. Is this his ideal for me? I will, in his strength, strive to realize it.
3. The enkindling and constant rekindling of our love for Christ.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 4:6
Where Christ is now.
"Until the day break," etc.
I. BY THIS IS MEANT THE PRESENT LIFE. It does not matter whether the words be taken as telling of the time until the day break or until the day close. In the former case, the speaker would mean that all the night long he would be on the mountains of myrrh, etc.; but in the latter, he would mean that until the day were done he would be there. It matters not, for the present life may be likened to either night or day. If to the night, then night time is meant to suggest the darkness in which men live. As to knowledge: "We see through a glass, darkly." As to happiness: "Man is born to trouble." As to the use of life: men choose to walk in darkness. The land sits "in darkness and in the shadow of death," because they who dwell in such land are in that deep spiritual darkness of which the prophet tells. If to the day, then as the time for toil, the season for diligent work, the period during which the busy affairs of men are transacted—such is our life so long as it continues. On either interpretation the present life is meant.
II. THE PLACE WHERE DURING THIS LIFE WE MAY FIND CHRIST. On "the mountains of myrrh," etc. By this is meant, not heaven, for we cannot ascend into heaven; and the place told of here is evidently a place accessible. Therefore we take the "mountains of myrrh," etc; to mean the Church (cf. Isaiah 2:2). And there are many other Scriptures in which the Church is likened to hills or mountains (Psalms 68:15, Psalms 68:16; Psalms 87:1-3, etc.). Some have thought that the throne of grace, the place of prayer, is meant—and so it is; but more than that is included. Nothing less than the Church of Christ. And the similitude employed here is just. For the Church is as a mountain.
1. For elevation. The Church should be above the world. Hence, in the magnificent ministers which adorn this and other lands, the sacred fabric towers in lordly height far above all the dwellings that cluster around it. It symbolizes this very truth. Our Lord said, "Ye are a city set on a hill."
2. For visibility. "Which cannot be hid." Goodness ever betrays itself; like him from whom it comes, and of whom it was said, "He could not be hid." Does the visibility consist in anything else but character? Is not the Church the company of all the good?
3. For its majesty. It is God's vicegerent here on earth. By it "kings rule, and princes decree justice." Kings were its nursing fathers and queens its nursing mothers (cf. Isaiah 60:1-22).
4. For its immovability. (Psalms 135:1.) "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it," said our Lord. And here it is today, and it never seemed more likely to continue than it does today.
5. For its fruitfulness. The mountains and hills told of are not mere rocky heights, stony and barren, but rich and fruitful, their sides covered with noblest trees. "They that be planted in the house of the Lord," etc.
6. For its delightfulness. Myrrh and frankincense are the product of its trees, and make the whole place fragrant, precious, full of delight to him who dwells or comes there (cf. "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than," etc.). Christ loves to be there, and his people love to meet him there. For it is the place of accepted prayer, of hallowed communion, of adoring worship, of manifold spiritual help. And there Christ is to be found. He is there according to his Word, in his unseen but real presence, and in his gracious power. Myriads attest this. Therefore—
III. WE SHOULD SEEK HIM THERE. The verse seems to be a suggestion to this effect. To forsake the assemblies, communion, and fellowship of the Church is to suffer great loss. Some say, "We can pray at home;" and when they must be at home no doubt they can, but when they need not be we doubt if many do. And when we think of the treasure store of help that is gained by them who seek the Lord in his Church, who get them to the mountain, etc; where he is, we commiserate, even whilst we condemn, those who never get themselves there at all.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 4:7
The immaculate soul.
"Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." This word has many parallels; cf. "Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you;" "Ye are washed, justified, sanctified;" "Ye are complete in him;" "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," etc. Now, how can all this be? We reply—
I. THROUGH THE ESTIMATE WHICH LOVE FORMS OF THAT WHICH IT LOVES. (Cf. former homily, on Song of Solomon 4:1-7.)
II. THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST, WHICH "CLEANSETH US FROM ALL SIN." Christ is our Representative, the second Adam. Our connection with him becomes vitalized when our hearts trust in him. But he, in and by his death—his blood—made perfect confession of our sins, and in that confession absorbed them (cf. McLeod Campbell on the Atonement). Forgiveness, therefore, follows for all in him; and thus we are cleansed.
III. THROUGH THE POWER OF THE HOLY GHOST. He is ever acting on our hearts, to lead them along the various stages that will bring us to perfect purity, to complete sanctification. He works in us that deep sense of sin which leads to a genuine repentance. He reveals Christ to us, which leads to a living trust. He inspires us with love to Christ, which leads to the surrender of our will. He prompts us to and aids us in prayer, which perpetuates and deepens every holy purpose. He keeps us in touch with Christ, which bars the entrance of sin to our souls. He makes all the means of grace full of help to our souls. Thus step by step the blessed work is done.
IV. THROUGH CHRIST'S GRACIOUS ANTICIPATION OF THE COMPLETED WORK. He looks on us, not as we are, but as we shall be, and predates what has yet to, but certainly shall, be realized.
CONCLUSION. What a motive all this supplies to our earnest striving to come up to our blessed Lord's ideal!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 4:8
The beautiful but dangerous world.
For once the literal and allegorical interpretation largely agree. For both represent the places spoken of here as full of peril, and both desire the beloved one to "come away" from them, and promise deliverance if she will come. Let the peril of delivering her be what it may—as dens of lions and leopards—yet will he accomplish it. Allegorically we may read here—
I. CHRIST'S DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD. It is:
1. Beautiful to look upon. Some of the finest scenes, the most glorious landscapes the world can show, are to be seen from the mountain summits named here. The view is entrancing, so travellers say. And the world is to the young soul fair indeed. But:
2. It is full of peril also. The dizzy heights, the steep cliffs, the lofty crags of mountainous regions, demand a steady head, well balanced nerves, a sure foothold. The inexperienced may not venture there. Death and destruction track the footsteps of the traveller on such heights, and if he be not wed trained, they have him for their prey. The spiritual analogy is illustrated by only too many sad experiences. To preserve the soul's balance on the heights of the world's prosperity, how difficult for all! how impossible for most! "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!" "Man, vain man, dressed in a little brief authority," etc. But the special perils named here are the beasts of prey. These have their haunts in these mountains (cf. Exposition). In all languages and literatures the designation of evil men by the name of some noxious beast is common (cf. Psalms; also our Lord's word, "Go, tell that fox;" and in the Scriptures passim). And the world is full of such creatures—pitiless, cruel, fierce, ravenous, terrible. Smooth and soft and sleek as a leopard, so long as you are able to defy them; but fall down, be at their mercy, and what mercy will you get? "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel;" yes, cruel as lion, leopard, or any beast of prey. Ask the world's victims what mercy they have received. Let the soul once give the world a chance, and the world will drive it hellward with relentless cruelty. There is no mercy there. What a contrast to "the mountains of myrrh" (Song of Solomon 4:6)! "No ravenous beast shall be there;" "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 35:9).
II. CHRIST'S PROMISE OF HELP. "Come with me." His Word is full of such promises and of the records of their fulfilment (cf. histories of Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Daniel, etc.). And it is the experience of every Christian soul. Christ does not take us out of the world, but he keeps us from the evil. He keeps us "as the apple of his eye;" hides us "under the shadow" of his wing (cf. Psalms 91:1-16.). He knows what he will do, therefore he says, "Come with me."
III. THE CONDITION OF THAT HELP. We must "come with" him. Some wonder that he invites us at all; that, loving the soul as he does, he should leave it any choice as to whether it will or will not come; that he does not deal with us as a father who would compel, not merely invite, his child to come out of the burning house. So some wonder that Christ does not compel the soul, carry it off by force. No doubt, in the literal story of this song, he who spoke was prepared to do this by her whom he appeals to. But Christ says, "Come with me." He solicits, entreats, invites. For there can be no deliverance of the soul unless there be the response of its own will. Even Christ cannot save without that. If, as is the case so sadly often, men "will not come unto" him that they "might have life," they have it not. And that response of the will is from faith in Christ's Word as to our peril and his loving power. Then ponder that Word; pray to know the truth; the Divine Spirit shall teach you, and soon the response Christ desires will be given.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 4:9-15
Cur Deus homo?
In these verses the beloved tells her whom he has come to deliver wherefore he would run all this risk and endure so much for her sake. And reading them as an allegory, we may take them as setting forth why and wherefore God became Man; why "he who was rich for our sakes became poor." And amongst these reasons are—
I. HIS INTENSE LOVE FOR US. The speaker tells in Song of Solomon 4:9 how but a small portion of the beauty and of the adornments of her whom he so loved had "ravished" his heart, had filled him with intense desire for her. And translated into the style and teaching of the gospel, this tells of the heavenly joy (Luke 15:1-32.) over the repentance—the very beginning, the smallest portion of the beauty, of Divine grace in the soul. "Behold, he prayeth," was said of the persecuting Saul to the Christ-taught Ananias, who immediately rejoices, and is ready to receive as "brother" him who had been but a few hours before as a wolf coming to make havoc of the flock of Christ, A very little thing—the mere beginnings of grace—and yet the Spirit of Christ in Ananias leapt for joy.
II. THE SOUL'S RESPONSE. (Song of Solomon 4:10.) That which Christ sees in the souls he has redeemed gratifies, refreshes, and delights him. As wine, as perfumes, as all spices. Precious is the soul's response of love to Christ. See how he asks for it. "Lovest thou me?" was thrice said to Peter. It is to him "the greatest thing in the world" (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; "The greatest of these is love"). What argument this is for the love that is in Christ! We reason back from the known likings and preferences of a man to what he is himself. So reasoning, what will not our Lord appear?
III. HER GRACIOUS WORDS. (Song of Solomon 4:11; cf. parallels, Proverbs 16:24; Psalms 119:103.) It is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. And the utterances of loving adoration, of contrite confession, of pleading prayer, of grateful praise—these are well pleasing in his esteem. How true the sabbath evening hymn—
"And not a prayer, a tear, a sigh,
Hath failed this day some suit to gain;
To those in trouble thou wert nigh—
Not one hath sought thy face in vain."
Yes, as the honeycomb, sweet; as mille and honey, delicious and healthful, so are the fruits of the lips of the redeemed soul to Christ. We, therefore, can give him delight. It must be so. For we know we can "grieve" him; but if we can grieve him, we can also give him joy; and it is thus we do so.
IV. THE FRAGRANCE OF HER LIFE. "The smell of thy garments is," etc. (Song of Solomon 4:11). The garments are the symbol of those outward acts and deeds which, as it were, clothe and characterize the man. We know men by their dress; their garb bespeaks their occupation, tells what their work is. Now, the holy deeds of the redeemed soul are as fragrance, full of a sweet acceptableness to Christ (cf. Matthew 25:1-46; where it is told how the loving acts of his people done to the poor and needy for his sake are, though so trifling in themselves, so wonderfully recompensed). Thus the lives of his people diffuse a fragrance most acceptable to him in whose name they are done.
V. HER FIDELITY. (Song of Solomon 4:12.) The soul of the believer belongs to Christ. It is his possession—a garden closed, open only to him. All manner of intruders seek to find entrance there, and some of them seem for a while to succeed; but Christ sees that in deed and in truth the soul owns only him as her Lord. You can force the needle of a compass right round, so that it should point the reverse of its right direction; but take your hand off, and back it swings to where, if left to itself, it always would be. And so with the soul of the believer. The violence of the world, the flesh, or the devil, or all combined, often make the soul seem to belong to any one rather than Christ. But he sees how it is, and knows that when that violence is withdrawn the soul will surrender itself again to him, with cries and prayers and tears that it may nevermore belong to any but to him, and him alone.
VI. THE SOUL'S RICH FRUIT. (Song of Solomon 4:13.) What these are, are told of here under the imagery of the fruits of an Oriental garden; and in Galatians 5:22 as the fruits of the Spirit. Like the fruits this Galatians 5:13 speaks of, they are precious, fragrant, healthful, abundant, delightful, varied, beautiful, and spontaneous. Such are the fruits he desires; and, "supposing him to be the gardener," such as he would surely have in his garden.
VII. THE MINISTRIES OF THE SOUL. (Galatians 5:15.) The grace of the redeemed soul is not confined to itself; it flows out to others. Allusion seems to be made in this verse to the fountains of Solomon, which were "fountains of gardens." And we are reminded of our Lord's words as to the "well of water" which should be in his people, and which should sprang up in them "unto everlasting life." And because our Lord foresaw that through the souls he redeemed so many others should be blessed—each one becoming "a fountain of gardens," a well of living waters for the help and salvation of others—herein is another reason why God became man. It was part of "the joy set before him," for which he "endured the cross, despising the shame." Ruskin tells how in the slime taken from a city lane you have clay, soot, sand, and water. Submit these to the laws of crystallization, and the clay becomes sapphire, the sand becomes opal, with blue green, and golden hues; the soot becomes a lustrous diamond, and the water crystallizes into that thing of beauty, a snow star. And more than science sees in any city slime Christ sees in the soul, sunken in the mire of sin though it be, which he redeems. Already he sees the flashing of the jewels into which he will transform it, and will place in his diadem forever: such is part answer to the question, "Cur Deus homo?"—S.C.
Song of Solomon 4:16
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
This is the state of mind produced by the consciousness of Christ's gracious estimate of us. We can scarce believe that it is as he says, but that he counts us such makes us long to be such. Therefore in this verse we may hear the cry of the soul, that he would make us to be what he says we are. "Even so, come," etc. Note—
I. WHAT THIS ASPIRATION OF THE SOUL CONFESSES.
1. The power of Christ to produce all this. Hence the appeal, "Awake, O north wind," etc.
2. That power actually at work. There are various precious plants of his own planting; his garden is not a wilderness. And there are the heavenly gifts of sun and rain and dew.
3. But nevertheless the full results of his grace are not forthcoming. The fragrance so delightful and desirable is not yielded; there are fruits, but not yet ripened, so that they might be pleasant to him who eats them. The soul lives, but does not flourish. It has life, but not abundant life. How common all this is! Hence how ineffectual the lives of many Christians are!
4. And the causes of this are indicated. The gloom and mist, the clouds so earth-born and dense, which overhang the garden of the soul and hinder it from yielding its fragrance and fruit as it otherwise would. So the sin-and-sorrow-laden clouds, and those which doubt and unbelief produce—these will mar the soul's life, and make it ineffectual for joy or help.
II. FOR WHAT IT IS WILLING.
1. For the north wind. (Cf. Proverbs 25:23; Job 38:22.) The north wind, often stern and terrible, and very trying to plant life. Yet here it is invited to come. The spirit of the well known lines—
"Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee;
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me"—
is in this invocation to the bitter blast—the north wind. And the Christian soul is willing for whatever of trial and distress God may be pleased to send, so only as it may lead to more full likeness to God. As the inhabitants of the Valais, in Switzerland, love the strong, stern winds which, sweeping wildly down their close gorges and shut up vales, scatters and drives away the miasma, bred of the stagnant air, which for far too long a time broods over them, unchanged, and hence full of evil, until the welcome wild wind tears down the valley, and then the bad air is driven away, and that which is healthful comes instead; so the soul, conscious that its health and joy are hindered, would welcome that which corresponds to the north wind told of here (cf. Romans 5:3-5).
2. The south wind. (For its effects, cf. Job 37:7.) The soul knows that without the genial influence of Christ's love realized in her she cannot prosper. Therefore she prays for this also.
"He sendeth sun, he sendeth shower—
Alike they're needful for the flower;
And joys and tears alike are sent
To give the soul fit nourishment."
III. WHAT IT SUPREMELY DESIRES. "Let my beloved come into his garden," etc. This, translated, means that the soul's supreme solicitude is, as Paul's was, to be accepted of her Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; "I labour, whether present or absent, to be accepted of him"). The renewed soul seeks, to be well pleasing to her Lord; she cares little for any other approval (cf. Paul, "It is a small thing to me to be judged of you, or by man's judgment; he that judgeth me is the Lord"). "To give pleasure to those whom we love, to know that any achievements of ours will gratify them, is a greater pleasure than any derived from the applause of strangers, however numerous or distinguished. The lad laden with prizes at his school is pleased enough with the clapping, and the praise of masters and fellow pupils; but his real pleasure is to come, when he gets his prizes home and shows them to his loved ones there. To see his mother's eyes glisten with gladness, that is better than all the other praise, were it from all the world beside. And so to be approved of Christ, to please him, that, to souls like Paul's, is everything."
IV. THE BLESSING IT OBTAINS. Such supreme solicitude cannot exist without obtaining for the soul that cherishes it some of the choicest favours of God.
1. It will be an ever-present regulating force in our souls. It will act as a law to ourselves, prompting, checking, directing, impelling, as needs be.
2. It will win blessed freedom from the tyranny of the world. Such soul will fear neither the world's frown—so formidable to well nigh all—nor court the world's favour, all but universally coveted though it be. The Son will have made him free, and he will be free indeed.
3. It will make every cross fight. Such cross being his cross, borne for him, its sharpness, weight, shame, vanish.
4. Death is abolished. It becomes for him "an abundant entrance into the kingdom" of Christ. Freedom, strength, peace—these are some of the blessings which that soul wins whose supreme desire is to be accepted of Christ.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 4:6
Night and morning.
In the experiences of the heavenly life in the soul there are fluctuations of health and joy as great as the fluctuations of the seasons, as great as the change from night to day. Our globe is as near to the sun at dead of night as at noon, but, being turned away from the sun, loses the enjoyment of his beams. So Jesus may be equally near to us in our times of depression, though unbelief hides him from our eyes.
I. THIS LANGUAGE WELL DENOTES THE PURPOSE OF A MAN IN A STATE OF INTELLECTUAL DOUBT. The gloom of night has fallen upon him.
1. Note his difficulties. Grave doubts haunt his mind whether there be a personal God. The probabilities for and against seem to him fairly equal. In the busy world honest men often suffer. Innocent children sometimes starve. The righteous are crushed to the wall, or are pining in a gaol. Is this consistent with the jurisdiction of a benevolent God? Or if there be a God, the man has serious doubts whether the Bible can be accepted as a revelation to men of God's plans and designs. Evidently the book is marked with imperfections, traceable to man. Or he is perplexed with the theories respecting Christ's atonement. Is it possible for one person to bear the penalty of another's guilt? Or he is in darkness touching man's future state. Will there be a resurrection of the body? Will the identical man have a second life? What will become of the ungodly? How can redemption be a success if the majority of men perish? He is compassed and overborne with these shadows. What shall be his course?
2. Note his conduct. "I will take me to the mountains of myrrh," etc. Now, mountains are the emblems of substantial durability. Changes may pass over the plains of earth, but the hills abide. So amid all this flux of doubt some things are certain. It is certain that I ought to be truthful. I must ever follow the truth, and must hate falsehood. It is certain that I ought to be meek, patient, industrious, sober, chaste; a diligent inquirer after the truth, a champion of righteousness. These are our "mountains of myrrh," and on these we will dwell until clearer light dawns upon our path.
3. Mark his expectation. Certainly these shadows of night shall in due time vanish; the day of perfect certitude will dawn. Perhaps the mind itself, as an instrument for discerning truth, may grow more perfect. Perhaps some element of probability has been underrated. Perhaps personal inclination has biassed judgment. Very likely new light from some quarter will break upon us touching the destiny of mankind. We will calmly wait. We will keep our minds open to instruction, open to correction, and light will assuredly come. We find a sweet and healthful fragrance in a life of conscientious service, and we are in the best position to catch the first rays of the morning sun.
II. THIS LANGUAGE DESCRIBES THE PURPOSE OF A MAN WHO ASPIRES TO A HIGHER PLANE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. He is now among the mists of the valley; he resolves to dwell in the clear bracing air of the breezy hills.
1. Note his lamentations. He is in darkness respecting his personal relationship with God. He questions the reality of his faith. His religion is devoid of joy. Now and again some old lust reasserts its power. The old life and the new still struggle for the mastery. He makes no progress in holiness or in self-conquest. He finds no liberty in prayer, no sweet sense of the Brother's friendship. He is impotent. He waits for light and help from above. 'Tis a dark and wintry night.
2. Observe his purpose. "I will betake me to the hills of frankincense," etc. There are some things he cannot do for himself. But there are some things he can do. He cannot create light, but he can climb into the place where the light is best seen. He will act as a dependent servant, and carefully do his Master's will. He will deny himself all evil indulgence. He will dwell upon the fragrant mountains of Divine promise. He will be a devout searcher of the Scriptures. He will confess his every sin before God, and cherish a temper of self-humiliation. He will hope for clearer proof of sonship. He will aspire for the full light of God's countenance. What God has done for others, he will surely do for him.
3. Note his outlook. "Until the day breaks," etc. Most certainly "we have not yet attained." There is a higher experience to be reached, greater conquests to be gained. It is possible to have closer and more joyous friendship with God. It is possible for the principle of generous love to be fully dominant in the soul. There is fine scope for the development of faith. We want a more entire consecration to our Lord. In a word, we want the heavenly King to reign in us more manifestly. And that spring morn of consecration and of gladness shall come. The "shadows shall flee away, the day shall break."
III. THIS LANGUAGE WILL EXPRESS THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE RESPECTING THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM. Now darkness and light commingle in the world like a thick mist in the valley. But presently the light shall conquer.
1. Observe the present condition of Messiah's cause. In some empires that cause moves forward, in others it apparently retrogrades. Once flourishing Churches are now dead. The Churches of Antioch and Samaria and Carthage have disappeared. Waves of ritual superstition have swept over some regions where once godly Churches flourished. Forms of faith have disappeared. The seraphic zeal of one age yields to spiritual stupor in the next. We scarcely know whether the kingdom of grace is on the ebb tide or on the flow the outlook is checkered.
2. Observe the Church's present duty. In this case duty is clear. She should resort to the mountain of prayer—to the spicy hills of a new devotement. Sensible of her weakness, she must get into closer union with the eternal Source of strength. The methods which have been successful in the past must be plied in the future. We must be better instructed in the will of God. Perhaps our zeal has been sectarian and selfish in the past, and we want a purer purpose, a simpler aim. We must be ready for greater sacrifices in the Master's cause. To please the Bridegroom must be our supreme motive.
3. The outlook of faith. The day shall certainly dawn. Great is the truth; it must prevail. The prophecies of saintly seers shall certainly be fulfilled. The covenant with Christ must be observed. "To him every knee shall bow." The heathen is "given to him for an inheritance." "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." We can afford to wait. Jesus "must reign." Love is the mightiest force in the universe, and must conquer. In due time the sun of conquest shall rise on man's vision, and the light shall expand into the glories of the perfect day.
IV. THIS LANGUAGE SERVES TO ILLUSTRATE THE CHRISTIAN'S PROSPECT OF HEAVEN.
1. His present depression. At present he does not perceive any organic difference between himself and unconverted men. He may have a livelier taste for religious pursuits. He may find more enjoyment in prayer. Yet he cannot discover any radical difference to warrant the sublime expectation that he shall be claimed as a son, and join in the occupations of angels. Daily he feels the power of evil principles within him. Certainly the realities of righteousness and the things of the spiritual world do not absorb his thoughts. He is of the earth, earthy. When and how shall the great change pass over me, to fit me for the society of the redeemed? When will the glorified body be assumed? Will it be developed out of the present organism, or will it be a new creation? What will be my location and my experience immediately after death? Will the eternal state be totally different from anything I have expected? Such things disquiet me?
2. Present duty. "I will get me to the hills of frankincense." I will get away from secular pursuits as much as I can, and will get into familiar fellowship with God. Inasmuch as his presence is the centre of all joy and activity in heaven, it is well to have his society and fellowship now. The veil that hides him from me is not on his side, but on mine; it is the veil of unbelief. I will get me to the mount of communion, and in close heart fellowship with God I shall await with calm composure the tremendous change. I want purity of heart wherewith to see God.
3. Note the glorious prospect. "The day shall break, and the shadows shall flee away." All dark thoughts of God and of God's dealings shall by and by disappear. All his mysterious ways will be illuminated in the blaze of noon. Whereas now we feel some of our earthly conditions hard to bear, then shall we discover that these were ordered by the ripest wisdom, combined with tenderest love. Every puzzling doctrine shall be made plain. Paradoxes will blend in perfect harmony. Gracious reasons will appear forevery disappointment, every sorrow, every conflict, we endured on earth. The mysteries of pain and sin and death will all be solved, and God's great plan for training men will be pronounced the best. So on "the mountains of myrrh and on the hills of frankincense" we will cheerfully abide, in filial fellowship with Jesus, "until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away."—D.
Song of Solomon 4:10, Song of Solomon 4:11
Christ's appraisement of believers.
The interest which God takes in men is marvellous. Why he should have designed to save men from sin's curse, at such personal cost, is a mystery, and must remain so. It is equally a mystery why Jesus should have set such strong love on the fishermen of Galilee. Notwithstanding their glaring misconduct, "he loved them to the end." In like manner Jesus speaks in this passage of his high appreciation of his people's love. The love of Christ to us is a theme on which any Christian may well become eloquent. But to hear that Christ sets high store on our poor love to him, this staggers our thoughts, and almost seals our lips. Nevertheless it is a fact. Full of blemish and imperfection as we are, he counts us his jewels, his choicest possessions. He finds "his inheritance in the saints." With his generous heart he discerns all the goodness there is in us. He sets high value on our love, and in this way encourages us to give him more.
I. NOTE CHRIST'S HIGH APPRAISEMENT OF A CHRISTIAN'S LOVE.
1. The very indefiniteness of the language is instructive. "How fair!" He does not say how precious it is. It is not the language of precise, calculating logic. It is the language of strong feeling. It is the generous ejaculation of the heart—"How fair!" This is spoken after the manner of men. When the intellect is overborne by emotion, we break into an exclamation, and say, almost in a spirit of inquiry, "How lovely! how fair!" As if we would say, "We cannot measure the worth; if any one else can, let him say."
2. It is the love of tender relationship. "My sister, my spouse." This mention of earthly relatives is used by way of comparison. What form of love among us is winsome, valued, precious? For sweetness and purity, what love is like a sister's? For strength and generousness, what affection like that of a wife? Jesus combines these both in his thought. Blend the love of sister and wife into one, and even then this poorly represents the love which Jesus discovers in us glowing for himself. He sets more value upon our love than we set upon the love of our most intimate friend.
3. The language impresses us by a comparison. "It is better than wine." As at a banquet one's bodily sensations are refreshed and quickened and gladdened with choice wine, so Jesus finds a cordial more refreshing, more inspiring, in his creature's love. To his inmost soul this love of man is a luxury. He has many sources of enjoyment in heaven, but this enjoyment is his choicest. The love of his ransomed is his rarest, sweetest joy. When in his lifetime he sat down to meat at the Pharisee's table, the tears of the penitent harlot were more delicious fare than Simon's choicest wine. It is possible that, though the angels "excel in strength," they may be deficient in love. Anyhow, our shallow, inconstant, imperfect love is precious in the eyes of Immanuel; it is a fountain of joy to his heart.
II. OBSERVE CHRIST'S APPRECIATION OF OUR HOLY INFLUENCE. How much better is "the scent of thy perfumes than all spices"! In the East the dwellings are not so sweet as in our own land. Want of general cleanliness, want of water, want of drainage, will account for this. As a consequence, unguents and perfumes about the person are very common. So in the hallowed savour of our piety there is a delicate fragrance very acceptable to Jesus. Our influence over others is something undefinable, yet very potent. It pertains to every habit of life, to every tone of voice, to every expression of countenance. It lives in a smile or in a tear; and results, begun in the minutest circumstance, stretch far away into the great eternity. Jesus highly esteems this quiet, mystic influence. It is a fragrant atmosphere created by love, and, like the savour of Mary's spikenard, it fills the house. Obdurate men may ridicule our pious words; they cannot ridicule nor resist the influence of a holy life. Our humility, our heavenly-mindedness, our consecrated zeal, diffuse a delicate perfume, like the subtle scent of roses, which every man of refinement appreciates, and in it Jesus finds delight. It is richer and rarer than all the spices of Araby.
III. MARK THE FACT THAT JESUS GREATLY ESTEEMS A CHRISTIAN'S TESTIMONY. "Thy lips drop as the honeycomb." The gift of speech is a noble endowment conferred on us by God. It distinguishes man above the animals. The human voice, either in oratory or in song, has potent enchantment for men. Speech is man's glory. By it he rules a nation. By it he enlightens and inspires the young. By it he moulds the destinies of mankind. Jesus loves to see this endowment consecrated to his cause. He loves to hear our testimony to his goodness. He loves to hear our pious songs. On one occasion Jesus cast out a demon from a man who was dumb, and immediately the dumb man spake. So, when Jesus "sheds abroad his love in our hearts," our lips cannot be silent. The desire to speak of his grace will be like a fire in our bones. A strange impulse stirs within to make all men know of his mighty virtue, and the tongue of the dumb will be unloosed. As the richest, sweetest of all honey is that which drops freely and first from the honeycomb, so the words of our fresh, warm love are very sweet in the car of Jesus. He intertwines the welfare of his kingdom with human speech, for he has ordained preaching to be his great weapon in the sacred crusade with sin. If we did but remember that Jesus is always a hearer—a generous, appreciative hearer—of all that drops from our lips, should we not take care that he heard only what was true and kind and beautiful? Should we not be eager to "order our conversation aright," and to have our speech like the droppings of the honeycomb?
IV. MARK THAT JESUS APPRECIATES OUR PURPOSES TO PLEASE HIM. When David conceived the thought that he would build a substantial temple to Jehovah, and the plan began to ripen into resolve, God sent his prophet to say this to David, "It was well that it was in thine heart." We loudly applaud the man who makes heroic self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ; but very likely there is a purpose burning in the soul of some gentle woman to do battle for Christ more noble still, yet which cannot be realized. Well, that secret purpose is sweet as honey to Christ. His searching eye sees it all—sees every right motive, every heavenly disposition, every upward aspiration; and the sight is a delicious joy. It is the fruit of his incarnation. It is the work of his Spirit. Just as every man finds peculiar delight in his work, be it a building, or a painting, or a mechanical invention; so, and much more, does Jesus find exquisite pleasure in his successful work of making us godlike and:Divine. "Honey and milk are under thy tongue." Thy secret thoughts and purposes bring me joy.
V. JESUS CHRIST APPRAISES HIGHLY EVERY DISCIPLE'S SERVICE. "The smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon." The scent of pine trees and of cedar forests is peculiarly pleasant, and in this respect Lebanon surpassed all other forests in Palestine. it is in keeping with the symbolism of the Bible to employ "garments" as an emblem of human actions. We have a similar figure in our own language, for we use the word "habit" to denote one kind of apparel, and also to denote a constant line of action. Acts frequently performed become habits. So the "garments of a Christian are his everyday actions—the things he wears wherever he goes." The lesson here is that Jesus finds pleasure in everything we do, however trivial and insignificant. For there is nothing insignificant. You may read a man's character more clearly in the hourly business of every day than in his conduct on Sundays, or than in some great action of his life. The serving woman in a shop, or the drudge in the scullery, or the hodman on the scaffolding, can serve Christ as well as the bishop in the pulpit. Jesus loves to see how faithfully we do little things. In his sight there is nothing little. It gave him untold pleasure to see the farthing which a poor widow dropped into his treasury. He counts every hair upon our heads. He notes when a sparrow falls. This is a mark of true greatness that it never overlooks the tiniest things. If from a disposition of love, and with cheerful temper, we sew a garment or drive a nail, we bring new pleasure to our Lord. "Therefore," says the apostle, "whatsoever ye do, whether in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Sweetly does old Herbert sing
"A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery Divine;
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws
Makes that and th' action fine."
Song of Solomon 4:12-16
The King's garden.
The Church of Christ is fitly likened to a garden. It is a piece of territory separated from the rest, enclosed from the beaten road of this world's traffic. The distinguishing mark of a Christian Church is separation; i.e. separation from evil, separation as a means of blessing. As in a garden a king finds great delight and solace, so in this sacred garden Jesus Christ has a special joy. He calls it "my garden." We do not hear him say, "My star; my snow-capped mountains; my veins of gold;" but we do hear him say, "My garden; my people; my sister; my spouse." Such language is not merely the language of proprietorship; it is the language of endearment. Every plant and tree in this garden has been planted and pruned by himself. The unfolding of every blossom on the fruit trees he has watched with delight; and when the blossom has matured into fruit, his delight has become an ecstasy. One high ambition fills him, viz. that his garden may bear much fruit.
I. OBSERVE THAT THIS EMBLEM OF A GARDEN SUGGESTS MANY TRUTHS.
1. There is the fact of separateness. In this text the writer lays emphasis on this point. Every garden is more or less marked off from other ground, but this is specially described as "a garden enclosed." It is made inaccessible to thieves, to cattle, and to wild beasts. Boars out of the wood would soon lay it waste. So is it with the life of God in the believer's soul. He is thereby separated from the ungodly world. The chosen of God are separated by God s eternal decree. Their names are registered in the book of life. They have been separated by redemption. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law." They are separated by virtue of the new birth. They are separated by their own personal choice. They have gone to Christ "without the camp, bearing his reproach." They are no longer "conformed to the world." As Jesus "is not of the world, neither are they." "My kingdom is not of this world."
2. There is the idea of secrecy. This is not altogether the believer's choice; it is inevitable. The new life of the Christian is "hid with Christ in God." As a spring or fountain has its source out of sight—yea, far down in secret caverns of the earth—so the believer has the roots of his new life in Christ. He has experiences now which others do not share, and which he had not aforetime; but these are entirely hidden from the public eye. New fellowship with God; new aims in life; new motives and impulses; new peace and hopes; new springs of joy he has, with which a "stranger cannot intermeddle." As the wind in its vagaries defies all the predictions of man (none can "tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth"), so is every one that is born of the Spirit. "The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit; they are foolishness unto him." All life is mysterious; spiritual life is specially so.
3. There is set forth the fact of security. As a shepherd guards his flock, so the great Husbandman secures from adversaries his garden. "No wolf shall be there, nor any ravenous beast." The enclosure resists successfully even the "little foxes," who spoil the precious vines. The Christian is secure against the world, the flesh, and the devil; for all the attributes of God envelop him for his protection. He dwells under the shield of the Almighty. The omnipotence of Jehovah is his fortress. God is "a wall of fire round about him." Hence "no weapon that is formed against him can prosper." As a garden enclosed, he enjoys impregnable security.
4. Here is the idea of sacredness. The enclosed garden is set apart for the use of the king. It is devoted to one person and to one purpose. So Jesus claims this garden as his own, and what is true of the Church is true of every person composing that Church. The believer is a sacred person, a priest consecrated to holy service. He is God's man, attached to the court of heaven. Jesus said that he had "sanctified (or consecrated) himself, that they also might be sanctified (or consecrated) through the truth." Every part of the Christian is consecrated, viz. his endowments, his learning, his property, his time. For "we are not our own; we are bought with a price." Our business is to serve the kingdom. "For us to live is Christ." We are part of the "sacramental host of God's elect."
II. OBSERVE THAT THIS GARDEN IS FAMOUS FOR FRUITFULNESS. "Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits," etc.
1. Abundant fruitfulness is asserted. It was the earnest longing of Jesus Christ that his disciples "should bear much fruit, and that this fruit should abide." Very soon rich clusters of fruit did appear in his Church. The prayerfulness culminating on the Day of Pentecost; the generous communism of the saints; the courage and zeal of many; the fervid piety of Stephen; the practical sympathy for the poor; the magnanimity of Barnabas; the whole-hearted consecration of Paul;—these were the firstfruits of discipleship. And from that day to this fruit has abounded in the Church. The noble qualities of mind and heart; the splendid virtues; the patience, fortitude, and zeal; the consecrated heroism of believers, have been the admiration and astonishment of the world. "Whatsoever things are lovely, excellent, pure, and of good report," these have been conspicuous in the Church. The elite of mankind is within the Church.
2. There is also variety of fruit. In nature God has made his goodness most manifest in the vast variety of fruits with which our earth teems. Equally in the Church may we find a splendid variety of gifts and graces. The early fruits of humility and repentance and tenderness of conscience soon appear. The spice trees of prayer and sympathy send forth a goodly odour. The trees of righteousness and holiness bear large stores of precious fruit. In each succeeding age new excellences have appeared, new fruits have made this garden famous. Here and there you will find a gnarled and crooked tree that bears little fruit. But this is the exception; a blot upon the garden. You will find even in a royal garden some withered branch, some rank shoot that is unlovely and unfruitful. Still, we do not on that account condemn the whole garden. All temperance reforms, all hospitals and asylums, all plans for the betterment of humanity, all alleviations of misery and woe, have appeared among us as the fruits of Christ's life. The fruit abounds in Variety almost endless.
3. Mark the utility of this fruit. The fruit was choice; the rarest fruits were there. Some were full of cooling juice, pleasant to the taste in hours of scorching heat. Some had a value as medicines for the cure of disease, and for soothing burning pains. Some yielded rich perfumes (as spikenard), and added to the joy of royal or marriage banquets. Others produced myrrh and frankincense, and were consecrated to Divine worship. Others, again, conferred a delicious flavour to human food. Each and an had a mission of usefulness among mankind. So is it also in the Church of Christ. You cannot put finger on a genuine Christian who is not more or less a blessing to the race. His piety has a delicious savour in the circle in which he lives. His prayers bring blessing upon a thousand besoms. As God blessed Egypt for Joseph's sake, as God blessed Israel for David's sake, so for the Church's sake he often blesses the world. Every Christian is a light, illuminating the world's darkness. "Ye are the salt of the earth." Since Christ lived, and because he now lives in others, the moral and social aspects of the worm are changed. Tyrannies have disappeared. War has lost its barbaric rigour. Industry is productive of substantial good. Agriculture prospers.
III. OBSERVE THE DEPENDENCE OF THIS GARDEN UPON SOURCES OF PROSPERITY OUTSIDE ITSELF. It needs the "fountain;" "the well of living waters;" "the streams from Lebanon."
1. This may well teach us that the Church needs God in the way of providence. While yet the Church remains on the earth it needs earthly good. It needs, at least, toleration or sufferance from earthly governments. It needs human teachers, and all the aids of human learning. It needs the use of books and printing. It needs material buildings for public worship. It needs earthly wealth to carry on all the agencies of instruction and of blessing. Likewise the individual disciple receives much from God in the way of providence. We have the priceless ministry of angels. We have the pillar of cloud, and the pillar of fire. We have the stimulating influence of godly companions. We have the benefits of parental teaching and holy example. We have the inspirations that come from the biographies of heroic men. These are wells in the desert; "streams from Lebanon." All that is requisite to make this garden fertile, rich in umbrageous shade, rich in luscious fruits, rich in aromatic spices, has been lavishly supplied. No lack can be found in the thoughtfulness of the husbandman.
2. Equally the Church needs God it, the way of spiritual gifts. "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." The Hebrew word for "wind" means also "breath," or "spirit;" hence we have here a striking emblem of the work of the Divine Spirit. To him belongs the sole prerogative to impart life to the trees of the garden. We invoke his presence because he is the Lord and Giver of life. For the largest prosperity of the Church the good Spirit of God is needed in all his offices, in all his fulness of power. A blustering gale from the north scatters noxious blight, but the soft wind from the south will quicken the flow of vital sap, and will nurse the tender blossoms into ruddy fruit. So do we often need that the Spirit of God should come like a northern tornado, and scatter to the ground our false hopes and flimsy errors and earthly ambitions. And we need him also as the Comforter, who shall reveal to us the virtues of our Divine Healer, and shall melt us into sweet obedience by the warmth of Immanuel's love. As the fragrant odours of flowers lie hidden in their tiny cells until the fresh south wind coaxes them forth, so, too, the precious graces of the Christian remain concealed and slumbering within until the Spirit of life and power brings them forth, and diffuses them through the Church. Then do the disciples of Christ become "living epistles, known and read of men." "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden."
"Come as the wind, the dew, the rain;
Come, make this heart thy temple home;
Spirit of grace, come as thou wilt,
Our souls adjure thee—only come!"
Prayer and its quick response.
"Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. "I am come into my garden." It is a sign of spiritual health when we heartily desire God's best gifts; when our prayer is the prayer of faith; when we ask and have. But it is a sign of higher attainment yet when we have but one desire, viz. the desire to have the Giver with us rather than his gifts. A wife highly prizes the love tokens she receives from her absent lord, but she values far more highly his personal return. So, if we are wise, we shall more desire to have Christ in our hearts than any gift of light or strength. "Let my Beloved himself come." To have the source of life is better than having the streams. If Christ is with me I shall want nothing.
I. THE CHURCH'S INVITATION TO HER LORD.
1. She addresses him by an endearing title, "My Beloved." In dealing with Jesus we need make no reserve of our affection. He will never resent our largest confidence. The mere suggestion borders on the profane. If we know anything, we know whether we love the Saviour. Love to him is the same thing in kind, as love to an earthly friend. We may stand in doubt whether Jesus has love to us personally, although such a doubt is sin. But we need never be in doubt whether love to him glows in our hearts. Many tests are available; and when love, however scanty, is found, Jesus delights to hear himself thus addressed, "My Beloved!" Then is he King within, firm seated on the throne.
2. She recognizes the garden to be his property. Yes; and not only is the garden his, but each particular tree, each separate fruit. Every holy principle within us he himself planted. It was planted by his own right hand. It has been trained and pruned by his watchful care. Every blossom has been under his protection. The fruit has been stored with juice from his treasuries. It is a delicious joy if I can feel that every grace in me is the handiwork of Jesus. Am I prayerful? Jesus has been teaching me. Am I meek and self-forgetting? Jesus has been busy in me, and has gently moulded my nature. Much trouble has he taken to bend my proud will. No earthly gardener has such labour to produce fruit in his trees as Jesus has to make us fruitful in holiness and love. And the more abundant our spiritual fruits are, the more readily shall we ascribe all the praise to him.
3. Here is a strong desire to give our Master pleasure. "Let him come; let him eat his pleasant fruits." This is spoken after the manner of men. It is a peculiar joy for a man to walk in his own garden, and to eat the ripe fruit he himself has carefully nurtured. A similar joy our Lord tastes. But is any virtue or goodness in us so ripe and sweet that Jesus can find joy in it? What generous condescension does he show in partaking of our meekness, and patience, and faith, and sacred zeal! Just as a father finds peculiar pleasure in listening to the first imperfect lispings of his child, and hears sweet music in the broken words, so Jesus sees in our imperfect graces the promise of future good, the promise of illustrious service, the promise of high attainment. Never did a friend show such generous appreciation of our loyalty. To be fruitful in Christian graces is in itself an ample reward, but to know that every attainment in goodness we make adds to our Saviour's joy is a higher reward still. Who will not brace every nerve to bring new pleasure to Immanuel! We seek our joy in the heavenly paradise; Jesus seeks his joy in us. "I am glorified in them."
II. THE BRIDEGROOM'S PROMPT RESPONSE. "I am come."
1. Observe how swift is the reply. No advantage, in this case, will come from silence or delay. The Church has asked the best thing, and she shall at once have it. Here he has acted up to his own promise, "Before they call I will answer." That selfsame desire to have Christ's presence was a desire planted and nourished by himself, therefore he answered the desire before it developed into spoken prayer. Already he had visited that garden, and sowed the seed of noble ambition. Now it has grown to fruitage, and he has come to enjoy it. We have never to wrest this gift from a clenched hand; it is a gift waiting our acceptance. Before the invitation is despatched he is knocking at the door. "I am come."
2. Mark the harmony of feeling and purpose between Christ and his people. The Church has learnt a lesson of unselfishness from her Lord. Aforetime she had desired him to come for her profit, or for her pleasure; now she asks him to come for his own gratification. She thought that he would find delight in the graces and excellences which flourish in the Church, and her spiritual instincts were true to fact. This is a delightful discovery. When our thoughts harmonize with Christ's thoughts, when our dispositions are the counterpart of his, when one mind, one will, one aim, dwells in the Saviour and the saint, then is heaven begun on earth. This is joy unspeakable; the foretaste of beatific rest. This is the completion of the sacred covenant. This is his seal impressed on us.
3. Note the satisfaction which Jesus finds in his saints. This series of metaphors is suggestive of many meanings. In our holy principles, in our sacred dispositions, in our prayers and our praises, in our words and self-sacrificing deeds, Jesus takes delight. The myrrh and spice may indicate the perfume of our intercession, or the pleasure which he finds in our harmony of praise. Since he has constructed all musical harmonies, and fashioned the human voice to produce this minstrelsy, surely he is moved to delight when love to him stirs all the powers of song. Every endeavour to please him, every aspiration after holiness, every noble purpose, every act of self-denial, all efforts toward a freer communion with him,—these are fruits of the Spirit, in which Jesus finds delight. Blurred as these are with imperfection, we count them very unworthy, and perhaps too much underrate them. If Jesus appreciates them, and derives satisfaction from them, is not this great encouragement to bring forth more fruit? Many products of nature are here brought into service to illustrate a Christian's spiritual fruitfulness. One has said that wine may represent those labours of ours which result from deep thought, self-denial, and generous consecration, for wine must be pressed from the grape with toil and care. But milk is a natural production, and may represent those little deeds of kindness which flow from a quiet outgushing of daily love. A vigorous fancy will find a hundred suggestions in these similitudes. The essential lesson is this, that the Son of God has a large accession of joy from all forms of genuine piety. His people are his vineyard, his inheritance, and in them he finds delight.
III. A GENEROUS PARTICIPATION. "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved." The satisfaction which Jesus finds, he forthwith shares with his chosen. If there be a smile on the Bridegroom's face, it will soon communicate itself to the bride. If the Head have gladness, so will all the members in the mystical body.
1. Jesus uses very tender titles to designate his saints. He calls them "friends." The old explanation of a friend suits well in this place, viz. one soul dwelling in two bodies. Jesus completely identifies himself with us. Once we were aliens, enemies, rebels, but the old enmity is changed into a sacred and inseparable friendship. Jonathan gave proof of his friendship with David when he stripped himself of raiment and put it upon his friend. But our Immanuel has surpassed all orders of creatures in his practical deeds of kindness. Further, he calls them his "beloved." He presseth into service every human form of speech. May I take this word as addressed to me? Most certainly I may, for I am not excluded. No saint has attained to this rapturous privilege by any personal merit. "He died for the ungodly." Though the chief of sinners, "he loved me; he gave himself for me." Yes; mystery though it is, it is also plainest among facts, that into my penitent heart Jesus comes to dwell, and into my ear he whispers this endearing word, "Beloved."
2. Observe the provisions prepared. They are of two kinds, viz. food and drink. Very properly may we regard the food as revealed truth. To appreciate the eternal facts of God's redemption, this is solid food. This is the manna which cometh down from heaven. The only food for the hungry soul is truth.
"Christ said not to his first conventicle,
'Go forth and preach imposture to the world,'
But gave them truth to feed on."
This is heavenly nutriment, and is indispensable. And what else can the drink be, but the mercy of our God, flowing from the fount of his eternal love? All truth and all grace are in Jesus; hence he says to us, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
3. Mark the fulness of the entreaty. "Drink; yea, drink abundantly." No generous host likes to see his guests making pretence of eating or drinking. It implies that they doubted his welcome, and took care to have a meal before they came. This is dishonouring to the giver of the feast. And Jesus will have none of that. He knows well that the thirst of the soul can be allayed nowhere but from him. He knows well that no one can have a surfeit of his mercy. Of other things we may eat and drink more than is for our good, but of the love of Christ we cannot have too much. The love we partake in shall become in us "a well, springing up unto everlasting life." However much we take, we do not diminish the supply. Trembling at his table, I have sometimes said, "Lord, I am too unworthy to sip a drop of thy mercy. My sin is unusual, crimson, aggravated." But he straightway replies, "For thee it is provided. Drink; yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."—D.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 4:1-5
The charm of true beauty.
The bride is now in the palace which is to be her residence of state. The veil is removed from her countenance, and as her royal lover and spouse gazes upon her form and features, he is filled with admiration, and breaks forth in a poetical commendation of her loveliness. The language is the warm language of love, and the figures employed are more Oriental than those which would be used amongst ourselves. But all is natural to an Eastern imagination, which revels in eulogium that to our colder taste would seem extravagant. The beauty of the figure and the face may be taken as emblematical of that higher beauty which attracts and satisfies the spiritual discernment. The description has been taken as applicable to "the bride, the Lamb's wife," faultless and flawless in the view of him who has purchased his Church unto himself.
I. THE SPIRITUAL BEAUTY WHICH CHRIST DISCERNS IN HIS CHURCH IS HIS OWN CREATION. There is no excellence in man apart from God. The highest excellence to be found in human character and history is the effect of the Divine interposition of grace. God in Christ has created anew, and in his own likeness, those whom he has visited with his favour. The beauty of regenerate character and consecrated life is the beauty which the Holy Spirit has imparted. It is Divine grace which bestows upon the human soul the virtues and graces which make that soul admirable and invest it with a spiritual charm.
"Nought God in us but his own gifts doth crown."
II. THIS SPIRITUAL BEAUTY IS AKIN TO CHRIST'S OWN. The influence is well known which the marriage state exercises in the gradual assimilation to one another in character and habits of those wedded for long years. The resemblance between the Divine Head and his spouse the Church is so striking that none can overlook it. They who accept Christ's doctrine, place themselves beneath his guardianship, cherish his love, cultivate his society, are hereby transformed into his likeness. Who has not seen in faithful and devoted friends of Jesus traits of their Lord's spiritual character, lineaments unmistakably his? The sympathy, beneficence, the purity and tenderness, the patience and self-denial, which are "notes" of the true Church, are evidently Christ's; from the Divine Lord, and from no lower source, have all these virtues been derived.
III. HENCE THIS SPIRITUAL BEAUTY YIELDS SATISFACTION AND DELIGHT TO THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. If it seems at first an extravagance to suppose that the Lord of all can find joy and complacency in beholding his Church on earth, the explanation must be sought in the principles just stated. Humanity was originally created in the image of God and for the glory of God. The purpose of Eternal Wisdom in creating this human race was that his own attributes might be visibly and manifestly embodied and displayed, according to the measure of the creature, in his own highest handiwork on earth. Nor has this purpose been defeated by sin. The image sin has marred, the grace of God in Christ has restored. And it may be that the work of redemption brings out the moral and spiritual beauty in which God himself delights, with a bloom and charm and perfection which would otherwise have been impossible. Christ sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied.
APPLICATION. The Church of Christ may well be encouraged and cheered by the assurance that the Divine Spouse appreciates those spiritual excellences which are due to the operation of his own Spirit. "Behold, thou art fair, my love," is the language of the Bridegroom as he looks upon his beloved. And our Saviour is not insensible to those signs of grace, those revelations of spiritual beauty, which he daily discerns in his own. Those who would please Christ may well be animated by the knowledge that he never looks with indifference upon the proofs of sincere affection, upon the evidences of spiritual assimilation to himself. Well may the Christian adopt the language of St. Augustine, "Take from me, Lord, all that injures me and displeases thee, and give me all that is requisite to please thee; give me words, affections, desires, and works which may draw upon me thine eyes, thy delight, and thy love!"—T.
Song of Solomon 4:7
Purity is an element of beauty, and to a mind judging justly is also an element of attractiveness. In the maiden he had brought from her mountain home on the slopes of Lebanon, the royal bridegroom admired a purity like that of the snow that clothes the summit of Hermon. She was meet to be the spouse of the king, who (speaking not only of the absence of any blemish of form or feature, but of the qualities of the mind and heart) exclaimed, as he looked upon her fairness, "There is no spot in thee!"
I. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH IS IN CONTRAST WITH THE SINFULNESS OF THE NATURAL, UNREGENERATE STATE.
II. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH IS EFFECTED BY THE MEANS OF THE SAVIOUR'S REDEMPTION.
III. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH IS WROUGHT BY THE CLEANSING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
IV. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH RENDERS HER THE ACCEPTABLE AND SUITABLE SPOUSE OF HER HEAVENLY LORD.
V. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH IS A WITNESS AND REBUKE TO THE MORAL DEFILEMENT OF A SINFUL WORLD.
VI. THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH ON EARTH 1S AN EARNEST AND PREPARATION FOR THE STAINLESSNESS OF THE ETERNAL STATE OF FELICITY—THE NUPTIALS OF HEAVEN.—T.
Song of Solomon 4:8-11
Heart calls to heart.
The richness of imagination for which the Song of Songs is justly renowned is especially remarkable in this passage. All the senses are summoned to deepen the impression. The sight is charmed by visible beauty, by the glances of "eyes darting love," by the necklace lying on the fair white neck. Perfumes and unguents, spices, and cedars of Lebanon, address the sense of smell. The taste is appealed to by the pleasant wine, the honey of exceeding sweetness. And what is the emotion which links itself with beauty, sweetness, and fragrance? It is love, with which all this opulence of poetry seems most harmonious. Beneath all this vesture of splendour are certain principles which may well be brought into clearness of knowledge.
I. ALL LOVE INVOLVES LEAVING. The bride is invited to quit her mountain home, the scenes of grandeur with which she was familiar, the lonely sources of historic rivers, the romantic home of the lion and the leopard. No power but love could have made her think with acquiescence of such a change as that to which she was now urged. Ever must love come down from its proud heights, from its vaulted splendours, from its ancient scenes. It is so with human love; and how willingly is the call obeyed which bids to forsake the surroundings, the very joys and excitements, of the past! It is so with Divine love; and no soul that recognizes the sweet authority of the Saviour's voice will hesitate to quit the scenes and the society which may previously have afforded pleasure, and like the bride to forget her father's house. It is a sound test, and a fair: "Come with me from Lebanon."
II. ALL LOVE INVOLVES HEART LOSING. "The heart is where it loves, and not where it lives." The lover here avers, "Thou hast ravished my heart with a look from thine eyes." Common language recognizes the distinction between him who is "heart whole" and him who has "lost his heart." If nothing is lost, nothing is gained. It is the same in the spiritual life. Christ gives his very heart to his people, and he expects and receives from them their hearts in return. As he has loved us with an everlasting love, no wonder that his appeal is, "Give me thy heart."
III. ALL LOVE INVOLVES PREFERENCE. The language of love is the language of comparison. No similitudes are ample or rich enough to set forth the surpassing charm and attractiveness of the bride. Better than all glories and all gifts, better than all rivals, is the chosen of the heart. Certainly in the religious life this is a noticeable characteristic. The Saviour prefers the soul of man to all that ease and pleasure and worldly dignity can offer. Such is the teaching of his humiliation and obedience on earth. And the soul that knows Christ's love deems him chief among ten thousand and fairer than the sons of men. None can compete, none can compare, with him.
IV. ALL LOVE INVOLVES DELIGHT IN MUTUAL SOCIETY. It does not matter whether life be passed in the cottage on the mountain side, in the tent on the plain, or in the palace in the metropolis, if only it be passed in that companionship which is congenial, in uninterrupted fellowship with the chosen of the heart. However imperfect in its character is this fellowship, however it be suspended in its enjoyment, the communion of the soul with Christ is subject to no such drawback.
"They who once his kindness prove,
Find it everlasting love."
Nothing in Christ can mar the perfection of spiritual intimacy, or can bring that intimacy to a close. The love of Christ is the purest possession, and the one unfailing source of strength and joy.—T.
Song of Solomon 4:12-15
The garden and the fountain.
The bride's beauty, purity, sweetness, and delightfulness are set forth in these verses of the song with all the richness of Oriental imagery. The poet's fancy takes him to the sunny garden of the half-tropical En-gedi, to the breezy heights of Lebanon, whence flow the streams that convert the desert into a paradise. Orchards of pomegranates, gardens redolent with spicy odours, murmuring fountains, all serve to suggest the charms of the peerless one whom the king claims as his own.
I. THE CHURCH IS THE GARDEN OF THE LORD. This similitude occurs constantly both in Scripture and in uninspired Christian writers, and has given a tinge of poetry to many a sacred hymn.
"Thy vineyards and thine orchards are
Most beautiful and fair,
Full furnished with trees and fruits
Exceeding rich and rare.
Thy gardens and thy gallant walks
Continually are green;
There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else are seen."
1. The Church, like the garden, is the scene and home of life. The world is the arid wilderness, the stony waste. The Church has been breathed upon by the Eternal Spirit, whose influence has called into existence the living plants that adorn the garden of Christ.
2. The Church, like the garden, is a spectacle of beauty. But in this case the beauty is spiritual.
"The lily white that bloometh there is purity;
The fragrant violet is surnamed humility;
The lovely damask rose is here called patience;
The rich and cheerful marigold is obedience;
But one there is that bears a crown the rest above,
A crown imperial, and this flower is holy love."
3. The Church, like the garden, is fruitful. There are not only the lovely flowers, there are precious fruits. The fruits of the Spirit have been described by the apostle. These are they which afford the deepest satisfaction to the Lord of the vineyard himself.
4. The Church, like the garden, is a secure seclusion and a sole possession. Such a representation sometimes, in our active, bustling, philanthropic age, arouses resentment. Yet it contains a delightful truth. The "garden walled round" is secure from the assaults of the foe and the incursion of the wild beast. The Church is indebted to Divine protection; here is its only security. The wall encloses the domain. The Church is Christ's, and his alone. The garden of the Lord has "a wall without, a well within." It is the sacred and exclusive property of him who planted it for his own glory.
II. THE CHURCH IS THE FOUNTAIN OF THE LORD. The garden seems to suggest the fountain, which in the Eastern climate was necessary to keep the enclosure moist, verdant, and fertile. And the garden well spring gushing forth and watering the many-coloured and fragrant beds, seems to suggest the mountain springs far up in the northern heights of Lebanon, beyond the early home of the fair bride herself. Such springs are a suitable figure of the living Church of Christ, which to set forth in all her excellence needs all things fair, bright, and fragrant that earth can offer. The Church of Christ, like the fountain,
(1) brings from an unseen source the blessings to be diffused;
(2) yields an abundant and perpetual supply of these spiritual gifts;
(3) freely and generously diffuses knowledge and purity life and true refreshment, amongst all around;
(4) produces results of beneficence immediate and remote, for which thanksgiving must ever be rendered to God.
(5) It may be noted that, as in the similitude of the garden, so here, there is an assurance of ownership and guardianship. As the well spring was covered with a great stone, sealed with the owner's signet, so the Church is marked by its Divine Lord as his own. "It hath this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his; and, Let every one that nameth the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity."—T.
Song of Solomon 4:16
The response of love.
The impassioned encomium of the bridegroom is not disregarded, is not ineffectual; it not only yields satisfaction and pleasure to her who is the object of unstinted praise; it elicits the response of appreciative gratitude and affectionate welcome. If Christ delights in the Church, the Church also delights in Christ, and yields to him the tribute of loyal obedience.
I. DIVINE INFLUENCES ARE ENTREATED. The breath of the Spirit of God passing graciously and gently and yet mightily over the Christian society alone can call forth all its spiritual fragrance. The silent, unseen, benignant influences are to be sought with fervent, earnest prayer: "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden!"
II. THE EXHALATION OF SPIRITUAL FRAGRANCE IS DESIRED. "That the spices thereof may flow out." Because the Church is Christ's, it has great capacities for good; yet the actual exhibition of the vital qualities, in proofs of piety, in deeds of holiness, in services of benevolence, is dependent upon the "Lord and Giver of life," whose quickening grace is the greatest privilege of the Christian dispensation. There is an aroma of spiritual excellence in the Church of the Lord Jesus which is beyond comparison the sweetest and divinest quality which human society has ever manifested.
III. THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD HIMSELF IS REQUESTED. "Let my beloved come into his garden." True, he has given his Church the promise, "Lo, I am with you alway." He is among his people to know their works, to accept their service, to inspire their devotion. He ever visits his vineyard; comes, "seeking fruit." The Church speaks of itself as both "my" garden and "his" garden; and it is both. When the Lord is invited and welcomed, it is to his own chosen and congenial possession.
IV. THE FRUIT THAT IS DUE TO THE LORD IS OFFERED.
1. In what do these precious, pleasant fruits consist? Praise, devotion, love, obedience.
2. To what are they owing? To Divine care and protection; to the tilling of the wise and forbearing Master; to the genial influences of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are "his" fruits. The weeds are ours; the fruits.are his.
3. How are they regarded? Christ delights in them, for they are the results of his purpose and of his sacrifice. Christ "eats" of them; i.e. uses them in his condescension. His people may well say to him, "Of thine own have we given thee." There is no satisfaction possible to Christ's people so great and so pure as that they feel when their Lord accepts their offering and approves their endeavours.—T.