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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 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ song-of-solomon-5.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Song of Solomon 5:1
I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. My myrrh with my balsam (see 1 Kings 10:10). There were celebrated plantations at Jericho. The Queen of Sheba brought "of spices very great store;" "There came no more such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon." Is there a reference to the conversion of the heathen nations in this? The wine and milk are what God offers to his people (see Isaiah 55:1) without money and without price. Οἰογάλα is what Chloe gives to Daphnis (cf. Psalms 19:6). It would seem as though the writer intended us to follow the bridal procession to its destination in the royal palace. The bridal night intervenes. The joy of the king in his bride is complete. The climax is reached, and the rest of the song is an amplification. The call to the friends is to celebrate the marriage in a banquet on the second day (see Genesis 29:28; Judges 14:12; Tobit 11:18; and cf. Revelation 19:7 and Revelation 19:9). A parallel might be found in Psalms 22:26, where Messiah, at the close of his sufferings, salutes his friends, the poor, and as they eat at his table gives them his royal blessing, "Vivat cor vestrum in aeternum!" The perfect state of the Church is represented in Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New, as celebrated with universal joy—all tears wiped away from off all faces, and the loud harpings of innumerable harpers. Can we doubt that this wonderful book has tinged the whole of subsequent inspired Scripture? Can we read the descriptions of triumphant rejoicing in the Apocalypse and not believe that the apostolic seer was familiar with this idealized love song?
Verse 2-ch. 8:4
Part IV. REMINISCENCES OF LOVE DAYS. The bridegroom rejoicing in the bride.
Song of Solomon 5:2
The bride's reminiscence of a love dream. I was asleep, but my heart waked, It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night. There is a resemblance between this account of what was apparently a dream, and that which is related in So Song of Solomon 3:1-4; but the difference is very clear. In the former case the lover is represented as dismissed for a season, and then the relenting heart of the maiden sought after him and found him. In this case he "stands at the door and knocks," coming in the night; and the maiden rises to open, but finds him gone, and so is drawn after him. The second dream is much more vivid and elaborate, and seems to be an imitation and enlargement of the other, being introduced apparently more for the sake of dwelling on the attractions of the beloved one and his preciousness in the eyes of the maiden than in self-reproach. Is it not possible that the poem originally concluded at So Song of Solomon 5:1 with the marriage, and that the whole of the latter half was an amplification, either by Solomon himself, the author of the first half, or by some one who has entered into the spirit of the song? This would explain the apparent repetition, with the variations. But, at all events, the second part certainly is more from the standpoint of married life than the first. Hence the bride speaks at great length, which she does not in the earlier portion. Delitzsch thinks that this second love dream is intended to represent what occurred in early married life; but there are two objections to that—first, that the place is evidently a country residence; and secondly, that such an occurrence is unsuitable to the conditions of a royal bride. It is much more natural to suppose that the bride is recalling what occurred in her dream when the lover, having been sent away until the evening, as on the former occasion, returned, and in the night knocked at the door. "My heart waked" is the same as "My mind was active." The "heart" in Hebrew is the inner man, both intellect and feeling. "I was asleep, but I was thinking" (cf. Cicero, 'De Divinatione,' 1.30). The lover has come off a long journey over the mountains, and arrives in the night time. The terms with which he appeals to his beloved are significant, denoting
(1) equal rank—my sister;
(2) free choice—my love;
(3) purity, simplicity, and loveliness—my dove;
(4) entire devotion, undoubting trust—my undefiled. Tammanthi, "my perfection," as Arabic tam, teim, "one devoted to another." as a servant.
Similar passages are quoted from heathen love poetry, as Anacreon, 3.10; Propertius, 1.16-23; Ovid, 'Amor.,' 3.19, 21. The simple meaning of the dream is that she is full of love by night and by day. She dreamed that she was back in her old country home, and that her lover visited her like a shepherd; and she tells how she sought him, to show how she loved him. When we are united to the Saviour with the bonds of a pledged affection, we lose the sense of self-reproach in the delight of fellowship, and can even speak of our own slowness and backwardness only to magnify his grace. We delight to acknowledge that it was his knocking that led us to seek after him, although we had to struggle with the dull heart; and it was not until it was moved by his approach, by his moving towards us, that we hastened to find him, and were full of the thought of his desirableness. There are abundant examples of this same interchange of affection in the history of the Church's revivals and restorations.
Song of Solomon 5:3
I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? Evidently the meaning is, "I have retired to rest; do not disturb me." She is lying in bed. The cuttoneth, or χτιών, was the linen garment worn next the body—from cathan, "linen." The Arabic kutun is "cotton;" hence the French coton, "calico, or cotton" shift. Shulamith represents herself as failing in love, not meeting the condescension and affection of her lover as she should. Sloth, reluctance, ease, keep her back. "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion!" The scene is, of course, only ideally true; it is not meant to be a description of an actual occurrence. Fancy in dreams stirs up the real nature, though it also disturbs it. Shulamith has forsaken her first love. She relates it with sorrow, but not with despondency. She comes to herself again, and her repentance and restoration are the occasion for pouring out the fulness of her affection, which had never really changed, though it has been checked and restrained by self-indulgence. How true a picture both of the individual soul and of the Church in its decline! "Leave me to myself; let me lie at ease in my luxury and my smooth, conventional ways and self-flattering deceit."
Song of Solomon 5:4
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my heart was moved for him. The door hole is a part of the door pierced through at the upper part of the lock, or door bolt (מִן־הַחוֹר), that is, by the opening from without to within, or through the opening, as if, i.e; to open the door by pressing back the lock or bolt from within. There was some obstacle. He tailed to open it. It had not been left so that he could easily obtain admittance. The metaphor is very apt and beautiful. How much he loved her! How he tried to come to her! As applied to the Saviour, what infinite suggestiveness! He would be with us, and not only knocks at the door, but is impatient to enter; tries the lock, and too often finds it in vain; he is repelled, he is resisted, he is coldly excluded. My heart was moved for him. מֵעַי, "my inner being" (cf. Isaiah 63:15, where the same word is used of God). It is often employed to express sympathy and affection, especially with tender regret. The later authorities, as the older translations, have "to him" (עָלָיו), i.e. over him, or on account of him, in the thought of his wounded heart.
Song of Solomon 5:5
I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt. The meaning seems to be that the lover had come to the door perfumed as if for a festival, and the costly ointment which he brought with him has dropped on the handles of the bolts. Similar allusions may be found in Lucretius and other heathen writers. This description is, of course, inapplicable to the shepherd theory. It would not be a rough country swain that came thus perfumed; but Solomon is thought of as at once king and lover. It would be stretching the poetry too far to suppose that Shulamith meant the natural sweetness of her lover was the perfume. Neither is there any probability in the explanation that she dipped her hand in perfumed oil before she opened the door. That would destroy all the form and beauty of the dream. It is her lover whose fragrance she celebrates, not her own. Whether he brought perfumes with him, or the innate personal sweetness of his presence left its fragrance on that which he touched, in either case it is the lover himself who is spoken of. His very hand, wherever it has been, leaves behind it ineffable delight. His presence reveals itself everywhere. Those who go after him know that he is not far off by the traces of his loving approaches to them. The spiritual meaning is too plain to need much exposition.
Song of Solomon 5:6
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone. My soul had failed me when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The meaning is this—The voice of my beloved struck my heart; but in the consciousness that I had estranged myself from him I could not openly meet him, I could not offer him mere empty excuses. Now I am made sensible of my own deficiency. I call after him. I long for his return, but it is in vain (cf. the two disciples going to Emmaus, Luke 24:1-53; "Did not our heart burn within us," etc.?). Similar allusion to the effect of the voice of the beloved is found in Terence, 'And.,' Song of Solomon 1:5, Song of Solomon 1:16, "Oratio haec," etc. The failing or departing of the soul at the sound of the voice must refer to the lack of response at the time, therefore it was that she sought him and cried out after him. When he spake; literally, in his speaking; i.e. when he said, "I will not now come because at first refused;" cf. Proverbs 1:20-33, the solemn warning against the loss of opportunity. It is a coincidence between the two books of Solomon which cannot be disregarded. If there is any spiritual meaning at all in Solomon's Song, it certainly is a book which he who wrote the first chapter of Proverbs is likely to have written.
Song of Solomon 5:7
The watchmen that go about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my mantle from me. The intention is to show into what evil she fell by having to seek her beloved instead of being with him. She is mistaken and misjudged; she is smitten and wounded with reproaches and false accusations, as though she were a guilty and evil minded woman. She is subjected to abuse and ill treatment from those who should be her guardians. She had hard work to escape, leaving her robe behind her (cf. Genesis 39:12). The redhidh, like ridha in Arabic, is a plaid-like upper garment thrown over the shoulders—so says Aben Ezra; but it is derived, no doubt, from the root "to make broad or thin," to spread out—perhaps, therefore, "a thin, light upper robe" which was worn over the chiton, a summer overdress, a cloak (LXX; θερίστρον: Jerome, pallium; Luther, Schleier). If we take the dream thus described, and which seems to conclude at this point, as related to the surrounding ladies, then we must suppose that it is introduced for the sake of what follows. The bride feels that she does not love her beloved one half enough; she is so conscious of deficiencies, that she might even have acted as her dream represented. It had entered her soul and made her ill with inward grief and self-reproach. She might so act, she might so treat her husband. So she adjures her companions to tell him how much she loves him. The spiritual application is not difficult to see. When the soul loses its joy in Christ, it becomes the prey of fears and self accusations, and even of reproaches from Christ's servants and the guardians of his Church. For when our religion ceases to be a spontaneous delight to us, we are apt to carry on even the active work of our life in a manner to be misunderstood by sincere believers around us. Yea, the very efforts we make to recover peace may bring reproach upon us. Any Christian minister who has had to deal with religious despondency will quite understand this dream of the bride's. We may often smite and wound, and even deprive of the garment of reputation and esteem, those who are really seeking for Christ, because we have misunderstood them.
Song of Solomon 5:8
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love. This appeal to the ladies suggests that the bride is speaking from her place in the royal palace; but it may be taken otherwise, as a poetical transference of time and place, from the place where the dream actually occurred, to Jerusalem. It is difficult, in a poem of such a kind, to explain every turn of language objectively. We cannot, however, be far wrong if we say the bride is rejoicing, in the presence of her attendant ladies, in the love of Solomon. He has just left her, and she takes the opportunity of relating the dream, that she may say how she cannot bear his absence and how she adores him. The ladies enter at once into the pleasant scheme of her fancy, and assume that they are with her in the country place, and ready to help her to find her shepherd lover, who has turned away from her when she did not at once respond to his call. The daughters of Jerusalem will, of course, symbolically represent those who, by their sympathy and by their similar relation to the object of our love, are ready to help us to rejoice—our fellow believers.
Song of Solomon 5:9
What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so adjure us? This, of course, is poetic artifice in order to give the opportunity to the bride to enter upon a glowing description of the object of her love. She wishes to say that he is perfect, everything that he can be.
Song of Solomon 5:10
My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. The mingling of colours in the countenance is a peculiar excellence. The word tsach, from the root tsahach (cf. Lamentations 4:7), means a bright, shining clearness; it is not the same as lavan, which would mean "dead white." So in Greek λαμπρὸς differs from λεῦκος. The red adhom, from the root dam, which means "to condense," is dark red (rouge puce), no doubt as betokening health and vigour. The pure, delicate white among the Caucasians denotes high rank, superior training, hereditary nobility, as among ourselves the "aristocratic paleness" (cf. Hom; 'I1.,' 4:141, "ivory with purple;" Virg; 'AEn.,' 12.65; Ovid, 'Am.,' 2; ' Eleg.,' 5.39; Hor; Od; 1.13, etc.; Tibull; 'Eleg.,' ext. 4, etc.). The chiefest, that is, the distinguished one, the chosen (so the Greek versions, Syriac, Jerome, Luther). The LXX. has ἐκλελοξισμένος, e cohorte selectus. Another rendering is "bannered," furnished with a banner or pennon (דֶּגֶל) hence the word דָּגוּל as a past participle (so the Venetian σεσημαιωμένος). The numeral (revava) "ten thousand" is simply used to represent an innumerable multitude; "myriad" is so used among ourselves (of. Ezekiel 16:7).
Song of Solomon 5:11-16
His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside the water brooks; washed with milk and fitly set. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as banks of sweet herbs; his lips are as lilies, dropping liquid myrrh. His hands are as rings of gold set with beryl; his body is as ivory work overlaid with sapphires. His legs are as pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold. His aspect is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. This description, which is complete in itself, is best regarded in its unbroken perfection. We must not expect to find a meaning for each separate part of it. There are ten corporeal excellences enumerated. We naturally recall the descriptions in Daniel and in the Apocalypse, which certainly have reference to this, and manifestly combine the attributes of greatness and beauty in the Son of man. Solomon, no doubt, as the son of Bathsheba, was distinguished by his personal attractions. Some of the details of description are differently rendered by different commentators. Delitzsch regards the description of the hair in verse 11 as compared to a hill or hilly range" his locks hill upon hill," i.e. "his hair, seen from his neck upwards, forms in undulating lines hill upon hill." The black colour is no doubt mentioned as a contrast with the fair, white complexion. The eyes are not only pure and clear, but with a glancing moistness in them which expresses feeling and devotion. So Plutarch has ὑρότης τῶν ὀμμάτῶν to denote a languishing look, and we find the same figure in the 'Gitagovinda ' and Hafiz, and in Ossian. So Luther, "Und stehen in der Falle." The pureness of the white of the eye is represented in the bathing or washing in milk. They are full and large, "fine in their setting," referring no doubt to the steady, strong look of fine eyes. "The cheeks" are compared to towers of plants; that is, there is a soft elevation in them. LXX; ψύουσαι μυρεψικά: Jerome, Sicut areolae aromatum consitae a pigmentariis. The Targum says, "Like the rows of a garden of aromatic plants, which produce deep, penetrating essences, even as a (magnificent) garden aromatic plants"—perhaps referring to the "flos juventae," the hair on the face, the growth of the beard. "The lips" are described as the organs of speech as well as inviting to embrace. They drop words like liquid fragrance. "The bands" may be differently described according as they are viewed. Delitzsch says, "His hands form cylinders, fitted in with stones of Tarshish." Gesenius thinks the comparison is of the closed hand and the stained nails, but that seems farfetched. Surely it is the outstretched hands that are meant. The form of the fingers is seen and admired; they are full, round, fleshy like bars of gold. The word "Tarshish" may mean clay white, as in the Greek versions; that is, topaz, called Tarshish from Tartessus in Spain, where.it is found. The description of the body is of the outward appearance and figure only, though the word itself signifies "inward parts." The comparison with ivory work refers to the glancing and perfect smoothness and symmetry as of a beautiful ivory statue, the work of the highest artistic excellence. The sapphire covering tempers the white. The beautiful blue veins appear through the skin and give a lovely tint to the body. So in the description of the legs we have the combination of white and gold, the white marble setting forth greatness and purity, and the gold sublimity and nobleness; intended, no doubt, to suggest that in the royal bridegroom there was personal beauty united with kingly majesty, as in the following description of his general aspect, which, like the splendours of the mountains, was awe-inspiring and yet elevating and delightful (cf. Psalms 80:11 (10): Jeremiah 22:7; Isaiah 37:24). His mouth, or palate, is sweetness itself; that is, when he speaks his words are full of winning love (cf. Proverbs 16:4; Psalms 55:16). We may compare with the whole description that given of Absalom, Solomon's brother, in 2 Samuel 14:25, 2 Samuel 14:26. It has been truly remarked by Zockler that "the mention of the legs, and just before of the body, could only be regarded as unbecoming or improper by an overstrained prudishness, because the description which is here given avoids all libidinous details, and is so strictly general as not even to imply that she had ever seen the parts of the body in question in a nude condition." It merely serves to complete the delineation of her lover, which Shulamith sketches by a gradual descent from head to foot, and, moreover, is to be laid to the account of the poet rather than to that of Shulamith, who is in everything else so chaste and delicate in her feelings. Certainly it would be much less delicate regarded as the description of a shepherd lover who is seeking to obtain possession of the maiden taken from him, than of the royal bridegroom to whom Shulamith is at all events affianced, if not already married. The highest spiritual feelings of loving adoration of the Saviour have welcomed some parts of this description, and adopted them into the language of "spiritual songs." To some minds, no doubt, it is repellent; to those to whom it is not so, the warmth and glow of Eastern language is by no means too realistic for the feelings of delight in the Lord which express themselves in rapturous music.
2 Samuel 14:1. Response to So 4:16:
The bridegroom accepts the bride's invitation.
He calls her again by the endearing title, "my sister-bride." He comes, as she bids him, into the garden which was hers and yet his. He takes delight in its produce, in the entertainment which she has prepared for him. He invites his friends to share his enjoyment. He addresses, apparently, the chorus of young men, his companions, who have already appeared in So 2 Samuel 3:6-11, calling them "O friends," and "O beloved ones;" unless, indeed, the last clause be translated, as the Hebrew at least permits, "Drink abundantly of love." The heavenly Bridegroom accepts the offering of the Church, his bride. He loved her, and gave himself for her; therefore her love is very precious to him. He comes into her garden. He calls it his—"my garden"—in gracious acknowledgment of the bride's gift. He uses the same pronoun of all its varied products. They are his, each and all. He gave them to the bride. She offers them back to her Lord. He invites his friends to share his joy. He said once to his friends in his holy parable, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost;" so now he says, "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly of love." "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). So the Lord listens to the call of the Christian soul that thirsts for him. He answers the cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." He will come with the Father, and make his abode with them that love him (John 14:23). He graciously accepts the offerings of love. He welcomes the beauty and sweetness of the fruits of the Spirit in the believing soul. They are his, for it was he who gave the Spirit, who watered the growing fruits with the dew of his grace; his, again, because the heart that gives itself to God gives with the gift of self all its belongings, gladly owning that whatever it has of good comes from his only gift. He acknowledges their imperfect efforts: "I know thy works, thy labour, and thy patience." He saith unto his friends, "Rejoice with me;" and "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over each sinner that repenteth." Then if our love gives joy to the dear Lord who gave up the glory of heaven for us, and for us endured the long torture of the cross, how very earnestly we Christians ought to try to make our heart indeed a "garden enclosed," wholly dedicated unto him, and separated from all profane uses! If our poor growth in holiness pleases him, how earnestly we ought to pray and strive to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; how earnestly we ought to try never to grieve his Holy Spirit, but to give him our whole heart, with all its affections and desires, that we may be wholly his—his forever!
Song of Solomon 5:2-8
The second dream of the bride.
I. THE BRIDEGROOM AT THE DOOR.
1. The voice of the beloved. The bridegroom is absent; the bride is alone. There is a temporary separation, something approaching to an estrangement; yet the old love is not lost. The bride is sleeping when she should be awake and watching for the bridegroom's approach. Yet her heart waketh. She has a dreamy consciousness of what is going on around her; she seems to hear in her dream the voice of her beloved. So the Church sometimes sleeps—leaves her first love—lapses into something like spiritual apathy; yet her heart waketh. The Lord never leaves himself without a witness. At the worst times of indifference there has always been some dim consciousness of his presence, some faint love for him who loved the Church and gave himself for her. So the soul sometimes sleeps when it is high time to awake, when the night is far spent and the day is at hand. The heavenly Bridegroom will not let us slumber on without a warning. He knocks at the door of our heart. "Behold," he saith, "I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20). The Church of Laodicea was lying wrapped in a deep sleep: the Lord sought to arouse her. So he knocks at the door of our hearts now by his Word, by his ministers, by his chastisements, by the warnings of his Spirit. If we can in truth call him "my Beloved;" if we have really set our love upon him, and given him our heart in answer to his seeking love, we shall hear him. We shall know his voice, recognizing it in judgments and in mercies, in warnings and in consolations. When duty calls us, even if it be, as it will sometimes be, hard and displeasing to flesh and blood, we shall say, "It is the voice of my Beloved." It is the Master's call; he speaks. The heart waketh to listen. Does he come with stern reproof for indifference and coldness of heart? No; his words are full of tenderness. "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled." It is the Lord's great love for the souls of men that produces those utterances of yearning affection. He still calls the bride "my sister," as he had done before the cloud had come upon her love. He still says "my love, my dove," as he said before; and he has a fresh term of endearment, "my undefiled, my perfect one." We know, alas I that we are not undefiled, we are not perfect. ("Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," says even the great apostle, St. Paul.) But what the Lord would have us to be, what he will make us at the last if we abide in him, that he is graciously pleased to call us now. How those holy words of deep tenderness should excite in us repentance for the past, and earnest effort to become by his grace less unworthy of those most gracious and loving titles! He asks us to open, that he may enter in. He has been wandering in the darkness, and as when he came unto his own there was no room for him in the inn, and as during the days of his earthly ministry he had not where to lay his head, so now he knocks at one heart after another, and heart after heart is closely barred against him. They will not open, that he may enter in and make his abode with them. He comes now to the sister bride of old times, asking her as if for his own sake (such is the unutterable depth of his infinite, self-abasing love), "Open unto me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled." Ah, how can any of those souls of men whom he loved even unto death shut up their hearts against that call of unspeakable affection! He pleads as for himself, as if needing shelter: "My head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." Alas! the bride, still half asleep, scarcely heeds the bridegroom's call, does not realize its meaning—
"For none of the ransom'd ever knew
How deep were the waters cross'd;
Or how dark was the night that the Lord pass'd through
Ere he found his sheep that was lost."
It cost more to redeem our souls than our poor thoughts can comprehend. When we try to realize the Lord's sufferings, we seem to stand afar off beholding, like the people who came together to that sight of awe, who smote their breasts (Luke 23:48). The Church pleads those bitter sufferings in her solemn Litany: "By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, good Lord, deliver us." "Remember, good Lord Jesus," we say in the ancient hymn, "that it was for me thou didst undertake that long, weary journey; in that long search for me thou didst sit faint and exhausted; it was to redeem me that thou didst endure the cross. Let not that toil and labour be in vain, O Lord." But here it is the Lord himself who pleads with us in our hardness; he so longs for our salvation. He bids us remember what he endured for us. It is the expression of his intense yearning love. He would have us comprehend with all saints something of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that great love; to return it in our poor way, to open our heart to him, that he may enter in and take that heart to be his own which he bought with the price of his most precious blood.
2. The answer. The bride does not realize the deep, solemn meaning of the bridegroom's call. She is half asleep still. She lies dreaming in her bed. She makes excuses to herself. And we, alas! far too often do the like when the Lord calls us to work, to deny ourselves for his sake. We slumber on in careless sleep; we forget what he did for us. We do not hear his voice; or, if we hear, we listen dreamily, lying still in spiritual sloth, not thinking that when the Lord calls it is time to bestir ourselves, to be up and doing, to "pass the time of our sojourning here in fear forasmuch as we know that we were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold … but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18). We must not make vain excuses, like those that were bidden in the parable (Luke 14:18), for the time is short. It is our eternal salvation that is at stake. It is Christ the Son of God who is calling us; and he loved us, and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Alas! the bride, whom the bridegroom loved with so great a love, makes poor excuses in her dream. She will not rise and open till it is too late; she will not take a little trouble for his sake.
3. The repentance. The beloved put his hand through the hole of the door; he sought to open it. The bride's heart was moved at last by his earnest appeals. "My bowels were moved for him," she says, as she repeats her dream. She thought of her past love for him, of his great love for her, of the hardships he had gone through in seeking her. She wonders how she could have forgotten all this even in a dream; she rose up to open to her beloved. So the soul that has made many excuses, that has slumbered long, that has spent its time as in a dream, forgetting the solemn realities of life, hears at last through the long suffering grace of God—listens to the patient call of the heavenly Bridegroom. Then our heart burns within us when we think that he has indeed been talking with us, opening the Scriptures (Luke 24:32); our bowels are moved for him. We think that it is the Saviour of the world, our Saviour, who is standing without, waiting for us to answer; that the hand with which he seeks to open the door was once pierced through for us, nailed upon the cross for our souls' sake. We listen to his voice—
"O Jesu, thou art pleading
In accents meek and low:
'I died for you, my children,
And will ye treat me so?'
O Lord, with shame and sorrow
We open now the door;
Dear Saviour, enter, enter,
And leave us never more."
The bride opens to her beloved. The bridegroom's hand had been dipped in oil of myrrh. Some of the unguent remained upon the bolt; it dropped upon the fingers of the bride. It was a token of the bridegroom's presence. He had gathered his myrrh (Song of Solomon 5:1) from the "garden enclosed" before this passing shadow had fallen upon their love. It may be, too, that we may see in the myrrh a parable of self-denial. It may be regarded as a loving warning left by the bridegroom to teach the bride a necessary lesson. She must not slumber on; it is time to wake and to work. Working for Christ is sometimes like the wine mingled with myrrh (Mark 15:23); it has a bitter taste to our pampered palate. But if we take the cup which the Lord gives us to drink, we shall find at last that the smell of it is sweet; even as his yoke, hard at first, becomes easy in the discipline of obedience, and his burden, heavy at first, becomes light when he bears it with us. For self-denials meekly borne for him bring us nearer and nearer to him who bore the supreme self-sacrifice of the cross for us; and in his presence there is a depth of sweetness which takes away the bitterness.
4. It is too late. The beloved had withdrawn himself. "My beloved withdrew himself, was gone," she says, in the plaintive wailing of disappointment (there is no conjunction in the original). "My soul went forth," she continues, "as he spake." My soul, my heart, my affections, went forth to him at the sound of his voice. The well known tones aroused the old love. She had once given her heart to him; and now, though in her dream her love seemed to have been chilled, and she seemed to lie heedless, unwilling to rouse herself to exertion, yet now his words at last reached her heart. Her soul went forth to him in response to his calling. Or the Hebrew words may rather mean, as in the Revised Version, "My soul had failed me when he spake." The same words are used in describing the death of Rachel: "It came to pass, as her soul was in departing" (Genesis 35:18). His words awoke in her soul the fear lest she should lose him by her coldness and selfish neglect. The thought was like death to her. "Love is strong as death" (So Song of Solomon 8:6). Her soul went forth; it failed her. For the moment she was helpless—prostrate as in a death-like swoon. Then she aroused herself. It was time to act, to bestir herself. He was gone; she might lose him forever; and her heart was bound up in him. To lose him was death—worse than death. She sought him, but she could not find him; she called him in her dream, but he gave her no answer. The dream of the bride is a parable of the Christian life. The soul sometimes sinks into a state of listlessness and apathy. There is no actual transgression, perhaps—no open sin. The evil spirit is not there; the house is empty (Matthew 12:43, Matthew 12:44). But the Bridegroom is absent, and love has grown cold. There is no recollection of the absent Lord—no regret, no longing for his return. The soul lives on, as it were, in a dream, not realizing the solemn meaning of life, not thinking of the awful future. But God in his gracious mercy will not let us dream away our lives without a warning. He calls us by his blessed Son: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." Sometimes, alas! we will not hear; sometimes we listen dreamily, half-conscious, recognizing in a sense the Bridegroom's voice, but not realizing the solemn, holy meaning of the call; not thinking of his love and of our ingratitude, his promises and our broken vows, what he did for us and what return we have made to him; not thinking of his grace and our responsibility, his longing for our salvation and our fearful danger. That lethargy, that slumber of indifference, creeps over us all from time to time when we have not been watchful—when we have neglected our prayers and other blessed means of grace. But the dear Lord seeketh that which is lost until he find it. He "is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He comes again and again, calling us, sometimes in the gentle tones of entreating love, sometimes in the sterner language of reproof and chastisement. Sometimes he makes as though he would force his way. He puts his hand in at the hole of the door; he lays the cross upon us; he reminds us of the burden which he bore for us; he teaches us that the cross is the very badge and mark of his chosen—that whosoever doth not take up his cross cannot be his disciple. At last we are stiffed in our slumbers. We rise from our sleep. But perhaps we are only half awake, half-hearted. Our will goes back to our old slothful rest. We say, like the sluggard in the Proverbs, "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep" (Proverbs 6:10). Then the Lord deals with us as a wise physician of the soul. He would have us feel our weakness, our danger. "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Matthew 9:12). He would have us feel our need of him. He withdraws himself; and when we open to him he is gone. He makes as though he would go further, as he dealt with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:28). Then our soul goes forth to him. It faints within us; we feel how helpless we are without him; we feel that without him life is not worth living; and we try to constrain him, like those two disciples, saying, in their words, "Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far slant." We seek him in earnest prayer, sometimes with strong crying and tears. But for a time we cannot find him. We call him, but he gives us no answer. It is in love that he thus deals with us, to arouse us, to make us feel the need of exertion, of active effort. He cannot be found without diligent search. The bride said, in relating her first dream, "By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth" (So Proverbs 3:1). It is not thus that the soul should seek for Christ, still lying, as it were, upon the bed of spiritual sloth, thinking dreamily of Christ, pleasing itself, perhaps, with the poetry of religion, with the beauty of the Saviour's life, with the comfort which the Scriptures offer. Religion is not a dream; it is not mere poetry, mere love of beauty; it is a life—a life of action and energy—a prolonged effort to imitate Christ, to please Christ, to follow Christ's holy example. The first cry of the really awakened soul is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). The soul that answers in earnest to the Saviour's call knows and feels instinctively that God has work for us; that that work must be done even in fear and trembling by his help, who worketh in us both to will and to do. The Lord would have us realize this truth; therefore sometimes he withdraws himself, to make us feel that life is blank without him—to make us cry like Job, "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle!" (Job 29:2-4). The contrast makes us feel that God was certainly with us then, even if we cannot feel his presence now. Therefore we seek him, even though for a time we cannot find him. It was so with Job for a season. "He hideth himself," he said; "I cannot see him." He trusted God even in the midst of darkness. "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:9, Job 23:10). So we must believe in his love even when he seems to hide his face from us and not to listen to our prayers. He seemed long to disregard the supplications of the Syro-Phoenician woman, but at last there came the gracious answer, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
II. THE SEARCH.
1. The bride goes forth in her dream. Again, as in So Job 3:2, she goes about the city seeking the beloved; again the watchmen found her. They had not been unfriendly in the first dream, though they were not able to guide her in her search. Now they seemed to treat her with cruelty. They smote her, and wounded her, and took her mantle from her. Difficulties will always arise in our search after Christ—sometimes dangers and persecutions: "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." We may perhaps also see another lesson here. The bride has more trouble now in her search than she had on the former occasion. She has been more blamable. Then she had been for a time listless and slothful; now her sin had been not only sloth, but selfish disobedience. She refused at first to open to the beloved; she did not heed his call; she did not heed the hardships which he had suffered. So it is in the Christian life. To sin against light is very grievous; repeated sin makes repentance each time more difficult. We must be watchful always, as the Saviour bids us: "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (Mark 13:35-37). We must learn the prayer of the child Samuel, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Each time we refuse to listen the old torpor steals more and more over our souls, our slumber becomes deeper, the difficulty of awakening us becomes greater, and repentance more doubtful, more encompassed with dangers, calling for more exertion of will, more determined effort.
2. The charge. The bride cannot find her beloved. She seeks the help of the chorus of maidens, the daughters of Jerusalem. She adjures them in her eager anxiety, "If ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him? That I am sick of love." She had used the last words once before (So Job 2:5), but in a different connection. Then his banner over her was love; then the joy of his love was almost too great for her; she was sick of love. Now it is her longing for the absent bridegroom which produces the heart sickness which she describes. She fondly thinks that if he only knew her yearning for him he would return; he would forgive all that was past, and bring her again under the banner of his love. So the Christian soul, awakened out of sleep, longs for the Saviour's presence. She feels that she is sick. She needs the great Physician. Without him all is dark; without him there is no spiritual health, no joy, no hope. She seeks him in earnest prayer. She asks for the intercession of Christian friends; she would have them bring her distress and longing before the throne. "My God, my soul is cast down within me;" "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God;" "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."
Song of Solomon 5:9-16
The bride's praise of the bridegroom.
I. THE QUESTION OF THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM.
1. The bride. The bride is dreaming still. The chorus seem in her dream to address her again as they had done in So Song of Solomon 1:8. She is still to them the fairest among women. They awe daughters of Jerusalem, the children of the kingdom; and to them the Church, which is the bride of Christ, must appear exceeding fair. She is not, alas! without spot or blemish now. She recognizes her own faults, her many shortcomings. But the children of the kingdom remember the holiness of the saints departed. They see traces of the beauty of holiness existing always in the Church. Being themselves children of God, they are learning that grace of charity which "believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things; which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." And so they regard the beauty of the bride rather than her blemishes; they think more of her yearning love for the Bridegroom than of her past shortcomings. It is a sad mistake, a sin against charity, to refuse to recognize the real goodness of Christian people who have from time to time fallen into various inconsistencies.
2. The bridegroom. What is he more than others? "What is thy beloved more than another beloved …that thou dost so charge us?" The daughters of Jerusalem know King Solomon well, but in her dream the bride seems to hear them asking the question of the text. She has always loved the bridegroom for himself, not for his crown, his magnificence. She fancies that the maidens of the chorus take the same view of wedded love, and ask what are the distinguishing merits of her beloved. Sometimes, indeed, that question is asked in scorn or in temptation, "What think ye of Christ?" What is he more than other masters? Those other masters have their attractions; they offer more of earthly pleasure, more of present ease. What has Christ to offer? What are his attractions? What are the rewards of his service? "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?" men say sometimes to the Christian. "What is thy Master to us, that thou dost so adjure us?" But the daughters of Jerusalem, in this second dream of the bride, do not ask the question in scorn or irony. It is asked with a dramatic purpose to give the bride an occasion for dwelling upon the glorious beauty, the many endowments of her beloved. She gladly takes advantage of it.
II. THE BRIDE'S ANSWER.
1. The bridegroom is the chiefest among ten thousand. "My beloved," she says, "is white and ruddy." We think of him whose "garment was white as snow," and "his throne like the fiery flame" (Daniel 7:9). Ancient writers have applied the description to our Lord. He was white in his spotless purity; his sacred body was reddened with the precious blood. These are the first thoughts of the Christian when he meditates upon the Lord's perfections—the perfect beauty of his most holy life, the glory of self-sacrifice which sheds a golden light upon his atoning death. His life exhibited a picture of holiness such as the world had never seen, such as none of its greatest sages had ever imagined. It stands alone in its pure beauty, unique, unapproachable. We know that no human intellect could have imagined such a life; no merely human pen could have described it. It is unlike the accepted moral ideals of the time; it stands apart by itself, immeasurably higher than all beside. But it was his death, he said, that should draw all men unto himself. It was the great love manifested upon the cross that would constrain the best and noblest hearts of all times and countries to live no longer to themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15). Therefore he is our Standard bearer (as the word rendered "chiefest" seems to mean), our bannered One. He is the Captain of our salvation. He goeth before us, bearing the banner of the cross. The thousands of his disciples follow. And he is the chiefest among ten thousand, marked out and distinguished from all others by his unapproachable holiness, by the infinite power and majesty of his self-sacrificing love. The bride enumerates the various points of excellence which together make up the completeness of the bridegroom's beauty. The Christian loves to meditate upon the various graces which make up the holy beauty of the Saviour's character—his lowliness, his gentleness, his long suffering kindness, his holy wisdom, his absolute unworldliness, his unselfish devotion to his sacred mission, his meekness, his forbearance, his patience with the many mistakes, the obstinate misunderstandings of his disciples, his endurance, his calm and lofty courage, the majestic bearing which forced even Roman soldiers to exclaim, "Truly this Man was the Son of God."
2. He is altogether lovely. The bride sums up her praises of the bridegroom. "His mouth is most sweet: yea, the whole of him is desires" (for this is the literal translation). The Prophet Haggai, using another form of the same Hebrew word, says, "The Desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7). Daniel is called three times "a man of desires" (Daniel 9:23; Daniel 10:11, Daniel 10:19). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Desire of all nations. He is the Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, for whose coming so many faithful hearts had yearned. He spake as never man spake. His mouth was all sweetnesses (the literal rendering), both his holy words and his gracious looks. How often we are told significantly that Jesus looked upon his disciples as if that look was (as indeed it must have been) a thing to be remembered all one's life, full of heavenly meaning, full of Divine love! We know what power his words had, what power they have now. The very tones of that most sacred voice must have had an indescribable sweetness. "Jesus said unto her, Mary," That one word was enough. It brought sweet comfort to the penitent, joy unutterable, heartfelt gladness to the mourner. And who can tell the entrancing sweetness of those most blessed words which with all our heart's deepest yearning we long one day to hear, "Come, ye blessed children of my Father"? Therefore we desire his presence now. "The whole of him is desires." Therefore God's people have "a desire to be with Christ" (like St. Paul, Philippians 1:23); for they know that to be with him here, and still more to be with him in the paradise of God, is "far better"—by much very far better, than the greatest of earthly joys. "The whole of him is desires." Every one of those holiest graces which adorn his perfect character should be to us a subject of loving study and adoration, with a longing desire to imitate it and to work it in our poor way into our own hearts by the help of the Holy Spirit. He hath all things who hath Christ. He hath enough, and more than enough, to satisfy all his desires, to fill all the yearnings of his heart. He will count all things else as dross—as very dung—in comparison with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. Then herr earnestly we ought to pray that by the grace of God we may be enabled to make those last words of the bride our very own, "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." If he is indeed ours, our Beloved, our Friend, our Saviour, then we have all that we can need for our soul's truest blessedness, both for this life and for the life to come.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 5:1
"I am come," etc. Here we have for the second time the name of "sister" prefixed to that of "spouse," and it seems to teach that this song is not to be understood in any mere dry, literal, earthly sense; but is to be regarded in such spiritual way as, in fact, most readers have regarded it. How prompt Christ's answer is! Cf. Isaiah 65:24, "Before they call I will answer," etc. The soul hears the knock of Christ, opens the door, and at once he comes in (Revelation 3:1-22.). Cf. Jacob, "Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not;" Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre: "She knew not that it was Jesus." In this verse we learn—
I. SUCH SOUL IS CHRIST'S GARDEN. For it has been chosen, separated, watered, cultivated, adorned, made fruitful.
II. IT HAS CHRIST'S PRESENCE AND IS HIS DELIGHT.
1. The aspirations of such soul proves his presence. They are his footprints, though not perceived to be so. Cf. "Their eyes were holden, that they should not know him" (Luke 24:1-53.). He is the unperceived Author of its holy desires and purposes.
2. And he delights in it. He calls it "my garden" (cf. on So 4:9-15).
III. THE ANGELS ARE SUMMONED TO SHARE IN HIS DELIGHT. "Eat, O my friends." Not that we say this address to his "friends" proves this truth, but suggests it. We know that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over," etc. (Luke 15:1-32.); and see Revelation, passim, where the joy of Christ is ever shared in by all heaven. They know what transpires here, and they rejoice in what is joyful. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" by which we are surrounded and surveyed. And what gladdens Christ must gladden them. They "enter into the joy of their Lord." The good conduct of those whom we behold makes us glad. Can it be otherwise with them? What great encouragement, therefore, we have in our Christian life in knowing that we can further the joy of our Lord and of the holy angels! Be it ours so to do.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 5:2
The flesh and spirit.
"I sleep, but my heart waketh." The body sleeping, the heart awake.
I. SOMETIMES, AS HERE, BUT ONE OF THESE IS AWAKE.
1. Here it was the spirit.
(1) This fact an argument against materialism, which insists that the spirit is altogether dependent upon the body. Hence that death ends all. But, as here, the body may be weighed down with sleep, but the mind is active; the body is dead, but the mind alive. Surely, therefore, the mind is something more than some special arrangement of the molecules of the brain.
(2) It is well that, if the spirit be willing, the flesh should be weak. As a general rule it is well, for else, unless the wholesome drag of the body were put on, brain workers would not live out half their days.
(3) But it is at times the occasion of much harm. It was so here. It was so to our Lord through his disciples yielding to the sleep that weighed on them. And the flesh is a tyrant which will, if allowed, enslave the spirit. Hence we need to "keep under the body." For:
2. Often it is only the flesh that is awake. This a fearful condition. Cf. St. Jude, "These be sensual, not having the Spirit." Men may, do, sink down into gross animalism. It is horrible as well as disgraceful. It was that which led to the destruction of Sodom, of the Canaanites, etc. It is a dread possibility threatening very many. God keep us therefrom!
II. SOMETIMES NEITHER ARE AWAKE. There are many people of whom one would have much more hope if they were a little better or a little worse than they are. They are such as we have just named. They are generally decent people outwardly; they never offend against the conventionalities; they are to be found in all Churches, more's the pity; for they are but caricatures of the Christian character. They are dull, cold, selfish, hard, and spiritually dead. What is to be done with such? They are the despair of the earnest Christian, who would almost be willing that they should fall—were it possible—into some miserable sin if so only their present self-content could be shattered and they made to wake up.
III. SOMETIMES BOTH ARE AWAKE. This the ideal condition. It is that, and more than that, which is meant by the "Sana mens in corpore sano." For wherever this condition is, the spirit will, as is right, rule the flesh, having it well in hand, causing it like a properly trained dog to come to heel at once at the word of command (Huxley). The body will be the active, faithful servant of the master will, the spirit of the man. And when that spirit is inspired by the Spirit of God, then that is salvation, which means "health." May such health be ours!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 5:2-8
The dream of Gethsemane.
Under the imagery of this dream devout students have seen pictured forth the pathetic facts of the garden in which our Lord was in agony, and his disciples slept (cf. Matthew 26:40-43 and parallels). We have—
I. THE DISTRESSED SAVIOR. (Song of Solomon 5:2.) He desired his disciples to watch with him. He needed and desired their sympathy and the solace which their watchful love would have given him. His soul was troubled. He was as he who is told of here, and to whom the cold drenching dews and the damp chills of the dreary night had caused much distress, and who therefore asks the aid of her whom he loved. So did Jesus seek the aid of those he loved. He had right to expect it. He said to Peter, "Simon, sleepest thou?"—thou so loved, so privileged, so loud in thy profession of love to me, so faithfully warned, sleepest thou? And still the like occurs. The Lord looking for the aid of his avowed disciples, distressed by manifold causes, and that aid not forthcoming, though he has such right to expect it. But he too often finds now what he found then—
II. HIS DISCIPLES ASLEEP. (Song of Solomon 5:3.) So the spouse here, as the disciples there, and as man now, had composed herself to sleep. The repeated calls of him who by voice and knock sought to arouse her failed. And so did the repeated visits of Jesus to his disciples fail. And he finds the same still. The poor excuses of Song of Solomon 5:3 serve well to set forth the excuses of today when he calls on us now to aid and sympathize with him. Who really rouses himself for Christ, and puts forth earnest self-denying endeavour to help his work? No doubt the disciples had their excuses, and Christ then, as now, makes all allowances. But the fact remains the same. Christ wants us, and we are asleep. The sleeper told of in this dream evidently was filled with self-reproach. It can hardly have been otherwise with the disciples, and it is so with us now when in our holier moments the vision of our Lord in all his love for us comes before our hearts. Then we confess, "It is high time to awake out of sleep."
III. THE SORROWFUL AWAKENING. The sleeper told of here awoke (Song of Solomon 5:5) to find her beloved gone. And in Gethsemane the disciples awoke at last. In this song (Song of Solomon 5:5) we are told how he had thrust in his hand by the latch hole (see Exposition). But he had withdrawn it, as she whom he had appealed to had not awaked; and, finding this, her heart was touched, and she rose to open to him. And doubtless when the disciples saw the gleam of the lanterns and heard their Lord's word, "Arise," and the tramp of the armed multitude who had come to arrest him, then their hearts were touched, and. they arose. But it was too late. And like as the sleeper here (Song of Solomon 5:5) did not withhold tokens of her affection—she richly perfumed herself, her hands especially, in token thereof as the Oriental manner was—so, too, the disciples in their way made plain their love for their Lord. They would have fought for him—Peter drew his sword at once—had he let them. But the opportunity for real service was gone. The sleeper of this song tells how her heart smote her when her beloved spoke, and we may well believe that it was so when the disciples heard their Lord's voice. But in both cases it was too late. Who does not know the sorrow that smites the soul when we realize that opportunities of succouring, serving, and making glad the heart of some beloved one have been allowed to pass by us unused, and now cannot be recalled? Oh, if we had only been awake then!
IV. THE UNAVAILING SEARCH. (Song of Solomon 5:6.) Cf. Peter's tears; the sorrow of the disciples. The reproaches of conscience—they were the watchmen who met and sternly dealt with her who is told of here, and made her ashamed. Such failures in duty are followed by unavailing regrets and prayers. "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Conscience, the Word of God, faithful pastors,—these are as the watchmen who meet such souls, and scant comfort is or ought to be had from them, but only deserved rebuke and reproach. It is all true. What is told of in this verse must have happened then, does happen now. Our Lord has left us, our joy is gone, we cannot find him, tears and prayers and search seem all in vain.
V. THE HELP OF THE HOLY WOMEN. (Song of Solomon 5:8 and So Song of Solomon 6:1.) It was wise of the sleeper, now awake, to solicit help from the friends of her beloved. And in the Gospel narrative it is plain that the holy women who loved and ministered to our Lord when on earth were a great help to his sorrowing disciples. They were last at the cross and first at the sepulchre; they first brought the glad tidings that he was risen. They represent his true Church. And the sorrowing soul cannot do better than seek the sympathy and prayers of those who love the Lord. Restoration often comes by such means. Here is one of their intercessions: "That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand, to comfort and help the weak hearted, to raise up them that fall, and finally to beat down Satan under our feet." Blessed is he who hath intercessions such as that offered for him. But better still not to need them.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 5:9
The supremacy of Christ.
"What is thy beloved more," etc.? The world asks this question. Upon the answer the Church gives depends whether the world remains as it is—alienated from Christ or drawn to him. If the Church makes it evident that Christ is "chiefest among ten thousand" and "altogether lovely," then the blessed era of the world's conversion will be at hand. The Church asks this question of those whom she receives into communion. It should be clear that Christ is enthroned in the hearts of those whom she receives. They are not really members of the Church unless it is so. We should ask ourselves this question, so that we may see to it that we are giving him the chief place in our hearts, and that in all things he has the pre-eminence. The question may be answered in various ways. As for example—
I. BY COMPARISON OF CHRIST WITH THE OBJECTS OF WORSHIP IN OTHER FAITHS. (Cf. Hardwick's 'Christ and other Masters.') There have been and are "gods many and lords many;" it is well to compare and contrast with them the all-worthiness of him whom we serve. Missionaries to heathen lands do well to make themselves acquainted with the points of contrast and resemblance—"the unconscious prophecies of heathendom"—which they will find in the faiths they seek to supplant by the pure faith of Christ. Often will they find in such study that he is "the Desire of all nations."
II. BY COMPARING THE OBJECTS OF MEN'S PRESENT PURSUITS AND AFFECTION WITH CHRIST, who is the Beloved of the believer's heart. Some set their affections only on earthly things—wealth, power, pleasure, fame, the favour of men. Some on those whom God has given them to love—wife, lover, children, friends. It is well to see how Christ surpasses all these, and deserves the chief place in our hearts: such place, when given to him, will not consign to a lower one than they before filled those objects of our lawful love; but, on the contrary, will uplift and enlarge our love for them, making it better both for them and us. But we prefer to take—
III. THE ANSWER GIVEN IN THIS SONG ITSELF. See Song of Solomon 5:10-16, translating its rich imagery into the plain language of "the truth as it is in Jesus." She who was asked this question replied by giving the description of her beloved which we have in these verses. And, translated, they suggest these reasons for counting Christ chief of all.
1. He is the perfect Pattern and Sacrifice that my soul needs. (Song of Solomon 5:10.) It is a representation of the beauty of perfect physical health: "white and ruddy" (cf. 1 Samuel 16:12; 1 Samuel 17:42). Fit type, therefore, of that perfect moral and spiritual health which we behold in Christ, and which constitutes him our all-perfect Pattern. His perfect sacrifice also has been seen in this same description, and it has been compared with that similar description of him in Revelation 5:6, "a Lamb that had been slain." Not alone the whiteness of purity, but "ruddy" as with the stain of his precious sacrificial blood.
2. He is God in his essential Person. (Revelation 5:11.) Gold is, in the sacred symbolism of Scripture, ever associated with that which is of God. The head of fine gold suggests, therefore, that which St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 11:3), "The head of Christ is God."
3. Yet he consecrated himself for our sakes. The unshorn hair, "his locks are bushy," was the sign of consecration (cf. the vow of Nazarite).
4. And is evermore mighty to save. Youth and strength are signified by the "raven" hair. Whilst others wax old as doth a garment, he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (cf. Psalms 102:27).
5. Gentleness, purity, and the love and light of the Holy Spirit beam in his eyes. (Revelation 5:12.) Cf. New Testament notices of the look of our Lord—hew he looked with compassion, hew he "looked upon Peter" (Luke 22:61).
6. To see his face is heaven. (Revelation 5:13.) To walk in the light of that countenance, to behold it fair and fragrant as sweet flowers.
7. And from his lips drop words of love. Men wondered at the gracious words which he spake. "Never man spake like this Man." "Grace is poured into thy lips" (Psalms 45:2; Isaiah 50:4).
8. He is invested with the authority of God. (Revelation 5:14.) "His hands are rings of gold," etc. The ring was the signet and seal of authority. He spake as one having authority; "I by the finger of God cast out devils;" "All things are put under him."
9. Stainless purity and heavenly mindedness marked his life. (Revelation 5:14.) The body, or rather the robe that covered it, as bright ivory, tells of the purity and perfectness of his life; the heavenly blue of the "sapphires" is the type of heaven. His conversation was in heaven. He walked with God.
10. He was firm and steadfast in God. (Verse 15.) The legs, as "pillars of marble," tell of his steadfast strength; the "sockets of fine gold," of the Divine basis and foundation of that strength.
11. Full of majesty and beauty, as Lebanon and its cedars. Cf. his appearance at the Transfiguration; to the guards at his rising from the dead.
12. And yet full of grace and benignity. (Verse 16.) "His mouth"—his smile—"most sweet." The little children nestled in his arms. The poor fallen women read the benignity of that look. Publicans and sinners crowded round him, irresistibly drawn by his exceeding grace.
13. No human tongue can tell how fair he is. "Yea, he is altogether lovely." The words tell of the giving up the task, of ceasing from the hopeless endeavour, to fitly fully set forth her beloved. She could only say, "He is altogether," etc.
CONCLUSION. Such was the answer given when asked, "What is thy beloved more," etc.? (Revelation 5:9). And such answer is the best. The testimony of the loving heart to what Jesus is to such heart is more convincing than any argument. May such testimony be ours!—S.C.
Song of Solomon 5:16
We apply these words to the Lord Jesus Christ, and affirm that they are true of him. May he grant us grace to see that they are so! And we remark—
I. THAT WHETHER WE BELIEVE THEM OR NOT, THEY ARE ASSUREDLY TRUE. All generations have confessed them true. The hero of one age is not the hero of another; but Christ is the Beloved of all ages. Abraham saw his "day and was glad." Prophets and psalmists beheld him, and to them all it was a beatific vision. They sang of him as "fairer than the children of men;" they exhausted all imagery of beauty and delight to tell of him. And since he came, apostles, martyrs, and generation after generation of those who have loved and toiled, and often died, for him, have confessed the truth of our text. And today myriads of souls are aglow with love to him, and gladly take up the same confession. "The goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the holy Church throughout all the world, doth acknowledge" him. And so will all ranks and classes of men. The rich and the poor, the lofty and the low, have met together in this confession. And all ages, the young and the old. And all lands, north, south, east, and west. And all characters and dispositions. See how varied the characters of those who gathered round our Lord, and of the saints of the Bible, and of all ages. And seen in all aspects, he still receives the same confession. As a child, as a man, as a teacher, as a sufferer, in his death, in his resurrection, in his intercession for us in heaven. With the choicest works of art, with the fairest scenes of nature, with the most glorious buildings that men have reared, all depends on the point of view from which we behold them. Seen from the right standpoint, they are beautiful and glorious; seen from another, they excite no admiration, they may appear the reverse of beautiful. And so with the characters of men. They may be excellent in some things, but the best of men are but men at the best. There are faults and flaws in the fairest human soul. But with our Lord, see him how, when, and whence we may, to the heart that loves him he is still "altogether lovely." The testimony has come from every quarter, from every age; it is full, clear, complete, varied, reiterated, and has been tested and tried and found true always and everywhere. The holiest saints gaze on the perfect loveliness of their Lord as the one model to which they would be conformed, but from which they own they are far removed. His enemies themselves being judges confess that "they find no fault in him." He is as a lamb without blemish and without spot. But, alas! to many he is not this; they see in him no form or comeliness, no beauty that they should desire him. Therefore we say of these words of our text—
II. THAT SINCE THEY ARE TRUE WE OUGHT TO SEE THEM TO BE TRUE. If beautiful music, or works of art, or scenes in nature, do not impress men with their beauty, we pity such persons, we deem them lacking in a great good. And if they have no appreciation of moral beauty, we do not merely pity, but we Blame. What, then, must we ray of those who fail to see any beauty in him who is "altogether lovely"? But what is it that hinders in any soul that fails to see in Christ what the holiest and best of men always and everywhere have seen in him? Well, if men will not look they will not see. And this is one hindrance. The portraiture of Christ is given perfectly in the Gospels, but if men will not look into them, read them, and consider them, what wonder that they fail to see? And to see him as altogether lovely, that demands that we look long and attentively, that we study the portraiture that is given, and that we seek to be rid of all that would hinder the truth of cur seeing. But these persons never do this. Moreover, to see him as he is, we must stay with him. You cannot know a fellow man by a short interview. To know a man you must live with him. And so if we would really know Christ and see him as his saints have seen him, we must live with him, keep in his company, commune with him and be in daily intercourse with him. And we must be in right relationship to him; we must serve him, for that is his due. And then as we work for him, his true character will dawn upon us more and more; and we, too, shall come to see him as altogether lovely. Therefore—
III. LET US RESOLVE THAT WE WILL THUS SEE HIM. To encourage us herein let us think of the results and recompenses of such beholding him. We shall come:
1. To resemble him. For we shall come to love him, and nothing so assimilates character as love.
2. To rejoice in him. Of common earthly things the well known line says, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." But of our Lord to behold him, it is the very joy of heaven. For there "they shall see his face."
3. Rest. The worries and frets of life will vanish in that beatific vision, like as even an unlovely landscape looks beautiful when the bright sun shines upon it. And so will it be with what is unlovely in life, that in itself irks and distresses us. If we see his face, if that vision of perfect loveliness shines before us, all will share more or less in that.
4. Reap for him, as never we did before. With our souls full of his love, even the stammering tongue will become eloquent, and our words will tell, and we shall wonder and rejoice to see how our children, our people, our friends and neighbours, listen to us and believe, and turn to him from whom we cannot and would not turn away. And at last we shall be:
5. Received by him into his own blessed presence, where we shall own that "the half was not told" us, and even the best of our seeing was but as through a glass, darkly.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 5:2
The experiences of the saints are useful guide posts on the heavenly road. They help by way of counsel, caution, inspiration, comfort, warning. Some experiences recorded serve as lighthouses, some as beacons. A wise pilgrim will not despise any one of them. If a traveller is about to cross Africa from west to east, he will not fail to ask what were the fortunes and experiences of those who have already made that perilous journey. He will learn from their mistakes and their sufferings what to avoid. He will learn from their successes how far he should tread in their footsteps. The journey is not so difficult now as it was to the first adventurer. A similitude this of the heavenly pilgrimage. Others have passed this way before us. We are indebted to them for the record of their checkered fortunes. They tell us how they climbed the hill Difficulty. They tell us how they were overtaken with the foe unwarily. They tell us how they fought, and by what methods they conquered. They tell us how at times spiritual drowsiness crept over them; how they bemoaned their folly; how they aroused themselves afresh. Then we discover that this infirmity is not peculiar to ourselves. We do not deny ourselves the consolation that we really belong to Christ, though we have been foolish enough to sleep in his service. There is blight upon the tree, and a reduction of fruitfulness; nevertheless, the tree has life in its roots. Blemishes are upon me; still I am in Christ.
I. HERE IS A STATE OF INSENSIBILITY CONFESSED. "I sleep." It is a figure of speech borrowed from the sensations of the body. Our physical nature needs periodic sleep. But many indolent persons sleep when they do not need it; and it is this needless sleep—this ignoble sleep—that is here described. Unlike the body, the soul requires no sleep.
1. It is a state of inaction. For the time being sight and hearing are suspended. All bodily sensations are awaiting. The sleeper is unconscious of all that is occurring round about him. Sleep is the brother of death. So, if the soul sleeps, it is a transient death. Our best Friend is near, but we cannot see him. If he speaks, we do not hear his voice. We have no enjoyment of his friendship. The sun of God's favour may shine upon our path; we do not perceive it. We have no conscious communion with Jesus. We find no nourishment in the sacred Word. The ordinances of the sanctuary have lost their charm. We do not grow in grace. We make no progress heavenward. It is inglorious inaction.
2. It is a blamable condition. We are servants of God, and to sleep is to waste our Master's time. It is an act of unfaithfulness. The Son of God has entrusted to us the campaign against error and sin; yet, lo! we sleep on the battlefield. Tens of thousands round about us know nothing of God's salvation; and yet we sleep. Satan is busy ensnaring men in the pitfalls of vice; and yet we sleep. The heathen world is waiting to hear Heaven's gospel; now and again a voice booms across the sea, "Come over and help us!" yet we sleep. Our own crown is imperilled; yet we sleep. This brief life is slipping from us; the day of service wilt soon terminate; the great assize is close at hand; yet we sleep. Is it not matter for self-condemnation?
3. It is a state of peril. A time of sleep is the time for robbers to do their evil work; and we imperil the heavenly treasures when we slothfully sleep. Our wily adversary lies in wait for our unguarded moments. If he can breathe upon the Church a spirit of slumber, he has gained a great advantage for himself. To lull Christians into sleep is his most successful stratagem. In one of his parables Jesus tells us that "while men slept, the enemy sowed his tares." Saul, the King of Israel, exposed his life to imminent danger when he slept in the cave. If a man is insensible to the deadly paralysis that is creeping over him, he is not far from death. And if we Christians become insensible to our sin, or insensible to our dependence on Christ, or insensible to God's claims, we are in great danger. What if God should say to us, "They prefer their sleep: let them alone"! Then our sleep would deepen into the collapse of death.
4. Spiritual sleep entails loss. How much of spiritual blessing the eleven lost, when they slept in Gethsemane, no tongue can tell. We lose the approval of a good conscience, and that is a serious loss. We lose the approving smile of Christ, and that is a loss far greater. We lose the vigour of our piety. We lose the freshness of enthusiasm. We lose courage. We lose spiritual enjoyment. We lose self-respect. A sense of shame sweeps over the soul. The temperature of our love has gone down. Instead of pressing forward, we have gone backward. It is a loss immeasurable.
II. HERE IS A VERY PROMISING SIGN. "My heart waketh." How true is this record to the facts in ourselves! The heart is the spiritual organ that wakes first. For the heart is the seat of feeling, desire, and affection. The heart must move before the will, and the will before the feet.
1. This language denotes disquietude. The man is neither quite asleep nor quite awake. This is an uncomfortable state. It denotes a divided heart. It is not altogether with Christ nor altogether with the world. We cannot endure the thought of leaving Christ, and so forego the hope of heaven. We like some of the experiences of religion. But then we love self in about an equal proportion. We grasp as much pleasure as we can. Hence this vacillation. This is a great loss of Christ's friendship; a sin to treat Jesus thus. This self-indulgence now will produce a large fruitage of remorse by and by.
2. It is a good sign that this indecision is recognized. It might have been otherwise. The sin might have been unfelt. Conscience might have been drugged with the opiate of self-confidence. When a Christian perceives his own imperfections, and confesses them, there is manifestly some spiritual life within. His state is not hopeless. God's Spirit has not withdrawn his activities from that man. If he will diligently follow the light which he has, it will lead him to his true home and rest.
3. This language indicates desire for a better state. The heart is the seat of desire, and, thank God, the heart is awake. If this desire be not overpowered by stronger desires of an evil sort, all will yet be well. This desire, unhindered, will work like leaven, till it has leavened the whole man. It will disturb the man's peace until it is gratified. This desire is the work of God's good Spirit; and, if we will only yield to his quickening influence, he will make desire ripen into resolve, and resolve into action. A man's desires are a gauge of the man's character. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
4. It is another good sign when a sleepy Christian recognizes Christ's voice. "It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh." The bride in our text not merely heard a sound, but she was so far awake as to know that it was her lover's voice. It is a fact that we hear the voice of one we know, and of one we love, much sooner than we bear the voice of a stranger. A mother will hear the cry of her babe sooner than she will hear the cry of another child. If we hear our Master's voice, then faith is not asleep. "Faith cometh by hearing." Of all Christ's sheep this is a sure mark; they hear Christ's voice. "A stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers." We know well that if any one strives to arouse us out of sleep, it will be our best Friend. No one else will take such pains to bless us. Ah! if I hear in my soul a rousing voice, if I am moved to holier aspiration, I instinctively say, "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh." Then ought I most gladly to respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
III. HERE IS A GRACIOUS CALL. This is the reason why the Christian's heart is awake: Jesus calls and knocks. A Christian cannot sleep under such an appeal.
1. Christ's whole Person engages in this call. He not only speaks with his voice; he knocks with his hand. He knocks by the preaching of faithful ministers. He knocks by the counsels of a pious friend. He knocks by his afflictive providences. He knocks by his royal bounties. Every fresh gift is a fresh appeal. He knocks by many a startling event that happens about us. He knocks at the door of memory, at the door of feeling, at the door of conscience, at the door of affection. He tries every door, if so be his kindly errand may succeed. He has too much earnest love for us easily to desist. Such love is born, not on earth, but in heaven.
2. He not only knocks; he speaks. He appeals to our intelligent nature. He will not use force or compulsion. That were unseemly on the part of love. Jesus will use measures equally potent, but of a winsome, spiritual sort. He speaks to the heart of saints in a "still small voice." There is a latent power in his gentleness. When God spake to despondent Elijah in the desert, he did not speak in earthquake, or in thunder, or in whirlwind, but in a soft human voice. No sound breaks on the ear; the message goes straight to the conscience and to the heart. Have we not, in hours of retirement, often heard the music of his voice, gently chiding us for neglect, or sweetly moving us to closer fellowship? We may resist the appeal, but, alas! we increase our guilt; we cheat our souls of joy.
3. He addresses us by the most endearing epithets. "My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled." Every argument that can move us to a better life he will employ. The whole vocabulary of human speech he will exhaust, to assure us of his interest. He reminds us of our many professions of attachment. He brings to our remembrance our plighted troth. Did we not at one time say that we were his? Have we not pledged ourselves to be faithful over and over again? What an array of perjured vows lie on his book? Can we think of them without self-condemnation?
4. He appeals to us on the ground of his deeds and endurances. "My head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." It is the pathetic picture of a friend who has been refused customary hospitality, and who has spent the cold night appealing for admission. This is the picture, and the meaning thereof is plain. Jesus Christ has to endure hardship and pain through our self-indulgence and our spiritual stupor. Alas! we shut him out from his own temple. We shut out our best Friend'. Alter all that he has done for us, yea, suffered for us, in proof of his strong affection, shall we treat him with cold neglect, with heartless contempt? Shall he be all ardour, and shall we be frigid as an iceberg? Shall his nature be all love, and shall ours be all selfishness? Then we are not like him. Is not this to "crucify our Lord afresh, and put him to open shame"? Surely here is a test of character. He who can hear these gracious appeals unmoved, hath never felt the stirrings of the new life; he hath no part in the covenant of grace.—D.
Song of Solomon 5:9-16
The personal excellences of Jesus.
A man is always greater than his works, for his best work is only a part of himself. As there is more virtue in the tree than ever comes out in the fruit, so there is some quality in the man that has not come forth in his deed. The same is true in larger measure with respect to God. If there is sublimity in his works, how much more in himself! The redemptive work of Jesus is stupendous, yet his love is more stupendous still. That love of his was not exhausted in the great atoning act; it was only disclosed, and made visible. We admire his incarnation, his benevolent labour, his voluntary suffering, his humiliating death, his strange ascension. We love him in return for his great love to us. Yet his greatest claim to our admiration and our praise is, not his deeds of kindness, but himself. His character is so inlaid with excellences that it demands all the worship of our hearts. "He is altogether lovely." Not simply is his doctrine nourishing, his example inspiring, his self-sacrifice attractive, his compassion winsome, but his very Person is an enchantment and a charm. At the outset of our acquaintance we "shall love him, because he first loved us;" nor will his compassion ever fail to be a spiritual magnet, which shall win and hold our hearts. Yet we gradually rise to a higher level of appreciation. We prize him for what he is in himself, even more than for what he has been unto us. Our best love goes out to him, because he is so transcendently good; so worthy to be loved. Love of gratitude comes first—an early fruit of the Christian life; but by and by, under the culture of the Divine Husbandman, there shall be the sweeter, richer love of complacent delight.
I. WE HAVE HERE A PERTINENT INQUIRY. "What is thy beloved more than another beloved?"
1. This may be the language of intellectual curiosity. The inquiry about Jesus is more eager and widespread today than in any epoch since his birth. During the last twenty-five years more than twenty-five lives of Jesus Christ have appeared in the English language. Some inquiries are of a sceptical sort—are not honest searches after truth. Some inquirers hope to reduce Jesus of Nazareth to the level of a common mortal. In a past age, Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West essayed to demolish the Divine credentials of Jesus; but they were conquered by the evidence, and became disciples. Many inquirers simply attempt to solve an old and curious question, "Is Jesus more than man?" They are not seeking any practical issues. Hence they obtain no success.
2. Or it may be the language of simple surprise. The kingdom of Christ hath in it many nominal adherents. For earthly advantages come from professing an attachment to Christ. It wins respect from men. It brings good reputation. It aids success in our worldly calling. Therefore many persons avow outwardly an indolent belief in Jesus Christ as Lord who yet can give no reasonable account of their belief. These see with wonder the ardour and zeal of genuine disciples. They smile when they hear the effusive and familiar language of true saints. They deem it religious extravagance. They label Christ's friends as fanatics. "Our Christ," say they, "is a Being far removed from us. We offer him our set praises and our set prayers on the sabbath. We hope for his rewards by and by. What is your Beloved more than ours?"
3. Or it may be the language of nascent desire. The speaker has seen what a real and present Friend Jesus is to his adopted. To them his friendship is sweeter far than the friendship of a thousand others. His name is music, fragrance, health, life. His help is a real blessing, which gladdens every hour. His favour is a present heaven. They consult him in their distress, and he brings to them prompt sympathy and unerring wisdom. They find in him a restfulness of spirit under every circumstance, a peace of soul no one else can impart. Having Jesus within them, their life is transfigured. This is a mystery to the bulk of men. So one and another yearn to attain this joyous life, and they ask in a spirit of sincere desire, "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?"
II. WE HAVE HERE A PARTICULAR DESCRIPTION OF THE BRIDEGROOM'S PERSON. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand;" "He is altogether lovely."
1. Generally, he is pre-eminent. "Chiefest among ten thousand." Among all the tribes of men he stands alone, for he is sinless. He is pre-eminent among the angels, for they are only servants of the great King; and, when the Father "brought his Only Begotten into the world, he said, Let all the angels of God worship him." Among the gods of the nations he stands pre-eminent in power and in righteousness. They are dumb vanities, while he is absolute Power, eternal Righteousness, essential Love. In respect of the Godhead, he is eminent for condescension, for tender sympathy, and for self-sacrifice. Among all friends he stands pre-eminent, for "he is a Brother born for adversity." Among all orators he is preeminent for eloquence, for "never man spake like this Man." Among philanthropists he takes the highest place, for "he gave himself for us." "For our sakes he became poor." "In all things he has the pre-eminence."
2. He is altogether lovely as the Son of God. Such perfect Sonship was never before seen. His reverence for his Father was unique, was beautiful At the tender age of twelve, his delight was "to be about his Father's business." His spirit of childlike trust was perfect. He is "the Leader and Finisher of faith." During all the year's of his busy life he "had not where to lay his head," yet he declared that it was his meat and his drink to do the will of his Father in heaven. His own explanation of his ceaseless benevolence was this: "I do always the things that please him." As he entered the black cloud of the final tragedy, he interrogates himself thus: "What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?" But instantly he adds, "Father, glorify thy Name." Filial reverence, filial trust, filial love and submission in him were complete—things till then unknown on earth. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Upon such sacred Sonship the Father expressed audible and public approbation—expressed it again and again: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." "My Beloved is white and ruddy" the quality of perfect health.
3. His personal qualities transcend all comparison. Every virtue, human and Divine, blossom in his soul. There's not an excellence ever seen in men or in angels that is not found, the perfect type, in Jesus Christ. For nearly nineteen centuries shrewd men have turned their microscopes on the Person of Jesus, if haply they could find the shadow of a spot. The acutest eye has failed, and Jesus stands before the world today a paragon of moral perfection. His character is better known and better appreciated today than in any previous age, Modern criticism confesses at the bar of the universe, "I find no fault in him." As all the colours of the prism meet and blend in the pure rays of light, so all noble qualities blend in our beloved Friend. As in a royal garden or in the fields of nature there is unspeakable wealth of flowery bloom, all forms and colours composing a very paradise of beauty, so is it in the character of Jesus. Other men were noted for some special excellence—Moses for meekness, Job for patience, Daniel for constancy; but Jesus has every quality of goodness, and has each quality full-orbed and resplendent. "Whatever things are true, pure, just, lovely, honourable, of good report," they all unite in Jesus. Ransack all the homes of humanity if you will, cull out all the excellences that embellish the seraphim, and you shall not find a single grace that does not adorn our Immanuel. Yea, his soul is the seed bed of all the goodness that flourishes in heaven or on earth. "He is the Firstborn of every creature." The unfallen, no less than the fallen, adore him as worthy to be worshipped. "He has by inheritance a more excellent name than they." As the stars of heaven pale their ineffectual fires when the sun rises, so in the presence of Jesus Christ even Gabriel veils his face and bends his knee. Human thought fails to reach the height of this great theme, and. we can simply repeat the ancient words, "Altogether lovely."
4. He is incomparable in all the offices he fills. A splendid theme for contemplation is Jesus in his manifold offices. As a Teacher he has no rival, for he still speaks "as one having authority." "In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;" and, with infinite patience, he unfolds these treasures to us in picture and parable, as we "are able to bear them." Who is so competent to teach us heavenly things as the living Truth? "The words he speaks are spirit and life." "His lips are as lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh." As a Priest, does he not excel all who went before him? Other priests had to offer oblation first for their own sin. Jesus had no personal sin. Other priests "could not continue by reason of death." Jesus has no successor; his priesthood is perpetual. The best of earthly priests could only appear in material temples, gorgeous in marble and in gold though some of them were. Our great High Priest has gone on our behalf into the very presence of God. Our Advocate with the Father cannot fail, because he is "Christ; the Righteous." And, as a King, Jesus has no compeer. The sceptre belongs to him by eternal right. He is a King by birth. He is a King by reason of inherent fitness. Every fibre of his nature is kingly. He is a King through conquest. Every foe is, or shall be, vanquished. He is a King by universal acclamation. Angels and men combine to accord to him the highest place—"King of kings, and Lord of lords." As the good Shepherd, he has given his very "life for the sheep." As the Husband of the Church, he is perfect in fidelity; for "having loved the Church, he gave himself for her, and has cleansed her for himself a glorious Church, not having spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing." View our Master in any aspect or in any office, and he is fall of inexpressible charm. "He is altogether lovely."
III. WE HAVE HERE THE IDEA OF INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. "This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."
1. This means high appreciation. The believer in this passage means to say, "I have endeavoured to describe my heavenly Friend, but I have failed. I have mentioned some of the features of his character, yet I scarce think that these are the most precious. The theme is above me. I cannot do it justice. Mayhap I shall only lower Jesus in the estimation of mankind. Still, I have said enough to establish his superlative excellence, and to account for my enthusiastic love." Ah! who can adequately portray the Person of God's dear Son? Can Gabriel? Can Michael? Can Paul, after centuries of sweet companionship with him in heaven? I trow not! "What think ye of Christ?" is a question, likely enough, often asked one of another among the dwellers in glory. By and by we "shall see him as he is." At present we have only imperfect glimpses of his glorious Person; nevertheless, we know enough to warrant our profound admiration, to awaken our unfaltering faith, and to excite into activity our most passionate love.
2. This means appropriations. This Being of transcendent excellence I claim as "my Friend." Many of his august perfections seem to forbid my bold familiarity. Sometimes it seems like presumption to say this. But then his simple condescension to me, his genuine sympathy, his unlimited grace, his covenant with the fallen, "without respect of person," his repeated assurances of love for me—yes, for me—encourage me to call him mine. He has said to me, "Thou art mine;" is not, therefore, the converse also a fact? Must he not be mine? And if at present I am quite unworthy to claim this relationship, will he not, by his great love, make me worthy? His love would not find full scope for its exercise, if it were not for such an unworthy object as I. Though deserving of hell, I should east fresh dishonour on his royal goodness did I not believe his promise, did I not accept his friendship. Yes, "he is mine."
3. This means the public avowal of Christ. "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend." It is as if the Christian meant to say, "I have chosen Jesus to be my Friend, and I call the universe to witness the fact. No other being was competent to save me, and I publicly pledge myself loyally to serve him." Such avowal is a fine trait in a renewed soul. To profess loyalty to Jesus while no love glows for him in the breast—this is an offence to him, a smoke in his eyes, a spear thrust in his heart. Nothing to him is so odious as hypocrisy. But when there is sincere love to our Immanuel, though it be accompanied with self-diffidence and timidity, there ought to be an open avowal of our attachment. It is but little that we can do to make the Saviour known and loved by others, therefore that little should be done with gladness of heart and with unwavering fidelity. Nor can we ever forget the words of our Well-beloved, "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will 1 also deny before my Father which is in heaven."—D.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 5:1
Hospitality and festivity.
This verse is the central stanza of the Song of Songs. It brings before us the wedding feast, the crisis of the dramatic interest of the poem. The bride is welcomed to her regal home; friends and courtiers are gathered together to celebrate the joyful union; and festivity and mirth signalize the realization of hope and the recompense of constancy. Under such a similitude inspired writers and Christian teachers have been wont to set forth the happy union between the Son of God and the humanity to which, in the person of the Church, he has joined himself in spiritual and mystical espousals.
I. THE PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE BRIDEGROOM' AND HOST. "I," says he, "have come into my garden." It is the presence, first visibly in the body, and since invisibly in the Spirit, of the Son of God, which is alike the salvation and the joy of man.
II. THE GREETING OF THE DIVINELY CHOSEN BRIDE. The language in which this greeting is conveyed is very striking: "My sister-spouse." It is the language of affection, and at the same time of esteem and honour. It speaks of congeniality of disposition as well as of union of heart. Christ loved the Church, as is evident from the fact of his giving himself for it and to it, and as is no less evident from his perpetual revelation of his incomparable kindness and forbearance. "All that I have," says he, "is thine."
III. THE PROVISION OF DIVINE BOUNTY. How often, in both Old and New Testament Scripture, are the blessings of a spiritual nature which Divine goodness has provided for mankind set forth under the similitude of a feast! Satisfaction for deep-seated needs, gratification of noblest appetite, are thus suggested. The peculiarity in this passage is the union of the two ideas of marriage and of feasting—a union which we find also in our Lord's parabolic discourses. We are reminded that the Divine Saviour who calls the Church his own, and who undertakes to make it worthy of himself, provides for its life and health, its nourishment and happiness, all that infinite wisdom itself can design and prepare.
IV. THE INVITATION OF DIVINE HOSPITALITY. "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved!" Thus does the Lord of the feast ever, in the exercise of his benevolent disposition, address those whose welfare he desires to promote. This invitation on the part of the Lord Christ is
(1) sincere and cordial;
(2) considerate and kind;
(3) liberal and generous.
V. THE FELLOWSHIP OF DIVINE JOY. True happiness is to be found in the spiritual companionship of Christ, and in the intimacy of spiritual communion with him whom the soul loveth. The aspiration of the heart to which Christ draws near in his benignant hospitality has been thus well expressed: "Pour out, Lord, to me, and readily will I drink; then all thirst after earthly things shall be destroyed; and I shall seek to thirst only for the pleasures which are at thy right hand forevermore." The spiritual satisfaction and festivity enjoyed by the Church on earth are the earnest and the pledge of the purer and endless joy to be experienced hereafter by those who shall be called to "the marriage supper of the Lamb."—T.
Song of Solomon 5:2
The heart that waketh.
Thus opens the recital of a dream—a dream which was the confused expression of deep feelings, of affection, of apprehension, of anxiety. The expression is poetical; the body slumbers, yet the mind and its feelings are not altogether asleep. A slumbering heart is inaccessible to the Divine approach, the Divine appeal, the Divine mercy. It is well when the heart waketh, for the wakeful heart is—
I. PROMPT TO HEAR THE VOICE OF HEAVEN. The mother awakes at once when the babe cries; the surgeon wakes at once when the bell rings; the nurse wakes at once when the patient asks for medicine or for food. When the heart is awake, the ear hearkens, the eye is ready to unclose, the sleeper is half alert and prepared to rise. The heart that loves the Saviour is prompt to hear any word of his, whether it be a word of encouragement, a word of admonition, a word of command. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," denotes the vigilant attitude, the true preparedness of the soul.
II. PROMPT TO RESPOND TO THE LOVE OF CHRIST. The true heart is not wakeful to every call, to every presence, to every appeal. It is mutual love that ensures a heart that waketh. The Christian gives love for love. "We love him, because he first loved us." Hence the very sound of Jesus' name enkindles upon the devout and grateful heart the flame of pure and fervent affection. Nothing that concerns the Lord is indifferent to the Christian; for his heart is awake to every token of the Divine presence, and eager for the spiritual communion which is the privilege of the friends of Jesus.
III. WATCHFUL AGAINST THOUGHTS AND PURPOSES OF EVIL. The deep slumber into which the careless may fall is likely to render them a prey to the assaults of the tempter. Christ found his three nearest friends sleeping in the garden whilst he was enduring his bitter conflict. "Watch and pray," was his admonition, "lest ye enter into temptation." As soldiers during a campaign must take rest in sleep, yet, as it were, with one eye and one ear open, so that they may spring up, and fly to arms, if the foe approach them under cover of the darkness; so must the Christian take even his refreshing rest and recreation as upon the alert, and as ready to resist an approaching enemy. Watchfulness and prayer must guard him against surprise. The heart must be ever wakeful. "Keep thy heart with all diligence."
IV. READY TO ENGAGE IN ALL REQUIRED SERVICE. The service of the hands, of the lips, alone is unacceptable to our Divine Lord, who desires above all things the devotion and loyalty of the heart. This, if the heart slumbers, cannot be given. But a wakeful heart, being ready to receive impressions, is ready also to obey commands, to summon all the powers of the nature to engage in that service which combines dimity with freedom, and submission with joy.—T.
Song of Solomon 5:2-5
Open to the beloved who knocketh.
This dream, so significant of fervent affection, and so full of tender pathos, is emblematic of the relation between the Divine Saviour and Lord and those whom he approaches in his grace and kindness, to whom he proffers the blessing of his presence and his love.
I. THE SUMMONS.
1. Its nature. There is the knock which demands attention, and there is the speech which articulately conveys the appeal. Christ comes to the world, and comes to the heart, with such tokens of Divine authority as demand that heed should be given to his embassage. The supernatural arrests the attention even of the careless and the unspiritual. That in Christianity which is of the nature of portent, the "mighty works" which have been exhibited, summon men to yield their reverent attention to a Divine communication. But the miracle is a "sign." The display of power is revelation of a wisdom, a love, which are deeper and more sacred than itself. The knock that arouses is followed by the speech that instructs, guides, comforts, inspires. Authority is not blind; it accompanies the appeal to the intelligence, to the heart.
2. The danger of neglecting it. To give no heed to the Divine appeal, to sleep on when God himself is calling,—this is to despise the Highest, to wrong our own soul, to increase our insensibility and to confirm ourselves in spiritual deadness, and to tempt the departure of the heavenly Visitor.
3. The duty of welcoming and responding to it. This appears both from the dignity of him who knocks, his right to the affection, gratitude, and devotion of the soul; and from the complete dependence of the soul upon his friendship for its highest welfare.
II. THE RESPONSE. When Christ "stands at the door and knocks," there is but one thing to do—to open wide to him, the Beloved, the door of the heart. This is the true response, and it should be:
1. Glad. His absence is mourned, his presence is desired; his summons, therefore, should be joyfully acknowledged. The heart may well beat strong with gladness, high with hope, when the voice of Jesus is heard; for it is "the voice of the Beloved."
2. Grateful. The picture is one of poetic pathos and beauty. The head of the Beloved is filled with dew, his locks with the drops of the night. How suggestive of what the Saviour has endured for our sake, of his earthly humiliation, of his compassionate sacrifice! The contemplation of Christ's weakness and weariness, distress and anguish, all endured for us, is enough to awaken the strongest sentiments of gratitude on our part. To whom are we indebted as we are to him? Who has such claims upon our heart's gratitude and devotion? What language can justly depict the moral debasement of those who are unaffected by a spectacle so touching as that of the Redeemer, the "Man of sorrows," appealing for admission to the nature he died to save and bless?
3. Immediate. Delay is here altogether out of place. The sensitive and responsive nature is forward to exclaim, "Apparitio tua est apertio!"—"To see thee is to open to thee!" The hesitation and apologies described in the dream are introduced toshow, by suggestion of contrast, how utterly unsuited they are to the circumstances and the occasion.
4. Eager and expectant. "My heart was moved for him; I rose to open to my Beloved." The hope is fulfilled, the prayer is answered, the vision is realized, Christ has come. With him all Divine blessings approach the soul The prospect of his entrance into the spiritual nature is the prospect of a fellowship and intimacy fraught with purest joys and tenderest consolations—a fellowship and intimacy which will never fail to bless, and which no power on earth can avail to darken or to close.—T.
Song of Solomon 5:6
The dream of distress.
No passage in the Canticles is more pathetic than this. Whilst the prevalent tone of the Song of Songs is a tone of joyful love, we meet here with the sentiment of anxious sorrow. We are reminded of the grief of Mary, when, on the resurrection-morn, she exclaimed, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." A true transcript of the moods to which experience is subject! And not without spiritual lessons which may be turned to true profit.
I. A TRANSIENT ESTRANGEMENT AND BRIEF WITHDRAWAL. There have been periods in the history of the Church of Christ, resembling the captivity of Israel in the East, when the countenance of the Lord has been hidden from the sight of his people. The heart, which knoweth its own bitterness, is now and again conscious of a want of happy fellowship with the best and dearest Friend. But it is not Christ who changes. When the sun is eclipsed, it does not cease to shine, though its beams may not reach the earth. And when Christ is hidden, he remains himself "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." But something has come between the Sun of Righteousness and. the soul which derives all its spiritual light from him, and the vision is obscured. Selfishness, worldliness, unbelief, may hinder the soul from enjoying the Saviour's presence and grace. The fault is not his, but ours.
II. DISTRESSING SYMPTOMS OF SUCH ESTRANGEMENT AND WITHDRAWAL. How simple and how touching is the complaint of the bride! "I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer." Yet it is the nature of Christ to delight in the quest and the cry of those he loves, to reveal himself to such as ever ready to approach and to bless. There may, however, be a reason, and faith cannot question that there is a reason, for the withholding of an immediate response. There may be on the Saviour's part a perception that a stronger confidence, a more evident desire, a truer love, are needed, and are thus only to be called forth. It may be well that for a season the soul should suffer for its sin, that it may be encouraged to deeper penitence and to more fervent prayer.
III. AFFECTIONATE YEARNING THE EARNEST OF SPEEDY RECONCILIATION AND RENEWED HAPPINESS. The parable represents the bride as sad and anxious, as enduring hitter disappointment, as oppressed by the heartless insult and injury of those indifferent to her woes; yet as retaining all her love, and only concerned as soon as may be to find her beloved. A true picture of the devout and affectionate friend of Christ, who is only drawn to him the Closer by the sorrowful experiences and repeated trials of life. When the Christian offends his Lord, it is a good sign that he is not really forsaken, it is an earnest of the restoration of fellowship, if he ardently desires reconciliation, and takes measures to recover the favour which for a season he has lost. The beauty of Christ appears the more inimitable and supreme, the fellowship of Christ appears the mere precious and desirable. And this being so, the hour is surely near when the face of Christ shall appear in unclouded benignity, when the voice of Christ shall be heard uttering Divine assurances and promises in tones of kindliest friendship.—T.
Song of Solomon 5:10
Chiefest among ten thousand.
The figure here employed by the bride to depict the superiority and excellence of her royal husband is very striking. In reply to the inquiry of those who mock and taunt her in the season of her sorrow and her loss, asking what her beloved is more than another, she replies that he is the banner in the vast embattled host, rising conspicuous and commanding above the thousand warriors by whom he is encompassed. Christians are often reproached with their attachment to Christ. Men who are willing to acknowledge him as one of many, to rank him with "other masters," cannot tolerate the claims advanced by his Church on his behalf, and ask what there is in him to entitle him to adoration so supreme, to devotion so exclusive. The answer of Christ's people is one which gathers force with the lapse of time and the enlargement of experience. Christ is "chiefest among ten thousand." He excels all other teachers, leaders, saviours of society, in every respect.
I. IN THE PROFUNDITY OF HIS INSIGHT INTO TRUTH, AND IN THE CLEARNESS WITH WHICH HE REVEALS TRUTH. Among the sages and philosophers who have arisen in ancient and in modern times, and to whom the world is indebted for precious communications, for great thoughts, which it will not willingly let die, there is none who can compete with Christ. His sayings are more original in their substance than those of others, with regard both to the character and service of God and to the duty and hopes of men. In fact, he is "the Truth," proved to be such by the persistence of those utterances which have sunk into the minds of men, enlightening and enriching humanity with its choicest treasures.
II. IN THE EFFECTUAL COMPASSION WITH WHICH HE RECOVERS THE MORALLY LOST. The Lord Jesus is not merely a wise Teacher; he is a mighty Saviour. He knew well that little good is done by communicating truth, unless at the same time the heart can be reached and the character moulded anew. During his earthly ministry he put forth his moral power in many and most memorable instances, and rescued the sinful, the degraded, those abandoned by men, restoring them to integrity, to purity, to newness of moral life. And since his ascension he has been exercising the same power with the same results. His Name, by faith in his Name, has made many whole. His gospel loses none of its efficacy, his Spirit exercises the same energy of grace, as generation succeeds generation. Ten thousand attempt what Christ alone performed.
III. IS THE SPIRITUAL POWER WITH WHICH HE RULES OVER HUMAN SOCIETY. If A comparison be made between Christ and other founders of religious systems and Churches, it will be seen that the superiority rests with him, in the sway wielded over the true nature of men. Compare him, for example, with Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, or with Mohammed. What is the result of such a comparison? There can be no question that, in the matter of spiritual authority, it will be to establish the supremacy of the Son of man. He lays hold, as none other has done, of the affections, the moral susceptibilities and convictions, the inner principles, of men's being, and thus controls and inspires their true life. In this respect ten thousand are inferior to him; but he stands alone—his banner towers above the host.
IV. IN THE WELL-FOUNDED PROSPECT WHICH HE IMPARTS TO THE WORLD'S FUTURE. Every well wisher to his race, in looking forward to what shall be after him, must often be assailed with fear and foreboding. There is much to make the outlook gloomy and stormy. And there is no principle which can subdue such natural anxiety, which can inspire confident and sustaining hope with regard to the future of human society, except the principle of Christianity, i.e. the personal and spiritual power of the Lord Christ to govern and to guide mankind to glorious issues.—T.
Song of Solomon 5:16
In the verses from the tenth to the sixteenth, the bride sets forth in detail the excellences and the attractiveness of her spouse. In similitudes according with Oriental imagination she describes the charm of his person, and accounts for the fascination he exercises. And she sums up the characterization by the assertion that he is "altogether lovely"—"totus est desiderabilis, totus est amor." Augustine, in language dictated by the fervour of his heart, expresses the spiritual truths enshrined in this exclamation: "My soul is a sigh of God; the heart conceives and the mouth forms the sigh. Bear, then, my soul, the likeness of the heart and of the mouth of God. Sigh thou for him who made thee!"
I. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED FOR WHAT HE IS IN HIMSELF. In his Person and character Christ is a Being who commands and attracts the love of all who are susceptible to the charms of spiritual excellence. There is beauty beyond that which is physical, beauty of which the charms of feature and of form are the appointed symbols. And for this beauty in most perfect manifestation we must look to Christ. Others have their excellences, but they have also their defects. In him alone every virtue is present and complete, in him alone every blemish is absent. He is at once above all praise and free from all blame. The soul that can recognize and delight in moral excellence finds all scope for such recognition and delight in him who is "fairer than the sons of men."
II. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED FOR WHAT HE HAS ACTUALLY AND ALREADY DONE FOR HIS FRIENDS. These know that he loved them, and that he loved them even "unto the end," that he "gave his life for his friends;" and this knowledge is ever in their memory, is ever affecting their hearts, is ever influencing the attitude of their whole being towards him. Nothing enkindles love like love. "We love him, because he first loved us."
III. CHRIST IS ALTOGETHER TO BE LOVED AND DESIRED AS THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD. He who is possessed with the Spirit of Christ is not selfish in his affections. He feels the spiritual power of his Saviour's self-sacrifice. He loves his Lord, because that Lord has pitied and has died for men. Our love to Christ is not pure, is not perfect, until it springs from a grateful and sympathetic recognition of what he has done who "came into the world to save sinners."—T.